The search for justice

Many Lebanese people are hoping that Bahia Hariri, the outspoken sister of the late prime minister Rafik Hariri, will one day take the position herself. First elected to Parliament in 1992, she has long been a highly active personality in Lebanese political life and has championed the preservation of culture, education and women’s rights. Speaking to Massoud A. Derhally, she demands the creation of an international investigation to uncover the truth behind her brother’s killing.

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By  Massoud A. Derhally Published  March 20, 2005

The search for justice|~|SORROW-200.jpg|~|SORROW: Bahia Hariri says she is not confident that the current UN investigation into her brother’s death will be thorough.|~|Many Lebanese people are hoping that Bahia Hariri, the outspoken sister of the late prime minister Rafik Hariri, will one day take the position herself. First elected to Parliament in 1992, she has long been a highly active personality in Lebanese political life and has championed the preservation of culture, education and women’s rights. Speaking to Massoud A. Derhally, she demands the creation of an international investigation to uncover the truth behind her brother’s killing. For a woman who carries the weight and expectations of millions of people on her shoulders, Bahia Hariri is remarkably calm. Resilient and hard-hitting, she speaks decisively and eloquently about the death of her brother: “The blood of prime minister Rafik Hariri is not a negotiable issue for us,” she says, when asked if there might be any middle ground between the opposition and the government. Since Hariri was killed just over a month ago, Lebanon has undergone changes of seismic levels. At first came worldwide condemnation, followed by hundreds of thousands taking to the streets, calling for the withdrawal of the occupying Syrian army. Many in Beriut directly blame Syria for Hariri’s death. But no sooner had Syria’s president Bashar Assad agreed to a phased withdrawal, than thousands more Lebanese took to the streets demanding the Syrians stay put. In the complexities of Lebanese politics, Bahia Hariri — herself active in the region’s politics for 13 years, now finds herself at centre stage. And there can be no uncertainty over where she lies on her brother’s killing. “My position is not separate from the announced positions of Lebanese parliamentarians and members of the opposition, in terms of their insistence on demanding the truth — the truth about who killed former prime minister and martyr, Rafik Hariri; and [demanding] the immediate prosecution of the heads of the security services for their dereliction of duty in the investigation case, and the search for evidence, and belittling the magnitude of the crime, and making inaccurate announcements to mislead the course of the investigation,” she says. Whether that happens is another matter. The UN has begun its own independent investigation into the killing, dispatching three senior Irish police officers to Beirut. They have already held separate talks with the Lebanese interior and justice ministers. Following the initial arrival of the UN team, Lebanese interior minister Suleiman Frangieh pledged his government’s cooperation, while insisting that the Irish officers were “not investigators, but are here to give their opinion”. Justice minister Adnan Addum said the team was in Lebanon “to collect information ... and they are working within the limits of their prerogatives ... within the scope of Lebanese sovereignty.” But Bahia Hariri appears less than convinced over the merits of the investigation so far. She says: “First, the international investigators are an investigating team concerned with how the crime took place and not who carried it out, because they don’t have the legal mandate to interview, investigate and accuse. From this premise we hope that an international investigating team with a legal mandate comes to investigate who killed prime minister Rafik Hariri.” She adds: “Our demand for an international investigation team is the only way to uncover the truth and put an end to random accusations. Whoever wants to know the truth must demand an international inquiry and this is the least one can do. As to what concerns the type of government we [the opposition] are not concerned with any kind of process that restores the [previous] political environment that the Lebanese people have suffered from a great deal. Our patriotic conditions are clear and we haven’t received any kind of sign from this government, which indicates a willingness to ask for an international investigating committee to find the truth, or even to prosecute the heads of the security apparatus.” Since Hariri’s death, the many different political factions in Lebanon (apart from Hezbollah) appear to have come together, united in their quest to see the back of the Syrians. Pressure has been mounting daily on the Syrians. Last Tuesday Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak met Assad at a hilltop palace overlooking the Syrian capital. They met a day after an estimated 800,000 people gathered in Beirut to protest at Syrian influence in Lebanon. Damascus has promised the UN a full timetable for the withdrawal of its 14,000 troops and intelligence agents, but it has yet to come. For Bahia Hariri, the challenge may be to keep the show of unity within opposition parties. She explains: “The Lebanese people of all factions and communities have expressed their condemnation of the assassination of the martyred leader Rafik Hariri, and the [anxiety] of the Lebanese people to go to the grave site to pray is considered an unequivocal testimony that the Lebanese know that this crime targeted their security, their stability and their future. “And they know better than others the meaning of stability and the meaning of the future, because of what they endured throughout the past decades and they won’t accept less than Rafik Hariri’s Lebanon; a bright, independent and secure Lebanon. In modesty, I say that this issue is a high ceiling for the opposition and to loyalists alike, and no-one will be able to surpass the assassination crime of the leader Rafik Hariri and discovering the truth.” But will she go as far as to demand the resignation of Lebanese president Emile Lahoud, one of Syria’s closest allies? She says: “Lebanon is a republican parliamentary and democratic system. I asked in my address to the house of parliament, which is the source of legislation and the true representative body of the Lebanese people, to take its role in prosecuting and inquiring, especially since they all admitted that the assassination crime targets [the] peace and stability of Lebanon.” Some Lebanese politicians such as Druze leader Walid Jumblatt have argued that UN resolution 1559 (calling for Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon) aims to bring Lebanon into tandem with American policies. Bahia Hariri, however, is keen to place more emphasis on the Taif accord, which dates back to 1989, and details more clearly how Lebanon should be governed. “The Taif agreement is a national, Arab and international agreement and it is the last piece of wood to [help rescue the Lebanese from drowning], to help all the Lebanese from the difficult experiences they lived and to reconstruct and rebuild the country. This agreement has become a constitution for the Lebanese, so I cannot compare it to UN Resolution 1559, though I believe in the implementation of Taif in all its points. Had it been carried out we wouldn’t have reached UN resolution 1559,” she explains. Many Lebanese are now openly touting Bahia Hariri as a candidate for the prime minister’s job. Whether she will take it is unclear. She says only: “Rafik Hariri will remain for a long time, and perhaps for decades to come, the prime minister of the Lebanese Government and no-one can ever replace him. The position of the leader Hariri, before the crime and after the crime, is a Lebanon that is Arab, free, sovereign and independent. The martyred leader sacrificed his youth, his life and everything he could do for Lebanon.” For more on our special Lebanon feature, click on The Governor.||**||

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