Europe divided over Saddam death penalty

6th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

HELSINKI, Nov 5, 2006 (AFP) - European leaders gave a mixed response to the verdict on former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein Sunday, both welcoming the end of the trial and expressing concern about the death sentence imposed on him.

HELSINKI, Nov 5, 2006 (AFP) - European leaders gave a mixed response to the verdict on former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein Sunday, both welcoming the end of the trial and expressing concern about the death sentence imposed on him.

But only Finland, which currently holds the rotating European Union presidency, explicitly demanded that the murder-by-hanging verdict against Saddam not to be carried out.

"The EU opposes capital punishment in all cases and under all circumstances and it should not be carried out in this case either," the Finnish presidency  said in a statement.

"Over the years, the European Union repeatedly condemned the systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law committed by the regime of Saddam Hussein," it added.

Finland's opposition to the death sentence was echoed by UN human rights chief Louise Arbour, who called for a 'moratorium' on executions in Iraq following Saddam's verdict.

But reactions were more muted elsewhere in the 25-nation European Union, whose members have all abolished the death penalty and regularly condemn executions around the world.

In Italy, Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Saddam's death sentence reflected the international community's judgment of the former Iraqi leader, even as he expressed misgivings about the sentence.

"As much as the crime appalls us, our traditions and our ethics distance us from the use of the death penalty," Prodi said, in remarks quoted by the ANSA news agency.

A similar mix of satisfaction and unease was reflected in statements from Sweden, Spain, Denmark and Ireland

"Like any other political leader, Saddam Hussein should answer for his actions," Spain's Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told reporters in Uruguay, where he is attending an Ibero-American summit.

"But the death penalty is not envisaged by any European Union procedure and is not well understood in our country," he added.

And while Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller saluted Iraq for conducting the trial in "an independent manner," he expressed reservations about the special tribunal that judged Saddam.

"In the case of Denmark, we don't support this special tribunal," said Moeller, whose country has 470 soldiers deployed in Iraq, mostly under British command.

In Britain praise for the Saddam verdict was unstinted.

"I welcome that Saddam Hussein and the other defendants have faced justice and have been held to account for their crimes," Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in a statement after the Baghdad court's decision.

"Appalling crimes were committed by Saddam Hussein's regime. It is right that those accused of such crimes against the Iraqi people should face Iraqi justice.

Home Secretary John Reid said that while people might have their views on the death penalty "I am not sure that we have role to play" and called for respect for the "sovereign decision of a sovereign nation".

But in France, Foreign Minister Philippe Douste Blazy expressed fears Iraq's bloody sectarian strife could worsen as a result of the death sentence.

"I hope this decision will not lead to new tensions and that the Iraqis will show restraint, whatever community they belong to," Douste-Blazy said.

"This decision belongs to the Iraqi people," Douste-Blazy said of the sentence. But, he added, France and its EU partners would try to make their anti-death penalty stance known to Iraqi authorities.

Abolishing the death penalty is one condition for EU membership and in 1998 the block decided to spearhead the universal abolition of capital punishment and address the issue in its relations with all countries where the death penalty is legal.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

 

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