The president of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Judge Antonio Cassese, Thursday urged the four suspects indicted in the 2005 assassination of former statesman Rafik Hariri to surrender and defend themselves.
Cassese's pleading with the men comes as the thrity-day deadline for Lebanon's government to hand the suspects over in accordance with the terms of their arrest warrant passes. Lebanon's Hizbullah-backed government has found itself politically unable to produce the men as the Hizbullah itself -- more powerful than the Lebanese military -- refuses to hand the men over.
A statement issued on the STL website said Cassese issued an open letter Thursday to the four men accused in the Feb. 14, 2005 attack to “inform them of their rights and to urge them to participate in the trial.”
He urged the suspects “to come before the Tribunal. If you do not wish to come to the Tribunal in person, the option might be available – following the procedures in our Rules – of appearing by video-link, thus participating in the proceedings without physically coming to The Hague.”
“At the very least, it is extremely important for you to appoint legal counsel and to instruct them: without instructions from the accused it may prove harder for counsel appointed by the Head of the Tribunal’s Defense Office to make a convincing case for those charged by the Prosecution,” Cassese added.
Lebanon filed a report Tuesday informing the STL that the four individuals named in its first indictment, filed at the end of June, had not been arrested.
The suspects – Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra – are top members of Hizbullah, which in turn has vowed that investigators would not arrest party members “even in 300 years.”
Reiterating that trials are based on a firm presumption of innocence of the accused, Cassese stressed the STL will “never convict anybody unless guilt is established beyond any reasonable doubt.”
He reminded the accused that under STL rules they can "choose and instruct their own counsel without ever having to appear before the Tribunal, not even by video-link."
Cassese also encouraged the suspects to show up before the court to “raise all your arguments through your legal counsel,” adding that substantial funds have been earmarked for the defense of the accused in case they could not afford a lawyer.
“If you believe this Tribunal is illegal or illegitimate, argue this point through legal counsel chosen by you – you will thus have your voice heard on this issue. Use your counsel to make your case and zealously protect your rights,” he said.
Cassese concluded his open letter with an appeal to the accused to “take advantage of the broad legal possibilities offered by our Rules of Procedure and Evidence, thereby contributing to the establishment of truth and the conduct of fair proceedings.”