Iraq: Saddam Trial Faces Big Challenges
Protection for Witnesses, Defense Lawyers Must Be Ensured
The court trying Saddam Hussein and seven other former Iraqi officials will confront the challenge of protecting defense
lawyers and witnesses when the trial for the Dujail massacre resumes on Monday, Human Rights Watch said.
“The recent murder of two defense lawyers in the trial demonstrates the urgent need to protect those lawyers as well as
witnesses,” said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. “However, all
arrangements for witness protection must be consistent with fair trial guarantees.”
On October 19 Saddam Hussein and seven other former Iraqi officials went on trial for crimes that took place in the town
of al-Dujail in 1982. They are charged with killing more than one hundred and forty people from al-Dujail in retaliation
for an assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein as his motorcade passed through the town.
Since the trial’s opening session, two defense lawyers have been murdered. The surviving defense attorneys had
previously announced their intention to suspend involvement with the case unless their demands, including a way to
ensure their security, were addressed. There are reports that a security agreement has been worked out. It now appears
that the defense lawyers will be in court again on November 28.
Once the trial resumes, the judges will have to rule on various defense motions. The bench may also have to decide on
the appropriate ways to protect witnesses who will be giving testimony.
“This trial poses big obstacles, but for the tribunal to be credible, the judges will have to overcome them,” Dicker
said. “We will look very carefully at how the judges respond to motions submitted by the defense, including requests for
more time to allow adequate preparation.”
The Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal (formerly known as the Iraqi Special Tribunal) is an Iraqi court mandated to try
former government officials. Established under a law passed by the Iraqi parliament, the tribunal has the authority to
prosecute Iraqi nationals for the grave crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Funded mostly by the
U.S. government, the court will try some of the most notorious human rights crimes that occurred under the previous
government, including the poison gas attacks against Iraqi Kurds and the brutal suppression of the 1991 rebellion in
Five Iraqi judges make up a trial chamber. The prosecutors and principal defense lawyers are Iraqi.
In a briefing paper released on October 16, Human Rights Watch highlighted concerns that the tribunal is at risk of
violating basic fair-trial guarantees.