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    The Special Tribunal for Lebanon: An Instrument for Reconciliation, not Strife

    I recently attended a talk entitled “Violence, Memory & Reconciliation in Lebanon” at King’s College in London. At the talk, three distinguished speakers who have spent large parts of their careers studying this subject went on to discuss the main causes for violence in Lebanon, how the 1975-1990 civil war and other conflicts are remembered by this generation of Lebanese and the largely failed attempts by Lebanese civil society at inter-communitarian reconciliation.

    The “feel good” narrative favoured by many is that this was a “war of others” fought on Lebanese soil in spite of Lebanon and the Lebanese people who were victims of a great manipulative plot orchestrated by foreign powers and their local militia henchmen.

    This rather convenient retrospective image of the war simply masks another more crude reality: that of one great 15 year act of political violence in which Lebanese parties tried to gain political capital through acts of thuggery, blackmail and intimidation. If that last part sounds familiar it’s because these acts of violence, whether originating in Lebanon or directed at it, neither started nor ended on the dates pinned down by historians.

    The repression of students in the 90s; the 2005 series of assassinations targeting Rafic Hariri, his companions, journalists, pro-independence politicians and the Lebanese population at large; the July 2006 Israeli rampage; the 2007 occupation of central Beirut by Hizbullah and its allies; the 2008 hijacking of west Beirut by pro-Syrian armed militiamen; all the way up to the current threats of strife that seem to flow from Hassan Nasrallah’s numerous mouthpieces on a daily basis. These acts of political violence have by no means ended.

    Since the start of this republic’s existence, history has shown us that violence and threats often pay political dividends and that the perpetrators of these destructive acts invariably get away with it, gains in pocket.
    Then there was an anomaly called the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). The precedent that this court threatens to set is colossal: for the first time in history the perpetrator(s) of acts of political violence in Lebanon would be investigated, tried and prosecuted by an independent judicial court.

    No wonder the main beneficiaries of this latest decade of political violence – Syria, Hizbullah and their allies – are getting nervous. It is no longer a question of innocent or guilty, it is this whole system where violence is the easiest avenue to political gain, that this tribunal threatens to overturn. A system through which Syria and now Hizbullah (after countless others) successively cemented their stranglehold on Lebanon.

    After thousands of crimes unpunished, hundreds of thousands of lives lost and many more maimed or injured, it took the assassination of a former prime minister in a massive seaside bombing to shake a nation into demanding justice and accountability.

    “Memory is political, that is why it is so contested”, exclaimed one of the speakers at the talk. I had drifted away in my thoughts, missing part of the discussion only to awake to this piece of wisdom.
    It is not just “what” we remember but how we explain what we remember that is important. Everyone who has experienced war, whether directly or indirectly, has been through the same horror and seen the same destruction, that is the “what”. It is the “why”, however, that is contested here. Depending on whom you ask, this was a fight for a free Lebanon, a struggle against Zionism, a war of others or even a simple misunderstanding. This culture of avoidance of responsibility seems to be the only common point between the different narratives.

    This brings us back to the way I have come to see things, my very own narrative: The war as an integrated part of a series of acts of political violence running up to today’s threats by Hizbullah, Syria & Co. against Lebanon’s uneasy peace.

    The target of these threats is the STL, the only institution with a mandate to bring justice and accountability to the perpetrators of an atrocious act of political violence.

    There can be no reconciliation without justice and no justice without accountability. Hence let us first set a precedent for justice and accountability in Lebanon before reconciliation can be confronted with confidence. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, despite the many hurdles it may face, is our best chance to see such a precedent set and must be treasured and protected as such.

    Nadim Lahoud

    9 responses to “The Special Tribunal for Lebanon: An Instrument for Reconciliation, not Strife”

    1. Nadim Shehadi says:

      Nadim makes very important points. The STL, however, should also be seen from the broader perspective of the development of a system of International Criminal Justice. Every instrument of that system of international courts and tribunals was heavily contested and trigered heated debates about the incompatibility of law, justice, stability, peace and reconcilliation. In the former Yugoslavia, the Serbs saw the ICTY as an conspiracy against them, that targeted their heros, as an american instrument part of a unipolar world and that the judges were biased and the evidence selective and fabricated.

