Belgium to scrap war crimes law

Belgium will scrap a law that gave its courts the power to try those accused of international war crimes.

Prime Minister Verhofstadt is acting swiftly to repeal the law
Prime Minister Verhofstadt is acting swiftly to repeal the law

The move was made following pressure from America, much to the dismay of international human rights groups, after the US President was put forward as a candidate for prosecution.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was also named and shamed in the proposed case put before the Belgium courts. Both leaders were accused of war crimes following the invasion of Iraq.

Israel’s prime Minister Ariel Sharon is another high profile target accused of war crimes carried out on the Palestinian people.

However, on the first day of his second term in office, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said the “universal competence” law will be withdrawn and replaced with a whittled down version limited in scope.

Under the proposed new law, only war crimes cases involving Belgians or foreigners living in Belgium, could be tried by Belgian courts.

Belgium’s heroic stance against international injustices won praise globally, but the universal competence law greatly annoyed the US after Bush and Blair were accused, with others, of war crimes in Iraq.

Senior US officials including Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State, Colin Powell had warned that the controversial law could threaten Belgium’s standing as home to international institutions like the European Union and NATO.

Until the law is changed Bush, Blair and Sharon face being arrested, charged and tried if they step foot in Belgium.

Officials said the new bill to replace the scrapped law will be drawn up in a week’s time after taking advice from relevant state bodies.

Under the new law, immunity will be accorded to foreign leaders and a direct link with Belgium must exist before victims can file a legal suit.

“The legislator will be comparable to that in other western countries,” the Belgian prime minister said.

Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel denied the law was repealed under US pressure.  He insisted it was being scrapped to prevent people from abusing it for settling personal and political scores.

Source : News Agencies

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