Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, this week proposed in the House of Commons that there could be "a United Nations Security Council resolution which would provide Saddam Hussein with immunity from prosecution."
In an open letter to Jack Straw Human Rights Watch argued that this sends a dangerous signal. "The offer of exile for a dictator may make sense, if that is a way of avoiding war," said Steve Crawshaw, London director of Human Rights Watch. "But guaranteed immunity from prosecution can never be an option. Jack Straw's offer to Saddam is the worst possible birthday gift for the International Criminal Court."
Jack Straw's offer of immunity for Saddam Hussein comes only days after the first 18 judges were inaugurated at the newly created International Criminal Court. A single court can now for the first time bring to justice, serious war criminals and those who commit crimes against humanity, all over the world. The United States is strongly opposed to the court, which has 89 members including almost all the world's major democracies. Britain has declared itself to be a strong supporter.
"This offer by Jack Straw sends a disastrous signal by suggesting that one of the most heinous criminals in the world can be definitively let off the hook," said Crawshaw. "Now that International Criminal Court exists, accountability is not a negotiable issue - not for Saddam, nor for any tyrant in the world. No ifs, no buts."
The jurisdiction of the court runs from July 1, 2002, and thus will not directly affect some of Saddam Hussein's worst documented crimes. It is, however, regrettable that Britain appears ready to set a precedent, which implies that crimes against humanity can be set to one side, when it suits the governments of the Security Council to do so.
In a previously published paper Human Rights Watch analyzed and made recommendations for justice in Iraq. It emphasized that the number of prosecutions of serious war criminals should not be kept artificially low, for political convenience. The paper also argued against using military tribunals, with the danger that such tribunals could be perceived as "victors' justice."
The Human Rights Watch letter to Jack Straw can be found at: http://www.hrw.org/press/2003/03/uk031903ltr.htm