May 2008 Archives


Croatian ex-general convicted of war crimes against Serbs
Deirdre Jurand on May 31, 2008 2:53 PM ET

[JURIST] A Croatian district court judged convicted a retired Croatian general of war crimes Friday for failing to prevent his soldiers from torturing and killing Serbs and destroying their property during the Croatian War of Independence. Retired Gen. Mirko Norac [case information, PDF] knew that his soldiers were torturing and killing people and destroying property, but was held to have violated his duty [Al Jazeera report] by neither stopping it nor punishing the soldiers who killed 23 civilians and five prisoners of war, tortured at least five victims and destroyed about 300 homes. Nordac was sentenced to seven years in prison in addition to the 12-year sentence he is already serving for planning a 1991 killing of Serbs. The judge acquitted retired Gen. Rahim Ademi, whose case was tried with Nordac's, because Ademi did not have sufficient authority during the war crimes to be held accountable. Both sides plan to appeal [B92 report]. The International Herald Tribune has more.

Norac pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] after voluntarily surrendering to the tribunal following his indictment [JURIST report] in 2004. The indictments [text] against him and Ademi were consolidated that same year. The ICTY transferred [JURIST report] the case to Croatia in 2005, and both generals again pleaded not guilty [JURIST report].






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Rwanda justice officials criticize ICTR refusal to transfer genocide suspect
Deirdre Jurand on May 31, 2008 1:34 PM ET

[JURIST] Rwandan justice officials Friday criticized a decision [text, PDF; official press release] by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] denying a motion to transfer an accused genocide leader to the Rwandan court system for trial. An ICTR panel in Tanzania Wednesday denied prosecutors' request to transfer former businessman Yussuf Munyakazi [case materials] to the Rwandan justice system, citing concerns that punishments imposed in place of the now-abolished death penalty might not conform with international human-rights standards and that the Rwandan judiciary might not be fully independent and immune from outside pressure. Rwandan Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga said he was disappointed and insisted that Rwanda's judicial system was fully independent and capable of guaranteeing a fair trial. Rwandan Justice Mminister Tharcisse Karugarama said that the country had been dealing with genocide issues since 1995 and that suggesting unfairness in the court system was itself unfair [BBC report]. The transfer motion was considered part of a strategy to remove some cases from the ICTR so that the court could finish all its trials by the deadline at the end of this year. Both parties have 15 days to appeal the decision. Reuters has more. From Rwanda, the New Times has local coverage.

Officials in Congo captured [press release] Munyakazi in 2004. He was charged [indictment text, PDF] with genocide or complicity in genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity for his suspected role in the killings of thousand of Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan genocide [BBC backgrounder].






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US and Libya discussing expedited settlement of terror compensation claims
Steve Czajkowski on May 31, 2008 12:52 PM ET

[JURIST] The US and Libya have agreed to find a way to speed compensation for families of Americans who were killed by acts of terrorism authorized by the Libyan government, both countries said in a statement [text] issued by the US State Department [official website] Friday. Meeting in London earlier this week, "[b]oth parties affirmed their desire to work together to resolve all outstanding claims in good faith and expeditiously through the establishment of a fair compensation mechanism." The negotiations are seen as a way to normalize relations between the US and Libya and to allow Libya to accelerate development of its oil resources. Libya is believed to have entered into the negotiations because of concern over recent legislation, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 [HR 4986 materials; JURIST report], which allows victims of state-sponsored terrorism to sue for that country's assets held in the US. An agreement between the two nations would likely cover eight terrorist incidents including the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, 189 of which were Americans; the 1986 bombing of the La Belle disco in Berlin, Germany [BBC backgrounder], that killed two US servicemen and injured 120 others, including 40 Americans; and the 1989 bombing of French passenger jet UTA Flight 772 [BBC backgrounder], which killed 170 people, including 7 Americans.

In January, a US District Judge ruled [PDF text; JURIST report] that the Libyan government and six Libyan officials should pay more than $6 billion in damages [plaintiff press release] to families of those Americans who died in the Flight 772 bombing. Libya has also agreed to pay $10 million to each family of the Pam Am 103 victims. It has paid 8 million so far but has not made the additional $2 million dollar payment because of disputes over the return obligations of the US. Reuters has more. AP has additional coverage.






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AGs from 10 states seek stay of California same-sex marriage ruling
Deirdre Jurand on May 31, 2008 12:34 PM ET

[JURIST] Ten US state attorneys general have petitioned [brief, PDF] the Supreme Court of California [official website] to postpone implementation of its May 15 decision [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] legalizing same-sex marriages until after state elections in November. California is slated to allow all same-sex couples, regardless of state citizenship, to wed in California, but each of the 10 petitioning states bans recognition of same-sex marriages. The attorneys general - from Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah - wrote Thursday that if California starts issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples [JURIST report] on June 17 as announced, many same-sex couples in their states would become "marriage tourists" in California and the states' courts would then face unfair, extensive and burdensome litigation on whether to recognize the marriages. The AGs also joined conservative Christian legal advocacy group Alliance Defense Fund's recent petition [text, PDF; JURIST report] in saying that deciding the issue before California citizens vote in November on a likely proposed amendment to the California state constitution banning same-sex marriage could lead to legal havoc. Attorneys for the city and county of San Francisco have responded [press release; opposition brief to ADF petition, PDF] that a stay would mingle judicial and political processes and would deny rights based on a merely proposed state constitutional amendment. The New York Times has more. The San Francisco Chronicle has local coverage.

Recognition of California same-sex marriages is not universally opposed in other US jurisdictions. Earlier this month, one day before the California ruling, New York Governor David Paterson ordered [memo, PDF; JURIST report] that state agencies recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages as legal marriages in New York.






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Rice rejects Iceland call to close Guantanamo prison
Steve Czajkowski on May 31, 2008 11:20 AM ET

[JURIST] US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [official profile; JURIST news archive] Friday defended the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] in the face of a resolution [text, in Icelandic] by the Icelandic parliament [official website] calling for the prison's closure. At a news conference [DOS transcript] in Reykjavik with Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladottir, Iceland´s Minister for Foreign Affairs [official website], Gísladottir said she had given Rice a copy of the resolution condemning the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo as inhumane and urging that the camp be shut down. Rice countered that a recent report [PDF text] by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) [official website] showed no evidence of ongoing human rights violations at the facility. Rice went on to note that President Bush also wanted to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, but there is still a "problem with what you do with the dangerous people who are there."

Earlier this month, Rice defended [JURIST report] the Bush administration's authorization of the use of harsh interrogation tactics, including waterboarding [JURIST news archive], on suspected terrorist detainees. AP has more. Iceland Review has local coverage.






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Federal court upholds key Voting Rights Act provision
Steve Czajkowski on May 31, 2008 10:10 AM ET

[JURIST] The United States District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled Friday that a major provision in the 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) [text; DOJ backgrounder] is constitutional. The court's decision [PDF text] in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Gonzales [JURIST report; DOJ case documents] upheld the validity of Section 5 of the VRA, requiring states or towns with histories of racial discrimination to get Justice Department (DOJ) [official website] or court approval prior to making changes with their election procedures. The plaintiff in the case, a municipal utility district in Texas, had asked for an exemption to the law and argued that Section 5 is not neutrally applied to all 50 states. The court denied the exemption because it found that the plaintiff was not a “political subdivision” and it rejected the plaintiff's argument on constitutionality because it found that Congress's action in extending the provisions for another 25 years was rational.

The US House of Representatives and the Senate [JURIST reports] passed the renewal bill in July 2006 and President Bush signed it into law [JURIST report] the following August. Section 5 is intended to protect voters in states with histories of racial profiling at the polls, and only allows changes in voter protocol that do not have a racially discriminatory purpose and will not negatively impact minority voters. AP has more.






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China human rights lawyers denied license renewals
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 30, 2008 5:02 PM ET

[JURIST] The Beijing Judicial Bureau [official backgrounder] has refused to renew the licenses of a number of Chinese human rights lawyers before a Saturday deadline, a China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group [advocacy website] official said Friday. The bureau originally denied renewals to 500 lawyers, but eventually agreed to renew some licenses after the lawyers released a letter of complaint on the Internet. It was not clear how many lawyers were still being denied. Human Rights Watch named two of the denied lawyers as Teng Biao and Jiang Tianyong [HRW report], both of whom have defended political dissidents, and suggested that the government was denying licenses in a bid to discourage vocal criticism of its human rights record. China is expected to enact new amendments to its Law on Lawyers [text] on Sunday, but HRW expressed skepticism that the changes would grant lawyers adequate protections against government retaliation. AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

Lawyers in China have been subjected to increasing persecution and intimidation by the Chinese government, according to a report [text; press release] released last month by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. The report found that rights lawyers working on cases involving sensitive issues, including land evictions [JURIST report], face the greatest opposition from authorities. Several rights lawyers have been detained or prosecuted for suspected "subversion of state power" or other dissident activities during the past several months, including Yang Maodong and Gao Zhisheng [JURIST reports]. In March, Teng Biao was released by the Chinese government after spending two days in custody [JURIST report]. China has been severely criticized for cracking down on human rights activists and political dissidents [JURIST report] ahead of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.






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Connecticut AG files lawsuit against drug company for alleged price inflation
Deirdre Jurand on May 30, 2008 4:06 PM ET

[JURIST] Connecticut filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] against pharmaceutical distribution giant McKesson Corp. [corporate website] in US District Court for the District of Massachusetts Thursday, accusing the company of violating federal anti-racketeering laws by inflating drug prices for state-funded health care. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal [official profile] alleged that McKesson and drug-price publisher First DataBank [corporate website] conspired to increase the difference between the retail price of prescription drugs and the average wholesale price by 5 percent beginning as early as 2001. The increase in the price difference allowed for greater profits [Bloomberg report] for health care providers and companies such as McKesson, but cost consumers millions in extra dollars on drugs such as Allegra, Celebrex, Nexium and Valium. The state is seeking monetary damages for the alleged anti-racketeering violations, as well as alleged violations of anti-trust and state fair trade laws. Reuters has more.

This is not the first time that McKesson and First DataBank have been sued for alleged price inflating. A 2005 class-action lawsuit led by the New England Carpenters Health Benefits Fund [fund website] and includes more than 11,000 members, accused [class certification and complaint, PDF] McKesson of artificially inflating prices, resulting in as much as a $4 billion total overpayment [Business Insurance report] by consumers. Last week, the city of San Francisco filed a similar lawsuit [complaint and press release, PDF], accusing McKesson of artificially inflating drug costs for more than 50,000 San Franciscans.






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Pentagon files new charges against 3 Guantanamo detainees
Andrew Gilmore on May 30, 2008 3:59 PM ET

[JURIST] US Department of Defense prosecutors brought new charges against three detainees being held at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] on Thursday. Jabran al-Qathani, Ghassan Abdullah al-Sharbi, and Algerian Sufyian Barhoumi [charge sheets, PDF] are each charged with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism based on their alleged involvement with an al Qaeda bomb-making group in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The three were captured by Pakistani forces at a safe house in Faisalabad, Pakistan in March 2002. Reuters has more.

All three men were previously charged [DOD press release] with conspiracy, but those original charges were thrown out when the Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the military commission system as initially constituted violated US and international law. Congress subsequently passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [DOD materials], which established the current military commissions system. At a military commission hearing in April 2006, al-Qahtani called the US an "enemy of God" [JURIST report] and said that he would prefer death to compliance with a military tribunal. Al-Sharbi admitted fighting against the US [JURIST report] but denied that he was guilty of war crimes at a similar hearing the same month.






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Brazil high court upholds stem cell research law
Andrew Gilmore on May 30, 2008 3:12 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Brazil [official website, in Portuguese] Thursday ruled 6-5 that a 2005 law allowing embryonic stem cell [JURIST news archive] research is constitutional, rejecting a challenge by the country's attorney general that it infringed on the "constitutional right to life." Thursday's decision drew condemnation from the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops [group website, in Portuguese; press release, in Portuguese], while Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) [profession website, in Portuguese] President Cezar Britto praised it as "a victory of knowledge and human life" [OAB press release, in Portuguese]. Reuters has more.

Last year President George W. Bush Wednesday vetoed a Democrat-backed bill [JURIST report] that would have relaxed funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research in the United States. In 2006, Australia lifted its restrictions on stem cell research [JURIST report] and also approved the therapeutic cloning of human embryos.






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Japan party introduces bill to compensate Korean, Taiwanese war criminals
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 30, 2008 12:49 PM ET

[JURIST] An opposition party in Japan [JURIST news archive] has introduced a bill in Japan's House of Representatives [official website, in Japanese] that would provide compensation for Korean and Taiwanese nationals convicted of war crimes [backgrounder] committed while working for the Japanese military occupying their territories during World War II. Under the plan proposed by the Democratic Party of Japan [party website, in English], war criminals and their families could receive up to three million Yen. Many of the convicted war criminals were pressed into service by the occupying Japanese army and forced to work as prison guards. Following the war, they were tried and convicted of war crimes by the US-backed International Military Tribunal for the Far East [charter text], which regarded them as Japanese citizens. After the war, Japan stripped people from its former-colonies of Japanese citizenship, denying them military pensions and other official benefits. AFP has more. Japan Today has local coverage.

Historically, Japanese courts have been reluctant to grant wartime compensation claims. In September 2007, a Japanese district court rejected [JURIST report] demands for compensation by 22 South Korean women, as well as the surviving relatives of other women, who were forced to work [JURIST news archive] at a Japanese military hardware factory during World War II. In July 2007, the Japanese Sapporo High Court upheld a 2004 lower court decision [JURIST report] rejecting a similar lawsuit brought by Chinese plaintiffs who say they were forced to work as slave laborers in mines and factories.






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Anti-Guantanamo protesters convicted for illegal Supreme Court demonstration
Deirdre Jurand on May 30, 2008 12:27 PM ET

[JURIST] A Washington DC Superior Court found 34 members of anti-war activism group Witness Against Torture [advocacy website] guilty Thursday on misdemeanor charges of illegal protesting. Police arrested 71 group members at a protest [JURIST report] in front of the US Supreme Court in January, where they were demonstrating for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison [JURIST news archive]. They were indicted on charges of violating an ordinance barring demonstrations on court grounds. Officials charged 35 protesters, and the Superior Court judge dismissed charges against one for lack of evidence. The defendants, who represented themselves, argued that they were exercising their right to free speech [advocacy press release], but the judge found that they had continued to violate the ordinance despite police warnings. They were scheduled to be sentenced Friday. The Washington Post has more.

At their court appearance [JURIST report], protesters wore orange jumpsuits similar to the ones worn by Guantanamo detainees and some identified themselves using the names of detainees as a way to "symbolically grant the Guantanamo prisoners their day in court" [advocacy press release]. During the trial, one defendant turned his back to the judge and, when arrested for contempt of court, yelled that the judge had committed a crime against justice. The January 11 protest took place on the sixth anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay teror detention facility in Cuba.






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Germany justice minister defends Volkswagen anti-takeover law
Andrew Gilmore on May 30, 2008 12:22 PM ET

[JURIST] German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries [official profile; personal website, in German] Thursday deflected the European Commission's criticism of proposed legislation that would preserve the power of the German state of Lower Saxony [official website] to block major business decisions at automaker Volkswagen AG [corporate website]. The law, known as the "VW law," is aimed at protecting Volkswagen from hostile takeovers; Lower Saxony is Volkswagen AG's second-largest shareholder. Zypries expressed confidence that the draft law will meet the scrutiny of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website]. On Tuesday, the German Cabinet [official website] approved [press release, in German] the latest version of the draft amendments [PDF, in German] to the VW law. The Federal Ministry of Justice [official website, in German] first circulated [JURIST report] a draft of the law in January. Business Week has more.

The EC initially challenged the law in 2005. In February 2007, Advocate General Damaso Ruiz-Jarabo of the ECJ advised the court that the law should be repealed [JURIST report], saying the law restricts the free movement of capital [PDF, press release] and "strengthens the position of the Federal Government and the land, preventing any intervention in the management of the company." The ECJ ruled [JURIST report] in October 2007 that a previous version of the law was illegal because it limited "the free movement of capital" and discouraged foreign direct investment in Germany. The EC has filed similar suits or threatened to file suit against Spain and its energy companies; Italy and highway company Autosrade SpA; and Poland for intervening in Italy's UniCredit SpA business in Poland.






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Vioxx jury awards overturned on appeal in Texas, New Jersey
Deirdre Jurand on May 30, 2008 11:30 AM ET

[JURIST] A Texas state appeals court Thursday overturned [press release] a jury verdict against pharmaceutical giant Merck [corporate website] concerning a death allegedly caused by painkiller Vioxx [Merck materials; JURIST news archive]. The Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals reversed [opinion] a verdict which had awarded $26 million to widow Carol Ernst, who alleged that her husband died after taking Vioxx [JURIST report] for arthritis in 2001. The appellate panel acknowledged that Vioxx can increase the risk of blood clots and heart attacks, but found that Ernst failed to show that her husband's heart attack was triggered by a blood clot caused by Vioxx.

Also Thursday, the New Jersey Appellate Division reduced [opinion, PDF] a jury award in a separate consolidated Vioxx lawsuit [JURIST report], finding that the plaintiffs were not entitled to punitive damages. The jury had found that Merck did not warn either of two men of potential dangers of heart attack and stroke [FDA public health advisory] associated with use of the drug. Finding that the drug significantly impacted 77-year-old John McDarby, who suffered a heart attack and deteriorating health from taking Vioxx, a jury had awarded him $3 million and his wife $1.5 million; a week later, another jury awarded him $9 million in punitive damages [JURIST report]. The appeals court upheld the verdict of $4.5 million in compensatory damages for McDarby, but struck down the punitive damage award. A plaintiff's lawyer involved in both cases announced plans to appeal [PRNewswire report]. The New York Times has more.

Merck has been involved in a stream of Vioxx-related litigation during the last few years, including state and federal lawsuits in Louisiana, California, and additional suits in New Jersey and Texas [JURIST reports]. In September 2007, the New Jersey Supreme Court dismissed [JURIST report] a class action lawsuit filed against Merck, reversing a lower court's decision to grant nationwide class certification in the case. In November 2007, Merck said that it had agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle all pending lawsuits [press release; JURIST report] regarding its marketing and distribution of Vioxx.






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Former Guantanamo prosecutor says DOD punished him for Hamdan testimony
Deirdre Jurand on May 30, 2008 10:19 AM ET

[JURIST] The former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay alleges that the US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] retaliated against him for giving testimony [JURIST report] at the pre-trial hearing of detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] which reflected poorly on the DOD. In an email released Wednesday, Air Force Col. Morris Davis [official profile, PDF] wrote that Pentagon officials denied him a medal for his two years of work on Guantanamo cases for failure to "serve honorably", a justification he says is politically motivated. He also said that he will not cooperate in any future cases and that he fears further punishment by the DOD before his official retirement later this year. The Washington Post has more.

Davis resigned [JURIST report; JURIST op-ed] from his position at Guantanamo Bay in October 2007, saying that politics were interfering with the prosecutions. He testified at Hamdan's pre-trial hearing that DOD officials had pressured him to bring charges against detainees and had told him that there could be no acquittals. Davis also stated that the legal adviser to the Convening Authority [official backgrounder] for Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, US Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann [official profile], questioned the need for open trials [JURIST report] and pressured him to move forward with military commissions quickly "before the election." A judge disqualified Hartmann from a Guantanamo trial earlier this month, and Hartmann's objectivity has since been questioned [JURIST reports].






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Pentagon dismisses judge in Khadr military commission trial
Andrew Gilmore on May 30, 2008 10:11 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] on Thursday dismissed the military judge presiding over the military commission trial of Canadian Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr [DOD materials; JURIST news archive]. No explanation was given for the dismissal of Col. Peter Brownback [JURIST news archive], but Khadr's defense lawyers speculated that it was was related to Brownback's threat earlier this month to suspend the military commission proceedings [JURIST report] against Khadr until the US government submits daily records of Khadr's detention. Khadr's military lawyers had requested the records to corroborate allegations of abusive treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. In November 2007, Reuters reported that at a pre-trial hearing in the Khadr case, Brownback said that the Pentagon was unhappy with his decisions in the case, and that he had "taken a lot of heat" [Reuters report] for dismissing charges against Khadr [JURIST report] in June 2007. Those charges were later reinstated [JURIST report]. AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

Khadr, 21, faces life imprisonment for crimes allegedly committed at the age of 15 while fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. He was charged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] in April 2007 with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, as well as spying. In April, Brownback ruled [PDF text] that Khadr was not a child soldier when he was captured in Afghanistan. Khadr's lawyers had asked for the case to be dismissed [JURIST report] saying that it violated the Optional Protocol of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child [text], which gives special protection to children under 18 involved in armed conflicts.






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Turkish court rules GLBT rights group name is immoral
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 30, 2008 10:09 AM ET

[JURIST] A Turkish court Thursday ordered the closure of a prominent gay rights group, finding that the name of Lambda Istanbul Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transvestites Solidarity Association [advocacy website, in Turkish] is contrary to Turkish morality because it includes words describing sexual identity. Lambda Istanbul has vowed to appeal the ban, taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights [official website] if necessary, and can continue to operate until a final decision is reached. Homosexuality is not a criminal offense in Turkey, as it is in many predominantly Muslim nations, but human rights groups have documented widespread discrimination against sexual minorities. In a report [text; press release] issued last week, Human Rights Watch called for Turkey to protect the rights of homosexual and transgendered people. BBC News has more. AP has additional coverage.

In 2005, Turkish prosecutors rejected a demand [JURIST report] by Ankara's deputy governor to shut down gay rights group Kaos Gay and Lesbian Cultural Research and Solidarity Association [advocacy website, English version]. The governor's office argued that the title and purpose of the group violated the Turkish Civil Code, which prohibits associations against law and morality, but prosecutors disagreed. A protective clause against anti-gay discrimination was written into the country's penal code in 2004 in an effort to strengthen Turkey's bid to join the European Union [official website], but it was later removed by Justice Minister Cemil Cicek, according to gay rights activists. The EU has said that Turkey must implement human rights reforms [JURIST report] before it would be admitted to the EU, but has given no specific instructions that GLBTQ rights should be included in the changes.






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Balkan countries now among safest in Europe after crime drop: UN report
Deirdre Jurand on May 30, 2008 8:23 AM ET

[JURIST] The Balkan region, once plagued by a reputation for dangerous crime and political instability, is now one of the safest regions in Europe, according to a UN study [PDF text; press release] released Thursday. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) [official website] found that violent crimes, such as rape, assault and homicide, as well as property crimes, such as robbery and burglary, are lower in the nine Balkan countries than in most of Western Europe. Homicide rates in particular continue to drop in every Balkan state, a trend the report says is likely to continue because these states do not suffer from the poverty, unchecked urbanization, and rampant unemployment that have led to crime in other countries. Corruption and organized crime [Al Jazeera report] does still remain a major problem in the region, even though the countries have signed the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime [PDF text].

Albania has the highest crime rate in the region, due in large part to drug trafficking. Kosovo, which declared independence [JURIST report] from Serbia in February, remains relatively unstable after recent wars and an economic collapse. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has established a security sector development plan [official websites] for Kosovo to help reduce the already dropping crime rates. AP has more.






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Europe rights court holds Russia responsible for Chechen disappearances
Deirdre Jurand on May 29, 2008 2:15 PM ET

[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] issued five decisions Thursday finding Russia responsible for the disappearance of a dozen people during Russian armed raids in Chechnya in 2002 and 2003. Families of the victims, all of whom are presumed dead, had raised claims under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms [PDF text]. The court directed Russia to pay a total of more than €350,000 ($550,000) to the families. Russia has three months to pay or to appeal. AP has more. Read the court's rulings in Gekhayeva v. Russia, Betayev v. Russia, Sangariyeva v. Russia, Ibragimov v. Russia, Utsayeva v. Russia [judgment texts].

The ECHR has consistently ruled against Russia in similar cases involving Chechnya rights violations. In July 2007, the court ruled that Russian authorities were responsible for the shooting deaths of 11 unarmed Chechen civilians, and in June 2007 it held that Russian authorities were liable for the 2003 deaths of four Chechen family members [JURIST reports].






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Court-martial begins for US Marine accused in Haditha killings case
Andrew Gilmore on May 29, 2008 2:00 PM ET

[JURIST] The court-martial of a US Marine intelligence officer charged in connection with the November 2005 killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha [USMC timeline; JURIST news archive] began Thursday at Camp Pendleton, California [official website]. US Marine Corps 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson [defense website; JURIST news archive] is charged with multiple violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) [text], including making a false official statement, obstructing justice, and dereliction of duty. AP has more.

A defense lawyer for Grayson said in September 2007 that Grayson rejected a plea offer [JURIST report] requiring him to admit to an attempted cover-up of the killings in exchange for prosecutors dropping all charges. He is accused of allegedly ordering a subordinate to delete photographic evidence [JURIST report] taken hours after the killings to keep it out of a report being prepared for top-ranking officers and a journalist. Eight Marines were initially charged in connection with the Haditha incident, though charges against five of them have since been dropped. In April, the court-martial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich [advocacy website], leader of the squad implicated in the killings, was postponed until June [JURIST report].






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Guantanamo detainee alleges abuse in charge dismissal bid
Andrew Gilmore on May 29, 2008 1:18 PM ET

[JURIST] An Afghan detainee at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] Wednesday moved to have all charges against him dismissed, alleging that he has been tortured in US custody. In a motion filed by his military defense lawyer, Mohammed Jawad [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] said that he has been subjected to abusive treatment, including the so-called "frequent-flier program," in which certain inmates are moved between cells at two to four hour intervals in an attempt to cause physical stress through sleep deprivation. AP has more.

Jawad was charged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] in February with attempted murder and intentionally causing serious bodily injury in a December 2002 grenade attack in Kabul that injured two US soldiers and an Afghan translator. In March, Jawad appeared at a pretrial hearing before a military commission, alleging that he had been mistreated while in custody, and asked to boycott his trial [JURIST report]. Jawad was the fourth Guantanamo detainee to be formally charged with war crimes under the 2006 Military Commissions Act [PDF text].






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Federal court strikes down Texas city ordinance denying housing to illegal aliens
Deirdre Jurand on May 29, 2008 12:21 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled [PDF text] Wednesday that a Farmers Branch, Texas [city website; JURIST news archive] ordinance that would bar landlords from renting apartments to most illegal immigrants is unconstitutional. Ordinance 2903 [DOC text] requires apartment renters to show proof of US residency and penalizes landlords who rent to illegal immigrants [JURIST news archive]. Judge Sam Lindsay initially blocked [JURIST report] the ordinance in 2007; on Wednesday, Lindsay ruled the ordinance was unconstitutional because it did not recognize federal supremacy in immigration matters and because it would require the court to rewrite legislation. AP has more.

In January, the Farmers Branch City Council [official website] approved a similar law [DOC text; JURIST report] that officials believe solves the problems [Dallas Morning News report] that Lindsay identified in Ordinance 2903. The new law, which would require possible renters to get a license from the city before renting, is scheduled to go into effect in two weeks. That ordinance is also being challenged, this time for an alleged violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act [PDF text], because the City Council passed the law quickly and secretly during a meeting to discuss legal challenges against Ordinance 2903.






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New York to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages
Andrew Gilmore on May 29, 2008 12:20 PM ET

[JURIST] New York Governor David Paterson [official profile] has ordered all state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages [JURIST news archive] from other states as legal marriages for purposes of New York law. The instructions highlighted in Thursday media reports came in a May 14 memo [PDF text] circulated by the governor's legal counsel David Nocenti [official profile], which directed state agencies to afford "full faith and credit to same-sex marriages" and indicated that agencies which fail to do so could be subject to liability. Agencies were instructed to report back to Nocenti by June 30 with steps taken to implement recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages. AP has more. The New York Times has local coverage.

The New York memo notes a February decision by an intermediate New York appellate court in Martinez v. County of Monroe [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] holding that legal same-sex marriages performed outside the state are entitled to recognition in New York. The memo was dated one day before the California Supreme Court overturned a state ban on same-sex marriage in In re Marriage Cases [opinion, PDF; JURIST report].






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Chinese national pleads guilty to abetting espionage in DOD secrets case
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 29, 2008 11:27 AM ET

[JURIST] A Chinese woman who is a permanent resident of New Orleans pleaded guilty Wednesday in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website] to charges of aiding and abetting espionage by passing national defense information to Chinese agents. Yu Xin Kang [CICentre materials] could face 10 years in prison for acting as an intermediary between Louisiana businessman Tai Kuo and Defense Security Cooperation Agency [official website] analyst Gregg William Bergersen. Kang allegedly passed classified military information to Chinese foreign officials. AP has more. The Times-Picayune has local coverage.

Bergersen was charged [affidavit, PDF] and arrested [JURIST report] in February and later pleaded guilty [DOJ press release; JURIST report] to conspiracy for disclosing national defense information. Kuo also pleaded guilty to conspiracy and could be sentenced to life in prison. In a separate Chinese espionage case, officials arrested Dongfan "Greg" Chung, a former Chinese-American engineer at Boeing [corporate website], in February for allegedly stealing corporate trade secrets related to aerospace programs and turning them over to China [JURIST news archive]. Chung's arrest was reportedly related to the case of Chi Mak [CI Centre backgrounder; JURIST report], a Chinese-American engineer sentenced [JURIST report] in March for conspiring to smuggle sensitive naval intelligence data to China.






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Pakistan party leader warns lawyers of possible martial law return
Deirdre Jurand on May 29, 2008 10:40 AM ET

[JURIST] The co-chair of Pakistan's governing Pakistan People's Party (PPP) [party website] pleaded for calm Thursday with members of the nation's vocal lawyers' movement, cautioning that "hidden forces" could seize on any perceived unrest to reimpose martial law and destroy democracy in Pakistan. Speaking to members of the People's Lawyers Forum (PLF), Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile] reiterated his support for constitutional reforms to establish a fully independent judiciary and for reinstating judges ousted [JURIST reports] by President Pervez Musharraf when he declared emergency rule [JURIST report] last November, suspending the constitution in the face of what he asserted was a usurping judiciary led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. When a coalition government of parties opposed to Musharraf took power after elections earlier this year, its leaders, including Zardari, pledged to restore the judiciary [Al Jazeera report], but they have not agreed on how to do so and have already missed two self-imposed deadlines for restoration. IANS has more.

A PLF member told Pakistan's Dawn newspaper that the group would not do anything to jeopardize democracy, and has pledged to support [APP report] proposed constitutional amendments [Daily Times report; JURIST report] designed to transfer power back to the judiciary. But lawyers still plan to hold a long march protest [JURIST report] on June 10 if the judges are not reinstated. Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association President Aitzaz Ahsan [Time profile; JURIST news archive] Thursday called for Musharraf to step down [Pakistan Tribune report] before the long march or face impeachment by parliament.






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US civilian lawsuits against military contractors may overcome jurisdiction challenge
Deirdre Jurand on May 29, 2008 9:43 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] Wednesday ruled [opinion, PDF] to remand a set of consolidated tort claims brought against military contractors in Iraq, holding that further factual development is necessary before determining whether the cases were nonjusticiable political questions. The plaintiffs allege [Bloomberg report] that military contractor Halliburton and then-subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) [corporate websites] misrepresented the dangers of working in Iraq and knowingly sent employees into unsafe areas, resulting in injuries and deaths. In 2006, a federal judge in Houston dismissed [memorandum and order, PDF] the suits, finding that the court did not have jurisdiction to review wartime policies. The Fifth Circuit's opinion stated that the injury claims raised may not necessarily require the court to question the military's decisions. AP has more.

KBR contracted with the US military through the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) [official website; KBR information page] to provide exclusive civilian logistics support during Iraqi reconstruction; in recent years, the company has come under increasing scrutiny. In August 2006, a KBR subcontractor settled Iraq fraud allegations [JURIST report] with the US government for $4 million. Army officials later said they would modify LOGCAP to provide better guidance to KBR after a special investigator reported [JURIST report] in 2006 that KBR was violating US regulations.






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California to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses in June
Andrew Gilmore on May 29, 2008 9:18 AM ET

[JURIST] California Deputy State Registrar and Chief of the Office of Vital Records [official website] Janet McKee issued a memorandum [PDF text] Wednesday setting June 17 as the start date for issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The California Supreme Court's May 15 ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in In re Marriage Cases [case materials] overturned a ban on same-sex marriage. After June 17, county clerks in California will be authorized to issue the state's redesigned marriage license [document, PDF] to all applicants, barring an intervening change in the law. The new marriage license does not include the words "bride" and "groom," instead using "Party A" and "Party B" to refer to the applicants. AP has more. The San Francisco Chronicle has local coverage.

