March 2009 Archives


Thailand court orders protesters to open entrances to government building
Andrew Morgan on March 31, 2009 4:54 PM ET

[JURIST] A Thai court on Tuesday ordered demonstrators to allow limited access to Thailand's seat of government in response to a complaint filed by the Office of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva [BBC profile]. The Bangkok Civil Court issued an injunction [Bangkok Post report] ordering protesters to remove road blocks which had been erected to block access to Government House. Red-shirted members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), a group linked to exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], have been surrounding the compound since last week in a bid to oust Abhisit. A UDD spokesman urged supporters to ignore the order pending an appeal, while Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban warned [Reuters report] on Monday that "the injunction would grant a legal justification for us to enforce entry," suggesting that protesters could be arrested prior to completion of an appeal.

Abhisit took over as prime minister in December, after the Constitutional Court of Thailand [official website, in Thai] ordered the dissolution [JURIST report] of the ruling People's Power Party (PPP) [party website, in Thai], and banned then-prime minister Somchai Wongsawat [Nation profile] from politics for five years as the result of an election fraud investigation. Thaksin, ousted as prime minister [JURIST report] in a 2006 military coup, was convicted on corruption charges [JURIST reports] by the Supreme Court of Thailand in October.






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South Africa appeals court upholds judicial bias complaint in Zuma corruption case
Andrew Morgan on March 31, 2009 3:40 PM ET

[JURIST] The South African Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) [official website] on Tuesday held [judgment, PDF; media summary, PDF] that the judges of the Constitutional Court [official website] acted lawfully in filing a grievance against Cape Judge President John Hlophe alleging that Hlophe had tried to influence their decision in a corruption case against African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The judges appealed a decision by the High Court at Johannesburg finding that Hlophe had a right to be heard before the court submitted its complaint to the country's judicial disciplinary body, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) [backgrounder, DOC]. The SCA overruled the High Court decision, finding that since the judges were "not performing a judicial function" in filing the complaint, they were not obligated to provide Hlohpe an opportunity to be heard. The SCA further held that the publication of the allegations in the media was not improper in light of the judges' belief that another member of the judiciary was acting unlawfully, saying that:

It will always be distressing for a judge to learn in the media that he or she has been accused of misconduct but that seems to us to be an inevitable hazard of holding public office. ... [W]e do not think that his or her remedy lies in stifling the fact that a complaint has been made.
The SCA noted that Hlophe's relief would be to fight the complaint in the JCS proceedings, and to sue for defamation if the allegations prove false.

The judges of the Constitutional Court filed their complaint [JURIST report] with the JCS last June, alleging that Hlophe had unlawfully tried to influence their decision in the Zuma corruption case in violation of the constitutional prohibition [Schedule 2, Item 6 text] against administering justice with favor or prejudice. Hlophe's alleged unconstitutional behavior relates to a March hearing to determine whether raids on Zuma's home violated his rights to privacy and a fair trial [JURIST report]. 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.





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UN lawyer hints at transfer of genocide suspects to Rwanda for trials
Bhargav Katikaneni on March 31, 2009 3:35 PM ET

[JURIST] UN Deputy Secretary for Legal Affairs Pamela O'Brien [official profile] apparently signaled a shift in official UN position by expressing sympathy for Rwanda's desire to try any remaining genocide suspects in Rwanda after the International Criminal Tribunal For Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] is supposed to stop functioning in 2010, according to a Monday report [New Times report]. O'Brien, who was visiting the Rwandan capital Kigali, met last week [press release] with ICTR president Judge Dennis Byron, prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow, as well as Rwandan prosecutor general Martin Ngoga and discussed setting up a "residual mechanism" to deal with future genocide suspects, such as the thirteen fugitives [New Times report] still at large, once the tribunal is expected to shut down [JURIST report] in 2010 as per a UN resolution [text, PDF]. O'Brien also added that the decision would have to be made by the UN Security Council and the ICTR judges.

The UN resolution had called for "all trial activities at first instance" to end by 2008, leaving the status of those suspects who had been arrested but not tried, such as Jean-Baptiste Gatete [TrialWatch profile], in limbo. The ICTR had earlier denied [decision; JURIST report] Rwanda's request to transfer Gatete into its custody because of fears that he would not get a fair trial in Rwanda. There was concern that he might not be able to call on witnesses residing outside Rwanda or that the these witnesses might be afraid to testify for the defense.






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Supreme Court hears arguments in age discrimination in employment case
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 31, 2009 1:47 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; briefs] Monday in Gross v. FBL Financial Services [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], in which the Court will decide whether a plaintiff must present direct evidence of discrimination in order to obtain a mixed-motive instruction in a non-Title VII [text] discrimination case. The case involves an executive, Jack Gross, who claims he was passed over for a promotion at FBL Financial Services [corporate website] in favor of a younger employee in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) [text]. In 2003, the Court ruled in Desert Palace v. Costa [opinion text] that direct evidence - evidence linking an adverse employment action to a specific motive - is not required in a mixed-motive case under Title VII, but left open the issue of whether direct evidence would be required outside the Title VII context. The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] in May that direct evidence is required under the ADEA. Counsel for Gross argued: "The court of appeals erred in holding that the plaintiff had to have direct evidence in order to obtain the specific instruction at issue in this case. ... [T]his Court had at no time imposed a direct evidence requirement without an affirmative directive from Congress to do so." Counsel for FBL "urge[d] the Court not to evaluate this case strictly on the question of whether direct versus circumstantial evidence is the appropriate way to proceed," saying:

I would hope that the Court would seize upon this as an opportunity to provide some significant clarity in the law, rather than seize this as an opportunity to decide this case on the potentially most narrow ground, which, frankly, as far as I can tell, will not only not decide this case, ultimately, but certainly will not do anything to resolve the mass confusion that seems to exist among the lower courts.
The US government intervened on behalf of Gross, arguing that the Court should decide the case on narrow grounds: "I think both on a substantive level and a procedural level Desert Palace largely resolves this case."





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Afghanistan president signs law restricting women's rights in re-election bid: report
Brian Jackson on March 31, 2009 11:57 AM ET

[JURIST] Afghan President Hamid Karzai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] has signed into law a bill which significantly reduces women's rights, including legalizing rape within a marriage, the Guardian reported [text] Tuesday. Critics allege that Karzai signed this bill, which has not yet been made public, to increase support among Afghan Shia and Hazara [BBC backgrounders] who support the law, ultimately to improve his re-election chances. This very scenario is one Karzai's political opponents feared when the the Afghanistan Supreme Court extended the presidential term [JURIST report] until August amid safety concerns regarding the upcoming election. The Afghan presidential election will take place on August 20th, 2009, with likely challengers including former interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, ex-finance ministers Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Anwarul Haq Ahadi, and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Karzai has experienced a tumultuous career since his appointment as interim President in 2002. In early March, the UN reported that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is worsening [JURIST report], one week after a similar US report rebuked Afghanistan for, among other problems, continued use of child labor [JURIST report]. In November, the UN urged Afghanistan to discontinue use of the death penalty [JURIST report], which Karzai had reinstated following a four-year moratorium [JURIST report]. In April 2008, the Taliban attempted to assassinate Karzai [Guardian report] during a military parade, the third attempt on his life since 2001.






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Federal judge enjoins child pornography prosecution of high school texters
Amelia Mathias on March 31, 2009 11:54 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District for the Middle District of Pennsylvania [official website] issued a temporary restraining order [text, PDF] Monday blocking child pornography charges against three teenage girls who appeared in photographs distributed by cell phone throughout their high school. Wyoming County District Attorney George Skumanick Jr. had told the girls and their parents that unless the girls completed an after-school re-education program, they would be charged [AP report] with distributing child pornography. In Pennsylvania, it is a felony to have or distribute pictures of minors engaged in lewd activity or provocatively exposed. None of the pictures of the girls revealed anything below the waist, and all were taken over a year ago. None of the students responsible for disseminating the photos [Scranton Times report] has been charged. Judge James Munley found that all factors for issuing a temporary restraining order had been met and scheduled a hearing on the merits for June.

The plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLUPA) [advocacy website] and filed suit [complaint, PDF; case materials] against Skumanick last week. ACLUPA lawyer Witold Walczak contends [press release] that the photos are protected by the First Amendment and that requiring the girls to attend a re-education program interferes wit the parents' rights to raise their daughters as they wish. According to the complaint, 20 percent of teens nationwide [survey results; PDF] have participated in the distribution of similar pictures, a phenomenon known as 'sexting.'






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Supreme Court dismisses Philip Morris appeal of jury verdict
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 31, 2009 10:09 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday dismissed as improvidently granted the writ of certiorari in Philip Morris USA v. Williams [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report]. The Court had originally granted certiorari to consider for a third time a $79.5 million punitive damages verdict against tobacco company Philip Morris USA [corporate website]. The Court previously ruled [JURIST report] that the punitive damages award based "in part on [a jury's] desire to punish the defendant for harming persons who are not before the court" amounts to an unconstitutional taking of property without due process. On remand, the Supreme Court of Oregon [official website] again upheld [opinion text] the verdict, finding that it did not need to reach the federal constitutional issue if there was "an independent and adequate" basis in state law for upholding the verdict.

The Court released two other opinions Tuesday. In Hawaii v. Office of Hawaiian Affairs [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report], the Court ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously that the state of Hawaii is not precluded from transferring 1.2 million acres of land ceded by the former Hawaiian monarchy, pending a political settlement with Native Hawaiians [advocacy website]. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) [official website] had won an injunction [opinion, PDF] from the Hawaii Supreme Court barring the state from selling any ceded lands until claims to the land are settled. The state of Hawaii argued that the 1993 Apology Resolution [text] passed by Congress was not intended to limit the state's ability to manage its land. Reversing the lower court ruling, Justice Samuel Alito wrote:

Here, the State Supreme Court incorrectly held that Congress, by adopting the Apology Resolution, took away from the citizens of Hawaii the authority to resolve an issue that is of great importance to the people of the State. Respondents defend that decision by arguing that they have both state-law property rights in the land in question and "broader moral and political claims for compensation for the wrongs of the past." But we have no authority to decide questions of Hawaiian law or to provide redress for past wrongs except as provided for by federal law. [citations omitted]
The Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown [historical timeline] in 1893, and the US annexed its territory five years later. Hawaii was admitted as a state in 1959.

In a second unanimous decision, the Court ruled [opinion, PDF] in Rivera v. Illinois [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that an Illinois trial court did not err in refusing to grant a defense counsel's peremptory challenge to dismiss from a murder trial a juror who worked at a hospital that treated a larger number of gunshot wounds. After raising the challenge during jury selection, the trial court overruled the challenge and seated the juror. At the start of the trial, defense counsel again challenged the juror in juror's presence. That challenge was again denied, and the juror was appointed foreperson of the jury, with knowledge that the defendant's counsel had attempted to remove her from the jury. Rivera was found guilty of murder, and sentenced to 85 years in prison. Delivering the opinion of the Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote:
Nothing in these decisions suggests that federal law renders state-court judgments void whenever there is a state-law defect in a tribunal's composition. Absent a federal constitutional violation, States retain the prerogative to decide whether such errors deprive a tribunal of its lawful authority and thus require automatic reversal. States are free to decide, as a matter of state law, that a trial court's mistaken denial of a peremptory challenge is reversible error per se. Or they may conclude, as the Supreme Court of Illinois implicitly did here, that the improper seating of a competent and unbiased juror does not convert the jury into an ultra vires tribunal; therefore the error could rank as harmless under state law.

In sum, Rivera received precisely what due process required: a fair trial before an impartial and properly instructed jury, which found him guilty of every element of the charged offense.
The ruling affirmed the decision [opinion, PDF] of the Illinois Supreme Court, upholding Rivera's conviction.





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Ex-Khmer Rouge leader 'Duch' apologizes for war crimes in Cambodia genocide court
Eszter Bardi on March 31, 2009 8:05 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Khmer Rogue [BBC backgrounder] leader Kaing Guek Eav [TrialWatch backgrounder, JURIST news archive], also known as "Duch," on Tuesday formally accepted responsibility and apologized for the torture and murder of an estimated 12,000 Cambodians at the prison he ran for the regime. Kaing made the admission [Phnom Penh Post report] during his trial before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] where he faces charges [ECCC press release, PDF] of crimes against humanity, torture, and murder for his actions as the overseer of the Tuol Sleng interrogation facility known as S21. Pretrial hearings against Kaing began last month, but the substantive case [JURIST reports] against him began Monday. The trial will continue [court document, PDF] with additional statements on Wednesday of this week, and additional proceedings every Monday through Thursday until early July.

Kaing's trial is the first of eight [JURIST report] that the ECCC hopes to hear against former members of the Khmer Rouge, which has been accused of murdering 1.7 million Cambodians [PPU backgrounder] during their nearly four year reign. The ECCC has long been plagued with accusations of corruption and inadequate funding, with greater problems in recent years. Earlier this month, the ECCC reported that it would be unable to pay its Cambodian employees [JURIST report] for that month, one year after the court had requested $114 million dollars from the UN [JURIST report]. In February, Human Rights Watch warned that the ECCC trials were in danger of being tainted for their failure to follow fair trial standards [JURIST report], and in January a Cambodian court agreed to hear a corruption case [JURIST report] involving two ECCC judges.






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US stays proceedings against Yemeni Guantanamo detainee pending transfer
Adrienne Lester on March 31, 2009 8:04 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] granted a joint motion [text, PDF] Monday for a stay of proceedings against Yemeni Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Ayman Saeed Batarfi, allowing for his eventual transfer. Batarfi, one of the longest held terror suspects at the military prison, had been detained without charges as an enemy combatant [JURIST news archive] since his 2001 capture at the Battle of Tora Bora [BBC report] in Afghanistan. He had been detained for alleged association with al Qaeda forces during the battle, but his lawyers argued that he had been forced to administer medical treatment to al Qaeda forces. After a review of his case, the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] agreed that it did not have grounds to hold Batarfi, and joined in the motion to end proceedings against him. The US is currently searching for an appropriate destination country for Batarfi, and his release date has not been set.

The announcement follows a call by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Sunday for the US and Yemen [JURIST news archive] to agree on a repatriation plan that provides "meaningful legal process" for the nearly 100 Yemeni detainees still at Guantanamo Bay. The repartiation plan dates back to July 2008, when Yemeni officials met with a visiting US delegation [JURIST report] to discuss the possible transfer of Yemeni detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, with the US voicing concerns that they would be freed upon their return. The stay of proceedings against Batarfi follows a January executive order [text; JURIST report] from US President Barack Obama [official profile] directing the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within one year and a review and disposition of all individuals held at the facility.






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North Korea preparing indictments for captured US journalists
Andrew Gilmore on March 31, 2009 7:53 AM ET

[JURIST] North Korean state media outlet Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) [media website] reported Tuesday that indictments are being prepared against two American journalists detained earlier this month [JURIST report] while allegedly attempting to enter the country illegally from China. Laura Ling [professional website] and Euna Lee were reporting on North Korean refugees in China for Current TV [media website] when they allegedly crossed the border [Yonhap report] two weeks ago. An investigation by North Korean officials allegedly concluded that the journalists had entered the country illegally [AFP report] and that there was enough evidence to charge them. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile; JURIST news archive] has reportedly been involved in talks [Chosun Ilbo report] regarding the reporters.

The incident comes at a sensitive time for international relations with North Korea, as the nation prepares for an imminent test missile launch [NYT report] which has heightened an already-tense relationship with the international community. North Korea has been accused of using the captured journalists as pawns [JURIST op-ed] in policy disputes with the US. The North Korean regime has been the subject of considerable international pressure over its refusal to fully disclose [AP report] its past nuclear activity. The US removed North Korea [WP report] from the State Department's list of terror sponsors [text] in October after former president George W. Bush agreed [JURIST report] to the step following the communist state's handover of a report on its nuclear program to China, one of the countries participating in the so-called Six Party Talks [CFR backgrounder] on the North Korean program. In February 2007, North Korea agreed [JURIST report] to end its nuclear weapons program, shut down and seal any reactors, and completely declare the extent of its nuclear activities in exchange for 50,000 tons of heavy fuel. North Korea has ranked [JURIST report] among the countries with the least protection for press freedoms.






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Israel military investigation concludes Gaza war crimes allegations unfounded
Andrew Gilmore on March 31, 2009 7:05 AM ET

[JURIST] Israeli military officials closed an internal investigation Monday into allegations of war crimes committed by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) [official website] personnel against Palestinian civilians, concluding that there was no wrongdoing [press release]. The investigation was launched last week [JURIST report] by the IDF in response to comments made by soldiers concerning reports of civilian killings and vandalism under liberal rules of engagement during a recent operation in the Gaza Strip. Dismissing the soldiers' reports as "hearsay," the IDF investigation concluded that the soldiers' comments were exaggerated, and repetition of rumors that circulated among forces operating in Gaza and not based on the actual observations of the soldiers who made the allegations. Military Advocate General Brigadier Avichai Mendelbilt said:

It is unfortunate that none of the speakers at the conference was careful to be accurate in the depiction of his claims, and even more so that they chose to present various incidents of a severe nature, despite not personally witnessing and knowing much about them. It seems that it will be difficult to evaluate the damage done to the image and morals of the IDF and its soldiers, who had participated in Operation Cast Lead, in Israel and the world.
Word of the investigation came as UN Special Rapportuer on human rights in the Palestinian territories Richard Falk [appointment release] issued a report [text, PDF] to the UN Human Rights Council [official website], in which Falk criticized Israel for failing to take adequate precautions to distinguish between civilians and combatants in their offensives in the region. Falk called for an independent investigation into the alleged crimes, which he said included the targeting of hospitals and mosques, the use of white phosphorus incendiary bombs in heavily populated areas, as well as Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. Both Israel and the US have criticized the report [JURIST report] as biased. Two weeks ago, a group of 16 human rights investigators and judges sent an open letter [text; JURIST report] to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile; JURIST news archive] and the UN Security Council calling for an investigation into the alleged crimes. Earlier this month, Iran announced that it would seek INTERPOL arrest warrants [JURIST report] for Israeli war crimes suspects. In January, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for an independent investigation [statement text; JURIST report] of possible war crimes and human rights violations in Gaza. International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is also attempting to gain jurisdiction over Israel [JURIST report] to investigate its actions in Gaza for alleged war crimes. Israel has already begun to consider defenses against possible war crimes charges, partly based on accusations [JURIST reports] that it used white phosphorus in a civilian area.





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Rights group urges Arab League to pressure Sudan president to readmit aid groups
Devin Montgomery on March 30, 2009 5:04 PM ET

[JURIST] Advocacy group Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] has called on the League of Arab States [official website, in Arabic] to urge Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to allow expelled foreign aid agencies [JURIST report] back into the country, according to a letter [text; press release] released by HRW on Monday. Bashir took the action after the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] issued a warrant [JURIST report] for his arrest on war crimes charges. HRW warned that the expulsion of the agencies has effectively cut in half the aid going to Darfur refugees, and that some camps are now without clean water or medical care. HRW also urged the Arab League to abandon its calls for the UN Security Council to exercise its power to suspend the charges [Rome Statute text] against Bashir, saying that such action is unwarranted and would only prolong existing problems in the country:

Human Rights Watch believes that a deferral would be wholly inappropriate in the current context. It would reward the denial of vital assistance to vulnerable populations-thereby encouraging further abuses-and would risk impunity for widespread atrocities without identifiable benefits for international peace and security.

The peace process for Darfur has long been stalled, as you know, because of lack of political will to end the conflict that is unrelated to the ICC. Although the Sudanese government and one rebel group, JEM, signed a "declaration of intent" in February 2009, it did not include any significant concessions or a commitment to a ceasefire. Moreover, as a suspension under article 16 is limited to 12-month periods, once a deferral takes effect, the Sudanese government can be expected to use annual threats of violence and empty promises to secure renewals.
The Arab League has maintained that the warrant against Bashir threatens [JURIST report] the country's peace process, a claim which HRW rejects. Despite the call by HRW, Arab League leaders reiterated their support [NYT report] for Bashir during an annual meeting Monday.

Last week, ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] said that Bashir's decision to expel the groups demonstrates that the ICC was justified [JURIST report] in pursuing the charges against him. Bashir has also threatened to expel [JURIST report] any remaining agencies, diplomats and peacekeepers in Sudan. Human rights and other groups have previously urged Bashir [JURIST report] to allow the agencies to remain in the country, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] spokesman Rupert Colville has said that his office may investigate [JURIST report] whether Sudan's removal of the groups itself is a possible breach of human rights law or war crime.





