Published on Friday, August 22, 2003 by Agence France Presse
Belgian Lawyer Seeks to Revive War Crimes Case Against US Commander in Iraq
The Belgian lawyer who angered Washington by launching a war crimes case against the former US military commander in Iraq, Tommy Franks, said he was appealing against the government's decision not to pursue his suit in Belgium.
Lawyer Jan Fermon said he would ask the Brussels appeals court to revive his case against General Franks at a hearing scheduled for September 9, arguing that new legislation outlawing such prosecutions should be ruled illegal.
"Once a country accords certain rights on the basis of an international convention, it can't go back on that," Fermon said.
Other alleged incidents detailed by the war crimes suit include the bombing of a Baghdad marketplace, cluster-bomb attacks on civilians and three cases in which US soldiers fired on ambulances.
Soon after Guy Verhofstadt's government was re-elected in May, it effectively ended the suit against Franks by handing the dossier to US prosecutors under amendments to the 1993 law introduced the previous month.
It also unveiled new legislation to end the "universal competence" of Belgian courts to try war crimes committed abroad unless the alleged perpetrators or victims were Belgian nationals or long-term residents.
But Fermon said he would ask the appeal court to rule that the changes to the law were an illegal attempt to withdraw rights accorded under international war crimes conventions.
"By modifying then repealing the 1993 law, Belgium has broken a general principle of international law," he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and former US president George Bush are among some 30 current or former world leaders who have faced legal action under the 1993 law, which has long been a thorn in the side of Belgian diplomacy.
The case against Franks brought tensions with the United States to a new high in June, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested that NATO might be forced to move its headquarters out of Belgium if US leaders continued to be named in war crimes suits.
The effective repeal of the 1993 law has been condemned by rights organizations including the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Public debate over the Franks suit intensified in Belgium on Thursday after a doctor returning from Baghdad defended the move to put the US general on trial for war crimes.
"I know the plaintiffs," he said. "Their cases are all serious. If an investigating judge went out there, he would have no difficulty in finding witnesses to abuses by US troops."
The scaling back of Belgian courts' war crimes jurisdiction law has so far failed to prevent the filing of new cases against foreign leaders that have the potential to embarrass the government.
On Wednesday, six members of the Falungong religious movement, severely repressed in China, filed an official complaint in Belgium against Chinese former president Jiang Zemin for crimes against humanity.
Copyright 2003 AFP