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


COVID-19, Palestine and Iranian nukes feature in first day of UN General Assembly speeches

Updated 22 September 2021

COVID-19, Palestine and Iranian nukes feature in first day of UN General Assembly speeches

  • The leaders of the US, Egypt and Turkey raised the issue of Palestinian rights and statehood, and called for a just and comprehensive solution
  • Iran’s president took aim at Washington, saying it has ‘no credibility; Qatar’s emir hailed the resolution of the dispute with neighboring countries

NEW YORK: The COVID-19 pandemic dominated the first day of speeches by world leaders during the 76th session of the UN General Assembly. But some also took the opportunity to raise the question of Palestinian statehood and express their fears about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. 

The leaders of the US, Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and Iran were among the premiers who addressed the UNGA on Tuesday. The speeches continued late into the evening, with many running over their allotted 15-minute slots.

US President Joe Biden declared that the US is back on the world stage and remains committed to multilateralism. As evidence of this he cited the nation’s return to the Paris Climate Agreement and its contribution to the international Covax vaccine-sharing initiative.

“Already, the United States has put more than $15 billion toward the global COVID response,” said Biden, who was making his first in-person speech to the UN as president. “We’ve shipped more than 160 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to other countries. This includes 130 million doses from our own supply,” with “no strings attached.”

Moving on to other issues, he called for the establishment of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state, saying that this is the “best way” to safeguard Israel’s future.

“We must seek a future of greater peace and security for all people of the Middle East,” Biden said. “The commitment of the United States to Israel’s security is without question, and our support for an independent Jewish state is unequivocal.

“But I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable, sovereign and democratic Palestinian state.

“We’re a long way from that goal at this moment but we should never allow ourselves to give up on the possibility of progress.”

On the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, Biden said: “We’re prepared to return to full compliance (with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal) if Iran does the same.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi also addressed the issue of Palestinian statehood.

“There can be no stability in the Middle East without a just, lasting, and comprehensive solution for the Palestinian question, which remains the central cause of instability for the Arab region,” he said. “This must happen in accordance with international resolutions to establish a Palestinian state along the June 4, 1967 border, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“Egypt also calls upon the international community to take the necessary measures to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian people.”

Turning his attention to matters closer to home, El-Sisi said Egypt is “immensely proud” of its African identity but decried the lack of progress in negotiations over the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam project. Located upriver on the Nile, Egyptian authorities say it threatens their country’s existence due to its reliance on Nile water.

In his prerecorded speech, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who assumed office this year, took aim at the US over its withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Capitol riots in Washington on Jan. 6, saying that America has “no credibility.”

He also blamed American authorities for causing the COVID-19 crisis in Iran, accusing them of preventing the country from obtaining vaccine supplies. He failed to mention that in January, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned the import of Western-produced vaccines, falsely claiming they could not be trusted. The ban was subsequently reversed but left Iran facing relentless waves of COVID-19 infections.

Raisi also attempted to convince world leaders that his country does not seek to develop nuclear weapons. “Nukes have no place in our defense doctrine and deterrence policy,” he said.

He also made a plea for sanctions relief, saying: “The Islamic Republic considers useful the talks whose ultimate outcome is the lifting of all oppressive sanctions.”

The leaders of Qatar and Turkey called on the international community to cooperate in delivering vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable countries.

Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani also urged the world to take action to fight what he called the “other pandemic:” COVID-19 misinformation.

He also celebrated his country’s return to the fold of Middle East diplomacy in January, after a dispute with a number of neighboring countries, including Saudi Arabia, was resolved through the AlUla declaration.

“We have repeatedly stressed the importance of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and our commitment to settling any differences through constructive dialogue,” he said. “The AlUla declaration came as an embodiment of the principle of settling differences through dialogue.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would soon start to provide vaccines produced there to the international community. He also echoed the comments by other leaders about the importance of working to find a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Heads of state will continue to address the General Assembly throughout the week. The speech by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is scheduled to take place on Wednesday.


Biden in UN call for independent Palestine

Updated 22 September 2021

Biden in UN call for independent Palestine

  • “We must seek a future of greater peace and security for all people of the Middle East,”

NEW YORK: A sovereign and democratic Palestinian state is the best way to ensure Israel’s future, US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday. “We must seek a future of greater peace and security for all people of the Middle East,” Biden said on the opening day of the UN General Assembly.
“I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable, sovereign and democratic Palestinian state.
“We’re a long way from that goal at this moment but we should never allow ourselves to give up on the possibility of progress.” Biden repeated his promise to return to the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, provided Tehran did the same. Talks on the issue are deadlocked over who takes the first step.
The world faced a “decisive decade,” Biden said, in which leaders must work together to combat a raging coronavirus pandemic, global climate change and cyber threats. He said the US would double its financial commitment on climate aid and spend $10 billion to fight hunger.
Earlier, Antonio Guterres, who begins a second five-year term as secretary-general on Jan. 1, warned of the dangers of the growing gap between China and the US, the world’s largest economies.
“I fear our world is creeping toward two different sets of economic, trade, financial and technology rules, two divergent approaches in the development of artificial intelligence — and ultimately two different military and geopolitical strategies,” Guterres said.
“This is a recipe for trouble. It would be far less predictable than the Cold War.”


Nearly 80 percent of Palestinians want President Abbas to quit: Poll

Updated 22 September 2021

Nearly 80 percent of Palestinians want President Abbas to quit: Poll

  • International community still views him as a crucial partner in peace process

JERUSALEM: A new poll has found that nearly 80 percent of Palestinians want President Mahmoud Abbas to resign, reflecting widespread anger over the death of an activist in security forces’ custody and a crackdown on protests over the summer.

