PRESS BRIEFING BY HEAD OF UN INVESTIGATION INTO ASSASSINATION OF FORMER LEBANESE PRIME MINISTER
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
24 May 2005
Calling the impending enquiry of the terrorist attack in Beirut on 14 February that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri a “challenging and important effort”, the head of the Commission established to investigate the assassination said during a press briefing today that the team would do its “very best to find out who planned, facilitated and carried out this terrible crime against totally innocent people”.
Detlev Mehlis, the Commissioner of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission created for the investigation, said he planned to leave for Beirut tomorrow with a small team that would begin by reviewing the evidence and information collected by earlier enquiries to determine how best to focus the Commission’s work. After the preparatory stage, he said he expected investigators from 25 to 40 countries, including Germany, to encompass the team who would undertake an investigation of the attack, which killed Mr. Hariri and 20 others.
The Commission was established on 7 April by a unanimous decision of the Security Council, which directed it to determine procedures for carrying out its investigation, taking into account Lebanese law and judicial procedures. The decision also requested the Commission to complete its work within three months of the date on which it commenced full operations, with the possibility of a three-month extension if deemed necessary by the Secretary-General.
Asked by a reporter during the briefing about the likelihood that the Commission would be able to conclude who had perpetrated the attack months after it had actually occurred and in view of news reports that there had been tampering of evidence, Mr. Mehlis said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the team would be able to do so. He warned that it was premature to ask such questions because the investigation had not yet begun, but made reference to two cases he had previously worked on -- including the bombing of the French consulate in Berlin -- in which it took 10 years to bring the defendants to court.
Asked how his Commission’s work would differ from that of the mission sent to Lebanon by the Secretary-General under Irish Deputy Police Commissioner Peter Fitzgerald to look into the assassination, Mr. Mehlis said that mission “really did not carry out a traditional investigation; it was more like an evaluation within a very limited time frame.” His Commission would be conducting a more “classic, criminal, prosecutorial” investigation, and would include a larger team that brought with it more time, he added.
Answering several questions on the nature of the investigation, he said he did not anticipate the possibility that the Commission would encounter a lack of cooperation from parties in Lebanon. “As far as I can see it,” he said, “no one will refuse to cooperate.” Acknowledging that cooperation was an important part of his investigation, he added that he had not noticed a lack of it from anyone who had been approached thus far.
Lastly, when asked what laws the Commission would be bound by, Mr. Mehlis said that the aim of the investigation would be to provide the results to the Lebanese Government, and that the team would, therefore, follow the Lebanese code of criminal procedure.
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