By Nada Bakri, Globe and Mail, July 3, 2011
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, vowed Saturday that four members of his group indicted by an international tribunal in the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister would never be arrested. He dismissed the charges as a conspiracy to sow sectarian strife in the country.
The comments, Sheik Nasrallah’s first since the indictments were issued Thursday, appeared to cast Lebanon into familiar territory: another period of waiting as a UN-backed tribunal that Hezbollah dismisses as a tool of the United States and Israel prepares for the next step if the men are not arrested.
The long-awaited indictments again brought to the fore the assassination in 2005 of Rafik Hariri, a former Sunni Muslim prime minister admired by supporters for his reconstruction of Lebanon after its 15-year civil war and criticized by his detractors for corruption that has seemed to infuse most aspects of public life here.
“No Lebanese government will be able to carry out any arrests whether in 30 days, 60 days, one year, two years, 30 years or even 300 years,” said Sheik Nasrallah, whose Shia militant group fought a fierce battle against Israel in 2006. “What will happen is a trial in absentia, a trial in which the verdict has already been reached.”
According to legal experts, Lebanon has 30 days to carry out the arrests. The court may then issue a public call for the suspects’ detention. Failing that, proceedings for a trial in absentia may begin after another month.
While the names of the suspects were leaked, the details of the indictment remained secret. Before Sheik Nasrallah said all four were members of Hezbollah, only two were thought to belong. He described the men, at least two of them senior members in the group, as brothers “who have an honourable history in resisting Israel.”
Hezbollah has denied any responsibility in the killing of Mr. Hariri in a bomb blast in which 22 other people also died.
After Mr. Hariri’s death, the country was hurled into years of conflict and discord that divided Lebanon over questions as broad as the role of foreign powers in the country and as narrow as the relative weight of Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims in decision-making.
Talk about a power struggle. With Sheik Nasrallah defying the indictments, and the potential court proceedings, and the UN's obvious discomfort, this case is going to keep on giving to the journalists and the historians and the diplomats whose job it is to stay on top of the case, from their unique perspectives.
And, to those of us outside the borders of Lebanon, (but who can really be outside any borders of any country any more?) it would seem that we might be witnessing the next chapter in a long-standing conflict between Shia and Sunni, whose origins and whose motives and whose future we do not comprehend.
Nevertheless, it is this struggle that has taken the world by storm. It is this struggle that wears on the rather thin tolerances and the thinning nerves of the international community and that could erupt anywhere at any time, without warning.
If the UN tribunal's findings can be and are dismissed as nothing more than the work of the forces of the U.S. and Israel, then which of the world's conflicts will not be reduced to such a formula, for the purposes of people like Nasrallah?
If the world faces a choice between the combined forces of Israel and the U.S., and the combined forces of Shia/Sunni, and such a stark choice is neither warranted nor necessary, then we have gone too far along the road to a binary universe. Nasrallah's dismissal of the findings of the UN tribunal, while continuing to protect those responsible for the Hariri murder, does little to enhance the reputation of Hezbollah and the potential for the government of Lebanon to comply with the UN findings.
In such a case, is there a way for the International Court in the Hague to bring down indictments against these men whom Hezbollah protects? Is there any leverage available to the UN to bring these men to justice? Is there an alternative route to justice, in this case, or are we going to watch the story drift off into a few dots of irresolution in the history books, and more drops or perhaps large gushes of wasted blood in the aftermath of this tragedy?