      The debate in Lebanon now centres on the dilemma of Justice vs Stability. The country is being terrorised into wishing the STL was not there and that the indictment will trigger another round of violence. There are two arguments against this, in addition to the one that Nadim makes:

    2. Nadim Shehadi says:

      One is that the STL has already contributed to stability and peace in Lebanon: Faith in international justice excludes the alternative of taking justice in your own hands. The second is that the use of terror against a tribunal set up to combat terror is only further proof that the STL is necessary.

    3. AGM says:

      Mabrouk Nadim. Your article made it into the special selection of the Aspen Institute US-Lebanon Dialogue program weekly bulletin, alongside articles from Foreign Policy, the Independent and the Washington Post. http://www.aspeninstitute.org/policy-work/middle-east-programs/us-lebanon-dialogue

    4. Dana Ballout says:

      I appreciate the insight from both Nadims (the author and commentator) however, I see this article as fairly naive.

      This is very “lebanese-y” of me – but first, lets look at the biggest foreign donors to the STL who are all sitting, very comfortably Im sure, on what they call the Management Committee, a committee that consists of the STL’s biggest donors and is “responsible for giving policy direction and advice” (from STL handbook) to the Court: United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, the United States, France. Do you see a pattern in their policies towards Lebanon?

      Next, lets look at past experiences of the court which is most often compared to the STL, the ICTY (International Criminal Court for Former Yugoslavia):

      Both the former Chief Prosecutor for the ICTY Carla Del Ponte who served for 7 years in the latter position AND the ICTY’s Spokeswoman Florence Hartman later revealed critical information of how the Clinton Administration and the French (Chirac was Pres at the time) held the court back from arresting Radovan Karadzic accused of responsibility for the shelling of Sarajevo and other massacres. They also attest to how these big powers were responsible for steering justice to serve their own political agenda on the matters relating to the genocide.
      See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-and-the-us-accused-of-secret-deal-to-protect-karadzic-401688.html
      and http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/sep2008/hart-s05.shtml for a quick look.

      this is just one example of how donor powers can control, sway, and decide on the results of an International Tribunal. Whose justice are we serving then? To believe the the Tribunal will reveal “the Truth” and bring the prosecutors (who ever they may be, it troubling that you assume its Syria and Hizbollah when there is substantial evidence that also points fingers at other powers in the region) to justice is shallow.

      All you have to do is do a little digging through the UN reports on the tribunal and look at case studies to know this. We may have started on good intentions, but where we’ve ended up is definitely far far FAR front them.

      At the same time, I am not condoning letting crimes like this go unpunished! But rather than spending millions (from mine and your taxes) on funding a strictly Western backed, politicized, hoax of a tribunal who 10 of its leading staff have resigned and will continue to do so, who has failed to bring up any new evidence apart from that of which the Lebanese investigation revealed a MONTH after the assassination, has failed to indict (not even convict!) a single individual in FIVE years, had individuals who worked for the German intelligence and linked to Mossad on its investigative team (see Gerhard Lehmann) and which is threatening every value it is meant to protect (civil peace, justice, etc) *pausing for breath* … lets instead strengthen Lebanon’s judicial system in order for us to conduct these investigations and convict the perpetrators through our national and legitimate institutional bodies.

    5. Nadim Lahoud says:

      Hi Dana.

      Thank you for your comment.
      I’m sorry to say that I’ve heard these arguments many times before. Although of course you state them much more eloquently than Al Akhbar, the result is the same. It is pointless and even silly to discredit a tribunal before it has even posted an indictment especially when your arguments are partly based on rumours of Mossad “links” and a completely out-of-context comparison to attempts to arrest an already convicted bosnian war criminal.

      Also, if you give the article another read you’ll note that I didn’t accuse Syria and Hezbollah of killing Hariri. I simply said that they are “the main beneficiaries of this latest decade of political violence”.

      Now of course international justice in general and the STL in particular are not perfect. It’s dependence on a variety of sources of funding is a main weak point.
      You’ll note that in my article I acknowledged that the STL has its flaws but that I still considered it to be “our best chance to see [a precedent of accountability and justice]” set in Lebanon.

