War Crimes Case Opened Against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Belgium

Support the Quest for Justice of the Victims and Survivors of Sabra and Shatila

(Based on the press release issued by Chibli Mallat, advocate; Beirut, 22 June 2001)

While Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his right wing national unity government in Israel continue their efforts aimed at delegitimizing international law, the Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation, and the Palestinian leadership, public debate about a possible indictment of Sharon for war crimes committed by him in the past is on the rise. In Palestine and the Arab world, where such debate is considered long overdue, recent initiatives, such as a symbolic, public war crimes tribunal conducted in Cairo, the possible reopening of investigation into the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre by the Chief Military Prosecutor in Lebanon, and the recent BBC broadcast "The Accused" which re-visited Sharon's responsibility for the 1982 massacre in the two Palestinian refugee camps, were well received. Moreover, the call for a criminal investigation into Sharon's role in the Sabra and Shatila massacre issued by the U.S.- based human rights organization Human Rights Watch last weekend has raised hopes that the quest for justice will spread beyond the Middle East and find increasing support in Europe and the United States.

In the meantime, Sabra and Shatila victims and survivors have had their first day in court in Belgium. On Monday, 18 June 2001 three lawyers filed before an investigating judge (Madame le juge d'instruction Sophie Huguet) in Brussels a complaint on behalf of 28 plaintiffs and witnesses, all survivors of the 1982 massacre committed in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, Beirut. With this act, a case has been formally opened against Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister of Israel, on counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Under recent Belgian legislation, introduced in 1993 and modified in 1999, the possibility of bringing war criminals to account was extended both in terms of citizenship and time. Using established legal concepts of universal jurisdiction, Belgian legislators have set aside limitations of time, citizenship and diplomatic status: foreign heads of state can now be held accountable for their crimes, whenever committed.

It is worth remembering that Israel invoked universal jurisdiction when it kidnapped and tried the Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann for crimes against humanity. His case and other similar cases are cited at length in the complaint. As then Israeli Minister of Defense, Sharon planned and directed the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. When Lebanese president-elect Bashir Gemayel was assassinated on 14 September 1982, it was Sharon who ordered the Israeli Army to penetrate West Beirut and surround the area of the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. It was Sharon who gave the order for the Lebanese militias to enter the camps.

The complaint is filed against Ariel Sharon, Amos Yaron and any Israeli or Lebanese person responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes that happened between 16-18 September 1982, including the killing, torture, rape and "disappearance" of between 1,000 and 3,500 civilians - children, women and men, Lebanese and Palestinians. The complaint is based on customary international law, including jus cogens, as well as Belgian law. Even though an official Israeli commission of inquiry (Kahan Commission, 1983) judged Sharon "personally responsible" for the massacre, no further legal actions arose from this judgment. With Sharon's resignation from the office of Minister of Defense, Israeli and world public opinion soon forgot the massacre and its victims.

The 23 plaintiffs and five witnesses (the distinction is made for mere procedural reasons under Belgian law) now accusing Sharon represent a far larger number of people who have never been recognized as victims nor indemnified for losses. All the plaintiffs lost close family members, in some cases mother and father as well as siblings. Reading their testimonies brings back the horrific scale and character of a massacre that ranks among the worst of the 20th century. The plaintiffs are represented by three lawyers: Luc Walleyn, Michael Verhaeghe, and Chibli Mallat. The day following the formal submission of the complaint, Patrick Collignon was formally appointed juge d'instruction to carry out the inquiry. He will conduct the proceedings, and the inquiry has offically started.

* For further information about the war crimes suit in Belgium, please check: www.mallat.com

The website includes the full text of the complaint in French, contact addresses and a bank account for financial support of the claim of the victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

* For background information see:

Rosemary Sayigh - Seven Day Horror: How the Sabra/Shatila Massacre was Buried with the Victims; in: al-Majdal No. 9 (March 2001).

* For more on the BBC Panorama broadcast "The Accused" see:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/audiovideo/programmes/panorama/newsid_1381000/1381328.stm

* The statement issued by Human Rights Watch can be found at:

www.hrw.org/press/2001/06/isr0622.htm