Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 August 2016, 07:05 GMT

Amnesty International Report 2006 - Belgium

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 23 May 2006
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2006 - Belgium, 23 May 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/447ff79f20.html [accessed 24 August 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Racist attacks directed against ethnic, religious and other minorities continued to be reported. Little was done to implement the National Plan of Action on Domestic Violence (2004-07). Foreign nationals, including minors, continued to be confined to airport transit zones for extended periods, in conditions often amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. A Belgian court found two Rwandans guilty of war crimes committed in 1994 in Rwanda.

Background

During 2005, Belgium signed a number of human rights instruments including the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and the European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

In October, the Belgian Council of Ministers proposed draft counter-terrorism legislation to parliament. The stated intent of the draft law was to modify the current criminal and judicial codes in order to "improve the methods of investigation in the fight against terrorism and grave and organized crime". The measures proposed included extending the hours during which a house search can be conducted; allowing suspects to be filmed without the authorization of a judge; and authorizing the creation of a confidential file to which suspects and their lawyers may be denied access. The law was awaiting approval at the end of the year.

Prison conditions

New legislation on prison conditions was not implemented and prison conditions continued to fall short of human rights standards.

On 18 March, a riot involving approximately 50 inmates took place in Ittre prison in the region of Walloon. The riot ended with three people injured and extensive material damage. On 27 March, the Council of State nullified the disciplinary proceedings initiated against some detainees thought to be responsible. Prison officers responded to this decision by going on strike for more than a week. The lawyer acting on behalf of some of the prisoners reported that the judgement of the Council of State had been ignored and her clients were being held in solitary confinement. There were also allegations that the inmates in solitary confinement were not allowed to read or write and those with an "Arab sounding" surname were denied contact with the religious counsel.

A delegation of the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) carried out its fourth visit to Belgium in April.

A month-long strike by the prison guards at Antwerp prison started in September. They were protesting against overcrowding in detention facilities and the shortage of personnel. One of the consequences of overcrowding was that detainees were not allowed any daily exercise, despite a court order to reinstate daily exercise periods.

Racism and discrimination

In its annual report published in June, the Centre for Equal Opportunities and the Fight against Racism (Centre pour l'égalité des chances et de la lutte contre le racisme) expressed its concern at increasing xenophobia and racism in the country. The report highlighted employment discrimination, social discrimination and discrimination in access to public services. It also noted discrimination against people with disabilities, on the basis of sexual orientation and linked with health conditions.

Many racist incidents directed against ethnic, religious and other minorities continued to be reported in 2005.

  • In March, a Muslim woman resigned from her job in a food processing firm in Ledegem, western Belgium, after her employer received seven written death threats from a previously unknown organization. The threats stated that the life of the woman and the lives of her colleagues were in danger because she wore a headscarf to work. Two bullets were included in the seventh threatening letter. Despite the threats, her employer was actively supportive of her, and in April she resumed her job at the firm.
  • In March and May, the Juvenile Court of Louvain found three individuals guilty of a violent attack against two gay men in 2003. It was the first time a judgment by a Belgian court had referred specifically to sexual orientation and homophobia as the motivation behind a violent attack. The three men were sentenced to 100-euro fines.
  • In June, two trials regarding anti-Semitic acts opened in Antwerp. In the first case, a 22-year-old man was sentenced to six months' imprisonment and a fine of 550 euros on a charge of racism for threatening a Jewish man with a knife. The second case involved a 23-year-old man who was also convicted of racism for verbally abusing two Jewish youths. He received a two-month suspended sentence and a fine of 330 euros.

Violence against women

The prevalence of violence in the home remained a serious concern. According to a poll commissioned by AI in February and carried out within the French-speaking community, 29 per cent of Belgians knew of at least one household in which domestic violence had taken place.

In June, AI together with a large number of representatives of civil society – including women's organizations, unions, friendly societies and the largest employer's federation in Belgium, the Belgian Federation of Enterprises – presented the Belgian authorities with a list of principles and priorities on domestic violence.

The lack of official government statistics regarding gender violence in the home meant that the true scale of the problem was difficult to gauge. By the end of the year little had been done by the authorities to implement the National Plan of Action on Domestic Violence initiated in 2004.

Detention and deportation of foreign nationals

In February the report of an independent commission (the so-called Vermeersch II), set up by the Minister of the Interior to re-evaluate the techniques used in forcible deportations, was made public. The commission addressed some issues of concern including the need for transparency during forced removal; for asylum-seekers denied entry into Belgian territory from a transit zone to be provided with a right of appeal; and for the need to assign legal guardians for unaccompanied minors to be investigated. However, it concluded that a foreign national who resists forcible return can be detained until they abandon all resistance and can be expelled, raising concerns at the lack of a clear definition of what would constitute resistance and at the absence of a maximum period of detention.

Foreign nationals, including minors, continued to be confined to the airport transit zones for extended periods and in conditions often amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated in December, that the number of minors detained in such centres had continued to increase during the year and the length of their detention had also increased.

Universal jurisdiction

Although the law on universal jurisdiction was amended in 2003 so that victims could lodge complaints directly with an investigating magistrate only if the case had a direct connection with Belgium, a limited number of cases were pursued.

  • On 29 June, two Rwandans were convicted of war crimes and murder committed in 1994 in Rwanda. Half-brothers Etienne Nzabonimana, aged 53, and Samuel Ndashyikirwa, aged 43, were sentenced to 12 and 10 years' imprisonment respectively.
  • In September, Belgium issued an international arrest warrant against the former President of Chad, Hissène Habré. He was accused of human rights violations including torture, murder and "disappearances". Hissène Habré was arrested in November by the authorities in Senegal, where he had taken up residence. The Senegalese authorities stated that he would remain in detention until January 2006 when his extradition would be discussed at the summit of the African Union.


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