The authorities adopted a wide range of new laws and policies in the aftermath of the attacks in the capital, Brussels, in March. Civil society organizations continued to receive reports of ethnic profiling by police. Prison conditions remained poor; the European Court of Human Rights criticized Belgium for its treatment of mentally ill offenders.
Counter-terror and security
On 22 March, three suicide bombers killed 32 people and injured hundreds in two co-ordinated attacks in Brussels. In the aftermath of the attacks, the authorities intensified the implementation of the wide range of security measures announced after the attacks in Paris, France, in 2015.
The authorities further broadened the scope of the provisions on terrorism-related offences, loosened procedural safeguards and adopted new policies to address “radicalization”. Some measures caused concern regarding the principle of legality, including legal clarity, and the respect of the freedoms of association and expression.
In February, the federal government announced the new policy framework “Plan Canal” to address radicalization in several municipalities in the Brussels area. It included the deployment of increased police and tighter administrative controls on associations.
In April, the federal government agreed to establish a database to facilitate the sharing of information between government agencies concerning individuals suspected of having travelled abroad to commit terrorism-related offences. In July, the government announced a similar database for “hate preachers”. In December, Parliament adopted a bill aimed at broadening police surveillance powers.
Also in July, the federal Parliament extended the provision on incitement to commit a terrorism-related offence and eased restrictions on the use of pre-trial detention for those suspected of terrorism-related offences. In December, Parliament passed legislation criminalizing preparatory acts to commit a terrorism-related offence and legislation on retention of Passenger Name Records.
Despite the government’s commitment at the UPR in May to ensure that measures to counter terrorism respect human rights, little effort was made to assess the human rights impact of new measures.
Conditions of detention remained poor due to overcrowding, dilapidated facilities and insufficient access to basic services, including to health care. In April, a three-month strike by prison staff further worsened prison conditions and access to health care for prisoners.
Despite the entry into force of positive legislative amendments in October, many mentally ill offenders remained detained in regular prisons with insufficient care and treatment. In September the European Court of Human Rights found in W.D. v Belgium that the detention of mentally ill offenders without access to adequate care remained a structural problem. The Court ordered the government to adopt structural reforms within two years.
In April, Belgium’s equality body Unia reported a rise in discrimination against persons of Muslim faith in the aftermath of the Brussels attacks, especially in the area of employment. Several individuals and civil society organizations reported ethnic profiling by police against ethnic and religious minorities.
On 9 December, the government agreed on a draft bill amending the law on legal gender recognition. If passed, the draft law would allow transgender people to obtain legal recognition of their gender on the basis of their informed consent and without fulfilling any medical requirements.
Regional governments continued to grant licences to sell arms to parties involved in the conflict in Yemen, in particular to Saudi Arabia. In 2014 and 2015, Saudi Arabia reportedly accounted for by far the highest value of arms export licences from the Wallonia region.
Violence against women and girls
In March, Belgium ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention). In June, the authorities adopted a new binding policy framework which identified tackling gender-based and domestic violence as a priority for police and prosecutorial authorities.
In May, the National Institute of Criminalistics and Criminology said that 70% of reported domestic violence incidents did not lead to a prosecution and that the current prosecution policy has not been effective in reducing the numbers of recidivists of domestic violence.