Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Why this Tribunal is Important

As the delegates leg of an Arab League meeting in Egypt was coming to an end, Syria's ambassador to that country raised his voice in protest. Syria, noted the ambassador, objected to a clause in the meeting's final statement declaring support for Lebanon and the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon [earlier this week in the Hague].

According to sources, the Syrian ambassador declared, "There is nothing called the launching of the Special Tribunal, and what happened was a folkloric," going to claim that the Tribunal was a "football field" and misquoting UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon's assertion that the Special Tribunal had, in fact, started operations.

The Syrians ambassador concluded by remarking, "How could Arabs trust this tribunal? ... The Arabs need not be concerned with a court which was established upon an agreement between the Lebanese state and the UN."

In responding to the Syrian representative's diarrhetic barrage, Lebanon's own representative at the conference noted the Tribunal's historical importance to Lebanon, not-so-subtely intoning to the Syrian official that justice would play out its course.

What the Lebanese representative didn't do, however, was respond as to the importance of this Tribunal to the greater Arab world. Luckily, the Financial Times provides an excellent piece on the importance and implication of this monumental achievement to the Arab world. Below I present excerpts from the article dealing both with the crime and the tribunal that followed it:
It [the Hariri assassination] triggered a civic uprising that ended the 29-year Syrian military occupation ... and it led to the United Nations Security Council establishing a tribunal like the courts set up to try war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone - only in this case it was to investigate a sort of regicide.

The legal process deserves wide support. This was an act of cross-border gangsterism, through which Syria intended to continue vassalising Lebanon, where elements in the ruling elites of Damascus have lucrative business and racketeering, as well as political, interests.

In August 2004, President Bashar al-Assad personally warned Hariri that Syria would never be forced out of Lebanon - as reported in the Financial Times days before Hariri's murder and subsequently confirmed by UN investigators.

Those investigators detected a trail leading to the heart of the conjoined Syrian-Lebanese security apparatus, leading to the arrest of four Lebanese generals, part of a single chain of command originating in Damascus, although Syria denies any part in Hariri's murder.

... Those arrests electrified the Arab world, suggesting its despotic culture of impunity could be resisted.

... Paris, London and, to a lesser extent, Washington have since paid court to Mr Assad, who has gleefully exploited their vain attempts to peel Syria off from its alliance with Iran. They congratulated Syria for helping resolve last May's Lebanese crisis, which its local allies, led by Hizbollah, had largely created.

There will surely be more crises, and further attacks, during the drawn-out legal process. Watch what happens when the arrested generals are transferred to The Hague, and in the run-up to June's Lebanese elections. That is exactly why this tribunal is so important.
For resources on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) readers can click on the STL poster in the left sidebar, or simply follow this link.

Update: The quarrel over the clause - now changed to a welcome of the Tribunal instead of a declaration of support for it - has spilled onto the Minister-level meeting (following the delegate level one reported above) of the Arab League.

NOWLebanon writes:
While Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem “did his best” not to make any reference to the tribunal, the daily reported, Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh and Lebanon’s delegate to the Arab League, Ambassador Khaled Ziadeh, tried to include the words “welcome the launch of the tribunal” in the meeting statement. Mouallem reportedly refused the words, at which point Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was “contacted urgently” and spoke more than six times with his FM. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa also intervened, An-Nahar reported, to confront the “Syrian refusal of the agreement between the Lebanese government and the United Nations.”

“If Syria wants to maintain its position, then Lebanon is adamant in maintaining its position, and let that be recorded in the minutes of the meeting and raised at the Arab Summit,” the daily quoted Siniora as saying. “If they want us - and ask us - to say that former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination came about through a car accident or that he shot himself, let them raise the matter at the Arab Summit.”
In October 2005, Ghazi Kanaan, Syria's Interior Minister and the former "Syrian Moukhabarat Viceroy for Lebanon" throughout the late 1990s, was found dead with several cranial bullet wounds. Syrian authoroties claimed the death was a "suicide". Kanaan's brother, who had spoken out against the regime and the "suicide" story after his brother's death (he believed, along with most outside observers who believed that Kanaan was killed due to his closeness to the assassinated Lebanese former PM, Rafic Hariri), was later also found dead, this time authorities claimed he committed suicide by laying down on train tracks .... hence [perhaps] the references to suicide by PM Siniora above.

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