Lebanon Tribunal spells out law for Hariri indictment

Judges cleared the way to allow the pretrial judge to decide whether to confirm a draft indictment lodged by prosecutors last month at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

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AMSTERDAM // The UN-backed Lebanon Tribunal clarified some legal issues yesterday as it considers whether to confirm a charge sheet over the 2005 assassination in 2005 of the Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri.

The ruling took place with Lebanon still seeking to form a new government after the Shiite Hizbollah movement and its allies toppled the government of Hariri's son, Saad Hariri, over his refusal to cut links with the tribunal.

In a unanimous ruling yesterday, judges settled several points, clearing the way to allow the pretrial judge, Daniel Fransen, to decide whether to confirm a draft indictment lodged by prosecutors last month at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

If confirmed, the court could then issue summonses or arrest warrants against the accused.

The court gave guidance on what definition of terrorism would apply, ruling that it would use Lebanon's definition: an act "intended to spread terror", but also apply a broader international interpretation of the "means" of an attack, given the transnational gravity of Hariri's killing.

Presiding judge Antonio Cassese said that the court judges hope that yesterday's ruling "may help the tribunal take a firm, steady and rapid course in its pursuit of justice.

"When trials proper commence and defendants face charges made by the prosecutor, the legal principles we have now set out will guide the action of the trial chamber," Mr Cassese said.

He added, however, that the "abstract answers" handed down might still need to be revisited at a later date.

The still-sealed draft indictment is expected to accuse Hizbollah members of involvement in Hariri's assassination. Hizbollah denies any involvement and has warned anyone against taking action against its members.

It has also said that the priority of Lebanon's new government should be to cut ties with the tribunal, end Lebanon's contributions to its funding, and withdraw Lebanese judges from the court.

Cassese also said that Wednesday's ruling should prove that the tribunal intends to be "absolutely impartial, independent of any political pressure or interference."

The Lebanon Tribunal, the world's first international court with jurisdiction over the crime of terrorism, was set up to try those accused over the bombing in February 2005 that killed Rafiq Hariri and 22 others.

Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare sent an indictment on January 17 to Mr Fransen, who then posed to judges 15 questions over definitions of terrorism, conspiracy and homicide and other issues such as criminal responsibility.

In January, the court initially said it would take Mr Fransen at least six to 10 weeks to confirm the draft indictment, but this could take longer given the complex nature of the material.