An Iraqi tribunal is incapable of fairly and effectively trying Saddam Hussein and six others on genocide charges for their role in the killing of an estimated 100,000 Kurds in the 1980s, a major human rights group said today.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the judges and lawyers of the Iraqi High Tribunal do not understand international law, and urged the court to "improve its practices if it is to do justice” in the trial that starts on Monday.
The case involves Saddam’s alleged role in Operation Anfal, Arabic for “spoils of war”. The regime launched the 1987-1988 operation to crush independence-minded Kurdish militias and clear the Kurdish population along the sensitive Iranian border area. Saddam had accused Kurdish militias of ties to Iran.
Saddam and the others face genocide charges over the campaign, which left thousands of Kurdish villages razed and their inhabitants either killed or displaced. Poison gas was said to have been used.
Human Rights Watch said “serious shortcomings” in the system were revealed during the first trial of Saddam and seven co-defendants in the 1982 killing of 148 Shiite Muslims in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad, after an assassination attempt against him. The trial adjourned last month until October 16, when the verdicts are expected.
“Based on extensive observation of the tribunal’s conduct of its first trial … Human Rights Watch believes that the Iraqi High Tribunal is presently incapable of fairly and effectively trying a genocide case in accordance with international standards and current international criminal law,” the watchdog's statement said.
It alleged that none of the Iraqi judges and lawyers showed an understanding of international criminal law during the Dujail trial. The court’s administration was "chaotic and inadequate, making it unable to conduct a trial of this magnitude fairly”, the statement said.
Also, it said, the court relied so heavily on anonymous witnesses that it undercut the defendants’ right to confront witnesses against them and effectively test their evidence.
The deterioration of the security situation in Iraq, including the tribunal’s failure to protect defence counsel targeted for assassination, added to the shortcomings, Human Rights Watch said.
“The victims of the Anfal won’t see justice done unless the Iraqi tribunal does a much better job on its second case than it did in the Dujail trial,” Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program, was quoted as saying in the statement.
“The Anfal campaign was a genocide carried out against part of the Kurdish population,” Dicker said. “Genocide is the most serious crime there is, and it’s essential that the tribunal conducts the Anfal trial fairly.”
The five-member panel that will conduct the Anfal trial will be headed by Abdullah al-Amiri, a 54-year-old Shiite jurist.
Human Rights Watch said it conducted extensive research in northern Iraq in 1992 and determined that at least 50,000 and possibly as many as 100,000 Kurds were deliberately and systematically killed. Innumerable villages were bombed and some were gassed. The surviving residents were rounded up, taken to detention centres and eventually executed at remote sites, it said.
The campaign was led by the secretary of the Baath Party’s Northern Bureau, Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam who became known as “Chemical Ali” for the use of poison gas.