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

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The devastating explosion in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005, brought widespread international condemnation. (AFP)
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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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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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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

  • 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


East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2

Updated 26 sec ago

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2

  • The self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces said the helicopters collided in the air over the village of Msus
  • The crash came as they have been battling Chadian fighters in Libya’s southern areas on the border with Chad
CAIRO: Forces loyal to a powerful Libyan commander said two military planes crashed on Sunday over a village in eastern Libya, killing at least two officers.
The self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, said the helicopters collided in the air over the village of Msus, 130 kilometers (81 miles) southeast of the city of Benghazi.
A two-officer crew, including Brig. Gen. Bouzied Al-Barrasi, was killed in the crash, while the second helicopter crew survived, the forces said in a brief statement. It did not give the cause of the crash and said the helicopters were on a military mission.
Mohammad Younes Menfi, head of Libya’s Presidential Council, mourned the two officers.
Haftar’s forces control eastern and most of southern Libya. The crash came as they have been battling Chadian fighters in Libya’s southern areas on the border with Chad.
The clashes erupted last week and could further destabilize the wider Sahel region, after Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno was killed in April in battels between his government and Chadian rebels.

Syria’s defense chief meets Jordan’s army commander in Amman

Updated 19 September 2021

Syria’s defense chief meets Jordan’s army commander in Amman

  • Meeting was “to increase coordination in the field of border security”: Hala Akhbar news site
  • Petra said Huneiti and Ayoub discussed border situation in southern Syria and fighting terrorism

AMMAN: Syria’s defense minister met Sunday with Jordan’s army chief in Amman after after Syrian troops captured several rebel-held areas near Jordan’s border, state media reported.
The Hala Akhbar news site, which is linked to Jordan’s military, reported that the meeting between Jordanian Gen. Yousef Huneiti and Syrian Gen. Ali Ayoub was “to increase coordination in the field of border security to serve the interests of the two brotherly countries.”
The recent push by Syrian troops in the country’s south is the biggest since government forces captured wide areas along the border in 2018, including the Nassib border crossing.
The crossing with Jordan was reopened in 2018, months after it fell under Syrian government control. Syrian rebels had seized the site in 2015, severing a lifeline for the government in Damascus and disrupting a major trade route linking Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the oil-rich Gulf countries.
Ayoub’s visit came nearly two weeks after Syrian forces entered the rebel-held district of the volatile southern city of Daraa as part of a truce negotiated by Russia to end weeks of fighting. In the days that followed, Syrian troops captured rebel-held parts of several villages near Daraa.
The latest push by Syrian troops brings all parts of southern Syria under full government control.
Petra, Jordan’s state news agency, said Huneiti and Ayoub discussed border security, the situation in southern Syria, fighting terrorism and confronting narcotics smuggling.
Syrian state TV said the visit came at the invitation of Jordan’s army commander, adding that Ayoub was accompanied by top army officers. It said the talks focused on “fighting terrorism and border control.”
Jordan is a close Western ally and has long been seen as an island of stability in the turbulent Mideast. The kingdom hosts more than 650,000 Syrian refugees.
Earlier this month, ministers from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt said after meeting in Amman that Egyptian natural gas should reach Lebanon through Jordan and Syria as soon as next month, after maintenance of pipelines and the review of a deal interrupted 10 years ago.

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TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway

Updated 19 September 2021

TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway

  • The first tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it was taken into Lebanon on tanker trucks on Thursday
  • Mikati said on Friday the Iranian fuel shipments constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty

DUBAI: A third tanker has sailed from Iran carrying Iranian fuel for distribution in Lebanon, TankerTrackers.com reported on Twitter on Sunday.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Friday the Iranian fuel shipments, imported by the Hezbollah movement, constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty.
The Iran-aligned group says the shipments should ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon.
The first tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it was taken into Lebanon on tanker trucks on Thursday.
Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.


Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break

Updated 19 September 2021

Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break

  • A country with a millennia-long history, Iran has an abundance of 746 museums
  • Iran’s museums attracted more than 21 million visitors in the year before the outbreak of COVID-19

TEHRAN: Iran reopened museums in Tehran and other cities Sunday after a more than year-long closure because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Museums in Tehran and other large cities that are no longer red-coded, meaning the risk of contracting the virus was very high, reopened on Sunday,” the director of Iran’s museums, Mohammad-Reza Kargar, said.
“Tourists and visitors are welcome to return while observing (sanitary) measures.”
A country with a millennia-long history, Iran has an abundance of 746 museums, including 170 in the capital.
“We are absolutely delighted, and we think the people are too because they were fed up with staying home, and visiting museums improves their mood,” Kargar said in his tourism and heritage ministry office.
“We have safety protocols in place of course, and the number of visitors will be dependent on the space at our sites so the public stays safe and healthy.”
Kargar said only students, researchers and staff were allowed into museums during the past 14 months.
Iran’s museums attracted more than 21 million visitors in the year before the outbreak of COVID-19 that forced museums to close in May 2020.
On Sunday, the National Museum of Iran with its magnificent collection of treasures dating back to the Bronze and Iron ages was still deserted.
“We have to wait for the news to spread and schools to reopen for people to come back,” explained Firouzeh Sepidnameh, head of the museum’s pre-Islamic collections.
Iran, the worst-hit country in the Middle East, has confirmed more than 5.4 million cases of coronavirus, including 117,000 deaths, according to figures issued Sunday by the health ministry.
Out of a population of 83 million, 29 million Iranians have received a first dose of vaccination and almost 14 million have been fully vaccinated against the virus.


Former Algerian president Bouteflika given state funeral

Updated 19 September 2021

Former Algerian president Bouteflika given state funeral

  • Bouteflika passed away on Friday aged 84, having lived as a recluse since he was forced from power
  • State television announced that Bouteflika would be laid to rest at El-Alia cemetery, east of Algiers

ALGIERS: Former Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, ousted in 2019 after mass protests, was given a state funeral on Sunday attended by senior officials but received little of the attention given to such occasions in the past.
Bouteflika died on Friday, aged 84. An armoured vehicle decked with flowers pulled his coffin, covered with the national flag, on a gun carriage from his home in Zeralda, west of the capital, to the Al-Alia cemetery in Algiers where five of his predecessors are buried.
Bouteflika was first elected in 1999, and is widely credited with a national reconciliation policy that restored peace after a war with armed Islamists in the 1990s killed an estimated 200,000 people.
But many Algerians blame him for the economic stagnation of his latter years in power, when he was rarely seen in public after suffering a stroke, and widespread corruption led to the looting of tens of billions of dollars from a state that depends heavily on its large gas and oil reserves.
He stepped down in April 2019 after mass demonstrations to reject his plan to seek a fifth term, and demand political and economic reforms.
As well as Bouteflika's family, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who laid a wreath of flowers on the tomb, and many ministers of the current government and military officers, including army chief of staff Lieutenant-General Said Chenegriha, were among the mourners.


Attendees also included foreign diplomats in Algiers.
The French presidency on Sunday described Bouteflika as "a major figure in the contemporary history of Algeria", adding that he embodied the foreign policy of Algeria.
"The President of the Republic sends his condolences to the Algerian people and remains committed to developing close relations of esteem and friendship between the French people and Algerian people," the French presidency said in a statement.
But state media gave little attention to the funeral, and state television did not broadcast live pictures of the burial ceremony, as it has the funerals of past presidents. It later showed recorded footage.
Until 2014, Bouteflika was able to use the export earnings from high energy prices to pay off foreign debt and keep spending on subsidies at high levels to avoid social unrest.
"The years of Bouteflika's rule were a good period. He accomplished major projects, rid the country of foreign debt and brought back peace," said schoolteacher Mohamed Hachi.
But his stroke, and a decline in energy prices, ushered in a more difficult time.
"Bouteflika's period witnessed a terrible spread of corruption that the public couldn't see until after he was forced out of power," said state bank employee Djamel Harchi.
Several former senior officials, including prime ministers, ministers and army generals, have been jailed for corruption since Bouteflika resigned in April 2019 under pressure from a protest movement known as Hirak.
Thousands of members of the leaderless movement continued to take to the streets every week until authorities banned rallies because of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.
Bouteflika was a fighter in the 1954-1962 war that ended French colonial rule.
He became Algeria's first foreign minister and one of the forces behind the Non-Aligned Movement, which gave a global voice to many of the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.