Should Saddam Hussein be tried through an “Iraqi Special Tribunal” or a U.N. Tribunal? This topic will be heavily debated in the aftermath of Saddam’s capture. Leila Sadat, professor of law and Israel Treiman Faculty Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis, says the U.S. government’s push for a local Iraqi tribunal rather than a U.N Tribunal is a mistake.
“The international community needs to support Iraq through this process, not abandon its responsibilities for Iraq’s successful reconstruction, one of which is the need for justice and accountability,” says Sadat. “The risk of the Special Tribunal process falling apart for lack of resources, ineffective security or other reasons is substantial. Without the involvement of the Security Council, once the occupation is ended, there is nothing to stop the Iraqi government from dissolving the special courts if the process becomes too expensive or burdensome.”
Sadat, an international law expert and author of The International Criminal Court and the Transformation of International Law: Justice for the New Millennium, outlined her views on the subject in a Dec. 16 commentary in USA Today, posted below. Sadat is available to discuss her views on the trial of Saddam and other international law issues surrounding trials of heads of state.
U.N. tribunal is best option
By Leila Sadat
(This article was originally published in the Editorial/Opinion section of USA Today on Tuesday, December 16, 2003)
Now that Saddam Hussein finally is in the dock, there is talk of trying him before a local “Iraqi Special Tribunal” rather than a United Nations tribunal backed by the enforcement powers of the Security Council.
This would be a mistake.
Trials of heads of state for atrocities committed during their regimes are watershed events in the life of a nation. They also take extraordinary resources and preparation, both of which currently are lacking in Iraq. It took years for the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals to become effective institutions, and it is completely unrealistic to assume that the future government of Iraq can proceed more quickly.
The U.S. government contends that justice for Iraq should be carried out by Iraqis, as if it would be somehow unfair to proceed otherwise. This argument is seductive, but flawed. The plan is to create five-judge ad hoc panels from Iraqi jurists — who are offered no special protections such as life tenure or salary guarantees — to try the most powerful individuals in recent Iraqi history.
Under cover of supporting “home rule,” Iraqis would be denied the opportunity to rebuild their country with the active participation and financing of the international community. Nor are “international justice” and “Iraqi justice” mutually irreconcilable. A tribunal backed by the Security Council could be staffed with Iraqis as well as jurists from other Arab nations and have its seat either in Iraq or a neighboring country.
Perhaps the administration’s sudden embrace of indigenous solutions is just cover for its ferocious hostility toward international courts. But this is neither in Iraq’s self-interest nor ours. The risk of the Special Tribunal process falling apart for lack of resources, ineffective security or other reasons is substantial. Without the involvement of the Security Council, once the occupation is ended, there is nothing to stop the Iraqi government from dissolving the special courts if the process becomes too expensive or burdensome.
History tells us that reconstructing a society takes time, persistence, a great deal of outside assistance and international support. Having won the war, the U.S. must now do what is necessary to ensure the peace.