UN Special Tribunal on Hariri Assassination to Open Sunday

Lisa Bryant

Four years after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a special United Nations court is opening its doors in the Netherlands on Sunday to judge the suspects.

The assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri shook the world - and led to profound changes in Lebanon, including the departure of Syria's occupying troops. Four years later, the United Nation's Special Tribunal for Lebanon opens its doors - in perhaps the first time a United Nations court has been established targeting a single individual.

Lebanon had been holding seven suspects in Mr. Hariri's killing, but it released three civilians on Wednesday. Still being held are four former top Lebanese intelligence and security officials.

A probe into Mr. Hariri's 2005 assassination initially implicated senior Syrian officials, but Damascus has adamantly rejected any involvement.

Nahim Shehdi, a Middle East analyst for the London-based think tank Chatham House, says the new tribunal has no jurisdiction over anyone outside of Lebanon. Still, he believes that even its establishment is an achievement.

"The main thing is the advantage of the tribunal. That it symbolizes a kind of international protection or responsibility of protection of Lebanon after all these assassinations have been happening in the past four years," said Shehdi.

Mr. Hariri's killing shook Lebanon, a country that had already weathered a 15-year civil war. Shehadi said it also shook the world.

"The UN is setting up a special tribunal for Lebanon for the assassination of one person, basically. Usually these tribunals are set up for genocides - like the Rwandan for example - or civil war or ethnic cleansing. And this is being done for one man. And  this is an indication of how important his assassination was as an event, not just for Lebanon, but also internationally," said Shehdi.

The tribunal has already nominated seven judges, four of them from Lebanon. The trial is expected to last several years.

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