Prague, 15 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Discussion and debate in some of the world's major dailies today focuses on the U.S. decision to withhold million of dollars in aid from Uzbekistan for its dismal human rights record; the push for free and fair elections in Ukraine; The Hague's slow justice for the former Yugoslavia; elections in Afghanistan; the surprising truths behind violence in the home; and continued bloodshed in Baghdad, as U.S. and Iraqi forces struggle to temper an ongoing insurgency.
An editorial today in this London daily says the U.S. decision to withhold $18 million in aid to Uzbekistan is "as welcome as it is unexpected." Washington based its decision on Tashkent's failure to improve its human rights record, which the British daily describes as "abysmal."
Uzbekistan has "one of the most repressive regimes in Central Asia, and holds more than 6,000 political prisoners, many in appalling conditions," the daily says. Yet ever since Uzbekistan allowed the United States to use its territory in the military campaign to oust the Taliban from neighboring Afghanistan (October 2001), Washington's criticism of Tashkent has been muted.
Uzbekistan has been ruled since the collapse of the Soviet Union by "an autocratic secular regime that has banned much religious expression," the paper says. President Islam Karimov "has tightened his dictatorial controls. Opposition parties have been banned, their leaders forced into exile and newspapers closed. Elections have been criticized abroad as neither free nor fair. Dissidents have been arrested and tortured."
So the announcement of the freeze on aid is an important development, as it sends "a signal to Uzbekistan and to all unsavory governments that, whatever its strategic needs, the U.S. administration is n-o-t willing to turn a blind eye to abuses that run counter to the principles of democracy, human rights and good government."
"The Times" says Washington is aware that the Muslim world views the United States "as inimical to its interests; [and] any apparent endorsement of a regime that so notoriously represses Islamic feeling would only exacerbate that problem." Muslim leaders around the globe "now have a clear example of Western willingness to take a tough line, even against a strategic power."
JANE'S INTELLIGENCE DIGEST
Campaigns ahead of Ukraine's presidential election began this month, and "Jane's" says they are already causing concern among Western governments and international organizations. While outgoing President Leonid Kuchma has repeatedly stated his support for an open and transparent election, around 75 percent of Ukrainians expect the elections to be fraudulent.
Kuchma attended the 28-29 June NATO summit in Istanbul and the annual EU-Ukraine summit in the Netherlands in early July. But many still question whether he is willing "to move beyond words" in his commitment to establishing an open society in his country. The election campaign "is already being marred by allegations of favoritism in the state-controlled media toward Kuchma's anointed successor, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych." And opposition parties claim they are being denied access to both state and private television stations.
The EU and NATO, as well as the United States, have warned Kuchma that October's election must be free and fair or he risks jeopardizing his country's further integration with the Euro-Atlantic community. But "Jane's" remarks that "the impact of such threats rests upon the supposition that Kuchma remains sincere in his desire for Ukraine to join the EU and NATO."
The EU threats remain empty because Brussels is not actually offering Ukraine membership -- thus Kyiv has little incentive to play by EU rules. Kuchma might also feel he can ignore these warnings because he has earned praise from the U.S. administration for sending the largest non-NATO-member military force to Iraq.
"Unless stronger pressure is brought to bear against Kuchma, it is unlikely that he will permit free elections to take place," "Jane's" says. "Kuchma and his allies do not see NATO membership as urgent enough to justify the risk of implementing genuine democratic reforms or holding free elections."
"The trial of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic may never reach a conclusion, but it is certain to be remembered -- as an illustration of how excruciatingly slowly the wheels of international justice can turn." So begins an editorial in Chicago's leading daily.
Milosevic was scheduled to begin his defense on 12 July after the prosecution rested its case in February. He faces 66 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. His case is focused on the 1995 massacre of over 7,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica; atrocities committed during his attempt to expel ethnic Albanians from Kosovo; and crimes against humanity in Croatia between 1991 and 1992. The prosecution "brought in hundreds of witnesses and created a court record big enough to fill a boxcar."
However, genocide "is surprisingly difficult to prove," says the paper. The case is based largely on circumstantial evidence and it might be diffcult to prove Milosevic's direct culpability.
But the paper says the question remains, "why has this matter already dragged on for so long? The Nuremberg war crimes tribunal took 11 months to try, convict, sentence and execute 10 of Hitler's top deputies."
Milosevic has been "allowed to turn this into his own show." As a lawyer, he has insisted on acting as his own defense and has cross-examined some of the prosecution's almost 300 witnesses.
He has also "drawn up a list of 1,400 defense witnesses, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former President Bill Clinton. That should keep the trial going for a few more years and pile up tens of millions of additional euros in expenses," the paper says.
The Milosevic trial merely seems to be "entertainment for the accused," says the paper. "That's not justice," it writes. "That's a charade."
LE MONDE DIPLOMATIQUE
A report by correspondent Ignacio Ramonet looks into some of the surprising statistics about violence in the home. Such violence is worldwide, he says -- "it happens in all countries, on all continents and in all social, economic, religious and cultural groups."
He says for European women aged 16-44, "violence in the home is the primary cause of injury and death, more lethal than road accidents and cancer. Between 25 percent and 50 percent of women are victims of this violence."
Yet the common profile of the aggressor "is not what you might imagine," he says. "There is a public perception that these types of killers tend to be from poor backgrounds and with little education. That is not the case." In fact, Ignacio says a 2002 report by the Council of Europe ("Report on Domestic Violence," September 2002) found that incidents of domestic violence tended to increase with income and education level.
