Once again, Lebanon’s 49 percent share of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon funding is due. And once again, the procedure – which should be a simple, if expensive, international legal matter – has fallen victim to domestic political squabbling and infighting.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati might still decide to seek Cabinet approval to pay Lebanon’s 2013 dues, but in the absence of a government, this might take time. But it has been paid without Cabinet approval before, so there no reason this cannot happen again.
Those opponents of funding the court, and of the STL in general, namely Hezbollah and its March 8 allies, are using the Cabinet issue as one reason why Lebanon’s 2013 dues cannot be paid. They are also citing the admittedly dire financial state of the country, and the rapidly rising costs of hosting a growing refugee population.
Eight years after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – an event larger than Lebanon itself, and thus requiring the investigative backing of an international court – and the procedures and funding of the STL should be routine. But still they are subject to the dangerous political bickering that is increasingly appearing to define Lebanon.
For its part, Hezbollah has shown little to no cooperation with the court: consistently opposing its funding, preventing access and refusing to hand over four of its members, indicted in the 2005 crime. And as the years go on, justice seems to be ever further away. A series of different prosecutors has lengthened every proceeding, and the mechanics of the trial itself seem eternally hazy.
But for such a crucial time for Lebanon, when it needs all the international support it can get, it is vital that all of its political actors work together to help create an image of a strong, united country, not one beset by endless disagreements and crisis after crisis.
Any country is judged by its dealings with the international community, its ability to play by the rules and to work alongside and respect global norms and systems of justice. With these endless delays and bargaining over the STL, used by political parties in attempt to score minor, perceived victories at home, Lebanon is being tarnished. And not just the reputation of those groups responsible for the delays and the bickering, but all groups, and all of its citizens. For the country comes to be seen as a failed state, one not worthy of concerted efforts to maintain stability or provide assistance to. If the country cannot look after itself, the international community will likely be more inclined to ask, “Why should we help it out?”
Personal and political vendettas must be removed from all Lebanese dealings with the STL. For the country cannot – at this very delicate time – afford to pick and choose in its relations with international standards and systems.