In letters to U.S. President George W. Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, Human Rights Watch said that offering amnesty to those responsible for the worst crimes would be inconsistent with the United States' and United Kingdom's international legal obligations and could undermine efforts to promote the rule of law and stability in Iraq.
"Amnesty for those Iraqi leaders who committed genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity would be a devastating affront to the victims of the former Iraqi government," said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's international justice program. "Amnesty deals would signal that justice for the world's most heinous crimes can be brushed aside when it suits governments to do so."
In outlining the reasons why the United States and United Kingdom went to war in Iraq, both governments cited human rights abuses committed by Saddam Hussein's regime and the need to hold perpetrators accountable. Past experiences with transitional governments have shown that ensuring justice for past abuses is an important component in building respect for the rule of law and securing peace and stability.
"Prosecuting only those senior Iraqi officials who do not provide useful information would be hypocritical and would cast serious doubts about the coalition authorities' proclaimed commitment to justice," said Dicker.
Discussions have been underway between the coalition authorities, the United Nations, Iraqi jurists, and non-governmental organizations on how to best hold perpetrators of past crimes accountable. Human Rights Watch and others have called on U.N. Special Representative for Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello to establish a U.N. Commission of Experts to determine the most appropriate mechanisms for delivering justice for the former Iraqi leadership's crimes and coordinating evidence collection and preservation.
"Once you start giving amnesties to the top people, efforts to achieve accountability will certainly be undermined," said Dicker.
For years, Human Rights Watch has advocated justice for past crimes of the Iraqi leadership. During Ba'ath Party rule, that leadership perpetrated crimes including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, "disappearances," and summary and arbitrary executions. In the genocidal 1988 "Anfal" campaign, more than 100,000 Kurds were trucked to remote sites and executed. In the 1980s, the Iraqi government forcefully expelled over half a million Shi'a to Iran after separating out and imprisoning an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Shi'a men and boys, most of whom remain unaccounted for. Since the late 1970s, at least 290,000 people "disappeared" in Iraq.
The Human Rights Watch letters to President Bush and Prime Minister Blair can be found at: http://hrw.org/press/2003/06/iraq-bush062703-ltr.htm and
For more information, on justice and Iraq, see http://hrw.org/campaigns/iraq/#Justice.
For Human Rights Watch's position paper "Justice for Iraq" see http://hrw.org/backgrounder/mena/iraq1217bg.htm.