Monday, Apr. 18, 2005

Hania Mufti

When masked militants were kidnapping aid workers off the streets of Iraq last summer, Hania Mufti's boss at Human Rights Watch pounded her with e-mails and phone calls trying to persuade her to get out of the country. After two decades of watching Iraq only from the outside, Mufti did not want to leave but finally relented after winning acknowledgment that her departure was just "temporary."

This courageous woman should make Saddam Hussein nervous. For years she has been collecting evidence of human-rights abuses that he and his regime committed against Kurds and other citizens. This has been her passion since 1981, when she began work as a researcher for Amnesty International. She left the field in 1997 feeling burned out, only to return three years later in the post she still holds: London director for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

Mufti has doggedly amassed evidence for the dossier of crimes prosecutors are compiling to press their case against Saddam and his regime. Dressed typically in the field in blue jeans, a T shirt and an oversize, button-down shirt, Mufti has been slogging through piles of documents taken from Iraqi security headquarters in Kirkuk, searching for evidence of crimes. She has also captured on tape testimony from Iraqis who say they were tortured by Saddam's regime. At the same time, she has investigated wrongdoing on the other side too: after U.S. troops entered Iraq, Mufti documented abuses by Iraqi security forces under American control.

Mufti, 47, grew up in an élite Jordanian family in Amman. Her dream, she says, is to help Iraqis develop a relationship between the state and its citizens that "is not based on fear." She is also urging Western nations to do more to help reform Iraq's judicial and police systems. "We're still at the beginning of the road," she says. "It's a matter of having enough belief and faith." And of having a few dedicated souls around like Mufti.

Nomani, a journalist and author, wrote Standing Alone in Mecca

From the Archive
Can Iraq Rule Itself?: Amid continuing violence, Iraqis prepare for a crucial election. Here's what it will take for the next government to gain legitimacy—and why the new leaders may demand that the U.S. withdraw