A UN Tribunal set up after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri will have to close in July if it doesn’t find urgent funding, it has warned.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s (STL) warning came after weeks of reports that the body was facing a financial crisis, and barely two weeks before the start of its second major trial.
The court’s Registrar David Tolbert said cost-cutting efforts had failed to ensure the tribunal’s survival.
“Despite taking in significant cuts of staff and across the board reductions, without additional funding the Tribunal will be forced to close its doors in the coming months, leaving important cases unfinished to the detriment of victims, the fight against impunity, and the role of law.”
Fifty-one per cent of the tribunal’s budget comes from foreign donations and the UN’s general budget, with the remaining 49 per cent from the Lebanese state.
Yet a crippling financial crisis and the pandemic have left Beirut unable to fulfil these financial commitments, and in March the UN granted $15.5 million in additional funding to cover much of the Lebanese contribution, yet still, the money is short.
A statement on the STL website said: “The STL is highly distressed by the impact of this situation on the victims of the attacks within its jurisdiction, who placed their hope and trust in international criminal justice.
“For Lebanon, the international community and victims of terror, the STL’s proceedings establish important facts, recognise the harm suffered by the victims and Lebanese society, and send a strong message globally that terrorism will not go unpunished.”
Last year the STL, established by a United Nations Security Council resolution, found Salim Ayash guilty in absentia of the murder of Rafik Hariri.
A second trial is due to begin later this month with Ayash the prime suspect in three other bombings from the same period.
Olga Kavran, who managed the STL's Outreach and Legacy efforts, says that the impending second trial is an integral part of the court’s mandate.
"The STL has been insisting for years that it is not just the Hariri Tribunal," she told The National.
“The pretrial judge at the request of the prosecutor established years ago that these three attacks are connected [to the Hariri assassination] in a way that the statue requires these to be,” she said.
“So we cannot speak about a more or less important case – they are all under the jurisdiction of the tribunal.
“It would be an absolute travesty for the tribunal to end without actually completing the mandate with which it has been entrusted.”
A similar message was sounded last week in the publication of a letter from lawyers representing the victims which said allowing the tribunal to fail for financial reasons would send a negative message to those awaiting justice.
In the letter, the lawyers referred to the STL as "the last hope for rule of law and justice in Lebanon".