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Western Press Review: Human Rights, Slovak Elections And Threat of 'Factory Farms'

Prague, 21 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Western media today looks at human rights abuses in Afghanistan and Chechnya, as well as the19 August crash of a Russian helicopter in Chechnya that killed at least 115 people; debating a potential U.S. military operation in Iraq; Slovakia's upcoming parliamentary elections; and the growth of factory farms, their threat to small farmers and the corresponding spread of disease.


A "Washington Post" editorial today calls on the Bush administration to take a more active role to investigate reports of human rights abuses in Afghanistan committed by the U.S. or its allies. It is not enough to "regret the mistakes and move on," it says. There must be "a willingness to investigate cases in which civilians [are] harmed; not only an absolute commitment to avoid war crimes, but also a zeal to hold accountable those who transgress. In shutting its eyes to the mass graves of Dasht-e Leili, the Bush administration is falling short of that standard." Some reports suggest that close to 1,000 Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners may be buried in Dasht-e Leili, after having suffocating in the metal containers in which they were held by Northern Alliance forces, the U.S.'s proxy fighters on the ground.

"Evidence can be uncovered and put to work only if someone wants to look for it and use it," the paper says. "The Northern Alliance was America's ally, operating hand in glove with U.S. forces and triumphing only because of U.S. support. Yet the United States refuses to accept any responsibility for even asking the right questions."


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" looks at the impact of the Russian transport helicopter crash in Chechnya on 19 August. The "FAZ" says that unlike in the case of the sinking "Kursk" submarine two years ago, President Putin has not kept quiet but has demanded a speedy investigation into why over 100 soldiers lost their lives.

Of course, it will make a difference whether the cause of the crash was a mechanical failure or if Chechen rebels shot the helicopter down. But the paper says "politically, either alternative will prove unsettling." In the first case the crash would further demonstrate the "pitiful state of the Russian military forces." On the other, a bellicose announcement by Moscow with regard to Chechnya would undermine Moscow's claim that it has made progress in making peace with Chechnya. "There can be no mention of this," the paper writes. "Even though Russia has met with some understanding for its conflict with Chechnya, civilians and Russia's own soldiers are paying the price for the lack of a political solution to the conflict."


An "Irish Times" editorial today says the visit of Pope John Paul to his native Poland is particularly symbolic as it comes ahead of the impending EU enlargement.

It says the pope is especially esteemed by Poles as an "extraordinary personality" that transcends internal Polish religious divisions "and [links] them to his country's national history and destiny in Europe."

These issues were also addressed during the pope's historic visit. The "Irish Times" writes: "Pope John Paul's endorsement of Poland's EU membership pleased the government, dominated -- ironically by ex-communists. They are eager to use it against the vigorous anti-EU movement led by ultranationalist priests and dissatisfied farmers." But most Poles support EU membership, the paper notes, although they remain skeptical of whether the most favorable terms for accession are being secured in the enlargement negotiations. However, says the editorial, the pope's visit "dramatically affirms their role in Europe's mainstream."


A "New York Times" editorial today advises the U.S. administration to make more information on Iraq public, in order to ultimately make a stronger case for a possible U.S.-led military intervention in the country.

It says the administration of President George W. Bush has suggested "a succession of possible justifications for war with Iraq -- Saddam Hussein's purported links with international terrorism, Baghdad's membership in a worldwide 'axis of evil,' Iraq's efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Few firm facts have been offered in support of any of these claims, but there have been frequent allusions to secret intelligence information that officials are unwilling to make public." The paper says the United States should not be led to war on the basis of information that its citizens are not allowed to share. That is not how a democracy works, the paper says.

The editorial adds that the case for publicly presenting evidence "is all the more compelling since many of the administration's past claims on Iraq have been challenged by independent experts." Administration officials themselves now acknowledge "that there is no convincing intelligence evidence linking Iraq to the September 11 terrorist attacks."

"The New York Times" concludes that a serious debate over war and peace cannot take place when people are denied the relevant facts.


An analysis by "Jane's Foreign Report" looks at Slovakia's parliamentary elections on 21 September. Officials from NATO, the European Union and Central Europe are concerned, as opinion polls show authoritarian former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar continues to be Slovakia's most popular political figure.

"Jane's" says NATO and EU leaders "want nothing to do with Meciar's controversial and damaging blend of populist nationalism, a blend that led to Slovakia being prevented from joining NATO in 1997," the year the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland became members.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson and Guenter Verheugen, responsible for EU enlargement, as well as other high-ranking officials, "are urging Slovaks to 'think carefully' before voting. In other words, if they want membership of either organization they should not vote for Meciar, even though he says he is a reformed character who now favors Slovakia's Westward integration."

