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Iraq: UN rights chief calls for moratorium on executions after Saddam death sentence

Iraq: UN rights chief calls for moratorium on executions after Saddam death sentence

Louise Arbour
The top United Nations human rights official has called on the Iraqi authorities to observe a moratorium on executions following the death sentence imposed on ousted president Saddam Hussein and other defendants yesterday, urging that their right to appeal be fully respected.

“A credible appeals process is an essential part of fair-trial guarantees,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said in a statement issued yesterday. “This is particularly important in this instance, in which the death penalty has been imposed.

“Those convicted today should have every opportunity to exhaust their appellate remedies in a fair way, and whatever the outcome of an appeal, I hope the Government will observe a moratorium on executions,” she added.

Ms. Arbour said guaranteeing the right to a fair trial of persons accused of major human rights violations was key to consolidating and strengthening the very important process of ensuring justice and countering impunity that Iraq had embarked upon.

Also reacting to the verdict was Leandro Despouy, an unpaid, independent expert serving in his personal capacity as the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, who voiced “strong objections” regarding the conduct of the trial and concern about the consequences the judgment may have in Iraq and the wider region.

In a statement, he said the personal jurisdiction of the tribunal was restricted, enabling it only to try Iraqis, and noted also that the body has no mandate to address “the war crimes committed by foreign troops during the first Gulf war (1990), nor the war crimes committed after 1 May 2003, date of the beginning of the occupation.”

Mr. Despouy also voiced doubts about the tribunal’s legitimacy and credibility. “The tribunal has been established during an occupation considered by many as illegal, is composed of judges who have been selected during this occupation, including non Iraqi citizens, and has been mainly financed by the United States,” he said.

The expert called attention to the negative impact of the violence and insecurity prevailing during the trial. “Since its beginning one of the judges, five candidate judges, three defence lawyers and an employee of the tribunal have been killed,” he noted, while another employee has been seriously injured.

Above all, he cited the “lack of observance of a legal framework that conforms to international human rights principles and standards, in particular the right to be tried by an independent and impartial tribunal which upholds the right to a defence.”

At the same time, he welcomed Iraq’s determination to sanction the main authors of the atrocities committed during three decades in the country and its will to see the trial take place in Iraq. But he cautioned that “this will be expressed through a trial conducted by an independent tribunal, legitimately established, acting in absolute transparency and providing all guarantees for a fair trial, in accordance with international human rights standards.”

If those conditions are not fulfilled, he warned that the Iraqi High Tribunal’s ruling “risks being seen as the expression of the verdict of the winners over the losers.”

The Special Rapporteur urged the Iraqi authorities not to carry out the death sentences imposed, saying this would represent a “serious legal setback for the country” while standing in open contradiction to the growing international tendency to abolish capital punishment.

“It is clear that the verdict and its possible application will contribute to deepening the armed violence and the political and religious polarization in Iraq, bringing with it the almost certain risk that the crisis will spread to the entire region,” he said.

Stressing the significance of the trial of Saddam Hussein, the Special Rapporteur reiterated his proposal for the establishment of an independent, impartial and international tribunal with all the necessary guarantees to enable it to receive the support of the UN.