The case for continued financial support for Lebanon’s Hariri tribunal

The devastating explosion in Beirut on  Feb. 14, 2005, brought widespread international condemnation. (AFP)
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The devastating explosion in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005, brought widespread international condemnation. (AFP)
The case for continued financial support for Lebanon’s Hariri tribunal
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Members of the UN's Special Tribunal for Lebanon participate in a hearing on the Rafik assassination. (AFP file photo)
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Members of the UN's Special Tribunal for Lebanon participate in a hearing on the Rafik assassination. (AFP file photo)
A picture of the late former Lebanese PM Rafic Hariri is shown during a rally by his supporters outside his house in Beirut. (AFP file)
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A picture of the late former Lebanese PM Rafic Hariri is shown during a rally by his supporters outside his house in Beirut. (AFP file)
In this Feb. 19, 2005, photo, three of the sons of slain Lebanese former PM Rafiq Hariri, (from L to R) Ayman, Saadeddin and Bahaa visit the site of the massive explosion in which their father was killed on Feb. 14. (AFP file)
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In this Feb. 19, 2005, photo, three of the sons of slain Lebanese former PM Rafiq Hariri, (from L to R) Ayman, Saadeddin and Bahaa visit the site of the massive explosion in which their father was killed on Feb. 14. (AFP file)
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Updated 29 July 2021

The case for continued financial support for Lebanon’s Hariri tribunal

The case for continued financial support for Lebanon’s Hariri tribunal
  • Critics argue the Special Tribunal for Lebanon failed and should close down because it did not lead to a single arrest 
  • Experts participating in an Arab News webinar said Hariri tribunal should be allowed to complete its mandate

LONDON: The clock is ticking ever closer to a moment of reckoning. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which was established to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, has run out of money and is due to permanently close at the end of July.

In the midst of an unprecedented national economic crisis, authorities in Lebanon said they are no longer able to cover their 49 percent share of the tribunal’s $40 million-a-year operating costs. The remaining 51 percent is provided by 28 donors, including the US government and several European states.

The STL announced its verdict almost a year ago. Despite repeated government appeals for financial assistance to help the STL fully fulfill its mandate, and impassioned defense of its achievements so far by experts in international criminal justice, donor nations appear content to allow it to adjourn for good.

At the time of its launch there was widespread support for the tribunal, as Lebanon reeled from one of its worst atrocities since the civil war. On Valentine’s Day 2005, a massive car bomb exploded outside St. Georges Hotel in Beirut. It killed Hariri and 21 other people, and left 269 wounded.

The international community responded by issuing a number of UN Security Council resolutions and setting up an investigative commission to assist the Lebanese authorities in investigating the murder and other political crimes.

Four years after the assassination, UN Security Council Resolution 1757 established the STL, based in Leidschendam in the Netherlands, kick-starting the task of seeking the truth and obtaining justice for the victims.

The tribunal issued its judgment on Aug. 18 last year. It found Hezbollah member Salim Jamil Ayyash guilty of launching the attack, but acquitted three co-defendants.

After long delays, attacks on investigators, intimidation of witnesses, and routine trouncing by the media, the STL’s verdict was greeted with an almighty shrug. Coming as it did close on the heels of the devastating August 4 Beirut port explosion, the decision was seen by many as proof that the process had failed because it “convicted only one person.”

Defenders of the work of the STL acknowledge that the court and its verdict have their limits, but say it nonetheless represents a successful multilateral effort to reinforce a rules-based international order. They also argue its mission is incomplete and part of a wider learning curve for institutions of international criminal justice.

“No international criminal tribunal has ever halted its work in this way due to a funding shortfall and this should never have happened with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon because it should have been allowed to complete its mandate,” Olga Kavran, head of outreach and legacy at the STL from 2010 until last year, said during a webinar hosted by the Arab News Research and Studies unit on Monday.




Olga Kavran

“This is not to say that there should not have been a thorough examination of the way that the tribunal has been managed, of the way that the proceedings of the tribunal have been conducted because, after all, international criminal justice as a project is one (that is) in development, and all other international criminal tribunals have been examined and scrutinized so that the best practices can be learned, so that the international criminal justice project can advance.”

