The decision by the British High Court to order Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s release on the grounds that, as a former Chilean head of state, he enjoys immunity from arrest in Britain made the front pages of newspapers throughout Europe Thursday. In Spain, the country where judges first requested his extradition from Britain to be tried for the torture and murder of Spanish citizens, El Mundo ran an editorial calling the decision “unexpected and dangerous.” It said it could result in Britain becoming a paradise for deposed dictators. Under the court’s ruling, both Hitler and Pol Pot would have been able to live in Britain with impunity, it said. But the paper exonerated the British government of blame. It said that the Blair administration behaved with “scrupulous correctness” when it refused to interfere in the judicial process.
In Paris, an editorial in Le Monde, published before the court’s decision, said that, whatever the outcome, Pinochet should be made to confront his past, whether in London, Madrid, or Santiago. The paper said that many Chileans condemned the Spanish extradition request because it undermined Chile’s national reconciliation efforts. These same Chileans cited the precedent of Spain’s King Juan Carlos, who accorded an amnesty to supporters of Gen. Franco’s dictatorship. But Le Monde said that to do this was to forget that Franco was already dead at the time and that the Spanish Civil War was already long over.
In London, the Times, which has opposed Pinochet’s arrest, criticized the British government for rejecting “the best way of settling this calamitous affair, allowing General Pinochet to fly home on Chile’s waiting jet” and, instead, permitting the court decision in his favor to go to appeal. But it also said that this decision raised “the difficult point of indefinite immunity for those who have tyrannised their countries,” and asked, “What, for example, would be the protection for Saddam Hussein and President Milosevic should their victims attempt to try them in the future?”
The liberal Guardian, while reconciled to the likelihood of the general’s release, said that “the best outcome of the past two weeks of living under arrest and uncertainty is that the general will have to ponder whether he will ever be able to travel abroad again.” The government, it added, should “announce that this man, for all his diplomatic immunity, is persona non gratissima. Go home, Augusto, and never return to this country of moderation which you do not deserve.”
The Wye agreement continued to be the subject of much comment around the world. Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung questioned, in a front-page editorial, whether the agreement will expedite peace in the Middle East. La Repubblica of Rome, under the headline “Israel in Alarm,” pointed out that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has now “embarked substantially on the same path” as his predecessor Yitzhak Rabin, the third anniversary of whose assassination is imminent. La Repubblica also said that the threats against Netanyahu’s life are real and that there is “a feeling of déjà vu which is particularly bitter for people living in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.” Recalling that only one member of Netanyahu’s government–former Soviet dissident Nathan Sharansky–attended last year’s commemoration of Rabin, it expressed hope that the prime minister would attend this year’s ceremonies. Meanwhile, in Israel, the Jerusalem Post called for “a rhetorical cease-fire” between the Israeli government and the Labor opposition in order to promote implementation of the Wye agreement, which it said was “far from a foregone conclusion.”
Asking whether the report of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission “has deepened the divisions it was intended to close or whether it will provide a necessary catharsis,” the Financial Times of London said Thursday that, “at first glance, the omens are inauspicious.” It called on South Africans to “respond to today’s report with the pragmatism and good sense that marked the 1994 election. … If they can confront the past as well as they coped with the ending of white rule, they will again be an inspiration for other countries with a brutal past.”
London’s Evening Standard filled its front page Thursday with two stories–the death of British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes and the award of libel damages of more than $160,000 each to Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman over allegations in a British newspaper that their marriage was a “hypocritical sham” to cover up their homosexuality. Meanwhile, the Times reported that a 16-year-old British boy obsessed with cleanliness died because of constantly covering his body with deodorants, which resulted in a fatal cardiac arrest.