At the Lebanon tribunal, a renewed mandate for old politics
This month the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) embarked on a newly reissued three-year mandate. Compared to other international courts, its principal task remains narrow: to try those accused of carrying out the 14 February 2005 assassination of ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others in downtown Beirut. But since the Ayyash et al. trial opened in January 2014, expectations of what it might accomplish have soared beyond its headquarters in the Hague suburb of Leidschendam – and beyond Lebanon.
Regional experts venture that the STL’s most significant outcome may not be convicting the five members of Hezbollah who are being tried in absentia, but rather producing a judgement that aids the international community in holding the Syrian regime accountable for a surging tally of alleged human rights abuses [IJT-169].
In November, the forensics and ballistics testimonies that had characterized the trial’s first phase came to a sudden halt. The STL began hearing testimony describing Hariri’s degenerating relationship with Syria [IJT-171]. To the chagrin of the defence, who pointed out that politics did not feature in their clients’ indictment, Marwan Hamade took the stand as a first political witness. Lebanon’s former telecommunications minister told the court in no uncertain terms how Syrian President Bashar al-Assad explicitly threatened Hariri.