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TITLE:  BELGIUM HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE:  FEBRUARY 1995




                            BELGIUM


Belgium is a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional 
monarch who plays a mainly symbolic role.  The Council of 
Ministers (Cabinet), led by the Prime Minister, holds office as 
long as it retains the confidence of the bicameral Parliament.

Constitutional reforms enacted in 1993 transformed Belgium into 
a federal state.  The next general elections, to be held by the 
end of 1995, will replace regional councils with directly 
elected legislatures in Dutch-speaking Flanders and 
French-speaking Wallonia.

Civilian authorities are in effective command of the national, 
municipal, and judicial police forces.

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 safeguarding human 
rights, and the Government enforces them.  In 1994 Parliament 
broadened existing antiracism legislation and passed a new law 
giving children a voice in judicial proceedings that affect 
them.  A parliamentary commission published the results of its 
15-month inquiry into human trafficking in Belgium, and the 
police and judiciary cracked down on prostitution rings.  
Applications for political asylum dropped dramatically due to 
strict policies adopted late in 1993.

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 reports of such killing.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

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

There were no reports of such treatment or punishment.

Allegations of human rights abuses by Belgian forces serving in 
the U.N. operations in Somalia in 1992 and 1993 led to in-depth 
investigations by the Military Prosecutor's Office, covering 
265 complaints; it concluded that in most cases the soldiers 
took appropriate action, but that 5 cases involving 8 
paracommandos warranted prosecution.  In December three of the 
eight were acquitted.  In January 1995 four were given short 
prison terms and/or fines, and one was sentenced to 5 years in 
prison for the murder of a Somali.  The Ministry of Defense 
conducted an inquest into the experience in Somalia which led 
to recommendations for the conduct of future operations.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment is provided for 
by law, and the Government respects these rights.  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, which 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

The law ensures a fair public trial, and the authorities honor 
this in practice.  When a preliminary judicial investigatory 
phase is completed, a suspect is formally charged if the 
evidence so warrants.  Charges are clearly and formally stated, 
and there is a presumption of innocence.

Defendants have the rights to be present, to have counsel (at 
public expense if needed), to confront witnesses, to present 
evidence, and to appeal.  The Constitution provides for the 
judiciary's independence, and the Government respects this.  
Military tribunals try military personnel for common-law as 
well as military crimes.  All military tribunals consist of 
four officers and a civilian judge; at the appellate level, the 
civilian judge presides.  The accused has the right of appeal 
to a higher military court.

     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.

In 1994 Parliament passed legislation under which law 
enforcement officials may apply to a magistrate for permission 
to use wiretaps.  Permission is generally granted only for 
limited periods of time and only for the investigation of major 
crimes.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for these freedoms, and the Government 
respects them.  An independent press, an effective judiciary, 
and a functioning democratic political system combine to ensure 
there are no unwarranted restrictions.

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 and elsewhere abroad.

There are restrictions on the press regarding libel, slander, 
and the advocacy of racial or ethnic discrimination, hate, or 
violence.  In two much-publicized cases, members of far-right 
political parties were tried for publishing materials deemed 
racist; none were found guilty.

Academic freedom is respected.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Public assembly is unrestricted except for restrictions on 
blocking some major thoroughfares and on entering a small zone 
near the Royal Palace and Parliament.  The Government requires 
sponsors of open-air assemblies to obtain permits, but these 
are granted routinely.  Citizens are free to form organizations 
and establish ties to international bodies, but the Antiracism 
Law (see Section 5) prohibits membership in organizations that 
practice discrimination overtly and repeatedly.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

The Government does not hinder the teaching or practice of any 
faith.  The law accords "recognized" status to Roman 
Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Anglicanism, Islam, and 
Greek and Russian Orthodoxy, and these receive subsidies drawn 
from general government revenues; objecting taxpayers have no 
recourse against contributing to religious subsidies.  By law, 
each "recognized" religion has the right to provide teachers 
for 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, 
to return, and to emigrate.

All asylum-seekers in Belgium can plead their cases before 
immigration authorities.  In 1994 the Interior Ministry cleared 
a backlog of applications that in 1993 numbered in the 
thousands.  The Ministry now usually makes its initial decision 
within a week of receipt.  The law requires that rejected 
applicants be deported within 2 months, but it grants them the 
right to appeal.  There have been no reports of forced 
expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status.

Applications for political asylum fell by about 60 percent in 
1994 owing to tightened policies introduced in September 1993, 
which include denying work permits to asylum-seekers awaiting 
decision, and fingerprinting all applicants (to prevent them 
from obtaining social benefits in more than one municipality).  
Also, the law now permits rejected applicants to be detained in 
special centers while awaiting deportation; three centers 
opened in 1994.

Parliament approved legislation in April creating a system of 
centralized registration, which should be in place in 1995, to 
replace the current one which calls for asylum-seekers to 
register in their chosen municipality of residence.  In theory, 
those whose cases are pending would still be able to choose the 
municipality where they would reside and receive social 
benefits; but in practice, their choice might be limited by the 
Government's initiative to distribute asylum-seekers more 
equitably around the country.  Currently, certain 
municipalities with large foreign-born populations have 
permission from the Government to refuse until 1995 legal 
residence to any foreigners from outside the European Union.

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

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 citizens age 18 and over.

Opposition parties operate without repression.  A four-party 
coalition constitutes the current Government.

There are no restrictions, in law or practice, on the 
participation of women or minorities in government or 
politics.  Two of 16 federal ministers are women.  In the 
federal Parliament, 9 percent (18 of 212) of House members and 
11 percent (19 of 184) of the senators are women.  The law 
requires a minimum level of representation of 25 percent for 
each sex on electoral tickets.  The figure will rise to 33 
percent after the next national elections in 1995.

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.  
National decisions take into account the needs of regional and 
linguistic groups.

A package of constitutional reforms passed in 1993 is intended 
to decentralize authority.  Beginning with the next general 
elections, to be held no later than December 1995, the regional 
councils will become directly elected assemblies which in turn 
will each elect from among its members the respective regional 
government's members.  The number of seats in both houses of 
the federal Parliament will be sharply reduced.

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.  In 1992 the 
Ministry of Labor created a Division of Equal Opportunity 
(EOD), whose priorities include combating violence against 
women and sexual harassment, encouraging women to participate 
in the political process and to run for elected office, and 
monitoring affirmative action programs.

In 1994 the EOD placed considerable emphasis on fighting sexual 
harassment.  Having created in 1993 a Dutch-language telephone 
hot-line through which victims of sexual harassment could 
anonymously obtain information and guidance, free of charge, in 
1994 the EOD started a French-language one.  The usefulness of 
these hot-lines will be evaluated officially in early 1995.  In 
addition, a recent law requires each private-sector workplace 
with at least 50 employees to have a sexual-harassment 
ombudsman, and so far an estimated 80 percent of these 
workplaces have complied.  The EOD is seeking to expand this 
program to the public sector.

The law prohibits organizing prostitution or assisting 
immigration for prostitution.  In March the parliamentary 
Commission on Human Trafficking (CHT) released the findings of 
its 15-month investigations of such activities in several 
Belgian cities and of police responses to them.  It concluded 
that the activities were widespread and that police action was 
often insufficient, occasionally due to corruption but more 
often to inadequate training and poor coordination.  The CHT's 
report made several recommendations for overcoming these 
problems.  The police succeeded in closing down several clubs 
employing foreign women as prostitutes, and at year's end an 
alleged major figure in this trade was in pretrial detention.

The law prohibits physical abuse of women, and the Government 
enforces this ban.  Available data do not indicate that abuse 
of women is widespread in Belgium.  A government-sponsored 
study estimated that 6.5 percent of women had experienced rape 
or attempted rape and 5.2 percent had suffered serious physical 
or sexual violence from their partners.  Legislation on sexual 
abuse was last amended in 1989, when the definition of rape was 
broadened and penalties made more severe.  The Justice Ministry 
provides comprehensive training materials to police, medical 
workers, and others who deal with victims of sexual abuse.

In August the Army dropped all distinctions between men and 
women in its regulations.  Women are now eligible to apply for 
any position in the armed forces, but they are required to meet 
physical standards that are the same for both sexes.

     Children

Belgium has comprehensive child-protection laws, which the 
Government enforces effectively.  The Francophone and Flemish 
communities have agencies dealing with children's needs.

On October 1, a new law took effect giving children the right 
to a voice in court cases that affect them, such as divorce 
proceedings.  The law states that a minor "capable of 
understanding" can request permission to be heard by a judge, 
or a judge can request an interview with a child.

Child prostitution is of limited scope in Belgium.  The CHT's 
report in March recommended stronger government action to 
combat it.  The Government issues printed materials and videos 
aimed at raising public awareness of child abuse.

     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 citizens are 
native Dutch-speakers; about 40 percent French-speakers; and a 
small minority, German-speakers.