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Supreme Court hears bankruptcy court jurisdiction case
Devin Montgomery on March 30, 2009 3:49 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; briefs] Monday in Travelers Indemnity v. Bailey [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], where the Court will consider whether a bankruptcy court has jurisdiction to approve a third-party injunction provision in a plan of reorganization or related confirmation order. The cases arise from the bankruptcy of asbestos manufacturer Johns-Manville Corp. [corporate website]. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 2004 held [opinion, PDF] that a bankruptcy court lacked that jurisdiction. Petitioners in the case argue that the court did have the authority under federal law [11 USC § 524 text], and that the Second Circuit itself had upheld that authority in an earlier 1986 ruling.






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Supreme Court to hear oral arguments on intervening in original jurisdiction cases
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 30, 2009 2:20 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] agreed [order list, PDF] Monday to hear oral arguments in the case of South Carolina v. North Carolina to decide whether additional parties may intervene in a lawsuit between two states, over which the Court has original jurisdiction. A special master recommended [report, PDF] that three parties - the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, the Catawba River Water Supply Project, and Duke Energy Carolinas - be allowed to intervene in the lawsuit brought by South Carolina over water flows from the Catawba River. The state of South Carolina and the US government both dispute that recommendation, arguing that the states should speak for the interests of all their citizens.






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Cambodia genocide court begins substantive trial of ex-Khmer Rouge leader 'Duch'
Brian Jackson on March 30, 2009 1:27 PM ET

[JURIST] The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] began the substantive portion of the first trial of a former Khmer Rogue [BBC backgrounder] leader Monday when Kaing Guek Eav [Trialwatch backgrounder; JURIST news archive] was brought before the court. Pretrial hearings [JURIST report] against Kaing, also known as "Duch," began last month, but the substantive portion of the trial began when the proceedings resumed [Phnom Penh Post report] Monday. The schedule of events [closing order, PDF] in the ECCC on Monday included a formal identification of Kaing, a recitation of his rights, and a reading of the charges against him [closing order, PDF], which include war crimes, premeditated murder, and torture. The trial will continue [court document, PDF] with opening statements on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, and after that every Monday through Thursday until early July.

Kaing's trial is the first of eight [JURIST report] that the ECCC hopes to hear against former members of the Khmer Rouge, which has been accused of murdering 1.7 million Cambodians [PPU backgrounder] during their nearly four year reign. The ECCC has long been plagued with accusations of corruption and inadequate funding, with greater problems in recent years. Earlier this month, the ECCC reported that it would be unable to pay its Cambodian employees [JURIST report] for that month, one year after the court had requested $114 million dollars from the UN [JURIST report]. In February, Human Rights Watch warned that the ECCC trials were in danger of being tainted for their failure to follow fair trial standards [JURIST report], and in January a Cambodian court agreed to hear a corruption case [JURIST report] involving two ECCC judges.






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Rights group urges Greece to investigate alleged police abuses in wake of riots
Benjamin Hackman on March 30, 2009 12:39 PM ET

[JURIST] Greek authorities are not doing enough to ensure that the nation's police respect human rights, according to a Monday briefing [text, PDF; press release] from Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] urging the government to investigate and address "long-standing problems of policing." AI said allegations of human-rights abuses, including torture, the use of excessive force, arbitrary detentions, and denial of prompt legal assistance, continue to be lodged against Greek police. AI's briefing sets forth recommendations for helping Greece comply with its obligations under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms [text, PDF] and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text]. The recommendations include establishing an independent commission to investigate and publish a report about the December 2008 shooting death of 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos [BBC report] and the protests that ensued; implementing measures to prevent police from using excessive force when responding to demonstrations; and investigating patterns of alleged abuses that have diminished public confidence in policing. Greece has not responded to the AI briefing.

The Greek government said earlier this month that it would revamp its police force [JURIST report] in light of December demonstrations and riots [BBC backgrounder] that occurred in response to Grigoropoulos' death. An Athens police officer shot and killed Grigoropoulos after he and other youths allegedly threw stones at a police car. Police said Grigoropoulos was shot as he tried to hurl an explosive at officers. Demonstrations and riots protesting the shooting took place for weeks after Grigoropoulos' death. The officer who shot Grigoropoulos was suspended and charged with manslaughter. The Greek police have been accused of being both ineffective and unnecessarily violent [JURIST op-ed] in their response to the protests.






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Second US Army sergeant convicted of killing Iraqi detainees
Matt Glenn on March 30, 2009 10:25 AM ET

[JURIST] A US Army [official website] sergeant was convicted Monday and sentenced to 35 years in prison for killing four unarmed Iraqi prisoners [NYT report] in 2007. Sgt. First Class Joseph Mayo, formerly of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry [official website] and two other soldiers were charged in September [JURIST report] with shooting the four bound and blindfolded prisoners and disposing of their bodies in a canal. Mayo pleaded guilty at his court-martial proceeding Monday, saying he shot the prisoners because he feared they would be released due to lack of evidence against them. The killings followed a series of attacks against US troops and may have been retribution for the deaths of two US soldiers. Sgt. John Hatley, also charged in the killings, faces court martial proceedings [JURIST report] beginning April 13. According to Mayo's lawyer, Mayo has agreed to testify against Hatley [AP report].

The third man charged, Sgt. Michael Leahy Jr., was convicted [JURIST report] in February and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Staff Sgt. Jess Cunningham, originally an alleged co-conspirator against whom charges were dropped, testified against Leahy [JURIST report] at his trial. Fellow unit members Spc. Belmor Ramon and Spc. Steven Ribordy pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and accessory to murder [JURIST reports], respectively, in connection with the incident.






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Afghanistan high court extends presidential term until delayed August election
Jay Carmella on March 30, 2009 8:16 AM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Afghanistan [official website] decided Sunday to allow President Hamid Karzai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to remain in office until this August's general election [AOP election materials]. Under the Afghanistan Constitution [text], Karzai's term in office expires May 21, but the court held [NYT report] that since the extension of the election until August for security reasons was contrary to the constitution, the extension of Karzai's presidency would also be appropriate. Karzai's rivals hoped the court would require the appointment of a temporary government, fearing an extension of his term will give him an unfair advantage in the upcoming election. The court's decision is not binding. A grand tribunal, made up of approximately 1,000 delegates from around the country, has final authority on issues related to the constitution. A spokesperson for the US Department of State [official website] welcomed [statement] the court's ruling, and "call[ed] on the Government of Afghanistan, joined by its international partners, to make every effort to ensure that the conditions are created for genuinely free and fair elections that will reflect the will of the Afghan people."

Previous Afghani elections have been marred by allegations of fraud, allowing officials to remain in power beyond the expiration of their terms while results were reviewed. In 2005, the official results of the assembly elections were not available for nearly two months due to allegations of fraud [JURIST reports]. During that election a joint electoral board formed between Afghanistan and UN found that the irregularities were not enough [JURIST report] to call the results into question.






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Spain abortion law proposed changes cause widespread protests
Tere Miller-Sporrer on March 30, 2009 8:08 AM ET

[JURIST] Thousands protested the proposed liberalization of Spain's abortion laws in Madrid on Sunday. The changes, proposed earlier this month [JURIST report], include allowing abortions up to week 14 of pregnancy for any reason and lowering the age required for an abortion from 18 to 16. These reforms are in sharp contrast with the current law, established in 1985, which allows women over the age of 18 the right to abort only up to 12 weeks in cases of rape, up to 22 weeks in cases of fetal malformation, and at any stage where there are serious health risks to the mother. In protests organized by pro-life groups Derecho a Vivir, Hazte Oir, Medicos por la Vida and Provida Madrid [advocacy websites, in Spanish], demonstrators chanted "no right to kill, right to life" and urged the government not to adopt the proposed changes [AFP report]. Similar demonstrations [El Pais report, in Spanish] took place in cities throughout Spain on Sunday.

The panel tasked with investigating changes to Spanish abortion law was formed in September [JURIST report] at the request of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero as part of a series of social reforms including the legalization of same-sex marriage [JURIST report] and streamlined divorce proceedings. Since the committee was formed, the conservative Popular Party [official website, in Spanish] has repeatedly expressed the opinion [El Pais report, in Spanish] that relaxed abortion laws would stand in opposition to Article 15 of the Spanish Constitution [text, in Spanish], which guarantees the right to life.






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DC Circuit dismisses suit against US for 1998 executive order to bomb Sudan
Eszter Bardi on March 30, 2009 7:53 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website] on Friday upheld the dismissal [opinion, PDF] of a $50 million lawsuit against the US for the 1998 executive order authorizing a missile strike against a Sudan pharmaceutical plant issued by former president Bill Clinton [official profile]. The three-judge panel made its decision on grounds that Clinton's order was purely a political question [Cornell LII backgrounder] and not subject to judicial review. The Clinton administration justified the 1998 missile attacks as a response to terrorist attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, since the pharmaceutical plant owned by El-Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries Company and Salah El Din Ahmed Mohammed Idris was allegedly financed by Osama bin Laden [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and served as a base for terrorist operations. Plaintiffs El-Shifa and Idris deny any involvement in terrorist operations and filed a defamation and a law of nations claim under the Federal Torts Claim Act (FTCA) [28 USC § 1346(b)], seeking a declaratory judgment to absolve them from any alleged terrorist connections and compensation for the plant's allegedly unjustified destruction. While the district court dismissed the claim for a lack of subject matter jurisdiction, on appeal, the court relied on the principle that policy choices involving national security and foreign policy are the province of the executive branch and, as a matter of the separation of powers principle, fall outside of the judicial branch's review:

The making of such justifications is itself a policy decision that cannot be separated from the conduct of foreign relations and the exercise of the war power that it explains. Accordingly, we conclude that a decision on the defamation claim would necessarily cross the barrier marked by the political question doctrine. ... Plaintiffs’ defamation claim presents a challenge to the Executive’s foreign policy and national security decisionmaking, two areas clearly outside our authority. [citations omitted]
This was the third attempt of plaintiffs El-Shifa and Idris to recover damages for the destruction of the pharmaceutical plant. The initial suit was filed and dismissed as nonjusticiable in the US Court of Federal Claims [official website] under the Takings Clause of the US Constitution. The second action, brought as an administrative claim with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] under the FTCA, was dismissed by the CIA.





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US expresses tentative support for international climate treaty
Devin Montgomery on March 29, 2009 3:59 PM ET

[JURIST] US Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern [appointment release] said Sunday that the country was committed to the creation of an international treaty designed to combat global warming [recorded video, RealPlayer], but that such efforts would only succeed if they were economically feasible. Stern made the comments during the opening of a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) [official website] meeting [materials] in Bonn, Germany. He said that the US would make substantial cuts in its greenhouse gas emissions, but that it was impractical for the country to meet earlier UNFCCC targets [press release] which called for industrial countries to reduce emissions to 60-75% of 1990 levels by 2020. In his own opening remarks [video, RM], UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer [official profile], called for both industrialized and developing countries to either cut or slow the increase of emissions, but said that developing countries would likely need financial support in making their cuts. The US on Saturday announced that it would be holding additional climate change talks [press release] with the 17 countries with the largest economies in April.

The purpose of the UNFCCC meeting is to advance the negotiation of a new international agreement to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol [text; JURIST news archive]. Participating countries hope to finalize the agreement in December, and the agenda [press release, PDF; JURIST report] for the meeting was set last May in Bangkok. General guidelines for the talks were established in the 2007 Bali Roadmap [PDF text; JURIST report] negotiated in Bali, Indonesia. The new deal is expected to enter into force by 2013, following the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.






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US interrogation tactics were torture: former State Department lawyer
Devin Montgomery on March 29, 2009 3:03 PM ET

[JURIST] Former US State Department (DOS) [official website] lawyer Vijay Padmanabhan [faculty profile] criticized the administration of former president George W. Bush for approving the use of extreme interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects, in an interview [AP report] with the Associated Press reported Friday. Padmanabhan, who now teaches at Cardozo School of Law in New York, served as the DOS's chief counsel on Guantanamo Bay and Iraq [JURIST news archive] detentions, and said that he believed the interrogation tactics used against some detainees constituted torture. He said the Bush administration was wrong to argue that the detainees were not protected by Geneva Convention [materials] rights, and that the tactics were an overreaction to the 9/11 attacks against the US.

Earlier this month, excerpts from a previously-undisclosed report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [official website] characterizing tactics used against terrorism suspects at Guantanamo as torture [text; JURIST report] were published in the New York Review of Books. Also this month, former Colin Powell [JURIST news archive] aide Lawrence Wilkerson criticized the Bush administration for arbitrarily detaining innocent civilians at the base [Washington Notes blog post; JURIST report].






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Israel removes prisoner privileges in bid to put pressure on Hamas
Lucas Tanglen on March 29, 2009 12:08 PM ET

[JURIST] The Israeli Cabinet voted in a meeting [minutes] Sunday to deny Hamas [JURIST news archive] prisoners privileges not required by law, such as education, entertainment and some visitation. The move, recommended by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann [official profile; JURIST news archive], is intended to pressure Hamas [Haaretz report] into releasing Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit [BBC Q&A; JURIST news archive], who was captured in Gaza in 2006. The new policy [Arutz Sheva report] will place strict limits on family visits and money transfers, as well as remove opportunities for prisoners to take high school and university classes. The new rules were among the recommendations of a commission established by Friedmann after talks for the release of Shalit failed earlier this month. Freidmann said prisoners will continue to receive visits from the Red Cross [organization website], unlike Shalit, who has been denied them since his capture. The Israel Prison Service [official website, in Hebrew] has already begun to act [AFP report] on the recommendations of the commission.

Earlier this month, Israeli forces arrested 12 Hamas leaders [JURIST report] during raids in the West Bank after Israel and Hamas failed to reach an agreement on a prisoner exchange involving Shalit. Soon after Shalit's capture, Israel seized Hamas leaders [JURIST report] including Palestinian Cabinet ministers and lawmakers. Prisoner exchange negotiations between Israel and Hamas have failed before, although Egypt has been attempting to mediate [JURIST reports] such negotiations since 2006.






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US, Yemen should allow 'meaningful legal process' in Guantanamo repatriation: HRW
Lucas Tanglen on March 29, 2009 10:18 AM ET

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called Sunday for the US and Yemen [JURIST news archive] to agree on a repatriation plan that provides "meaningful legal process" for the nearly 100 Yemeni detainees still at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. A new HRW report [PDF; press release] criticized any proposal involving indefinite suspension at a Yemeni facility and expressed fears of detainee mistreatment after repatriation. The organization called for genuine rehabilitation efforts, questioning a Yemeni proposal in which detainees could be held for more than a year and face movement restrictions after release. The report called on Yemen to comply with the UN Convention against Torture [text] and commit to fair trials for any detainees who are charged. HRW's fears of detainee mistreatment are based in part on its follow-up with the 14 Yemeni detainees who have already been repatriated. One said he was beaten by investigators during his two-year detention. The report asked the US to refrain from pressuring Yemen to hold detainees without charges and called for a truth commission [JURIST news archive] to investigate alleged abuse of detainees. Any detainee who cannot return to Yemen due to a credible fear of persecution should be resettled in a safe third country, the report said.

In January, US President Barack Obama [official profile] issued an executive order [text; JURIST report] directing the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within one year. In July 2008, Yemeni officials met with a visiting US delegation [JURIST report] to discuss the possible transfer of Yemeni detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, with the US voicing concerns that they would be freed upon their return. In October 2007, US officials criticized [JURIST report] the Yemeni government over reports that it had released suspected USS Cole bomber Jamal al-Badawi [GlobalSecurity profile] after he turned himself in. In May 2007, a senior Yemeni official said the country had agreed [JURIST report] to receive most Yemeni detainees being held at Guantanamo. In June 2006, Yemeni officials called for investigations into the Guantanamo suicides of three detainees [JURIST reports], including one Yemeni national, saying that the deaths exemplified the "inhumane conditions of detainees" at the US military prison.






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Pakistan forms parliamentary panel to review key constitutional provisions
Andrew Gilmore on March 28, 2009 2:47 PM ET

[JURIST] Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] Saturday announced the formation of a parliamentary committee to examine the revision of key terms of the Pakistan Constitution [text]. The revisions would include the elimination of the controversial 17th Amendment [text] and Article 58-2(B), which give the president extraordinary power over Pakistani elected bodies, including the power to dissolve the country's parliament and remove individual MPs. News of the formation of the committee [The News report] came in an address to a joint session of the parliament by Zardari, who invoked the memory of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto [JURIST news archive] in making the announcement.

The formation of the parliamentary committee comes towards the end of a month of political turmoil in Pakistan which culminated in the reinstatement [JURIST report] of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry Mohammed [JURIST news archive] of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani [BBC profile] announced early last week that the government would reinstate Chaudhry in response to recent protests by members of the lawyers' movement and opposition politicians and supporters. Reports first surfaced in mid-March that President Zardari had agreed to reinstate Chaudhry and other judges ousted by Zardari's predecessor Pervez Musharraf in November 2007 after his declaration of emergency rule. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website] have actively campaigned [JURIST report] for Chaudhry's reinstatement. Throughout the period of his removal Chaudhry insisted that he was still chief justice [JURIST report] under the Pakistani constitution.






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Spain judge weighing probe of US lawyers who promoted Guantanamo: reports
Andrew Gilmore on March 28, 2009 1:58 PM ET

[JURIST] Crusading Spanish judge Baltazar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] has asked prosecutors to examine [AFP report] the US lawyers reportedly behind the establishment of the Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detention center, Spanish media reported Saturday. Garzon's request comes after a criminal complaint [text, PDF, in Spanish] was filed last week [Publico report, in Spanish] in the Audiencia Nacional [official website] against six lawyers from the administration of former US president George W. Bush, including David Addington, John Yoo, and former attorney general Alberto Gonzales. The lawsuit, brought under Spain's universal jurisdiction statute, alleges that the six lawyers committed crimes against the international community, as well as crimes against persons and property protected during armed conflict, in violation of the Spanish constitution, as well as the Geneva Conventions [ICRC materials] and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment [UN materials].

Garzon, famed for indicting Osama bin Laden and former Latin American dictator Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archives], is well known for his involvement in high-profile investigations of terror and human rights cases. Last October, he ordered [JURIST report] the exhumation of 19 mass graves in Spain, launching an investigation into the disappearances of tens of thousands of people beginning in the Spanish Civil War [BBC backgrounder], and continuing through the early years of the Francisco Franco dictatorship [BBC backgrounder]. Garzon has also called for the creation of a "truth commission" [JURIST report] to uncover Franco-era abuses.






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Syria security court resumption troubling: HRW
Steve Czajkowski on March 28, 2009 10:59 AM ET

[JURIST] Humans Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] Friday criticized [text] the resumption of activities by Syria's Supreme State Security Court (SSSC), and called for its dissolution. HRW called the court's activities a violation of the right to a fair trial in part because it does not follow procedural rules of Syria's criminal courts and does not allow defendants to appeal its verdicts. Sarah Leah Whitson [official profile], director of the Middle East and North Africa division of HRW, expressed dismay over the reopening of the court:

The resumption of business in this kangaroo court is a distressing signal that Syrian authorities have no interest in addressing their flawed justice system...Instead of revealing the fate of those detained in Sednaya and referring the accused to courts that can actually dispense justice, they decided to resume sentencing defendants in a court that rubber-stamps whatever the security services want.
According to the report, the SSSC had been disbanded in July following a riot at the Sednaya prison, where many detainees were awaiting hearings in the court. Syrian officials have not confirmed [AP report] whether the court has actually reopened.

HRW has often accused Syria of using the SSSC in forwarding its political goals. In February, HRW issued a report [report materials] detailing how Syria used the SSSC to silence critics and criminalize freedom of expression. In 2004, HRW called on Syria to try suspects in civilian courts rather than in the security courts [HRW report]. HRW has also accused Syria of "systematic discrimination" against Kurds, including the arbitrary denial of citizenship to Syria-born Kurds [HRW report].





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Federal judge sets timetable for release of reports on CIA tapes destruction
Steve Czajkowski on March 28, 2009 10:01 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Friday ordered the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] to release reports on the destruction of 92 videotapes [JURIST news archive] of high value terrorism suspect interrogations within the next 30 days or alternatively, explain why it should not do so. Judge Alvin Hellerstein [official profile] directed the CIA to disclose the reports along with a list of witnesses as part of the ongoing lawsuit [ACLU materials] brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] in an effort to access government materials on the interrogations under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text]. The ACLU has argued that the destruction of the videotapes violated a 2004 order [ACLU press release] by Hellerstein which instructed the CIA to turn over all records pertaining to the treatment of detainees, and that the CIA should be held in contempt for failing to preserve the records. A criminal probe [JURIST report] into the destruction of the videotapes is currently ongoing.

