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February 16, 2002
Press Statement by Lawyers representing Sabra and Shatila Survivors



P R E S S     R E L E A S E

DATE: 14 February 2002

RE: Press Statement by the lawyers representing the victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacres

FOR: Immediate Release

CONTACT: Laurie King-Irani, North American Coordinator, International Campaign for Justice for the Victims of Sabra and Shatila, 250-213-6872; coordinator@indictsharon.net www.indictsharon.net/

We have taken note of the decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Congo v. Belgium case issued earlier today. Formally, this decision concerns only the parties to the litigation. The State of Israel, unlike the Democratic Republic of Congo, does not accept the jurisdiction of the ICJ. Nevertheless, the decision may affect the debate on the possible immunity of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for crimes committed in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982. A first reading of the text elicits the following comments:

1. The decision granting immunity to a Minister of Foreign Affairs undermines the progress of international humanitarian law as consecrated in the statutes of international tribunals and as supported by a systematic body of expert opinion. Granting immunity to any official is a step backwards in view of the seriousness of the crimes which international law and the Belgian statute of 1999 seek to punish.

2. It is important to understand the exact scope, essentially a functional and limited one, which the Court gives to this rule on immunity. In paragraph 54, the Court specifies that "immunity and inviolability protect the individual concerned against any act of authority of another State which would hinder him or her in the performance of his or her duties." It is chiefly the "issuance" and "circulation" of the international arrest warrant issued against Mr. Yerodia which were rejected by the Court as a "hindrance in the performance of his duties" as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Congo.

In the Sabra and Shatila case, no arrest warrant was requested, and no measure was requested that would prevent Mr. Sharon from pursuing his national and international activities. The immunity that the Court recognized today does not prevent the pursuit of the criminal investigation in the Sabra and Shatila massacres.

3. The decision of the International Court qualifies immunity as merely temporary. In the Sabra and Shatila trial, at least concerning Mr. Ariel Sharon, it is important to note the wording of the ICJ to the effect that: "Provided that it has jurisdiction under international law, a court of one State may try a former Minister for Foreign Affairs of another State in respect of acts committed prior or subsequent to his or her period of office." From the perspective of Belgian law on universal jurisdiction, which today's ICJ decision does not address, there is, in theory, no obstacle to the issuance of an arrest warrant against Mr. Sharon as soon as he stops exercising his present functions.

4. Finally, and with regard to general principles, the decision insists on the fact that immunity is not equivalent to impunity. Without prejudice to the decision that will be rendered by the Brussels Court of Appeal on March 6, the case does not only concern Mr. Sharon. Other suspects, notably Amos Yaron, are not covered by any immunity.

Chibli Mallat
Luc Walleyn
MichaŽl Verhaeghe