      Regarding the Lebanese justice system. An international tribunal is needed to prosecute what is very likely to be an international crime. Partially funding such a tribunal is absolutely no obstacle to reforming our own justice system.

      However, we’ve been waiting for such reforms since 1943 without ever seeing a Lebanese court hold someone accountable for political violence (despite some cases being ridiculously obvious).

      This article argues that the STL, if it succeeds, would help set such a precedent in Lebanon. Something that would not only discourage future crimes but also set in motion a mechanism of accountability, justice and reconciliation on this blood-soaked land.

    6. Dana Ballout says:

      Thanks for the reply – I wasnt expecting one so Im glad you responded – also very eloquently :)

      Nadim, lets starts with comment on the rumors “latshe” about Gerhard Lehmann. Nadim, I am not a conspiracy theorist. Al Akhbar articles are very interesting, as are those articles written years before Al Akhbar even began to run these stories. (Please see this every enlightening interview I read last year, before Al Akhbar and before Nasrallah’s (in)famous speech, with a German lawyer who began his own investigation on Hariri in 2006 http://www.voltairenet.org/article143460.html)
      You cannot, whichever way sway politically, deny that the information in those articles deserve recognition. Just as the Der Speigal articles were given worldwide attention, as should the Al Akhbar articles and others. But we both know that would never happen… the reasons for that we can discuss under your next article.
      In the link above, you’ll see evidence to the strong ties between Brammertz and the Mossad as well. Gerhard Lehmann, if you dont want to believe he has links to Mossad,, then at least know he was involved with German Intelligence – which are definitely not enemies of the Mossad. His position was revealed in the illegal capture, interrogation and torture of Khalid al Masri years back (Lehmann was identified as present in many of the interrogations)
      and some always reliable wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khalid_al-Masri
      Are you comfortable with this man being an assistant to your Chief Prosecutor? Ps. he now works for the Saudis.
      However, all of this can be seen as irrelevant since we have moved on from the days of Brammertz and Lehmann.
      You argue that the STL has flaws, mainly its donors. Nadim, we both live in a country (assuming you also live in Lebanon) where your donors are the most crucial element in your initiative/project/program. Let’s take a small scale example – if your project is funded by the Americans, none of it can go to holding meetings, paying for lunch, or supplying Hizbollah with any valuable information that you may have. They may be armed, but they are a political party and represent a large percentage of Lebanon;s population. If you are working towards national development or political reform, do you see this as that reasonable?
      Now take that concept on a larger scale of the STL. Imagine as Cheif Prosecutor you will announce that you believe Israel had ties and want to try members of the Mossad or the Likud party. Remember the Management Committee I mentioned above? How do you think the US, UK, France, and Germany would feel about that? How much do you think these powers, all with a political stake in this country would enjoy seeing Hizbollah lose power? Even if they did kill Hariri, it’s just too convenient for me to believe. (From 2005 to the end of 2006 all fingers were pointing to Syria – the UN reports were clear that they believed Syria was responsible. Suddenly within a matter of 6 months, the reports begin to let Syria off the hook, praising it for its cooperation! Soon after we had the war, and then for the past year, at least publically, fingers are now at Hizbollah. Again, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I just read the reports, and some things you cannot ignore. Why was there this sudden change of direction?)
      In regards to the ICTY, Karadzic’s arrest was held back for a long period of time while the genocide continued! Yes, he was eventually was convicted but the timing, according to its former Prosector, was highly dependent on these powers. Can I not then say, these powers allowed and are even partially for those lives lost while they were signed deals with a war criminal?
      I refuse to settle for a flawed (more like disfigured in my opinion) Tribunal because its only hope. I don’t buy it. Right now it looks more like our only hope for another civil strife. The ICTY was in response to genocide and mass killings. Rafik Hariri is one man. Great as he was, Im not sure he would be very pleased if the city he helped build begins to burn for his cause.

      Apologies for the essay response :/

    7. Dana Ballout says:

      Final note on setting a precedent. I agree, there needs to a effective mechanism for justice that is able to set an example that allows criminals to think twice about committing their crimes. However, it is truly realistic to say that the STL sets a precedent for justice, accountability and reconciliation?

