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I.  Introduction

Even I have a gun, like everyone else now.  But I have locked it away, and I don’t tell my family that I have it.  If they find out that I have this gun, they will take it and use it to kill the Ba`th Party members that used to live here, because we know they were responsible for Mustafa’s death.  …  Even I could not control myself.  I have lived my life and I have buried my son … I want justice.
 — Jawad Kadhim `Ali, Basra, May 7, 2003

Jawad Kadhim `Ali held the funeral service for his son, Mustafa, on May 7, 2003, in Tanuma, a poor suburb east of Basra. The coffin was empty; the last time Jawad saw Mustafa was four years earlier, on March 19, 1999, when Iraqi security agents and members of the Ba`th Party forcibly took Mustafa from his bed.  Mustafa was nineteen years old then, in his final year of high school. 

Mustafa was arrested two nights after the start of an uprising by Shi`a Muslims that constituted one of the most serious internal challenges to Saddam Hussein’s rule since the 1991 Gulf War. Thousands of Shi`a Muslims across Iraq took to the streets, and in some cases, attacked Iraqi government officials and buildings to protest the assassination of Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, one of Iraq’s most senior Shi`a Muslim clerics, almost certainly at the hand of agents of the Iraqi government.  Saddam Hussein responded to the uprising (which came to be known as the “al-Sadr intifada”) quickly and brutally. In the ensuing crackdown, the government summarily executed scores of people and dumped their bodies in hastily dug mass graves, arbitrarily imprisoned and tortured thousands of their family members, and in many cases, destroyed their homes and livelihoods.  Mustafa and his family were among those punished during this campaign of reprisal.

Mustafa’s family knew nothing of his fate for four years; they were never told whether he had been charged with a crime, or put on trial, or imprisoned; they never received notification of his death, much less his body. But they received two critical bits of information in the days immediately after U.S. and British forces ousted Saddam Hussein in April 2003.  The information was contained in a document—a handwritten list— found during the looting of government offices following the occupation of Basra. Human Rights Watch researchers in Basra obtained four pages of this document in April 2003.1  The document lacks any official identifying marks, but circumstantial evidence (described more fully below) strongly suggests it is an authentic contemporary Iraqi government document.  The four pages of the document that Human Rights Watch has  names 120 men who were executed in March, April, and May of 1999 for “taking part in the events of March 17 - 18”—the al-Sadr intifada.

The first, terrible bit of information contained in that document was Mustafa’s name among those executed.  His name appeared on a page listing the date of his execution as May 8, 1999, thus destroying his family’s tenuous hope that he was still alive, and allowing them to hold his funeral almost exactly four years after he was killed, even though his body has never been found.

The second important piece of information contained on this Execution List was clues about the identity of those responsible for killing Mustafa and scores of other young men.  In Mustafa’s case, the document states that “officers of the police directorate” had carried out the execution.  Other pages indicate that another group of young men was executed by family members of Ba`th Party officials who were killed during the uprising, while yet another group was killed by senior Ba`th Party members from Basra and nearby Umm al-Ma`arik. But most significantly, the document’s first two pages bear notes stating that the executions were carried out “under order of the Commander of the Southern Sector.”  At the time this was `Ali Hassan al-Majid, Saddam Hussein’s cousin and close associate, better known as “Chemical Ali.”

Al-Majid earned the sobriquet “Chemical Ali” because of his role in the genocidal Anfal campaign between February and August 1988, and his use of chemical weapons against Kurdish villagers in northern Iraq beginning in April 1987.  He was subsequently in charge of Iraq's military occupation of Kuwait, and led forces that suppressed the popular uprising in the south of Iraq in March 1991, following the 1991 Gulf War. Al-Majid also played a leading role in the campaign against Iraq's Marsh Arab population in the 1990s. All of these campaigns were marked by summary executions, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, torture, and other atrocities.

The Iraqi government’s crackdown after the al-Sadr intifada utilized many of the same brutal and illegal tactics. Research conducted by Human Rights Watch in Basra in 2003 strongly suggests that Iraqi security forces and Ba`th Party members, under the direct command and supervision of `Ali Hassan al-Majid, engaged in systematic extrajudicial executions, widespread arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and collective punishment. These acts constitute gross violations of human rights and crimes against humanity.2

Three months after Mustafa’s funeral, on August 21, 2003, U.S. forces captured al-Majid. On December 18, 2004, an Iraqi investigative judge conducted a pre-trial hearing in which he questioned al-Majid.3 Comments by Iraqi government officials suggest that he will be among the first defendants to be tried before the Iraqi Special Tribunal.

For the families of the victims of the 1999 crackdown, al-Majid’s trial is important for two distinct reasons: first, it can lead to justice and accountability for the perpetrators of horrific abuses; second, the trial raises the possibility that families of the missing will obtain information that may help them learn the fate of their loved ones. Many Iraqi families still have no conclusive information whether missing family members are alive or dead.  However, the gathering of such information, as part of the trial process, is likely to be limited, because the main task of criminal tribunals is to procure and introduce evidence necessary for a successful prosecution.  Such tribunals lack the resources and mandate to help families identify the missing, whether by forensic testing of exhumed mass graves, or through investigation of witnesses and government documents.  Another mechanism will need to be established to assist with these humanitarian tasks, so to help families resolve their ongoing loss and grief. 

Human Rights Watch strongly believes that there must be accountability for massive crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, committed during the Ba`th Party’s rule in Iraq. At the same time, Human Rights Watch is concerned that the Iraqi Special Tribunal statute incorporates provisions of Iraqi law that permit the death penalty for certain crimes, and, together with the draft rules of procedure and evidence, contains inconsistencies that could be interpreted to undercut fair trial standards.  After working closely with many of the victims of the events in Basra of 1999, as well as victims of other official Iraqi crimes, Human Rights Watch urges U.S. and Iraqi authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure that those responsible for the atrocities that occurred in 1999 will face justice, not mere vengeance.

Due to security concerns, the names of the witnesses and victims in this report have been changed except where the witnesses have expressly requested otherwise.

[1] A copy of this list is attached as Appendix to this report.

[2] At the time of these events, crimes against humanity were being prosecuted before the ad hoc international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Crimes against humanity are any of the following crimes when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population: murder; extermination; enslavement; deportation; imprisonment; torture; rape; persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds; and other inhumane acts. See Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, S.C. Res. 827, U.N. Doc. S/Res/827 (1993, as amended (found at http.//, Art. 5, and Statute of the International Criminal Court for Rwanda, S.C. Res. 955, U.N. Doc. S/Res/955 (1994), as amended (found at, Art. 3. An "attack" against a civilian population need not be part of armed conflict. See, e.g. Prosecutor v. Akayesu, Case No.  ICTR-96-4-T (Trial Chamber) September 2, 1998 para 581.

[3] Sameer Yacoub, “Iraqi Judges Interrogate Saddam’s Aides,” Associated Press, December 18, 2004; John F. Burns, “Iraqi Judge Questions Aides of Hussein With Lawyers,” New York Times, December 19, 2004, p. 18.

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