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Belgium Moves to Limit War Crimes Law, Repair U.S. Ties

August 02, 2003|From Associated Press

BRUSSELS — Belgium's Senate gave final approval Friday to a scaled-down war crimes law that the government hopes will repair relations with Washington and keep NATO headquarters here.

The bill passed 39 to 4, with 20 abstentions, after easily clearing the lower house Tuesday. It will take effect after it is signed by King Albert II, a formality.

The biggest change is the dropping of the "universal jurisdiction" in the 1993 law, which had resulted in complaints against President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, among others.

In June, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld threatened to move NATO headquarters out of Brussels unless the law was scrapped, and Belgium's European Union partners also expressed concern.

The new law allows cases to be brought only if the victim or suspect is a Belgian citizen or long-term resident at the time of the alleged crime. It also guarantees diplomatic immunity for world leaders and other government officials visiting Belgium.

Human rights groups expressed disappointment with the end of the Belgian law, which was adopted in response to horrors in the Balkans and Rwanda.

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