The execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein following a deeply flawed trial for crimes against humanity marks a significant step away from respect for human rights and the rule of law in Iraq, Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch has for more than 15 years documented the human rights crimes committed by Hussein’s former government, and has campaigned to bring the perpetrators to justice. These crimes include the killing of more than 100,000 Iraqi Kurds in Northern Iraq as part of the 1988 Anfal campaign.
“Saddam Hussein was responsible for massive human rights violations, but that can’t justify giving him the death penalty, which is a cruel and inhuman punishment,” said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program.
The Iraqi High Tribunal sentenced Saddam Hussein and two others to death in November for the killing of 148 men and boys from the town of Dujail in 1982. The tribunal’s statute prohibits, contrary to international law, the possibility of commuting a death sentence. It also requires that the execution take place within 30 days of the final appeal.
Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances. Increasingly, governments are abolishing the death penalty in domestic law.
“The test of a government’s commitment to human rights is measured by the way it treats its worst offenders,” said Dicker. “History will judge these actions harshly.”
A report issued in November 2006 by Human Rights Watch 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, among other defects, 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 outlined serious flaws in the trial, including failures to disclose key evidence to the defense, violations of the defendants’ right to question prosecution witnesses, and the presiding judge’s demonstrations of bias.
Hussein’s defense lawyers had 30 days to file an appeal from the November 5 verdict. However, the trial judgment was only made available to them on November 22, leaving just two weeks to respond. The Appeals Chamber announced its confirmation of the verdict and the death sentence on December 26.
“It defies imagination that the Appeals Chamber could have thoroughly reviewed the 300-page judgment and the defense’s written arguments in less than three weeks’ time,” said Dicker. “The appeals process appears even more flawed than the trial.”
At the time of his hanging, Saddam Hussein and others were on trial for genocide for the 1988 Anfal campaign. The victims, including women, children and the elderly, were selected because they were Kurds who remained on their traditional lands in zones outside of areas controlled by Baghdad. Hussein’s execution will therefore jeopardize the trial of these most serious crimes.