UN and Lebanon await Security Council go-ahead for Hariri murder tribunal

23 March 2006

After briefing the Security Council on his preliminary talks with Lebanese officials, a top United Nations legal official said today he was ready to hold negotiations on a possible international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others.

“Now it is for the Security Council to decide on the next step,” Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel told reporters after the Council meeting.

“As for the Secretary-General and the Secretariat, we are prepared to act immediately upon decisions taken by the Security Council and we will be happy to do so in cooperation with our interlocutors in Lebanon,” he added.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s report to the Council presented the main issues at stake in creating a tribunal, and no specific recommendations concerning the court have yet been made, he said, pending the Council’s go-ahead for further talks.

It was general opinion, however, that the best outcome would be a mixed tribunal with both international and Lebanese participation, as suggested by Mr. Annan’s report, Mr. Michel said. In that light, he suggested that the tribunal for Sierra Leone is possibly the closest possible comparison, though there would inevitably be many differences between the two courts.

In addition, he said it would be extremely difficult for the tribunal to be located on Lebanese territory, due to concerns of security, perceptions of objectivity and other factors.

Following a request from the Lebanese Government and a Council mandate to explore the possibility of a “tribunal of international character,” discussions between Mr. Michel’s team and Lebanese leaders and judicial officials were conducted between 26 January and 28 February.

Mr. Annan’s report says that the discussions resulted in a common understanding that it would be most appropriate to establish the tribunal through an agreement concluded between Lebanon and the United Nations. If that understanding is acceptable to the Security Council, Mr. Annan suggests the Council adopt a resolution to commence those negotiations.

Additional issues to be discussed in those talks include the funding and composition of the tribunal, as well as whether or not all terrorist attacks since 1 October 2004 should fall into the jurisdiction of the court, since the Council has raised the possibility that the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) set up to probe the 14 February 2005 Hariri assassination could expand its scope to cover other attacks.