14 December 2005
Head of Investigation into Assassination of Former Lebanese Prime Minister Briefs Security Council
Says "It Remains to Be Seen whether Syrian Cooperation Would Be Full and without Conditions"
NEW YORK, 13 December (UN Headquarters) -- As the Security Council continued to weigh its response to the United Nations probe into the assassination on 14 February of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, it heard a further briefing today by Detlev Mehlis, the head of the independent investigation, in which Mr. Mehlis asserted, "it remains to be seen whether Syrian cooperation would be full and without conditions".
Mr. Mehlis said that, despite the widespread apprehension preceding the issuance of his October report and the anxiety that lingered thereafter, the security situation had remained calm until yesterday's bombing attack in Beirut, Lebanon, which had killed parliamentarian and prominent journalist Gebran Tueni, with whom he had met in the Hariri case.
It had become evident in the course of the investigation that the Commission, which had been tasked with identifying the perpetrators, sponsors, organizers and accomplices of the February's crime, was working on two tracks -- one Lebanese and one Syrian, he said. On the Lebanese track, the Commission had been able to resolve most impediments, thanks to the cooperation and willingness of the Lebanese authorities to facilitate the Commission's work in all possible ways.
The Commission was trying hard to make headway on the Syrian track, but its relationship with the Syrian authorities had been "marked by conflicting signals", causing confusion and delays, he said. The Security Council had set out a clear an unambiguous framework for Syria's work with the Commission, calling for its full and unconditional cooperation. Yet, it was only after much hesitation and procrastination that the Syrian authorities had finally agreed to the request to interview five Syrian officials considered suspects, in Vienna, under the Commission's terms. That took place only one week ago. "At that rate, the investigation might take another year or two", he added.
He said he supported the 14 October request of the Lebanese Prime Minister to extend the Commission's mandate for another six months; however, he could not prejudge the actual length of the investigation. That would remain, first and foremost, a Lebanese investigation, but the Syrian authorities were also responsible for the pace of the investigation, as that depended on the extent of their full and unconditional cooperation. It was with regret that he would leave the Commission as soon as his successor was appointed. He would remain available, however, to help and assist, whenever the need arose.
Responding to the briefing, the representative of Lebanon said he hoped the Council would extend the Commission's mandate for a renewable six-month period, and he confirmed that judicial and security bodies in Lebanon would continue to cooperate. Maintaining security for the region required shedding light on the crime and punishing the perpetrators, and in that regard, he asked the Council to set up an international tribunal to try all those involved in the bombing that had claimed the life of Mr. Hariri.
Syria's representative repeated his country's condemnation of the operation that had led to the assassination of Mr. Hariri, as well as that of yesterday's bombing which had claimed the life of Mr. Tueni. Consideration of the Commission's second report was yet another opportunity for Syria to express its commitment to cooperate with the Commission. Syria was making every effort to facilitate the Commission's work. He disagreed with the statements in the report referring to Syria's reluctance to cooperate, and he provided concrete examples to that effect, including the continuous communication, which had led to an understanding on the way the investigation was to be conducted in Vienna.
The Independent Commission, for its part, however, had not maintained one of the most important principles, namely confidentiality. Its reports were leaked to the media. An understanding reached between the Syrian Foreign Ministry and the head of the Independent Commission had led to the adoption by the Commission of basic guarantees on human rights related to criminal proceedings. But the investigators had not applied those principles to the interrogations in Vienna. For example, the investigators summed up what interviewees were saying without preparing verbatim records of those statements.
At the start of the meeting, the Council President for the month, Emyr Jones Parry (United Kingdom), welcomed the presence of Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The meeting began at 3:16 p.m. and was adjourned at 3:50 p.m.
The Security Council met this afternoon to consider a letter dated 12 December from the Secretary-General transmitting the second report of the International Independent Investigation Commission (document S/2005/775). The Commission had been established pursuant to Security Council resolutions 1595 and 1636 (2005) to investigate the "terrorist act" in Beirut of 14 February, which resulted in the death of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others. (For a summary of the first report submitted to the Council on 19 October (document S/2005/662) and the briefing by the Commissioner, Detlev Mehlis, please see Press Release SC/8535 ).
