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The Belgian Follies

By Gregory J. Hand
web posted December 3, 2001

Belgium is one of those countries who have seen their greatness come and gone, yet it refuses to come to terms with its loss of prestige with any sort of dignity. Towards that end, and in an effort to remain relevant on an increasingly crowded world stage, Belgium decided several years ago that if the United States was to be the world's policeman, they were going to be the world's judicial system, whether anyone really liked it or not. Sadly enough, it appears that tacit acceptance by the world community for that role has taken hold.

Accordingly, the Belgians have taken it upon themselves to try any and all war criminals of any nationality for war crimes committed anywhere in the world, regardless of whether or not a Belgian was anywhere within a thousand mile radius of the crime. The law was created in 1993, and was begun as part of one of those international socialist utopian efforts to establish a worldwide criminal tribunal. It was originally set up to process violations of the Geneva war crimes convention, but lucky for all of us, it was amended in 1999 to include both genocide and crimes against humanity.

An employee rolls a trolley, with files to state a case against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, towards a courtroom, at a Brussels court on November 28. An appeals court is expected to make a decision next year on whether Belgium has jurisdiction in the case of a group of Palestinians seeking to bring war crimes charges against Sharon.
An employee rolls a trolley, with files to state a case against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, towards a courtroom, at a Brussels court on November 28

It is not, however, to be confused with the just as ridiculous Hague tribunal, which was set up by the United Nations Security Council to specifically deal with crimes allegedly committed in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. As such, it is a very specific tribunal with limited jurisdiction, while the Belgians have a national law that empowers its courts to run rampant anywhere in the world, regardless of borders. Having that freedom, they have decided to involve themselves in the quagmire of the Middle East peace process by investigating both PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for crimes against humanity.

This has not been without some pain, however, especially with regard to Sharon. Belgium was somewhat embarrassed recently when Sharon declined to visit the European Union headquarters in Brussels, probably out of concern from either an interrogation or arrest. The Sharon investigation has furthermore hurt Israeli relations with Belgium, which now holds the rotating EU presidency and as such has taken lead of the EU's post-September 11th effort to push for peace in the Middle East. Certainly one way to fix the problem in that volatile region would be to lock everyone up in a Belgian jail.

Yasser ArafatArafat's troubles recently began thanks to a Jerusalem-based group called the Terror Victims Association, which lodged the complaint "for crimes against humanity and genocide" against Arafat on behalf of 30 Israelis who listed 23 relatives who were killed and six wounded in attacks believed to be carried out by Palestinian militants. The claims filed with the Belgian court include physical torture, genocide and murder, Israeli lawyer Jacob Rubin said. Meir Indor, head of the Terror Victims' Association, also weighed in, commenting that, "We have come from Israel to demand justice for the victims of the 30-year career of Yasser Arafat." Why that issue is taken up in Northern Europe instead of the Middle East is somewhat peculiar, but one obviously ignores the quirk of geography when justice is being sought and the only place offering it at the moment is a two bit socialist country on the North Sea.

For better or worse, depending on how you look at it, that is not the end to the assault on Arafat. French lawyer William Goldnadel, head of the group Lawyers without Borders, claimed Arafat was the "principal conspirator" behind numerous attacks on civilians since the Palestinian leader began his resistance movement in 1966. That certainly may be true, and no doubt he should finally be made to answer for some of his behavior throughout the years, although certainly not in Brussels. What is more frightening, however, is the concept of lawyers without borders. They are certainly mischievous enough within their home countries, but the idea of hordes of trial lawyers scouring the globe for large contingency fees, blanketed in the name of "justice," seems almost as frightening as Arafat's rein of terror.

Sharon, besting Arafat, has two such inquiries currently being investigated by the Belgian courts. One complaint, filed in June, claims that while defense minister, Sharon was involved in the 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. It was filed by a group of 23 survivors of the killings in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, which were carried out by a Lebanese militia allied with Israel. At the time, an Israeli inquiry found him indirectly responsible and forced him to resign from the government.

Last week the second shoe dropped, when six Palestinians filed a second case against Sharon and other Israeli leaders and soldiers, claiming they were responsible for the deaths of children shot since the resumption of violence in the region 14 months ago. This, of course, was violence initiated by Arafat, of all ironies, for the purpose of putting pressure on the prior Israeli government of Ehud Barak, and which the Israeli position has been one primarily of self defense. That the unfortunate killing of any Palestinian children by Israelis was strictly unintentional apparently also does not matter. No doubt included in that list of dead "children" were the gangs of teenagers who pushed Israeli soldiers into the regrettable position of having to defend themselves against attacks from those "children" with rocks standing in front of the Palestinian adults with the semi-automatic weapons that the media always conveniently forget to show.

Ariel SharonWhile the second case is just getting underway, the first, however, is becoming a more serious matter for Sharon. A Belgian prosecutor has decided the case against the Israeli Prime Minister should go beyond the first step of establishing whether the complaint against him is worth investigating. It apparently is, at least to the Belgians. The second step will be to gather more information, said Joannes Thuy, a justice ministry spokesman. "The prosecutor is gathering information about the person against whom the complaint is brought and about the crimes he has committed or not." Thuy added.

