Universal Jurisdiction and the Case of Belgium: A Critical Assessment
ILSA Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 16, No. 1, pp. 141-167, Fall 2009
27 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2009 Last revised: 12 Jul 2010
Praised in some quarters as a useful tool for bringing criminal perpetrators to justice, criticized by others as a threat to state sovereignty, universal jurisdiction has certainly emerged as a heated topic within international criminal law. In 1993, the Kingdom of Belgium enacted a domestic statute, the Loi du 16 Juin, which codified (in domestic Belgian law) the use and application of universal jurisdiction (for international crimes) in Belgian courts. The Statute, which went through two major revisions in February 1999 and April 2003, granted Belgian courts jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, regardless of where in the world they took place. While the idea of universal jurisdiction within international law is not a new one, it has been argued, with justification, that Belgium’s universal jurisdiction statute was the most extensive and far reaching attempt to date of a domestic state within the international system sanctioning the wide-scale use of its courts for trying international crimes. This Article presents a detailed survey on the history and process of universal jurisdiction as practiced in Belgium from 1993 to the present. Through this detailed presentation, this Article concludes with a much more sobering and critical analysis on Belgium’s universal jurisdiction statute than that which has been provided to date by other legal scholars. This Article argues that, far from presenting a powerful tool for justice, Belgium’s universal jurisdiction statute violated fundamental norms of not only international law, but domestic Belgian law as well. In correcting some of these more egregious violations, the new Belgian universal jurisdiction scheme that was created by the August 2003 annulment of the country’s specialized statute (and subsequent incorporation of limited provisions for universal jurisdiction into the Belgian Code Pénal and Titre préliminaire du Code de procédure pénale ) represents a step forwards, not backwards, for fundamental justice.
Keywords: universal jurisdiction, Belgium, war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide
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By Jide Nzelibe