International Campaign for Justice for the Victims of Sabra and Shatila
The Court of Appeals of Brussels agreed on 6 March to a request made by lawyers for the survivors of the Sabra and Shatila massacre to schedule another hearing in a landmark case accusing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other Israelis and Lebanese with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The lawyers requested the hearing in order to present an assessment of the recent Congo v. Belgium ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).That ruling was delivered at The Hague on 14 February, after the last pre-trial hearing in the Sabra and Shatila case had taken place. An additional hearing under such circumstances is a logical legal request, but the plaintiffs' lawyers also wish to prevent the negative and hasty statements of some officials from influencing the Appeals Court's decision without the parties to the case having the opportunity to challenge them.
And there is much to be challenged.
First and foremost, the lawyers for the Sabra and Shatila massacre survivors wish to impress upon the Belgian court that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has not ruled that the mere fact of a criminal investigation against a sitting foreign minister (or head of state) violates international law. To the contrary, the ICJ only declared illegal the arrest warrant that had been issued against the former Congolese foreign minister, Mr. Yerodia, but not the criminal investigation against him.
Second, the arrest warrant issued against Mr. Yerodia was not based on a count of genocide. This distinction is important, since the 1948 Genocide Convention expressly states, in article IV: "Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in article III shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals." As early as 1951, the same ICJ ruled that this Genocide Convention was "intended by the General Assembly and by the contracting parties to be definitely universal in scope." In a more recent ruling in 1996, the ICJ once again unambiguously confirmed the universal character of this convention.
Genocide is one of the counts in the criminal investigation in the Sabra and Shatila case. (See http://www.indictsharon.net for all legal details about the case.) The plaintiffs' lawyers based their initial complaint of 18 June 2001 on numerous factual elements of the case and on a UN Resolution of December 1982, expressly declaring, with an overwhelming majority, that the massacre at Sabra and Shatila constituted an 'act of genocide' as defined by the 1948 Convention.
Since an international convention has precedence over international customary law, and since the ruling of the ICJ in the Yerodia case was based entirely on an interpretation of international customary law (as the ICJ explicitly states), there can be no immunity for crimes of genocide, not even for acting foreign ministers or heads of state.
These are only two of the arguments that the lawyers for the plaintiffs, Messrs. Walleyn, Mallat, and Verhaeghe, will present to the Belgian court. Other equally compelling arguments, some based on new facts discovered about events of September 1982, will be developed in an additional submission to the Court, which will hear all parties in this case at a hearing in Brussels on 15 May 2002.
CONTACT: Laurie King-Irani, North American Coordinator, International Campaign for Justice for the Victims of Sabra and Shatila, Tel. (250) 213-6872, http://www.indictsharon.net