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UN expert urges probe of lawyers' deaths
Updated: 2005-11-17 16:12

A U.N. rights expert called on the Iraqi government Wednesday to launch an independent investigation into the assassination of two lawyers involved in the trial of Saddam Hussein.

"An independent investigation is essential because these killings have huge implications for efforts to establish the rule of law in Iraq," said Philip Alston, U.N. special investigator on illegal and arbitrary executions.

The victims, Saadoun al-Janabi and Adel al-Zubeidi, represented co-defendants in Saddam's crimes against humanity trial.

Al-Janabi was abducted the day after trial opened Oct. 19, and his body was found the next day with two bullet wounds to the head, prompting Saddam's personal attorney, Khalil al-Dulaimi, to break off dealings with the Iraqi special court.

Al-Zubeidi was killed in a Nov. 8 ambush in western Baghdad that also injured another defense lawyer, Thamir al-Khuzaie, who said Tuesday he had fled Iraq and was seeking asylum in the Gulf state of Qatar.

"When defense lawyers are murdered, the rule of law is doubly at stake," said Alston. "Human rights law requires that all murders be investigated in a credible manner. Moreover, defense attorneys are critical to a fair trial, and their systematic assassination threatens the entire process."

Alston is concerned about reports that the Iraqi Interior Ministry might have been involved. He said the information he has received provides no clear evidence of the ministry's involvement but also no grounds for excluding the possibility.

"This is clearly a situation in which a failure to undertake a convincing investigation will have major negative implications for all that the government is trying to achieve," Alston said.

Saddam and seven others are charged with crimes against humanity in the 1982 deaths of Shiite Muslims executed after a failed assassination attempt against the since-deposed Iraqi ruler. They could face hanging if convicted.

The trial is set to resume Nov. 28.

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