SUN 24 - 1 - 2021
Date: Aug 29, 2020
Source: The Daily Star
Transitional justice from 2005 to 2020 and beyond
Hiba Huneini
Three weeks ago, on Aug. 4, 2020, at around 6:10 p.m., the Beirut Port explosion shattered the city of Beirut, leaving nearly 200 dead and 7,000 injured. The shock of the explosion dragged us back to 12:55 p.m. on Feb. 14, 2005, when former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated to flip the chapter of hope and stability and enter the tunnel of political assassinations, armed conflicts, obstruction and deeper corruption.

All residents in Lebanon are traumatized after this explosion. They have shared experiences of pain and mourning. However, they react differently on how they share their experiences, relate them to the past, and hold the responsible entities accountable. The perceptions and grievances of people are always related to unaddressed and unresolved issues. We have been witnessing how the massive damage is in the fragmented society not buildings and streets alone. A relief and immediate reconstruction process has been launched by various CSOs and organizations, but the main question is how we will restore the deep divisions among shattered social groups? How will we regain trust among people and among them and the state? This catastrophe has put the notion of the Lebanese state in question.

Conflicts have been a key shaper of the Lebanese reality. It reinforced the deep polarization and social segregation territorially and socially. In other words, every aspect in the Lebanese daily life is characterized by the impact of conflicts. A study published by the International Committee of the Red Cross states that 75 percent of Lebanese citizens have “personal experience” with armed conflict. According to the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), there is a general perception among Lebanese citizens that the “war is not over.” We are always in constant phases of conflicts and vulnerable to the regional disturbances. This is due to the absence of any transitional justice process in Lebanon.

The United Nations defines transitional justice as “the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempt to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation.” Transitional justice consists of both judicial and nonjudicial processes and mechanisms, including prosecution, truth seeking, delivering reparations to victims, institutional reform and national consultations.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is the cornerstone of transitional justice as we lack trust in the Lebanese judiciary system. After 15 years of waiting for the truth, the Trial Chamber in the STL pronounced its judgment last week on Aug. 18, 2020, and accused Salim Jamil Ayyash guilty as a co-perpetrator of committing a terrorist act by means of an explosive device, intentional homicide of PM Rafik Hariri with premeditation by using explosive materials, Intentional homicide of 21 persons, and attempted intentional homicide of 226 persons. The judgment categorized the homicide as a terror crime for political purposes and clearly showed the relationship of Salim Ayyash with an organized political group.

Regardless of all debates and comments on the STL and its pronounced judgment, it is with no doubt an unprecedented historical tribunal that constitutes a turning point in international justice. According to the handbook on the STL published by ICTJ, STL is “the first international tribunal to try crimes under national law. The STL prosecutes under the Lebanese criminal code crimes relating to terrorism and offenses against life and personal integrity, illicit associations and failure to report crimes and offences.” It is a “hybrid” tribunal that tries the alleged perpetrators of a series of assassinations and assassination attempts. Thus, it is a hybrid tribunal with the narrowest mandate of any international tribunal ever.

STL is the first international tribunal that reveals a truth of a political assassination in Lebanon, and identifies the perpetrators. This is considered a milestone in the transitional justice process as this tribunal has done the prosecution and pursuit the truth without any local interference. There are still the processes of reparations for victims, national consultations and reconciliation with the community, as well as institutional reforms. The Beirut Port explosion followed with the STL verdict shall pave the way for a road map of mechanisms to reach transitional justice. Otherwise, the Lebanese society will never achieve justice and will be drowned with wider isolations and conflicts.

Hiba Huneini is manager of Youth and Civic Engagement Program at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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