GENEVA (AP) â€” The trial and execution of Saddam Hussein showed that Iraq has failed to move on from the era of injustice it endured under the former dictator, a UN human rights expert said Thursday.
Philip Alston, an independent expert with the UN Human Rights Council, said the legal proceedings “were tragically missed opportunities to demonstrate that justice can be done, even in the case of one of the greatest crooks of our time.” He urged the Iraqi government to undertake a number of sweeping reforms to show that it “is serious about marking a departure from the predetermined and arbitrary justice meted out by Saddam himself.” The first step would be to halt the execution of two of Saddam’s co-defendants and commute their death sentences to life imprisonment “or other substantial terms,” Alston said.
Barzan Ibrahim, Saddam’s half brother and former intelligence chief, and Awad Hamed Al Bandar, former head of Iraq’s Revolutionary Court, are waiting for their death sentences to be carried out after being found guilty of involvement in the killing of nearly 150 Shiites in 1982.
On Wednesday, UN human rights chief Louise Arbour, backed by new Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, appealed to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to prevent the execution of Ibrahim and Al-Bandar, saying she was concerned with “the fairness and impartiality” of their trials. Alston, a professor of law at New York University, said it had been “documented very clearly” that Saddam had been denied a fair hearing during his trial.
The former Iraqi leader should have been given the opportunity to seek a pardon or commutation of his sentence, but instead the Iraqi government sped up the execution for political reasons, Alston claimed.
He added that “the humiliating manner in which the execution was carried out clearly violated human rights law.” A grainy video of Saddam’s hanging, which showed the 69-year-old being taunted on the gallows, ignited protests by Sunni Arabs in various Iraqi cities and condemnation abroad.
Alston said that while there was “an understandable inclination to exact revenge in such cases, to permit such instincts to prevail only sends the message that the rule of law continues to be mocked in Iraq, as it was in Saddam’s own time.” Other reforms necessary to ensure the independence and fairness of the Iraqi justice system include eliminating the government’s power to remove judges arbitrarily, and ensuring better protection of lawyers and witnesses, he said.