Earlier this month, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] acknowledged the CIA destroyed [letter, PDF] 92 videotapes of terrorism suspect interrogations, in response to an August 2008 judicial order [text, PDF] that the CIA turn over information regarding the tapes or provide specific justifications on why it could not release the information. Additionally, the DOJ admitted in court documents [text, PDF], that twelve of the 92 videotapes destroyed by the CIA [JURIST report] contained evidence of "enhanced interrogation techniques." The ACLU brought its lawsuit [CCR backgrounder] after the October 2003 request filed by the ACLU under FOIA for information pertaining to US held detainees in overseas facilities received in answer only a set of media talking points used by the Department of State.






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Federal judge sets date for Enron ex-CEO resentencing, rules for victim testimony
Andrew Gilmore on March 27, 2009 3:09 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas [official website] issued an order [text, PDF] Friday setting a July 30 date for the resentencing of former Enron [JURIST news archive] Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling [JURIST news archive] and setting up a system for victims to share their accounts with the court. Skilling was convicted in 2006 on 19 counts of conspiracy, insider trading, and securities fraud relating to the collapse of Enron. He appealed the conviction to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [court website], which upheld his conviction [JURIST report] in January. Because of the wide-ranging impact of Skilling's crimes, Lake's order requires victims who wish to speak at the sentencing to submit a written summary of their statements in order to condense the opinions that victims and their representatives seek to present to the court during the sentencing hearing. In his order, Judge Sim Lake wrote:

Potential crime victims in the case include thousands of former Enron employees, owners of Enron securities, and other persons who were harmed as a result of the crimes for which the defendant will be resentenced. The court concludes that allowing each victim to speak at the defendant's resentencing hearing could unduly prolong and complicate the resentencing of the defendant. Moreover, if a large number of victims intend to attend the hearing, it will be necessary for the court to make arrangements for adequate seating. ...

All persons who believe that they are victims of crimes committed by Mr. Skilling shall notify the court by May 29, 2009, if they wish to be heard at the resentencing hearing, and will briefly explain why they are a crime victim and summarize what they wish to say at the hearing. ... If it appears that multiple victims wish to make the same points, the court may limit the number of victims who speak in order not to unduly complicate or prolong the sentencing hearing.
In September 2007, Skilling appealed [JURIST report] his 2006 conviction [Houston Chronicle backgrounder] to the Fifth Circuit, claiming errors by prosecutors and the trial judge. Skilling was found guilty of providing shareholders with false and misleading information about the fiscal health of the energy company, and initially sentenced to 292 months in prison, three years supervised release and 45 million dollars in restitution. Skilling's appeal was based on a previous Fifth Circuit ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that overturned convictions for other Enron executives based on "honest services theft" because they had acted in Enron's best interest by direction and did not profit from their actions. The Fifth Circuit ruled in January that Skilling's case differed from these previous rulings because "no one at Enron sanctioned Skilling’s improper conduct" and because Skilling's compensation structure was aligned with Enron's earnings.





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UN rights body condemns Myanmar for violations, extends investigation
Adrienne Lester on March 27, 2009 2:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] on Friday passed a resolution condemning Myanmar for human rights violations [press release] and calling on the military junta to desist from politically motivated arrests and release nearly 2,100 political prisoners, which include Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The resolution was condemned by countries in Asia and Russia as ineffective and unnecessary due to improved conditions for human rights. Under the resolution, the council reappointed Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana for one year to continue monitoring the human rights situation in the country.

Last week, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention [official website] said [press release and opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi violates Myanmar's 1975 State Protection Law [text] and pressed for her immediate release. In February, the military government of Myanmar granted amnesty to 23 political detainees and more than 6,300 other prisoners, said Thailand-based human rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) [advocacy website]. These grants were in response to increasing international pressure on the military junta to end its persecution of political dissidents. In January, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] sent an open letter [text, PDF; JURIST report] to the government, urging it to cease targeting its Rohingya Muslim minority [BBC profile]. In December, the UN General Assembly [official website] adopted a resolution [press release; JURIST report] denouncing the nation's alleged human rights violations. In June, the UNHRC criticized the government of Myanmar [JURIST report] for its continued human rights abuses and refusal to cooperate with humanitarian groups.






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Russia trials without juries unfair to accused: Khodorkovsky
Amelia Mathias on March 27, 2009 2:02 PM ET

[JURIST] Russian trials decided by juries are currently restricted, creating hopeless situations for those accused of crimes who choose not to plead guilty, according to former oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] on Friday. In a statement [text] released on his defense website, Khodorkovsky, who is currently on trial for embezzlement, expressed his hope that this, his second trial, will turn out completely different from his first, writing:

Today one who does not plead guilty, unless his case is tried by a jury court, is guaranteed to make his situation significantly worse because:

- He will get a guilty verdict
- His jail term will be extended, AND
- There will be no hope for early release.

I believe that people ready for such a sacrifice for the sake of the truth, deserve public attention.
This statement comes just months after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile] signed into law amendments allowing trials for treason and terrorism to be adjudicated without juries [JURIST report]. Khodorkovsky is expected to play a stronger role [RIA Novosti report] in his own defense in his upcoming trial. Khodorkovsky's trial, as well as that of his former business partner, Platon Lebedev, is due to begin March 31.

Pre-trial arguments began earlier this month [JURIST report]. Critics have claimed that the charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are politically motivated due to Khodorkovsky's opposition of former Russian president Vladimir Putin [JURIST news archive]. The transfer of the two from prison to Moscow to stand trial on the new charges was ordered [JURIST report] last month by a judge for the District Court in Moscow. Khodorkovsky still maintains that his 2005 conviction [JURIST report] on the fraud and tax evasion was unjust, and maintains his innocence. He requested early release from that sentence last July, but his application was rejected [JURIST reports] in August because he disobeyed guards at the Krasnokamensk penal colony [Guardian backgrounder], refused to participate in a training program, and faced the possibility of additional charges. Khodorkovsky has appealed [JURIST report] that decision.





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Mexico court clears ex-president of genocide charges
Tere Miller-Sporrer on March 27, 2009 12:02 PM ET

[JURIST] A Mexican appeals court on Thursday affirmed a lower court ruling that absolved former president Luis Echeverria [TrialWatch backgrounder; JURIST news archive] of any criminal responsibility for the 1968 killings of student protesters [GWU backgrounder] in Mexico City's Tlatelolco Plaza. The Fifth Criminal Collegiate Court upheld the Third United Criminal Tribunal's July 2007 finding [JURIST report] that the act constituted genocide but that the prosecution had presented no evidence [Universal report, in Spanish] linking Echeverria to the crime. Echeverria, who has been under house arrest since 2006, was released [Jornada, report, in Spanish] Thursday after the ruling.

In December 2006, a court report accused Echeverria of directly ordering [JURIST report] government authorities to repress the student protest, during which at least 25 but as many as 350 students were killed. Echeverria is also accused [JURIST report] of involvement in the murders and disappearances of more than 500 leftist dissidents during a period of time in the 1960s and 1970s called Mexico's "dirty war" [National Security Archive backgrounder], but no charges have been brought.






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Ukraine PM calls for constitutional changes to define roles of president and parliament
Devin Montgomery on March 27, 2009 11:10 AM ET

[JURIST] Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website] called for constitutional changes to provide more separation between parliamentary and presidential powers during a Thursday interview [report] with Reuters. Tymoshenko said that she believed that the presidency should retain certain powers, but that parliament should be given clear ways to check those powers. She said that by amending the country's constitution [text, in Ukrainian] to clarify the different roles, the government would be better able to address the country's problems, which include strong inflation and high unemployment. The Ukraine government has been criticized [Kyiv Post report] for being ineffective because of a power-struggle [JURIST report] between the branches.

In October, Tymoshenko withdrew a lawsuit [JURIST report] she had brought against Ukraine President Victor Yushchenko [official website; JURIST news archive] after he suspended a plan [press release; AFP report] to hold early elections following the collapse [press release] of the country's coalition government. Before suspending the plan, Yushchenko had issued a decree [decree 922/2008 text, in Ukrainian; JURIST report] abolishing a Kiev court after it tried to block [JURIST report] his order dissolving parliament. Ukraine's leadership is divided in the wake of the 2004 Orange Revolution [Foreign Affairs backgrounder] that brought Yushchenko to power as president.






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UK cites counter-terrorism policies, conflict resolution as focus of 2008 rights efforts
Devin Montgomery on March 27, 2009 9:03 AM ET

[JURIST] The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) [official website] on Thursday said that it has focused on the effects of counter-terrorism efforts and global warming on human rights, as well as effective conflict resolution and the support of international institutions charged with protecting the rights in its Annual Report on Human Rights [text, PDF]. Introducing the report, UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband [official profile] said the office had made an effort to convey objectively [statement text] both its successes and challenges in advancing human rights around the world:

The British people’s commitment to human rights is born from a sense of our history, of rights forged out of shared struggles, and on the belief that free societies offer the best prospects for long term stability and growth. Economic freedom is the best way to empower individuals to fight poverty and improve their own standard of living. Political freedom – and in particular effective democracy–is the best guarantee against political corruption and mismanagement. And as Kofi Annan said, “Humanity will not enjoy security without development, it will not enjoy development without security, and it will not enjoy either without respect for human rights.”

The Human Rights report is a clear and comprehensive survey of our own efforts; an honest account of the successes, the setbacks and the dilemmas.
The FCO also focused on the 20 countries where it said the human rights situations were most concerning. Among these, it said there was particular danger to civilians in Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Israel and the Palestinian Territory [JURIST news archives]. It said that the humanitarian situations in Sudan and Myanmar [JURIST news archives] had become more dire. The FCO also criticized China for its treatment of Tibetans, and warned that Russia, in addition to its conflict with Georgia, had taken anti-democratic steps in recent elections [JURIST news archives].

The UK also voiced concern [JURIST report] over the rights situations in many of the same countries in its 2007 report. Earlier this month, the US published its annual reports [JURIST report] on human rights situations in almost 200 countries.





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Fourth Circuit rules South Carolina sex offender DNA law is constitutional
Bhargav Katikaneni on March 27, 2009 8:24 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that a South Carolina law [SC Code §§ 23-3-600 et seq. text] requiring convicted first degree sex offenders to submit to a DNA test and pay $250 in processing fees prior to their release does not violate the ex post facto clause [text] of the Constitution. Anthony Eubanks, convicted of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree in April 1995, brought the action against the South Carolina Department of corrections, challenging the constitutionality of the provisions, which took effect in July 1995. In a narrowly tailored ruling, a three-judge panel upheld the district court's grant of summary judgment against Eubanks, holding that the state DNA Identification Act did not violate the ex post facto clause because DNA gathering was a regulatory, not punitive function. The court also held that the $250 fee was a relatively small sum suggesting that it "was not intended to have a significant retributive or deterrent" function. The court was more troubled by a provision that allowed South Carolina to garnish prisoners' wages to pay the $250 fee but avoided ruling on the issue as the appellant had not brought a due process claim. Finally, the court found that the statutory requirement that the prisoner must pay the $250 fee before he is paroled or released is unenforceable against Eubanks, as this provision is severable from the rest of the statute.

This case is the third instance that a court has held that the South Carolina DNA statute does not violate the ex post facto clause. Two South Carolina Court of Appeals rulings previously held that the law was constitutional, including one case decided [opinion] in June. Federal DNA collection laws have also withstood recent constitutional challenges. In 2007, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld [JURIST report] an amendment to the DNA Backlog Elimination Act [JURIST report] that required all felons in federal prison to submit DNA to a national database available to police departments throughout the country. In 2005, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the constitutionality of an FBI DNA database, and the New Jersey Court of Appeals upheld a state DNA database for convicted criminals [JURIST reports].






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US Congress approves land and water conservation bill
Christian Ehret on March 27, 2009 8:10 AM ET

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] voted 285-140 [roll call vote] Wednesday to approve the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 [HR 146 materials], a collection of more than 160 bills aimed at preserving federal land as wilderness areas, limiting gas and oil development, establishing the National Landscape Conservation System, and various water protection efforts. Among other initiatives, the measure would designate 2 million acres [map, PDF] of federal land as protected wilderness areas, significantly adding to the National Wilderness Preservation System [website]. A spokesman for Campaign for America's Wilderness [advocacy group] applauded the legislation [press release] as being "crafted to both protect our nation's public lands and help sustain local economies." The Wilderness Society [advocacy website] expressed their approval [press release] of the establishment of The National Landscape Conservation System, touting it as the first new land conservation system in a decade. Friends of the Clearwater [advocacy group] have spoken out against [text] a previous version of the legislation, criticizing its public land exchange provisions and constrains on land use as being against the public interest. The measure, which was approved by the US Senate last week, now awaits approval from President Barack Obama [official profile], who is expected to sign [NYT report].

The legislation would affect some of the same land at the center of the controversy surrounding the Roadless Area Conservation Rule [Forest Service backgrounder], implemented by former president Bill Clinton in 2001 and replaced [JURIST report] in 2005 by the Bush administration with a rule allowing governors to request that regulations on the management of roadless areas be developed to meet the needs of individual states. The Clinton-era rule would have prohibited mining, logging, and road construction in the forests of 38 states and Puerto Rico, totaling more than 58 million acres of land. In December, a federal judge ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that her 2006 decision [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] invalidating the Bush administration rule [text] applies only to 10 western states. In August, another federal judge ruled [opinion, PDF] that the Clinton-era rule was invalid, and the Bush administration had asked that the two conflicting decisions be reconciled. Cases are currently pending in federal courts in San Francisco and Denver, and the Obama administration could also make changes to the rule.






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Japan court rejects suit challenging punishments for failure to sing anthem
Brian Jackson on March 27, 2009 8:02 AM ET

[JURIST] The Tokyo District Court on Thursday rejected a lawsuit [Japan Times report] filed by 172 teachers and school personnel who were punished for refusing to sing the national anthem and salute the flag at school events. The school staff argued that the punishments, ranging from suspensions and salary reductions to "special retraining" [NYT report], violated their freedom of thought guaranteed under the Japanese constitution [text]. The District Court has issued mixed rulings since new rules [Japan Times report] were issued altering how the flag is to be flown and how the national anthem, "Kimigayo," is to be sung, as well as mandating punishment for violations of the rules, with a number of those rulings currently under review by the Tokyo High Court.

The controversial statute is just one of many examples of a resurgence of Japanese nationalism and desire for Japan to have a greater presence on the world stage. Over the past decade, Japan has made numerous attempts to amend its "pacifist" constitution [JURIST news archive], particularly Article 9, which includes, "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes." In January, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada authorized the Japanese navy to engage pirates [JURIST report] off of the coast of Somalia, in possible violation of the constitution. In May 2008, Japanese lawmakers passed a bill [JURIST report] authorizing the use of the country's space program for defense purposes. In November 2007, The Sapporo District Court rejected a claim [JURIST report] that the presence of Japanese troops in Iraq violated the constitution, and in January of that year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe elevated the Defense Agency [speech text] to the Ministry of Defense, a cabinet-level Ministry with an increased budget.






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UN human rights body adopts resolution urging defamation of religion laws
Andrew Gilmore on March 26, 2009 5:14 PM ET

[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] passed a resolution Thursday calling for laws against defamation of religion, in preparation for next month's Durban Review Conference [official website] on racism, discrimination, and xenophobia. The vote was 23-13 in favor of the resolution. Ahead of Thursday's vote, a number of critics of international defamation of religion legislation urged the Human Rights Council to reject the resolution [Reuters report], arguing that the concept has no validity under international law because only individuals, not concepts or beliefs, can be defamed. Several national delegates, including those from Muslim countries, called for passage of the resolution on Wednesday, saying that defamation of religion protection was needed [UNHRC press release] due to rising Islamophobic incidents, persisting manifestations of racism and acts of intolerance including religious profiling.

In December 2007, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution against defamation of religion [JURIST report], expressing concern about laws that have led to religious discrimination and profiling since 9/11 terrorist attacks [JURIST news archive]. Then-Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf called for the resolution [JURIST report] in the General Assembly in 2006, citing feelings in the Muslim world of "desperation and injustice" in the wake of the Danish publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad [JURIST news archive]. The UNHRC passed a similar resolution [JURIST report] opposing defamation of Islam in March 2007, with many western nations and advocacy groups standing in opposition.






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New Hampshire House passes same-sex marriage bill
Andrew Gilmore on March 26, 2009 4:28 PM ET

[JURIST] The New Hampshire House of Representatives [official website] voted Thursday to approve a bill [HB 436 text] that would permit same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] in the state. The bill passed by a vote of 186-179, and now moves on to the New Hampshire State Senate [official website]. If approved by the Senate and signed into law by New Hampshire Governor John Lynch (D) [official website], the bill would "eliminate[] the exclusion of same gender couples from marriage, affirm[] religious freedom protections of clergy with regard to the solemnization of marriage, and provide[] a mechanism by which same gender couples who have entered into a civil union prior to the enactment of this bill may obtain the legal status of marriage." The New Hampshire House vote was met with derision [New Hampshire Union-Leader report] from New Hampshire Republican Party chairman John Sununu. Lynch has opposed same-sex marriage in the state, saying that the New Hampshire civil union law [JURIST report] passed in 2007 provides the same legal protections for same-sex couples.

The New Hampshire attorney general was one of ten state attorneys general to petition the Supreme Court of California to postpone implementation of its decision [JURIST reports] to allow same-sex marriages in that state. The New Hampshire same-sex civil union law, which took effect in 2008 [JURIST report], allows same-sex couples to enter into civil unions with the "same rights, responsibilities, and obligations as married couples." In 2005, a New Hampshire Senate commission on same-sex marriages voted to recommend [JURIST report] that the state not allow same-sex couples to marry, not recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages, and not establish a domestic partner registry.






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Pennsylvania court overturns hundreds of juvenile sentences in judge kickback scandal
Caitlin Price on March 26, 2009 3:58 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania [official website] on Thursday ordered [text, PDF] hundreds of juvenile convictions to be overturned and records to be expunged without hearing pursuant to the recommendation of a Special Master [text, PDF], in an attempt to rectify "the alleged travesty of juvenile justice" committed by two state judges involved in an alleged kickback scheme. In February, Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas [official website] President Judge Mark Ciavarella and former President Judge Michael Conahan pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to federal corruption charges [criminal information, PDF] that claimed that between June 2000 and January 2007 they accepted more than $2.6 million in kickbacks for sentencing teenagers to two private juvenile detention facilities in which they had a financial interest. Special Master Arthur Grim noted that Pennsylvania jurisprudence provides that "the appearance of [judicial] impropriety is sufficient justification for the grant of new proceedings before another judge." The state Supreme Court accepted Grim's recommendation that consent decrees and adjudications should be vacated and records should be expunged for isolated, non-serious offenses where the juveniles appearing before Ciavarella were not represented by lawyers. Grim wrote:

This prompt action in these non-serious cases will be at least one step towards righting the wrongs which were visited upon these juveniles and will help restore confidence in the justice system. Furthermore, it is not in the interest of the community to relitigate these non-serious cases, nor do I believe that the victims would be well-served by new proceedings.
Each affected juvenile offender will be given an opportunity to object to the decision, and the Supreme Court will issue future findings on other, more serious classes of affected cases. A spokesperson for the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center (JLC) [advocacy website], which filed the case, welcomed [Philadelphia Inquirer report] the court's decision.

Ciavarella and Conahan were specifically accused of honest services fraud and tax fraud. A spokesperson for the JLC said that juveniles arraigned before Ciavarella between 2003 and 2006 received excessive sentences. Both judges agreed to 87-month prison sentences for themselves, but the pleas will not be formally accepted until sentencing, which could take up to 90 days. University of Pittsburgh School of Law Professor David Harris [professional profile] criticized the plea agreement [JURIST op-ed], saying, "I don’t think seven years is nearly enough for the harm they did to the system of justice, to our collective belief in the rule of law, to these children, and to their families." Yet to be determined are the amount the judges will be ordered to pay in restitution, and whether Ciavarella wrongly incarcerated juveniles to benefit the two companies involved. These issues will be resolved [Scranton Times report] during the presentence investigation and through a possible hearing before the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania [official website]. The judges have also agreed to resign their positions and be disbarred. Families whose children were sentenced to the detention centers filed a lawsuit [Scranton Times report] against the judges and 14 other defendants, including the company that ran the detention facilities and two individuals who allegedly paid the judges. The judges allegedly received the payments into businesses they owned and in some cases falsely characterized the payments as rental income from a Florida condominium.





