IN BRIEFING TO SECURITY COUNCIL, HEAD OF UNITED NATIONS INVESTIGATION INTO ASSASSINATION OF RAFIK HARIRI CITES PROGRESS IN KEY AREAS

18 December 2006
SC/8911

IN BRIEFING TO SECURITY COUNCIL, HEAD OF UNITED NATIONS INVESTIGATION INTO ASSASSINATION OF RAFIK HARIRI CITES PROGRESS IN KEY AREAS

18 December 2006
Security Council
SC/8911
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5597th Meeting (PM)

IN BRIEFING TO SECURITY COUNCIL, HEAD OF UNITED NATIONS INVESTIGATION

INTO ASSASSINATION OF RAFIK HARIRI CITES PROGRESS IN KEY AREAS

Although the political climate in Lebanon had been volatile during the recent reporting period of the United Nations Commission probing the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, investigators had made progress in two key areas of the case -- developing crime scene evidence and investigating potential perpetrators, the Security Council was told today.

Briefing the members, Serge Brammertz, Commissioner of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission -- presently mandated until June 2007 -- said that the investigation had reached a critical stage.  Both the Prosecutor General of Lebanon and the Commission believed, therefore, that placing information concerning suspects and witnesses in the public domain would make it difficult for sensitive witnesses to step forward and engage with the Commission, and might be prejudicial to future trials before a tribunal.  The findings presented in the current report should be reviewed with those limitations in mind.

The investigation of the 14 February 2005 terrorist bombing in Beirut had remained focused on developing crime scene evidence and investigating potential perpetrators and their linkage to one another, he said.  Following the collection of forensic evidence at the crime scene in June, the Commission had received a final report from external forensic experts confirming many of the Commission’s own hypotheses.  For example, there had been only one blast, with an RDX-based high explosive, and the Mitsubishi van had been the carrier of the improvised explosive device.  It was likely that a person triggered the explosion from within or immediately in front of the van, rather than via a remote-controlled device.

He said that the Commission was also analysing the human parts belonging to the unidentified male believed to be the bomber, which had been recovered from the crime scene.  Forensic results showed that the individual had not spent his youth in Lebanon, but had been situated there in the last two to three months before his death.  The Commission hoped that, after a second phase of analysis, the specific geographic and ethnic origin of that person could be determined.

Many other aspects of the investigation were ongoing, he explained.  The Commission continued to collect information about the increasing threats and pressure on Mr. Hariri during the last 15 months of his life, an analysis of which revealed several potential motives to kill Hariri.  The majority were, in one way or another, linked to his political activities.  At this stage of the investigation, a smaller number of motives had emerged as the most plausible.

The Commission cooperated closely with the Lebanese authorities and was very grateful for their support, especially at a time when the security situation in the country remained highly volatile, he said.  Cooperation with Syria remained “generally satisfactory”, and the Commission would continue to rely on Syria’s full cooperation, which was crucial to the swift and successful completion of its work.  To date, a total of 60 formal requests for assistance of States other than Lebanon and Syria had been issued, including facilitating witness interviews.  Although most countries had responded positively, some had provided late or incomplete responses, which had impeded the investigation on several fronts.

In light of the proposed creation of a special tribunal for Lebanon -– in December 2005, the Council had acknowledged the Lebanese Government’s request that those eventually charged with involvement in the terrorist attack be tried by an international tribunal and asked the Secretary-General to help identify the nature and scope of assistance needed in that regard –- the Commission would realign its objectives and organize its work in a manner that would facilitate the transition to such a tribunal, he said.  In the 50 interviews and other evidence collection planned for the next reporting period, the Commission would gather evidence that would be admissible before a future tribunal, Mr. Brammertz said.

Statements were also made today by the representatives of Lebanon and Syria.

The meeting began at 3:11 p.m. and was adjourned at 3:45 p.m.

Background

The Security Council had before it the sixth report of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission (document S/2006/962), which details progress since September in investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others, and in providing technical assistance to the Lebanese authorities in their investigation of certain other attacks perpetuated in Lebanon since 1 October 2004.

The report notes that the Commission returned to Lebanon from Cyprus, where it had temporarily relocated from 22 July to 13 October 2006.  Since the Commission’s return to Lebanon, it has operated within a volatile political environment, including the assassination on 21 November of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, and the national and international attention surrounding the establishment of a special tribunal for Lebanon.

