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THE WORLD

Sharon Genocide Suit Dismissed in Belgium

Justice: Israeli leader cannot be tried in absentia for 1982 massacre, court rules.

June 27, 2002|From Times Wire Services

BRUSSELS — A court here threw out a genocide suit against Ariel Sharon on Wednesday, ruling that his absence from Belgium means the Israeli prime minister cannot be prosecuted over a 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Survivors of the Beirut camp massacre had pursued Sharon--who was Israeli defense minister at the time--under a Belgian law empowering courts here to try suspects on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide, no matter where they allegedly were committed.

Israel, whose relations with Brussels were soured by the case filed a year ago, hailed the ruling as a triumph of "law over politics." Some legal experts said the decision leaves Belgium's sweeping human rights law all but impotent if suspects live abroad.

The verdict makes it unlikely that similar complaints in Belgium against international figures--including Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, Cuban President Fidel Castro and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein--can be successful, said Jan Wouters, director of the Institute of International Law at the University of Leuven.

Palestinians, hundreds of whose relatives were killed by Israeli-backed Lebanese Christian militiamen in the Sabra and Shatila camps, nevertheless vowed to keep after Sharon. The plaintiffs' lawyers said they would take the case to Belgium's Supreme Court of Appeal.

"We will never give up our attempts and demands that Sharon must be prosecuted for his crimes," Palestinian Cabinet minister Imad Falouji said in the Gaza Strip.

Sharon made no immediate comment.

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