The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), established to try those who carried out the 2005 attack which killed former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri, announced that is will close after July because of a funding crisis.
The announcement was made only two weeks before the start of its second major trial.
The Registrar of the STL, David Tolbert, said cost-cutting efforts had failed to ensure the tribunal’s survival.
The Tribunal is funded from different sources. Fifty-one per cent of the STL’s budget comes from foreign donations and the UN’s general budget. The Lebanese state contributes the remaining 49%.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Antonio Abou Kasim, lead legal representative of victims in the Ayyash case, says that Lebanon cannot afford to pay the 49% of the STL.
He believes the STL can be rescued through an intervention by the UN General Assembly in addition to some voluntary contributions from UN Member States.
Lebanon has written a letter to the UN Secretary General in June to explore ways to fund the STL.
The Tribunal, established in 2009, is the first international tribunal established to prosecute the crime of terrorism. It is the only international criminal tribunal to be based in the Middle East.
In 2020 the Tribunal convicted Salim Ayyash in absentia. The judges found that Ayyash had a central role in the bomb attack in Beirut that killed Hariri. The case is currently being appealed.
Marina Aksenova, professor of law at IE University, told Al Jazeera: ‘Closing down the Tribunal due to lack of funding will hurt the project of international criminal justice beyond this specific institution. Pragmatic considerations such as funding or access to evidence are to be resolved instead of being brushed aside as unmanageable.
‘Expensive vanity project’
Abou Kasm believes the STL ‘has not been a gleaming success’, partly because its proceedings has been undertaken in absentia due to the lack of cooperation of the Lebanese authorities.
But the shutdown of the STL will have repercussions for international justice in the Middle East. Abou Kasm says: ‘The STL shutdown can reveal the shutdown of international criminal justice in the Middle East because it will mean that some of the core crimes perpetrated in the region during the continuous armed conflict will not be prosecuted and that impunity will not end.’
According to Nick Kaufman, defence counsel before the international criminal tribunals, many have come to perceive the Tribunal as nothing more than an ‘expensive vanity project’ and that it has become a project that is increasingly hard to justify.
Speaking to Al Jazeera he said: ‘Even the government of Lebanon has come to the realisation that the Tribunal is a huge and unjustified drain on its resources.’ The profligate nature of the STL was by no means justified by the minimal benefit which resulted from it.
‘Although the Tribunal clarified the historical record as to how the Hariri assassination was perpetrated, it brought no sense of justice to the victims because the suspects remain at large.’, said Kaufman.
Abou Kasm adds: ‘The closure will be a message of encouragement to the perpetrators to commit further terrorist attacks and war crimes without deterrence or fear.’
To date, the STL has cost more than $970 million.
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