The president of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Ivana Hrdlickov?, capped off her second official visit to the country with a press briefing Wednesday, where she defended the court’s impartiality and touted its educational work.
“In Lebanese eyes the tribunal may be seen as a political institution, but the reality is completely different. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is a purely judicial institution and we function far away from any political agenda,” Hrdlickov? told a room of reporters at Beirut’s Metropolitan Hilton Hotel.
The tribunal is tasked with prosecuting those responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed along with 21 others when a massive bomb was detonated alongside his motorcade on Valentine’s Day 2005. The court is trying five members of Hezbollah in absentia for their alleged involvement in the attack.
The tribunal remains politically controversial in Lebanon. In January 2011, the government of Saad Hariri was brought down by Hezbollah and its political allies, who withdrew their ministers from Cabinet after he refused to sever ties with the court.
It has also been variously criticized for the slow pace of proceedings, exorbitant costs, and a series of leaks. Disclosure of information related to protected witnesses led the tribunal to charge Al-Jadeed TV and its deputy head of news and political programs, Karma Khayat, with contempt of court. Khayat was found guilty on one count of contempt in September; her case is currently under appeal.
A similar case against the Al-Akhbar newspaper and its editor-in-chief, Ibrahim Al-Amin, is scheduled to begin in January.
Perhaps because of this, Hrdlickov? emphasized the tribunal’s reliance on local news outlets.
“You, the media, are absolutely crucial in transferring information on the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to the Lebanese people, and they rely on your professionalism in ensuring the accuracy of this information,” she told journalists.
Hrdlickov? said she had met earlier with premier Tammam Salam, Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, with whom she discussed the administration of the STL. She said the court received great support from Lebanese officials and was grateful for the assistance it had received from local authorities.
No progress has been announced regarding the government’s efforts to apprehend the five defendants.
Hrdlickov?, a Czech national, is a specialist in Islamic Sharia, with an emphasis on human rights and Islamic finance in international and Islamic law, according to an STL biography. She has further specialized in the development of the rule of law in post-revolution societies. Her 18-month term began in March.
The STL president endeavored to defend the court’s sometimes torpid progress, citing the complexity of evidence and applicable law, and noting that some of the issues it has been charged with addressing are without obvious precedent – it is the first international criminal tribunal to try defendants in absentia, and the first to deal with terrorism as a substantive crime. To date, 87 prosecution witnesses have testified.
Hrdlickov? also spoke about the importance of the tribunal’s educational investment in Lebanon.
“In 2011, we launched a course in international criminal law and procedure, in cooperation with eight Lebanese universities and the T.M.C. Asser Instituut in The Hague, for students in Lebanon,” she said.
The course, consisting of some forty lectures, is free to students, and its budget is discrete from the court’s, which is 49 percent funded by the Lebanese government.
Despite the politicized discourse surrounding the proceedings, Hrdlickov? said the establishment of the tribunal represented an opportunity for Lebanon to promote the separation of judicial and political work, and contribute to the future of international justice.
“We wish to use this unique position of our institution, which is both Lebanese and international at the same time, to provide Lebanese students with an excellent opportunity to study a relatively very new field of law,” she said. “This way they will be equipped with the knowledge required for the development of this important but still imperfect system of justice, and ensure that it improves to the benefit of all victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, but also terrorism, around the whole world.”