UN human rights expert warns against execution of Iraqi former vice-president

UN human rights expert warns against execution of Iraqi former vice-president

An independent United Nations human rights expert today added his voice to the chorus of officials calling on Iraq to not proceed with the planned hanging of former vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan, saying his trial was so “marred by serious irregularities” that to execute him would clearly violate international law.

Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, issued a statement saying that executive interference in the trial, “glaring procedural flaws” and the murder of defence counsel during the proceedings meant Mr. Ramadan was denied a fair hearing.

Mr. Alston, who is also a legal professor at New York University, noted that senior Government and legislative figures made statements about the guilt of the defendants, the presiding judge was removed and the prosecution was allowed to read 23 statements into the court record without the defendants being given an opportunity to question them.

He added that the defendants were given only weeks to prepare their appeal and the Iraqi High Tribunal then took less than a month to consider all of the complex issues and make a ruling.

“This undue haste mocks the due process requirements of international law,” he said.

Mr. Alston accused Iraq, in the way it established the Tribunal, allowed the trial to be conducted and the appeals to be considered, “showed contempt for the pleas of the international community that it abide by human rights law.”

He urged the Government to undertake “far-reaching reforms” to ensure it meets all of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that the death penalty can only be imposed after a trial satisfying the strictest guarantees of a fair hearing.

Mr. Ramadan was originally given a sentence of life imprisonment after being convicted with six co-defendants, including Saddam Hussein, of involvement in crimes against the civilian population of the town of Dujail in 1982.

But in December the appellate chamber of the Iraqi High Tribunal annulled the sentence as being too lenient and sent the matter back for reconsideration to the trial chamber, which yesterday issued a sentence of death by hanging.

Mr. Alston joins UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Leandro Despouy and Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Leïla Zerrougui, who have all questioned the conduct of the trial and called on Iraq to halt the planned execution.

Last week Ms. Arbour filed a “friend of the court” brief to the Iraqi High Tribunal, calling on it to not pass the death sentence on Mr. Ramadan, and Mr. Alston said today that he was “very disappointed that the Tribunal seems to have attached no importance to it.”