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Western Press Review: Editorials Debate Pinochet's Arrest

By Elizabeth Weinstein and Dora Slaba

Prague, 20 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press today continues its commentary on the arrest in Britain of the former Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet. Commentators debate whether the arrest, at the request of a Spanish judge, represents justice served, or if it has opened up international haggling over diplomatic immunity.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The international community should think twice before it makes a human rights example of Pinochet

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal Europe argues that if the world begins a program of revenge against dictators who drop their defenses, "there are going to be a lot fewer dictators willing to turn over government to their nations' democrats." The editorial says that despite Pinochet's role in the bloody 1973 Chilean coup in which 3,000 people died, Pinochet is also the man responsible for transforming Chile from a "communist beachhead to an example of successful free-market reform." The editorial says the international community should think twice before it makes a human rights example of Pinochet.

The paper writes, "If we start extraditing rulers with blood on their hands, what becomes of China's President Jiang Zemin -- part of the party machinery that crushed the 1989 Tiananmen protests by ordering the army to kill peaceful civilians in Beijing? Is Russia's President Boris Yeltsin safe? Sure he led Russia to democracy. But before that he served as party boss in the Urals, presiding over things such as the manufacture of nuclear bombs and the local portion of the gulag. Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo, the generals who led Korea to democracy, were arrested for earlier repression, but were pardoned by (current president) Kim Dae Jung, the former dissident they repressed."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: It is shameful to display such contempt for the law

Britain's Daily Telegraph criticizes its government for what the paper says is inconsistency and for following a set of inflexible legal principles. Its editorial questions why the government is holding Pinochet, while rejecting calls from countries like Germany, which requested the extradition of Roisin McAliskey who was wanted in connection with an attack on British army barracks in Osnabruck. The editorial speculates that Labour politicians are blinded by their hatred of Pinochet and overlooking the proper application of the law.

The editorial reminds its readers that the British have good political relations with Chile in part because "few people in the world are as enthusiastically Anglophile as Chileans, to whom Britain embodies decency and fair play." The editorial also says Pinochet was an unstinting ally of Britain during his time in office and that Chile was the only Latin American state to support Britain during the Falklands conflict.

The paper concludes: "That we should deal so shoddily with a friendly state is bad enough; that we should simultaneously display such contempt for the law is shameful."

WASHINGTON POST: Laws protecting alleged criminals like Pinochet should be changed

A Washington Post editorial today says that if Pinochet's arrest is carried through, it will be "a model for extending political accountability internationally for a range of grievous offenses committed at home." Like the Telegraph and Wall Street Journal, the Post agrees that the law governing Pinochet's case is in a state of flux. But it says laws protecting alleged criminals like Pinochet should be changed to match the gravity of the charges.

The Post writes: "The arrest of General Pinochet is being protested partly on the basis that 'no legal respect for his position is being applied.' The irony is cutting: This plea is being made for the officer responsible for arresting, killing, terrorizing and torturing large numbers of Chilean (and Argentine and Spanish) citizens without an iota of (eds: any) legal respect for their positions. In Santiago, the general was able to contrive a soft landing for his dictatorship on Chilean soil; this is how he comes to be living in comfortable and even, in some quarters, respected retirement."

NEW YORK TIMES: Pinochet's amnesty in Chile should not stand in the way of his arrest

A New York Times editorial encourages Spain, Chile and Britain to only look at the evidence against Pinochet. If it is lacking, the editorial writes, "Mr. Pinochet should go home in peace." But the paper argues that Pinochet's arrest is based on credible allegations.

The editorial says Pinochet has built a wall of safety around himself. It says: "Mr. Pinochet's amnesty in Chile should not stand in the way of his arrest. He issued himself the amnesty in 1978. His democratic successors as president have not challenged it, partly out of fear and partly because they lack the power to do so. The Chilean Constitution, which Mr. Pinochet devised, allows him to maintain control of the Senate."

SUEDDEUTSCH ZEITUNG: Pinochet can no longer enjoy diplomatic priviliges

A commentary by Stefan Ulrich in today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung entitled "The Ex Dictator is no Diplomat" says Pinochet can no longer enjoy the diplomatic priviliges he once claimed for himself. It says that whereas once he could travel to England freely and "spoil (former British Prime Minister Margaret) Thatcher with chocolates," Pinochet is now feeling the repurcussions of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government which puts high priority on human rights.

Ulrich writes that the laws governing diplomatic immunity are ambiguous. He writes: "Pinochet could have immunity as a former head of state. But this applies only for top acts such as government negotiations, but not for generally punishable offenses. It is still not legally clear into which category violent acts perpetrated by a dictator fall. But even if Pinochet had a right to immunity this would be no use to him in violations of human rights."

IRISH TIMES: There should be no hiding place for terrorists

An Irish Times editorial says the basic message coming from Pinochet's arrest is that "there should be no hiding place for terrorists, whether they wear uniforms, suits, or balaclavas." The editorial says Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon will face many political obstacles in taking the case against Pinochet further.

The editorial says: "The Spanish attorney general has declared his opposition to the investigation, and the the Spanish conservative prime minister, Mr. Jose Maria Aznar, will find the whole affair a major embarrassment, at the least."

The editorial concludes by pointing out that Spain could be damaging its economic ties with Chile. More than a few Spanish politicians, it writes, would have considered themselves friends of Pinochet, as they were previously friends with Spanish Dictator Francisco Franco.