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TITLE:  BELGIUM HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993
DATE:  JANUARY 31,1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

                            BELGIUM


Belgium is a longstanding parliamentary democracy under a 
constitutional monarch whose role is largely ceremonial.  King 
Albert II acceded to the throne in August, following the death 
of his brother, King Baudouin I.  The Council of Ministers 
(Cabinet), led by the Prime Minister, is responsible for 
government decisions.  The Cabinet holds office as long as it 
retains the confidence of the bicameral Parliament.

Constitutional reforms passed by Parliament in July transformed 
Belgium into a federal state.  Directly elected legislatures 
will replace regional councils in Dutch-speaking Flanders, 
French-speaking Wallonia, and the Brussels capital region.  In 
addition to further decentralizing government authority, the 
July reforms will reduce the size of the national Parliament.

National, municipal, and judicial police forces bear the 
primary responsibility for domestic security.  The armed forces 
play no role in domestic law enforcement.

Belgium is a highly industrialized state with a vigorous 
private sector and government participation in certain 
industries.  An extensive social welfare system supports a high 
standard of living for most Belgians.

The Constitution and laws contain provisions for respect for 
human rights, which are observed in practice.  The Government 
is sensitive to allegations of domestic human rights violations.

Controversy over immigration continued as the backlog of asylum 
requests nearly doubled in the first half of 1993.  In 
response, several local governments announced that they would 
refuse legal residence and usual social services to asylum 
seekers.  The Government termed such actions illegal.  At the 
end of the year, a number of municipalities and communes, 
including Liege, continued to refuse to register asylum 
seekers, thereby denying them federally mandated social 
benefits.  Many local governments reportedly did not follow a 
consistent policy, registering some, but not all, asylum 
seekers.


RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no known political or other extrajudicial killings.

     b.  Disappearance

Abductions, secret arrests, and clandestine detentions are not 
known to occur.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading 
         Treatment or Punishment

There were no reports of such treatment or punishment being 
employed in Belgium.  See Somalia report for allegations of 
human rights abuses by Belgian forces serving with the United 
Nations Operations in Somalia.  A Belgian Ministry of Defense 
inquiry was launched in August and, separately, the Military 
Prosecutor's Office continued to examine certain allegations of 
mistreatment by Belgian military personnel.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment is provided for 
by law and respected in practice.  Arrested persons must be 
brought before a judge within 24 hours.  Pretrial confinement 
is allowed only under certain legally specified circumstances.  
The premise for such confinement is subject to monthly review 
by a panel of judges, who may extend pretrial detention based 
on carefully circumscribed criteria (e.g., whether, in the 
court's view, the arrested person would be likely to commit 
further crimes or attempt to flee the jurisdiction if 
released).  Arrested persons are allowed prompt access to a 
lawyer of their choosing or, if they cannot afford one, an 
attorney appointed by the State.  Bail exists in principle 
under Belgian law but is rarely granted.  Exile is not 
permitted by law and does not occur.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

A fair public trial is assured by law and honored in practice.  
A suspect is formally charged, if the evidence so warrants, 
once a preliminary judicial investigatory phase is 
completed.  Charges are clearly and formally stated, and there 
is a presumption of innocence.

Defendants have the right to be present, the right to counsel 
(provided at public expense if needed), the right to confront 
witnesses and present evidence, and the right of appeal.  The 
judiciary's independence is provided for by the Constitution 
and observed in practice.  Belgium has a system of military 
tribunals, before which military personnel are tried for both 
military and common law crimes.  All Belgian military 
tribunals, including those at the appellate level, are composed 
of four officers and one civilian judge.  The superior officer 
presides at the level of first instance; the civilian judge 
presides at the appeals tribunal.  The accused has the right of 
appeal to a higher military court.  The military tribunal 
system continued to be under review in 1993; the Government is 
considering the abolishment of tribunal authority over all but 
strictly military offenses.

Beginning in October, all new judges were required to 
demonstrate legal knowledge and their qualifications for the 
position through an examination process directed by eminent 
jurists and legal scholars.  The first competency examinations 
were given to judges in 1992.  In October 1993, the Government 
began dismissing those judges who fared poorly on the tests.

     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
         Correspondence

Freedom from arbitrary state interference with privacy is 
guaranteed by law and respected in practice.  Search warrants 
issued by a judge are required unless the inhabitants of a 
domicile agree to a search.  Access to information from 
wiretaps is restricted under law, but their use remained 
illegal pending parliamentary action.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

These freedoms are assured by law and respected in practice.  
An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning 
democratic political system combine to ensure freedom of speech 
and press.  Academic freedom is respected.

