Side Event – “Prosecution of War Crimes in Iraqi Kurdistan: the ISIS case and the Saddam Hussein” Case (hosted by the Kurdish National Coalition for the ICC)

Overview by Sally Eshun, Intern PILPG NL

This side event held in Arabic focused on the crimes committed in Iraq against the Kurdish people both by Iraqi forces under the command of Saddam Hussein and the terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS/Da’esh), from a national perspective. An Iraqi judge on the panel remarked that since the military coup in 1958, Iraq has remained unstable with a fragile democracy. Sentencing laws have been weak as have been human rights records. According to him, special or military courts were mainly handling politically motivated cases and lacked impartiality. The Iraqi judge remarked that there have been efforts to establish a special tribunal for crimes committed in the autonomous region of Kurdistan but that due to prior experience and the potential of the court becoming too politicized, that idea was dropped. There were three avenues, which were considered when the discussion was revolving around establishing an international court. The possibility of doing it with UN-backing was hindered due to the U.S.-veto in the UN Security Council. The international community also rejected the option of a hybrid court like the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) or the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). 

Eventually, the Iraqi judge elaborated, a national court took on cases concerning the alleged crimes by also applying laws that were according to International Criminal Law standards. One of these cases included Saddam Hussein as defendant for committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide and military personnel close to him. The judge explained that he resigned before the first verdict of these trials was announced because of political involvement in the court proceedings and due to the fact that the death penalty was an option for sentencing. Ultimately he noted that he regrets not being able to give victims the justice they deserve.

Following, a former labor minister of the Kurdistan region commented on how the ICC is needed to act as a watch-dog for crimes committed. He found it unfortunate that the international community does not pay as much attention to the situation in Kurdistan, as it is needed and sees no real effort by the ICC to hold individuals accountable for the crimes committed in Kurdistan. This was the generally agreed upon by the other participants of this panel. The panel noted that the victims are the ones bearing the consequences for the inaction of the ICC and the world community but they also acknowledged the limited range of possibilities of the Court since Iraq is not a state party.