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Frequently Asked Questions about Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Below are the most frequently asked questions about the Special Tribunal for Lebanon as published on the court's website.

The STL was set up in The Hague in 2007 by the United Nations to try those alleged to have carried out the bomb attack that assassinated former PM Rafik Hariri.

Hariri was killed along with 22 others on February 14, 2005 when a massive blast struck his motorcade in a seafront district of Beirut.

What is an indictment?

Once the Prosecutor is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence that a person has committed a crime falling within the jurisdiction of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, he files an indictment, together with the supporting material, for confirmation by the Pre-Trial Judge [Rule 68(B) of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon].

An indictment is a document setting out the Prosecutor’s case against a person or persons whom the Prosecutor believes is or are responsible for the crime. An indictment will contain such information as the names and particulars of the accused; a description of the relevant background information; a listing of the crimes the accused allegedly committed, and an Annex containing the names of the victims.

It is filed with the supporting evidence, referred to as the supporting materials in the Rules of Procedure and Evidence [Rule 68(B), 68(D)].

Two or more crimes can be joined in one indictment if they were committed by the same suspect, provided that the conduct falls within the Tribunal’s jurisdiction. In addition, more than one person can be named in the indictment and charged and tried at the same time, even if the crimes they are charged with are different, provided that the crimes also fall within the Tribunal’s jurisdiction [Rule 70].

Article 1 of the Statute of the Tribunal sets out the Tribunal’s jurisdiction and includes authority over persons responsible for the attack of 14 February 2005 resulting in the death of 23 persons, including former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and in the injury of more than 240 other people.

The Prosecutor’s indictment is the first step in the judicial process. It is not a verdict of guilt against the suspect(s) named in the indictment. The suspect(s) is/are presumed innocent until proven guilty [Rule 69, Article 16].

Please note that the criminal proceedings before the Tribunal are premised on two procedural models: the Lebanese civil law system and the model adopted in the international criminal tribunals, based predominantly on the common law adversarial model. The Statute and Rules have been designed to account for these different approaches. The Statute provides for an independent judge to act as a Pre-Trial Judge. The Pre-Trial Judge reviews the Prosecutor’s work and rules on preliminary requests. The Pre-Trial Judge does not act as an investigating judge (juge d’instruction) in the Lebanese system.

What happens once an indictment is filed?

The Pre-Trial Judge reviews and examines each count in an indictment to determine whether a prima facie case exists against the suspect or suspects [Rule 68(F)].

A prima facie review consists of the most favorable interpretation of the evidence presented in the indictment, coupled with the assumption that no challenges are presented by the Defense. The Pre-Trial Judge must be satisfied that the indictment contains, at first appearance, sufficient evidence to justify proceeding to a trial on one or more of the counts set out in the indictment [Article 18, Rule 68(F)].

Once the Pre-Trial Judge has completed his review of an indictment, he can

• request or permit the Prosecutor to present additional material in support of any or all counts;

• request or permit the Prosecutor to present additional material in support of the Connected Case Submission;

• confirm one or more counts; or

• dismiss one or more counts [Rule 68(I)].

If the Pre-Trial Judge dismisses part of an indictment, the Prosecutor can file a new indictment or an amended indictment with new evidence. If an indictment is dismissed outright, the Prosecutor can file a new indictment with new evidence [Rule 68(L)].

During his review, the Pre-Trial Judge can submit questions to the Appeals Chamber on the interpretation of the Agreement between the United Nations and Lebanon, Statute and Rules as they relate to the applicable law [Rule 68(G)]. In this case, the Appeals Chamber would rule on these questions following a public hearing. The Prosecutor and Head of the Defense Office would present their arguments on the questions before the Appeals Chamber at the hearing. [Rule 176(B)bis]

If the Pre-Trial Judge is satisfied that a prima facie case exists, he must confirm an indictment. If he is not satisfied that a prima facie case exists, he must dismiss an indictment. The Pre-Trial Judge must provide reasons for his decision. If the Pre-Trial Judge confirms an indictment, the case proceeds to trial [Article 18].

Is an Indictment made public once filed for confirmation?

The Pre-Trial Judge’s review of an indictment is a confidential process. One of the main reasons for confidentiality is that there is a stigma attached to a criminal charge. Since the Pre-Trial Judge may not agree with the Prosecutor, it is important that the accused be identified only once an indictment has been confirmed [Rule 73]. Thus, an indictment is not a public document at the filing stage. Moreover, a warrant of arrest may be requested at the same time the indictment is filed. Experience at other international tribunals has shown that the successful execution of the warrant is enhanced if the filing is under seal.

If the Pre-Trial Judge submits preliminary questions to the Appeals Chamber in accordance with Rule 68(G), and a public hearing is scheduled, the existence of a submitted indictment will be disclosed. The questions that can be raised by the Pre-Trial Judge under Rule 68(G) are limited to legal—and not factual—issues. Therefore, the contents of an indictment, including the identity of suspect(s), factual allegations, specific charges and any evidentiary material, will remain confidential throughout this process.

How long will it take for the Pre-Trial Judge to make a ruling on an indictment?

There is no time limit set out in the Rules for the Pre-Trial Judge’s review and ruling on an indictment. The Pre-Trial Judge must notify the Prosecutor of the date of review of an indictment. [Rule 68(E)] The time required to review an indictment will vary subject to the following possible steps between the filing and confirmation of an indictment:

• The Pre-Trial Judge submits preliminary questions to the Appeals Chamber [Rule 68(G)];

• The Prosecutor amends or withdraws the indictment [Rules 71, 72];

• The Pre-Trial Judge requests or permits the Prosecutor to present additional materials [Rule 68];

• The Pre-Trial Judge dismisses one or all counts, resulting in the Prosecutor preparing and filing either an amended indictment or new one [Rule 68].

Is the Pre-Trial Judge’s ruling on an Indictment made public?

If the Pre-Trial Judge dismisses an indictment, it is not made public.

If the Pre-Trial Judge confirms an indictment, it is made public [Rule 96, Rule 73] unless Rule 74 applies.

Rule 74 provides that in exceptional circumstances, the Prosecutor or the Defense can make an application to seal an indictment (i.e. not disclose it to the public). The Pre-Trial Judge may, in the interests of justice, order the sealing of an indictment.

It has been the practice in certain cases before other International Courts and Tribunals for an indictment to be sealed in order for the Tribunal to serve the indictment, together with an arrest warrant, on the accused. This ensures that the accused is notified of the charges against him or her in advance of the public.

If the Pre-Trial Judge orders the sealing of an indictment at the request of either the Prosecutor or the Defense, it remains confidential until such time as the Pre-Trial Judge orders it to be disclosed. [Rule 74]

Does confirmation of an Indictment signal the end of the investigation?

The legal threshold required for the Pre-Trial Judge to confirm an indictment is prima facie evidence [Article 18]. The legal threshold required for conviction at trial is higher. At trial, the Prosecution must prove its case “beyond reasonable doubt” [Article 16]. Thus, confirmation of an indictment does not necessarily signal the end of the investigation by the Prosecution. Moreover, the Defense may start or continue its own investigation to prepare for the trial.

Can an Indictment be amended?

The Prosecutor can amend an indictment without the permission of the Pre-Trial Judge at any time before the indictment is confirmed. For instance, additional suspects can be named or further counts can be added to an indictment [Rule 71].

Once an indictment has been confirmed, the Prosecutor may amend it only with the permission of the Pre-Trial Judge, and only if the indictment has not yet been assigned to the Trial Chamber [Rule 71].

Once an indictment has been assigned to the Trial Chamber, the Pre-Trial Judge will hear from both the Prosecutor and the Defence before deciding whether to allow the Prosecutor to amend the indictment [Rule 71].

Who can be indicted?

The Tribunal, like other international and mixed criminal tribunals and courts, has jurisdiction to try only individuals – physical persons – and not groups, organizations, states or other entities [Article 3].

More specifically, the Tribunal has jurisdiction over certain defined crimes under the Lebanese Penal Code, including crimes and offences against life and personal integrity, as well as terrorist acts. Possible modes of liability include criminal participation and conspiracy, and directing others to commit the crime [Article 2].