      The way I see it, the only precedent it sets is one for those planning an assassination on billionaries with friends in very very high places. Its important to level the playing feild.

      I hate to ask this question becuase he was so much more than his money, but would this tribunal be happening if Hariri was not a billionaire? Would it be happening if Hizbollah was not so heavily armed?

      Context is crucial and these are questions we should ask ourselves when we start beleiving that this tribunal can bring justice and reconciliation to, as you so morbidly yet accurately put it, blood-soaked land.

    8. Jeff Blankfort says:

      I am reading this exchange almost two months after it was written, two days after the resignation of the Hizbollah-led coalition brought down the present government. Nevertheless, the issues discussed are still the same as are the serious questions that Dana raised.

      Not to examine the entire scenario, from the assassination of Hariri to the formation of the STL to the leaks, first those pointing the finger at Syria and then at Hezbollah, as being part of a US-Israeli plan to destroy Hezbollah, is an example of not being able “to see the forest for the trees.” Or to give the correct answer to the question: Cui bono?

      Nadim seem to think it is Syria and Hezbollah. That, I find bewildering, particularly when the obvious beneficiary is Israel–which has committed many assassinations in Lebanon–which has not found a way to defeat Hezbollah militarily and by legal subterfuge, propelled by the funds and political capital of the US which its agents in the US, the Israel Lobby, has enthralled, it hopes to do so through the thoroughly contaminated justice mechanisms of the UN.

      Were they not contaminated, why would there be a UN special tribunal for the assassination of a former government official when there has never been one or even the suggestion of one for the assassinations of sitting heads of states where the fingerprints of the US were visible to everybody? Lumumba, Karim Kassem, Mosadeqh, Allende, Trujillo, are the names that quickly come to mind, but you see my point.

      Why, one needs to ask, when Israel has launched three “official” wars and several what have been minimized as “incursions” over the last three and a half decades, causing the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, Lebanese and Palestinians, the wounding of tens of thousands more, and the dislocation of hundreds of thousands, has Tel Aviv never been brought before the dock of justice, nor, it goes without saying, has “the major purveyor of violence” on the planet, the US of A, which just happens to be the major funder for the STL?

      Any discussion of the STL which excludes that reality does a disservice to the cause of justice. Under the circumstances, the STL is something that belongs in a work of fiction along the lines of Alice in Wonderland.

      Now, I am not Lebanese but I have spent time in Lebanon, in 1970, in 1983, after that Israeli invasion, and again in 2007, where I had the opportunity to see the destruction wrought by the Israeli weaponry provided free of charge by the US. In 1982 and 2006, both of those wars were supported to the bloody hilt by Washington and yet, what I find amazing, is that there are Lebanese, like Saad Hariri and his supporters, who claim to be patriotic, yet who are willing to take the hand of Washington against their fellow Lebanese.

    9. Lina Hamdan says:

      Responding to Jeff’s suggestions:
      ” I am really fascinated by the fact that there are still some people who think that Israel is capable of using a cell fighting with Hezbollah to assassinate a Lebanese Prime Minister; The Zionist enemy would rather choose to eliminate the head of this organization that waged a war and defeated Israel just for the sake of revamping the image of the IDF….Now to more serious: the Modus Operandi of the series of assassinations (and not just that of PM Hariri) is very similar and easily traceable with all the current technology, the problem is how much Justice and Truth can be unveiled without jeopardizing the future structure of a Lebanese entity. All Lebanese are condemned to live with each other: it is Lebanon-the Message as Pope Jean-Paul II put it. We need to reach a consensus where all the Lebanese components can live in harmony. Secularism is the way, however for the time being (as much as we are partisan of a secular Lebanon) we have to uphold the Christian-Muslim parity and safeguard the prerogatives of the President of the Republic to avoid any constitutional violation.
      The STL is an instrument of ACCOUNTABILITY, building the State institutions, border demarcation and an independent judiciary should be the next steps towards shielding Lebanon for the regional and international wrangling… The US, Europe and all the allies belonging to the free world are our allies, YES… Sorry for not seeing any common features with other revolutionary regimes…

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