Lebanon and Syria in the Funhouse Mirror of International Justice

Lebanon and Syria in the Funhouse Mirror of International Justice

Out of a series of terrorist attacks which took place January 16-17, the explosion in Kabul attracted the most attention. Information about the explosion in Lebanon was hardly noticed at all. But the explosion in the Lebanese city of Hermel on January 16, as a result of which five people were killed and dozens were injured, is of great significance in understanding what is happening in Lebanon and Syria.

The time for the Hermel bombing was chosen deliberately. On January 16 the first trial of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) began… The tribunal was created back in May 2007, but until now it has not conducted a single trial. And at that time a warning was heard in the Security Council chamber: the path the UN Security Council has started on in creating a new tribunal will put the Lebanese state, already fragile, in danger of losing its stability. As time has shown, that is exactly what those who strove to create the STL at any cost wanted.

The courtroom during the opening of the first trial. During the live broadcast (1) the camera assiduously avoided showing the empty defendants' bench.

The decision to create a Special Tribunal for Lebanon was made by the UN Security Council and the Lebanese government after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. On February 14, 2005 in Beirut there was an explosion which killed 22 people, including the former prime minister, and injured over two hundred.

The reaction to Hariri's assassination was highly surprising. Around the world there are hundreds of terrorist attacks, and dozens of incumbent heads of state and government are killed (2), but the UN concerned itself exclusively (!) with this attack and with Hariri in particular, even though he had already long been the former prime minister. This is especially strange considering the total lack of interest among the «international community» in investigating the assassination of another Lebanese prime minister, Rashid Karami, who was killed June 1, 1987, also in a bomb blast. In 2010 the world remained indifferent to Muammar Gadhafi's proposal to place the question of investigating all assassinations of all heads of UN member states on the UN General Assembly's agenda… But Hariri's assassination was of great interest to someone...

Formally, the request to the UN for the creation of a Special Tribunal was made by the Lebanese government. However, let us note the date: the request was made only in December 2005, that is, almost a year after the assassination and only after the new leader of the «Future Movement» party, created by the murdered Hariri, became the prime minister.

The Lebanese parliament refused to ratify the agreement signed between the Lebanese government and the UN. However, the creation of this tribunal was so important for those who had planned it that they resorted to outright fraud. On May 30, 2007 the UN Security Council passed Resolution No. 1757, which stated that the agreement between the Lebanese government and the UN was to take force without ratification by the parliament. Such an action was blatantly unlawful in and of itself and directly violated all norms of international law, in particular the provisions of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. The Russian Federation abstained from the vote, stating that the draft of the resolution selected by the sponsors was dubious from the standpoint of international law. A treaty between two subjects - the United Nations and Lebanon - by definition cannot come into force by the decision of only one of them. The introduction of founding documents for a special tribunal by the unilateral decision of a UN body - a Security Council resolution - directly infringed on Lebanon's sovereignty. (3)

Four other Security Council member states also expressed sharp criticism of the proposed draft. For example, Indonesia stated that the Security Council has no legal grounds for taking the resolution of an issue which is domestic in nature upon itself. (4) The representative from South Africa noted that the UN Security Council has no right to bypass the procedures required by the Lebanese Constitution for the entry into force of an agreement with the United Nations; in disregarding the Lebanese Constitution, the Security was going against its own decision regarding the need to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence of Lebanon. This resolution, stated the RSA representative, creates a danger that the imposition of the special tribunal on Lebanon without the consent of all the parties concerned will detrimentally affect the political stability of the already fragile Lebanese State. The representative of China warned of this as well, emphasizing that such a step would create «precedent of Security Council interference in the domestic affairs and legislative independence of a sovereign State».

That is, even at the time the decision was made to create the STL, it was clear that the new tribunal would be unlawful and that such a decision would exacerbate the already complex domestic political situation in Lebanon. Nevertheless, as no one voted against it, the resolution was passed and the tribunal was created. (5)

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is the same kind of unlawful institution as all the similar ones created by the UN Security Council in circumvention of the UN Charter and in clear violation of the very basics of international law. The STL has become the most secretive and the most non-standard of all institutions of this type; even such standards of human rights as those which are formally enshrined in other odious tribunals, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia or the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, do not apply there. A clear illustration of this is the permission to conduct trials in absentia, that is, without the defendant. Some achievement in the field of human rights that is!