The Government operates several radio and television networks 
but does not control program content.  Programs are supervised 
by boards of directors which represent the main political, 
linguistic, and opinion groups.  A government representative 
sits on each board but has no veto power.  Private radio and 
television stations operate with government licenses.  Almost 
all homes have access by cable to television from other Western 
European countries.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Public assembly is subject to regulations concerning public 
order but is otherwise unrestricted.  Groups protesting 
government policies or actions are free from harassment and 
persecution.  Permits are required for open-air assemblies but 
are granted routinely; there are restrictions on blocking major 
arteries to and from downtown Brussels and on entering a small 
zone near the Royal Palace and Parliament.  Belgians are free 
to form organizations and establish ties to international 
bodies.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

Belgium has a long tradition of religious tolerance.  The Roman 
Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, Jewish, and Muslim religions 
are accorded a "recognized" status in law and granted a 
government subsidy.  Government subsidies to recognized 
religions are drawn from general government revenues.  
Objecting taxpayers have no recourse against contributing to 
religious subsidies.  Minority "unrecognized" religions enjoy 
full freedom to practice and are not subject to harassment or 
persecution.  Organized religions may establish places of 
worship and train numbers of clergy adequate to serve 
believers.  Links may be maintained with coreligionists in 
other countries or a supranational hierarchy, and foreign 
missionaries may proselytize.  By law, all officially 
"recognized" religions have the right to provide teachers to 
give religious instruction in the schools, but not all avail 
themselves of this right.

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Belgians are free to travel both within the country and abroad 
and may return to Belgium at any time.  Emigration is not 
restricted, nor is citizenship revoked for political reasons.  
Citizens are free to choose their places of work and 
residence.  The Government does not force asylum seekers to 
return to countries where they face persecution.


Increasing applications for political asylum had created a 
large backlog by August.  In response, the Parliament 
authorized the hiring of 100 additional government lawyers to 
adjudicate asylum cases.  Six Brussels-area municipalities with 
large foreign-born populations have permission from the 
Government to refuse until 1995 legal residence to any 
foreigners from outside the European Community.  The city of 
Liege, which has Belgium's largest refugee population, and 
certain other municipalities announced that they would deny 
legal residence and nationally mandated social services to 
asylum seekers.  Other communes reportedly registered some but 
not all asylum seekers who applied.  If refused in one locale, 
asylum seekers have the option of seeking registration as legal 
residents in another, thus gaining entitlement to social 
services.

Calling the actions of recalcitrant local governments illegal, 
the national Government has favored a political rather than a 
legal or administrative approach to resolving the problem.  In 
Belgian law, only the individual applicant has legal standing 
to litigate against an authority refusing to register him or 
her.  Administrative procedures to compel local government 
compliance with national law are cumbersome.  At year's end, 
the Interior Ministry was seeking to establish a centralized 
national asylum seekers' register by which it hoped to receive 
better cooperation from local governments by ensuringa more 
equitable distribution of the human and financial burden of 
hosting asylum seekers.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens 
           to Change Their Government

Participation in the democratic political system is open to all 
citizens 18 years of age and over.  Direct popular elections 
for parliamentary seats (excluding some senators elected by 
provincial councils and others elected by senate members) are 
held at least every 4 years under a system of universal, 
secret, and compulsory (under penalty of fine) suffrage for all 
adults.

In law and practice, opposition parties are free to operate 
without constraints or repression.  Of the 24 parties competing 
in the last national elections in November 1991, 14 gained 
seats in Parliament.  A 4-party coalition Government, the 
members of which secured 52 percent of the popular vote, has 
been in power since March 1992.  There are no restrictions, in 
law or in practice, on the participation of women or minorities 
in government or politics.  Two of 16 federal ministers, 2 of 8 
Flemish regional ministers, and 1 of 4 Francophone community 
ministers are women.  There are no women ministers in the 
Walloon or Brussels regional, or Germanophone community, 
governments.  In the federal Parliament, 19 of 212 house 
members (9 percent) and 20 of 184 senators (11 percent) are 
women.  About 12 percent of provincial council members are 
women, as are about 14 percent of municipal council members.

The Government sent to Parliament at the end of 1993 a draft 
law that would require at least 33 percent representation of 
each sex on electoral tickets beginning in 1999.  Until then, 
the law would require, beginning in 1994, a 25 percent gender 
minimum for communal and municipal elections only.

The presidents of Belgium's main political parties are males.  
The two Green parties (Flemish Agalev and Francophone Ecolo) do 
not have party presidents.  Some of Agalev's most prominent 
members are women.

The existence of communities speaking Dutch, French, and German 
engenders significant complexities for the State.  All major 
institutions, including political parties, are divided along 
linguistic lines.  There are specific provisions for Dutch-, 
French-, and German-speaking councils at the regional level.  
Regional and linguistic needs are taken into account in 
national political and economic decisions.

A package of constitutional reforms passed in July will 
transform the regional councils into directly elected 
assemblies.  These in turn will elect from among their members 
the regional governments.  The reforms further decentralized 
authority by adding trade and agriculture to the 
responsibilities of the regional governments.  Under the new 
laws, the next federal Parliament will have the reduced 
membership stipulated by the constitutional reforms.  It will 
be formed at the next parliamentary elections, to take place at 
the latest by December 1995.  The federal House of 
Representatives will be reduced from 212 to 150 directly 
elected members.  The new Senate will shrink from 183 to 71 
members, 40 of whom will be directly elected, 21 designated by 
regional assemblies, and 10 selected by the Senate.


Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

Several active independent human rights groups operate freely 
without government interference.  No requests have been made 
for outside investigation of the human rights situation in 
Belgium.

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
           Disability, Language, or Social Status

     Women

The Government actively promotes women's rights.  The 1994 
budget stipulates that a director, to be hired in mid-1994, 
will begin work on a national women's center; this work is 
expected to be completed by the end of 1994.  A number of 
commissions have been established to ensure that women's rights 
are protected and to oversee women's education and working 
conditions.  A 1992 royal decree prohibited sexual harassment 
in the workplace in both the public and private sectors, where 
sexual harassment ombudsmen must be designated in all 
workplaces with at least 50 employees.

Credible reports of organized rings smuggling foreign women 
into Belgium for the purpose of prostitution received wide 
publicity.  A parliamentary commission was created in December, 
1992 to investigate.  In 1993 it released three public 
statements but not its final conclusions.  Belgian law 
prohibits organizing prostitution, assisting illegal 
immigration into Belgium, and providing illegal employment.  No 
leaders of rings trafficking in women had been arrested by the 
end of 1993, although disciplinary action had been taken 
against police officers in Ghent for assisting the rings.

Physical abuse of women is punishable by law, and the law is 
enforced.  In reaction to a 1988 government study that 
concluded that 25 percent of Belgian women had encountered some 
form of physical abuse, legislation on sexual abuse was enacted 
in 1989, broadening the scope of the previous legislation to 
allow for prosecution of conjugal sexual abuse and rendering 
penalties more severe.  Certain sexual abuse cases may be tried 
before a court of assizes, a higher instance than the usual 
district court.


     Children

Belgium has comprehensive child protection laws.  
Administration of youth welfare programs is handled at the 
linguistic community level.  Human rights groups have 
criticized the law that allows the imprisonment of children for 
up to 15 days when there is no space in juvenile detention 
centers.  There are occasional reports of judges sending 
juvenile offenders to prison in Wallonia.

     National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Belgium is a pluralistic society in which individual 
differences in general are respected and linguistic rights in 
particular are protected.  Some 60 percent of Belgians are 
native Dutch speakers living primarily in the northern 
provinces that constitute Flanders.  The approximately 40 
percent of the population who are French speakers live mostly 
in Brussels and the southern provinces of Wallonia.  A small 
minority of German speakers lives along the eastern border.  
The 1993 laws that federalized Belgium were the latest of 
hundreds passed over the past century to protect each language 
group from cultural, economic, or political dominance by the 
others.

Food, shelter, health care, and education are supposed to be 
available to all residents regardless of race, sex, religion, 
language, social status, or ethnic background.  Some communes, 
however, contined to refuse to register new asylum seekers, 
thereby denying then mandated social services in those specific 
localities.  (See Section 2.d. regarding an effort to ease this 
problem by the establishment of a national asylum seekers' 
register.)  Some 27 percent of the residents of Brussels, the 
largest city, are foreigners.  Many of these are North African 
and Turkish immigrants.  Encouraging the further integration of 
the immigrant population and coping with the rising number of 
asylum seekers and Eastern European immigrants continues to be 
a focus of strong public debate.  The national Center for Equal 
Opportunity and Against Racism, charged by Parliament with 
promoting integration and interethnic dialog, began work in 
1993.  Its director, as chairman of the Interministerial 
Council on Minority Affairs, reports directly to the Prime 
Minister.  The Center spent much of its first year organizing 
and hiring.  Priority projects include helping to establish a 
representative council for the Muslim community of Belgium 
(through which the Government could distribute funds for the 
Muslim clergy).  By year's end, the Center had opened a 
mediation center to handle complaints about racism and 
xenophobia, and its legal section was studying ways to propose 
strengthening Belgium's 1981 law against racist and xenophobic 
acts.

