Update: WAR CRIMES SUIT AGAINST ARIEL SHARON
Lawyers representing victims in the Sabra and Shatila case welcome the Belgian Supreme Court's decision to quash Court of Appeals' ruling in precedent-setting Yerodia case
Today marks the 55th anniversary of the UN recommendation (UNGA 181/1947) to partition Palestine into two states. It also marks the 25th anniversary of the UN Day in Solidarity with the Palestinian People and their right to self-determination. The two anniversaries are significant not only as historical events; they also shed some light on the requirements for a comprehensive, just, and durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The first anniversary is a sober reminder of what happens when those responsible for facilitating durable solutions to political conflicts stray from universal guidelines set forth in international law. Officials responsible for the UN partition plan not only acknowledged that ethno-national separation in mandatory Palestine was not practical; they admitted that it was not entirely clear that the UN General Assembly had the legal authority to recommend partition. Despite these doubts, however, the Assembly voted against repeated requests by various member states to obtain an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The second anniversary is no less significant. While the UN has subsequently reaffirmed the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and the right of refugees to return to their homes of origin, the annual UN Day in Solidarity with the Palestinian People is a sober reminder of what happens when the international community affirms but fails to uphold universal principles of international law, and bring to justice those responsible for violations and grave breaches.
The current situation in Palestine/Israel is a tragic consequence of both: failure to place international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law at the center of the political process; and, failure to hold responsible those who violate and commit grave breaches of international law.
The case against Ariel Sharon and Amos Yaron, currently before the Belgian Court of Cassation (Supreme Court for criminal cases) is important, not only because it seeks to hold accountable those responsible for the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre and seek redress for the survivors; it is also important because it endeavors to reinsert universal principles of international law back into the process of finding a comprehensive, just and durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A decision by the Court to quash an earlier (June 2002) decision by the Belgian Court of Appeals that dismissed the case against Sharon on narrow, technical grounds, would be an achievement, not only for the victims of Sabra and Shatila, but for all those who seek a just and durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Palestinian refugees based on universal principles set forth in international law. The case against Ariel Sharon is equally significant in light of ongoing violations and grave breaches of international law in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories, the fact that no one has been held accountable for these violations and grave breaches including crimes against humanity and war crimes and the likelihood that Sharon, re-elected as leaders of Likud party, will emerge as the winner of the upcoming (January 2003) elections in Israel.
BRUSSELS--Last Wednesday, the Belgian Court of Cassation (Belgium's Supreme Court for criminal cases) issued its ruling in a precedent-setting case involving the former Congolese Foreign Minister, Mr. Ndombasi Yerodia. Mr. Yerodia, like Ariel Sharon and Amos Yaron in the Sabra and Shatila case, stands accused of serious violations of international humanitarian law under Belgium's 1993/1999 law on universal jurisdiction for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the Court of Appeals (Belgium's Indictment Chamber), for ruling (as it did in its decision in the Sabra and Shatila case on 26 June 2002), that universal jurisdiction can only be exercised when the suspect is on Belgian territory. While the Court of Cassation did not address that issue directly in its ruling last week, its decision is a welcome indication of the seriousness accorded to the principle of universal jurisdiction, and as such inspires hope that all victims of mass crimes can seek effective recourse before a neutral and independent judge.
Meanwhile, we have also been informed that the Court of Cassation hearing concerning our case, scheduled previously for 27 November, has been postponed. No date has been fixed yet, a further sign that the Court is relying on the Belgian legislature to clarify the contentious point concerning the required presence of the accused on Belgian soil. We have argued that such a condition defeats both the letter and the purpose of Belgium's universal jurisdiction law--indeed the preparatory documents of the unanimous 1993/1999 Law specifically state that the accused need NOT be on Belgian soil. As such, the Court of Appeals' 26 June ruling in the case against Sharon and others betrayed the will of the Belgian legislature, ignored the existing body of international criminal law currently employed for prosecuting a wide range of transborder crimes, undermined the complementarity and assistance sought by the International Criminal Court in the Rome Treaty that established it, and last, but certainly not least, reinforced the prevailing immunity for perpetrators of crimes against humanity.
Last Wednesday's decision clearly indicates the fundamental unwillingness of Belgium's Supreme Court to accept the reasoning of the Appeals Court, and further strengthens the Sabra and Shatila victims' chances of obtaining a reversal of the decision in their case. It also highlights the necessity for the Belgian legislature to defend Belgium's universal jurisdiction law.
This has already begun with the important initiative in the Belgian Senate in July. The Senate Bill, which awaits the Council of State advisory comments, was introduced with the full support of the government, and seeks not only to restore and maintain the universal characteristics of the 1993/1999 Law, but also to advance the international campaign against impunity. We appeal for the widest international support for this campaign, which was effectively saluted and encouraged last week by Belgium's Supreme Court (Court of Cassation).
Michael VERHAEGHE, Chibli MALLAT, Luc WALLEYN
For more information contact:
Laurie King-Irani, Ph.D.
North American Coordinator
International Campaign for Justice for the Victims of Sabra and Shatila
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