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A special court that the U.N. Security Council voted to set up to prosecute the February 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri came into force on Sunday. The U.N. vote was a direct challenge to Syria, which has been implicated in the killing while denying any involvement.

Although the court’s establishment could sharpen divisions within Lebanon, the country is already deeply split. The best cure for this factionalism is the knowledge that justice, rather than politics, will determine the outcome of this case.

Hariri and 22 other people were killed in a massive car-bomb explosion. The assassination led to huge demonstrations in Lebanon and forced Syria, blamed for masterminding the attack, to withdraw its forces from the country, which Damascus had considered a buffer zone and had controlled since the 1970s.

A subsequent U.N. investigation led to the arrest of eight people, four of whom are pro-Syrian generals who headed Lebanese security departments at the time of the attack. The Lebanese government backed the U.N. investigation and a trial, but after Mr. Nabih Berri, speaker of the Parliament and a friend of Syria, refused to convene the legislature to ratify the necessary statutes to create the court, Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, a friend of Hariri, asked the Security Council to set up the tribunal.

The U.N. voted 10-0 in favor. Five members, including Russia and China, abstained from voting on the grounds that forming the special court amounted to interference in Lebanese sovereignty and that the case, since it did not constitute a threat to international peace and security, did not fall under the UNSC’s mandate.

Those governments worry that the U.N. is taking sides in a domestic dispute. Even backers are concerned that it could deepen splits in a country already profoundly divided. But that logic pales beside the clear need for justice. There is no greater threat to international peace and security than the presumed license to murder another country’s politicians with impunity.

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