Global Policy Forum

'Human Rights Shortcomings' in Hussein Tribunal -


By Robert Collier

San Francisco Chronical
April 22, 2004

An Iraqi tribunal created to try Saddam Hussein is gathering force - - and so are warnings from human rights groups that a failure to provide impartial justice after long years of savage dictatorship could cause the body to be perceived as a kangaroo court. Some legal experts say they are concerned that the tribunal is being controlled by one Iraqi political faction and will fail to meet the standards of international justice that have been set by high-profile war crimes trials in other countries.

On Tuesday, officials of the Iraqi National Congress, a party led by controversial politician Ahmed Chalabi, announced that Chalabi's nephew Salem had been named as director of the tribunal and had chosen a panel of seven judges and four prosecutors to try Hussein and other former regime officials.

The tribunal has "serious human rights shortcomings," said Richard Dicker, director of the international justice program of Human Rights Watch. He noted that the Bush administration had earlier rejected human rights groups' calls for the court to include international experts in war crimes and crimes against humanity. The four war crimes tribunals now operating elsewhere -- for the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Rwanda -- were created by the United Nations and are largely directed by foreign judges and lawyers.

Dicker and other experts say the tribunal may prove unpopular with many Iraqis because it is almost completely controlled by the two Chalabis -- who also direct the process of "de-Baathification," in which more than 120,000 former members of the ruling Baath Party were fired from their jobs in government, schools, universities and state-owned companies. That process has come under increasing criticism lately, even from U.S. officials, who say it has been too sweeping and has driven many former Baathists into the guerrilla insurgency.

Ahmed Chalabi, a favorite of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top aides, was given control of both initiatives last year by U.S. administrators, who provided little public explanation of their decisions.

"It's interesting that the announcement of the naming of Salem Chalabi was made by the Iraqi National Congress, a political party, and not by the Governing Council," Dicker said, referring to the 25-member Iraqi panel that is the country's central government body. "You want this to be distinct from political parties. You want that wall. This way ... does not correspond to careful vetting, and it raises ... concern on my part."

The Bush administration's decision to have the tribunal run by Iraqis rather than international jurists is controversial because there are no Iraqi judges or legal experts who are known to have any experience with human rights law or the complex legal issues surrounding war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.

"The Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council should call on U.N. experts who can draw from similar experiences in other countries to ensure that the best makeup of the tribunal is chosen," Amnesty International said in a December statement. "Anything less would do a great disservice to the cause of justice, not just in Iraq but across the world."

Amnesty also noted that the tribunal permits the death penalty -- which Ahmed Chalabi and some other Iraqi politicians have already advocated for Hussein. "It is a great disappointment to see representatives of the Occupying Powers now supporting or professing neutrality on the issue of the death penalty in Iraq rather than encouraging the permanent end of this obsolete and inhuman punishment," the group's statement said.

Some analysts say many Iraqis could be enraged if Hussein receives a flawed trial and is then executed. That could reinforce the growing public suspicion that the U.S. occupation has continued Iraq's long tradition of politicized justice and arbitrary killings.

"It's essential that the trials be fair, that the court be independent of political pressure and that it applies the law impartially," said Dicker. "Otherwise, the likelihood is that the trials will be seen as political vengeance in a judicial form."

Analysts and ordinary Iraqis say that proving Hussein guilty for his regime's crimes -- in which an estimated 300,000 people were killed -- is an essential step to enable Iraqi society to break with the past and move toward democratic self-government.

On Wednesday, Salem Chalabi said that one of the first Baath leaders to go on trial -- perhaps even before Hussein -- would be Ali Hassan al-Majid, a top regime official who earned the nickname "Chemical Ali" for his campaign against the Kurds and the Iranians in 1980s in which chemical weapons were used and more than 180,000 Kurds and Iranians were killed.

Questioning of likely defendants could start in two or three months, though no date has been set for the trial itself, Salem Chalabi said. He added that the names of the tribunal's prosecutors and judges would remain secret until pretrial questioning. Five judges have been assassinated since the fall of Hussein's regime a year ago. Salem Chalabi said that Hussein's trial would most likely not begin before the November presidential elections in the United States but that evidence-gathering and some indictments should be finished by then. No defense lawyer has yet been appointed to represent Hussein, he said.

A key remaining decision that has not been publicly announced is whether Hussein's and al-Majid's attorneys will be allowed to try to prove that the U. S. government was aware of the Iraqi chemical warfare and aided the campaign. It is known that the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush gave intelligence and other military assistance to the Iraqi armed forces during the 1980-88 war against Iran, which was feared by the West because of its Islamic fundamentalism. Some former U.S. officials have said the CIA was aware of the Iraqi use of chemical weapons.

Dicker said such allegations by the defense should not be blocked out of hand. "I wouldn't rule it out as irrelevant political grandstanding," he said.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the Iraq Tribunal
More Information on International Criminal Tribunals and Special Courts
More Information on the Iraq Crisis


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.