BRUSSELS - Belgium said on Thursday it had received lawsuits against President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair under a controversial war crimes law.
But it said it had forwarded the cases to the defendants' countries, reducing their chances of reaching a court.
U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld holds a news conference at the NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels June 12, 2003. Rumsfeld said Washington would block further spending on NATO's new headquarters in Brussels because of a Belgian law which gives courts power to try foreigners for human rights crimes. REUTERS/Yves Herman
Belgium has come under harsh criticism especially from the United States for the law, which empowers its courts to try foreigners for serious war and human rights crimes no matter where they were committed.
In an effort to discourage so-called "propaganda" cases, it reformed the law to allow a lawsuit to be sent to a defendant's country if that country were democratic with a legal system that could handle it properly.
Belgium's justice ministry said legal authorities had received lawsuits against Bush, Blair and a host of senior U.S. officials for crimes against humanity in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The ministry was able to send the lawsuits to Britain and the United States on Thursday under the recent change to the genocide law, ministry spokesman Joannes Thuy told Reuters.
"The renewed law makes its possible to send a lawsuit to a country if it has a legal system which can deal with this kind of complaint," he said.
One lawsuit accused Bush, Blair, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and U.S. General Tommy Franks of crimes against humanity in the recent Iraq war, a ministry statement said.
A second lawsuit was against Powell, also regarding the Iraq war.
A third was against Bush, Rumsfeld, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz for crimes against humanity in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Thuy declined to say when or by whom the lawsuits were filed.
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