Background Briefing

The Iraqi High Tribunal and Representation of the Accused

A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper

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Since October 19, 2005, Saddam Hussein and seven other former Iraqi officials have been on trial for crimes that took place in the town of al-Dujail in 1982. Government security forces allegedly detained and tortured hundreds of individuals from al-Dujail in retaliation for an assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein as his motorcade passed through the town, sixty kilometers north of Baghdad. One hundred and forty-eight individuals were allegedly executed as part of the attack on al-Dujail. The defendants are charged with crimes against humanity in relation to these events and are being tried in Baghdad before the Iraqi High Tribunal (“the Tribunal”).

At a court session on January 29, 2006, defendant Barzan al-Tikriti was removed from the court for disruptive conduct. A defense lawyer for Saddam Hussein rose to object and a heated exchange with the new Chief Judge Raouf Abdel Rahman followed. The exchange ended with the defense lawyer being ejected from the courtroom, and the defense lawyers for Barzan al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein, Taha Yassin Ramadan and Awad al-Bandar then walked out in protest.

The court immediately appointed four new lawyers from the Tribunal’s Defense Office (who appear to have been waiting in a room next to the courtroom) in place of these four defendants’ counsel of choice. The defendants have rejected these lawyers, and refuse to instruct them or attend court. For their part, the chosen defense counsel for the defendants declared that they will not return to court until certain demands are met.

These dramatic developments bring the Tribunal to a critical juncture. Its independence is already under a cloud due to the resignation of Judge Amin, and the controversial removal of his deputy Judge Al-Hammashi due to the intervention of the National De-Baathification Commission.

With a new chief judge and in light of concerns about the Tribunal’s independence, the court must move forward in a way that shows a full commitment to the defendants’ fair trial rights and its own impartiality.

This briefing sets out some of the legal principles relevant to recent developments at the Tribunal.