Thu, Feb 01, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Former Malaysian PM forms court to try rights violations

AP , PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday he was forming a tribunal to try heads of governments for alleged war crimes, including US President George W. Bush.

The tribunal, to be formally launched at a peace conference Mahathir is hosting next week, will not have the legal authority of any international organization and will not be able to impose penalties -- but Mahathir said its aim was to condemn the accused in the history books.

"The accused may disregard" the tribunal, Mahathir said at a news conference. "There will be [other] people who will take it seriously, and historians will attach an epithet that they will not like. They will go down in history as war criminals."

Seventeen people -- nine from Iraq, five from the Palestinian territories and three from Lebanon -- have arrived for the peace conference in Malaysia's biggest city and capital, Kuala Lumpur, where they will submit oral or written complaints to the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission.

The commission, made up of Mahathir and five Malaysian lawyers, will investigate the complaints and decide whether they merit being tried by the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal, which is also being set up by Mahathir and comprises law specialists and former judges.

Mahathir said the date for the tribunal's first hearing would depend on how long the commission took to recommend that a case be heard.

"If the complaint is against a head of government, someone powerful, we will hold a trial in absentia," Mahathir said.

He said the accused would "have ample opportunities to rebut the allegations through their embassies."

"We can't arrest government leaders. We can't hang them like they hanged [Iraqi president] Saddam [Hussein]," Mahathir said.

Mahathir, a frequent critic of the Iraq war, has repeatedly called Bush and his Australian and British allies ``war criminals,'' saying they should be tried in an international court for crimes against humanity.

Eight Malaysian law specialists and former judges have agreed to sit on the tribunal, and Mahathir's NGO, the Perdana Global Peace Organization, hopes to add international members.

"The crimes that have been committed in Iraq, Palestine, Japan have not been given a hearing. It is time we set up a body which will give these people an opportunity to complain," Mahathir said.

The coming conference will highlight the suffering of people who survived the US World War II nuclear attacks on Japan.

The complainants gathering in Malaysia are alleged victims of torture, rape and abuse by the US and Israeli armies.

They include Ali Shalah, a former Baghdad university lecturer who says he was severely beaten and electrocuted during six months in Abu Ghraib prison.

Mahathir said his initiative is not being backed by any government, including Malaysia's.

"We don't want to make it look like a government effort. This is purely NGO work," he said.

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