Trials in Absentia at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon: Incompatibility with International Human Rights Law
Posted: 4 Jun 2010
Date Written: May 2010
The article assesses whether or not the provision for trials at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) to be held in absentia, in Article 22 of that Tribunal’s Statute, is consistent with international human rights law binding on Lebanon. It is contended that unless there is an unfettered right to a retrial at the defendant’s option, holding a trial in absentia violates internationally recognized minimum standards of fairness except in circumstances where the accused is: (i) ejected from the proceedings for causing serious disruption; or (ii) being aware of the proceedings, voluntarily waives the right to be present. In light of these principles, the authors conclude that the Statute of the STL is not compliant with these minimum fair trial standards. As an ad hoc institution, the STL cannot and does not effectively guarantee a retrial; yet notwithstanding this it purports to authorize - and indeed requires - trials to be conducted in absentia in a number of instances outside these narrow confines. The authors submit that such trials are unlawful and, moreover, will give rise to trials that will deprive an absent accused of an effective defence. The Statute of the STL should be amended to avoid trials in absentia, except in the limited circumstances outlined above, lest its implementation in its present form undermines the legitimacy of the Tribunal as a whole.
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