YESTERDAY'S report by the American Human Rights Watch organisation on Saddam Hussein's first trial is a damning indictment of the way in which the trial was conducted which it says was so flawed that the verdict itself was unsound. Although reporting of the trial by Western media was intermittent and largely confined to Saddan Hussein's dramatic outbursts, enough information filtered through to suggest that the procedures being used were far from adequate for a trial of this importance. The conclusion of the Human Rights Watch report makes no bones about the matter; after detailing all the shortcomings at every stage the report says: “The result is a trial that did not meet fair trial standards. Under such circumstances, the soundness of the verdict is questionable. In addition, the imposition of the death penalty, an inherently cruel and inhumane punishment, in the wake of an unfair trial is indefensible.” Does any of this matter? Saddam Hussein was an evil man, he has been tried by his peers and sentenced to death; this is an Iraqi matter and the Iraqi government has vigorously defended the fairness of the trial. But there is more to it than that. Saddam's trial was one of a number now taking place in different parts of the world that recognise the principle that war crimes and crimes against humanity cannot go unpunished. It is vital to the wider acceptance of this principle that such trials are conducted fairly. Clearly, Saddam Hussein's was not.


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