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Western Press Review: Human Rights, NATO, Politics and Rubles

  • Don Hill

Prague, 2 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary and analysis today ranges widely over human rights, NATO, the new Czech government and other issues.


In the U.S. newspaper Christian Science Monitor today, Dennis McNamara, director of the Division of International Protection, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Geneva, writes in a commentary that UN members are falling short of their obligations to refugees.

The writer says: "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Magna Carta for human rights worldwide, just turned 50. Among many other things, the declaration underpins the right of everyone to seek and enjoy asylum, in other countries, from persecution at home. The United Nations' 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, signed by more than 130 countries, are built on this cornerstone of asylum. Since World War II, millions have been protected by these treaties.

"Today, some 15 million refugees and returnees depend on these accords. Yet the past year has witnessed a greater loss of refugee life, especially in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, than in any comparable period since the human rights declaration was adopted. The international failure to protect civilian refugees during the Great Lakes crisis of the past three years has brought into sharp focus some basic dilemmas. It has shown that unless governments are prepared to provide muscle to support refugee rights, refugees will not be protected. When governments openly violate fundamental principles with apparent impunity, the system itself is threatened.'

McNamara writes: "Perhaps the most fitting celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would be a public and vigorous renewal of commitment to it by states. Without that, human rights and humanitarian organizations cannot fulfill their mandates, including the protection of refugees. More important, a lack of determination will put at risk the lives of millions of the world's most vulnerable people."


NATO is endangered by continued enmity between Turkey and Greece, Louis J. Klarevas, a research associate at the United States Institute of Peace, writes in a commentary today in The Washington Post.

Klarevas contends: "If Bosnia is the conflict that made NATO useful in the post-Cold War era, then Cyprus is the one with the potential to make it useless. Traditionally a powder keg sitting between two NATO allies -- Turkey and Greece -- Cyprus has in recent months been providing reminders of how quickly the alliance can be brought to its knees by exercises in brinkmanship between those two countries."

He writes: "NATO's utility and credibility would be damaged irreparably should the two NATO allies go to war. Simply put, how can NATO promote peace and defend the alliance's security if it cannot even get two of its allies to behave peacefully toward each other?

"Greece and Turkey's NATO allies actively should engage the two countries in concrete actions aimed at reducing tensions. As the Turks have reservations about most international organizations in Europe, especially the European Union, NATO is well situated to serve as a mediator".

The writer concludes: "It is time for the remaining NATO allies to take a tough stand. If this means that Greece and/or Turkey have to be banned from NATO military exercises or that military assistance to these two states has to be suspended, then so be it. Demanding that Greece and Turkey institute confidence-building measures is a fair price to pay to maintain peace in the region as well as to preserve NATO's future."


Michael Frank comments in today's Suddeutsche Zeitung that the Czech Republic's historically dominant Civic Democratic Part (ODS) has split, perhaps irrevocably.

Frank writes: "The foundation stone of the young Czech democracy is collapsing. The ODS, whose leader and founder, Vaclav Klaus, was toppled as prime minister four weeks ago, is split. Paradoxically, it was an attempt to organize a new beginning for a party which was once the unchallenged leader of the political scene which opened up the fissure."

Frank says: "Four ministers come from the ODS in defiance of a ban by the party leadership and by Klaus himself. The decisive move came from the leadership of the parliamentary party which, in spite of the ban, nominated four members for the cabinet including the incumbent Foreign Minister Jaroslav Sedivy, who is not a member of any party. That stretched the strains to breaking point: about 40 of the 60 ODS parliamentary deputies then came out in favor of taking part in the government. In contrast, most party officials opposed the deputies and remained faithful to Klaus."

The writer says: "A vote of confidence planned for this month in parliament can be won by the probable support of the ODS as well as all votes of the ODA and KDU-CSL deputies -- and even the opposition Czech Social Democrat Party -- against the Klaus faction. The Social Democrats are making their support dependent on Tosovsky accepting that the cabinet is only an interim cabinet and that elections are called by the autumn at the latest. At the moment, the Czech Republic has no stable parliamentary majority."


The British business daily Financial Times carries today an analysis from John Thornhill in Moscow of the impact of a multidecimated ruble. He writes: "Russia greeted the new year with a new ruble -- although it was all but impossible to find any redenominated banknotes in Moscow's deserted city center yesterday as the nation nursed its collective hangover.

"In an attempt to restore confidence in the domestic currency, signal the death of high inflation and simplify financial transactions, the central bank lopped three zeros off the ruble (starting at midnight) and released new banknotes But to ease the transition, both the old and the new rubles will circulate in parallel throughout 1998."