The survey released Tuesday found support for Abbas’ Hamas rivals remained high months after the 11-day Gaza war in May, when the Islamic militant group was widely seen by Palestinians as having scored a victory against a far more powerful Israel while the Western-backed Abbas was sidelined.

The latest poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 45 percent of Palestinians believe Hamas should lead and represent them, while only 19 percent said Abbas’ secular Fatah deserved that role, showing only a slight shift in favor of Fatah over the last three months.

“This is the worst polling we’ve ever seen for the president,” said Khalil Shikaki, the head of the center, who has been surveying Palestinian public opinion for more than two decades. “He has never been in as bad a position as today.”

Despite his plummeting popularity and refusal to hold elections, the international community still views the 85-year-old Abbas as the leader of the Palestinian cause and a crucial partner in the peace process with Israel, which ground to a halt more than a decade ago.

His Palestinian Authority administers parts of the occupied West Bank under interim agreements signed with Israel at the height of the peace process in the 1990s. Hamas drove Abbas’ forces out of Gaza when it seized power there in 2007, a year after winning parliamentary elections.

Abbas’ latest woes began in April, when he called off the first Palestinian elections in 15 years as Fatah appeared to be headed for another embarrassing loss. Hamas’ popularity soared the following month amid protests in Jerusalem and the Gaza war, as many Palestinians accused the PA of doing nothing to aid their struggle against Israeli occupation.

The death of Nizar Banat, a harsh critic of the PA who died after being beaten by Palestinian security forces during a late-night arrest in June, ignited protests in the occupied West Bank calling on Abbas to resign.

His security forces launched a crackdown in response, beating and arresting several demonstrators.

The poll found that 78 percent of Palestinians want Abbas to resign and just 19 percent think he should remain in office.

It found that 63 percent of Palestinians think Banat was killed on the orders of PA political or security leaders, with only 22 percent believing it was a mistake. The PA recently announced that 14 security officials who took part in the arrest will stand trial. Sixty-nine percent of those polled felt that was an insufficient response.

Sixty-three percent of Palestinians support the demonstrations that broke out after Banat’s death, and 74 percent believe the PA’s arrest of demonstrators was a violation of liberties and civil rights, the poll found.

The PCPSR says it surveyed 1,270 Palestinians face-to-face in the West Bank and Gaza, with a margin of error of three percentage points.


Saied vows new electoral code, transition team

Updated 22 September 2021

Saied vows new electoral code, transition team

  • The North African nation was widely seen as a model for budding democracies but has failed to cure chronic unemployment

TUNIS: Tunisia’s president has announced plans to draft a new electoral code and appoint a transitional leadership — and to hang on to the exceptional powers that he seized in July.

President Kais Saied promised that the new initiatives would respect Tunisians’ hard-fought rights and freedoms and democratic constitution. While many Tunisians welcome his moves, human rights groups and some others are concerned about the future of the only country to emerge from the turbulent Arab Spring uprisings with a new democratic system.

Saied spoke to supporters in the impoverished town of Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, where many people are disillusioned with the country’s failure to solve economic and social problems since overthrowing its repressive leaders a decade ago.

He defended his July 25 decision to suspend parliament, fire the prime minister and seize executive powers, which he said was needed to save the country amid unrest over financial troubles and the government’s handling of Tunisia’s coronavirus crisis. He invoked a special constitutional article allowing such measures in the event of imminent danger to the nation, and said they would be in place for 30 days. But they have been extended until further notice.

“Danger still hangs over the country and I cannot leave it like a puppet in the hands of those who act in the shadows, and of corrupt people,” Saied said. He accused unidentified players of “conspiring to cause chaos and confusion” in Tunisia, and said, “There is no question of going back.”

He promised a new electoral code to hold lawmakers more accountable to constituents, and transitional arrangements to run the country before he names a new prime minister. He did not detail them.


Military aid for Israel removed from US bill to fund government

Updated 21 September 2021

Military aid for Israel removed from US bill to fund government

  • Some House Democrats objected to a provision in a stopgap spending bill to provide the additional funding so Israel can replenish its "Iron Dome"
  • That could set the stage for another dispute over military aid for Israel

WASHINGTON: Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday removed $1 billion in military funding for Israel from legislation to fund the US government after objections from House of Representatives liberals, setting the stage for a potential fight over the matter later this year.
Some House Democrats objected to a provision in a stopgap spending bill to provide the additional funding so Israel can replenish its “Iron Dome” missile-defense system.
The US company Raytheon produces many Iron Dome components.
The House is debating legislation to fund the federal government through Dec. 3 and raise the nation’s borrowing limit.
The dispute forced the House Rules Committee to adjourn briefly before leaders of the Appropriations Committee pledged that funding for the Israeli system would be included in a defense spending bill later this year. That could set the stage for another dispute over military aid for Israel.
Democratic Representative Jamaal Bowman said House members had not been given enough time to consider the matter.
“The problem is leadership (will) just throw something on our table, give us about five minutes to decide what we’re going to do and then tries to move forward with it,” Bowman told reporters.
The United States has already provided more than $1.6 billion for Israel to develop and build the Iron Dome system, according to a US Congressional Research Service report last year. This reflects perennially strong support for aid to Israel among both Democrats and Republicans.
Some liberal Democrats objected to that policy this year, citing Palestinian casualties as Israel struck back after Hamas rocket attacks in May. Israel said most of the 4,350 rockets fired from Gaza during the conflict were blown out of the sky by Iron Dome interceptors.