Dated 10 December, the present report says that, given that the Commission's substantive lines of enquiry are far from being completed, and given the slow pace with which the Syrian authorities are beginning to discharge their commitments to the Council, the Commission recommends the Commission's work be extended for at least six months. Such a decision would avoid the inevitable disruptions to the substantive work, which are associated with shorter-term mandate renewals.
The Commission has made steady progress on the Lebanese track; it remains to be matched on the Syrian track, the report says. For that reason, the Commission feels that Syria "should pursue its own investigation in an earnest and professional manner and respond to the Commission in a timely way, fully and unconditionally, before it is determined whether it is complying in full with the provisions of resolution 1636 (2005) of 31 October".
(By that text, the Council had asked the Commission to report to it by 15 December on the progress of its investigation of the terrorist attack of 14 February in Beirut. The Commission had also been tasked with helping to identify the perpetrators, sponsors, organizers and accomplices of the crime.)
To date, the report says, the Commission has interviewed and obtained the statements of 19 suspects. Analysts are in the process of reviewing these statements. One specific area of focus is information related to the planning of the assassination, including locations, dates, times, and participants in meetings. A cross-checking process is designed to facilitate a comprehensive and coherent testing of the credibility of sources and the reliability of information collected. This process will help the Commission to develop a better picture of how the events leading up to and immediately following the assassination evolved, including the people involved and their contacts.
In close cooperation with the Lebanese judicial authorities, the Commission has identified those 19 individuals as "suspects" in the investigation, indicating that, based on the evidence accumulated to date, there is reason to believe that these individuals "may have been involved in some way in the planning or execution of this crime or engaged in deliberate attempts to mislead the investigation as to its perpetrators". These individuals have been advised of their status as suspects and are presumed innocent until proven guilty. When interviewed, they have been accorded the rights that suspects enjoy under Lebanese law.
Also according to the report and as set out in the previous report, the Lebanese authorities detained four high-level officials of the Lebanese security and intelligence services. These four individuals remain in custody. Pursuant to an agreement between the Commission and a representative of the Foreign Ministry of Syria entered into between 5 and 7 December, five Syrian officials were also interviewed as suspects. The interviewees signed their statements and provided DNA samples. The questioning of these individuals touched on a broad range of issues related to the evidence gathered by the Commission in its investigation.
Statements made by two of the suspects indicated that "all Syrian intelligence documents concerning Lebanon had been burned", the report says. It was also confirmed, in a letter transmitted to the Commission from the Head of the Syrian Special Investigation Commission, Judge Ghada Murad, and dated 8 December, that "no material regarding the assassination of Mr. Hariri had been found in Syrian intelligence archives". These matters require further investigation by the Commission, Mr. Mehlis says in the report.
Outlining progress concerning the form and content of Syrian cooperation with the Commission, Mr. Mehlis sets out the next steps planned in the enquiry, as well as a number of conclusions and recommendations which reflect current progress in the investigation. He says that the conclusions set out in his earlier report remain valid, and the investigation continues to develop multiple lines of enquiry, which reinforce these conclusions. It is important that the steady pace of the substantive lines of enquiry be maintained. The process of convergence of evidence and the careful cross-checking and review of testimony requires time. Extraneous events cannot, and should not, be used to distract the Commission from the mandate given to it by the Council to help identify the perpetrators, sponsors, organizers and accomplices in the terrorist act of 14 February.
Also according to the report, the next steps in the investigation are clear in the work of the Commission to assist the Lebanese authorities, as follows: to continue to follow existing lines of enquiry on all aspects of the case; to assess and follow up new elements which are brought to its attention; to close out any lines of enquiry which no longer have a direct bearing on the case; to receive at all times the full and unconditional cooperation of the Syrian authorities; and to report on progress to the Council at regular intervals. Delays in proceeding with any one of these elements will inevitably have an impact on all of them. In this regard, it would be helpful if a number of Member States from whom specific assistance has been solicited could respond to the Commission's request.
