UPDATE: Researching the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL)

By Lara Eid Jreissati

Lara Eid Jreissati is an international lawyer specializing in International Criminal Law, Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law. She holds a master’s degree in Euro-Mediterranean cultures and policies from Italy’s International Telematics University. She consulted with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) in The Hague. She is an active member of the STL Follow-up Commission work at the Beirut Bar Association. She consults with NGO’s on asylum, refugee, and disadvantaged migrant’s matters. She is an active member of the Beirut Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. She has also lectured and published on international criminal law and human rights.

Published March/April 2022

(Previously updated by Martin Wählisch in November/December 2015)

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1. Introduction

Now that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is set to cease operations soon due to lack of funds, this overview may cast the Tribunal in a different light. The article comprises four parts: part 1 gives a brief introduction into the historical background of events leading to the establishment of the STL, elaborates on the STL Statute, the particularities and organization of the Court; part 2 explains matters of jurisdiction (ratione temporis, ratione materiae, ratione personae), provides links to the STL rules and procedure, and the 2011 interlocutory decision; part 3 touches on the latest trial proceedings, such as the indictment Ayyash et al.,the trial in absentia, the motions on the legality of the STL (2012), the connected cases Hamadeh, Hawi and El-Murr and the request by Jamil El Sayed to access documents, the verdict, and the appeal phase; part 4 links to the STL annual reports and offers a list of links to relevant websites, access to legal terminology, and a comprehensive bibliography of academic publications about the STL. Each part provides direct links to the mentioned official documents and recommendations for further reading.

1.1. Background

On February 14, 2005, a bomb attack killed the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and 22 others. One month later, pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1595, the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) was established to “assist the Lebanese authorities in their investigation.”

UNIIIC commenced its investigation on June 16, 2005. The Security Council extended the mandate of UNIIIC in subsequent resolutions 1636 (2005), 1644 (2005), 1686 (2006), 1748 (2007), and 1815 (2008). UNIIIC produced a total of 11 reports and ceased its investigation on February 28, 2009. In the end of February 2009, UNIIIC ended its mandate and was superseded by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on March 1, 2009.

Security Council resolutions:

UNIIIC reports:

For an analysis of the work of the UNIIIC, see:

1.2. Establishment and Statute of the STL

On December 13, 2005, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Fouad Siniora, sent a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan requesting on behalf the Lebanese Government “to establish a tribunal of an international character to convene in or outside Lebanon, to try all those who are found responsible for the terrorist crime perpetrated against Hariri.”

By Resolution 1644 (2005), the Security Council requested the UN Secretary General to help the Government of Lebanon to identify the nature and scope of the international assistance needed to try those that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri before a tribunal of an international character. The Secretary General delivered his report in March 2006.

By Resolution 1664 (2006), the Security Council endorsed the report and requested the UN Secretary General to negotiate an agreement with the Government of Lebanon. In January and February 2007, the UN Secretary General and the Government of Lebanon concluded negotiations and signed an agreement on the establishment of a Special Tribunal for Lebanon. In March and April 2007, a formal session of the Lebanese Parliament to ratify the Statute of the Tribunal and the bilateral agreement with the United Nations was not convened.

In May 2007, the Lebanese Prime Minister wrote to the Security Council to take action, stressing that “further delays in setting up the Tribunal would be most detrimental to Lebanon’s stability, to the cause of justice, the credibility of the United Nations itself and to peace and security in the region.” On May 30, 2007, the Security Council passed Resolution 1757 (2007) deciding while acting under Chapter IV that the provisions of the “agreement” between the United Nations and the Lebanese Republic on the establishment of a Special Tribunal for Lebanon enter into force on June 10, 2007.

Letters, resolutions, and reports:

Statute of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon:

For a quick access of the STL Statute in Arabic, English and French:

For a critical analysis of the establishment of the STL, see the overview about the motions on the legality of the STL in part 3.3 below. For an introduction to the debate watch also:

STL Budget:

1.3. Particularities of the STL

In comparison to other international tribunals, the STL has five distinct features:

For a critical analysis of the particularities of the STL, see:

1.4. STL Organs and Seat

The STL has four organs:

The Tribunal has 11 judges, among them four Lebanese judges and seven international judges. All judges are appointed by the Secretary General following nominations from the UN Member States, or other competent persons.

Relevant sections and articles of the STL Statute:

The STL has its seat outside of Lebanon in Leidschendam (Netherlands) near The Hague, see:

On June 5, 2009, the Government of Lebanon and the Office of the Prosecutor (OP) of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) guaranteeing that the OTP is “free from interference in the conduct of its investigation in Lebanon.”

2. The Law of the STL

2.1. Jurisdiction

2.1.1. Jurisdiction Ratione Temporis

The STL Statute divides the offences under the jurisdiction of the STL into three categories:

As the Statute postulates, the Tribunal has solely “jurisdiction over persons responsible for the attack of 14 February 2005 resulting in the death of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and in the death or injury of other persons.”

However, if “the Tribunal finds that other attacks that occurred in Lebanon between 1 October 2004 and 12 December 2005, or any later date decided by the Parties and with the consent of the Security Council, are connected in accordance with the principles of criminal justice and are of a nature and gravity similar to the attack of 14 February 2005” it can “also have jurisdiction over persons responsible for such attacks.”

Given the limited mandate of the Tribunal vis-à-vis unfulfilled demands to investigate cases of disappeared during the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1990, Amnesty International has raised concerns about the “selectiveness of justice.”

For a critical analysis of the STL jurisdiction see:

2.1.2. Jurisdiction Ratione Materiae

The applicable laws are provisions of the Lebanese Criminal Code “relating to the prosecution and punishment of acts of terrorism, crimes and offences against life and personal integrity, illicit associations and failure to report crimes and offences, including the rules regarding the material elements of a crime, criminal participation and conspiracy.” Moreover, the STL applies Articles 6 and 7 of the Lebanese law of 11 January 1958 on “Increasing the penalties for sedition, civil war and interfaith struggle.” Relevant article in the STL Statute: Article 2 STL Statute: Applicable Criminal Law.

Selected Articles of the Lebanese Criminal Code: Lebanese Criminal Code is available for download in English, French, and Arabic:

For a critical analysis of the STL jurisdiction on terrorism see part 2.3 below.

2.1.3. Jurisdiction Ratione Personae

The STL can only trial individuals and not organizations or groups. Individual criminal responsibility within the STL Statute also includes participation as accomplice, the organization or direction of others to commit the crime, or the contribution in any other way to the commission of the crime.

Superiors are also criminally responsible for any of the crimes committed by subordinates. The fact that the accused acted pursuant to an order of a superior does not relieve him or her of criminal responsibility. Relevant article in the STL Statute, see Article 3 STL Statute: Individual criminal responsibility.

2.2. STL Rules and Procedures

The Rules of Procedure and Evidence (RPE) of the STL lay down rules that govern the various stages of the proceedings before the Tribunal. Among others, the RPE comprise rules for:

The RPE were initially adopted on March 20, 2009, and have since been revised three times. In November 2010, the STL refined its Rules of Procedure and Evidence aiming to enhance the efficiency, effectiveness and integrity of the Tribunal’s proceedings. Most recently, the RPE were amended on February 12, 2015.


For a critical analysis of the STL’s rules of procedure and evidence, see:

2.3. Interlocutory Decision on the Definition of Terrorism (2011)

On February 16, 2011, the Appeals Chamber of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon issues an interlocutory decision on fifteen legal questions submitted by the Pre-Trial Judge. The decision creates the legal framework of the applicable law, among others, on the definition of terrorism, conspiracy, homicide, perpetration, and on cumulative charging.


Amicus Curiae Briefs:

For a critical analysis of the STL jurisdiction on terrorism, see:

3. Trial Proceedings

3.1. Indictment of Ayyash et al. (2011)

On June 28, 2011, the Pre-Trial Judge confirmed the indictment of four suspects: Salim Jamil Ayyash, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Hussein Hassan Oneissi, Assad Hassan Sabra. Initially, the indictment and orders remained confidential, but were unsealed and made public in August 2011. In January 2014, the trial in the Ayyash et al. case started before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. On 11 February 2014, the Trial Chamber decided to join the case against another suspect, Hassan Habib Merhi, with the Ayyash et al. proceedings.


Infographic: Infographic: STL Indictment unsealed, NOW Lebanon, Aug. 17, 2011.

3.2. Trial In Absentia Decisions (2012)

Lebanese authorities failed to locate and arrest those indicted. On 1 February 2012 the Trial Chamber determined that "Mr. Ayyash, Mr. Badreddine, Mr. Oneissi and Mr. Sabra could not be found and that the trial would proceed in absentia. On 8 May 2012.Three Legal Representatives of Victims were appointed. The first trial the Prosecutor v. Ayyash et al, began on 16 January 2014.

On 11 February 2014, the court ordered the Merhi case joined with Ayyash et al. and adjourned the trial. After the death of accused, Mustafa Badreddine, the case against him was dismissed without prejudice. See proceedings termination against Badreddine.

