Lebanon News

UN legal expert's resignation spurs speculation in Beirut

BEIRUT: The United Nations Undersecretary General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel resigned from his post for "family and administrative reasons," a UN spokesperson told reporters on Monday. 

"Michel had informed the secretary general through his chef of cabinet in January 2008 that he regretted that he would not be able to be available for a further extension of his contract when it expires at the end of August, mainly for family and administrative reasons," Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesperson Marie Okabe told reporters.

Lawyer Akram Azouri, attorney of detained former General Security chief Jamil al-Sayyed tied Nicolas' resignation with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon that will try suspects in the February 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, saying that "political pressures are likely to stand behind such resignation."

Sayyed - along with former security chiefs Ali al-Hajj of the Internal Security Forces, Raymond Azar of Army Intelligence and Mostapha Hamdan of the Presidential Guards - has been detained since 2005 for alleged involvement in the Hariri assassination.

The former head of the UN investigative commission, Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, said the detainment of the four former security chiefs was the responsibility of the Lebanese judiciary.

Sayyed on Monday issued a statement through the office of his attorney lashing out at General Prosecutor Saeed Mirza and investigative Magistrate Saqr Saqr and holding them responsible for his "arbitrary" detention.

"Even the US in their latest report on human rights in Lebanon pinpointed arbitrary detentions," Sayyed said.

The US State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices issued last week said that a UN commission for human rights had cited the case of the four former security chiefs as "arbitrary detention."

Responding to Sayyed, lawyer Mohammad Mattar, who represents the heirs of the four Hariri bodyguards killed in the February 14, 2005, bombing, said Sayyed's allegations were "baseless and far-fetched since the report does not mention the four former chiefs in particular, but rather touches upon the issue of arbitrary detention in general."

In a telephone interview with The Daily Star on Monday, Azouri said that ever since the decision was taken to establish the international tribunal, political pressures have been exerted to have the tribunal operate before the wrapping up of investigations.

The lawyer explained that there were "two main prerequisites for kicking off the international tribunal."

"The first one is a technical one and is related to the funding process, the selection of judges, and the location of the tribunal, and the other one is purely technical and is related to the process of investigations," he said.

Azoury stressed that the "judicial prerequisite" is not met until "a sort of accusation is formulated, and this cannot be done until the investigating commission has identified suspects with names and evidence."

"UN Resolution 1757, which called and provided a framework for the establishment of the court, clearly stipulates that the tribunal cannot start functioning on the judicial level before the end of investigations," Azoury said.

He also referred to an interview with Michel published in As-Safir newspaper earlier this month, in which the undersecretary said that the investigation into the Hariri assassination "should take its time."

In the same interview, Michel said the "logistics for setting up the tribunal" were "almost done," adding that he was "still not able to determine when the tribunal will start operating."

On Monday, Azoury sent a letter to Ban and to the head of the UN investigative commission, Daniel Bellemare, raising objections over a television appearance of former chief investigator Detlev Mehlis scheduled to be aired on Tuesday on LBCI television. 

"The timing is very crucial. Having Mehlis appear on television will jeopardize any credibility established by the UN commission during Brammertz' two-year tenure," Azoury said.





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