Special Tribunal for Lebanon closes due to economic problems
June 9, 2021, 13:03
BEIRUT — The 12-year-old United Nations-backed international tribunal that continues assassinations of Lebanese politicians will cease operations this month unless funds are secured, as Lebanon’s currency crisis continues to worsen.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, based near The Hague, was due to begin its appeal hearings in July in the murder case of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. A verdict was rendered in the case last year, finding one defendant guilty and acquitting three others. On June 16, the court was also due to begin hearing arguments in a second trial linked to the assassination of Lebanese politician George Hawi and the attempted assassinations of Marwan Hamade and Elias Murr, both former cabinet members. Hamade and Murr were both injured and two others died in the attacks.
“For now, the STL is threatened with impending closure unless it receives contributions before the end of the month,” said Wajed Ramadan, the tribunal’s public affairs official. “Without resources, the tribunal could not continue beyond July. “
Lebanon pays 49 percent of the tribunal’s expenses and the UN pays the remaining costs for the tribunal, which was established in 2007 by UN resolution 1757. Last year the court’s budget was $ 67 million. The UN has provided $ 15.5 million to help cover the Lebanese government’s share this year, which represents 75 percent of the government’s projected liability. Essentially, Lebanon risks losing responsibility for a series of political assassinations over an unpaid $ 5 million bill.
Hariri, who died along with 22 others, was killed by a huge car bomb on a seaside road in Beirut in 2005, one of the political assassinations of Lebanese politicians and media figures. Many Lebanese accuse the Syrian government of ordering the attacks, while the court convicted only one person, a Lebanese member of Hezbollah, the militant movement and political party that is Syria’s main ally in Lebanon. .
For families awaiting the start of next week’s trial, the announcement last week that the court was suspending operations left them wondering if anyone would ever be held responsible for the murders. The court’s handling of the case prevented them from trying to use the Lebanese courts to prosecute crimes, and they have been waiting for more than a decade for the special tribunal to hear the cases.
“You are wasting the rights of victims and denying them justice, at least start the trial so that we can express our views and concerns, we are victims, and we are not asking for more than moral reparation that ‘is that justice,’ said a group representing victims of Hawi’s assassination and the two related attempts, said in a prepared statement.
The procedure has in many ways failed to please anyone. All the accused are tried in absentia, as the Lebanese authorities have not apprehended any of them.
The tribunal, once a point of considerable political tension and frequent media discussion, has been overshadowed by other concerns and the changing political winds from Lebanon. Saad Hariri, the son of the assassinated prime minister, himself served multiple terms as prime minister and was forced to come to terms with Hezbollah for years in order to form governments and run the country. Hezbollah is firmly entrenched, and while the proceedings at one point could have tarnished their image, they are no longer.
The verdict last year against Salim Ayyash, the accused and member of Hezbollah, intervened less than two weeks after a massive explosion that destroyed much of the port of Beirut and killed more than 200 people. The Lebanese government is near ruin amid an economic collapse that has left more than half of Lebanese living below the poverty line and threatens to end government subsidies for fuel and basic food. Since 2019, the Lebanese pound has lost more than 85% of its value. In recent weeks, queues have sprouted at gas stations across the country as fuel is rationed and Lebanese exchange advice on where to find medicine when pharmacies run out.
In the face of this kind of economic crisis, paying millions of dollars to cover half the cost of the court is toxic in many neighborhoods in Lebanon.
“It’s not profitable. The cost is enormous, even before the economic collapse in Lebanon, ”said Omar Nashabe, a criminal justice expert who has served as an advisor to three of the court’s defense teams. ” We do not have money. Most court costs go to the prosecutor’s office. Nashabe believes, like many others, that the system has always been about singling out Syria.
“The whole tribunal was created to be used for political purposes by the Western powers,” he said, especially former French President Jacques Chirac. “He was really pushing for this tribunal and to circumvent Lebanon’s constitution and the country’s sovereignty, or whatever is left of it.”
Chirac, who died in 2019, was a personal friend of Rafik Hariri. Saad Hariri, currently Lebanese prime minister, called on the Lebanese government to continue funding the tribunal, a position that Nashabe called hypocritical while Hariri and the rest of the political establishment have done little since the assassinations to fight against judicial corruption in Lebanon. .
“They did nothing to fix the local justice system, and none of the other politicians did anything. And now they are crying to stop the international justice system. Is it an independent country, or a kiosk on the beach where you import everything, including justice? Nashabe asked.
The special tribunal stands out both for its lack of progress and for the way it is apparently closed without warning.
“I think this is quite unique and unprecedented – there have been courts that have closed, but the reason and the speed with which they have been closed raise questions,” said Benjamin Duerr, an expert in international law. “When the other courts were closed, they had been preparing for the end of the court for many years. In this case, it happened quite quickly, and I don’t know if the organization is prepared for it.
“If you compare it to other courts, like Rwanda or Yugoslavia, its impact has been really minimal, both in practical terms for the people and the country it served and also in the area of international law,” said said Duerr. “There were some rulings that international lawyers could still refer to, but not much more than a footnote. Aside from how it ended.
The imminent closure of the tribunal threatens to nullify more than a decade of investigations.
“It is very difficult to understand that all the work will have been done for next to nothing, without human and financial resources to finalize even one case,” said Ramadan, the court’s spokesman. “My thoughts are with the victims, who have waited all these years to see some kind of justice served. It also sends a sad message globally – it is a message that terrorist crimes will go unpunished. “
“I would just like to reiterate the call from the STL to the international community, to continue or renew your support for the STL to enable it to complete its work,” Ramadan said. “It really played a role in the development of international criminal justice. It was the first international institution to give a legal definition of terrorism. It would be a very bad message if we were to close due to lack of funds. “