Four accused assassins of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri will be tried in absentia, a UN tribunal said Wednesday. The UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) said Wednesday that after considering the efforts taken by the prosecution and the authorities to apprehend the suspects, they would move forward with the trial. The four alleged Hezbollah members are accused of involvement in a February 2005 truck bomb that killed Hariri and 22 other people. The STL determined that the prosecution took “all reasonable steps” to apprehend and inform the accused, and that the proceedings were a “last resort”:
The Trial Chamber examined … the steps taken by the Lebanese authorities to apprehend the accused and inform them about the proceedings. These efforts included multiple attempts by the Lebanese authorities to find the accused at their last known residences, places of employment, family homes and other locations. The Trial Chamber also took into consideration the fact that the indictment and the identities of the accused received massive publicity in Lebanon…While the STL is the only international Tribunal that can prosecute accused in their absence, it is a measure of last resort to ensure that the pursuit of justice is not paralysed by those who choose to abscond.
No date has been set for the trial, which will not begin for at least 4 months. STL Head of Defence Francois Roux will be assigned to appoint counsel to the accused. If the accused choose to appear or are apprehended at anytime during the trial, they have a right to appoint their own counsel and be retried. If the accused appear after a verdict and sentence have been delivered, they may accept both, request a new sentence, or request a new trial.
Last August the STL announced that it would investigate three additional bomb attacks that may be connected to the February 2005 attack that killed Hariri. Earlier that month, the STL unsealed the indictment against the four individuals accused of the assassination. Also in August the STL president made a public plea for the men to turn themselves in. Judge Antonio Cassese guaranteed a fair trial and adequate representation and pressed Lebanese citizens to allow the STL to hold the assassins accountable. In February 2011 the appeals chamber of the STL issued a unanimous ruling on several procedural issues, including the definition of terrorism, in judicial proceedings. The STL began debate on the issue to determine which laws to apply in the case against the alleged Hariri assasins. Using the Article 314 of the Lebanese Criminal Code, the court held that 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,” 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 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.