Official Documents Looted, Mass Graves Left Unprotected

(Amman, November 4, 2004) — U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq failed
during last year’s invasion to safeguard official documents and the
remains of victims in mass graves, Human Rights Watch said in a report
released today. As a result, crucial evidence for the upcoming trials of
Saddam Hussein and other former Iraqi officials has likely been lost or
seriously tainted.

The 41-page report, “Iraq: The State of the Evidence,” details what
happened to some of the key archival and forensic evidence that the U.S.-
led coalition and, more recently, the Iraqi interim government failed to

In April 2003, former Iraqi officials left behind volumes of official papers
documenting criminal policies and practices. In the past year and a half,
more than 250 mass graves have been identified, some of which contain
the remains of thousands of victims of Saddam Hussein’s rule.

“Given what’s at stake here, the extent of this negligence is alarming,”
said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East and North
Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. “U.S. and Iraqi authorities were
aware that these documents and remains would be crucial to the
prosecution of Saddam Hussein and other former officials, but they did
little to safeguard them.”

Human Rights Watch said that in the weeks and months following the
invasion of Iraq, U.S.-led coalition forces failed to prevent people from
freely looting thousands of official documents, or to keep relatives of
“disappeared” persons from digging up remains found in some mass
gravesites. Coalition forces subsequently failed to put in place the
professional expertise and assistance necessary to ensure proper
classification and exhumation procedures. As a result, it is very likely that
key evidentiary materials have been lost or tainted.

In the case of mass graves, these failures have also frustrated the ability of
families to know the fate of thousands of missing relatives who
“disappeared” during Saddam Hussein’s rule.

Human Rights Watch urged Iraq’s interim government, with international
assistance, to set up a joint Iraqi and international Commission for Missing
Persons to establish effective procedures for protecting mass graves and
conducting exhumations, and a similar body to oversee the handling of
documents of the former government.

“This material needs urgent attention. The evidence will be critical to any
upcoming trial proceedings,” Whitson said. “And it will also be crucial for
Iraqis as they attempt to construct an accurate record of the atrocities they
suffered under Ba`th Party rule.”

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