Hariri court defends impartiality

AFP , Wednesday 16 Feb 2011

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon's presiding judge says that the court will be totally impartial and not subject to interference

The UN court set up to try those responsible for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri will be totally impartial and not subject to interference, its chief said Wednesday.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon's presiding judge Antonio Cassese was speaking at a hearing as the court issued a 152-page ruling on the law that will apply during a future trial, particularly with regard to terrorism.

Daniel Fransen had submitted 15 legal questions for the appeals chamber to clarify, related to an indictment filed under seal by prosecutor Daniel Bellemare on January 17.

Fransen is tasked with confirming the indictment, widely believed to implicate the Lebanese Hezbollah group, before any arrest warrants can be issued for the 2005 bombing that killed Hariri and 22 other people in Beirut.

Among other things, he had asked the judges to decide how the crimes of terrorism, conspiracy and premeditated murder should be defined, and under which law -- Lebanese or international or both.

"The tribunal is duty bound to apply the Lebanese law on the crime of terrorism, because this is what is stated in Article 2 of our Statute," Cassese said Wednesday.

The Lebanese criminal code defines terrorist acts as "all acts intended to cause a state of terror and committed by means liable to create a public danger such as explosive devices, inflammable materials, toxic or corrosive products and infectious or microbial agents."

The court is currently expected to take between six and nine weeks to study the indictment, a statement said Wednesday, though given the complexity of the case and the amount of evidence to be examined it could be longer.

"Our tribunal intends to be absolutely impartial, independent of any political pressure or interference or consideration," Cassese said.

The trial has further split Lebanon and held up formation of a new government to replace the one headed by Harari's son Saad, which was brought down by Hezbollah last month.

Hezbollah has called for cooperation with the tribunal to be ended while Lebanon's Sunni Muslim authority wants it maintained.

Lebanese prime minister designate Najib Mikati has sidestepped making any commitments over the tribunal, which Hezbollah claims is under the control of its foes Israel and the United States.

Short link: