15 January 2004
BRUSSELS – Belgium’s highest court has ruled that that the US General who led the 2003 invasion of Iraq cannot be charged with war crimes under the country’s controversial ‘universal competence’ law.
The Court of Cassation said on Wednesday afternoon that a complaint brought by 17 Iraqi citizens and two Jordanians against General Tommy Franks was not valid.
The ruling is final and there are no further possibilities for the plaintiffs to appeal.
The decision marks the end of an embarrassing period in relations between the US and Belgian governments, which saw Washington suspend funding for a new Nato headquarters in Brussels until all universal competence charges against US citizens, including General Franks, were dropped.
The universal competence law was adopted soon after Belgium’s liberal Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt was elected for the first time in 1999.
It said Belgian courts could try anyone suspected of war crimes or crimes against humanity, wherever in the world the acts had been committed.
High profile figures summoned to stand trial under the legislation included Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, over his treatment of the Palestinians, as well as UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W Bush for the way they handled the war in Iraq.
But after he won a second election victory last May, Verhofstadt modified the law so that only cases involving Belgian citizens or residents could be heard.
Human rights groups criticised Verhofstadt’s decision and accused him of caving into international pressure, notably from Washington.
The plaintiffs in the Franks case made their original complaint before the law was changed, which is why the Court of Cassation had to consider their arguments this week.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Belgian news