BEIRUT: Six victims of the bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri are scheduled to testify in person at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Monday. While the STL began hearings in January 2014, the victims – defined as those who have “suffered physical, material or mental harm as a direct result” of the bombing – have yet to appear before the chamber.
Twenty-two individuals including Hariri were killed and over 200 injured in the Downtown Beirut bombing on Feb. 14, 2005. A total of 76 individuals were classified by the STL as victims at the beginning of the case. Two have since withdrawn from participation, while another two have passed away.
According to the STL statute, the presentation of the victims’ cases is not designed for witnesses to testify against the four indicted suspects.
Rather, the victims have a “conditional right” to participate in the hearings in order to illustrate the human narrative of the 2005 event and its consequences.
Six people have been approved by the Trial Chamber to testify in person in the coming week, and an additional 29 victim statements will be presented.
“The case is intended to demonstrate the collective harm suffered ... [by] all the victims – and the wider impact of the events upon the Lebanese people,” STL spokesperson Wajed Ramadan said.
She underscored the difference, noting that the presentation was a “case” rather than a “trial.”
The victims are also entitled to “bring an action for compensation” in a Lebanese court “based on a judgment finding an accused guilty of a crime that has caused harm to a victim,” the STL statute.
While this marks a significant milestone in the trial, Ramadan also remarked on its implication globally.
Monday will be the first time victims of terrorism have ever appeared in front of an international tribunal.
“This marks an important moment not just for Lebanon, but for international criminal justice as a whole,” Ramadan said. “Their participation facilitates a historic record of events told from the perspective of those most impacted by acts of terrorism.”
The testimonies are expected to continue until Sept. 8, although the schedule is subject to change.
The trial has proceeded over the past years, despite all the indicted suspects being tried in absentia.
Without defendants present, the prosecution’s case has centered on cellular evidence used to build a storyline of their alleged movements in the lead up to the attack.
Next week’s proceedings, however, are expected divert from these technical and analytical testimonies.
“Significantly, it will highlight some of the personal tragedies at the heart of the events ... We can expect that the presentation of the victims’ evidence will give a ‘human’ voice, a name to their suffering,” Ramadan said.
Friday’s session saw the continuation of the testimony of prosecution analyst Andrew Donaldson, as he was cross-examined by Defense Counsel Natalie von Wistinghausen, who focused on the credibility of his attribution reports.
Defending the interests of Hussein Oneissi – one of four accused of orchestrating the assassination plot – von Wistinghausen argued that records compiled by Donaldson were not substantial enough to tie Oneissi to Personal Mobile Phone 095. “You are missing ... all incoming and outgoing calls and SMS prior to Aug. 1, 2004,” von Wistinghausen said. “You’re missing 50 percent of data, which is obviously unfortunate as it cannot represent any accuracy of the data set of the attribution period.”
As the attack was carried out in early 2005, several years of cellular data are needed to make a strong case linking a user to a device.
“It is not an overall accurate presentation of this telephone number,” the defense counsel repeated.
Continuing to attempt to dismantle the connection, von Wistinghausen noted that only one geographic location found in the call records was allegedly tied to Oneissi. Further, she argued, this sole connection lacked sufficient evidence.
According to Donaldson, Oneissi had lived in an apartment building in Hadath, an area in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
The analyst substantiated his claim through a document from Bank Saderat Iran showing a large amount of money sent to Oneissi’s account, specifically to purchase an apartment located on Plot 233 G24.
Von Wistinghausen argued that the document alone was insufficient as there were no other records of him actually having ownership of the apartment.
“Is it correct to say this is the only document in your report that this specific address, Plot 233 G24 is linked to Mr. Oneissi?” she asked.
“[Yet] on this title deed for Plot 233 G24 in Hadath, there is no mention of Mr. Oneissi’s name. ... We do not see any transfer of ownership in the title deed to Oneissi in any way,” she argued.
While the prosecution was unable to obtain further documents linking the residence to Oneissi, they were successful in corroborating a separate residence belonging to Oneissi’s wife’s following a Request For Assistance to the Lebanese land registry.
“The [prosecution] received from [the] land registry a mortgage from Oneissi’s wife ... a record of completion of payment of mortgage ... full details of the transfer of ownership,” von Wistinghausen said.
“But you were aware of the response from the RFA that came back with no results linking Oneissi to plot [233 G24].”
Donaldson acknowledged there were some unanswered questions in the investigation, but maintained that Oneissi could be linked to Personal Mobile Phone 095 based on the available evidence.
This article was amended on Tuesday, August 29 2017
A version of this article appeared in The Daily Star on August 29 in which The Daily Star mistakenly reported that the victims’ participation may lead to financial compensation issued by the International Criminal Court’s Trust Fund for Victims.
This compensation does not apply to the participating victims of the STL. While the ICC does maintain a Trust Fund for Victims, it only applies to the appropriate individuals in its own cases. The STL and ICC are separate entities.
The Daily Star regrets this error.