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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 September, 2003, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Belgium drops war crimes cases

By Stephen Cviic
BBC News

Belgium's highest court has thrown out war crimes cases brought against former US president George Bush and current Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The cases were brought under Belgium's universal jurisdiction law, which once allowed prosecutions of foreigners.

But changes to the law made it almost inevitable that the cases against Mr Bush, Mr Powell and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, would fail.

The cases against Mr Bush senior and Mr Powell related to the 1991 Gulf War.

Seven Iraqi victims of that conflict alleged that the two men had committed war crimes.

George W Bush (l) and father George Bush (r)
Bush Senior (r) was accused over the 1991 Gulf war
Mr Sharon was charged with involvement in the massacre of Palestinians in refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982.

But it had always seemed likely that the lawsuits would fail, since Belgium's universal jurisdiction law - brought in 10 years ago - has recently undergone drastic changes.

Originally, the law allowed Belgian courts to rule on crimes against humanity regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator or where the alleged offences took place.

It was used successfully once, in the prosecution of four Rwandans involved in the 1994 genocide.

But the law was also controversial, with countries like the United States arguing that it simply provided an opportunity for campaigners to bring politically motivated cases.

The Belgian Government ended up agreeing with that judgement.

In April this year, the law was changed, and then in July it was modified further.

It now only applies 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.

The days when Brussels was the place for controversial international lawsuits seem to be over.

Belgium amends war crimes law
01 Aug 03  |  Europe

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