Global Policy Forum

UN Signs Seal on Hariri Court,


Siniora Defends Letters to World Body as Government's 'Right'

By Rym Ghazal

Daily Star - Lebanon
February 7, 2007

The United Nations signed the draft for a mixed Lebanese-international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Tuesday, one week after the government reportedly requested that the document be sanctioned under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. A UN official speaking on condition of anonymity told The Daily Star that the agreement with the UN to establish the special court had been signed and that it would now be returned to Lebanon for ratification in Parliament.

The agreement was signed less than 24 hours after President Emile Lahoud urged the UN to "disregard" letters sent by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora concerning the inability of his government to convene Parliament to vote on the tribunal. A report on Future TV late Tuesday also said the agreement had been signed. "Future TV has learned that the United Nations signed the text of the treaty regarding the international tribunal," the report said. "It also signed the bylaws of the tribunal." On Monday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the Lebanese government to ratify the pact as soon as possible. "We hope that once the United Nations signs this document, the Lebanese government will take the necessary measures to ratify this in accordance with their constitutional procedures," Ban said.

As The Daily Star went to press, the UN was expected to release a statement concerning the signing of the agreement. Meanwhile, Siniora on Tuesday defended his government's right to push for the tribunal. "The government has no wish to politicize the international tribunal," he said. Siniora was responding to a letter sent by Lahoud to Ban on Tuesday, asking the UN chief to "disregard" letters sent by the premier last month concerning the tribunal. Lahoud said Siniora had requested that the UN Security Council pass the tribunal under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Such a request was "misleading and sidestepped reality and the rules of the Constitution, conventions and national unity," Lahoud said in his letter to Ban, according to a copy of the letter given to The Daily Star by the Presidential Palace. "We do not want to form a politicized justice in Lebanon," the letter added.

The tribunal has become a major point of contention in Lebanon's ongoing power struggle between the government and the Hizbullah-led opposition. "The government has an obligation to communicate with the UN on all developments in Lebanon," Siniora said concerning his letters to Ban on January 8 and 30. The prime minister's office also released a statement in response to the letter from Lahoud, arguing that the president had "no legal right" to send letters directly to the UN. "By sending a letter only in his name, the president is violating the Constitution as it is the responsibility of the government to communicate directly with the UN," the statement said.

But ratification of the agreement requires a vote in Parliament, which the government has been unable to convene due to refusals from both Speaker Nabih Berri and Lahoud to call for an extraordinary session before the regular convening of Parliament in March. Siniora has been reported to have informed Ban of these complications. The speaker is closely allied with the Hizbullah-led opposition, which is conducting a two-month-old campaign aimed at forcing Siniora's Cabinet to share more power or make way for a unity government. If the court were to be created under Chapter 7, as requested by Siniora, the government would be relieved of the need to pass the draft beforehand in Parliament.

The controversy over the tribunal boiled to the surface last November, when six ministers belonging to or allied with Hizbullah quit the government, alleging they were not being consulted on national issues such as the tribunal. The ruling March 14 coalition charges that the ministers walked out to prevent the tribunal from being formed. However, Siniora still had enough Cabinet members to achieve a quorum to approve the tribunal last month, but his opponents - including Lahoud - argue that the government became immediately unconstitutional once all of its Shiite representatives resigned their posts.

Information Minister Ghazi Aridi also criticized the letter sent to the UN by Lahoud, arguing that such a development was "regrettable." "The president is adding further chaos and confusion in the country by such acts," Aridi told reporters. "Those who really want the truth behind the assassinations would allow the tribunal to be formed as smoothly as possible."

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