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Hezbollah’s problem with justice

Hazem Saghieh

Published: Updated:

It is no longer a secret that Hezbollah has a problem with courts, which the party abhors and dreads. The reason for that can be traced back to actions that many may consider a reason for legitimate suspicion. But there’s another aspect that pushes the party to loathe and fear justice: its inherent hate for courts of any kind. In other words, its hate for justice and its paths and approaches.

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We can review some select chapters of the historical relation between justice and judicial institutions on the one hand and parties and systems that resemble Hezbollah’s on the other. What we conclude is the following: the power of a totalitarian or near-totalitarian party cannot co-exist with the power of justice. It’s an either-or situation.

We never heard of a bright Soviet lawyer in the USSR, for instance. Nor do we hear today of an excellent Chinese, Iranian, or Syrian man of the law. Such things are unheard of. Where legitimacy is revolutionary and not electoral, and where the judicial authority is under the executive authority, and when a case is so sacred that any and all acts are authorized in its service, bright lawyers and excellent men of law cannot exist. The fusion of powers, which is the antonym of the separation of powers, does not allow it and abolishes its raison d’être. In fact, political systems like the aforementioned ones have one perception for justice and another for courts and trials, one that is based on challenging it and constantly seeking to replace it with some kind of “revolutionary justice,” a “justice” that serves specific thoughts and interests. A non-justice, in other words.

While some systems that were not born from revolutions and do not boast about their resistance may abuse courts and law, these systems do not have a theory that contradicts the work of justice. They may deviate from their proclaimed commitments or approaches, but they do not denounce the principle of justice - even if they shun it in practice.

If a “supreme court” is the pride of liberalism given its power to reverse the parliament’s vote and the president’s signature; the pride of totalitarianism would be the silencing of anything or anyone that opposes the decisions of the leader and ruling party. A silencing that can be eternal.

Bolshevik Russia was the pioneer in this regard: “revolutionary justice” was practically a tool to get rid of “class enemies.” When old courts were dissolved, the secret police (Cheka) took over part of this task and left the remainder to the “violence of the people” against “the enemies of the people.” The Bolsheviks soon brought back courts, but the vengeful nature of these courts dominated their work and the decisions of their ideologized, unqualified judges.

Per the Chinese Constitution, the court system is independent from administrative apparatuses, public institutions, and individuals, but the “Political and Legal Affairs Committees” of the Communist Party are the ones that “coordinate” and “directly supervise” the whole judicial system. This is why, upon its transfer to China, Hong Kong insisted on retaining its judicial system as part of the “one country, two systems” principle.

The first generation of Communist China leaders looked at the concept of human rights as a bourgeois concept that must be avoided. The second generation responded to this challenge by developing a theory that distinguishes between “our human rights” and “their human rights.” Only with openness to the outside world in the last few decades did this nonsense end.

Similarly, in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, many Cuban lawyers fled the country. One of the earliest instructions of Fidel Castro, a lawyer himself, was that young people are encouraged not to study law, but to focus instead on science, engineering, and medicine. The socialist system needed to be built, not to know the facts: these were already known. Conflicts were nonexistent in the socialist paradise. Then in 1962, Castro proposed the establishment of “popular courts.” Ever since, many positive transformations were made, some under the pressure of seeking openness to the outside world and rapprochement with the United States and Spain, and some in response to the changing of times and the difficulty of retaining ancient approaches. Still, lawyers could not work independently or not as part of a collective body that is unavoidably bound to the authorities.

Much like in the Soviet Union, Iran’s first post-revolution courts were born with a specific purpose: punishing enemies, taking revenge on supporters of the Shah regime, and eliminating all those who pose a threat to the new power. Early trials were inaugurated by the cleric Sadegh Khalkhali. No sooner were death sentences issued than Khomeini would approve them.

Today, more than 40 years after the revolution, authorities still discuss the “necessity” of generalizing the legislations of “revolutionary courts” on all court cases without exception. Sentences issued by criminal courts are commonly criticized for their laxity and leniency. On the other hand, the trials of “revolutionary courts” are held without a jury, and a single judge can issue definitive decisions on their cases, which remain forbidden to the public unless the government chooses to publish their details.

These are the models that Hezbollah seemingly aspires to impose in its country.

Will Lebanon be steered toward this path under the excuse that justice in its current form is politicized and influenced by foreign countries? This is probably a good explanation for what we are seeing in Lebanon.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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