HC Deb 27 January 2004 vol 417 cc154-6
8. Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab)

What advice he has given to the governing council of Iraq on the setting up and operation of the Iraqi special tribunal for crimes against humanity. [150694]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

The statute of the special tribunal was promulgated on 10 December. The United Kingdom provided comments on the draft through the office of the UK special representative for Iraq and the coalition provisional authority's Office of Human Rights and Transitional Justice. Our comments were focused mainly on the application of international law and the scope of the tribunal, but we also raised concerns about the application of the death penalty. We are actively discussing what further assistance we can give to ensure that the tribunal operates to internationally accepted standards.

Mr. Barnes

Before the Iraqi people can build their own future, they may need to come to terms with the horrors of their past under Saddam Hussein. Is not the special tribunal one of the means by which this can be done within Iraq? How do the occupying forces facilitate such developments in Iraq without being seen to dictate the outcome?

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend is entirely right in the first part of his question. As for the second, this must in the end be a decision made initially by the Iraqi governing council, but then, following the transfer of power on, we hope, 30 June, by a sovereign Iraqi transitional authority. It is the role of the coalition provisional authority and, separately, of the United Kingdom to give advice to the Iraqis, but the decision must be theirs. I have every confidence that they ensure that this tribunal operates to high and internationally recognised standards.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD)

The Foreign Secretary will know that it is not just the terms of the statute that matter but the way in which it is implemented. Will he undertake that Her Majesty's Government will advise those responsible that there should be no hint of revenge in the proceedings of this tribunal; that if it is to enjoy international confidence, it certainly needs a substantial international component in the form of judges or even prosecutors; and that all are entitled to a fair trial irrespective of the heinous nature of the accusations made against them? In particular, will he maintain the Government's opposition to any question of the imposition of the death penalty?

Mr. Straw

On the final point, yes we will, and that is the agreed policy of this Parliament. However, I also have to say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that in the end that is a matter for decision by the Iraqi sovereign Government and there are a great many countries around the world, including the United States and the People's Republic of China, with whom we have good relations but who operate, against our opinion, the death penalty.

Of course, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right about the need for high standards to be maintained and operated by this tribunal. Together with the advice we have already given about the drafting of the statute, we are, as I said in my first answer, actively considering what further operational assistance we can give to the running of the tribunal.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab)

What will my right hon. Friend say first, to allay the fears of those who say that the Iraqi judiciary is corrupt; and secondly, to allay the fears of those who say that the Iraqis have no experience of dealing with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide?

Mr. Straw

The adjective that comes to my mind about many people in the Iraqi judiciary is how brave they are. Quite a number of Iraqi judges and jurists have already been assassinated for seeking to uphold the rule of law in Iraq. One striking thing about Iraq, which my hon. Friend knows better than I, is that notwithstanding the terror of Saddam there are some basic principles of human rights and the application of the rule of law that are deeper than the memory of Saddam, and I have every confidence that the judiciary will uphold those.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con)

The Foreign Secretary referred to the dangers and risks to judges. Has he, or will he discuss with the governing council the security requirements that will be necessary for a tribunal of the sort that we are discussing to operate effectively? Given the briefings from Downing street over the weekend that the Prime Minister still believes that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, is he comfortable with the prospect of a tribunal being held to try Saddam Hussein with such weapons possibly in the sort of hands that led the Prime Minister on 18 March last year even to describe them as a real and present danger to Britain and its national security? Does he agree with the Prime Minister on that, or does he take the view of the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, that it is now an open question whether Iraq had any stocks of WMD? They cannot both be right, so who does the right hon. Gentleman back?

Mr. Straw

On this occasion, I congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on his ingenuity in working into a question about the Iraqi special tribunal a question about other, if related, matters. As to the protection and security of Iraqi courts, it will form part of the wider questions that the new transitional national assembly and the Government formed under it will have to address when, as we hope, they take sovereignty after 30 June.

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