Prague, 21 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Most of the world's nations have agreed on a charter for an international tribunal on war crimes and crimes against humanity. The United States, which extolled the principle of such a court, wasn't among them. A flurry of Western press comment questions the U.S. stand.
WASHINGTON POST: The form this court finally took did not make it possible for the United States to join
The United States could take no other, The Washington Post editorializes today. The Post says: "The many nations that approved formation of a permanent international criminal court created an instrument to prosecute selected genocides, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The few that voted against, including the United States, can enjoy whatever benefits these proceedings may bring -- without compromising their objections to some of the particulars.
"Was the United States right to stay out? The Clinton administration made a decision consistent with American interests. There is some embarrassment in rejecting a court whose establishment has been an American goal for decades. But the form this court finally took did not make it possible for the United States to join."
The newspaper said: "War crimes are perpetrated not because of the absence of a particular instrument but because of a shortage of political will in the enforcement of available instruments. And because of an excess of political cynicism: The nations defining the new court cheapened it by accepting Egypt's insistence on identifying Israel's West Bank settlements as a war crime."
FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The United States finds itself on the wrong side of the human rights debate
"For the second time within a year, the United States finds itself on the wrong side of the human rights debate," commentator Martin Winter writes today in the Frankfurter Rundschau. He continues: "In 1997 it refused to sign the international treaty on land mines, and at the weekend it was caught offside again when the treaty to establish an international criminal court was signed in Rome. The U.S. government is only too conscious of the embarrassing impression this offside position creates. However, the likelihood of its shifting its position on that account is virtually nil."
Winter argues: "In principle, President Bill Clinton is in favor of a permanent International Criminal Court. But the idea that U.S. soldiers called, for example, to help counter aggression in the Balkans, might then have charges filed against them by the aggressor, sends a shudder through both the administration and Congress."
Winter quotes David Scheffer, the chief U.S. delegate in Rome, as saying, "This is the court we and others warned against, strong on paper but weak in reality." The commentator concludes: "Such a clear and unmistakable statement leaves no room for varying interpretations."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: The ultimate guarantee of peace in the world lies in the strength of the United States
In the United States, Craig Turner wrote yesterday in a Los Angeles Times commentary that the United States sets itself up as the only acceptable judge. He wrote: "On Friday, a United Nations conference here ended with the United States vowing to oppose a newly created international criminal court that has the backing of virtually every major American ally." Turner wrote: "If the court treaty gets enough signatures and ratifications to come into force, it will mark the first major international security organization to be boycotted by the United States since the League of Nations in 1919." The writer said: "Representatives of most of the Western democracies arrived intent on creating a court given broad powers to invoke uniform rules against widely recognized war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide." He wrote: "But in the American view, the ultimate guarantee of peace and security in the world lies in the strength and resolve of the United States, not a collection of judges and lawyers in The Hague who have no police force or any other ready way to make their decisions stick."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The big loser is the United States
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung says today in an editorial: "The big loser is the United States."
The newspaper contends: "Together with China, India, Israel and a few dubious regimes, it is the only country wanting to impede the permanent international tribunal." The newspaper says: "The U.S. Ambassador David Scheffer wanted to promote the impression that two-thirds of mankind would distance themselves from the world tribunal. His Indian colleague reiterated with gusto this explanation in his abstention. (But) the law would not apply to population figures and numbers of inhabitants. When 120 governments are willing to accept judgment of mass political criminals at a supranational Court, then this is a sign of a worldwide change of attitude."
NEW YORK TIMES: Representatives of 156 nations should not waste this opportunity
Last Thursday, before the vote, The New York Times urged the conference to override U.S. reservations. The newspaper said editorially: "After decades of discussion and years of long and fractious planning meetings, a permanent international criminal court to try the likes of Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein is close to becoming a reality. This week in Rome, representatives of 156 nations gathered to write rules for a court, which will take the form of a treaty for nations to ratify. They should not waste this opportunity to put international muscle behind their rhetoric on punishing international crimes. They should design an effective and independent court, and not give in to nations such as the United States that want to cripple it."
The newspaper said: "The court's planners should not weaken it just to please the great powers. The Senate, which has been slow to ratify many human rights treaties, is not likely to approve the court soon anyway, another reason not to tailor the plan to the Pentagon's specifications."
FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The new Czech premier has described his cabinet as the government of political suicide
On another topic, the International Herald Tribune and the Frankfurter Rundschau look skeptically today on developments in the Czech government.
Ulrich Glauber comments in the Frankfurter Rundschau: "The new Czech premier has described his cabinet, which is due to be sworn in (tomorrow), as 'the government of political suicide'. This expresses not only underlying objective pessimism. The Social Democrat minority cabinet is given the prospect in Prague to endure for half its term. Parliamentary chairman Vaclav Klaus, whose neo-liberal Civic Democratic Party helped the left government into the saddle by tolerance, left not a single favorable shred in comments on Milos Zeman's choice of ministers. There was talk of 'failed socialist managers' who want to introduce a planned economy under a new cloak."
The writer says: "Zeman is due to begin in the fall the project 'Clean Hands' to investigate corruption in previous privatization programs. Taking into account that the Social Democrats cannot be sure of the acquiescence of the ODS party, Czechs have little trust in any penetrating achievement in this area."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Central bank's independence is strengthened
In the International Herald Tribune, Peter Green offers this analysis of outgoing Premier Josef Tosovsky's return as head of the Czech National Bank. It is, Green writes: "a move that economists see as strengthening the central bank's independence."