Global Policy Forum

Saddam Trial a Signal to Dictators


By Mavis Makuni

Financial Gazette
September 29, 2005

What has been described as the 'trial of the century' is expected to begin next month when former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, appears before a special tribunal.

The former strongman, who was deposed in 2003 following the invasion of his country by British and American soldiers, has been in detention since he was captured near his home town of Tikirit about a year ago. After being found hiding in a dingy hole, the former owner of opulent palaces was spirited to a secret location and has rarely been seen in public since then. Current Iraqi President Jalal Talabani announced about two weeks ago that the former tyrant and seven associates from his regime will appear before a special tribunal on October 19. The controversial trial has been carefully timed to take place after the conducting of a national referendum on Iraq's new constitution on October 15.

Saddam's trial is unprecedented in modern times because of the gravity and unfathomableness of the charges he will face. He is expected to face up to a dozen trials for genocide, crimes against humanity and other atrocities committed by his regime. These include the gassing of Kurds, who occupy the northern part of Iraq, during which Saddam used lethal chemicals against a defenceless populace. In putting down a Shiite rebellion in the south of the country, Saddam mercilessly razed entire towns to the ground and ordered the draining of marshland on which the people depended for their livelihood. "The charges against Saddam are so many and regardless of how many years he is going to live, the charges and trials would not end," said Laith Kubba, an Iraqi government spokesman.

Saddam's trial will be followed closely throughout the world partly because of the controversy surrounding the invasion of his middle eastern country in 2003, the pretext for which was to disarm the former despot of weapons of mass destruction. These weapons have never been found but the presence of foreign troops in the formerly closed society opened the world's eyes to the enormity of the human rights abuses and atrocities committed against the Iraqi people. The remains of hundreds of thousands of people killed by the regime were discovered buried in shallow at graves at sites throughout the country.

A diplomat who had been living in exile before the invasion of Iraq by the British and Americans was quoted in 2001 as saying: "Saddam is a dictator who is ready to sacrifice his country just so long as he can remain on his throne in Baghdad." The dictator had so completely cowed his people that his rule consisted of forcing triumphalist slogans down their throats and basking in fawning praise.

Another reason why Saddam's trial will attract global interest is the collective abhorrence of all men and women of goodwill throughout the world against genocide and crimes against humanity committed by dictators corrupted by absolute power. These aberrations can happen anywhere. No population anywhere in the world can claim to be safe unless an effective way can be established to thwart or bring to justice mad men like Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Augusto Pinochet, Charles Taylor, Pol Pot and many others who have been accused of ordering mass killings of opponents or ethnic groups. No continent on the face of the globe has so far escaped the scourge of some mad 'Hitler' seeking to impose his will on an entire nation at any cost, including human life.

The recent killing sprees in the Darfur region of Western Sudan and the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 highlight the vulnerability of African populations exposed to the whims of power-drunk and cruel rulers. Hopefully, the trial of the world's most notorious prisoner next month will drive home loud and clear the message that the civilised world will no longer allow tyrants guilty of genocide, abuses of power, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities to get away with these infractions of international and natural laws.

Events so far have shown that culprits brought before tribunals in Africa and the International Court of Justice in The Hague have spent years trying to find loopholes in the trial procedures to enable them to escape punishment. It would be an insult to the memory of the innocent millions who have perished at the hands of these vicious despots to allow this to continue to happen.

Saddam Hussein was once asked by a Western journalist to comment on reports that his government routinely tortured and killed opponents. Instead of trying to deny the allegations, the Iraqi strongman could only agree; "Of course, what do you expect when they oppose the regime?" It was reported recently that in the build-up to his October 19 trial, the former dictator has confessed that he gave orders for the execution of thousands of Kurds in the 1980s. The fact that he has now made and signed important confessions in vastly different circumstances from those in which he made the cruel boast referred to above should be a signal to other dictators and abusers of power worldwide that their day of reckoning will come too sooner or later.

More Information on International Justice
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