Lebanon News

Hizbullah says Tribunal lacks legal basis

BEIRUT: Hizbullah’s top MP, Mohammad Raad, said Wednesday that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) was founded on unconstitutional basis, but he held out hope for Syrian-Saudi efforts to resolve the political deadlock paralyzing the country.

“The mechanism by which the international tribunal was set up has transcended the Lebanese government and its Constitution,” Raad, who heads Hizbullah’s Loyalty to the Resistance bloc, told a news conference.

“It was rushed by the illegitimate Cabinet of Fouad Siniora without being ratified in line with the Constitution and within constitutional norms. The agreement was not signed by the president and it was not endorsed by Parliament as well,” he added.

But the lawmaker said that Arab efforts to reach an understanding to achieve a consensual Lebanese agreement over the disputed court were ongoing.

“Chances for a settlement do exist, we do not consider that things are over … we hope we will reach positive results very soon,” he said.

Syria and Saudi Arabia have been trying to reach a compromise over the STL – established by the UN to try the assassins of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – acceptable to March 8 and March 14 coalitions.

The Arab efforts have slowed down after Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz suffered a slipped disk.

But a senior political source close to the March 8 coalition told The Daily Star that Saudi-Syrian efforts have revived and that the first draft of a compromise was laid down, noting that it would tackle the position from the STL, its impending indictment, the functions of the Lebanese Cabinet along with other problematic issues and political mechanisms in the country.

The source said that Prince Abdel-Aziz bin Abdullah was holding intensive contacts over the matter with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

But the same source said that if the indictment was handed down before Arab efforts bear fruit, such compromise would not be possible anymore.

Meanwhile, Raad said that “a politicized tribunal that does not abide by the highest standards of justice and that transcended the Lebanese Constitution and was created in line with international interests away from the interests and will of the Lebanese cannot be trusted to serve justice.”

“We will not be surprised that it will facilitate international tutelage over Lebanon and its security and stability,” he added.

Raad addressed a news conference called for at Parliament to “shed light on the legal basis of the STL, and touch on the ambiguities and problems in its structure, methodology and rules of conduct.”

The news conference is part of several steps Hizbullah has taken to discredit the STL, which is widely expected to indict Hizbullah members. Hizbullah denies involvement in the assassination.

Raad’s news conference sparked a number of reactions from March 14 officials. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the conference was “a step in the right direction.”

“We live within a democratic system, and every party, group and leader has the right to express his opinion,” he told Ash-Sharq radio station.

Meanwhile, the March 14 General Secretariat said the news conference aimed at targeting the STL and its indictment.

“Some politicians continue their media appearances that render nothing new and fall within the frame of targeting the indictment and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in advance and go too far in repealing what they have agreed upon and especially in the Cabinet’s policy statement,” it said in a statement after its weekly meeting.

Retired Judge Salim Jreisati, who spoke during Raad’s news conference, detailed a number of legal flaws in the STL. He explained that the mechanism by which the STL was approved in Lebanon had gone beyond the president’s prerogatives “to initiate negotiations over international agreements,” along with those of Parliament.

The issue of “false witnesses” was also raised. But Jreisati said that rule 152 of STL’s Rules of Procedures and Evidence identified the procedures to be followed in punishing “false witnesses” who gave false testimonies after making their oath before the investigative judge.

Jreisati noted that the STL had chosen March 20, 2009, to put its rules into practice, while false testimonies were reportedly given before this date.

“This time division is not permitted due to the inseparability of investigation periods and its interrelation with the trial procedure,” Jreisati said.

Hizbullah argues that the key to revealing truth over Hariri’s murder lies in probing witnesses who gave false testimonies to the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission, which was later turned over to the STL.

The March 14 coalition believes the matter should be addressed after the STL issues its indictment.

The STL had earlier announced it had no jurisdiction to look into the issue of “false witnesses.”

Jresati also noted that the STL’s investigations violated the principle of secrecy, stipulated by Article 53 of the Lebanese code of penal procedures.

Meanwhile, Raad said that Bellemare’s office had requested comprehensive reports about many Lebanese from Lebanese security agencies and official institutions.

“For example, the data of cellular telecommunications and text messages [are requested] and updated periodically,” Raad said.

“What does the data of all the Lebanese people have to do with the international investigation?” he asked, adding that it was unknown to what side does such information end up going to.

Jreisati said the memorandums of understandings signed between Lebanon and the UN over the STL did not stipulate that such data should be handed over.

He said the move violated the privacy of the Lebanese people which should be protected in line with the Constitution.

Raad said that STL was relying “on circumstantial rather than definite evidence.”

“Circumstantial evidence falls in the lowest category of evidence, because it is subject to mistakes or fraud and it does not count as definite evidence, and it can also be easily challenged,” said Jreisati.

Finally, Jresiati and Raad discredited the validity of using telecommunications as evidence based in the impending indictment as is rumored.

“The telecommunications evidence is circumstantial par excellence, and telecommunications experts have proven that data can be manipulated and fake telecommunications can be fabricated from different geographical locations… it is legally unqualified evidence” said Jreisati.

Jresati noted that under article 18 of the STL agreement signed between Lebanon and the international community, the Lebanese government could contest any matter related to the STL.

Raad said Hizbullah has raised some of its concerns over the STL while meeting with representatives from the body on March 30, 2010, but he said the party received no answers.

 

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