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Belgium will try sharon { February 13 2003 }

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Court spurns Sharon war-crimes trial
Marlise Simons, New York Times
Thursday, February 13, 2003
2003 San Francisco Chronicle | Feedback


The Hague, Netherlands -- Belgium's highest court said Wednesday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel could be tried for war crimes under the nation's laws, but not as long as he enjoys the immunity of his office.

The ruling, while blocking the case against Sharon, did allow a Belgian court to hear the case against Sharon's co-defendant, Amos Yaron, the former Israeli Army chief of staff.

In its summary, the high court said investigations and a trial could proceed even if a suspect was not physically present in Belgium. Several cases involving foreign leaders, past and present, had been on hold for almost a year, pending the high court's decision.

The case against Sharon and Yaron dates back to 2001, when survivors of the 1982 massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut filed a criminal complaint, holding the two Israelis responsible for the deaths of their relatives. Christian militias, backed by Israel, did the killing, but an Israeli commission of inquiry in 1983 concluded that Sharon, then the defense minister, had a personal responsibility for the events.

By filing their case in Belgium, the survivors hoped to make use of the country's 1993 law that allows the courts "universal jurisdiction" over crimes against humanity or war crimes anywhere.

Many nations have given their courts universal jurisdiction over some crimes. But until now, Belgium's so-called anti-atrocity law went further by barring immunity claims and by allowing the courts to investigate crimes committed anywhere, regardless of the nationality of the victims or the perpetrators.

The high court ruling recognized the immunity of high public office. But the judges implied that the case against Sharon could be pursued after he left office, lawyers said.

The Israeli case is one of many pending in Belgium involving charges of grave human rights violations. Lawyers handling the cases said they were elated with the ruling, because it overturned a decision last year in a lower court that held that an accused person had to be present in Belgium to be investigated.

"This was a big breakthrough, a big step forward," said Georges-Henri Beauthier, a human rights lawyer, who added that he can now continue pursuing the case against Hissene Habre, the former ruler of Chad, who lives in exile in Senegal.

2003 San Francisco Chronicle | Feedback

Page A - 10

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Belgium will try sharon { February 13 2003 }
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