Hariri court begins hearing on terror charges

7th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

The tribunal set up to try the killers of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri started a hearing Monday on how to define the crime of terrorism as listed in a draft indictment.

"Today's proceedings show that Lebanon, a proud founding member of the United Nations, is set for a course of judicial accountability through the rule of law," presiding judge Antonio Cassese said as the hearing opened before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, based in Leidschendam near The Hague.

"This hearing signals an important moment for the life of the tribunal."

Cassese said that pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen had submitted 15 legal questions for the appeals chamber to clarify related to an indictment filed under seal by prosecutor Daniel Bellemare on January 17, and is widely believed to implicate Hezbollah.

Fransen is tasked with confirming the indictment before any arrest warrants can be issued for the 2005 bombing that killed Hariri and 22 other people in Beirut.

Among other things, he had asked the judges to decide how the crimes of terrorism, conspiracy and premeditated murder should be defined, and under which law -- Lebanese or international or both.

Cassese said Monday's proceedings would help ensure a speedy trial, a prerequisite for fairness.

"Suspicions may have fallen on many", he said. "It is hence of vital importance that any person named in the indictment should know what charges they face."

"It is in the interests of Lebanon as a whole and world community at large that this process should move forward deliberately and expeditiously."

Cassese stressed the hearing was of a legal nature and would not deal with the facts of the case, but would allow the court to thrash out "a set of legal imperatives to deal with human tragedies".

"We will also have to discuss how the world community responds to one of the most widespread crimes of today, terrorism."

Monday's hearing will include submissions by the prosecutor and the tribunal's defence office, created to protect the rights of defendants.

Neither the appeals judges nor the defence office have seen the indictment.

© 2011 AFP

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