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War Crimes Remarks to Iraqi Jurists

Remarks to Iraqi Jurists

Pierre-Richard Prosper, Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues
Remarks at Iraqi Special Tribunal Conference
London, United Kingdom
October 16, 2004

Your Honors, distinguished guests, Mr. Kehoe, members of the Regime Crimes Office, thank you. It is a pleasure and honor for me to be here with you today. This is a wonderful way to end a week and what has been a dynamic and productive conference. It is my hope that the lessons learned here this week will lead us to the day justice is secured in Iraq.

This conference is important. It is important because we all share a mutual interest in restoring the rule of law in Iraq the rule of law which was abused and destroyed for decades. Your work is important not only for the people of Iraq but for your region and all of humanity. It is important that the victims of Saddam Hussein's regime see that those responsible are brought to account by the law in order to help bring an end to the culture of violence and that they see justice triumphs over those who ruled and still seek to rule by might.

The United States is confident you will succeed. My President wishes you the best. And we are here to stand by your side. As President Bush said: "America's task in Iraq is not only to defeat an enemy; it is to give strength to a friend a free, representative government that serves its people and fights on their behalf." You, the Iraqis who are here today, have the critical task of fighting for justice on behalf of the Iraqi people. And by attending this conference to add to your knowledge and experience, you are taking steps in that direction.

When President Bush looked at the issue of holding Saddam Hussein accountable, he saw that the Iraqi people were crying for justice. He saw that there were jurists, judges and lawyers who have the dedication to move this process forward towards impartial justice. That is why he decided that it was essential to support the Iraqi people and encourage you to take the lead in pursuing accountability.

Recognizing Iraq's long legal tradition dating back to the time of the Code of Hammurabi, the President believed that our job, the international community's job, is to help Iraq in bringing back this tradition. Your efforts will plant the seeds of reform that will end impunity in your country. The task which you have accepted is one that carries great responsibilities but also carries great rewards.

In my ten years of working on and following war crimes issues, I have seen a lot worldwide. I have seen the horrors and felt the plight of those who were systematically abused. I have seen how countries and the international community have responded to theses events, from establishing the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia to mixed part international, part domestic courts in Sierra Leone, East Timor, and Cambodia.

What you are engaged in is different. This is the first time, in this recent history, where the citizens of a country will judge their former leaders for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. But while your exact approach may vary from those that came before you in other countries, there are important lessons to be learned from the past efforts. Lessons that will make your process stronger, credible, and accepted.

I know you have a big job in front of you. But one lesson I want to share with you is that you do not have to prosecute each and every case. In situations where hundreds of thousands of people have been killed or affected, we must recognize that it is nearly impossible to prosecute each and every offender who aggrieved a population. That is because with events of this magnitude, there are generally thousands upon thousands of perpetrators.

Trying to investigate, locate, and litigate the cases of all these individuals will strain any system, and would last deep into the future. Therefore focus on the "big fish." In doing so, you will send a clear signal to society that the old ways have changed, that justice has returned, and that the rule of law has meaning.

As for the others, you should consider whether the ordinary courts should accept some of the responsibility and prosecute other key offenders mid-level perpetrators who may not be known to the masses but who are known to a set of victims or a particular town. This burden sharing will take the pressure and burden off of your work and help ensure that justice is given an opportunity to flourish. And for the remainder, I ask you to consider asking your authorities to create some sort of a truth process something that may not be judicial at all but which will allow the large number to victims to have a voice, be heard, and begin that process of rebuilding. The victims need to feel part of the overall justice process. They need to know that they too matter.

As you move forward, it is crucial for you, the court, to communicate with the people and have a program that explains to them what you are doing, what is expected of them, and what they can expect from you. This is too often overlooked worldwide. As lawyers, prosecutors, and judges, we tend to focus mainly on the courtroom process forgetting the people's desire for information. It is in your interest to keep the population informed. This is important so that they become allies, helping you discover evidence and coming forward as witnesses, rather than feeling isolated from the trial process, criticizing the process and potentially even turning against the process. So go out to meet with your citizens throughout the country and exchange information and views.

The monumental task of holding the leaders of the Saddam Hussein regime to account is before you. We are here because we know you will get the job done. We believe in you and the future of Iraq. You are making history and are bringing back the rule of law. You are moving forward towards ending impunity in Iraq once and for all. With your dedication to justice and our commitment to assist you, you will succeed in securing lasting justice and becoming a model for future generations and humanity.

[End]


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