Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Exclusive to NOW Lebanon: STL Defense Office Head François Roux.

The STL has its own agenda, and will continue its work.
François Roux is not somebody who likes to be the center of attention. With the exception of some press conferences, this is the first major interview about the Special Tribunal for Lebanon given by the Head of the Defense Office (OTD). Asked why the public sees so little of him in the media, Roux answers in his own modest way: "It is not me to be in the spotlight, and to speak. For what reason? I only like to talk when it is necessary."
Are you really not afraid the relation between Lebanon and the STL might change in the near future? There has been a fierce debate on the STL in the past few years. The government of Saad Hariri collapsed over it. What if the new government does not recognize the STL?
François Roux: Let's first wait and see what the new government is going to say. A new government is bound by agreements that were signed by a previous government. I mean, look at a country like Belgium; in the past nine months they did not even have a government, and Belgium is still more or less functioning. I do not have the habit of dealing with problems before they arise.

All right, but a new wind is blowing through Lebanon. What will you do if there is a complete reversal of policy toward the STL under the new government?
I follow the position of the secretary general in this matter: The tribunal will continue to do its work. It does not change anything. A government might fall, but the state continues. That also goes for the Memorandum of Understanding we signed with them last year. It will continue to be valid.

Let's talk about the indictment. Of course as the head of the OTD you know what is inside?
No. Absolutely not. Nobody knows. Only the prosecutor and the pre-trial judge know what is inside. Please do not fail to make that distinction. It is also not our job to know or to prepare ourselves with its content. The OTD is not involved in the cases, only in the law; we are not involved in the facts. Imagine that in the future we will be in a situation with many different defense teams on board.  If we were to be involved in the facts, what about the conflicts of interest? We are here to support legally the defense teams, so at this stage we know nothing about the indictment.

Is it fair that the indictment is kept secret? After all these years of waiting it is finally drafted. And now we are not allowed to read it.
Roux: I actually support that. I will explain why. In this particular indictment I can imagine that there will be names of people that are suspected of involvement in the Hariri crime. What if at the end of the day the pre-trial judge says, "With this individual I do not agree. I do not want this name to become public." Keeping the content secret is in the interest of the suspects, because of the simple fact that everybody is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. At this stage it is the best solution.

Consider the emotion in Lebanon on the ground. People need to know what is inside, don't you think?
I do understand your question. Let me tell you that people in this tribunal work as fast as possible to advance this case. This goes for the prosecutor and for the pre-trial judge. We will get his decision as soon as possible.

What about all the leaks in the Lebanese media? Will this harm the future work of the OTD?
No comment. That is a question for the prosecutor, not for the OTD. My only comment is that at this moment we are in a period where everything related to the investigation is kept confidential. That is the law.
What about all the debates in Lebanon, for example about the false witnesses issue? It almost looks like a soap opera.
I can imagine that a future defense team would sue these particular people. For me this file is not closed. Not at all. I saw the debate in the press, but remember that these people gave a statement to the investigation team, which they signed themselves. You can always summon them to appear in court and let them explain what happened to the judge. Future defense teams should decide how to deal with that.

Considering all the attacks on the STL, do you regret you took the job?
Roux: Regrets? No regrets at all. Why? It is a very important and interesting challenge. This is the first time in international justice that a Defense Office in a tribunal is an independent organ. That is a very important progression, and a big step for international justice. We actually build our own strong organization. We worked very efficiently from the beginning of the mandate.

Is that not common practice?
In all of the international tribunals there is a special section reserved for the defense of suspects, under the authority of the Registrar. Initially they were there only to provide legal aid. Later this task was expanded in other tribunals by giving defense teams legal support. This was, for example, the case in the Special court for Sierra Leone Court and the Cambodia tribunal.

In the STL we got one step beyond that. The Defense Office is an organ on an equal footing with the OTP, the Registry or even the Presidency. We deal of course with legal aid, we support the individual defense teams, and on top of that we are also in charge of managing our own affairs in the tribunal.
Could you give me an illustration of that?
When somebody is accused by the tribunal, this person will be defended by a team of lawyers. The OTD will be there to give these teams all kinds of support. This could be legal support or providing legal aid to those who cannot pay for it themselves. We are also there to help teams with logistics, for example when they have to go to Lebanon. All this together will be the responsibility of the OTD.

When a defense team arrives here, they have absolutely no experience with this tribunal. They will be faced with an Office of the Prosecutor that knows all the ropes. The prosecution knows all about case law, the practice, the procedures, etc.  Our role here is to train them, to update them in all ways possible, so they can be on an equal footing, and so they can really defend the accused and make sure it will be a fair trial.
So if somebody shows up with a weak team, you will advise that person to change the team?
Roux: Usually it is the other way around: the accused complains about his defense team. Or we realize a defense team is not performing properly. In those cases we could advise – in extreme cases – for a change of team. That is indeed part of our new role.
In the past two years we have been preparing everything for the moment the first team will arrive. For example we have put together a list of lawyers that could be assigned under the legal aid scheme. We have interviewed over a hundred lawyers to appraise their skills, performance, etc. Once they made it on our list we provided them with a four-day intensive training in which we explained what this tribunal is all about, and what are the novelties. Think of matters regarding terrorism, the possibility for trials in absentia and the special role of the pre-trial judge.

