The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) issued an important media advisory today, clarifying the next steps in the post-indictment phase of the Hariri trial. It discusses the arrest warrants, the rights of the accused, proceedings in absentia, and other issues.
Here’s what happens next:
- The Lebanese government has 30 days to find the four suspects, serve them with the indictment, arrest them, and transfer them to the STL headquarters in Leidschendam.
- If after 30 days, no one is arrested, and “if the STL President considers that reasonable attempts to serve the indictment have been made, he may order a public advertisement after consulting the Pre-Trial Judge. The Registrar would then send an advertisement calling on the accused to surrender to the Lebanese authorities for publication in the media.”
- “If the accused has not been arrested within 30 calendar days of the public advertisements the Pre-Trial Judge can ask the Trial Chamber to initiate in absentia proceedings.”
The other noteworthy clarification is the following:
The confirmation of an indictment does not mean that the person(s) named in the indictment is/are guilty of the crimes of which they are accused. It simply confirms that the case put forward by the Prosecutor has met the burden of proof required at this stage of the process – prima facie evidence. In simple terms this means that if this evidence were presented uncontested at the trial, it would lead to a conviction.
Of course, the evidence will not be presented uncontested. Even if the accused individuals never show up, the STL itself would appoint defense counsel for them. On the other hand, if they are in fact still kicking around, one wonders whether Hizbullah will decide to face the charges head on by appointing their own defense counsel.
It is not controversial to recognize that the Hariri investigation has been hobbled (some would say deeply compromised) by problems of unreliable testimony, sullied crime scenes, unprofessionalism, and witness intimidation (and perhaps liquidation, in the case of Wissam Eid). If the case largely depends on evidence from telecommunications data (as the CBC account suggests), maybe Hizbullah thinks that they can beat the rap. Or, at the very least, they may find it easier to undermine the court with their own narrative from the inside, rather than standing on the sidelines and pretending not to notice as the STL sails effortlessly toward a guilty verdict.
Of course, the risks of such a venture would be considerable. By participating in it, Hizbullah would in effect be lending legitimacy to the Tribunal, and they could find their image damaged further if they fail to put up a plausible defense to a compelling case by the prosecution.