21st Jun 2019

US pressures Belgium to amend controversial law

  • The Belgian law should be changed by December, or US Defence Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld will not participate in the winter ministerial meeting at NATO (Photo: NATO)

Belgium recently faced another diplomatic embarrassment as a result of its law on universal competencies. An "immunity" law for foreign diplomats is now in the making.

The universal competence legislation, which allows foreigners to be tried for human rights violations and war crimes, would be watered down by adjacent legislation providing foreign diplomats attending meetings in Belgium with immunity.

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The initiative came after the threat made by US Defence Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld that the US would like to see NATO headquarters moved away from Belgium.

A number of top US officials, like former US President George Bush (senior), vice president Dick Cheney and secretary of state Colin Powell have all had cases filed against them under this law for their role in first Gulf War.

More recently, in May, Belgium received a complaint against General Tommy Franks for the Iraq war.

Belgium stays tough

But in spite of American pressure, the law on universal competence would not be modified again, as it would completely lose its substance, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt indicated recently.

The law had been amended by the Belgian Parliament in April and can now only pursue for cases of "war crimes directly related to Belgium."

However, the US gave astern warning: The troublesome law should be changed by December, or Donald Rumsfeld will refuse to participate in the winter ministerial meeting of NATO, meaning that the meeting will have to be moved elsewhere.

In addition to that, the funding of a new NATO headquarters building on Belgian soil will be stopped.

Finally, the US is said to be not entirely satisfied with the small step undertaken by Belgium. Granting immunity is not enough, the Americans would like to see the abolition of a law that is putting its officials in a humiliating position.

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