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24 January 2007

The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy, and the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Leïla Zerrougui, issued the following statement today:

The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy, and the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Leïla Zerrougui, remain concerned about the death sentences imposed upon Saddam Hussein and two co-defendants linked to his regime and are deeply alarmed by the manner in which the executions were carried out.

“International law allows the imposition of capital punishment only within rigorous legal constraints, including respect of fair trial standards. However, these standards were not guaranteed by the Iraqi High Tribunal.”, the independent human rights experts highlight.

Former Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan is likely to be sentenced to death at a hearing before the Iraqi High Tribunal on 25 January, according to a statement by the court’s spokesperson. Taha Yassin Ramadan was convicted in November in connection with crimes against humanity committed in the town of Dujail in 1982, but the Tribunal’s Appeals Chamber ruled in its decision of 26 December that a life sentence for Ramadan was too lenient and ordered the court to re-sentence him.

A number of international bodies and experts have pointed to irregularities concerning the Iraqi High Tribunal’s trial against Saddam Hussein and seven other defendants and to the lack of respect for due process rights. Among the main concerns highlighted by the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers is the violation of a number of international human rights standards on the right to be tried by an independent and impartial tribunal and on the right to defense. In this regard, there have been numerous reports of external pressure imposed upon the judges of the Iraqi High Tribunal, which appear to have led to the removal and resignation of some of them. Also, the right to an appropriate and independent defense is severely undermined, in particular by the extremely serious attacks against defense lawyers.

Also, on 1 September 2006 in its Opinion No. 31/2006, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention considered that the non-observance of the relevant international standards during Saddam Hussein's trial was of such gravity as to confer his deprivation of liberty an arbitrary character and invited the Governments of Iraq and the United States to give serious consideration to the question of whether a trial of Saddam Hussein in conformity with international law is at all possible before an Iraqi tribunal in the current situation in the country, or whether the case should not be referred to an international tribunal.

Moreover, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions also indicated that when defense lawyers are murdered, the rule of law is doubly at stake. The assassination of defense attorneys appearing before the Iraqi High Tribunal threatens the entire procedure, since the role of defense lawyers is critical to a fair trial.

Finally, at the beginning of January, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, and the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, both called on the Government of Iraq to refrain from carrying out the death sentences imposed by the Iraqi High Tribunal.

In light of the gravity of the shortcomings of the trial against Saddam Hussein and his seven co-defendants, the experts strongly call upon the Iraqi authorities to suspend without delay any further executions until it is ensured that a fair trial is provided to those accused under their jurisdiction, in full respect of all due process guarantees required by international human rights law.