The appeals chamber of the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) [official website] on Wednesday issued a unanimous ruling [summary, PDF; press release] on several procedural issues, including the definition of terrorism, in judicial proceedings relating to the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The STL began debate on the issue [JURIST report] earlier this month in order to determine which laws to apply in the case against persons accused of involvement in the February 2005 truck bomb that killed Hariri and 22 other people. In its ruling, the court stated that they are bound by statute to define the term terrorism using the Lebanese Criminal Code [text, PDF] and that they may not apply any international definition of terrorism. The court held that, under Article 314 of the criminal code, a conviction on the charge of terrorism requires proof of an act intended to spread terror and use of a means "liable to create a public danger." In order to define the term "means," the court examined Lebanese case law, which offered a narrow interpretation of the term, limiting the definition to a specific list enumerated in the code. The court rejected the narrow interpretation for the purposes of the international tribunal, stating:
[W]hile fully respecting the Lebanese jurisprudence relating to cases of terrorism brought before Lebanese courts, the Tribunal cannot but take into account the unique gravity and transnational dimension of the facts at issue and the Security Council's consideration of them as particularly grave international acts of terrorism justifying the establishment of an international court. As a result, for the purpose of adjudicating these facts, the Tribunal is justified in applying, at least in one respect, a construction of the Lebanese Criminal Code's definition of terrorism that does not necessarily coincide with that the construction suggested by Lebanese courts.Instead of defining means by the enumerated list, the court held that the only requirement is that "the means used to carry out the terrorist attack be liable to create a common danger" and that the trial judges should be given latitude in determining whether the requirement was met after having considered the facts presented in the case.
The court's ruling is expected to clear the way for the pretrial judge to determine whether to confirm a sealed indictment [statement, PDF; press release] filed [JURIST report] last month by STL prosecutors and charging an unknown number of people for their roles in Hariri's assassination. The names of those indicted will be kept confidential [Lebanon Daily Star report] until the pretrial judge reviews and approves the indictment, but many believe that the indictment names members of Hezbollah [CFR backgrounder]. In August, Hezbollah submitted evidence to the STL [JURIST report] linking Israel with the bombing. The STL asked for the evidence [JURIST report] a week earlier after Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah [BBC profile] claimed to have proof that Israel was behind the bombing. Last February, the head of the STL reassured [JURIST report] the Lebanese public that the investigation is on track. When asked about the progress of the investigation into the death of Hariri, the head of the STL "underlined the fact that the Tribunal already has in place all the legal and administrative instruments necessary for its work, and is fully operational so that justice may be dispensed with complete independence and impartiality in accordance with the highest international standards." The STL was established in 2005 at the request of the Lebanese government to try those alleged to be connected to the bombing in which Hariri was killed by explosions detonated near his motorcade in Beirut.