PRESS RELEASE: Disheartening climb down by Belgium over Sharon crimes against humanity case


Islamic Human Rights Commission

6th April 2003

PRESS RELEASE: Disheartening climb down by Belgium over Sharon crimes against humanity case

The Belgian parliament voted last Tuesday and the Senate approved on Saturday 5 April 2003 to severely limit its acclaimed war crimes law which was once seen as a landmark advancement in the fight for global justice. IHRC is deeply saddened to see that the Belgian parliament has rendered the war crime law effectively impotent for the sake of diplomatic expediency.

The amendment to the Belgian Act Concerning the Punishment of Grave Breaches of International Humanitarian Law of 16 June 1993, (modified on 10 February 1999) passed by the Belgian lower house stipulates that victims of crimes against humanity outside Belgium can only bring a case in Belgium only if they have resided there for at least three years. Furthermore, if the alleged crime occurred in a democratic country with an impartial judiciary Belgium will refer the case to that country.

Belgium stood unique in enacting national legislation which invoked the principle of universal jurisdiction, thus allowing its courts to prosecute foreigners for certain offences committed abroad. It effectively made void arguments of diplomatic immunity for grotesque violations of humanitarian law.

These amendments revoke the principle and effectively rule out the case brought against Sharon by 23 Palestinian and Lebanese survivors of the infamous Sabra and Chatila massacres in Beirut in 1982, where it is alleged that he directed the massacre of more than 2,000 Palestinians refugee camps. It means that the case against Sharon – in which the Court of Cassation, in February ruled he could be tried for “grave violations of international humanitarian law” including acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and crimes against persons and goods protected by the Geneva Conventions – will have to be fought in Israel, where it is most likely to be shelved.

The amendments come amidst outrage expressed by Israel at the court ruling and amidst attempts by Iraqi families to prosecute current secretary of state Colin Powell and Bush Senior for civilian deaths during the 1991 Gulf War, and. The amendment seems to be specifically aimed at appeasing and placating the two powers to prevent deterioration of diplomatic relations and denying, amongst others, any means of legal recourse for the survivors of the Sabra and Chatila camp massacres.

IHRC views the latest developments as yet another crushing blow for human rights. It sends a message to perpetrators of injustice that they can act with impunity without the fear of the prospect of international prosecution over crimes committed against humanity.

For further information, please call the press office on (+44) 208 902 0888 or (+44) 7958 522 196.

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