A year ago the United Nations’ sponsored Special Tribunal for Lebanon held trial for the first time in The Hague. A year on and the trial has carried on, seeking the truth behind the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, of one Lebanon’s largest political figures in its history.
The past year has seen a lot of technical testimony. Various experts have taken the stand to recount the lead up to, aftermath, and actual assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister. Currently, a host of political figures are preparing to take the stand.
In 2014, the trial spoke about the Syrian regime’s attempts to turn Lebanon into a dictatorship and intimidation techniques that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad used against Hariri to try to ensure the continued hegemony of Syria over Lebanon.
Experts revealed the various telecommunications data that is said to connect the alleged killers to the assassination.
A former deputy named Ghattas Khoury told the tribunal that on the eve of Hariri’s assassination that he was visibly ill at ease.
“The prime minister used to always say that any attempt on his life is something they will never dare to do. In this particular instance he did not give his usual answer ... He said he would make a few phone calls,” Ghattas told the tribunal, according to The Daily Star last month.
“The trial has entered a political phase,” said Dr. Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Studies. “Until now it was more technical, now it’s getting more political and putting the crime in a more political context.”
Figures like deputies and Hariri confidants Marwan Hamade, Walid Jumblatt, and Fouad Sinoira will have taken the stand by years’ end (Hamade already testified).
“[They] could be key,” said Nader. The testimonies will put the assassination of Hariri in “historical context,” he added, and show the historic relationship between Lebanon and Syria – particularly for the period of the Syrian occupation. Nader added, “It’s quite important.”
“My reading is that more and more the case is narrowing and will link to the role of the Syrian regime and the involvement of military and intelligence, what we know about Hezbollah’s involvement, to put in the current context.”
Nader also believes that there will be international implications over the tribunal. He said that with Russian acceptance of the tribunal, Putin’s government could face embarrassment should Assad’s regime be implicated.
Drifting national attention
But while the tribunal attracted national attention at first, the attention of Lebanese has drifted of late. This may be due to the fact that Lebanese are skeptical that whoever is implicated in the killing of Hariri is unlikely to turn themselves in. While Hezbollah members are the defendants, to date, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has refused to turn over the implicated four. Those four are Salim Jamil Ayyash, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Hussein Hassan Oneissi, and Assad Hassan Sabra.
“I think not many people are following the tribunal especially after the formation of the new government, first in 2009, with Hezbollah and the Future Movement, and in 2012 because it seems the implicated parties [Hezbollah] will not cooperate nor will it hand in the suspects,” said Dr. Imad Salamey, a political science professor and political analyst at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.
Assasination of Hariri
“Normally, the other party will be exerting pressure for the tribunal’s conclusion so it continues to be primarily symbolic.”
The latest update was last week when the trial revealed that Hariri’s assassins stole identities to buy SIM cards.
The testimony will steadily continue this year with high-profile figures taking the stand.
The implication of the Syrian regime is expected to continue while new figures testify.
“With Syria using chemical arms and the war against their own population, the cards are in the hands of the international community,” said Nader.