The report states that the Commission’s investigative direction in the Hariri case has remained focused on three areas, namely developing crime scene evidence from investigation and forensic analysis, investigating potential perpetrators and collecting evidence relating to the linkage and context aspects of the case.  The Commission, in close cooperation with the Lebanese judiciary, has also continued to take a proactive role in the 14 other cases.

Following the assassination of Mr. Gemayel, the Council requested the Commission, in a letter dated 22 November, to extend technical assistance in the Gemayel case to the Lebanese authorities, the report adds.  This constituted an expansion of the mandate contained in resolution 1644 (2005) and extended in resolution 1686 (2006) relating to the investigation of other terrorist attacks perpetrated in Lebanon since 1 October 2004.  The Commission has responded by providing technical assistance, including forensic support, witness interviews, evidence collection and analysis.

The Commission’s close interaction with the Lebanese authorities on all matters relevant to its mandate has been ongoing, the report says.  The Commission continues to receive support from Syria in providing information and facilitating interviews with individuals located on Syrian territory.  The Commission also notes the assistance received from other Member States in response to its request, and highlights the need for such assistance to be provided in a timely manner, as this is critical to the progress of the investigation.

The report notes that the Commission’s strategic objective remains to collect evidence against those responsible for the assassination of Rafik Hariri and the other victims of attacks being investigated that will be admissible before a future tribunal.  Continuing to balance the need for speed in the investigations with the exigencies of applying appropriate legal standards, the Commission, during the next reporting phase, will maintain its current investigative focus as discussed in the report, as well as its plans to undertake approximately 50 interviews, collect further documentation and acquire other forms of evidence.

“The investigation into the assassination of Rafik Hariri is approaching a sensitive and complicated phase,” the report notes.  The Commission’s work can only be undertaken with confidentiality in order to create a secure environment for its witnesses and staff.  The Commission and Lebanon’s Prosecutor General remain in full agreement regarding this position.  The Commission’s work on the 14 cases continues to bring to light significant links between each case and to indicate links to the Rafik Hariri case.  Further work will continue with those links being the focal point of its investigative direction.  Similarly, the Commission will continue to provide support in the Gemayel case and will concentrate on assisting in the identification of the perpetrators of the crime and on examining whether links to the other cases exist.

The Commission will require further support in the coming months in three main areas, the report says.  The Commission will work to ensure that the United Nations management systems in such areas as recruitment, procurement, administration and financial matters are able to support the necessary pace and direction of the Commission’s work.  The Commission also notes the varied commitment to the requests for assistance it sends to numerous States.  Delays or lack of responses to its requests severely hamper the progress of the Commission’s investigations in certain directions.

The report adds that it is of critical importance that the Commission has access to those political actors with whom Rafik Hariri had direct contact in the last months of his life, and to individuals involved in the relevant political dynamics in Lebanon, the broader region and internationally.  The Commission looks forward to future cooperation with such individuals and, where appropriate, State representatives, in order to ensure the completeness of its investigations.

The Commission notes that the overall environment within which it conducts its work may be characterized as highly unpredictable, the report adds.  The security situation, the political environment, the previous conflict, the potential for ongoing violence and issues regarding the future special tribunal may contribute to the reticence of witnesses to engage with the Commission and makes it more difficult for the Commission to recruit and retain staff.

Given the likely establishment of a special tribunal in the forthcoming -– although undetermined -– period, the Commission recognizes its additional obligations and role, the report concludes.  The Commission’s dynamic will alter as necessary to accommodate the tribunal’s establishment and, to that end, the Commission will realign its objectives in part to hand over its fact-finding work to date to the prosecutor’s office.

Briefing Summary

SERGE BRAMMERTZ, Commissioner of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission, presenting the Commission’s sixth report, said that, as members were aware, the political climate in Lebanon had been volatile during the reporting period from 25 September until 10 December.  Cabinet Minister Pierre Gemayel had been assassinated in Beirut on 21 November; large demonstrations had taken place; and the complex discourse surrounding the establishment of a special tribunal for Lebanon was still ongoing.  That had had an inevitable impact on the Commission’s investigation and security requirements.