The third step, if it is to get that far, would be arrest Sharon and put him on trial in Brussels. Thuy was unable to give a timetable for such a possibility, saying it "depended on the length of the current investigation," adding, "Perhaps it is necessary to send a commission to Israel to investigate several things there." Just what the Israelis need: Unruly Palestinians in their midst, hostile neighbors on all sides, and a Belgian investigative commission roaming the country looking to lock up the Prime Minister, in Belgium of all places, for crimes against humanity. If the Belgians are so interested in prosecuting crimes against humanity, perhaps they should look at their own obnoxious behavior first. Either that or Chelsea Clinton's article in Talk Magazine. Having to read that truth stretching fluff should at least register as cruel and unusual punishment.

Israel, needless to say, is not amused. Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres defended Sharon, telling a Flemish television station last month, "We are fighting for our life. And Sharon was one of the best fighters. So what is their claim? Could they avoid war? Could they prevent it?" With all due respect to Peres, that is not the purpose of an armchair quarterback. It is to tell you how you screwed up after the fact, and in this case it is to also put you in a Belgian jail should the Belgians become that unhappy with your prior performance.

Peres also added that he thought a law suit would be bad for Belgium. "I think it is a terrible mistake, terrible mistake. I am not referring to the legal side, I am referring to the moral side." Unfortunately for Israel and its Prime Minister, the Belgians are going through this whole dog and pony show specifically under the guise of morality, coupled with their Euro-socialist sense of "justice."

The Belgian parliament, in response to complaints about the law's current form, is likely to be asked to consider several amendments to the law. Philippe Mahoux, Belgian socialist senator, remarked that, "It needs reflection, maybe find a formula that allows serving heads of state not impunity but something like temporary immunity while they're serving as head of state, that allows them to be prosecuted when their mandate has expired." How kind of them. No doubt a collective sigh of relief can be heard at Presidential palaces across the globe knowing that the Belgians are at bay until the end of their terms.

He continued, "It's a hypothesis, it's the only one I see. All others would have the effect of altering the fundamental basics of our law and I don't think that's possible." He commented, adding, "I don't think we should change the law's universal jurisdiction. We should ensure its continuity. In other words, I think for crimes of this nature wherever they are committed, whatever the nationality of the perpetrator, whatever the nationality of the victims we have to be able to prosecute without regard to territorial limits." It is frightening that he views Belgium as having this global role. It is more so that the rest of the world is seemingly content to allow them to do it.

Even if they only have passive acceptance of their activities from the rest of the world, the Belgians of course have the full support of international human rights groups in their vigilante prosecutions of people living on different continents that have absolutely nothing to do with Belgium or its people. They do so because they claim that it is based on the principle of "universal jurisdiction," and is necessary to prevent the perpetrators of serious international crimes from escaping justice.

"The Belgian law is part of a growing trend towards accountability for atrocities," said Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) in a joint statement, which did not comment directly on the legitimacy of any particular case. "Prosecutions based on universal jurisdiction are an essential part of the emerging system of international justice. They help to break down the wall of immunity with which tyrants and torturers protect themselves in their own countries." A Belgian jail is the answer?

While there can be little support for the antics of dictators and thugs throughout the world, the idea of socialist Belgium, a country of just over 10.2 million people roughly the size of Maryland, issuing international arrest warrants and placing whomever they choose on trial for supposed crimes outside of that country for behavior that does not involve either Belgium or its citizens is outrageous. One can only imagine the mayhem that would ensue should more countries emulate this behavior, which is very much a realistic possibility, as countries fight over different war criminals to put on show trials and how each country defines a ‘crime against humanity.'

That Belgium has taken the impetus to become the world's courtroom is one thing. They are certainly entitled to their delusions of grandeur, despite their actual irrelevance, even with the capitol of the farcical European Union within their borders. That they have not been put in their place and stopped from further antics is simply diplomatic laziness and a fear on the part of other countries to appear to be soft on those that the Belgians would prosecute.

The idea of carrying the Middle East fighting to Belgium, in the hopes of either side jailing the opposition's leader, is one more pathetic offshoot of a battle that has been waged for far too long. This crisis will not, however, be settled either in a Belgian courtroom or with Arafat and Sharon rotting in a Belgian jail. For anyone to think otherwise is almost as absurd as the Belgians for putting themselves in the middle of this long running mess in the first place.

Belgium has enough internal problems of its own to deal with without being a global busybody trying to enforce its own version of social justice on the rest of us. This is nothing but a kangaroo court designed to give the lazy socialist intellectuals in Belgium something to prop up their self esteem. The rest of the world continuing to tolerate this sort of disgraceful power grab is, in and of itself, an injustice, and is something that should be put to rest without delay.

Gregory J. Hand is a political and social commentator whose weekly columns disclose his personal passion for conservative issues. His columns appear regularly at NewsCorridor, OpinioNet, and Ether Zone, and he is also a contributing writer with Enter Stage Right. He has a B.A. in Economics from Wofford College. You can view the complete catalog of all of his works on GregoryHand.com, and can reach him at ghand@gregoryhand.com.

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