31 January, 2007

Mahathir to launch tribunal to try government leaders for alleged war crimes


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Malaysia: Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Wednesday he is forming a tribunal to try heads of governments for alleged war crimes, including U.S. President George W. Bush.

The tribunal, to be formally launched at a peace conference Mahathir is hosting Feb. 7, will not have the legal authority of any international organization and will not be able to impose penalties — but Mahathir said its aim is to condemn the accused in the history books.

"The accused may disregard" the tribunal, Mahathir said at a news conference. "There will be (other) people who will take it seriously, and historians will attach an epithet that they will not like. They will go down in history as war criminals."

Seventeen people — nine from Iraq, five from the Palestinian territories and three from Lebanon — have arrived for the peace conference in Malaysia's biggest city, Kuala Lumpur, where they will submit oral or written complaints to the so-called Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission.

The commission, made up of Mahathir and five Malaysian lawyers, will investigate the complaints and decide whether they merit being tried by the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal, which is also being set up by Mahathir and comprises law specialists and former judges.

Mahathir said the date for the tribunal's first hearing will depend on how long the commission takes to recommend that a case be heard.

"If the complaint is against a head of government, someone powerful, we will hold a trial in absentia," Mahathir said. He did not say if he expects other accused people to attend.

He said the accused would "have ample opportunities to rebut the allegations through their embassies."

"We can't arrest government leaders. We can't hang them like they hanged Saddam (Hussein)," Mahathir said.

Mahathir, a frequent critic of the Iraq war, has repeatedly called Bush and his Australian and British allies "war criminals," saying they should be tried in an international court for crimes against humanity.

Eight Malaysian law specialists and former judges have agreed to sit on the tribunal, and Mahathir's nongovernment Perdana Global Peace Organization hopes to add international members.

"The crimes that have been committed in Iraq, Palestine, Japan have not been given a hearing. It is time we set up a body which will give these people an opportunity to complain," Mahathir said. The coming conference will highlight the suffering of people who survived the U.S. World War II nuclear attacks on Japan.

The complainants gathering in Malaysia are alleged victims of torture, rape and abuse by the U.S. and Israeli armies, said a Mahathir aide, Matthias Chang.

They include Ali Shalah, a former Baghdad university lecturer who claims he was severely beaten and electrocuted during six months in Abu Ghraib prison.

"The victims went all over the world. Their cries fell on deaf ears. As a last resort, they asked Mahathir to help them," Chang said.

Mahathir said his initiative is not being backed by any government, including Malaysia's.

"We don't want to make it look like a government effort. This is purely NGO (nongovernment organization) work," he said.

Mahathir, who led Muslim-majority Malaysia for 22 years before retiring in 2003, is well known for critical comments about the West, and is respected in Muslim and developing countries.


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