He said that the Commission had reached a critical stage in its investigations.  In that context, the Prosecutor General of Lebanon and the Commission believed that placing information concerning suspects and witnesses in the public domain would make it difficult for sensitive witnesses to step forward and engage with the Commission, and might be prejudicial to future trials before a tribunal.  The findings presented in the current report had to be understood with those limitations in mind.

The Commission’s investigation in the Rafik Hariri case had remained focused on developing crime scene evidence and investigating potential perpetrators and their linkage to one another, he said.  Following the collection of forensic evidence at the crime scene in June 2006, the Commission had received a final report from external forensic experts.  The report confirmed many of the Commission’s own hypotheses; for example, that there had been only one blast and that the Mitsubishi van had been the carrier of the improvised explosive device.  The expert report had also supported the hypothesis that an RDX-based high explosive had been used.  Recent forensic results had also confirmed that it was likely that a person had triggered the explosion from within or immediately in front of the Mitsubishi van, rather than through use of a remote-controlled device.

He said that the Commission was also analysing the human parts belonging to the unidentified male believed to be the bomber, which had been recovered from the crime scene.  Forensic results showed that the individual had not spent his youth in Lebanon, but had been situated there in the last two to three months before his death.  The Commission hoped that, after a second phase of analysis, the specific geographic and ethnic origin of that person could be determined.

Many other aspects of the investigation were ongoing, he said.  For instance, the Commission continued to focus on analysing information relating to Ahmad Abu Adass, in order to establish how he had been identified, where and when that had occurred, who might have been involved in organizing his appearance in the video where he had claimed responsibility for the assassination and what had happened to him after the video had been made and delivered.  The Commission had also undertaken investigations regarding individuals associated with Ahmad Abu Adass in Lebanon and elsewhere, conducting 17 interviews in Syria and Lebanon.

He said that the Commission also continued to collect information about the increasing threats and pressure on Rafik Hariri during the last 15 months of his life.  An analysis of that information had revealed several potential motives to kill Hariri, the majority of which were, in one way or another, linked to his political activities.  At this stage of the investigation, a smaller number of motives had emerged as the most plausible.

During the reporting period, the Commission had continued to extend technical assistance to the Lebanese authorities in the 14 cases, he said.  It had focused, in particular, on interviewing witnesses associated with the victims of the six targeted attacks.  It had, so far, conducted 19 interviews in connection with that line of enquiry and had a number of further interviews scheduled for the next reporting period.  A considerable number of links between the six cases, and between those cases and the Hariri case, had emerged from those interviews.  Those links, which related to the nature of the attacks, the nature of the victims and the modus operandi of the perpetrators, supported the analytical hypotheses discussed in the Commission’s report of June 2006.

The Commission also believed that the motive to attack at least some of the victims had been associated with the victims’ common objectives and interests and, thus, that those attacks might have been linked by common intent, he said.

He said that, on 21 November, the Minister of Industry, Mr. Gemayel, had been assassinated, and two days later, following a request from the Lebanese Prime Minister and a decision taken by the Security Council, the Commission had started providing technical assistance to the Lebanese authorities in their investigation of the Gemayel case.  The Commission was providing investigative support by helping to identify the perpetrators and the vehicles that had been used in the attack.  It was also working to reconstruct the modus operandi of the assassins.  After seven days of investigation at the crime scene, a total of 250 exhibits had been sent to a laboratory for forensic research and analysis.  It was the preliminary assessment of the Commission that Minister Gemayel had been the subject of surveillance, as part of a planned assassination.

The Commission continued to cooperate closely with the Lebanese authorities and was very grateful for their support, especially at a time when the security situation in the country remained highly volatile, he said.  The Commission regularly shared with the appropriate Lebanese authorities the substance of all relevant information that it obtained, where necessary, in a manner that did not compromise the interest of the source of that information.  That information-sharing process was especially important when the information was relevant to detained individuals.

Cooperation with Syria remained “generally satisfactory”, he said.  During the reporting period, the Commission had submitted 12 formal requests for assistance to Syria and had undertaken several investigation activities and interviews of individuals in Syria.  The Commission was satisfied with the timelines and efficiency of Syria’s assistance to it, and with the logistical and security arrangements made for its investigation activities on Syrian territory.  The Commission would continue to rely on Syria’s full cooperation, as that remained crucial to the swift and successful completion of its work.

