The court system is expected to try former members of the Iraqi government and others accused of crimes against humanity and genocide.
The Iraqi judiciary, weakened and compromised by decades of Ba'ath party rule, lacks the capacity, experience, and independence to provide fair trials for the abuses of the past, Human Rights Watch said. Few judges in Iraq, including those who fled into exile, have participated in trials of the complexity that they would face when prosecuting leadership figures for acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes.
Local courts will be needed to try many cases related to past human rights crimes, Human Rights Watch said, but the complexity of the trials of the most senior officials will require a strong international role.
"Justice for the crimes of the past is indeed a top priority," said Hania Mufti, Human Rights Watch's representative in Iraq. "It is important and not too late to bring the international community on board to help in the process of justice and accountability in Iraq."
On Tuesday, the recently established Iraqi Governing Council announced the establishment of a judicial commission that will set up a special court system to investigate and prosecute former members of the government of Saddam Hussein and others who were involved in genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
The urgency with which the Governing Council has addressed the issue of justice contrasts sharply with the negligible attention shown by the U.S.-led coalition forces to justice in Iraq, Human Rights Watch said. The U.S.-led occupation administration in Baghdad still has not announced a strategy for justice in Iraq, even though major combat operations ended more than two months ago.
Coalition forces have also provided almost no assistance with the exhumation of the mass graves scattered all over Iraq, losing crucial evidence of crimes against humanity and genocide.
Bringing about accountability for the crimes of the past two decades in Iraq will be a massive undertaking for the Iraqi people, Human Rights Watch said. Among the crimes to be investigated and prosecuted are the genocidal Anfal campaign against the Iraqi Kurds, which resulted in the deaths of some 100,000 civilians and the destruction of more than 4,000 villages; the use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops and Kurdish civilians; the "disappearance" and executions of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis; the large-scale killings that followed the failed 1991 uprisings in the north and south of Iraq; the destruction and repression of the Marsh Arabs; and the forced expulsion of ethnic minorities in Northern Iraq during the "Arabization" campaign.
International assistance in the form of investigators, prosecutors, and judges will be required to support the efforts of the Iraqi people to bring about justice for the crimes of the past, to assure the impartiality and credibility of the process, and to guarantee that international fair trial standards are adhered to.
Accountability for the past in Iraq could best be advanced by the creation of an international or an Iraqi-international commission of experts to assist with gathering and preservation of evidence and recommendations of the most appropriate court proceedings. Human Rights Watch has recommended the creation of either an international tribunal or an international-national tribunal for Iraq, incorporating existing, uncompromised elements of the Iraqi judiciary with international colleagues.