In April the 1981 Antiracism Law was amended to increase 
penalties for incitement of discrimination, hate, or violence 
based on the race, ethnicity, or nationality.  The amendments 
also made it specifically illegal for providers of goods or 
services (including housing) to discriminate on the basis of 
any of these factors, and for employers to consider these 
factors in their decisions to hire, train, or dismiss personnel.

The Center for Equal Opportunity and Against Racism (CEOAR), 
charged by Parliament with promoting integration and 
interethnic dialog, initiated legal proceedings against certain 
members of the Front National and Agir, two major Francophone 
far-right political parties, under the 1981 law.  This law, 
however, has only rarely been applied successfully.

In the European Parliament elections in June and the provincial 
and municipal elections in October, the far-right, openly 
anti-immigrant parties (the Flemish Vlaams Blok and Walloon 
Front National and AGIR) received somewhat stronger support 
than had generally been foreseen, but their backing was 
concentrated in a few urban areas.  Following the elections, 
Belgium's mainstream political parties honored pledges not to 
form government coalitions with the far right.

Although immigration policy continues to be controversial, 
there have been no overt campaigns of violence against 
immigrants.  In May arsonists attacked an unoccupied hostel for 
asylum-seekers which was under construction in Wallonia.  In 
June a Moroccan was wounded by gunfire in Verviers in 
skirmishes provoked by a Belgium-Morocco World Cup soccer 
match.  Tensions in several immigrant neighborhoods decreased 
due to outreach programs by local police and to the 
construction of various youth-oriented facilities.

     People with Disabilities

The Government mandates that public buildings erected since 
1970 be accessible to the disabled, and for other buildings it 
offers subsidies to induce owners to make such modifications.

The Government provides financial assistance for the disabled.  
It offers special aid for parents of disabled children and for 
disabled parents.  Regional and community programs provide 
other assistance for the handicapped, such as job training.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

Workers have the right to associate freely and to strike; the 
Government does not hamper such activities.  The law prohibits 
actions against a union that is seeking to be legally 
registered.  Unions are independent of the Government but have 
important informal links with major political parties.  Belgian 
unions are affiliated with international labor organizations.

There were a number of strikes in 1994.  For some public 
employees, such as those who provide essential public services, 
the right to strike is not explicitly recognized; but they 
often do strike.  Laws and regulations prohibit retribution 
against strikers and union leaders, and the Government 
effectively enforces these provisions.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The right to organize and bargain collectively is recognized 
and exercised freely.  The Belgian business federations 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 
plants and branches.

The law prohibits discrimination against organizers and members 
of unions, and protects against termination of contracts of 
members of workers' councils, members of health or safety 
committees, and shop stewards.  Employers found guilty of 
antiunion discrimination are required to reinstate workers 
fired for union activities.  Effective mechanisms exist for 
adjudicating disputes between labor and management.

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.  Youth between the ages of 
15 and 18 may participate in part-time work/part-time study 
programs.  Students may also sign summer-labor contracts of up 
to 30 days.  During that period, they can work the same number 
of hours as adults.  The labor courts effectively monitor 
compliance with national laws and standards.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

In June the monthly national minimum wage rate for workers age 
21 and over was set at $1,333 (42,469 Belgian francs); 
18-year-olds can be paid 82 percent of the minimum, 
19-year-olds 88 percent, and 20-year-olds 94 percent.  The 
minimum wage rate, coupled with Belgium's generous social 
benefits, provides workers with a standard of living 
appropriate to a developed nation.

Minimum wages in the private sector are set in biennial 
nationwide collective bargaining (see Section 6.b.), which 
leads to a formal agreement signed by the National Labor 
Council and 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.  The Ministry of Labor effectively 
enforces the law regarding minimum wages.

By law the standard workweek cannot exceed 40 hours and must 
have at least one 24-hour rest period.  Many collective 
bargaining agreements set standard workweeks of 36 to 39 
hours.  The law requires overtime pay for hours worked in 
excess of the standard.  Work done from the 9th to the 11th 
hour per day or from the 40th to the 50th hour per week is 
considered allowable overtime.  In special cases, workdays of 
up to 12 hours and workweeks of up to 52 hours are permitted.  
Work beyond 12 hours per day or 52 hours per week is not 
permitted.

Collective bargaining agreements include provisions for worker 
safety in addition to the comprehensive ones mandated by law.  
Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations 
that endanger their safety or health, without jeopardy to their 
continued employment, and the law protects workers who file 
complaints about such situations.  The Labor Ministry 
implements health and safety 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 monitor effectively compliance with 
national health and safety laws and standards.


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[end of document]

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