Protection for Witnesses, Defense Lawyers Must Be Ensured
November 24, 2005
The recent murder of two defense lawyers in the trial demonstrates the urgent need to protect those lawyers as well as witnesses. However, all arrangements for witness protection must be consistent with fair trial guarantees.
Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch

The court trying Saddam Hussein and seven other former Iraqi officials will confront the challenge of protecting defense lawyers and witnesses when the trial for the Dujail massacre resumes on Monday, Human Rights Watch said.

“The recent murder of two defense lawyers in the trial demonstrates the urgent need to protect those lawyers as well as witnesses,” said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. “However, all arrangements for witness protection must be consistent with fair trial guarantees.”

On October 19 Saddam Hussein and seven other former Iraqi officials went on trial for crimes that took place in the town of al-Dujail in 1982. They are charged with killing more than one hundred and forty people from al-Dujail in retaliation for an assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein as his motorcade passed through the town.

Since the trial’s opening session, two defense lawyers have been murdered. The surviving defense attorneys had previously announced their intention to suspend involvement with the case unless their demands, including a way to ensure their security, were addressed. There are reports that a security agreement has been worked out. It now appears that the defense lawyers will be in court again on November 28.

Once the trial resumes, the judges will have to rule on various defense motions. The bench may also have to decide on the appropriate ways to protect witnesses who will be giving testimony.

“This trial poses big obstacles, but for the tribunal to be credible, the judges will have to overcome them,” Dicker said. “We will look very carefully at how the judges respond to motions submitted by the defense, including requests for more time to allow adequate preparation.”

The Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal (formerly known as the Iraqi Special Tribunal) is an Iraqi court mandated to try former government officials. Established under a law passed by the Iraqi parliament, the tribunal has the authority to prosecute Iraqi nationals for the grave crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Funded mostly by the U.S. government, the court will try some of the most notorious human rights crimes that occurred under the previous government, including the poison gas attacks against Iraqi Kurds and the brutal suppression of the 1991 rebellion in southern Iraq.

Five Iraqi judges make up a trial chamber. The prosecutors and principal defense lawyers are Iraqi.

In a briefing paper released on October 16, Human Rights Watch highlighted concerns that the tribunal is at risk of violating basic fair-trial guarantees.