Global Policy Forum

Rethink Over War Crimes Law


By Anton La Guardia

The Daily Telegraph
June 19, 2001

Belgium is planning to tighten its war crimes law to staunch a flow of embarrassing lawsuits, after a case was lodged yesterday against Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. The Brussels government fears that Belgian courts will be flooded with international war crimes cases that will damage its diplomatic relations.

"The law was designed against former dictators, not serving leaders," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. "It is a good law but it can cause embarrassment. There are several options under study, and we could change the law by the end of the year." A group of 23 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon accused Mr Sharon of acts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for his role in the massacre of up to 2,000 Palestinians at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps by Israel's Phalangist allies during the 1982 Lebanon war.

Mr Sharon, defence minister at the time, was forced to resign but stayed in the cabinet after an Israeli commission found him indirectly responsible for the murders carried out by Lebanese Christian militia. The Palestinian plaintiffs, including a 36-year-old paralysed woman who travelled from Lebanon to plead her case in Brussels, say Mr Sharon bears criminal responsibility for the massacre. The case is the most prominent in a series brought under a 1993 law giving Belgian courts jurisdiction over war crimes committed anywhere in the world, even when they do not involve Belgians.

This month, two Rwandan nuns were given prison sentences of 12 and 15 years for their part in the massacre of 7,000 ethnic Tutsis who had sought refuge in their convent during the genocide of 1994.

Other cases in the Belgian courts include suits against the former dictator of Chad, Hissene Habre; Iran's former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani; the remnant of Cambodia's former Khmer Rouge regime; Guatemalan generals, and the former Moroccan interior minister, Driss Basri.

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