Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 05:48 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 05:48 | SYDNEY

The Middle East and the long arm of the law


Rodger Shanahan


5 March 2009 14:21

The rule of law and the Middle East are not always synonomous, and senior political or military leaders have rarely if ever sat before a civilian court in judgement, but over this past week issues of the law have been centre stage in three countries. In Israel the Attorney-General has signaled his intent to indict outgoing PM Ehud Olmert on corruption charges.

In Iraq, meanwhile, the special criminal court has been busy, finding Ali Hassan al-Majid (the infamous 'Chemical Ali') guilty of crimes against humanity and sentencing him to death. By contrast, Saddam Hussein's former foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, was acquitted over his participation in a brutal crackdown following the 1999 assassination of Ayatollah Muhammad al-Sadr. Aziz still faces two more charges.

Perhaps the most important development, certainly for the potential repercusions it has for the region, occurred in The Hague, where the international tribunal into the assassination of Rafiq Hariri has opened, four years after the event. The tribunal is expected to take years to conclude, and many challenges lie ahead. Syrian suspicions about the motive behind the court, and concern about the possibility of adverse findings against the regime, means that the court's ability to successfully call Syrian witnesses or indict Syrian or Syrian-allied suspects is questionable.

The 7 June Lebanon election is also likely to have an impact on proceedings, as a pro-Syrian government would be more circumspect in releasing witnesses, let alone suspects, to the tribunal. The first test is likely to occur in the next few months when four pro-Syrian generals held in custody in Lebanon are indicted by the tribunal.