The court established to try Saddam Hussein and other former Iraqi government leaders runs the risk of violating international standards for fair trials, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper released today.

The 18-page briefing paper, “The Former Iraqi Government on Trial,” provides a concise explanation of human rights concerns arising from the statute of the court created to try Saddam Hussein and others: the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal (formerly known as the Iraqi Special Tribunal).

“The trials of former Iraqi government officials will be closely watched inside Iraq and throughout the world,” said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program. “The proceedings must be fair and be seen to be fair, and that means ensuring that the accused can vigorously defend themselves.”

On Wednesday, October 19, Saddam Hussein and seven other former Iraqi officials go on trial for crimes that took place in the town of al-Dujail in 1982. Government security forces allegedly killed more than 140 individuals from al-Dujail in retaliation for an assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein as his motorcade passed through the town, 60 kilometers north of Baghdad.

Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Human Rights Watch has closely monitored the steps being taken to bring former Iraqi officials to trial. Drawing on those assessments, this briefing paper untangles the laws under which Saddam Hussein and others will be tried. It also sets out problems with the tribunal that risk violating basic fair trial guarantees protected by international human rights law.

Problems with the tribunal and its statute include:
• No requirement to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
• Inadequate protections for the accused to mount a defense on conditions equal to those enjoyed by the prosecution.
• Disputes among Iraqi political factions over control of the court, jeopardizing its appearance of impartiality.
• A draconian requirement that prohibits commutation of death sentences by any Iraqi official, including the president, and compels execution of the defendant within 30 days of a final judgment.

In Iraq’s fragile political climate, the legitimacy of the court will be in question. To provide a measure of truth and justice for hundreds of thousands of victims of gross human rights violations in Iraq, fair trials are essential, Human Rights Watch said.

The briefing paper urges the tribunal to adopt changes which will improve its compliance with international human rights laws concerning fair trials.

“We have grave concerns that the court will not provide the fair trial guarantees required by international law,” said Dicker. “But it’s not too late for the tribunal’s judges to fix some of these problems if they take steps to ensure a fair trial.”

A copy of the briefing paper can be found at:

To read about Human Rights Watch’s earlier work on bringing the former Iraqi government to justice, please see: