3 March 2009 The opening of the special tribunal to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of a massive car bomb blast that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others is a watershed moment in the fight against impunity in the Middle-Eastern country, the United Nations Legal Counsel said today.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, an independent and impartial institution located in The Hague, took over from the Beirut-based International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) on Sunday, Patricia O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, told reporters in New York.
The investigation of the murders continues under the guidance of Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare, who also headed the probe while the case rested with the IIIC, and a trial will take place when he has sufficient evidence in place.
“The international community believes that justice is needed for lasting peace,” Ms. O’Brien said, underscoring the importance of the tribunal as a strong signal that political assassinations and other terrorist acts will not be tolerated and that impunity cannot be allowed.
“A key element for the success of the Tribunal is not only that justice be done but that also justice must be seen to be done,” she added.
Safeguards to guarantee the court’s independence and impartiality are built into its founding statute, including provision for a transparent and thorough appointment process for its 11 judges and its prosecutor, as well as the protection of the rights of the accused, she said.
Because the Special Tribunal seat is located outside Lebanon, bringing the activities of the Special Tribunal closer to the population of Lebanon and its region is a priority, Ms. O’Brien maintained.
“The Lebanese people will be kept informed as appropriate and will have access to accurate information,” she said.
For its part the Security Council welcomed the opening of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, as well as Mr. Bellemare’s assumption of the Tribunal’s Office of the Prosecutor.
The 15-member body also commended the IIIC for its extensive work and the Secretary-General for his efforts “in undertaking, in coordination with the Government of Lebanon, the steps and measures to establish the Special Tribunal.”
Members of the Council stressed that the Tribunal was “an important step by Lebanon and the international community to bring to justice those responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others on 14 February 2005 and related cases,” in a message read out by Ibrahim Dabbashi, Chargés d’affaires of the Permanent Mission of Libya, which holds the Council presidency for March.
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