15 years on, Rafik Hariri's killers still at large

Fifteen years after the assassination of their former prime minister, the people of Lebanon have yet to attain any sense of closure. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, an international tribunal formed to serve justice for the killing of Rafik Hariri, has found that only one out of the four suspects, all of whom were Hezbollah operatives, is guilty.

The tribunal stated that there was insufficient evidence to conclude Hezbollah’s leadership and its ally, the Syrian regime, which occupied Lebanon at the time, were involved in the assassination.

This long-awaited verdict, which cost nearly $1 billion to produce, was unable to bring a conclusive end to this ordeal. Justice and accountability for a heinous crime that permanently altered Lebanon’s destiny will not be fully served. Although one of Hariri’s killers has been found guilty, he will never set foot in jail. Salim Jamil Ayyash, the convicted member of Hezbollah, remains at large because the militant party refused to hand him or any of the other accused over to the tribunal.

There is little chance that Ayyash will be arrested by authorities in Lebanon, where Hezbollah holds great influence. Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, and Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, refused to answer any questions from investigators.

This underwhelming verdict comes at an overwhelming time for Lebanon. The country has yet to recover from a devastating blast that rocked Beirut on August 4. A poorly stored stockpile of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate caught fire and exploded, killing 220 people and injuring thousands more while demolishing huge sections of the city. High ranking officials, including President Michel Aoun, a close ally of Hezbollah, admitted to knowing the chemical was stored at the port.

An investigation into the blast was meant to reveal its findings within five days. It has been two weeks, yet no information has emerged. Many Lebanese are now asking for an international investigation into the blast, as they do not trust the corrupt political class that allowed the explosion to happen to investigate itself.

If the Hariri investigation is anything to go by, the Lebanese should not expect results anytime soon. Yesterday’s verdict came after 15 years of waiting, and a decade since the tribunal was set up, and the result has now left Lebanese wondering whether justice will ever be served.

The people’s ability to air their grievances over this situation is now also under threat. A state of emergency was introduced in Beirut after the blast. It expired yesterday and will be renewed for a month, in contravention of Lebanese law, which stipulates that a state of emergency can only be renewed for 8 days after approval from the Cabinet and Parliament.

Hezbollah has already killed one of Lebanon’s greatest post-war statesmen. It cannot be allowed to wreak havoc upon the country unchallenged and unpunished

The state of emergency grants the army greater power, limits gatherings in public spaces and allows for media censorship. If these rules are applied, people asking for the STL verdict to be enforced may find themselves silenced. Human rights organisations have called out Lebanon’s security apparatus for using excessive force on demonstrators since a mass protest movement began last October.

Hezbollah has already killed one of Lebanon’s greatest post-war statesmen. It cannot be allowed to wreak havoc upon the country unchallenged and unpunished. Those who have the blood of Hariri, and other patriots killed in the aftermath of his assassination, on their hands must be held accountable. The terrorist entity that protects them must face the consequences of its actions if Lebanese are to have a safe and prosperous future for them and their children.

Updated: August 18, 2020 09:43 PM

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