A Crippled Transitional Justice

May 15, 2011

Soon the work of the Supreme Criminal Court of Iraq, tasked with prosecuting the crimes of the former regime, will end. This should mark the end of an era of transitional justice and the start of one founded not just on criminal justice, but all types of justice.

Most countries facing situations similar to Iraq’s depend on various procedures to achieve transitional justice. In addition to court cases, a number of committees are formed to investigate and write detailed reports about the human rights violations of the former regime, as well as handle compensation, public apologies, the reformation of the institutions that committed these crimes, and the commemoration of the massacres. Other instances of transitional justice prove that the success of these measures is linked to their interconnectivity and inclusivity.

In the Iraqi context, the concept of transitional justice was taken up by a number of entities. In addition to the court, the property claims commission, enforcers of the de-bathification policy, and national reconciliation were the most visible entitles involved with transitional justice. Unfortunately, none of these were interconnected or linked to each other.

While the work of the Supreme Court is about to finish, that of the property claims commission and national reconciliation has barely begun, unless it’s either gone unnoticed or unannounced. It is no longer clear weather a person is “reconciled” or not by joining the political process and pushing for security, like the Sahwas. Joining the new Iraq is now connected to personal and territorial interests, not general ones, like believing in the new Iraq. For this reason, there are people with one foot in and one foot out of the process.

The main problem is that there is no common vision for the future of Iraq. A vision like this would take strong leadership in the national reconciliation process, one that makes the process a priority for every government that comes to power. It may also be beneficial to learn from the Kurdish experience of national reconciliation. In 1991, immediately after Kurdish rebels took control of their first city in the uprising against Saddam’s regime, the National Reconciliation declaration was issued. It turned everything round for Saddam’s regime; the minute the declaration was published the majority of those who were with Saddam switched sides and joined the uprising.

The other process that has yet to be properly completed is de-Bathification, a process that was heavily politicized. It left people who were supposed to be de-bathified, or even tried, free, and in either the same positions in which they were previously employed or even higher ranking ones.

Last month, at a conference of Human Rights, Media and the Law organized by the Institute for War and Peace reporting, the former Minister of Human Rights and a leading expert in issues of transitional justice, Bakhtyar Amin, said that in many areas of the new Iraq, “the old executioner is still ruling the old victim”.

The main aim of transitional justice is to recognize what victims endured, and strengthen the prospects for peace, reconciliation, and democracy. In Iraq, the big challenge for us is to ensure that atrocities will not be repeated by restoring social peace and building a secure future for all.

Looking at the quiet or even unnoticed way that the Supreme Court finished its work, and considering how unimportant its news became to local media, one can see that much work still needs to be done for our transitional justice to move in the right direction and achieve its desired outcome.


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