Iraq is attempting to face up to the legacy of grave human rights violations from the previous regime, while dealing with ongoing violence, political instability and sectarianism. ICTJ has worked there since 2003 advising Iraqis on various accountability and justice options and monitoring measures taken to address the past.
Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party ruled a violent and patronage-driven state for over 35 years. Torture, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions, and enforced disappearances were common. Some 300,000 Iraqis remain missing from this period.
Hussein's rule was also characterized by campaigns of violence against Iraq's ethnic and religious communities. This included the genocidal "Anfal" campaign in the highlands of Iraqi Kurdistan. From February to September 1988, more than 100,000 Kurds are believed to have been rounded up and executed.
In the south, repression against the Shi'a included the expulsion of an estimated half a million people to Iran; the imprisonment or disappearance of between 50,000 and 70,000 civilians; and the harsh suppression of the 1991 rebellion, during which unknown thousands were detained, disappeared, or summarily executed.
The brutality of the regime, the legacy of repeated conflict, and continuing violence and abuse make it a complicated framework for transitional justice practitioners.
Since the US-led invasion in 2003, Iraqis and foreigners have attempted to establish accountability for past crimes. But transitional justice initiatives have suffered from poor planning and implementation, legitimacy challenges, lack of public consultation, and contradictory goals.
The prosecution of Saddam Hussein and senior members of his regime could have provided an opportunity for justice, however the process was eventually marred by severe flaws. There was no formal consultation with victims, and there grave concerns that the process fell short of international standards for fair trials.
An attempt at vetting, the "de-Ba'athification" process, became bitterly controversial, with far-reaching social and political impact. Unknown numbers of Ba'ath Party members were dismissed from government jobs and prohibited from future public sector employment, with very little regard for due process or the dire administrative, political and security consequences that would ensue. Several state institutions became significantly impaired as a result and the process was perceived many Iraqis as politically driven.
Issues of victimhood and accountability for severe human rights violations continue to have repercussions for current politics. An effective, legitimate reckoning with the past will be essential to establishing a future Iraqi state where the rule of law and human rights are respected.
Since 2003, ICTJ has worked in Iraq with government officials and civil society groups advising them on various transitional justice options. We have closely monitored and reported on measures taken to address the past.
At the beginning of our engagement, we partnered with the Human Rights Center of the University of California, Berkeley, to produce Iraqi Voices, an in-depth study of Iraqi perspectives on transitional justice. The report, published in 2004, showed a strong demand for judicial accountability for the previous regime's violations.