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What’s New(s) – A controversy clouding the French government

Écrit par sur 27 mai 2022

What´s New(s)? La revue de presse anglophone – Erik Ruiz Martín & Nadine Vermeulen

Good morning and thank you for listening to What’s New(s), the European press review. This time we’re going back to where we ended last week: France, where a first controversy is clouding the new government’s reputation.

What happened, what did the media write? 

Not even a week of calm for the new French government, which has found itself embroiled in controversy after allegations of rape by solidarity minister Damien Abad came to light. The Guardian points out that French minister refuses to stand down over rape allegations and denies ‘deeply wounding’ accusations. La Vanguardia stresses that the politician uses his disability as a defence. According to France 24 his appointment was seen as a major coup for Macron, as Abad had defected from the conservative Les Républicains opposition party. Le Monde headlined that the accusations of rape against Abad embarrass the right and the party Les Republicains is trying to distance itself from the minister. Libération claims that no one in Les Republicains was surprised by this news since the politician had quite a reputation as a womanizer.

And how did the opposition react to this scandal?

Le Monde quotes statements from the right-wing opposition who believe that the executive has taken the decision to appoint Abad with full knowledge of the facts. The French Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, has expressed her surprise and declared in a statement reported by El País that if the justice system is activated with new evidence there will be consequences for her collaborator. Jean Luc Melenchon, who has taken advantage of the storm, has underlined the good management that his party, la France Insoumise, has had to carry out in a recent process with a similar accusation against one of its candidates. Meanwhile, le Figaro published a poll in which 53% of French people say that a minister accused of rape should resign. 

But then moving on to the latest developments in Ukraine. Something unique happened the past weeks, war criminals were brought to trial and the first was convicted, whilst the war is still raging on in the country. How were the verdicts described by the media? 

Indeed Erik, last week was the first of what media predict will be a multitude of war crimes trials held by Ukraine. This Monday, the 21-year-old Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin who pleaded guilty was sentenced to life in prison, headlined AP, the maximum sentence. The tank commander pleaded guilty to shooting dead a 62-year-old civilian as he rode his bicycle down a road in a village. This trial in the midst of war is unique, as described by the Guardian: ‘it is extremely unusual to hold a trial while a conflict is still ongoing, and unprecedented to do it within weeks.’ It has been just over 3 months since the victim was killed, a few days after the start of the invasion. One of the few other precedents for holding a trial before the war ended was in the Balkans, when Serb soldier Herak was put on trial for 35 killings and 14 rapes. Even if this unique trial was held entirely ‘according the books’ non-profit news outlet the Conversation questioned if conducting war crimes trials during active hostilities, and by a civilian court, is actually a wise decision. First because it could set a wrong example: the trial in Ukraine may well have been conducted under due process, this may not be true if Russia decides to follow. Second because it is difficult for an accused person to prepare his defence in times of war.  

And can the conviction of war criminals be seen as a victory for Ukraine?

Well of course the war trial, and all the international media attention it received, can at least be seen as a recognition of the suffering of the Ukrainian civilians, in a conflict where, as described by the BBC, ‘the deliberate targeting of civilians has become one of the defining features.’ At the opening of the World Economic Forum, Zelensky called the world’s elite to decide ‘whether brute force will rule the world’ by setting new precedents for punishment for Russia’s invasion. Ukrainian prosecutors have the support of several teams of international investigators and the International Criminal Court has sent its ‘largest-ever’ team of experts to the country to investigate alleged war crimes, says the court’s chief prosecutor. The US ambassador for global criminal justice Van Schaack believes there is now global consensus on holding the Russian forces responsible, writes Euractiv. The Ukrainian authorities estimate that at least 10,000 war crimes are committed by the Russian side. It will be a mammoth task to start investigating those, estimates the Guardian. Allegations of war crimes are supported by media images including those for example of the New York Times, that proved the involvement of Russian soldiers in the executions of at least eight civilians in Bucha.

Presentation : Nadine Vermeulen


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