Lebanese generals held in Hariri murder case granted release by UN-backed court

Lebanese generals held in Hariri murder case granted release by UN-backed court

A judge in the tribunal set up to try suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri today decided to grant the release of four generals detained in connection with the 2005 bombing.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon said that the court’s Pre-Trial Judge, Daniel Fransen, had received a submission declining to seek continued detention of the generals from Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare on Monday.

The prosecutor concluded that the evidence was insufficient at this time to warrant filing indictments against Jamil Mohamad Amin El Sayed, Ali Salah El Dine El Hajj, Raymond Fouad Azar or Mostafa Fehmi Hamdan.

On 15 April, Judge Fransen ordered the prosecutor to file, by 27 April 2009, reasoned submissions stating whether or not he requested the continued holding of the generals, who had been detained by Lebanese authorities since 2005.

The judge stressed that that it is a fundamental right, enshrined in all human rights instruments, that any individual arrested or detained be brought promptly before a judge to rule on his or her status.

In declining to seek the continued detention, Mr. Bellemare said that he was guided by three basic legal principles: the presumption of innocence, the principle that detention of persons presumed innocent must always be the exception and not the rule, and the need for sufficiency of credible and admissible evidence.

The Tribunal, an independent body located in The Hague, is designed to try those accused of a series of recent political murders in Lebanon, particularly the February 2005 bombing that killed Mr. Hariri and 22 others in downtown Beirut.

It took over from the Beirut-based International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) in the beginning of March 2009.

The investigation of the murders continues under the guidance of Prosecutor Bellemare, who also headed the probe while the case rested with the IIIC, and a trial will take place when he has sufficient evidence in place.

“The scope of the investigation is broad and remains focused on its objective: to assist the court in establishing the truth by uncovering credible and legally admissible evidence that can lead to the filing of indictments and, later, trials,” the prosecutor wrote in his Monday submission.

Asked by journalists in New York about the position of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the releases, UN spokesperson Farhan Haq stressed the independence of the Tribunal.

“The Secretary-General was not involved in earlier decisions to detain people or today’s decision to release them. He respects the independence of the process,” Mr. Haq said.