Also Wednesday, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera [official website] filed a brief [text, PDF; official press release] with the California Supreme Court in response to a petition [JURIST report] from a conservative Christian advocacy group seeking to stay the court's May 17 ruling. Herrera's filing argues that the advocacy group, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) [advocacy website], lacks standing to petition the California Supreme Court since it was not a party to In re Marriage Cases. The filing argues against the ADF's allegation that the nature and timing of the ruling is "confusing", and instead asserts that there is no basis for the court to stay its ruling until the November elections.






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Cluster bomb draft treaty agreed on at Ireland conference
Leslie Schulman on May 28, 2008 11:33 PM ET

[JURIST] Diplomats reached an agreement Wednesday on a draft treaty [text, PDF] banning the use, manufacture, and stockpiling of cluster munitions [ICRC materials; JURIST news archive] following ten days of negotiation at the Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions [official website]. The treaty forbids signatories from acting in a way that would assist, encourage, or induce "anyone to engage in any activity prohibited" under the treaty. Countries possessing cluster munitions would be required to destroy them, and to provide medical assistance, rehabilitation and psychological support to any victim of cluster munitions within their jurisdictions. While the US was not present at the conference, a loophole [HRW press release] was built into the treaty to allow continued military and other cooperation between parties and non-parties to the treaty. Article 21 of the treaty allows the military personnel and nationals of treaty signatories to engage in military cooperation and operations with non-signatory states which might engage in prohibited activities. The treaty will be formally adopted on Friday, signed into law in December, and then must be ratified by individual signatory nations. BBC News has more.

No representatives were sent to the conference from the US, China, Russia, Israel, India, or Pakistan, whose governments collectively make up the world's largest producers and users of cluster bombs. Last month the US said it would not attend the 2008 Dublin conference [JURIST report], echoing June 2007 statements that it does not support a ban on cluster bombs [JURIST report] but that it is open to negotiations to reduce their impact on civilians. Cluster bombs break apart, releasing large numbers of smaller, self-contained explosives which spread out before detonating upon impact. Their design aims to stop large-scale troop movements by maximizing bodily injury over a wide area. Bombs which fail to detonate can present a serious hazard for civilian populations. Strong supporters of the ban include the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Australia. Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI urged [AFP report] all governments to adopt the ban. AFP has additional coverage.






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Egypt emergency laws extension shows 'contempt for rule of law': HRW
Devin Montgomery on May 28, 2008 2:28 PM ET

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] Wednesday sharply criticized [press release] Egypt's decision to extend [JURIST report] the country's emergency laws [EOHR backgrounder] for a further two year period, saying the move "shows contempt for the rule of law." Emergency laws have been in effect in Egypt since the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat [memorial website], giving the government and security services the authority to censor the media, arrest and detain anyone deemed a threat to state security, ban demonstrations, and try civilians in military courts [JURIST report]. Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif [official profile] has said that the emergency laws are necessary to combat terrorism, but HRW Wednesday urged the government to repeal the laws and instead enact new specially tailored terrorism laws [JURIST report] that are less repressive.

On Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the US was "disappointed" in the extension [DOS press briefing transcript] and urged Egypt to pass the new counter-terrorism laws. Reuters has more.






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Russia court rules smuggling charges against ex-NGO head unconstitutional
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 28, 2008 1:43 PM ET

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation [official website, in Russian] ruled Tuesday that the law under which the former head of media advocacy NGO Educated Media Foundation (EMF) was charged in 2007 was unconstitutionally vague [press release], requiring that smuggling charges against her be dropped. Manana Aslamaziyan [profile] was arrested after she entered the country without declaring over $12,000 in cash; she was indicted under a law that made it illegal to bring a "large sum" of money over the border without declaring it, but the law did not define what constituted a large sum. Aslamaziyan has maintained that the charges against her were without merit. The Moscow Times has more.

EMF is a non-governmental organization working to train Russian journalists to encourage the growth of independent and alternative media. Last year, Russian authorities conducted a raid [BBC report] on EMF's main Moscow offices amid a growing Russian government crack-down on NGOs [JURIST report]; hundreds of Russian journalists later joined in a protest letter [text] to then-Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2006, Putin signed a law [JURIST report] granting tighter state control over non-governmental organizations, including those that were foreign-funded. The law has been widely criticized [JURIST report], but its supporters have defended it as necessary to prevent foreign governments and organizations from using NGOs to undermine Russia's security.






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Guantanamo protesters appear in DC court on illegal demonstration charges
Andrew Gilmore on May 28, 2008 1:38 PM ET

[JURIST] A group of 35 members of anti-war activism organization Witness Against Torture [advocacy website] appeared in a DC Superior Court Tuesday. The 35 were arrested at a protest [JURIST report] in front of the US Supreme Court in January, where they were demonstrating for the closure of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], and were indicted on charges of violating an ordinance barring demonstrations on court grounds. Prosecutors had offered to drop the charges, but the protesters have insisted on appearing in court. The Washington Post has more.

At their court appearance, protesters wore orange jumpsuits similar to the ones worn by Guantanamo detainees and some identified themselves using the names of detainees as a way to "symbolically grant the Guantanamo prisoners their day in court" [advocacy press release]. The January 11 protest took place on the sixth anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay facility in Cuba.






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US federal courts best suited to try terrorism cases: rights group
Devin Montgomery on May 28, 2008 12:29 PM ET

[JURIST] Terrorism cases should be tried in the US federal criminal court system [official website], rather than by military tribunals [JURIST news archive] or special terrorism courts, according to a report [PDF text; HRF materials] released Wednesday by Human Rights First [advocacy website] in conjunction with two former federal prosecutors. Consolidating materials from over 120 international terrorism cases, the report argues that federal courts are versatile and creative enough to deal with defendant's rights, national security, and other concerns that might arise when trying terrorism cases:

The civilian justice system offers several different avenues, under existing law, for the government to secure the detention of an individual whom it believes is complicit in terrorism. If the government files criminal charges, it can seek detention under the bail statute. If the suspect is an alien not lawfully present in the United States, the government has broad latitude to arrest and detain him pending removal proceedings. The government may also seek an individual's arrest on a material witness warrant, but this approach is viable only for a limited time period and carries with it important procedural safeguards.

Of these three methods, the first is often the most direct and effective. However, the government may face a quandary in determining whether to bring criminal charges against a terrorism suspect. In some cases, the government may face the problem of insufficient admissible evidence to support a criminal charge — even though it may firmly believe, perhaps based on reliable but inadmissible intelligence information, that an individual presents a real danger. In other cases, an arrest may be feasible but could impair the government’s ability to successfully prosecute the defendant by interrupting the investigation and thus cutting off the government's ability to develop additional evidence. In some such cases, a public arrest may damage ongoing investigations of larger terrorism networks by revealing the government’s scrutiny and tipping off co-conspirators.

For years, prosecutors have faced these sorts of challenges in serious criminal matters such as organized crime and gang prosecutions.

The report also says that the delays and controversy surrounding the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] illustrate the drawbacks to creating an entirely new system to deal with the cases. To date, 16 Guantanamo detainees have been charged under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [DOD materials], passed by Congress after the US Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the previous system, created by US President George W. Bush, violated US and international law. AP has more.





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British Columbia high court declares Canada drug law unconstitutional
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 28, 2008 11:59 AM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of British Columbia [official website] Tuesday ruled [text] that Canadian laws on drug possession and trafficking are unconstitutional as they violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text]. Justice Ian Pitfield gave the Canadian government until next June to amend the drug law to bring it in line with the Charter. The case concerns a Vancouver exemption to Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act [text] that allows the city to create a "safe injection" zone known as Insite [VCH backgrounder]. The exemption, intended to encourage drug addicts to seek medical care, was set to expire on June 30, but advocates petitioned the Court to intervene before Ottawa could decide whether to extend or end the exemption. Pitfield's ruling extends the exemption until June 2009.

Pitfield compared drug addiction to alcoholism and smoking, noting in his ruling that similar sites existed to help people with those addictions and finding that the "safe injection" site provided a vital public service:

Denial of access to Insite and safe injection for the reason stated by Canada, amounts to a condemnation of the consumption that led to addiction in the first place, while ignoring the resulting illness. While there is nothing to be said in favour of the injection of controlled substances that leads to addiction, there is much to be said against denying addicts health care services that will ameliorate the effects of their condition. Society does that for other substances such as alcohol and tobacco. While those are not prohibited substances, society neither condemns the individual who chose to drink or smoke to excess, nor deprives that individual of a range of health care services. Management of the harm in those cases is accepted as a community responsibility. I cannot see any rational or logical reason why the approach should be different when dealing with the addiction to narcotics, an aspect of which is that the substance that resulted in the addiction in the first place will invariably be ingested in the short-term, and possibly in the long-term, because of the very nature of the illness. Simply stated, I cannot agree with the Canada’s submission that an addict must feed his addiction in an unsafe environment when a safe environment that may lead to rehabilitation is the alternative.
Canadian Press has more. CBC News has additional coverage.





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UN SG promises to address allegations of child abuse by peacekeepers
Andrew Gilmore on May 28, 2008 11:58 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] Tuesday promised to step up efforts to combat child exploitation and sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by UN peacekeeping forces. In a short statement [text] released by his spokesperson, Ban expressed his concern over recent allegations of misconduct. The statement read, in part:

The United Nations is committed to training and monitoring our civilian staff and working with our troop and police contributing countries to ensure that all categories of United Nations personnel are both trained in - and are accountable for - the highest standards of conduct.

As pointed out in the report, the United Nations has already undertaken a series of measures designed to tackle this problem directly, from establishing Conduct and Discipline Units in all of our Missions to strengthening our training regimes for all categories of UN personnel. We are determined to redouble our efforts in this regard and to work with all of our partners to implement fully our policy of zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel.

The United Nations will continue to depend on the active efforts of its troop and police contributing countries in investigating and disciplining their national personnel found to have committed misconduct, including acts of sexual exploitation and abuse while serving in UN operations.
The UN News Centre has more.

Ban's comments come in response to a report [PDF text; press release] released Tuesday by Save the Children UK [advocacy website], which detailed allegations that UN peacekeeping forces had engaged in the abuse, including rape, prostitution, sexual assault, slavery and trafficking, of children in conflict areas such as Haiti, Ivory Coast, and Sudan [JURIST news archives]. The report also found allegations of such abuse by other UN bodies and NGOs, but most accusations concerned peacekeeping forces operating under the direction of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations [official website]. BBC News has more.





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Environmental groups, states sue EPA over new smog regulations
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 28, 2008 11:00 AM ET

[JURIST] Several public health and environmental groups filed a petition for review [PDF; press release] of new US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] standards in the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit on Tuesday. Non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice [advocacy website] is handling the suit, which alleges that the EPA ignored the input of top scientists in issuing its smog regulations [EPA materials] in March. An EPA Advisory Board and many scientists had recommended placing the smog standards up to 15 parts-per-billion lower than the number ultimately set by the EPA [JURIST news archive].

The Earthjustice lawsuit alleges that the EPA made the decision as a result of pressure from the White House. Last week, a US House report suggested that California's request to implement stricter vehicle emissions standards was denied by the EPA last December due to White House influence [JURIST report]. A coalition of eleven states, including California, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine, also filed a similar lawsuit Tuesday, alleging that the new smog regulations fail to adequately protect public health. AP has more.






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Hamas, Fatah violating human rights in bid for control: advocacy group
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 28, 2008 10:19 AM ET

[JURIST] Competing Palestinian governments controlled by Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas [BBC backgrounders] in Gaza have been committing human rights violations in their bids for dominance over the Palestinian territories, the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights (PICCR) [advocacy website] said Tuesday. PICCR reported that it had received over 2,000 reports of human rights abuses in 2007, including illegal detentions and torture. A spokesman for the group also accused both governments of limiting the freedoms of speech and assembly. Reuters has more. AP has additional coverage.

In 2007, Amnesty International [advocacy website] released a 58-page report [text; JURIST report] criticizing the two main Palestinian political factions for causing wide-scale violence involving civilians. The report recognized the weakness of Palestinian institutions, but insisted that they stop the Gaza Strip [BBC backgrounder] and West Bank conflicts. Israel's occupation and repeated attacks on Palestinian targets have been used by some Palestinian officials as excuses for inaction.






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Nepal Constituent Assembly abolishes monarchy, declares republic
Andrew Gilmore on May 28, 2008 9:45 AM ET

[JURIST] The 601-member Nepalese Constituent Assembly voted Wednesday to abolish the country's monarchy and establish a republic. The decision gives King Gyanendera [JURIST news archive] fifteen days to abandon the royal palace in the capital Kathmandu, and declares him to be an ordinary citizen. Wednesday's vote finalizes a development that had been expected since December 2007, when Nepal's interim parliament voted to abolish the monarchy [JURIST report] as part of a plan to bring members of the Communist Party of Nepal - Maoists (CPN-M) [party website] back into government. In addition to dethroning the king, the Constituent Assembly will work on drafting a new constitution [JURIST report] and electing a president to head the new republic. BBC has more. eKantipur has local coverage.

The Constituent Assembly was elected in April [JURIST report] after voting dominated by the CPN-M. On Monday, Nepalese authorities banned protests near the royal enclaves [JURIST report] in anticipation of rallies and celebrations marking the expected abolition of the monarchy. The establishment of the Constituent Assembly and the abolition of the monarchy were the main parts of a 2006 peace agreement [text; JURIST report] between the CPN-M and the Nepalese government, which marked the end of a 10-year Maoist insurgency [JURIST report].






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Amnesty International releases 2008 human rights report
Andrew Gilmore on May 28, 2008 9:16 AM ET

[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) released its annual report [PDF; AI materials] on the state of human rights around the world on Tuesday. The major themes of this year's report include violence against women, US detention of terrorism suspects, persecution of human rights activists, and the continued use of the death penalty in criminal prosecutions. The organization's Secretary General, Irene Khan, called on world governments [AI press release] to address injustice, inequality, and impunity with respect to human rights. Khan also urged the international community to focus immediate attention on "human rights flashpoints," including Darfur, Zimbabwe, Gaza, Iraq, and Myanmar [JURIST news archives]. AP has more.

The report paid particular attention to human rights violations reported during the US "War on Terror". AI also pointed out inconsistencies and a lack of accountability in the US criminal justice system, especially with respect to the death penalty and race relations. China was also criticized in the report for its record on human rights, a growing issue in light of the upcoming Olympic Games [JURIST news archive]. AI focused on China's state-sponsored persecution of human rights activists and the repression of minority and religious groups. Many of the comments echo sentiments expressed in the 2007 annual report [JURIST report], in which AI condemned the US and its allies for secret detention, extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive], and other alleged human rights violations.






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Russia justice system wrongly charging thousands: chief prosecutor
Andrew Gilmore on May 27, 2008 3:33 PM ET

[JURIST] Russian authorities are wrongly indicting thousands of citizens every year, Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive] said Tuesday at a Moscow meeting held to discuss compensation for those falsely charged. Chaika said that in 2007, 5,265 people were eventually cleared after having charges wrongly laid against them. Critics have long slammed the Russian justice system as riddled with corruption and intimidation, but Chaika's comments are the first admission by a high-ranking government official of extensive problems in the prosecution process. BBC News has more. Russian news agency ITAR-TASS has local coverage.

Chaika's comments come after a promise last Tuesday by new Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile] to take steps to tackle corruption and intimidation in the Russian judicial system [JURIST report], calling for reforms to better train and support judges and to preserve the rule of law. Also last week, Medvedev signed a measure to establish an anti-corruption council [JURIST report].






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Zimbabwe refuses to extradite ex-Ethiopia leader Mengistu to face death penalty
Andrew Gilmore on May 27, 2008 2:28 PM ET

[JURIST] Zimbabwe will not return former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to Ethiopia to face a death sentence, a Zimbabwean Information Ministry official said Tuesday. The Ethiopian Supreme Court sentenced Mengistu to death in absentia on Monday after Ethiopian prosecutors appealed his January 2007 life sentence [JURIST reports] on charges of genocide, homicide, illegal imprisonment, and illegal property seizure. Mengistu ruled Ethiopia from 1974 to 1991, during which time 150,000 university students, intellectuals, and politicians are believed to have been killed. After being overthrown by rebels in 1991, Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe, where he is described as "guest" under the protection of President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive].

Zimbabwean opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change [party website], currently locked in a bitter battle with the Mugabe regime over the disputed results of the recent presidential elections [JURIST news archive], has pledged that if party leader Morgan Tsvangirai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] turns out to have won the country's recent presidential election, Mengistu will be extradited to Ethiopia. Reuters has more. SW Radio Africa has local coverage.






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Chile judge orders arrests in Pinochet-era 'disappearances' investigation
Devin Montgomery on May 27, 2008 11:49 AM ET

[JURIST] A Chilean judge Monday ordered the arrest of 98 people suspected of covering up over 100 kidnappings and murders during the 1973-1990 rule of former military dictator Augusto Pinochet [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The court's investigation is focused on the regime's program of torturing and "disappearing" political dissidents, and those arrested include former members of the country's National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) [FAS backgrounder], as well as civilians. The Guardian has more. CNN has additional coverage.

Monday's court order comes following a number of other prosecutions [JURIST news archive] of Pinochet-era officials in recent years. Pinochet died two years ago, and a court later found that his family members could not be held responsible for funds allegedly embezzled [JURIST reports] by the dictator.






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Supreme Court rules on employer retaliation, Alabama voting law
Abigail Salisbury on May 27, 2008 11:07 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] handed down three decisions Tuesday, including two cases involving alleged employer retaliation [JURIST archive]. In Gomez-Perez v. Potter [LII case backgrounder; JURIST report], the Court held 6-3 that a provision [text] in the Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects government employees who complain of age discrimination from subsequent retaliation. The Court reversed a ruling [text] by the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and held that anyone who is a victim of such treatment may make a claim under the Act. Read the Court's opinion per Justice Alito, along with a dissent from Roberts and a separate dissent [texts] from Thomas.

In a similar case involving a Cracker Barrel restaurant, CBOCS West v. Humphries [Duke Law backgrounder], the Court found 7-2 that 42 USC 1981 [text] created a cause of action for an employee who suffered retaliation as a result of claiming workplace discrimination [JURIST news archive] based on race. The Court affirmed a ruling [PDF text] by the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, noting that "this Court has long held that the statutory text of §1981’s sister statute, §1982, provides protection from retaliation for reasons related to the enforcement of the express statutory right." Read the Court's opinion per Justice Breyer, along with a dissent [texts] by Thomas. AP has more.

In Riley v. Kennedy [LII backgrounder; JURIST report], the Court ruled on a Voting Rights Act (VRA) [text] requirement that certain states must obtain federal clearance before changing their voting rules, a measure imposed to guard against racial discrimination. The Court reversed by 7-2 the ruling [PDF text] of the US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, holding that returning to a previous election law when a new one was struck down by the Supreme Court of Alabama was not a violation of the VRA, because there had been no "change" in need of clearance. The Court emphasized the narrowness of the holding, essentially limiting it to the facts of the case. Read the Court's opinion by Justice Ginsburg and the dissent [texts] by Stevens. AP has more.






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Arctic states meeting to discuss allocation of seabed drilling rights
Allyson Amster on May 27, 2008 11:02 AM ET

[JURIST] The five states that border the Arctic - Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the US - will meet in Greenland Wednesday to discuss plans to divide harvesting rights [press release] to resources and minerals on the Arctic seabed. Under the Law of the Sea Treaty [text], a country has exclusive harvesting rights to a zone extending 200 nautical miles from its shore, but when a continental shelf extends farther a nation may claim up to 350 miles from the baseline or 100 miles from the 2,500 meter depth. Questions about Arctic sea oil and gas rights have become more pressing lately, as global warming estimates predict that previously unattainable ice-locked resources will be within reach by mid-century. Reuters has more.

Environmental organizations have criticized efforts to expand oil drilling [WWF report] into the Arctic Sea, calling for increased research into energy conservation and renewable resources instead. Critics have also said that offshore development will require massive amounts of infrastructure that could impact local wildlife.






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Peru ex-general alleges Fujimori authorized death squad killings
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 27, 2008 10:45 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Peruvian general Rodolfo Robles testified Monday that he believed that former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] was responsible for two massacres that took place during his presidency in the early 1990s, but admitted that he did not have any evidence linking Fujimori to the deaths. He said that he had "absolute conviction" that Fujimori authorized the killings, which he said were carried out by a death squad under the control of Fujimori's intelligence head Vladimiro Montesinos [JURIST report]. AP has more.

Fujimori is currently being tried on murder and kidnapping charges [JURIST report] stemming from military killings of 25 people in 1991 and 1992. The victims included a professor and nine students killed at the so-called La Cantuta massacre [MIT backgrounder] at Lima's La Cantuta University, along with 15 people killed in Lima's Barrios Altos area. Fujimori has claimed that he did not authorize and did not have any knowledge of the killings, which took place in the context of a war on Shining Path rebels [FAS backgrounder] in the country.






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Myanmar junta to detain democracy activist Suu Kyi for another year
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 27, 2008 10:15 AM ET

[JURIST] The ruling junta of Myanmar Tuesday extended the house arrest of democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] for another year, a decision that has angered and frustrated many in the international community. Suu Kyi's detention was set to expire at midnight Tuesday, although the military government was widely expected to issue the extension. The extension is said to violate a Myanmar law that bars the government from detaining a person for over five years without trial. The Globe and Mail has more.

Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy, has spent 11 of the past 17 years in prison or under house arrest for alleged violations of an anti-subversion law [text]. Last year, the military government had implied that she might be released [JURIST report] after the country's new constitution was approved. Earlier this month, the junta announced that Myanmar's draft constitution [JURIST news archive] had been overwhelmingly approved [JURIST report] in a national referendum after two rounds of voting with 92 percent of votes cast favoring the proposed charter and 98 percent of the country's 27 million eligible voters turning out.






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Argentina court puts ex-army commander on trial for alleged 'Dirty War' crimes
Devin Montgomery on May 27, 2008 9:48 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Argentine general Luciano Benjamin Menendez [Project Disappeared profile] and seven others went on trial Tuesday for the alleged 1977 kidnapping, torture, and killing of four political dissidents during the country's "Dirty War" [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The 80-year old Menendez, who commanded an army corps in the late 1970s, was originally taken into custody in 2005, when a judge ordered his arrest [JURIST report] in connection with a separate murder. AP has more.

It is estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 people were forcibly kidnapped or "disappeared" during the Argentine government's campaign against suspected dissidents during the country's "Dirty War." In 2005, Argentina's Supreme Court struck down amnesty laws [JURIST report] adopted in the 1980s to protect potential defendants, prompting the government to reopen hundreds of human rights cases.






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Uganda establishes special war crimes court to try LRA rebels
Devin Montgomery on May 27, 2008 8:18 AM ET

[JURIST] Uganda [JURIST news archive] has established a special court to hear cases of alleged war crimes and human rights abuses related to an ongoing rebellion in the country [JURIST news archive], a High Court judge said Monday. Uganda's government agreed to create the war crimes court [JURIST report] in February during peace negotiations with the guerrilla Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) [BBC backgrounder]. There is speculation that the the war crimes court, which will have the authority to try LRA leaders, was created to persuade the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to drop arrest warrants currently out for LRA leaders, a conclusion supported by the LRA's refusal to sign a final peace agreement [JURIST reports] unless the warrants are suspended. BBC News has more. New Vision has additional coverage.

Late last week, ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] said that the court was investigating possible new crimes [JURIST report] committed by the LRA after peace talks with the government stalled in April. Ocampo has also said that arrest warrants issued by the ICC for LRA leaders will remain in effect, despite requests from Uganda that they be withdrawn [JURIST reports]. The government has said that LRA leaders are willing to face trial at home [JURIST report], but that the special war crimes court was established because of public demand for local trials rather than to appease LRA rebels.






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Bangladesh approves truth commission for corrupt officials
Devin Montgomery on May 26, 2008 5:35 PM ET

[JURIST] Bangladesh [JURIST news archive] has approved the creation of a so-called Truth and Accountability Commission which would allow corrupt officials and businessmen guilty of corruption to avoid jail by confessing and returning money taken, officials said Monday. The commission would operate under the country's new Voluntary Disclosure of Information Ordinance for five months, and those officials who come forward would still be prohibited from running for political office or holding board positions at any public company, bank, or financial institution for five years. The commission is designed to ease the burden on the country's Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) [governing statute; JURIST news archive] which faces a huge backlog and which government officials say could take decades to prosecute all of the offenders. Plans for the establishment of a "truth commission" were first announced [JURIST report] last October as a way to instill more investor confidence in the country which has experienced a significant decrease in economic growth. AFP has more.

Bangladesh's current anti-corruption crackdown began after President Iajuddin Ahmed declared a state of emergency [JURIST report] in the country and canceled a scheduled national election in January 2007. Eight former Bangladeshi ministers were subsequently accused of corruption and 13 other former ministers and senior politicians were arrested during raids on their homes [JURIST reports]. Former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina [party profile; JURIST news archive] faces corruption charges for receiving illegal kick-backs from both a power-plant construction deal and oil and gas contracts [JURIST reports]. Former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia [UN profile] also faces charges related to oil and gas contracts [JURIST report].






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Ousted Pakistan CJ says acquiescent government officials to be 'punished'
Devin Montgomery on May 26, 2008 4:08 PM ET

[JURIST] Pakistan officials who ignored a Supreme Court [official website] order and went along with President Pervez Musharaff's declaration of emergency rule [PDF text; JURIST report] in November 2007 will be punished regardless of their position, ousted Pakistan Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry [JURIST news archive] told a rally of lawyers and supporters in Faisalabad Sunday. Chaudhry told the group supporting his reinstatement that the same day Musharraf made his declaration of emergency rule, the Supreme Court had issued an order [JURIST report] intended to counteract the declaration, and that those who disobeyed the Court's ruling were in violation of the country's constitution [text]. Chaudhry did not say what kind of punishment those officials would face, but Pakistan People's Party (PPP) [party website] chief Asif Ali Zardari has said that, at least with regard to the President, his group wants to work with Musharraf rather than impeach him. AP has more. From Pakistan, the Daily Times has local coverage.

Chaudhry's comments come as the PPP is preparing to introduce in parliament a wide-ranging constitutional amendment package [JURIST report] which would forbid the country's President from taking many of the actions Musharraf did last November and would explicitly hold accountable judges who go along with such actions. The new coalition government formed by the PPP and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website] vowed in February to work together to reinstate Chaudhry and the other ousted judges and establish a fully independent judiciary [JURIST reports]. The government has nonetheless failed to meet several supposed "deadlines" to reinstate the judges, prompting leaders of the country's lawyers' movement to call for mass protests [JURIST report] in mid-June.






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Myanmar constitution overwhelmingly approved after second round of voting
Devin Montgomery on May 26, 2008 3:17 PM ET

[JURIST] Myanmar's draft constitution [JURIST news archive] has been overwhelmingly approved in a national referendum after two rounds of voting with 92 percent of votes cast favoring the proposed charter and 98 percent of the country's 27 million eligible voters turning out, state television reported Monday. Voting concluded [JURIST report] Saturday in the 47 townships hit hardest earlier this month by Cyclone Nargis, a storm which left an estimated 130,000 people dead or missing. The referendum was held in the rest of the country May 10, much to the dismay [JURIST reports] of many members of the international community as well as local opposition and rights activists. Xinhua has more.

Myanmar's military government announced on May 15 that the constitution had been approved [JURIST report] by roughly 90 percent of voters in the referendum's initial round. National League for Democracy and other opposition groups labeled the referendum a "sham" to legalize military rule. The draft constitution reportedly reserves 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military and would also block pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [JURIST news archive] from seeking office. Myanmar [JURIST news archive] has been governed without a constitution since the military regime took power in 1988 and talks on a new national charter have been underway for 14 years. The last general elections in Myanmar were held in 1990. The NLD, led by Suu Kyi, won that election easily, but the ruling military government did not recognize the result and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest.






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Egypt extends emergency laws despite pledges to lift
Andrew Gilmore on May 26, 2008 12:02 PM ET

[JURIST] Egyptian parliamentarians voted 305-103 Monday to extend the country's emergency laws [EOHR backgrounder] for two more years at the behest of the government. The laws, which were first implemented after the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, permit the government and security services to arrest and detain anyone deemed a threat to state security, with detentions renewable every 45 days. The laws also ban demonstrations and allow military courts to try civilians [JURIST report]. In practice, the laws have been used to combat unrest and political opposition to the Mubarak regime.

The latest renewal of the emergency laws comes notwithstanding a December 2006 promise from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak [official website; BBC profile] to repeal the laws after passage of a new terrorism bill [JURIST report]. In August 2007, Egyptian Judicial Affairs Minister Mufid Shehab said the laws would be lifted by June 2008 [JURIST report]. BBC News has more.






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Nepal bans protests around royal enclaves ahead of monarchy abolition
Andrew Gilmore on May 26, 2008 11:18 AM ET

[JURIST] Security officials in Nepal [JURIST news archive] banned protests and rallies near the royal palace and the residence of King Gyanendra [JURIST news archive] on Monday, in anticipation of Wednesday's expected abolition of the Nepalese monarchy. Nepal's interim parliament voted in December 2007 to abolish the monarchy [JURIST report] of as a part of a plan to bring members of the Communist Party of Nepal - Maoists (CPN-M) [party website] back into the country's government. On Wednesday, a 601-member Constituent Assembly, elected in April [JURIST report], will meet to work on drafting a new constitution [JURIST news archive] and is expected to dethrone the King. The move to ban protests at the royal palace and king's residence will affect plans by the CPN-M and other smaller political parties to hold victory rallies at those locations on Wednesday. AP has more.

The establishment of the CPN-M-dominated Constituent Assembly and the abolition of the monarchy were the main parts of a 2006 peace agreement [text; JURIST report] between the CPN-M and the Nepalese government, which marked the end of a 10-year Maoist insurgency [JURIST report].






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Ethiopia high court sentences former dictator Mengistu to death in absentia
Andrew Gilmore on May 26, 2008 10:45 AM ET

[JURIST] Mengistu Haile Mariam [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], the former Marxist president of Ethiopia [JURIST news archive], was sentenced to death Monday after the Ethiopian Supreme Court allowed Ethiopian prosecutors' appeal of his January 2007 life sentence [JURIST reports] on charges of genocide, homicide, illegal imprisonment, and illegal property seizure. Mengistu and 11 associates convicted [JURIST report] in absentia in 2006 after a twelve-year trial. Eighteen Mengistu aides were also sentenced to death Monday. Prosecutors had argued that the life sentence for Mengistu was not equal to the crimes he committed. No execution date has yet been set because the sentences have to be confirmed by Ethiopia's president. AFP has more.

Mengistu ruled Ethiopia from 1974 to 1991 at the head of a Marxist military junta called the Derg [LOC backgrounder] which had overthrown the monarchy of Haile Selassie. Under the Mengistu regime, the Ethipoian government committed numerous human rights violations, including the 1977-1978 "Red Terror" [LOC backgrounder], during which thousands of Mengistu's political opponents were executed. Some 150,000 university students, intellectuals, and politicians are believed to have been killed during Mengistu's rule. Overthrown by rebels in 1991, Mengistu went into exile in Zimbabwe. In December 2006, a Zimbabwean government spokesman said it had no plans to extradite Mengistu [JURIST report], although his future in that country may depend on the outcome of this year's presidential elections [JURIST news archive].






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ICC investigating new Uganda attacks by Lord's Resistance Army
Andrew Gilmore on May 25, 2008 3:13 PM ET

[JURIST] Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile; JURIST news archive] chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website], told Reuters Sunday that the ICC was investigating possible new war crimes committed by the Ugandan rebel group the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] in recent attacks on Uganda villages. The attacks follow the apparent collapse of a peace deal with the rebels last month. Reuters has more.

In March, Ocampo said that arrest warrants issued by the ICC for LRA leaders [JURIST report] remain in effect, despite requests from Uganda that they be withdrawn. The four ICC-issued warrants were executed in 2005 and include LRA leader Joseph Kony and LRA senior member Vincent Otti [BBC profiles]. In 2007, Otti was executed by rebels [BBC report], though official confirmation of his death was delayed until January amid fears that it would disrupt peace talks. Kony, who remains in hiding, is wanted for orchestrating the killing of thousands of civilians and the enslavement of thousands more children over two decades of conflict. The government has said that Kony is willing to face trial at home [JURIST report], but not at the ICC. A fifth arrest warrant was initially issued for Raska Lukwiya but was later withdrawn after a July 2007 ICC pre-trial chamber decision.






