CHRIS KUTSCHERA 40 YEARS of JOURNALISM (Texts and Photos)

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KURDISTAN IRAQ : A rare interview with Saddam Hussein's first judge

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Judge RizgarPreviously little known outside Iraq, Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin rose to international attention when he was appointed head of the five-judge panel of the Iraqi Special Tribunal conducting the Dujail trial, which charged Saddam Hussein with responsability for the murder of 148 Shiah men, women and children in 1982. The historic trial started on 19 October 2005, with Rizgar Mohammed Amin the only judge on the panel of legal experts prepared to appear on camera during filming of the trial.

A first the disgraced former Iraqi leader even refused to confirm his name. But, by employing sheer, relentless politeness, to wear Saddam Hussein down, Judge Amin was soon accused by both the government and the public of being "too soft" in tolerating Saddam's outbursts, he eventually resigned on 14 January 2006.

Since then Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin has been working in Erbil as a member of the Kurdistan Supreme Court, and as president of the Kurdistan Region Judges' Union.

The soft spoken Rizgar Mohammed Amin who generally avoids meeting the press was born in Souleimania 50 years ago. His one obsession, he stresses, is to make sure that all the trials over which he presides are conducted fairly, without fear or favour, whoever the defendant happens to be.

Why did you agree to take on the trial of Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants?

We only live once. I am a judge, I was asked to do this job, and I do not refuse assignments. I recognised that involvement in the trial involved risk and not only a risk to my life. But there is a necessity to make sure that the law is enforced. We judges have a big responsability. Our duty is very difficult. We must decide what is right and what is wrong: it is a hard task.

How did you manage to keep your self-control?

It is a gift of God!

How did you feel when representing the Iraqi nation, you faced the dictator Saddam Hussein?

Juege RizgarIt was a historical mission. I hope I did it professionnally. Like doctors, I expect anybody to appear as my "patient". I had never met Saddam Hussein. I had seen him on television and once in his car in the streets of Souleimania.

I wanted to be an impartial judge, not biased in any way. I was trying to enforce the law, without being influenced by anything or anyone, because it was such a sensitive case. If the judge is less than fair in such a case, he cannot make sure law is enforced. I was focusing on getting a fair trial.

What kind of "influences" are you referring to?

Some influences were political. As a professional judge, dealing with Saddam Hussein or anybody else, I do not think about who the person standing in front of me is.

I was handed a case. There were charges. People were complaining. I was trying to find out the truth and to issue a final judgmnt apart of any outside influence.

Of course the court was set up after great political change in Iraq, but I did not expect some of the extreme reactions I received from the government and the public.

What did you think about Saddam Hussein's behaviour in court? Did you see him before the beginning of the trial?

He was normal, like any other person in court, listening to the charges, trying to find excuses for what he did. There was no need for me to see him outside the court. I sent the general prosecutor to check on the prison situation. I wanted to be sure he enjoyed the normal rights provided by international human rights conventions

You know the Kurdish saying: "A lion in the forest is a lion in a cage" Was Saddam Hussein a caged lion?

He was strong, not weak. From his past, I expected that he would be strong… But judges should not let personal feelings interfere when they are dealing with somebody's fate, that would be very dangerous.

Why did you start the trial of Saddam Hussein with the minor Dujail case?

When they transfered the case to us, we did not interfere. The people in charge of the investigation chose to start with the Dujail case. It was not for me to decide. I know there is a difference of level (with the Anfal case, for example), but as a judge, it is not for me to meddle.

Do you think that there can be a fair trail of the Halabja case without Saddam Hussein?

Yes, with the other accused, it can be fair.

Do you enjoy special protection, with bodyguards?

As a muslim, I believe the end of my life belongs to God

Why did you resign?

I can't give you the answer to that question at this time… In future, if I get the chance, I will write about it ….

(The Middle East magazine, October 2007)

 

 

 

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