[JURIST] The head of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) [official website] has rejected two motions requesting the disqualification of judges on the grounds of bias. Judge Antonio Cassese on Friday denied the motions filed by Lebanese General Jamil El-Sayed, determining that El-Sayed failed to provide convincing evidence that judges Afif Chamseddine [motion, PDF; judgment, PDF] and Ralph Riachy [motion, PDF; judgment, PDF] are biased. El-Sayed had argued that, because the judges were nominated by the government of Lebanon, which was subsequently “condemned” by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, they were biased or at least appeared biased. In his ruling Cassese noted the importance of impartiality to the judicial system, but also warned against false accusations of bias:
I firmly believe that, while Judges must be absolutely free and appear to be free from any preconceived beliefs, it is also necessary for them to be sheltered from mere innuendoes as to their professional past or their current attitude. If they were not so safeguarded, they would be unable to discharge their difficult mission with equanimity. Charges of bias unsupported by compelling evidence can only sow confusion and uncertainty in the mind of all those who watch the unfolding of international justices, as well as trouble the conscience of Judges, thereby affecting their serenity. The Tribunal will firmly reject any attempt at guesswork or speculation intended to project onto the Tribunal political motivations that instead are, and shall always remain, extraneous to it, as is fitting and appropriate for any proper court of law.
Cassese acknowledged that El-Sayed’s contention, if accepted, would essentially preclude any Lebanese judge from sitting on the tribunal, contrary to its design as a mixed-composition tribunal.
The STL is the UN-backed tribunal charged with investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri [JURIST news archive]. The STL is expected to issue indictments [UPI report], possibly in December, and may name members of Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah [CFR backgrounder] in connection with the assassination. Last month, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah [BBC profile], called for all Lebanese to boycott the STL [JURIST report]. In August, Hezbollah officials submitted evidence to the STL linking Israel to Hariri’s death in response to a request by the tribunal [JURIST reports] to turn over all information relating to the assassination.