Sunday, July 13, 2003

A backwards step

The newly formed Belgian coalition government has confirmed that it intends to repeal Belgium's controversial "universal jurisdiction" law.

This is a step backwards in the fight to hold governments - all governments - accountable for their actions. The very idea of "crimes against humanity" is based on the principle that some things are wrong, whether or not they are against the domestic laws of the local jurisdiction (or indeed, approved of by the government of that jurisdiction). In other words, it rests on a principle of universal jurisdiction. While Belgium's law didn't do much, it did put the fear of god into certain politicians that if they set foot in Europe, they would be held accountable for what they had done (or at least be forced to justify it). And judging by the fear the Sharons, Kissingers and Bushes of the world reacted with, they were afraid they wouldn't be able to.

Fortunately we still have the ICC, but it can only deal with crimes commited in signatory nations, and only after June this year. Those who commited crimes against humanity before then - Sharon, Kissinger and Castro, among others - get off scott free.