IN APRIL 2000, Indict, a human rights organisation founded to campaign for a UN International Criminal Tribunal for Iraq, organised a conference in Paris. It was memorable for reasons other than the quality of debate. If the revelations in British newspapers yesterday are accurate, and we believe they are, it seems that French officials colluded with Iraqi intelligence agents to frustrate our efforts in Paris.
Let me briefly describe some of the events that took place on the day of our conference: Indict’s office in London received a telephone call threatening that everybody would be killed. Simultaneously, the British police received a warning that "everybody in the [Paris] conference will be dead by the end of today."
An Iraqi member of the audience was then discovered secretly filming the spoken testimony of Saddam Hussein’s victims. Despite angry protests from the delegates, French police let him leave, along with the videotape, after confirming that he had diplomatic immunity. He was an Iraqi accredited to the Moroccan Embassy in Paris. Indict staff spent the rest of the day with the French police, making a formal complaint against the man, who gave his name as Doia al-Hussein, for the theft of a security pass (the only immediate action we could take). Through the British Foreign Office, a formal complaint was sent to the French foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine. Complaints were also sent to the French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, and to the Moroccan ambassador to France.
British Special Branch, which is responsible for counter-terrorist operations, asked its French counterparts for their version of events. As far as we are aware, no reply was ever received from either the French government or the Moroccan ambassador.
These events took place in an atmosphere of noisy intimidation, generated by supposedly "anti-sanctions" protesters, all claiming to be of north African origin. Despite the conference being purely about human rights, these protesters repeatedly attempted to gain entrance. The intimidation continued and created a genuine sense of fear among many of those attending the conference. Indict staff were forced to spend much of that evening searching hotel rooms and dealing with the security concerns of those present.
Realising that the intransigence of the French government, among others, made the prospect of a UN International Criminal Tribunal on Iraq unlikely, Indict began building legal cases against senior members of the Iraqi regime for prosecution in European courts. Of our top 12 targets, we have built legal cases against ten, including Saddam Hussein’s former deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, and three others currently held by US forces in Iraq, tog-ether with a number of others in the US government’s 55 most wanted list. Top international lawyers have assessed the evidence and consider it rock-solid. We have certainly built a reputation for providing prosecutors with conviction-level evidence.
Not surprisingly, despite the frequency with which senior Iraqi regime members travelled to France, the legal and political advice Indict received was that as far as asking the French to live up to their responsibilities under international law, when it comes to Iraq we might as well save our breath.
So today questions need to be asked in Paris - and answered. Let us not forget that during this period Indict staff and delegates were threatened with death "by the end of the day" by those same Iraqi intelligence agents. Yesterday, I called on the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, in the House of Commons to set up an inquiry into these events both in the UK and France.
One of the documents discovered in the Iraqi foreign ministry is apparently headed: "The Failed Enemy Conference in Paris." The title is accurate in one respect: Indict was and is the enemy of the old Iraqi regime and its leaders. I do take issue, however, with the word "failed." The fact that the Iraq intelligence services had to threaten to kill people and relied on the French government to assist them, is proof that Indict was certainly an organisation which they feared.
I heard on the BBC recently that the French president, Jacques Chirac, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. One supporter of his nomination was the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. He was perhaps persuaded of the merit of the nomination during a meeting he had in September 2002 with Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as Chemical Ali, the man responsible for the slaughter of thousands of innocent Iraqis. As the French would say, "plus ça change."