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Lebanon: Hariri Tribunal Can Restore Faith in Law

Lebanon: Hariri Tribunal Can Restore Faith in Law

New Court Must Address Similar Attacks If Linked to Hariri Killing

(New York) – The international tribunal being created to try those responsible for the Hariri assassination should also prosecute similar attacks in Lebanon since October 2004, if investigators determine there are links between the bombings, Human Rights Watch said today.

The former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was killed along with 22 others in a bombing in Beirut on February 14, 2005. On March 29, 2006 the United Nations Security Council authorized the secretary-general to negotiate an agreement with the government of Lebanon to create a “tribunal of an international character” to try those responsible for this crime.

“Political assassinations in Lebanon have long gone unpunished,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “The Hariri tribunal could end this culture of impunity and restore public faith in Lebanon’s judicial system, but only if it is done right.”

In letters to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Lebanese Justice Minister Charles Rizk that were made public today, Human Rights Watch welcomed Security Council Resolution 1664 that called for the start of negotiations with the Lebanese government to establish a tribunal. In its letters, Human Rights Watch outlined its views on the authority and composition of the future tribunal. The organization also enumerated several additional concerns that need to be addressed if the Hariri tribunal is to satisfy the promise of delivering justice.

The main points in the letters include:

• Given that the international investigation into potential links between the Hariri assassination and the other bomb attacks that occurred in Lebanon since October 2004 is ongoing, Human Rights Watch urges that the negotiations between the United Nations and the Lebanese government allow for the possibility of prosecuting those other crimes before the international tribunal.

“If these crimes are linked, basic notions of justice would require that they be tried before the same tribunal,” said Whitson.

• The organization welcomed the reported agreement by the Lebanese authorities’ to allow for a “significant participation” of international prosecutors and judges in the tribunal, but recommended that judicial panels be composed of a majority of international judges with the highest standards of integrity and relevant professional experience, to guarantee impartiality and the appearance of impartiality.

• Human Rights Watch called for the creation of an adequately resourced “witness and victim protection unit” that can ensure long-term protection and support for victims and witnesses – including potential international relocation of witnesses where appropriate.

• An additional area of concern is the importance of guaranteeing the rights of the accused by setting-up a “Defense Office” that would advocate with the tribunal on issues relevant to the defense and ensure that defense counsel receives adequate support.

• Human Rights Watch also asked that the United Nations and the Lebanese Government make draft texts of the statute and rules of procedure of the future tribunal publicly available before their adoption, to permit comment and feedback from civil society in Lebanon and international human rights organizations.

“To get this process right, it’s essential to learn from the experience of the other international tribunals,” said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. “For example, it will be crucial for the tribunal to explain its mission, and make its proceedings meaningful to the Lebanese people.”

While recognizing that the Hariri tribunal is not a Lebanese justice reform project, Human Rights Watch recommended the tribunal take steps to convene professional development seminars to share skills, experience, and knowledge brought to the tribunal by international personnel with Lebanese legal professionals.

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