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Western Press Review: Wolfowitz Speaks, Human Rights And Foreign Policy, Religious Freedom In Uzbekistan

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 3 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Discussion in the Western media today addresses the difficulties of "regime change" policy, the British dossier on Iraq's human rights abuses, Turkey's entry into the EU, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz's comments on Iraq, religious freedom in Uzbekistan, and Slovenia's runoff elections on 1 December.


An editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" points out some of the difficulties inherent in pursuing a "regime change" policy against world leaders deemed guilty of human rights abuses. The paper says the British government's dossier on human rights abuses in Iraq does not strengthen the case for invasion.

The stated purpose of UN Resolution 1441 is to rid Iraq's Saddam Hussein "of weapons of mass destruction that may threaten world peace." But this will not prevent him from subjugating and repressing his people, the paper says, as his dictatorship "is efficiently maintained by conventional means such as arbitrary execution and torture and other crude forms of intimidation." To be sure of ending this repressive reign, the paper says regime change would be the only solution.

But "there is little or no international support for deposing Iraq's leader or any other national leader by external force, however richly he or she may deserve it," the paper says. Where might such policies lead? it asks. "If the criterion is human rights, [Zimbabwe's] Robert Mugabe definitely needs invading. And so, too, do China, Saudi Arabia, and a host of other regimes with which Britain happily deals -- as it did with Saddam until 1990." U.S. "executions, its world record-breaking incarceration rate, its police brutality, and hate crimes [are also] cause for concern." Should British policy also be able to disarm the U.S.? the paper asks satirically.


In comments published by France's "Le Monde" and reprinted in today's "International Herald Tribune," former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard argues that the European Union should not be viewed as a predominantly "Christian club," and says Turkey should be eventually be given membership.

"Many of the values that are common to us and bring us together are indisputably of Christian origin," writes Rocard. "But others, equally essential, emerged and were expounded against the church and the churches. The EU is a gathering of nations bound together by treaties and institutions that are perfectly secular. It was the only way to put together national communities that are predominantly Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox and to secure the rights of large Jewish and Muslim communities."

Rejecting Turkey's membership bid would be "an extremely grave blunder with regard to the 10 million Muslims who live in Europe, and even more toward the Muslim community worldwide." In doing so, the EU "would be rejecting [a] Muslim country that has given itself secular institutions and kept them for more than half a century."


Britain's daily "The Independent" says "even the most vociferous antiwar campaigner would have to agree" that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein leads "a brutal, cruel, murderous regime." But why then, the paper asks, did the British and American governments support and arm him during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s? It is not enough to claim realpolitik considerations dictated "that the Iranian ayatollahs were a more potent threat to Western interests," the paper says. And why was the West so "utterly indifferent to the fate of the Kurds gassed at Halabja in 1988?"

Western governments must now be reminded "about the central importance that human rights should play in foreign policy," for both moral and practical reasons. The recently released British dossier on Iraq's human rights abuses "should remind us of that salient fact."

The paper says it should be unacceptable that government officials "make excuses for the human rights abuses perpetrated by our 'friends.' From the Israeli army's abuse of Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories to General [Abdul Rashid] Dostum's ill-treatment of prisoners of war in Afghanistan to the endemic cruelty of Algeria's near civil war, we hear little protest from the United States and governments in the European Union." The paper says that even less often "do Western governments dare to criticize abuses by powerful trading partners or close strategic allies such as China, Saudi Arabia, or Uzbekistan."


Also in Britain's "The Guardian," columnist Hugo Young discusses comments made by U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz yesterday in both a private conversation and in a speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Young says Wolfowitz does not think Iraqi weapons inspections have any chance of success "without a fundamental change of Iraqi attitude." There is "no way every computer hard disc and every home-stored piece of poison could be simply unearthed." Moreover, inspections could take at least a year before being considered complete.

At the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Young says Wolfowitz did not address how the Iraqi threat connected with the war on terrorism "as experienced in New York, Bali, and Mombasa." Moreover, he disregarded the question of whether an Iraq war would "enhance rather than defeat the forces available to Al-Qaeda."

From Wolfowitz's lecture and their conversation, Young says he draws two conclusions. One is that the U.S. "has no doubt about the virtue of its cause." Many Washington officials "have a clear belief that the Iraqi street, not to mention the Iraqi middle class, is simply waiting the signal to rise up and welcome their liberators." Young says his second conclusion "is darker." Neither Wolfowitz nor other administration officials believe inspections will "lead to the peaceful dismembering" of Iraq's weaponry. Thus, the U.S. is merely "going through [the] motions of peace."


