10th International Judicial Conference in Strasbourg from 23 to 24 May 

Interview with Professor Allen WEINSTEIN

President of the Centre for Democracy

“The United States realised the dangers of terrorism rather belatedly”

QUESTION: Professor Weinstein, you are President of the Centre for Democracy, and on 23 and 24 May you will be holding a Conference on the theme of courts of law and terrorism, to be attended by senior judges from a hundred or so different countries.

First of all, can you tell us why you chose Strasbourg and the terrorism theme?

REPLY: Firstly, why Strasbourg. The first International Judicial Conference was held in this city 10 years ago. This was why we decided to come back to Strasbourg for the 10th anniversary, even if we have since been to Moscow, Budapest, San Francisco and Washington. The choice seemed particularly felicitous in view of our co-operation with the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. We are also hoping to present the Council of Europe with our medal in recognition of all the work it has accomplished since its inception in the fields of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Why terrorism? First of all because of the general concern throughout the world about this subject. The choice was also in line with the desires of the judicial representatives assembled here, who had told me of their desire to hold technical discussions on this issue. There was an evident need to compare all the different judicial responses to terrorism in the various countries, and also to debate the various options available.

QUESTION: Do you think the United States and Europe can fully co-operate in combating terrorism despite the fact that they do not always share the same values, especially on the death penalty?

REPLY: As you know, the death penalty in America is a matter for the different States, many of which are currently reconsidering their position, or indeed considering abolishing capital punishment for certain crimes. In Europe, as you are also aware, a majority of the public in many countries seem to be in favour of the death penalty. This is why I consider this a very complex issue. To refuse to acknowledge the complexity of the question in either the USA or Europe would be to refuse to see that there is still much debate in both geographical areas on this subject. However, this should not prevent us from working together.

What we need most is mutual patience. The values we share far outstrip those which divide us, and that has always been the case. That is the basis of the peace which we have enjoyed since the end of the second world war. The Council of Europe was one of the cradles of our shared values, which is why I am highly satisfied that the United States is playing such an active role as an observer with the Organisation. I basically believe that there is an enormous friendship between the American and European peoples. This does not stop our governments having various disagreements, which is only to be expected since we are human beings, not machines. We are currently going through a rather difficult period because the United States realised the dangers of terrorism rather belatedly, while Europe had grasped this risk somewhat earlier. This enabled Europe to clarify its anti-terrorist procedures, something which the United States are only just beginning to do so. For instance, there has been sharp criticism of the use of military tribunals to hear terrorist cases, even though to date no one has ever been sentenced by such tribunals. Europe too has had a variety of responses. Spain did not react in the same way to ETA terrorism as Germany did to the Bader-Meinhof gang or Italy to the Red Brigade threat, etc.

So please be patient with us, just as we are being with you, and we can continue to live together.