In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Special Tribunal for Lebanon

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Prior Work of the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC)
  • Hybrid Character of the Tribunal
  • Legality and Legitimacy Challenges of the STL
  • Subject-Matter Jurisdiction and Terrorism Crimes
  • Trial in Absentia
  • Victim Participation
  • Interstate Cooperation
  • Transitional Justice in Lebanon

International Law Special Tribunal for Lebanon
Martin Wählisch
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0138


On 14 February 2005, Lebanon’s former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, was assassinated in a bomb attack against his car convoy leaving downtown Beirut. Immediate speculations hinted at Syria, as political assassinations were a common way to dispose of critics of the Syrian regime that kept a tight grip on Lebanon. Five months before Hariri’s assassination, the UN Security Council had passed Resolution 1559 (2004) calling for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and indirectly for the disarmament of Hizbullah. The resolution was sponsored by France, and Hariri—known for his personal friendship with France’s President Jacques Chirac—was reportedly perceived by Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad as a collaborator of the French efforts. Why and by whom Hariri was killed is still unclear, but one debated scenario in this context is that Hariri was seen by Damascus as an obstacle to maintaining Syrian control in Lebanon. In 2009, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), often also referred to as the “Hariri Tribunal,” was established to investigate and prosecute the assassination of the former Prime Minister. Being of “international character,” the Tribunal is based in the Netherlands, brings together international and Lebanese judges, and applies Lebanese criminal law, guided by the “highest standards of international criminal procedure” (Article 28 para. 2 STL Statute). The enactment of the Tribunal’s Statute through the Security Council in Resolution 1757 (2007) continues to cause heavy political debate between pro-Hariri and pro-Syria supporters in Lebanon about its legitimacy. In addition, the STL came with a set of distinct features, including the option to hold trials in absentia without the presence of the accused and prosecute terrorism, although there has been no international consensus on the scope of the crime. Given the deep political rift between the main political parties in Lebanon about the Tribunal, it is disputed whether the STL can live up to its promise to deliver “peace through justice.” The Tribunal indicted members of Hizbullah, whose Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah warned in 2010 that his group will “cut off the hand” of anyone who tries to arrest any of its partisans. This article gives an overview of key issues regarding the STL with a specific focus on the legal debate concerning the Tribunal. The bibliography includes references to the work of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) that preceded the STL, background on the “hybrid character” of the Tribunal, the legality and legitimacy debate, the Tribunal’s subject-matter jurisdiction for terrorism crimes, trial in absentia, and the victim participation feature. Literature is also provided on the aspect of interstate cooperation and the overall theme of transitional justice in Lebanon.

General Overviews

The literature on the STL is constantly growing. Alamuddin, et al. 2014 provide the first comprehensive edited volume on the STL to offer a guide to the procedures of the Tribunal, the status of the registry, the rights of suspects and accused, the trial in absentia feature, the regulation of the conduct of counsel, and other legal issues. Serra 2008 and Aptel 2007 present a useful general overview about the legal innovations in the STL Statute (see Resolution 1757). Wetzel and Mitri 2012 draws comparisons to other ad hoc criminal international courts, and Runge 2012 explores whether the STL could even serve as a model for future international tribunals for the prosecution of terrorism. As a member of the Lebanese delegation that negotiated the Statute of the Special Tribunal and one of the few national scholarly commentators, Sader 2007 casts a critical eye on local expectations regarding the establishment of the STL. For those further interested in the political context, Knudsen 2012 and Blanford 2008 offer insights into the background of the Hariri assassination and its impact on the political dynamics in the Middle East. More critical legal analysis on the Tribunal is emerging, and additional literature can be expected in due course of the STL proceedings.

  • Alamuddin, Amal, Nidal Nabil Jurdi, and David Tolbert, eds. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon Law and Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    This edited volume provides a systematic analysis of the STL’s law and procedure, assessing the Tribunal’s establishment, its relationship with the UN, and the first years of work of the Tribunal. The book is written by practitioners involved in setting up the court, members of the STL prosecution, defense counsels, and judges and academics.

  • Aptel, Cécile. “Some Innovations in the Statute of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.” Journal of International Criminal Justice 5 (2007): 1107–1124.

    DOI: 10.1093/jicj/mqm066

    This article summarizes the legal innovations in the STL Statute (see Resolution 1757) concerning the applicable procedural law, the role of the pre-trial judge, the participation of victims in proceedings, and the possibility of holding trials in absentia.

  • Blanford, Nicholas. Killing Mr. Lebanon: The Assassination of Rafik Hariri and Its Impact on the Middle East. London: Tauris, 2008.

    This book explains the events surrounding the assassination of Hariri and Lebanon’s subsequent “Cedar Revolution,” which are necessary to understand the political nature and legal challenges of the STL.

  • Knudsen, Are. “Special Tribunal for Lebanon: Homage to Hariri?” In Lebanon after the Cedar Revolution. Edited by Are Knudsen and Michael Kerr, 219–233. London: Hurst, 2012.

    This book chapter describes the historical and political circumstances that motivated the creation of the STL.

  • Runge, Daniel T. P. “Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s Unique Beginnings, Its Political Opposition and Role as Model for Future ad Hoc Criminal Tribunals for Terrorism Prosecution.” Southwestern Journal of International Law 19 (2012): 103–131.

    The article discusses the investigations following the assassination of Rafik Hariri and leading to the STL’s formation. The author provides a condensed summary of related legal problems and the political background.

  • Sader, Choucri. “A Lebanese Perspective on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon: Hopes and Disillusions.” Journal of International Criminal Justice 5.5 (2007): 1083–1089.

    DOI: 10.1093/jicj/mqm064

    This article, written by a Lebanese judge and member of the Supreme Council of the Lebanese Judiciary, discusses the constitutionality of the STL. The author participated in the Lebanese delegation that negotiated the Statute of the Special Tribunal (see Resolution 1757) and in this article reflects on the innovations and shortcomings of the Tribunal.

  • Serra, Gianluca. “Special Tribunal for Lebanon: A Commentary on Its Major Legal Aspects.” International Criminal Justice Review 18.3 (2008): 344–355.

    DOI: 10.1177/1057567708320692

    This article maps out core legal issues with regard to the Tribunal, including the character of its legal basis, potential implications on the level of statutory authority, the hybrid nature of the Tribunal, and the challenges related to the exercise of its jurisdiction over the crime of terrorism.

  • Wetzel, Jan Erik, and Yvonne Mitri. “The Special Tribunal for Lebanon: A Court “Off the Shelf” for a Divided Country.” The Law & Practice of International Courts and Tribunals 7.1 (2012): 81–114.

    DOI: 10.1163/157180308X311110

    This article gives an introduction into the STL, analyzing its main characteristics and legal challenges. The authors compare the STL with other prior ad hoc criminal tribunals, such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

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