Europe calls for death penalty to be commuted

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The Independent Online

European governments and human rights organisations reacted with deep unease to the death penalty handed down to Saddam Hussein yesterday, amid doubts about the fairness of the trial and fears that the sentence could trigger further sectarian bloodshed in Iraq.

Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said that Ireland and its EU partners had made clear their opposition to the death sentence being invoked by Iraqi tribunals, as the governments of France, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands confirmed the European view. "I must say that this is very far from our ethics and the political tradition of this country, no matter how cruel the crime is," said Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi. The European Union has abandoned the death penalty, which became a controversial issue when the tribunal to judge Saddam was set up.

Amid general relief that the first case had reached a conclusion while Saddam remains on trial accused of genocide against the Kurds, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt called the verdict "deeply satisfying". But he also said: "The big challenge for Iraq's people is the future, and the big compromises required for maintained freedom, secured peace and sustainable reconciliation."

With the sentence expected to go directly to appeal, the top UN official for human rights, Louise Arbour, urged the Iraqi judges to commute the death penalty to life imprisonment even if it is upheld. "A credible appeals process is an essential part of fair-trial guarantees," said Ms Arbour, the High Commissioner for Human Rights. "This is particularly important in this instance, in which the death penalty has been imposed," she said. Saddam and his top aides sentenced to death by hanging "should have every opportunity to exhaust their appellate remedies in a fair way, and whatever the outcome of an appeal, I hope the Government will observe a moratorium on executions."

With international divisions over Iraq policy still running deep and accusations from Islamic leaders that the Bush administration had engineered the timing of the sentencing, the Russian foreign ministry issued a veiled warning to America not to influence the US-sponsored tribunal. "We believe that the trial of a citizen of any country, whatever post he once held, is an internal matter of that state and must be conducted and concluded without prompting from outside," said spokesman, Mikhail Kamynin. "We believe that any decision ... must be made outside political circumstances, on a firm judicial basis."

A stronger criticism was voiced by Amnesty International, which said the trial had been deeply flawed, and argued that the death penalty had been shown to have no deterrent effect. "Serious flaws in the trial have included political interference by members of the Iraqi government, the failure to provide protection for witnesses and others involved in the trial, and the denial of access to legal counsel for Saddam Hussein for a year after his arrest," it said, urging changes to the tribunal during the appeal process, including the possibility of adding international judges or referring the case to an international tribunal.

It also warned there was the risk that Saddam and his co-defendants would be executed while doubts remain about whether they had a fair trial.

But there were no such worries in Iran and Kuwait, subjected to the Iraqi leader's wars, which welcomed yesterday's sentence in a statement from Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini.

Trial saga

2005

* 17 JUNE: First criminal case filed against Saddam and seven co-defendants, charged in the deaths of 148 in 1982 in Dujail.

* 19 OCTOBER: Trial begins.

* 20 OCTOBER: Masked gunmen kidnap and kill defence lawyer Saadoun al-Janabi.

* 4 DECEMBER: One of the five judges steps down after learning that a Saddam co-defendant may have been involved in his brother's execution.

2006

* 15 January: Chief judge Rizgar Amin, a Kurd, resigns.

* 21 June: Defence lawyer Khamis al-Obeidi is slain.

* 23 July: Saddam is fed through tube on 17th day of hunger strike.

* 5 November: Saddam is convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death. Six co-defendants are sentenced to prison; a seventh is acquitted.

Also in the dock

* Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti: GUILTY - sentenced to death

Adviser and half-brother to Saddam. Accused of ordering mass murder and torture and personally committing human rights abuses as head of feared Mukhabarat intelligence service. Captured in April 2003

* Awad Hamed al-Bander: GUILTY - sentenced to death

Chief judge in Saddam's Revolutionary Court, hesentenced dozens to execution

* Taha Yassin Ramadan: GUILTY - sentenced to life in prison

Senior member of Saddam's inner circle and former vice-president. Accused of brutally crushing a Shia uprising in 1991

* Mizhir Abdullah Kathim Ruwaid: GUILTY - sentenced to 15 years in prison

Former Baath Party official in Dujail postal department. Accused of taking orders from Barzan al-Tikriti to make Dujail arrests

* Ali Dayih Ali: GUILTY - sentenced to 15 years in prison

Baath official in the Dujail area

* Abdullah Kathim Ruwaid: GUILTY - sentenced to 15 years in prison

Baath official in the Dujail area

* Mohammed Azawi Ali: ACQUITTED for lack of evidence

Baath official in the Dujail area

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