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Western Press Review: Nonviolent Political Reform, Russia's Caspian Politics, And Universal Jurisdiction

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 22 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the major Western dailies today discusses achieving nonviolent change in Iran; the British Broadcasting Corporation's failure to protect the identity of one of its sources, defense analyst David Kelly, who apparently killed himself last week; Russia's politics in the Caspian; and the complexities of claiming universal jurisdiction for world courts, among other issues.


Writing in Britain's "The Independent," Andreas Whittam Smith says that "when a news organization is asked to reveal its source for a controversial report, there are only two safe replies."

The first is to unequivocally state that one never reveals the identity of those who provide information confidentially. Smith says one should offer nothing more than that explanation, merely repeating it "ad nauseum" if necessary.

The second possible response is to bluntly state that one would rather go to prison than reveal a source's identity. "Again, if necessary, repeat without adding a single word or phrase."

In the case of former UN weapons inspector David Kelly, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) revealed enough for officials to "narrow the field" of possible informants. Following Kelly's apparent suicide death, the BBC confirmed that he was, indeed, the source cited in a story involving the controversial intelligence used in Britain to justify the Iraq war.

Smith says the BBC was wrong to identify Kelly -- even posthumously -- under pressure from the government. The state would not have revealed one of its own confidential sources, he points out. "The paradox is that the state is the most effective organization I know in protecting informants. It reveals nothing even, as I've seen for myself, 50 years after the event. If the BBC had behaved like the state, the state would have respected it more."


In a joint contribution to "The Christian Science Monitor," Peter Ackerman of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Jack DuVall of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict consider under what circumstances civilian-led movements produce actual regime change.

They say street protests are usually not enough to bring down a government. Successful struggles "[make] a country ungovernable through strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience, and other nonviolent tactics, [thus] crumbling a government's pillars of support."

Recent student-led protests in Iran are reminiscent of the demonstrations that led to the ouster of former President Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, the authors say. The Milosevic regime had alienated not only the youth but most of the middle class, who were suffering from the dismal economy. The political class was divided between those for and against Milosevic. The opposition, sensing an opportunity, exploited this divide.

First, the Serbian opposition subordinated other objectives to the single goal of ousting Milosevic. In Iran, the pro-reform movement should "demand specific reforms, such as ending the clerics' veto on parliamentary laws and appointments."

Secondly, the Serbs organized protests first in areas around the country, "giving ordinary people low-risk ways to join in," rather than heading directly for the capital.

Finally, Serbia's police and military "were persuaded that they weren't seen as the enemy -- that their support was welcome."

To effect similar change in Iran, the authors say, the pro-reform opposition should organize "more strategic resistance, [unified] behind clear political goals, backed by broader civilian participation, using tactics that divide the clerics and their military defenders."


A "Stratfor" (Strategic Forecasting) commentary today discusses an offer made to Tehran by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi, in which Iran would take part in a $1 billion deal to develop natural gas in the Caspian. But Tehran "will not accept the deal and Moscow knows it," the commentary says.

Kalyuzhnyi's offer is actually "part of a multipronged diplomatic effort to formalize Russia's view of how the Caspian should be divided among the five littoral states." The rights to the Caspian Sea's rich resources have been a source of contention for several years. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia have agreed on a delineation of their common Caspian borders based on the length of each country's coastline. Turkmenistan and Iran, with shorter coasts, reject this method of division and have argued the sea should be divided more equally.

"Stratfor" says Russia's offer "appears to be part of a trap to formalize Iranian involvement" in a project that would imply Iranian acceptance of Russia's preferred division of Caspian territory.

"Russia's strategy is to keep Iran and Turkmenistan talking in order to buy time," says "Stratfor." While Iran and Turkmenistan consider how to respond to the common Azerbaijani-Kazakh-Russian position, projects in the north Caspian can "plow bravely ahead. Within the next two years, several northern Caspian projects will begin producing large amounts of crude oil and natural gas -- and once that happens, Iranian and Turkmen protests will be pointless."


Today's "Frankfurter Rundschau" comments on the global fears aroused by Iran's development of Shahab-3 ballistic missiles. Naturally, the paper says, Israel feels threatened and the Europeans therefore want to pressure Iran to cooperate more with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

This new missile is causing "nightmares in Israel," says the commentary, adding that "the apprehension is mutual." Iran responds to accusations by saying it is similarly threatened by Israel, and charges the West of holding double standards.

The paper says in this explosive region, arms control is imperative, but it can only be successful if serious diplomatic measures are taken to avoid crises. Such efforts must also be applied to finding a settlement between Israel and Palestine.


A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" considers the death of a Canadian news photographer detained in Tehran while covering recent antigovernment protests.

The death of Zahra Kazami has become "a test case for the borderlines between legality and arbitrary action. According to Islamic criminal law, this should have very serious consequences for those who beat the journalist to death."

An Iranian report released on 20 July said she died in custody from a severe blow to the head. The report did not say whether the blow was deliberate or who had been with her when she suffered the injury. She had been detained after photographing Tehran's Evin Prison, where many political dissidents are jailed.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who is responsible for the appointment of Iran's chief prosecutor, has not only failed to apologize for the case but also banned dozens of newspapers that attempted to criticize the government's handling of her death.

It will be interesting to see what happens -- or does not happen -- now, says the paper. Precedents bode for little optimism. A similar case in the past ended "conveniently in the suicide of the chief person responsible for giving the orders" to beat someone. His subordinates, the paper says, were considered "petty rogues" who had no knowledge of the details and were thus released before completing their prison terms.


In a contribution to "The New York Times," David Rivkin and Lee Casey, former lawyers at the U.S. Justice Department, discuss some of the difficulties inherent in universal jurisdiction, calling it "a legal doctrine that has worrisome implications."

Universal jurisdiction allows every nation to prosecute officials charged with committing "international" offenses, regardless of the nationality of the defendant, where the crime took place, or whether the prosecuting state had any involvement in the event. The authors say if international law were to permit each nation "to prosecute the leaders of all others, based on its own interpretation of international law, this would prompt a new kind of war, one fought in courtrooms around the globe." But courts "are poor instruments of international policy, and such a result would make normal international relations impossible," they say.

Moreover, international prosecutions are always second-rate compared with proceedings carried out on the national level. The first goal "is to punish the guilty." But the second is "to [promote] deterrence and an overall respect for the rule of law."

When a prosecution is pursued by foreign judicial elements with little or no connection to the crime at hand, "[such] proceedings are invariably decoupled from the political, social and economic context of the affected country, and may well be based on the political or foreign policy agenda of the prosecuting state. [For] all of these reasons, national prosecutions should remain the primary means of doing justice."


"Le Monde's" lead editorial today says the grave political crisis that is now besieging the government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair originated in the lies told by the Blair administration regarding Iraq's weapons programs.

It is understandable that Blair's associates are trying to divert public attention onto Kelly's tragic death, the French daily says, but this tactic cannot erase the main issue: that the British government did not have the proof it claimed to have in September regarding the danger of Iraq's weapons programs.

The motives for war in Iraq were numerous, says the paper, notably to end the suffering of the Iraqi people and to "remodel" the Middle East in a more democratic image. But the primary motive cited by both Washington and London was that of the danger posed by Saddam Hussein and his links to global terrorist networks -- and no specific and credible information has yet been advanced to support this allegation.

Three months after the end of the war, no weapons of mass destruction have yet been found in Iraq. On the contrary, "Le Monde" says, proof is accumulating of the "manipulations and forgeries" or guilty negligence of both the U.S. and British governments.

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