The Iraqi government should not implement the death sentence against Saddam Hussein, which was imposed after a deeply flawed trial for crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said today. The Appeals Chamber of the Iraqi High Tribunal, which was first reported by Iraq’s national security adviser to have upheld the sentence, should have conducted a thorough legal review of the verdict and then announced its findings, Human Rights Watch said.
“Imposing the death penalty, indefensible in any case, is especially wrong after such unfair proceedings,” said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. “That a judicial decision was first announced by Iraq’s national security advisor underlines the political interference that marred Saddam Hussein’s trial.”
The law establishing the Iraqi High Tribunal requires that the death penalty be carried out within 30 days of the appeal chamber ruling. Former President Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death in November for the execution of more than 100 men and boys from the town of Dujail in 1985. He and others are currently on trial for genocide over the 1988 Anfal campaign, when his government sought to exterminate Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq and used poison gas against them. If the Dujail death sentence is carried out, Saddam could be put to death before the Anfal trial is completed.
In September 2006, the procedures for implementing the death penalty were changed by executive order. The change designated the Higher Judicial Council as being the entity to ratify a capital sentence. It is unclear whether the Higher Judicial Council is fulfilling this function.
A report issued in November 2006 by Human Rights Watch, which has demanded the prosecution of Saddam Hussein and his lieutenants for more than a decade, identified numerous serious flaws in the trial of Hussein for the Dujail executions. The 97-page report, “Judging Dujail: The First Trial Before the Iraqi High Tribunal,” was based on 10 months of observation and dozens of interviews with judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers.
The report found that the Iraqi High Tribunal was undermined from the outset by Iraqi government actions that threatened the independence and perceived impartiality of the court. It disclosed serious flaws in the trial, including regular failures to disclose key evidence, violations of the defendants’ right to confront witnesses, and lapses of judicial demeanor.
“Judging Dujail” also shows that the Iraqi High Tribunal as an institution has struggled to competently perform basic functions that are essential to a fair and effective trial. It failed to develop effective programs to address the needs of witnesses and victims or to ensure the security of defense lawyers, and ignored the important task of explaining the trial process to the Iraqi population.
The trial concerned the aftermath of an assassination attempt against then-President Saddam Hussein in Dujail in July 1982. The defendants were accused of orchestrating an attack on the town’s inhabitants in revenge for the assassination attempt, resulting in the detention, torture and forced displacement of hundreds, and the deaths of more than 100 boys and men after a summary trial.
Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently inhumane punishment and says that executing Hussein while other trials against him are ongoing will also deprive many thousands of victims of their day in court.