U.N. launches Special Tribunal for Lebanon |Pictures|
Beirut - The United Nations Sunday launched in Leidschendam, Netherlands , a special tribunal to prosecute the assassins of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, more than four years after he was assassinated in a massive car bombing in downtown Beirut on February 14 , 2005
The Lebanese army was out in force on the streets of Beirut Sunday as people turned out to pay their respects to Hariri, who is buried downtown in the Lebanese capital.
Four senior Lebanese generals are being held over the bombing, which also killed 22 other people. But many Lebanese -- as well as the United States and U.N. investigators -- believe Syria ordered the assassination. Syria denies it.
At the time of Hariri's death, neighboring Syria had immense political influence in the country, and had maintained troops in its smaller neighbor since the 1980s, after the fighting between Israel and the PLO in Lebanon.
Hariri was admired for spearheading the rebuilding of Beirut after the country's civil war, from 1975 to 1990, and many Lebanese blamed Syria for the killing, citing Hariri's patriotism and strong sense of Lebanese independence.
The killing sparked widespread protests that led to the eventual withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the election of an anti-Syrian bloc in parliament.
The anti-Syrian movement is known as the March 14 Alliance, named after the day millions of supporters of Hariri took to the streets, and its actions have been dubbed the Cedar Revolution, for the nation's iconic cedar trees.
Huge counter-protests also were staged by Lebanese supporters of Syria.
Along the way, U.N. investigators tasked to probe the attack found links between Syria's government and Hariri's assassination.
The Lebanese hope the tribunal will settle the case, but there are also fears it could further divide the nation and open up older wounds in the country.
The special tribunal takes over from the Beirut-based International Independent Investigation Commission, which looked into 20 other attacks and found elements linking some of them to a criminal network behind the Hariri killing, the United Nations said.
Daniel Bellemare, a Canadian, will be the tribunal's prosecutor. The trial will take place in a converted gymnasium in a suburb of The Hague.
The United Nations says the case is expected to be ready for trial by 2010. The trial judges and appeals chambers will take on their responsibilities on a date determined by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the tribunal's president.
Speeches at the launching of the Tribunal
The following spoke during the ceremony marking the first day of operations of the Tribunal .
Special Tribunal Registrar Robert Vincent who announced the launching of Tribunal court
Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs Patricia O’Brien
Lebanon’s Ambassador to Holland Zaidan As-Saghir
Special Tribunal General Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare
Vincent said : "We are here today for Lebanon, for the international tribunal. We are here for the victims of crimes not for the criminals."
O’Brien said: "The Lebanese people will be stay posted on the tribunals' proceedings. International attention to the Special Tribunal will increase and the immunity that some perpetrators are enjoying will not last for long."
"The tribunal's bureau is about to be completed. Four Lebanese judges and seven international judges will preside over the tribunal."
"The aim of the tribunal is to try the perpetrators of murder crimes."
Saghir said : "Today is the day the Lebanese have long waited for. Justice will take its course and what is taking place here today is a confirmation of justice. The Lebanese people have the right to feel safe. Lebanon will fully cooperate with the tribunal. Progress achieved by the investigating commission allowed the launching of the Special Tribunal ." He added : "Lebanon will try to put an end to the series of terrorism (attacks). The international tribunal has come to lift this heavyweight off Lebanon's shoulders."
Bellemare said : The crime has been committed by several persons. There people who know. A decision to release the four generals will be made by the tribunal. I do not expect there to be just one indictment. No one is immune.
Our work will be independent. We work according to evidence, law and our conscience. There are no factors influencing the tribunal.
I have not faced any difficulties neither do I expect to. But in case I do, we will take the necessary measures.
The fate of the four detained generals depends on Lebanese justice
The investigation will continue in compliance with international criteria. I will not press charges unless convinced with the evidence presented.
In an open letter to the Lebanese people, Bellemare vowed on the eve of the launching of the tribunal "to do everything that is humanly and legally possible to ensure that the truth emerges and that those responsible for the crimes that fall within our jurisdiction are eventually brought to justice.
Court prosecutor Daniel Bellemare of Canada looks on during an opening ceremony of an international tribunal to prosecute suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Leidschendam, Netherlands, Sunday March 1, 2009. Hariri and 22 others were killed in a Feb. 14, 2005, suicide bombing in Beirut
Court prosecutor Daniel Bellemare of Canada looks on during an opening ceremony of the Special International Tribunal for Lebanon
Daniel Bellemare, prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon,
Tags: Bellemare, Hariri, Lebanon, source: AP, source: CNN, Syria, Tribunal, UN, Ya Libnan