Meray Maddah
candidate at University of Siena and an External Relations trainee at the European Economic & Social Committee (EESC) in Brussels. Alumna of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut in The Hague and the Outreach and Legacy Section of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s Inter-University Program on International Criminal Law and Procedure.


The 21st September 2018, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL, or the Tribunal) has borne witness to the closing arguments in its chambers after a nine-day hearing in the Prosecutor vs. Ayyash case. The legal process has been painstakingly lengthy, yet even with the vacant closing arguments, an end verdict that can be contextualized in the pages of modern history is at halt to be written. The most predictable outcome will be the motioning of an appeal that will presumably lengthen the procedure for a longer period of time, which allows some reflections on the current state of the Tribunal, and its role in bringing justice.

Background information

On the 14th February 2005, in the heart of the capital city Beirut, a massive explosion took the lives of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and twenty-one others and left nearly 226 injured, including Minister Basil Fleihan, who survived the attack but have fatally succumbed to his injuries afterwards. The detonated bomb at the site targeting the former Prime Minister’s bulletproof motorcade has been described as so ghoulish that it had left a “ten-meter-wide crater” in the street. The assassination of Hariri marked a quintessential and a detrimental detour in Lebanon’s track. A tidal motion appalled a nation and sent shock waves around the world; whereby, the United Nations’ Security Council has condemned the brutal act by issuing Resolution 1644 (2005), castigating the political assassination and calling for justice amid the massive attack by avowing, “[the United Nations Security] Council calls on the Lebanese Government to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of this heinous terrorist act, and noting the Lebanese Government’s commitments in this regard. “[The United Nations Security] Council urges all States […] to cooperate fully in the fight against terrorism.”[1]

Following the request of the Lebanese government to the UN on 13th December 2005 to create a tribunal of an international character to investigate the assassination and other fatal attempts and the stemming approval of Security Council Resolution 1664 along with the Netherlands accepting to be the formal host of the Court, the STL was established and became operational on 1st March 2009. The proposal for the Tribunal’s foundation was taken under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The scenes of irregularity that would paint the STL in broader strokes is the fact that it is a culmination of both the Lebanese criminal code and laws dealing with or relating to terrorism; hence, the implantation of an international law framework is not, per se, the crux of the Tribunal, but rather, it has been set up under an international canopy to steer the Lebanese justice system – one that has been arguably smudged with politically infused inclinations.

In addition, the STL’s principle root of legality is projected through the Lebanese criminal law, unlike other international tribunals whose basis is founded upon international law; the prime examples being both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

Since its inauguration, the Tribunal has attracted a dense stream of avid supporters asking for justice and accountability on behalf of a nation that mourned the loss of an influential figure in modern Lebanese history. Yet, the hybrid Tribunal has also attracted its set of disparagers that have vehemently criticized it upon the alleged basis that it would undermine the overall sovereignty of the Lebanese state, especially in the realms of local politics where the Mediterranean country has become a condensed hub of unorthodox internal policies easily affected, in osmosis, by regional instability and contentious interests. On balance, one would have to recognize the resources invested by the Lebanese government towards the Tribunal’s sustenance over the years, where expectations still reign high for an era described by grave impunities for crimes.

Current state of play

From 3rd to 14th September 2018, the STL has been the congregation for the closing arguments of the Prosecutor vs. Ayyash case.  In this case, the accused, who are currently facing trials in absentia, are four members of the armed non-state group Hezbollah: Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra. All four are at large and whose whereabouts are stills unknown; they are accused of conspiracy aimed at committing a terrorist act.

Forms of evidence that have been presented are based on three components: the forensic evidence from the cause of the explosion on the 14th of February 2005 as well as the evidence relating to the deaths and injuries caused to the victims; evidence obtained relating to the preoperatory acts committed and their conspirators between the years of 2004 and 2005 that preceded the assassination of the former Prime Minister Hariri; and another form of evidence correlative to the identities of the accused and their active roles in the morose act. Yet with these vitrines of evidence, the examination period for such components and beyond still require long procedures and reviews.

Moreover, the conveyed stagnation during the primal period of the investigation between 2006 and 2008 under the supervision of Serge Brammertz, has added to the simmering multipolarity by not advancing the investigation any further and leaving one of the most crucial fractions of the examination, namely, the analysis of the perpetrators’ communications, to the Lebanese authorities. Some would consider attributing this motion to deliberate parameters by Brammertz, to circumvent attempts of neutralization concerning the case since the moment Hezbollah-related figures have become suspects and were added to the list of possible perpetrators to the Hariri assassination. Doubling down on this argument and back in late 2010, Neil Macdonald provided a similar description of Brammertz’ recorded activities at the Tribunal by adding that, “Serge Brammertz seemed to be more interested in avoiding controversy than in pursuing any sort of serious investigation […]”. Whether this motion has been founded on intentional basis to avoid rocking a plausible sectarian boat in Lebanon, or simply being a legislative careerist’s move, may not be clearly disentangled. Yet, what can be drawn is the fact that a palpable link could have been built, had the investigation been fortified by those leading it, where eventually it could have been a visceral stepping stone towards a clearer evidence.


Tugging arguments on the STL have created multiple camps within Lebanon and the region itself, yet the Tribunal remains one of the consolidating factors in seeking the truth and providing an ultimate verdict through a painstaking due process that is ought to manifest a sense of accountability towards the perpetrators and a justice saturated prognosis that is owed for the victims’ rights. The debate on hybrid tribunals, positioned in comparison with the International Criminal Court as a principle judicial body in the international community, and their standards towards maintaining complete impartiality, solidifying a sustainable justice and remaining intrinsically independent can spark some doubts due to the domestic law elements that they contain. Yet, such Tribunals, through their synthesized jurisdictions, are still treading the discourse of persecuting gruesome crimes, fusing a congress of accountability against the perpetrating actors and guaranteeing the essential human rights standards of due process and fair trial.

In conclusion, no matter how polarizing the STL’s ethos maybe to some, and no matter how the current arguments are spun to comfort the opinions of either those who are underpinning the legal body or the ones trying to assassinate any presented argument in attempt to invalidate the Tribunal itself – one truth remains, that is and no less, of the clamoring voices of those seeking justice to try and divorce the country away from a violent malaise and a convulsing modus-operandi that may suggest that one’s opponent’s demise is another one’s glory.

[1]Resolution 1644 (2005) Adopted by the Security Council at its 5329th meeting, on 15 December 2005 (Issue brief No. RES/1644). (2005, December 15)