An editorial in Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" says yesterday's remarks by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz at the International Institute for Strategic Studies disprove several prevalent European myths about U.S. policy. First, Wolfowitz made clear that U.S. policy is not unilateralist. His speech praised the contributions of American allies, particularly those of Britain and Turkey. Secondly, he disproved that U.S. administration policy is "driven by an ideological, or even a theological desire for a clash of civilizations: Mr. Wolfowitz held that freedom and pluralism are not the preserves of the West, but can and should be enjoyed by the citizens of the Islamic world."

Thirdly, the paper says, Wolfowitz made clear that the U.S. does not prefer "to use military might rather than political and diplomatic influence." The editorial says the bulk of his speech was devoted to "how Iraq might avert war, and the kinds of institutional arrangements that would help build regional stability in the long run."


Regional daily "Eurasia View" discusses the verdict handed down by an Uzbek court of a three-year suspended sentence on a Jehovah's Witness for "inciting religious hatred." Some are concerned the conviction may herald "an expansion of the Uzbek government's crackdown on religious expression."

Marat Mudarisov was convicted on 29 November of violating Uzbekistan's Criminal Code for allegedly distributing what the paper calls "printed matter that the state deemed insulting to the national feelings and religious convictions of Uzbek citizens." The paper cites a study that suggests the government may be targeting Jehovah's Witnesses in the belief that their convictions may jeopardize national security by discouraging political activity and undermining respect for national symbols -- such as flags and hymns -- by claiming it is idolatrous.

Predominantly Muslim Uzbekistan "has for years sought to suppress all forms of Islamic religious expression not expressly sanctioned by government officials." Human rights advocates "estimate that up to 7,000 people have been imprisoned on charges of fomenting radical Islamic beliefs and seeking to overthrow the current Uzbek government."

The paper says that since the radical Islamic insurgency of 1999, President Islam Karimov's administration has maintained "a tight grip over Uzbekistan's political, economic, and social life." And this trend "has solidified over the past year, which has [also] seen a dramatic expansion of U.S.-Uzbek military cooperation." Some observers have suggested Karimov's new alliance with the U.S. has legitimized his authoritarian regime on the world stage.


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" looks at the situation in Afghanistan in light of yesterday's conference near Bonn, Germany, on peace and stability in a country where feuding factions are still at war.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the international conference yesterday that Afghanistan needs greater security and has signed a decree to form a 70,000-man national army.

The commentary says one year after the first Bonn conference, stability has not come close to being achieved. There will only be an end to terrorism and battles between the various Afghan factions when there is genuine progress in rebuilding the country.

Germany took the initiative one year ago by convening the conference. This second meeting, a year later, was too brief to enable a realistic evaluation of achievements and a plan for Afghanistan's future.

One cannot help but suspect, says the commentary, that this latest meeting was only convened to counteract Berlin's isolation as far as its Iraq policy is concerned, and to make plain that Germany is still a power to be reckoned with. But the paper notes wryly that Afghanistan is still in such a state of ruin that it can hardly serve as an effective backdrop for a German diplomatic campaign.


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" comments on the outcome of the 1 December runoff elections in Slovenia, which resulted in Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek winning the presidency. The paper describes Drnovsek as "personifying the latest success story of this small state." Drnovsek, along with former President Milan Kucan, were responsible for creating an independent Slovenia by peaceful means when former Yugoslavia disintegrated. These two statesmen have guided their country toward NATO and EU membership.

However, says the paper, Drnovsek's election should not be seen as "a simple triumph," as the second candidate, Barbara Brezigar, received about 44 percent of the vote, notably from younger voters. This, says the commentary, indicates that she appeals to "a widespread desire for new faces."

Without Kucan's authority, the paper says Drnovsek seems to wield little power, especially if he surrenders leadership of the Liberal-Democratic Party. His authority will be put to the test when he puts forth his preferred candidates to head the party and to occupy positions in a left-centrist government.


An editorial in France's daily "Le Monde" says the European Union is finally moving more quickly towards agreement on a timetable for expansion and the Convention on the Future of Europe. The paper says what has been missing in the past few years has been not only common policy but the political will and imagination to clearly define the European project, fostering both debate and unity while moving forward resolutely rather than by fits and starts.

The paper cites French Foreign Affairs Minister Dominique de Villepin as saying Europe must meet three fundamental requirements: Clarity, legitimacy, and efficiency. These three conditions also involve the democratic ambitions of Europe and the boundaries of its political influence.

As far as territory is concerned, Turkey's membership will give the EU a clear interest in the region stretching from the eastern to western Mediterranean.

In terms of Europe's power and efficiency, the political credibility of Europe is at stake in its actions vis-a-vis the American hyperpower as well as internally, in how it treats its diverse national citizens.

The final challenge is to reestablish the democratic legitimacy of Europe with its citizens, who the paper says all too often view EU structures as only "remote, elitist, and abstract" constraints.

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)