Special Tribunal for Lebanon President Antonio Cassese issued on Thursday an open letter to the four suspects accused of being involved in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, informing them of their rights and urging them to appear in court, announced the STL press office.
He issued the letter in light of Lebanon’s informing of the STL that it has been unable to apprehend the suspects, adding that he is currently studying Lebanon’s report on the matter.
“I am confident that they will continue to cooperate with the STL and persist in their search for the accused, pursuant to the obligations laid down in Article 15 of the document annexed to UN Security Council Resolution 1757 (2007),” said the STL president in his letter.
“The STL has been established to dispense justice in a proper and fair manner. All those working for the Tribunal are doing their job with full independence and impartiality,” he stressed.
“Any claim that the Tribunal is under the influence of some countries is simply preposterous,” he stated.
Cassese added: “Let me also remind all those allegedly involved in those terrorist crimes in Lebanon that nothing, I repeat, nothing will deflect or prevent the Tribunal from fulfilling its mission.”
“The lofty ideals on which the Tribunal is grounded (accountability, dispensation of justice to contribute to long-term peace and reconciliation, safeguarding the rights of the victims) are solidly ingrained in our Statute and our Rules and jealously protected by the Judges,” he said.
“They cannot be set aside by a stroke of the pen, by mere rhetoric or even by violence. The march to justice is inexorable, and one way or another we will end up with a trial,” stressed the STL president.
He reiterated that the STL is “exclusively” aimed at finding out the truth behind the February 14, 2005, assassination of former Premier Hariri and other possibly connected cases, in a hope that it would put an end to political assassinations in Lebanon.
“For the accused, this mission means that we will conduct trials based on a firm presumption of innocence of the accused,” stated the STL president.
“The Tribunal shall never convict anybody unless guilt is established beyond any reasonable doubt,” he stressed.
He explained that in the absence of the accused the Tribunal’s Head of Defense Office will appoint the best professionals to represent them in court, a major safeguard of a fair and just trial is the active participation of the accused.
Cassese said: “I therefore urge all the indictees to come before the Tribunal.”
Should they chose not to come in person, they have the option according to the STL Rules of appearing by video-link, thus participating in the proceedings without physically coming to The Hague, he continued.
“At the very least, it is extremely important for you to appoint legal counsel and to instruct them: without instructions from the accused it may prove harder for counsel appointed by the Head of the Tribunal’s Defense Office to make a convincing case for those charged by the Prosecution,” he explained.
“Our Rules go even further, because they foresee the possibility of you choosing and instructing your counsel without ever having to appear before the Tribunal, not even by video-link,” Cassese said.
“If you believe this Tribunal is illegal or illegitimate, argue this point through legal counsel chosen by you – you will thus have your voice heard on this issue,” he stressed.
Furthermore, he added that “substantial funds have been earmarked in the Tribunal’s budget for the defense of accused persons” to hire the best lawyers and experts.
“Since the STL is a court of law, a defense lawyer is the only person who can effectively challenge the charges brought against you,” he stressed.
The first phase of the indictment in the STL was released on June 28.
It was accompanied by arrest warrants against four Hizbullah member suspected of being involved in the crime.
Lebanon had 30 days to apprehend the suspects, but it failed to do so.
Hizbullah has repeatedly announced that it will not cooperate with the tribunal, accusing it of being an American and Israeli product.
The next step under our Rules of Procedure and Evidence may require the STL to advertise the confirmed indictment more broadly