Since 15 September, 10 new formal requests for assistance had been sent to five different States, bringing the total number of requests of States other than Lebanon and Syria since March to approximately 60, he said.  Although most States had responded positively, including by facilitating witness interviews, some States had provided late or incomplete responses.  The lack of responsiveness by certain States had impeded or slowed the Commission’s work on several fronts.  In view of the crucial nature of the information it sought to obtain from States and the limited time frame in which it aimed to complete its investigation, the Commission trusted that it would enjoy full and prompt cooperation from all States during the next reporting period.

He said that the Commission had made progress in the two main areas of its investigation in the Hariri case -- developing crime scene evidence and investigating potential perpetrators.  Fifty interviews and other types of evidence collection were planned for the next reporting period and, as always, the Commission’s objective was to collect the evidence that would be admissible before a future tribunal.  The Commission’s work on the 14 cases continued to elicit links between each case and to the Hariri case.  Further analysis would be done in the next reporting period to develop those links.

Similarly, he said, the Commission would continue to provide support in the Gemayel case, focusing during the initial period on assisting with identifying those who physically perpetrated the crime and on examining whether links to the other cases existed.

The Commission still faced many challenges, he said.  It required assistance from the United Nations Secretariat in areas such as recruitment, procurement, administration and finance to facilitate and support the necessary pace of its work.  It also needed the continued support of Member States to whom it addressed requests for assistance.  A delayed response, or worse still, a lack of response, to its requests severely hampered the Commission’s progress.

In light of the proposed creation of a special tribunal for Lebanon, the Commission would realign its objectives and organize its work in a manner that would facilitate the transition to such a tribunal, he said.  The Commission trusted it would be able to continue to count on the Council’s support.

Statements

CAROLINE ZIADE ( Lebanon) said the report reaffirmed the importance that the United Nations accorded to that fundamental and vital issue in Lebanon.  Mr. Brammertz’ professional and solid work had been further reinforced in the report.  The report was also evidence of the accurate methodology followed to complete the investigation and achieve progress.  Lebanon, at every occasion and in the person of all its officials, had expressed complete confidence in the Commission’s work and ability to uncover the truth.  The diverse political scene was only a collection of different means to express one objective, namely to know the whole truth about the assassination of Rafik Hariri and others, and the crimes that preceded and followed it.

Given its belief in the International Independent Investigation Commission, she said the Government continued to offer facilities and follow-up on the progress achieved by the Commission, which was at a crossroads in uncovering the perpetrators of the crime and prosecuting them before a court of an international nature.  The draft statute of that court had been completed, as had the memorandum of understanding to be signed by the United Nations and Lebanon’s Government.  The Commission’s efforts and the formation of the international tribunal would put a stop to the cycle of violence.  Lebanon’s Government valued Mr. Brammertz’ efforts and reaffirmed its determination to support all forms of cooperation with the Commission. 

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said he had taken note of the positive information contained in the report regarding Syria’s efforts and commitments.  Syria was continuing its cooperation with the Commission.  The report showed that the Syrian cooperation with the Commission had been satisfactory, effective and timely.  His country had sought to ensure that the Commission completed its work from the beginning up to today.  Syria’s cooperation resulted from its concern for lifting the veil on the assassination of Rafik Hariri and to identify the perpetrators and the brains behind it.  Cooperation with the International Independent Investigation Commission was taking place in all areas.  Indeed, the report showed that Syria’s cooperation met the many requests made to reveal the truth. 

He added that Syria hoped that the investigation would continue on the basis of the previous reports.  He also hoped that the investigation would lead to identifying those who had organized the crime.  The greatest risk facing the Commission was its exploitation by some parties in the region and beyond to reach politicized conclusions that were not based on any proof.  There was also the risk that some parties could provide uncorroborated information and prevent certain witnesses from being investigated.

He noted that the Commission had set out new hypotheses regarding the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri.  It also reaffirmed the need to examine existing evidence in line with international criteria for criminal investigations.  He called on all States to assume responsibility through total cooperation with the Commission and asked them not to give refugee to suspects or witnesses.  He wanted in particular the names of those States that had not yet cooperated, as the media continued to make noises about Syria, despite its effective cooperation. 

Stressing the need for the Commission to be independent, neutral, objective and free of political interference, he said it was important to ensure that the process obtained evidence that could not be used for political purposes or unfounded interpretations.  Syria was committed to cooperating with the Commission in a professional, neutral and responsible way.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.