— BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium on Saturday reformed a
controversial law that let Belgian courts try foreigners for war
crimes, in a bid to stop cases being brought against politicians
such as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former U.S.
President George Bush.
The Senate, the upper house, approved bills limiting the scope of
the law, the last of a series of votes before the dissolution of
parliament ahead of federal elections next month, Belga news agency
The lower house approved the bills last Tuesday, and the vote in
the Senate, which passed the bills by 36 to 27 with five
abstentions, means they now become law, Belga said.
The reformed law allows Belgium to pass on to other countries
certain war crimes cases brought in Belgian courts, raising the
possibility that it will rid itself of a disputed case against
The high-profile case filed against the Israeli premier has
severely strained relations between the two countries. Belgian
Foreign Minister Louis Michel has spoken out against the case,
saying it was not up to his country to judge Sharon.
Survivors and families of victims of the 1982 massacre of
Palestinians at refugee camps in Beirut by Israeli-backed Christian
militias want Sharon to stand trial for his alleged role in the
killings. Sharon was defense minister at the time.
Their complaint was filed under the 1993 law, which gives Belgian
courts the right to try foreigners for crimes against humanity and
genocide, regardless of where they were committed.
Since the law was first applied against four Rwandans for alleged
genocide in 2001, cases against Sharon, Cuban leader Fidel Castro
and other world leaders have been brought to Belgium.
The latest case was filed by families of victims of an attack on
Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War, who want former U.S. President
George Bush senior, Secretary of State Colin Powell and others
charged with war crimes.
The changes to the law allow the judiciary to reject complaints
filed by plaintiffs who have lived in Belgium for less than three
A public prosecutor would also be able to weigh the merit of
complaints in which the victim or the alleged perpetrator was not a
Belgian and the alleged crime was not committed in Belgium.
The judiciary could also send complaints to the new International
Criminal Court, to the country where the alleged crime took place or
the alleged perpetrator lived.
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