[JURIST] The Iraqi High Tribunal said on Friday that while coalition forces still provide physical protection for former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], he has been safe and in no danger in the legal custody of the Iraqi judiciary since June 30, 2004, when the US-led coalition forces handed Iraq over to the transitional government. Earlier this month Aziz lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano [law firm website; Aziz case file] expressed concern that Aziz would "be punished by the Iraqi government well outside any judicial process" when coalition forces – US, Britain and Italy – transfer their detainees to the custody of the Shiite-led Iraqi government. On June 26 he filed an urgent request for interim measures [text, DOC] with the European Court of Human Rights [official website] asking it to stop any transfer of Aziz, claiming that "Under Article 2 and 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and Article 1, 6 and 13, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Italy [as parties subject to the Convention] certainly have an obligation not to extradite or in any other manner whatsoever, surrender legal or physical custody, of individuals to a country or jurisdiction where they face torture, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment."
In response to a court request for further information about how Aziz was taken into custody and his current status, Di Stefano said [statement text] Tuesday:
Mr Aziz actually handed himself over to what he thought were BRITISH troops and there were indeed UK troops as well as US and Mr Aziz recalls hearing also Italian voices. He surrendered at 19.00pm exactly from the home of his daughter Amel Aziz in Baghdad in the presence of his wife and two other sons Mazen and Ziad. It is evidently clear he is guarded by US/UK and occasionally (in the past but not now) Italian troops and it is intended on a date unknown for physical security of all detainees to be handed over to the Iraqi. That is my main concern. If that happens the risk to the detainees is enhanced. Britain and Italy will not be allowed to simply bury their heads in sand and wash their hands in Pontius Pilate style. They signed agreements after World War II and must be bound by them.
In May, Aziz testified in Saddam Hussein's defense
[JURIST report] in the latter's trial
[JURIST news archive] and accused the current ruling party of trying to kill Hussein in the 1980s, telling the court that the current government should be on trial instead of Hussein's toppled government. Aziz himself faces prosecution in Iraq for alleged violations of financial irregularities committed while serving in the Hussein government; in April, Di Stefano received a letter
[PDF] from US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad indicating that the High Tribunal issued a new arrest warrant for Aziz in March based on alleged violations of Article 12 of the IHT statute which covers crimes against humanity, and had issued an earlier one for violations of the same Article in June 2004. Di Stefano says neither warrant has yet been served.
Members of Aziz's family insist that he is in very poor health [JURIST report] and Di Stefano has sought his release from custody so that he may seek medical treatment [application for compassionate release, DOC] in Russia. Speaking from Amman, Jordan, son Ziad Aziz said of the ECHR response that it was "the first time my father has even had his case heard by any court. We had almost lost hope until Mr Di Stefano and Mr Marinelli made this application. My father has not seen a court in his own right. He has given evidence on behalf of Saddam Hussein but his own case is left in the abyss." AFP has more.