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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
30 January 2006

IRAQ: Rights watchdog questions Hussein trial proceedings

BAGHDAD, 30 Jan 2006 (IRIN) - As the trial of deposed president Saddam Hussein resumed on 29 January, the Iraqi government dismissed accusations that political interference and the rapid turnover of presiding judges threaten the outcome.

“The Iraqi government only wants justice, and judges have all the authority to proceed according to the law,” said Hassan al-Baydan, a senior official in the national assembly. “Accusations [of political interference] are unfair and without proof,” he added.

Hussein, along with seven former aides, stands accused of killing 148 Shi'ite Muslims in the southern city of Dujail in 1982. The defendants deny the charges.

The trial has been wracked with difficulties since it began on 19 October. Since then, it has been postponed four times, while two defence lawyers have been killed and one has fled the country.

On 28 January Hussein reportedly walked out of court amid chaos within minutes of its resumption.

He left in protest after his defence team walked out, and was followed by two more of his co-defendants, according to the BBC. They left after Hussein’s half brother and co-defendant Barzan al-Tikriti was removed from the courtroom.

Proceedings in the trial suffered a major setback when the presiding judge, Rizgar Amin, resigned in the first week of January after parliamentarians from the ruling party demanded his dismissal. Senior Iraqi government officials had also publicly criticised his alleged leniency towards the accused.

Human rights groups, however, say that Amin’s resignation was largely a result of political pressure, and represents a direct challenge to notions of an independent judiciary.

“The demand for Presiding Judge Rizgar Amin’s dismissal, which contributed to his resignation, was nothing less than an attack on judicial independence,” said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at civil liberties watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The appointment was briefly conferred to Saeed al-Hammashi, who also quickly resigned after Iraq’s de-Baathification Commission suggested he had once been member of the former president’s long-ruling Baath Party.

With the resumption of proceedings, the newly appointed Chief Judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman will preside over the trial.

Human rights groups, however, continue to express concern over the re-shuffling of judges on the basis of political affiliations.

“Unconfirmed reports that Judge al-Hammashi was transferred off the Saddam Hussein trial as a political compromise between the de-Baathification Commission, the prime minister’s office and the Iraqi High Tribunal raise serious concerns about the court’s ability to safeguard its independence,” said HRW in a statement.

Government representatives, meanwhile, defend the integrity of the judicial system.

“It’s a precedent to have a former president standing trial, so there’s a need for patience and flexibility,” said al-Baydan.

He added: “The Iraqi government is just assisting and giving opinions, but the final decision is for the court to make.”

[ENDS]

This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but May not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2006



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