Warrants and Counter-Warrants: A Gun to the Head of the Judiciary

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Relatives of abducted Lebanese pilgrims, who were kidnapped in northern Syria, celebrate their release by holding a national flag as they wait for their arrival at Beirut International Airport on 25 May 2012. (Photo: AFP - Joseph Eid)

By: Omar Nashabe

Published Friday, December 14, 2012

When politics and the judiciary intermingle, the result is a state that is incapable of dispensing justice.

“It is ironic how a monster can turn into a human being, talking justice and issuing judgements.” This was former prime minister Saad Hariri’s reply to the Syrian judiciary, which issued a warrant for his arrest 11 December 2012.

According to Future Movement MP Ammar al-Houri, the warrants “are worthless in form and content, even the ink used to write the warrants has no value...Their true place is the trash can.”

The caustic nature of the replies to the judicial authority’s decision is an indicator that the responders are furious about the employment of the courts in the political arena. Maybe if the Syrian authorities’ attack on Hariri and his acolytes remained political, and did not end up in the courts, the beast could have remained a beast and avoided being a paper tiger.

It seems that Hariri has forgotten that the Syrian regime’s use of the court in the political arena comes after several rounds of similar usage by the Future Movement and March 14. This is most evident with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) investigations into the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, which has been oft used as a tool in the political arena.

Since 2005, Hariri’s political current has relentlessly used the assassination, the investigation, and the STL to point fingers at Syria, Hezbollah, and their allies. They preempted investigation results, courts rulings, and decisions, and obliterated the presumption of innocence.

Hariri’s followers never ceased to threaten their compatriots with the power of the international community and the vigor of international justice.

There is no doubt that supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad also agree that warrants against its own Brigadier General Ali al-Mamlouk “are worthless in form and content.” It is also certain that supporters of the Resistance in Lebanon would apply that sentiment to the STL.

Employing the courts in the political arena prior to the issuing of fair rulings can have serious consequences.

First, it contributes to the incitement and mobilization of people, turning it into a case of injustice against people. Second, it spoils certain legal principles, such as presumption of innocence, independence of the judiciary, and sequence of procedures. Third, it exposes the judiciary and law enforcement to pressure and contributes to political, confessional, and sectarian divisions.

Fourth, it hinders due process by turning the legal issue at hand into a political challenge. As such, a criminal might be pardoned or an innocent indicted based on their political or confessional affiliation.

Fifth, it legitimizes the law of the jungle, where the strong has control over the weak, the rich over the poor, and the connected citizen over the commonwealth.

Sixth, it encourages impunity in a country where warlords carry the banners of truth, justice, and retribution, while 17,000 families are still searching for the missing victims of the Lebanese civil war.

In international cases, employing lawsuits in disputes between countries makes it difficult to find solutions. It is likely that Lebanese and Syrian authorities will refuse to respond to any warrant issued by either country against the other.

The issue will turn into a shooting match without any conclusion. When Syrian authorities summoned Lebanese politicians and security officers to appear in its courts, in what became known as the “false witnesses case,” Lebanese authorities replied by summoning Syrian military commanders to interrogate them in the Michel Samaha case.

The outcome was that justice was not served, neither in the Samaha case nor in the false witnesses case. The verdict was split into two sides containing Lebanese and Syrians who have made up their minds. Each side criminalized the other, then issued their rulings and verdicts.

The main component facilitating the success of politicians in employing legal cases in political disputes is the lack of a culture of justice in Lebanon and the rest of the region, as well as a total disregard of constitutional provisions.

Some of the gaps in the state’s structure have led to the expansion of the margin of political intervention in managing judicial power. The executive power approves the appointment of judges and sets the courts’ budgets. There is no separation of powers in a state that is based on such maxims as “to each his own,” where only the savvy obtain their rights.

In light of this, judges are ruled by the vow of silence. But even if they tried to scream, their voices will not be heard, for the pistol of politics is in their mouths.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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