BEIRUT/SIDON: Although the Special Tribunal for Lebanon has been heralded as a watershed moment for international justice, many in the country say they have very little faith in the U.N.-backed court.
Those who support it doubt the verdict will influence the reality on the ground, while others dismiss the entire tribunal as a political tool and a waste of money. The trial, which begins Thursday, is set to try four people accused of involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a prominent Sunni leader that enjoyed broad support among different sects and communities.
Residents of Al-Tariq al-Jadideh, a cramped majority- Sunni quarter south of Beirut where Hariri’s Future Movement is popular, voiced little hope for the tribunal, which has been in the works in various forms for nine years.
In a small currency exchange shop in the area’s busy souk, the business’ owner and his son, both of whom asked to remain anonymous, said they would not be following the trial.
“It won’t get anywhere,” the son said with a laugh.
Justice is nonexistent when it comes to Lebanon’s affairs, his father added.
“There is the logic of weapons, not of justice,” he said.
Other residents in the area bemoaned the proceedings – which are taking place in The Hague, the Netherlands – as a waste of money.
Pointing to a picture of Hariri on his jewelry store’s wall, 36-year-old Ahmad Hable said that being a resident of Al-Tariq al-Jadideh automatically made him a supporter of the Future Movement. Regardless, he said that the trial, which he will follow casually on television, is unlikely to accomplish anything significant.
“[The STL] has taken too much time working on this, and it swindled Lebanese citizens’ money at the expense of their blood,” Hable said.
“We are paying money for nothing,” Ahmad Said said in a shop across the street, adding that he thought the entire thing was a joke.
“Paving the roads or securing some food for the poor would have been a better use of our money.”
But not everyone in the area was pessimistic. Said’s friend, Abu Anis, a cab driver, said he thought there was a good chance the perpetrators would be brought to justice and that the truth would be uncovered.
Despite teasing Abu Anis for his confidence in the trial, Said described the lifelong Al-Tariq al-Jadideh resident as the area’s “go-to man” on such matters.
“God willing, [the trial] will bear a good result and this issue will be over with,” Abu Anis said. “God willing, this file will be closed and Lebanon will be able to rest.”
The overall apathy toward the STL in Al-Tariq al-Jadideh was echoed in Beirut’s largely Shiite southern suburbs, where Hezbollah enjoys wide support.
For Ali Khalil Hasan, who owns a clothes shop in Bir al-Abed, the U.N.-backed court had no intention of discovering the truth behind Hariri’s assassination; it had another, more insidious agenda, he said.
“This is a politicized tribunal. From its inception, it has had one goal: tarnishing the reputation of Hezbollah,” he said. “Facts prove so. They unjustly accused four and arrested them for four years. Then it turned out they were innocent.”
In September 2005, four former pro-Syrian Lebanese officers were arrested at the request of the U.N. International Independent Investigation Commission for their suspected role in the assassination. All the evidence gathered by the UNIIIC was transferred to the STL when the tribunal was established in May 2007. Two years later, the tribunal ordered their release, citing a lack of evidence.
Hasan said he would not be following the trial’s developments.
“Sayyed Hasan [Nasrallah] ... said this tribunal was not realistic and thus we are ignoring it,” he said, referring to Hezbollah’s secretary-general.
Hasan also said he did not trust the telecoms evidence that formed the base of the prosecution’s case, saying such data could easily be manipulated these days.
“The truth of Hariri’s case will never be revealed, just like in other assassinations,” Hasan said in response to a question about how he would prefer that the investigation be carried out.
Puffing a cigarette as he played backgammon with two friends, Salim Skaiki said he also didn’t have any confidence in the tribunal.
“Whatever result it reaches will be politicized. Hezbollah has nothing to do with crime,” he said as he sat on a sidewalk in the neighborhood of Mouawad.
“All the [STL’s] evidence is fabricated and has nothing to do with the truth. They rely on telecoms evidence but we analyze politics and we know that we [ Hezbollah and its supporters] had no interest in killing Hariri. He was useful to our country and to the resistance.”
Sitting in his shop nearby, Hussein Shuqeir called the tribunal a “lie” and accused it of being established in order to corner Hezbollah. He added that he considered the trial a personal humiliation as the party had liberated his southern village of Mais al-Jabal from Israeli occupation.
“I couldn’t visit my village for 27 years. ... This tribunal is accusing honorable people that struggled for our sake and sacrificed blood,” Shuqeir said.
In Sidon, however, residents of the southern Sunni-majority city were much more optimistic.
“The start of the trial means achieving justice, which to us is a priority,” Hassan Mistou said. “What is right will triumph in the end.”
According to the young man, who follows the STL’s coverage in the papers every day, the trial’s success could help return stability to Lebanon and put an end to the ongoing assassinations and car bombs.
But he also said he had reservations about certain nations controlling the trial for their own benefit.
His friend Huda Bayoumi agreed.
“Our fear remains that the work of the trial will be thwarted or that its work will be restricted,” she said.
Still, she said, she had been waiting for the court sessions to begin “for a long time.”
“We want justice after the truth becomes clear. We do not want revenge; we just want the criminals to be punished so the martyrs’ families and the country can be at peace,” she added.
For Hala Shehade, trying all those involved in the assassination, including those who planned the attack, was key.
“We hope the trial is successful in restoring confidence in justice and will act as a deterrent to all criminals, showing them that they will not be immune to punishment no matter how much time has passed,” she said.
Hatem Assi, a Future Movement supporter, said he too hoped the trial would deter future assassination attempts, adding that it was necessary to ensure that “the shedding of blood of the martyrs ... was not in vain.”