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April 5, 2003
 
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Belgium Reforms Controversial Genocide Law

Reuters


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April 5

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 reported.

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 Sharon.

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 years.

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.

Copyright 2003 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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