IRAQ: Judicial system far from independent

IRAQ: Judicial system far from independent
October 10th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: IRAQ: Judicial system far from independent

IRAQ: Judicial system far from independent
Media: IRIN
Byline: N/A
Date: 10 October 2006

BAGHDAD, 10 October (IRIN) - Like other public sectors in Iraq, the judicial
system decayed during the three and a half decades of former President
Saddam Hussein's 24-year rule, in which his government controlled it and
directed judges to serve its interests.

This year though, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promised to make
Iraq's judicial system more independent, partly by making it the sole
authority responsible for punishing crime, and partly by increasing its

However, legal specialists say much still has to be done to make the
judiciary truly independent. "The government has to protect the judicial
system from any pressure from influential political parties or any social
influences to achieve independence for this important sector," said Dr Ahmed
Jabre Attwan, a legal expert at the College of Law, Baghdad University.

Attwan said Iraq's government must choose independent judges carefully, and
adopt tough measures against anyone who tries to influence this system for
personal or political gain.

"Over the past three decades, there was just one party controlling the
country's judicial system, but now the whole system is in the hands of many
political parties, especially those who have militias," said a 65-year-old
Iraqi judge who spoke on condition of anonymity due to his fear of

Most judges refuse to speak with reporters, even anonymously. At least 11
judges have been killed in 2006.

"We can't do our job properly with all these pressures." the judge said.
"They [militias] are controlling everything everywhere, and they do whatever
they want. They don't even hesitate to put pressure on us openly."

Iraq's government also needs to fight corruption in the judiciary and get
rid of those judges who were affiliated with Saddam's ousted Baath party, he

Thirty-seven judges and prosecutors who had been high-ranking Baath party
members, have been dismissed since 2003, said Ali al-Lami, director general
of the De-Baathification Commission, the body that led a purge of members of
the disbanded Baath party from the military and government.

"But there is still a lag in the work of the justice ministry and judicial
supreme council in this regard. They say that they still need some [who are
Baathists] for their qualifications, and that there are no alternatives for
the time being," al-Lami said.

The New York-based watchdog, Human Rights Watch, has criticised the Iraq
government's handling of former president Saddam Hussein's court case, by
saying Iraq's High Tribunal cannot fairly and effectively try Hussein and
others "in accordance with international standards."

The rights body condemned the manner in which the Iraqi government on 19
September was able to remove Judge Abdullah al-Amiri who was perceived to
have been impartial by government officials.

"Judges must not be the subject of inflammatory criticism by government
officials. Any process for disciplining or removing judges must occur in
accordance with independent judicial procedures, and not take place in the
court of public opinion," HRW stated.

Finding impartial judges, respected by all sides of Iraq's political and
sectarian divide, is no easy matter, say legal specialists.

"We do believe that those [judges] who have any political links to any party
or even sympathy to any ethnic or political or religious group, should step
down," Mowafaq al-Atraqchi, a Baghdad-based lawyer, said. "Only in this way
can we get a judicial system which looks at cases with two eyes, not one."

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