Last Updated: Thu Oct 28, 2010 18:03 pm (KSA) 15:03 pm (GMT)

Aziz unlikely to appeal death sentence: lawyer

Iraq's former deputy premier Tariq Aziz in his Ba'thi green uniform (File)
Iraq's former deputy premier Tariq Aziz in his Ba'thi green uniform (File)

Iraq's former deputy premier Tariq Aziz will probably not appeal his death sentence as this would legitimize the court that handed down the verdict this week, one of his lawyers told AFP on Wednesday.

"We probably won't," Giovanni Di Stefano said in an interview when asked if the defense team would appeal, adding that he had appealed instead to the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

"The current death sentence has been imposed by a court that is without a government. The Iraqi penal code requires that a sentence of death is confirmed by the president... but also by a member of the government," he said.

 If I appeal the decision to the Iraqi court of cassation it means that there is a presumption in law that maybe I am accepting there is a government 
Giovanni Di Stefano, Aziz\\\'s lawyer

Aziz, the long-time international face of Saddam Hussein's regime, was sentenced to death by Iraq's supreme criminal court on Tuesday after finding him guilty of "deliberate murder and crimes against humanity".

Aziz has 30 days to appeal and the sentence needs to be confirmed by Iraq's presidential council. Various international powers including the European Union have appealed to Iraq for the death sentence not to be carried out.

Aziz surrendered to U.S. forces in April 2003, days after the fall of Baghdad.

"If I appeal the decision to the Iraqi court of cassation it means that there is a presumption in law that maybe I am accepting there is a government," said Di Stefano, who said he was planning to travel to Baghdad on Sunday.

Iraq has not yet formed a government following March 7 elections.

Di Stefano said the Washington-based Inter-American Human Rights Commission had the power to stop Aziz from being handed over from US custody for execution. "We will have to see whether they dare use that power," he added.

He also claimed that Aziz was far from the decision-making circles under Saddam Hussein's regime and has been targeted because he is an "uncomfortable" figure who knows too much about Saddam's deals with international powers.

Di Stefano is a highly controversial figure in legal circles who claimed a personal friendship with the late Serbian warlord Arkan, assassinated in 2000.

He has also said that he is a lawyer in Italy but does not appear in the justice ministry's official register of Italian lawyers.

UN urges not to execute Aziz

The United Nations on Wednesday urged Iraq to spare the life of Aziz.

"The United Nations' position on the death penalty is well-known: that is, that we oppose the death penalty," said Martin Nesirky, spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

"Certainly... as in other cases, we would be suggesting that a death penalty should not be carried out," Nesirky told reporters.

Russia calls for ‘clemency’ for Aziz

 What has happened in Iraq is the elimination of a witness and a settling of accounts between different religions, not a victory for justice 
Mikhail Margelov, the head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia's upper house

Russia's foreign ministry on Wednesday called for "clemency" for Aziz .

"It is obvious that considerations of elementary humanity demand that he is shown clemency," the ministry said in a statement, calling on the Iraqi authorities to take account of Aziz's age and ailing health.

"We would like to be able to count on Iraq's presidential council not allowing this sentence to be enforced," the ministry said, acknowledging however that the sentence was Iraq's "internal affair."

"What has happened in Iraq is the elimination of a witness and a settling of accounts between different religions, not a victory for justice," Mikhail Margelov, the head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia's upper house, the Federation Council, was quoted as saying by Interfax.

"Nothing can justify this sentence," he added.

"We will... call on the international community and parliamentarians in Europe and the United States to prevent this assassination," the head of Russia's Communist Party, Gennady Zyuganov, was quoted as saying by Interfax, describing Aziz as "a very sick old man."

Greek president calls to stop execution

Greek President Carolos Papoulias on Wednesday called on his Iraqi counterpart to help repeal Aziz's death sentence.

"The President of the Hellenic Republic has appealed to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to intervene to prevent the death sentence imposed on former Iraq foreign minister Tariq Aziz from being carried out," Papoulias' office said in a statement.

"The President stresses that such a gesture would be greatly appreciated by Iraq's friends in the European Union and internationally, and highlight the difference between the country's democratic present and its past."

Papoulias, the official head of the Greek state, was foreign minister from 1985 to 1989, a period when Aziz also served as foreign minister of Iraq.

Iraq's supreme criminal court on Tuesday found Aziz guilty of "deliberate murder and crimes against humanity", sentencing to death the long-time international face of the Saddam Hussein regime.

The verdict evoked quick reaction from the European Union and rights group Amnesty International, while the Vatican urged clemency for Aziz.

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