03/05/2009, 00.00
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Hariri assassination tribunal, a historic step for international law

by Fady Noun
The trial will not judge the assassins of one man, but people who tried to kill a nation. It will reinforce the notion that the age of “immunity” is past for anyone responsible for political crimes. Syria shows confidence and promises to punish the culprits, as international justice remains at the mercy of the interests of the strongest states.
 Beirut (AsiaNews) – As the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) gets underway and the International Criminal Court issues an arrest warrant against the current President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir, the world is witnessing a major shift in the notion of justice and international law, albeit not with same resonance everywhere.

On Tuesday the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution welcoming the start on Sunday of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague (Netherlands).

Although not drawing as much media interest as the arrest warrant against Sudan’s president, the STL is never the less an important step for justice because it seemingly puts an end to impunity.

Inside Lebanon the country’s opposition debated at great length over the opportunity of such an international court for the death of one man. Many wondered whether Hariri’s death could stack up to other atrocities, the first coming to mind being the war in Gaza and the suffering inflicted on the civilian population, live on TV.

Yet making such a comparison would be an oversimplification. In Rafik Hariri’s case the international tribunal is not only going to decide who killed a man, but also who tried to kill a nation in a strategy based on the use of terror as a political tool and whose ultimate goal was the control of an entire country, Lebanon. This is why the STL will address the murder of nine other prominent Lebanese killed under similar circumstances. Their deaths all had something in common; they were not random events as the reports of commission of inquiry pointed out.

General Ashraf Rifi, general director of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, is certain of the connections. The general, who lost a close aide, telecommunication expert Capt Wissam Eid to one such attacks, said that between October 2004 and January 2007 there were 11 political assassinations, five attempted murders and 33 explosions, killing 96 people and wounding another 678. Such is the situation that one can almost predict when an attack was going to take place

In the meantime Lebanon’s pro-Syrian opposition has been involved in a counteroffensive against the Cedar Revolution which had brought half of the population of the country in Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square to demand the pullout of Syrian troops.

In the end the international tribunal has one purpose: uphold Lebanon’s independence and national sovereignty.

Sources close to the French government are saying that the STL is already acting as a deterrent against the governments behind the terrorist attacks.

Such an institution is reinforcing the idea that total impunity in cases involving political crimes is no more; that there is no more political “immunity” behind which leaders can shelter.

Perhaps an arrest warrant is not a very effective means of deterrence.

Syria for instance, whom many suspect of involvement in the Hariri assassination, has ostensibly cooperated with the commission of inquiry, and said that it was “not worried” by whatever conclusions the tribunal might reach, insisting that it would punish on its own any Syrian national who might be involved in the crime.

Yet an international arrest warrant can still deter political leaders accustomed to solving political problems by resorting to violence, attacks and assassination. Could the softening of Syria’s own positions be the attributable to such a threat?

In Lebanon the opposition said it is concerned that the trial might become “politicised”. It is true that the tribunal itself is a political creation, the outcome of a political decision, if nothing else, because its goal is to shed light on a political crime. But does this mean that it will inevitably become “politicised”? Not necessarily.

Daniel Bellemare, Commissioner of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission, is convinced that in his judgements he will be exclusively governed by irrefutable evidence.

However, the United Nations is a huge machinery in which some national interests are often sacrificed in favour of more powerful causes whose purpose has nothing to do with justice.

In the wake of the arrest warrant against Sudan’s al-Bashir, Hamas demanded that Israeli leaders be judged for war crimes in Gaza. Everyone knows that such demands will never be heeded. International justice for all is not around the corner; for a long time the law of the strongest will prevail.

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See also
International tribunal into Hariri case takes its first steps
Decision to set up international tribunal greeted with fireworks and bombs
Beirut is calm (for now) following arrest warrants against Hizbollah members
Time is short before situation in Lebanon gets worse, says Moussa
Welch leaves Beirut confirming US support for Siniora and international tribunal


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