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Western Press Review: Commentary Contemplates Law And Mercy

  • Don Hill



Prague, 14 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The current topic among many Western press commentators is mercy and the majesty of law.

DIE WELT: Earthly power doth then show likest God's, When mercy seasons justice

In Germany's Die Welt, Thomas Kielinger comments on Britain's finding that for health reasons Chile's Augusto Pinochet probably should not stand trial. Kielinger quotes Shakespeare's character, Portia, in the play The Merchant of Venice, when she says: "Earthly power doth then show likest God's, When mercy seasons justice." (In other words, those who wield power act most nobly when they show mercy.)

Kielinger, writing from London, goes on to say this: "British Home Secretary Jack Straw did not see things much differently when he made the completely unexpected announcement that he is minded to take the view that no purpose would be served by continuing the present extradition proceedings against Chilean ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet, because of his poor health. That amounts to very elegantly expressed permission for the general -- who has been held in detention in Britain since October 16 -- to fly home."

BOSTON GLOBE: There is no such thing as sovereign immunity for crimes against humanity

As an editorial in the U.S. daily Boston Globe puts it: "The majesty of the law was on display yesterday when Britain found Chile's erstwhile dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, medically unfit to stand trial in Spain for crimes against humanity."

The editorial says approvingly that four qualified specialists conducted seven hours of examinations and concluded that Pinochet's health had deteriorated to the point that he could not stand trial.

The Globe expresses no regret that Pinochet may not stand trial. But it welcomes what it calls the affirmation of "two significant principles." In the words of the editorial: "Britain's highest judicial authority, the Law Lords of the House of Lords, ruled that Pinochet could not be exempt from prosecution for crimes against humanity merely because he had acted as a head of state. In this way the British legal system established a Pinochet precedent: There is no such thing as sovereign immunity for crimes against humanity."

The editorial continues: "Perhaps even more telling is the emblematic meaning of the due process accorded Pinochet in Britain. The ailing tyrant was judged by a truly independent judiciary. He was represented by counsel of his choice, and when one of his judges was believed to have a potential conflict of interest, Pinochet was granted a new hearing before new judges. At the end of a meticulously fair process, he received a mercy that is inherent in the law."

Western newspapers as different as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal Europe, and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung join in commentaries to praise Turkey's leaders for suspending the death sentence imposed on Turkish-Kurd faction leader Abdullah Ocalan.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Smart move, Mr. Ecevit

The Wall Street Journal Europe, in an editorial: "Considering the popular pressure in Turkey to go ahead and hang Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, this week's decision by Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit to put the execution on hold took a lot of courage. In allowing the European Court of Human Rights to review Ocalan's appeal, Mr. Ecevit is up-front about his motives: to grease Turkey's eventual membership in the EU, which has a weak stomach for hanging people. Smart move, Mr. Ecevit."

NEW YORK TIMES: Turkey should not just postpone Ocalan's hanging, but cancel it

The New York Times' editorial: "Turkey made the right choice in deferring the execution of Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish rebel leader, until the European Court of Human Rights hears his appeal. The decision took political courage in a country where passions against Ocalan run high. But it will help smooth Turkey's path into the European Union, and may permit a solution to the Kurdish conflict, Turkey's most vexing internal problem. Turkey is not obliged to follow the court's ruling, but has obeyed its decisions in the past."

The New York Times' editorial concludes: "Delaying his execution will ease European concerns about Turkey's human rights record and its retention of the death penalty, which all members of the European Union have abolished. Turkey has not executed anyone since 1984. Ending that moratorium would be a mistake. Turkey should not just postpone Ocalan's hanging, but cancel it."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Far more depends on the politicians' decision than simply the life of the former rebel leader

Commentator Wolfgang Koydl, writing from Turkey in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung: "No one can pretend that Bulent Ecevit, the Turkish prime minister, and his coalition partners are having an easy time of it at the moment. This week, they spent seven hours seated under a portrait of the state's founder Kemal Ataturk discussing just one thorny issue: the fate of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, now in jail awaiting a death sentence."

Koydl continues: "The politicians' difficult and long drawn-out deliberations were justified [because] far more depends on their decision than simply the life of the former rebel leader or the government's continued tenure."

The writer also says this: "Ecevit's statement, delivered sullenly and peppered with blunt language, cannot be overpraised; for the first time on such a highly sensitive question, a Turkish government has voluntarily submitted itself to a decision from a European court. This means nothing less than the sacrifice of a piece of national sovereignty, and that, in turn, is the hardest test as to whether Turkey is ready to join Europe."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Elian Gonzalez belongs with his father

In the United States, the Los Angeles Times supported in an editorial yesterday a federal government decision that a six-year-old Cuban boy should be sent home to his father in Cuba. The newspaper, published in the western state of California where there is a large Hispanic population, said: "Let there be no doubt, no hesitation and no more delays. Elian Gonzalez belongs with his father and other close relatives in Cuba. He should be returned home as soon as feasible. The political posturing over this family tragedy must end, for the boy's sake and America's honor."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Nobody has the will to step up to the plate against the new Kremlin chief

Departing from questions of law, another Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentator, Daniel Broessler, discusses the visit of Chechen representative Ilyas Akhmadov to the U.S. capital Washington. Broessler says that Akhmadov's mission is doomed. In the commentator's words: "The Chechens have no friends."

Broessler says this: "Neither the United States nor the Europeans and not even the Islamic world has the will to step up to the plate against the new Kremlin chief, Vladimir Putin. The only effective ally the Chechens might have is the Russian public. Because more and more soldiers are coming back from the Caucasus region in coffins, the public might come to the conclusion that their hatred of the price for war exceeds their hatred of the Chechens. That is the only factor which might force Putin, who is hoping to be elected president on March 26, to the negotiating table."



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