Issues of justice and reparation for past abuses of human rights dominated much of the world’s press over the past few days. In Britain and the rest of western Europe, the crisis over the detention of Gen. Augusto Pinochet remained a hot story. Several British Sunday papers reported an imminent deal between Britain and Chile that would allow the general to be sent home to face trial there. “Ministers back Chile offer to try Pinochet” was the main front-page headline in the Observer, and “Labour in secret deal to send Pinochet home” was the headline in the Sunday Telegraph.
But this potential face-saving way out of the crisis was dismissed in Monday’s papers, which reported that no deal had been reached. The Times said that the only possible grounds by which British Home Secretary Jack Straw (the British equivalent of the interior minister) could now refuse proceedings for Pinochet’s extradition to Spain were compassionate ones, taking into account his age and health, but this argument was rejected in an editorial in the Guardian. “The Chilean foreign minister’s ‘offer’ that Pinochet stands trial at home kills the health question: if he is well enough to stand trial there, why not here and in Spain?” the Guardian said.
On its front page, the Guardian claimed Monday that the United States is “quietly putting pressure on the British Government” to have Pinochet sent home. “The US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, has raised the issue twice in the last fortnight with the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook,” it said, adding that Washington’s involvement has added to the British government’s dilemma. The Independent, another British liberal daily, led its front page Monday with a report that Straw would face a “huge revolt” within the governing Labor Party if he allowed Pinochet to return home. The British press has been divided on the issue along political lines, with the conservative Times and Daily Telegraph calling for Pinochet’s repatriation and the Guardian and the Independent opposing it.
On the continent, last week’s decision by the British Law Lords to deny Pinochet immunity from extradition to Spain was heralded as one of major international importance. Spain’s El Mundo last Wednesday called it “a truly historic decision” in defense of human rights, but the conservative Le Figaro of Paris described it as “a bad decision” made under political pressure. “For the first time, perhaps, a juridically incompetent tribunal has rendered a verdict of universal significance,” it said. “Since no international tribunal exists to judge such events, the English took the place of this institution which it is now more than ever necessary to create.” Devoting two full pages to the issue on Thursday, Le Monde of Paris called Straw’s legal obligation to give a “well-motivated” decision on the matter an “almost impossible” one to fulfill.
On Sunday, Le Monde reported on an inside page that Pinochet’s lawyers were pleading “mental indisposition” as grounds for sending him home, but it devoted its front-page lead to Monday’s 44 nation Washington conference on the restitution to victims of the Holocaust of possessions stolen from them by the Nazis and their foreign collaborators, describing it as the most important such meeting ever held. It also published a long article on the new Paris Museum of the Art and History of Judaism, “which finally makes the Jewish cultural heritage enter into the collective French memory.”
In an editorial Monday, the same newspaper recalled the crimes against humanity committed by the Congolese dictator Laurent Désiré Kabila–held responsible by the United Nations for up to 300,000 deaths–who has been attending a Franco-African peace summit in Paris. Justifying his attendance, Le Monde said that “war brings inhumanity with it and peace is obviously the first condition of the rights of man.”
Pinochet was squeezed off the front pages of German and Italian newspapers Monday by the case of the Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, whom Italy has refused to extradite to Turkey because its laws forbid extradition of anyone to a country that practices the death penalty. Ocalan was arrested in Italy at Germany’s request, but Bonn has now dropped its request for his extradition and has jointly proposed with Italy that he be tried for terrorist crimes by a currently nonexistent international tribunal. Turkey remains furious, and most Italian papers led Monday on negotiations being held with Russia that would allow Ocalan be extradited to Moscow, the city from which he was expelled to Rome without any warning to the Italian government.
Germany’s Die Welt, under the front-page headline “1998–A Year of Catastrophes,” reported the Worldwatch Institute in Washington as saying that a record 32,000 people have already died this year in natural disasters around the world.