STL: in absentia - the only way?

03 November 2011 by Geraldine Coughlan

The first hearing on trials in absentia under international law will take place before the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon on November 11. The defence and the prosecution will present arguments on moving into absentia proceedings.

The STL is the anomaly in the family of international courts. Its Statute is the only one that permits trials in absentia. This marks a significant departure from current practice and procedure in relation to international law. But there is no convincing justification for this yet, say experts.


In absentia - the Latin term for ‘in the absence’ implies the violation of a suspect’s right to be present at his own hearing. Conviction of a person in absentia is considered a violation of ‘natural justice’. Now, this begs the philosophical question - what is natural about being put on trial when you’re not there?

Firstly, Article 22 of the STL Statute doesn’t just allow trials in absentia. It makes them mandatory – providing certain threshold steps have been satisfied.

Article 22 is a “recently re-discovered international modality with its roots in the 1945 Nuremberg Charter, which also allowed for trials where the accused had not been detained,” finds British lawyer Wayne Jordash.

Reasonable steps

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