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Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
Belgium bars Sharon war crimes trial
Sabra massacre memorial service in Beirut, 1982
Hundreds died in the Sabra and Shatila massacres
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon cannot be tried for alleged war crimes in Belgium, an appeals court has ruled.

The case had been brought by survivors of the 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon.

If a person is not found on the territory, we find it inadmissible

Court ruling
They claimed that Mr Sharon, in his then role as Israeli Defence Minister, was responsible for the massacre in the two refugee camps.

Lawyers for the 23 survivors had said they were optimistic Mr Sharon could be tried under a Belgian law that lets anyone file charges for war crimes anywhere in the world.

But the court ruled that the trial was "inadmissible" under Belgian law.

The three judges said that a case could not proceed against a person who was not in Belgium.

One nation cannot judge another nation

Shimon Peres
Israeli Foreign Minister
"If a person is not found on the territory, we find it inadmissible," the court said in its 22-page ruling.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres welcomed the decision.

"I think they shouldn't even have tried to (bring the case to court)," Mr Peres told reporters.

"One nation cannot judge another nation. A nation that doesn't, fortunately, have to fight terror and war will hardly understand a nation that has to do it."

Ariel Sharon
Mr Sharon was defence minister at the time of the massacres
The original Belgian inquiry was suspended in September after the Mr Sharon's lawyers won an injunction to review the legality of the case.

Besides Mr Sharon, the Palestinians' case also named Israeli Defence Ministry director Amos Yaron, who in 1982 was a brigadier general in the Israel army.

Prosecutor Pierre Morlet had said last month that the Belgian Justice Ministry believed a continuation of the case against Mr Sharon was impossible after the International Court of Justice upheld the diplomatic immunity of former Congolese Foreign Minister, Abdoulaye Yerodia Ndombasi.

Abdoulaye Yerodia, a former foreign minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo
Abdoulaye Yerodia could not be tried under the Belgian law
The ruling meant Belgium could not try Mr Yerodia for allegedly inciting the killing of hundreds of members of his country's Tutsi minority in 1998, and the case was subsequently dropped.

Besides Mr Sharon, war crimes proceedings have been brought in Belgium against several other world figures including Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Cuban President Fidel Castro, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo.

Government embarrassment

The cases have been an embarrassment for the Belgian Government, which has promised to make it harder for international claims to be launched in Belgian courts.

So far, the only people tried under Belgium's controversial war crimes law are four Rwandans sentenced last year for their role in the 1994 genocide of the country's Tutsi ethnic minority.

But victims' families have rallied behind the law, lobbying for other countries to adopt similar legislation.

"If we hold onto a law that is proven to be effective then perhaps it will spur on other countries," said Martine Beckers, a Belgian who has used the law in a bid to bring her relatives' killers to justice.

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See also:

08 May 02 | Middle East
24 Jan 02 | Middle East
28 Nov 01 | Middle East
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