April 26: Brussels: The ITUC has welcomed a decision on April 26 by the Defence Minister in Belgium, André Flahaut, in his capacity as Acting Justice Minister, to use his authority under Belgian law to re-launch legal proceedings brought by four Burmese refugees against oil company TotalFina.

The Minister had already used this power last January, to request the retraction of a decision by the Belgian Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) to order the investigating magistrate (Juge d’Instruction) not to proceed with processing of a case brought in 2002 by the refugees under Belgian jurisdiction against TotalFina alleging complicity in crimes against humanity.

Thanks to Flahaut’s decision the case, which had been frozen since 2003 following modifications o the Belgian universal jurisdiction law, should now be re-opened. A series of legal obstacles had meant that it had not been possible for the case to be processed expeditiously. A key point in the legal wrangling concerned the scope of the universal jurisdiction law, in particular whether the case could be brought on the basis that one of the four plaintiffs has been granted political refugee status by Belgium. TotalFina is accused of providing logistical and financial support to the Burmese military junta in relation to the company’s involvement in the construction of an oil pipeline from Burma to Thailand. The Junta is notorious for its use of forced labour, deportations, murder, torture and arbitrary execution.

The ITUC, which has followed the case from its inception, attributes this latest breakthrough to the work of “Action Birmanie”, a Belgian ngo which has been supported for several years by a coalition including ITUC Belgian affiliates CSC and FGTB. The ITUC hopes that justice will now finally be done in relation to this case.

Founded on 1 November 2006, the ITUC represents 168 million workers in 153 countries and territories and has 304 national affiliates. Website: www.ituc-csi.org

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