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A Dead PM, an $800M Tribunal, and 'Deficient Justice'

Special Tribunal for Lebanon stammers to its end
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 17, 2021 1:10 PM CDT
A Tribunal Meant to Dole Out Justice Stammers to an End
Black smoke rises from the scene where a fuel tanker exploded in Tleil village, north Lebanon, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021.   (AP Photo)

(Newser) – The Special Tribunal for Lebanon describes itself as "the first tribunal of international character to prosecute terrorist crimes"—the "first" part relating to the fact it was formed solely with a focus on terrorism. It came about as part of an agreement between the UN and the Lebanese government after former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was murdered in 2005 via a car bomb in Beirut. But as the New York Times reports in a lengthy look at the special tribunal as it stammers to its end, the prosecution part has been a problem.

  • Results. The tribunal operates near the Hague, employs 11 judges and almost 400 staffers, and has spent $800 million over 12 years to get to this: four men tried in absentia, only one convicted (Salim Ayyash, for conspiracy to stage the bombing; his location is unknown), and no stated conclusion about who ordered Hariri's killing or why. That said, the court has other cases on its docket—the murder of another Lebanese politician and the attempted murder of two others, reports Foreign Policy—but those were just put on ice as they were due to start.

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  • The issue: Though the tribunal's mandate isn't up for two more years, by the end of last month half the staff was out of a job and judicial activity was halted. Lebanon is responsible for 49% of the budget ($67 million last year), and 28 other countries, including the US, foot the other 51%. Some of those countries stopped paying this year, and Lebanon itself is in the midst of one of the worst financial meltdowns since the 1800s.
  • Let it go: So argues David Schenker at Foreign Policy, who writes that the only person yet indicted for the aforementioned additional crimes is Ayyash. "The idea that one Hezbollah operative is single-handedly responsible for a wave of meticulously planned political assassinations is absurd and contradicts the tribunal investigators’ own findings."
  • Keep it open. So argues Reem Salahi, an Atlantic Council fellow who says closure sends "a chilling message that even deficient justice is superfluous. This message is not only dangerous for Lebanon, which has continued to see political assassinations ... but also for neighboring Syria," whose government has committed atrocities against its people. "The solution ... should not be the closure of accountability bodies, but rather their modification and empowerment."
(Read more Lebanon stories.)

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