Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



There is a very deep and almost palpable sense in which justice feeds the soul of the Kurdish people. For the Greek philosophers, the pursuit of justice was the highest calling of human endeavor. Many Kurds dedicated their lives to pursuing peace and justice in the aftermath of the Anfal campaigns of 1988. In my work with Iraqi judges and lawyers, I have grown to respect their sincerity and sheer physical courage. For nearly seven years now, I have been privileged to work extensively with Iraqi judges and lawyers, and I was involved in the preparations for the Anfal genocide trial. I can assure you that the Iraqi jurists felt the weight of their duty on behalf of the people and on behalf of the law itself. I salute your efforts in being here tonight to reach across cultures and chasms of experience to perhaps absorb some the lessons that come from the Kurdish experience.

I hope to leave you with some tangible sense of the legal importance of the Anfal genocide trial that has recently concluded in Baghdad, as well as some of my observations of key legal concepts that the trial marks. The series of eight military campaigns conducted from February to August 1988 together constitute one of the most concerted and tragic series of events in the history of human affairs. These campaigns began close to the Iranian border, but eventually stretched far across a swath of Iraqi territory and to the border between Iraq and Turkey. The Anfal campaign stands as a monument to the level of savagery that eats at the very heart of what polite people call civilization. Civilized people want what is good for each other. The defendants brought before the bar of justice in Baghdad conducted a deliberate, systematized, and orchestrated series of campaigns intended to eradicate every trace of Kurdish civilization and culture across a broad swath of Northern Iraq. They acted with a calculated cruelty and deliberateness of purpose because they felt secure in the belief that they were more important than the law. They embody the essence of impunity because their actions betrayed the belief that Saddam's power would forever shield them from any accountability. Juxtaposed against the ongoing work of the ad hoc tribunals established by the United Nations Security Council, the first trials in the permanent International Criminal Court, the proliferation of internationalized/hybrid domestic mechanisms, and the increasing use of domestic forums to prosecute the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, the Anfal trial represents irrefutable evidence that the era of accountability is irreversibly underway.