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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 March, 2003, 10:42 GMT
US chides Belgium over rights law
Amiriyah air raid shelter in Baghdad,
More than 400 people died in the attack on the shelter

Washington has berated Brussels after several Iraqi families announced they were suing former US President George Bush and other US politicians for human rights violations in a Belgian court.

Families of those who died in the US attack on the Amiriyah air raid shelter in Baghdad, which took place in the 1991 Gulf War, are to file a case against the former president under a law enabling Belgian courts to hear human rights cases.

Belgium's "universal competence" legislation allows proceedings against people accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide, regardless of their nationality or location.

"We have cautioned our Belgian colleagues that they need to be very careful about this kind of effort, this kind of legislation, because it makes it hard for us to go places that put you at such easy risk," said US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"If you show up, next thing you know you're being... Who knows?"

Mr Powell is accused, along with Vice President Dick Cheney, former US army commander Norman Schwarzkopf and former president George Bush snr.

Sharon case

More than 400 people died in the Amiriyah attack, when US planes attacked the shelter.

The US says it was a military command centre, and that it did not know it was being used to shelter civilians.

"It's a serious problem - the Belgian legislature continues to pass laws and modify them over time, which permits these kinds of suits
Colin Powell
Mr Powell claimed another case is already being prepared in relation to the current Gulf conflict against President Bush and his defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld "even before anything has happened".

The most prominent case so far under the Belgian law is a complaint against the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, for his role in the massacre of Palestinians in Beirut in 1982.

The case has been temporarily suspended while Mr Sharon has immunity from prosecution as prime minister, but has severely strained relations between Belgium and Israel.


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