On Friday, the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon will issue its verdict into the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. A total of 22 people were killed and more than 200 others wounded in the explosion that targeted Hariri's convoy on Beirut’s Corniche on February 14, 2005.
For the past 15 years, many Lebanese have been waiting for justice. They deserve to know the truth about who stands behind an attack that continues to haunt Lebanon. The four suspects in Hariri’s killing are all Hezbollah members, tried in absentia. The UN investigation into the assassination implicated Lebanese and Syrian officials. Hezbollah and the Syrian regime are widely believed to have had a hand in the killing of Hariri, in addition to a number of of journalists, politicians and activists murdered in the aftermath of his assassination. Hezbollah officials do not recognise the international tribunal, which is based in The Hague, and have refused to hand over the accused to the court. Instead, they propagate conspiracy theories about the killing.
The tribunal has a duty to hold those who killed Hariri, as well as those who gave the order, to account for their crimes. Yet there is little the court can do if the Lebanese government does not enforce the verdict and arrest those involved.
This means holding Hezbollah’s leadership accountable for the first time since the group’s creation in the 1980s. Through 15 years of impunity, the militant group has only become bolder, eroding Lebanon’s sovereignty and undermining every chance the country has had to prosper. Damascus, too, has not been held to account for crimes it committed over decades in the country, including the killing and enforced disappearances of Lebanese dissidents and national figures. At the time of Hariri’s killing, the Syrian regime occupied Lebanon, where it had a vast intelligence network.
Hariri’s killing was a great loss for Lebanon, and a watershed moment for a fragile nation.
Unlike most Lebanese political leaders, Hariri had never shed blood. He played no role in the civil war that shook the country for 15 years. He was a self-made man who amassed his fortune working in Saudi Arabia before returning to his homeland in the 1990s. Hariri espoused non-violence, and worked hard to defend his country's independence. He is best known for rebuilding a nation ravaged by war, giving hope to millions that Lebanon’s conflict days were finally over. His endeavours also encouraged thousands of Lebanese who had fled the war to come back and participate in reconstruction efforts.
The new downtown Beirut, which Hariri had helped to build, once overflowed with Lebanese shoppers and tourists from around the world. In the years since his killing, it has become a ghost town. As Beirut grew closer to Iran's orbit, and corruption continued to prevail, the country became more isolated from its traditional Arab allies in its time of need.
Last October, a mass protest movement took to the streets, demanding an end to corruption, sectarian politics and foreign meddling in Lebanese affairs. Hariri’s son, Saad, subsequently resigned from his position as prime minister out of respect for people’s demands. The vacuum enabled the formation of a Hezbollah-backed government, further isolating Lebanon from its traditional allies and plunging it into economic crisis. Demands for better governance and justice will remain unanswered so long as Hezbollah is in power.
At a time when Lebanese have all but lost hope, the Special Tribunal can make a difference by reinstating at least a partial sense of justice. Those who have plotted for Beirut’s demise, and killed the statesman who sought to rebuild it, must finally be held to account.