The Commission maintains the view expressed in its earlier report that there existed a number of personal and political motives for the assassination of Mr. Hariri, the report goes on to say. This view has been corroborated, in several respects, by evidence and testimony received since October 2005. The Commission and the Lebanese judicial and security authorities have further enhanced their cooperation in recent weeks, in the pursuit of their common objective to uncover the truth. The Lebanese authorities have the will and growing capacity to carry forward the investigation in Lebanon. Given the broader implications of several lines of enquiry, however, it is essential that the international community continue to support the investigation both inside Lebanon and beyond its borders, so that all aspects of the case may be thoroughly investigated and concluded.
Council resolution 1636 (2005) remains a clear and unambiguous mandate for the work of the investigation, the report also says. The Commission has the authority, in its pursuit of witnesses and testimony outside the State of Lebanon, to ask for information and to receive it, to summon named witnesses and suspects (and, if need be, to request their detention or arrest), and to request evidentiary materials, free from any condition, pressure or interference in that process. The Commission cannot, however, control the clock. It is equally important that cooperation with the Commission be displayed in a timely and unambiguous manner.
Briefing by the Commissioner
DETLEV MEHLIS, Commissioner, United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission, said that the Commission had been through two mandate renewals. The report had reflected the outcome of its work since its last extension seven weeks ago. Security Council resolution 1636 (2005) of 31 October had been instrumental in helping the Commission's work, by giving it the authority to move forward on the investigation on all its tracks and to help identify the perpetrators of the 14 February attack in Beirut, which was its main objective.
He said the Commission had pursued both existing and new lines of enquiry, guided by the same principle of cooperation and information-sharing with the Lebanese authorities. He underscored the importance of ever-closer links between the Commission and the Lebanese authorities, in order to keep the course with a steady pace in the investigation. To date, the Commission had interviewed more than 500 witnesses and, together with the Lebanese authorities, had established a list of 19 suspects. It had followed traces and leads and had focused on several promising tracks.
In the course of the investigation, it had become evident that the Commission was working on two tracks -- one Lebanese and one Syrian, he said. On the Lebanese track, the Commission had been able to resolve most impediments, thanks to the cooperation and willingness of the Lebanese authorities to facilitate the Commission's work in all possible ways. The convergence of many factors, such as the overhaul of the security apparatus, the arrest of four former security officials, and the Commission's expanded authority through the last Security Council resolution, as well as the ensuing interviews of Syrian suspects, had boosted the confidence and resolve of the Lebanese people and Government.
Despite the widespread apprehension preceding the issuance of his October report and the anxiety that lingered thereafter, he said that the security situation had remained calm until yesterday's bombing attack in Beirut. He expressed his sincere condolences and sympathies to the victims' families and friends. He had met with Mr. Tueni in the Hariri case, and "it was very sad that he left us under such horrendous circumstances", he said.
In parallel to the Lebanese track, the Commission had been trying hard to make headway on the Syrian track, he said. The Commission's relationship with the Syrian authorities had been "marked by conflicting signals". It was not clear who, from the Syrian side, was the privileged interlocutor of the Commission. That had caused confusion and delays. He had suggested seven weeks ago in this Chamber that the Syrian authorities carry out their own investigation. Resolution 1636 had set out a clear and unambiguous framework for Syria's work with the Commission, calling for its full and unconditional cooperation. Yet, after much hesitation and procrastination, the Syrian authorities finally had agreed to the request to interview five Syrian officials considered suspects, in Vienna, under the Commission's terms. That had taken place only one week ago. At that rate, the investigation might take another year or two.
He stressed that cooperation should be diligent and timely. Yet, the Syrian authorities did make the five suspects available for questioning on conditions set out by the Commission, which was an important stage in the investigation. The Commission had recorded the extensive interviews; now, the statements had to be assessed and new evidence reviewed before new witnesses or suspects could be questioned. That might be the starting point of the much sought-after cooperation of the Syrian authorities with the Commission. "It remained to be seen whether Syrian cooperation would be full and without conditions", he said.
