President of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) Judge Ivana Hrdlickovca acknowledged that justice in the case has been “slow” from the people’s perspective, stressing however her belief in justice “in general and criminal justice in particular.”
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to Hrdlickovca at the tribunal’s headquarters in Leidschendam in the Netherlands where she said that late justice in the case is better than an impaired and incomplete one.
The STL is investigating the February 14, 2005 assassination of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut. Twenty-one people were also killed in the massive bombing that targeted the premier.
Hrdlickovca was appointed president of the STL in 2015. She studied law and Islamic law. She speaks fluent Russian, German, French and Arabic, as well as her native Czech.
She said that her diverse background enriches the tribunal, adding that all employees at the court, regardless of their legal background, want to see it succeed.
Asked by Asharq Al-Awsat if she was satisfied with the tribunal’s progress, she replied that justice throughout the world, whether on a national or international level, faces many challenges. The establishment of a tribunal for Lebanon is most significant because it is a message in itself that terrorism cannot take place without punishment.
The process is long, but there is no doubt that its goals will be reached in the end, she declared.
The Lebanese people have complained that the process has taken much longer than necessary, to which Hrdlickovca explained that all international tribunals, including national ones, do not progress as fast a needed.
The Lebanese case in particular, is very complex and the evidence is very technical, she added.
Furthermore, she highlighted the role of the defendants, which should be completely represented.
The suspects are being tried in absentia and their defense lawyers are protecting their rights, she continued. The mission is to achieve justice and for a fair trial to be established.
This is the first tribunal since the Nuremberg trial to try suspects in absentia, she remarked.
The international community had misgivings about committing to such trials, but the procedures of these courts have changed in the past 20 years, Hrdlickovca went on to say.
Most countries that adopt a civil law permit in absentia trials, she said.
In addition, the STL president stressed that international criminal justice is not limited to punishing the criminals, but it plays a role in achieving justice to the victims.
Does the absence of the accused mean that the victims cannot enjoy justice? she asked.
It is true that it is better for the accused to be present in the courtroom, but given the choice between not having a trial and having in absentia proceedings, then the second option would be selected, Hrdlickovca stated.
The best choice is for justice to continue, she announced. Justice here is not taking place behind closed doors, but a transparent process is underway.
Asked if there is a certain deadline for the STL to achieve its goal, she replied that it is difficult to determine when the process will be complete, but great progress has been made.
On accusations that the trial has been politicized, Hrdlickovca said that political factors were necessary to establish the tribunal. Once it was formed however, politics no longer played a role.
The court is an independent entity and that is why it is based in Leidschendam, not Beirut, she explained.
She also asserted that the STL is operating independently, without any political meddling.
Asked whether the indictment will be limited to the four accused or it will include the side that they belong to, Hrdlickovca replied that only the suspects will be named in the final decision.
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