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Former Iraqi jurists present plan for post-Saddam legal system

U.S.-backed blueprint submitted to United Nations

From CNN's Jonathan Wald

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Western-based Iraqi jurists and a group supported by the United States released a blueprint this week for re-establishing the rule of law in Iraq.

The London-based Iraqi Jurists Association and the Transitional Justice Working Group, affiliated with the State Department's Future of Iraq project, presented the 700-page document to the United Nations Thursday.

While the report was distributed in New York, Dr. Tariq Al-Saleh, head of the Iraqi Jurists' Association and a former Iraqi judge, also handed out an Arabic version of the same report to about 100 jurists in Baghdad.

Sermid Al-Sarraf, a California lawyer and a member of the Iraqi Jurists' Association, described the report as a series of "recommendations, not concrete steps that the Iraqi people have to follow, but alternatives which need to be discussed."

"Ultimately it's up to the Iraqi people themselves to determine whether they want to change their legal system or not," Al-Sarraf said.

About 25 members of the United Nations attended Thursday's New York release, including representatives from the U.N. Development Program, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Iraq.

'Accountability and reconciliation'

start quoteUltimately it's up to the Iraqi people themselves to determine whether they want to change their legal system or not.end quote
-- Sermid Al-Sarraf

The report is divided into three parts. The first section "deals with truth, accountability and reconciliation," said Al-Sarraf, a Los Angeles lawyer who was classmates with Uday Hussein, Saddam Hussein's older son.

The Iraqi jurists do not want leaders from Saddam's former regime tried abroad in the way that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was sent for trial to The Hague in the Netherlands, Al-Sarraf said.

Added former Judge Fuad Jawad Ridha: "The accused is Iraqi; the victims are largely Iraqi; the territory on which the crimes were committed is Iraq -- Iraq must have jurisdiction."

"Everybody who obeyed Saddam Hussein -- his agents, his high-ranking officials -- are accomplices. Only if they were sentenced or threatened as enemies of Saddam," might they not be held accountable, Ridha said.

Saleh has said that more than half of the 500 to 600 judges and many lawyers in Iraq could continue to serve in the new legal system, as well as those jurists returning from exile.

"People have the impression that Iraq is a lawless society and therefore they have no qualified lawyers or a legal system," said Moniem Al-Khatib, a lawyer who practiced in Baghdad for 20 years before fleeing to London when Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Al-Khatib said. "He (L. Paul Bremer, U.S. civilian chief in Iraq) will find our country is a source of law -- we have a system which fell into the hands of a dictator who perverted the law, but the principles and people are there."

Blueprint calls for independent judiciary

The second part deals with legal reforms. The report recommends evaluating the current code and removing provisions that violate basic human rights. For example, Saddam introduced an amendment to Iraqi law during his reign whereby publishing any information without government authorization would be a criminal offense punishable by death.

The final part concerns institutional reform. It would apply to the major justice sector institutions: the judiciary, the police, prisons, the military and the security apparatus.

Under Saddam's reign the highest judicial authority was terminated in the 1960s and all courts placed under the executive wing, the Ministry of Justice.

The legal blueprint "emphasizes the need for an independent judicial authority that isn't beholden to a political or legislative body," said Al-Sarraf.

Al-Sarraf stressed that despite the jurists' collaboration with the State Department the views contained within the report were "not the views of the U.S. government, nor do they represent the policy of the U.S. government."

The Iraqi jurists will go to Washington, D.C., next week to deliver their report to think tanks and government agencies such as the State Department and The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the government agency providing economic and humanitarian assistance.

The Iraqi Jurists' Association consists of around 90 members and the Transitional Justice Working Group has about 40. All members are graduates from either the School of Law or Judicial Institute in Iraq.

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