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STL’s Cassese: Resignation Likely Sign of Infighting Not Ill-Health
By: Omar Nashabe

Published Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The resignation of Judge Antonio Cassese as president of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is the latest in a string of resignations likely prompted by a power struggle between prosecutor Daniel Bellemare and STL judges.

An official statement issued from the Hague indicated that President of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) Antonio Cassese resigned due to ‘health reasons.' It is telling that in his leaving remarks, Cassese said, "For two-and-a-half years I have endeavored to steer the STL through difficult waters efficiently and fairly." On 23 April 2009, a few days after the STL began its operation, Cassese explained some of the difficult circumstances to al-Akhbar:

At the time, Cassese said in a recorded statement: "I morally feel that I am suffering from duality. Even more, I feel disturbed when I notice that we are undertaking selective justice." Cassese was referring to the indifference by the international community towards the prosecution of crimes in Guantanamo, Iraq, and Gaza, among others. Cassese announced Monday that he does not feel he is "able to provide the leadership that the Tribunal requires and deserves." He added that the decision to step down as president was difficult for him personally, "but it was the correct choice for the Tribunal."

The president of the STL has a wide range of responsibilities, including oversight and ensuring effective functioning of the Tribunal and the proper administration of justice, as well as representing the STL in its relationship with the US, the UN, and other entities. Nevertheless, the criminal cases have not yet reached the stage of public trials. Thus, most of the problems that Cassese faced are related to the proper administration of justice in the preliminary stages.

This stage has witnessed many tensions between prosecutor Daniel Bellemare and his colleagues. The resignation of British Registrar of the STL Robin Vincent in 2009 was the first sign of disagreements between the prosecutor and several of the judges and court officials. Vincent resigned because Bellemare insisted on raising the investigation team's budget and designating an office for external communication exclusively for himself. Vincent said he resigned because these practices did not meet "the highest international standards in the field of criminal justice." (Resolution 1757/2007)

This was followed by tension between Bellemare and Pre-Trial Judge Daniel Fransen, prompting the prosecutor to refuse answers to Fransen's questions surrounding his case. Bellemare also appealed Fransen's decisions to provide former Major General Jamil al-Sayyed with necessary documents for the prosecution of those behind al-Sayyed's arbitrary detention. According to a source in the Hague close to Bellemare, tensions increased after Bellemare lost all the appeals he had filed to the Appeals Chamber. Bellemare even expressed dismay over Cassese to STL staff, openly questioning whether Cassese understood the Tribunal's jurisdiction only extended to the case of Rafiq Hariri and not that of Jamil al-Sayyed.

A Temporary Compromise

In a phone interview with al-Akhbar, a New York based UN official said that Judge Cassese had informed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon two weeks ago about his intention to resign from his position due to differences between Bellemare and some of the Tribunal's judges.

According to the source, Cassese also passed on to Ban a complaint that Judge Fransen had filed against the prosecutor. Ban discussed this matter with UN officials in New York. He decided that losing Bellemare or Cassese during "this historical stage of the first tribunal on terrorist crimes" might lead to the erosion of what is left of the Tribunal's credibility. The UN source says that Ban decided to adopt a temporary compromise. This compromise required Cassese to step down as President of the Tribunal due to ‘health reasons,' and continue to serve as a judge of the Tribunal's Appeals Chamber, despite his alleged health issues. On the other hand, Bellemare would stay in his position backed by international support, as today he constitutes the vanguard of ‘the war on terrorism' by targeting Hezbollah.

Resignations Rapid and Mysterious

In addition to the resignation of the Registrar Robin Vincent, the difficult circumstances Cassese mentioned upon his resignation coincided with the resignation of a large number of the Tribunal staff, notably David Tolbert (September 2009), who resigned a few weeks after he was appointed successor to Vincent. Other resignations followed, such as that of the head of public relations Peter Foster, the prosecutor's spokesperson Radiya Ashouri (May 2010) and her successor Henrietta Aswad (September 2010).

Furthermore, the director of the Department of Investigation in the prosecutor's office announced he had no plans to renew his contract, and left the Hague on 28 February 2010. Four months before that (November 2009), Judge Howard Morrison resigned, following the resignation of Tribunal spokesperson Susan Khan a few days before. Fatima al-Issawi, her successor, in turn resigned on 11 December 2010. Resignations are not uncommon in international criminal tribunals, but in the case of the STL, they have been happening at a quick pace and under mysterious circumstances.

The New President David Baragwanath

The Tribunal's judges unanimously elected Judge Sir David Baragwanath from New Zealand as president of the STL and Presiding Judge of the Appeals Chamber, after his nomination by Vice-President Ralph Riachy and Judge Cassese. "Public confidence in the Tribunal requires that we adhere strictly to the rule of law," said Judge Baragwanath upon his election, similar to what Bellemare said the day he was appointed as a prosecutor. He added: "The people of Lebanon are entitled to receive from our Tribunal the highest standards of justice delivered without fear or favor, affection or ill-will. Essential among its elements is the presumption of innocence, expressed in the twin rules that the onus of proof lies on the prosecution; and that proof of every element charged must be beyond reasonable doubt."

Baragwanath joined the STL in March 2009. In 2010, he was made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in recognition of his experience as a judge on the Court of Appeal.

Baragwanath attended Auckland Grammar School, University of Auckland Law School, and he is a Rhodes Scholar who earned a Bachelor of Civil Law at Oxford University. He began his career as a member of the lawyers' syndicate in New Zealand and was appointed the Queen's Counsel in 1983. He assumed the tasks of prosecution and defense in major criminal cases, notably complicated murder and fraud trials.

From 1996 to 2001, Baragwanath headed the New Zealand Law Commission. In 2004, he was appointed head of the Committee on Rules at New Zealand courts. He was a permanent member of the New Zealand Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2010. In addition to his judicial work, Baragwanath has lectured and published writings on national and international human rights issues, constitutional matters, the rule of law, and international judicial cooperation. He has taught at Cambridge University, Queen Mary-University of London, University of Hong Kong, and University of Manitoba.

Source: Al-Akhbar Lebanese daily

13-10-2011 | 10:35

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