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Iraqi Judges Receive Training in the Hague - 2004-05-05

Supreme Court Justices and other prominent jurists in The Hague are meeting with 28 Iraqi judges for a two-day training program on establishing the rule of law in Iraq. The Iraqi judges hope to gain insights they can take back home and use in setting up the country's own Supreme Court and overhauling Iraq's entire judicial system.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy called the day's events inspiring and said that he and fellow Justice Sandra Day O'Connor met some real judicial heroes. After 35 years under a repressive regime, Justice Kennedy said that Iraqi judges can finally be judges. He did point out that in today's chaotic Iraq, that's still not easy.

"They have all lost friends, acquaintances," he said. "One of them made it to work but his bodyguards were assassinated. The roads are not guarded and still the courts are functioning. It was an inspiring story."

That the courts are functioning at all came as a surprise to Justice Kennedy, but Zhuair al Maliky, an investigative judge at Baghdad's central criminal court, said that the judiciary is just about functioning fully. He said that he and his colleagues, including three women justices, are listening to the American justices as well as top British and international judges and trying to come up with a model that will be acceptable in Iraqi society.

Islam will be one of its sources, said Mr. al Maliky, but not the only source. The court's biggest problem now, he said is translating theory into practice.

?In all the former constitutions of Iraq, there are mentions of basic rights and other things, but the problem is how to take these words and use it in a practical light,? he said. ?That was our problem and we are learning how to interpret words into action.?

Other burning topics on the agenda were how to enshrine separation of powers and federalism into a constitution. Mr. al Maliky said that people back home think of these concepts as dividing Iraq into many countries when it should in fact strengthen the country.

Although the shape of Iraq's new judicial system will not be clear for months, Mr. al Maliky added that he is optimistic about the future rule of law.

As a judge, Mr. al Maliky would not comment on recent allegations of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American and British soldiers, but personally, he said insulting and torturing people is not human and bad.