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Western Press Review: The ICC, The New 'Group Of Eight,' And Yugoslavia's Political Disputes

  • Khatya Chhor
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 1 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Several analyses in the Western media today look at the International Criminal Court (ICC), which officially comes into force today. Debate continues over the court, as the United States has withdrawn its support for the tribunal and seeks to secure immunity from the court's jurisdiction for its peacekeepers dispatched to various regions of the globe. Other issues addressed today and over the weekend include last week's decision to officially include Russia in the Group of Seven industrialized nations, the need for education in the developing world, and political disputes in the former Yugoslavia.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Reinhard Mueller discusses the International Criminal Court which comes into force today. "No longer will those who commit genocide, mass rape, and torture be able to hide," Mueller writes. "At least in theory." How the court functions in practice will not be known until next year, when it begins to hear cases.

Mueller considers some of the concerns over the court expressed by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush. Some U.S. politicians fear the court may become politicized and devolve into a puppet court, which could mount show trials against American nationals. But Mueller says while there is a possibility that ICC prosecutors may take up a case involving American soldiers or peacekeepers abroad, they would do so only in the event the U.S. refuses to prosecute the offense itself. The ICC is to step in only when a country is unwilling or unable to conduct a trial itself. In addition, notes Mueller, the UN Security Council maintains certain powers over the court -- and as a permanent member of the Security Council, the United States has veto power.

Mueller concludes that U.S. objections "are only superficially concerned about political abuse." He says what the U.S. feels is really at stake with the creation of the ICC is democracy and national sovereignty. But no nation need fear "undue influence" from the ICC. It has "only the power that signatory countries give it," Mueller maintains.


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" calls the International Criminal Court "the most important human rights institution in 50 years," but adds that its future "is far from assured." The paper says the objections raised by the administration of U.S. President Bush, which is demanding immunity from the court for its international peacekeepers, threaten to undermine the court's universality. This exemption would "severely damage" the court's credibility, it says.

The editorial says the Bush administration's move "is the latest manifestation of the view in Washington that international justice is only for others, not for Americans." The daily adds that behind this display of what it calls "breathtaking arrogance," the U.S. administration is also "trying to determine how far it can push its allies. It knows that the European Union has adopted a legally binding common position to defend the letter and spirit of the court's treaty. But it hopes that bluster and threats will force European governments to back down."

"It is time to draw a line," says the paper. "If Europe forsakes this matter of principle, it will only embolden America's radical right in its belief that the U.S. is above international law."


Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" also weighs in on the International Criminal Court today. "The dispute here is not about whether Washington supports human rights," it says. America has a "better record on freedom and democracy than most of the nations that have ratified the ICC -- such beacons of justice as Tajikistan, Cambodia, and the Congo. The issue, rather, is: who has the authority to bring cases to trial? The essence of any legal system is that there is an agreed enforcement mechanism," the paper observes.

"There must be an accepted way of deciding who has jurisdiction in any given case. Until now, it has been agreed that the legitimate authority is the state on whose territory the alleged offence was committed." The ICC "tosses that precept aside and, in so doing, destroys the understanding on which international law has rested for centuries. For the first time, it establishes the principle that treaties are binding not only on the states that are party to them, but also on non-signatories." The ICC will be answerable to no one, says the paper, and lawmakers will be "answerable to no one but themselves."

The paper says U.S. opposition to the court is reasonable, when one considers the difficulties faced by cases involving extraterritorial jurisdiction. The U.S. administration "is quite right to stand up for the principle of national democracy," the paper writes, suggesting that the British government should do the same.


Katja Ridderbusch, writing in the German paper "Die Welt," describes the establishment of the new permanent ICC as a "milestone for people's rights." She says: "A world court that reaches beyond frontiers and continents to punish scoundrels and defend justice is a vision equally moral as full of pathos, which could not be more American. Yet it is the Americans who are resisting." The United States has vetoed a full six-month extension of United Nations peacekeeping operations in Bosnia in retaliation for the UN Security Council's rejection of a U.S. demand that Americans be granted immunity from prosecution by the new court.

"Double moral standards have always been a hallmark of American existence," Ridderbusch says. But she adds that since 11 September, America is understandably apprehensive.

Ridderbusch concludes that "the idea of a world court is too old to meet a quick death," and cites the trials that followed World War II in Nuremberg and Tokyo and the more recent tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. In the end, Ridderbusch concludes: "America is also known for its pragmatism. And so there are good grounds for hope for the international war crimes court."


An editorial in "The New York Times" emphasizes the importance of education in developing countries. Nearly a quarter of a billion children do not have access to schooling, the paper says, adding that every additional year of school raises earnings in poor countries by 10 to 20 percent. The paper says last week's promise by Washington and other wealthy nations to increase their aid budgets for Africa "is welcome, but even better would be an increase in the pitifully small share of those aid budgets that goes toward expanding access to primary education worldwide."