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Taiwan corruption trial begins for ex-president Chen
Caitlin Price on March 26, 2009 3:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The corruption trial of former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] opened Thursday, one day after Chen criticized the proceedings as "political persecution." Chen was indicted [JURIST report] in December and faces possible life in prison on charges of embezzlement, receiving bribes, forgery, and money laundering. Chen has maintained that the charges against him are politically motivated, alleging that the administration of current President Ma Ying-jeou [official website; JURIST news archive] is using the trial to distance itself from Chen's anti-China views. On Wednesday, Chen issued a statement of protest [Taipei Times report], declaring that a verdict against him had been determined before the trial began. Also Wednesday, the Taiwanese Ministry of Justice [official website] announced that it will investigate statements made by a prosecutor [Taiwan News report] in the Chen trial on a television talk show to determine whether any confidential information was revealed. Chen's trial is expected to conclude in mid-April [NYT report].

Chen has staged two hunger strikes [JURIST report] in protest of the charges against him, and in January he unsuccessfully appealed [JURIST report] his pretrial detention. In February, Chen's wife, Wu Shu-Chen, pleaded guilty to charges [JURIST report] of money-laundering and forgery, but denied charges that she embezzled from the presidential state affairs fund. Chen's sister-in-law has also pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to charges that she had forged documents and transferred money to bank accounts upon orders from Chen and Wu. Chen has asserted that he was unaware of Wu's actions. In September 2008, Chen was cleared [JURIST report] of separate defamation charges.






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UK police to investigate MI5 agent role in US detainee alleged abuse
Devin Montgomery on March 26, 2009 12:53 PM ET

[JURIST] UK Attorney General Janet Scotland [official profile] said Thursday that police would conduct an investigation [statement, PDF] into claims that an agent of the country's MI5 [official website] intelligence service took part in the allegedly abusive interrogation of former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Binyam Mohamed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Scotland said she determined the investigation was necessary after reviewing allegations [JURIST report] that an MI5 agent gave US CIA agents questions that were asked of Mohammed during his alleged torture in Morocco. Mohamed, a native of Ethiopia who claims to have been transferred to Morocco for torture under a US program of extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive], said he obtained the documents through the US legal process while seeking his release from Guantanamo Bay.


Earlier this month, the UK government's independent reviewer of terror laws called for a judicial inquiry [JURIST report] into British complicity in US rendition and torture. British media reported last week that UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak told British ministers that MI5 may have been complicit [JURIST report] in torture committed while detainees including Mohamed were in US custody. Mohamed was returned to the UK [JURIST report] last week following seven years of detention, including five at Guantanamo Bay, where he was held on charges of conspiring to commit terrorism. Those charges were dismissed [JURIST report] in October, but Mohamed remained in custody while US authorities considered filing new charges.





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House committee approves journalist shield bill
Andrew Morgan on March 26, 2009 12:12 PM ET

[JURIST] The US House Judiciary Committee [official website] on Wednesday approved a bill [HR 985 materials] that would limit the government's ability to compel reporters to disclose confidential sources. Under the terms of the Free Flow of Information Act of 2009, parties seeking the identity of confidential sources from reporters in federal court must show that the information relates to an act of terrorism, national security, disclosure of trade secrets, or the imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm. The court must further be convinced that the party seeking the disclosure has exhausted all other means of acquiring the information, and that "the public interest in compelling disclosure of the information or document involved outweighs the public interest in gathering or disseminating news or information". The bill also requires that the subject of a disclosure request be informed and given an opportunity to be heard before a communications service provider is compelled to disclose information about his or her activity. The protections in the proposed bill would extend only to reporters who receive "a substantial portion of the person's livelihood or ... substantial financial gain," leaving courts free to compel the disclosure of confidential sources from many bloggers. The bill passed the committee on a voice vote, with passage expected in the full House [RCFP report].

The committee passed a similar bill [JURIST report] in 2007, which was approved by the full house 398-21. The measure died in the Senate under threat of presidential veto, despite a 15-2 vote [JURIST report] in the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website]. The administration of former president George W. Bush continuously opposed the enactment of a federal reporter shield law [JURIST news archive] citing national security concerns, while proponents, including media outlets, argue the legislation is necessary to protect freedom of the press. The bill was first proposed in May 2006, partially in response to the controversial 85-day jailing of New York Times journalist Judith Miller [JURIST news archive] after she refused to reveal a source to the federal grand jury investigating the leak of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame [JURIST news archive]. Other journalists have faced contempt charges for refusing to reveal sources. In November, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated [JURIST report] a contempt order [JURIST report] against former USA Today reporter Toni Locy [JURIST news archive], who had refused to reveal government sources for a series of articles she wrote about the 2001 anthrax attacks [JURIST news archive].






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New Hampshire House votes to repeal death penalty
Benjamin Hackman on March 26, 2009 11:46 AM ET

[JURIST] The New Hampshire House of Representatives [official website] voted 193-174 Wednesday to pass a bill [text] repealing the death penalty [JURIST news archive]. The proposed legislation would amend New Hampshire's criminal code by extending the definition of first-degree murder to encompass capital murder. The bill would take effect January 1, 2010, but Governor John Lynch (D) [official website] has said that he intends to veto the legislation [news release]. The bill will now come before the New Hampshire Senate [official website], where it is less likely to pass [Concord Monitor report], as it has no Senate co-sponsors.

Last week, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (D) [official website] signed [JURIST report] a bill [text, PDF; HB 285 materials] repealing the death penalty, making New Mexico the second state to abolish the death penalty since the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] reinstated it nationally in 1976. New Jersey was the first state to pass [JURIST report] such a law in 2007. Earlier this week, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] reported [text, PDF; JURIST report] that global executions rose in 2008. Last year, the US performed the smallest number of executions since 1995 with one state, Texas, accounting for half of those executions.






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Czech Republic PM resigns casting doubt on future of EU reform treaty
Devin Montgomery on March 26, 2009 11:18 AM ET

[JURIST] Czech Republic Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek [official website; JURIST news archive] formally resigned Thursday, casting doubt on the future of the European Union (EU) reform pact known as the Treaty of Lisbon [EU materials; text]. Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra [official website] said Wednesday that the recent collapse of the country's ruling coalition would likely "complicate" its ratification of the treaty. The coalition had been led by Topolanek, but the government on Tuesday lost a no-confidence vote [Prague Post report] in the country's parliament, leading to his Thursday resignation [Czech Radio report]. There has also been speculation that the failure could cause other problems [Prague Monitor report] for the EU given the Czech Republic's presidency [EU presidency website] of the Union, but Topolanek said he doesn't expect the power change to affect the country's participation in the role. The Czech Senate [official website] had been expected to vote on the treaty next month, but it is not clear whether that timeline will now be met.

The Czech Republic's Chamber of Deputies [official website], or lower house of parliament, in February approved [press release; JURIST report] the Lisbon Treaty, but both the senate and President Vaclav Klaus [official website] must also approve the treaty for it to be adopted. Beyond challenges in the Czech Republic, the treaty still must pass a referendum in Ireland where voters had earlier rejected [JURIST reports] the treaty in a June 2008 referendum, prompting Polish President Lech Kaczynski [official website] to refuse [JURIST report] to sign, calling it "pointless." In November, Sweden became the 24th EU state to ratify the charter [JURIST report]. In 2005, a proposed European constitution [JURIST news archive] failed when voters in France and the Netherlands [JURIST reports] rejected the proposal in national referenda.






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UN Hariri tribunal appoints officials, adopts procedural rules
Steve Czajkowski on March 26, 2009 10:31 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) [official website] has named several key officials and finalized procedural and evidentiary rules in order to begin investigating and trying those involved in the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri [JURIST news archive], according to a statement [UN News Centre report] issued by the court Wednesday. The STL, which was created [JURIST report] in May 2007, will be headed by Antonio Cassese, who was the first president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website]. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] appointed Francois Roux of France as the head of the defense office. Daniel Bellemare [Ya Libnan profile], who formerly headed the International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) [authorizing resolution; UN materials] that assisted Lebanese authorities with the investigation of Hariri's assassination, was appointed as lead prosecutor of the STL earlier this month. While the court has named Cassese and pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen of Belgium, it said that it will refrain from naming the remaining judges for the trial and appeals chamber until the appropriate security precautions are in place.

Last month, the STL's registrar Robin Vincent [official profile, PDF] said that it plans to ask the Lebanese government to transfer four generals [Daily Star report; JURIST report] being held on suspicion of involvement in Hariri's assassination to the court's custody. In March 2008, Bellemare said he believed a criminal network was behind the assassination [JURIST report]. The STL will consist of 11 international and Lebanese judges and have a budget of $51 million [JURIST report] for its first year . The investigation into the assassination, which had been extended past its original anticipated end date and expanded to cover other assassinations in the country, has increased existing tensions between Lebanon and Syria as several IIIC reports have implicated Syrian officials in Hariri's death [JURIST reports].






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Vermont governor warns he will veto same-sex marriage bill
Steve Czajkowski on March 26, 2009 9:31 AM ET

[JURIST] Vermont Governor Jim Douglas (R) [official website] said Wednesday that he would veto a bill [S.0115 text, PDF] approved [JURIST report] earlier this week by the Vermont State Senate [official website] that authorizes same-sex marriages [JURIST news archive] in the state. In a statement [Flash audio; transcript] made to reporters, Douglas said that he announced his position early because he wanted to allow the legislature to focus on more crucial issues. Douglas' opposition to the bill is based on his belief that marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman, and that Vermont civil union laws [official backgrounder] provide enough rights and benefits for same-sex couples:

Vermont’s civil union law has extended the same state rights, responsibilities and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. I believe our civil union law serves Vermont well and I would support congressional action to extend those benefits at the federal level to states that recognize same-sex unions. But like President Obama and other leaders on both sides of the aisle, I believe that marriage should remain between a man and woman.
Despite his disapproval of the proposed law, Douglas said that he believes the legislature has enough votes to override his veto. The bill is expected to be presented [Burlington Free Press report] before the Vermont House of Representatives next week.

On Monday, the Vermont State Senate approved [Senate journal, PDF], by a vote of 26-4, the bill, entitled "An Act to Protect Religious Freedom and Promote Equality in Civil Marriage." If the proposed legislation passes, Vermont would join Massachusetts [JURIST news archive] and Connecticut [JURIST report] in extending marriage rights to same-sex couples. Previously, Vermont became the first state to offer civil unions to same-sex couples when then-Governor Howard Dean signed H.B.847 [text] into law in April 2000.





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Treasury secretary to propose strengthened regulations in response to financial crisis
Ximena Marinero on March 26, 2009 8:01 AM ET

[JURIST] US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner [official profile] said that the US Department of the Treasury [official website] will propose stronger rules [prepared remarks; transcript] in response to the current economic crisis, at a meeting with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) [advocacy website] Wednesday. Geithner also said that the US should push for global financial reforms when he accompanies US President Barack Obama [official profile] to the G-20 [official website] meeting next week. Geithner said:

In the coming weeks, we will take additional steps, among them, proposing new and stronger rules to protect American consumers and investors against financial fraud and abuse. These will help us deal in the future with threats like the practices in subprime lending that kicked off the current crisis. And because we have learned that risk respects no borders, our plan will not focus solely on financial regulations in the United States, but - with the help of other interested nations and strengthened international bodies - on stronger standards globally, as well.
Fielding questions from the Council, Geithner said the International Monetary Fund (IMF) [official website] governor's plan [IMF factsheet] to "increase the use of the IMF's special drawing rights" deserves to be considered, and should not be thought of as a motion towards a global monetary union, but rather as building on current structure. Geithner also said that global response to the current financial crisis is already different from and motivated by the lessons of prior experiences.

Geithner has emphasized increased restrictions on financial institutions [press release, JURIST report] receiving government assistance. Geithner advocates expanding the powers of the chief financial regulating entities such as the Treasury and the Federal Reserve. Last month, a group of lawyers called for the formation of an International Finance Court [JURIST report] to adjudicate the issues around the Bernard Madoff [JURIST news archive] fraud case, and they will also seek to present their proposal at next week's G-20 meeting.





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FBI director says financial fraud cases are limiting ability to fight other crime
Jay Carmella on March 25, 2009 4:37 PM ET

[JURIST] FBI director Robert Mueller [official profile] told [testimony] the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Wednesday that the rise in financial fraud investigations is limiting the ability of the FBI to fight other crimes. Mueller, speaking during the "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation" hearing [materials], told Congress that since 2003 public corruption cases have increased more than 58 percent. The effort to fight the drastic increase in cases has required additional resources from within the organization. Mueller said:

These cases are straining the FBI's resources. Indeed, we have had to shift resources from other criminal programs to address the current financial crisis. In Fiscal Year 2007, we had 120 agents investigating mortgage fraud cases. In Fiscal Year 2008, that number increased to 180 agents, and currently over 250 agents are assigned to mortgage fraud and related cases.
The number of cases is not expected to decline. In FY 2009 there have already been 28,873 mortgage fraud Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) filed, which is on pace to nearly double the total in FY 2008. Mueller also discussed new techniques that the FBI is using in order to be as efficient as possible in investigating such crimes. In additional to his comments on economic fraud, Mueller discussed the organization's transformation in recent years, and the organization's effort in preventing violent crimes and terrorism.

As public scrutiny remains high for the entire financial industry, it is not surprising that the government continues to respond with increased measures of prevention. Last month, the FBI announced [JURIST report] that it was looking at shifting a number of agents from national security and counter terrorism activities to investigations involving financial fraud. Other government agencies are also feeling the urgency to respond to the continued alleges of fraud. Last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] appointed [JURIST report] a new director of enforcement, as the organization deals with the fallout from disgraced Wall Street investor Bernard Madoff [JURIST news archive].





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China court to hear first contaminated milk lawsuit
Jay Carmella on March 25, 2009 3:35 PM ET

[JURIST] The Xinhua District Court in China Wednesday accepted the first civil suit seeking damages against a dairy company in connection with the contaminated milk scandal [JURIST news archive]. The lawsuit [Xinhua report], which was brought by the family of one of the children who fell ill last year, seeks more than USD $4,500 from the now-bankrupt [JURIST report] Sanlu Group [Research and Markets profile]. The Xinhua District Court is the first court to accept a lawsuit on the scandal since the Chinese courts announced that earlier this month that they would allow [JURIST report] such suits. Prior to the announcement the Chinese government had sponsored a compensation plan [JURIST report] that paid families between USD $290 and $29,000.

Two people were sentenced to death [JURIST report] in January for their roles in the scandal that killed six children and sickened nearly 300,000 others. Earlier that month, lawyers for the families of 213 Chinese children sickened or killed by the contaminated milk petitioned [JURIST report] the Supreme People's Court to hear a class action lawsuit against 22 dairy companies involved in the contamination, seeking more than $5 million in damages. In January, police in China detained five parents [JURIST report] of children who became sick after drinking melamine-tainted milk, preventing the parents from participating in a news conference.






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Rights group condemns Israel for white phosphorous use in Gaza
Christian Ehret on March 25, 2009 3:32 PM ET

[JURIST] Israel unlawfully and extensively used white phosphorous [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] munitions in their recent Gaza [JURIST news archive] offensive, according to a report [text, PDF] released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. The report maintains that while white phosphorous is allowed to be used to obscure ground operations in open areas and against military targets, international law prohibits air-bursting the shells over populated areas due to the risk it poses to civilians. According to the report, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) [official website] fired these munitions over homes, apartment buildings, a hospital, a school being used for shelter and other civilian-occupied buildings, causing deaths, injuries and property destruction. The report further alleges that the white phosphorous munitions being used were provided by the US government, calling for the US to cease transfers of white phosphorous to Israel and to conduct an investigation into whether or not such use violated international law. The report also calls on the UN [official website] to conduct public investigations. The report states that:

The unlawful use of white phosphorus was neither incidental nor accidental. It was repeated over time and in different locations, with the IDF "air-bursting" the munition in populated areas up to the last days of its military operation. Even if intended as an obscurant rather than as a weapon, the IDF's repeated firing of air-burst white phosphorus shells from 155mm artillery into densely populated areas was indiscriminate and indicates the commission of war crimes.
According to the report, Israel had access to safer alternative means of obscuring ground operations such as smoke munitions but failed to use them instead of the white phosphorous shells. The IDF responded [press release] to the report Wednesday, saying that, "based on the findings to date, it is already possible to conclude that the IDF's use of smoke shells was in accordance with international law."

On Tuesday, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert [official website] and the US State department criticized a recent UN report [JURIST reports] that condemned Israel's actions in Gaza, calling it biased. Human rights advocates have called for the investigation [JURIST report] of recent events in Gaza, and Israel has promised to conduct their own investigation [JURIST report] into possible war crimes committed by their soldiers. In January, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy group] accused Israel of unlawfully using white phosphorous [JURIST report] in Gaza. White phosphorous use may fall under the international Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons [text] as an incendiary weapon.





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Supreme Court hears military appeals court jurisdiction case
Devin Montgomery on March 25, 2009 2:32 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; briefs] Wednesday in United States v. Denedo [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], in which the Court will consider whether a military appellate court has jurisdiction to entertain a petition for a writ of error coram nobis [backgrounder] filed by a former service member to review a final court-martial conviction. The case involves a Nigerian national who enlisted in the US Navy and was later convicted on larceny charges. After he was discharged from the Navy, deportation proceedings began on the basis of the conviction. Denedo sought a writ of error coram nobis from the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) [official website], which found [opinion, PDF] that it had jurisdiction over the case. Appealing the ruling, the Department of Justice [official website] argued that the CAAF did not have jurisdiction to hear the petition because Denedo was a civilian at the time of its filing, and that Congress had not granted this kind of military court the ability to hear such writs after a petitioner leaves the military. Counsel for Denedo argued that the All Writs Act (28 USC § 1651 text) conferred jurisdiction for the courts to hear the writs just as the act did for non-military courts.






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Supreme Court rules for state on plea agreement case
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 25, 2009 10:30 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruled [opinion, PDF] 7-2 Wednesday in Puckett v. United States [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a defendant's claim that the prosecution breached a plea agreement must be raised at trial in order to be reviewable on appeal, according to the plain-error standard under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure [Rule 52(b) text]. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority:

Application of plain-error review in the present context is consistent with our cases, serves worthy purposes, has meaningful effects, and is in any event compelled by the Federal Rules. While we recognize that the Government's breach of a plea agreement is a serious matter, "the seriousness of the error claimed does not remove consideration of it from the ambit of the Federal Rules of Criminal Pro-cedure."
Justice David Souter filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice John Paul Stevens joined. Souter argued:
Puckett is entitled to relief because he and every other defendant who may make an agreement with the Government are entitled to take the Government at its word. Puckett insists that the Government keep its word, and if we are going to have a plain-error doctrine at all, the Judiciary has no excuse for closing this generally available avenue of redress to Puckett or to any other criminal defendant standing in his shoes.
The ruling affirms a decision [opinion, PDF] by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and resolves a split among the circuits.





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Rights group claims US immigrant detention policy violates international Law
Ingrid Burke on March 25, 2009 8:41 AM ET

[JURIST] A substantial increase in the number of immigrants detained by the US over the last decade and the length of their detentions "falls short of international human rights law," according to a report [text, PDF; AI executive summary] released Wednesday by Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website]. AI reported that the number of immigrants detained by US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website] officials has tripled since 1996 to reach a daily detention capacity of 30,000. Those in custody include not just suspected immigration violators but also asylum seekers, survivors of torture and human trafficking, children, legal permanent residents, and parents of US citizens. The report found that immigrant detainees are commonly held for months or years without individualized hearings reviewing the legitimacy of detention, in violation of the ban on arbitrary detention established by Article 9 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text]. AI found that the vast majority of immigrant detainees are unable to secure legal assistance, and that approximately 67 percent of immigrant detainees are currently being held in state and county jails alongside criminals. Many of these facilities have been criticized for human rights violations such as excessive use of restraints and inadequate medical attention. AI presented several key recommendations [text] to restore human rights protection:

1. The US Congress should pass legislation creating a presumption against the detention of immigrants and asylum seekers and ensuring that it be used as a measure of last resort.
2. The US government should ensure that alternative non-custodial measures, such as reporting requirements or an affordable bond, are always explicitly considered before resorting to detention. Reporting requirements should not be unduly onerous, invasive or difficult to comply with, especially for families with children and those of limited financial means. Conditions of release should be subject to judicial review.
3. The US Congress should pass legislation to ensure that all immigrants and asylum seekers have access to individualized hearings on the lawfulness, necessity, and appropriateness of detention.
4. The US government should ensure the adoption of enforceable human rights detention standards in all detention facilities that house immigration detainees, either through legislation or through the adoption of enforceable policies and procedures by the Department of Homeland Security. There should be effective independent oversight to ensure compliance with detention standards and accountability for any violations.
The ICE's border control efforts have come under fire in recent months. Last week, an AP report [text; JURIST report] highlighted the increased number of detainees and the extended period of time that individuals have faced detention, noting that though the average detention period is 31 days, nearly 10,000 detainees have been in custody for longer. Last month, the ICE's tactics during the Bush administration were criticized [JURIST report] by the Cardozo School of Law's Immigration Justice Clinic [official website] for being overly-aggressive and ineffective. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano [official profile] issued a directive [text] in January calling for review and assessment of the ICE fugitive operation teams.





