I. Introduction and Overview

On October 19, 2005, much of daily life in Iraq paused to watch an unprecedented event: the opening of the trial of former President Saddam Hussein, three other senior former government officials, and four lower-level Ba’th Party members,1 all charged with crimes against humanity. The trial concerned events centered on Dujail, a town in Iraq’s central Salahaddin governorate, between 1982 and 1985.

On July 8, 1982, there was an assassination attempt against then-President Saddam Hussein during a visit to Dujail. The prosecution at the trial of Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants claimed that, soon after the assassination attempt and in retaliation for it, Dujail was the object of a “widespread and systematic attack” in which nearly 800 men, women, and children were detained, of whom an unspecified number were tortured. After a year of detention in Baghdad, approximately 400 detainees were transferred to internal exile in a remote part of southern Iraq. Another 148 male detainees were referred to trial before the Revolutionary Court, are recorded as having been convicted and sentenced to death in 1984 after a summary trial (the number who actually stood trial is disputed2), and most of them were executed in 1985.3 Large swathes of agricultural land and some homes in Dujail were confiscated by the government and bulldozed.

The Dujail trial was the first case brought before the Iraqi High Tribunal (IHT), the Iraqi court created to try persons responsible for grave human rights violations committed in Iraq between 1968 and 2003. Given the legacy of severe human rights violations of the previous government,4 the Dujail trial is likely to be one of several that eventually comes before the court. The scale of human rights violations in Iraq under the Ba’thist government was so serious that they reached the level of international crimes, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

The significance of the trials before the IHT is difficult to overstate. For the first time since the post-Second World War Nuremberg trials, almost the entire senior leadership cadre of a long-lived repressive government faces trial for gross human rights violations committed during their tenure. At stake is not only justice for hundreds of thousands of victims, but, as at Nuremberg, the historical record itself. The trials represent the first opportunity to create a historical record concerning some of the worst cases of human rights violations, and to begin the process of a methodical accounting of the policies and decisions that gave rise to these events. Long shrouded in secrecy, the former government’s “bureaucracy of repression”5 could now potentially be examined in meticulous detail, evidence analyzed and tested, and individual criminal responsibility determined for human rights crimes.

In a political environment that has become even more intensely polarized since the Dujail trial commenced, the IHT must ensure that the legal and factual record it establishes through its proceedings and judgments is fair, credible, and withstands scrutiny. It should strive to make sure it is unimpeachable. Human Rights Watch believes that trials that meet international human rights standards of fairness will be more likely to ventilate and verify the historical facts at issue, contribute to the public recognition of the experiences of victims of different religious groups and ethnicities, and set a more stable foundation for democratic accountability after periods of conflict and/or repression.

The IHT as an institution has the heavy responsibility of being, up to now, the only mechanism for justice and accountability for these crimes in Iraq. But at the same time, the court is a newly created institution in a recently reconstituted legal system, in which lawyers and judges were previously isolated from developments in international criminal law and had no experience in investigating and trying complex international crimes. The United States-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)6 insisted on an “Iraqi-led” process, 7 and the US government strongly opposed an international tribunal or mixed Iraqi-international court under United Nations (UN) management, so significant international involvement in the creation of the court was largely foreclosed.8 There was also a strong demand among many Iraqis for “Iraqi control” of any court.9 The IHT Statute requires that the judges, prosecutors, and staff of the court, and the principal defense lawyer for the accused, be Iraqi nationals.10

Based on its long-standing commitment to ensuring justice and accountability for grave international crimes committed during the Ba’th Party’s three-decade rule in Iraq, Human Rights Watch has closely followed the development of the IHT since before and through its creation in 2003 under a CPA order.11 Human Rights Watch strongly urged over many years the investigation and prosecution of leaders of the now-deposed Ba’thist regime.

