BEIRUT: The president of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon called Monday on the fifth suspect in the bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others to consider appearing before the court, as he reiterated its disinterest in politics.
“I repeat what I have previously said publicly: The politics of Lebanon are for the Lebanese people and are none of our business,” Judge David Baragwanath said in a statement marking the confirmation earlier this month of a new indictment in the Hariri case.
The STL announced on Oct. 10 it had indicted Hassan Habib Merhi, a Hezbollah “supporter,” as the fifth suspect in the 2005 Beirut bombing. The court is preparing to try four other party members in absentia in January.
“As to Mr. Merhi, I invite you to consider whether you are prepared to face the Special Tribunal with the help both of the defense office headed by Maitre Francois Roux and of the counsel he would assist you to obtain if that is your wish,” Baragwanath said. “As to the people of Lebanon, we seek your help and support in properly performing our tasks.”
The defense office is tasked with hiring lawyers for the accused if they refuse to appear before the tribunal.
Baragwanath said that if Merhi was not arrested, the court would then decide if he should be tried in absentia.
The January trial will be the first international trial in absentia since the Nuremberg tribunal that prosecuted Nazi war criminals after World War II.
Baragwanath sought to alleviate concerns over the fairness of trials in absentia, saying it is allowed in the Lebanese legal code, anyone convicted is entitled to a retrial and it allows the victims and community to learn the nature of the case and participate in proceedings.
But he also said trial in absentia was “second-best” and would hamper the efforts of defense lawyers.
Baragwanath said the fairness of the court was evident in its decision to delay trial, which was initially scheduled in March of this year, in order to ensure the defense was adequately prepared to challenge the case.
Hezbollah accuses the court of being a Western plot to undermine the resistance. But Baragwanath said the court’s mandate did not allow for politics.
“Our judicial mandate can be summarized as follows: What facts does the criminal law of Lebanon require to be proved by the prosecutor in relation to the charges contained in the indictment?” he asked. “The judges will focus on whether those facts are proved by due process, on admissible evidence, beyond reasonable doubt.”
“If so, the accused will be convicted; if the answer to any part of this the latter question is no, then he will be acquitted,” he said.