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Senate committee hears testimony on credit card reform
Andrew Gilmore on March 25, 2009 8:38 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] held a hearing Tuesday to investigate "abusive credit card practices and bankruptcy" [hearing materials]. The hearing, chaired by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) [official website], was held in conjunction with the proposed Consumer Credit Fairness Act (CCFA) [S. 257 text, PDF], which would disallow bankruptcy claims for consumer credit card debt bearing high interest rates. The Senate committee heard testimony from individuals affected by high credit card interest rates, as well as from experts including law professors Adam Levitin and Mark Scarberry and researcher David John [testimonies, text]. In his opening remarks, Whitehouse said:

I have introduced legislation that would give consumers leverage to negotiate for reasonable rates with their lenders and ban abusive lenders from using the bankruptcy court system to enforce their claims. Under the Consumer Credit Fairness Act, or CCFA, claims in bankruptcy stemming from consumer credit agreements carrying interest above a variable threshold – currently 18.5% – would be disallowed. With the leverage of a bankruptcy threat, a customer struggling under a 30% penalty rate could negotiate for more reasonable terms. In addition, bankruptcy filers with debts carrying effective interest rates above the threshold would be exempt from the so-called means test, a tactic that was enacted in the bank-written 2005 reforms to make it more difficult to enter bankruptcy. In practice, the means test delays relief in bankruptcy, keeping consumers in the "sweat box" of credit card debt.
The increased use of consumer credit cards has lead to an increased number of bankruptcy filings in the US. In April 2008, a federal appeals court reinstated a class action lawsuit [JURIST report] against a group of banks who required credit cardholders to use arbitration to settle disputes. Bankruptcy petitioners who have incurred consumer debt, including credit card debt, have faced increased barriers when attempting to discharge that debt due to the 2005 enactment [JURIST report] of the Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 [text, PDF]. The law was prompted by concerns that an increase in personal bankruptcies was adversely affecting retail stores, banks, and credit card companies that had to pick up the tab after consumers became insolvent. The changes make it harder for debtors to cast aside credit card and other debt by filing under Chapter 7 [text], the most common type of personal bankruptcy, which currently allows consumers to wipe out most of their unsecured debts.





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Federal judge orders revision of religious worker immigration policy
Lucas Tanglen on March 25, 2009 8:18 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Washington [official website] Monday ordered [order, PDF] the revision of a US government regulation [8 CFR § 245.2(a)(2)(i)(B) text] that singles out religious workers applying for permanent residency. Judge Robert Lasnik issued the order in a class action lawsuit [case materials] brought by workers who argued that waiting for the approval of an employer petition, a requirement for religious workers only, frequently resulted in the expiration of their temporary visas before they could apply for permanent residency. The government had argued that the rule was justified by a historically high rate of fraud by religious workers, but Lasnik held that imposing the requirement was beyond the attorney general's authority, under which the regulations are made:

The Attorney General does not have discretion to choose who is eligible to apply for adjustment of status (that determination having been made by Congress), to interpret the same statutory provision in different ways depending on the classification of the applicant, or to waive a statutory requirement. Defendants may not, therefore, reject or refuse to accept plaintiffs’ applications for adjustment of status based on the regulation barring religious workers from concurrent filing.
The immigration enforcement tactics of the Bush administration have long been criticized [JURIST report] for being overly-aggressive and ineffective, and in February, US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano [official profile] called for a review [JURIST report] of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website] workplace immigration raid that resulted in the arrest of 28 workers. President Barack Obama [official profile] has said he remains committed to "comprehensive immigration reform," [AP report] even though the issue has not been prominent early in his term.





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Israel, US criticize 'biased' UN rights report on possible Gaza war crimes
Matt Glenn on March 25, 2009 7:45 AM ET

[JURIST] A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert [official website] Tuesday derided a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] to the UN Human Rights Council [official website] that accused Israel of human rights violations during its recent military operations in Gaza [JURIST report]. The report, authored by UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk [appointment release], criticized Israel for failing to take adequate precautions to distinguish between civilians and combatants in their offensives in the region, and called for an independent investigation to determine whether Israel committed war crimes. Olmert spokesman Mark Regev told AFP Tuesday that the report was one-sided and politically motivated [AFP report], adding that Israel denies committing any war crimes. Israeli Defense Force (IDF) [official website] Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi [official profile] maintained that Israeli soldiers acted morally [Ynet News report] throughout the conflict, noting that an internal investigation is underway. A US State Department (DOS) [official website] spokesman echoed Israel's view that the report was biased [DOS press briefing; AFP report], calling the rapporteur's views "anything but fair."

The IDF's conduct during the Gaza offensive has been heavily criticized by various rights groups. On Monday, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel accused [JURIST report] the IDF of violating its own code of ethics and general principles of human rights by impeding the treatment of those who needed medical care during the conflict. Last week, a group of 16 human rights investigators and judges sent an open letter [text; JURIST report] to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and the UN Security Council calling for an investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes. In January, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for an independent investigation [statement text; JURIST report] of possible war crimes and human rights violations in Gaza. International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is reportedly exploring whether the ICC has jurisdiction [JURIST report] to launch war crimes prosecutions in connection with the Gaza incidents. Israel has already begun to consider defenses against possible war crimes charges, partly based on claims [JURIST reports] that it used white phosphorus in a civilian area.






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Honduras president proposes vote on constitutional referendum
Ximena Marinero on March 25, 2009 7:33 AM ET

[JURIST] Honduran President Manuel Zelaya [BBC profile] announced Monday that the government will conduct a poll [decree, in Spanish] to determine whether voters are receptive to a November referendum that would establish a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution. Zelaya's proposed constitutional referendum has created wide controversy, even among members of his own Liberal Party of Honduras (PLH) [party website]. Zelaya's term ends in 2010, and it is suspected that the proposed changes will include extending presidential term limits. President of Congress Roberto Micheletti, who is also from the PLH, has accused Zelaya with treason to the Constitution of Honduras [text, in Spanish] and has pointed out that article 374 expressly prohibits reform by referendum or plebescite to article 384 governing the structure of government, national territory, and presidential terms. Zelaya's announcement came after meeting with the Council of Ministers, which has approved the decree for Zelaya's referendum poll. The National Institute of Statistics (INE) will conduct the poll by the last Sunday in June, asking whether voters want the question on the November ballot. Zelaya has said that he has the support [UNIVISION report, in Spanish] of the armed forces and many of the mayors across the country. The chief of the armed forces Romeo Vasquez Velasquez has said that the armed forces are willing to provide security [Hondudiario report, in Spanish] for the 10,000 polling boxes to carry out Zelaya's decree, pending analysis of the legality of such an action.

Under Zelaya's leadership, Honduras has joined Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua in the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) [RIE bacgrounder] trade bloc, which was founded by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. In recent years, Chavez in Venezuela [JURIST report] and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa [JURIST report] have succeeded in passing constitutional reforms extending presidential terms and enhancing presidential powers.






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EPA submits first federal greenhouse gas regulation proposal to White House
Andrew Gilmore on March 25, 2009 7:28 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] submitted a "Proposal for Endangerment Finding for Greenhouse Gases Under the Clean Air Act" to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) [official website] of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) [official website], setting the stage for the first ever federal regulation of greenhouse gases. The proposal, which was submitted Friday and has not been made public, is expected to lead to a decision by President Barack Obama [official profile] to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases under the federal Clean Air Act [text, PDF]. Submission of an agency rule to OIRA for review is typically the final step in the federal administrative rulemaking process, and can be an indication that a rule is nearing public announcement [NYT report]. Environmental interest and advocacy groups called the EPA proposal groundbreaking and historic [Washington Post report].

The regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act has been the subject of considerable controversy and litigation in recent years. Earlier this month, the EPA held a hearing [JURIST report] to reconsider California's request to regulate automobile greenhouse gases. The request had been denied by the EPA during the administration of former president George W. Bush. In July, a US House of Representatives report revealed that the Bush administration abandoned plans to use the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases on power plants and other stationary pollution sources after opposition from the oil industry [JURIST report]. In April 2007, the US Supreme Court ruled that the EPA had the authority [JURIST report] under the Clean Air Act to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases by automobiles.






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Supreme Court hears campaign finance case
Andrew Morgan on March 24, 2009 3:49 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; briefs] Tuesday in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [oral arguments transcript, PDF], in which the Court will consider whether federal election law prohibits a corporation from funding a documentary on a candidate in advance of a federal election. Petitioner Citizens United [advocacy website] is a non-profit conservative advocacy corporation that produced a 90-minute documentary, "Hillary: The Movie," questioning then-Senator Hillary Clinton's (D-NY) qualifications to serve as US president. Citizens United sought an order declaring that ads for the movie, scheduled to air during the Democratic presidential primary, were not "electioneering communications" within the meaning of Section 203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) [text, PDF]. The US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] initially refused to issue the order, and later determined [opinions, PDF] in a judgment on the merits that the ads were covered by Section 203, allowing the Federal Election Commission (FEC) [official website] to regulate and subject them to disclosure requirements. Appealing the decision, Citizens United challenged the application of BCRA on broad First Amendment grounds:

The government cannot prove and has not attempted to prove that a 90-minute documentary made available to people who choose affirmatively to receive it, to opt in, by an ideologically oriented small corporation poses any threat of quid pro quo corruption or its appearance. Indeed, this documentary is the very definition of robust, uninhibited debate about a subject of intense political interest that the First Amendment is there to guarantee.
The government argued the Court's decisions in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission and Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life [opinions, PDF] allowed them to regulate the video because it was funded by a corporation and could not reasonably be interpreted as anything other than an appeal to vote against Clinton.





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UK justice secretary outlines proposed 'rights and responsibilites' legislation
Devin Montgomery on March 24, 2009 1:34 PM ET

[JURIST] UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw [official website] Monday outlined draft legislation [materials] that would officially recognize certain "rights and responsibilities" for British citizens. The legislation described in a government green paper [PDF text] prior to public consultations would formally declare a number of rights which already exist in the country including access to medical care, education, and housing, as well as certain rights for victims of crime. It would also set out responsibilities expected of citizens, including the duties to vote, pay taxes, obey laws, and serve on juries. Straw said that the bill would not create new causes of action for citizens who had been denied these rights, nor against those who failed to perform otherwise non-mandatory duties, but would instead serve as an official declaration of their importance to the operation of the country and government:

Bills of rights all over the world have demonstrated great symbolic and cultural importance, in the face of threats and challenge to a country’s stability and system of values.

From the Magna Carta in 1215 and the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, the later Bill of Rights and Scottish Claim of Right in 1689, the great Reform Acts of the 19th and early 20th centuries, through to more recent landmarks, such as the foundation of the National Health Service as part of the welfare state, our history illustrates the proud traditions of liberty on which our current framework of democratic rights and responsibilities is built.

We are living through a period of change – technologically, demographically, economically, socially and culturally. At such times of change, constitutional protections for fundamental rights and freedoms and the articulation of responsibilities can offer security. A new constitutional instrument, reflecting the values that give rise to these rights and responsibilities, could act as an anchor for people in the UK.
Some who oppose the bill have criticized it [BBC report] for lacking substance because the rights will not be enforceable, while others have said it does too much to entrench large social entitlements. A revised draft of the bill is expected in 2010 after consultations are concluded.

The bill has long been a goal of UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and in a 2008 interview [JURIST report], Straw said it was part of a process [JURIST report] of "moving towards a written constitution" for the UK. The UK currently has no single overarching constitutional document or rights charter, although its working "unwritten constitution" includes a variety of fundamental documents such as the Magna Carta [text]. The opposition Liberal Democrats have long pushed for a written constitution, but the idea has only recently gained support among Labour and Conservative [JURIST report] party leaders. A British Bill of Rights would supplement but not replace the 1998 Human Rights Act [text] implementing for the UK the European Convention on Human Rights.





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UN rights body claims Myanmar violating its own law by detaining democracy advocate
Bhargav Katikaneni on March 24, 2009 12:17 PM ET

[JURIST] The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention [official website] said [press release and opinion, PDF] that the detention of Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] violates Myanmar's 1975 State Protection Law [text] and pressed for her immediate release in an opinion made public Monday. A panel, composed of Judges from Chile, Pakistan, Russia, Senegal, and Spain, issued a legal opinion in November arguing that Suu Kyi's detention since 2003 violates Myanmar's own laws because the law only permits detention for up to five years and only for state security reasons. The report says that her period of detention expired in May 2008 and that she does not pose a threat to Myanmar's security. Monday's report marks the first time that the UN had said that Myanmar was violating its own laws in detaining Suu Kyi. Four previous legal opinions have said that Myanmar's detention of Suu Kyi was illegal under UN law [JURIST report] and have also called for her release.

Last year, Myanmar officials defended the continued detention of Suu Kyi, saying that the 1975 law permits the government to detain Suu Kyi for up to six years [JURIST report] and pointed out that other countries like the US and the UK had similar anti-terror laws. Myanmar released 15 members of Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, last year but has so far refused [JURIST report] to release her for security reasons, despite earlier indications that it might do so.






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Reinstated Pakistan CJ Chaudhry calls for end to judicial corruption on first day
Brian Jackson on March 24, 2009 11:57 AM ET

[JURIST] Pakistan's Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry [official profile; JURIST news archive] returned to work Tuesday after being reinstated [JURIST report] earlier this week and immediately called for members of the Pakistani judicial system to put an end to corruption [Dawn report]. Chaudhry resumed his position amid great celebration [BBC video] by Pakistani lawyers, 16 months after being removed from his post [JURIST report] by then-president Pervez Musharraf [JURIST news archive]. One of the first orders of business for the court will be to decide the fate of the judges and justices appointed under emergency rule [JURIST report] by Musharraf.

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari [official profile; JURIST news archive] last week announced that Chaudhry's reinstatement [JURIST report] was imminent and ordered government officials to release [Dawn report] anyone arrested during a second so-called "long march" [JURIST report] held in part to call for Chaudhry's return. Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Muslim League had actively campaigned [JURIST report] for Chaudhry's reinstatement, and Chaudhry maintained that he was still chief justice [JURIST report] under the Pakistani constitution, even after his ouster.






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Supreme Court rules for state on ineffective assistance of counsel habeas claim
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 24, 2009 10:30 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously Tuesday in Knowles v. Mirzayance [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a lawyer’s recommendation that a criminal defendant withdraw an insanity plea does not constitute ineffective assistance of counsel for purposes of a federal habeas claim. Writing for the Court, Justice Clarence Thomas reasoned:

The law does not require counsel to raise every available nonfrivolous defense. ... Counsel also is not required to have a tactical reason - above and beyond a reasonable appraisal of a claim’s dismal prospects for success - for recommending that a weak claim be dropped altogether. Mirzayance has thus failed to demonstrate that his counsel's performance was deficient.

In addition, Mirzayance has not demonstrated that he suffered prejudice from his counsel's performance.
Justices Antonin Scalia, David Souter, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined in the opinion as to all except Part II, which held that the California Court of Appeals' decision to deny the ineffective assistance of counsel claim did not violate federal law under Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) [28 USC §2254(d)(1) text]. The decision overturns a ruling [opinion, PDF] by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website].





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Obama nominates Yale law dean to be State Department legal adviser
Safiya Boucaud on March 24, 2009 9:36 AM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official profile] on Monday nominated [WH press release; YLS press release] Yale Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh [professional profile] to be legal adviser [official website] to the Department of State (DOS) [official website]. Koh was touted by Obama as an authority on public and private international law, national security law, and human rights. He previously served as assistant secretary of state for human rights and labor under the Clinton administration before becoming Dean at Yale in 2004.

If confirmed, Koh would replace current legal adviser John Bellinger III [JURIST news archive], nominated by the Bush administration, and would provide counsel on international law to the secretary of state and US embassies around the world. Bellinger defended US legal policy in the "war on terror" [JURIST report] in a variety of international legal and diplomatic venues and was one of the principal drafters of the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act [text; PDF, JURIST news archive] that created the Director of National Intelligence [official website].






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Al-Marri pleads not guilty to terrorism charges
Amelia Mathias on March 24, 2009 8:28 AM ET

[JURIST] Suspected al Qaeda operative Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri [case materials; JURIST news archive] pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of providing material support to al Qaeda, and his trial date was set for May 26. At an arraignment hearing before the US District Court for the Central District of Illinois [official website], Judge Michael Mihm also made several evidentiary rulings. Mihn acknowledged that the trial start date will likely be pushed back [Chicago Tribune report], but still expects the trial to begin this sometime this year. An April 14 date was set for a review of evidence submitted [Peoria Star Journal report].

Last week, a South Carolina judge ruled that al-Marri must remain in prison [JURIST report] during his trial, holding that he had not proven he was not a danger to the community. Earlier this month, the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] granted [order, PDF; JURIST report] a motion [text, PDF] by the US government to dismiss as moot an appeal challenging al-Marri's indefinite detention, following the Obama administration's decision to try al-Marri in US federal court [JURIST report]. Al-Marri was indicted [indictment text; DOJ press release] earlier this month on two charges of providing material support to al Qaeda and conspiring with others to provide material support to al Qaeda. In January, shortly after taking office, President Barack Obama ordered an immediate review [JURIST report] of al-Marri's detention. Al-Marri was arrested at his home in Peoria, Illinois by civilian authorities in 2001, and was indicted for other crimes. In 2003, then-President George W. Bush declared him an enemy combatant [CNN report] and ordered the attorney general to transfer custody of al-Marri to the defense secretary, claiming inherent authority to hold him indefinitely. Until recently, al-Marri was detained on a US Navy brig in South Carolina.






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Vermont Senate approves same-sex marriage bill
Eszter Bardi on March 24, 2009 8:10 AM ET

[JURIST] The Vermont State Senate [official website] voted 26-4 Monday to approve [Senate journal, PDF] same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] in the state. This was the second of three readings of the proposed bill [S.0115 text, PDF], entitled “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom and Promote Equality in Civil Marriage." Senator Kevin Mullin (R) brought an alternative motion for an advisory referendum to take place in the March 2010 elections asking the general public whether "the General Assembly [shall] amend the laws of the state to allow couples of the same sex to marry?" before taking legislative action. Mullin’s motion was not sustained and the proposed bill is now due for a third reading [Senate calendar; PDF] on Tuesday, after which it is expected to pass in the Senate and be introduced to the House of Representatives. Earlier this month, Vermont Governor Jim Douglas (R) [official profile] said that he opposes [AP report] legalizing same-sex marriage, but it is unclear whether he would veto the bill.

The Vermont Senate began hearings [JURIST report] on the bill last week. If the proposed legislation passes, Vermont would join Massachusetts [JURIST news archive] and Connecticut [JURIST report] in extending marriage rights to same-sex couples. In California, the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] on Proposition 8 [JURIST news archive] earlier this month, and a ruling is expected by early May. The passage of Proposition 8 last November amended the California constitution to define marriage to be between a man and a woman, overturning a ruling [JURIST reports] by the California Supreme Court which permitted the marriage of same-sex couple.






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Executions increase in 2008 despite global trend away from capital punishment: report
Adrienne Lester on March 24, 2009 8:08 AM ET

[JURIST] At least 2,390 people were executed throughout 25 countries in 2008, according to a report [text, PDF; AI press release] released Tuesday by Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website], up from the reported 1,252 executions in 2007 [AI report, PDF]. China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the US account for 93 percent of all executions performed in 2008. China alone had 1,718 executions, or 72 percent of executions worldwide, amidst questions regarding fairness of trials and access to lawyers for the accused. AI also reported that there is a global trend towards the abolition of the death penalty. Two-thirds of all nations have abolished capital punishment. In the Americas, the US is the only country that carries out regular executions. Last year, the US performed the smallest number of executions since 1995 with one state, Texas, accounting for half of those executions.

