The Trial Chamber of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) [official website] on Wednesday upheld [decision, PDF] the decision to try four accused assassins of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] in absentia. The Chamber rejected the defense motion [motion, PDF] that challenged the legality and jurisdiction of the Tribunal over the case. The defense counsel, representing the four accused: Salim Ayyash, Mustafa Badreddine, Hussein Oneissi and Assad Sabra [STL profiles], asked the Chamber to suspend or reconsider in absentia proceedings by arguing that they would violate the human rights of the accused and are contrary to international law. The Chamber disagreed with the defense counsel that the February decision [decision, PDF] was discretionary, holding that "once the Trial Chamber had exercised its discretionary fact-finding powers to find that pre-conditions set out in Rule 106 (A)(iii) were met, it had no discretion to refuse to order a trial in absentia." The Chamber expressed that it could not find any error of legal reasoning in the February decision that could lead to unjust treatment of the four accused. The four alleged assassins remain at large.
In February, the STL granted [JURIST report] the prosecution's office permission to proceed with the case against the four accused assassins of Hariri. The four members of the Hezbollah [CFR backgrounder] have been accused of being involved in a February 2005 truck bombing that killed Hariri along with 20 others. The court reasoned that the prosecution and the national authorities have undertaken all reasonable steps to apprehend and inform the accused. Last August, the STL announced [JURIST report] that it would investigate three additional bombings that is believed to be connected to the February 2005 bomb attack. Two days earlier, the UN-backed tribunal unsealed [JURIST report] the indictment [text] against the assassins of Hariri after a pre-trial judge confirmed the indictment and ordered the lift of confidentiality. In June, the STL released [JURIST report] the indictment along with an arrest warrant against the accused to local authorities.