The families of those killed in a wave of assassinations have called on the United Nations to find funding to keep the Special Tribunal for Lebanon alive, as the court faces an existential financial crisis that could see an imminent trial fall through.
A letter signed by three lawyers representing dozens of victims says that the court’s collapse would “destroy the last hope for rule of law and justice in Lebanon” while sending an alarming message to the perpetrators of the crimes.
The tribunal was set up to investigate the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in a car bombing in 2005. It was also given a mandate to investigate a wave of targeted killings against other figures critical of Syria's role in Lebanon in the run-up to Hariri's murder.
Yet reports last week indicated that the court had run out of money and was facing serious challenges to its continued operation. Lebanon is in the throes of a crippling financial crisis which has left its government unable to pay its share of the court’s operating costs, while international donors have not been forthcoming.
The tribunal’s mandate was extended in February for an additional two years.
A second trial for Salim Ayash, who was convicted in absentia of Hariri’s murder, is set to begin on June 16. The case includes 31 individuals among them family members of those killed and injured in three attacks believed to be linked to the Hariri assassination. Ayash is the prime suspect in the assassination attempts against Marwan Hamade, Georges Hawi, and Elias El Murr - three figures who faced attempts on their lives in the period around Hariri's death.
A letter from the victims to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says the message of the court’s collapse would be one of impunity. The letter, dated May 22, 2021, was leaked to the media only on Monday.
“If the funding of the Tribunal is not secured and case STL-18-10 is abruptly terminated, this will be a negative message to the victims who have awaited justice and accountability for an extensive period of time," the letter reads.
"Moreover, it will be a message of encouragement to the perpetrators to commit further terrorist acts without deterrence or fear.”
“The termination of proceedings at the Tribunal will destroy the last hope for rule of law and justice in Lebanon,” it adds.
Ayash’s current whereabouts are unknown.