Human Rights Watch said Monday that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein
was not given a fair trial, claiming in a report that attorneys and judges
undermined the legitimacy of the process by staging repeated walkouts and
failing to uphold standards of international law.
Ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam
Hussein addresses the court during his trial held in Baghdad's heavily
fortified Green Zone on November 8. Saddam's defence team has welcomed a
report by US-based Human Rights Watch that denounced his trial for crimes
against humanity as fundamentally flawed, and called for international
action to end the "farce." [AFP]
In a 97-page report, the group called the soundness of the guilty verdict
"questionable" and said the Iraqi High Tribunal was not equipped to handle such
a complex case. The document was based on observation of the trial and
interviews with court officials, lawyers and other key parties, the group said.
The New York-based rights group said it found "serious procedural flaws,"
citing shortcomings in the timely disclosure of incriminating evidence. It also
said the defendants were not allowed to properly confront witnesses, and the
judges at times did not maintain an impartial demeanor.
"The court's conduct, as documented in this report, reflects a basic lack of
understanding of fundamental fair trial principles, and how to uphold them in
the conduct of a relatively complex trial," the report said. "The result is a
trial that did not meet key fair trial standards. Under such circumstances, the
soundness of the verdict is questionable."
The group also chastized defence lawyers for staging repeated walkouts,
saying the tactic "created the strong impression that some counsel deliberately
sought to delay or obstruct the course of the trial."
On November 5, the court sentenced Saddam and two other senior members of his
regime to death by hanging for ordering the execution of nearly 150 Shi'ite
Muslims from the Iraqi city of Dujail following a 1982 attempt on Saddam's life.
The Iraqi court was created in 2003 after the US invasion to prosecute cases
of human rights violations in Iraq.
The report said defence lawyers were provided with inferior protection, with
three being killed in the course of the trial. Witnesses, too, were left
unprotected following their testimony, it said.
Defence attorneys were inadequately trained in international criminal law and
their performance was "generally poor," the report said.
"No consistent and identifiable argument as to why the prosecution case was
wrong or flawed was developed," it said.
Human Rights Watch, which is against the death penalty in general, also said
the death sentence against Saddam is "an inherently cruel and inhumane
punishment," and "in the wake of an unfair trial is indefensible."
An appeals court is expected to rule on the verdict and death sentence by
mid-January. Saddam's defence team must present an appeal to a higher,
nine-judge panel by December 5.
Last week, Saddam's lawyer complained that the court was ignoring his
requests for documents to appeal the guilty verdict. There was no immediate
comment from Iraqi court officials.
"The verdict against President Saddam Hussein is purely political and all the
conditions of a fair trial as stipulated under international law have been
gravely violated, including the right to appeal the verdict in a court of
cassation," Saddam's chief lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, said in a written