In his letter of 14 October, the Lebanese Prime Minister had requested an extension of the Commission's mandate for another six months, he noted. The Commission supported that request; however, it could not prejudge the actual length of the investigation it had been carrying out at the behest of the Lebanese Government. Many factors should be taken into account, but it would remain, first and foremost, a Lebanese investigation. The Syrian authorities were also responsible for the pace of the investigation because that depended on the extent of their full and unconditional cooperation. Heartfelt thanks went to all parties, particularly to the Secretary-General for the enduring efforts exerted to help the Commission move ahead. It was with regret that he would leave the Commission as soon as his successor was appointed. He would remain available, however, to help and assist, whenever the need arose.
IBRAHIM ASSAF (Lebanon) said he hoped the Council would decide to extend the mandate of the Commission for a renewable six-month period, in accordance with the enquiry's requirements. He confirmed that judicial and security bodies in Lebanon would continue to cooperate with the Commission and invited the parties concerned to cooperate with the Commission, in keeping with resolutions 1595 and 1636. Maintaining security for the region required shedding light on the crime and punishing the perpetrators.
International precedence, he said, showed that the best way to judge people responsible for such crimes was to establish an international tribunal so that justice could be rendered by a just decision that was free from pressure. Resolution 1636 stated that the Council was ready to consider all requests by Lebanon to guarantee punishment. Today, he was asking the Council to establish a tribunal, in or outside Lebanon, which would try all those who, according to the Commission, had been involved in the bombing that had claimed the life of Mr. Hariri.
In addition, he said, the Government of Lebanon requested the Council to extend the mandate of the Commission or to set up another investigation to help the Lebanese authorities with investigations under way on the assassinations or attempted assassinations starting with the attempt on the life of Marwan Hamadi in October 2004.
FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) repeated Syria's condemnation of the operation that led to the assassination of Mr. Hariri, as well as of yesterday's bombing which claimed the life of Gebran Tueni. He also condemned the series of bombings in Lebanon, and the attempt to use them to charge Syria. The consideration of the Commission's second report was yet another opportunity for Syria to express its commitment to cooperate with the Commission. Syria was making every effort to facilitate the work of the Commission in order for it to fully discharge its task.
He disagreed with the imprecise statements it the report referring to the reluctance of Syria to provide full cooperation with the Commission. Syria had continuously communicated with the Commission, leading to a mutual understanding on the way the investigation was to be conducted in Vienna. The Syrian Judicial Commission had discharged its task in a transparent manner and had provided the Commission with all the information required. The lack of recognition by the Independent Commission of the Syrian Judicial Commission had also led to undesirable delays. He would like to see constructive cooperation between those two bodies. The Syrian Commission continued in its work and needed information available to the Independent Commission in order to fully discharge its task.
It was necessary for the rights of the States concerned to be made clear, he continued. The Independent Commission did not maintain one of the most important principles, namely confidentiality. Its reports were leaked to the media. The Foreign Minister of Syria would welcome a meeting with the head of the Independent Commission. An understanding reached between the Syrian Foreign Ministry and the head of the Independent Commission had led to the adoption by the Commission of basic guarantees on human rights related to criminal proceedings. But the investigators did not apply those principles in the interrogations conducted in Vienna. For example, the investigators summed up what interviewees were saying without preparing verbatim records of those statements. The criticisms directed at the former report applied to the current report, as well.
He said that the witness Hussam Taher Hussam had arrived in Syria, made some statements to the media, and recanted his previous testimony to the Commission. There was no truth to the statements that threats had been made against him before he made his statement in Syria. Second, why had the Commission not scrutinized the movements of Zuheir ibn Mohamed, despite suspicions surrounding his testimony? There had been no response to the request for his extradition from France. The Commission had determined that a substantial portion of his statement had been false. If that was the case, then the Commission must conclude that remaining parts of his statement were also false. Third, the Commission did not determine how the Mitsubishi vehicle involved in the bombing had arrived in Lebanon. Fourth, the two reports had made reference to the possibility of the presence of a third party. The Commission had not attached importance to that possibility, despite its significance. He reiterated Syria's readiness to cooperate with the investigation in the upcoming period.
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