  • Read the full report on Arab News Research & Studies by clicking here
  • Watch the Briefing Room webinar "The Special Tribunal for Lebanon: Truth, Justice or Accountability?" by clicking here

Kavran, founding director of IUSTICOM, the first non-governmental organization focused on communicating justice, is the co-author of a report titled “The Special Tribunal for Lebanon: Truth, Justice or Accountability?” that was recently published by the Lebanese American University’s (LAU) New York Academic Center in collaboration with the Arab News Research and Studies Unit.

It offers a passionate defense of the STL and examines some of the possible reasons for the poor reception to it.




In this Feb. 19, 2005, photo, three of the sons of slain Lebanese former PM Rafiq Hariri, (from L to R) Ayman, Saadeddin and Bahaa visit the site of the massive explosion in which their father was killed on Feb. 14. (AFP file)

The STL was the first international tribunal with jurisdiction over terrorism and the first to conduct trials in the absence of the accused. For the first time in the region, it introduced the principle of accountability for political crimes.

Crucially, at a local level in Lebanon the STL did succeed in delivering a significant part of “the truth” that people wanted after the assassination of Hariri.

“Disappointment with the judgment is based on a combination of unrealistic expectations, a lack of understanding of the tribunal’s rigorous procedures, and legitimate concerns about the narrowness of its mandate and the length of time it took to reach its judgment,” according to the report.

“In view of the scale of suffering during the Lebanese Civil War, for which no one has ever been held accountable, and the dozens of political assassinations throughout Lebanon’s history, it was indeed difficult to argue that the assassination of one man warranted such an expensive and complex legal instrument.

“This added to the unrealistic expectations that the tribunal would address much broader issues of states and groups which regularly interfere with and undermine the authority of the Lebanese nation.”




Members of the UN's Special Tribunal for Lebanon participate in a hearing on the Rafik assassination. (AFP file photo)

Among the critics of the tribunal is David Schenker, a former US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs and the Taube Senior Fellow at The Washington Institute. In an essay published in Foreign Policy magazine on July 19, he concluded that the STL “has not led to a single arrest, so Washington should let it expire and help the Lebanese people in better ways.”

He wrote: “The truth about who killed Hariri has been firmly established by the court but in Lebanon, where the verdict needs to be implemented, the wheels of justice do not grind. As with so many political murders there, no one has been held accountable for his death.”

  • Read the full report on Arab News Research & Studies by clicking here
  • Watch the Briefing Room webinar "The Special Tribunal for Lebanon: Truth, Justice or Accountability?" by clicking here

Ayyash, the convicted plotter, is thought still to be living in the country, under the protection of Hezbollah, but the Lebanese authorities have made scant efforts to arrest him.

“Proponents of the tribunal argue that, to this day, it continues to serve this purpose by exposing Hezbollah’s crimes and thus damaging its reputation,” Schenker said. “Alas, there is little evidence to suggest that Hezbollah’s supporters are repulsed by this or any other murder linked to the organization.

“Instead, 16 years after Hariri’s death, the tribunal, which has cost various countries’ taxpayers nearly $800 million, has become a distraction amid Lebanon’s self-inflicted state failure and Hezbollah’s increasing dominance of the state.”

INNUMBERS

51% of tribunal’s funding provided by international donors.

49% of funding provided by Lebanese government.

He therefore sees no use in prolonging the life of the court any further.

“Even if the Lebanese government and the United Nations try to salvage the court, the Biden administration should let the tribunal expire,” Schenker said. “The court cannot implement its verdict in its most important case, and with the economic situation in Lebanon rapidly deteriorating, continuing to pay for the tribunal would constitute an appalling misallocation of resources.”

Whatever its outcome, the tribunal has added significantly to the historical record. The judgment’s 2,641 pages, and the evidence laid out in them, are especially important for Lebanon, where a culture of “moving on” and a deeply ingrained concept of leaving the past behind in the name of “stability” have long prevailed.

