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'Serious failings': Belgium must pay symbolic damages over killing of migrant toddler in police chase

17:05 22/02/2023

The Belgian state has been ordered by a Brussels court to pay symbolic damages to the parents of an Iraqi-Kurdish toddler who was accidentally shot and killed by police during a chase in Hainaut province in Wallonia.

Belgium will now be obliged to train police officers “on the conditions for the use of force and on taking the best interests of the child into account before anything else, in the presence of migrant minors”.

The incident occurred back in 2018. Police were chasing a van on the E42 motorway and fired their weapons at the vehicle, killing two-year-old Mawda inside.

The toddler, along with her parents, brother and about 20 other people were migrants en route to the UK and the incident sparked international controversy.

The officer who fired the shot was given a suspended one-year sentence – which he appealed – and the family of Mawda was given legal residence in Belgium.

Now the Brussels court is ordering the Belgian state to pay a symbolic €1 in damages to the family to acknowledge wrongdoing. The Belgian branch of the association Defence for Children had requested the amount of €10,000 during the case’s hearing.

Citing “serious failings” in the Mawda case, the court is now requiring Belgium to address the use of force against minors and the interests and rights of children during basic and subsequent training of police officers.

“The verdict is mostly positive,” said Benoît Van Keirsbilck of Defence for Children in an initial reaction.

“After the trial on the shooting, a number of questions remained unanswered about responsibility. The court has now ruled that the Belgian state has fallen short. Training on the rights of children is missing from police training, for example, and our country is now obliged to take children of migrants, for example, into account when organising and planning certain actions.”

It was revealed in the trial that in addition to Mawda and her brother, there were also five other children in the van who were each arrested and detained before being released without psychological or social counselling, according to Defence for Children.

The court stated that “devising control operations in which the child's best interests are not taken into account, while the police forces are not really trained in intercepting underage migrants while respecting the fundamental rights of the child, cannot be considered as prudent and diligent behaviour on the part of the Belgian state.”

The court fell short of siding with all of Defence for Children’s arguments, choosing not to address the alleged inhumane and degrading treatment of Mawda’s parents and brother by the police and rejecting arguments that the incident demonstrated a structural violation of the fundamental rights of migrant children.

It also rejected the notion that state failings were directly linked to Mawda's death.

Written by Helen Lyons