Israel: International justice for Sabra and Chatila victims

'After over 20 years of suffering, the survivors and relatives of victims of the massacres have a right to know the truth and to see those responsible brought to justice for crimes under international law,' Amnesty International said.

'Allowing the Belgian criminal justice system to conduct such an investigation as an agent of the international community is the least the world can offer to the survivors and relatives of victims of the massacre as they commemorate the 20th anniversary of these atrocities,' the organisation added.

Amnesty International hopes that the Belgian Court of Cassation will review the previous ruling by a Belgian court which led to the suspension of the criminal investigation into the killings of at least 900 Palestinian civilians in Sabra and Chatila. The investigation had been ordered by a Belgian investigating magistrate.

Should the Court of Cassation fail to allow such an investigation to resume, Amnesty International will be calling for a reform of the law. Belgian law should continue to allow courts to investigate persons suspected of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide regardless of where they are, and to seek their extradition to Belgium for trial based on universal jurisdiction.

Background

The hearing in Belgian Court of Cassation will take place on 26 September 2002. On 18 June 2001, 23 survivors of the 1982 killings in the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps filed a complaint alleging that Ariel Sharon, then Minister of Defence and now Prime Minister of Israel, Amos Yaron, then Brigadier General commanding Israeli forces, and other Israeli military officials and members of the Phalange (Lebanese Christian militia), are responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in connection with these killings.

In July 2001, Belgian juge d'instruction (investigating magistrate), Patrick Collignon, opened a criminal investigation into the 1982 killings. After an intervention by a lawyer acting on behalf of Israel, the investigating magistrate suspended the investigation on 7 September 2001. Following a hearing on 15 May 2002 about whether a Belgian prosecutor may resume the suspended criminal investigation of the 1982 killings by the Phalange as well as allegations that the Phalange had carried out large-scale 'disappearances' with the knowledge of or under the supervision of Israeli forces after the killings, the Indictment Chamber of the Court of Appeal effectively stopped the investigation of the case by Belgian prosecutors.

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