Supreme Court, H.S., Nr. P.22.0053.N, 14 June 2022
The Belgian Supreme Court rejects the claim that the judgment of the Antwerp Court of Appeal of 22 December 2021 violated the duty to state reasons by holding, on the one hand, that Islamic State (IS) qualified as a ‘terrorist group’ in the sense of Articles 139 and 140 of the Criminal Code, pertaining to the prosecution of terrorist offences, but did not constitute ‘armed forces’ in the sense of Article 141bis of the same Code (which excludes members of armed forces involved in an armed conflict from prosecution for terrorist offences). The Supreme Court held that the notion of ‘armed forces’ in the sense of Article 141bis must be understood in light of the requirements of intensity and organization under international humanitarian law (IHL), and is distinct from the notion of ‘terrorist group’. The Supreme Court recalls the various reasons that led the Antwerp Court of Appeal to conclude that IS lacked the required degree of organization to be considered an ‘armed force’, including e.g. the lack of a single headquarters or command structure; the large number of foreign fighters operating without a clear overarching command, or; the practice of random detentions in lieu of disciplinary rules as envisaged under IHL. The Supreme Court concludes that the contested judgment was duly motivated.
Brussels Assize Court, Prosecutor v. N.F., Nr. FD30-98.102/02, 19 December 2019
In this criminal judgment, a jury considered the question of guilt of the accused, N.F, for acts committed during the Rwandan genocide. Based on several witness statements, the jury concluded that the accused was guilty of the crime of genocide and fifteen counts of war crimes. Specifically, it was found that the accused provided assistance in the deliberate killing of members of the Tutsi ethnic group, such that without his assistance these crimes could not have been committed. The members killed were protected by the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and, consequently, their killing constituted a war crime. These war crimes were moreover part of the genocide of the Tutsis, and the jury found that the evidence presented proved that the accused held a genocidal intent. Conversely, the jury did not find the accused guilty of two counts of war cirmes with which he was charged for lack of information.
The judgment determines the criminal penalty of N.F., who was previously found guilty of genocide and fifteen counts of war crimes. The judgement states that N.F. benefits from mitigating circumstances because of his age. Ultimately, N.F. is sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. The penalty is decided on the basis of the gravity of the crimes committed, which are so serious that they have harmed the whole of humanity and threatened the peace, security and well-being of the world. Moreover, N.F. showed himself to be a leader with a will to exterminate the Tutsi population and incited others to do so as well. Finally, N.F. did not show any indications of having questioned his actions. On the contrary, during the trial, he continued to convey his genocidal ideology. This revealed him to pose a current and specific danger to society.
Council Chamber of the Tribunal of First Instance, Federal Prosecutor, Republic of Turkey and F.A. v U.S, K.R. et al., 3 November 2016
The Council Chamber of the Tribunal of First Instance adjudges that the PKK should be considered as a non-State armed group that is party to a non-international armed conflict with the Turkish State under international humanitarian law (IHL). In accordance with the IHL exclusion clause of Article 141bis of the Belgian Criminal Code, this qualification entails that the 42 defendants cannot be prosecuted for ‘terrorist offences’ in connection with their involvement in that conflict as members of the PKK.
In order to establish the intensity and degree of organization required to conclude to the existence of a non-international armed conflict, the Chamber (implicitly) draws from a range of factors, including: the PKK’s armed activities since 1984, the high number of these activities, the use of heavy weapons, the existence of a chain of command, the position of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the formal initiative undertaken by the PKK to comply with international conventions, the territorial control of the PKK over parts of South-East of Turkey (as demonstrated by a call for armistice by the PKK leader in 2013), as well as the conduct of negotiations between the PKK and Turkey.
Belgian Supreme Court, M.E.Y. v O.R.V.; F.B. v Politiezone nr. 5340 Brussel-West, D.B. et al, Nr. P.16.0244.N, 24 May 2016
The case concerns an action for annulment brought against a judgment of the Antwerp Court of Appeals finding the applicants guilty of terrorist offences under the Belgian Criminal Code in connection with their involvement in islamist terrorist groups abroad. In particular, the applicants unsuccesfully raise breaches of Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, Article 141bis of the Belgian Criminal Code, Article 7 ECHR and the principle of legality. All claims are, however, dismissed by the Supreme Court.
Pursuant to Article 141bis of the Criminal Code, the provisions pertaining to terrorist offences do not apply to the conduct of armed forces during an armed conflict. Such ‘armed conflict’ exists whenever when there is armed violence between States or protracted armed violence between State authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups within a State. The existence of a non-international armed conflict is determined primarily in light of the intensity of the conflict and the degree of organization of the parties involved. Other criteria cited by international jurisprudence are merely indicative criteria that can be used to interpret the requirements of intensity and organization. The appraisal of these criteria in a given case is a matter for the judge of the merits, and is not subject to review by the Supreme Court (as long as proper statement of reasons is provided).