The chief prosecutor for the U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri said Tuesday that the indictment he filed is the first step to ending impunity in Lebanon.
Special Tribunal for Lebanon prosecutor Daniel Bellemare said the indictment filed Monday would remain under seal while pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen examines the supporting documents in the coming weeks.
In a video statement posted on the tribunal’s website, Bellemare said that confidentiality is important at this phase in the judicial process. He said if the charges are confirmed, the content of the indictment would be made public.
“Many of your questions will be answered at that time,” Bellemare said. “As the trial process unfolds you will have the opportunity to satisfy yourselves as to the strength of the evidence we have gathered. In the meantime, any speculation of the contents of the indictment would be counter-productive as the pre-trial judge may not agree with me.”
In Lebanon, leaks from the tribunal and comments by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nassrallah have many speculating that members of the Shiite party-cum-militia could be indicted for the 2005 truck bombing that killed five-time Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others along the Beirut seafront.
Bellemare said justice cannot be rushed. He said the evidence must be credible and compelling, and reiterated the independence of the tribunal. He added that this first step in the legal process is also a step toward ending impunity in Lebanon.
The prosecutor stressed that anyone indicted would be presumed innocent.
“This means that the prosecution will have to prove before a trial court – and beyond a reasonable doubt – that they are guilty,” Bellemare said. “If there is a reasonable doubt the accused will be acquitted. Any accused has the right to defend himself vigorously against the allegations contained in an indictment.”
The independent tribunal was created through a resolution of the U.N. Security Council. On Monday, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said at a conference in Abu Dhabi that this independent judicial process should not be linked with any political debate, and warned against prejudging the outcome of the investigation.
Hezbollah, angered by the presumption that the court would charge some of their members, withdrew their ministers from the Cabinet last week, forcing the government’s collapse and throwing the country into political turmoil. Consultations on a new government have been postponed until next week. But even then, it is expected negotiations on a new prime minister could take weeks.
Reaction to the transmission of the indictment to the tribunal was muted in Beirut. Political leaders did not have any immediate reaction and the streets were calm. Early Tuesday, the army dispersed some protests by opposition supporters in West Beirut.