17 February 2004
BRUSSELS – Belgium and Israel have officially drawn a line under a bitter row about Belgian war crimes charges levelled at Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Belgian prosecuting magistrates were forced to drop the charges against Sharon last year when the government in Brussels reformed the country’s controversial ‘universal competence’ law to only cover Belgian citizens or war crimes committed on national territory.
Relations between the two countries had nevertheless remained frosty, however.
But that changed on Monday after talks in Jerusalem between Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel and his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom.
Speaking to journalists after the meeting Shalom said the two countries now hoped “to revive their relationship”.
“We have turned the page of past differences,” added Michel, who is currently on a diplomatic tour of North Africa and the Middle East.
Before it was altered, Belgium’s universal competence law gave the country’s courts the right to try war crimes and crimes against humanity, wherever they had been committed in the world and regardless of whether or not they had been committed by Belgians.
The legislation sparked a number of high profile lawsuits, not just against Sharon – who was accused of war crimes against the Palestinians – but also against other world leaders including the UK’s Tony Blair and US President George W Bush.
Civil liberties organisations severely criticised the Belgian government when it toned down the legislation last year, saying it had caved in to international pressure notably from Washington.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Belgian news