The report by AI follows a second resolution [text] by the UN General Assembly [official website] calling on member states to observe a moratorium on capital punishment. Additionally, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights [advocacy website] passed a similar resolution [text] in November calling for the observation of a death penalty moratorium. In contrast, executions resumed in the US in April 2008 after the US Supreme Court lifted an effective moratorium by upholding lethal injection [JURIST reports]. The first execution following the ruling [JURIST report] was conducted in Georgia in May 2008. However, individual states such as New Jersey and New Mexico [JURIST reports] have abolished the death penalty.






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Federal judge orders FDA to review limits on over-the-counter sale of 'morning after' pill
Andrew Gilmore on March 24, 2009 7:57 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York [official website] overturned [memorandum and order, PDF] Monday a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] decision to limit the over-the-counter (OTC) availability of the Plan B emergency contraceptive pill [product backgrounder] to women over the age of 18. In 2006, the FDA approved [JURIST report] the OTC sale of the Plan B contraceptive to women 18 years old and older, but included a controversial provision that required a doctor's prescription for women under 18 years old. The court agreed with the plaintiffs' assertions that the FDA's decisions regarding limiting the OTC sale to women over 18 "were arbitrary and capricious because they were not the result of reasoned and good faith agency decision-making." In overturning the FDA's decision and remanding the matter to the agency for further deliberation on OTC usage of the medication, Judge Edward Korman wrote:

When a court reviewing an agency decision rules in favor of the plaintiff, it generally remands to the agency rather than granting affirmative relief. Certain circumstances, however, warrant exception to this general remand rule. Where a court has found that an agency decision is not supported by the record, but "the record has been fully developed," remand would fail to "serve a useful purpose." ...

A remand would serve no purpose with respect to one aspect of the FDA’s decision – requiring that 17 year olds obtain a prescription for Plan B. The record is clear: the FDA’s justification for the denial of OTC access to Plan B for women over the age of 17 – rather than 18 – "runs counter to the evidence" and "is so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or the product of agency expertise."
The court ordered the FDA to make Plan B available to 17-year-olds without a prescription and remanded for further consideration on whether the contraceptive should be available OTC to women under the age of 17.

The Plan B contraceptive has been the subject of considerable legislative and judicial activity since winning approval from the FDA in 2006. In March 2008, a federal judge in the US District Court of the District of Columbia dismissed [JURIST report] a lawsuit brought by a physicians' group against the FDA seeking to overturn approval of the OTC sale of Plan B. In November 2007, a federal judge suspended [JURIST report] a Washington state law that would have required pharmacists to dispense the Plan B pill. In October 2007, Illinois pharmacists considered a settlement [JURIST report] to a dispute over a state law that would have required them to dispense the Plan B pill regardless of their moral objections to the contraception.





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Rwanda Hutu convicted in Netherlands court for 1994 Tutsi killings
Andrew Gilmore on March 24, 2009 7:16 AM ET

[JURIST] A Dutch court Monday convicted a former Rwandan Hutu for the 1994 killing of two Tutsi mothers and at least four of their children. Joseph Mpambara [TrialWatch profile], who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the killings, was allegedly a member of the Interahamwe [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], an extremist Hutu militia that was responsible for the deaths of thousands of ethnic Tutsi during the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder]. Mpambara was tried in the Dutch national court under an agreement with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website; JURIST news archive], as Mpambara had lived in the Netherlands since 1998. Mpambara was also convicted [AP report] of torturing a German-Rwandan couple and their child at a Hutu roadblock. Mpambara is the brother of Obed Ruzindana [TrialWatch profile] who was sentenced by the ICTR to 25 years imprisonment in 1999 on charges of genocide.

The ICTR has made significant progress towards fulfilling its mandate of investigating and prosecuting humanitarian crimes arising from the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The ICTR's success prompted the US State Department to praise [JURIST report] the court's work in its most recent human rights report, released on in late February. Also in February, the ICTR sentenced [JURIST report] former priest and military chaplain Emmanuel Rukundo [case materials] to 25 years imprisonment after convicting [press release] him of genocide, crimes against humanity, and sexual assault. The contempt trial against a former ICTR defense investigator began earlier in February. In January, a former Rwandan justice official was sentenced to life in prison [JURIST reports] for his role in the 1994 genocide. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1503 (2003) [PDF text], it was supposed to complete all trials by the end of the year, and to complete all of its work, including appellate review, by 2010. In June 2008, however, the ICTR prosecutor asked the Council [JURIST report] to extend the ICTR's mandate, noting that the recent arrests of several genocide suspects meant that the court would not have time to finish several first-instance cases until 2009.






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Singapore parliament passes bill permitting political films
Safiya Boucaud on March 23, 2009 3:49 PM ET

[JURIST] The Singapore Parliament [official website] amended [bill, PDF] the Films Act [text] Monday to allow for the broadcast of certain types of previously banned films featuring politicians or political parties. The amendment will allow political events to be recorded live [CNA report] and will permit documentaries and biographies of political figures as long as they are factual and objective. Politicians running for office can now use films as a medium to promote their candidacy. Films that still remain prohibited involve any parodies of government or politics. Currently there are steep fines of $73,000 or two years in prison for anyone in violation of the act.

Singapore has a history of restricting free speech, particularly speech critical of the government. Last week, a judge in Singapore ruled [JURIST report] that a Wall Journal Journal Asia [media website] editor was in contempt of court and personally liable for damages for publishing two editorials and a letter that criticized the impartiality of the city-state's judiciary. She was subsequently fined. In September, the Singapore Supreme Court sentenced US blogger Gopalan Nair [JURIST report] to three months in jail for insulting a judge. In July, Singapore's government rejected [JURIST report] criticisms from the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute [official website] after that group concluded that Singapore lacks an independent judiciary and fails to meet international standards of human rights by heavily regulating the international and domestic press and enforcing extreme defamation laws.






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Supreme Court hears double jeopardy case
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 23, 2009 12:31 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; briefs] Monday in Yeager v. United States [oral arguments transcript, PDF], in which the Court will consider whether a criminal defendant can face new prosecution for counts on which a jury did not reach a verdict but that are related to other counts of which the defendant has been acquitted. Petitioner F. Scott Yeager was a former Enron [JURIST news archive] executive who was charged with wire fraud, securities fraud, insider trading, money laundering, and conspiracy to engage in securities fraud and wire fraud. A jury acquitted Yeager of the conspiracy, securities fraud, and wire fraud charges, but failed to reach a verdict on the insider trading and money laundering charges. Prosecutors then issued another indictment charging Yeager with money laundering and insider trading. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF] the district court's denial of Yeager's motion to dismiss the charges. There has been a circuit split on whether such a prosecution violates the Double Jeopardy Clause [LII backgrounder] of the Fifth Amendment. At oral arguments, counsel for Yeager argued that, "Unlike acquittals, hung counts are not verdicts. They decide nothing, and therefore a hung count cannot be inconsistent with an acquittal." Counsel for the state argued:

[T]he government may, under the doctrine of continuing jeopardy, try to obtain a verdict when a jury is hung. The basic principle there is that the government is entitled to one full and fair opportunity to convict and that the hung counts, when the jury cannot agree, interrupt and prevent the government from achieving that. Double jeopardy therefore does not bar the government from completing its opportunity to obtain a verdict.





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Rights group claims Israel military violated medical ethics code in Gaza offensive
Ingrid Burke on March 23, 2009 10:31 AM ET

[JURIST] Advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights - Israel (PHR) [advocacy website, in Hebrew] Monday criticized [press release, in Hebrew] the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) [official website] for allegedly violating its own code of ethics [text] and general principles of human rights by impeding the treatment those needing medical care during Israel's recent Gaza offensive [JURIST report]. In a new report [PDF] the group accused the IDF of preventing the sick and wounded from evacuating homes and medical facilities in pursuit of better treatment during the offensive, leading to otherwise preventable deaths. PHR also said it had received reports of the IDF attacking ambulances, medical teams and medical facilities. In a report [text, PDF] published last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) [advocacy website] estimated that 1,380 Palestinians and 16 medical workers were killed during the offensive and at least 5,380 Palestinians and 25 were injured. 

The IDF's conduct during the offensive has been scrutinized by a number of human rights advocacy groups. Last week, a group of 16 human rights investigators and judges sent an open letter [text; JURIST report] to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile; JURIST news archive] and the UN Security Council calling for an investigation into alleged war crimes. In January, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for an independent investigation [statement text; JURIST report] of possible war crimes and human rights violations in Gaza. International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is also attempting to gain jurisdiction over Israel [JURIST report] to investigate its actions in Gaza for alleged war crimes. Israel has already begun to consider defenses against possible war crimes charges, partly based on accusations [JURIST reports] that it used white phosphorus in a civilian area.






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White House to release Bush administration interrogation memos: report
Matt Glenn on March 23, 2009 10:27 AM ET

[JURIST] The White House will soon make publicly available three internal memos from the Bush administration detailing aggressive interrogation techniques used against alleged top al Qaeda operatives, Newsweek [media website] reported [Newsweek report] Saturday. These so-called "torture memos" [JURIST news archive] reportedly legally justify a number of interrogation techniques that some say amount to torture. The White House has decided to release the memos because an executive order [text; JURIST report] bringing an end to such techniques removes the need to keep the memos confidential. Current and former intelligence officials have argued against the memos' release, warning that this could compromise national security.

Last week, an article [text; JURIST report] published in the New York Review of Books said that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [official website] characterized CIA tactics used against terrorism suspects as constituting torture in a confidential 2007 report. The report, obtained by journalist Mark Danner, alleges that some of the techniques used included waterboarding [JURIST news archive], sleep deprivation, prolonged nudity, and cold water immersion. Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder reaffirmed [JURIST report] the US government's commitment not to use waterboarding. Also that day, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] released a several memoranda and opinions [JURIST report] from the Bush White House supporting the administration's counter terrorism policies. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [ACLU press release] under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [5 USC § 552 text] in January compelling the DOJ to turn over these and other memos.






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India court begins trial of Mumbai terror attacks suspect
Jay Carmella on March 23, 2009 9:07 AM ET

[JURIST] The trial of the only captured gunman in the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab [NDTV backgrounder], began on Monday. Kasab appeared before specially appointed judge M.L. Tahiliyani at the Bombay High Court [official website] via video conferencing from prison. Kasab confirmed [Hindustan Times report] during questioning from Tahiliyani that he is from Faridkot in the Punjab area of Pakistan. The court also instructed Kasab that he would be appointed a lawyer [BBC report]. He is currently unrepresented as Indian laywers have refused to represent him. Kasab told the judge that he received a copy of the charge sheet explaining the 12 charges against him, which include murder and waging war against India. If convicted, Kasab will face a maximum sentence of death by hanging. The court will reconvene on March 30 to determine whether an extension is appropriate for security purposes in the prison.

Last month, Pakistan officials conceded [JURIST report] that the terrorist attacks were partially planned there. Pakistan also stated that the perpetrators traveled by ship [NYT report] from southern Pakistan to Mumbai, where they launched the attack from inflatable boats using outboard engines purchased in Karachi, Pakistan. One scholar suggested that an international tribunal be formed [JURIST op-ed] to prosecute persons involved in Mumbai attacks in order to avoid further complications to the already unstable relationship between Pakistan and India. In the wake of the attacks, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [official website] pushed for tougher anti-terrorism measures [JURIST report]. The attacks in Mumbai, which claimed at least 170 lives, were carried out at ten locations across the city including the landmark Taj Mahal Palace hotel [hotel website]. The attacks were the worst the city has seen since a group of bombings killed more than 250 people in 1993.






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Obama: Guantanamo policies must accord with due process, international law
Benjamin Hackman on March 23, 2009 8:54 AM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official profile] reiterated his position that US policies governing the detention and interrogation of Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees should comport with due process and international law requirements in a Sunday interview [CBS interview transcript] with 60 Minutes. Obama said that polices of the former Bush administration, which gave less deference to these norms, did not effectively help the US bring terrorists to justice but instead generated anti-American sentiment abroad. He said that terrorism suspects would still have to be treated seriously, that they were specifically not due Miranda rights [LII backgrounder], and that the country could not release individuals who still post a threat to the US. Obama said that despite these concerns, he believed detainees' treatment could effectively be governed under existing US and international regimes.

Obama's remarks came in response to earlier criticism [CNN report] by former vice president Dick Cheney [BBC profile] of Obama's call to close Guantanamo by 2010. In January, Obama issued an executive order [text; JURIST report] freezing the military commission [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] system, calling for the review of US judicial policy towards the detainees, and directing the closure of Guantanamo within one year. The Department of Justice has also more recently eliminated [JURIST report] the use of the term "enemy combatant" in a symbolic departure from Bush administration policies.






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UN rights chief warns Nepal peace process at risk from impunity
Tere Miller-Sporrer on March 23, 2009 8:17 AM ET

[JURIST] The peace process in Nepal [JURIST news archive] could be hampered by "impunity for human rights abuses" [UN News Centre report], UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile; JURIST news archive] said Sunday. At a Kathmandu news conference concluding her five-day visit to Nepal, Pillay cited abuses including the failure of Nepal's commissions on disappearances and truth and reconciliation to ensure justice for victims of abuse and recent "arbitrary actions" taken against journalists and other human rights activists. Pillay said:

The demands of victims' families are not mere wishes they are supported by law. And until these demands for justice are fulfilled and accountability for past, and in particular ongoing, violations is ensured, a truly new Nepal will not emerge, and indeed, the peace process could be jeopardised.
Pillay is seeking a three year extension [Kantipur report] of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal (OHCHR-Nepal) [official website] in order to "address the remaining challenges."

The decade-long Maoist guerrilla insurgency that left more than 13,000 people dead ended [JURIST report] in late 2006 when the Nepalese government signed a peace agreement that established the Nepalese Constituent Assembly (CA) [official website]. In November, the CA announced [press release; JURIST report] that it will finish drafting the country's new constitution within 18 months. In May, the CA voted to abolish the country's monarchy [JURIST report], giving King Gyanendera 15 days to abandon his royal palace, which cleared the way for Maoists to serve in government. As part of the peace accord, the CA was elected [JURIST report] last April, an organization dominated by members of the Communist Party of Nepal - Maoists (CPN-M) [party website].





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Federal Circuit upholds US patent rules changing application process
Eszter Bardi on March 23, 2009 8:03 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit [official website] on Friday upheld [opinion; PDF] as procedural three rules promulgated by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) [official website] that significantly alter the patent application process, overturning a fourth rule. The four rules, which would have retroactively limited the number of claims that can be included in a patent application and the number of times a continuation application can be filed for a given invention, were struck down [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] by the US District Court for Eastern District of Virginia [official website] in April on the grounds that they altered the substantive rights of the intellectual property applicants set forth under the US Patent Act [35 USC §§ 1-376 text]. The circuit court relied on the framework set forth by the US Supreme Court in Chevron USA v. Natural Resources Defense Council [opinion] to establish that deference is extended to the USPTO in its interpretation of the Patent Act for the purposes of determining procedural standards. The court then upheld Rules 17, 114, and 265, classifying the rules as procedural:

While we do not purport to set forth a definitive rule for distinguishing between substance and procedure in this case, we conclude that the Final Rules challenged in this case are procedural. In essence, they govern the timing of and materials that must be submitted with patent applications. The Final Rules may "alter the manner in which the parties present ... their viewpoints" to the USPTO, but they do not, on their face, "foreclose effective opportunity" to present patent applications for examination.
The three affirmed rules were remanded in order to determine whether they are impermissibly vague. Rule 78, which the court ruled was also procedural, was struck down because it was found to be contrary to section 120 of the Patent Act.

The district court preliminarily enjoined [order; PDF; JURIST report] the rules in October 2007, finding that the rules were substantive, rather than procedural, and thus beyond the scope of the USPTO's authority to promulgate. Since the preliminary injunction was issued, USPTO employees have continued to process and examine patent applications under the old rules and procedures. The lawsuit [complaint, PDF] challenging the new rules was brought by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline [corporate website], which has approximately 100 applications pending at the USPTO. Supporting the company was the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA) [advocacy website].





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Bangladesh court sentences 7 to life in prison for 2005 bombings
Devin Montgomery on March 22, 2009 3:40 PM ET

[JURIST] A Bangladesh court on Sunday sentenced seven members of the banned Islamic Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) [SATP backgrounder] group to life in prison for their roles in two 2005 bombings in the country. The men, Torikul Islam, Shafiullah Tarek Kalam, Abu Isa, Hasan Ali Ekhwan, Jahangir Alam Abidur, Arif, and Sheikh Enamul Haq Moni, who was tried in absentia, were convicted [Daily Star report] under Bangladesh's Explosive Substances Act 1908 [text, PDF]. The men were also ordered to pay fines or face additional jail time. The attacks were part of a larger bombing campaign [JURIST report; BBC report] allegedly carried out by JMB in which more than 400 bombs were exploded and at least 26 were killed.

In January 2008, seven other suspects linked to JMB bombings were also sentenced to life in prison [JURIST report]. In 2007, six top JMB members were executed by hanging after the Bangladesh High Court in 2006 confirmed death sentences imposed by a trial court for the murder of two judges [JURIST reports] during the bombings. In 2006, three other JMB members were sentenced to death [JURIST report] and five others sentenced to life in prison for their involvement in the bombings.






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Pakistan high court chief justice Chaudhry resumes post
Devin Montgomery on March 22, 2009 2:48 PM ET

[JURIST] Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry [JURIST news archive] on Sunday resumed his former position [press release] as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website]. Chaudhry was removed from the post [JURIST report] by then-president Pervez Musharraf following Musharraf's November 2007 declaration of emergency law [JURIST report]. Chaudhry began his new term by establishing several judicial panels for the court, but did not attend an unofficial celebration [Dawn report] of his reinstatement at the supreme court building. Supporters at the celebration and at Chaudhry's home cheered his return, saying that it renewed hopes of having an independent judiciary in the country. Chaudhry replaces [JURIST report] Abdul Hameed Dogar as Pakistan's chief justice, and both UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [press briefing; JURIST report] and members of the Pakistan lawyers' movement [JURIST report] have already praised his reinstatement.

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] last week announced that Chaudhry's reinstatement [JURIST report] was imminent and ordered government officials to release [Dawn report] anyone arrested during a second so-called "long march" [JURIST reports] held in part to call for Chaudhry's return. Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website] had long actively campaigned [JURIST report] for Chaudhry's reinstatement, and Chaudhry maintained that he was still chief justice [JURIST report] under the Pakistani constitution [text] even after his ouster.






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Uighur Guantanamo detainees seek contempt charge for US defense secretary
Lucas Tanglen on March 22, 2009 11:45 AM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for five Uighur [JURIST news archive] detainees at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] on Friday moved [motion, PDF; similar motion in related case] to have Defense Secretary Robert Gates [official profile; JURIST news archive] held in contempt after failing to have them freed or transferred. The motions refer to a June 2008 order [JURIST report] from the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website] requiring that the Uighurs be transferred, released, or given a new Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT). The motions state that Gates has conceded that the government will not convene a new CSRT and claims that the difficulty of finding a proper country for transfer is a problem of the government's making. Since there is no dispute that Gates is able to comply with the order, the motions argue, he should be held in contempt. The motions assert that deferring to Gates' status as an officer in the executive branch would render the judicial power "hollow."

US Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters Wednesday that the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] would consider accepting [JURIST report] in the US the 17 Uighur detainees who have been cleared for release. The DOJ has declined to repatriate the Uighurs despite Chinese demands [JURIST report] because they could face torture upon their return. On Monday, Holder and other top officials from the Obama administration met with leaders [JURIST report] from the European Union (EU) [official website] to discuss plans to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay. In February, Sweden's Migration Court granted asylum [judgment, PDF, in Swedish; JURIST report] to a former Uighur Guantanamo detainee. Munich, Germany, home to a sizeable Uighur community, has expressed willingness to welcome the 17 Uighurs [Local report]. In 2006, Albania granted asylum [JURIST report] to five Uighurs after their release from Guantanamo.






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North Korea detains two US journalists accused of crossing border
Lucas Tanglen on March 22, 2009 10:38 AM ET

[JURIST] Authorities in North Korea have detained two American journalists who allegedly crossed into the country from China [JURIST news archives], official news agency KCNA [media website] confirmed Saturday. Laura Ling [professional website] and Euna Lee were reporting on North Korean refugees in China for Current TV [media website] when they allegedly crossed the border [Yonhap report] on Tuesday. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile; JURIST news archive] is reportedly involved in talks [Chosun Ilbo report] regarding the reporters. Current TV called for the release of the reporters, and the website's co-founder and former US vice president Al Gore [JURIST news archive] reportedly asked Clinton to get involved [CNN report].

