UNITED NATIONS,(Reuters) – The Security Council on Wednesday authorized U.N. negotiations with Beirut on the establishment of a special court to try suspects in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
Hariri and 22 others were killed in a Feb. 14, 2005, truck bombing in Beirut. A U.N. commission was set up to investigate the crime after the council concluded a Lebanese inquiry would not be credible due to Syrian domination of its neighbor.
Then, last December, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora wrote U.N. secretary-General Kofi Annan requesting help in bringing Hariri’s killers to justice once they were identified.
The U.N. probe is still under way but investigators told the council last year they had evidence the bombing could not have been carried out without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials, working with their Lebanese counterparts.
Syrian officials have denied any involvement by Damascus.
A resolution adopted unanimously by the 15-nation council on Wednesday called for Annan to launch talks with the government of Lebanon “aimed at establishing a tribunal of an international character based on the highest international standards of criminal justice.”
U.N. Legal Counsel Nicolas Michel has already held several rounds of exploratory talks with Lebanese judicial officials. He said earlier this month there was broad agreement on both the Lebanese and U.N. sides that a tribunal could not be located on Lebanese soil due to security considerations, but should have a mix of both Lebanese and international judges.
The question of funding is expected to be a major sticking point for the new court. Another issue to be resolved is whether the court should try suspects in other recent killings in Lebanon that appeared to be politically motivated.
Estimates are a new tribunal could cost some $25 million in its first year.
While Annan has argued the money should come from member-states’ U.N. dues payments, the United States and other council members typically push for such tribunals to be paid for through voluntary contributions, to keep down dues.