The Iraqi Governing Council must not mount a political show trial of Saddam Hussein, Human Rights Watch warned today.

The U.S. Fourth Infantry Division took Saddam Hussein into custody yesterday. U.S. forces have not announced what they plan to do with the former Iraqi leader, but have previously made clear their support for an Iraqi tribunal to carry out prosecutions for crimes of the past. Last week, the Iraqi Governing Council created a new tribunal to prosecute the crimes of Iraq´s past.

“Saddam Hussein´s capture is a welcome development and it's important that the Iraqi people feel ownership of his trial,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “But it's equally important that the trial not be perceived as vengeful justice. For that reason, international jurists must be involved in the process.”

Human Rights Watch has compiled substantial dossiers on the crimes of the former Iraqi leader, and published numerous reports on human rights abuse under his rule, including genocide and crimes against humanity.

On December 10, the Iraqi Governing Council issued a law establishing a tribunal to try genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The tribunal law includes provisions on the rights of the accused and applies definitions of international crimes that are largely consistent with international law. However, key provisions are lacking to ensure legitimate and credible trials.

The tribunal law does not require that judges and prosecutors have experience working on complex criminal cases and cases involving serious human rights crimes. Nor does the law permit the appointment of non-Iraqi prosecutors or investigative judges with relevant expertise.

“Iraq has no experience with trials lasting more than a few days,” said Roth. “International expertise in prosecuting genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity cases must be utilized to ensure a fair and effective trial.”

Human Rights Watch said any court conducting the trial must be independent of political influence, and free of bias and partiality. The trial must give the benefit of every protection for the rights of the accused under international law. Saddam Hussein must be allowed to conduct a vigorous defense that includes the right to legal counsel at an early stage.

The tribunal law does not prohibit the death penalty and does not ensure that guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In addition, the law does not sufficiently address protection of witnesses and victims or security for the tribunal and its staff.

“Any tribunal trying Saddam Hussein should apply international standards of justice,” said Roth. “To do otherwise would blur the distinction between the Ba´ath Party period and the Iraq of the future.”

Human Rights Watch has recommended forming a Group of Experts including Iraqi and international specialists to suggest appropriate accountability mechanisms and facilitate collection and preservation of evidence. A mixed Group of Experts would allow Iraqi jurists to draw on international experience gained from trying serious past crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Iraqi Governing Council should partner with the United Nations to create an accountability process that works,” said Roth. “There won´t be a second chance to do this right.”
Some of the crimes for which Saddam Hussein might be prosecuted include:

  • 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 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.