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Radio Free Iraq Interviews Iraqi Justice Minister

The Iraqi elections were deemed successful by most observers Radio Free Iraq (RFI) interviewed Justice Minister Malik Duhan al-Hasan on 31 January and discussed the Iraqi elections, federalism, and human rights abuses in the new Iraq.

RFI: Iraqi Justice Minister Malik Duhan al-Hasan has assured, in an exclusive statement for our radio, that the elections held yesterday in Iraq are legitimate according to the Transitional Administrative Law and international resolutions of the [UN] Security Council.

AL-HASAN: The electoral process is legitimate because it is based on the Transitional Administrative Law and on resolutions of the [UN] Security Council. So from a legal point of view, these elections are standing on a legal basis. Adding to the legitimacy of these elections is [the fact] that the Iraqi people have openly expressed their will to find a way towards drafting the constitution and to conduct it with their own hands. They were able to resist all difficulties, obstacles, and threats from terrorists. On that day, they decided to go out in a massive patriotic demonstration in order to confirm to the whole world that their will is stronger than any threat and that they want to live a happy life in the framework of a constitution that day set by their own hands.
"We have promised the Iraqi people that if we enter parliament we will work with all sincerity for the unity of the Iraqi people."

RFI: In your personal opinion, what is the [voter turnout rate needed] to make the results of these elections legitimate?

AL-HASAN: In fact, we are still in the [period of] elections. It is natural in elections to have more than 50 [percent rate of participation]. This is the case in voting. As for the elections, there can be people who have the right to vote but they do not want to. So if it is over some reasonable rate, such as 50, 51, or 49 -- all these are rates close to natural legal rates [for an election to be considered valid]. Then the election may be considered as correct with the argument that the [recent] elections of the Palestinians did not reach 50 percent [participation rate] but the elections are considered legitimate, legal, and correct. We hope that after the constitution is drafted, the next elections will be more precise and more correct than it is now. Still, what we have now in the current conditions is a big leap forward.

RFI: Now, as the media embargo [on the election campaign] has ceased, we can ask you as a candidate: What do you promise to the Iraqi people?

AL-HASAN: Well, the Iraqi people now [should be aware of] the most important thing: all or most of the parties that have taken part in this electoral process are program parties, which means they have given specific promises. Some of these promises that have been made during this nine- or 10-month period are really fantastic. Despite that, the promises have been made. First of all, we have promised the Iraqi people that if we enter parliament we will work with all sincerity for the unity of the Iraqi people. Second, [we will work] for conducting new elections so that there can be a stable National Assembly and foreign forces can be asked to leave Iraq. So [the promise] is the independence of Iraq. Another goal is preserving the unity of Iraq, seriously and with no negligence in the process.... We, as the National Democratic Coalition [Al-I'tilaf al-Watani al-Dimuqrati] party, do not believe in federalism for all Iraq. We believe only in federalism for the Kurdistan region. Regarding Arab cities, we do not find any justification for adopting federalism. That would lead to internal divisions within Iraq and to its weakening, which is not in the interest of the Iraqi people.

RFI: Do I understand, then, that you oppose the demand, raised by Dr. Ahmad Chalabi, that a federal region should be established in the south [of Iraq]?

AL-HASAN: Brother Ahmad Chalabi, as you heard in one or two press conferences and in a discussion that became personal, is convinced of this idea. I think that this idea is very dangerous for Iraq. We do not want to divide Iraq into other federal regions that could have an ethnic justification. But regarding Arabs, we cannot say there will be a federal region in the south [of Iraq] and another one in the center because this does not serve the interests of the Iraqi people. It would serve to divide [them]. If we look at countries that were under occupation and then disposed of it, such as Germany, we can see that the countries occupying Germany wanted to have a weak Germany so they divided it into federal states although it was a normal and unified country. Of course we support the goal of federalism, which is the establishment of regional administrations that can be reached through administrative decentralization. In France, for instance, there is administrative decentralization so that people can elect their governor but the governor remains under the central government. The fact that the governor is elected does not mean that he or she would not be connected to the central power. We can see that such behavior [of allowing broader federalism] would not benefit the Iraqi people.

RFI: As the justice minister, how do you evaluate the trials on human rights abuses or on the incidents in Abu Ghurayb prison?

AL-HASAN: Of course, the violations were clear, there have been confessions in this matter, and they stirred up uneasiness all over the world. The United States has announced several times its regret and apology to the Iraqi people. However, [the main] human rights violations in Iraq [started] especially after this so-called resistance came into being, the members of which are recruited from outside Iraq who blow up cars and bomb civilian facilities. [An act] like abducting and killing an innocent person is not legitimate resistance. It is a violation of human rights. Because of this, we prohibited any behavior violating human rights in the National Safety Law [Qanun al-Salama al-Wataniya]. The National Safety Law can be applied only in the case of extreme necessity, after a decree from the Council of Ministers and the president of the republic. Then, a warrant can be issued by a judge. The defendant must be investigated by an examining magistrate ["a judge of investigations"] who consequently can order that someone be jailed. An attorney then comes who records the defendant's testimony. All these are provisions of the Transitional Administrative Law. But if we realize that we are now in the process of fighting terrorism, we just have to deal with that reality. The reality is that sometimes it may be necessary to storm an area suspected of serving as a center for [terrorist] elements from abroad who are willing to inflict damage on the Iraqi people. The attack has to be done at night. If the attack is done and some 100, 200, or 350 people are arrested at 1 p.m. or 2 p.m., how can an examining magistrate be ready and how can a jail order be valid? How can investigations be conducted and passed to a judge? All this takes some time. If there are any breaches [against the prescribed legal procedure], then they take place at this stage -- from the arrest until the time when an examining magistrate comes, interrogates the defendant, and passes the case to a competent judge. Here, some breaches have happened that we are sorry about. We, as the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Human Rights, have issued a number of reprimands on some of the breaches. There are copies available of the reproaches that were handed over to the Council of Ministers. But the more we wanted to rectify the breaches, the more the reality was obstructing [us from] introducing a European...[-style] formula for protecting human rights in Iraq, according to international standards. We have not had the opportunity. The network [of prisons] is small and it does not reach high numbers so we were surprised by the high number [of cases]. Due to this, it is natural to expect that some violations would occur. But the breaches are not deliberate. We have established a commission from the [Ministry of Human Rights] and the Ministry of Justice. There is control over [respecting] human rights in Abu Ghurayb [prison]. If we find a breach anywhere else, we work in coordination with the Ministry of Human Rights to issue reproaches and to do our best in confirming to the world and the [international] institutions engaged in Iraq that they must respect human rights.

(Translation by Petr Kubalek)

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