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Western Press Review: World Human Rights Day, Global Warming, And Serbian Elections

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 10 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The observance of World Human Rights Day today inspires several items in the Western media. Other topics looked at include U.S. policy toward global warming, nation building in a postwar Iraq, the continuing quandary over electing Serbia's next president, and Iran's democratic idealism, among others.


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch says Europe's long tradition of supporting human rights is wavering. As "the EU's external policy has become more coherent, its voice on human rights has become weaker," he says. "Much of the problem is the premium placed on consensus."

Consensus can be helpful "in holding prospective member states to higher human rights expectations," as is being done ahead of Turkey's potential accession to the union. But the EU's consensus rule also "produces the lowest common denominator. Any single member can water down or stop common action to protect human rights. Inaction becomes the default position."

Roth suggests that the EU should adopt a different decision-making process when it comes to advancing human rights. "One alternative would be to allow a large majority to speak for the EU, perhaps with dissenting governments able to opt out."

The governments of individual EU member states should also consider themselves "free to promote human rights more vigorously than the common policy. [Increasingly,] however, EU members seem to be [using] the preference for common action as an excuse not to act beyond the consensus."

Roth concludes that EU common foreign policy "should be seen as the minimum that all members must support, not a constraint on those willing to do more for human rights."


In "The Irish Times," analyst Michael O'Brien of Trocaire, the official overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland, suggests that global hunger should be considered a human rights issue. He says the current reality is that "more people are poorer and more vulnerable in parts of Africa today than a decade ago." Today, he says, there are an "estimated 40 million people in Africa at risk of starvation."

O'Brien says the welfare of close to 40 percent of the world's population "is dependent upon international agricultural policies." But the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Agriculture, "the principal international agreement on agricultural trade, [has] promoted a model of agriculture which has jeopardized food security in developing countries."

While it promotes market liberalization in some countries, industrialized countries are still allowed to "follow a distinctly protectionist path, providing subsidies to their agricultural sectors," which limits developing countries' ability to compete on the global agricultural market. "As a result, both food security and the potential for agriculture as an engine of growth in developing countries has been undermined."

Developing nations should be allowed to provide subsidies to their own small farmers, O'Brien says. Local governments and farmers' representatives "are best placed to design national agricultural policies within the context [of] national-development and poverty-reduction strategies."

The EU should support the developing countries' request for an amendment to the Agreement on Agriculture that would allow developing countries to meet development objectives and protect vulnerable small farmers while ensuring food security.


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" says that while U.S. administration officials are war-prone "hawks" on Iraq, they are "ostriches on global warming," preferring to bury their heads in the sand rather than confront the issue and find a solution.

"Back in June, the State Department sent to the United Nations an EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] report acknowledging that man-made sources of greenhouse gases are major contributors to the planet's warming trend." The report closely paralleled the conclusions of a 2001 National Academy of Science dossier. But U.S. President George W. Bush quickly distanced himself from the report's findings.

"In an administration that in 2001 handed the formation of [national] energy policy over to oil, gas, and coal companies, there is apparently no room for nagging reminders about the impact of these fuels on the greenhouse gases that trap solar heat" and contribute to rising global temperatures, the paper says.

The United States produces 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, although it houses only 5 percent of the global population. "Cutting carbon dioxide emissions would not mean reverting" to lesser living standards, the paper says. It points out that per capita, "industrialized Germany produces half the greenhouse gases produced by the United States."

The editorial cautions that ignoring a problem will not make it go away.

Serbian elections failed for a third time to elect a president on 8 December, as voter turnout was lower than the required 50 percent needed to validate the election. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica received 57 percent of the votes cast in the third round, followed by ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj, who garnered 36 percent.


A "Stratfor" (Strategic Forecasting LLC) commentary says the latest Serbian electoral failure on 8 December could "set the stage for a head-to-head confrontation" between Kostunica and his political rival, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

"Stratfor" says the two men's power struggle "increasingly threatens the political and economic stability of Yugoslavia." When Yugoslavia evolves into a looser federation called Serbia and Montenegro next year, "there no longer will be a president of Yugoslavia, and Kostunica will be out of a job."

Following his third failed attempt to secure a position as president of Serbia, moderate nationalist Kostunica "is accusing the Serbian government and the pro-Western Djindjic of manipulating the election in order to render it invalid and leave him politically sidelined -- in part by inflating voter-registration rolls with hundreds of thousands of nonexistent voters."

Whatever the outcome, "Stratfor" says the Kostunica-Djindjic rivalry is hampering the Serbian government's progress on other issues, including cooperation with The Hague on war crimes and cracking down on organized crime and terrorism. "This in turn will frustrate the European Union and the United States and put the brakes on much-needed financial aid."

Continuing confrontation between Djindjic and Kostunica could also "radicalize the Serbian population," as both men try to capture the voter segment that backed ultranationalist candidate Seselj, who won 36 percent of the vote.


A "Financial Times" editorial says voters in Serbia's third round of presidential elections "stayed away, disillusioned with a lack of economic progress and constant political bickering." Both Yugoslav President Kostunica and Serbian Prime Minister Djindjic must "act fast to restore their democratic credibility," the paper says.

"First, the Serbian presidency question must be settled. Ways should be found to award the post to Mr. Kostunica, who secured the most [votes]. While shunting Mr. Kostunica aside may suit Mr. Djindjic, it will do nothing for the leadership's legitimacy if the country's most popular politician is in limbo."

