BEIRUT: The head of the trial chamber at the tribunal prosecuting the alleged killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri resigned Tuesday, the court said in a statement.
Judge Robert Roth’s resignation is the latest high-profile departure from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is preparing to try in absentia four Hezbollah members accused of carrying out the Feb. 14, 2005, attack that killed Hariri and 22 others.
“During his time at the STL, Judge Roth performed his duties true to his ideals and with energy,” the Hague-based court said. “It is unfortunate that he will not be presiding over the trial of the accused, currently scheduled to start in January 2014.”
In a statement to The Daily Star, the court said that Roth resigned “due to judicial discussions and differences in opinion and concepts.”
It declined to elaborate on these issues, citing confidentiality.
Roth, who joined the STL in September 2011, was elected that year as the presiding judge of the trial chamber.
The court has suffered several high-profile departures since it opened its doors in 2009.
The court’s registrar, Herman von Hebel, stepped down in March after being appointed to the International Criminal Court.
After a replacement for Roth is selected, the STL will be on its third trial chamber chief, fourth registrar, second president and second prosecutor, in just four years of operation.
The resignation casts doubts on whether the STL will be able to meet its schedule for the start of trial in January.
During his tenure at the STL, Roth presided over several significant rulings, including the decision to try the four men accused of carrying out the assassination in absentia.
The trial will be the first to be held in absentia since the 1940s Nuremberg tribunal prosecuting Nazi war criminals.
The tribunal’s president has already appointed the Jamaican alternate judge, Janet Nosworthy, as Roth’s replacement. The trial chamber will now elect a new chief judge.
Nosworthy is a former judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which held trials for war crimes committed in the Balkans in the 1990s.
The STL said the resignation would not impact trial preparation.
“The resignation of Judge Roth does not impede the preparations that are currently underway for a fair and expeditious trial,” the court said in statement. “The Special Tribunal for Lebanon has mechanisms in place to ensure that its mandate is met, including the possibility of assigning an alternate judge in the event of a resignation.”
The trial chamber’s only remaining alternate judge is Walid Akoum, from Lebanon. But Akoum is also a contender for the post of Lebanese prosecutor general.
Once a Lebanese Cabinet is formed, it will face the task of appointing a new prosecutor general out of the country’s senior Sunni judges, which include Akoum.
If the Lebanese government offers Akoum the post, there is no legal impediment preventing him from accepting it. The STL would then have to appoint yet another trial chamber judge.