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OPEC antitrust bill 'projection of US economic problems': Iran oil official
Andrew Gilmore on May 25, 2008 2:27 PM ET

[JURIST] National Iranian Oil Co. [corporate website] Director of International Affairs Hojatollah Ghanimi Fard [profile, in Persian] derided US bill HR 6074 [materials] on Saturday, calling it "inexpert" and "a projection of US economic problems" in an interview with Shana [Shana.ir report], the news service of the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum [official website, in Persian]. The proposed legislation passed the US House of Representatives [JURIST report] by a wide margin last week and would bring OPEC [official website] members under the authority of US antitrust laws. AFP has more. The Iranian news service FARS has local coverage.

The bill would authorize the US Department of Justice to file charges against OPEC countries for allegedly restricting oil supplies and price-fixing. President George W. Bush has threatened a veto, but the House could override that with a two-thirds majority vote.






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Former Congo rebel leader arrested in Belgium on ICC warrant
Andrew Gilmore on May 25, 2008 2:00 PM ET

[JURIST] Jean-Pierre Bemba [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], a former rebel leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo [JURIST news archive], was arrested [ICC press release] Saturday by Belgian authorities at his home outside of Brussels, after the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] issued a sealed warrant [PDF, in French; decision to unseal, PDF, in French] for his arrest on Friday. The ICC indicted Bemba for war crimes and crimes against humanity, which were allegedly committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) between October 2002 and March 2003. Prosecutors claim he is responsible for rape, torture, outrages upon personal dignity, and pillaging. Bemba's arrest warrant is the first issued by the ICC in its investigation of large-scale sexual offenses [ICC press release] in the CAR. AP has more.

Bemba was elected to the Congolese Senate after losing a run-off presidential election [JURIST report] to Joseph Kabila [BBC profile], who in December 2006 became the first freely-elected president of the DRC since 1960. After the election, Bemba's private militia force led a violent campaign against government troops until the DRC Supreme Court rejected his election challenge [JURIST report]. In the process, Bemba's supporters set fire to the Supreme Court building [JURIST report]. Following the clashes, the chief prosecutor of the DRC issued a warrant for Bemba's arrest [JURIST report], and he fled to Europe. A court in CAR referred the war crimes charges [JURIST report] for which Bemba was arrested Saturday to the ICC in April 2006.






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Myanmar constitutional referendum continues in cyclone-devastated areas
Bernard Hibbitts on May 25, 2008 1:07 PM ET

[JURIST] Myanmar's military junta continued its controversial referendum on a draft constitution [JURIST news archives] Saturday in areas hardest hit by Cyclone Nargis earlier this month that left some 130,000 people dead or missing according to the latest estimates. Voting took place in 47 townships, 40 in the vicinity of the former capital Yangon. The referendum was held in the rest of the country [JURIST report] May 10, much to the dismay [JURIST report] of many members of the international community as well as local opposition and rights activists. Bloomberg has more.

The military government announced on May 15 that the constitution had been approved [JURIST report] by roughly 90 percent of voters in the referendum's initial round. The National League for Democracy and other opposition groups have labeled the referendum a "sham" to legalize military rule. The draft constitution reportedly reserves 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military and would also block pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [JURIST news archive] from seeking office. Myanmar [JURIST news archive] has been governed without a constitution since the military regime took power in 1988 and talks on a new national charter have been underway for 14 years. The last general elections in Myanmar were held in 1990. The NLD, led by Suu Kyi, won that election easily, but the ruling military government did not recognize the result and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest.






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Pakistan governing party unveils constitutional reforms, warns lawyers
Bernard Hibbitts on May 25, 2008 11:46 AM ET

[JURIST] The leaders of Pakistan's governing Pakistan People's Party [party website] presented an anticipated [JURIST report] 62-point constitutional amendment package at a news conference Saturday, saying it would be presented to the country's parliament by the end of June. The package - an attempt at a political compromise - anticipates restoring all the superior court judges removed by President Pervez Musharraf under last November's declaration of emergency, provides new limits on judicial and presidential power, and enshrines constitutional protections for a more independent judiciary. According to Pakistan's Post newspaper, it includes the following specific provisions on the judiciary:

  • The retirement age of Supreme Court judges will be increased from 65 to 68 years, while the retirement age of High Court judges will be increased from 62 to 65 years.

  • The tenure of chief justice of Pakistan will be limited to three years.

  • Reinstated judges will take fresh oaths.

  • The Chief Justice of Pakistan's powers to take suo motu action will be curtailed.
No members of the lawyers' movement - which has been calling for full restoration of the judges and the removal of Musharraf - were involved in drafting the package, and relations between their representatives and the PPP leadership appear to be strained. Pakistan's Dawn newspaper quoted PPP chief Asif Ali Zardari as saying Friday: "Don’t coerce us and don’t tell us how to conduct politics. Let us take our own decisions." On Saturday, the Post reported that the PPP's central executive committee had urged Aitzaz Ahsan [JURIST news archive], the head of Pakistan's Supreme Court Bar Association but also a PPP stalwart, to come down on one side or another [Post report]. Ahsan has already said that limiting the tenure of the chief justice would be unacceptable and characterized the constitutional amendments package as merely "suggestions." Dawn has more. The Post has additional local coverage.





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Mukasey defends government lawyers who wrote interrogation memos
Devin Montgomery on May 24, 2008 11:59 AM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Michael Mukasey [official profile; JURIST news archive] defended Bush administration attorneys who authored memoranda supporting the legality of coercive interrogating tactics - the so-called "torture memos" [JURIST news archive] - in a commencement address [text] to Boston College Law School graduates Friday. Emphasizing the legal complexity of the issues raised in the memos and criticizing the vilification of the authors [JURIST op-ed] in some quarters, Mukasey told the audience:

Today, many of the senior government lawyers who provided legal advice supporting the nation’s most important counterterrorism policies have been subjected to relentless public criticism. In some corners, one even hears suggestions—suggestions that are made in a manner that is almost breathtakingly casual—that some of these lawyers should be subject to civil or criminal liability for the advice they gave. The rhetoric of these discussions is hostile and unforgiving.

The difficulty and novelty of the legal questions these lawyers confronted is scarcely mentioned; indeed, the vast majority of the criticism is unaccompanied by any serious legal analysis. In addition, it is rarely acknowledged that those public servants were often working in an atmosphere of almost unimaginable pressure, without the academic luxury of endless time for debate. Equally ignored is the fact that, by all accounts I have seen or heard, including but not limited to Jack Goldsmith’s book [The Terror Presidency], those lawyers reached their conclusions in good faith based upon their best judgments of what the law required.
The author of one such memo [PDF text] for the Department of Defense in 2003, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo [faculty profile], faces a civil lawsuit and calls for his resignation from Berkeley Law School. Earlier this month, a federal judge directed the CIA [order, PDF; JURIST report] to produce a 2002 Department of Justice memo that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claims authorized the agency to use specific torture techniques, including waterboarding [JURIST news archive]. AP has more.





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Pentagon files terrorism charges against Sudanese Guantanamo detainee
Devin Montgomery on May 24, 2008 10:53 AM ET

[JURIST] US Department of Defense [official website] prosecutors Friday charged [charge sheet, PDF] Guantanamo Bay detainee Noor Uthman Muhammed with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism. Muhammed, a Sudanese national, is accused of conspiring with various al Qaeda [JURIST news archive] leaders and running a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2000.

Captured in Pakistan in 2002, Muhammed is the sixteenth detainee to be charged at Guantanamo under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [DOD materials], passed by Congress after the US Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the previous system, created by President George W. Bush, violated US and international law. AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.






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Hundreds of illegal immigrants sentenced to prison after Iowa raid
Devin Montgomery on May 24, 2008 9:24 AM ET

[JURIST] Some 270 illegal immigrants [JURIST news archive] arrested during a US immigration sting at an Agriprocessors Inc. [corporate website] meatpacking plant in Iowa, were each sentenced to five months in prison [ICE press release] and 27 more received probation after pleading guilty to the use of false immigration documents, the New York Times reported Saturday. In what federal officials called the largest operation of its kind, the 297 workers made their pleas over the course of just four days in temporary courtrooms at a local fairgrounds. The Times noted it is uncommon for illegal immigrants to face criminal prosecution as opposed to civil charges and deportation. The American Immigration Lawyers Association [advocacy website] criticized the government for severity of the charges and alleged breaches of due process for the accused [letter, PDF], but court-appointed defense lawyers for the workers said their clients were motivated to accept the deals rather than face more severe charges that would have carried minimum two-year sentences.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website], the agency that carried out the raid on the plant, has also arrested more than 900 illegal immigrants in California [ICE press release] over the past three weeks, the agency said on Friday. That sting was targeted at 495 people who had ignored deportation orders, but several hundred other illegal immigrants were also found during operation. AP has more.






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US Marines will not be charged in 2007 Afghan civilian shooting
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 23, 2008 3:44 PM ET

[JURIST] A Marine Corps General Friday declined to press charges against two US Marines involved in a March 2007 incident [CENTCOM press release] in which 30 US Marines opened fire on civilians alongside a road in Nangahar province, Afghanistan, after a suicide bomber drove a vehicle carrying explosives into their convoy. Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland made the decision after hearing the recommendation of a court of inquiry proceeding [Marine Corps News report], the first convened in 50 years, about whether charges should be brought against platoon leader Capt. Vincent J. Noble and Maj. Fred C. Galvin, who commanded the 120-person unit at the time of the incident. A Marines spokesperson said that the two Marines and a third man will still face administrative action.

A preliminary US military investigation [JURIST report] found that the Marines began firing at bystanders, including women and elderly men, along a several mile stretch of road as they left the scene. As many as 19 civilians were killed and another 50 injured. The soldiers are members of a Marine Corps Special Forces unit under the command of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) [official website] and were sent to Afghanistan to carry out special reconnaissance, intelligence and commando missions. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) [official website] released a report [PDF text] last year claiming the soldiers violated international humanitarian law [JURIST report] by using indiscriminate and excessive force in its response to the suicide bombing. AP has more.






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ICJ awards island to Singapore in territorial dispute with Malaysia
Devin Montgomery on May 23, 2008 3:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] Friday ruled [text, PDF; press release, PDF] that a small uninhabited island on which Singapore operates a light beacon does in fact belong to the country, ending a 38-year long dispute between it and neighboring Malaysia [JURIST news archives]. The court held that the strategically important island had originally belonged to Malaysia, but because Singapore had been operating the beacon on the rock for 130 years before Malaysia protested the claim in 1980, possession of the island had passed to Singapore. AFP has more.

The ICJ accepted the dispute [ICJ materials] from the two countries in July 2003. The court is also currently considering maritime disputes between Peru and Chile and Costa Rica and Nicaragua [ICJ materials].






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Canada Supreme Court rules for Khadr in government documents access appeal
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 23, 2008 1:55 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Canada [official website] unanimously ruled [text] Friday that Canadian Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] has a constitutional right to see confidential documents compiled by Canadian officials following interviews with Khadr in prison, but found that the government could withhold some information for national security purposes. Lawyers for Khadr expressed disappointment with the verdict, saying that it is unlikely that the government will turn over many of the documents they were seeking. Khadr sought documents that Canada allegedly provided to US authorities, along with videotapes of Khadr's 2003 interrogations at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] and uncensored transcripts. In May 2007, the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal overruled a lower court decision [judgment text] barring Khadr's access to government documents. In October 2007, the Supreme Court agreed to hear [JURIST report] the appeal by Canadian Justice Department lawyers opposing the access. CTV News has more. CBC News has additional coverage.

Khadr, now 21, faces life imprisonment after allegedly throwing a grenade that killed one US soldier and wounded another while fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2002. He was charged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] in April 2007 with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, as well as spying. Khadr is one of four [JURIST report] Guantanamo detainees prosecuted under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [PDF text]. On March 13, a US military judge ruled [JURIST report] that some correspondence between US and Canadian government officials regarding Khadr must be turned over to Khadr's defense team. In an affidavit released earlier this month, Khadr said that US interrogators in Afghanistan threatened him with rape, physically abused him, and forced him to swear to false statements [JURIST report].






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Congo court sentences three separatist militants to death
Devin Montgomery on May 23, 2008 1:40 PM ET

[JURIST] A court in the Democratic Republic of the Congo [JURIST news archive] Thurday sentenced three members of the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) [group website, in French; GlobalSecurity backgrounder] separatist movement to death after finding them guilty of assassination and murder in a mass trial. A defense lawyer said the convictions were politically motivated and vowed to appeal the decision. A researcher for Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] also expressed doubt at the legitimacy of the convictions due to the heavy reliance on confessions and rumors of torture. BDK was banned last month after a series of violent clashes with police [BBC backgrounder]. On Thursday, another 15 BDK members were sentenced to jail terms of up to 20 years for attempting to overthrow the government. Reuters has more.

Congolese courts have been under increased scrutiny in recent days. On Thursday, both UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official profile; JURIST news archive] and UN Special Envoy Alan Doss condemned [UN News Centre Report] the death sentences that a Congolese military court imposed on three other men for the June 2007 murder of reporter Serge Maheshe, saying that witnesses and defense lawyers were subjected to intense intimidation. BBC News has more.






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Argentina prosecutor seeks arrest of ex-president in Buenos Aires bomb cover-up
Devin Montgomery on May 23, 2008 12:54 PM ET

[JURIST] Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman filed a petition Thursday for the arrest of former Argentine President Carlos Menem [BBC backgrounder] and five others accused of covering up the possible involvement of businessman Alberto Jacinto Kanoore Edul in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. In 2004, an Argentine judge conducted an investigation [JURIST report] into the possible connection between Swiss bank accounts allegedly held by Menem and the bombing. Argentine prosecutors have alleged that the bombing, which killed 85 and injured more than 200, was planned by Iranian officials and carried out by Hezbollah [BBC backgrounder]. AP has more.

In 2006, Argentina sought the arrests [JURIST report] of high-ranking members of the Iranian government, including former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani [official website, in Farsi], in connection with the bombing, but Interpol's Executive Committee [official website] denied the request and voted to issue arrest notices [press release; JURIST report] for only five Iranians and one Lebanese man. In response, Iranian prosecutors issued court summonses [JURIST report] for five Argentinians they accused of falsely implicating an Iranian group with planning the bombing.






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ICTY temporarily releases reporter indicted for exposing witness identity
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 23, 2008 12:37 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] Friday provisionally released [press release] a Kosovar journalist indicted [PDF text; JURIST report] on contempt of court charges for allegedly publishing the identity of a witness in the war crimes trial of former Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj [TrialWatch profile; JURIST Forum op-ed]. Baton Haxhiu was arrested Tuesday and pleaded not guilty [Reuters report] in the Hague on Wednesday.

Haradinaj was acquitted [JURIST report] in April, but former Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte’s claims of witness intimidation have cast doubt on the proceedings and the judgment is now being appealed. Haradinaj was a senior commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the ethnic-Albanian guerrilla force that opposed Slobodan Milosevic [JURIST news archive] during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war [BBC backgrounder]. He was indicted [initial indictment, PDF] by ICTY prosecutors in 2005.






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US military judge denies request to delay trial of accused 9/11 conspirators
Devin Montgomery on May 23, 2008 12:13 PM ET

[JURIST] US military judge Col. Ralph Kohlmann [JURIST news archive] Thursday denied a request by military-appointed defense lawyers to postpone the arraignment of the five Guantanamo Bay detainees charged with plotting the Sept. 11 attacks [JURIST news archives]. The lawyers had asked for more time to mount defenses for their clients, but the arraignments are still scheduled for June 5 [JURIST report]. If convicted, the five men, including the alleged lead conspirator behind the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], could be sentenced to death [JURIST report]. The International Herald Tribune has more.

Mohammed's military defense lawyer, US Navy Capt. Prescott Prince, expressed concern about the fairness of Mohammed's trial [JURIST report] in an April interview. He added that the trial's legitimacy could be undermined if the government introduces into evidence statements Mohammed made while he was being subjected to harsh interrogation tactics, including waterboarding [JURIST news archive].






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DOD to verify number of juvenile enemy combatants detained
Andrew Gilmore on May 23, 2008 11:57 AM ET

[JURIST] The US will re-check its detention records to verify the accuracy of a report [text, DOC; JURIST report] filed last week by US officials with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child [committee website] concerning the number of minors it has detained in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, Department of Defense officials said Thursday. According to the report, approximately 2,500 minors under the age of 18 have been detained as illegal enemy combatants by the US military since 2002. The review comes after the AP reported that documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request indicated that several additional detainees were minors when they were first detained.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] praised the work of the US with respect to child soldiers in conflict areas where it was not directly involved, but urged [HRW press release] US forces in Iraq to respect the rights of child detainees in Iraq. AP has more.






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DOD audit finds Iraq reconstruction contracts fail to meet anti-fraud guidelines
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 23, 2008 11:53 AM ET

[JURIST] The US military has failed to ensure that over $8 billion dollars in Iraq reconstruction contracts awarded between 2001 and 2006 complied with federal anti-fraud laws, according to a report [PDF text] released Thursday by the Department of Defense Inspector General's Office [official website]. The same day, Deputy Inspector General for Auditing Mary Ugone testified [statement, PDF] before the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform [official website] that inadequate record-keeping and poor oversight in dealing with military contractors made the possibility of fraud more likely:

Ineffective internal controls include such things as missing documentation, missing signatures from certifying officials, receiving officials, and payees; and missing voucher information. Ineffective internal controls could create an environment where duplicative payments, fraudulent activity, or improper use of funds takes place and is not identified and corrected in the normal course of business. A lack of internal controls can result in either no audit trail or in a complex audit trail, which hinders the search for supporting documents. Ineffective internal controls can result in missing or inadequate documentation. Also, ineffective internal controls can result in unreliable accounts payable and expense amounts reported on DOD financial statements.

We identified material internal control weaknesses related to out-of-country payments made in support of the Global War on Terror and for the Iraq Security Forces Fund as defined by DOD Instruction 5010.40, "Managers' Internal Control Program Procedures." The Army's internal controls did not ensure proper support for the commercial payments and that funds were used as intended. Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq did not have adequate procedures in place to provide reasonable assurance that equipment, construction, and services procured through the Iraq Security Forces Funds were provided to the Iraq Security Forces.
AP has more.

Fraud has been an on-going concern in US reliance on private contractors during reconstruction. In October 2007, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) [official website] said that the US State Department could not account for most of the $1.2 billion [JURIST report] that it had paid to a private contractor hired to train Iraqi police forces. In March 2007, SIGIR chief Stuart Bowen told the US Senate Judiciary Committee that investigators would apply stricter standards [JURIST report] when dealing with companies performing contract work in Iraq.





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German upper house passes EU Treaty of Lisbon
Andrew Gilmore on May 23, 2008 11:16 AM ET

[JURIST] The German Bundesrat [official website], the upper house of the German parliament, voted Friday [BBC report] to approve the EU reform treaty, known formally as the Treaty of Lisbon [PDF; official website]. All but one of the sixteen states represented in the Bundesrat voted in favor of approval. The treaty was approved by the Bundestag [JURIST report], the lower house of parliament, in April. The treaty has not cleared all major legislative hurdles in Germany, and still needs final approval from German President Horst Koehler [BBC profile]. Deutsche Welle has more.

Leaders from the 27 countries that make up the European Union signed the reform treaty [JURIST report] last December, but all member nations must also ratify the document before it can take effect. Fourteen countries have now ratified the reform treaty [JURIST archive]. Ireland will hold a referendum in June so that citizens may vote on ratification. This month, the UK High Court agreed [JURIST report] to consider whether the British government must also put the treaty to a public vote. AP has more.






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China implements new death penalty review procedures
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 23, 2008 11:01 AM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of China and the country's Ministry of Justice [official websites] have released new rules to clarify China's death penalty review procedures, state media reported Friday. Under the new system, three Supreme Court judges must review all death sentences imposed by local courts. The rules also contain provisions meant to ensure that criminal defendants facing possible death penalty convictions receive adequate counsel: courts must promptly inform defense lawyers of prosecution filings, and judges are required to "earnestly listen" to lawyers' complaints and concerns. Xinhua has more.

Last July, the Supreme Court of China announced plans [JURIST report] to standardize guidelines for imposing the death penalty, to strengthen its precedential value, and to increase oversight over intermediate and lower courts. In June 2007, China Daily reported that the number of death sentences handed down by Chinese courts in the first five months of 2007 had decreased [JURIST report] following the implementation of reforms [JURIST report] that required the Supreme People's Court to approve all death sentences. In October 2006, China's National People's Congress [official website] voted to amend the Organic Law on the People's Court [text; JURIST report] after the high court said [JURIST report] it wanted to restrict the authority of lower courts to review death sentences [JURIST report].






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Council of EU committee reaches agreement on draft immigration proposal
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 23, 2008 10:04 AM ET

[JURIST] The Permanent Representatives Committee of the Council of the European Union [official website] Thursday agreed on a draft proposal [press release, PDF] for new rules to combat illegal immigration. Under the proposal, illegal aliens caught within the EU could be deported and banned from returning for five years. Authorities in member states would be allowed to detain aliens for up to 18 months, a period longer than that currently authorized in most EU states. Amnesty International and the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) [Advocacy websites] have issued a joint statement [PDF; press release, PDF] criticizing the proposed detention limit as a threat to human rights. The European Parliament [official website] is reportedly deeply divided about the proposal and it is unclear if it will go through with a vote scheduled for next month. The Times of Malta has more.

The European Union (EU) [official website] estimates that between 350,000 to 500,000 illegal immigrants enter its member states annually, mainly fulfilling jobs in construction and farming.






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Rice defends Bush administration approval of harsh interrogation tactics
Andrew Gilmore on May 23, 2008 9:43 AM ET

[JURIST] US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [official profile; JURIST news archive] Thursday defended the Bush administration's authorization of the use of harsh interrogation tactics, including waterboarding [JURIST news archive], on suspected terrorist detainees. In her comments at the headquarters of the technology company Google, Rice stated that a special legal atmosphere existed in the US after the Sept. 11 attacks [JURIST news archive], but that "President Bush made it clear that we were going to live up to our obligations at home and to our treaty obligations abroad." AP has more.

The Washington Post reported Thursday on tension [WP report] within the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) [official websites] over the harsh tactics used on detainees. The report indicates that a group of senior DOJ and FBI officials objected to the interrogation methods on the grounds they would taint any later prosecution of the suspects in court. The objections were effectively overruled by the authorization and continued utilization of the interrogation methods by military and intelligence officials, based on their perceived necessity for preventing another terrorist attack.






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Conservative group petitions for stay of California same-sex marriage decision
Andrew Gilmore on May 23, 2008 9:00 AM ET

[JURIST] Alliance Defense Fund [advocacy website], a conservative Christian legal advocacy group, petitioned [text, PDF] the Supreme Court of California [court website] Thursday to stay its May 15 decision [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] overturning a ban on same-sex marriage until the outcome of the November state elections. It is expected that the November ballot will include an amendment to the California state constitution banning same-sex marriage. In the petition, Alliance Defense Fund argues that "permitting this decision to take effect immediately - in light of the realistic possibility that the people of California might amend their constitution to reaffirm marriage as the union of one man and one woman - risks legal havoc and uncertainty of immeasurable magnitude." San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera [official website] indicated that he would file a motion next week urging the court to reject the petition [AP report], characterizing it as a delay tactic and saying that any further postponement of the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian couples "based merely on political speculation as to whether the constitution may be amended would be both illegal and inhumane." The San Francisco Chronicle has local coverage.

The lawsuits stemmed from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's 2004 decision to issue marriage licenses to 4,000 same-sex couples [JURIST report]. In 2006, the state attorney general requested [JURIST report] a review of an intermediate appellate court's decision to uphold [JURIST report] the same-sex marriage ban. Also on Thursday the AP reported on efforts by the California Office of Public Records to rewrite marriage license forms [AP report] in light of the California Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriages.






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Alaska filing legal challenge to polar bear endangered species listing
Allyson Amster on May 22, 2008 10:27 PM ET

[JURIST] Alaska Governor Sarah Palin [official profile] announced Thursday that her office intends to launch a court challenge [press release] to last week's listing of the polar bear on the US endangered species list. The suit will be filed in US District Court in Washington and will argue that science shows that polar bears do not need to be protected. Palin argues that the designation of the polar bear as "threatened" will have a negative impact on development in Alaska. Under the Endangered Species Act [PDF text], the federal government cannot fund, authorize, or carry out any project that will have a negative impact on a listed species. Environmental News Network has more.

The US Department of Interior (DOI) made the listing [press release] over two years after the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and the Natural Resources Defense Council [advocacy websites] petitioned to protect the polar bear under the ESA. The organizations say the polar bears' habitat, the Arctic sea ice, is at risk from global warming. One of the five factors under the ESA is "present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat." In 2007, the US Geological Service delivered to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency responsible for administering the Endangered Species Program [official webistes], nine studies that projected continued melting of the Arctic sea ice. The FWS recommended listing the polar bear as "threatened", at risk of becoming endangered. After missing a deadline in January, the District Court ordered the DOI to make a decision [CBD press release] by May 15. While the listing requires the federal government to ensure that projects will not negatively affect the polar bear, the DOI utilized Section 4(d) of the ESA, which says that any activity allowed under the Marine Mammals Protection Act [PDF text] is allowed to continue. This will allow ongoing development of oil and gas. Environmental News Network has more. The New York Times has additional coverage.






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Pakistan signs pact with Islamic militants to implement Sharia law in province
Andrew Gilmore on May 22, 2008 4:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The government of Pakistan [JURIST news archive] reached an agreement with Taliban-linked Islamic militants in the Pakistani North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) area of Swat to implement Islamic Sharia law [CFR backgrounder; JURIST archive] in the area, according to statements attributed to the militants. Under the agreement, the Pakistani army will withdraw troops from the Swat region and will not oppose the local enforcement of Sharia in the region, while Islamic militants have agreed to halt suicide attacks and hand over foreign fighters under local protection. An Islamic justice system will be created to operate in parallel with the secular system, and established Pakistani courts will be advised by Islamic scholars. Construction is also expected to begin on an Islamic university. The Guardian has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

Violence by Islamic militants has long been a problem in Pakistan's outlying provinces. Earlier this year, Pakistan's top Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud [BBC profile] and four others were charged [JURIST report] in the assassination of former prime minister Benzhair Bhutto [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive]. Meshud is the commander of Tehrik-e-Taliban, a group of Islamic militants with links to al-Qaeda. He has denied involvement in the attack.






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Rwanda genocide suspect transferred from Hague to ICTR
Andrew Gilmore on May 22, 2008 2:56 PM ET

[JURIST] Accused Rwanda war crimes suspect Michel Bagaragaza [TrialWatch profile; ICTR materials] was transferred [ICTR press release] from the Hague back to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website; JURIST news archive] in Arusha, Tanzania Wednesday after a Dutch court ruled that it did not have jurisdiction to try his case. In August 2007, the ICTR revoked [JURIST report] a previous order transferring Bagaragaza's case to a local court in the Netherlands after the country expressed doubt that its court system could handle the trial. In 2006, the ICTR denied [JURIST report] prosecutors' request to transfer Bagaragaza's trial to Norway because Norway did not have a specific law against genocide.

Bagaragaza surrendered [JURIST report] to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website; JURIST news archive] in August 2005. Bagaragaza has been indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, and complicity in genocide, and is alleged to have ordered his own subordinates and others to kill hundreds of Tutsi civilian refugees seeking shelter in a tea factory he supervised during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide [BBC backgrounder]. The UN News Centre has more.






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Cluster bomb ban would impede humanitarian efforts: US official
Patrick Porter on May 22, 2008 12:31 PM ET

[JURIST] The ban on cluster bombs [ICRC materials; JURIST news archive] currently being considered at the Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions [official website, JURIST report] could impede humanitarian efforts by discouraging cooperation with non-signatories, a US State Department official said in a press briefing [transcript] Wednesday. US Acting Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Stephen D. Mull said that the draft treaty would bar signatories from any military cooperation, including humanitarian and peace-keeping operations, with nations that refused to sign the ban. The US has long said that it will not support a ban on cluster bombs [JURIST report]. AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

Opponents of cluster bombs, including some military officers, believe them to be inaccurate weapons designed to spread damage indiscriminately. An estimated 10-40 percent of the munitions fail to detonate and become a serious hazard for civilian populations. Since the two-day Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions [conference materials] last February, there have been increasing calls to ban the weapons. Last month the US said it would not attend the 2008 Dublin conference [JURIST report], but that it is open to negotiations to reduce their impact on civilians by requiring increased reliability, accuracy and visibility of unexploded munitions.






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Senate panel votes to overturn EPA denial of California emissions waiver
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 22, 2008 11:49 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee [official website] voted [press release] 10-9 Wednesday to overturn a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] that rejected California's request for a waiver [JURIST news archive] allowing the state to impose stricter greenhouse gas emissions standards on cars and light duty trucks. Bill sponsor Barbara Boxer (D-CA) [personal website] told journalists that she would not press for full Senate consideration of the bill, because she expected President George W. Bush to veto it, but said in a statement that the panel's decision "brings us one step closer to giving a green light to California and the other states so they can begin tackling global warming pollution from vehicles." AP has more.

The California standards would have required car manufacturers to cut emissions by 25 percent for cars and light trucks, and 18 percent for SUVs, starting with the 2009 model year. California's Air Resources Board [official website] adopted the greenhouse gas standards in 2004 [press release], but it could not mandate them unless the EPA granted a waiver of the lighter Federal Clean Air Act (CAA) [text] standards. California is the only state permitted to seek a waiver under the CAA, but if granted, other states have the option of choosing between the federal standards and those of California. At least 11 states had indicated that they would follow the California standard. On Monday, a Majority Staff report [PDF text; JURIST report] by the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform [official website] suggested that the White House had played a "significant role" in the EPA decision to deny the waiver.






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European Parliament endorses criminalization of environmental offenses
Andrew Gilmore on May 22, 2008 11:10 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Parliament [official website] Wednesday adopted new rules [EP legislative materials; press release] to criminalize acts that cause serious environmental damage. Among the offenses which could now receive criminal sanctions are the illegal disposal of radioactive substances, waste management practices that harm the environment, and the slaughter or trafficking of protected plants and animals. Under the measure, each EU member state would determine its own penalties for the offenses. AFP has more.

In 2005, the European Court of Justice ruled [text; JURIST report] that the 1992 Treaty on European Union [text] conferred on the EU the power to criminalize environmental offenses. The new regulatory scheme is intended to replace a 2003 framework decision [PDF text] by the European Council [official website], which comprises the EU heads of state. When the plan was proposed in 2007 [JURIST report], EP member Timothy Kirkhope described it as a "significant transfer of power to the commission" that "sets an alarming precedent." The Italian government considered a domestic program [JURIST report] with similar provisions last year.






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US House override of farm bill veto delayed by clerical error
Patrick Porter on May 22, 2008 9:46 AM ET

[JURIST] An attempt by the US House of Representatives to override a presidential veto [JURIST report] of the new Farm Bill [HR 2419 materials] delayed late Wednesday when it was found that a section of the bill had been inadvertently left out of the version originally sent to President George W. Bush for signature. Bill supporters said they plan to submit the bill for a new vote to avoid any potential concerns about the legitimacy of the resulting law. AP has more.

The future of a landmark discrimination case [NBFA press release] brought by black farmers against the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) [official website] depends on the passage of the bill, which includes a provision [AP file report] that would reopen the class-action suit.






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FTC says 'pay-for-delay' contracts between drug makers hurt consumers
Andrew Gilmore on May 22, 2008 9:38 AM ET

[JURIST] Drug companies are harming consumers by using "pay-for-delay" legal agreements to keep cheaper generic prescription drugs off the market, according to a report [PDF text; press release] released Wednesday by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website]. The report compares legal documents submitted to the FTC by drug manufacturers in fiscal year 2007 with those submitted since fiscal year 2004, finding an increasing use of "pay-for-delay" agreements between branded and generic drug manufacturers. AP has more.

"Pay-for-delay" agreements involve deals by which generic drug manufacturers seeking to market a generic version of a branded product are compensated by the branded drug manufacturer in return for delaying the entry of the generic product onto the open pharmaceutical market. In January, FTC Commissioner Jon Leibowitz [official profile] testified [transcript] before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of Congressional legislation to ban the practice, saying that it may violate antitrust [JURIST news archive] law. In 2003, Congress passed the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 [PDF text] which requires that certain legal agreements between branded and generic drug manufacturers executed after January 7, 2004 be submitted [FTC backgrounder, PDF] to the FTC for review within ten days of execution.






