To assist with the continuing investigation of the 14 February 2005 attack that killed the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, the Security Council adopted UNSCR 1636 (31 October 2005), authorized the imposition of a travel ban and assets freeze on all individuals designated by the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) or the Government of Lebanon as suspected of involvement in the terrorist attack. UNSCR 1636 also established a Sanctions Committee and specified that, unless otherwise decided, all sanctions measures would be terminated upon the completion of all investigative and judicial proceedings relating to the attack. No individuals have been designated by the Committee since the authorization of sanctions in 2005.
UNSCR 1664 (29 March 2006) requested the Secretary-General to negotiate an agreement with the Government of Lebanon to establish an international tribunal. The agreement between the UN and Lebanese government to create the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) was signed on 23 January 2007, but when the agreement was put before the Lebanese Parliament for ratification, the Speaker of Parliament refused to convene the Parliament for a vote. In response, the majority of the members of Parliament signed a petition addressed to the UN Secretary-General requesting that the Security Council form the tribunal. UNSCR 1757, adopted on 30 May 2007, formally established the STL under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and specified its statutes, organization, and formation. After the mandate of the UNIIIC ended on 28 February 2009, jurisdiction was transferred to the STL and the information gathered over the course of its mandate was handed over to the STL’s Office of the Prosecutor. The STL is an international tribunal operating under Lebanese criminal law. It has jurisdiction “over persons responsible for the attack of 14 February 2005 resulting in the death of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and in the death or injury of other persons” as well as other connected attacks that took place in Lebanon between 1 October 2004 and 12 December 2005 or are agreed by the parties to be connected and of similar nature and gravity (Article 1, STL statue). The tribunal is the first international court to deal with terrorism as a distinct crime. Although the STL statue holds that the tribunal shall apply the Lebanese Criminal Code, on 16 February 2011 the tribunal’s appeal chamber adopted a definition of terrorism that draws on both Lebanese criminal law and customary international law. In particular, the judgement, which for the first time defined terrorism as an international crime, specified three key elements: (1) the perpetration of a criminal act or a threat thereof, (2) the intent to spread fear among the population or directly or indirectly coerce a national or international authority to take or refrain from an action, and (3) a transnational component.
The STL opened on 1 March 2009 near The Hague. In April 2009, the pre-trial judge ordered the release of four high-ranking Lebanese security officials implicated by the former UNIIIC prosecutor, citing lack of evidence. Detained since September 2005, they were the only suspects in the tribunal’s custody. The court delivered its first indictments in June 2011, naming four members of Hezbollah: Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Oneissi, Assad Hassan Sabra, and Mustafa Amine Badreddine. Their trial (STL-11-01) began in January 2014 without the accused, as the first international trial in absentia since the 1946 Nuremberg trials, and was based largely on evidence from cellphone records. A fifth suspect, Hassan Habib Mehri, was publicly indicted in October 2013 and added to the trial, also in absentia, in February 2014. Charges against Mr Badreddine, a senior Hezbollah military commander, were formally dropped in July 2016, following the confirmation of his death in Syria. The trial against the remaining four accused, all low-level Hezbollah members, closed in September 2018. The STL judgment, pronounced on 18 August 2020, found Mr Ayyash guilty on all counts. Part of a six-member “assassination team,” he had a central role in the execution of the 14 February 2005 attack on Hariri. The three other accused, whose guilt was not proven beyond reasonable doubt, were acquitted. While acknowledging that both Syria and Hezbollah might have had motives to eliminate Mr Hariri, the tribunal found no evidence of Hezbollah leadership’s involvement, including through the formerly accused Mr Badreddine, in the assassination, nor any direct evidence of Syrian role in the attack. Focused primarily on the technical evidence linked to the attack’s execution, the trial showed that although Mr Hariri, who was planning to run in the May 2005 legislative elections, had been under surveillance for several months, the final decision to assassinate him was probably taken only in the two weeks prior to his death. In addition to the Ayyash et al. case and January 2014 rulings on contempt and obstruction of justice by two Lebanese journalists, the tribunal is also investigating three connected attacks on Lebanese politicians (STL-11-02), which include a separate case against Mr Ayyash (STL-18-10). The connected attacks, which are also under the court’s jurisdiction, include the 1 October 2004 assassination attempt on Marwan Hamade, the 21 June 2005 assassination of George Hawi, and the 12 July 2005 assassination attempt on Elias El-Murr. The current mandate of the STL expires on 1 March 2021.
The work of the court has been highly politically sensitive. In particular, the tribunal faces opposition from Hezbollah, whose members were accused of participating in the Hariri assassination. In January 2011, the pending indictments of Hezbollah members by the STL led to the fall of the Lebanese government, with Hezbollah-led pro-Syrian March 8 alliance forming a new ruling coalition. Hezbollah, whose military and political power has increased significantly since 2006, repeatedly denounced the tribunal as a political tool of its enemies, called on Lebanon to withdraw its judges and end its financial contributions to the STL, and threatened anyone cooperating with it. In 2018, the Hezbollah-led alliance won the elections for the first time since the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon in 2005, but its popular support decreased after it opposed the popular protests that erupted in October 2019.
Coerce the government of Syria to cooperate with the Commission’s investigation and cease interference in Lebanon.
Signal support for the criminal investigation of the Hariri assassination and subsequent judicial processes.
Travel ban and assets freeze on individuals designated by the Commission or the Government of Lebanon (upon Sanctions Committee agreement) as suspected of involvement in the terrorist attack on Rafiq Hariri.
No individual targets specified.
UN sanctions should have little impact on the general population since they are focused exclusively on specific individuals and entities.
Sanctions Committee created, no sanctions monitoring mechanism in place. Designation criteria were specified but targets were not designated. Enforcement authorities not specified.
After the passing of UNSCR 1636, Syrian cooperation with the Commission regarding access to individuals, sites, and information improved, but became less significant following the transfer of the jurisdiction to the STL in 2009. Although Syria withdrew its military forces from Lebanon in April 2005, it did not cease to interfere in Lebanese political life, mainly through the support of Hezbollah. However, the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011 forced it to focus primarily on its domestic affairs.
No individual designations were made by UN; UNIIIC investigation and reports and bilateral diplomatic pressure were more significant to the outcome, as was the domestic challenge faced by the Syrian regime.
Neither the Commission (whose mandate ended in 2009) nor the Government of Lebanon have ever notified the UNSC to apply the sanctions.
Creation of a special Commission and Tribunal sent a strong signal in support of an international judicial process early in the episode, internationalizing the case. However, the court has faced significant political opposition from Hezbollah, whose members were accused, and its focus on low-level Hezbollah-members executing the terrorist attack, rather than probing the motive for the assassination and identifying those responsible for taking the decision to kill Rafik Hariri (including the possible role played by Syria and Hezbollah’s leadership), weakened the signal over time.
Although sanctions have been threatened, their lack of use has weakened the signal. The investigative and judicial processes under UNIIIC and STL present the most significant sources of signaling.
Decline in the credibility and/or legitimacy of UN Security Council.