UN rights chief files brief to prevent death sentence on Iraq’s ex-vice president
The top United Nations human rights official today filed a legal brief with the Iraqi High Tribunal asserting that international law prohibits the imposition of capital punishment on former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan on grounds of breach of due process, and calling on it not to pass a death sentence.
The ‘friend of the court’ brief was submitted by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour in connection with the court’s reconsideration of the jail sentence imposed on Mr. Ramadan in connection with the same events for which former president Saddam Hussein and two co-defendants were hanged. The Tribunal’s Appeals Chamber ruled that the life sentence was too lenient and ordered the court to re-sentence him.
“The High Commissioner argues that the Court’s imposition of the death sentence on Taha Yassin Ramadan would violate Iraq’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” a statement issued by Ms. Arbour’s office in Geneva said.
The 18-page brief describes shortcomings in the proceedings against Mr. Ramadan and concludes that these constitute “an unfair trial.”
The statement points out that the Covenant, which Iraq has ratified, provides that a death sentence may only be imposed following proceedings conducted in strict adherence to due process requirements, and guarantees the right to seek a commutation or pardon. “In the circumstances, the High Commissioner submits, the Court should refrain from imposing the death sentence.”
Mr. Ramadan was sentenced for his role in crimes against the civilian population of the town of Dujail in 1982. Ms. Arbour’s move followed a call last month by two independent UN rights experts that Iraq should suspend without delay any further executions until a fair trial is provided.
“International law allows the imposition of capital punishment only within rigorous legal constraints, including respect of fair trial standards,” Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Leandro Despouy and Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Leïla Zerrougui said then.
They cited the violation of a number of international standards on the right to be tried by an independent and impartial tribunal and on the right to defence, including numerous reports of external pressure on the judges that appear to have led to the removal and resignation of some of them.
The right to appropriate and independent defence was severely undermined, in particular by the “extremely serious attacks” against defence lawyers, some of whom were killed, they said. “The assassination of defence attorneys appearing before the Iraqi High Tribunal threatens the entire procedure, since the role of defence lawyers is critical to a fair trial,” they added.