During Monday’s webinar, report co-author Nadim Shehadi, executive director of the LAU Headquarters and Academic Center in New York and an associate fellow of the international affairs think tank Chatham House in London, said: “In 2005, the Lebanese asked for the truth.




Nadim Shehadi

“But they asked for an international tribunal not because it would just deliver the truth. They wanted an international tribunal because they also wanted the international community to know the truth, because they felt that in the past 10-15 years they had been abandoned. If the international community knew the truth then the protection would be restored.

“It (the tribunal) has been ignored internally — not just because people are bored, not because it took a long time, not because it’s partial — (with) lots of criticisms of the process. I think it is because they cannot handle the truth.”

  • Read the full report on Arab News Research & Studies by clicking here
  • Watch the Briefing Room webinar "The Special Tribunal for Lebanon: Truth, Justice or Accountability?" by clicking here

Above all, the report argues that a failure to address the findings of the Hariri case, while also halting the case dealing with three terrorist attacks on Lebanese politicians Marwan Hamade, George Hawi and Elias El-Murr on the eve of the tribunal, would send the message that impunity prevails in the Middle East.

Nidal Jurdi, a Canadian-Lebanese lawyer who is the acting representative of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Tunisia and the lead victim representative at the STL, also took part in the webinar.




Nidal Jurdi

He argued that much of the disappointment with the tribunal stems from the decision to convict only a single individual, rather than pursue the commanders who ordered the attack or others who participated in the plot.

The inability to enforce the verdict made the tribunal appear wasteful, he added. Given this, combined with the slow pace of the investigation and a perceived misuse of resources, he said he is not surprised the STL received such a negative reception.

“The STL was needed, and the legacy and example is needed — but a reformed one that can really see the situation how it was in Lebanon in such a situation of organized crime,” Jurdi said.

Indeed, he believes that if the court is allowed to close now, it will be a more cruel blow to the victims and their families than if it had not been established in the first place.

“The victims, now, they are devastated,” he said. “If you ask me, it would have been better not to indict than to indict and then retreat. How does it look?

“Do you think anyone would believe any more in international justice in the Middle East or Lebanon? It would become a joke.”

  • Read the full report on Arab News Research & Studies by clicking here
  • Watch the Briefing Room webinar "The Special Tribunal for Lebanon: Truth, Justice or Accountability?" by clicking here


UN updates named death toll for Syria war

A Syrian Civil Defence member carries a wounded child in the besieged town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria January 6, 2018. (Reuters/File Photo)
A Syrian Civil Defence member carries a wounded child in the besieged town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria January 6, 2018. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 7 sec ago

UN updates named death toll for Syria war

A Syrian Civil Defence member carries a wounded child in the besieged town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria January 6, 2018. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • OHCHR included only fatalities identifiable by a full name, with a place of death and an established date, from March 2011 to March 2021

GENEVA: The war in Syria has killed 350,209 fully identified individuals, according to a new count published Friday by the United Nations, which warned the real total of deaths would be far higher.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) included only fatalities identifiable by a full name, with a place of death and an established date, from March 2011 to March 2021.

“We assess this figure of 350,209 as statistically sound, based as it is on rigorous work,” High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council.

“It is not — and should not be seen as — a complete number of conflict-related killings in Syria during this period.

“It indicates a minimum verifiable number, and is certainly an under-count of the actual number of killings.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the benchmark for counting victims of the conflict, published a report on June 1 raising the death toll to 494,438 since the start of the violent crackdown on anti-regime protests in 2011.

The Observatory revised up by 105,000 its previous death toll from March 2021, following months of investigation based on documents and sources on the ground.

UN rights chief Bachelet said more than one in 13 victims on the OHCHR count was a woman — 27,727 — while almost one in every 13 was a child — 27,126.

She said the greatest number of documented fatalities was in the Aleppo governorate, with 51,731 named individuals killed.

Other locations with heavy death tolls were Rural Damascus (47,483), Homs (40,986), Idlib (33,271), Hama (31,993) and Tartus (31,369).

