Belgian lawyer takes on NATO immunity in Libya

Belgian lawyer takes on NATO immunity in Libya

Jan Fermon is representing Khaled El Hamidi, a Libyan national and founder of an aid organisation, who lost his entire family in a raid by NATO warplanes against his home during the NATO intervention in 2011 in Libya. The intervention was approved by the UN Security Council to protect civilians in the country and led to the ouster of the Khadaffi regime. 13 persons were killed in the bombardment on 20 June 2011 against his family compound which was allegedly identified by NATO as a military communications and command center. The national identity of the planes is not known.

The legal process in Brussels, where NATO’s headquarter is located, started soon after the incident and has dragged on since then. At a press conference this week in Brussels, Jan Fermon referred to the ruling last November by the Brussels court of appeal to uphold the immunity of NATO.

In its ruling the Belgian court relied on Dutch case law regarding immunity for UN peace keeping forces.

El Hamedi has demanded in court that NATO should be held accountable for the loss of his family. NATO however declined the jurisdiction of the Belgian judiciary and invoked the immunity granted in the agreement that established NATO.

According to his lawyer the Belgian government intervened in the trial on behalf of NATO. Asked by The Brussels Times, he claims that the trial had become politicized.

In a ruling dating back to 2009, the Belgian court of cassation (the supreme appeal court) decided that the immunity of international organisations can be overturned if they lack an internal mechanism accessible for citizens who have suffered harm because of their actions.

NATO does not have such mechanism in relation to its actions in Libya, according to Fermon, but the Belgian appeal court ruled that NATO’s immunity was proportionate and necessary for it to achieve its goals.

At the press conference a documentary film by Belgian investigative journalist Michel Collon was shown. Collon, who opposed the NATO intervention, arrived at the scene shortly after the bombing.

“It was one of the most horrible scenes I have seen in my life. There was absolutely no military presence here,” Collon said. Fermon added that the victims cannot even be described as “collateral damage” because there was no trace of any military activity at the family’s compound.

During the press conference contact was established via Skype with Khaled El Hamidi. “I really hope that we’ll know the truth. NATO destroyed not only my family but also Libya as a country.”

Jan Fermon will now study different legal options. As he does not know the identity of the NATO planes he cannot sue another country. He will first have to exhaust the legal options in Belgium before turning to European and international courts.

The Brussels Times

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