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Western Press Review: World Courts, Mideast, Macedonia, Chirac

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 6 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today takes another look at international criminal courts, this time with regard to the ongoing genocide trials in Rwanda. Other commentary focuses on the Middle East, as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon continues a two-day trip to France, where he is meeting with President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. The situation in Macedonia at the onset of a NATO-brokered cease-fire also elicits commentary, as does Russia's withdrawal of troops from the Abkhazia region of Georgia and recent allegations of malfeasance leveled against President Chirac.


An editorial in The New York Times says that now that Slobodan Milosevic is in custody at The Hague, "the proceedings of another international war crimes court should be coming under stricter scrutiny. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda," it notes, "[has] been making only fitful progress in bringing to justice officials responsible for the genocide in 1994 in which half a million Rwandan Tutsi were slaughtered. [With] the world's attention newly focused on the importance of international justice, the Rwanda tribunal deserves the resources and the oversight it needs to complete its mission."

The editorial continues: "The [Rwandan] tribunal has been plagued by corruption scandals and management problems, producing inexcusable delays. [Only] nine people have been convicted [although] more than 100,000 Rwandans are in custody, [accused] of participating in the genocide." The paper concludes: "[The] tribunal represents the best hope for justice in dealing with top conspirators. It must not be allowed to fail. That means closer diplomatic scrutiny, continued UN funding and voluntary contributions at levels on a par with those for The Hague."


A news analysis by Keith Richburg of the Washington Post looks at the 1993 law that gives Belgian courts jurisdiction over any violations of the Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians and prisoners during war. He writes that this law of "universal jurisdiction" was successfully applied last month to convict four Rwandan Hutus, including two Roman Catholic nuns, for their involvement in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi minority. Although that conviction was hailed as "the arbiter for a tough new standard of global human rights," Richburg says, "the Belgian government was embarrassed in recent weeks after a judge opened an investigation of [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's role in the massacre of Palestinian refugees in 1982 [while] Sharon was defense minister."

Richburg writes that Belgian officials have long considered amending the legislation, and that one possible change would "exempt sitting presidents and prime ministers from prosecution under the law." But he quotes Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel as saying that the case against Sharon "is a problem of justice and not a problem of politics."


In The Washington Post, columnist Stephen Rosenfeld examines Ariel Sharon's policy toward the Palestinians. He says that Sharon's "first requirement was for the Palestinians to terminate all forms of terrorism, [and] once things are 'quiet,' [then] Israel and the Palestinians can 'move forward,' and resume negotiations. Meanwhile, [in Sharon's view,] the Israeli state must be given full anti-terrorist indulgence."

This strategy has what Rosenfeld calls "a hitch, a blank spot." He writes that Sharon is correct "in contending that Palestinian policy makes true peace talks unlikely and unpromising any time soon. But it does not follow that therefore Israel has no necessity of engaging in peaceful acts and policies itself. Specifically, Israel cannot use the new Palestinian-created crisis as cover for the inflammatory policy of extending Jewish settlements in the West Bank." The implications of this strategy, Rosenfeld writes, are that they "call on the Palestinians to do the compromising and the backing off and the waiting for political satisfaction." He concludes: "Israelis must distinguish between fighting terrorism and accommodating legitimate goals, first of all statehood."


Foreign affairs analyst David Kimche writes in The New York Times that "there is no possibility of ending the nightmare [the Israelis] share with the Palestinians unless the United States takes on an active role as even-handed mediator." In Middle East diplomacy, he continues, "the ability to sell the agreement to constituents [can be] more important than what the agreement might call for. The United States is the sole power capable of creating a diplomatic package that enables both Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat to look good in the eyes of their people, which is the only way to end the standoff. [Today,] Mr. Arafat once again needs a diplomatic package with impressive wrapping -- as well as lifesaving content -- which can be sold to his people. Only the United States can provide it, and Israel should go along with it."

Kimche concludes: "American pressure on Mr. Arafat, coupled with Israeli compromises -- including a freeze on new settlements -- offers the only hope for an end to the intifada and a return to negotiations."


An editorial in the Christian Science Monitor considers the situation in Macedonia. It says that "the Age of Enlightenment was supposed to help Europe rise above its religious and ethnic conflict and unite people on the primacy of rational thought. Today that outlook prevails. However, in [some] places on the [continent,] the seeds for nurturing an ideal society are barely clinging to the rocky soil of ancient antagonisms." The paper continues: "But real hope lies in creating governments that treat all people equally and end deep distrust. [Just] how much power Slav leaders are willing to give Albanians -- such as veto power over new laws -- will influence how quickly the conflict ends." In addition, the paper writes, "persuading the rebels that their future lies in a fair and open democracy with minority rights guaranteed will require tough bargaining."


An editorial in French daily Le Monde assesses allegations that President Jacques Chirac and other high French officials have systematically been receiving large, unauthorized cash payments. The paper finds the system reprehensible for three reasons. First, it says, to hear the government officials tell it, the payments almost sound like charity: "Each pleads that the funds are intended as 'premiums' to [officials] whose too-meager incomes were not sufficient payment for their dedication or their availability." If this is the case, Le Monde asks, why not do it openly?

Second, the paper says, it is even more unacceptable that these funds were entirely secret: "Here are some hundreds of millions of francs [tens of millions of dollars] shielded from any scrutiny and from any control." Le Monde adds that the funds are not taxed and are not subject to national insurance contributions. The paper says: "Finally, the opaqueness of this system necessarily allows a lot of drift. Several judicial cases have shown that a portion of this secret capital allowed [the] financing of political parties or election campaigns." The paper adds that this practice is in direct contravention to a 1995 French law, which sought to ensure that political financing comes from open and authorized sources.