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Congressman Brad Sherman

Representing the 30th District of CALIFORNIA

SHERMAN RENEWS CALLS ON BELGIUM NOT TO WAFFLE ON LAWS CONCERNING PROSECUTION OF AMERICANS

  

Apr 29, 2003
Press Release

[Washington, D.C.] – Congressman Brad Sherman, the top Democrat on the new House Subcommittee on International Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Human Rights, continues to call on the Belgian government to clarify their laws concerning the prosecution of non-Belgians for crimes against humanity.

"NATO headquarters in Brussels, and American military officers and political officials have reason to visit Belgium quite frequently. It is outrageous to for American military officials, or Congressmen for that matter, to be subject to frivolous charges in Belgian courts," said Sherman. "They need to give U.S. military and political decision-makers assurances immediately."

The Belgian Supreme Court recently held that Belgium, utilizing a theory of "universal jurisdiction" over war crimes and other crimes against humanity, may arrest and try Israeli military officials for alleged crimes which take place outside of Belgium and, in fact, outside of Europe.

In March 2003, Sherman wrote to Belgian’s Minister for Foreign Affairs asking, "What assurance can you give me that these same legal assertions will not be made to allege jurisdiction over American military officers and political officials visiting Belgium who have supported, authorized, or carried out military actions against the government of Iraq?"

"Inevitably, American detractors, including perhaps some in Belgium, will claim that US military action against Iraq is ‘criminal,’ and that civilian casualties in Iraq resulted from the "criminal" acts of American military personnel and/or political decision-makers," he said.

Today, news reports validated Sherman’s concerns, indicating that a number of Iraqi’s plan to file a war crimes case against U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks, in Belgian courts.

The text of Sherman’s March letter follows.

March 17, 2003

H.E. Louis Michel

Minister for Foreign Affairs

Karmelietenstraat 15
B-1000 Brussel, Belgium
VIA FACSIMILE: 011.32 (0)2/513.25.46

 

Dear Minister Michel:

As you know, with NATO headquarters in Brussels, American military officers and political officials have reason to visit Belgium quite frequently. I understand that the Belgian Supreme Court, utilizing a theory of "universal jurisdiction" over war crimes and other crimes against humanity, has recently held that it has the right to arrest and try Israeli military officials for alleged crimes which take place outside of Belgium and, in fact, outside of Europe.

What assurance can you give me that these same legal assertions will not be made to allege jurisdiction over American military officers and political officials visiting Belgium who have supported, authorized, or carried out military actions against the government of Iraq? Keep in mind that it is inevitable that American detractors, including perhaps some in Belgium, will claim that US military action against Iraq is "criminal," and that civilian casualties in Iraq resulted from the "criminal" acts of American military personnel and/or political decision- makers.

What principles are firmly established under Belgian law which would prevent the arrest and trial of Americans for actions alleged to have taken place in Iraq, or decisions alleged to have been made in Washington, regarding the conduct of any war against Iraq?

Perhaps in answering these questions, the legal staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and/or the Ministry of Justice could provide me with an analysis in the form of a memorandum, so that I would be certain that officials of the United States government, including Members of Congress, as well as members of the US military, will not be subject to arrest and trial for alleged activities occurring outside of Belgium which are connected to war in Iraq.

Hopefully, this legal analysis will reach the conclusion that Belgian law provides protections for American as well Israeli military and civilian officials. If not, I would hope that the legal analysis would distinguish why Americans are not subject to prosecution, but Israelis are.

Sincerely,

BRAD SHERMAN

Member of Congress