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French Version

UN, Lebanese government agree on tribunal make-up

The United Nations and the Lebanese government have agreed that a tribunal to prosecute the suspected killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri should have a majority of international judges, an international prosecutor and be located outside Lebanon, Secretary General Kofi Annan said in a report Thursday.

He told the UN Security Council that having more international than Lebanese judges in the mixed tribunal would help ensure its independence.

The 37-page report includes a draft agreement between the UN and the Lebanese government to establish the tribunal, a draft statute for the tribunal, and a discussion of the similarities and differences between the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and other tribunals where the UN has played a major role.

The Security Council is expected to discuss the report on Monday at a closed meeting attended by UN Legal Counsel Nicolas Michel, who negotiated the agreement with Lebanese judges and presented the initial drafts to Lebanon's prime minister and justice minister in early September.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora sent a letter to Annan informing the UN of the Cabinet's approval of the plan on Monday. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the secretary general considered the government's decision "an important step" in fulfilling his requirement to negotiate an agreement with the government.

In the report, the UN chief said he had also received a copy of observations on the draft agreement made by Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud including a challenge to the Cabinet' decision.

But the secretary general appeared to dismiss Lahoud's challenge, saying the negotiated agreements "are now submitted to the Security Council for its consideration."

A Security Council resolution, adopted on March 29, asked Annan to negotiate an agreement with the government aimed at establishing a tribunal "of an international character based on the highest international standards of criminal justice" to assist Lebanon "in the search for the truth and in holding all those involved in this terrorist attack accountable."

Annan said the UN considered whether the assassination of Hariri and 14 other attacks in Lebanon that had some similarity could qualify as "crimes against humanity" that could be considered by the tribunal, and he indicated there were grounds.

"However, considering the views expressed by interested council members, there was insufficient support for the inclusion of crimes against humanity," he said, without elaborating. "For this reason, therefore, the qualification of the crimes was limited to common crimes under the Lebanese Criminal Code."

Under the draft agreement, there would be a single international pre-trial judge to review indictments and decide whether there is a case to be tried. The Trial Chamber would have two international judges and one Lebanese judge, and the Appeals Chamber would have three international judges and two Lebanese judges.

A majority of the judges is required to issue a verdict.

The secretary general would appoint the international judges for three-year terms based on the recommendation of a panel of judges from international tribunals. The UN chief would also appoint Lebanese judges from a list of 12 names proposed by the Lebanese Supreme Council of the Judiciary and presented by the government.

"The establishment of the Special Tribunal with a majority of international judges, an international prosecutor and a registrar is consistent with the long-established UN position that in the establishment of any mixed tribunal a substantial international component is a guarantee for the independence, objectivity and impartiality of the trial process," Annan said.

The secretary general said the parties shared the view that the tribunal should be based outside Lebanon for a variety of views.

"In the choice of the seat, considerations of justice and fairness, administrative efficiency, the rights of victims and proximity to witnesses, existence of suitable facilities, both for the tribunal and its detention facilities, security arrangements and affordable costs, would be fully taken into account," Annan said.

The secretary general said the Lebanese government has offered to bear a substantial part of the tribunal's expenses and all options but one to fund it include a provision requiring Lebanon to pay 49 percent of the expenses. The options include calling for voluntary contributions or assessing UN member states either partially or wholly.

Meanwhile, President Emile Lahoud praised Russia for its policy in Lebanon, saying: "It has always acted honestly toward Lebanon and provided it with all kinds of assistance and contributed to its reconstruction."

In an interview with Russia Today television channel on Friday, the president said: "Russia stood by Lebanon at the Security Council and defended its cause; all what it wants is to achieve a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East."

Lahoud's statements were made one day after Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Chukrin questioned whether Lebanon's government had acting legitimately in approving the special court.

"We are somewhat bothered that the plan had been approved by the Lebanese government but opposed by its president," he said.

Beirut 18-11-2006
The Daily Star

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