A top official at the international tribunal on the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri said Friday that the court is determined to bring justice in the case, despite fears that prosecutions could spark violence.
Many in Lebanon worry that if the tribunal accuses the Shiite group Hezbollah of being connected to the 2005 assassination of Hariri, it could lead to bloodshed between Lebanon’s Shiite and Sunni communities.
Last May, Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine said the court had evidence that members of Hezbollah were behind the assassination. Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah denied the accusation, and said any attempt to implicate his group in the killing will be considered a politically motivated “Israeli accusation.”
Last month, the court summoned a dozen Hezbollah members and close supporters for questioning, though Nasrallah said they were only considered witnesses, not suspects.
The acting chief administrator for the Netherlands-based tribunal, Herman von Hebel, acknowledged there may be situations when justice could trigger instability. But he told The Associated Press on Friday he’s convinced that “in the long run stability cannot be guaranteed without justice.”
Von Hebel, who is on a one-week visit to Lebanon, declined to answer questions regarding the investigation, deferring to prosecutors.
It is not known when the indictment will be ready or who will be charged. The prosecutor’s office has refused to comment on the progress of the investigation.
The Feb. 14, 2005 suicide truck bombing killed Hariri and 22 others. Many Lebanese accuse neighboring Syria of being behind the assassination. Damascus denies the claims.
Hariri’s death led to a sharp division among Lebanese, but also prompted the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the end of Damascus’ 29-year domination of the country. That opened the door to a still unresolved struggle for power in Beirut between Syrian-backed Lebanese, led by Hezbollah, and pro-Western factions led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Rafik Hariri’s son.
The late Hariri was a prominent Sunni politician with close links to Saudi Arabia.
Von Hebel, who previously served as the tribunal’s deputy chief administrator, took over after David Tolbert stepped down earlier this year to lead a New York human rights group.
During his visit to Lebanon, Von Hebel met with top officials, including the country’s president, and said he was impressed by the Lebanese authorities’ “strong commitment to the mandate of the tribunal to find (the) truth” behind Hariri’s assassination.
The tribunal was set up by the U.N. Security Council in 2007 and comprises seven foreign and four Lebanese judges. It is based in the Netherlands to ensure the safety of the staff and an impartial trial.
It will use Lebanese law, but unlike Lebanese courts cannot impose the death penalty. Unusually for an international tribunal, it can hold trials in absentia.
“We have a complicated mandate, it is a challenging mandate and we are confident that we are able to achieve that mandate,” he said. AP