belgium sees the light, finally

  1. 5,748 Posts.
    Apr. 2, 2003
    Belgium's lower house votes to curtail war crimes law
    By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BRUSSELS, Belgium

    The House of Representatives approved amendments Wednesday to Belgium's "universal jurisdiction" law for war crimes, making it tougher for cases to be filed against leaders of democratic nations.

    The amendments are aimed at avoiding embarrassing complaints such as those filed against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former US President George Bush, which have drawn sharp protests from Jerusalem and Washington.

    After the 63-48 House vote, which split the ruling coalition, the amendments now go to the Senate for a final vote later this week. Approval is expected.

    Under the amendments, the 10-year-old law would apply only for war crimes committed in countries lacking democratic credentials and unable to cope with fair trials (Belgium finally admitting Israel is democratic and able to cope with fair trials......Snooker) Other complaints would be sent on to the countries in question.

    The Liberal group within the coalition of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt made sure the amendments would also apply to running complaints, making it likely the pending case against Sharon will be sent to Israel.

    The war crimes complaint filed last month by seven Iraqi victims of the 1991 Gulf War against Bush, father of the current president, and Secretary of State Colin Powell would be sent on to Washington.

    The Socialist and Green coalition parties voted against the amendments, arguing they would render the law toothless.

    The law, passed unanimously in 1993, was special since complaints could be lodged against people and by people who had no direct link to Belgium.

    So far the only people convicted under the law are four Rwandans found guilty of involvement in the 1994 genocide in their central African nation. They were sentenced to up to 15 years in prison in June 2001.

    Overall some 30 cases have already been lodged, including complaints against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Cuba's Fidel Castro.

    The most controversial case was lodged two years ago against Sharon, when a group of Palestinians filed a war crimes complaint against the Israeli prime minister for his alleged role in a 1982 massacre in Lebanese refugee camps.

    When Belgium's supreme court ruled two months ago Sharon could still be prosecuted once he leaves office, Israel even withdrew its ambassador from Brussels.

    The March 18 complaint against Bush and Powell centered on the 1991 bombing of a shelter in Baghdad, which killed 403 people, including 52 children and 261 women. US aircraft attacked the shelter believing it was a command center.

    After it was lodged, Powell said he was worried about the complaint and its impact on his own travel to Belgium, the headquarters of NATO and the European Union.

    "For a place that is an international center they should be a little bit concerned about this," Powell told reporters in Washington. "If you show up, the next thing you know you are being... who knows," he said, slapping a hand on the table.
 
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