Rafik Hariri was the third Lebanese Prime Minister to be assassinated, joining a long list of politicians and journalists who preceded him to the same fate.
But despite political assassinations being an integral part of the Lebanese political life, this was the first time that an international tribunal was formed to try one.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is the first international tribunal to ever try an act of terror; its statute is the narrowest when compared to that of other similar tribunals.
Negotiations that preceded the formation of the STL at the UN Security Council failed to qualify terrorism as a crime against humanity, which was one of the reasons the cases wasn’t tried in front of the International Criminal Court.
Terrorism crimes are not treated under the Rome protocol. The crimes dealt with under the Roma protocol are war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of genocide. The issue of terrorism, and whether it deserves a special tribunal and so forth, refers to the United Nations, which has described the crime (Hariri murder) as an act of terrorism that deserves a special tribunal,” said Fadi Al Abdulla, a spokesman for the International Criminal Court said.
Questions have been raised regarding the selectiveness of the UN Security Council, which never formed international tribunals to try similar cases, the assassination of the late Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, for example.
“The difference is the government of Lebanon asked for an independent and partial, objective tribunal to be set up and that hasn’t been the case, and the UN decided by the Security Council that establishing a tribunal would help to end impunity in Lebanon,” said Gregory Townsend, Senior legal adviser to the public prosecutor.
The STL relies on the definition of terrorism according to the Lebanese law.
“What’s also unique about this tribunal is it isn’t authorizing the use of international criminal crimes, it’s Lebanese law, the substance of criminal offenses the one that applies. The procedure is internationalized, the judges are international. Why? Because it needs to be independent, fair, and impartial, and there’s no legal gimmick here, it’s straight Lebanese law and there’s sufficient jurisprudence to help the judges interpret it, and I think the legal side of it won’t be very complicated for the Lebanese public to understand,” said Mr. Townsend.
The STL is not the first criminal tribunal to be formed by the UN SC under chapter seven; it has indeed been preceded by the ICTY in 1993 and the special tribunal for Rwanda on year later.
Fadi Al Abdulla - ICC spokesperson
Greg Townsend - Senior legal advisor to the public prosecutor