The incident comes at a sensitive time for international relations with North Korea, as the nation has refused to fully disclose [AP report] its past nuclear activity. The US removed North Korea [WP report] from the State Department's list of terror sponsors [text] in October after former president George W. Bush agreed [JURIST report] to the step following the communist state's handover of a report on its nuclear program to China, one of the countries participating in the so-called Six Party Talks [CFR backgrounder] on the North Korean program. In February 2007, North Korea agreed [JURIST report] to end its nuclear weapons program, shut down and seal any reactors, and completely declare the extent of its nuclear activities in exchange for 50,000 tons of heavy fuel. North Korea has ranked [JURIST report] among the countries with the least protection for press freedoms.






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Federal judge denies Army Corps of Engineers motion to dismiss Katrina lawsuit
Andrew Gilmore on March 21, 2009 12:14 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website] on Friday denied [order, PDF] a motion by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) [official website] to dismiss a lawsuit [materials] brought by Louisiana homeowners for damages suffered as a result of flooding during Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive] in 2005. The plaintiffs, five homeowners who brought suit in 2007, argue that the Corps was negligent in its protection of flood-prone Louisiana areas due to defects in the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) [USACE backgrounder]. The Corps filed a motion to dismiss the case based on the theory that the MRGO defects were caused by the Corps' discretionary functions, which are immune from lawsuit under the discretionary function exception [28 USC § 2680] of the Federal Tort Claims Act [text]. In denying the government's motion to dismiss the lawsuit and allowing the case to proceed to trial, Judge Stanwood Duval wrote

Plaintiffs sought to preclude the government from raising the discretionary function exception based on the first inquiry required for its application - that certain federal statutes, regulations and policies specifically prescribed a course of action for the Corps to follow and that the Corps had no choice but to adhere to those directives. The Court has found that the [Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act] does not provide such a bar; however, with respect to teh [National Environmental Policy Act], Plaintiffs demonstrated that there are material questions of fact that the Corps itself had found that the environmental damage caused by the maintenance and operation of the MRGO was significant, such that it had no choice but to file the appropriate mandated reports. As such, if the Court is convinced at trial that the Corps indeed violated a mandate and is precluded from its protection, then Plaintiffs will still bear the burden to prove that this failure caused the damages sought.
Duval previously allowed the lawsuit to proceed in May 2008, when he ruled [JURIST report] that that the outlet was a shipping channel and not a flood control outlet in connection with which the Corps would have been properly immune in tort, and rejected the Corps' argument that the MRGO was nonetheless part of a larger flood control system in the New Orleans area. Duval made a similar ruling [JURIST report] in February 2007 in the context of an earlier motion to dismiss. Three months before Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, an expert at the LSU Hurricane Center [official website] predicted that the MRGO could amplify storm surges by 20-40 percent. After Katrina, the center determined through computer modeling that the presence of the MRGO also increased the speed of the surge, causing an even greater detrimental effect [Washington Post report].





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Pakistan high court chief justice retires on eve of Chaudhry reinstatement
Andrew Gilmore on March 21, 2009 11:18 AM ET

[JURIST] Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar of the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] retired Saturday, paving the way for the official reinstatement of his predecessor, deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry [JURIST news archive]. Chaudhry will re-assume the office of Chief Justice [PTI report] Sunday. Dogar left the court Friday without receiving a full reception from the court's judges and staff, normally a sign of respect given in honor of the retiring judge's service to the court. The lack of a ceremony to commemorate Dogar's departure was indicative of the acrimony [Dawn report] existing between Dogar and other members of the Pakistani judiciary. Dogar took the office of Chief Justice following then-president Pervez Musharraf's November 2007 declaration of emergency law [JURIST report] and removal of Chaudhry [JURIST report].

Dogar's retirement marks the end of a tumultuous week in Pakistan. Following a protest and long march [JURIST report] led by the Pakistan lawyers' movement [JURIST news archive] and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website] leader, former deputy prime minister Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], President Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] announced the imminent reinstatement [JURIST report] of Chaudry. The news of Chaudhry's reinstatement was met with jubilation [JURIST report] by Pakistan lawyers and opposition supporters, as well as by Western governments and the United Nations [JURIST report]. On Thursday, the federal government, led by Zardari's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) [party website] filed an appeal [JURIST report] of a February Supreme Court decision [JURIST report] banning Sharif and his brother from holding elected office because of a past criminal conviction.






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ICC prosecutor criticizes Sudan expulsion of aid workers
Steve Czajkowski on March 21, 2009 10:54 AM ET

[JURIST] Chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] said Friday that the decision by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to expel 13 foreign aid agencies [JURIST report] earlier this month demonstrates that the ICC is justified in pursuing war crimes charges [JURIST report] against Bashir. Ocampo's statement [AP report] came after a meeting [press release] of the UN Security Council [official website], which was held to address concerns over the removal of the aid agencies and to urge the Sudanese government to reconsider the expulsion. Bashir accused [Reuters report] the aid groups of complicity with the ICC, after the ICC issued a controversial arrest warrant for Bashir based on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ocampo has denied receiving any information from the agencies in Sudan.

Bashir has also threatened to expel [JURIST report] any remaining agencies, diplomats and peacekeepers in Sudan. Human rights and other groups had urged Bashir [JURIST report] to allow the agencies to remain in the country, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] spokesman Rupert Colville has said that his office may investigate [JURIST report] whether Sudan's removal of the groups is a possible breach of human rights law or war crime.






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Puerto Rico ex-governor acquitted on corruption charges
Steve Czajkowski on March 21, 2009 9:57 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal jury at the US District Court for the District of Puerto Rico [official website] on Friday found former Puerto Rican governor Anibal Acevedo Vila [JURIST news archive] not guilty on nine counts of conspiracy, false statements, and wire fraud, among other crimes. The charges stem from alleged violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act [text] during Vila's 1999-2000 and 2001-2002 campaigns to become Puerto Rico's Resident Commissioner in the US House of Representatives and his 2004 gubernatorial campaign. In the original indictment [text, PDF; JURIST report], prosecutors accused Vila and twelve others of authorizing illegal and unreported contributions to pay off debts in excess of $500,000 incurred during Vila's campaigns.

Vila is a member of the Popular Democratic Party [party website, in Spanish], which does not support full US statehood for the Commonwealth. In 2004, Vila narrowly defeated former governor and pro-statehood candidate Pedro Rossello [campaign website, in Spanish] in a disputed gubernatorial election [JURIST report]. It is believed that Vila lost his bid [LAHT Report] for a second gubernatorial term in November due to the corruption charges.






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Second Circuit affirms order denying Madoff bail
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 20, 2009 4:45 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled [summary order, PDF] Friday that Bernard Madoff [JURIST news archive] must remain in jail as he awaits sentencing. The ruling affirms last week's ruling by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] denying Madoff bail. The appeals court found:

our review of the record confirms that the district court’s findings were sufficient under the circumstances of this case. The defendant’s age and his exposure to imprisonment are undisputed, and the court did not err in inferring an incentive to flee from these facts. Moreover, the district court’s finding that the defendant has the means - and therefore the ability - to flee was not clear error.
Prosecutors are seeking a 150-year sentence. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 16.

Last week, Madoff pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in federal court to all 11 charges of securities fraud [complaint, PDF; JURIST report]. In February, Madoff consented [JURIST report] to a partial judgment [SEC press release] with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] over civil charges brought by the SEC to obtain a preliminary injunction and asset freeze against him.





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Innocent prisoners being held at Guantanamo: ex-Powell aide
Andrew Gilmore on March 20, 2009 3:33 PM ET

[JURIST] Chief of staff to former US secretary of state Colin Powell [JURIST news archive] Lawrence Wilkerson criticized US terrorism detention practices Thursday, saying that authorities were holding innocent civilians as terror suspects at the Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detention center. Wilkerson's comments echoed earlier statements he made on the blog Washington Notes, entitled "Some Truths About Guantanamo Bay" [Washington Notes blog post], published online Tuesday. In the post, Wilkerson outlined a number of issues with the way in which prisoners sent to Guantanamo were detained, including the inability of US forces to distinguish between terrorism suspects and civilians, the use of bounty hunters to gather detainees, and the lack of judicial oversight of the detention process. Wilkerson faulted the administration of former president George W. Bush [JURIST news archive] for failing to acknowledge or quickly ameliorate the practices, attributing the failure to a desire to preserve the president's legacy and reputation. In an interview with the Associated Press, Wilkerson said that many of the detainees were victims of unfortunate circumstances [AP report] and were handed over to US forces in exchange for money.

Wilkerson's criticism of US terrorism policies comes as part of an increasing consensus concerning the perceived inadequacy and uselessness of the Guantanamo detention facility. In June, an investigative report [text; JURIST report] by McClatchy Newspapers revealed that many Guantanamo detainees have no links to terrorism. The McClatchy report echoed comments [JURIST report] made in February 2006 by lawyers for two detainees who alleged that more than half of detainees held at Guantanamo have not committed terrorist acts or are not members of terrorist organizations. In November 2006, Seton Hall law professor Mark Denbeaux [faculty profile] reported that US military Combatant Status Review Tribunals [DOD materials] do not offer Guantanamo detainees an adequate opportunity to contest the accusations against them [JURIST report] or to object to their status as enemy combatants.






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Brazil high court grants disputed land to indigenous peoples
Amelia Mathias on March 20, 2009 2:45 PM ET

[JURIST] The Brazilian Supreme Court [official website, in Portuguese] on Thursday confirmed the rights of indigenous peoples [press release, in Portuguese] to land on the Raposa Serra do Sol [Estadao backgrounder, in Portuguese] reservation and set out 19 rules to guide court in similar cases in the future. The 10 to 1 ruling [Estadao report, in Portuguese] will permit the expulsion of the 200 rice farmers currently living and working on the Raposa Serra do Sol reservation, created in 2005 [BBC report] by the Brazilian government. The rules set out by the court include prohibiting those outside the indigenous communities from hunting, fishing, gathering, or practicing agriculture on the land and granting exclusive use of natural resources to members of the tribal groups. The rules are expected to be binding [UPI report] on any future legal case involving the use of indigenous lands, which cover 12% of Brazil.

In December, the Supreme Court indicated that they would rule in favor of the indigenous peoples [JURIST report], but gave no official ruling. At the time, eight of the eleven judges voted in favor of indigenous peoples, but one requested more time to deliberate. Because of the high likelihood of victory, indigenous peoples began celebrating immediately.






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Federal judge enjoins rule permitting concealed weapons in national parks
Adrienne Lester on March 20, 2009 1:50 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Thursday granted a preliminary injunction [opinion, PDF] against a federal rule [50 CFR § 27.42 text] that permits the possession of "concealed, loaded and operable" hand guns in national parks and wildlife refuges in accordance with state laws. The rule was a enacted late in the term of former president George W. Bush [official website; JURIST news archive]. Historically, the Department of the Interior [official website] (DOI) permitted [36 CFR § 2.4(a)(2) text] only "packed, cased or stored" weapons to avoid ready use. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the National Parks Conservation Association [advocacy websites] brought suit claiming the DOI did not prepare an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement prior to enactment, pursuant to the National Environmental Protection Act [42 USC § 4331 text]. The DOI argued the rule did not authorize environmental impacts, thus no study was needed. The court held the rule was a result of an "astonishingly flawed process" by the DOI and their defense invoking a categorical exclusion was "arbitrary and capricious."

This injunction follows a memorandum [text, PDF; JURIST report] by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel [official profile] to agency and department leaders requesting the review of pending regulations that were advanced late in the Bush administration. Additionally, challenges to firearm restrictions [JURIST report] have become increasingly common since the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller [Duke Law backgrounder; JURIST report], in which the Court affirmed a decision invalidating the District of Columbia handgun ban [JURIST report]. Heller marked the first occasion that the Supreme Court directly addressed the Second Amendment since 1939's US v. Miller [opinion].






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AG Holder issues new FOIA guidelines
Tere Miller-Sporrer on March 20, 2009 1:05 PM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] announced [press release] Thursday new guidelines [memorandum, PDF] for complying with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text]. The new guidelines, designed to increase transparency in government, will

rescind the Attorney General's FOIA Memorandum of October 12, 2001, which stated that the Department of Justice would defend decisions to withhold records "unless they lack a sound legal basis or present an unwarranted risk of adverse impact on the ability of other agencies to protect other important records." Instead, the Department of Justice will defend a denial of a FOIA request only if (1) the agency reasonably foresees that disclosure would harm an interest protected by one of the statutory exemptions, or (2) disclosure is prohibited by law.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website], which has been involved in many FOIA requests, welcomed [ACLU press release] Holder's new guidelines, calling to "essential" to strengthen the FOIA.

The new guidelines come as Congress considers legislation aimed at strengthening FOIA. In February, the ACLU criticized [press release] the Obama administration for its failure to release information relating to the extraordinary rendition programs. Holder's directive finalizes a memorandum [text] issued by President Barack Obama in January, in which he called on all agencies to "adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure" [JURIST report] with regard to FOIA documents.





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House passes punitive tax on bonuses from bailout companies
Andrew Gilmore on March 20, 2009 12:46 PM ET

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] passed a bill [H.R. 1586 text, PDF] Thursday that would tax bonuses given to employees of companies that received money from government stimulus programs at 90 percent. The bill, which was passed by a vote of 328-93 [roll call vote], was drafted and voted on in reaction to large bonus payments made in the past week to employees of embattled insurance company American International Group (AIG) [corporate website]. A number of Republican representatives supported the bill, which also received many Democratic votes. The bill amends the Internal Revenue Code to provide for a 90 percent tax on bonuses from a company that received more than $5 billion under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 [text, PDF], Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac [corporate websites], or any entity related to those companies. The tax will not apply to employees who irrevocably waive their entitlement to bonuses defined in the legislation. The bill will now move to a vote in the US Senate [official website]. While the bill was an immediate response to recent employee bonuses at AIG, if signed into law, it would affect employees [Washington Post report] at many of the world's leading financial institutions, where compensation is often heavily reliant on bonuses.

The House passage of H.R. 1586 comes more than a month after President Barack Obama [official profile] announced a $500,000 cap on executive compensation [JURIST report] for companies receiving "exceptional assistance" from the federal government. That statement came in conjunction with an announcement from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner [official profile], highlighting increased restrictions on financial institutions [Treasury press release] receiving government assistance. The strong reaction to exorbitant executive compensation and bonuses comes as the US government and the Obama administration attempt to grapple with the ongoing global financial crisis [JURIST news archive]. Attempts to gain control over the roiling credit markets and possible widespread bank insolvencies have included the passage in September of a $700 billion financial rescue bill [JURIST report], creating the TARP, which provided economic assistance to at-risk financial institutions. In early October, the US Securities and Exchange Commission began an agency review of financial accounting procedures [JURIST report], including "mark-to-market" [SEC backgrounder] rules.






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Harvard law dean Kagan becomes first woman confirmed as US solicitor general
Tere Miller-Sporrer on March 20, 2009 11:55 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] on Thursday confirmed [materials; HLS press release] Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan [professional profile] as Solicitor General [official website] by a vote of 61-31. Kagan, the first woman to hold the office, faced opposition from Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website] during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings [JURIST report] last month for her role in a lawsuit against the Department of Defense [JURIST report] challenging the so-called Solomon Amendment [text], which makes federal funding for universities conditional on cooperation with military recruiters. Kagan said the amendment violated the school's policy [JURIST report] prohibiting recruiting by employers who discriminate based on sexual orientation. In remarks before Thursday's floor vote Specter also criticized Kagan for giving vague answers [transcript] to questions.

As solicitor general, Kagan is formally responsible for conducting all litigation on behalf of the United States in the US Supreme Court and supervising the handling of US litigation in federal appellate courts. Kagan has been Harvard Law School dean since 2003 [JURIST report] but has never argued a Supreme Court case.






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Israel military orders internal investigation of war crimes allegations
Devin Montgomery on March 20, 2009 10:04 AM ET

[JURIST] The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) [official website] said Thursday that it would conduct an internal investigation into reports that Israeli soldiers have committed war crimes against Palestinian civilians. The announcement follows soldiers' reports of civilian killings [Haaretz reports] and vandalism under liberal rules of engagement during a recent operation in the Gaza Strip. It also came on the same day that UN Special Rapportuer on human rights in the Palestinian territories Richard Falk [appointment release] issued a report [text, PDF] to the UN Human Rights Council [official website], in which Falk criticized Israel [Haaretz report] for failing to take adequate precautions to distinguish between civilians and combatants in their offensives in the region. Falk called for an independent investigation into the alleged crimes, which he said included the targeting of hospitals and mosques, the use of white phosphorus incendiary bombs in heavily populated areas, as well as Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights [advocacy website] has estimated [press release] that 1,417 have died in the conflict, of which 926 were civilians.

Earlier this week, a group of 16 human rights investigators and judges sent an open letter [text; JURIST report] to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile; JURIST news archive] and the UN Security Council calling for an investigation into the alleged crimes. Earlier this month, Iran announced that it would seek INTERPOL arrest warrants [JURIST report] for Israeli war crimes suspects. In January, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for an independent investigation [statement text; JURIST report] of possible war crimes and human rights violations in Gaza. International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is also attempting to gain jurisdiction over Israel [JURIST report] to investigate its actions in Gaza for alleged war crimes. Israel has already begun to consider defenses against possible war crimes charges, partly based on accusations [JURIST reports] that it used white phosphorus in a civilian area.






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China government detains outspoken ex-Tiananmen Square soldier
Bhargav Katikaneni on March 20, 2009 8:43 AM ET

[JURIST] The Chinese government on Friday detained a former soldier who has called for an investigation into the 1989 killings of pro-democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square [BBC backgrounder]. Chinese human rights organization Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch (CRLW) [official website, in Chinese] said that Zhang Shijun, a former member of the Chinese army's 162nd motorized infantry division, has been detained (CRLW report, in Chinese] after he wrote an open letter to Chinese Premier Hu Jintao calling for an investigation into the killings. Zhang was recently interviewed about the events of that day, lamenting his own role, and was then detained [AP reports] by local authorities.

A report by Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) [advocacy website] suggests that Chinese authorities have intensified arrests of dissidents because of the approaching 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests. The Tiananmen protests began in April 1989 with mainly students and laborers protesting the Communist Party of China. The Chinese government declared martial law in May, and initiated the violent dispersal of protesters by the People's Liberation Army on June 4. The government has never publicized official figures, but the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights & Democracy [advocacy website] reported last June that unnamed sources had estimated 600 people were killed [ICHR report, in Chinese]. Rights groups have continued to urge the Chinese government to release [JURIST report] the remaining imprisoned protesters.






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Imprisoned Iran blogger commits suicide in custody
Brian Jackson on March 20, 2009 7:55 AM ET

[JURIST] Iranian blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi reportedly committed suicide Wednesday after serving one month of a 30-month prison sentence for insulting Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [BBC profile; official profile]. Both the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHR) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) [advocacy websites] reported that Mirsayafi had been suffering from depression [RSF report], with ICHR reporting that Mirsayafi had taken an excess of medication [ICHR report]. Human Rights Activists in Iran [advocacy website, in Persian] reported [text] that another inmate at the Evin prison [BBC backgrounder], Dr. Hesam Firouzi, provided first-aid and took Mirsayafi to the prison ward nurse's station, where he was denied medical treatment. The ICHR has called for Iran's judiciary to investigate the death, with spokesperson Hadi Ghaemi saying, "Iranian leaders have relegated the administration of the prison system to a group of incompetent and cruel officials who are showing their utter disregard for human life."

While print journalists have long been imprisoned [JURIST news archive] for producing unfavorable reports, the advent of blogging has resulted in a new group subject to sanctions for their reporting. In January, Chinese blogger Chen Qitang was sentenced to 30 months in prison [JURIST report] for making disparaging remarks about the government. In September, the Singapore Supreme Court sentenced US blogger Gopalan Nair [JURIST report] to three months in jail for insulting a judge. In February 2007, Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil was sentenced to four years in prison [JURIST report] for insulting Islam and causing sectarian strife.






