BEIRUT: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon hopes to see “novel and intensified efforts” from Lebanese authorities in the coming months to detain and turn over four men accused of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
In the court’s fourth annual report, released to the public Friday, the STL expresses its gratitude for the contributions of the Lebanese government to its investigation but also reminds Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his Cabinet that “trial in absentia does not detract in any way from the continuing obligation of the Lebanese authorities ... to locate, apprehend and surrender the accused to the Tribunal.”
Highlighting that 21 months have elapsed since the court issued indictments for Hezbollah members Salim Ayyash, Mustafa Baddredine, Assad Sabra and Hussein Oneissi, the report suggests “it may now be appropriate for the authorities to revisit their strategies and techniques” with respect to catching these men.
Mikati’s office, when contacted Friday, told The Daily Star the prime minister had “no comment on the matter.”
However, Lebanon’s public prosecutor, Hatem Madi, under whose jurisdiction the pursuit of the Ayyash et al falls, assured The Daily Star that his office is “doing the best we can to apprehend the indicted individuals.”
Madi added that he had not yet seen the annual report. The prime minister’s office last Monday announced it has received the annual report.
From The Hague, court spokesperson Marten Youssef emphasized Friday that STL president David Baragwanath is “fully aware of Lebanese efforts to detain the accused.” Youssef explained that Lebanese authorities file a confidential monthly report to the court on their work in this regard. Baragwanath has described these reports as “comprehensive,” he added.
The annual report covers the period from March 1, 2012, to Feb. 8, 2013.
Its content reflects on a year in which the U.N.-backed court saw off a defense challenge to its legality, authorized an in absentia trial for the accused, and both set and delayed a provisional start date for trial proceedings.
The report notes that the court has not yet commenced trial proceedings, however, less progress than anticipated in its third annual report.
However, the text does offer some justification for this delay: “The fact that the pretrial judge was unable to confirm the tentative [trial start] date of March 25, 2013 he had set in July 2012 ... illustrates the fundamental principle expressed in Article 16 [of the court’s statutes] – the right of each accused to a fair trial is absolute.”
On Feb. 21 pretrial judge Daniel Fransen agreed to postpone the trial start date in response to a motion filed by the defense. Among the defense’s reasons for requesting the postponement were the prosecution’s failure to disclose all relevant documents and the volume and unorganized state of the evidence received.
Fransen granted the prosecution, defense and victims’ representatives until March 8 to submit details of their preparedness for trial.
When The Daily Star spoke to Youssef Friday morning, only the victims’ representatives had made their submission.
Fransen has indicated he will set a new provisional trial date upon reviewing these parties’ submissions.
Aside from the trial delay however, the court has over the past year sought to expedite its progress, and on Feb. 25 it approved a variety of changes to its rules with the primary aim of speeding up proceedings.
Now facing into its fifth year, the court emphasizes in its annual report that “to ensure swift and fair proceedings constant cooperation in judicial matters with both prosecution and defense remains essential.”
The Tribunal also expects in the coming months to “hear witnesses in the Ayyash et al case against the four accused” and to continue its investigative activity.
Yet the court must also anticipate that its caseload may expand.
The pretrial judge has already deferred three “connected cases” to the Tribunal. In line with its mandate, the prosecution continues to investigate the Dec. 12, 2004 assassination of Marwan Hamade, the June 21, 2005 assassination of George Hawi and the July 12, 2005, attempted assassination of Elias Murr.
In addition to this, the prosecution states in the report that it is presently establishing a “Connected Cases Transitions Team” to examine whether any other attacks can be “connected” with the Feb. 14, 2005, bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others in central Beirut.
The prosecution reports that the pretrial judge has elaborated on the criteria required for attacks to be deemed “connected,” noting that connection includes a combination of the following: modus operandi; purpose; the nature of the victims targeted; and perpetrators.
Presently, attacks not referred to the Tribunal remain in the jurisdiction of the Lebanese judicial authorities. – With additional reporting by Van Meguerditchian