Iraq: Human rights proceedings welcomed but concern over handling of Saddam Hussein's court appearance

Amnesty International said:

“The beginning of legal proceedings to determine responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed over the last three decades, is to be welcomed.

“However, in order to bring justice to the thousands of victims, the proceedings must be fair, impartial and transparent.”

Amnesty International is concerned that defence counsel was not made available to the accused at yesterday's hearing.

Although the judge said that Saddam Hussein would be allowed legal defence in future, Amnesty International is pointing out that all accused should be given access to defence representation from the beginning of the process.

The human rights organisation is also concerned at apparent restrictions - or censorship - of some of yesterday's hearing. Audio of Saddam Hussein’s voice was initially barred from broadcasts.

In addition, Amnesty International is reminding the Iraqi authorities and members of the Multinational Force in Iraq that open reporting of the trial is of paramount importance.

While full physical access by the public may be impractical because of security considerations, the proceedings must at least be open to a variety of news media. In light of this, Amnesty International is dismayed that only reporters from US media outlets were allowed access to the court during yesterday’s hearings.

Amnesty International said:

“It is essential that the trial of Saddam Hussein and the other defendants be fair and open to public scrutiny so that ordinary Iraqis and the international community can see that justice is being done.”

Background

International law guarantees everyone during detention and trial the right of access to lawyers of their own choosing as well as the time and facilities to communicate with them.

Under international law, the press and public can only be excluded from all or part of a trial for reasons of morals, public order or national security.

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