First Published: 2003-12-11

 
Fear of Iraqi war crimes tribunal's credibility
 

Legal experts fear Iraqi war crimes tribunal could be seen as 'US puppet show', propose UN role in trials

 

Middle East Online

By Stephanie van den Berg - THE HAGUE

The war crimes tribunal set up by Iraq's US-installed interim leadership smacks too much of victor's justice, say experts on international law, who fear its credibility will be undermined.

"Our concern is that behind the veneer of an Iraqi-led process it will really be the United States that will be calling the shots," Reed Brody, an expert on international prosecutions for Human Rights Watch said.

On Wednesday the Iraq's Governing Council in Baghdad announced the establishment of a special tribunal to try war crimes perpetrated under Saddam Hussein, who was ousted eight months ago by US-led forces.

Legal experts agree that Saddam should be brought to justice for the massive crimes he has committed against the Iraqi people, but fear that the new court could be seen as "a US puppet show", according to Brody.

The statute of the court is not yet known, but the council said it would be based on Iraqi law as well as international law with Iraqi judges presiding.

Iraq's penal code does not recognise genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity, and those crimes are expected to be tried on the basis of international law. The court will also be able to try fugitives, like Saddam, in absentia.

"A trial of Saddam Hussein in absentia would really be a show trial, a pretext by the US and the Iraqi opposition to justify the US-led attack on Iraq," says John Jones, a London barrister who has worked with the UN war crimes courts for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and was the chief of the defence office in the UN-backed Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal.

If the council decides to reinstate the death penalty, as it is said to be considering, the court "will really fall foul of international standards", he added.

Other concerns are being raised about the special court, including finding enough Iraqi judges and prosecutors that will be seen as impartial - untainted by Saddam's regime or seen as US stooges.

"It will be very difficult to find people who have clean hands," Avril McDonald, with The Hague-based T.M.C. Asser Institute for legal studies, said.

She also points out practical problems.

"I do not think the country is ready for it, things need to calm down there. You cannot secure the protection of witnesses and court officials," McDonald explained.

Everyone that will go before the court either as a witness or a defendant will be a target, she said.

"If you cannot protect a Red Cross building how will you protect a court?" she asks.

Experts agreed that the Iraqi tribunal should work with the United Nations to ensure that trials will be impartial.

"Bring it under the UN and take it away from the Iraqi governing council, which is a political organ, and the US," Jones recommends.

Human Rights Watch also proposes a role for the UN with Iraqi judges and prosecutors mixed with international judges and prosecutors who are used to trying war crimes cases.

"The only way to set it up is hold it in another country and internationalise the process," McDonald agrees.

As an example they point to the war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone which is UN backed but not a UN institution like the courts for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and based on a mixture of international and national law.

The newly created International Criminal Court (ICC), which began work in July 2002, cannot deal with war crimes or crimes against humanity in Iraq as neither the United States nor Iraq has signed the statute and the court has no jurisdiction over countries that are not parties to the court.

 

Iraq operation to liberate Anbar faces barrage of criticism

Yemen shelling kills two Saudi border guards

Nusra Front chief pledges no attacks on West

Kerry set to launch final diplomatic push for Iran nuclear talks

Arrest of several FIFA leaders as part of twin corruption inquiry

Qatar pledges $50 mn to Indonesia for sheltering Rohingya migrants

Al-Jazeera interview with Nusra leader draws criticism

Palestinians 'open' to every scenario on FIFA vote on Israel

Iran defends spy trial of US journalist

Iraq exhumed remains of 470 bodies from Tikrit mass graves

Coalition raids target headquarters of rebel troops in Yemen capital

EU calls for resumption of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks

Fast pace of executions in Saudi Arabia 'very disturbing'

Tunisia begins hearings into ex-regime's rights abuses

‘Islamic State’ executes 20 men in ruins of Syria ancient city

Saudi Arabia announces sanctions against two Hezbollah leaders

Libya to fight aggression with 'strength'

Iran says nuclear talks could go beyond deadline

Hamas accused of committing war crimes against civilians

German court rejects Yemenis' case over US drone killings

Kuwait emir urges Muslim states to fight extremism

NY Times journalist has Turkish citizenship revoked

Military site inspections necessary to Iran deal

Iraqi forces on outskirts of Ramadi

Syrian refugees ignored at Turkey poll campaign

Director 'shocked' at Morocco’s prostitution film ban

Libya PM survives assassination attempt

US criticises Shiite name of Iraqi military operation

Israel warplanes strike Gaza after rocket attack

Pro-government fighters retake Yemen city from Shiite rebels

Libya militias trap civilians in Benghazi

EU border agency plans to expand migrant rescue operation

Syria state TV blames ‘foreign enemies’ for signal jamming

Palestinians and jihadists clash in Yarmouk

Iraq refugees forced back into conflict zones

Kuwait restores Islamist lawmaker's citizenship

Washington Post reporter goes on trial behind closed doors in Iran

Iraq launches operation to drive ‘Islamic State’ from Anbar

New airport in restive eastern Turkey

Iran ‘thwarts’ US cyber attack on Oil Ministry’

Egypt opens border crossing with Gaza for 48 hours

Litany of problems keep Iraqi army weak and ineffective

Rouhani: most Iranians favour peace

Iran Foreign Minister discusses Yemen conflict in neutral Oman

Palestinians dismiss Netanyahu initiative