BEIRUT: Lebanon may be plunged into a political crisis which could bring down its coalition government if the United Nations tribunal investigating the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri indicts members of Hizbullah.
Hizbullah has strongly criticized the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) and said last month that the prosecutor’s first indictment, expected to be issued in September or October, will blame some of its members.
Since then Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who has been in hiding since Israel’s war on Lebanon in 2006, has repeatedly rejected any Hizbullah link to Hariri’s killing, attacking the tribunal as an “Israeli project.”
Analysts say Nasrallah is determined to deflect blame at any price, even if it leads to confrontation with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the slain billionaire politician.
The younger Hariri formed a national unity government last year which includes Hizbullah ministers. Just a year earlier a political crisis led to street fighting between Hizbullah and supporters of the Western-backed Hariri, in a brief echo of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 Civil War.
If the STL does indict Hizbullah, members of the group, together with its allies in Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement, could decide to collapse the government.
“This time if they pull out of the government, [it] will fall. They have the veto power this time,” said Paul Salem, head of the Carnegie Endowment’s Middle East center.
The assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005 pitched Lebanon into political and sectarian turmoil, dividing it into a pro-Syrian camp lead by Hizbullah, and an anti-Syrian camp headed by Saad Hariri.
The following year Prime Minister Fouad Siniora approved plans to establish the Special Tribunal, over objections from Hizbullah and its allies. The Hizbullah-led opposition soon afterward withdrew from the government.
Eighteen months of political crisis ended in street fighting in May 2008 when Siniora’s government tried to shut down a telephone network operated by Hizbullah, which called the move a declaration of war.
The crisis ended after talks in Qatar, but some Lebanese fear a repeat scenario if Hizbullah figures are indicted.
“[Hizbullah] has proven its strength and won, so beware of testing it again,” Nasri al-Sayegh said in As-Safir newspaper, referring to the street fighting in 2008 when Hizbullah supporters took over part of Beirut.
“If the indictment touches Hizbullah, and some in Lebanon cheered for it, then who knows where things will end up.”
The Hizbullah warnings put Hariri in a thorny position. He either continues supporting the Tribunal, even if it accuses the group, putting him on a collision course with Hizbullah. Or he denounces the UN investigation into his father’s death, and risks losing international support and credibility.
“The question is: is there middle ground?” asked Salem, adding that Nasrallah was warning that those who supported the STL “must be supporting Israel, which is a threat meaning he can use force.”
So far Hizbullah has shown no sign of backing down.
Last month Nasrallah said Hariri told him privately the Tribunal was going to indict “rogue members” of the group, but Nasrallah rejected any link at all between his members and the killing.
“Hariri can not distance himself from the STL, and he cannot embrace it … It’s a kiss of death if he does,” said Oussama Safa, head of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies in Beirut, “The best thing to do if it comes out [is] to look the other way.”
Alarmed by the heated political tension which surfaced after Nasrallah’s first attack on the Tribunal, the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Syria made a joint visit to Beirut last month.
The visit seemed to ease the discord without reaching a solution on how to avoid future conflict. But analysts say that as long as Damascus and Riyadh work together, they should be able to curb internal tensions.
“Saudi Arabia and Syria are the safety valve of Lebanon,” said Jihad al-Zain, lead analyst at An-Nahar newspaper.
Saudi Arabia, along with allies in Lebanon, supports the Hague court. Riyadh is among its main budget contributors.
Syria, initially implicated by UN investigators in the Hariri bombing, has always viewed the STL with suspicion, describing it as politically motivated.
On Monday, Nasrallah displayed what he said was Israeli surveillance footage which, allegedly, pointed to Israel carrying out Hariri’s killing. The UN court responded by requesting access to the evidence.
Safa said that might offer a window to postpone any looming indictments, giving time for tensions to ease and offering Hariri the chance to support Hizbullah’s call for the court to investigate Israeli involvement.
But others fear that political positions are too entrenched for compromise.
“Will the Tribunal move toward questioning Israel? Of course not. Will [Nasrallah] draw back from his positions? Of course not. Can the government meets Nasrallah’s request? Of course not,” Elias Hanna wrote in As-Safir.
“It does not seem there is a specific way out. The crisis is political. It [might] develop to a dangerous security crisis.”
Libellés : English
Background - خلفية
On 13 December 2005 the Government of the Lebanese Republic requested the UN to establish a tribunal of an international character to try all those who are alleged responsible for the attack of 14 february 2005 that killed the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others. The United Nations and the Lebanese Republic consequently negotiated an agreement on the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
Chronology - Chronologie
Détenus - Detainees - المعتقلون
International Criminal Justice
Videos - فيديو
- Now Lebanon : Crowds Gather to Show Support for International Tribunal, August 4, 2010
- IRIS Institute:La creation du TSL est-elle justifiee? - June 18, 2009
- Al Manar : Interview with Ali Hajj right after his release - April 30, 2009
- Al Manar: Summary of Jamil Al Sayyed's press conference, April 30, 2009
- AFP, Freed Lebanese prisoner speaks out - April 30, 2009
- OTV : exclusive interview with Jamil Sayyed - April 30, 2009
- Al Jazeeera English : Crowds celebrate Hariri suspects'release - April 29, 2009
- OTV : report about Ali el Hajj - March 18, 2009
Liens - Links - مواقع ذات صلة
Frederic Megret, McGill University, 2008. A special tribunal for Lebanon: the UN Security Council and the emancipation of International Criminal Justice
International Center for Transitional Justice Handbook on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, April 10, 2008
Conférence de presse de Nicolas Michel, 19 Sept 2007
Conférence de presse de Nicolas Michel, 27 Mars 2008
Département d'Etat américain
* 2009 Human Rights report
* 2008 Human Rights report
* 2007 Human Rights report
* 2006 Human Rights report
* 2005 Human Rights report
ICG - International Crisis Group
The Hariri Tribunal: Separate the Political and the Judicial, 19 July, 2007. [Fr]
HCSS - Hague Centre for strategic studies
Hariri, Homicide and the Hague
Human Rights Watch
* Hariri Tribunal can restore faith in law, 11 may 2006
* Letter to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, april 27, 2006
* STL insufficient without wider action to combat impunity
* Liban : le Tribunal de tous les dangers, mai 2007
* Jeu de mecano
Courrier de l'ACAT - Wadih Al Asmar
Le Tribunal spécial pour le Liban : entre espoir et inquiétude
La justice penale internationale pour le Liban : bienfait ou malediction?
Nadim Shedadi and Elizabeth Wilmshurt, Chatham House
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon : the UN on Trial?, July 2007
Issam Michael Saliba, Law Library of Congress
International Tribunals, National Crimes and the Hariri Assassination : a novel development in International Criminal Law, June 2007
Mona Yacoubian, Council on Foreign Relations
Linkages between Special UN Tribunal, Lebanon, and Syria, June 1, 2007