"Another misconception is that violence of this kind is more common in the macho cultures of southern Europe than in northern countries," he says. But while Romania is the European country with the highest reported incidence of domestic violence -- with 13 out of every 1 million women killed every year by their partners -- following on this dismal list is Finland, with eight out of every 1 million women killed by partners annually; Luxembourg with 5.6; Denmark at 5.4; and Sweden at 4.6.
Ignacio remarks that, ironically, many of these countries have some of the best legislation on women's rights.
Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland, in contrast, all have relatively low rates of domestic violence.
Ignacio says this kind of violence "is a reflection of historically unequal power relations between men and women, the result of the institution of patriarchy," which he says is a system based on the belief in the "natural inferiority of women" and the "biological supremacy of men."
It is this misguided belief system that generates the violence, Ignacio says. He calls for immediate action to set up "a permanent international tribunal on violence against women."
Domestic violence "is so virulent that we must regard it as a major violantion of human rights," he says.
THE BOSTON GLOBE
"The recent decision to postpone parliamentary elections in Afghanistan from September until next April is an overdue recognition of reality," the paper says. Citing "insufficient security" specifically, the Boston daily says the "[conditions] for conducting genuine elections were lacking."
The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush initially wanted both Afghanistan's presidential and parliamentary elections to happen in the fall, so they could be cited as evidence of his foreign policy success in the country. But the interim government of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai "feared that the violent disruption and distortion of a premature vote could do more harm than good to the cause of Afghan democracy." A presidential election is currently set for 9 October.
There are two encouraging signs in the postponement of the parliamentary vote until 2005, the paper says. One is that the Afghan electoral commission is truly independent in its decisionmaking process. The second positive sign is that the U.S. administration has recognized the possible pitfalls of a premature vote.
The main problem now is the threat posed by private militias in the service of warlords, says the paper. And what needs to be done "is no mystery," says the paper.
"NATO, whose 6,500 troops are almost all in Kabul, needs to send several thousand more, enough to go from one Afghan province to the next, disarming the warlords' militias. If each warlord sees that his rivals will also be disarmed and that the disarming will continue across the country, he and others may all see that it is better to seek power via political means than to lose all in a confrontation with NATO forces.
"Then it will become possible to hold meaningful elections."
Columnist Robert Fisk discusses the suicide bomb explosion in Baghdad on 14 July in which 500 kilograms of explosives were detonated near the entrance checkpoint to the compound where Iraqi, U.S., and British officials have their headquarters. Ten Iraqis were killed, most of them waiting outside the compound seeking work from the new governing administration. Over 50 others were wounded.
The motive "for yesterday's little bloodbath" was to isolate Iraq's new government from the people it serves. Fisk says it was "the fourth checkpoint bombing around the same compound and the purpose is obvious." If the insurgents cannot get past the checkpoints and beyond the walls, "they can at least imprison those inside by attacking the perimeter, cut them off from the rest of Iraq, make the government's presence irrelevant to the millions of Iraqis."
Iraqi officials "cannot leave their Crusader-style fortress with its massive ramparts and walls. Ordinary Iraqis must go to them. And queue. And wait. And walking up to those checkpoints is becoming a macabre, frightening experience," Fisk says.
But he says "in truth, the authorities here are already cut off from the rest of Iraq. Baquba is run by armed men. Insurgents control Samara and Fallujah and Ramadi, and Muqtada Sadr's militia control the center of Najaf."
In reference to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, columnist Jacques Amalric questions whether the bloody impass in the conflict is due to the mediocrity of the leaders of each camp. Perhaps their weaknesses are not entirely responsible, he says, but there is no doubt that both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestian leader Yasser Arafat fall short of being on a par with erstwhile leaders such as South Africa's former president, Nelson Mandela, or France's Charles de Gaulle.
Despite Sharon's leadership coming under threat in the parliament because of his offer to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza; despite being criticized by the Israeli Supreme Court for the location of two sections of the security barrier now under construction; despite a more damning condemnation from the international court at The Hague for building the barrier at all, the Israeli leader is not yet ready to give up. This can be seen in his recent proposal to form a new government with his political adversary but personal friend, Shimon Perez, chief of the opposition Labor Party.
Israel functioned under a Sharon-Perez government from March 2001 to the end of 2002, when Amalric says the Labor Party regained its independence by refusing to be co-responsible for the excesses of Sharon's repression of the Palestinians. But the plan of the two old leaders to form a government of national unity is meeting with little enthusiasm in their respective parties.
Not to be deterred, Perez did succeed in obtaining permission from his party to negotiate with Likud. Discussions will likely last several weeks since they will focus on the budgets, economic and social policy, and the conditions of the withdrawal from Gaza.
Amalric says Sharon is pursuing a scorched-earth policy in Gaza, seeking to eliminate all militants in the region before effecting a pullout. But Perez's Labor Party, in contrast, favors coordinating the withdrawal with Palestinian leaders as well as dismantling more Israeli settlements than the four proposed by Sharon.
But Amalric says Labor will avoid questioning the construction of the security barrier. Amalric reminds us that it was originally an Israeli party if the left that suggested erecting a physical barrier between the two peoples. Nevertheless, he says it remains unclear whether the barrier can be credited with a recent drop in attacks.