The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[casi] Interview with Belgian lawyer Jan Fermon

War crimes case against General Franks: Interview with Belgian lawyer Jan

20 May 2003

Richard Tyler spoke with the Belgian lawyer Jan Fermon, who filed the war
crimes lawsuit against US General Tommy Franks last week.

Q: What is the basis of the case?

A: The legal basis is, on the one hand, the four Geneva Conventions, then on
the other hand the Belgian law of universal jurisdiction of 1993. This
foresees that anyone can have recourse to Belgian justice if he or she is
the victim of war crimes, crimes of genocide or crimes against humanity. A
combination of these two forms the basis of this case.

Q: How many specific charges are there, and could you describe the most
serious ones?

A: One of the main groups of charges is that US forces fired at and bombed
civilian targets. We are not speaking here about what is generally called
"collateral damage." It doesn't involve people who were simply too close to
a military target. It involves deliberate attacks on civilians, as distinct
from what is generally called collateral damage.

Another charge is that US forces attacked the press, and specifically the
offices of Al Jazeera. The case clearly shows this was a deliberate attack.
There were several attacks on press offices and on the Palestine Hotel,
where journalists were staying. It was a coordinated attack on the press.
The attack on the Al Jazeera offices was carried out by a tank-buster plane;
it was very deliberate and specifically aimed at the Al Jazeera offices.

Q: What do you think about the government's intervention to try to quash the

A: It would be illegal to do so. The law as it now stands says very clearly
that the Belgian government can only send the case to the court of the
country of origin of the crime (i.e., the US) if the country of origin
recognises the crime aimed at by the lawsuit. A problem is that part of the
lawsuit is based on the additional protocols to the Geneva Convention, which
have not been ratified by the US. That means that part of the legal basis on
which we base the lawsuit simply does not exist in the US. Therefore, it
would be illegal in that situation to send the case to the US courts.

Secondly, it is a requirement of the law of universal jurisdiction that all
parties, the victims and the perpetrators, should be able to receive a fair
trial in the country where the case is referred. We think this presents a
big problem with the US courts for several reasons. It would be a military
court. Also, if you look at the pressure the US is putting on the Belgian
government, it is clear the US executive is trying to influence the Belgian
courts through the Belgian government. If you look at an American court and
judge, then it is clear the same type of pressure would be used.

It is clear that Iraqi civilian victims complaining about US military
action, and more specifically about the way the military command handled the
US military action, could not get a fair trial in a US court at this time.

Q: Does the law of universal jurisdiction permit Belgium to send the case to
an international court, such as the International Criminal Tribunal at The

A: Yes, but only under the condition that the countries involved, and
particularly of the perpetrator, in this case the US, has ratified the
statutes of the International Criminal Court. And that is not the case in

Q: What do you think will happen next?

A: I think the Belgian government will try to refer the case to the US
courts, since it is clear the government intends to capitulate to US
pressure. We will fight this by all legal means in the Belgian courts.

Q: How would you respond to accusations that the case is a "political abuse"
of the universal jurisdiction law? Or that you are taking on the case for
political reasons?

A: Most of those making this accusation have not read the lawsuit. They are
making a general comment, without knowing what specific crimes are detailed
in the case. This is rather a peculiar way to handle such a problem.

We are talking about crimes committed in the course of a war, and a war is
always a highly politically sensitive question. So in this regard, yes, you
could say it is a political case. But all the court cases related to
international events like war or international terrorism are political in
that way.

The problem is to find some way to get accountability and justice for the
victims, that is the main aim of the lawsuit.

Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
To unsubscribe, visit
To contact the list manager, email
All postings are archived on CASI's website:

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]