Bachelet said OHCHR had received records with partial information which could not go into the analysis but nonetheless indicated a wider number of killings that were not yet fully documented.

“Tragically, there are also many other victims who left behind no witnesses or documentation,” she said.

OHCHR has begun processing information on those alleged to have caused a number of deaths, together with the civilian and non-civilian status of victims, and the cause of death by types of weaponry.

“Documenting the identity of and circumstances in which people have died is key to the effective realisation of a range of fundamental human rights — to know the truth, to seek accountability, and to pursue effective remedies,” said Bachelet.

The former Chilean president said the Syrian people's daily lives "remain scarred by unimaginable suffering... and there is still no end to the violence they endure.”

Bachelet said the count would ensure those killed were not forgotten.

“Behind each recorded death was a human being, born free and equal, in dignity and rights,” she said.


Lebanon president tells UN big challenges await government, help needed

Lebanon president tells UN big challenges await government, help needed
Updated 1 min 42 sec ago

Lebanon president tells UN big challenges await government, help needed

Lebanon president tells UN big challenges await government, help needed

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun told the United Nations General Assembly on Friday that big challenges awaited his country’s new government and asked the international community for funding to revive its crisis-stricken economy.
“We are relying on the international community to fund vital projects, whether in the public or private sector, in order to revive the economic cycle and create new job opportunities,” Aoun told the gathering via a recorded video message.
Lebanon is in the throes of a financial crisis that the World Bank has called one of the deepest depressions of modern history.
After a year of political deadlock which has compounded the economic meltdown, a new government was formed this month headed by Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
“With the formation of the new government...Lebanon has entered a new phase that we seek to turn into a promising step on the road to resurgence,” Aoun said.
Mikati has promised to resume talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and to pursue the reforms seen as a necessary pre-requisite for foreign aid to flow in.
Lebanon’s talks with the IMF broke down last summer after a financial recovery plan proposed by the previous government was resisted by many of the country’s top politicians and bankers.
“Lebanon, that is stubbornly trying to pave its way toward recovery, is relying on international support to achieve its goals,” Aoun said.


Macron urges new Lebanese PM to undertake ‘urgent’ reforms

Macron urges new Lebanese PM to undertake ‘urgent’ reforms
Updated 50 min 4 sec ago

Macron urges new Lebanese PM to undertake ‘urgent’ reforms

Macron urges new Lebanese PM to undertake ‘urgent’ reforms
  • Reforms should include improving public finances, reducing corruption, improving public finances: Macron
  • Mikati vowed to respect the country’s political timetable and hold general elections next year

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday urged the new Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati to undertake “urgent” reforms to help his crisis-wracked country, as the two men met for the first time in Paris.
After repeating previous criticism of Lebanon’s political class, Macron told Mikati it was “urgent to implement measures and essential reforms” and that Lebanon “could count on” former colonial power France for support.
The reforms should include tackling power and other infrastructure problems, improving public finances, reducing corruption, and stabilising the banking system, he said.
Mikati said he had come to the French capital to reassure Macron that he and his new government, approved by the Lebanese parliament on Monday, were committed to reforming.
“I expressed my determination to implement ... the necessary reforms as soon as possible in order to restore confidence, to give hope and reduce the suffering of the Lebanese population,” he said.
He also vowed to respect the country’s political timetable and hold general elections next year.
The billionaire’s nomination has brought an end to 13 months of political deadlock since an August 2020 blast that killed at least 214 people and devastated swathes of the capital Beirut.
An economic meltdown since then has depleted central bank reserves, devalued the currency by more than 90 percent and plunged three out of four citizens below the poverty line, while those who can are emigrating by the thousands.
France has led the international response to the tragedy, organizing three international conferences devoted to Lebanon and delivering aid in exchange for promises of political reform and accountability.
Macron traveled to Lebanon two days after the blast, and returned for a second trip.
The 43-year-old French leader has repeatedly expressed exasperation over the failure of Lebanon’s leaders to end the political crisis and tackle the economic emergency.
“It’s a secret for nobody that the negotations took too long while the living conditions of Lebanese people were getting worse,” Macron said on Friday.
Speaking next to Mikati on the steps of the Elysee Palace, he said that the Lebanese population had “a right to know the truth” about the August 2020 blast in Beirut.
One of the largest non-nuclear blasts in history, the explosion was caused by a vast stock of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that had sat for years in a port warehouse, a stone’s throw from residential districts.


