Security Council backs special tribunal for Lebanon to deal with Hariri assassination

Jorge Voto-Bernales

21 November 2006 – The Security Council today gave its support to the establishment of a special tribunal to try those alleged responsible for last year’s assassination of then Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others in a massive car bombing in Beirut.

In a letter to Secretary-General Kofi Annan from Council President Jorge Voto-Bernales of Peru, which holds the rotating presidency for this month, the 15-member body said it was satisfied with the agreement reached by the UN with the Lebanese Government on the tribunal’s form and structure.

The letter follows a report by Mr. Annan on the tribunal and a presentation to Council members yesterday by Under-Secretary-General Nicholas Michel.

Mr. Annan’s report includes the statute needed to set up the “tribunal of an international character” to deal with the Hariri assassination, as well as any other attacks since October 2004 which are “connected in accordance with the principles of criminal justice and are of a nature and gravity similar to the attack of 14 February 2005.”

According to the statute, the tribunal will have concurrent jurisdiction with Lebanon’s national courts, but primacy over those courts within its jurisdiction.

Its chambers will consist of one international pre-trial judge; three judges to serve in the trial chamber (one Lebanese and two international); five judges to serve in the appeals chamber (two Lebanese and three international); and two alternate judges (one Lebanese and one international).

The judges of the trial chamber and those of the appeals chamber will then each elect a presiding judge to conduct the proceedings in their chamber, with the presiding judge of the appeals chamber serving as president of the tribunal.

The prosecutor will be independent of the Lebanese Government and will be appointed by the UN Secretary-General for a three-year term that can be renewed as the Secretary-General decides in consultation with the Government. He or she will have the power to question suspects, victims and witnesses, collect evidence and conduct on-site investigations, and should be assisted by Lebanese authorities where necessary.

The tribunal has the power to impose penalties leading up to and including life imprisonment for anyone found guilty of crimes committed.

In April last year the Council set up the International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) after an earlier UN mission found that Lebanon’s own inquiry into the Hariri assassination was seriously flawed and that Syria was primarily responsible for the political tensions that preceded the attack. Its mandate runs out next June.

Serge Brammertz, the head of the IIIC, told the Council in September that evidence obtained so far suggests that a young, male suicide bomber, probably non-Lebanese, detonated up to 1,800 kilograms of explosives inside a van to assassinate Mr. Hariri.

The IIIC has also been tasked with probing 14 other bombings that have occurred in Lebanon since October 2004, and Mr. Brammertz said evidence points towards his conclusion that many of them were connected.

In their letter today, Council members said they backed the financing option that would mean Lebanon pays for 49 per cent of the tribunal’s expenses and the remainder is borne by voluntary contributions from other States.

They add that they expect the Secretary-General to begin establishing the tribunal when he has sufficient contributions to finance its formation and 12 months of operations, as well as pledges equivalent to another two years of operations. Should voluntary contributions be insufficient, the Council said it would explore alternate means of financing with the Secretary-General.

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