‘No progress’ in Lebanon over Hariri tribunal ratification – UN legal chief

Nicolas Michel

2 May 2007 – Lebanon’s key political forces have made no progress in ending their deadlock over the ratification of a planned special tribunal to try the suspected killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the United Nations Legal Counsel said today after briefing the Security Council on his recent visit to the country.

Nicolas Michel, who is also Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, told journalists that during his meetings in Beirut he was unable to persuade Lebanon’s major political figures – who have all expressed strong support in principle for the tribunal – to settle their differences.

The Government, headed by Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, and the opposition have been in dispute for some months over the current composition of the Government, and Mr. Michel said that for many opposition figures a resolution of that issue was a precondition for ending the deadlock on the tribunal.

“I can simply say that, for now, from all the discussions that I had, from all the efforts that I attempted, I see no progress,” he said, stressing that his mandate was very specific and did not include Lebanon’s internal politics or canvassing alternatives to the tribunal.

Earlier, Mr. Michel briefed Council members on his visit to Lebanon late last month, where he met with a series of interlocutors, including Mr. Siniora, President Emile Lahoud and Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri.

Mr. Michel was dispatched to Beirut by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to offer legal assistance to the Lebanese as they work towards parliamentary ratification of the agreement on setting up the tribunal, a necessary step for the tribunal to enter into force. Yet Lebanon’s parliamentary forces have been deadlocked on the issue and there has been no vote.

The planned tribunal will be of “an international character” to deal with the assassination of Mr. Hariri, who was killed along with 22 others in a massive car bombing in downtown Beirut in February 2005.

Once it is formally established, it will be up to the tribunal to determine whether other political killings in Lebanon since October 2004 were connected to Mr. Hariri’s assassination and could therefore be dealt with by the tribunal.

In April 2005 the Security 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 year.

Serge Brammertz, the current IIIC head, told the Council last 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.

Meanwhile, senior officials from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) held a tripartite meeting today to discuss the implementation of the Security Council resolution last year that ended the 34-day war between the IDF and Hizbollah.

The focus of today’s meeting, attended by UNIFIL Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano, was on the full respect of the Blue Line and the strict adherence of all sides to the cessation of hostilities agreement.

“The meeting was a productive one and I am pleased with the progress made,” Maj.-Gen. Graziano said, according to a statement released by UNIFIL. “The constructive attitude shown by the parties augurs well for the future, and will help to maintain the cessation of hostilities, as well as ensure respect of the Blue Line.”

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