Children who are born poor and who lack access to education "are virtually condemned to stay poor and rear their own children in poverty," says the editorial, adding that the problem is most acute for girl children. The paper points out that "educating girls has dramatically positive effects, including lower birth rates, reduced infant mortality, and higher incomes."

"The New York Times" remarks that the financial resources needed to meet the goal of universal primary education "are not impossibly large." The World Bank estimates $5 billion per year would be needed from aid donors. The editorial says the United States should shoulder one-fifth of this burden, contributing $1 billion a year to education in the developing world.


An editorial in "The Christian Science Monitor" discusses the decision last week to officially include Russia in the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, to officially become the Group of Eight in 2006. Meeting in the mountains of Alberta, Canada, the world's industrialized leaders decided to allow Russia to join in all political as well as financial discussions in the future.

"Given Russia's size, its influence across many regions, and its economic potential, this step makes sense. And in Vladimir Putin, the West is fortunate to have a Russian leader who is keen to bring his huge nation into the modern world." An important next step will be Russia's admission to the World Trade Organization, says the editorial, although Russia remains far from being a true market economy. "But Russia continues to move in the right direction," says the paper, citing its recent economic revival, the resumption of sales of agricultural land, and expanding domestic private commerce.

There is now "fresh hope that, under Putin, the rule of law and respect for property rights will improve commercial relationships," and lure increased foreign investment. The editorial concludes, "For reasons of both political and economic stability across a large swath of the globe, Russia should be welcomed into the trading community of nations as soon as possible."


A contribution to "The New York Times" by Peter Green looks at the narrowing left-right political divide in Eastern Europe and says the left is gaining support throughout a region that for a long time rejected "anything smacking of their communist past."

But "the Social Democratic parties that won in the Czech Republic this month, in Hungary in April, and in Poland last September bear little if any resemblance to the communists of old," says Green. They have appropriated "the very themes that were once the hallmark of the right: membership in the European Union and NATO, a functioning judiciary, an end to corruption and the economic privilege of the political elite, and a rejection of rigid ideology." And almost every major party in the region supports the maintenance of a social welfare safety net. In today's Central and Eastern Europe, "the only significant difference on the political landscape appears to be the speed with which different parties prefer to embrace the European Union and how much weight they give to nationalism."

Green says traditional left-right political labels "have been maintained mostly by the dislike each side feels for the other." However, he adds, there are "still sufficient differences to enable the left to tar the right as isolationist, nationalist, and protective of the privileged, and the right to accuse the left of going soft on the sins of the communist past."


Wieland Schneider, writing in the Austrian daily "Die Presse," says "a cat-and-mouse game is going on in Belgrade." He goes on to discuss political events following the arrest and transfer of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague over a year ago, and writes: "The Serbs had high hopes following the demise of the autocrat Slobodan Milosevic. Some were fulfilled, but many proved a bitter disappointment."

There is more equality since Milosevic's clique lost political power, but the upper ranks have maintained their economic influence. "Equality also lies in the fact that most Serbs are as poor as they were in Milosevic's days," says Schneider.

Schneider cites a lack of brotherhood following the Serbian revolution. "Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic are particularly noteworthy in this respect," he says. They fought "like cats and dogs." The only thing that briefly united them after the fall of the Milosevic regime was their common enemy in Milosevic. Later, the old animosities resurfaced. Schneider says, "Meanwhile, personal discord and childish jealousies overshadow political life in Serbia," and there is a lack of genuine concern for solving the country's problems.

Schneider describes this state of affairs as a catastrophe for Serbia. Milosevic's followers smell blood and are closing ranks once more, he warns. If the quarrels between Djindjic and Kostunica continue, he says, Serbia will have to find more responsible politicians for whom necessary reforms are more important than personal gain.


In France's daily "Liberation," staff writer Marc Semo discusses the International Criminal Court, whose statute takes effect today. Semo suggests that henceforth, the world's "bloodthirsty dictators" will no longer be able to act with quite so much impunity. For the signatories and supporters of the 1998 Rome Treaty, which allowed for the creation of the court, Semo says this permanent court represents "the most important legal instrument since the United Nations Charter."

But the court's function is already hampered by the hostility of the United States regarding the fledgling court. Semo notes that the administration of President George W. Bush withdrew U.S. support for the ICC's creation, although the Rome Treaty was signed by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. The current administration argues that the court will strike a blow at the sovereign power of the United States.

But Semo says although the ICC is supposed to have "universal competence," in reality its powers are strictly curtailed. The ICC can only act regarding a state that has ratified the Rome Treaty, he notes. It will have no jurisdiction in the Middle East conflict, as Israel is not a signatory and because the Palestinian territories are no longer under Jordanian jurisdiction, Jordan being the only Mideast power to ratify the treaty. And neither Russia, which signed but did n0t ratify the treaty, nor China or India recognize the court, and are thus not subject to its administration.