updated 7/1/2004 4:41:58 PM ET 2004-07-01T20:41:58

Baghdad’s decision to re-establish the death penalty ahead of the war crimes trial of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein evoked a mixed reaction in Europe, recalling the split across the continent over the war that toppled Saddam.

Germany and France, two of the most vocal antiwar opponents, strongly stated their opposition to the death penalty without exception and called on Iraqi authorities to ensure Saddam a fair trial.

In Berlin, the government’s top human rights official, Claudia Roth, criticized Baghdad’s move to reinstate capital punishment, which was suspended during the U.S. occupation.

“To start out this way does not send a good signal,” Roth told The Associated Press. “I think it would have been a signal of democratic strength had they not reinstated the death penalty in Iraq.”

France called on Iraqi justice officials to hold a trial that conformed to principles of international law, and the government reiterated its opposition to the execution of convicts.

The 25-member European Union intends to let Iraq know of its opposition to the death penalty, said Emma Udwin, the European Commission’s spokeswoman on external relations.

Newer EU members warmer to idea
But while capital punishment is outlawed across the continent, attitudes hardened farther east among newer EU members, where support for the war was strong.

Rets Plesums, a spokesman for the Latvian Foreign Ministry, said that whatever happened to Saddam after his trial was a matter of concern for Iraq, not Latvia.

“We are hoping that the new Iraqi courts will conduct the trial as fairly as possible, but I don’t think our government will offer an opinion about what happens to Saddam Hussein,” he said. “It’s not our business.”

Latvia, a recent newcomer to NATO, as well, ardently backed the U.S.-led invasion and contributed more than 100 soldiers to the coalition after fighting ended last year.

Poland, another supporter of the war, offered a similar view. It just decided to extend its troop deployment of 2,400 soldiers in Iraq until Dec. 31.

“Our reaction is obvious. This is a sovereign decision of an independent court and of the Iraqis themselves,” said Boguslaw Majewski, a spokesman for Poland’s Foreign Ministry.

Roman Kuzniar, a political scientist at Warsaw University, said the list of crimes committed by Saddam “would justify the death penalty.”

Poland, which had capital punishment before ousting the Communist government in 1989, eliminated it to join the EU.

Turkey, a Muslim nation with aspirations to join the EU one day, formally ended executions as part of its bid for membership. But many Turks still feel capital punishment is justified in some cases.

“The conscience of the people will not be satisfied if he doesn’t face the death penalty,” said Burhan Kuzu, a top lawmaker from Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party. “If they give the death penalty to him, this decision will not disturb me.”

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