Posted by Joshua on Friday, April 20th, 2007
A number of political analysts are coming to the conclusion that the international tribunal that is has been called for by the UN to try the Hariri murder case will be established under chapter 7 status by the UN Security Council. This would mean that the approval of Lebanon's Parliament would not be required for the tribunal to move forward.
Nicolas Michel, UN Undersecretary General for Legal Affairs, is in Beirut to make an assessment on how to proceed. He says he came to Lebanon to forge an agreement between the governing coalition and the opposition if he can. Everyone thinks he will return to NY unsuccessful, thereby sparking a move to get the court established under Chapter 7.
An analyst friend of mine in Washington wrote the following assessment when I asked him whether he believed the UN would pass a Chapter 7 resolution even though Russia seems to be playing for time. He responded:
The tribunal is less driven by the fortunes of Bush than you think. There is a real bureaucratic and policy consensus at this point that drives the process. This is not a mere Bush fantasy, this is an consensual approach of the US, Canada, the EU, key Arab states, implemented though UNSC resolutions and actions. It won't survive after 2009, but until then, that's what policy toward Syria and Lebanon will look like.
I think that at this point, the tribunal would pass under chapter VII, not without some diplomatic involvement though. But China and Russia would not veto something that the EU wants so badly (and it is not just a Chirac thing – Merkel and Blair are fully behind it). For Russia, it is a matter of which fight to pick with the US. And it voted in favor of sanctions with Iran, contrary to what many expected. The Russians, Europeans and the Americans are engaged in a real strategic arm-wrestle in Eastern Europe and over energy. Not the moment to make things worse.
If Russia were brought on board, China would certainly not vetoed. China has a record of never casting the only veto. China will only veto if Russia does so. Worse-case scenario: they abstain.
Despite the tensions with the US, Russia is trying to build an image of a responsible power. What it would love is to broker a deal that is face-saving to Syria (ie. Bashar sacrifices Sleiman and/or Assef and survives). But for this, you need Syria to show some flexibility. Hasn't been the case so far. They turned down Egyptian and Saudi face-saving proposals, something that has been detrimental to any potential rapprochement with KSA.
But Russia calculates that even if the tribunal is set up, there will always be room to wiggle in the future.
Analysts in Beirut doubt that Michel's mediation will resolve the crisis and suspect that the UN Security Council will resort to sidestepping the Lebanese parliament by adopting the tribunal under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which allows for the use of sanctions and military force to implement resolutions.
"Michel is coming with some explanations and guarantees for the opposition, but they won't accept it," says Sateh Noureddine, a columnist with Lebanon's As Safir newspaper. "His mission will be a failure and he will propose Chapter 7." ….
Hizbullah charges that the tribunal no longer represents international justice, but has become a political club wielded by the US to threaten Washington's enemies in Syria and Lebanon.
"The Americans are pushing the political conflict in Lebanon," says Nawaf Mussawi, Hizbullah's foreign affairs adviser. "The Americans and Israelis are dreaming of pushing Lebanon into a civil war to beat us."
Certainly, the US and France are powerful champions of the Hariri murder investigation and reportedly have urged a hesitant China and Russia not to veto a Chapter 7 tribunal. Analysts say Washington is gambling on Syria being held responsible for Hariri's murder, believing that indictments against senior Syrian officials will effectively cripple the Damascus regime, even if the Syrian leadership refuses to hand over the suspects.
On Monday, French President Jacques Chirac, a personal friend of the slain Hariri, implicitly endorsed the use of Chapter 7, saying that the UN Security Council would have to "take responsibility" for the tribunal's creation if the Lebanese parliament failed to ratify it.
"It's a very powerful political tool against the Syrians and their allies," says Paul Salem, head of the Carnegie Endowment's Middle East Center in Beirut. "Had it been some ally of the US that had been suspected [of Hariri's murder] I may not be surprised if they had vetoed it."
Still, supporters of the tribunal insist that the internationalization of the Hariri investigation was inevitable given the weakness of Lebanon's judiciary.
"If the Lebanese judicial process were capable of handling it, it should go to it, but since we can see it is incapable of doing so, the resort to international justice becomes necessary," says Chibli Mallat, visiting professor of international law at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson Center. …
"I think we are in for a long stalemate and we can't wait indefinitely for the tribunal. [Chapter 7] might help change Syria's attitude," says Walid Jumblatt, leader of Lebanon's Druze and leading member of the March 14 coalition.
Michel said in Beirut that the tribunal would not begin working for "at least one year" after it is adopted. However, legal experts say that the tribunal can begin working as soon as it is formally adopted, a location is set for the court and a panel of Lebanese and international judges are selected. Suspects can be indicted and tried before the court, even as the main UN investigation continues its work, legal experts say.
Michael Young, writing in the Daily Star, warns that the tribunal had better be established while France's president Chirac is in office, because "the front-runner, Nicolas Sarkozy, pointedly noted: "Lebanon is very important to me, [but] there is more than just Lebanon." Young adds:
Chirac's departure is accelerating what happens in New York, partly because he has good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and could help reassure the Kremlin; partly because the transfer of power to a new French president could delay the tribunal approval process, which senior UN officials, the United States, and France don't want to see happen…. Bush needs to better anchor his policy institutionally toward Syria, so it can endure once he leaves office.
Assistant Secretary of State David Welch made the case for tightening the noose on Syria before the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia.
The Wall Street Journal headlines: US Backs Plan on Trials for Hariri Killing