By Saeed K. Mavadat

Beirut blast revives debate over international trusteeship system in Lebanon

August 12, 2020 - 23:30

TEHRAN - In the wake of the massive explosion at the Beirut port, which devastated parts of the Lebanese capital and left hundreds of thousands of Beirut residents homeless, Lebanese politicians and experts dangle the prospect of Lebanon being placed under international trusteeship.

The August 4 explosion at the Beirut port sent shock waves across Lebanon and the region, prompting a fierce political debate in Lebanon over how to tackle the explosion’s economic and political damage, with some experts suggesting to establish a trusteeship council for the country as a way to contain the worsening crisis, a move that is seen by some Lebanese political factions as a ploy to disarm the Hezbollah movement.

“If Lebanon is to be saved, the United Nations should establish a Trusteeship Council for Lebanon that would govern the country for five years, which most Lebanese would welcome,” wrote Emile Nakhleh, a former U.S. intelligence officer, in an article published by the Responsible Statecraft website.

According to Nakhleh, the council should undertake a “drastic restructuring of the country’s institutions” and ultimately “dismantle the sectarian confessional system of government and change the constitution.”

The calls for establishing such a council are based on the proposition that the current leaders of Lebanon are unable to manage the challenges their country faces.

“The country’s senior leaders are unable to govern and have no money to pay for rebuilding Beirut. They have lost the trust of the Lebanese people and international donors,” said the former officer. He added, “The Lebanese state is failing and is rapidly devolving into chaotic and warring smaller regions run by warlords. Meanwhile, poverty, lawlessness, unemployment, and hunger are becoming rampant.”

Some Lebanese journalists and politicians echoed the same call, adding that a Trusteeship Council could undertake to disarm some groups, draw borders, and impose its authority in Lebanon.

However, international law experts believe that establishing a Trusteeship Council for Lebanon is very unlikely as the country is a sovereign state that enjoys the UN membership.

“The trusteeship issue is no longer under consideration at the United Nations. There have been no Trust Territories since the 1960s,” Yousof Molaei, a retired professor of international law at the University of Tehran, told the Tehran Times.

According to the professor, setting up an international trusteeship system in Lebanon is subject to a very complicated procedure and requires the confirmation of the UN Security Council.

“It’s not possible to establish a trusteeship system for countries that once gained sovereignty. Lebanon is a sovereign state with an ambassador at the UN, and it is recognized as an independent state. Therefore, it’s not possible to place Lebanon under international administration. The trusteeship period is over,” Molaei said.

International Trusteeship System dates back to the 1940s when the United Nations established it in a bid to supervise what came to be known as Trust Territories placed under the UN supervision. Under Article 77 of the UN Charter, the International Trusteeship System applied to territories held under mandates established by the League of Nations after the First World War, territories detached from “enemy States” as a result of the Second World War, and territories voluntarily placed under the System by States responsible for their administration. Today, there are no Trust Territories around the world. However, the Trusteeship Council continues to exist as an organ of the United Nations, and meets where occasion requires it.

Experts believe that the current situation in Lebanon doesn’t require an international trusteeship.

“The international trusteeship drops as soon as a country become a UN member, because the principle of trusteeship contradicts another fundamental principle of the UN, which is the equality in sovereignty among large and small states,” wrote Leila Naqola, a professor of international relations at the Lebanese University, in an opinion piece published by the al-Mayadeen website.

Naqola agrees with Molaei that establishing the trusteeship system in Lebanon requires the adoption of a resolution by the UN Security Council.

The Council has no plans to discuss setting up the trusteeship system in Lebanon. Nevertheless, some political factions in Lebanon seem to believe that setting up the system is highly likely.

A well-placed Lebanese source told the Lebanon Debate news website on August 9 that there are huge concerns over the efforts to internationalize the Lebanese crisis.

“It’s highly likely that Lebanon would be placed under international trusteeship, especially if the authority made a mistake in dealing with the angry people and did not seek to relieve their anger,” the source warned, adding that Lebanon faces a very dangerous situation.

Setting up an international trusteeship in Lebanon is no easy task, given the fissures between the Lebanese political factions. This may be the reason why some Lebanese media outlets say that there are plans to establish a different type of trusteeship system for Lebanon.

In a move to shore up the economy, the Lebanese government held talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to secure a package of financial aid. The talks were put on hold because of Lebanon’s failure to implement the reforms demanded by the IMF.

According to a report published by the Lebanese news website, Lebanon 24, the IMF demands are part of a greater plan to pressure the Lebanese government into implementing the reforms and perhaps placing it under International Trusteeship.  

“It’s an open secret that, in addition to the IMF plan for Lebanon, there is a serious proposal at the UN stipulating that the international organization’s experts oversee the process of rebuilding the official Lebanese administration according to correct, clean and scientific standards, or in other words placing the official Lebanese administration under international trusteeship. However, the United Nations will not go in this direction without a political understanding that would guarantee the approval of Hezbollah and give it political assurances,” wrote the Lebanon 24 website.

Some even interpreted the latest visit by French President Emanuel Macron to Beirut after the explosion as an effort to restore the French mandate for Lebanon and interfere in Lebanon’s internal affairs.

“Instead of focusing his attention on identifying the factors behind the explosion, we see Macron pushing for political change and an explosion of the stability in Lebanon. Macron’s statements are interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs, which exacerbate the suffering of the Lebanese people. Macron should offer apologies to the Lebanese people,” tweeted Mohsen Rezaee, the secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council of Iran.

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