German lawyer Detlev Mehlis, the UN's special investigator into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, has stepped down from the post.
Mehlis cited restrictive living conditions for his decision
Speaking in Berlin, Mehlis cited stifling security measures and the distance from his family as reasons for quitting. But, he insisted these were the only causes and added that he would be willing to head a similar UN probe in the future.
A recent spate of killings in Lebanon prompted Detlev Mehlis to announce his belief that there was a connection between the latest attacks and the murder of Lebanon's former Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri. Mehlis had been heading the UN probe into the death of Hariri, but announced last week he would be stepping down from the post.
He was adamant however, that there was no mysterious motive for his decision. "There is no hidden reason for my decision not to extend my contract again, there's really no secret. In addition, decisions made on a political level don't affect the investigation."
When asked to cite reasons for his decision, the 56-year-old German lawyer denied suggestions that a hate campaign in the Syrian media and personal threats to his safety had prompted him to leave the post. Rather it was the restrictive living conditions, he said.
Security measures infringed on personal life
The security situation in Lebanon makes normal life almost impossible
"The security measures meant that I didn't have the opportunity to do anything," he explained. "I couldn't just drive anywhere, have a beer or glass of wine or go for a meal. I mean, in theory, I could, but it would have meant closing off areas, blocking streets, and getting 40 or 50 people to accompany me, and put themselves in danger. That makes you think twice about going out."
Mehlis told an Arab newspaper that he was convinced of Syria’s responsibility in the murder of Rafiq Hariri in February. Mehlis has spent seven months heading the UN probe into the murder, which led to Syria pulling forces out of Lebanon, after 30 years of heavy military presence in the country.
He has released two reports since October, heavily implicating Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials in the murder. Syria has rejected the accusations.
In addition to investigating Hariri's case, Mehlis has also been looking into other murders he says are related to the case. It's been a distressing time, he said.
Hariri case just one of many harrowing investigations
A massive bomb attack killed Hariri and at least nine other people
"The Hariri case was particularly sensitive, as he was a former prime minister who was killed in a certain political situation," he said. "But there were also 22 other victims, whose relatives and contacts I visited without the press. That moved me as much as the Hariri case."
Mehlis has proposed that Belgian Serge Brammertz, deputy prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, take over his position as head of the UN probe. The UN investigation into Hariri’s murder was extended last week, following a vote in the UN Security Council.
However, Mehlis expects he may still have to return to Lebanon during the coming months, to support whoever replaces him.