Iran says nuclear talks to resume ‘very soon,’ gives no date

Iran says nuclear talks to resume ‘very soon,’ gives no date
Updated 35 min 18 sec ago

Iran says nuclear talks to resume ‘very soon,’ gives no date

Iran says nuclear talks to resume ‘very soon,’ gives no date
  • Senior US official this week made clear Washington's frustration with Tehran over the absence of any "positive indication" it is prepared to return to the talks
  • European diplomats have served as chief intermediaries between Washington and Tehran

NEW YORK: Iran will return to negotiations on resuming compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal "very soon," Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told reporters on Friday.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran will return to the table of negotiations. We are reviewing the Vienna negotiations files currently and, very soon, Iran’s negotiations with the 'four plus one' countries will recommence," Amirabdollahian said.
He was referring to talks that began in April between Iran and the five other nations still in the 2015 deal - Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. European diplomats have served as chief intermediaries between Washington and Tehran, which has refused to negotiate directly with US officials.
Under the deal Iran curbed its uranium enrichment program, a possible pathway to nuclear arms, in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. Then-US President Donald Trump quit the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, crippling Iran's economy and prompting Iran to take steps to violate its nuclear limits.


Libyan leader to hold international conference on country’s security, stability

Libyan leader to hold international conference on country’s security, stability
Updated 24 September 2021

Libyan leader to hold international conference on country’s security, stability

Libyan leader to hold international conference on country’s security, stability
  • Mohammed Al-Menfi revealed that security, military, and economic issues would top the agenda of the meeting that would also shore up support for the upcoming national elections

WASHINGTON: The chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya on Thursday said he would be staging an international conference next month to gain backing for efforts to bring stability and security to the country.

Mohammed Al-Menfi revealed that security, military, and economic issues would top the agenda of the meeting that would also shore up support for the upcoming national elections.

Al-Menfi, who is attending the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, added that the conference would host Libyan groups eager for reconciliation along with regional and international parties to push for the stability and security that has eluded Libya since the 2011 fall of Muammar Qaddafi who ruled the country for 40 years.

The Libyan leader said despite working on reconciliation efforts among Libyan groups, challenges still lay ahead on the road to achieving democracy.

He noted that Libya had made “significant strides” in implementing solutions that were mandated through agreements between the different Libyan groups and UN resolutions.

However, despite the progress, Al-Menfi pointed out that the country was still “faced with serious challenges and fast-paced developments” that could stall the ongoing political process.

On the ground, Libya remains confronted by many daunting challenges toward achieving political unity among its entrenched warring parties. Conflict still persists between the Tripoli-based Presidential Council and Gen. Khalifa Haftar who controls the eastern half of the country as well as the Libyan armed forces.

A transitional government was formed earlier this year to move the country forward toward elections on Dec. 24.

“Libya has the choice to either succeed toward becoming a democracy through free and transparent elections or go back to square one of infighting and military conflict,” Al-Menfi said.

He called on the international community to assist Libya in removing foreign militaries and mercenaries from the country as a way to build a “conducive environment for safe and transparent elections.”

Al-Menfi also demanded that European countries share their responsibilities in addressing the issue of illegal African migrants who pass through Libya on the way north to Europe, adding that his country had carried the burden alone and deserved support from the international community.

On the issues of human rights abuses that plagued Libya during its decade-long civil war, and the presence of terrorist groups on Libyan soil, he said his government was committed to safeguarding the human rights of the Libyan people and had worked toward bringing meaningful reconciliation through detainees and prisoners exchange, reparation, and addressing the fate of missing people.

Al-Menfi reiterated Libyan support for the Palestinian people and said his country was committed to the establishment of the Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.