Ariel Sharon was born on 27 February 1928 in Kfar Malal in the Negev. He is a well known figure in both political and military spheres, and was Minister of Defence at the time the events occurred.
On 6 June 1982, the Israeli army invaded Lebanon as part of an operation called “Peace in Galilee”. The Israeli forces made rapid progress and soon reached Beirut.
On 11 September 1982, Ariel Sharon declared that “2000 terrorists” remained inside Palestinian camps close to Beirut. On 15 September, on the day following the assassination of Bashir Gemayel – the then recently elected Lebanese President, who was also the leader of the Phalangist militias allied with Israel -, the Israeli army occupied west Beirut. The Sabra and Shatila camps, occupied by Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, were surrounded and cut off from the outside world by the Israeli forces.
On 16 September, a unit of around 150 Lebanese Phalangists entered the camps. Up until 18 September, numerous civilians, including women and children, were badly abused, injured, raped and killed. According to some sources, 800 to 1500 people, possibly even more, were murdered by the Phalangists.
As a result of these events, Israel set up an official Commission of Inquiry headed by Yitzhak Kahan, a Supreme Court judge. On 7 February 1983, the Commission concluded on the culpability of the Lebanese Christian militias, and found Ariel Sharon to be indirectly responsible for not having foreseen the tragedy which would arise from the entry of the Phalangists into the two Palestinian camps. As a result, Ariel Sharon resigned from his post as Minister of Defence.
On 18 June 2001, 23 survivors of the Sabra and Shatila massacres lodged a criminal complaint with a Belgian examining magistrate against “Messrs. Ariel Sharon, Amos Yaron and other Israelis and Lebanese responsible for the massacres, murders, rapes and disappearances of civilian populations which occurred in Beirut (Lebanon) from Thursday 16 to Saturday 18 September 1982 in the region of the Sabra and Shatila camps”.
On 26 June 2002, the Brussels Appeals Court, following a demand by the Chief Prosecutor declared the complaints to be inadmissible, judging that proceedings could only be held in Belgium if the perpetrators were living within its national territory.
The complainants then put their case before the “Cour de Cassation”, the highest jurisdiction in criminal cases. On 12 February 2003, this Court refuted the arguments of the Appeals Court, affirming that being physically present on Belgian territory is not a requirement of Belgian law in order to open up proceedings for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Nevertheless, in view of the fact that Ariel Sharon was then currently Prime Minister of Israel, the Cour de cassation underlined the fact that international law prohibits a foreign power from judging a foreign Prime Minister still in office. Proceedings against Ariel Sharon were therefore impossible so long as he held the position of Prime Minister.
On 23 June 2003, as a result of strong international pressure, the Belgian Parliament modified the law known as “universal jurisdiction” which allowed prosecution in Belgium of war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide committed outside of Belgian territory. The parliament decided to add restrictions which had the notable effect of making it impossible to open up proceedings when there was no direct connection to Belgium.
Thereupon, the Cour de cassation affirmed the lack of jurisdiction of the Belgian judiciary in this affair with effect from 24 September 2003. Proceedings were therefore declared closed in Belgium.
SUMMARY OF THE FACTS
On 14 February 2005 a terrorist attack in Beirut killed Rafik Hariri, former Prime Minister of Lebanon, and other 21 persons. Just a couple of months later Lebanon should have celebrated new elections, in which Hariri would have been one of the main candidates.
Hariri was one of the politicians who played a primary role in Lebanon reconstruction after the bloody civil war that took place between 1975 and 1990. Unlike some of his political adversaries, Hariri strongly opposed Syrian influence in Lebanon’s internal affairs.
After intense demonstrations demanding an independent enquiry over Hariri’s murder, on 7 April 2005 the United Nations established an international commission (UNIIIC) to investigate over the 14 February attack and other terrorist acts that occurred in the same period.
In 2006 the Government of Lebanon negotiated the creation of an international tribunal with the United Nations. The agreement establishing the Special Tribunal for Lebanon was signed by both the UN and the Government of Lebanon. However the President of the Lebanese Parliament refused to convene the assembly in order to proceed with the ratification of the Agreement. On 30 March 2007 the UN Security Council solved the ‘impasse’: the Agreement and the Statute of the Special Tribunal entered into force by means of Resolution 1757.
THE SPECIAL TRIBUNAL FOR LEBANON (STL)
The STL is a criminal court sitting in Leidschendam (near The Hague), in the Netherlands. Its staff, including the judges, is made up of both Lebanese and international lawyers. For its unique features the STL is usually considered as one of the so-called ‘hybrid tribunals’ or ‘internationalized courts’. The Tribunals commenced its activities on 1 March 2009.
The STL has jurisdiction over the terrorist attack that killed Rafik Hariri, and over all the other attacks – occurred in Lebanon between 1 October 2004 and 12 December 2005 – which are found by the Tribunal itself to be connected with the 14 February one.
The Tribunal is bound to apply substantive Lebanese criminal law which, among the other crimes, provides a definition of terrorism. The proceedings in Leidschandam however follow the Rules of Procedure and Evidence written by the judges themselves, constituting a peculiar mixture of inquisitorial and adversarial elements.
The STL, currently, is the only international criminal tribunal allowing the celebration of ‘in absentia’ trials, i.e. criminal proceedings in which the accused is not present.