The UN said yesterday said that Saddam Hussein's trial would never satisfy international standards because of ongoing violence and flaws in Iraq's legal system
John Case, the UN's human rights chief in Iraq, said the murder of two defence lawyers, continued threats against judges, lawyers and witnesses and weaknesses in the Iraqi justice system had caused grave doubts about the trial's legitimacy.
The fitful progress so far has seen Saddam spend only six hours in court since the trial began on October 19.
"We're very anxious about the tribunal [trying Saddam]," he told Reuters in an interview. "The legitimacy of the tribunal needs to be examined. It has been seriously challenged in many quarters."
The court resumes today after a week's adjournment. The chief judge, Rizgar Amin, had suspended the hearing for seven days to allow two of Saddam's seven co-defendants - former vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan and Barzan al-Tikriti, Saddam's half-brother - to appoint new lawyers after one was killed and another fled abroad. Another defence lawyer has also been shot dead.
"There is already a paralysis in the legitimacy of the defence," said Mr Case. "We believe that weakness in the system of administration of justice, in addition to the antecedents surrounding the establishment of this tribunal, will never be able to produce the kind of process that would be able to satisfy international standards."
The UN has no official role in the trial but has called for an independent probe into the deaths of the lawyers. Mr Case's comments add to a growing chorus of international human rights and justice groups who argue that a fair trial is impossible under current conditions in Iraq. There have been calls for the trial to be delayed, moved to safer venues such as the Kurdistan region or abroad to the international criminal court in The Hague.
Adding to the febrile atmosphere, Iraqi authorities said yesterday they had uncovered a plot by Sunni Arab insurgents to fire rockets at the court building during today's session. On the eve of last week's trial session, eight Sunni Arabs from Tikrit were arrested for planning to assassinate the chief investigative judge, Judge Raed al-Juhi. In another attack on the judiciary, a suicide car bomber targeted the house of a senior judge, Midhat al-Mahmoudi, in Baghdad yesterday but failed to breach security. It also emerged that one of the five-judge panel trying Saddam had removed himself from the case after learning that one of the defendants may have been involved in his brother's execution. Officials said a replacement had been found.
Tensions are also rising in the run-up to the national election on December 15. On an election tour in the Shia holy city of Najaf, the former prime minister Ayad Allawi said he was attacked at a shrine by armed loyalists of Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia cleric.
In Saddam's trial today the first prosecution witnesses to testify in person are expected to give evidence about the deaths of 148 Shia villagers following an assassination attempt against Saddam. So far the court has heard only videotaped testimony from a former intelligence chief who has since died from cancer. Saddam and seven of his former colleagues face the death penalty if found guilty of crimes against humanity. It is unclear how long the trial will last. The fitful progress so far has seen Saddam spend only six hours in court since the trial began on October 19.
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