Background information by the STL:

For a critical analysis of trial in absentia proceedings see:

3.3. Motions on the Legality of the STL (2012)

In May 2012, the defense counsels filed motions challenging the jurisdiction of the STL. On June 13-14, 2012, the STL Trial Chamber held a public hearing on the legality of its creation. In July 2012, the Trial Chamber confirmed the STL’s jurisdiction dismissing the motions of the defense counsels.


For a brief summary of the arguments at the hearing, see:

For a critical analysis of the legality of the STL’s jurisdiction see:

3.4. Cases Hamadeh, Hawi and El-Murr (2011)

The Tribunal determined that three attacks relating to Lebanese politicians Marwan Hamadeh, George Hawi and Elias El-Murr were connected to the 14 February 2005 attack that killed Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. The pre-trial judge ordered Lebanese authorities to provide relevant files to the STL OTP. The cases remain under investigation.


3.5. Requests to Access Documents (2010-2015)

In August 2005, together with Raymond Fouad Azar and Mostafa Fehmi Hamdan, Jamil El Sayed Ali Salah El Dine El Hajj had been among the four high-level Lebanese intelligence and security officers, which had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the assassination.

In April 2009, the STL directed the Lebanese authorities to release the four generals. In March 2010, El Sayed submitted an application to the President of the STL requesting evidentiary material related to the crimes of libelous denunciations and arbitrary detention. On April 19, 2011, the STL Pre-Trial Judge held a confidential and ex parte hearing relating to the request by Jamil El Sayed to obtain access to documents of the Prosecutor.

In May 2011, the Pre-Trial judge ordered the release of documents to El Sayed. In February 2012, the Prosecutor partially appealed the decision of the pre-trial judge. In April 2012, the Appeals Chamber unanimously quashed the Pre-Trial Judge’s order. In January 2015, El Hajj filed a similar request with the STL seeking the release of certain evidentiary material against him.


Amicus Curiae Briefs:

3.6. Contempt Cases (2014-2015)

Although there was an order of confidentiality issued by the pre-trial judge several journalists were charged with violating that order and interfering with the administration of justice. Both were later convicted and fined. However eventually at least one of the convictions was overturned.

In April 2015, Lebanese journalist Karma Khayat and Al Jadeed TV went on trial, accused of "knowingly and willfully interfering with the administration of justice" over August 2012 broadcasts relating to alleged confidential witnesses in the Hariri case. The accused faced a maximum penalty of seven years in jail or a fine of €100,000 ($105,780), or both. This was the first time a company was indicted by an international court. On 18 September 2015, Khayat was convicted of failing to remove from information on supposedly confidential witnesses from Al Jadeed's website and YouTube channel, while Al Jadeed was found not guilty. Both accused were found not guilty of broadcasting and/or publishing information on supposedly confidential witnesses. Khayat was sentenced to a €10,000 fine. The conviction was reversed on 8 March 2016.

In a separate case, Ibrahim Al Amin and Akhbar Beirut were both found guilty of knowingly and willfully interfering with the administration of justice by publishing information on alleged confidential witnesses in the Ayyash et al. case in July 2016.Al Amin was sentenced to a €20,000 fine and Akhbar Beirut to a €6,000 fine. They did not appeal the judgment


3.7. Verdict (2020)

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon concluded that there was no evidence that the leadership of Hezbollah or Syria were involved in the assassination of Rafic Hariri. One of the four Hezbollah suspects, Salim Ayyash, was tried in absentia for six years and convicted of five charges, including conspiracy aimed at committing a terrorist act, committing a terrorist act by explosive device, and the intentional killing of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and 21 others using explosive. He is unlikely to serve any prison time as he cannot be found. Hezbollah has refused to cooperate.

Three other defendants were acquitted due to insufficient evidence. The Tribunal did not identify the suicide bomber despite the fact that his body parts were recovered from the scene. The court indicated that Hezbollah members were observing the Hariri Motorcade based on data from mobile phones used by the plotters.

3.8. Appeal Phase (2021)

On 12 January 2021, both the Prosecution Ayyash filed Notices of Appeal against the Trial Judgment and Legal Representatives of the Victims (LRV) appealed the Sentencing Judgement. LVR’s appeal was ruled inadmissible on February 24, 2021. The Prosecution’s appeal against the acquittals of Hassan Habib Merhi and Hussein Hassan Oneissi continues, and the victims are authorized to participate. See more about the appeal.

4. Further Information and Documents

4.1. STL Annual Reports

The President of the STL submits an annual report to the government of Lebanon and the UN Secretary-General summarizing the STL’s latest activities, progress, and expectations for future efforts.

4.2. Glossaries

4.3. Relevant Websites


Trial Tracking

Special Sections in Lebanese Media Reporting on the STL


4.4. Bibliography