Human Rights Advocacy
Why Saddam must not be hanged?
Barrister Harun Ur Rashid
On 5th November, an Iraqi special tribunal convicted former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to death by hanging.
As the verdict was read, Saddam shouted, "Long live the people! Down with spies! He then chanted "God is great"
The five judge panel, which heard more than nine months of testimony, against Saddam passed the sentence. Public celebrations broke out among Shi'ias while among Sunnis, there was anger and resentment. Immediately following the verdict fighting broke out between gunmen and the pre-dominantly Iraqi army.
Critics further accused the Bush administration of playing with the calendar, starting with the Iraqi war authorisation vote being held so close to Bush's midterm election in 2002. Again the verdict on 5th November was just two days before the midterm Congressional elections in 2006.
The US President Bush has hailed the death sentence of Saddam and called it as "milestone" and called a remarkable achievement for Iraq. As a Texas Governor Bush was known to have approved numerous death sentences and therefore it is understandable for Bush's views.
Why the death sentence should not be carried out?
There are many reasons for which Saddam Hussein must not be hanged and a few of them deserve mention as follows:
First, it is extraordinary that a domestic tribunal has tried on criminal charges under international law, in this case genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The trial should have been conducted out of Iraq and by an international tribunal consisting of a mix of Iraqi and foreign judges, if not by the International Criminal Court at The Hague.( The US has always been against any trial before the ICC).
Furthermore on 20 November, New York based Human Rights Watch said in a 97-page report calling the verdict "questionable" and saying that the Iraqi Court was not equipped such a complex case
Second, the trial is seen unfair because the court sat for 40 days and heard 70 witnesses. It failed to give defence lawyers important documents in advance, lost track of paperwork and kept no written transcript, according to Human Right Watch.
There have been clear instances of political interference. For example the last judge was sacked by the government for claiming Saddam was not a dictator. A few Saddam's defence lawyers were murdered. To try a political enemy by the Iraqi judges who are victims themselves brings charges of bias. Justice must not only be done but also seen to be done. From this perspective, it has been a flawed trial.
Third, international legal experts have questioned the impartiality of trial by the tribunal and its procedures which was created during the 15thmonth period of formal American occupation. It is an American trial in Iraq, executed by Iraqi judges.
Fourth, the Baghdad tribunal has shown flaws because when it exercises justice, it should do so in such a way that it emphasises its moral superiority to the criminal. By killing Saddam Hussein, the new Iraq behaves just the same thing to him that he has done to others. The Iraqi leaders are squandering a chance to prove it is better than the Saddam Hussein regime.
Fifth, hanging will make Saddam a martyr before his supporters in Iraq and outside because it will be perceived as an act of vengeance, not justice on behalf of all Iraqi people.
Sixth, many commentators suggest that if Saddam is killed, his cooperation and testimony needed by the prosecution in future trials of certain other persons would not be available.
Finally, the hanging will make the security situation in Iraq worse. Execution of Saddam is likely to stir up more civil unrest and innocent civilians will die. Saddam 's chief lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi, reportedly said that the verdict will open " the doors of hell" in Iraq, and " the sectarian divide in the country will deepen and many more coffins will be sent back to America." In recent days President Mubarak of Egypt expressed similar fears of more of sectarian conflict in Iraq.
Many social scientists believe death penalty is inherently cruel. Since human beings cannot create life, so it cannot kill human life. Even Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister is against the death sentence. In this case, death sentence in a flawed trial is indefensible.
The author is former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.