Statewatch News online: Proposal to change Belgian law on war crimes would let Bush snr off but not Sharon

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Proposal to change Belgian law on war crimes would let Bush snr off but not Sharon

Updated 31 March 2003

Agreement was reached in the Belgian Parliament´s Justice Commission, which voted on 25 March to limit the scope of the law known as "universal competence" under which cases may be brought before the Belgian courts
regardless of where crimes were committed, the nationality of the author of the crime or of the victim, in cases involving war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. This law allowed cases to be brought against Ariel Sharon and George Bush senior in Belgium, and the multiplication of "suits of a purely political nature" which have caused Belgium diplomatic embarassment particularly with regards to Israel and the US.

Some criteria to "attach" Belgium to the cases are to be introduced including whether the crime took place in Belgium, whether the suspected author of the crime is not Belgian and the victim is not Belgian or whether they have not resided in Belgium for over three years. If there is no connection only the federal prosecutor may launch a case, whereas if a connection a civil lawsuit is enough, as is currently the case. If the country whose national is responsible has relevant legislation in force, the prosecutor would merely inform it of the violation, and Belgian justice would no longer be seized with the case. The amendments would affect suits brought later than 1 July 2002, including the suit against Bush senior, but not the one against Sharon.

previous report: Source Say, 19/03/2003

"The U.S. has warned Belgian authorities about the effects of legislation that allows suits against foreign leaders on what Washington considers to be politically motivated charges, Colin Powell said on Tuesday. If such prosecutions proliferate, it could be difficult for senior officials to visit Belgium, which hosts NATO headquarters, he told a group of reporters.

The families of victims of a U.S. attack on a Baghdad shelter in the 1991 Gulf War plan to file a complaint in Belgium against Powell, former U.S. President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and former U.S. commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf. The complaint would be under a law enabling its courts to hear human rights cases. Powell joked that the next NATO ministerial meeting might be short because of the prosecution threat. He added: "It's a serious problem. The Belgian legislature continues to pass laws and modify them over time, which permits these kinds of suits, and it's the same kind of law that affected Prime Minister Sharon." "We have cautioned our Belgian colleagues that they need to be very careful about this kind of effort, this kind of legislation, because it makes it hard for us to go places that put you at such easy risk," he added. "If you show up, next thing you know you're being... Who knows?"

U.S. pilots attacked the Amiriyah air raid shelter in a residential suburb of Baghdad on Feb. 12, 1991. More than 400 people died, including 261 women and 52 children. The most prominent case so far under the Belgian law was a complaint against Sharon for his role in the 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees in Beirut."

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