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Ruling in Belgium Could Help Sharon Avoid Inquiry

Justice: Prosecution on war crimes charges seems unlikely after court rejects similar case.

April 17, 2002|From Reuters

BRUSSELS — A court here threw into doubt Tuesday a bid to try Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Belgium when it rejected a similar case involving a former Congolese foreign minister accused of crimes against humanity.

The same appeals court is considering whether a Belgian court has the right to try Sharon for alleged war crimes in connection with the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut during Israel's thrust into Lebanon.

"The legal proceedings were declared inadmissible," appeals court spokesman Guy Delvoie said after a ruling that dismissed a case against Yerodia Abdoulaye Ndombasi on the grounds that he does not live in Belgium.

"No prosecution can be started against any defendant in absentia," the spokesman said.

Ndombasi was accused of inciting hatred against ethnic Tutsis in August 1998 in speeches referring to "vermin" and "extermination," four years after massacres of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus in neighboring Rwanda.

Michael Verhaeghe, one of the lawyers representing the group of Palestinians who brought the suit against Sharon, said he anticipated the court's dismissal of a request to reopen an inquiry into the past of the 74-year-old Israeli leader for evidence of war crimes and genocide.

"I would be very surprised if it's a different decision in our case," Verhaeghe said. "It's hard to imagine the court would set this condition in April and a few months later decide something else."

Sharon's lawyer, Adrien Massert, welcomed the ruling, calling it an "excellent decision."

"The court backed our first argument that Belgium could only proceed in such a case if the accused is arrested on Belgian soil," he said. "Our arguments are sound."

Sharon was Israel's defense minister at the time of the killings, and his troops ringed the camps during the massacre by Lebanese Christian militiamen. An internal Israeli investigation in 1983 found him indirectly responsible.

The ruling on the Sharon case is expected as early as June.

Both cases were brought under a Belgian law that claims universal jurisdiction in human rights cases regardless of where the alleged crimes were committed.

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