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IN A NEW COURT

Histrionics are an important part of a dictator's equipment. So even during his appearance in the courtroom for the first time for his trial, Mr Saddam Hussein sought to be dramatic, striving to create the larger-than-life figure of a hero unvanquished in defeat. The bizarrely fairy-tale account of his capture has added enough substance to the exciting legend of a man who regularly compared himself to Saladin. This time, though, he has nothing to back up his posturing with; he is standing trial in his own country for crimes against humanity. The trial opened on the first of the many charges against him, apparently because it is the simplest' presumably because there is enough evidence, including a paper trail, to convict him of the premeditated murder, torture, forced expulsion and disappearances of the people of Dujali in 1982 after rebels from there tried to assassinate him. Other charges would be likely to include the gassing of a Kurdish town in 1988, the massacre of Shia Muslims after their revolt in 1991 and so on. The charge of genocide could be brought against him, although that is a charge notoriously difficult to prove. To locate the principal mover in a chain of command and convict him of the murder of thousands of people, which he obviously could not have committed with his own hands, is dependent on intricate and detailed evidence.

Thus what is creating most anxiety among human rights organizations all over the world is the issue of fairness. There is a basic question about the credentials of a tribunal or court established when Iraq was still under occupation by the United States of America and the United Kingdom. The complete disarray in judicial practices in Iraq encouraged the Western allies in their programme of training the lawmen in judicial procedures for the tribunal. Yet this is Iraq's national court, and the principles followed there are not all Western. The accused can be convicted if the court is 'satisfied'. This is different from proving a charge beyond all reasonable doubt. Human rights organizations had argued for a court with Iraqi and foreign judges and lawyers, and had hoped for the background presence of the United Nations. This has not happened. While the victims of Ba'ath Party rule need to see justice done, it is important for the nation and for the world that this does not turn out to be retributive justice.

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