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UN rights expert demands investigation into death of Saddam lawyer, assails court

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Leandro Despouy has called for the Iraqi government to begin an independent investigation [press release] into the murder of Khamis al-Obeidi [JURIST report], a lawyer representing Saddam Hussein in his crimes against humanity trial [JURIST news archive]. Condemning the killing of al-Obeidi, the third defense lawyer assassinated since the trial began last year, Despouy expressed particular concern that Iraqi police forces were involved in the murder.

In a statement Despouy again denounced [JURIST report] the Iraqi High Tribunal trying the case and called for the establishment of an international tribunal:

The Special Rapporteur wishes to recall that the Iraqi High Tribunal has certain deficiencies and that its legitimacy has been rightfully criticized. He is concerned by the fact that its jurisdiction is limited since it cannot judge those responsible for war crimes committed by foreign armed forces neither during the first Gulf war (1990) not after 1 May 2003. Also, the Tribunal was set up in the context of an armed occupation which is mainly considered to be illegal. Moreover, it should be noted that the Tribunal violates 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 pressures on the judges of the Iraqi High Tribunal, which may have contributed to the removal and resignation of some of them. Also, the right to an appropriate and independent defense is undermined in particular by the extremely serious attacks against defense lawyers. Finally, he is concerned that the Tribunal is empowered to impose the death penalty and that the prosecution called for the death penalty for Saddam Hussein, his half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti and former senior regime member Taha Yassin Ramadan, in the context of proceedings where fair trial standards are not guaranteed.

The Special Rapporteur wishes to reiterate his support for the establishment of an international tribunal to ensure that the entire spectrum of barbaric crimes committed in Iraq are prosecuted in a comprehensive, independent and impartial manner, in full respect of the right to truth of all victims and of the international community at large. In this context, the prompt execution of Saddam Hussein would entail a loss of precious evidence. Both for Iraq and internationally, a sentence for Saddam Hussein reached at the end of proceedings that meet international human rights standards would have tremendous symbolic impact in the context of the fight against impunity and would exemplify that it is possible to impart justice which is not the verdict of the winners against the loosers. The Special Rapporteur is convinced that, in the current circumstances, the Iraqi High Tribunal hardly is in a position to achieve its stated objectives of justice.
Al-Obeidi was abducted and killed last week, just two days after the prosecution presented their closing arguments in the trial, calling for the death penalty [JURIST report] for Hussein and four of his co-defendants. Hussein and his co-defendants began a hunger strike [JURIST report] late Wednesday to protest the murder of al-Obeidi and to call for additional security for the defense team, but ended the strike [JURIST report] just one day later. The UN News Center has more.

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