Belgian lawyers to charge Barak and Livni for war crimes 23Jun10 June 24, 2010

by Danna Harman  -  Haaretz -  23 June 2010

Two Belgian lawyers announced on Wednesday that, working on behalf of a group of Palestinians – including, significantly, one who is a Belgian national – they were intending to charge 14 Israeli politicians, including Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni and Matan Vilnai, for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The lawyers, Georges-Henri Beauthier and Alexis Deswaef said they were acting on behalf of 13 Palestinian victims from Gaza, and an additional man – Anouar El Okka, a Belgian doctor of Palestinian origin.

The current charges would be brought against the Israeli leaders using the principle of universal jurisdiction, the lawyers said – and would focus on alleged crimes, including the use of phosperous, committed during the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in January 2009.

In Belgian, the law states that there must be a connection between the crimes and a Belgian citizen in order to successfully prosecute under universal jurisdiction – something El Okka would supply.

This is not the first time the Belgian system has been asked to charge Israeli with such offenses. Just last year, Belgian attorneys, acting on behalf of Belgian nationals with relatives who were wounded or killed in Gaza, petitioned a court there to arrest then Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni upon her arrival in Brussels. However, in that case it seems the connection between the victims and Belgium was not strong enough to follow through with the case.

The most famous case to date involving Belgium and Israel was in 2001 when there was a criminal complaint in Belgium on behalf of 21 survivors of the 1982 massacre at the Shabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. The then Israeli Defense Minister (Ariel Sharon) and members of the Lebanese Christian militia were charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It was after this case that the law was changed to include a clause about a Belgian connection.

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