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Belgium to Alter War Crime Law

June 23, 2003|From Reuters

BRUSSELS — Belgium said Sunday it would change a controversial war crimes law that has provoked fierce U.S. criticism over lawsuits such as one against President Bush over alleged Iraq war abuses.

Premier Guy Verhofstadt said the change would make it harder for foreigners to initiate proceedings under the 1993 legislation, which permits Belgian courts to try allegations of war and human rights crimes no matter where they occurred. The reforms would oblige the defendant or victim to have Belgian residency if not citizenship.

"Certain people and certain organizations ... systematically use this law in an abusive manner," Verhofstadt said. "Modifying the law will make it impossible to abuse this law."

He was quick to reject suggestions that he had bowed to U.S. pressure. "It is not U.S. pressure," he said. "The reason ... is really because we want to keep the law."

Tensions between Belgium and the U.S. have risen in recent weeks, with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, himself the target of a lawsuit, threatening to freeze spending on NATO's new headquarters in Brussels unless the law is revoked.

Verhofstadt said he would send the changes to Parliament once his party and the Socialists reach agreement on forming a new coalition government.

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