Next, the paper says, "economic modernization must be accelerated. Without new investment there will be no new jobs and without new jobs Serbs could once again fall prey to radical nationalism." Serbia must also work to improve its ties with the West, "especially its cooperation with the international war crimes tribunal. Too many wanted men are still at large."

The paper says the European Union provides considerable aid to Yugoslavia, but "it must be clearer about its plans" for the country. "Promises of eventual EU membership are too vague. The EU should instead develop more immediate forms of political and economic cooperation, such as regular summits with regional leaders."


The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says the strife between Yugoslav President Kostunica and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has reached the height of contention. Both are to blame for the failure of the third round of elections last weekend. The lack of voter participation, amounting to a mere 40 percent turnout, is "an alarming signal," says the paper. It adds that these events show that former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic "was never the only problem in Serbia."

Kostunica and Djindjic must come to terms with the situation and realize that their current attitudes are incapable of achieving anything, the paper concludes.


The Swiss "Neue Zuerche Zeitung" asks, What has become of the positive change in Serbia? The paper also discusses the power struggle between Yugoslav President Kostunica and Serbian Prime Minister Djindjic, saying Kostunica's failure to win a majority is a triumph for Djindjic -- but adding that this is not in the best interests of the country.

The power struggle between the two rivals is forever hindering progress in Serbia and, regarding its fledgling democracy, it has already caused considerable damage. The failure of the third round of elections is an expression of the widespread apathy and disillusion among the people, says the "Neue Zuerche Zeitung." It indicates, in part, their disappointment that living standards for the majority are not improving.

Still worse, the politicians no longer enjoy the support and trust of the people. The paper says, "It is the politicians alone who are responsible for this state of affairs."

The paper concludes that if there is to be any progress in Serbia, rivals Djindjic and Kostunica must bury the hatchet and unite their efforts in tackling their country's urgent problems. But the paper says, skeptically, that it might already be too late for this to happen.


"The New York Times" carries a joint contribution by Ian Urbina of the Washington, D.C.,-based Middle East Research and Information Project, and Saeed Razavi-Faqih, a student at Tarbiat-Modarres University in Tehran, who was recently released from detention for involvement in student protests.

Over the weekend, thousands of Iranian students continued demonstrating in demand of political reform and modernization. The authors point out that the original ideals of the 1979 Iranian Revolution "were democracy and social justice, coupled with a respect for the nation's distinct cultural identity. At the time, even the clergy emphasized the necessity of democratic rights and tolerance. These ideals were codified in the country's constitution. Article 56 explicitly states that God made man 'master of his own social destiny.'" Unfortunately, they say, "these founding ideals have been violated repeatedly." The students seek "not a counterrevolution but a completion of the present one."

Unfortunately, the U.S. administration's policy toward Iran "has not been helpful." U.S. President George W. Bush's "comment that Iran is part of the 'axis of evil' has allowed Iran's conservatives to claim they are defenders of the republic while they tighten the reins on the reformist majority. Now with the threat of war against Iraq coming to our borders, the conservatives have been conveniently handed another excuse to crack down on dissent and democratization."


In "The Christian Science Monitor," Arthur Helton of the Council on Foreign Relations discusses the options for rebuilding a postwar Iraq, in the event of a U.S.-led military operation in the Gulf nation. Would the U.S. military occupy Iraq, or would the UN administer it, as it does Kosovo? he asks. "Or would the UN and donor governments provide assistance to a fledgling government, as in Afghanistan?"

If nation building is to be a serious option, new approaches must be fashioned that are "astutely realistic," says Helton. "In addition to establishing security, Iraq will need a justice system compatible with human rights standards and sensitive to local traditions, a governance structure in which all religious and ethnic groups can participate, and a viable economic system based upon the country's potential oil revenues."

Close coordination "between occupying military forces and civilian aid workers will be crucial," he says. Ethnic and religious rivalries "will have to be managed to avoid armed conflict and bloodshed" in the ensuing power vacuum. But Helton asks, what will be "the appropriate measure of success for an international peace-building operation in Iraq? Is stability a sufficient criterion, [or] merely a necessary precondition to achieving [the] more ambitious outcome of a society imbued with tolerance and enriched by economic development?"


Alexis Brezet, writing in the French daily "Le Figaro," discusses the question of whether Turkey belongs in the European Union, and whether this question threatens to divide France politically.

A "Le Figaro" poll published today indicates that the majority of those opposed to Turkish membership come from the right-leaning side of the political spectrum, but some elements from all political distinctions are also opposed. Some feel that the expansion of Europe to include Turkey, as is desired by both the United States and Britain, would be an excessive extension of Europe. They rightly estimate that "a Europe without borders, inspired by a universalism without content, would only lead to the creation of a pseudo-power without will."

Nationalists, on the other hand, point out that a European Turkey would have more influence in Strasbourg or Brussels than would France. Moreover, Turkish citizens, in accordance with the EU's principle of maintaining porous borders within the union, would lead to a level of immigration that would be impossible to successfully absorb.

Europe has held out the prospect of Turkish membership for 20 years, says Brezet, and one can always find an unsatisfied criterion to slow down the process. Brezet goes on to suggest holding a referendum on Turkish membership. Turkish membership in the EU "is no small matter. It deserves to be discussed by the people in full light," Brezet writes.