BEIRUT: On the eve of the start of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s court sessions, most Lebanese politicians expressed hope Wednesday, saying the trial would bring justice to Lebanon and punish those behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
In reference to widespread distrust of the trial, President Michel Sleiman stressed the need for the Lebanese public to respect the court, which Lebanon has committed itself to supporting.
He pointed out that the start of the hearings was a sure-fire step toward uncovering the truth behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and would ensure the perpetrators did not think they could evade justice, according to the state-run National News Agency.
The president said this accountability would serve as a lesson for anyone who intended to commit similar crimes.
Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam expressed hope that the legal proceedings underway in The Hague, Netherlands, would “achieve the truth and heal the wounds of the martyrs’ families and the Lebanese.”
Salam said the tribunal would re-establish the meaning of justice as an absolute human right.
He added that the Lebanese were eager “to put an end to the series of political assassinations that Lebanon had long suffered from.”
“This trial is an opportunity to reflect on what the Lebanese have suffered from as a result of intense political strife over the last years, and [a chance] to gain insight into the path we want for our country and our future generations,” he said.
The tribunal is set to try at least four Hezbollah members accused of involvement in the Feb. 14, 2005, car bomb, which killed Hariri and 21 other people, including bodyguards and bystanders.
The March 14 General-Secretariat said in a statement after its weekly meeting that the launching of the STL trials heralded the end of the phase of impunity in Lebanon.
“Tomorrow, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will begin trying those involved in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and related crimes. With this trial, a new Lebanese era starts, the era of international justice based on international law,” the statement said.
The March 14 General-Secretariat said that while Hariri’s killing was not the first political assassination in Lebanon, it was the first in Lebanon and the Arab world to be put in “the hand of a strong, transparent and capable justice.”
“This means that we are at the beginning of the end of impunity which controlled Lebanon and the region for decades,” the statement said.
The statement said that patriotic Lebanese who had conscience wanted to turn a painful page and engage in reconciliation and forgiveness “but under the ceiling of justice and under the ceiling of the state and the law.”
The March 14 General-Secretariat called on supporters to participate in a gathering of March 14 lawyers Friday at 3 p.m. in Martyrs’ Square near the grave of Hariri and other March 14 martyrs.
Future Movement MP Jamal Jarrah told a local radio station Wednesday that this trial was a breakthrough moment, both for the country and the Middle East.
“This justice is the first of its kind in Lebanon and maybe the region, as we will see for the first time the achievement of justice for the political crime of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri after several years of trying to conceal the truth in the absence of justice,” Jarrah said.
He added that Lebanon was witnessing a time when criminals would be punished for their offenses, expressing hope that the country would enter a new phase where political solutions would prevail and assassinations would cease entirely.
The Lebanese will, “for the first time, know who killed Hariri and the rest of the March 14 martyrs, especially those whose files have gone to the Special Tribunal.”
Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra told Future Television Wednesday that the tribunal was bringing about the “establishment of a culture where the cost of criminality is punishment. Living above the law and the level of humanity is impossible when people make up their mind to uphold the Taif Accord and the Constitution.”
Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya released a statement Wednesday calling the start of the STL’s work an “opportunity” that would confirm that the perpetrators would no longer escape punishment, an aim that could only be achieved through a “transparent trial where the offenders can have a real chance to defend themselves.”
However, Hezbollah MP Kamel Rifai struck a markedly different chord, accusing the tribunal of lacking credibility and saying that it was formed in order to punish his party rather than to get to the bottom of the assassination.
“Our perception of the tribunal is that it is politicized and lacks credibility, and, from its formation until today, is aimed at besieging the resistance and restricting its men instead of unmasking the truth and prosecuting offenders,” Rifai told the Central News Agency Wednesday.
Concerning the repercussions of the court sessions on Lebanon, Rifai suggested that if the March 14 bloc was looking to incite more strife in the country, then they would use the trial to do so. However, Rifai added, “we hope they will tone down this rhetoric.”