Practice Relating to Rule 160. Statutes of Limitation
Belgium’s Penal Code (1867), as amended in 2003, provides: “Except for penalties involving the offences defined in Articles 136 bis
, and quater
[grave breaches of IHL], criminal penalties shall be subject to statute of limitation …”.
Belgium’s Law concerning the Repression of Grave Breaches of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols (1993), as amended in 1999, provides:
Article 21 of the Introductory Part of the Code of Penal Procedure and Article 91 of the Penal Code, relative to the statutory limitation of public prosecutions and penalties, shall not be applicable to the breaches listed in Article 1 of the present Act.
Article 1 provides for the punishment of the crime of genocide (paragraph 1), crimes against humanity (paragraph 2) and “grave breaches … which cause injury, by act or omission, to persons or objects protected by the [1949 Geneva Conventions] and by Protocols I and II additional to those Conventions” (paragraph 3).
On the occasion of a possible request for the extradition of a Belgian national from Spain for acts committed during the Second World War, it was noted in the Commission of Justice of the Belgian Parliament that Belgium did not want to ratify the 1968 UN Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity because it could be applied to acts committed before its entry into force, in contradiction with general principles of Belgian penal law. Belgium would, however, be willing to ratify the 1974 European Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes since it only applied to acts for which the limitation period had not elapsed.
In an explanatory memorandum submitted to the Belgian Senate in 1991 in the context of the adoption procedure of the Draft Law concerning the Repression of Grave Breaches of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols (as amended), the Belgian Government noted that the principle of the non-application of statutory limitations to war crimes was now generally accepted and that several States had modified their legislation in accordance with the principle. It referred to the UN and European Conventions on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes, although Belgium had ratified neither of them at the time.