The future of justice through tribunals, as determined by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon
February 10, 2015
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A United Nations-backed tribunal established in response to an assassination has announced their plans to try the accused in absentia. Trying four suspects for extensive crimes without them actually being present at the trial? In comparison to all the previously established norms of tribunals past and present, this seems like a lofty and unimaginable plan. Yet this is precisely what the UN-sponsored Special Tribunal for Lebanon has chosen to do within the next year. Established in 2007, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is backed with equal support both from the United Nations and the Lebanese government to investigate the Hezbollah-linked car-bombing assassination of former Primer Minister Rafik Hariri. In a lengthy and extensive article to be printed in the New York Times Magazine this upcoming Sunday on the history, ongoing investigation, and related legal response to the assassination, the evidence against the four men, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Oneissi, and Assad Hassan Sabra, is presented through descriptions of cellphone records, maps of the paths the vehicles involved, and descriptions of the response of the national and international communities. Although much of the investigations and reports of the actual event and resulting conflict are extremely interesting, perhaps one of the most interesting parts of this case is the Tribunal and its plans to try the four men in absentia. In the New York Times article, a lawyer on the defense, Philippe Larochelle, argues of the theoretical and non-practical aspects of the court, saying, “This is a moot court, like a fictional case…all we can do is deconstruct the prosecutor’s theory.” In comparison to many of the other tribunals established through the United Nations, the goals of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, to try the accused in absentia and have them represented in a full trial, seem valiant yet possibly overconfident. However, the potential future influence from the precedent established by this type of court could open a vast, new arena for addressing acts of terror and breaches of international law. It will be interesting to see how this Tribunal plays out and what the effects are of the hearing, both immediately and in the future.