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Time for Security Council action on Lebanese tribunal - Ban Ki-moon

15 May 2007 The Security Council should “take necessary action” to ratify the planned special tribunal to try the suspected killers of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri because the country’s own efforts to resolve its political impasse on the issue have not succeeded, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.

Responding to press questions after his monthly luncheon with Council members at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Ban said he believed “that, as a matter of principle, there should be no impunity for the perpetrators of political assassinations.”

Mr. Ban noted that Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora had sent him a letter stating that “for all practical purposes, the road to ratification through constitutional procedures has no possibility” and calling on the Council to therefore take steps to ensure the tribunal is ratified and can enter into force.

“I am of the view that, after having exhausted all diplomatic efforts by the United Nations, including myself, and having received an official request from the Government of Lebanon, asking the Security Council to take necessary action, I think it is necessary for the Security Council to take necessary action,” he said.

Lebanon’s major political figures – who have all expressed support in principle for such a tribunal – have remained deadlocked on the issue for months, with many opposition figures saying the resolution of a dispute over the current composition of the Government was a precondition for setting up the tribunal.

Mr. Ban held talks with Lebanese leaders during a visit to the Middle East last month, and last month he dispatched his UN Legal Counsel Nicolas Michel to try to persuade the leaders to settle their differences and begin the process of parliamentary ratification. But Mr. Michel subsequently told the Council that no progress had been made.

Asked today about the potential destabilization of Lebanon if the Council proceeds with action to ratify the tribunal, Mr. Ban said “even at this time I would hope and urge the Lebanese Government and people to agree themselves on a national consensus to establish the special tribunal in accordance with the [earlier] decision of the Security Council.”

The planned tribunal will be of “an international character” to deal with the assassination of Mr. Hariri, who was killed along with 22 others in a massive car bombing in downtown Beirut in February 2005.

Once it is formally established, it will be up to the tribunal to determine whether other political killings in Lebanon since October 2004 were connected to Mr. Hariri’s assassination and could therefore be dealt with by the tribunal.

In April 2005 the Security Council set up the International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) after an earlier UN mission found that Lebanon’s own inquiry into the Hariri assassination was seriously flawed and that Syria was primarily responsible for the political tensions that preceded the attack. Its mandate runs out next year.

Serge Brammertz, the current head of the IIIC, told the Council last September that evidence obtained so far suggests that a young, male suicide bomber, probably non-Lebanese, detonated up to 1,800 kilograms of explosives inside a van to assassinate Mr. Hariri.

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s latest report to the Council on the implementation of resolution 1559 states that Lebanon’s prolonged political crisis over the Government’s composition and the ratification of the tribunal proves that the country’s transition in recent years is far from complete.

“The enduring stand-off also demonstrates that Lebanon is in need of a comprehensive and, most importantly, consensual political framework, as manifested in the Taif Agreement,” Mr. Ban writes, referring to the 1989 deal that followed the country’s protracted civil war.

Without such a framework, “Lebanon will not be able to make much further progress towards reasserting its sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence, or to sustain such progress in the long term.”

The report voices concern at allegations that arms are being trafficked illegally across the border from Syria into Lebanon and that various Lebanese and foreign groups are being armed again.

“I am deeply worried that the political crisis in Lebanon may be deepened and exacerbated by the allegations and related speculation. Most importantly, fears of and speculation fuelling a process of widespread rearmament of political groups in Lebanon have raised the spectre of return to Lebanon’s darkest days. This must not happen.”

The Secretary-General stresses the importance of establishing formal diplomatic relations between Lebanon and Syria, delineating the Syrian-Lebanese border and better monitoring it.

He urges all sides to play their part to implement resolution 1559, the Taif Agreement and all other relevant Council resolutions and ensure that their role is always peaceful.

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