What if you were to end up in a situation with nobody in custody here in Holland? What will be your role, then, as an OTD?
Our role in the case of absentia trials is all the more important. Because this is a novelty in international law. This is the first time that we can have such a trial. Our role would be to support defense teams in that scenario by putting all our skills at their disposal, so that a trial like that can be a success.

What if, for example, individuals in Hezbollah are indicted and the Lebanese government simply refuses to arrest people from that organization?
All right, let me explain how this is going to work. Of course no one knows at this stage who the accused are going to be. Once a pre-trial judge summons somebody to court or when he issues an arrest warrant, and the person is not arrested for whatever reason, this person is nevertheless accused. The Trial Chamber can decide to start a trial in absentia.

Our role will be to appoint a defense team. This team will be provided with all the legal documents from the prosecution. And their role will be to challenge those documents and the arguments of the prosecution, but without receiving instructions from the accused, because he is not there. The fact that he is not there does not mean he does not have the right to be defended. It might be difficult, but it is possible.
With all due respect, if nobody ever gets arrested, wouldn't you feel it was all for nothing?
Justice can work and prevail, even if that means there will be no arrests. The accused can be at least defended by the best possible defense team. Obviously this is not an ideal situation, but it is always better than nothing.

Let me ask you about a time frame for the coming months. Pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen is probably going to say something about the indictment before the end of this month. And then what?
Possible. After his ruling, the relevant authorities will have 30 days to react. They can either choose to arrest or not. If they refuse, the pre-trial judge can decide to start a trial in absentia. After that they will come back to me and say, "Mr. Roux, we are opening a trial in absentia, please design a defense team."

Do you realize this whole procedure could lead to even more civil unrest than we already have in Lebanon? It looks nice on paper, but in Lebanon some people have guns. Much different from Belgium.
Maybe it will become difficult, but I do not know what will happen. Nobody knows really.

The STL is accused by a large part of the Lebanese population of having a hidden agenda – that it is being used as a tool first to get the Syrians out, and now to get rid of the Resistance. How do you see that?
That is not what I understood actually. There was a recent poll that showed that about 60 percent of the Lebanese population supports the tribunal and its work. I know that was just a poll, but still it was very interesting to see that you have the media, the politicians who talk a lot and a poll in which 60 percent of the population says we want to know the truth what happened to Hariri.

Unfortunately, the people of Lebanon are not in charge of their own country. A large part of the political establishment is saying: This is a biased court, created in an illegitimate way. To them this is also not up for debate. If we look at the way the STL was established, is that legitimate according to you?
I can imagine that a defense team will raise this issue in the future. That is possible.

But is it fair to say it was not created in the right way, or not?
We will see. We will deal with it, once this issue is raised.

Don't you have an opinion about that yourself?
Roux: Of course I have my own opinion, but I keep my opinion to myself.

Do you expect the same kind of problems as the prosecutor? They have been under fire ever since they were established.
That is why in the past two years we have explained the role of the OTD to a large number of people. I visited Lebanon five or six times. We established, for example, excellent contacts with the Tripoli and Beirut Bar Associations. We have the support of both organizations.

We met politicians and also other individuals. We explained to them that this is a legal institution, not a political one. And that's what it is indeed: an independent institution, next to the Prosecutor's Office, and next to the judges – all independent organs that work separately from each other. The mere fact that there is an OTD means that the accused will be defended properly. This all highlights the fact that it is a judicial process, not a political one.
What do you say to the 40 percent of the Lebanese population that see this institution as a joke?
Roux: I would like to recall for them my motto: Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. This means basically: It is better to do something than nothing.

Source: NowLebanon

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


3065th FOREIGN AFFAIRS Council meeting
Brussels, 31 January 2011
The Council adopted the following conclusions:
"1. The Council continues to closely follow developments in Lebanon.
2. It takes note of the designation of Mr Mikati as Prime Minister by President Sleiman. It calls upon the Lebanese authorities to seek the broadest possible consensus and to preserve unity, in full respect with the principles enshrined in the Lebanese Constitution, the Taif accord and with all Lebanon's international obligations.
3. The Council stresses the importance it attaches to the independent and democratic functioning of Lebanese institutions, free from any interference including from the outside. The Council calls on all parties to cooperate in a spirit of dialogue and consensus and to refrain from violence or intimidation.
4. The Council expresses its appreciation for the work carried out by the National Unity Government led by PM Hariri after the democratic elections of 2009.
5. The Council reaffirms its continuing commitment towards the Special Tribunal for Lebanon(STL) as an independent court, created by UNSC Resolution 1757 and following the highest judicial standards. The STL must continue its work without impediment and with the cooperation of the Lebanese government. Funding must be preserved. In this regard, the Council notes that the EU and individual Member States stand ready to provide further funding. At the same time the EU encourages others to contribute.
6. The Council remains determined to reinforce Lebanon's sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, unity and stability. The Council recalls its commitment to the full implementation of all relevant UNSC Resolutions, including 1559, 1680, 1701 and 1757.
7. The Council supports and commends the crucial role of UNIFIL, whose activities alongside the Lebanese Armed Forces continue to be essential for peace in the region.