The Injustice of Lebanon's UN Tribunal

In 2005 Mr. Lebanon — Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — was killed when his motorcade, one of the best equipped and most secure in the world, was torn to pieces by a bomb in downtown Beirut. Caught by surprise, the government of Lebanon and the international community agreed to establish the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) in order to uncover the truth behind his untimely death. The STL, which opened in 2009, promised to deliver a just and unbiased account of the assassination, and in doing so it swore to bring to justice those responsible for the murder of Mr. Lebanon.

After more than two years of speculation and debate, the STL has finally issued an indictment, which reportedly links four “high ranking” members of Hezbollah to Hariri’s assassination: Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Hassan Aneissy and Assad Sabra. Badreddine, the most senior of the four in question, is believed to be Hezbollah’s chief of operations, a position he assumed following the assassination of his brother-in-law, Imad Mougniyeh, in Syria in 2008. The implications of a high-level Hezbollah connection to Hariri’s assassination are seemingly great, with the potential to enflame an already volatile Lebanon. However, the ineffectiveness and politicization of the STL for the past two years has threatened the investigation and brought into question not only its credibility but that of the international community as well, all the while giving Hezbollah the upper hand in Lebanese politics.

For the past two years the STL has been plagued by a number of high-profile leaks of confidential and highly sensitive information that has compromised the Tribunal’s integrity and diminished its effectiveness. These leaks have been heavily politicized, erratically shifting the blame for the assassination between Syria, Hezbollah, and its allies. It therefore comes as no surprise that the Shi'a population of Lebanon, as well as the greater Lebanese populace, have come to question the true mission and intent of the STL. Had the STL truly been committed to uncovering the truth behind Hariri’s assassination, it would have made a greater effort to monitor and track any information coming in and out of its offices. Unfortunately, its lack of discipline, discretion, and diligence has made a mockery of the investigation and raises questions over the validity of the impending indictments.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that the current Lebanese government, headed by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, receives the unconditional support of Hezbollah and its allies. Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has in the past publicly threatened the STL, going so far as to say that Hezbollah will cut off “the hand that attempts to reach” its members. In its opposition to the STL, Hezbollah points to concerns shared by many Lebanese, namely that the STL is manipulated by the United States and Israel. In an effort to further derail the STL, Hezbollah has even introduced its own evidence that suggests that Israeli reconnaissance drones were monitoring Hariri’s motorcade prior to the assassination, and has also gone to great lengths to discredit a handful of witnesses that have provided the STL with sworn testimonies. These efforts have been successful in further delegitimizing the Tribunal in the eyes of the Lebanese, and the inability of the STL to effectively counter this narrative has brought into question the authenticity and accuracy of its findings.

So while it is worth noting that the STL finally reached a decision last week, which it sealed and handed over to the Lebanese government, the verdict is still out as to whether or not its decision will hold any weight. The sad truth remains that more than six years have passed since the assassination of Mr. Lebanon, yet his murderers have not been brought to justice. The STL is guilty of having failed Hariri, his family, the people of Lebanon, and the international community, and for that history will not judge it kindly.

Photo Credit: Peta-de-Aztlan

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James Taylor

James is a policy consultant and freelance journalist currently residing in the Washington, DC area. He covers a range of issues pertaining to the Middle East, most notably the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict.

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