UN Legal Ruling Will Halt Belgian War Crimes Cases
Penketh, Anne, The Independent (London, England)
IN A landmark judgement that is expected to avert a genocide trial against the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, the World Court ruled yesterday that Belgium cannot try political leaders for war crimes because they are protected by diplomatic immunity.
The decision by the top UN judicial body, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, in effect halts a series of genocide trials that were pending in the Belgian courts under a unique 1993 law, which enables the Belgian courts to hear war crimes cases no matter where they were committed.
A judge in Brussels is expected to decide on 6 March whether Mr Sharon could face trial for his role in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanese refugee camps carried out by Christian militias allied to Israel, when he was Defence Minister. The case was brought by a group of Palestinians.
Israel reacted swiftly to the court decision, saying that it anticipated that the charges against Mr Sharon would be dropped.
The legal adviser to the Belgian government said: "The Sharon case, in my opinion, is closed. The judgment is clear: immunity for all ministers for all crimes while they are still in office."
The court decision could lead Belgium to revise its laws and possibly drop its case against other high-profile leaders including the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.
The first trial under the Belgian war crimes law was held last year when four Rwandans, including two Roman Catholic nuns, were given long prison sentences by a Brussels court for their role in massacres in their country in 1994.
The Cuban President, Fidel Castro, the Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, the Ivory Coast President, Laurent Gbagbo, and the former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani have also been targeted by the Belgian courts. …