Two days after the hanging of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein — an event the Vatican condemned as “tragic” — the Pope said on Monday that human rights must be put at the heart of the global struggle to end war.
Cardinal Renato Martino, Pope Benedict XVI’s top prelate for justice issues, said the execution punished a crime with another crime, the Rome newspaper La Repubblica reported.
Several European leaders, spanning the political spectrum, questioned whether justice was served by Hussein’s execution and said it could bring further bloodshed.
“We’ve already seen in the first hours the consequences, with a predictable increase in tension and violence,” Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said from his home in Bologna.
Spain’s center-left government and right-wing opposition, which rarely agree, condemned the hanging of Hussein as well as the late dictator’s litany of abuses.
“The death penalty is not justice, it is vengeance, and so it was in this case,” Gustavo de Aristegui, a senior official with the opposition Popular Party, told the Spanish news agency EFE. “But nobody will miss Saddam Hussein.”
In Britain, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett reiterated her nation’s opposition to the death penalty but applauded the process of bringing the former Iraqi leader to trial.
“I welcome the fact that Saddam Hussein has been tried by an Iraqi court for at least some of the appalling crimes he committed against the Iraqi people. He has now been held to account,” Beckett said.
“The British government does not support the use of the death penalty, in Iraq or anywhere else,” she said. “We advocate an end to the death penalty worldwide, regardless of the individual or the crime. We have made our position very clear to the Iraqi authorities, but we respect their decision as that of a sovereign nation.”
But Menzies Campbell, leader of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, said: “Saddam’s death does not vindicate in any way the ill-conceived and disastrous decision to invade Iraq. His execution does not make an illegal war legal any more than it will put an end to the violence and destruction.
“Britain’s interests will best be served by the withdrawal of our forces sooner rather than later.”
France, which was a strong opponent of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, said Hussein’s judgment and sentence were a matter for the Iraqi people.
In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said: “France, which advocates like all its European partners the universal abolition of the death penalty, takes note of Saddam Hussein’s execution. That decision belongs to the Iraqi people and to the Iraqi sovereign authorities. France calls on all Iraqis to look forward and to work for reconciliation and national unity. More than ever the aim must be a return to the full sovereignty and stability of Iraq.”
European politicians who are friendly to Washington stressed — carefully — their unease with the Hussein execution.
“We respect the decision, but it is known that the German government is opposed to capital punishment,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
“But on a day like this my thoughts are mostly on the many innocent victims of Saddam Hussein,” she said.
Only in Poland, where a conservative government has remained an enthusiastic ally of the Bush administration, was there unequivocal support for the execution.
“Justice has been meted out to a criminal who murdered thousands of people in Iraq,” President Lech Kaczynski’s spokesman said, according to news agencies.
Russia‘s foreign minister expressed regret over the execution and warned of deterioration in Iraq.
A Russian ultra-nationalist party staged a rally outside the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow to protest the execution, RIA Novosti reported.
India called the hanging unfortunate, with most diplomats saying it would sharpen Iraq’s Shiite-Sunni divide and destabilize the region, the Press Trust of India reported.
It would also likely inflame further anti-U.S. feelings there, the diplomats said.
An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said thousands of Iraqis, Iranians and Kuwaitis were overjoyed by the execution, IRNA said.
Newspapers in the Arab world and Israel reflect a combination of cynicism, anger and fear over the execution of Saddam Hussein.
Arab commentators are angry about the timing of the execution on one of the holiest days of the Muslim calendar. Some argue Washington rather than Baghdad dictated the timing and ask why Americans have not been brought to justice for all the Iraqis killed since the 2003 invasion.
Commentators in Israel fear that Saddam’s death will only lead to an increase in Iranian influence and Shia dominance in the region, posing a greater threat to the country.
EYAL ZISSER IN Israel’s MA’ARIV:
“Not only was Saddam executed but with him also died the hope that it would be possible to stabilise the situation in Iraq under Sunni domination, a state capable of checking the overflowing Shia wave threatening to pour from Iran via Iraq to the heart of the Arab world. The vacuum created following the collapse of Saddam and the collapse of the state which he headed is also dangerous for Israel, and requires a response the like of which does not exist yet.”
EDITORIAL IN EGYPT’S AL-JUMHURIYAH:
“President Bush has offered Saddam’s head as a new year’s present to the American people in the hope it may compensate him for the lost victory in Iraq and make him forget the death of 3,000 American soldiers killed in the Iraqi swamp for the sake of illusions related to oil and world hegemony. Saddam committed crimes, but executing him in a way that contravenes international and humanitarian laws, and at this time, which reflects disdain for the sentiments of millions of Arabs and Muslims, is a crime whose perpetrators will be pursued by history with rage and shame. ”
U.S. President George W. Bush said Saddam’s execution would not halt Iraqi violence, but marked the end of a difficult year.
Credits: Reuter’s; LA Times; BBC; United Press