The Tribunal will consider individual criminal responsibility for these crimes [Article 3].

What happens after an indictment is confirmed?

Once an indictment is confirmed, the Registrar prepares certified copies in a language understood by the indicted suspect. Each certified copy of an indictment bears the Tribunal’s seal. An indicted suspect will then have the status of an accused and the Pre-Trial Judge may issue a summons to appear or an arrest warrant [Rules 68(J), 68(K)].

A certified copy of the indictment is formally provided to the authorities of the State in whose territory the accused resides (or was last known to reside) and the national authorities of Lebanon or any other state which has agreed to cooperate with the Tribunal must attempt to effect personal service of the indictment on the accused, together with the summons to appear or arrest warrant, and information on rights of the accused. [Rule 76, Rule 79]

7 The Pre-Trial Judge may issue a warrant of arrest on application by the Prosecutor to ensure the person’s appearance; to ensure that the person does not obstruct or endanger the investigation or the court proceedings, for instance, by posing a danger to, or intimidating, any victim or witness; or, to prevent further criminal conduct. [Rule 79(A)]

After the accused has been served court documents, he or she must then appear before the Tribunal for an initial appearance and the entering of a plea of guilty or not guilty. This also marks the beginning of the pre-trial phase of the proceedings. During this phase, the Prosecutor will provide evidence and documents to the Defense so that the accused can prepare his or her case.

Before the start of the trial, the Defense can file a number of preliminary motions, including motions challenging the jurisdiction of the Tribunal or alleging defects in the form of the indictment [Rule 90].

What is a trial in absentia?

In accordance with Lebanese law and that of other States with a civil law tradition, the Statute and the Rules of Procedure and Evidence allow for proceedings in absentia. According to the Statute, proceedings in absentia may be instituted under three sets of circumstances, namely, when the accused: i) has expressly and in writing waived his right to be present; ii) has not been handed over to the Tribunal by the State authorities concerned; or iii) has absconded or cannot be found.

If, after “reasonable attempts” the accused cannot be located and served with an indictment, the President of the Tribunal can, after consulting the Pre-Trial Judge, decide to advertise the indictment, in part or in its entirety, in an effort to inform the accused of the need to appear before the Tribunal [Rule 76(E)]. The advertisement shall invite any person with information as to the whereabouts of the accused to communicate that information to the Tribunal [Rule 76bis].

Thirty calendar days following such an advertisement, the Tribunal can proceed to conduct a trial in absentia, i.e. with the accused absent. In such a case, a lawyer would be assigned to represent the interests of the accused [Rule 105bis]. Also, if a trial does take place in absentia but an accused is located afterwards, that person would be entitled to a new trial [Rule 109]. Please note that proceedings will not be considered a trial in absentia in situations where the accused is not physically present at the trial, but: i) initially appears in person and, although subsequently absent, is represented by counsel present at the proceedings; or ii) initially appears in person, by video-conference or through his counsel, and does not expressly waive his right to be present at trial.

When will the trial start?

There is no deadline set out in the Rules for the start of the trial. Part of the Pre-Trial Judge’s role is to ensure that the proceedings in the pre-trial phase are not unduly delayed [Rule 89]. Pursuant to Rule 90, there are a number of preliminary motions that may occur after confirmation and before trial that may affect when the trial begins, including motions to: challenge jurisdiction, allege defects in the form of an indictment, seek severance of counts or separate trials, or raise objections based on the refusal of a request for assignment of Counsel made under Rule 59(A).

The Pre-Trial Judge, in consultation with the Parties, the Registrar, the Presiding Judge of the Trial Chamber and, if necessary, the President, sets a tentative date for the start of the trial at least four months in advance [Rule 91(C)]. Thus, at the very least, there will be four months between confirmation of the indictment and the commencement of trial.

The time period between the confirmation of the indictment and the start of the trial is especially relevant to the Defense, as the Defense is entitled to adequate time and resources to prepare its case for trial, including for its own investigations.


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