Northern Ireland isn’t alone in seeking truth and justice for historical atrocities. Nor is it alone in facing up to the cost, complexity and uncertainty of processes to deal with the past.
It was set up in a suburb of The Hague in March 2009 with the mandate to “hold trials for the people accused of carrying out the attack of 14 February 2005 which killed 22 people, including the former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri, and injured many others”.
While it is the first time that an international court will be trying a case based on terrorism charges, it is also the first time in contemporary Lebanese history, if ever at all, that so much effort and resources have been allocated to bringing criminals to justice.
Lebanon may have become used to wars and politically motivated crimes, but it has become even more accustomed to never knowing the truth behind those crimes and taking for granted that nobody in Lebanon is ever brought to account.
Unlike other contemporary international courts, the trial will go ahead even if – as is currently the case – the accused are not present or in the custody of the tribunal. (The accused retain the right to appear in court once the trial has started and to ask for retrial once the case is over.) A defence office has been created , not to represent the accused, but to promote the rights of the suspects and their counsel, and ensure they receive fair treatment.
Victims who have suffered harm in the attacks have been given a role in the process once the investigation phase concludes and indictments have been confirmed. Victims will be able to present their views and concerns in the trial.
Justice and truth are costly. [The Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday cost in the region of £200m between 1998 and 2010.]
Even though the costs of justice and the repercussions it may have on national reconciliation are invaluable, the STL has still cost around $300 million so far (almost half of which have been covered by Lebanon) for a country that is indebted to its neck. Is this the best time and place for Lebanon to spend this money?
Inquiries and tribunals are not universally popular, and open to allegations of being politically motivated, legally flawed and low quality.
… public opinion in general is unenthusiastic and divided on the tribunal … Less partisan supporters of the tribunal welcome it if only as a way to break the vicious cycle of ‘unaccountability’ in Lebanon, and are willing to give it the benefit of the doubt based on its upcoming proceedings. Less partisan opponents of the tribunal note that the country has more important things to worry about these days, as it faces increasing political and security instability and acute repercussions of the Syrian crisis.
Justice? Truth? Maybe we will never know the truth or maybe we “can’t handle the truth’” as someone once said. The fact that a potentially constructive experiment in justice begins with many more questions than it may have the potential to answer is reason enough for us to keep on questioning. While only time will tell if we were right or not in doing so.
I’m sure we can handle the truth, but in Lebanon, the value of the truth is as valuable as the way it is reached…
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about, reports from, live-tweets and live-streams civic, academic and political events and conferences. He delivers social media training/coaching; produces podcasts and radio programmes; is a FactCheckNI director; a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland; and a member of the Corrymeela Community.