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STL places focus on justice for victims of terrorism

File - A view of a sign on the exterior of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague, The Netherlands, January 16, 2014. (REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters/United Photos)

BEIRUT: One lost her father, another her husband and the third his vision, all in car bombs.

“I lost my father, who was also my brother and my friend, who used to support me in all walks of life,” said Lama Karroum, daughter of Ghazi Karroum who died in 2004 in a car bomb targeting former MP Marwan Hamadeh. “I lost him because of an assassination targeting someone else.”

Karroum barely suppressed tears as she described the devastating impact of her father’s death.

“We only want to know who did it, who is the perpetrator,” she said. “It is very difficult to portray our pain, words can never be enough to describe the days that we have lived without him. We needed him but he was not there.”

Next to her Yasser al-Jamoos sat, eyes cloudy. He lost most of his vision in last August’s bombing at Al-Taqwa Mosque in Tripoli. He was knocked out for two days and his two children were wounded.

His youngest now fears going to the mosque.

International courts have rarely allowed victims of crimes against humanity to participate substantively in trials. Many are stymied by the enormous scale of atrocities like the Rwandan genocide or the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, rendering it impossible to meaningfully represent the interests of thousands of victims.

By contrast, the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri killed 22 and wounded over 200. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is prosecuting those responsible for the attack that plunged Lebanon into years of political turmoil, has allowed 76 victims to participate in the trial, which began in January.

But the participation of victims in the Hariri trial has provoked a broader debate over the rights of victims of terrorism in Lebanon, a debate that was brought to the fore at a workshop at the Beirut Bar Association Thursday.

While the STL doesn’t itself offer compensation to victims, any verdict from the court is supranational and can be used by victims to demand compensation within the Lebanese legal system.

But compensation is not the only aim of these tribunals, said Peter Haynes, lead lawyer of the victims in the Hariri trial. It is more about establishing the truth and providing an explanation for traumatic events.

“It’s no longer just about crime and punishment,” Haynes said.

Paradoxically, while victims of terror attacks in the country have rarely been able to see the perpetrators held to account, many of the families involved in the Hariri trial have been able to put their case forward because their relatives were caught up in the assassination of a politician.

But that does not temper the horror of such attacks, which came across as Ihsan Nasser, the wife of Hariri’s top bodyguard, recounted her husband’s death.

“I couldn’t comprehend it,” she said. “Only a year later did I look at the TV to see the explosion and know what happened.”

“It’s true he’s a martyr, but he died a most horrible death,” she added, tearing up.

Moreover, Nasser said, due to the STL’s controversial history, her demands for justice were often met with derision and accusations they threaten the state’s stability.

The tribunal has accused five members of Hezbollah of complicity in the attack, while the party rejects the court as a plot to undermine the resistance.

But such political considerations are more distant for the victims of terrorism. They carry “invisible” wounds that manifest themselves in the form of fear of public places, anxiety, anguish and nightmares, said Francoise Rudetzki, an activist on behalf of victims of terror attacks who spoke at the event.

Sari Hanafi, professor of sociology at the American University of Beirut, said the inattention to victims of terrorism in Lebanon often came down to politics. But it was also caused by Lebanon’s preference for adopting general amnesties in the wake of civil conflict.

“There was an abandonment of the victim and their memory,” Hanafi told the gathering.

But beyond the legal questions and broader societal impact, Nasser has a much more basic demand.

“I’m ready to wait for the tribunal for 10 years,” she said. “Nothing will bring him back or make life as it was, but everyone has a right to justice.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 28, 2014, on page 4.

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Summary

International courts have rarely allowed victims of crimes against humanity to participate substantively in trials.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is prosecuting those responsible for the attack that plunged Lebanon into years of political turmoil, has allowed 76 victims to participate in the trial, which began in January.

But the participation of victims in the Hariri trial has provoked a broader debate over the rights of victims of terrorism in Lebanon, a debate that was brought to the fore at a workshop at the Beirut Bar Association Thursday.

While the STL doesn't itself offer compensation to victims, any verdict from the court is supranational and can be used by victims to demand compensation within the Lebanese legal system.

But compensation is not the only aim of these tribunals, said Peter Haynes, lead lawyer of the victims in the Hariri trial.

Such political considerations are more distant for the victims of terrorism.


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