Belgium restricts war crimes law

08.01.03

Belgium has dramatically restricted its war crimes law, finally realizing that it was being abused for political purposes:

The original 1993 law allowed Belgian courts to hear war crimes cases regardless of where the crimes allegedly occurred or the nationalities of those involved. However, relations with Washington were strained after complaints were filed against Mr. Bush, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and others because of the war in Iraq.

[ . . . ]

The revised law drops the “universal jurisdiction” claim of the 1993 original version, which also resulted in politically embarrassing complaints against British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The new law allows cases to be brought only if the victim or suspect is a Belgian citizen or long-term resident at the time of the alleged crime. It also guarantees diplomatic immunity for world leaders and other government officials visiting Belgium.

Belgium’s law may have been well-intentioned at first, but unfortunately it became a venue for the world’s worst despots to file complaints against anyone they didn’t like. Belgium has done the sensible thing here, for once.

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