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Federal appeals court upholds challenge to 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' military policy
Patrick Porter on May 22, 2008 8:34 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [PDF text] Wednesday that the US military cannot dismiss a soldier on the basis of sexual orientation alone, departing from the reasoning used to defeat similar cases in the past [JURIST report]. The court's holding may signal a significant new challenge to the military's long-standing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy [statute text; HRC backgrounder]. The ruling reinstates a lawsuit brought by a US Air Force major who was discharged when officials found out she had been in a relationship with another woman; a lower court had dismissed the case, finding that the Supreme Court's holding in Lawrence v. Texas [opinion; Duke Law case backgrounder] did not render "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" invalid. The appeals court disagreed, holding that the military must demonstrate that the specific dismissal was necessary to further an important government interest. AP has more. AFP has additional coverage.

The appeals court relied on Lawrence v. Texas in finding that consenting adults have a right to decide on private matters relating to sexual activity, and one of the three judges on the panel argued that the current decision did not go far enough to protect that "fundamental" right. Military discharges for sexual orientation have decreased [Washington Post file report] in recent years, possibly due to lax enforcement of the policy during personnel shortages. Lawmakers in February 2005 cited a Government Accountability Office report [text, PDF] to criticize the policy [JURIST report] and its negative effect on recruitment and retention of military personnel.






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UN rights council elections favor 4 states criticized by rights groups
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 21, 2008 4:35 PM ET

[JURIST] The 47-member UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] held elections [materials] for 15 open seats Wednesday, with four seats going to countries that have been harshly criticized by human rights groups. In a report [PDF text] to the UNHRC, Freedom House [advocacy website; press release] and UN Watch [advocacy website; press release] previously condemned the human rights records of new electees Pakistan, Bahrain, Gabon and Zambia. Also elected to three-year terms were France, Britain, Japan, South Korea, Slovakia, Ukraine, Ghana, Argentina, Brazil and Chile. Following a vigorous campaign against its candidacy by the NGO Coalition for an Effective Human Rights Council [advocacy website; letter], Sri Lanka [JURIST news archive] failed to win a seat this year.

The Human Rights Council, founded in 2006 to replace the UN Human Rights Commission [official website], was created with a primary goal of denying membership to those countries that have committed serious human rights violations. Last year's election [JURIST report] drew attention to rights abuses in Belarus, which failed to win either of the two seats reserved for Eastern European nations. AP has more.






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UK Law Lords bar Home Office appeal in case of pilot wrongly detained after 9/11
Andrew Gilmore on May 21, 2008 3:33 PM ET

[JURIST] The Law Lords, the judicial members of UK House of Lords, Wednesday denied the Home Office [official website] the right to appeal a lower court ruling which granted government compensation to an Algerian-born pilot wrongly detained after the September 11 attacks [JURIST news archive]. In February, the Court of Appeal ruled [text] that Lotfi Raissi [BBC profile] was entitled to payment because of serious flaws in the decision to detain him under a US extradition warrant for nearly five months. US prosecutors alleged that Raissi offered pilot training to the hijackers, but lacking evidence, sought his extradition on the grounds that Raissi had falsified his pilot's license application. The extradition request was rejected [BBC report] by a UK judge for lack of evidence linking Raissi to terrorism.

Raissi was arrested on September 21, 2001 and was granted conditional bail [BBC report] on February 12, 2002. He sought compensation [BBC report] from the UK government under a program approved by the UK Home Office. BBC News has more.






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Bush signs legislation barring genetic discrimination
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 21, 2008 3:11 PM ET

[JURIST] US President George W. Bush Wednesday signed into law [remarks transcript] a bill aimed at preventing employers and health insurers from discriminating against people who have a genetic predisposition to disease. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) [HR 493 materials] had passed with overwhelming majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate [JURIST reports]. Under the measure, employers are barred from basing hiring and firing decisions on genetic risk or predisposition to disease, while health insurers would not be permitted to deny coverage based on genetic information. AP has more.

Genetic nondiscrimination legislation was passed unanimously by the Senate in 2003 but failed in the House of Representatives. US Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) [official website] reintroduced the latest bill in January 2007. The law seeks to establish "a national and uniform basic standard ... necessary to fully protect the public from discrimination and allay their concerns about the potential for discrimination, thereby allowing individuals to take advantage of genetic testing, technologies, research, and new therapies."






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Bush farm bill veto threatens potential discrimination claims against USDA
Patrick Porter on May 21, 2008 2:22 PM ET

[JURIST] The future of a landmark discrimination case [NBFA press release] brought by black farmers against the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) [official website] is uncertain after President George W. Bush vetoed the new Farm Bill [HR 2419 materials] Wednesday. The bill included a provision [AP file report] that would have reopened the class-action suit in which plaintiffs allege that the USDA improperly discriminated against them in its allocation of loans, disaster relief, and other assistance. AP has more.

The USDA reached a settlement [NALC backgrounder] in the matter in 1999, but thousands of farmers argue that the terms were inadequate. Many farmers were left out after missing an October 1999 filing deadline. The new bill would allow them to either submit claims for compensation under terms similar to the 1999 settlement or file new lawsuits. The bill passed both houses of Congress by a wide margin, but President Bush contended that the bill would artificially alter the market for agricultural products by subsidizing higher-income farmers and agribusiness concerns. Reuters has additional coverage.






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Federal appeals court rejects Georgia death sentence challenge
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 21, 2008 12:34 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals [official website] rejected a Georgia death row inmate's challenge to the state's method of execution Tuesday, ruling that he had missed the statute of limitations to file. Samuel David Crowe [advocacy profile] was convicted of murder and is scheduled to be executed Thursday. He could become the second condemned inmate in the state, after the execution of William Earl Lynd [JURIST report] earlier this month, to be put to death since the US Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that the three-drug lethal injection cocktail [DPIC backgrounder] used does not violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has more.

In September 2007, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Baze v. Rees [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report], allowing it to consider whether the lethal injection violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. This led to an effective moratorium [JURIST report] on the death penalty in the United States as many federal courts, state courts, and state governors put executions on hold pending the high court's ruling.

5/23/08 - The Georgia Pardons and Parole Board granted clemency to Samuel Crowe Thursday. The Board reduced his sentence to life in prison without possibility of parole after meeting with supporters and reviewing testimonials as to his character. The decision was made just two-and-a-half hours before his scheduled execution. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has local coverage.






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Japan upper house approves bill militarizing space program
Devin Montgomery on May 21, 2008 11:51 AM ET

[JURIST] Japan's House of Councillors [official website, in Japanese] passed a bill Tuesday that would allow the country's space program to be used for defense purposes, including the development of spy satellites. The law, passed by an overwhelming majority of 221-14, was passed [JURIST report] by Japan's House of Representatives [official website, in Japanese] last week and by a lower house committee [JURIST report] earlier this month. When passed into law, the bill will overturn a 1969 parliamentary resolution limiting the country's use of space to non-military activities by placing responsibility for space programs with all members of the Japanese Cabinet [official website], including the newly created Ministry of Defense [JURIST report]. AP has more.

While Japanese lawmakers still oppose the use of actual weapons in space, a stance consistent with Japan's post-WWII pacifist constitution [JURIST news archive], the new space legislation has been characterized as a response to a Chinese weapons test in January 2007 [BBC report], in which the Chinese military reportedly used a ground-based medium-range ballistic missile to destroy a weather satellite. Many countries have criticized China's missile test, saying that it could encourage future arms movements into space [CNS backgrounder].






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Swiss high court upholds convictions of webmasters for publishing al Qaeda material
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 21, 2008 11:38 AM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Switzerland [official website] Wednesday upheld the 2007 convictions of a married couple for supporting criminal activities by operating websites that published statements and video footage from al Qaeda, including the 2004 beheading of American engineer Paul M. Johnson, Jr [Washington Post report]. Moez Garsallaoui was sentenced to six months in prison, while his wife Malika El Aroud was sentenced to a six-month prison term suspended for three years. At the 2007 trial, Garsallaoui denied knowledge of the beheading video, although he admitted to hosting other videos depicting violence, which he argued were protected by freedom of the press. He was also found to have operated discussion boards to which members of terror groups posted. Swiss authorities shut down the websites in 2005. AP has more.

The ease of transmitting videos over the Internet has given rise to new concerns about terror recruiting. On Monday, US Senator Joseph Lieberman sent a letter [text and press release] to Google [corporate website], asking the Internet giant to remove videos made by terrorist groups from its YouTube video service. On Tuesday, Google said that it had removed videos that incited hatred or violence [UPI report], but contended that others were protected speech.






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Jordan court issues life sentences for al Qaeda chemical bombers
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 21, 2008 11:00 AM ET

[JURIST] Eight alleged al-Qaeda operatives were given life sentences by a Jordan military court Wednesday as punishment for their roles in a 2004 failed chemical weapons attack [CNN report] on the US Embassy and other sites in Jordan. The plot was allegedly funded by al-Qaeda's top leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi [BBC profile], who was killed in a US air strike [BBC report] in 2005. If they had been carried out, the chemical attacks could have killed tens of thousands of people, according to estimates. Prosecutors alleged that the plot was "in an advanced stage" at the point that the men were arrested in 2004. AP has more.

Jordanian courts have repeatedly sentenced al-Zarqawi to death [JURIST report] for his part in the plot, even as a posthumous symbolic gesture. The other eight men were also sentenced to death in a previous trial, but their sentences were later thrown out when it was revealed that the prosecutor had been one of the plot's intended targets.






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Russia president vows to rid courts of corruption
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 21, 2008 10:06 AM ET

[JURIST] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile] promised Tuesday to take steps to tackle corruption and intimidation in the Russian judicial system, calling for reforms to better train and support judges and to preserve the rule of law. Speaking at a meeting of top Russian legal officials, Medvedev said [remarks]:

Our main objective is to achieve independence for the judicial system. It is a well-known principle that courts must be subject to the law, and, indeed, this is the basis of respect for justice and for the belief in its fairness. This is our basic task and it is hugely important. To move in this direction, we need to consider a range of issues associated with preparing a series of measures aimed at eliminating the miscarriage of justice. As we all know, when justice fails it often does so because of pressure of various kinds, such as surreptitious phone calls and money – there is no point in beating around the bush. We also need to establish measures to accelerate decision-making where this is possible. I mean eliminating red tape but of course without adversely affecting the functioning of the system.

We need to clarify a number of regulations and make changes in legislation, perhaps those concerning qualifications for the bar and terms of office. I think that we'll talk about amending the law on magistrates and the Code of Administrative Offences.

There is the separate but perennial question of financial and logistical support for the courts. In this regard we have done some things, but a great deal more remains to be done. We know how important electronic forms are for the receipt and introduction of evidence, and the role they play in the process as a whole. I'm thinking of Moscow and many of our larger cities; in many others this is not the case. Therefore, I believe this is also one of the most important objectives for improving justice in our country.

Another important subject for the judiciary is personnel, and this is a crucial issue. Certainly, we have a good system for training them, but in recent years - and this is no secret; there has been a torrent of new lawyers, weaker law schools have become pre-eminent, and as a consequence there has been an exodus of specialists from the system. It is obvious that these new people are making decisions that affect human lives. In this sense, we must also improve the education system in the country and think about ways of introducing more uniformity in legal training.

In other words, we need to introduce some significant, maybe even radical changes in legislation concerning the judicial system. The main reference point for us is the independence of the courts and their effectiveness.
Experts have noted that corruption is rife in Russian courts, and that judges' pay and status are too low to resist pressure to accept bribes. Reuters has more.

Medvedev's remarks come after he signed a measure [JURIST report] Monday to establish an anti-corruption council to be headed by Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Naryshkin [profile, in Russian]. Medvedev said that a comprehensive national anti-corruption program was necessary to tackle social and economic graft and also to eliminate a prevailing culture of corruption. Medvedev previously pledged to clean up corruption in his inauguration speech [JURIST report].





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FBI agents witnessed 'borderline torture' of detainees: DOJ report
Devin Montgomery on May 21, 2008 9:49 AM ET

[JURIST] US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) [official website] agents were present during interrogations of terrorism suspects in which Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] or Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] officers used "borderline torture" interrogation tactics, but they did not participate in those interrogations, according to a report [PDF text; AP excerpts] released Tuesday by the US Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General [official website]. The report also found that most FBI agents who had witnessed suspected abuses had reported them to their supervisors, and that the Bureau had expressed concerns [JURIST report] regarding the tactics to the DOD, but that the reservations had little impact on DOD policy. The report concluded that the FBI had not given agents enough initial guidance on what to do if witnessing potential abuses, and that both it and the DOJ could have "pressed harder" to resolve their concerns.

The 370-page report was commissioned subsequent to an internal FBI investigation into what role its agents may have played in the potentially abusive interrogations of detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq [JURIST news archives] from 2001 to 2004. AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.






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House panel hears torture allegations by ex-Guantanamo detainee
Patrick Porter on May 21, 2008 9:18 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Murat Kurnaz [Amnesty profile; JURIST news archive], a Turkish citizen born in Germany, testified Tuesday before the US House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight regarding torture he allegedly suffered [subcommittee materials] while in US custody in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. Appearing by videoconference from Germany, Kurnaz said he was subjected to beatings, electrical shocks, and waterboarding. AP has more. AFP has additional coverage.

Kurnaz spent almost five years at Guantanamo Bay before being returned to Germany in August 2006 after German authorities pressed for his release [JURIST reports]. He has consistently made similar allegations since being in custody, repeating them in an interview [JURIST report] to CBS' 60 Minutes in March. The Department of Defense [official website] has denied the allegations.






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Former Khmer Rouge minister makes first appearance before Cambodian tribunal
Andrew Gilmore on May 21, 2008 8:54 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Khmer Rouge [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] minister for social affairs Ieng Thirith [JURIST news archive] made her first appearance in court Tuesday at a bail hearing before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive]. Thirith was arrested [JURIST report] in November 2007 along with her husband, former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary [JURIST news archive]. The couple were subsequently charged [JURIST report] with crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the Khmer Rouge regime. Prosecutors allege that Thirith planned and directed widespread purges and killings within the Khmer Rouge Ministry of Social Affairs. Her husband, Sary, has been facing health problems during his detention. In February, he returned to court [JURIST report] after hospitalization for a urinary tract problem. Both Thirith and Sary have maintained their innocence. BBC News has more.

The ECCC was established by law [text as amended 2004, PDF] in 2001 to investigate and try surviving Khmer Rouge officials. The Khmer Rouge is generally believed responsible for the genocide of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians [PPU backgrounder] between 1975 and 1979. No top Khmer Rouge officials have yet faced trial. In August 2007, the ECCC brought its first charges against Kaing Khek Iev [TrialWatch profile; JURIST report], better known as "Duch", who was in charge of the notorious S-21 prison in Phnom Penh. Former Khmer Rouge official Nuon Chea [GenocideWatch report] is awaiting trial [JURIST report] for charges [statement, PDF] of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Charges have also been brought against former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan, who was arrested [JURIST report] in November 2007. In February, Samphan ended his cooperation [JURIST report] with the ECCC.






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Federal appeals court strikes down Virginia 'partial birth' abortion ban
Devin Montgomery on May 21, 2008 8:25 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] ruled [decision, PDF] Tuesday that a Virginia law [text] banning certain types of late-term abortions is unconstitutional. In 2005, a panel of judges on the same court declared the law unconstitutional [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] because it lacked an an exception to protect the mother's health, but the US Supreme Court ordered the court to reconsider the case in light of a 2007 Supreme Court decision [text; JURIST report] upholding a similar federal law [PDF text] which also lacks a health exception. The Virginia court refused to apply the reasoning from the Supreme Court case, holding that the federal law was materially different because it protects doctors who accidentally violate the ban after beginning what they believed would be a legal procedure. Accordingly, the court found that the Virginia law "imposes an undue burden on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion," because doctors would likely refuse to perform late-term abortions to avoid the risk of criminal liability. AP has more.

The abortion procedure at issue in the case is called "D&E" or dilation and evacuation, and according to the court, is a common procedure for second and third trimester abortions. A standard D&E, which is performed in utero, is explicitly excepted from the kinds of procedures banned by the Virginia law. But an "intact" D&E is what opponents refer to as "partial birth" abortion [JURIST news archive], and occurs when certain "anatomical landmarks" exit the womb during the procedure, which can accidentally occur during a planned "standard" D&E procedure.






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Guantanamo closure blocked by legal, logistical concerns: Gates
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 20, 2008 7:51 PM ET

[JURIST] The US has been unable to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] because it has been stymied by legal and practical questions about what to do with the center's detainees, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates [official profile] said at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing [recorded video] Tuesday. Gates said that the US has not found a way to handle detainees who will not be charged under the military tribunal system but who cannot be released for security reasons, partly because most US jurisdictions are reluctant to take on the accused terrorists. Gates also said that there are approximately 70 detainees at Guantanamo who cannot be returned to their home countries, either because those countries refuse to accept them or because of concerns that the detainees may pose a threat to the US if released [JURIST report]. Reuters has more.

Numerous international groups and rights activists have called for the closure of the Guantanamo detention center [JURIST news archive]. In February, the leaders of 34 international bar associations and law societies sent a letter [PDF text] to US President George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper urging the "immediate closure" of the facility [JURIST report]. Last October, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Martin Scheinin called on the US to quickly prosecute or release terror suspects [JURIST report] detained at Guantanamo Bay so that the US can close the detention center. Bush himself said in August 2007 that he wants to shut down [JURIST report] the detention facility, but indicated that other countries have shown reluctance to accept detainees.






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Guantanamo detainee attempted suicide over DOD charges later dropped: lawyer
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 20, 2008 5:30 PM ET

[JURIST] A Guantanamo Bay detainee accused of involvement in the September 11 attacks [JURIST news archives] attempted to commit suicide last month, his lawyer said Tuesday. Mohammad al-Qahtani [JURIST news archive], a Saudi Arabian citizen known as the "20th hijacker" for his alleged role in 9/11, was reportedly upset about charges brought by the US Department of Defense that could have led to a death sentence against him. Those charges were dropped [JURIST report; Center for Constitutional Rights press release] last week. A Guantanamo spokesperson refused to comment on the alleged suicide attempt. AP has more.

Al-Qahtani was refused entry into the US at Orlando, Florida in August 2001 and was later captured in Afghanistan. Since his capture, he has been held at Guantanamo Bay, where Pentagon officials say he admitted to being sent to the US to participate in the attacks. In documents the Associated Press obtained in September 2007 through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [PDF, text], he denied his involvement in and knowledge of the attacks [JURIST report]. Al-Qahtani also alleged that his statements were coerced by US torture [JURIST report]. A military investigation in 2005 concluded that al-Qahtani had been subjected to harsh treatment, authorized [JURIST report] by former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld [official profile], but concluded that he was not tortured since he was not denied food, water or medical care, and interrogators did not inflict physical pain on him.






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White House influenced EPA in emission waiver rejection: US House panel report
Devin Montgomery on May 20, 2008 4:57 PM ET

[JURIST] The White House played a "significant role" in a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] to reject California's request for a waiver [JURIST news archive] allowing the state to impose stricter greenhouse gas emissions standards on cars and light duty trucks, a Majority Staff report [PDF text] by the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform [official website] suggested Monday. According to the report, the California waiver:

had unanimous support among the career EPA staff and was backed at least in part by EPA Administrator Johnson. What the record does not answer, however, is why the California petition was denied given the strong support inside EPA.

It appears that the White House played a significant role in the reversal of the EPA position. This raises questions about the basis for the White House actions. The Clean Air Act contains specific standards for considering California's petition. It would appear to be inconsistent with the President's constitutional obligation to faithfully execute the laws of the United States if the President or his advisers pressured Administrator Johnson to ignore the record before the agency for political or other inappropriate reasons.
The Committee found that, despite staff support, the waiver was rejected after EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson [official profile] met with unnamed White House officials.

Also Monday, the Committee released testimony [transcript, PDF] of EPA official Jason Burnett in which he confirmed that EPA agents has met with White House officials, but refused to disclose the details of that communication. The Committee has also issued a subpoena to compel the EPA to turn over documents [JURIST report] relating to the White House's role in the decision. McClatchy-Tribune has more.

The California standards would have required car manufacturers to cut emissions by 25 percent for cars and light trucks, and 18 percent for SUVs, starting with the 2009 model year. California's Air Resources Board [official website] adopted the greenhouse gas standards in 2004 [press release], but it could not mandate them unless the EPA granted a waiver of the lighter Federal Clean Air Act (CAA) [text] standards. California is the only state permitted to seek a waiver under the CAA, but if granted, other states have the option of choosing between the federal standards and those of California. At least 11 states had indicated that they would follow the California standard. This is the first time that the EPA has denied California a waiver since Congress established the state's right to seek CAA waivers in 1967.

5/21/08 - Johnson testified [prepared statement, PDF] in front of the House Oversight Committee Tuesday, but refused to answer questions [AP report] concerning White House involvement in the EPA decision making process. Johnson also refused to provide a number of subpoenaed documents relating to the California emissions controversy.





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ICTY indicts journalist for exposing witness in ex-Kosovo PM war crimes trial
Abigail Salisbury on May 20, 2008 4:44 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] Tuesday indicted [PDF text] a Kosovar journalist on contempt of court charges for allegedly revealing the identity of a witness in the war crimes trial of former Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj [TrialWatch profile; JURIST news archive]. Baton Haxhiu was promptly arrested on the charge [Shekulli report, in Albanian]. Haradinaj was acquitted [JURIST report] in April, but former Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte’s claims of witness intimidation have cast doubt on the proceedings. Prosecutors are now appealing. AP has more. The UN News Centre has additional coverage.

Haradinaj was a senior commander of the KLA, the ethnic Albanian guerrilla force that opposed Slobodan Milosevic [JURIST news archive] during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war [BBC backgrounder]. He was indicted [initial indictment, PDF] by ICTY prosecutors in 2005.

5/21/08 - According to Reuters, Hoxhiu pleaded not guilty [Reuters report] in the Hague on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, the ICTY assigned German lawyer Christian Kemperdick as duty counsel for Hoxhiu [order, PDF] until permanent counsel is assigned.






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US House passes bill to subject OPEC nations to US antitrust law
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 20, 2008 4:25 PM ET

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives Tuesday voted 324-84 [roll call] to pass a bill [HR 6074 materials] which would subject members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) [official website] to US antitrust [JURIST news archive] law. The bill would authorize the US Department of Justice to file charges against OPEC countries for allegedly restricting oil supplies and colluding to set prices. The bill now goes to the Senate.

President George W. Bush has threatened to veto the bill, but the House will likely be able to override any potential veto. The White House argues [SAP, PDF] that initiating legal action against oil-producing nations may hurt relations and invite retaliation. Reuters has more.






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Noriega challenges France extradition bid in US appeals court
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 20, 2008 3:46 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] Monday asked the US Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to block his extradition to France, arguing in court filings that extradition would violate his prisoner of war (POW) status. Noriega will remain in a US federal prison [JURIST report] until all appeals relating to the extradition request have been exhausted. Ultimately, the US State Department will issue the final order on France's extradition request.

Noriega is wanted in France on charges of money laundering through French banks. Noriega and his wife were sentenced in absentia [AP report] to 10 years in jail in 1999, but France has agreed to hold a new trial if he is extradited. Noriega has made multiple attempts to block his extradition; in addition to a January ruling [JURIST report] by US District Court Judge Paul Huck, another federal judge in September 2007 rejected [JURIST report] Noriega's arguments to block extradition. Noriega's lawyers argue that France's request was superseded by his status as a US POW and that under the Geneva Conventions the US must return him home to Panama upon his release. The US State Department has indicated that it is satisfied that France will treat Noriega as a POW [JURIST report] if Noriega is extradited to that country. AP has more.






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Merck to pay $58 million in Vioxx deceptive advertising settlement
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 20, 2008 3:01 PM ET

[JURIST] Pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. [corporate website] Tuesday agreed to pay $58 million [Pennsylvania AG press release] to settle lawsuits brought by 29 states and the District of Columbia regarding Merck's allegedly deceptive advertising for the painkiller Vioxx [Merck materials; JURIST news archive]. Under the settlement, Merck agreed to submit all future TV commercials for its drugs to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval and to implement all FDA-recommended changes. The company is also barred from "ghostwriting," a practice in which companies generate positive press designed to appear as if it came from an unbiased outside source. AP has more.

Merck has been involved in a stream of Vioxx-related litigation during the last few years, including state and federal lawsuits in Louisiana, New Jersey, and California [JURIST reports]. In September 2007, the New Jersey Supreme Court dismissed [JURIST report] a class action lawsuit filed against Merck, reversing a lower court's decision to grant nationwide class certification in the case. In November 2007, Merck said that it had agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle all pending lawsuits [press release; JURIST report] regarding its marketing and distribution of Vioxx.






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Iraqi High Tribunal resumes trial of Saddam-era deputy PM Aziz
Patrick Porter on May 20, 2008 2:46 PM ET

[JURIST] The trial of former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and seven co-defendants resumed Tuesday, three weeks after a brief opening session and subsequent adjournment [JURIST report] at the Iraqi High Tribunal [official website] in Baghdad. Some members of the defense's legal team were missing, but lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano told AKI that he did not "want to grant credibility to the tribunal" [AKI report] by appearing. AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

Aziz was deputy prime minister under Saddam Hussein's regime. He and his co-defendants are charged in connection with the 1992 execution of 42 merchants accused of price-gouging during a period of UN sanctions. One of the defendants, Ali Hassan al-Majid [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], known in the Western media as "Chemical Ali," did not attend the opening session last month due to ill health [JURIST report] brought on by a self-imposed hunger strike, but was present at Tuesday's proceedings.






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Pakistan governing party seeks constitutional amendment on Supreme Court
Devin Montgomery on May 20, 2008 1:42 PM ET

[JURIST] Pakistan's governing Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) [party website] will propose an amendment to the country's 1973 Constitution [text] to restrict judicial and presidential power, Pakistan's News daily reported Tuesday. The proposed amendment would raise the mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court judges, limit the term of the Chief Justice to four or five years, and make judges that approved or endorsed any unconstitutional action taken by the president liable for treason. The first two of these terms resemble mooted elements of the failed May 1 'agreement' on restoring judges [JURIST report] between the PPP and the its alliance party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website. The amendment would also bar a president from seeking indemnity from the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] if he is accused of high treason for subverting the constitution. The PPP says it plans to introduce the amendment by the Assembly's June 10 budget session.

In order for the amendment to pass, it must receive the support of two-thirds of both the National Assembly and the Senate [official website]. Garnering that support for the measure may prove difficult as the PML-N pulled nine of its ministers out of the government last week to protest delays [JURIST report] in reinstating judges dismissed by President Pervez Musharraf last November after his declaration of emergency rule [PDF text; JURIST report]. JURIST's Pakistan correspondent suggests that the introduction of the amendment is being timed to coincide with a major June 10 demonstration [JURIST report] by lawyers to protest the judges' ouster. IANS has more.






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Defense lawyers for 9/11 detainees seek to delay arraignments
Andrew Gilmore on May 20, 2008 12:36 PM ET

[JURIST] Military defense lawyers for the five Guantanamo Bay detainees allegedly behind the Sept. 11 attacks [JURIST news archive] are attempting to delay their clients' arraignments, currently scheduled [JURIST report] for June 5. They allege the US government has interfered with the defendants' rights to counsel by refusing to provide facilities for the review of classified evidence or to grant security clearances to attorneys assisting in the defense. The lawyers also objected to the restrictions on discussion of their clients' cases with co-counsel, limitations on the review of the attorneys' own notes taken regarding the cases, and procedures to gain access to the defendants. Last Tuesday, the Miami Herald reported that death penalty charges against the Sept. 11 defendants were confirmed [JURIST report] by the Convening Authority for the military commissions. AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

Military defense lawyers filed motions to dismiss charges against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other Sept. 11 defendants Friday, arguing that the charges against them were unduly influenced [JURIST report] by Air Force Reserve Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann. Early last week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] accused the US Department of Defense of stalling on security clearances [JURIST report; ACLU press release] for civilian lawyers seeking to assist in the defense of Guantanamo detainees. The US Supreme Court is expected to rule in June on the cases of Boumediene v. Bush [docket; merit briefs] and Al Odah v. United States [docket; merit briefs], determining whether Guantanamo detainees should be allowed to challenge their detentions in federal court.






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Federal court rules US currency discriminates against the blind
Devin Montgomery on May 20, 2008 11:24 AM ET

[JURIST] The U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website] Tuesday upheld [decision, PDF] a district court ruling [JURIST report] that the design of US paper currency discriminates against the blind in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 [US DOL materials]. The court found that the plaintiff in the case, American Council of the Blind [advocacy website], had shown that the current design denied the blind "meaningful access" to the use of the paper currency, and that there are facially reasonable accommodations, such as differentiated bill sizes, that could be made to grant access. The court also ruled that the government had not adequately supported its claims [JURIST report] that making such changes would create an undue burden on either the Bureau of Engraving and Printing [official website] in the manufacture of the bills, or third parties such as the vending machine industry in their processing. AP has more.

The United States is the only nation [JURIST report] of some 180 using paper currency that produces same-size, undifferentiated bills in all denominations. Approximately 1.3 million Americans are legally blind. The case has now been remanded to the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] to determine the appropriate form of relief to grant the Council.






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Alleged Lackawanna Six terrorist imprisoned in Yemen
Andrew Gilmore on May 20, 2008 11:06 AM ET

[JURIST] Jaber Elbaneh, a Yemeni-American on the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists List [FBI notice] for alleged participation in acts of international terrorism, was jailed [WP report] in Yemen Monday after an appeals court upheld his ten-year prison sentence. Elbaneh was indicted by the US government in 2003 for conspiracy and providing material support to a terrorist organization, charges related to his involvement with the so-called "Lackawanna Six" [JURIST report; Frontline backgrounder], an alleged terrorist cell operating outside of Buffalo, NY. Elbaneh was jailed in Yemen in 2004, but escaped from a Yemeni prison in 2006 along with 26 other detainees. He was tried in absentia in 2007, convicted, and sentenced to ten years in prison. Elbaneh turned himself in to Yemeni authorities in December 2007, but was allowed to remain free during his retrial. Under Yemeni law, individuals convicted in absentia are retried if they later surrender. AP has more.

The US had offered a $5 million reward [US National Counterterrorism Center profile] for information leading to Elbaneh's arrest, due to his alleged connection to the al-Qaeda terrorism network. After his arrest in 2004, Yemen refused to extradite Elbaneh to the US. The move to bring Elbaneh back into custody came one day after the Washington Post published a report highlighting Elbaneh's freedom of movement through Yemen during his second trial. Reuters has more.






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UN rights rapporteur visiting US on intolerance fact-finding mission
Andrew Gilmore on May 20, 2008 9:53 AM ET

[JURIST] Doudou Diene [OAS profile; OHCHR backgrounder], the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance, is visiting the US this week to gather first-hand information on issues of race relations [UNHCHR press release]. Diene's visit comes at the invitation of the US government. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] called the fact-finding mission [ACLU press release] "a critical opportunity to shed light on the pervasive and systemic problem of racism and discrimination in the United States." The US envoy to the UN, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad [official profile] welcomed Diene, but stated that he did not think the visit was necessary, and that the UN Human Rights Council [official website] should "focus on real problems elsewhere." Reuters has more.

In a report issued in November 2007 to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, Diene stated that increasing institutionalization of racist political ideologies and violent expressions of racism seriously threaten democracy and human rights [JURIST report]. Diene warned the UN [JURIST report] in March 2006 about a worldwide increase in racism and xenophobia, which were no longer confined to extremist groups but had become integral to mainstream democratic systems. Diene said that the fight against terrorism and other government initiatives had led to discriminatory immigration and asylum policies and a retreat from diversity and tolerance. Diene noted that racism was "commonplace" and ethnically and racially biased stances had become increasingly legitimized in intellectual discourse by respected scholars.






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SEC charges former Time Warner executives for alleged fraud scheme
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 19, 2008 6:13 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Securities and Exchange Commission [official website] is pursuing fraud charges against four former Time Warner [corporate website] executives for their alleged involvement in a 2000-2002 plot to defraud investors by inflating advertising revenue, according to Monday reports. Charges against four other executives, including former head of the company's business affairs unit David Colburn [NYT report], have been settled. Reuters has more.

In 2005, Time Warner agreed to pay $300 million [JURIST report] to settle charges alleging that it overstated online advertising revenue and the number of its AOL Internet subscribers and committed other securities frauds. The SEC accused Time Warner of exaggerating the number of AOL subscribers in the second, third, and fourth quarters of 2001 so it could report to the investment community that it had met its new subscriber targets.






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UK MPs reject proposed ban on hybrid embryo research
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 19, 2008 5:24 PM ET

[JURIST] UK legislators Monday voted 336-176 against a proposed ban [Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill materials] on the use of human-animal hybrid embryo stem cells [JURIST news archive] in scientific and medical research. The decision was highly controversial, with many ban proponents arguing that it was necessary to prevent potential attempts at human genetic engineering. In a Sunday editorial [text] in the Observer, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown advocated against the ban, saying that hybrid embryos may help stem cell research find cures for degenerative diseases:

It was in 1998 that James Thomson, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin, successfully removed stem cells from spare embryos at fertility clinics.

His discovery established the world's first human embryonic stem cell line and launched stem cell research into the scientific mainstream.

A decade on from that moment of discovery, Parliament will make decisions this week that will affect not only the pace of scientific advance, but also the rights of different individuals to benefit from scientific advances already made in the complex field of embryology.

Should scientists be given the legal framework they say they need to pursue new cures and treatments through stem cell research or will we turn our back on these potential advances?

Should children who face death or critical illness find new hope in scientific advances that would allow their new brother or sister to be not just a blessing to their family, but also a saviour sibling to them? And should people be able to approach IVF clinics without fear of discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation?

My answer to all those questions is an unequivocal yes.
The Guardian has more.

Hybrid embryos are created by inserting human DNA into an animal egg. A sudden electrical shock then causes the egg to develop into an early stage embryo, from which stem cells can be harvested.





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New Zealand tribunal finds first-ever violation of Bill of Rights Act
Abigail Salisbury on May 19, 2008 4:35 PM ET

[JURIST] New Zealand's Human Rights Commission [official website] announced [press release] Monday that the Human Rights Review Tribunal [NZ Ministry of Justice materials] has found the nation's accident compensation system to be inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act [text], a 1990 law guaranteeing freedom from discrimination. The decision came in response to a challenge injured worker John Howard made to the country's Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Act [text] when his age made him ineligible for the vocational rehabilitation he had been receiving, alleging that the Act permitted age discrimination and infringed on his right to work. The Human Rights Amendment Act [text] gave the Tribunal the right to declare inconsistencies in 2001, but Monday's announcement marked the first use of that power. The New Zealand Herald has more.

The government has discretion to appeal the decision. If the appeal is unsuccessful or if the government chooses not to challenge the Tribunal's ruling, the New Zealand Parliament [official website] will need to alter the offending provision to bring it into compliance. Minister for Accident Compensation Maryan Street [official profile] would be expected to provide guidance to Parliament on how to modify the discriminatory practices previously permitted under the Act.






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Russia president signs decree to establish anti-corruption council
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 19, 2008 4:19 PM ET

[JURIST] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile] has signed a measure to establish an anti-corruption council to be headed by Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Naryshkin [profile, in Russian], Medvedev announced at a Monday press conference [remarks]. Medvedev said that a comprehensive national anti-corruption program was necessary to tackle social and economic graft and also to eliminate a prevailing culture of corruption. Medvedev has previously vowed to clean up corruption in his inauguration speech [JURIST report]. RIA Novosti has more.

Corruption is an on-going problem in Russia. In 2006, Transparency International [advocacy website], an anti-corruption advocacy group, reported that incidents of corrupt activity were up to seven times more prevalent that year than they were in 2001. Bribes totaling $240 billion are taken by corrupt officials in Russia [JURIST news archive] on a yearly basis, according to a report by a senior Russian prosecutor earlier that year.






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US Supreme Court will not hear deportation appeal of accused Nazi prison guard
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 19, 2008 3:42 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] denied certiorari Monday in Demjanjuk v. Mukasey [order, PDF; case docket], ending the appeals process of a deportation order for accused former Nazi concentration camp guard and Ohio resident John Demjanjuk [JURIST news archive]. Demjanjuk, twice stripped of his US citizenship, had argued that the immigration judge who ordered his deportation lacked the authority to do so. Demajanjuk was appealing a 2005 ruling [JURIST report] by then-US Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy ordering his deportation. Demjanjuk had previously lost an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals [DOJ backgrounder]. The US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Demjanjuk's petition for review [PDF text] in January. Reuters has more.

Demjanjuk is suspected of being "Ivan the Terrible," an infamously brutal guard at Poland's Treblinka [PBS backgrounder] death camp during World War II. Demjanjuk has argued that the accusation is based on mistaken identity. The case dates back to 1977 [Cleveland Plain Dealer report], when the Justice Department originally asked for Demjanjuk's citizenship to be revoked. He was extradited to Israel and sentenced to death for war crimes, but the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 1993 and he returned to the US. In 2002, Demjanjuk again lost his US citizenship [JURIST report] after a judge found that World War II evidence showed he worked in the Nazi concentration camps.






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Prosecutor alleges Israel PM accepted bribes from US businessman
Andrew Gilmore on May 19, 2008 2:54 PM ET

[JURIST] Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert [official profile] personally received cash [Jerusalem Post report] from US businessman Morris Talansky while serving as a minister of industry, trade and labor, a state prosecutor said Monday in a hearing at the Supreme Court of Israel. Last week, police raided Olmert's offices [JURIST report] as part of the investigation into corruption allegations against Olmert. Talansky denied any wrongdoing in an interview on Israeli television, and he informed investigators Sunday that he would be leaving Israel for the US on May 26. Olmert's lawyers have filed a petition to overturn a lower court decision to hear Talansky's testimony before he leaves the country. Reuters has more. Ha'aretz has local coverage.

This is not the first time Olmert has been accused of involvement in questionable deals. In April 2007, Olmert was investigated for improperly favoring his supporters [JURIST report] in distributing business grants during his time as trade minister. In January 2007, the Israeli Ministry of Justice announced plans to launch an investigation [JURIST report] into allegations that he promoted the interests of two business associates during the 2005 state sale of Bank Leumi [corporate website]. Olmert has maintained that he is innocent throughout these scandals. On Sunday, law enforcement officials told Ha'aretz that the investigation into Olmert has revealed evidence that could lead to additional charges [Ha'aretz report].






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Iran human rights group condemns government treatment of critics
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 19, 2008 1:55 PM ET

[JURIST] The Iranian government is engaged in systematic human rights abuses, an Iranian human rights group said in an annual report released Sunday. The Defenders of Human Rights Centre, a group founded and headed by 2003 Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi [Nobel profile], condemned the government for continued harassment and intimidation of dissidents, students, reporters, labor activists and other government critics. The government of Iran declared the Centre illegal [advocacy website] in 2006 and threatened to arrest its leaders.

The report criticized the government's increased policing of women's veils [JURIST news archive] and the harsh punishments meted out to women found to be insufficiently covered, considering the practices to be violations of womens' rights. Last year, Ebadi called for a UN probe [JURIST report] into allegations that the Iranian government was denying women's rights. AFP has more.






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Nigeria president vows to resign if high court upholds election challenge
Andrew Gilmore on May 19, 2008 12:19 PM ET

[JURIST] Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua [BBC profile] told AFP Sunday that he would resign if the Supreme Court of Nigeria [official website] invalidated his victory in the disputed 2007 presidential election [JURIST report]. In March, Nigerian opposition leader and presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari [campaign website] asked the Supreme Court to review a February decision by the country's election tribunal to uphold [JURIST report] the results of the contested elections. Buhari alleges that the election was marred by rampant fraud [JURIST report], but the Nigerian Presidential Petitions Election Tribunal ruled that there was no evidence of malfeasance and upheld results showing victory for Yar'Adua. From Nigeria, This Day has local coverage.

In April 2007, the Independent Nigerian Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Yar'Adua the winner of the country's presidential elections, prompting challenges from rival candidates Buhari and former Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar [JURIST news archive]. The election tribunal ordered the INEC to turn over certified copies of the ballots [JURIST report] and provide information on all officials and staff employed for the elections.






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Israel justice minister calls for relaxation of religious marriages rules
Andrew Gilmore on May 19, 2008 10:31 AM ET

[JURIST] Israel's Chief Rabbinate [official website, in Hebrew], the body that authorizes and conducts marriages in the country, should allow marriages between people of different religious faiths, Israeli Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann [official profile] said Sunday. The Chief Rabbinate currently requires all marriages to adhere to Orthodox Jewish law and traditionally does not allow members of different religious faiths to marry. Last Tuesday, former Chief Justice of the Israeli Supreme Court Aharon Barack [official profile] called on the Knesset [official website] to amend marriage laws [Ynetnews.com report] to provide Israeli citizens with a civil alternative to religious marriages. Ynetnews.com has more.

Considerable confusion exists over who qualifies for marriage in Israel due to controversies over conversion and the difficulties in establishing evidence of Jewish heritage among immigrants to Israel. Even converts to Orthodox Judaism can be denied marriage licenses [Jewish Telegraphic Agency report]. In March 2005, the Supreme Court of Israel eased [JURIST report] certain conversion laws regarding non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism not performed in Israel.






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US Supreme Court rules on repeat offender, child pornography cases
Abigail Salisbury on May 19, 2008 10:26 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] handed down four decisions [order list, PDF] Monday, including United States v. Rodriquez [LII case backgrounder], where the Court ruled [text] that for purposes of increasing a sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) [text] a conviction qualifies as a predicate serious drug offense even when the crime is made punishable by a 10-year prison term only because of additional penalties imposed on repeat offenders. The ruling reversed the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit's judgment [PDF text] that sentence enhancements are not to be taken into account when determining whether a given crime constitutes an ACCA predicate offense. Justice Souter, joined by Ginsburg and Stevens, filed a dissent [texts]. AP has more.

In United States v. Williams [Duke Law backgrounder; JURIST report], the Court held that the PROTECT Act [text], aimed at preventing the pandering or solicitation of child pornography, was not unconstitutionally broad or vague, unlike similar laws [Child Pornography Prevention Act] challenged in the past. The ruling reversed a holding [PDF text] by the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Read the 7-2 opinion of the court, delivered by Scalia; Stevens' concurrence, joined by Breyer; and Souter's dissent [texts], joined by Ginsburg. Reuters has more.

In United States v. Ressam [LII backgrounder; JURIST report], the Court voted 8-1 to uphold the conviction of so-called "Millennium Bomber" Ahmed Ressam [PBS profile]. The Court reversed the judgment [PDF text] of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and ruled that Ressam could be convicted and sentenced under a law [text] punishing the carrying of explosives while committing a felony even if the explosives were not related to the felony offense. Justice Stevens delivered the opinion of the Court; Thomas, joined by Scalia, concurred in part and concurred in the judgment; Breyer wrote a dissent [texts]. The Washington Post
has more.

In Department of Revenue of Kentucky v. Davis [Duke Law backgrounder; JURIST report], the Court ruled that Kentucky may tax interest earned on out-of-state municipal bonds while exempting from taxation the interest income from similar in-state bonds without violating the US Constitution's Commerce Clause. The ruling reversed a decision [PDF text] by the Kentucky Court of Appeals holding that the system improperly burdened interstate commerce. The case's particulars resulted in an unusual number of filings: Justice Souter delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part III–B; Stevens and Breyer joined that opinion in full; Roberts and Ginsburg joined all but Part III–B; and Scalia joined all but Parts III–B and IV. Stevens filed a concurring opinion; Roberts and Scalia filed opinions concurring in part; Thomas filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Kennedy filed a dissent, in which Alito joined, although Alito also filed his own short dissent [texts]. AP has more.






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Former Bangladesh PM indicted in second corruption case
Devin Montgomery on May 18, 2008 2:32 PM ET

[JURIST] A Bangladeshi anti-corruption court indicted former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina [party profile; JURIST news archive] Sunday on charges [JURIST report] that she received approximately $440,000 in illegal kickbacks on a power-plant deal while in office between 1996 and 2001. If found guilty of the accusations, made in 2007 by the country's Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) [governing statute], Hasina could face up to 14 years in jail. The court will start taking depositions on Wednesday for the case, which has been delayed numerous times because of Hasina's health [JURIST report].

Bangladesh's current anti-corruption crackdown began after President Iajuddin Ahmed declared a state of emergency [JURIST report] in the country and canceled a scheduled national election last January. Eight former Bangladeshi ministers were subsequently accused of corruption and 13 other former ministers and senior politicians were arrested during raids on their homes [JURIST report]. In a separate case, Hasina and eight other people are also accused of involvement in a kickback scheme that awarded lucrative gas contracts to Canadian oil company Niko Resources Ltd [corporate website]. Reuters has more.






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Vietnam deports American for distributing pro-democracy pamphlets
Devin Montgomery on May 18, 2008 1:55 PM ET

[JURIST] The Vietnamese government Saturday deported Nguyen Quoc Quan [advocacy profile], a US citizen sentenced for planning to distribute pro-democracy pamphlets in the communist country. He received a six-month jail term Tuesday, but was credited for time he spent awaiting trial. Quan was one of several arrested in November 2007 for planning to give out literature on behalf of US-based rights group Viet Tan [advocacy website, in Vietnamese]. The Vietnamese government considers Viet Tan and other anti-communist groups [JURIST news archive] to be terrorist organizations, but Viet Tan says it promotes only non-violent political change.

The Communist Party of Vietnam [party website] has consistently rejected calls to permit opposition parties, but pro-democracy groups in Vietnam have recently collaborated to press for democratic reforms and improved human rights, with limited success. Last May, two Vietnamese human rights lawyers were sentenced for violating Article 88 of the Vietnamese criminal code [JURIST report] by advocating that Vietnam adopt a multi-party system of government. In 2006, the US and Vietnam ended a three-year suspension of talks [JURIST report] regarding human rights and religious freedoms [HRW backgrounder] in the country, which began when the US canceled the annual Human Rights Dialogue with Vietnam in 2003 due to what it said was a lack of progress on the issues. AP has more.






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Nations to develop cluster bomb treaty in Ireland conference
Patrick Porter on May 18, 2008 1:52 PM ET

[JURIST] Representatives of over 100 governments will meet Monday at the Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions [official website] to finalize a treaty banning the use, manufacture, and stockpiling of cluster bombs [ICRC materials; JURIST news archive]. Opponents of the ordnance, including some military officers, believe them to be inaccurate weapons designed to spread damage indiscriminately. An estimated 10-40% of the munitions fail to detonate and become a serious hazard for civilian populations. Since the two-day Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions [conference materials] last February, there have been increasing calls to ban the weapons. Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday urged [AFP report] all governments to adopt the ban.

Last February, 46 of 49 countries participating in the Oslo Conference agreed to an action plan to develop a new international treaty [press release; JURIST report] banning the use of cluster munitions by 2008. Last month the US said it would not attend the 2008 Dublin conference, [JURIST report] echoing June 2007 statements that it does not support a ban on cluster bombs, [JURIST report] but that it is open to negotiations to reduce their impact on civilians by requiring increased reliability, accuracy and visibility of unexploded munitions. Reuters has more.






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Afghan journalism student appeals death sentence for blasphemy
Patrick Porter on May 18, 2008 1:28 PM ET

[JURIST] An Afghan appeals court heard testimony Sunday from journalism student Sayad Parwaz Kambaksh [JURIST news archive], who was sentenced to death [JURIST report] in January for distributing papers questioning gender roles under Islam. Kambaksh denied the accusations in front of a three-judge panel Sunday, saying they were made by Balkh University professors and students with “private hostilities” against him. He told the court that his confessions were the result of torture by the Balkh province intelligence service. Kambaksh had chosen not to be represented by a lawyer for the appeal, but said Sunday he would like one. The court will reconvene next Sunday to give Kambaksh time to meet with counsel and prepare his defense.

Kambaksh was sentenced to death following his trial, where he had no legal representation [JURIST report] and was allowed only three minutes to present his defense. The closed court invoked Article 130 of the Afghanistan Constitution [text] to pass down the death sentence, a penalty for blasphemy consistent with Hanafi [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] law. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai received international pressure to pardon Kambaksh, but said that he would not intervene [JURIST report] during the pendency of Kambaksh's appeal. AP has more.






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Bush election commission nominee withdraws, ends partisan stalemate
Devin Montgomery on May 17, 2008 4:03 PM ET

[JURIST] Hans von Spakovsky, nominated by President Bush to serve on the six-member US Federal Election Commission (FEC) [official website], withdrew his name from consideration for the appointment Friday. The withdrawal ends a two-and-a-half-year stalemate between the administration and Senate Democrats. The former Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights was named [WH press release] to the FEC by President Bush in January 2006, using a recess appointment [US Senate backgrounder]. In his withdrawal letter [PDF text], von Spakovsky wrote that "it is past time that the FEC was reconstituted." Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) [official website], the Senate majority leader, applauded [press release] von Spakovsky's withdrawal, saying his record on voters' rights while at the US Department of Justice, made him unfit to serve on the FEC.

Von Spakovsky had been included on the most recent list [JURIST report] of nominations to the FEC submitted by the President for Senate approval in early May. Also included on that list were Cynthia L. Bauerly, former legislative director for Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) [official website]; Donald F. McGahn, former counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) [official website]; and former White House official Caroline C. Hunter. The list did not include current FEC Chairman David Mason [official profile], whose tenure has also been strongly opposed by Democrats. Until the new nominees are approved, the commission will not have the quorum required to conduct business, presenting a potentially significant problem in the face of the upcoming 2008 Presidential election.






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Khalid Sheikh Mohammed defense lawyers move to dismiss charges
Patrick Porter on May 17, 2008 3:21 PM ET

[JURIST] US military defense lawyers filed a motion Friday to dismiss charges against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], the alleged director of the Sept. 11 attacks [JURIST news archive], and his four co-conspirators. The motion alleges that the charges were unduly influenced by "overreaching" on the part of US Air Force Reserve Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann [Air Force profile], who was disqualified [JURIST report] last week from participating in a military commission trial. Hartmann's neutrality and objectivity concerning the trials were questioned because of his close association with the prosecution. Reuters has more. The Los Angeles Times has additional coverage.

Mohammed's military defense lawyer, US Navy Capt. Prescott Prince, expressed concern [JURIST report] about the fairness of Mohammed's trial in an April interview with CNN. The chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] military commissions, US Army Col. Lawrence Morris, said that the trials of Mohammed and the other Sept. 11 suspects would be broadcast [JURIST report] live on closed-circuit television to several military bases so that the victims' families could watch. The men face death penalty charges, but US Attorney General Michael Mukasey [JURIST news archive] said in March that executing the Sept. 11 suspects would make them martyrs [JURIST report].






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Texas group sues Chertoff to block border fence construction
Devin Montgomery on May 17, 2008 3:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The Texas Border Coalition [advocacy website], a group of Texan officials and business owners, filed a class action lawsuit [complaint, PDF] Friday in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] to enjoin the Department of Homeland Security from constructing a fence on the US-Mexico border. The lawsuit claims that government officials disobeyed a clause in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 [text], which requires the government to hold fair negotiation with landowners when seeking access to border land. The complaint, which specifically names US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff [official profile] and other government officials, alleges that some smaller landowners accepted as little as $100 for access to their land and were not apprised of their legal rights during the negotiation process, while the land of wealthier owners was purposefully avoided. AP has more. The Houston Chronicle has local coverage.

In order to complete 353 additional miles of physical barriers along the border [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive] by the end of the year, bringing the total to 670 miles, Chertoff has also invoked a number of legal waivers [JURIST report] authorized under Title I sec. 102 of the Real ID Act [PDF text], allowing the government to circumvent over 30 local and environmental laws which had blocked construction. In October 2007, Chertoff used a waiver [JURIST report] to override an October federal district court ruling that had halted fence construction in Arizona on environmental grounds.






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Pakistan lawyers to resume protests if judges not reinstated
Patrick Porter on May 17, 2008 2:36 PM ET

[JURIST] Pakistani lawyers announced plans Saturday to hold large protests in June unless the new government fulfills a pledge to reinstate Supreme Court judges ousted [JURIST report] last year by President Pervez Musharraf. Aitzaz Ahsan [JURIST news archive], President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, told reporters in Lahore that lawyers would hold a "long march" from city to city in Pakistan. Further protests could rekindle the unrest [JURIST report] seen in April, when rioting resulted in at least 11 deaths. AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

The new coalition government formed by the Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party websites] vowed in February to work together to reinstate judges and establish a fully independent judiciary [JURIST reports]. The government nonetheless failed to meet a self-imposed deadline to reinstate the judges, with the parties reaching an impasse [JURIST report] after talks in London last week failed to produce an agreement on how to proceed.






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US to build new prison in Afghanistan
Devin Montgomery on May 17, 2008 1:37 PM ET

[JURIST] The US plans to build a new military detention facility in Afghanistan [JURIST news archive] as a replacement for its current make-shift prison at Bagram Air Base [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive], the New York Times reported [NYT report] Saturday. The $60-million-dollar, 40-acre facility will have the capacity to hold as many as 1,100 prisoners, and is intended to provide more humane living conditions [JURIST report] for the more than 600 detainees the US currently holds in the country. According to the Times, the revelation signals a significant departure from previous statements made by the Bush administration [White House website], which had indicated an intention to scale back US facilities in Afghanistan by either transferring detainees to Afghan custody or releasing lower-risk prisoners. The Times also reported that the prohibition on transferring detainees to Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], and officials' reluctance to turn over the most dangerous prisoners to special Afghan courts [JURIST report] led to the need for a more permanent institution. AFP has more.

The current facility, officially know as the Bagram Theater Internment Facility, was set up in 2002 to temporarily hold captured combatants, but has since become the primary detainee processing center in the country, holding many prisoners for years. The air base became infamous later that year when two detainees died [JURIST news archive] after being abused by US soldiers.






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Amnesty International 'welcomes' UK Mousa inquiry, calls for impartiality
Patrick Porter on May 17, 2008 1:30 PM ET

[JURIST] Amnesty International welcomed [advocacy press release] Saturday the recently-announced public inquiry [MOD press release; JURIST report] into the death of Baha Mousa [BBC report; JURIST news archive], an Iraqi hotel receptionist who died in British military custody in 2003. The organization called the inquiry "long overdue" but expressed concern that the investigation could lack impartiality if governed by a 2005 UK law [text] allowing the Secretary of State for Defence to conduct such inquiries. BBC has more.

Mousa's death allegedly resulted from abuse by the British troops who had arrested him and nine other Iraqis in a Basra hotel where weapons and suspected bomb-making materials were found. The nine other Iraqis alleged that they were tortured by British soldiers and filed a suit for damages against the MOD. Seven soldiers faced court-martial [BBC timeline] in connection with Mousa's death, but only Corporal David Payne received a jail sentence after pleading guilty [JURIST reports] to a charge of inhumane treatment. All other charges were dismissed [JURIST report].






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France court releases RIA Novosti Account
Patrick Porter on May 17, 2008 12:51 PM ET

[JURIST] A French court released a bank account belonging to Russian news agency RIA Novosti [media website] Friday. The account was frozen in January [JURIST report], along with other accounts belonging to several Russian state organizations. The court ruled that the state news agency was a separate entity from the Russian government and should not be liable for state debts. The court ordered Switzerland's Compagnie Noga d'Importation et d'Exportation, SA (Noga), which had pressed for the freezing of assets, to pay 15,000 euros in compensation. RIA Novosti has more.

Last week, another French court unfroze a Russia Central Bank account [RIA Novosti report] for similar reasons. The January decision to disable the accounts stemmed from Noga's claim over a food-for-oil contract formed between Noga and Russia in 1991-1992, just after the breakup of the Soviet Union.






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US military judge postpones Hamdan military commission trial
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 16, 2008 6:38 PM ET

[JURIST] A military judge Friday delayed the military commission trial of Yemeni Guantanamo Bay detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] until July. On Thursday, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit rejected [order, PDF] a bid by Hamdan to postpone the start of his military commission until the Supreme Court rules in the consolidated cases of Boumediene v. Bush (06-1195) [docket; merit briefs] and Al Odah v. United States (06-1196) [docket; merit briefs], where the Court will consider whether Guantanamo detainees should be allowed to challenge their detentions in federal court. With Friday's delay, it is likely that the Supreme Court will decide those cases before Hamdan goes to trial. SCOTUSblog has more.

Hamdan has been in US custody since 2001 when he was captured in Afghanistan and accused of working as Osama Bin Laden's driver. In 2006 he successfully challenged US President George W. Bush's military commission system when the Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the commission system as initially constituted violated US and international law. Congress subsequently passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [DOD materials], which established the current military commissions system. Last month, Hamdan announced that he planned to boycott his military commission trial [JURIST report].






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Malaysia panel alleges conspiracy in judicial fixing scandal
Andrew Gilmore on May 16, 2008 4:13 PM ET

[JURIST] Prominent Malaysian lawyer VK Lingam conspired [The Star report] with allies in government, the judiciary, and business to arrange favorable judicial appointments, a Malaysian government inquiry panel announced Friday. The panel was convened to investigate allegations of judicial fixing following the January release of a video [YouTube video; JURIST report] which purportedly depicts Lingam brokering the former Chief Justice's appointment to the Supreme Court of Malaysia. The person on the other end of the phone was believed to be Malaysian Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim. The inquiry panel report also accused four other people, including business tycoon Vincent Tan, of involvement in the conspiracy; the Malaysian Cabinet has ordered an investigation. Law Minister Ziad Ibrahim [firm profile] told Malaysian newspaper The Star Friday that the six alleged conspirators could face obstruction of justice charges. Reuters has more. AP has additional coverage. The New Straits Times has local coverage.

The video's release last year prompted 2,000 lawyers and activists to call for an official investigation [JURIST report; press release] in a mass protest. A Royal Commission began its sessions in January, when Lingam told the panel that he was intoxicated [JURIST report] at the time the video was filmed. Lingam also told the panel that Halim was not on the other end of the line [Bernama report] in the first video.






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Federal court rules Countrywide shareholder suit can go forward
David Hanna on May 16, 2008 3:44 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge ruled [PDF text] this week that a shareholder derivative lawsuit brought against the directors and officers of mortgage lender Countrywide Financial [corporate website] for misrepresenting its financial condition could proceed. The court held that the plaintiffs, including a number of state pension funds, met the requisite heightened pleading standards under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act [text] to allow the lawsuit to move to discovery. Plaintiffs said that Countryside's directors and officers failed to provide effective oversight of the company's origination, lending, and underwriting practices, which caused the company's stock to plummet. The court granted defendants' motions to dismiss some claims against current director Harley W. Snyder [corporate profile] and former director Michael E. Dougherty. AP has more.

Recently, Countrywide has objected to providing financial information during discovery in a number of bankruptcy actions brought by its borrowers. In April, the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania denied [Memorandum opinion; order] Countrywide’s attempt to block access to its corporate and financial information in bankruptcy proceedings, holding that good cause existed and the information sought was within the aegis of federal bankruptcy rules. In March, the US Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched [JURIST report] criminal investigations to determine whether Countrywide violated securities laws in the private mortgage bond market [BBC backgrounder].






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South Africa court delays Zuma corruption trial
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 16, 2008 3:10 PM ET

[JURIST] A South African court delayed the scheduled August corruption trial of South African politician Jacob Zuma [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] Thursday after his lawyer filed an application to have the case declared unlawful. Zuma's lawyers blasted the prosecution's handling of the case after a judge said that an oversight by the prosecution meant that no trial judge has yet been assigned to the case. AFP has more.

Zuma has been facing corruption allegations [BBC timeline] and other charges for several years; he was first charged with corruption in 2005, but those charges were later dismissed [JURIST report] because prosecutors failed to follow proper procedures. In December 2007, South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority [official website] served an indictment [JURIST report] on Zuma, charging him with corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering related to alleged bribes received from arms manufacturer Thint, a subsidiary of the France-based Thales Group [corporate website]. His trial is scheduled to begin in August. Zuma is the leader of the ruling African National Congress [party website], putting him in position to become the country's next president.






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Arizona appeals court strikes down school voucher program
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 16, 2008 1:15 PM ET

[JURIST] The Arizona Court of Appeals struck down [opinion, PDF] a 2006 state program providing government funds for private and religious schools, ruling Thursday that it violated a ban in the state constitution [text] on granting state benefits to private schools. The court rejected arguments that the vouchers benefited low-income families rather than schools, holding that schools benefited indirectly when they received tuition from parents. School voucher proponents said that they would appeal the ruling. Capitol Media Services has more.

Opponents of school vouchers [NEA advocacy site] argue that these programs do not achieve their stated goal of expanding childrens' educational opportunities, and several states limit their use through constitutional provisions. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court held [JURIST report] that the state's 1999 school voucher law [text] violated the state constitutional requirement of a uniform system of free public schools.






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Ex-US soldier may raise insanity defense in Mahmudiya rape-murder case
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 16, 2008 12:19 PM ET

[JURIST] Former US Army Pfc. Steven D. Green [JURIST news archive] may raise an insanity defense at his scheduled 2009 civilian trial [JURIST report] for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl [JURIST news archive] and the murder of her family in Mahmudiya (also "Mahmoudiya"), according to two motions filed Thursday. Green's lawyers said they may raise the defense both at trial and at sentencing. They have previously argued that he should be tried under the military system because the alleged acts occurred while Green was enlisted. Green was honorably discharged pursuant to a psychiatric disorder diagnosis [JURIST report] made after the Army learned of the Mahmudiya incident. AP has more.

Four soldiers [JURIST report] from the 101st Airborne Division have already been convicted in military court for crimes stemming from the Mahmudiya incident. Spc. James P. Barker and Sgt. Paul E. Cortez [JURIST reports] received prison sentences of 90 and 100 years respectively after they pleaded guilty to participating in the attack. Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, who stayed at the soldiers' checkpoint but had prior knowledge of the plan, was sentenced to 27 months after pleading guilty [JURIST report] in March to conspiracy to commit rape and premeditated murder and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Pfc. Jesse Spielman was sentenced to 110 years in prison after being convicted [JURIST report] on four counts of felony murder, rape, conspiracy to commit rape, and housebreaking with intent to commit rape. All four will be eligible for parole in 10 years.






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Federal appeals court enjoins Forest Service logging plan
David Hanna on May 16, 2008 12:08 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals [official website] has reversed [opinion, PDF] a lower court order denying an injunction against a US Forest Service [official website] plan to allow commercial logging in the Plumas National Forest [USFS materials] in California. The Forest Service had argued that commercial logging would help pay for forest maintenance that would reduce the risk of fires, but the court ruled that the Forest Service had failed to explore other alternatives as required under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 [text]. The court also held that the potential of irreparable harm to wildlife in the forest was sufficient to warrant an injunction. AP has more.

In December 2007, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down [JURIST report] a Bush administration rule aimed at preventing urban forest fires by exempting logging projects under 1,000 acres from environmental review. In March 2007, the US District Court for the Northern District of California blocked the enforcement [JURIST report] of Forest Service regulations governing the management of National Forests. In August 2006, a federal judge ruled [JURIST report] against a Forest Service plan to allow commercial logging inside Central California’s Giant Sequoia National Monument [USFS materials].






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US convicts Afghan drug trafficker under narco-terrorism program
Abigail Salisbury on May 16, 2008 11:04 AM ET

[JURIST] A jury in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] Thursday convicted [DOJ press release] an Afghan national originally held as an enemy combatant on charges of drug distribution and narco-terrorism. Khan Mohammed was charged [grand jury indictment, PDF] in 2006 with distribution of heroin destined for the US, thereby aiding and abetting terrorism. AP has more.

This was one of the first prosecutions of the US anti-narco-terrorism effort [DEA program site], aimed at crippling terrorist organizations by stopping the sale of the drugs said to finance them [DOS testimony]. Last month, Afghan tribal chief Haji Bashir Noorzai [IHT profile] was indicted [PDF text; JURIST report] for violation of US drug laws after DEA officials lured him into the country [JURIST report]; he is scheduled to face trial on May 18 in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.






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US Marine to face court martial for 2004 Fallujah death
Andrew Gilmore on May 16, 2008 11:03 AM ET

[JURIST] US Marine Sgt. Jermaine Nelson will face a court martial later this year for murder, according to an order given by Marine Lt. Gen. Samuel T. Hellman [official profile]. The murder charge, announced Wednesday, stems from an incident during the Multinational National Force-Iraq's November 2004 offensive in Fallujah [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] in which unarmed Iraqi prisoners were allegedly killed. Following the order, Nelson was given limited immunity [Newsmax report] in return for testifying against his squad leader, former Marine Sgt. Jose Nazario. In April, a federal court ruled that Nazario could stand trial [JURIST report] in a California federal court on two counts of involuntary manslaughter. AP has more.

In July 2007, the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) [official website] announced investigations of at least 10 Marines [JURIST report] in connection with the Fallujah offensive [JURIST news archive] after former Marine Corporal Ryan Weemer admitted during a polygraphed job interview with the US Secret Service that he had witnessed indiscriminate killings in Fallujah. Military journalist Nathaniel Helms later corroborated that account, reporting that he witnessed Marines execute subdued Iraqi prisoners, whose bodies were later buried under rubble from an air strike. Weemer was charged last month with murder and dereliction of duty in March, while Nazario was charged last year with voluntary manslaughter [JURIST reports].






