By Patrick Galey
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
BEIRUT: The prosecutor of the U.N.-backed court tasked with investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri defended the confidentiality of his indictment Tuesday, stressing that suspects remain innocent until proven guilty. Daniel Bellemare, who submitted the court’s first indictment to pre-trial Judge Daniel Fransen Monday, urged patience from those eager to identify accused individuals.
“As frustrating as it may be, the content of the indictment must remain confidential for the time being,” Bellemare said in a video statement posted on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Web site. “So, unfortunately, you will have to wait a little longer.
“According to the rules of the tribunal, I cannot reveal either the charges or the name of the person or persons referred to in the indictment. This continued confidentiality is essential as I cannot presume that the pre-trial judge will confirm the indictment,” he added.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the tribunal’s work, offering Washington’s support to the issuance of an indictment, which represented the beginning of the judicial process in the first international court able to try counts of terrorism.
The secretary of state labeled the indictment “an important step toward justice and ending impunity for murder.”
Lebanon’s political divide remains deadlocked over the tribunal, with opponents suggesting Lebanese funding for the investigation should be cut. Disagreement over the issue of “false witnesses” led last week to the collapse of the government.
“Those who oppose the tribunal seek to create a false choice between justice and stability in Lebanon; we reject this,” Clinton said Monday. “We are confident that the tribunal will continue to operate according to the highest standards of judicial independence and integrity. We call on all parties to promote calm and continue to respect the tribunal as it carries out its duties in a professional and apolitical manner,” she said.
The prosecutor also addressed court detractors, saying: “To those who did not expect or want this day to come, I would say that while justice may be slow, it is deliberate.”
Bellemare, who must have acquired prime face evidence against any individual before naming them in Monday’s indictment, stressed that “any speculation about the contents of the indictments would be counterproductive as the pre-trial judge may not agree with me.”
The office of the prosecutor was moved to respond Tuesday to Al-Jadid TV’s reports, aired over the weekend, which carried audiotapes of caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri holding talks with U.N. investigators in 2007. Hariri is alleged to have told investigators that he had been warned of Syria’s plans to murder his father, five-time Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“[Bellemare] is very concerned with the recent unauthorized broadcasts on some Lebanese TV channels of what appear to be interviews conducted by officials of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission,” it said. “This material is confidential and protected information and was made public in breach of the law. The prosecutor is exploring all possible avenues, in The Hague and in Lebanon, to determine how this confidential information came into the public domain.”
Bellemare was joined by Francois Roux, head of the tribunal’s defense office, in calling for an end to speculation over the identity of the accused.
“The defense office, which is an independent organ of the tribunal, requests that there be no speculation at this stage, either with regard to the identity of the suspects, or to their possible guilt, or to the starting date of the proceedings,” Roux said in a statement Tuesday.
Bellemare added that anyone mentioned in the indictment must be assumed innocent until their guilt can be proven in court beyond reasonable doubt.
“Any accused has the right to defend himself vigorously against the allegations contained in an indictment,” the prosecutor said. “The office of the defense has been created to assist the accused and their counsel in ensuring that the best possible defense is offered.” – Patrick Galey