According to polls, support for the extreme rightist, openly 
anti-immigrant Flemish party, Vlaams Blok, increased slightly 
since it won 12 parliamentary seats in the 1991 elections.   
Mainstream parties generally treat the Vlaams Blok as a pariah 
or ignore it.  The party continues to call for repatriation of 
immigrants to their native lands.  Belgium has not experienced 
concerted, overt campaigns of violence directed at immigrants, 
asylum centers, or hostels.  The one series of incidents of 
violence against foreigners in 1993 occurred in the town of 
Sint-Truiden, where Sikh migrant agricultural workers were 
repeatedly harassed and intimidated by some of the local 
residents.  In early August a Sikh was shot in the arm and the 
following week a firebomb slightly damaged a house where 10 
Sikhs lived but caused no injuries.  Two men were arrested 
shortly after the attack and were awaiting trial at year's 
end.  The size and scope of future immigration continues to be 
a sensitive political topic, and many underlying issues 
regarding integration of existing immigrant groups have yet to 
be addressed.

     People with Disabilities

Each of the three linguistic community councils administers a 
fund for the social integration of the disabled.  The funds 
support placement of the disabled in jobs and schools, and 
include payment for necessary accommodations.  Dedicated public 
housing for the disabled is available and government facilities 
built since 1970 must be accessible to the handicapped.  There 
are, however, no laws prohibiting discrimination against the 
disabled in semipublic accommodations such as restaurants or 
private schools.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

With an estimated 76 percent of its labor force organized, 
Belgium is one of the most unionized countries in the world.  
It has a long tradition of democratic trade union elections.  
Workers have the right to associate freely and to strike.  
Unions striking or protesting government policies or actions 
are free from harrassment and persecution.  Significant strikes 
occurred in 1993 in the education, shipbuilding, and social 
welfare sectors.  In certain narrowly defined circumstances, 
however, such as in the provision of essential public services, 
public employees' right to strike is not explicitly 
recognized.  Public employees may and often do strike (e.g., 
education personnel in 1993).  Laws and regulations prohibit 
retribution against strikers and union leaders.  The Government 
effectively enforces these laws and regulations.

Labor unions are independent of the Government but have 
important informal links with and influence on several of the 
major political parties.  Belgian unions are affiliated with 
the major international bodies representing labor, such as the 
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the World 
Confederation of Labor.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The right to organize and bargain collectively is recognized 
and exercised freely.  Management and unions negotiate every 
other year a nationwide collective bargaining agreement 
covering the 2.4 million private sector workers, which 
establishes the framework for negotiations at plant and branch 
level.

The right to due process and judicial review are guaranteed for 
all protected activity.  The law prohibits antiunion 
discrimination against union members and organizers and 
provides special protection against termination of contracts of 
shop stewards and members of workers' councils and of health 
and safety committees.  Employers found guilty of antiunion 
discrimination are forced to reinstate workers fired for union 
activities.  Effective mechanisms exist for adjudicating 
disputes between labor and management.  Belgium maintains a 
system of labor tribunals and regular courts which hear 
disputes arising from labor contracts, collective bargaining 
agreements, and other matters.

Belgium has no export processing zones.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is illegal and does not occur.


     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment of children is 15, but schooling 
is compulsory until the age of 18.  Some categories of youth 
between the ages of 15 and 18 are on a part-time work/part-time 
study program.  Students can also sign summer labor contracts 
limited to 30 days.  The labor courts effectively monitor 
compliance with national laws and standards.  Legislation 
tightening conditions of child labor in entertainment and 
related occupations was adopted in 1992.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

A maximum 40-hour workweek is mandated by law, although many 
collective bargaining agreements call for workweeks between 36 
and 39 hours.

The minimum wage rates in the private sector are set in 
biennial nationwide negotiations between the leading trade 
unions and the Belgian Business Federation.  After agreement is 
reached, a formal collective bargaining agreement is signed by 
the National Labor Council and is made mandatory for the entire 
private sector by royal decree.  In the public sector, the 
minimum wage is determined in negotiations between the 
Government and the public service unions.

Comprehensive health and safety legislation is supplemented by 
collective bargaining agreements on safety issues.  The Labor 
Ministry implements this legislation through a team of 
inspectors and determines whether workers qualify for 
disability and medical benefits.  Health and safety committees 
are mandated by law in companies with more than 50 employees 
and by works councils in companies with more than 100 
employees.  Labor courts effectively monitor compliance with 
national laws and standards. (###)


[end of document]

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