Global Policy Forum

STL’s Bellemare to Press Charges in Hariri Case ‘By Fall’

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By Michael Bluhm

May 17, 2010

Special Tribunal for Lebanon prosecutor Daniel Bellemare plans to file charges this fall, tribunal President Antonio Cassese told The Daily Star in an exclusive interview on Saturday.

"Prosecutor Bellemare announced that he is likely to issue an indictment between and September and December of this year," Cassese said. "This is what he said ... This is my expectation."

Cassese added that he did not have any information about the potential culprits or the details of Bellemare's probe. "I have no idea, because we are very strict ... The prosecutor does not tell anything [about the investigation] to anybody within the tribunal," Cassese said. Bellemare's office did not respond to a request for comment.

The UN Security Council established the court to try suspects in the February 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, although the tribunal has a mandate to pursue the perpetrators behind assassinations, attempted killings and political violence from October 2004 through January 2007. Hariri's killing sparked a wave of popular demonstrations which brought about the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon after a 29-year presence. Syria has always denied any involvement in Hariri's assassination.

At the same time, Cassese believes the tribunal will struggle to find enough donations for its budget next year, because the added costs of a trial would run into state budgets shrunken by the economic crisis afflicting the Western nations bankrolling the court. Lebanon pays 49 percent of the tribunal's annual budget, which for 2010 amounts to $55.35 million.

"There is no problem [with financing] this year," said Cassese who also served as the first president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. "The problem will be next year, because if next year - as I very much hope - we have a trial, then we will have to recruit staff."

Critics have assailed the tribunal as a political tool for the US and its allies to pressure Damascus and Hizbullah. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem has said that Syria had received offers to terminate the tribunal in return for facilitating a presidential election in Lebanon. Cassese said that no one had spoken to him about political goals for the tribunal and that charges of politicization were "totally wrong."

Since the UN voted in May 2007 to form the court, "the whole process has never been political or politicized," said Cassese, who added that when he headed the Yugoslav tribunal and the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur he rejected ambassadors' requests for political favors.

"When we are going to pronounce upon a case brought before us, this will be done by us without any political considerations. We will never attach any importance to the political repercussions. I don't care about political grounds. I go ahead and do my job."

Experts on international law have said it remains unclear how far the tribunal could go in any case to pursue high-ranking politicians, because the court's statutes do not address whether heads of state enjoy immunity from the court. While Cassese said he could not comment on his court's jurisdiction, he added that he had previously published his opinion that international tribunals did not have to respect diplomatic immunity because of the serious nature of the crimes they deal with.

"As an academic studying international law, I am on record ... I have always argued that, as the International Court of Justice rightly pointed out, heads of state do not have functional immunity - that means that immunity because of the exercise of their functions while they were incumbent," Cassese said.

"They enjoy personal immunities, however, before national courts. Before international tribunals they don't enjoy any immunity whatsoever."

The tribunal has also battled negative perceptions over the exodus of key personnel. Since being officially established in a suburb of Holland's The Hague in March last year, the tribunal has witnessed the exits of the chief of investigations and two registrars - the officials who act as the court's chief executive. Cassese said that all international courts experienced high rates of staff turnover, but the departures were usually connected to outside issues such as family or more lucrative job opportunities.

"I know that when [registrar Robin Vincent] left and then when [Vincent's successor] David Tolbert left, people said, 'So there is something wrong with this tribunal,'" Cassese said. "This happens all the time because these are international institutions where people are, in a way, taken away from their own countries. You don't have friends. You don't make friends in The Hague. I only go out to dinner with ambassadors or judges. So you get fed up."

Cassese resigned from his post as president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia because his wife threatened him with divorce, even though he relished the work, he said. "I myself left after seven years because my wife said, look, either you come back or I will divorce you," he said. "I had no choice. I was very happy to work there. I enjoyed my job very much, but then I had a family problem."

 


 

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