BEIRUT: Close to 60 people either wounded or harmed in the 2005 bomb attack that killed former statesman Rafik Hariri have applied to participate in the trials of those accused of the crime, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon said Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the court said it was pleased “with the significant number of victims who have applied” to take part in forthcoming trials.
“We believe it shows that there are many victims who wish to have their voices heard in the proceedings before this tribunal,” spokesperson Marten Youssef told The Daily Star.
The United Nations-backed STL, established in 2009 to find and try the assassins of Hariri, is unique among international tribunals in that it includes scope within its mandate for victims of the attack to join court proceedings.
A victim is defined as anyone who sustained physical, material or psychological harm from the bomb blast that killed Hariri and 22 others in downtown Beirut Feb. 14, 2005. In his June indictment accusing four Hezbollah members of the crime, STL Prosecutor Daniel Bellmare submitted a redacted list of 231 individuals wounded in the attack.
It is unclear how long it will take the court to process victim applications. “The numbers are not so large as to require significant time for reviewing the applications, and once victims are accepted to participate in the proceedings they can be grouped to share legal representatives in order to ensure efficient proceedings,” he said.
Although the court has not set a definitive timeframe for the commencement of trials, it is thought they could begin as soon as mid-2012.
In the indictment, Bellemare suggested that some witnesses had been subjected to threats and intimidation after meeting with investigators. A court statement Tuesday said victims had met with the STL’s Victim Participation unit and, given that some victims are likely to be called for cross examination as witnesses, Youssef was keen to point out that the protection of applicants was a priority.
“The tribunal takes issues surrounding the safety of victims very seriously. To this end the [court] can authorize measures to protect the identity of a victim during the judicial process,” he said.
“It is very difficult to stop the intimidating behavior of those who may be opposed to victims participating in the judicial process, however, those victims who have applied to participate, their information is treated and handled confidentially,” Youssef added.
The STL’s Victim Participation unit is not responsible for providing the victims of Hariri’s assassination with compensation for their injuries or distress, as this will be handled in Lebanese courts after any conviction.
The court’s rules state that victims, even if they have declined to participate in the trials, are still entitled to request a copy of any conviction to help with claims.
The STL will next week hold a hearing discussing the viability of pressing ahead with in absentia trials for the four suspects. The men, all Hezbollah members, have so far proved elusive to authorities in spite of being the subject of a nationwide manhunt and international arrest warrants.