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The investigation and potential prosecution of those involved in the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, former Prime Minister of Lebanon, could become a case study in the rapid development of international criminal law.  In addressing such issues on this website, the Law Library of Congress aims at making available to the members of the United States Congress, the legal community, and the public at large factual information and legal analysis reflecting the actual state of international law.

Legal Commentary: International Tribunals, National Crimes, and the Hariri Assassination

This Hariri Assassination Legal Commentary (PDF/103KB) explains some of the legal issues relevant to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon by discussing:

  • the jurisdictional basis for international judicial bodies;
  • examining the jurisdictional reach of mixed tribunals;
  • exploring the legal nature of the February 14, 2005 bombing; and
  • identifying a number of legal questions for which the final answers may shape radically the jurisdictional reach of international criminal law.

Hariri Assassination Legal Commentary (PDF/103KB)

Factual Timeline

On February 14, 2005, a huge explosion in Beirut destroyed the motorcade of Rafiq Hariri, former Prime Minister of Lebanon, killing him and a score of other people including innocent bystanders.

The next day the President of the UN Security Council issued a statement condemning the attack (external link) and requesting the Secretary-General to "follow closely the situation in Lebanon and to report urgently on the circumstances, causes and consequences of this terrorist act."

On March 24, 2005, the Security Council received the report prepared by the Mission sent to Lebanon by the Secretary-General to inquire into the terrorist act of February 14, 2005.  The Mission headed by Peter FitzGerald, a Deputy Commissioner of the Irish Police, concluded in its report (external link) that the Government of Syria bears "primary responsibility for the political tension that preceded the assassination of the former Prime Minister" and recommended an international independent investigation to uncover the truth about this assassination.

On March 29, 2005, the Lebanese Government informed (external link) the Secretary-General of its approval of "the decision of the Security council concerning the establishment of an international commission of inquiry into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri."

On April 7, 2005, the Security Council adopted a resolution (external link) ordering the establishment of an international independent investigation Commission to assist the Lebanese authorities in their investigation of all aspects of the terrorist act of February 14, 2005, and help identify its "perpetrators, sponsors, organizers and accomplices."

On October 20, 2005, the Security Council received the first report dated October 19, 2005 (external link), of the International Investigation Commission headed by Commissioner Detlev Mehlis in which the Commission concluded that "there is converging evidence pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in this terrorist act" and that "the continuing investigation should be carried forward by the appropriate Lebanese judicial and security authorities."  The report further concluded that the Syrian authorities have cooperated in form but not in substance with the Commission and that several Syrian officials tried to mislead the Commission by giving false or inaccurate information.

On October 31, 2005, the Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations took notice of the October 19 report and decided among other things to approve the extension of the Commission's mandate.  The Security Council determined (external link) that "Syria must cooperate with the Commission fully and unconditionally" and that "the involvement of any state in this terrorist act would constitute serious violation by that state of its obligations to work to prevent and refrain from supporting terrorism."

On December 13, 2005, the Lebanese Government sent a letter (external link) to the Secretary-General requesting the Security Council to establish "a tribunal of an international character" to try those who are implicated in the assassination of the former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.  The letter further requested the Security Council to expand the mandate of the International Independent Investigation Commission, or create a new one, to investigate other terrorist attacks that took place since October 1, 2004, the date of the attempted assassination of Minister Marwan Hamade.

In its resolutions adopted on December 15, 2005, and March 29, 2006, the Security Council authorized the Commission to extend its technical assistance to the Lebanese authorities in their investigations of all terrorist attacks since October 1, 2004, and requested the Secretary-General to negotiate an agreement with the Government of Lebanon for the establishment of a tribunal of an international character.

In November 2006, the United Nations and Lebanon concluded the negotiation by agreeing on a draft agreement for the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  The Lebanese Parliament has not authorized the ratification of the Agreement.

The Prime Minister of Lebanon sent a letter dated May 15, 2007 (external link) (within S/2007/286), to the Secretary-General informing him that "for all practical purposes the domestic route to ratification had reached a dead end, with no prospect for a meeting of parliament to complete formal ratification."  The Prime Minister further requested that the Tribunal as a matter of urgency "be put into effect by the Security Council"  adding that "[a] binding decision regarding the Tribunal on the part of the Security Council will be fully consistent with the importance the United Nations has attached to this matter from the outset."

In response to the letter of May 15, 2007, the U. N. Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, adopted on May 30, 2007, Resolution 1757 (external link) in which it decided that the Agreement negotiated with Lebanon "shall enter into force."

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Last Updated: 09/16/2014