The evolution of the IHT over the past three years has given rise to serious concerns about its capacity to fairly and effectively try these massive crimes in a manner that is consistent with international criminal law and fair trial standards.12 Underlying many of the concerns was the reality that, at the time the court was created, Iraq “lack[ed] the professional and technical investigative and judicial expertise to [prosecute crimes against humanity and war crimes] on its own.”13 At the same time, US advisors to the court insisted that sufficient training and advice could make up for this lack of capacity. The first trial would thus be a critical test of the functioning of the court, and an opportunity to carefully and objectively evaluate the proceedings—both from the point of view of their procedural fairness, and in terms of whether the court and its personnel had developed sufficient expertise to competently investigate and try complex international crimes.

From the beginning of the Dujail trial, Human Rights Watch engaged in intensive monitoring of the proceedings before the first trial chamber of the IHT. Human Rights Watch and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) were the only international human rights organizations to consistently observe the trial and investigate the functioning of the court. Working collaboratively, the monitoring presences fielded by the two organizations achieved almost complete coverage of all trial sessions. 14 In addition, Human Rights Watch conducted over three dozen interviews over the course of the trial with key actors in the tribunal, including prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers, and administrators. Human Rights Watch researchers also reviewed the dossier of evidence submitted by the investigative judge to the trial court, and examined the statements given by the defendants to the investigative judge. While much of the media and public attention on the trial concerned the behavior of key defendants such as Saddam Hussein, and the often-tumultuous courtroom proceedings, Human Rights Watch’s focus was on the fairness of the proceedings and the capacity of the court to prosecute and adjudicate the crimes charged, in a manner consistent with international law.15

The picture that emerges from this research is of an institution struggling with all aspects of conducting these legally and factually complicated trials, and also beset by external problems: misunderstanding and hostility in public opinion and from political leaders; grave and increasing security threats to all participants; a bitterly divided legal profession; and a deepening reluctance by other international actors to assist the process. Cumulatively, these limitations have meant that, in the Dujail trial, the court has not met essential fair trial standards and that the credibility of the trial process is doubtful. Human Rights Watch has documented serious administrative, procedural, and substantive legal defects in the trial.

Taken together, these problems point strongly to the conclusion that the level of legal and practical expertise of the key Iraqi actors in the court—trial judges, administrators, prosecutors, and defense lawyers—is not sufficient to fairly and effectively try crimes of this magnitude. In addition, while non-Iraqi advisors provided by the US Embassy have been indispensable to the day-to-day functioning of the court, they have proved a poor substitute for the direct participation of international judges, counsel, and managers in the court. In the last instance, it appears that “advisors” can advise, but cannot actively participate to ensure that essential international standards are met.

In this report, Human Rights Watch sets out the principal concerns arising out of its observation of the Dujail trial and its research into the court. These concerns are divided into three categories: administrative difficulties that have significantly hampered the smooth functioning of the trial and also impacted on its fairness; procedural problems arising in the course of the trial; and substantive problems with the case presented by the prosecution and investigative judges, indicating a lack of sufficient understanding of the elements of proof required to establish individual criminal responsibility under international criminal law.

Because of severe security threats to all persons involved in the court process, and the desire of interviewees to be able to speak candidly about their concerns, persons quoted in this report are not referred to by name, but according to their role (for example “judge,” “Defense Office lawyer,” etc.).

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On August 21, 2006, the second trial before the IHT commenced. The trial concerns a series of large-scale attacks mounted by the Iraqi army against the Kurdish populations of northern Iraq during 1988 and known as the “Anfal” campaign. The campaign involved the repeated use of chemical weapons, and resulted in the deaths of between 50,000 and 100,000 Kurdish civilians. Saddam Hussein is a defendant in that trial also (charged with genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity), along with six others.16 At this writing the trial is ongoing.

1 The defendants in the Dujail case are: Saddam Hussein, former president of Iraq; Barzan al-Tikriti, head of the General Intelligence Directorate (Mudiriyyat al-Mukhabarat al’Amma) between 1979 and 1983; Taha Yassin Ramadan, former vice-president of Iraq; ‘Awwad al-Bandar, chief judge of the Revolutionary Court between 1983 and 1990; ‘Abdullah Kadhim Ruwayid Fandi al-Mashaikh, a farmer from Dujail and former Ba’th Party member; Mizher ‘Abdullah Kadhim Ruwayid Fandi al-Mashaikh, a postal worker from Dujail and former Ba’th Party member (and son of ‘Abdullah Kadhim); Muhammad ‘Azzawi ‘Ali al-Marsumi, a mechanic from Dujail and former Ba’th Party member; and ‘Ali Dayeh ‘Ali al-Zubaidi, a teacher and former Ba’th Party member from Dujail.

