A Belgian policeman has been sentenced for the involuntary fatal shooting of a two-year-old Kurdish girl during a high-speed chase.
Mawda Shawri was travelling in a van being driven by suspected migrant smugglers on a motorway in Wallonia, south of Brussels, in May 2018. She was hit in the head by a police bullet and later died in an ambulance.
On Friday, 48-year-old officer Victor-Manuel Jacinto Goncalves was convicted of “manslaughter for lack of foresight or precaution”.
The criminal court in Mons accepted the request by Belgium’s public prosecutor’s office and handed Goncalves a one-year suspended prison sentence.
He was liable for up to two years’ imprisonment, but the court took into account “the absence of a criminal record and the sincere regrets he expressed”.
Prosecutors had earlier noted that there was no evidence the police officer had “deliberately wanted to harm the lives of others”.
The case has become a symbol of injustice toward migrants and refugees fleeing their homelands to seek a better life in Europe. Two Kurdish nationals from Iraq were also tried for their part in the police chase.
The 21-year-old driver of the van, Jargew Del, was given a four-year prison sentence after his DNA was identified on the steering wheel, the gear lever and on a cigarette butt found in the vehicle.
Rasol Dilman Ahmed, 28, was suspected by prosecutors of having transported the migrants but was released for lack of evidence.
A total of 30 people were travelling in the van during the police chase in 2018, including Mawda’s brother and parents, and several other children.
The van was picked up in Grande-Synthe, northern France, and was believed to be fleeing the authorities to Britain.
According to the investigation, the police officer had aimed his gun out of the window at the van’s “left front tyre” in an effort to stop the vehicle. But he stated that a sudden movement by his colleague had deflected his shot.
“If I had known there was a child [in the vehicle], I would never have drawn my gun,” Goncalves told the court, expressing his regret to the girl’s young parents.
However, the judge found that he was “beyond doubt” responsible for Shawri’s death.
“The objective of stopping the van could be achieved by other means, such as setting up a roadblock,” the court stated.
The decision to fire, even at the van’s tyre, “seriously endanger[ed] the occupants of the van and even other road users,” it added.
Selma Benkhelifa, the lawyer for Mawda’s parents, said she was surprised at sentences and stated that the two Kurds had been made “scapegoats”.
Shawri was buried in Brussels in July 2018, and her parents were later granted a right of residence on humanitarian grounds in February 2019.