News / Middle East

    Hariri Assassination Still Clouds Lebanese Politics

    The buildings of Beirut's downtown are seen reflected on a portrait of the slain former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in Beirut. (file photo)
    The buildings of Beirut's downtown are seen reflected on a portrait of the slain former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in Beirut. (file photo)
    Jeff Neumann

    Lebanon’s new Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, is facing his toughest test yet in office. In a matter of weeks, Lebanon is obligated to pay its share of the budget for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), the international legal body tasked with prosecuting suspects implicated in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others in a powerful truck bomb attack on Beirut’s waterfront in February, 2005. The STL this year indicted four men - all of whom are members of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. While Mikati supports funding the STL, the majority of his cabinet does not.

    Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati (file photo)
    Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati (file photo)

    Mikati, a self-made Sunni billionaire from northern Lebanon, was nominated for the premiership with explicit backing from Hezbollah and its March 8 Alliance in January, following the collapse of Lebanon's government in late 2009. Aside from being the dominant armed group in Lebanon, Hezbollah is also the country’s strongest political force.

    The March 8 Alliance holds a majority in Mikati’s 30-member cabinet and, in theory, could bring it down over an issue such as funding the STL. The group sees the STL as little more than a tool of Israel and the United States.

    Untouchables

    The 2011 budget for the STL is $65.7 million, of which Lebanon is responsible for 49 percent according the rules set out by the tribunal. The remainder of the budget is paid for by volunteer member states. To date, 25 countries have contributed to the tribunal, but the only Middle Eastern country having done so is Kuwait.

    U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently sent a letter to Mikati informing him that Lebanon’s portion of the STL’s 2011 budget was coming due. According to STL spokesman Marten Youssef, “Thirty days after receipt of that letter, the Lebanese government is supposed to pay. They haven’t. And so that’s where we’re at right now.”

    There is little that the STL can do if Lebanon ultimately decides not to pay its share of the 2011 budget. Lebanon can, however, be referred to the United Nations Security Council. In theory, the Security Council can invoke Chapter 7 of the United Nations charter, which stipulates that the body should “decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security,” including sanctions or military force. However, this outcome is highly unlikely.

    Four members of Hezbollah were indicted earlier this year on charges of committing a terrorist act, conspiracy and other crimes related to the attack on Hariri’s convoy. The accused - Salim Ayyash, Mustafa Badreddine, Hassan Aneissy and Assad Sabra - have not appeared in public since then. Ayyash, believed to the main planner of the attack, is a dual U.S.-Lebanese citizen. Badreddine is the brother-in-law of Hezbollah’s most celebrated martyr, Imad Mughniyeh - an infamous figure who was widely believed to have planned the bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut in 1983, along with a host of other high-profile international terrorist attacks.

    Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah (file photo)
    Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah (file photo)

    After the indictment against the four men was unsealed last July, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said in televised remarks that the accused would not be handed over to the tribunal “even in 300 years.” And with that in mind, the STL is eyeing other options.

    “One of the unique features of the tribunal is that we can try the accused in their absence. This is a common procedure in Lebanese criminal law. But in order for us to move into in absentia proceedings, the trial chamber judges have to be convinced that enough efforts have been made [to apprehend the accused] and that efforts laid out in the tribunals rules have been exhausted,” says STL spokesman Marten Youssef. He adds, “Once both sides make their oral arguments, then we will determine whether or not to move into in absentia proceedings.”

    Oral arguments by the prosecution and defense are due to begin on November 11 in the Netherlands - where the tribunal is headquartered for security reasons - in a development that Youssef calls “a significant milestone.”

    It appears almost certain that the trial will proceed in absentia. Few Lebanese expect the Internal Security Forces to even attempt to apprehend the four suspects and hand them over to the STL.

    More than money

    The STL is a controversial topic in Lebanon, even among some of its supporters.

    Formed in 2005, the STL's first prosecutor was a German, Detlev Mehlis. Later that same year he issued the Mehlis Report, which implicated "Syrian security officials" and their allies in the Lebanese security forces in the Hariri assassination. Several Lebanese generals were imprisoned for a number of years and later released. The following year, Mehlis left the STL and was replaced for two years by Belgian Serge Brammertz, who was followed by Canadian Daniel Bellemare - the current chief prosecutor of the STL.

    In a televised interview with Hezbollah’s Al Manar television this week, Nasrallah appeared confident and showed little urgency regarding the deadline for funding the STL, saying, “The issue of the tribunal’s funding can be decided in the Cabinet when the time is appropriate.” Nasrallah added that Hezbollah still does not support funding the STL and, in a reference to Mikati, the billionaire, said "anyone who wants to finance the tribunal, let him do it from his own pocket.”

    But regardless of the rhetoric, the deadlines, and the veiled threats between political rivals, Mikati's government doesn't seem to be in imminent danger of collapse. At least not yet.

    “I think at this point, no one has any interest in bringing the Mikati government down - either internally or externally," says Lebanese political analyst Kamel Wazne. "As far as Western powers, they are very concerned about the stability of Lebanon, and I think keeping this government intact is in the best interest of keeping Lebanon stabilized."

    With neighboring Syria on the cusp of armed revolt, keeping Lebanon stable has for many players become even more of a priority. Although none of his dwindling options are ideal, Mikati does have some.

    “I think he’ll go to the end,” Wazne says, suggesting that Mikati will weather the current political storm. “He has an election in less than two years, and has to satisfy his constituents. He can say, ‘I tried. I’m the prime minister, but I don’t have the power to persuade everyone in the government. I did my share, but this does not mean that the issue of funding [the STL] has to destroy the country.’”

    اغتيال الحريري لا يزال يهيمن على الحياة السياسية في لبنان حوالي سبع سنوات بعد اغتيال رئيس الوزراء اللبناني السابق رفيق الحريري، له الموت وتركه تلوح كبيرة البلاد.
    Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
    and discuss them on our Facebook page.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora