26 October 2005
Head Investigator into Killing of Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri Briefs Security Council, Describes "Converging Evidence" of Syrian Involvement
Detlev Mehlis Says Inquiry Could Take Years to Complete; Syria Rejects Charges It Failed to Cooperate with Investigation
NEW YORK, 25 October (UN Headquarters) -- As he introduced his report to the Security Council this morning, Detlev Mehlis, head of the United Nations Independent Investigative Commission conducting a probe into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, invited Syrian authorities to carry out their own investigation into the killing in an open and transparent manner.
Such an investigation, he said, would allow the Independent Commission to "fill in the gaps" in the report, which points to "converging evidence" of Syrian involvement in the 14 February bombing. Not wishing to repeat the information contained in the report, however, the investigative process was the focus of his Council presentation, which was followed by statements from representatives of Lebanon and Syria.
Over 130 days, Mr. Mehlis said, 30 investigators from 17 countries had interviewed more than 400 witnesses and suspects, reviewed some 60,000 documents and produced more than 16,500 pages of documents. More than 450 pieces of evidence had been collected. Some main lines of investigation had been identified and leads had been established in those areas.
He said that for such a multidimensional and complex case, however, the investigation could not be considered complete, as of now. More time should be allotted to further investigate the Commission's findings and look into emerging leads. It was entirely normal that such a case took many months, if not years, to cover all aspects of investigation with certitude and to prepare a case for prosecution. For that reason, the Lebanese Government had recently asked for an extension of the Commission's mandate until 15 December, which had been granted.
Boutros Assaker, Acting Secretary-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants of Lebanon, thanked the Council for its follow-up on what it called a terrorist crime that not only took the life of Mr. Hariri, but also that of Parliament Member Basil Fleihan and others, and threatened Lebanon's stability. He stressed that the Lebanese people were united in condemning the crime and backing the Council efforts to reveal all aspects of it and help bring the murderers to justice, whoever and wherever they were.
He welcomed the extension of the Independent Commission's mandate and pledged Lebanon's continued cooperation. Welcoming also the positive comments in the Commission's report concerning the role played by the Lebanese institutions in the investigation, he requested further help to continue strengthening of those institutions. He called on all concerned parties to cooperate sincerely and effectively with the Commission.
Referring to Mr. Mehlis' statement that the investigation would need months, if not years, to be completed, Syria's representative wondered at the objective of those in a hurry to pass judgement. He was certain it had nothing to do with finding the truth. Unlike other cases, in the current case there had apparently been only one possibility in trying to solve it - namely, accusing Syria even before the body was laid to rest.
He said that the heinous crime not only targeted Lebanon, but also Syrian accomplishments in the region, which included "extinguishing the fires of the civil war" in Lebanon, an effort that cost the lives of 13,000 Syrian soldiers. For that reason, finding the perpetrators was extremely important to his country.
Countering the notion that the report substantially implicates Syrian involvement, he said that report had been clearly influenced by the political climate prevailing in Lebanon after the assassination. It contained, moreover, a strange hypothesis that given Syria's military and security presence in Lebanon, the crime could not have been conducted without the prior knowledge of Syrian authorities.
The conclusion that the crime could not have taken place without the approval of top-ranking Syrian officials was suspect, because it implicated any security service in any country in whose territory a terrorist crime took place. The report, he said, also brushed aside the possibility of a third wiretapping party and relied on the testimony of people with declared political positions against Syria.
He rejected the report's charges that Syria had not sufficiently cooperated with the investigation and detailed Syria's efforts to work with the Commission. He reiterated that Syria would spare no effort to achieve the stability of Lebanon, which was at the heart of the aspirations of the two brotherly peoples.
The meeting, which began at 10:34 a.m., concluded at 11:15 a.m. Following its adjournment, Council members were immediately invited to consultations on the issue.
As it considered the situation in Lebanon this morning, the Council had before it a letter dated 20 October from the Secretary-General (document S/2005/662) transmitting the Report of the United Nations Independent Investigative Commission which is assisting the Lebanese authorities in their investigation of the 14 February 2005 bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others.
In its report, the Commission maintains that there is "converging evidence" pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in what it calls a terrorist act. It came to that conclusion, "on the basis of the material and documentary evidence collected and the leads pursued until now", which built on the results of its own investigation and that of the Lebanese authorities, the report says in its summary of a four-month probe during which the Commission interviewed more than 400 persons and reviewed 60,000 documents.
The Commission says that former senior security officials of Lebanon were appointees of the Syrian Military Intelligence, which had a pervasive presence in Lebanon at the time. Given the infiltration of Lebanese institutions and society by the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services working in tandem, it maintains it would be difficult to envisage a scenario whereby such a complex assassination plot could have been carried out without their knowledge.
[The bombing led to renewed calls for the withdrawal of all Syrian troops and intelligence agents, who had been in Lebanon since the early stages of the country's 1975-1990 civil war. The Security Council set up the Independent Commission after an earlier UN mission found Lebanon's own investigation seriously flawed and Syria primarily responsible for the political tension preceding the murder.]
The report notes that the apparent growing conflict between Mr. Hariri and senior Syrian officials, including Syrian President Bashar Assad, was a central aspect of information provided to the Commission through interviews and documents.
"It is incumbent upon Syria to clarify a considerable part of the unresolved questions", it concludes, adding that the Commission has established that many leads point directly towards Syrian security officials as being involved with the assassination.
It says Syrian authorities, after initial hesitation, have cooperated to a limited degree with the Commission, but that several interviewees tried to mislead the investigation by giving false or inaccurate statements, adding that the "letter addressed to the Commission by the Foreign Minister of the Syrian Arab Republic proved to contain false information".
The report stresses that the investigation was not complete and should continue for some time to come, carried forward by the appropriate Lebanese judicial and security authorities, who have proved during the investigation that, with international assistance and support, they can move ahead and at times take the lead in an effective and professional manner.
In the letter to the Council accompanying the report, the Secretary-General says the report details progress made in the investigation, but also notes that a criminal investigation is yet to be completed. Mr. Annan says he intends to extend the Commission's mandate until 15 December to continue the investigation.
DETLEV MEHLIS, Commissioner of the United Nations Independent Investigation Commission, said the terrorist attack of 14 February 2005 that claimed the lives of Rafik Hariri and 22 others was a landmark event in Lebanon's history, a tragedy that came at a time when the country was beginning to heal the wounds of a long civil war. On 7 April 2005, the Council had adopted resolution 1595, establishing an international independent investigation commission, which was designed to be a supportive mechanism for the Lebanese judicial and security authorities to carry forward the investigation into the assassination. The Commission, established in full agreement with the Government of Lebanon, had become fully operational on 16 June 2005. In keeping with the letter and spirit of the resolution, the Commission and Lebanon's Government had signed a memorandum of understanding, outlining the modalities of cooperation between the two parties.
Having set the framework of cooperation and work early on, the Commission had been able to move ahead with its investigation, he said. The earlier fact-finding mission led by Mr. Fitzgerald and the accompanying files had been a valuable source of information during the early phase of the Commission's work. It had also relied, to a large extent, on the 8,000-page Lebanese case docket handed over to the Commission in order to understand the dimensions of the case, to draw up a preliminary list of potential witnesses and suspects, and to focus on the possible leads to pursue.
To their credit, the Lebanese judicial and security authorities had come a long way in terms of their ability to pursue the investigations, he said. Some problems of public trust remained. More recently, they had shown growing levels of professionalism and competence. One of the main reasons for the positive change was the setting aside of past constraints and the stepping down of the old guard. On the other hand, the close interest and valuable support shown by the international community in Lebanese affairs had been encouraging.
The Commission had established close working links with the Lebanese authorities, he added. Channels of communication had been kept open with all sides. With the political authorities, arrangements had been made to facilitate the Commission's work and to give it the moral and physical backing it most needed. With the judicial authorities, regular meetings had been held to exchange updated information, files, statements and new evidence. With the security authorities, raid and search operations had been conducted in tandem. A striking example was the joint UN Independent Investigative Commission-Internal Security Forces operation carried out on 30 August 2005 for the house raid and search of former senior security officials, who were later arrested by the Lebanese authorities. Thanks to the backing of the Lebanese authorities, they had been able to integrate their work, as envisaged by the Council in April.
