Breaking news: Prosecutor of Special Tribunal for Lebanon issues indictments

month later than had been originally expected in December, and according to an announcement on the website of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon:
The Registrar of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Herman von Hebel, can confirm that the Prosecutor of the tribunal has submitted an indictment and supporting materials to the Pre-Trial Judge. The documents, which relate to the assassination of Rafiq Hariri and others, were handed to the Registry at 16:35PM (local time) on Monday 17th January 2011. They will now be reviewed by the Pre-Trial Judge, Daniel Fransen. The contents of the indictment remain confidential at this stage.
According to the BBC, and as as reported by Bill Schabas in December, Hezbollah leaders are expected to be named in them. We’ll have to wait for the pre-trial judge to issue arrest warrants and for them to be unsealed to get confirmation. 

Politically, this is an interesting development, given that the STL is at the center of a typical Peace vs. Justice debate, as mentioned by the International Jurist last week, the indictments being seen as divisive and threatening an already fragile political situation in the country. Even Hariri’s son has asked for the Tribunal to back off. Despite this, “The Prosecutor and his team will continue to vigorously pursue his mandate with respect to both continued investigative activity and the prosecution of this case.” (statement here) and the UNSG reiterated his support for the tribunal last week.

Legally, I’ll have other opportunities to blog about this, but this tribunal has always seemed to me like an ill-thought enterprise from the start, with a poorly defined material jurisdiction (national crimes of terrorism, with only a reference to the national criminal code) and “factual” jurisdiction, for lack of a better word (the Hariri assassination and other crimes which are related to it, whatever that means). Also, what should be interesting, and what we should keep in mind is that the Tribunal is the first to allow trials in absentia, in the civil law tradition. So we don’t really need any arrests for trials to go forward. As I’ve had the opportunity of saying before, I am, on balance, in favor of such trials. Let’s have a live example to test the theory. Until I get a chance to share my own thoughts further on the tribunal, the STL has been kind enough to prepare a FAQ document on indictments for the general public.

More at a later stage when the Prosecutor issues a videotaped statement tomorrow.

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