Q+A: The next steps in Lebanon's road to justice

AMSTERDAM Mon Jan 17, 2011 12:54pm EST

Schoolchildren leave school early, after residents said they saw groups of Hezbollah men deployed in the street in Beirut January 18, 2011. Lebanese security forces deployed in central Beirut on Tuesday and several schools closed in response to tensions surrounding a draft indictment issued over the 2005 killing of former premier Rafik al-Hariri. REUTERS/Mahmoud Tawil

Schoolchildren leave school early, after residents said they saw groups of Hezbollah men deployed in the street in Beirut January 18, 2011. Lebanese security forces deployed in central Beirut on Tuesday and several schools closed in response to tensions surrounding a draft indictment issued over the 2005 killing of former premier Rafik al-Hariri.

Credit: Reuters/Mahmoud Tawil

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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The prosecutor of the international Lebanon tribunal issued draft indictments on Monday over the 2005 killing of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Here is a Q+A on the next steps.

CONFIRMING OR DISMISSING THE INDICTMENT

Pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen must now examine the draft indictment and decide whether there is sufficient evidence to justify a trial on one or more counts.

Once Fransen has reviewed the draft, he can request more information from the prosecutor, confirm one or more charges or dismiss one or more counts in the indictment.

Although there is no time limit, court registrar Herman von Hebel has said a decision to either confirm or dismiss the charges could take between 6 and 10 weeks.

Fransen may also seek appeals chamber clarification on certain legal points, however, which might delay his decision.

WHY WAS THE DRAFT INDICTMENT SECRET?

The pre-trial judge's review of an indictment is a confidential process, due primarily to the stigma attached to a criminal charge. It is considered important that an accused is only identified when the charges are confirmed.

A warrant of arrest might also be served when the indictment is confirmed. The Lebanon tribunal has said experience at other international tribunals shows that successful execution of a warrant is enhanced if the filing is under seal.

WILL THE INDICTMENT BE MADE PUBLIC?

If Fransen rejects the indictment it will not be made public. If he confirms the charges, the indictment will be made public.

If confirmed, the indictment may still remain sealed, however, with arrest warrants issued under seal in the interests of justice.

WHO CAN BE INDICTED?

The tribunal, like other international criminal courts, can only prosecute individuals and not groups, organizations or states. More specifically, it can prosecute people for crimes against life as well as terrorist acts.

It has been widely speculated that the tribunal will indict Hezbollah members over the assassination, a prospect Lebanese politicians have feared could spark a crisis. Hezbollah has repeatedly denied any involvement in the killing.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER AN INDICTMENT IS CONFIRMED?

Pre-trial judge Fransen can either issue a summons for voluntary appearance or an arrest warrant. A copy of the indictment is then sent to the government of a country where the accused is living and to the Lebanese authorities.

Once an accused has been served with the indictment, he or she must appear in court for an initial appearance and the entering of a plea of guilty or not guilty.

TRIAL IN ABSENTIA?

Trials in absentia are possible under three sets of circumstances: when the accused has waived his or her right to be present, has not been handed over to the tribunal by state authorities or has fled and cannot be found.

An accused may also be absent but represented in court by counsel or initially attend via video-conferencing.

Hezbollah, however, has warned it will "cut the hand" of anyone who moves against its members. This means that arrests of Hezbollah members, if they are indicted, are very unlikely.

WHEN WILL THE TRIAL START?

There is no specific deadline for the start of the trial.

However, the pre-trial judge sets a tentative trial date at least four months between confirmation of the indictment and the start of the trial.

However, the date might be pushed back if the defense challenges the court's jurisdiction, alleges errors in the indictment or seeks to have certain charges dropped.

Registrar Von Hebel has said the trial could start in the second half of this year, but this could still be delayed.

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