Of the utmost importance, he said, was the assistance extended by other United Nations organizations, as well as other international organizations, such as INTERPOL. Several United Nations Member States had provided expertise that had contributed in no small measure to shedding light in major areas of the investigation.
Continuing, he noted that on 19 October 2005 he had submitted the Commission's report to the Secretary-General, which contained its modus operandi, findings and conclusions. While he did not wish to repeat the content of the report, there were certain elements and facts he wished to stress. Over 130 days, 30 investigators from 17 countries had interviewed more than 400 witnesses and suspects, reviewed some 60,000 documents and produced more than 16,500 pages of documents. More than 450 pieces of evidence had been collected. Some main lines of investigation had been identified and leads established.
For such a multidimensional and complex case, however, the investigation could not be considered complete as of now, he said. More time should be allotted to further investigate the Commission's findings and look into emerging leads. It was entirely normal that such a case took many months, if not years, to cover all aspects of the investigation with certitude and to prepare a case for prosecution.
The Lebanese Government had recently asked for an extension of the Commission's mandate until 15 December, he said. As the extension had been granted, the Commission's modus operandi would remain unchanged. The Commission would maintain the same level of cooperation with the Lebanese authorities and, wherever possible, would help to enhance it. The Commission would reinterview a number of witnesses, and interview new ones as the investigation unfolded. The Commission would complete its examination of material evidence recently obtained. It would endeavour to provide the Lebanese authorities with any technical assistance they might require.
He said the Commission was of the view that that would provide yet another opportunity for the Syrian authorities to show greater and meaningful cooperation, and to provide any relevant substantial evidence on the assassination. For that reason, the Syrian authorities might wish to carry out on their own investigation into the assassination of Mr. Hariri in an open and transparent manner. That would enable the Commission to "fill in the gaps" and to have a clearer picture about the organizers and perpetrators of the 14 February terrorist act.
As the Commissioner of the Independent Commission, he said he was responsible for the safety and security of the staff. As the Commission would continue its work until 15 December, the safety and security of its members must be a priority. Since the beginning of the Commission's work in Lebanon, the Lebanese security forces, as well as the Commission's own security team, had played a major role in ensuring the protection of the Commission's members. Despite all the precautionary measures, the already high-risk level would increase further, particularly after the report's issuance. The Commission had received a number of credible threats.
Concluding, he said it had been particularly important for him to maintain geographical balance in the Commission's team in order to enhance its credibility. If and when the overall investigation was completed, it would be up to the Lebanese authorities to seek the way ahead and determine the nature and location of any judicial mechanism to be set up. In the meantime, the Lebanese judicial and security authorities would benefit from all the legal and technical support the international community could provide, either bilaterally or through the United Nations system.
BOUTROS ASSAKER, Acting Secretary-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants of Lebanon, thanked the Council for its follow-up on the terrorist crime that took the life of not only Mr. Hariri but also Parliament Member Basil Fleihan and others and threatened Lebanon's stability. He stressed that the Lebanese people were united in condemning the crime and backing the Council's efforts to reveal all aspects of it and bring the murderers to justice, whoever and wherever they were.
In that regard, he welcomed the extension of the mandate of the Commission and pledged the continued cooperation of Lebanon with it. Welcoming also the positive comments in the Commission's report concerning the role played by the Lebanese judicial and security institutions in the investigation, he requested the support of "brotherly and friendly States" to help continue the strengthening of those institutions, which was a crucial part of the reform process being undertaken in the country.
He called on all parties concerned to cooperate sincerely and effectively with the Independent Commission, saying that, by uncovering the truth and punishing all the murderers, stability and security in the region would be enhanced. Finally, he thanked the Independent Investigative Commission and those friendly States which were providing support to Lebanon in this critical phase.
FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) expressed gratitude for being able to address the Council before its important deliberations on the report. He wished to confirm that what he would put before the Council was based on reality and the truth. Syria had full faith in the United Nations. The heinous crime which took the life of Mr. Hariri had targeted the unity and stability of Lebanon, as well as Syria's sacrifices for the cause of Lebanon. Syria, when informed of the crime, had reaffirmed that finding the culprits was a Syrian imperative, as much as a Lebanese one. The act had increased tension in the region, particularly as some quarters had used the crime to fan the flames of hostility against Syria. Unlike other crimes, in the current case there had apparently been only one possibility in trying to solve it -- namely, accusing Syria even before the body was laid to rest.
He said that, while he did not wish to give an exposé of the relations between the two countries, the two independent Arab States had been linked through history by the ties of neighbourliness, blood, aspirations and mutual concerns. It was only Syria that could have saved Lebanon, when in 1975 a civil war had erupted, tearing it apart, destroying its institutions and its national fabric. Ending that war could not have been achieved without huge sacrifice, namely, the 13,000 Syrian military personnel who had made the ultimate sacrifice. Lebanon's stability, independence and sovereignty had always been at the forefront of Syria's concerns. Mr. Hariri had expressed his faith in Syria's role and had expressed gratitude for its assistance. The crime ran counter to all the principles Syria upheld, and was against Syrian interests.
Turning to the report, he said that, while every paragraph deserved comment, his remarks would be brief. The report had been clearly influenced by the political climate prevailing in Lebanon after the assassination of Mr. Hariri. It contained, moreover, a strange hypothesis that, given Syria's military and security presence in Lebanon, the crime could not have been conducted without the prior knowledge of Syrian authorities. On that basis, the report built the hypothesis that accused Syria of the crime. The report also concluded that the crime could not have taken place without the approval of top-ranking Syrian officials. That, in itself, was a charge against any security service in any country in whose territory a terrorist crime took place. The report also brushed aside the possibility of a third wiretapping party. The report relied, moreover, on the testimony of people with declared political positions against Syria. It contained the testimonies of three persons, one of whom was a forger and swindler. Those testimonies contradicted each other and lacked the necessary credibility. In short, the report, in both form and content, accused Syria before the end of the investigation.
He said he was pleased to hear the Commissioner refer to the need to continue the investigation. Paragraph 20 of the report stated that the investigation needed months, if not years, to be completed to establish firm ground for a potential trial for any accused individual. He wondered what the objective was for those in a hurry to pass judgement, adopt resolutions and mobilize members to support their extremist positions. He was certain their objective had nothing to do with finding the truth, which was the objective of both Syria and the international community.
The report also accused Syria of not having cooperated with the Commission, he said. That accusation was a great injustice to Syria. Syria had addressed letters to the chairman, and sent a representative to Geneva to meet with him at a time chosen by him. The chairman had also visited Syria. The accusation in paragraph 34 of the report that the lack of cooperation with the Commission had impeded the investigation, making it difficult to follow leads, was very strange, and ran counter to the agreement with the Commission's chairman. Syrian officials offered that meetings be held in Syria in any place freely chosen by the Commission. Syria had fully cooperated with the Commission and rejected the accusation of a lack of cooperation.
Throughout the recent period, Syria had cooperated faithfully and sincerely with the Commission, he said. Its cooperation did not only stem from its commitment to international legality, but also to its sincere desire to arrive at the truth. Syria would continue its cooperation with the Commission during the upcoming period, providing it with any information that could assist it in the conclusion of its investigation. The President of Syria had declared that Syria was innocent of the crime and that Syria was ready and willing to put to trial any Syrian implicated in the crime. Syria was being made a victim of the crime, particularly in terms of the good relations between Syria and the late Prime Minister, who had confirmed those relations in an interview with a Lebanese newspaper on the day of his assassination.
He said the Commission should not have pointed the finger, but rather confined itself to the submission of a procedural report. He looked forward to the Council's consideration of the report, in the light of the points he had just raised. Lebanon and the region needed tranquillity and stability, and not further destabilization and suffering. Syria would spare no effort to achieve the stability of Lebanon, which was at the heart of the aspirations of the two brotherly peoples.
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