Debating STL: Searching for the Perfect Path to Justice

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Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati arrives to deliver a news conference at the government palace in Beirut, 30 November 2011. (Photo: REUTERS - Mohamed Azakir)

By: Leah Caldwell

Published Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Prime Minister Mikati's confirmation Wednesday that the country had made good on its US$32 million payment to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) sparked a public debate over the legality of the move and the future of the STL as an instrument of justice or one of political manipulation.

The debate was taken up Wednesday at a panel titled, “The Special Tribunal for Lebanon: International Justice or International Intervention?”

Speaking at a packed lecture hall at the American University of Beirut, international law lecturer Nidal Jurdi and criminal justice expert and head of al-Akhbar’s Research Unit Omar Nashabe concurred that a “culture of impunity” is pervasive in the country. They agreed that the current juridical situation is mired in politics, making an impartial legal process near unattainable. Yet their solutions for how to go about implementing a legitimate form of justice in relation to the operations of the STL diverged.

Nashabe proposed several actions that would “contribute to local ownership of the international judicial mechanism,” including the formation of a high commission of Lebanese and international judges that would monitor the STL.

Nashabe said that from a legal perspective, the method of payment does not contradict UN Resolution 1757, which established the STL.

Jurdi stated that the STL, though imperfect, comes close to adhering to a clear rule of law. “The Security Council is one of the few political bodies that has the competence to define its parameters and mandate,” he said.

The challenges faced by the STL are numerous, Jurdi said, and despite the competence of investigators, there is a marked disconnect with the street. Furthermore, he added, the tribunal operates in an “insecure” environment and is subject to a high staff turnover.

Nashabe characterized the STL as a body with a very limited scope that has only sought to implement “selective justice.”

The STL and the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) that preceded it have adhered to questionable legal standards, Nashabe said. He noted several instances of violation of Lebanese law and improper disclosure of sensitive information to the public.

Former commissioner of the UNIIIC Detlev Mehlis published the names of 25 witnesses, including Gibran Tueni who was assassinated six months after the disclosure. Mehlis was never held accountable, Nashabe said.

“Will it contribute to re-establishing the rule of law in Lebanon? Will it be the beginning of granting everyone access to justice in Lebanon? Or is it just a one time, one case, heavily politicized selective matter to serve the interests of international powers?” he asked.

Jurdi believes that the tribunal should not be avoided because of a threat of conflict. “We can’t compromise justice if we are always fearing instability. We need to break this vicious circle,” he said.

Controversy surrounds not only the legal missteps of the tribunal, but also the Lebanese political process that determines the viability and future of the international body. Lebanon is required to finance 49 percent of the STL's operations, a prospect that Lebanese MPs speculated would collapse the government. Yet on November 30, PM Mikati announced that the dues had been paid through an as yet unspecified process.

The STL was established by the UN in 2005 following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

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