Thursday, November 10, 2011

STL Media Advisory - Trial Chamber hearing on in absentia proceedings

The Trial Chamber will hold its first session on 11 November 2011 to hear arguments from the Prosecution and the Defence Office about initiating in absentia proceedings.
The Trial Chamber will make a decision in due course based on the following:
• The oral submissions at the hearing on 11th November
• The written submissions that were filed by the Prosecution and defence Office on 2 November
• The filings from the Pre Trial judge
What are trials in absentia?
A trial in absentia is a trial that takes place without the accused being present or in the custody of the tribunal. This has not happened in other contemporary international courts. The rationale is clear. Justice must not be stopped by an accused or a state which refuses to hand an accused over.
The STL can conduct proceedings in the absence of the accused in these circumstances:
• If they have waived their right to be present at trial
• If they have not been handed over to the tribunal by the State authorities concerned within a reasonable time
• If they escaped or cannot be found and all reasonable steps have been taken to secure their appearance before the tribunal and to inform them of the charges.
What steps have to be taken before trials in absentia?
The Pre-Trial Judge asked the Trial Chamber on 17 October 2011 to determine whether proceedings in absentia should be initiated in the case of Ayyash et al.
The Trial Chamber will now determine whether there is an intention on the part of the accused to avoid trial.
The Trial Chamber will also assess if the accused have been served with the indictment or if they have been given notice of the charges against them through publication in the media or by the communication of the charges to the State where they are residents/nationals.
If these requirements have been met and after considering the arguments of the Prosecutor and the Defence Office, the Trial Chamber will decide whether or not to initiate in absentia proceedings.
How are the rights of the accused safeguarded in proceedings in absentia?
If the accused are being tried in absentia, all of the rules to ensure a fair trial will still apply. An accused has the right to designate a defence counsel of their own choosing. The legal fees will be paid for by the accused or by the STL if the accused is found to have insufficient funds.
The accused have the right to request a new trial at any stage during an in absentia trial.
If the accused appear after an in absentia conviction, once the trial is completely finalised the accused can:
• Accept the conviction or sentence,
• Request a retrial,
• Accept the conviction but request a new hearing in respect of the sentence.
Timeline of judicial events at the STL
17 January – The Prosecutor submits an indictment for review to the Pre-Trial Judge.
28 June – The Pre-Trial Judge confirms the indictment and orders that it remain confidential.
30 June – The indictment is served on the Lebanese authorities, who are given 30 days to report on their efforts to search for, arrest and transfer the accused.
29 July – The Pre-Trial Judge ordered the partial unsealing the indictment revealing the identity of the accused and the charges against them.
17 August – Indictment and the decision confirming it unsealed.
18 August – STL President orders public advertisement of the indictment and calls for intensification of efforts to detain those accused
19 August – The Tribunal establishes jurisdiction over three connected cases including the attacks against Marwan Hamadeh, George Hawi and Elias El-Murr.
8 September – STL President Convenes Trial Chamber in Ayyash et al. case
17 October – Pre-Trial judge requests Trial Chamber to decide on proceedings in absentia
20 October – Trial Chamber calls for submissions on in absentia proceedings

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Prosecutors at Hariri tribunal oppose trial in absentia

(AFP) – 1 hour ago 
THE HAGUE — Prosecutors at the tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri said Tuesday it was premature to begin a trial in absentia against the accused Hezbollah members.
Lebanon's government, closely linked to the Iran-backed Shiite militia, has so far failed to arrest Salim Ayyash, Mustafa Badreddine, Hussein Anaissi, and Assad Sabra, wanted for the February 2005 murder of Hariri and 22 others.
"It is premature to initiate a trial in abstentia", Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) prosecutor Daniel Bellemare said in a document published on the court's website Tuesday.
Last month, a judge asked the pre-trial chamber to determine whether proceedings in absentia against the four Hezbollah members were appropriate.
Ahead of a Friday hearing on the issue, the court asked both the prosecutors and defence lawyers to weigh in.
"Not enough time has been allowed for the Lebanese authorities to effect the arrests of the four accused", Bellemare said.
A previous Beirut government, led by Hariri's son Saad, cooperated with the tribunal, but in January Hezbollah toppled that western-backed coalition, largely over its support for the special tribunal.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, whose militant party is blacklisted as a terrorist group by Washington, has dismissed the STL as a US-Israeli conspiracy, vowing that no member of Hezbollah would ever be found or arrested.
"Not enough has been done to effect the arrests because the Lebanese authorities have either been unable or unwilling to do so," the prosecutor's statement further said.
The Hague-based STL, which opened its doors in 2009, is the first international tribunal which can hold trials in absentia.
It is also the first with a designated defence office responsible for protecting the rights of the accused.