The head of the Defense office at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon ( STL) Francois Roux, told New TV on Sunday that that the court cannot be accused of being politicized because it has not yet started its work.
He stressed that it is possible to criticize the investigation and the chief investigator and his team, but not the tribunal and noted:
“The investigation of the international commission was criticized… but in a few weeks, everyone will be able to look at the work of the prosecutor after the indictment becomes public,” Roux said
Hezbollah and its allies accused the Tribunal of being politicized .
In reference to those indicted and will not appear in court Roux said: Those indicted by the court in the 2005 assassination of ex-PM Rafik Hariri can participate in the trials in absentia by dispatching their lawyers to the court’s headquarters in The Hague.
Roux told New TV that the Defense Office of the Tribunal will not be directly in charge of defending the suspects, noting that he will rather name defense teams that will choose their own strategy and that the office will only aid them in their mission.
Roux said in response to a question that defense lawyers can raise their own questions about “the tribunal’s legitimacy, ” stressing that the defense lawyers can criticize the investigation during the trials.
If no arrests are made, the court can publicize their names and call on the accused to surrender within a month, after which Roux can himself appoint lawyers from his office’s list to represent defendants in absentia.
An absent defendant or his lawyer who appears before the tribunal at any point during or after the trial can also request a new trial. Defendants can also appear in court via video link.
Roux said he expected defense lawyers to begin building their cases by October and would need at least six months whether the accused came forward or not, noting the investigation leading to the indictment took six years.
While Roux did not directly respond to a question on whether he had been in contact with Hezbollah officials, he said he urged anyone with grievances against the STL to voice them before the court.
“I have heard that there are those who are contesting the credibility of the tribunal,” he said. “One can criticize the tribunal in the media, but these debates must also be held in court.
“I have complete respect for political parties, which are necessary in any democratic society,” he added. “Any party can make any declaration it wishes, that is their job.
“But at the end, individuals will be either sentenced or acquitted. It is the tribunal that will make this decision, and not political parties”.
On July 5 Roux urged four Hezbollah members indicted in the 2005 assassination of Hariri to quickly consult a lawyer.
Those wanted by the STL, which last month handed Lebanese authorities four arrest warrants for the Hariri murder, are now fugitives from international law, Roux noted.
“As of the moment the arrest warrants are issued, whoever is charged is no longer a free person and becomes a fugitive,” Roux told Agence France Presse in an interview during a visit to Beirut.
“My only advice to those charged is that they consult a lawyer as soon as possible. Now is the time for defense.” he said.
“Their families, friends, communities can protect them, but … the only person who can now free the charged of the charges, and again render them free individuals, is a lawyer,” said Roux.
He also urged anyone indicted by the STL to appoint a lawyer of their own choice or contact his office, which had a list of 100 lawyers from 25 countries including Lebanon to provide defendants with court representation.
“The office of defense was set up to ensure defendants a fair trial, to give support in court equal to that of the prosecutor,” he said, adding his “door is always open”.
STL confirmed the indictments in the assassination of Lebanon’s former PM Hariri on June 30. An STL delegation met with State prosecutor Judge Mirza and handed him a copy of the Lebanon portion of the indictment and the arrest warrants. Two of the suspects Mustafa Badreddine and Salim Ayyash are reportedly senior members of the Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbollah while the other two Hezbollah members Hassan Aneissy, also known as Hassan Issa, and Assad Sabra played a supporting role in the execution of the assassination.
Lebanon has 30 days to find and arrest the suspects but Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said during a speech on July 2 that the party would not cooperate with the tribunal accusing it of being politicized.
“No Lebanese government will be able to carry out any arrests whether in 30 days, 30 years or even 300 years.”
“We reject the Special Tribunal for Lebanon along with each and every void accusation it issues, which to us is the equivalent of an attack against Hezbollah,” Nasrallah added in his hour-long speech.
Nasrallah admitted all the four suspects are Hezbollah members:
“The suspects named in the indictment are brothers who have an honorable history in resisting Israeli occupation.” He said
The whereabouts of the four remain unknown but a report last week indicated that they are no longer in Lebanon and one of them has reportedly been killed. No details were available on who got killed and by whom and the country they fled too. A report a week earlier indicated that the two senior Hezbollah members are already in Tehran.
Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai criticized on July 11 those political parties that claim the Special tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is politicized by saying they should provide evidence of its politicization before making such accusations.
“We don’t accept a fake or politicized court,” Rai told reporters at Bkirki. “But should we describe it as politicized just because we oppose it?” he asked
“Evidence should be provided about its politicization or else the tribunal remains the only side that achieves justice” in former PM Rafik Hariri’s Feb. 2005 assassination case, the Patriarch stressed.
“Our problem is that everything is politicized. They could even politicize God,” Rai said