Court convicts Dutch chemicals merchant of crimes against Kurds

A court convicted a Dutch chemicals merchant of war crimes Friday, sentencing him to 15 years in prison for selling Saddam Hussein's regime the materials used in lethal gas attacks on Kurdish villages in the 1980s. Frans van Anraat, 63, was not in the courtroom when the judges issued the verdict in the first court case anywhere concerning the killing of thousands of Iraqi Kurds with chemical weapons.

court first determined that the slaughter of the Kurds constituted genocide,a finding that may reverberate in later charges against Saddam by an Iraqi court in Baghdad,and that the chemicals supplied by the businessman were essential to the making of the weapons. But the court said Van Anraat could not be held responsible for genocide since his chemicals were delivered to Iraq before the mass killings began.

"All the deliveries took place before March 16, 1988; therefore, the defendant must be acquitted of complicity in genocide," it said, referring to the date of the attack on the village of Halabja where some 5,000 Kurds were killed. Dozens of ethnic Kurds gathered at the courtroom to hear the verdict. "These attacks were committed with the intent to destroy the Kurdish population of Iraq," the ruling said. "The court finds the intent of destruction was targeted against part of the Kurdish group as part of a genocidal intent."

Presiding Judge R. van Rossum, reading the lengthy verdict, said the maximum penalty was insufficient for this case, in which Van Anraat's goods fed into a chemical weapons program that "made possible a large number of attacks on defenseless civilians." The ruling said the weapons were part of "a political policy of systematic terror and illegal action against a certain population group."

Citing international law, the judge said Van Anraat was found guilty of multiple counts of war crimes, violating the laws and customs of war, and causing death and serious bodily harm to the whole or entire Kurdish population. But ultimately, it said, it was Saddam who held the reins of power in Iraq at the time of the genocide, and he could be prosecuted under international law, reports the AP. N.U.

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