The Lebanese authorities have received indictments and accompanying arrest warrants relating to the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others in a huge blast in Beirut.
An important milestone in bringing to justice those responsible for the terrible events of Feb. 14, 2005, has been reached. As we wait for the people accused to be arrested let us reflect soberly on the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
This is a decisive moment for the Lebanese, their state and for international justice. It is also a decisive moment for the region. Recent events across the Middle East show that the desire for justice and human dignity is universal. Over the past decades political assassinations in Lebanon have killed scores of people. The terrorism of the streets is indiscriminate — it kills political leaders and civilians alike — and can only be fought in the courtroom.
As president of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, I appreciate that this is a lengthy and sometimes painful process for people in Lebanon, in particular for the victims of the crimes. To them I apologize for how long this is taking and I thank them for their patience.
Justice is undoubtedly slow, but not because those engaged in international tribunals do not work with alacrity. It is because the cases are very complex, the investigations must be meticulous and the judicial procedures must be absolutely unbiased and fair. Justice is also methodical and relentless, as the recent arrest of Ratko Mladic, 15 years after he was indicted, and the opening of the second trial for the Khmer Rouge crimes show.
Our unflinching determination to establish the truth behind what happened on Feb. 14, 2005, will continue whatever the prevailing political environment in Lebanon, the region or internationally. We are of course aware that in Lebanon, as elsewhere, justice has to operate within a political environment, which inevitably leads to baseless accusations of judicial bias.
Some claim that our pursuit of justice will threaten the stability of Lebanon. This is wrong, for true stability can only be reached when those responsible for horrific crimes are called to account and the animosity of the various sectarian groups is laid to rest. It is the international character of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon that shields the judicial proceedings from Lebanon’s political struggles and also allows this court to maintain a long-term perspective on the need for justice as a foundation for lasting peace and stability.
It was Lebanon, a proud founding member of the United Nations, which requested a tribunal of international character to pursue two fundamental aims: first, to uphold and to practice the principle of judicial accountability for those who grossly deviated from the rules of human decency; second, to entrench the notion that democracy cannot survive without the rule of law, justice and respect for fundamental human rights for all, including the right to life and security.
I wish to remind the government of Lebanon of its international obligations, which are unambiguous. They include the arrest and detention of those named in the indictment; the continued protection of our judges, staff and counsel; and the financial contribution of Lebanon to our work, which is essential to allow independent and fair judicial proceedings to take place. Justice can only be achieved through the assistance of the relevant domestic authorities.
The work ahead is challenging for Lebanon and for the Special Tribunal. Never before has a legal case been brought at an international court for a terrorist crime. Terrorism inherently breeds injustice and insecurity. International justice is the best tool to combat this anarchy both to establish the truth and to promote order.
In the upheavals of recent months the citizens of the Middle East have made it clear to the world that the rule of law and accountability are among the pillars upon which they want to build their societies. This tribunal is an opportunity for a judicial awakening in Lebanon and the region. It is an opportunity that must not be missed.
Antonio Cassese, president of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. He previously served as president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and chairman of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur.