Thursday, May 31, 2007

UN approves Hariri court: China, russia, qatar, south Africa, indonesia abstain in 10-0 vote

UN approves Hariri court
China, russia, qatar, south Africa, indonesia abstain in 10-0 vote
By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: The United Nations Security Council invoked Chapter 7 of the UN Charter on Wednesday in approving the creation of a special international court to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Gunfire and fireworks broke out in several parts of Lebanon within minutes of the decision on Resolution 1757, which passed by a vote of 10-0 with five abstentions. A more somber reaction took place in Downtown Beirut, where Hariri's longtime protege, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and his son, MP Saad Hariri, paid separate visits to the slain premier's grave. After months of heated debate both inside and outside Lebanon, the vote means that the court will be created even if Lebanese politicians cannot agree to do so by a deadline of June 10. Two of the veto-wielding permanent council members, Russia and China, were joined by Qatar, South Africa and Indonesia in abstaining. "The court is a great victory for all of Lebanon," an emotional Saad Hariri declared during a speech broadcast by several television stations immediately after the vote. The decision comes at a time of renewed tensions in Lebanon, aggravated by a deadly standoff between the Lebanese Army and the Fatah al-Islam militant group - and a series of bombings in several parts of the country. "It is a historic moment ... and the court is not about vendettas, but about justice for all," Hariri said. "Let's all join hands in defending the international tribunal ... as an opportunity for all Lebanese to unite ... Enough is enough with division ... Let's join hands to serve the interests of our nation." Opposition parties have long feared that the court will be used as a tool against them.

The official Syrian Arab News Agency quoted that country's ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, as saying that the decision "violates Lebanese sovereignty." UN investigators have suggested that Damascus was behind Rafik Hariri's murder, something Syria has repeatedly denied. The approved final draft gives the Lebanese a deadline of June 10 to ratify the UN-approved statutes to establish the tribunal themselves. Otherwise, the statutes would "enter into force," paving the way for the location of the tribunal to be decided and the possibility of voluntary contributions to finance the court, all under Chapter 7. Russia, China, South Africa and Qatar had publicly called for the Chapter 7 reference to be dropped, saying it was unnecessary because all council resolutions are legally binding. The United States, France and Britain insisted that Chapter 7 be invoked. Qatar, the only Arab country on the council, expressed "reservations," and its envoy to the UN said that "Chapter 7 does not help [Lebanon] and further divides it."

Moscow expressed similar misgivings. "Regrettably Russia will not vote on ... the draft as it is now, as it we fear it will face legal shortcomings in the future," said Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin. He said Moscow supports bringing Hariri's assassins to justice, but that "given the deep rift in Lebanese society ... that should not lead to negative consequences." What the council has done, he said, "essentially is an encroachment upon the sovereignty of Lebanon." Supporters of the resolution strongly disagreed. British envoy Emyr Jones Parry described the court as "vital for Lebanon, for justice and for the region." "This is not a capricious intervention, interference in the domestic political affairs of a sovereign state," he argued. "It is a considered response by the council ... to a request from the government of Lebanon." Resolution 1757 puts into effect an agreement the UN reached last November with the Siniora government. Churkin had argued that in addition to the request from the Siniora government, the council should also consider a letter from President Emile Lahoud recommending that a different course be followed.

Hours before the vote, opposition leader Michel Aoun condemned the fact that no suspects had been identified. "What is most important for the tribunal is to have people who are accused," he told France Inter radio. "Where are the accused?" Patriotic music blared from cars driving in several parts of the country on Wednesday night, while visitors to Hariri's grave offered prayers and lit candles. Hariri and 22 other people were killed in a massive Beirut bomb blast on February 14, 2005, that sparked huge protests against the Syrian presence in Lebanon and forced Damascus to withdraw its troops and intelligence apparatus after nearly 30 years. Apart from intensified security in Beirut and other cities, Interior Minister Hassan Sabaa had banned "fireworks, the firing of guns" and the use of motorcycles overnight "to preserve public security." The move was inspired by fears that over displays of celebration might inflame tensions between government and opposition supporters. Earlier this month, Syrian President Bashar Assad ruled out any cooperation with the court if it threatened his country's sovereignty. Last month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Beirut after dispatching UN Legal Counsel Nicolas Michel to try to persuade Lebanese leaders to ratify the court on their own through Parliament. But Michel subsequently told the council that no progress had been made. - With agencies

Grenade rattles beirut neighborhood

BEIRUT: An explosion struck Beirut's Shiyyah district within minutes of Wednesday's UN vote on the Hariri tribunal. Security sources said a concussion grenade went off near St. Michael's Church, near the boundary of Shiyyah and Mar Mikael - both formerly Maronite neighborhoods now populated mostly by Shiites driven from the South during the Israeli occupation. The church was the site of the February 2006 pact that brought MP Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement into partnership with Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's Hizbullah to form the country's foremost opposition alliance. Six attacks have taken place since May 20, when fighting broke out between the army and militants at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp. Previous incidents have struck the Beirut district of Achrafieh, Verdun and Barbir, as well the Mt. Lebanon resort of Aley and the Bekaa Valley town of Zahleh. One person has been killed and dozens wounded. - The Daily Star

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