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Last Updated:  Sunday, 6 April, 2003, 04:53 GMT 05:53 UK
Belgium restricts 'genocide law'
Palestinian refugees remember the Sabra massacre
Israeli PM Ariel Sharon had been accused over refugee massacres
Belgium's parliament has restricted the scope of a controversial law that allows foreign leaders to be tried in Belgian courts for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The amendment says only cases that are linked to Belgium can go directly to the courts.

Under the existing law, legal action has been taken against a number of world leaders, including former US President George Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Analysts say these cases are likely to be dropped, since the law will be applied retrospectively.

The upper chamber of the Belgian parliament, the Senate, approved the change on Saturday.

The country's lower house had done so last week.

In future a senior prosecutor will have to rule on a case if neither the alleged victim nor the attacker was Belgian.

War crimes trials would then get permission to proceed in Belgium only if they covered events in countries lacking democracy or fair trials.

Other charges would be sent on to the countries themselves, or to the new international criminal court in The Hague.


Belgium's 10-year-old law has been used successfully only against four Rwandans found guilty of involvement in the 1994 genocide. They were jailed for up to 15 years in June 2001.

Baghdad civilian shelter bombed in 1991 Gulf war
The bombing of a Baghdad shelter in 1991 is before the courts
The use of the law has embarrassed the Belgian Government and caused tensions in links with other countries.

Mr Sharon faced action over the 1982 massacres at Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

The case caused major tensions in the Belgian-Israeli relationship.

The case against Mr Bush - which also named current US Secretary of State Colin Powell - related to a bomb attack in the Gulf War in 1991.

The changes were resisted by two parties in Belgium's governing coalition, the Socialists and Greens, who argued that the law would be rendered toothless.

But Alain Destexhe, a senator who used to be a strong backer of the law, said matters had got out of hand.

"Using the law to target democratic countries was not the intention of the law," he said.

Belgium softens war crimes law
02 Apr 03  |  Europe
Belgium rethinks war crimes law
26 Mar 03  |  Europe

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