Baghdad, Dec. 16 (Reuters): A new Iraqi war crimes court will not be ready to try Saddam Hussein for months and could let judges from other countries take part in the trial, one of the tribunal’s architects said today.
Rights groups say a tribunal set up under the US-led occupation smacks of victor’s justice in Iraq, though American President George W. Bush has said he would work with Iraqis to ensure any trial met international standards.
UN secretary-general Kofi Annan said he would not back the death penalty for the former Iraqi leader ousted in the US-led invasion of Iraq, and Britain — the closest US war ally — ruled out any role in a trial leading to Saddam’s execution.
Dara Nooraldin, an Iraqi judge and member of Iraq’s US-appointed governing council who helped draft the court’s charter, said the court would not be ready to try anyone for months, and that any decision to execute Saddam would be in the hands of a transitional government set to be formed next year.
“The trials will not be conducted for some months, at the time when the judges and the court’s administrative employees are appointed,” he said.
“The transitional government may have been formed by then, and the question will be left to that government to decide whether the death penalty is to be abolished or to stay.”
The court’s mandate includes crimes against humanity and genocide, suggesting Saddam could be tried for a campaign against Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s that killed as many as 100,000 people, or over mass graves discovered since he was ousted which may hold up to 300,000 bodies.
Nooraldin, a Baghdad judge imprisoned under Saddam’s rule, bristled at the suggestion that Iraq’s captive strongman and other potential defendants in the tribunal set up last week could not get fair trials in their own country.
“I am astounded that anyone could judge this court as compromised before the trials begin and the cour’'s procedures are seen,” he said.
“These crimes were committed in Iraq, it (the court) concerns Iraq and the Iraqi people. The court and the judges must be Iraqi.”
But having Iraqis mete out justice to the leading figures of a government accused of genocide against its own people did not preclude an international role in the process, Nooraldin said.
“The law which provides for the establishment of the court stipulates that there can be recourse to international experts, and even for there to be international judges on the court that conducts a trial,” he said.
Nooraldin said the tribunal could hear complaints by non-Iraqis and argued that letting Iraqis take the lead in trials was the best means to prove the court’s integrity. But Fair Trials Abroad, a British-based group monitoring legal systems around the world, said Iraq was not yet capable of holding a suitable trial after years of Saddam’s dictatorship.