Head of state: King Albert II
Head of government: Herman Van Rompuy (replaced Yves Leterme in December, who replaced Guy Verhofstadt in March)
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 10.5 million
Life expectancy: 78.8 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 6/5 per 1,000

Incidents of ill-treatment and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, particularly during expulsions of migrants and rejected asylum-seekers, were reported. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) severely criticized conditions in detention centres for migrants and asylum-seekers. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the prolonged detention of two asylum-seekers in an airport transit zone had constituted inhuman and degrading treatment. There were numerous hunger strikes by detained migrants in protest at their conditions of detention.

Torture and other ill-treatment

There were continued reports of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials, particularly during expulsions of undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers whose asylum claims had been rejected. In November, the UN Committee against Torture expressed concern at continuing allegations of ill-treatment, including ill-treatment with a racist element, by law enforcement officials. In February, the CERD had also expressed concern about racist ill-treatment and discrimination by law enforcement officials, including excessive use of force during expulsions.

  • On 26 April, Ebenizer Sontsa, a rejected asylum-seeker from Cameroon, was forcibly restrained by several law enforcement officials during an attempted deportation from Brussels Airport. Following protests by other passengers at his treatment, the deportation was abandoned and he was returned to the immigration detention centre of Merksplas where he made a complaint of ill-treatment. A new deportation was scheduled for 9 May, but on 1 May Ebenizer Sontsa committed suicide. In December, the Public Prosecutor closed the investigation into Ebenizer Sontsa's death.

  • Serge Fosso, one of the passengers who protested at the treatment of Ebenizer Sontsa, was forcibly removed from the flight with two other passengers who had also protested, and was detained for 10 hours in a cell at Brussels Airport where he said he was insulted and threatened by law enforcement officials, who then dragged him out of the cell in a headlock, resulting in injuries to his face, arms, fingers and back. He submitted a criminal complaint regarding the treatment he received, which was still under investigation at the end of the year.

Migrants and asylum-seekers

There were numerous public protests and hunger strikes by irregular migrants protesting at the continued lack of possibilities to regularize their migration status.

On 24 January the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the conditions of detention of two rejected Palestinian asylum-seekers who were held in the transit zone of Brussels Airport in February 2003 for 11 days amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. The Court also ruled that the repeated detention of the two men, in spite of judicial decisions ordering their release, constituted a violation of their right to liberty. The CERD expressed concern at the detention of asylum-seekers and the conditions of their detention.

In October the Minister for Asylum and Migration launched a pilot project in which families with children would no longer be held in closed detention centres while awaiting expulsion from Belgium; this measure applies to irregular migrants and rejected asylum-seekers. However, families who have applied for asylum upon arrival at an airport will continue to be detained.

Counter-terror and security

On 7 February the Court of Appeal in Antwerp acquitted Bahar Kimyongür, Sükriye Akar Özordulu, Dursun Karatas and Zerrin Sari. They had been charged with membership of or support for a terrorist organization because of their links with a Turkish opposition group, the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front. The judge considered that there was no evidence linking them to terrorist plots, and that the group in Belgium was not a criminal or terrorist organization. Three others, including Fehriye Erdal, were acquitted of the terrorism-related charges but convicted of possessing firearms.

However, on 24 June, following an appeal by the Public Prosecutor, the Court of Cassation overruled the acquittal. At the of the year the defendants were awaiting a fourth trial, to be held before the Court of Appeal in Brussels in May 2009.

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