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Western Press Review: Hague Court, China's Olympic Bid, G7, Macedonia

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 9 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today and over the weekend touches on a number of different issues. Debate continues on the UN war crimes court and what the extradition of Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague late last month portends for the international justice system. Commentary also addresses Friday's (13 July) scheduled announcement of where the 2008 Olympic Games will be held and considers the controversy surrounding Beijing's bid to host the games, amid continuing denunciations of China's human rights record. Analysts also examine the situation in Macedonia, as EU and U.S. envoys attempt to broker a peace deal, and the G7 ministerial meeting in Rome over the weekend.


An editorial in the "Chicago Tribune" says that "the most notorious architect of a decade of war in the Balkans, former Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic, is finally cooling his heels where he belongs -- behind bars in The Hague. But many of his suspected partners in war crimes [remain] defiantly at large," the paper adds. "Justice will not be served, nor will closure ever come to the Balkans, until these suspects, too, are delivered to the international criminal tribunal in The Hague to face their accusers."

"How will the world respect a tribunal that selectively prosecutes its most egregious offenders?" the paper asks, adding, "Now the tribunal must deal with tough questions about the extent to which the U.S., NATO and the United Nations share some responsibility for keeping Milosevic in power."


Legal analyst Diane Orentlicher writes in the "Los Angeles Times" that when Slobodan Milosevic appeared before The Hague tribunal last week, "he raised a question that is hard to shake off: Whose court is this?" She cites Milosevic's charge that the court is a tool of the West, that -- in his words -- "this trial's aim is to produce false justification for the war crimes NATO committed in Yugoslavia."

Orentlicher says that "it was thus unfortunate that Milosevic was surrendered to the tribunal in defiance of a ruling by the Yugoslav Constitutional Court. [Western] countries [were] right to press Yugoslav and Serbian authorities [to] surrender Milosevic," she adds, "though this inevitably bolstered Milosevic's charge that the tribunal is an instrument of Western power. [But] there are compelling reasons why it would be better first to prosecute Milosevic at The Hague," she writes, noting that the magnitude of Milosevic's crimes transcends any one nation.

Even so, Orentlicher says, "the tribunal would undercut one of its most important goals if its prosecution of Milosevic inadvertently retarded Yugoslavia's progress in constructing a vibrant legal culture. To avoid this outcome," she suggests, "the tribunal should forge a new relationship with Yugoslavia, engaging its nascent democracy in a common project of justice [and] engaging the Yugoslav public as Milosevic's trial proceeds."


Matthias Rub says in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" that Milosevic's extradition "has set off a chain reaction." The Croatian government, Rub notes, decided over the weekend to extradite two generals indicted by the war crimes tribunal.

He writes: "As feared, this decision has sparked a government crisis. [But the] uproar must be seen against the backdrop of Croatia's woeful history since 1991," Rub says. "Left by the West to fend for itself against Belgrade's war of aggression, [Croatia] managed -- under [late] President Franjo Tudjman -- to recapture occupied territory. [During] the hostilities, [war] crimes were committed against Serbian civilians."

Rub continues: "In contrast to Serbia, where the myth of the Serbian people's victimization is cultivated almost continually, Croatia is prosecuting Croatian suspects. [Following] the extradition of Mr. Milosevic," Rub writes, "the West has [made] Belgrade one of its favorites, even though more than a dozen alleged war criminals sought by the tribunal are still at large in Serbia. Croatia, however, is under extremely close scrutiny, although it has extradited -- without having received a $1 billion reward -- all of the indicted Croatian suspects save for the two generals."


An editorial in the "Financial Times" says that because the International Olympic Committee -- or IOC -- has long insisted it does not engage in politics, with the upcoming decision this week for the venue of the 2008 Olympic Games, "the committee has the ideal opportunity to show it means what it says." While many critics insist China should be denied the opportunity to host the games due to its controversial human rights record, the editorial says that political considerations should not be a factor in the decision for three reasons.

First, the paper writes, "whatever the arguments for or against getting tough with Beijing, the IOC is ill-qualified to decide them. [Second,] the IOC has never previously shown much interest in the high moral ground. It selected Moscow in 1980 -- a year after the invasion of Afghanistan -- and nearly chose Beijing for the 2000 games. [Back] in 1936, Hitler's Berlin was chosen," the editorial also points out. "Third, and most important," the paper continues, disqualifying Beijing "would contradict the thrust of government policy in much of the world. The trend in the West is to engage China, not to isolate it."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" on the Olympic vote says that last week's reports that two U.S.-based Chinese being detained by Beijing on espionage charges had finally been put on trial raised hopes they would be convicted and expelled before the IOC vote on 13 July. But, the paper writes, it was later revealed that the trials were actually scheduled for after the vote. "This small drama," the editorial says, "should serve as a lesson for those who believe that awarding China the Olympics will prompt it to temper its violations of human rights, its aggressive behavior toward Taiwan or its destruction of the environment."

The editorial continues: "[The] award will not alter the underlying drift of Chinese politics. Beijing appears prepared to press on with repression even while demanding that the world accept it." The paper notes that it has been suggested that the games might have the same effect on China as they did on South Korea in 1998, "where an opening to the world led to a broader opening to democracy. But it seems just as plausible," it says, "that the critics who cite the example of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin will be right -- that the Games will prove a platform for a dictatorship to strut its regimented athletes and nationalist agenda before the world."


A news analysis by Joseph Fitchett in the "International Herald Tribune" says that "by intervening early [in Macedonia] with its arsenal of political and military pressure and economic incentives, the West has been trying to avoid the mistakes it made in Bosnia and Kosovo, where NATO intervened too late to prevent a bloody civil war." He adds: "As an example of Western governments' success in coordinating the EU's political overtures with a tough military message, European officials said that the ethnic Albanian rebels became more amenable to compromise after NATO threats to crack down hard on their supply centers."

However, recent denunciations of the EU- and U.S.-brokered peace plan by ethnic Albanian leaders, who claim that it does not differ substantially from earlier proposals, have indicated that there may be less cause for optimism. Fitchett points out that a continuing cease-fire must be based on political concessions by the ethnic Macedonian majority "on rights for the ethnic Albanians. [Already,] the Western plan for this outcome has successfully resisted sabotage by Slav hard-liners," he writes. "So optimism may be justified."


An editorial in "The Irish Times" says that there were "some tensions bubbling under the surface" at the ministerial meeting of the G7 -- the world's seven leading industrialized nations -- in Rome over the weekend. The paper writes: "[It] is clear that the U.S. believes that Europe, in particular, should be doing more to boost [worldwide economic] growth. Paul O'Neill, the U.S. treasury secretary, pointedly observed before the meeting that, along with the U.S., Europe and Japan, 'need to play a locomotive role as well.'"

The paper goes on to say that, although O'Neill "did strike one hopeful note" -- on annualized rates for the end of this and next year -- "such a recovery cannot be taken for granted. Low interest rates and a cut in income tax may help," it writes, "but the prospects for an early U.S. recovery remain very much in the balance. Against this background," the paper continues, "the outlook for the [EU's 12-nation] euro-zone also remains clouded. [This] emerging picture of economic weakness provides a strong case for a further interest rate cut by the [European Central Bank]. It should cut rates again soon," the paper concludes.