This paper focuses on the activities that took place under the authority of Saddam Hussein which led to the abuse of human rights.

As the leader of Iraq, Saddam violated human rights to ensure he remained in power. He authorized torture through several techniques like branding, electric shocks, beating and rape. Women were especially targeted for torture and rape in order to coerce confessions from their relatives. The Shia community was constantly under threat due to their significant numbers and their religious leaders were therefore systematically eliminated. The Kurdish community was the first Iraqi community to suffer from chemical weapon attacks from government forces who killed a significant number.

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Saddam Hussein has been recorded in history as one of the most ruthless leaders.

Iraqis suffered greatly under his leadership especially the minority communities as well as the majority Shia. He is the first leader to have ever used chemical weapons on his citizens and he is responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens. He authorized the violation of human rights through murder and torture in order to discourage his political rivals. Human rights organizations have come up with sufficient evidence that reveals that Saddam Hussein did in fact willingly encourage the harm of others to protect his authority.

Saddam Hussein torture techniques

After his ascension to power in 1979, Saddam Hussein embarked on eliminating and silencing the political opposition in Iraq. Torture was deemed the most effective way of controlling the opposition and was also used as a way of retrieving information.

The Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) which Saddam headed had the power to enact laws and decrees as well as override all state institutions (MacKey, 2003). A number of RCC decrees allowed security agencies to suppress dissent with impunity and also assured protection from the law to followers of the Baiath party who caused bodily harm and even death when silencing opponents of the government (Makiya, 1998). Dissident in Iraq were tortured, maimed or killed so as to discourage other Iraqi citizens from demanding change in government or protesting against the oppressive regime. Electric Shocks to the genitals, ears, fingers, tongue and feet were a common torture technique where individuals repeatedly received jolts of electric current to their body parts (MacKey, 2003).

This was mainly used to force out information regarding opposition members of the regime. In the year 2000, Saddam Hussein authorized the introduction of tongue amputation as a penalty for the Iraqi citizens who criticized Saddam Hussein or his family (Kupelian, 2004). According to Arnove (2000), the first recorded case of this crude punishment was on July 17 the same year when the government authorities removed the tongue of an individual who was purported to have criticized Saddam Hussein. In addition, such severe punishments were carried out in front of a large crowd in order to discourage future offenders. Rape was used as a political tool to humiliate the families of political rivals. Women were raped in front of their husbands and children by security forces while the husbands were suspended from the ceiling for prolong periods before being beaten (Kupelian, 2004). This form of torture was used to extract confessions from suspected collaborators of the opposition.

According to a report compiled by the UN Special Rapporteur in 2000, some interrogators would brand their victims with hot iron rods in various parts of the body to extract confessions (MacKey, 2003). The victims would be scarred for life regardless of their innocence and some would have various extremities of their body either shot off or broken.

Women’s rights and challenges faced under Saddam Hussein’s Regime

As indicated by MacKey (2003), Saddam Hussein’s regime suppressed all forms of rights for women including the basic right to life.

A decree introduced by the RCC in 1990 allowed male relatives to kill a female relative without legal justification if the woman was suspected of dishonoring the family. Women were in most cases tortured, ill-treated and executed for the shortcomings of their husbands, brothers, or fathers (MacKey, 2003). When a man was suspected of opposing the regime, the wife would be the one treated harshly since it was thought that women would confess more quickly than the men. An example is that of Nadir Fayed Mohammed whose husband was suspected of having close ties with the Shia Islamist group. According to Amnesty International, the couple was arrested in Bagdad in 1993 and detained for months where Nadir was repeatedly tortured in front of her husband so as to make him confess. A similar case was reported by the BBC where Ali, a man suspected of the failed assassination of Saddam’s son Udayy went into hiding. His wife and two-year-old daughter were both tortured in an attempt to obtain Ali’s location.

In addition, women were frequently raped by the regime’s security forces especially those from minority groups (Arnove, 2000). Rape was also a political tool used for blackmail and raping female political prisoners, infant it was a component of the regime’s procedure (Makiya, 1998). Amnesty International also reported that political detainees were forced to confess to trumped-up charges under duress since their interrogators often threatened to or did rape a close female relative, like the wife or the mother in front of the detainee. A structure of collective punishment was introduced in 1994 by the RCC where women of entire families or ethnic groups were raped and tortured, a retribution for the actions of a few dissidents (Makiya, 1998).

