bill would allow Sharon to be tried in absentia
By Janine Zacharia
August 7, 2002
Belgian lawyers for Israel have been consulting with officials
here for the past few days over proposed Belgian legislation that
could, if passed, revive war crimes' charges against Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon and subject other Israelis to similar legal battles.
In June, a Belgian court dismissed a case accusing Sharon of responsibility
for the 1982 massacre of Palestinians by Lebanese Christians in
the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. The court said Sharon could
not be tried since he does not live in Belgium.
Under a 1993 law granting Belgian courts "universal jurisdiction"
over war crimes committed anywhere in the world, the accused must
be present on Belgian soil to be tried.
One of two proposed Belgian laws would overrule that decision and
allow for accused, including Sharon, to be tried in absentia. Some
of the Belgian senators who are lobbying for the legal change have
been vocal advocates of the case against Sharon, which strained
The second bill attempts to ensure Belgium's self-appointed role
as arbiter of alleged international crimes, despite the establishment
of an International Criminal Court set up for that purpose.
This bill says that Belgium should handle all cases dealing with
issues prior to the establishment of the court last month (the ICC
will only prosecute people for crimes committed after July 2002).
It also says Belgium will prosecute cases involving countries that
have not ratified the court's charter. That includes the US and
Israel has seen preliminary drafts of both bills.
"Obviously this will have implications for Israel," said
Danny Shek, the Foreign Ministry official who oversees Belgian-Israeli
Daniel Saada, an adviser in the Israeli Embassy in Brussels, told
the Associated Press Israeli and Belgian leaders have not exchanged
visits and there is virtually no dialogue between the countries
because of the Sharon case. Recent acts of anti-Semitism have further
strained relations, he added.
"It's too early to say that we will cut off diplomatic ties
but we will not remain passive and we will do everything in our
power to make the seriousness of the situation known to the Belgian
government," Saada said.
If the first law passes and Belgian courts are given the power
to try accused in absentia, Israelis who are convicted would be
unable to travel to countries with which Belgium has an extradition
The Belgian parliament is expected to vote on the bills in October
after a summer recess.
Israeli officials summoned the Belgian ambassador a few weeks ago
to discuss the bills and express Israel's concerns. Follow-up meetings
are expected. Israel is especially watching whether the governing
coalition in Belgium will support the bills.
"We will certainly make our feelings known to the Belgians,
and we will continue a dialogue with them, and we will see which
way this goes.
Obviously a big question is whether the government and the coalition
will stand behind these proposals. For the time being, it seems
they are going to vote for them," Shek said.