2 See below, Section IV.6.b.

3 Documents produced in court suggested that two persons listed for execution were mistakenly transferred to detention in southern Iraq, while another 10 listed for execution were not executed until 1989.

4 See, for example, Middle East Watch (now Human Rights Watch/Middle East), Genocide in Iraq: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993); Middle East Watch, Endless Torment: The 1991 Uprising in Iraq and its Aftermath (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1992); Human Rights Watch/Middle East, Iraq’s Crime of Genocide: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994); and Physicians for Human Rights, Winds of Death: Iraq’s Use of Poison Gas against Its Kurdish Population (Boston: Physicians for Human Rights, 1989).

5 Middle East Watch (now Human Rights Watch/Middle East), Bureaucracy of Repression: The Iraqi Government in Its Own Words (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1994).

6 The CPA was the occupying power in Iraq between April 2003 and June 30, 2004.

7 See comments of then-US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Pierre Prosper in April 2003, quoted in Peter Landesman, “Who vs. Saddam?” New York Times, July 11, 2004.

8 See the background to the creation of the court, and the reasons for the lack of international participation, in Human Rights Watch, The Former Iraqi Government on Trial: A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, October 2005,, pp. 2–3.

9 See International Center for Transitional Justice and Human Rights Center, University of California at Berkeley, Iraqi Voices: Iraqi Attitudes Towards Transitional Justice and Social Reconstruction, May 2004, (accessed October 20, 2006).

10 Law of the Iraqi High Tribunal (IHT Statute), Official Gazette of the Republic of Iraq, No. 4006, October 18, 2005, English translation by the International Center for Transitional Justice,, art. 28 (judges, prosecutors, and staff), art. 19.4(B) (principal defense lawyer).

11 See, for example, Human Rights Watch, Justice for Iraq: A Human Rights Watch Policy Paper, December 2002,; Iraq – The Mass Graves of Al-Mahawil: The Truth Uncovered, vol. 15, no. 5(E), May 2003,; Iraq: State of the Evidence, vol. 16, no. 7(E), November 2004,; Memorandum to the Iraqi Governing Council on ‘The Statute of the Iraqi Special Tribunal,’ December 2003,; Briefing Paper: The Iraqi Special Tribunal – Rules of Procedure and Evidence Missing Key Protections, April 2005,; and The Former Iraqi Government on Trial, October 2005.

12 For further discussion of the development of the IHT, and Human Rights Watch’s concerns about its statute, see Human Rights Watch, The Former Iraqi Government on Trial.

13 US Department of State, Quarterly Update to Congress: Section 2207 Report on Iraq Relief and Reconstruction (January 2004), (accessed October 20, 2006), p. 43. The weaknesses of the post-conflict Iraqi legal system were also documented in the CPA’s “Report of the Iraq Judicial Assessment Team,” June 2003, and World Bank and United Nations Development Group, Legal Needs Assessment Mission to Iraq, August 2003.

14 For Human Rights Watch, trial monitoring was conducted principally by a Middle East-based researcher, who was joined for part of the trial by a researcher from the Human Rights Watch office in New York. Human Rights Watch and ICTJ shared all information obtained through their respective trial monitoring presences, and often jointly conducted interviews with tribunal personnel and defense lawyers.

15 Crimes such as genocide and crimes against humanity achieved recognition as crimes through international law; the legitimacy of trying them is thus inextricably linked to whether the trial meets international fair trial standards and correctly applies substantive international criminal law.

16 The other defendants in the Anfal trial are Ali Hassan al-Majid al-Tikriti (charged with genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity), Tahir Tawfiq al-‘Ani (charged with crimes against humanity), Sabr Abdul-Aziz al-Douri (charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity), Farhan Mutlak al-Juburi (charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity), Sultan Hashem Ahmed al-Ta’i(charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity), and Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti (charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity).