Hariri bombing tribunal “could close without urgent funding”
BEIRUT: A UN tribunal set up after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has warned it will be forced to close after July unless it finds urgent funding.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) said it was facing an “unprecedented financial crisis” and needed immediate funding if it was to continue operations after July.
The tribunal was established in 2009 to investigate and try suspects in the Beirut bombing in 2005 that killed Hariri and 21 others.
It is the first international criminal tribunal of its kind to prosecute terrorism at the level of individuals, not states, with the aim of “sending a strong message to the world that terrorism will not go unpunished”.
The Netherlands-based court said in a statement on Wednesday: “Without immediate funding, the court will not be able to function beyond July 2021”, calling its financial crisis “unprecedented”.
In the statement, the STL said the lack of funding “will affect its ability to carry out its current mandate and the two cases currently before it.”
In August 2020, the trial chamber tried suspect Salim Ayyash in absentia on five charges related to the bombing.
On December 11 last year, Ayyash was sentenced to life imprisonment, the court saying he “played a key role in the attack that killed Rafik Hariri”.
He added: “The attack was political and aimed at eliminating a political opponent, and although there is no direct evidence, it most likely involved state actors.”
Ayyash, 58, has acted as a prominent military leader within Hezbollah. The US State Department said it had played a “senior operational role in Hezbollah Unit 121, the group’s assassination squad.”
Its Rewards for Justice program offered a reward of up to $ 10 million for information that could help locate or identify Ayyash.
The other defendants Hassan Habib Merhi, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra were found not guilty on all counts. Appeal proceedings are ongoing against Ayyash and others, due to other assassinations that took place after 2005.
“Court officials have officially informed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of the financial situation which will result in the tribunal’s inability to complete its work if no contribution is obtained before the end of July,” the STL statement read. .
The tribunal relies on 51 percent of its budget from donor countries and 49 percent from the Lebanese government.
STL spokesman Wajed Ramadan told Arab News: âThe closure of the court is an extremely serious and unprecedented matter. Therefore, the STL calls on the international community and Lebanon to support it so that it can continue its judicial work in favor of victims of terrorism in Lebanon. The tribunal is also very crucial for international prosecutions.
Ramadan did not say whether Lebanon had notified the court of its decision not to pay, but said: “If no funding is secured before the end of July, everything the court has accomplished so far would be in vain.” .
Sources told Arab News that this would mean that “all of Ayyash’s arrest procedures would also come to a halt and it would be as if the tribunal never existed, with no other alternative mechanism to prosecute the terrorists.”
Paul Morcos, lawyer and founder of Justicia Consulting Law in Beirut, said: âLebanon is unable to pay its share, even if the amount is reduced, due to its financial crisis.
When asked if the state’s reluctance to fund the tribunal had a political basis, Morcos added: âThe risk of the tribunal closing is due to financial problems, at least that’s the apparent cause. However, this tribunal, which was set up to prosecute individuals and not states, is a cause of distress for many because its decisions are not substantive. “
The tribunal had previously cut its budget for 2021 by 37% compared to previous years, given the difficult conditions caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the economic situation in Lebanon.
In March, a contribution of $ 15.5 million to the STL was made by the UN, covering 75 percent of Lebanon’s quota and leaving the government only 25 percent of its annual share to pay.
Registrar David Tolbert said: âDespite the STL’s initiative to reduce its staff and budget in general, it will still have to close in the coming months if no funding is secured.
After a 30 percent reduction in staff, the tribunal is now composed of five judges in the trial chambers, five judges in the appeals chamber and 300 staff.