Chandra Lekha Sriram asks if the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, set up to investigate the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, can support a broader function for transitional justice and peace. To date, both the creation and subsequent operation of the tribunal have been politically divisive, generating parliamentary stand-offs and government collapse.
In a country that has experienced serious human rights abuses, disappearances and assassinations, for which very few have been held accountable, the very existence of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon might be hailed as a symbolic victory, one which might help promote wider accountability and discussion of the legacy of the past.
Chandra Lekha Sriram
Read full article
Promoting justice or prolonging conflict?
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) was created as an internationalised criminal court to investigate the politically-charged assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in February 2005, after an international inquiry assessed that the Lebanese judiciary would need significant international assistance to investigate, and the 14 March-led government of Lebanon requested the creation of an internationalised tribunal. Its advocates have suggested that as a court with international participation, it could serve a symbolic and exemplary function to promote the rule of law domestically, as is commonly expected of international and internationalised trials. Enhancing the rule of law is in turn expected to support wider changes in the justice and security environment.
Establishment of the STL: aims and mission
Following Hariri’s assassination the UN Security Council established the mandate of an International Independent Investigative Commission (IIIC) in April 2005. The IIIC concluded that the assassination was carried out by a group with “extensive organisation” and indicated that some evidence pointed to both Lebanese and Syrian involvement. It transmitted evidence to Lebanese judicial authorities and stated that further investigations be undertaken by domestic judicial and security forces.
Domestic legal status: the constitutional issues
Indictments and political divisions
Many countries emerging from war have sought to try individuals for serious violations of international law, or have used other measures such as vetting, commissions of inquiry, reparations and memorials. In Lebanon, prosecuting disappearances, crimes against humanity or war crimes is impossible because Lebanon’s Amnesty Law of 1991 (law 94/91) includes all crimes except political assassination. The tribunal is controversial because it is only designed to address a limited set of crimes, even though numerous other assassinations occurred both during and after the end of the civil war. Some civil society and human rights activists also see the tribunal as politicised and unable to deliver accountability; others that promote the idea of some form of transitional justice or reckoning with the past do not support the tribunal because of its limited scope.
The STL remains controversial for political and legal reasons. In a country that has experienced serious human rights abuses, disappearances and assassinations both during and after the civil war for which very few have been held accountable, and also suffers a wider culture of impunity and weak rule of law, the very existence of the STL might be hailed as a symbolic victory, one which might help promote wider accountability and discussion of the legacy of the past.