BEIRUT: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon operates entirely outside of politics, STL President David Baragwanath said during a speech to the Tripoli Bar Association. “In Lebanon, as in every civilized state, politics is rightly a matter of great public interest and importance – for citizens. But not for judges. Politics has nothing to do with the Tribunal, which has no interest in anything beyond the scope of its jurisdiction, the law and the evidence,” he told the audience via video link.
He added that he had refrained from voting in political elections for the past 18 years due to his role as a member of the judicial branch of government in his native New Zealand.
Baragwanath, who serves in the STL’s Appeals Chamber, was first elected as the court’s president after the late Judge Antonio Cassese resigned last October. In March, he was re-elected for a term of 18 months.
In his speech Baragwanath spoke of the difficulties in applying international law, and the differences with domestic law and highlighted the value that Lebanese judges were able to bring to the STL.
“Compared with an international judge, a domestic judge enjoys considerable advantages. He or she is likely to be a member of the community, familiar not only with the law but with the local language and culture, in a position to understand the situation of each litigant so as to be able to view the case through that person’s eyes,” he said.
“In my own tribunal for these reasons the presence of Judges [Ralph] Riachi, [Afif] Chamseddine, [ Micheline] Braidy and [Walid] Akoum is a great comfort and strength.”
But he also offered a word of caution, warning that domestic judges can sometimes be “blind to [local laws’] deficiencies and the need for change,” citing the example of the ruling of federal judges that detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison had no right to challenge their detention.
He also offered praise for those working within the law in Lebanon, and within the diaspora.
“What is very clear is that no state has per capita greater dynamism, energy and simple ability than the people of Lebanon,” he said. “In today’s world, shrunk by telecommunications and aircraft, you and your compatriots who are at home in the Arab world and in the West are well-placed to resume in full Lebanon’s role as a major leader of the rule of law.”