Detention of Saddam Hussein: an opportunity for international justice

The capture and detention of Saddam Hussein presents a unique opportunity to bring to justice the alleged author of some of the worst international crimes of the past quarter century, the ICJ said today.

The deposed Iraqi leader presided over a regime responsible for hundreds of thousands of unlawful killings, many of which constitute crimes against humanity and, possibly, acts of genocide.

The ICJ believes, however, that the ends of justice will only be served if the trial of Saddam Hussein and other former Iraqi officials is fair and conducted in accordance with international standards by a tribunal perceived as legitimate by the people of Iraq and the international community.

The Iraqi Governing Council, reportedly on close advice by the United States Occupying Power, has announced the establishment of a domestic tribunal to try alleged Iraqi war criminals. The ICJ has serious concerns as to whether a tribunal comprising exclusively or predominately Iraqi judges, prosecutors and investigators will have the capacity or expertise to carry out trials of the complexity envisaged. Moreover, with the eyes of the world likely to be fixed on the trial of Saddam Hussein, it will be important that any tribunal engage in the highest standards of justice and fairness and not be seen as mainly a vehicle for exacting vengeance or exercising political opportunism.

The Iraqi people have been the most directly affected by the abuses of Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi officials. In principle, a legitimate, democratically elected Iraqi Government, if one emerges in a reasonable time, should play a central role in determining how they are to be tried. The crimes for which they are likely to be accused are also by their legal nature the concern of the international community as a whole, and may involve Iranian and Kuwaiti victims from wars fought with those countries. Whether the court that eventually tries them is Iraqi, international or hybrid in character, it is essential that it be an independent and impartial tribunal that ensures the full application of international standards relating to the right to a fair trial.

Punishment of Saddam Hussein by death should unequivocally be ruled out. The ICJ opposes the death penalty in any and all circumstances and recalls that the United Nations Secretary-General and Human Rights Commission have expressed their opposition to its application.

Until such time as Saddam Hussein is brought to trial, the ICJ calls on the Detaining Power, the United States, to apply to his case fully the provisions of the Third Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

Iraq-detention Saddam Hussein-press release-2003-eng (full text, PDF)


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