Recently, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon began operating, by swearing in judges and establishing a first set of procedures. This tribunal is the latest in the recent trend in the international criminal community toward establishing hybrid tribunals on an ad hoc basis, to deal with particular situations, regions and issues. In fact, other such hybrid tribunals include the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Iraqi Special Tribunal, and the Extra-Ordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. While each of these tribunals has special characteristics and a different degree of domestic v. international features, all of them reflect a consensus between the international community and the host country (Lebanon, Sierra Leone, Iraq, and Cambodia) that something ought to be done about particular crimes in the host crimes.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon was established pursuant to an agreement between the United Nations and Lebanon, negotiated in 2006, and solidified through several Security Council resolutions (in fact, it had been the government of Lebanon that wrote to the United Nations, requesting the establishment of the special tribunal - a situation exactly alike to the one in Sierra Leone). The Lebanese tribunal has jurisdiction to investigate, and prosecute those responsible for, the attack of Feb. 14, 2005, in which former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was killed, and several other individuals were killed or injured. The tribunal can also investigate other acts if it finds that they are linked to the Hariri assassination. The tribunal, while directed to apply Lebanese criminal law, is of an international character because some of its judges and its prosecutor are "international" (some judges hail from Lebanon). Moreover, the tribunal's seat is in the Netherlands, not in Lebanon, a fact which adds to the international character of this institution. Like the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is composed of four offices: the Registry, the Prosecution, the Defense, and the Chambers (to read more about the tribunal, click here: http://www.un.org/apps/news/infocus/lebanon/tribunal/factsheet.shtml).
There are many arguments as to why establishing hybrid tribunals versus purely international ones is a good thing. Hybrid tribunals implicate the host country, if they are located in the host country, they help rebuild its judiciary, institutions, and domestic criminal law, they provide a sense of domestic justice and closure to the victims, can bring about national reconciliation, and can send a stronger message of deterrence domestically. On the other hand, ad hoc hybrid tribunals undermine the International Criminal Court ("ICC"), in instances where the situation could be investigated by the ICC because it fits its jurisdictional mandate. De facto, the United States, a main opponent of the ICC, has been a staunch supporter of ad hoc hybrid tribunals, possibly due to an implicit American policy of thwarting the ICC and sending cases elsewhere. It will be interesting to note whether more ad hoc hybrid tribunals are established during the Obama Administration reign, as our new president seems to have a more supportive stance toward the ICC and may prefer for cases to be prosecuted there. For now, however, the international community welcomes its newest hybrid member, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.