BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri Thursday described the opening of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon as a historic day and the first step toward real justice, but said Hezbollah’s refusal to hand over the suspects accused of killing his father was yet another crime.
“Today is a historic day par excellence and Rafik Hariri’s presence was strongly felt as well as all the martyrs who died with him and those who fell after him, including Mohammad Shatah and his bodyguard, and the hundreds of victims who died in the bombings and political assassinations,” Hariri said outside the STL headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands.
He said that it was useless to try and hinder the path of justice: “From now on, any attempt to try to disrupt this path will be in vain.”
The STL began its first hearing in the presence of Hariri, Lebanese officials and some of the families of victims from the Feb. 14, 2005, assassination, when a suicide bomber killed the former premier and 21 others in Downtown Beirut.
The United Nations-backed court in 2011 indicted four members of Hezbollah over their alleged involvement in the killing and last year accused a fifth member of the resistance group of complicity.
Hariri’s assassination was followed by a series of political assassinations of Lebanese figures, mostly those who were against Syria’s presence in the country.
Referring to Hezbollah’s refusal to hand over the suspects, Hariri said: “Protecting the accused in the assassination of Rafik Hariri and his companions and insisting on not handing them to justice is another crime added to the main crime.
“We were certainly appalled to have a Lebanese group accused in this crime, based on evidence and extensive investigations,” he added.
“We never thought that there would be, in the ranks of the Lebanese, people who could sell themselves to the devil, volunteer to kill Rafik Hariri and execute the most horrible terrorist operation with that enormous amount of explosives,” said Hariri, who is currently living abroad for security reasons.
He voiced regret that the perpetrators behind his father’s killing were part of “a certain political party.”
“But they are innocent until proven guilty,” he added. “We want justice, not revenge.”
“Starting today, the eyes and the sentiments of the Lebanese people are drawn to the work of this tribunal, which has opened the first page of true justice and laid the required cornerstone to fight political assassinations and organized crime in Lebanon and the Arab world,” he said.
“Today is the day of Lebanon and the tribunal. We struggled for nine years to reach this day. Lebanon is a very complicated country, and we worked very hard to get to where we are,” he added.
“At the end of this trial we will know who killed Rafik Hariri and the March 14 leaders, and those who did will pay the price.”
The former prime minister said that the tribunal was a step in the right direction in terms of deterring future criminals: “In the past in Lebanon, somebody would be killed and we would forget the whole case, today we are telling the world, no, this is not going to happen, not with Rafik Hariri, and not with any other politician.”
The former premier also acknowledged the role played by France and its presidents in the establishment of the tribunal.
Also Thursday, Hariri met with Dutch Ambassador to Lebanon Hester Somsen, who expressed hope that the tribunal would put an end to impunity.
“It is a great honor to meet with Prime Minister Hariri on this day that is both sad and good for him. The work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon has launched, and I hope that puts an end to impunity, especially after the country has witnessed so many crimes with the perpetrators going unpunished,” Somsen said in a statement released by Hariri’s office.
The ambassador added that it was important for the Netherlands that the criminals be apprehended, and expressed her nation’s support for Lebanon.