Politicians in Lebanon, particularly those from the March 14 coalition, need to keep their mouths shut about anything having to do with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). Responding to the foolish campaigns that have been organized against the STL would simply be a response to provocations, the results of which would only be felt domestically. The STL is no longer a solely Lebanese affair, and any attempt to strictly frame it as such would be naïve. Silence would be more eloquent and responding to these campaigns would have negative repercussions over Lebanon’s domestic situation.
In this context, it seems prudent to recall the experience of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). This tribunal was established by a UN resolution with a lack of enthusiasm from the international community and with fears in Europe that it would become a time-bomb that could ignite the whole of the Balkans. As a result of this cautiousness, the international community failed to adequately fund the ICTY’s activities and to act on the warrants issued by the court and, as such, the court’s activity was greatly decelerated. There were international forces in Sarajevo, made up of French, British and German troops. These states feared that their contingents would be exposed to Serbian retaliation after Serbian officers had been accused of complicity in the Bosnian massacres. Britain saw that charging Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president at the time, would cut off a strong Serbian negotiator over the Balkan’s many issues as Serbia, Bosnia’s neighbor, had major influence in the latter because up to a third of Bosnian citizens were of Serbian nationality and origin.
Let us compare the circumstances surrounding the ICTY with those surrounding the STL and compare the commonalities between the two, beginning with the concerns over the international forces; then the factors involved in the internal conflict; and finally the need of the international community for a political regime in Serbia that it could negotiate with. Despite all of the above, the ICTY still carried out its mission in near perfect fashion. It summoned wanted criminals without threatening their regimes. It issued rulings while avoiding civil war in fragile Bosnia, a country being torn apart by three ethnic groups, the relationship between which was determined by the Dayton Peace Accords – an agreement which was more incoherent and unconvincing than the Taif Accord. Most of the accused and the convicted were Serbian – and to a lesser degree Croatian – politicians and officers. Yet no civil war erupted in Bosnia and the political regime in Serbia remained as it was despite conviction of the regime’s members and its leader Milosevic.
There are two reasons why Serbia did not seek to avenge the rulings of the ICTY in Bosnia. The first was its understanding that that would be tantamount to an open war with the international community present in Bosnia. The second was that Serbia was convinced that any acts of vengeance in Sarajevo would not be of any use as the tribunal was operating in The Hague and not in Sarajevo.
Lebanon’s averting the repercussions of any such vengeful action against STL indictment is contingent upon convincing whoever thinks they could be affected by this indictment that media campaigns and threats will not be of any use. In any case, the accused will be charged individually regardless of whatever and whomever they represent.
Responding to the campaigns against the STL will not serve to promote this idea. Those who respond in such ways need to realize that they are no longer the “caretakers” of the case. The international community is the “caretaker.” The failure of the tribunal is the failure of this community and the success is its success.
In Lebanon, we have entrusted this task to the international community, and we need to step aside and allow those in whom we instilled our trust to work freely. Today, they are facing a test, the results of which will not affect us alone; failure will set a precedent for which they will pay the price, not us.
When the STL makes an accusation, we all need to understand that we are not the ones being accused; when it absolves, it will not be because we want it so. It is up to us to convince those who would be accused or those who are fearful of such accusations that we are not the source of the threat and that exacting revenge upon us will not be of any benefit. This is precisely what happened when Bosnia averted civil war between its multiple nationalities, also being spared from the threat of its mighty neighbor Serbia.
The political regime in Serbia produced alternative leadership, without any coup or revolutions, but rather with a smooth succession of power. Serbian society prevented any warm feelings it might have harbored toward the convicted from getting in the way of its own interests. It has been said that this equation is the result of a European rationalism that is not to be found in our country. The Balkan wars and massacres would seem to contradict this notion.
This article is a translation of the original, which appeared on the NOW Arabic site on September 4, 2009.