Women belonging to powerful families or those related to suspected disloyal political allies were also raped and videotaped during rape in order to blackmail their families (Kupelian, 2004). Amnesty International compiled a report that revealed that more than 20 women accused of prostitution were publicly beheaded in front of their homes without any legal procedure (Makiya, 1998). Their families were ordered to display the heads of the deceased outside their homes as a warning to other women who might have had intentions of becoming prostitutes. It was however established that most of the alleged prostitutes were in fact executed for political reasons.

Anti Shia

The Shia community is Iraq’s primary religious faction and has for long time been the majority group in Iraq making up more than half of the population.

Due to their strength in numbers, Saddam felt threatened by the Shia and put precautionary measures in place to protect his position against threats that would emerge from the Shia religious or tribal leaders (Arnove, 2000). To do so, he killed any Shia who showed political or leadership qualities as well as anyone that made outstanding accomplishments. A good example is that of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who was executed in April 1980 due to his prominence as a top Iraqi Shia cleric (MacKey, 2003).

Saddam was especially harsh on the clerics due to their mass influence considering the population of the Shia. Cleric families such as the al-Hakim had most of their members arrested and executed and it has been established that from 1991, approximately 140 Shia clerics were either killed or abducted and illegally detained (Makiya, 1998). The regime continued to candidly confirm systematic attacks on the sovereign leadership of Shia Muslims in Iraq with the killing of Ayatollah, Shaykh Murtada al-Burujerdi, Grand Ayatollah Shaykh Mirza Ali al-Gharawi and Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr between 1998 and 1999 (Kupelian, 2004). Protests to the killings were met with severe force and hundreds of civilians, including women and children were killed by security forces. Security forces were also instructed to disperse the Shia Friday prayers in Baghdad and other locations in Iraq where large numbers of Shiats were captured, detained and tortured without trial (MacKey, 2003).

The Shia community was also given a media blackout and no radio or television station was allowed to cover the predicaments of this community (Makiya, 1998). Their religious leaders were also barred from having televised or broadcasted sermons, effectively destroying the communication structures of the Shia.

Destruction of the Kurds

According to MacKey (2003), Kurdish communities endured great affliction under the authority of Saddam. To this extent, there exists documented evidence in the custody of Human Rights Watch which reveal the persecution of the Kurds. From the documents it has been established that Saddam ordered the arrest and execution of more than 7,000 Kurdish males above the age of 12 by Iraqi security forces in 1983 (Makiya, 1998).

Further research by Amnesty International in a 1989 report revealed that there were more than 800 undocumented deaths of the Kurds and hundreds of people from the Kurdish communities were unaccounted for in 1985 including the 300 Kurdish children who were arrested and tortured by security forces in Sulaimaniya (Arnove, 2000). The report by Amnesty International further revealed that between 1987 and 1988, more than 100,000 Kurds were either killed or abducted in a brutal series of attacks known as the Anfal campaign (MacKey, 2003). The government claimed that the operation targeted Kurdish insurgency though it failed to justify why they used chemical weapons mustard gas and nerve agents on Iraqi citizens during the campaign (Makiya 1998). A 1988 attack on more than 60 Kurdish villages by Iraqi security forces saw the death of more than 5,000 Kurds in a single town known as Halabja where chemical weapons were deployed and property razed (Arnove, 2000).


Saddam Hussein is considered to have killed more than 200,000 Iraqi citizens during his rule. Human rights during this period were grossly violated with innocent women and children enduring extensive periods of torture due to a relative’s action.

Up until his overthrow by American forces, Saddam had extended his clout to members of his inner circle as well as his party, creating a powerful but brutal regime. His sons were also habitual human rights abusers and they tortured and killed thousands of Iraqis. No one was safe in Iraq since the slightest suspicion of resistance provoked an inconsiderate retribution for the suspect, their family and in other cases their community.


Arnove, A. (2000).

Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War. New York: South End Press. Kupelian, D. (2004). New video reveals real torture scandal.

Retrieved on March 24, 2010 from:http://www.wnd.com/index.

php?pageId=25173 MacKey, S. (2003). The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein. London: W. W.

Norton & Company. Print. Makiya, K.

(1998). Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq. Los Angeles: University of California Press.


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