During her visit to Lebanon and in particular to Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU), we caught up with Judge Ivana Hrdličková to ask her a few important questions about her role as the President of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). A Czech national, she began her career as a Judge in 1990 and has presided over both civil and criminal cases. She holds a Ph.D. in International Law, with a focus on the relationship between international and Islamic law, which she earned from Charles University in Prague. She also acts as a legal expert for the Council of Europe on human rights, money laundering, and terrorist financing matters. She was appointed as a Judge of the Appeals Chamber of the STL in November 2012 and was elected STL President on February 19, 2015. She began her mandate on March 1, 2015.
You were undoubtedly elected as STL President given your wealth of experience and rich academic background. What other major criteria were considered for your appointment?
First, allow me to thank you for having me here at NDU; it is a great pleasure. I was appointed as a STL judge five years ago, and I was elected President of the Tribunal three years ago. I was recently re-elected as President. The secretary-general of the United Nations appoints STL judges, and the criteria are academic background and juridical experiences, mostly from national systems as well as some international experience. A President is elected based on the trust of his or her colleagues and fellow judges who vote to elect a judge to that position.
How would you describe your experiences as STL President to date, and what do you consider the greatest challenges of your current responsibilities?
To serve as President is a great honor for me, and an amazing experience. There are many challenges facing International Criminal Justice, and, of course, the STL has its own challenges. The STL was created as a hybrid Tribunal, and it is a Tribunal of many ‘firsts,’ and there are many features for a ‘first-timer.’ For example, we essentially apply the criminal law code of Lebanon while the procedure law is a combination of civil and common law principles, and are purely an international criminal law procedure. We are the first Tribunal dealing with a jurisdiction for terrorism, as a substantive crime. The pace of the trial is one of the challenges definitely, and there is much effort to find a way to speed up the process and to find a way to make the process of International Criminal Justice faster.
Evidently, the primary mandate of the STL is to hold trials for the people accused of carrying out the attack on February 14, 2005, which killed 22 people, including former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Does the STL hold trials for cases other than Hariri’s assassination, such as the many assassinations that took place after February 14?
As you mentioned, the jurisdiction of the tribunal is primarily for Prime Minister Hariri’s assassination and cases connected to this attack. Currently, we have a trial before the trial chamber for Prime Minister Hariri’s assassination and the cases connected to this attack are before the prosecutor for his investigation.
Based on the previous question, where does the STL stand today, regarding this matter?
It is a very important question you asked, and as I mentioned the pace of the trial is one of the main challenges: the mandate of the Tribunal is three years, the secretary-general of the United Nations decided recently to extend the STL mandate for another three years until the end of February 2021. The prosecutor completed his part of the case in February of this year (2018) and the defense case is expected to start soon. Once it is completed the trial chamber judges will deliberate and pronounce the judgement, which is now, I would say, realistic to expect around the end of this year. It took some time, and it is still taking time, but I think we are getting closer and closer to the final judgement.
Considering that Prime Minister Hariri’s assassination was an act of terrorism, under what category does this crime fall under: ‘War Crimes,’ ‘Crimes Against Humanity,’ or ‘Genocide?’ and are international Tribunals meant to prosecute such crimes?
I am very happy that you asked this question, because it is accurate. Before the STL was created, the other tribunals, including the International Criminal Court, had jurisdiction for only ‘War Crimes,’ ‘Crimes Against Humanity,’ and ‘Genocide,’ but the STL has a special jurisdiction, it is the only tribunal with a jurisdiction for terrorism; no other international tribunal has such jurisdiction.
How do you perceive the future of International Criminal Justice in Lebanon, and why is it crucial for NDU students in particular to learn from your experiences?
First, I truly believe that STL can pass a legacy to Lebanese people. We are a Special Tribunal for Lebanon
and ‘for’ here means only
for Lebanese people. As such, I wish that will usher in a legacy: juridical experience, juridical prudence, some tools for criminal justice, for example, protecting victims and witnesses. I believe in justice and I think what is happening now in the world is a place for International Criminal Justice. It is a special tool, it is for when countries, for many different reasons, cannot deal with cases domestically, and I believe that the more countries and people are involved in international criminal justice, the more just the system will be. From what I know about Lebanese people, I really admire them, and I am amazed to see how enthusiastic young Lebanese are and how well-educated they are, especially with all their language skills: it is amazing that they can speak three languages fluently! I think this a potential that not many people in the world have, and it allows the Lebanese to be active in this particular field.