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ICTY transfers Kosovo war criminal to France prison
David Hanna on May 16, 2008 10:20 AM ET

[JURIST] Convicted Kosovo Albanian war criminal Haradin Bala has been transferred [ICTY press release] to a prison in France to serve out the rest of his 13-year sentence [JURIST news report], the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website; JURIST news archive] announced Thursday. In 2005, Bala was found guilty of the torture, cruel treatment, and murder of prisoners held at a camp run by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) [BBC backgrounder] during the KLA's open rebellion against Serbian forces in 1998. Bala's conviction was upheld [JURIST report] on appeal in 2007. The UN News Service has more.

ICTY war crimes suspects are held at the a detention unit [ICTY backgrounder] in The Hague during trial, and after conviction are moved to one of 15 countries that have agreed to take custody of ICTY defendants.






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SEC sues Broadcom officers for backdating stock options
Andrew Gilmore on May 16, 2008 8:53 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website; JURIST news archive] filed a civil complaint [PDF, text; SEC press release] in the US District Court for the Central District of California [court website] Wednesday against California-based microchip maker Broadcom [corporate factsheet] in conjunction with a scandal over the backdating of company stock options. The complaint alleges that from 1998 to 2003, Broadcom's former president and chief executive officer, Dr. Henry T. Nicholas, III, along with chief technical officer Dr. Henry Samueli, former chief executive officer William J. Ruehle, and general counsel David Dull omitted and falsified employee compensation documentation, resulting in incorrect financial statements. Samueli and Dull both took leaves of absence [Broadcom press release] from Broadcom on Wednesday, and Samueli also resigned from the Broadcom Board of Directors. AP has more.

Backdating a stock option grant typically allows the options to be set at a fraudulently-low exercise price. While the practice is not illegal on its own, it usually involves a violation of SEC and other federal reporting requirements [SOX guide]. Broadcom is the latest technology-related firm to come under SEC scrutiny for stock option backdating. In January, the former CEO of Brocade Communication Systems was sentenced to 21 months in prison and fined $15 million for the improper backdating of stock options. In October 2007, Mercury Interactive settled a similar case for a record $117.5 million. In February 2007, the US Department of Justice indicted the former general counsel of McAfee systems for stock option backdating. In January 2007, the US Attorney's office in San Francisco, CA opened a criminal probe into backdating at computer maker Apple Inc [JURIST reports].






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Colombian ex-militia head pleads not guilty to US drug trafficking charges
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 16, 2008 8:34 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Colombian militia leader Salvatore Mancuso pleaded not guilty in a Florida court Thursday to drug trafficking charges after being extradited [JURIST report] to the US Tuesday on suspicion of organizing violent massacres and drug smuggling operations. Mancuso and 13 other men are suspected of being members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia [BBC backgrounder], which is designated as a terrorist group by the US. The guerrilla leaders had surrendered to Colombian authorities under a peace deal in which Colombian President Alvaro Uribe [official profile, in Spanish; BBC profile] suspended warrants for their extradition, but Justice Minister Carlos Holguin [official profile, in Spanish] told local radio that the leaders had broken the deal by continuing to organize gangs or by refusing to cooperate with government officials. AP has more.

In April, a Colombian court temporarily blocked [JURIST report] the extradition of one such leader, Carlos Mario Jimenez-Naranjo, ruling that it would deny the victims of his crime the chance to seek compensation. Despite the ruling, Jimenez-Naranjo was extradited [DOJ release] to the US earlier this month, where he could face up to life in prison if convicted.






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US military detained over 2000 minors as illegal enemy combatants since 2002: report
Andrew Gilmore on May 16, 2008 2:50 AM ET

[JURIST] Approximately 2,500 minors under the age of 18 have been detained as illegal enemy combatants by the US military at facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay since 2002, according to a US government report [text, DOC; ACLU press release] made public Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website]. As of April 2008, the US is reportedly holding 10 juveniles in Afghanistan and 500 juveniles in Iraq. The US had filed the report with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child [committee website] pursuant to the requirements of the Convention on the Rights of the Child [text].

Also Wednesday, the ACLU released a report [PDF text] criticizing the US military for targeting minors under the age of 17 in its recruitment practices despite official stated policy against the practice. The Washington Post has more.






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California high court rules same-sex marriage ban violates state constitution
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 15, 2008 1:09 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of California [official website] Thursday overturned [opinion, PDF] a state ban on same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive], ruling 4-3 in In re Marriage Cases [case materials] that the ban violated protections on the right to "form a family relationship" enshrined in the California Constitution [text]. Rights groups said that the decision could lead to California becoming the second state after Massachusetts [JURIST report] to legalize same-sex marriage, but religious and conservative organizations are currently pushing to include a measure on the November ballot to write a ban on gay marriage into the state constitution.

The lawsuits stemmed from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's 2004 decision to issue marriage licenses to 4,000 same-sex couples [JURIST report]. In 2006, the state attorney general requested [JURIST report] that the Court review an intermediate appellate court's decision to uphold [JURIST report] the same-sex marriage ban. AP has more. The San Francisco Chronicle has local coverage.






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UK ministers, MPs deadlock over proposed 42-day terror detention without charge
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 15, 2008 12:38 PM ET

[JURIST] UK ministers and MPs deadlocked Wednesday over a controversial proposed anti-terror bill [BBC Q/A] that would allow British authorities to detain terror suspects up to 42 days without charge [JURIST news archive]. Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website] has vowed to continue pushing for the bill's passage, despite staunch opposition. Opposition MPs and human rights groups have suggested alternatives to extending the detention limits, but ministers have refused to drop the proposal. Current British law authorizes detention without charge for 28 days [JURIST report], but bill proponents have argued that this time-limit endangers national security. The Counter-Terrorism Bill 2008 [draft text, PDF; bill materials] also includes provisions creating a registry of convicted terrorists and making terrorism an "aggravating factor" in sentencing for non-terrorism offenses. Conservative Party and Liberal Democrat MPs have opposed the legislation, fearing it could infringe on civil liberties.

UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith [official profile] first proposed a 42-day detention period [JURIST report] in December 2007. The proposal followed statements made in June 2007 by then-UK Home Secretary John Reid calling for longer pre-charge time limits, and a proposal [JURIST reports] floated last July that would have allowed the extension of the 28-day limit after a declared state of emergency and permitted judges to authorize weekly extensions for up to 56 days subject to parliamentary notification. The Scotsman has more.






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Nintendo loses $21 million patent infringement suit
David Hanna on May 15, 2008 12:37 PM ET

[JURIST] Entertainment console and video game manufacturer Nintendo of America, Inc. [corporate website] was ordered to pay $21 million Wednesday to Anascape, Ltd., a small Texas video game company after losing a jury verdict in a patent infringement lawsuit concerning hand-held controllers for its Wii and Gamecube video game systems. Anascape filed a complaint [text] against both Nintendo and Microsoft Corporation [corporate website] in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas [court website] in 2006 for infringement on a patent [patent documentation] for a "hand held computer input apparatus and method." Microsoft reached a confidential settlement agreement with Anascape for an undisclosed amount. Nintendo is expected to appeal the verdict. AP has more.

In January, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] concerning whether a patent holder's rights may be exhausted through certain license agreements. In September 2007, the US House of Representatives approved the Patent Reform Act of 2007 [JURIST report], the first overhaul of US patent laws in over 50 years. In early 2006, service for the widely-used Blackberry hand-held devices was nearly stopped before Blackberry maker Research in Motion reached a settlement [JURIST report] agreement in its patent dispute with NTP, Inc.






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Myanmar constitution approved with 93 percent 'yes' vote in referendum: junta
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 15, 2008 12:03 PM ET

[JURIST] Myanmar's draft constitution [JURIST news archive] has been approved with over 90 percent of 22 million eligible voters voting yes in Saturday's nation-wide referendum [JURIST report], the country's military government said Thursday. The regime has faced sharp international criticism [JURIST report] for going ahead with the poll after a devastating cyclone earlier this month left at least 60,000 people dead or missing. Voting in the hardest-hit areas has been delayed until later this month, but state media said that negative votes in those districts would not be enough to defeat the referendum. International rights groups questioned the accuracy of the results, as some local journalists said that they witnessed many irregularities in the voting, with people voting multiple times or not having the privacy of a truly secret ballot. AP has more.

The National League for Democracy and other opposition groups labeled the referendum a "sham" to legalize military rule. The draft constitution reportedly reserves 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military [AP report; JURIST report] and would also block pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] from seeking office. Myanmar [JURIST news archive] has been governed without a constitution since the military regime took power in 1988 and talks on a new national charter [JURIST report] have been underway for 14 years. The last general elections in Myanmar were held in 1990. The NLD, led by Suu Kyi, won that election easily, but the ruling military government did not recognize the result and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest.






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US House committee investigates potential insurance fraud in Iraq
Andrew Gilmore on May 15, 2008 11:54 AM ET

[JURIST] The US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform [committee website] heard testimony [transcripts] on Thursday regarding potential abuse of the Defense Base Act of 1941 (DBA) [text] in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Act requires [PDF, US DOL backgrounder] contractors working on military installations to provide workers' compensation insurance coverage for their employees, the cost of which is reimbursed to the contractors using taxpayer funds. Civilian employees often have difficulty processing their claims [Federal Times report] after returning to the US. In his opening remarks, Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) [official website; JURIST news archive] stated that the "inefficient" DBA system has encouraged excessive profit-taking by insurance companies. Waxman asserted [PDF, opening statement] that "Rube Goldberg could not design a more inefficient way to help employees wounded or injured in Iraq." Additionally, AP reported Wednesday that the US Army Criminal Investigation Command [official website] is investigating [AP report] two Iraqi contractors working on public development projects in Iraq for insurance fraud related to the requirements of the DBA. AP has more.

On Monday, two former US State Department officials condemned the Bush administration's ineffectiveness in combating corruption in Iraq. In December 2007, the FBI launched a criminal probe into the activities of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. In October 2007, the State Department admitted that it could not account for most of the $1.2 billion in Iraqi police training funds. In August 2007, Pentagon investigators looked into allegations of fraud and corruption in military contracting in Iraq [JURIST reports].






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UN expert urges Spain to reform legal standards for treatment of suspected terrorists
Andrew Gilmore on May 15, 2008 10:29 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Martin Scheinin [official website; JURIST news archive] praised anti-terrorism efforts in Spain [JURIST news archive] Wednesday, but urged Spanish officials to reform the country's legal standards for treatment of terror suspects [UN OHCHR press release]. The Special Rapporteur's comments came in response to concerns over allegations of torture and ill-treatment [Amnesty Int'l press releases] of terrorism suspects in Spanish jails. At the conclusion of his visit to Spain, Scheinin called on authorities to be mindful of international frameworks regarding human rights when investigating acts of domestic terrorism such as those perpetrated by the Basque separatist group ETA [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], or incidents of international scope, including the 2004 Madrid train bombings [JURIST news archive].

In February, 20 suspected Islamic terrorists were convicted [JURIST report] of lesser charges in conjunction with a plot to bomb the National Court in Madrid. That same month, Spanish officials confirmed [JURIST report] the arrests of the remaining ETA suspects in the 2006 Madrid airport bombings. In December 2007, 47 Basque separatists were convicted [JURIST report] by a Spanish anti-terrorism court of either leading, being a member of, or collaborating with a terrorist organization. In October 2007, three terror suspects were convicted of murder for their roles in the 2004 Madrid train bombings.






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US solicitor general announces resignation
Abigail Salisbury on May 15, 2008 9:40 AM ET

[JURIST] US Solicitor General Paul Clement [official profile] announced Wednesday that he is resigning from his post, effective June 2. Perhaps best-known for his Supreme Court advocacy [WP report; case resource center] of Bush Administration positions on rights and procedures at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], including such notable cases as Hamdi v. Rumsfeld and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld [Duke Law backgrounders; JURIST news archive]. Clement began working for the Department of Justice in 2001 and was confirmed as solicitor general in 2005. Reuters has more.

Clement's announcement comes following the April resignation [press release, PDF] of US Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, effective May 23. Fisher has served as the head of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) Criminal Division [DOJ division website], which during her time as division head has concentrated primarily on fraud and corruption cases. Fisher attained the post through a recess appointment [JURIST report] by President Bush, because Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) [official website] had blocked the nomination after a government agent mentioned Fisher in an e-mail about alleged abusive Guantanamo interrogations.






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Alleged 9/11 plotters scheduled for June military commission arraignment
Andrew Gilmore on May 15, 2008 9:09 AM ET

[JURIST] US military judge Col. Ralph Kohlmann [JURIST news archive] set June 5 as the tentative date for the military commission's arraignment of the five men charged with plotting the Sept. 11 attacks [JURIST news archive] in an email to military defense attorneys Wednesday. The group, held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], includes the alleged mastermind of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. On Tuesday, the Pentagon approved [JURIST report] death penalty charges against the five defendants. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] expressed its outrage [ACLU press release] over the judge's announcement and also decried the setting of an arraignment date before the defendants were able to consult with their prospective lawyers. On Tuesday, the ACLU accused the US Department of Defense of stalling [JURIST report] the process of granting security clearances to civilian lawyers seeking to participate in the defense of Mohammed and other Guantanamo detainees. Reuters has more. The Miami Herald has additional coverage.

In April, Mohammed's military defense lawyer, US Navy Capt. Prescott Prince, expressed his concern [JURIST report] about the fairness of Mohammed's trial in an interview with CNN. The chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo Bay military commissions, US Army Col. Lawrence Morris, said that the trials of Mohammed and the other Sept. 11 suspects would be broadcast [JURIST report] live on closed-circuit television to several military bases so that the victims' families could watch. The men face death penalty charges, but US Attorney General Michael Mukasey [JURIST news archive] said in March that executing the Sept. 11 suspects would make them martyrs [JURIST report].






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Legal advisor staying after Guantanamo trial disqualification
Abigail Salisbury on May 15, 2008 8:15 AM ET

[JURIST] US Air Force Reserve Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann [official profile], a top Pentagon legal advisor on the Guantanamo military commission trials, said Wednesday that he will not resign [AP report] despite questions concerning his objectivity. Hartmann serves as legal advisor to Susan J. Crawford, the Convening Authority [backgrounder] for the military commissions, but last week was disqualified from participating [JURIST report] in the trial of detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] amidst concerns he was too closely associated with the prosecution.

Earlier this year former Guantanamo prosecutor Air Force Col. Morris D. Davis [official profile, PDF] said Hartmann had questioned the need for open trials [JURIST report] at Guantanamo and was upset with the slow pace of the proceedings begun by Davis. Last month, Davis testified at Hamdan's pre-trial hearing that Hartmann had pressured him to move forward with military commissions quickly out of political considerations [JURIST report].






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Texas appeals court overturns jury award against Merck in Vioxx case
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 14, 2008 5:03 PM ET

[JURIST] A Texas appeals court Wednesday overturned [opinion text] a jury verdict [JURIST report] that found pharmaceutical giant Merck [corporate website] liable for the death of a 71-year-old man who died from a heart attack within a month of taking Merck's painkiller Vioxx [Merck Vioxx Information Center website; JURIST news archive]. The jury had ordered Merck to pay $32 million in damages to the family of Leonel Garza - $7 million in non-economic compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages - but a state cap later reduced that amount to $7.75 million. The Texas Fourth Court of Appeals [official website] found that Garza's family had failed to show that Garza's heart problems were tied to his use of Vioxx.

Merck has been involved in a stream of Vioxx-related litigation during the last few years, including state and federal lawsuits in Louisiana, New Jersey, and California [JURIST reports]. In September 2007, the New Jersey Supreme Court dismissed [JURIST report] a class action lawsuit filed against Merck, reversing a lower court's decision to grant nationwide class certification in the case. In November 2007, Merck said that it had agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle all pending lawsuits [press release; JURIST report] regarding its marketing and distribution of Vioxx. AP has more.






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Poland court wants more evidence in indictment against ex-communist leaders
Andrew Gilmore on May 14, 2008 4:20 PM ET

[JURIST] A Polish judge ruled on Wednesday that prosecutors must amend their indictment against former communist leader General Wojciech Jaruzelski [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and other former communist officials to present a greater range of evidence against the defendants. Jaruzelski was charged [JURIST report] in March 2006 with "organizing crimes of a military nature" and "carrying out crimes that consisted of the deprivation of freedom through internment" for his imposition of martial law [Polish government backgrounder] in Poland on December 13, 1981. The charges, which prosecutors had been preparing [JURIST report] since late 2005, were brought by the Institute of National Remembrance [official website], a government body responsible for looking into Nazi-era and Communist-era crimes. Among the court's recommendations for improving the evidence in the indictment was the suggestion that prosecutors interview some of Jaruzelski's political contemporaries such as former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev [CNN profile], former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher [BBC profile], and former US Secretary of State Alexander Haig to ascertain the international impact of Jaruzelski's actions. AP has more.

Jaruzelski was previously tried in 2001 for ordering troops to fire on striking ship workers [BBC report] in the 1970s, but the trial ended without a verdict. About 100 people are said to have died as a result of the declaration of martial law and subsequent arrests of Solidarity movement [official website] leaders, including Lech Walesa [BBC profile], and approximately 10,000 people were held in internment camps during martial law. Jaruzelski has argued that his decision to impose martial law was necessary to maintain order and prevent foreign intervention in Poland.






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Denmark government to propose headscarf ban for judges
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 14, 2008 4:16 PM ET

[JURIST] The Danish government said Wednesday that it would propose new legislation to ban sitting judges from wearing religious dress [JURIST news archive], including Islamic headscarves, in court. Also Wednesday, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen [official website] criticized Immigration Minister Birthe Roenn Hornbech for writing a newspaper editorial [text, in Danish] published Tuesday opposing the proposal; Rasmussen said that she should have cleared the editorial through him before publication. AP has more.

Religious headscarves have become a controversial topic in several Western countries recently, as lawmakers struggle to balance an individual's right to practice their religion with public policy and security concerns. On Monday, a US federal judge dismissed a federal lawsuit [JURIST reports] filed by a Muslim woman against a judge who asked her to remove her niqab in court. In September 2007, Canadian chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand resisted calls by Canadian lawmakers [JURIST report] to invoke his discretionary powers to require women to remove traditional Muslim niqabs or burqas when voting in elections in the province of Quebec. In the UK, the High Court in February 2007 upheld [JURIST report] a school ban on students wearing niqabs in class, saying the veils could interfere with student-teacher interaction.






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UK announces public inquiry into 2003 death of Iraqi detainee
Andrew Gilmore on May 14, 2008 3:32 PM ET

[JURIST] The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) [official website] announced Wednesday that it will conduct a public inquiry [MOD press release] into the death of Baha Mousa [BBC report; JURIST news archive], an Iraqi hotel receptionist who died in British military custody in 2003. Mousa's death allegedly occurred as the result of abuse at the hands of British troops who had arrested him and nine other Iraqis in a Basra hotel where weapons and suspected bomb-making materials were found. The nine other Iraqis alleged that they were tortured by British soldiers, and filed suit against the MOD seeking damages. Seven soldiers faced court-martial [BBC timeline] in connection with Mousa's death, but only Corporal David Payne received a jail sentence after pleading guilty [JURIST reports] to a charge of inhumane treatment. All other charges were dismissed [JURIST report]. AP has more.

In March, UK Secretary of State for Defence Des Browne admitted that British soldiers had violated the rights of detainees [JURIST report] in Basra in 2003, and that the MOD would specifically admit to substantive breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights [PDF, text]. In October 2007, the UK High Court heard arguments [JURIST report] in the case brought by the nine Basra detainees against the MOD. In August 2007, lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case accused the MOD of withholding evidence [JURIST report].






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Indiana appeals court partially overturns sex offender residence law
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 14, 2008 1:43 PM ET

[JURIST] The Indiana Court of Appeals [official website] Tuesday ruled [opinion, PDF] that a 2006 state law [Indiana Code 35-42-4-11 text] barring convicted sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, public park or youth center is unconstitutional as applied to offenders who purchased their homes before the law went into effect. The ruling upholds a lower court decision finding that the law constituted ex post facto punishment since it was not illegal for the registered offenders to buy their houses at the time of purchase. AP has more.

Courts in other states have also overturned or restricted laws seeking to limit residences available to registered sex offenders. Last November, the Supreme Court of Georgia [official website] unanimously overturned [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] a state law that prohibited registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds and other areas where children gather. Civil rights groups had criticized the law [legislative materials] as overly strict, saying that the state's roughly 11,000 registered sex offenders would have been barred from living in almost any residential area. In February 2007 a federal judge ruled that California's Proposition 83 [text, PDF; JURIST news archive], which prohibited California sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any place where children regularly gather, could not be applied retroactively [JURIST report] to more than 90,000 paroled sex offenders because there was nothing in the measure that indicated that intent.






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Russian gallery director charged for show of banned art
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 14, 2008 1:00 PM ET

[JURIST] The curator of a Russian art gallery has been charged with "inciting hatred" [JURIST report] for hosting an exhibit of art banned from other galleries, including pieces that mocked the Russian Orthodox Church [official website] and the nation's military, the Independent reported Wednesday. Yury Samodurov, director of the Sakharov Museum [museum backgrounder] in Moscow, named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, said that the charges were part of a long-running case brought against him by religious and conservative groups. He could face five years in prison if convicted.

Critics say the charges are the latest example of the increasing pressure against Russian artists and writers dealing with provocative topics. The Independent has more.






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US peace groups file constitutional challenge to Iraq war
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 14, 2008 12:41 PM ET

[JURIST] A coalition of anti-war activists represented by the Constitutional Law Clinic at Rutgers University Law School-Newark [academic website] Tuesday filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release, PDF] in US District Court for New Jersey seeking a declaratory judgment that the war in Iraq violates the US constitution. The groups argue that under the US Constitution only Congress has the authority to declare war, and ask the court to declare the Iraq war illegal because action was initiated without Congressional approval. The New Jersey Law Journal has more.

In the UK, other activists have also attempted to directly or indirectly challenge the legality of the war. Last month the judicial members of the House of Lords, Britain's highest court, denied a request by two mothers of soldiers killed in Iraq for a public inquiry into the legality of UK's decision to go to war in Iraq.






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DOD stalling on security clearances for civilian Guantanamo lawyers: ACLU
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 14, 2008 12:05 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Defense has still not issued security clearances [ACLU press release] to civilian lawyers seeking to participate in the defense of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and other detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] said Tuesday. ACLU Anthony Romero said that not one of eight lawyers who had recently applied for clearance had received it and that the delay may be a DOD tactic to deny the detainees fair trials, but a Pentagon spokesperson said that the department was working toward clearing the lawyers. The ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers announced in April that would team up to provide experienced defense attorneys [JURIST report] for the alleged 9/11 conspirators. The Miami Herald has more.

Death penalty charges [JURIST report] against Mohammed and four other detainees allegedly involved in planning the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States were confirmed by the Convening Authority [DOD press release; JURIST report] for the US military commissions and sent to defense lawyers late Monday. Charges against a sixth man, Mohammed al-Qahtani, were dropped.






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US immigration agents face problems transiting drugged deportees overseas
Andrew Gilmore on May 14, 2008 12:03 PM ET

[JURIST] US immigration agents transiting involuntarily sedated immigration deportees through foreign countries have been challenged by local authorities, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. The paper said French and Belgian law enforcement officials had raised objections to the sedation of individuals by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website] agents at stopovers during two recent deportation flights from the US to Guinea. In one case, Belgian authorities informed US immigration guards accompanying the deportee that the medication of a person against his will was illegal in Belgium, but allowed the deportation to proceed. In a second incident, French officials informed US immigration guards that involuntary injections were illegal in France, and refused to allow the detainee to be sedated during a stopover. The detainee forcefully refused to board the flight from France to Guinea after the sedatives wore off, the captain of the plane refused to allow the detainee to board, and the deportee was returned to the US. Reuters has more.

The report highlights the tension between US deportation practices and international laws [PDF text] regarding involuntary medication and sedation, an issue of increasing importance in recent months. In February, ICE reached a settlement [JURIST report] in a federal class action suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California(ACLU/SC) [advocacy website] on behalf of two immigrants who were forcibly sedated [JURIST report] during deportation flights. In January, the agency released a memo requiring its officers to obtain a judge's approval [JURIST report] before a deportee can be sedated in order to facilitate his or her removal from the US.






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Italy court rules Berlusconi can be called to testify in CIA rendition case
Andrew Gilmore on May 14, 2008 10:44 AM ET

[JURIST] Italian Judge Oscar Magi ruled on Wednesday that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] can be called to testify in the trial of 26 Americans [JURIST news archive] and several former Italian intelligence officials for the 2003 abduction and rendition [JURIST news archive] of Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr [JURIST news archive]. Defense lawyers for former Italian Intelligence and Security Service (SISMI) [official website] chief Nicolo Pollari, one of the Italian intelligence officers on trial, requested testimony [JURIST report] from Berlusconi and former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi [BBC profile]. Pollari's lawyers hope to prove he was not involved in the kidnapping and rendition by having Berlusconi, Prodi, and other officials testify regarding classified government documents constituting state secrets. AP has more.

Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was seized on the streets of Milan by CIA agents with the help of Italian operatives. He was then allegedly transferred to Egypt and turned over to Egypt's State Security Intelligence, where he said he was tortured before being released [JURIST reports] in February 2007. The Italian cabinet relieved Pollari of his duties [JURIST report] as SISMI head in November 2006. Pollari has denied allegations [JURIST report] that he assisted the CIA with the operation. The 26 Americans, most of whom are CIA agents, are being tried in absentia. The US is not expected to hand them over to Italian authorities; despite prosecutorial pressure, the Italian government has refused to requested their extradition. Reuters has more.






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Ecuador election court clears former president to run for office
David Hanna on May 14, 2008 10:23 AM ET

[JURIST] Ecuador's election court [official website, in Spanish] announced Wednesday that a two-year suspension from politics for former Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutierrez, [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] had formally come to an end Sunday, leaving him free to run for office again. Gutierrez was suspended from politics and barred from running in the country's 2006 elections because he declined to report campaign donations in his successful run for presidency in 2002. Gutierrez insisted Tuesday that his suspension had been unwarranted and that he was considering running for another term. AP has more.

After Gutierrez dissolved Ecuador's Supreme Court in 2005, the legislature removed [JURIST reports] him as president and replaced him with Vice-President Alfredo Palacio [official profile, in Spanish]. After seeking political asylum in Brazil and Colombia, Gutierrez returned to Ecuador, where he was initially arrested as posing a threat to national security.






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Australia weighing ICJ genocide incitement lawsuit against Iran president
Andrew Gilmore on May 14, 2008 10:05 AM ET

[JURIST] Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd [official profile] told Australian news service Sky News Wednesday that his government is considering bringing a lawsuit against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [official profile; BBC profile] in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [court website; JURIST news archive] for alleged incitement of genocide. Rudd characterized [ABC Australia report] some of Ahmadinejad's comments in recent years regarding Israel and Zionism and denying the Jewish Holocaust as "anti-Semitic" and encouraging international violence. Australian Attorney-General Robert McClelland confirmed [Australian report] Rudd's comments. Australian press reports last October claimed that Rudd had promised the country's Jewish community in the lead-up to elections that brought him to power in December that he would take Ahmadinejad before the ICJ. Opposition Liberal Party spokesmen say, however, that the legal case against Ahmadinejad is weak, citing an assessment by the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court [official website]. AFP has more.

In December 2006, then-US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton called for international criminal charges [JURIST report] against Ahmadinejad for the same reasons. Bolton, who was joined by former Israeli UN Ambassador Dore Gold [JCPA profile] and former Canadian Justice Minister and Attorney General Irwin Cotler [official profile], said that Ahmadinejad's remarks violated the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide [text], which prohibits "direct and public incitement to commit genocide". In May 2006, the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs reported that it was preparing a document [JURIST report] recommending a lawsuit against Ahmadinejad for his remarks. Israeli lawyer Eran Shahar, representing the civil rights group Civil Coalition, filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] against Ahmadinejad in Germany in February 2006 on charges of incitement and denying the existence of the Holocaust.






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Malaysia court rules ethnic Indian protesters legally detained
Andrew Gilmore on May 14, 2008 9:07 AM ET

[JURIST] The Federal Court of Malaysia [official website] Wednesday rejected an appeal by five ethnic Indian protesters being detained by Malaysian authorities under a controversial security law. The five detainees, prominent members of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) [advocacy website; JURIST news archive], had appealed a judgment [JURIST report] by a lower court which found that their detention was legal under Malaysian law. The Federal Court heard arguments [JURIST report] from defense counsel for the detainees in April that the five were being "deprived of their personal liberty." In response, Malaysian Attorney General Adbul Gani Patail [official profile] defended the arrests [JURIST report] before the Federal Court, saying that the action was proper because the five are a threat to national security, and that the action was taken after a complete investigation. The group is being held under the Internal Security Act (ISA) [HRW backgrounder], a preventive detention law that allows that allows the Malaysian government to detain suspects for two years without trial and to renew the detention indefinitely. AP has more. Bernama, the Malaysian national news service, has local coverage.

The five activists were arrested [JURIST report] in December 2007 after they were accused of being involved in orchestrating a November 2007 street demonstration [TIME report] in Kuala Lumpur by thousands of the nation's ethnic Indians to protest alleged discrimination by the predominantly Malay Muslim government. The 2007 arrests were the first time since 2001 that Malaysia has invoked the ISA against government critics. Three Hindu activists originally arrested before the protest and charged with sedition were subsequently released [BBC reports]. In December, 26 ethnic Indians were charged with attempted murder [JURIST report] in connection with the Kuala Lumpur protest.






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Former Enron executives scheduled for retrial
Abigail Salisbury on May 13, 2008 8:49 PM ET

[JURIST] US District Court Judge Vanessa Gilmore [official website] ordered retrials for three former Enron Broadband Services [JURIST news archive] executives Monday. Scheduled to begin in November, the new series of trials follows a refusal by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] to dismiss remaining charges against the three after a jury failed to reach a verdict on all counts in their 2005 fraud trial. Defense lawyers say they plan to appeal Gilmore's decision to the US Supreme Court. The Houston Chronicle has local coverage.

Former VP Scott Yeager, former senior VP Rex Shelby, and former CEO Joseph Hirko [Houston Chronicle profiles] were initially indicted [PDF text] by federal prosecutors on 164 criminal counts for allegedly overstating the value of the broadband division's software and network to inflate the value of Enron's stock. They were acquitted [JURIST report] on various charges in 2005, but the jury failed to reach a verdict on all counts, and prosecutors later re-indicted [JURIST report] the defendants. Defense lawyers argued [JURIST report] that there is no basis for the remaining charges or for a retrial, but the Fifth Circuit ruled that a jury could find the men guilty of other charges despite their acquittals.






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ICTY transfers Bosnian Croat war criminal to Italy prison
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 13, 2008 3:46 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website; JURIST news archive] said Tuesday that it has transferred [press release] a former Bosnian Croat military commander who was convicted of war crimes related to the forced relocation and detention of Muslims during the 1991-95 Balkan Wars to an Italian prison to serve out his sentence. In 2003, the ICTY convicted Vinko Martinovic [case materials, PDF] of persecution, murder and plunder, among other charges, and sentenced him to 18 years in prison. The UN News Service has more.

ICTY suspects are held at a detention unit [ICTY backgrounder] in The Hague during trial, and after conviction are moved to one of 15 countries that have agreed to take custody of ICTY defendants. In January this year, Vidoje Blagojevic [ICTY case backgrounder, PDF], former commander of the Bratunac Brigade of the Bosnian Serb Army, was transferred to Norway [press release] to serve the remainder of his 15-year sentence for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre [BBC timeline; JURIST news archive].






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Pakistan court clears Bhutto widower of smuggling charges
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 13, 2008 3:15 PM ET

[JURIST] A Pakistani court Tuesday cleared Pakistan People's Party [party website] leader Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile] of charges that he smuggled antiquities out of the country following the ouster of his now-late wife former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto [BBC obituary] in 1997. AP has more.

In March, a Pakistani court cleared Zardari of charges [JURIST report] related to his alleged involvement in the 1996 assassination of a retired judge and his son due to lack of evidence. Zardari had also been charged in several corruption cases, but courts have dropped the charges [JURIST report] and released Zardari's assets pursuant to a "reconciliation ordinance" [JURIST report] signed last October by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf [official profile; JURIST news archive]. The ordinance granted amnesty to Bhutto and Zardari for corruption charges and cleared the way for Bhutto's return to Pakistan from exile last year.






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Northern Kosovo courts in legal limbo after independence: judges group
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 13, 2008 2:02 PM ET

[JURIST] Courts in Kosovo's northern districts have been left in legal limbo since the Assembly of Kosovo's February unilateral declaration of Kosovo's independence [text; JURIST report] from Serbia, the Steering Council of the Kosovo Judges' Association said Monday. The Council expressed concern that courts in the region were unable to guarantee the protection of peoples' legal rights, a situation that could lead to the violation of Article 6 of the European Convention on Fundamental Rights of and Freedoms [text]. The group urged national and international authorities to ensure that courts could operate normally. BalkanInsight.com has more.

