Iraq: UK visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Alawi: Briefing on Amnesty International concerns

Amnesty International UK said:

“After many years we could now see a turning point for human rights in Iraq. Tony Blair has a golden opportunity to emphasise its importance in this first visit of the new Iraqi Prime Minister.

“Victims of the appalling human rights abuses committed under Saddam Hussein deserve justice and security in their country. We must not see a return to restrictions on freedoms and unfair trials leading to the death penalty.”

Key Amnesty International concerns:

  • Trial of Saddam Hussein

    Amnesty International emphasises that any system that is handling prisoners and detainees should guarantee them rights to fair trial, freedom from torture and ill-treatment, and should not impose the death penalty.

    Amnesty International is concerned that defence counsel was not made available to Saddam Hussein at a preliminary court hearing on 1 July. 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 organisation is also concerned at apparent restrictions - or censorship - of some of the 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 the preliminary hearing.

    Amnesty International believes that in order to enable the Iraqi justice system to be fully functional, it needs significant assistance. Amnesty International is calling for the UN to establish a commission of experts to review the needs of the justice system in Iraq. Such a body could propose amendments to laws to bring them into line with international standards, and advise the Interim Government of Iraq on measures to be taken in this direction.

  • Responsibility for prisoners

    In a 28 June 2004 report, Amnesty International expressed concern that the US has recently stated its intention to hold without charge between 4,000 and 5,000 detainees despite a legal requirement to release them or transfer them to Iraqi custody. The US has recently said that it was holding 6,400 prisoners.

    Amnesty International is concerned that the resolution for handover of power (United Nations Resolution 1546) is silent on the question of the Coalition’s prisoners. In early June Amnesty International wrote to the US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, John Negroponte, expressing serious concern that Resolution 1546 failed to clarify the fate of prisoners held by the occupying powers. Amnesty International has received no reply to this letter. Meanwhile, in comments to international media on 13 June, Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson, a US spokesman for detention operations in Iraq, said the US would continue to hold between 4,000 and 5,000 detainees. No legal basis for these detentions was given.

    Amnesty International’s report, 'Iraq: human rights protection and promotion vital in the transitional period', makes clear that any further detentions by the US and other members of the multinational force after 30 June would be unlawful. Suspects may only be re-arrested by the Iraqi authorities if there are grounds under Iraqi law, consistent with international standards, to detain them.

  • New security measures

    Amnesty International is concerned about warnings from the Iraqi Justice Minister that the new National Safety Law ‘will restrict some freedoms’. The measures introduced must not be used to restrict freedom of expression and press freedom. Every government has an obligation to defend the security of its citizens - but not at the cost of human rights.

    Among other things, the new law gives the government power to impose curfews, set up checkpoints as well as search and detain suspects.

    If people are detained they must be brought before a court without undue delay. They must not be subjected to torture or ill-treatment and they must have access to defence lawyers during their detention. Family members should also be kept informed of their detention.

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