Update on War Crimes Suit Against Ariel Sharon: "Belgian Law on Universal Jurisdiction Gets a Second Wind

Fwd. from: North American Coordinator
International Campaign for Justice for the Victims of Sabra and Shatila

On June 26 a Belgian Appeals Court ruled on narrow procedural grounds that Belgium did not have jurisdiction to prosecute Ariel Sharon on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity for the 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatila based on the fact that Sharon was not on Belgian soil. On July 3, lawyers representing 23 survivors of the massacre lodged an appeal on the grounds that the condition on which the case was rejected (i.e., presence of the accused on Belgian soil) was not entailed or foreseen by Belgium's 1993 law on universal jurisdiction. On 17 July an agreement was reached between major Belgian political parties to safeguard the essence and guiding principles of Belgium's law on universal jurisdiction. The agreement will be followed by a proposal for an interpretative law to enable to pursuit of pending cases and investigations. (For details of the agreement, see, Fwd. from: North American Coordinator, International Campaign for Justice for the Victims of Sabra and Shatila).

The agreement in Belgium came only days prior to Israel's decision to drop a one-ton bomb from a US-made F-16 fighter jet on a crowded residential area in the heart of the Gaza Strip. The extra-judicial execution of political activist Salah Shehada also killed 17 Palestinian civilians, including 11 children, and wounded over 100 others. The following day the US House of Representatives allocated an additional US$200 million in aid to Israel as part of a larger US$28.9 billion "anti-terror package."

According to the 1998 Statute of the International Criminal Court, which came into being on 1 July, war crimes include: intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such an attach will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment, which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated. Moreover, under US law, wherever it is demonstrated that a state receiving U.S. foreign aid is responsible for "a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights," the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 requires that all military and economic aid be immediately and automatically terminated.

The durability of any future political process between Israel and the PLO will depend, in large part, upon the willingness of the international community to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law in the region. This includes prosecution of those responsible for past and future violations and serious breaches of international law.

Israel Boycotts International Law - Boycott Israel!

"The Belgian Law of Universal Jurisdiction Gets a Second Wind"

Fwd. from: North American Coordinator
International Campaign for Justice for the Victims of Sabra and Shatila

Brussels, 18 July 2002--Amnesty International, Avocats Sans Frontires, la Fdration Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l'Homme (FIDH), Human Rights Watch, la Ligue Belge des Droits de lHomme [The Belgian League of Human Rights] and the Liga voor Mensenrechten today expressed satisfaction with a political agreement reached on 17 July 2002 between the parties of the political majority concerning Belgium's universal jurisdiction law of 16 June 1993, revised in 1999.

This week's agreement will be followed by a proposal for an interpretative law of the 1993 law enabling the pursuit of pending cases and investigations. It will also express Belgian legislators' support for the efforts made over several years by the magistrates and investigators responsible for these cases. The proposed interpretive law will additionally express support for the numerous victims involved. The agreement will be followed by a global modification of the 1993 law in order to frame the exercise of universal jurisdiction in the future.

The NGOs noted above are pleased with the efforts of the government and the political parties and the parliamentarians who have concluded this important agreement to safeguard the essence and guiding principles of Belgium's universal jurisdiction law.

The following are the key features of the 17 July 2002 Agreement:

The accused's presence on Belgian territory is no longer a required condition

The agreement confirms the will, already expressed by the legislature in 1993, that complaints against presumed perpetrators of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide are admissible, even if the accused parties are not on Belgian territory.

A pure‚ universal jurisdiction of Belgian courts in accordance with the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court

The agreement confirms the principle of universal jurisdiction and therefore of the jurisdiction of the Belgian courts without nexus requirements.

The agreement, however, limits victims' invocation of universal jurisdiction to particular cases. In cases in which the alleged crimes have not been committed on Belgian territory and the plaintiffs are neither Belgian nor resident on Belgian territory for one year or more and the accused is not on Belgian territory, only then will the Federal Prosecutor will be competent to initiate proceedings.

These conditions are not applicable to crimes committed before the entry into force of the Statute of the new International Criminal Court (ICC), that is to say before 1 July 2002. They also do not apply to crimes committed after 1 July 2002 on the territory of a state not party to the statute of the ICC or by the national of a non-party state, or if the Security Council has referred the crimes to the ICC.

Flexibility and the possibility of evolution in the interpretation of international criminal immunity

The proposed law provides for the immunity of state officials from application of the 1993 universal jurisdiction law within the limits established by international law. Thus, the legislature has decided to grant Belgian courts the power to interpret any questions linked to immunities. This evolution, for the signatory NGOs, must be read in the light of Article 27 of the Statute of the ICC which refers to the non-opposability of criminal immunity for the most serious crimes, i.e., genocide.

By adopting the interpretative law and the modification law at the new parliamentary session in October, the Belgian Parliament will confirm its choice of the universal jurisdiction law of 1993 in a coherent and consistent manner. Belgium will thus remain at the forefront of the defense of human rights and international justice in the world by guaranteeing victims of the most serious crimes access to justice, be it national or international.

Amnesty International, Stef Vandeginste, Denis Grgoire
Avocats Sans Frontires, Caroline Stanier
FIDH, Martien Schotsmans
HRW, Olivier Bercault
Ligue des droits de l‚Homme, Mait Derue
Liga voor Mensenrechten, Paul Pataer

For more information, see:

International Committee for Justice for the Victims of Sabra and Shatila
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