The U.N. Security Council has created an international tribunal to try suspects in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. VOA's Peter Heinlein at U.N. headquarters reports the vote on the landmark measure was close.
A resolution setting up the Hariri assassination tribunal received 10 votes in the 15-member Council, one more than the nine needed for adoption. The other five members abstained.
All five European members - Britain, France, Slovakia, Italy and Belgium - co-sponsored the measure, along with the United States. They were joined by African members Ghana and Congo, along with Latin American countries Peru and Panama.
Those abstaining included veto-wielding Russia and China, along with South Africa and the Council's two predominantly Muslim members, Indonesia and Qatar.
The Council vote effectively breaks a stalemate among Lebanon's feuding political factions over how to prosecute suspects in the Hariri murder.
American Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called the vote a demonstration of "the principle that there will be no impunity for political assassinations in Lebanon or elsewhere."
"Those who killed Rafik Hariri and so many others will be brought to justice and held responsible for their crimes," he said. "The tribunal will also serve to deter future political assassinations."
Hariri, an anti-Syrian political figure, and 22 others were killed by a suicide truck bomber in Beirut in February 2005. An initial U.N. inquiry implicated senior Syrian intelligence officials in the murder. Syria condemned the crime and vehemently denied involvement.
The pro-western government of current Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's asked the Security Council to act this month after speaker of parliament Nabih Berri refused to convene the legislature to ratify the tribunal.
Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, warned that establishing the court could trigger fresh violence.
The Security Council previously avoided involvement in the internal political disputes of member states. But in casting his vote in favor of the measure, British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry called Council action "necessary" to bring Hariri's killers to justice.
"The proposed tribunal is vital for Lebanon, for justice and for the region," he said. "The establishment of the tribunal through Lebanese internal procedures had been thwarted."
Before the vote, Russia and other Council members that abstained warned that establishing the Hariri tribunal would set a dangerous precedent. South Africa's Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo called the measure an attack on the fundamentals of international law.
Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said the measure runs counter to the interests of the Lebanese people.
"Those who were behind such a draft resolution will assume the consequences," he said. "But definitely this is something that goes against the interest of the Lebanese people and Lebanon as a whole."
The resolution includes a "sunrise clause" that gives Lebanon's rival factions until June 10 to settle their differences and create their own court to try suspects in the Hariri killing. If they fail, the measure, known as Security Council Resolution 1757, will go into force.
Resolution 1757 was adopted under the legally binding Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter, which allows the use of military force to uphold it.