An Iraqi tribunal is incapable of fairly and effectively trying former president Saddam Hussein and six others on genocide charges for their role in the killing of an estimated 100,000 Kurds in the 1980s, a major human rights group said yesterday.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the judges and lawyers of the Iraqi High Tribunal do not understand international law, and urged the court to "improve its practices if it is to do justice" in the trial that starts on Monday.
The case involves Saddam's alleged role in Operation Anfal, Arabic for "spoils of war." The regime launched the 1987-1988 operation to crush independence-minded Kurdish militias and clear the Kurdish population along the sensitive Iranian border area. Saddam had accused Kurdish militias of ties to Iran.
Saddam and the others face genocide charges over the campaign, which left thousands of Kurdish villages razed and their inhabitants either killed or displaced. Poison gas was said to have been used.
Human Rights Watch said "serious shortcomings" in the system were revealed during the first trial of Saddam and seven codefendants in the 1982 killing of 148 Shiite Muslims in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad, after an assassination attempt against him.
The trial adjourned last month until Oct. 16, when the verdicts are expected.
"Based on extensive observation of the tribunal's conduct of its first trial ... Human Rights Watch believes that the Iraqi High Tribunal is presently incapable of fairly and effectively trying a genocide case in accordance with international standards and current international criminal law," the watchdog's statement said.
It alleged that none of the Iraqi judges and lawyers showed an understanding of international criminal law during the Dujail trial. The court's administration was "chaotic and inadequate, making it unable to conduct a trial of this magnitude fairly," the statement said.
It added that the Iraqi court relied so heavily on anonymous witnesses that it undercut the defendants' right to confront wit-nesses against them.
The deterioration of the security situation in Iraq, including the tribunal's failure to protect defense counsel targeted for assassination, added to the shortcomings, Human Rights Watch said.
"The victims of the Anfal won't see justice done unless the Iraqi tribunal does a much better job on its second case than it did in the Dujail trial," Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program, was quoted as saying in the statement.
"The Anfal campaign was a genocide carried out against part of the Kurdish population," Dicker said. "Genocide is the most serious crime there is, and it's essential that the tribunal conducts the Anfal trial fairly."