Landmark Decision by Lebanon Tribunal
Court Ruling Opens Up Terrorism to International Prosecution
The UN tribunal investigating the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has ruled that acts of terrorism can be prosecuted under international law. The decision will have far-reaching legal implications, but could also increase political turmoil in Lebanon and cause the Hariri case to collapse.
Genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity can already be prosecuted in an international court. Now terrorism is set to be added to the list of crimes which can be prosecuted under international law, thanks to a groundbreaking new court ruling.
The ruling was made last week by the
Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which was set up to investigate the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a bomb attack. It would mean that groups that commit terror attacks, regardless of where in the world they occur, could henceforth be prosecuted in international criminal courts and would no longer be under the exclusive jurisdiction of the judiciary of the country in question.
The ruling could help to bring new clarity to the global debate on how transnational terrorism is best prosecuted, but it could also be a source of further tension for the controversy-hit STL. For years, there has been conflict between the Islamist Hezbollah group, the Lebanese government and the United Nations, which set up the STL, over the tribunal's authority and legitimacy. Hezbollah has long been suspected of being involved in the murder of Hariri, possibly with backing from Syria.
The court's decision means those behind the assassination have effectively been put on a par with the mass murderers and dictators who have previously been targeted under international law. The Lebanese judges on the tribunal are already under enormous political pressure to resign from the body, and insiders fear that the ruling could cause the case to collapse.
Legal Upheaval Expected
But the ruling, which was made as part of preliminary proceedings, will have far-reaching significance beyond the Hariri assassination. Using the precedent, the UN would be able to set up international criminal tribunals to prosecute any future terrorist attacks, using the model of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
The new ruling stemmed from STL President Antonio Cassese, who is one of the leading proponents of international criminal law and an adviser to the UN secretary-general. As the first head of the ICTY, Cassese had already succeeded in getting war crimes prosecuted. Experts believe his latest move could now mark the beginning of another major upheaval in international law.