The first trial, which began January 16, is probing charges against four main defendants: Salim Jamal Ayyash, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra. Ayyash is accused of being the coordinator of the assassination squad, Badreddine is accused of planning and supervising the operation, and Oneissi and Sabra are accused of trying to put investigators on the wrong track. (6)

It would seem that an interesting courtroom drama is ahead; the only problem with the trial is that the defendants themselves are not there. In connection with this, the attorneys for the defense were not selected by the defendants, but were appointed by the tribunal itself. The attorneys will defend their clients without ever having met them based on documents which they will receive from the prosecution! There couldn't be a better parody of justice!

And the judges in the new tribunal? There are 13 judges in the tribunal in all, of which only four are from Lebanon; the rest are so-called «international» judges, more precisely, foreigners representing mainly European countries (Italy, for example, is represented by three judges), although judges from Jamaica and Uganda were added for exoticism.

Finally, in order to make it clear who is calling the tunes here, one needs to understand who is paying for a new tribunal which can afford not to conduct any trials whatsoever for seven years, but only to «prepare» for them. According to the tribunal's latest report for 2012-2013, it received over 60 million dollars for preparation for the trials alone. (7) According to official information, 49 percent of the expenses for the activities of the Special Tribunal are to be borne by the Lebanese government, and 51 percent are to be paid through the «voluntary contributions of states». To this end the UN Secretariat has established a trust fund in support of the STL's activities. (8) Here let us take note of two circumstances. First, in modern international criminal tribunals a practice of double financing, official and unofficial, has been created, and the latter often is many times greater than the former and is allocated «for specific tasks». This practice was first revealed by Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia L. Arbour, who, in response to the question of why the prosecution of the ICTFY was conducting exhumations of mass graves only for Croatians and Muslims, but not for Serbs, answered that «no money has been allocated for the Serbs». The second circumstance is that the majority of financial donors to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon are countries in conflict with Syria. This was revealed by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at a press conference. (9)

The «Syrian trail» could be seen in the plans of the creators of the Special Tribunal on Lebanon immediately after the events of 2005. Hariri's demands that Syrian troops be withdrawn from Lebanon served as grounds to accuse Syria first of all. In both the materials of the investigative committee for the Hariri case and in the materials of the STL, the first main defendants were Syrians. And the main suspects in the first trial which has just begun are members of Hezbollah.

It sounds fantastic, but the prosecution has also never presented any evidence of the defendants' intent. That is, according to the indictment, the assassination was carried out with no intent whatsoever! This isn't even a parody anymore. There's nothing to parody; there has never been anything like this in the history of international justice. There have been farfetched and blatantly falsified motives ascribed to defendants, but to simply say nothing about motives - there's never been anything like that before.

Now the beginning of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon's work has been marked by a terrorist attack in Lebanon itself. The reaction of the UN Security Council to this attack was quite curious. Strongly condemning the attack and underlining the need to bring the perpetrators to justice, the members of the Security Council demanded that «all Lebanese parties...respect Lebanon’s policy of disassociation and... refrain from any involvement in the Syrian crisis». As we can see, the main object of interest, Syria, has once again been named, this time without unnecessary explanations.

(1) The photograph was made by the author of this article during the live Internet broadcast of the court hearing.
(2) See Mezyaev A.B., Убийства глав государств и международное право [The Assassinations of Heads of State and International Law]
(3) See the transcript of the UN Security Council meeting on May 30, 2007 (UN document: S/PV.5685) // Official Web site of the UN
(4) The representative of Indonesia further noted that before making a decision on a draft resolution intended to uphold justice, the Council should fully consider the domestic situation in Lebanon, as forceful interference by the UN Security Council in the national constitutional process with regard to the establishment of the tribunal will not serve the greater interests of the Lebanese people: reconciliation, national unity, peace and stability.
(5) Resolution 1757 (2007), passed by the Security Council at its 5685th meeting on May 30, 2007
(6) The Prosecutor v. Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Oneissi & Assad Hassan Sabra. Indictment // The official Web site of the International Tribunal on Lebanon
(7) See: SPECIAL TRIBUNAL FOR LEBANON. FOURTH ANNUAL REPORT (2012-2013) // The official Web site of the International Tribunal on Lebanon
(8) See the UN press release from January 16, 2014
(9) See.: youtube.com