"Jane's" says that this time around, "Meciar would be Europe's problem and not just Slovakia's." Despite the warnings from NATO and the EU, "excluding Slovakia from enlargement would be very difficult, especially if neighboring countries are admitted."


The Russian helicopter crash in Chechnya has once again focused attention on the Russian war in the breakaway republic. Anne Nivat is a French journalist based in Moscow.

In a contribution to "The Washington Post," she describes the situation in Chechnya as the country of "lost ones." She says, "The Chechnya war goes on. It may be worse than ever...[The] Chechens know they have been forgotten, and they no longer expect a Western intervention like that in Kosovo. They know that Western aid organizations consider the region too dangerous to venture into because of the continuing fighting and the risk of kidnapping."

Nivat goes on to indict Western policies: "There is no outcry in the West about the war fought on the very edges of Europe. We seem to have heeded Russia's justification for it: that this, too, is a war on terrorism. President Vladimir Putin is welcomed as a colleague and treated as a friend -- especially after September 11 -- by heads of state across Europe and in the United States. But by showing its willingness to wipe Chechen civilization off the map in order to prevent a people's independence, Russia tells us a great deal about how it might behave with its own citizens under the pretext of 'maintaining order'."


In the British "Guardian," Felicity Lawrence notes a report released yesterday by Compassion in World Farming that says the increasing worldwide spread of factory farming is increasing poverty and threatening global health. The report collated data on livestock production in developing countries with economic analyses from the World Bank and the UN. It also examined global statistics on disease transmitted through food production.

The report found that as developing countries industrialize their livestock, "their ability to feed themselves declines as rural farmers are forced out of business." Areas that had previously been small-scale and self-sustaining become "vertically integrated," with only a few companies controlling meat processing and farming. Small farmers can no longer compete.

This pattern is emerging throughout Asia, Africa, and Central America, helping to drive environmental degradation and migration to the cities.

"Industrial farming also had implications for human health and food safety," writes Lawrence. "Animals were often kept in overcrowded, poorly ventilated, dirty conditions -- the ideal climate for disease." A global rise in antibiotic-resistant infections stems partly from the spread of these farming practices, as antibiotics are routinely used to promote growth and prevent disease outbreaks.

"Nevertheless," writes Lawrence, "food-borne illness [was] rising dramatically." The report warns that the effects of such diseases on the developing world could be "devastating."


Steven Wagstyl of "The Financial Times says "the international political turmoil that has followed the September 11 terrorist attacks has created an opportunity for Ukraine." The global coalition against terrorism "has brought together Russia, the U.S. and the European Union, and narrowed the gap between East and West." But Wagstyl says "it remains unclear whether Ukraine is ready for the economic and political reforms required to draw closer to the West, including joining NATO and the EU. Or whether the West is really ready to help."

He says Western nations often categorize Ukraine with its two neighbors -- which Wagstyl describes as "communist Moldova and backward Belarus." Together, the three "are often seen as a den of crime and corruption."

"But the EU, in particular, cannot ignore Ukraine, as it will lie on the soon-to-be enlarged union's frontiers," says Wagstyl. And the country is seeing some progress, as economic reform slowly edges forward. "All eyes are now on the 2004 presidential election," when President Leonid Kuchma is "legally obliged to stand down." Whether his successor will improve ties with the West or alienate the new allies remains to be seen.

Wagstyl writes: "Ukraine and the West have disappointed each other before, and may well do so again. But the opportunities for real political and economic progress have rarely been better."


An editorial in France's "Liberation" says U.S. intentions with regard to Iraq are "neither clear, nor convincing, nor coherent." U.S. policy appears opaque, says the paper, as if a diversion tactic -- and it remains impossible to say where it is leading or to assess the risks.

"Is it a question of Washington taking control of Iraqi petroleum, to gain more of a free hand toward ambiguous allies like Saudi Arabia, whose oil will also lose strategic importance?" the paper asks. These considerations are certainly part of it, it says, but under these circumstances, how can the U.S. count on Saudi support for military operations? And how to ensure Syria's neutrality, or Iran's, when also supporting Israel's refusal to allow a Palestinian state?

"Liberation" says finally, in the case of a victory, how will the U.S. control a country like Iraq, while the "normalization" of Afghanistan continues?

"Liberation" concludes by saying that "so many questions lacking answers feed not only European skepticism but also divisions within the Bush team and within the American political class."