[Asser in the media] Asser senior researcher Christophe Paulussen on the Ayyash et al. judgement 'The fact that people have been acquitted also says something about the fairness of the trial'

Published 21 August 2020

Source: Special Tribunal for Lebanon 

On 18 August 2020, the Trial Chamber of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) issued its long-awaited verdict in the case of Ayyash et al. The Trial Chamber found one defendant, Salim Jamil Ayyash, 'guilty beyond reasonable doubt' for his role in perpetrating a 2005 explosion in Lebanon which killed 22 people, including former prime minister Rafik Hariri. The three other defendants were acquitted on all charges. Asser senior researcher Christophe Paulussen spoke to news agency AFP and was quoted in French newspaper LePoint about this historic verdict and the challenges that confront international courts more generally.

The six-year trial and 970-million-dollar investigation ended in one conviction and three acquittals. Ultimately, the court ruled that cell phone evidence that appeared to link the accused to the explosion was not enough to convict three of the four defendants. Many lawyers, academics and observers were undoubtedly disappointed by the verdict. 'However, the fact that people have been acquitted also says something about the fairness of the trial,' says Paulussen.

From its very beginning, the STL has been marred by issues of non-cooperation, which has hindered the tribunal’s efforts to find justice. These challenges, Paulussen notes, are not unique to the STL. All international courts face similar challenges: 'International courts, unlike national courts, do not have their own police force and are therefore totally dependent on cooperation with other actors.'

The STL, headquartered in Leidschendam close to The Hague, was established in 2009 with the purpose to investigating and prosecuting those responsible for the 2005 bombing. Although the verdict has now been issued, the STL’s work is far from over. In 2019, the court opened a separate case against Ayyash. He is accused of involvement in three other attacks against politicians. Further, Ayyash’s conviction is expected to be met with a lengthy appeals process or maybe even a new trial, if he appears before the tribunal in the future. All this to say, the STL is here to stay for several more years to come.

To read the full article in Le Point (French language), please click here.

Read the full summary of the STL Judgement here

Dr Christophe Paulussen is a senior researcher at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut and coordinator of its research strand Human Dignity and Human Security in International and European Law. The strand adopts as its normative framework a human rights approach to contemporary global challenges. He is also the coordinator of the inter-faculty research platform ‘International Humanitarian and Criminal Law Platform’ and a research fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague (ICCT).