For several days in March, hundreds of Serbs took control of a UN courthouse [JURIST report] in the northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica in protest against Kosovo's declaration of independence. Kosovo Serbs had been holding protests in front of the courthouse since Kosovo declared its independence. Serbs consider the territory of Kosovo to be Serbia's historic and religious heartland [advocacy website] and the Serbian government in Belgrade has insisted that Kosovo's declaration of independence is illegal under international law.






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Federal judge dismisses lawsuit by Muslim woman asked to remove veil in court
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 13, 2008 1:08 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge Monday dismissed a federal lawsuit [JURIST report] filed by a Muslim woman against a judge who asked her to remove her niqab [JURIST news archive] in court. Ginnnah Muhammad had alleged that Illinois small claims Judge Paul Paruk [31st District Court website] said he had to see her face to gauge her veracity and threatened to dismiss her case if she refused to remove her veil. Muhammad argued that the request violated her First Amendment [text] right to practice her religion as well as the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 [text] by denying her access to the courts because of her religion. AP has more.

The niqab has become a controversial topic in several Western countries recently, as lawmakers struggle to balance an individual's right to practice their religion with public policy and security concerns. In September 2007, Canadian chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand resisted calls by Canadian lawmakers [JURIST report] to invoke his discretionary powers to require women to remove traditional Muslim niqabs or burqas when voting in elections in the province of Quebec. In the UK, the High Court in February 2007 upheld [JURIST report] a school ban on students wearing niqabs in class, saying the veils could interfere with student-teacher interaction.






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Ex-officials condemn ineffectiveness of US anti-corruption effort in Iraq
Andrew Gilmore on May 13, 2008 1:00 PM ET

[JURIST] Two former State Department [official website] officials lambasted the Bush administration for ineffectiveness in combating corruption in Iraq in a hearing Monday before the US Senate Democratic Policy Committee [official website]. Retired Associate Superior Court Judge Arthur Brennan, who was briefly Director of the Office of Accountability and Transparency (OAT) at the US Embassy in Baghdad, [official website] testified [text, PDF] that "the Department of State’s actual policies [in Iraq] not only contradicted the anti-corruption mission but indirectly contributed to and has allowed corruption to fester at the highest levels of the Iraqi Government"; in the process, Brennan said the US had left at risk Iraqi judges who had taken serious steps to stop the scourge of corruption in their country. Former OAT Chief of Staff James Mattil testified [text, PDF] that the US government had not provided more resources and political support to fight corruption in Iraq because of either "gross incompetence, willful negligence or political intent on the part of the Bush administration and more specifically the Department of State." AP has more.

Corruption in Iraq has been a longstanding problem. Last October, the former head of Iraq's Commission for Public Integrity (CPI) [US State Department backgrounder] accused [JURIST report] the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki [BBC profile] of protecting corrupt employees and of actively attempting to eradicate or control the Commission. US Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) later denounced [JURIST report] al-Malaki for allegedly shielding officials from corruption probes. In January 2008, the chief prosecutor in the trial of Saddam Hussein asserted [JURIST report] that his demotion and transfer to the north of the country was retribution for criticizing financial and ethical corruption within the Iraqi High Tribunal.






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Omagh bombing civil trial moves to Ireland for testimony
Andrew Gilmore on May 13, 2008 12:26 PM ET

[JURIST] A British civil lawsuit [BBC report] against members of the Real IRA alleged to have been involved with the 1998 Omagh bombing [JURIST news archive] in Northern Ireland opened in a Dublin court Monday. The trial, which began [JURIST report] in the Belfast High Court in April, was moved to Dublin so that the High Court could hear evidence from law enforcement officials [Garde website] from the Republic of Ireland concerning the bombing. The court proceedings were interrupted almost immediately on Monday by disagreements over whether defense counsel would be prevented from raising objections to the questioning of the Irish law enforcement officials until the trial returned to Belfast. The Irish judge overseeing the gathering of evidence in Dublin, District Court Judge Conal Gibbons, referred the matter to the British judge presiding over the trial in Belfast, Justice Declan Morgan [Queens University profile]. Morgan will hear defense counsel's objections to the questioning and testimony on Tuesday, briefly turning the Irish courtroom into a British court. AP has more. The Irish Times has local coverage.

In December 2007, a Belfast judge found alleged Real IRA member Sean Gerard Hoey not guilty of murder [JURIST report] in relation to the bombing, ruling that there was insufficient DNA evidence linking Hoey to the bomb to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he made the device. The only conviction in connection with the Omagh bombing was in 2002 against Colm Murphy, which was later quashed for mishandling of evidence [JURIST report]. Murphy's retrial is pending. In 2005, the Irish Public Prosecution Service dropped charges [JURIST report] against another suspect, Anthony Joseph Donegan. The Real IRA is a splinter group of the Provisional Irish Republican Army [MI5 profile] opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process.






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Schwarzenegger nixes California mass prisoner release: report
Devin Montgomery on May 13, 2008 12:25 PM ET

[JURIST] California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger [official website] has abandoned a 2007 plan to release approximately 22,000 "lower risk" prisoners who have less than 20 months of their sentences remaining, according to a Tuesday report in the Sacramento Bee. The proposal was intended to cut a multi-billion dollar deficit and alleviate severe prison overcrowding [JURIST reports] in California's prison system [JURIST news archive], which has a population of over 170,000 despite being designed to hold only 100,000. The Bee cited administration officials as saying that the plan was dropped because more prisoners than expected are already leaving the system.

In May 2007, Schwarzenegger signed off on a $7.7 billion program to construct facilities [JURIST report] to provide 53,000 new prison and jail beds over the next five years. In July 2007, two federal district judges separately ordered the formation of a special three-judge panel [JURIST report] to supervise and reduce California's prison population after finding that overcrowding is preventing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation [official website] from adequately providing mental health care.






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Vietnam journalists arrested after reporting on corruption scandal
Andrew Gilmore on May 13, 2008 11:46 AM ET

[JURIST] Two Vietnamese journalists, Nguyen Van Hai of Tuoi Tre news agency [media website, in Vietnamese] and Nguyen Viet Chien of Thanh Nien news agency [media website], were arrested Monday by Vietnamese authorities and charged with abuse of power in connection with their uncovering of the so-called PMU 18 corruption scandal [JURIST report; Tuoi Tre news archive, in Vietnamese]. Project Management Unit 18 is a Vietnamese agency responsible for the construction of roads and bridges and is a recipient of aid from the World Bank and other countries. Vietnamese authorities also searched the homes of the two journalists, as well as the offices of Tuoi Tre and Thanh Nien. Citing "informal sources," Thanh Nien reported that the two would be held in custody for at least four months. Reuters has more.

Nguyen Van Hai and Nguyen Viet Chien reported on illegal gambling and corruption [JURIST news archive] within Project Management Unit (PMU) 18, and their work triggered an investigation that led to the Hanoi People's Court's August 2007 convictions [JURIST report] of former Vietnamese government officials. The World Bank said in May 2007 that it found no evidence of fraud or corruption [press release] after conducting an independent review of PMU 18, although it noted shortcomings in transparency and accounting structures.






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Colombia extradites ex-paramilitary leaders to face US drug charges
Devin Montgomery on May 13, 2008 11:21 AM ET

[JURIST] Colombia [JURIST news archive] Tuesday extradited 14 former militia leaders suspected of organizing violent massacres and drug smuggling operations to the United States to face drug trafficking charges. The guerrilla leaders had surrendered to Colombian authorities under a peace deal in which Colombian President Alvaro Uribe [official profile, in Spanish; BBC profile] suspended warrants for their extradition, but Justice Minister Carlos Holguin [official profile, in Spanish] told local radio that the leaders had broken the deal by continuing to organize gangs or by refusing to cooperate with government officials. There is speculation that Uribe, a US ally, had been facing increasing pressure to deal harshly with the militia leaders after some of his political associates had been linked to the groups. Reuters has more.

In April, a Colombian court temporarily blocked [JURIST report] the extradition of one such leader, Carlos Mario Jimenez-Naranjo, ruling that it would deny the victims of his crime the chance to seek compensation. Despite the ruling, Jimenez-Naranjo was extradited [DOJ release] to the US earlier this month, where he could face up to life in prison if convicted.






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Russia Constitutional Court begins work in St. Petersburg
Andrew Gilmore on May 13, 2008 11:01 AM ET

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation [official website, in Russian; RIN backgrounder] began work at its new location in St. Petersburg Monday. The move from the Court's former home in Moscow began in February and is expected to be completed by May 21, with the Court's first session in its new home to take place the following day. RIA Novosti has more.

The legislation authorizing the move was signed into law [JURIST report] by then-Russian President Vladimir Putin in February 2007. The law allows the Court to hold visiting sessions anywhere in the Russian Federation and authorizes the Court to maintain a Moscow office "to ensure cooperation with federal authorities," a provision seen as allowing many judges who were against relocation [Kommersant backgrounder] to continue working from a Moscow base.






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Japan House of Representatives approves bill militarizing space program
Andrew Gilmore on May 13, 2008 10:10 AM ET

[JURIST] The Japanese House of Representatives [official website, in Japanese], approved a bill Tuesday that would allow the country's space program to be used for defense purposes, including the development of spy satellites. A lower house committee approved the bill [JURIST report] late last week. The new bill is expected to be approved by the House of Councillors [official website, in Japanese], the upper house of the Japanese legislature. If passed into law, the bill would overturn a 1969 parliamentary resolution limiting the country's use of space to non-military activities by placing responsibility for space programs with all members of the Japanese Cabinet [official website], including the new Ministry of Defense [official website]. Formerly the Japan Defense Agency, the Ministry of Defense was raised to the Cabinet by parliament [JURIST report] in December 2006. Proponents of the new legislation say the previous law curtailed the technological advancement of Japanese aerospace companies. AP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.

While Japanese lawmakers still oppose the use of actual weapons in space, a stance consistent with Japan's post-WWII pacifist constitution [JURIST news archive], the new space legislation has been characterized as a response to a Chinese weapons test in January [BBC report] in which the Chinese military reportedly used a ground-based medium-range ballistic missile to destroy a weather satellite. Many countries have criticized China's missile test, saying that it could induce future arms movements into space [CNS backgrounder]. In October 2006, US President George W. Bush authorized the first changes to the US space policy in nearly 10 years by asserting authority to deny access to space [JURIST report] to any adversary hostile to US interests. In 2002, China and Russia jointly proposed an explicit ban on weapons in space [PDF text; China Daily report], but the US opposed the measure, arguing that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty [text] already provided enough protection against the practice.






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Japan arrests 5 for fraud in China WWII chemical weapons removal
Devin Montgomery on May 13, 2008 10:04 AM ET

[JURIST] Japanese authorities on Tuesday arrested five officials of Pacific Consultants International [corporate website] and its affiliate, Abandoned Chemical Weapons Disposal Corp. (ACWDC), for allegedly defrauding the Japanese government of $1.1 million in connection with a government program to remove abandoned chemical weapons left in China by Japanese troops at the end of World War II. ACWD has been the government's sole contractor on the project, which has been plagued by delays and has cost the the country over $222 million since it began in 2004. The 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention [text; Japan MOFA backgrounder] gives Japan until 2012 to clean up the abandoned weapons, which have been blamed for over 2,000 Chinese deaths since 1945. AP has more.

The abandoned weapons have long been a point of friction between the two countries, but the Tokyo High Court [official backgrounder] has denied Chinese claimants relief for injuries from the leaks, ruling that earlier removal of the weapons would have been impractical or impossible [JURIST reports].






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Pentagon approves death penalty charges for 5 alleged 9/11 conspirators
Abigail Salisbury on May 13, 2008 8:38 AM ET

[JURIST] Death penalty charges [JURIST report] against Guantanamo detainees Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and four other men allegedly involved in planning the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States have been confirmed by the Convening Authority [DOD press release] for the US military commissions and sent to defense lawyers, the Miami Herald reported Tuesday. Charges against a sixth man, Mohammed al-Qahtani, were dropped. The Herald obtained a copy of the document, which was e-mailed late Monday. The five defendants will be put on trial together at a date yet to be determined. The Miami Herald has more.

The US Department of Defense released censored audio recordings [MP3 file] of Mohammed's testimony [transcript, PDF] to his Combatant Status Review Tribunal [DOD backgrounder] last September. He said he had masterminded the 9/11 attacks [JURIST report] and claimed responsibility for 29 other planned terror attacks. In February 2008, CIA Director Michael Hayden publicly acknowledged [JURIST report] that Mohammed had been subjected to waterboarding [JURIST news archive] during interrogation.






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US military drops charges against so-called '20th hijacker'
Andrew Gilmore on May 13, 2008 8:38 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Defense [official website] has dropped criminal charges against Mohammad al-Qahtani, [JURIST news archive] a Saudi Arabian citizen being held at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. Al-Qahtani was known as the "20th hijacker" for his alleged role in the Sept. 11 attacks [JURIST news archive]. According to US Army Lt. Col. Bryan Broyles, his military lawyer, the charges were dismissed without prejudice on Friday by the convening authority for military commissions, Susan Crawford [official profile, PDF]. Al-Qahtani had been one of six men initially charged [JURIST report] with murder and other crimes for their alleged roles in the Sept. 11 attacks. The charges against the five other defendants are proceeding in al-Qahtani's absence. AP has more.

Al-Qahtani was refused entry into the US at Orlando, Florida in August 2001 and was later captured in Afghanistan. Since his capture, he has been held at Guantanamo Bay, where Pentagon officials say he admitted to being sent to the US to participate in the attacks. In documents the Associated Press obtained in September 2007 through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [PDF, text], he denied his involvement in and knowledge of the attacks [JURIST report]. Al-Qahtani also alleged that his statements were coerced by US torture [JURIST report]. A military investigation in 2005 concluded that al-Qahtani had been subjected to harsh treatment, authorized [JURIST report] by former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld [official profile] because he would not crack under interrogation. The investigation revealed that al-Qahtani was forced to wear women's underwear [MSNBC report], was kept in solitary confinement for 160 days and was interrogated for 18-20 hours per day on 48 of 54 days. Lead investigator Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt concluded, however, that he was not tortured since he was not denied food, water or medical care, and interrogators did not inflict physical pain on him.






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Israel police raid Olmert offices in corruption investigation
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 12, 2008 4:51 PM ET

[JURIST] Israeli police Monday raided the offices of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert [official website] as part of an investigation into allegations that Olmert accepted bribes from an American businessman during his tenures as mayor of Jerusalem and as Israeli Minister of Industry Trade and Labor. The businessman, Morris Talansky, was questioned Monday, but denied wrongdoing [Haaretz report] during an interview on Israeli television. Olmert has also denied the accusations, but has said that he will resign if indicted. CNN has more.

This is not the first time Olmert has been investigated for questionable deals. In April 2007, Olmert was investigated for improperly favoring his supporters [JURIST report] in distributing business grants when he was trade minister in 2001. Olmert has also endured accusations that he promoted the interests of two business associates during the 2005 state sale of Bank Leumi [corporate website]. In January 2007, the Israeli Ministry of Justice announced plans to launch an investigation [JURIST report] into allegations surrounding Olmert's involvement with the sale of Bank Leumi. Throughout the scandals, Olmert has maintained that he has done nothing wrong.






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Supreme Court takes death row habeas claim
Abigail Salisbury on May 12, 2008 2:39 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] granted limited certiorari Monday in Bell v. Kelly (07-1223) [docket; cert. petition, PDF], where it will consider whether the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals erred when, in conflict with decisions of the Ninth and Tenth Circuits, it applied the deferential standard of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), reserved for claims "adjudicated on the merits" in state court, to evaluate a claim predicated on evidence of prejudice the state court refused to consider and that was properly received for the first time in a federal evidentiary hearing.

Edward Bell was convicted of the 1999 murder of a local Virginia police officer and was sentenced to death. Following a number of failed appeals, Bell sought a federal writ of habeas corpus, which was dismissed by the district court. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed [PDF text] the decision, and Bell then sought certiorari. Bell contends that his counsel was ineffective during sentencing, an argument he was not able to fully develop because of the fact-finding rules imposed in the lower courts. His execution was delayed until the Supreme Court held [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report] in Baze v. Rees in April that the lethal injection method is constitutional. AP has more.






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Iraq lawmakers pass amendment tightening amnesty law
Joshua Pantesco on May 12, 2008 1:21 PM ET

[JURIST] The Iraqi Council of Ministers has amended the General Amnesty Law [text in English] to exclude prisoners who have committed certain types of serious crimes, an Iraqi government official said Sunday. The legislature passed the amnesty law [JURIST report] in February as part of the Maliki government's reconciliation effort. The bill was aimed at reducing the prison population by 5,000. Most of the detainees who have been released to date were low-ranking army officers or minor members of Saddam Hussein's defunct Baath Party [BBC backgrounder].

The amendment reportedly denies the possibility of amnesty to inmates charged with serious crimes, including committing terrorist activities against the state and membership in a terrorist organization. The pre-amendment amnesty law authorized the release of any prisoner who has not appeared before a judge within six years of the date of detention. VOI has more.






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Australia military probe clears soldiers of Afghan 'mistreatment'
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 12, 2008 12:45 PM ET

[JURIST] An internal military probe Monday cleared members of the Australian Defence Force [official website] of allegations that they mistreated four Taliban members detained following the death of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan last November. The investigation [JURIST report] also cleared soldiers of any wrongdoing in connection with civilian deaths during the November battle, but said that such deaths were "highly regrettable."

Australia currently has slightly over 1000 troops committed to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force [official website] under its Operation Slipper [official backgrounder]. Earlier this week the Melbourne Age reported other complaints by one-time Australian and Dutch detainees that they were beaten after being handed over to local Afghan security forces. In a May 2 statement, Stephen Smith, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, denounced torture and announced steps Australia is taking to accede to the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture [text], previously rejected by the government of Prime Minister John Howard. AFP has more.






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Supreme Court affirms ruling allowing anti-apartheid claims to proceed after recusals
Abigail Salisbury on May 12, 2008 12:21 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] Monday affirmed [PDF text] a judgment by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on an anti-apartheid claims lawsuit on the rare grounds that it lacked a quorum due to four recusals. Am. Isuzu Motors, Inc., et al. v. Ntsebeza, Lungisile, et al involved a huge class of plaintiffs suing several dozen companies which did business in South Africa during apartheid, [JURIST news archive], seeking to hold them liable for alleged complicity in perpetuating the oppression of the black majority in that country. The Second Circuit held [PDF, text] that Torture Victims Protection Act [text] claims would be dismissed but Alien Tort Claims Act [text] actions could go forward to trial [JURIST report].

Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito and Breyer recused themselves because of stock holdings in several of the companies, and press reports speculated that Justice Kennedy's conflict stems from his son's position at one of the defendant companies. Lacking a quorum, the remaining justices were required by statute [text] to affirm the lower court ruling. Individual judicial recusals due to investment conflicts are to be expected [USA Today report], but Monday's ruling may raise concerns over the fairness of such measures.






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Bolivia president signs bill approving recall referendum
Joshua Pantesco on May 12, 2008 12:18 PM ET

[JURIST] Bolivian President Evo Morales [official website; BBC profile] signed a bill Monday authorizing a recall election to be held on August 10, in which Morales and Bolivia's nine governors must win both more votes and a larger share of total votes cast in the 2005 election in order to keep their seats. If Morales or the nine governors fail to beat their 2005 showings, they would be removed from office and the people would elect a replacement or replacements. The Bolivian National Congress [official website, in Spanish] approved the recall election [JURIST report] on Friday.

Morales, who actually proposed the idea of a recall election [JURIST report] last December in response to accusations that his process for rewriting the Bolivian constitution has been illegitimate, says he is not afraid of the popular vote and will persevere in August. Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, ran on a populist platform in 2005 to win a six-year term. He has proposed a new draft constitution that would give the president more power over natural resources, collapse Bolivia's legislature into one body, and allow the president to seek election to two consecutive five-year terms. The Bolivian Constitutional Assembly [official website, in Spanish] narrowly passed the draft constitution [JURIST report] in December 2007, but in March Bolivia's National Electoral Court [official website] blocked the scheduled national referendum on the draft constitution, saying it violated Bolivia's current constitution by falling outside the three-month time period running after the Assembly approved it. AP has more.






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Pakistan coalition government to split over reinstating ousted judges
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 12, 2008 12:07 PM ET

[JURIST] The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website], one of the two main parties in Pakistan's coalition government, is leaving the coalition [press release] after prolonged talks in London failed to produce an agreement on the reinstatement of judges ousted by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf last year, ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and PML-N party leader said Monday. The PML-N had pushed for the judges to be reinstated without condition, but the majority Pakistan People's Party (PPP) has insisted on restrictions on the judges' power. All PMN-L ministers will resign their posts on Tuesday, but Sharif said that the party will continue to support the PPP on an issue-by-issue basis and will not seek to actively undermine the government.

A panel convened last week pursuant to an initial deal struck by the leaders in Dubai completed a draft parliamentary resolution [JURIST report] to restore the judges, but disagreements on implementation among panel members meant that the resolution had to go the top leadership of the PPP and the PML-N for approval before being submitted to the Pakistani parliament. The parties were unable to reach agreement on the resolution in further negotiations in London, and talks ultimately collapsed despite last-minute intervention by a US envoy [JURIST reports]. Sharif had originally promised that the judges would be restored by May 12 [JURIST report], but that deadline passed Monday. BBC News has more. From Pakistan, the News has local coverage.






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Afghan detainees in Kandahar prison end hunger strike over lack of legal process
Joshua Pantesco on May 12, 2008 11:39 AM ET

[JURIST] An estimated 200-300 detainees held by Afghan authorities at the Afghan-controlled men's prison in Kandahar who went on hunger strike [AP report] last week protesting the slow nature of the Afghanistan judicial system ended their action Monday after a visit by Afghan lawmakers who said their cases would be reviewed by new judges. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission [advocacy website] said previously that the prisoners were demanding speedy trials and the advice of counsel at court hearings. It is unclear how many Kandahar detainees, if any, have been tried before a court of law; rights groups have complained that many rulings are made on the basis of allegations by US authorities. AP quoted Afghanistan Justice Minister Sarwar Danesh as saying Sunday that "The prisoners have reason to criticize because the justice system is working a little slowly." He said that the country's top judge met Saturday with the provincial governor over the issue.

Most of the striking detainees are suspected of involvement with the Taliban; some have been held without trial for more than two years. An Afghan lawmaker quoted by AP said that some 47 of the protesting detainees had sewn up their own mouths during the action. The International Committee of the Red Cross visited detainees at the prison on Saturday and Sunday, providing medication [BBC report] to forty inmates. AP has more.






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Malaysia opposition leader calls for charges in judicial fixing scandal
Joshua Pantesco on May 12, 2008 11:38 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim [JURIST news archive] called Monday for the prosecution of public officials involved in a judicial fixing scandal, one week after government officials ended their investigation into a video [YouTube video; JURIST report] allegedly showing prominent lawyer VK Lingam brokering the appointment of the former Chief Justice of Malaysia to the Supreme Court. The person on the other end of the phone was believed to be Malaysian Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim.

The video's release last year prompted 2,000 lawyers and activists to call for an official investigation [JURIST report; press release] in a mass protest. A Royal Commission began its sessions in January, when Lingam told the panel that he was intoxicated [JURIST report] when the video was filmed. Lingam also told the panel that Halim was not on the other end of the line [Bernama report] in the first video. In April, Ibrahim officially returned to Malaysian politics [JURIST report] as the leader of opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat, marking the expiration of his 10-year ban from public office arising from corruption and now-overturned sodomy convictions [JURIST reports]. AP has more.






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Supreme Court rules magistrates may preside over jury selection with counsel OK
Abigail Salisbury on May 12, 2008 10:38 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruled Monday in Gonzalez v. United States [LII case backgrounder] that allowing a magistrate judge to oversee jury selection does not deprive a criminal defendant of the right to a jury trial and complies with the Federal Magistrates Act [text]. The holding affirmed a judgment [PDF text] of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that defendant's counsel may waive the right to have an Article III judge preside over voir dire, and that it was not error to proceed without first getting the defendant's personal consent. Justice Kennedy announced the judgment of the Court; his opinion [text] was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Alito. Justice Scalia filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, and Justice Thomas wrote a dissent [text].

In affirming the Fifth Circuit ruling, Justice Kennedy wrote:

Numerous choices affecting conduct of the trial, including the objections to make, the witnesses to call, and the arguments to advance, depend not only upon what is permissible under the rules of evidence and procedure but also upon tactical considerations of the moment and the larger strategic plan for the trial. These matters can be difficult to explain to a layperson; and to require in all instances that they be approved by the client could risk compromising the efficiencies and fairness that the trial process is designed to promote.
In a separate concurrence, Justice Scalia agreed with the conclusion but not with the reasoning upon which it was based. He wrote:
I would not adopt the tactical-vs.-fundamental approach, which is vague and derives from nothing more substantial than this Court’s say-so.
In his dissent, Justice Thomas advocated overruling the precedents for the decision and wrote:
Where, as here, a mistaken interpretation of a statute leaves the Court with no principled way to answer subsequent questions that arise under the statute, it seems to me that the better course is simply to acknowledge and correct the error.
AP has more.





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Rights group claims Uzbek authorities abusing former protesters
Abigail Salisbury on May 12, 2008 10:04 AM ET

[JURIST] Persons suspected of involvement in the 2005 Andijan uprising [JURIST news archive] that resulted in a massacre of unarmed civilians [JURIST report] are still being mistreated according to a new Human Rights Watch report [PDF text] released Monday. Uzbek President Islam Karimov [official profile; BBC profile] has been criticized for his treatment of anti-government elements since the 2005 crackdown. The physical abuse and social stigma extend to participants' families, as well. AP has more.

In May 2005, thousands of Uzbek demonstrators protesting the trial of 23 businessmen on religious extremism charges stormed an Andijan prison [JURIST report], allowing about 2,000 inmates including the businessmen to escape. In response, government troops killed as many as 500 demonstrators [JURIST report].






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US military orders first court-martial for civilian contractor under amended law
Abigail Salisbury on May 12, 2008 8:06 AM ET

[JURIST] A court-martial was ordered Sunday for Alaa "Alex" Mohammad Ali, a dual Iraqi-Canadian citizen working as a translator in Iraq. Accused of having committed aggravated assault in February in connection with the stabbing death of another contractor, he is the first civilian charged [JURIST report] by the military since a 2006 amendment [S 2766 materials] to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) [text] granted the military jurisdiction over civilians accompanying US troops in a combat zone and the first civilian charged under military law since the Vietnam war. AP has more.

In 2007, Congress enacted the 2008 defense authorization bill [HR 1585 materials] as an additional measure [JURIST report] to bring all civilian contractors [Parameters backgrounder] in Iraq under the military's jurisdiction. Such prosecutions could not succeed previously [USAF guidance document] because of earlier court rulings [Grisham v. Hagan opinion text] that the military did not have jurisdiction over civilian contractors without a declaration of war by Congress.






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Pakistan party talks on restoring judges fail despite US intervention
Bernard Hibbitts on May 11, 2008 7:52 PM ET

[JURIST] Talks between Pakistani party leaders meeting in London to discuss a parliamentary resolution to restore superior court judges ousted by President Pervez Musharraf under his proclamation of emergency last November collapsed Sunday despite last-minute intervention by a US envoy [PTI report]. US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Richard Boucher [official profile] met separately with Pakistan People's Party (PPP) co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League-Nazaz (PML-N) leader and former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif but was unable to bridge the gap between them. Sharif stayed on in London Sunday but is now returning to Pakistan. He had originally announced after talks with the PPP in Dubai last month that the judges would be restored May 12 [JURIST report], but that deadline is now certain to be missed. The two parties continue to disagree on the terms of the reinstatement and what to do with replacement judges sworn in by Musharraf under his Provisional Constitution Order.

JURIST's Pakistan correspondent says that with the failure of the talks Sharif is likely to step out of Pakistan's coalition cabinet. The reaction of Pakistan's lawyers' movement to the missed deadline is expected to be sharp.






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DOJ Blackwater probe focused on guards, not company: AP
Bernard Hibbitts on May 11, 2008 7:15 PM ET

[JURIST] Blackwater Worldwide [corporate website] is not likely to face criminal charges in connection with a September 16 shooting in Baghdad in which 14 Iraqi civilians were killed, AP reported Saturday, citing a half-dozen individuals closely associated with a US Department of Justice probe. The sources told AP that the investigation was concentrating on three or four individual Blackwater guards. No recommendation on charges against them is likely until late this summer. Last month the US State Department renewed its diplomatic security contract with Blackwater. AP has more.

Bringing criminal charges against the Blackwater employees would require surmounting numerous legal hurdles [JURIST report], DOJ officials reportedly told Congress during a private meeting in December. The Blackwater allegations have caused domestic outrage in Iraq and have prompted legal controversy in the US. In November, the New York Times and the Washington Post reported that an FBI investigation into the incident concluded that the shootings were unjustified {JURIST report].






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Stevens suggests Derby horse euthanized more humanely than prisoners
Bernard Hibbitts on May 11, 2008 6:25 PM ET

[JURIST] US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens suggested to a gathering of lawyers and judges Friday in Tennessee that the Kentucky Derby horse Eight Belles [contender website] may have been euthanized more humanely than some prisoners. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported Stevens had been surprised to find out that one of the three drugs authorized for lethal injections of death row convicts was in fact banned on horses. "I had checked the procedure they used to kill the horse,” Stevens said. The Chattanooga Times Free Press has more.

Last month the Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] in Baze v. Rees that Kentucky's lethal injection protocol did not infringe the Eight Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Stevens concurred in the judgment [opinion text]. Suspended lethal injection executions resumed in the US last week in the wake of Baze, with Georgia putting to death William Earl Lynd, who was convicted of the 1988 murder of his girlfriend. The horse Eight Belles was euthanized on the track [Boston Globe report] following the May 4 Kentucky Derby, having broke both of its front ankles.






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Top Pentagon legal adviser disqualified from Guantanamo trial: NYT
Bernard Hibbitts on May 10, 2008 8:28 PM ET

[JURIST] A US military judge has ruled that US Air Force Reserve Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann [Air Force Link profile], a top Pentagon legal adviser on the Guantanamo military commission trials, is ineligible to participate in the first military commission trial of a detainee because he is too closely associated with the prosecution, the New York Times reported Saturday. The Times said it had a copy of the decision by Navy Capt. Keith Allred, although it had not been publicly released. The paper quoted Allred as concluding that "National attention focused on this dispute has seriously called into question the legal adviser’s ability to continue to perform his duties in a neutral and objective manner". Hartmann is legal adviser to Susan J. Crawford, the Convening Authority [backgrounder] for the military commissions. The New York Times has more.

Earlier this year former Guantanamo prosecutor Air Force Col. Morris D. Davis [official profile, PDF] made headlines when he said in the wake of his resignation that Hartmann had questioned the need for open trials [JURIST report] at Guantanamo and was upset with the slow pace of the proceedings begun by Davis. In a subsequent Los Angeles Times op-ed [text], Hartman said that the slow progress that frustrated Davis was an unavoidable part of a careful judicial process and rejected Davis' allegations that aspects of the military commissions were being intentionally hidden from the public. Last month, Davis testified at a pre-trial hearing for Guantanamo detainee Salim Hamdan that Hartmann had pressured him [JURIST report] to move forward with military commissions quickly "before the election" or else "this thing's going to implode."






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Pakistan facing uncertainty as second deadline for restoring judges approaches
Bernard Hibbitts on May 10, 2008 6:00 PM ET

[JURIST] Pakistani ministers and officials scrambled Sunday as a second deadline for restoring judges ousted by President Pervez Musharraf in November loomed with little prospect of being met. An aide to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has pressed hard for the reinstatement [JURIST report], was quoted by AP as saying that an "acceptable solution" would be worked out by party leaders still in London after talks that began late last week, but JURIST's Pakistan correspondent says that with Sharif scheduled to return to Pakistan Sunday morning a deal on a parliamentary resolution [JURIST report] with his coalition partners in the Pakistan People's Party by May 12 is unlikely. Responding to a Sharif suggestion that police could escort the judges back to work under a simple executive order, Information Minister Sherry Rehman told AP that such a move risked a "political and constitutional crisis." Musharraf has also let it be known that he would oppose a restoration on those terms, and might even seek a Supreme Court stay against such an order were it issued. AP has more.

Pakistani Law Minister Farooq Naek said Friday that the governing coalition was unlikely to meet the May 12 deadline [JURIST report]. JURIST's Pakistan correspondent says that if the deadline passes without agreement Sharif is likely to step out of the coalition cabinet.






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Myanmar holds constitution referendum amid cyclone chaos
Bernard Hibbitts on May 10, 2008 4:36 PM ET

[JURIST] The military junta of Myanmar held a national referendum on a draft constitution [JURIST news archive] Saturday despite sharp international criticism [JURIST report] for going ahead with the poll after a devastating cyclone last weekend left at least 60,000 people dead or missing. Voting in the hardest-hit areas has been delayed until later this month, but state media encouraged citizens to turn out with enthusiastic videos and patriotic songs. Some local journalists said, however, that they witnessed many irregularities in the voting, with people voting multiple times or not having the privacy of a truly secret ballot. No official results have yet been announced but the vote is widely expected to result in an overwhelming endorsement of a document presented by the military government as an essential element of its "roadmap" to democracy. AP has more.

The National League for Democracy and other opposition groups have labelled the referendum a "sham" to legalize military rule. The draft constitution reportedly reserves 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military [AP report; JURIST report] and would also block pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] from seeking office. Myanmar [JURIST news archive] has been governed without a constitution since the military regime took power in 1988 and talks on a new national charter [JURIST report] have been underway for 14 years. The last general elections in Myanmar were held in 1990. The NLD, led by Suu Kyi, won that election easily, but the ruling military government did not recognize the result and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest.






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Peru prosecutors complain Fujimori showing 'lack of respect' in rights trial
Bernard Hibbitts on May 10, 2008 12:49 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], currently on trial for human rights violations during his three terms in office from 1990-2000, is showing lack of respect for the court and the trial process by his courtroom behavior, Peruvian prosecutors said Friday. Earlier this week Fujimori burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter [Xinhua report] after hearing military witnesses testify that they had spied on him through a keyhole; prosecutors also contend he has fallen asleep and even plotted his political comeback in court in total disregard of the seriousness of the charges against him. Xinhua has more.

Last month the Supreme Court of Peru upheld a prison sentence [JURIST reports] imposed on Fujimori after his separate conviction late last year on charges of abuse of authority for ordering a warrantless search of the apartment of the wife of former Peruvian Intelligence Director Vladimiro Montesino [BBC profile]. The high court at that time also upheld a $135,000 fine for rights violations that occurred during the search.






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Japan lower house panel approves bill lifting restrictions on space militarization
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 9, 2008 4:24 PM ET

[JURIST] A committee of Japan's House of Representatives [official website, in Japanese] Friday approved a measure easing legal restrictions on placing Japanese military technology in space ahead of a vote of the full House of Representatives expected next week. The House of Councillors [official website, in Japanese] is expected to pass the bill as well. Lawmakers say that current rules, established in 1969, hamper innovation at Japanese firms, but some believe that the plan is a valid response to a January weapons test by China [BBC report] that destroyed a weather satellite. Consistent with the principles of their post-World War II pacifist constitution [JURIST report], Japanese lawmakers say that they still oppose launching actual weapons into space. AFP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.

Many countries have criticized China's January missile test, saying that it could induce future arms movements into space [CNS backgrounder]. In October 2006, US President George W. Bush authorized the first changes to the US space policy in nearly 10 years by asserting authority to deny access to space [JURIST report] to any adversary hostile to US interests. In 2002, China and Russia jointly proposed an explicit ban on weapons in space [PDF text; China Daily report], but the US opposed the measure, arguing that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty [text] already provided enough protection against the practice.






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Pakistan leaders fail to agree on resolution restoring ousted judges as new deadline looms
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 9, 2008 4:06 PM ET

[JURIST] Talks between the leaders of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party websites] in London Friday failed to produce an agreement on a draft resolution for reinstating judges ousted by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf last year, but party members pledged to continue negotiations. A panel convened last week pursuant to an initial deal struck by the leaders in Dubai completed a draft parliamentary resolution [JURIST report] to restore the judges, but disagreements on implementation among panel members meant that the resolution had to go the top leadership of the PPP and the PML-N for approval before being submitted to the Pakistani parliament.

On Monday, retired Justice Fakhruddin Ibrahim quit the drafting panel [JURIST report], citing the "non-serious attitude" of fellow panel members and "unconstitutional" efforts by the PPP to retain judges who had endorsed Musharraf's declaration of emergency [JURIST report] last year. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif initially said that the judges would be restored May 12 [JURIST report], but Pakistani Law Minister Farooq Naek said Friday that the governing coalition will be unlikely to meet that deadline. JURIST's Pakistan correspondent says that if the deadline passes without agreement Sharif is likely to step out of the coalition cabinet. The Pakistan Newspaper has more. UPI has additional coverage.






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Anthrax reporter appeals contempt of court order for not revealing sources
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 9, 2008 2:38 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard oral arguments Friday in the appeal by former USA Today reporter Toni Locy [profile] against sanctions imposed on her for refusing to disclose government sources [RCFP backgrounder] who provided information about former US Army germ-warfare researcher Dr. Steven J. Hatfill [Washington Post profile]. In a March ruling, US District Judge Reggie Walton found Locy in contempt of court [PDF text; JURIST report] and ordered that, beginning March 11, Locy pay a fine of $500 a day; the fine was due to increase to $1000 a day after one week and then up to $5000 a day after two weeks. Walton refused to delay the sanctions until Locy could file an appeal and also ruled that Locy cannot accept reimbursement for the monetary sanctions. The appeals court later granted [PDF text; JURIST report] an emergency stay against the monetary sanctions while Locy pursued her appeal. Locy's lawyers said that she is unable to pay the fines and categorized the sanctions as "destructive," arguing that Walton had abused his discretion. On Friday, the court appeared receptive to the argument.

Locy, currently a journalism professor at West Virginia University, has refused to cooperate in Hatfill's suit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) for its alleged violation of the US Privacy Act [text], arguing that the information Hatfill is seeking has not been demonstrated to be central to the lawsuit. Hatfill was identified as a "person of interest" in the investigations of the 2001 anthrax attacks [GWU backgrounder]. He contends that FBI and DOJ officials violated federal privacy laws [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] by providing personal information and information about the investigation to journalists. AP has more.

Editor's Note: Toni Locy served as a JURIST student staff member while pursuing her MSL at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 2006-07.






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Microsoft appeals EU antitrust fine
Abigail Salisbury on May 9, 2008 2:29 PM ET

[JURIST] Microsoft [corporate website; Microsoft EC archives] announced Friday that it has filed an appeal with the European Court of First Instance [official website] in hopes that it will annul the record fine [press release] of 899 million euros ($1.3 billion). The penalty [JURIST report] was imposed after Microsoft failed to comply with a 2004 landmark ruling [JURIST report] requiring the software giant to share technical information with competitors and lower its prices. CNN Money has more.

Microsoft dropped an appeal [JURIST report] to the 2004 decision in October 2007, one month after the European Court of First Instance upheld the 2004 ruling [JURIST report]. In response to the European decision and other judgments, the corporation has instituted an Antitrust Compliance Committee [official website]. In January, the European Commission began an investigation [JURIST report] into new allegations that Microsoft has misused its market position.






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EU parliament head slams possible court ban of Turkish ruling party
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 9, 2008 2:16 PM ET

[JURIST] European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering [official website] Thursday slammed a bid by Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya [official profile, in Turkish] to have the country's ruling Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish] legally dissolved [JURIST news archive] for not respecting Turkey's strict secular principles. Poettering said it would be "absurd" for the Constitutional Court of Turkey [official website, in Turkish] to close the party as it had come to power through democratic means. On Wednesday, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn [official website] called for the Turkey to respect democratic principles [Turkish Daily News report] in what was considered a message of support for the government. Rehn has previously warned [JURIST report] that the closure of the AKP could have could be serious ramifications for Turkey's bid to join the European Union [JURIST news archive]. MSNBC has more.

In March, Yalcinkaya petitioned the court to disband the AKP and bar Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul [BBC profiles] from political office. The AKP filed a response [IPS report] to the dissolution petition last week, arguing that shutting down the party would leave a political void and endanger Turkey's democracy.






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Bismullah 'enemy combatant' status to be reviewed in light of 'new evidence'
Abigail Salisbury on May 9, 2008 2:11 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice indicated Thursday that the Pentagon will review the "enemy combatant" status of Afghan Guantanamo detainee and US federal court litigant Haji Bismullah [JURIST news archives] in light of what was referred to as "new evidence," according to SCOTUSblog. The notification came in a motion [PDF text] asking the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website] to remand his federal court case to the Pentagon or hold it in abeyance. Last July, a three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled [PDF text; JURIST report] that federal appeals courts reviewing enemy combatant designations under the Detainee Treatment Act [text] must review all evidence regarding that detainee, rejecting the government's argument [JURIST report] that it should only have to turn over the same evidence as presented to a detainee's Combatant Status Review Tribunal [DOD materials]. The government has appealed to the US Supreme Court, which has not yet ruled on the certiorari petition in the case. SCOTUSblog has more.

The future of Gates v. Bismullah may be affected by a ruling in Boumediene v. Bush (06-1195) [docket; merit briefs], another case on appeal from the DC Circuit already pending [JURIST report] before the Supreme Court. In Boumediene, the Court is considering whether Guantanamo detainees should be allowed to challenge their detentions in federal court.






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Myanmar junta urges citizens to approve constitution in weekend referendum
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 9, 2008 12:07 PM ET

[JURIST] Myanmar's ruling junta Friday urged the country's citizens to approve the military-backed draft constitution in an upcoming Saturday national referendum [JURIST news archives] that the government has refused to reschedule despite a devastating cyclone last week that may have left up to 100,000 people dead [AP report]. The United Nations estimates that another 1.5 million people have been "severely affected," but the Myanmar regime has thusfar blocked international aid efforts. Reports have also surfaced that a riot broke out [Telegraph report] after the storm in a notorious Rangoon prison used to hold political dissidents; soldiers and police reportedly opened fire on the rioters, killing 36.

Myanmar opposition groups and international figures have slammed the government's decision to go forward with the vote under the circumstances. On Wednesday, European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering condemned the decision, while the National League for Democracy Tuesday derided it [JURIST reports] as "extremely unacceptable." Myanmar state media have reported that Saturday's vote will proceed as scheduled in most of the country [JURIST report], although the regime now says that the vote will be postponed in districts hardest hit by the cyclone. Reuters has more.






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Some Guantanamo detainees could pose threat if released: Gates
Devin Montgomery on May 9, 2008 12:07 PM ET

[JURIST] US Defense Secretary Robert Gates [official profile] said Thursday that a number of current Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees would pose a new threat to the US if they were returned to their home countries. Of the 500 inmates who have been released from the detention facility, Gates said Pentagon data shows that between 5-10% of detainees "return to the battlefield" after being released.

Gates, who has been a proponent of closing the base [JURIST report], added:

I think we do as careful a vetting job as we possibly can before releasing these people. There are a lot of -- there are a lot of prisoners down there, frankly, that we would be prepared to turn over to their home government, but the home government isn't prepared to receive them, or we don't have any confidence that if they still need to be incarcerated, that the home government will keep them incarcerated. So there are actually a fair number of the prisoners at Guantanamo that we would be prepared to send home if we had -- if their government would accept them and -- or if we had confidence that the government would continue to keep them incarcerated.
Gates' comments came in response to earlier reports that one former detainee, Abdullah Saleh al-Ajmi, was responsible for an April suicide attack [JURIST report] targeted at security forces in Mosul, Iraq. Al-Ajmi had been captured in Afghanistan in 2002, but was released to the custody of his home country, Kuwait, in May 2006. Upon his return, a Kuwaiti court acquitted [JURIST report] and freed al-Ajmi and four other former detainees accused of being al Qaeda members or of raising money for the terrorist group. Reuters has more. AP has additional coverage.





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Bolivia congress approves confidence referendum on government leaders
Abigail Salisbury on May 9, 2008 11:04 AM ET

[JURIST] The Bolivian National Congress [official website, in Spanish] voted Thursday to hold a national referendum on President Evo Morales [official website; JURIST news archive] Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, and nine regional governors within the next 90 days. The officials must receive more than 53.74% percent of the vote to keep their positions. Morales is the first indigenous president of Bolivia, and began the six-year term in 2005. The call for the vote of confidence came after Bolivians in the wealthy state of Santa Cruz [official website, in Spanish] voted for greater autonomy from the national government [JURIST report] in an effort to protect its natural gas and agriculture. Morales has tried to redistribute land and natural resource revenues throughout the nation, and called that referendum illegal. Morales says, however, that he will go along with the confidence referendum proposal; he actually proposed the concept himself [JURIST report] last December. CNN has more.

In March, Bolivia's National Electoral Court blocked a national referendum on the new draft constitution originally slated for May 4, finding that the proposed poll [JURIST reports] failed to satisfy a constitutional provision requiring the national vote to be held within 90 days of congressional approval. The proposed national referendum was narrowly approved [JURIST report] in February by the Bolivian Constitutional Assembly [official website, in Spanish], amid reports that Morales supporters prevented many draft opponents from entering the constitutional building and participating in the vote.






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Nuclear powers say Iran threatening nuclear treaty goals
Devin Montgomery on May 9, 2008 10:33 AM ET

[JURIST] The world's five major nuclear powers - Britain, China, France, Russia, and the US - cited Iran's uranium enrichment program as a major threat to the goals of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) [PDF text; JURIST news archive] in a joint statement [PDF text] issued Thursday at the end of a two-week meeting [official website] of 106 NPT member nations. The five urged Iran, currently under UN sanctions for its nuclear program, to accept an incentive package [JURIST reports] in exchange for abandoning uranium enrichment. The statement also addressed the nuclear situation in North Korea [JURIST news archive], which opted out of the treaty in 2003 to restart disarmament negotiations. Conspicuously absent from the statement was any mention of a secret reactor [BBC report] that Syria is suspected of building, which some speculate is because of a lack of confidence in the related US intelligence.

Iran maintains that it is pursuing nuclear capabilities solely for use in producing electricity [Iranian backgrounder, PDF], a use allowed under the treaty, and has repeatedly balked [JURIST report] at the UN sanctions targeted at the country. The US and other western powers are particularly concerned that energy-related uranium enrichment processes could be easily altered to produce weapons-grade material. Reuters has more.






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Australian capital region passes same-sex partners registration law
Abigail Salisbury on May 9, 2008 10:28 AM ET

[JURIST] The Legislative Assembly [official website] of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) [official website] passed a law Friday that will enable same-sex domestic partners to register their relationships with the government. A part of the legislation which would have legalized same-sex civil union ceremonies was removed prior to passage [JURIST report] because the Australian federal government [official website] threatened to veto the Civil Partnerships Bill 2006 [legislative materials; PDF text] if it passed the Assembly. AP has more [news report].

The legislation will grant same-sex couples access to Commonwealth pensions, tax and social security benefits. The Civil Partnerships Bill was introduced after an earlier civil unions law [legislative materials] was overturned by the federal government [JURIST report] because that law's provisions made civil unions appear unacceptably similar to marriage. Despite that action, the federal government has announced plans to change over 100 laws [JURIST report] to eliminate same-sex discrimination.






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Convicted Bosnian Serb war criminal seeks new trial claiming right to defense violated
Abigail Salisbury on May 9, 2008 9:47 AM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] announced Thursday that Vidoje Blagojevic [ICTY case backgrounder, PDF] has requested a new trial. Blagojevic, former commander of the Bratunac Brigade of the Bosnian Serb Army, claims that he had little access to his defense counsel and was prevented from testifying on his own behalf. AP has more.

The ICTY convicted Blagojevic of complicity in genocide; aiding and abetting the persecutions, killings and forcible transfer of Bosnian Muslims and sentenced Blagojevic to 18 years imprisonment [JURIST report] for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre [BBC timeline; JURIST news archive]. Blagojevic's sentence was reduced to 15 years when the ICTY Appeals Chamber reversed [judgment summary; JURIST report] his conviction of complicity in genocide, holding that Blagojevic should have been acquitted on those charges because he was not aware that the massacre was going to take place.






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US military judge refuses to set Khadr trial date pending Guantanamo records release
Abigail Salisbury on May 9, 2008 9:04 AM ET

[JURIST] US military judge Col. Peter Brownback again refused to set a trial date for Canadian-born Omar Khadr [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] at a pre-trial hearing Thursday, threatening to suspend military commission proceedings against the Guantanamo detainee until the government submits daily records of Khadr's detention. Khadr's lawyers claim the government is stalling the prosecution under the Military Commissions Act [PDF text] to cover up abusive treatment at Guantanamo. In an affidavit released in March, Khadr claimed that US interrogators in Afghanistan threatened him with rape [JURIST report], physically abused him, and forced him to swear to false statements. The Toronto Star has more.

Khadr, 21, faces life imprisonment for crimes allegedly committed at the age of 15 while fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. He was charged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] in April 2007 with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, as well as spying.
In April, Brownback ruled [PDF text] that Khadr was not a child soldier when he was captured in Afghanistan. Khadr's lawyers had asked for the case to be dismissed [JURIST report] saying that it violated the Optional Protocol of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child [text], which gives special protection to children under 18 involved in armed conflicts.






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Federal judge orders handover of CIA 'torture' memo
Bernard Hibbitts on May 8, 2008 8:55 PM ET

[JURIST] A US federal judge Thursday directed the CIA [order, PDF] to produce a 2002 US Department of Justice memo that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claims authorized the agency to use specific torture techniques - including waterboarding [JURIST news archive] - on US detainees held abroad. The memo prepared by the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) [official website] has been described by the ACLU as "one of the most important torture documents still being withheld by the Bush administration." Judge Alvin Hellerstein said in his order that he required production of the document before determining whether it could be made public as part of an ongoing lawsuit [background materials] brought by the ACLU and other rights groups under the Freedom of Information Act for records concerning the treatment of prisoners in US custody abroad. Reuters has more.

In a statement on the order, the ACLU said that for almost four years it had been challenging the government's assertion that the OLC memo could not be released because of attorney-client privilege, arguing that the privilege does not apply to a legal memo that the CIA adopted as a matter of policy. Hellerstein ruled for the government in a January hearing, but on the ACLU's motion "reconsidered his decision after senior officials publicly acknowledged that the CIA had waterboarded three prisoners and after Attorney General Michael Mukasey stated to Congress that the CIA's interrogation program had been authorized by the OLC."






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Egypt court fines newspaper editor for reporting on labor dispute
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 8, 2008 5:03 PM ET

[JURIST] An Egyptian court Thursday ordered the editor of independent newspaper al-Badeel to pay a $2,000 fine for publishing an article about labor disputes in the state-owned Middle East News Agency [media website, in Arabic]. Mohammed Sayyed was convicted of libel, and also ordered to pay $1,000 in compensation to the chief of the news agency. AP has more.

In recent months, Egypt's independent media have been the target of multiple lawsuits for reporting on sensitive issues. Last month, the former editor of weekly newspaper al-Dustour [media website, in Arabic] was sentenced to six months in prison [JURIST report] after being convicted on charges of spreading "rumors" about the health of Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak [official profile] in an August newspaper report. Last year, two journalists were convicted in absentia of libel [JURIST report] for writing a story about an illegal land transaction from the Ministry of Religious Endowments at a secret auction. Under Egyptian law, citizens may file lawsuits against individuals who make statements that harm society, and the accused can face criminal punishment if found guilty. Mubarak has previously pledged to decriminalize press offenses [JURIST report] in Egypt, but has yet to do so.






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Australia military investigating Taliban detainee 'mistreatment' claims
Abigail Salisbury on May 8, 2008 4:32 PM ET

[JURIST] The Australian Defence Force [official website] is investigating claims by four Taliban members detained following the death of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan that they were mistreated during their time in custody, Australian media reported Thursday. The allegations were reported by a senior Afghan commander who spoke of "mistreatment" of prisoners by Australian troops. ABC Australia has more.

Australia currently has slightly over 1000 troops committed to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force [official website] under its Operation Slipper [official backgrounder]. Earlier this week the Melbourne Age reported other complaints by one-time Australian and Dutch detainees that they were beaten after being handed over to local Afghan security forces. Similar claims have dogged the Canadian military [JURIST news archive], which subsequently renegotiated its prisoner transfer agreement with Afghan authorities. In a May 2 statement, Stephen Smith, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, denounced torture and announced the steps Australia is taking to accede to the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture [text], previously rejected by the government of Prime Minister John Howard.






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Vietnam to prosecute anti-Communist activists for 'terrorism'
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 8, 2008 3:48 PM ET

[JURIST] Vietnam will prosecute two anti-Communist activists on "terrorism" charges for distributing literature critical of the government, a government spokesperson said Thursday. The men are members of US-based rights group Viet Tan [advocacy website, in Vietnamese], which has denied that it endorses anti-government violence and has said that the men were calling for peaceful democratic change. Reuters has more.

The Communist Party of Vietnam [party website] has continuously rejected calls for to allow opposition parties, but pro-democracy groups in Vietnam have increasingly begun to work together to press democratic reforms and more respect for human rights, although their success has been limited. In May 2007 two Vietnamese human rights lawyers were sentenced for violating Article 88 of the Vietnamese criminal code [JURIST report] by advocating that Vietnam adopt a multi-party system of government. In 2006, the US and Vietnam ended a three-year suspension of talks [JURIST report] regarding human rights and religious freedoms [HRW backgrounder] in the country, which began when the US canceled the annual Human Rights Dialogue with the Government of Vietnam in 2003 due what it said was lack of progress on the issues.






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Latvia, Lithuania approve EU Lisbon Treaty
Abigail Salisbury on May 8, 2008 3:22 PM ET

[JURIST] The parliaments of Latvia and Lithuania Thursday adopted the new EU reform treaty [JURIST news archive], properly known as the Treaty of Lisbon [PDF text; official website], bringing the total number of ratifying nations to 13. All 27 EU countries must approve the Treaty before it takes effect; most ratifications are expected to be parliamentary, although Ireland plans to hold a referendum. BBC News has more.

Designed to replace the failed EU constitution [JURIST news archive], which fell far short of unanimous approval among all EU states, the Lisbon Treaty [BBC Q/A] incorporates some elements of the earlier charter. It changes several aspects of the current European governance system in an effort to improve effectiveness and decrease response time on critical issues. Two new posts will be created for a European Council President and a foreign affairs representative. The European Court of Justice will receive broadened powers.






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Turkish president signs amendment limiting controversial state slander law
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 8, 2008 3:13 PM ET

[JURIST] Turkish President Abdullah Gul Wednesday signed an amendment into law restricting the controversial Article 301 [Amnesty backgrounder; JURIST news archive] of the country's penal code [text, in Turkish], which makes "insulting the Turkish identity" a crime. The amendment recharacterizes the crime of "insulting the Turkish identity" as insulting the "Turkish nation," reduces the maximum possible punishment from three years to two years in prison, and requires the approval of the justice minister for any Article 301 prosecution. The Grand National Assembly of Turkey [official website, in Turkish] approved the amendment [JURIST report] last month.

Many prominent Turkish journalists, authors, and academics have been tried for insulting "Turkishness" [JURIST report] under Article 301. Critics have accused Turkey of using the law to silence government critics, making it a major stumbling block [JURIST report] to Turkey's accession to the European Union. AFP has more.






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EU parliament approves mandatory registry of lobbyists
Steve Czajkowski on May 8, 2008 3:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The European Parliament [official website] Thursday approved [press release] a report [PDF text] calling for a mandatory registry of lobbyists seeking access to EU lawmakers [CorpWatch backgrounder]. The measure was passed 547-24, with 59 abstaining. The Parliament also supported a "one-stop-shop" proposal, which would allow lobbyists to register once to gain access to Parliament, the European Commission, and the European Council [official websites], but that vote was only binding for the Parliament.

The three EU institutions intend to establish a common list of lobbyists, which the EU Parliament hopes to be ready in time for European elections in 2009. The Parliament currently maintains a voluntary registry. AP has more.






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Malaysia Islamic court allows reconversion from Islam
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 8, 2008 2:59 PM ET

[JURIST] An Islamic court in Malaysia [JURIST news archive] ruled Thursday that a Buddhist woman who converted to Islam should be allowed to return to her original faith. The ruling is unusual in Malaysia, which has both secular and Sharia courts; Sharia courts rarely allow converts to renounce Islam, a fact which has led to tensions with the country's minority religions. Religious rights groups hailed the decision as a landmark ruling for interfaith relations. AP has more.

Last year, Malaysia's Federal Court rejected an appeal [JURIST report] by a woman who sought to change her religious affiliation on her government registration card from Islam to Christianity. Approximately 58 percent of Malaysia's population of 26 million are ethnic Malays, generally Muslims who fall under the jurisdiction of the Sharia courts. The remaining 40 percent of the population are mainly ethnic Chinese, indigenous, or Indian, and are generally Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, or Taoist/Confucian falling under the jurisdiction of civil courts. The Malaysian constitution [text] has been interpreted to regard all ethnic Malays as Muslim, because Islam is considered to be an intrinsic component of the ethnic identity. Malaysia is officially a secular state, but it recognizes Islam as the official religion.






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FBI withdraws national security letter in Internet library settlement
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 8, 2008 1:31 PM ET

[JURIST] The FBI has withdrawn a National Security Letter (NSL) [CRS backgrounder, PDF; FBI backgrounder] issued against an Internet library website in a settlement [ACLU press release; Internet Archive statement; EFF press release] announced Wednesday. The FBI had issued the NSL to the Internet Archive [archive website], seeking personal information about a particular publicly-unnamed site user; the Archive, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation [advocacy websites] subsequently filed a lawsuit challenging the NSL. Under the settlement, the FBI has lifted a gag order preventing the groups from speaking about the NSL and agreed to the unsealing of certain related documents [materials].

This was the first publicly reported challenge to an NSL served on a library since Congress approved changes in the Patriot Act [JURIST report] in 2006 restricting the FBI's power to demand library records. KTVU in San Francisco has more.






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Germany constitutional court rules pre-Iraq war flight missions unconstitutional
Steve Czajkowski on May 8, 2008 1:14 PM ET

[JURIST] Germany's Federal Constitutional Court [official website, in German] Wednesday ruled [judgment, in German; press release, in German] that German surveillance flights over Turkey conducted in 2003 during the lead-up to the Iraq War were unconstitutional. The court held that the flights equated to "armed deployment," and thus needed to first be approved by the German Bundestag [official website], the lower house of the German parliament. Former Chancellor Gherhard Schroeder's government had said that the flights were a routine NATO operation which did not require parliamentary approval.

The Bundestag has granted approval for recent German military missions around the world, including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and the Horn of Africa. Germany has also assisted in training Iraqi security forces, but not on Iraqi soil. Deutsche Welle has more. Xinhua has additional coverage.






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Pakistan committee on restoring ousted judges completes draft resolution
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 8, 2008 1:03 PM ET

[JURIST] A panel convened last week by Pakistan's coalition government has completed a draft parliamentary resolution to reinstate judges ousted by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf last year, Pakistani Law Minister Farooq Naek said late Wednesday. The resolution now goes to the top leadership of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party websites] for approval before being submitted to the Pakistani parliament. Details about the draft were not released, although Naek did say that panel members had disagreed on how the resolution should be implemented if passed.

On Monday, retired Justice Fakhruddin Ibrahim quit the drafting panel [JURIST report], citing the "non-serious attitude" of fellow panel members and "unconstitutional" efforts by the PPP to retain judges who had endorsed Musharraf's declaration of emergency [JURIST report] last year. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said that the judges would be restored May 12 [JURIST report], but Pakistani legal experts are skeptical that the parties can reach agreement by that time.






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Bangladesh ex-PM Hasina charged with corruption for alleged kickback scheme
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 8, 2008 12:39 PM ET

[JURIST] A Bangladeshi court Wednesday formally charged former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed [party profile; JURIST news archive] with corruption under the recommendation of the country's Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) [governing statute]. Hasina and eight other people are accused of involvement in an kickback scheme that awarded lucrative gas contracts to Canadian oil company Niko Resources Ltd [corporate website]. The charges came a day after the Bangladesh Supreme Court ruled that proceedings brought against Hasina for corruption and extortion under Bangladesh's Emergency Power Regulations (EPR) were valid in respect of offences allegedly committed before the EPR came into effect [Daily Star report]. On Tuesday, formal corruption charges were filed against former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia [UN profile; JURIST report] in a related case. AP has more.

Bangladesh's current anti-corruption crackdown began last February as eight former Bangladeshi ministers were accused of corruption [JURIST report] and 13 other former ministers and senior politicians were arrested in raids on their homes [JURIST report] after Bangladeshi President Iajuddin Ahmed declared a state of emergency [JURIST report] in the country and canceled a scheduled national election. In March of this year, Hasina appeared in court to face charges [JURIST reports] that she received approximately $440,000 in illegal kickbacks on a power-plant deal while in office between 1996 and 2001; she faces up to 14 years in jail if convicted in that case.






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Maryland appeals court rules Islamic divorce practice constitutionally invalid
Steve Czajkowski on May 8, 2008 12:13 PM ET

[JURIST] The Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled [opinion, text] that the Islamic talaq [IRFI backgrounder], a controversial practice under which a husband can divorce his wife without her say, violates the state constitution [text] and therefore does not constitute a valid form of divorce in Maryland. The Court held Tuesday that talaq was against Maryland constitutional provisions granting equal rights to men and women, finding that:

Talaq lacks any significant "due process" for the wife, and its use moreover, directly deprives the wife of the "due process" she is entitled to when she initiates divorce litigation in this State. The lack and deprivation of due process is itself contrary to this State's public policy.
The judgment affirms a 2007 ruling [text] by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals [official website] that held talaq to be invalid in Maryland.

After his wife filed for divorce in 2003 and before the legal process was complete, Irfan Aleem went to the Pakistani Embassy in Washington DC and invoked talaq, effectively an attempt to turn jurisdiction over to a court in Pakistan. He was later granted a divorce by the Pakistani court, but Tuesday's ruling found that divorce invalid. The Washington Post has more. The Baltimore Sun has local coverage.





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Federal appeals court rules BP plea bargain in blast case violated rights of victims
Abigail Salisbury on May 8, 2008 12:13 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled [PDF text] Wednesday that the plea agreement made by BP [corporate website] following a 2005 explosion at a Texas City refinery must be sent back to the US district court in Houston for reconsideration. The accident killed 15 and injured 180, but secret negotiations for a plea agreement were conducted without input from the surviving victims. The clandestine nature of the proceedings was originally approved by a federal judge so that a jury would not be prejudiced against BP if the issue went to trial. Reuters has more.

The victims claimed [PDF reply memorandum] the plea was in violation of the 2004 Crime Victims Rights Act [text; DOJ backgrounder], although the lower court ruled that it complied with the law. The negotiated plea is binding, meaning the judge has no discretion in sentencing if it is upheld. BP currently faces litigation [JURIST news report] and an ongoing Congressional investigation [Anchorage Daily News report] over oil spills in Alaska.






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Guantanamo ex-detainee was Iraq suicide bomber: US military
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 8, 2008 12:09 PM ET

[JURIST] One of the bombers involved in a series of suicide attacks in Mosul, Iraq, in April was a former detainee held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], the US military said Wednesday. Kuwaiti Abdullah Salim Ali al-Ajmi was detained in Afghanistan before being transferred to Guantanamo for three years; he was released to Kuwait in 2005. Kuwaiti media say that al-Ajmi and another Kuwaiti, both supposedly under surveillance by the country's Interior Ministry, had secretly crossed the border into Iraq [Arab Times report] in early April using false passports. Al-Ajmi's former lawyer said that he may have become radicalized after his experiences at Guantanamo, but the US military said that he already had terror connections before he was detained.

A military spokesman said that Ajmi was one of up to 36 former Guantanamo detainees who are believed to have resumed fighting against the US. The New York Times has more. AP has additional coverage.






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Michigan Supreme Court rules against same-sex partner benefits
Abigail Salisbury on May 8, 2008 11:07 AM ET

[JURIST] The Michigan Supreme Court ruled [PDF text] Wednesday that governments and universities may not provide health benefits for same-sex partners of their employees. The 5-2 ruling interpreted a 2004 state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage [text] to mean that same-sex couples are to be denied any of the benefits of marriage as well. The suit [background materials] involved 21 families represented by the ACLU of Michigan.

The case, National Pride at Work v. Granholm, attracted the attention of gay-rights activists [GLAAD press release] who urged people to attend last November's oral arguments. Proponents of the constitutional amendment see the decision as a victory [TMLC press release]. AP has more.






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US military reduces sentence for Marine convicted of killing Iraqi
Abigail Salisbury on May 8, 2008 10:11 AM ET

[JURIST] The US military h