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Federal court denies military contractor motion to dismiss Abu Ghraib torture suit
Christian Ehret on March 20, 2009 7:52 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] ruled [order, PDF] in an order made public Thursday that defense contractor CACI International [corporate website] is not immune from a lawsuit brought by Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archive] torture victims, denying CACI's motion to dismiss. Judge Gerald Bruce Lee held that the four plaintiffs could go forward with their suit based on allegedly torturous interrogative techniques conducted by CACI. The defense contractor claimed "derivative absolute official immunity" on the grounds that they were performing "a discretionary function within the scope of their government contract" and that the "public benefit of immunity for contractor interrogators outweighs the cost of ignoring a potential injustice should Plaintiffs' claims go unremedied and unaddressed." Lee rejected the argument that CACI was acting within their discretionary scope due to a lack of such evidence at the current stage of litigation. Lee also rejected the public benefit argument, holding that while "in some circumstances, government contractors are immune from liability while performing their government contracts," a balancing test must be applied to weigh the public benefits associated with such immunity with the need to hold individuals "accountable for their wrongful acts." The court addressed the public interest in immunity by finding that:

[t]he public outcry against the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib was strong and compelling. Photographs of detainee abuse scarred the national conscience, leading to the publication of numerous books, newspaper and magazine articles and at least one congressional investigation. On the limited record currently before the Court, the Court cannot say that the public has a stronger interest in recognizing immunity than it does in allowing Plaintiffs' suit to proceed.
CACI responded to the judgment [press release], stating its intent to "vigorously pursue all of its legal alternatives to defend itself and vindicate the company's good name."

Abu Ghraib was reopened in February [JURIST report] by the Iraqi government with promises to uphold international human rights standards. The four detainees filed their suit [JURIST report] last year against CACI and L-3 Services but later dismissed the claim against L-3 [notice of dismissal]. CACI defends themselves [text] on their website, denying their involvement in Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan, the extent of their authority at Abu Ghraib, and other allegations. CACI sued Air America for defamation [JURIST report] last year, losing on First Amendment grounds. The court found this prior suit to be contradictory to the company's claim that the current litigation is clouded by the "fog of war."





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Israel ex-president indicted on rape charges
Andrew Gilmore on March 19, 2009 3:11 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] was indicted Thursday on two counts of rape for allegedly assaulting several female employees in the 1990s. The indictment, which was filed in Tel Aviv District Court, charges [Jerusalem Post report] Katsav with two counts of rape, multiple counts of sexual harassment and forced indecent acts, and witness intimidation. The alleged rapes were committed while Katsav was the minister of tourism, while the other alleged acts were committed while Katsav served as president. A Katsav adviser decried the charges [Haaretz report], saying that the evidence against Katsav does not support the charges, and that the indictment was brought against the recommendation of a number of leading Israeli jurists.

The Katsav indictment was announced [JURIST report] two weeks ago by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. Katsav was originally accused of rape [JURIST report] and sexual assault in 2006. In April, Katsav rejected a controversial plea agreement [JURIST reports], under which he would have been permitted to plead guilty to lesser sex charges of indecent assault, sexual harassment, and obstruction of justice, in exchange for a suspended sentence and the dropping of the rape charges. The deal was heavily criticized [JURIST report] by women's and civil rights activists when it was first made public in 2007. A victim and several rights organizations filed five separate petitions [Haaretz report] to overturn the agreement, arguing that it was contrary to public interest, had no legal reason, and injured the principal of equality before the law. Despite the criticism, Mazuz defended the agreement as necessary to protect the office of the presidency from further injury and spare the country from embarrassment. Katsav resigned the presidency in 2007.






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Pakistan government appeals high court decision banning ex-PM from political office
Andrew Gilmore on March 19, 2009 2:42 PM ET

[JURIST] The government of Pakistan President Ali Asif Zardari [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) [party website] filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] Thursday, asking the court to review its February decision [JURIST report] banning former prime minister Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and his brother from holding elected office. The Supreme Court based its decision on a criminal conviction against Sharif, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website], for attempting to divert a plane carrying army commander and later president Pervez Musharraf [JURIST news archive] in 1999 during a coup attempt. A government spokesperson said that the appeal [Dawn report] was made in the interest of constitutionalism and the rule of law [BBC report]. The filing of the report was seen by many, including the PML-N, as a condition for ending the recent protests and "long march" [JURIST news archive] against the Zardari government, which culminated in Monday's reinstatement [JURIST report] of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry [JURIST news archive].

Chaudhry's reinstatement was seen as a positive step for democratic rule in Pakistan. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani [BBC profile] announced early Monday that the government would reinstate Chaudhry in response to recent protests by members of the lawyers' movement and opposition politicians and supporters. Gilani also ordered government officials to release [Dawn report] anyone arrested during the past week's so-called "long march" [JURIST reports]. Reports first surfaced late Sunday that President Zardari had agreed to reinstate Chaudhry and other judges ousted by Zardari's predecessor Musharraf in November 2007 after his declaration of emergency rule. Sharif and the PML-N have actively campaigned [JURIST report] for Chaudhry's reinstatement, leading a similar "long march" last summer. Chaudhry has always maintained that he is still chief justice [JURIST report] under the Pakistani constitution [text].






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Uighur Guantanamo detainees may be released into US: Holder
Ximena Marinero on March 19, 2009 12:52 PM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] told reporters Wednesday that the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] will consider accepting in the US the 17 Uighur Guantanamo Bay detainees [JURIST news archive] who have been cleared for release. The DOJ is still exploring where to transfer cleared detainees, and has declined to repatriate the Uighurs despite Chinese demands [JURIST report] because they have been linked to a militant separatist group and could face torture upon their return. Holder's comments follow the February ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website], which rejected an October district court order [opinion and order, PDF; JURIST report] supporting the US release of Uighurs. The circuit court reserved such a decision for either the executive or legislative branch.

On Monday, Holder and other top officials from the Obama administration met with leaders [JURIST report] from the European Union (EU) [official website] to discuss plans to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] to European countries, assuring EU leaders that the US will provide them with thorough background information about the detainees. In February, Sweden's Migration Court granted asylum [judgment, PDF, in Swedish; JURIST report] to a former Uighur Guantanamo detainee, overruling a previous asylum denial. The city of Munich, Germany, home to a sizeable Uighur community, has expressed willingness to welcome the 17 Uighurs [The Local report]. In 2006, Albania granted asylum [JURIST report] to five Uighurs after their release from Guantanamo.






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DOJ to reduce prison communications limits on 'American Taliban' Lindh
Benjamin Hackman on March 19, 2009 12:44 PM ET

[JURIST] A spokesperson for the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] said Wednesday that the DOJ will limit prison restrictions on John Walker Lindh [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], a California man known as the "American Taliban." Lindh is serving a 20-year sentence in an Indiana federal prison after pleading guilty [plea agreement] in 2002 to supplying services to the Taliban. DOJ spokesman Dean Boyd said certain restrictions on Lindh will be lifted [AP report] Friday. Boyd did not discuss the details of the restrictions, but Lindh's lawyer said [Los Angeles Times report] Lindh will be allowed to visit with more people.

After pleading guilty to a charge [indictment] of aiding the Taliban, Lindh repeatedly asked then-president George W. Bush to reduce his 20-year sentence. Bush declined [JURIST report] to do so. The Associated Press [media website] then sued the DOJ to gain access under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] to Lindh's petition for commutation. In December, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] the lower court's ruling that Lindh's petition fell under a FOIA invasion-of-privacy exception and as such was not available to the public.






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UK to publish detainee interrogation guidelines
Andrew Morgan on March 19, 2009 12:08 PM ET

[JURIST] The UK will publish the guidance it gives to intelligence officers for questioning suspects overseas, Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website] told parliament in a written statement [text] Wednesday. Restating the UK's unequivocal condemnation of torture, Brown said that making the applicable interrogation standards public will "protect the reputation of [UK] security and intelligence services and ... reassure ourselves that everything has been done to ensure that our practices are in line with United Kingdom and international law." The guidelines are expected to be published by May, following consolidation and review by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), a Cabinet Office [official websites] committee set up to conduct oversight of UK intelligence activities. Brown charged Intelligence Services Commissioner Sir Peter Gibson with monitoring guideline compliance, continuing to resist calls for a judge-led inquiry [Guardian report]. He noted that the civil courts are the appropriate place for allegations of criminal misconduct to be tried, but that decisions about prosecution must follow an investigation by the attorney general [official website]. Brown also directed the ISC to update its 2005 detainee treatment report [text, PDF] and 2007 rendition report [text, PDF] in light of any new developments or relevant information.

The decision comes amidst allegations from British resident and former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Binyam Mohamed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] that British intelligence agents were complicit in his torture [JURIST report] in Morocco. Mohamed alleges that after being transferred to Morocco under the US extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive] program, British MI5 [official website] fed interrogation questions to Moroccan authorities. Earlier this month, the UK government's independent reviewer of terror laws called for a judicial inquiry [JURIST report] into British complicity in US rendition and torture. British media reported that UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak told British ministers that MI5 may have been complicit [JURIST report] in torture committed while detainees including Mohamed were in US custody. Mohamed was returned to the UK [JURIST report] in March following seven years of detention, including five at Guantanamo Bay, where he was held on charges of conspiring to commit terrorism. Those charges were dismissed [JURIST report] in October, but Mohamed remained in custody while US authorities considered filing new charges.






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Israeli forces arrest Hamas leaders after release efforts for captured soldier fail
Christian Ehret on March 19, 2009 12:00 PM ET

[JURIST] Israeli forces arrested 12 Hamas leaders during raids in the West Bank Thursday. Among those seized [AFP report; Haaretz report, in Hebrew] were former Palestine deputy prime minister Nasseredin al-Shaer and Hamas officials Adnan Asfur and Raafat Nassif. The seizures came after Israel and Hamas failed to reach an agreement [AFP report] on a prisoner exchange on Tuesday. Israel did not obtain the release of Gilad Shalit [JURIST news archive], an Israeli soldier who was captured by Hamas in 2006, despite offering to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Hamas blames the failure of the negotiations on Israel [Haaretz report], claiming that the Palestinian prisoners Israel was willing to release would have faced deportation from the West Bank.

Soon after Shalit's capture, Israel seized Hamas leaders [JURIST report] including Palestinian Cabinet ministers and lawmakers. Prisoner exchange negotiations between Israel and Hamas have failed before, although Egypt has been attempting to mediate [JURIST reports] such negotiations since 2006. Human rights advocates have recently called for the investigation [JURIST report] of recent events in Gaza [BBC backgrounder].






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DOJ to end raids on medical marijuana facilities not violating state law: Holder
Matt Glenn on March 19, 2009 11:51 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] will no longer prosecute owners of medical marijuana facilities that do not violate state law, Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] said Wednesday. Although the use of medical marijuana violates federal law, thirteen states have legalized its use. Holder warned, however, that the federal government would continue to prosecute dispensers that violate state law [AP report], including dispensers that are fronts for drug dealers. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) [official website] opposed Holder's decision [AP report], arguing that marijuana leads to harder drugs. Holder did not comment on whether the DOJ would continue to prosecute medical marijuana cases already underway. Also Wednesday, a bill legalizing medical marijuana in New Hampshire survived a committee vote [Union Leader report] in the state House of Representatives [official website]. The house will vote on the bill next week.

Under the Bush administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) [official website] routinely raided medical marijuana distributors because they violate federal law. The DEA raided medical marijuana facilities as recently as February [Washington Times report] to the disappointment of President Barack Obama, who, during his campaign, pledged to end raids [Boston Globe report]. Michigan became the most recent state to legalize the use of medical marijuana by passing a proposition [JURIST report] last November. The US Supreme Court's 2005 decision in Gonzales v. Raich [opinion text; JURIST report] upheld Congress's power to criminalize the growth and personal use of marijuana for medical purposes.






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US judges approve new ethics rules
Devin Montgomery on March 19, 2009 11:50 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Judicial Conference [official website] has published a revised Code of Conduct [text, PDF] for federal judges in the country. The revision, published Tuesday, updates the code from its last revision [text] in 1992, and the conference said the changes were intended to simplify and clarify the code by condensing its sections and using plain language. The revised version also newly-defines the "appearance of impropriety," the standard by which judges should recuse themselves from hearing a case, and broadens the definition of what constitutes inappropriate influence on a judge. Changes to the code will take effect on July 1. The conference also asked Congress to create 63 new federal judgeships.

The US Judicial Conference is made up of [membership roster, PDF] senior circuit and district court judges. It operates under a mandate [28 USC § 331] to monitor federal courts and promulgate rules providing for their fair and efficient operation. What constitutes the appearance of impropriety or bias by a judge is something that has recently gained much attention in both federal and state courts. Earlier this month, the US Supreme Court heard arguments [argument transcript, PDF; JURIST report] in a case where they will determine whether there is a constitutional basis for the Court to set an "appearance of bias" standard for state courts.






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Italy CIA rendition trial delayed while high court frames reasons for excluding evidence
Steve Czajkowski on March 19, 2009 10:50 AM ET

[JURIST] The Italian judge presiding over the kidnapping trail of 26 Americans and seven Italians [JURIST news archive] on Wednesday postponed the trial until April 22. Judge Oscar Magi suspended the case [AP report] in order to allow Italy's Constitutional Court [official website, in Italian] to explain its ruling last week [Reuters report] excluding certain evidence from the case on the grounds of national security [JURIST report]. The case involves 25 American CIA agents and one US Air Force colonel being tried in absentia, along with seven Italian military intelligence officials, who are charged in the 2003 abduction and rendition [JURIST news archive] of Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr [JURIST news archive]. The Constitutional Court had issued a ruling excluding key evidence based on prosecutors' violations of national security laws when they obtained classified evidence of the identities of members of Italy's Military Intelligence and Security Service (SISMI) [official website, in Italian] and their relationships with US CIA agents. While the ruling is seen as damaging to the criminal case, lead prosecutor Armando Spataro said he approved [AFP report] of the delay for clarification purposes.

Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was seized on the streets of Milan by CIA agents with the help of Italian operatives, then allegedly transferred to Egypt and tortured by Egypt's State Security Intelligence before being released [JURIST reports] in February 2007. The trial has been delayed many times through out its course. Most recently, Magi delayed the trial for three months [JURIST report] in December after the government said the testimony could compromise Italy’s national security.






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New Mexico governor signs bill repealing death penalty
Steve Czajkowski on March 19, 2009 9:47 AM ET

[JURIST] New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (D) [official website] on Wednesday signed a bill [text, PDF; HB 285 materials] which repealed [press release] the use of the death penalty [JURIST news archive] in the state. The bill replaces the use of capital punishment with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for capital felony convictions. Richardson spoke about his reasons for signing the bill, admitting that he changed his view of capital punishment during his time as governor and encouraging other states to abolish the death penalty:

Throughout my adult life, I have been a firm believer in the death penalty as a just punishment – in very rare instances, and only for the most heinous crimes. I still believe that. But six years ago, when I took office as Governor of the State of New Mexico, I started to challenge my own thinking on the death penalty. Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime. If the State is going to undertake this awesome responsibility, the system to impose this ultimate penalty must be perfect and can never be wrong. But... [t]he system is inherently defective. DNA testing has proven that. Innocent people have been put on death row all across the country.

From an international human rights perspective, there is no reason the United States should be behind the rest of the world on this issue. Many of the countries that continue to support and use the death penalty are also the most repressive nations in the world. That’s not something to be proud of. In a society which values individual life and liberty above all else, where justice and not vengeance is the singular guiding principle of our system of criminal law, the potential for wrongful conviction and, God forbid, execution of an innocent person stands as anathema to our very sensibilities as human beings. That is why I’m signing this bill into law.
The bill, which was approved [New Mexico Independent report] by the New Mexico Senate [official website] by a vote of 24-18 last week, goes into effect on July 1. It is not clear what will happen to those currently on death row in New Mexico.

With the legislation, New Mexico will become the second state to abolish the death penalty since the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] reinstated it nationally in 1976. New Jersey was the first state to pass [JURIST report] such a law in 2007. There are currently fourteen other states [AP report] which do not allow the death penalty. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) [advocacy website], Maryland, Utah, Kansas, Colorado, and Montana are considering [press release] eliminating or limiting the use of capital punishment.





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Singapore judge fines WSJ-Asia editor for criticizing judiciary
Bhargav Katikaneni on March 19, 2009 7:39 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the Supreme Court of Singapore [official website] ruled Thursday that a Wall Journal Journal Asia (WSJ-Asia) [media website] editor was in contempt of court and personally liable for damages [press release, PDF] for publishing two editorials and a letter that criticized the impartiality of the city-state's judiciary. Judge Tay Yong Kwang ordered Melanie Kirkpatrick to pay USD $13,000 in fines and court costs for being in charge of the newspaper's editorial section when the articles were published. The case [complaint, PDF] is the second such contempt of court case brought by the Singapore attorney general [official website] over the same articles. In October, Tay held that publisher Daniel Hertzberg and proprietor Christine Glancery, were in contempt of Court [JURIST report] and fined them USD $16,500 plus court costs. In the complaint, the attorney general argued it was important to pursue contempt of court charges against individual members of the WSJ-Asia to serve as a deterrence against future such publications.

The Applicant’s objective in bringing these proceedings against the Respondent is to ensure that the editor who is responsible for the publication of the 3 offending items in WSJ Asia is held accountable for her actions. The Applicant’s understanding of the representations from the Respondent’s solicitors that the Respondent is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the ‘Editorials and Opinion’ section of the WSJ Asia and has final editorial responsibility over its contents is that the Respondent is directly responsible for the publication of the 3 offending items in WSJ Asia.
Kirkpatrick did not contest the charges and the attorney general urged a stiff penalty against her, in light of a previous contempt of court fine against her for USD $2,600 in 1985.

In July, the Singapore government rejected [JURIST report] claims by the International Bar Association's Human Rights Division [association website] that the country lacks an independent judiciary. In September, a Singapore Supreme Court judge sentenced US blogger and lawyer Gopalan Nair [blog; firm profile] to three months in jail [JURIST report] after he accused a judge "prostituting herself" in a defamation case brought by former Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew [official profile]. The Singapore penal code [text] punishes insulting a public servant conducting a judicial proceeding with up to one year in prison, a fine, or both.





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SEC charges Madoff accountant with fraud
Devin Montgomery on March 18, 2009 4:15 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] on Wednesday charged [complaint, PDF; press release] accountant David Friehling with fraud for his alleged role in the securities fraud scheme committed by financier Bernard Madoff [JURIST news archive]. In the complaint, the SEC alleges that Friehling and his accounting firm made fraudulent representations that they had audited Madoff's records in accordance with Generally Accepted Auditing Standards [text, PDF], even though they had not, that these misrepresentations had enabled Madoff's scheme, and that the firm profited from the fraud. Because of these allegations, Friehling faces charges under the Securities Act [15 USC § 77 text], the Exchange Act [15 USC § 78 text], and the Advisers Act [15 USC § 80 text]. If found guilty, he faces up to 105 years in prison and would have to return any profit he made from the fraud.

Last week, Madoff pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to 11 charges of securities fraud [complaint, PDF; JURIST report]. Last month, Madoff consented [JURIST report] to a partial judgment [SEC press release] with the SEC over civil charges brought by the SEC to obtain a preliminary injunction and asset freeze against him. The same day, SEC Division of Enforcement Director Linda Thomsen announced she was stepping down from her post [SEC press release]. In the week following Madoff's charges, SEC Chairman Christopher Cox [official profile] said that he would launch an immediate investigation [press release; JURIST report] into how the fraud allegedly perpetrated by Madoff went undetected for so long. In December, then-President-elect Barack Obama [official profile] named [press release] Mary Schapiro [professional profile] as the SEC Chairman, replacing Cox.






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Special prosecutor for CIA interrogations urged
Devin Montgomery on March 18, 2009 2:58 PM ET

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] on Tuesday called on US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile; JURIST news archive] to commission a special prosecutor [letter, PDF; press release] to investigate tactics used by CIA interrogators against terrorism suspects. ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said in a letter to Holder that recently published characterizations [NYRB op-ed; JURIST report] of CIA methods as torture by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [official website], combined with other evidence, obligated the attorney general to investigate the allegations. Romero said that those suspected in engaging in or facilitating torture should then be prosecuted under the War Crimes Act [18 USC § 2441 text] and the Anti-Torture Act [18 USC § 2340 text], and that the statute of limitations for some of the alleged offenses would expire in less than a year:

There Is Broad Authority to Investigate and Prosecute Torture Crimes, Including Any Crimes in Ordering or Authorizing Torture: Based on prior government investigations, documents obtained by the ACLU through our FOIA litigation, and numerous media reports, there is credible evidence that acts authorized, ordered, and committed by government officials constitute violations of federal criminal statutes. Although the political debate about whether acts such as waterboarding are torture has caused confusion in some press accounts, waterboarding and other forms of torture and abuse clearly violate existing federal criminal laws, including the War Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2441, the Anti-Torture Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2340-2340A, and federal statutes that criminalize conduct such as assaults by or against U.S. nationals in overseas facilities used by the federal government. There also are numerous federal criminal laws against obstructing or interfering with government investigations or court proceedings. [emphasis omitted]
Romero went on to say that current efforts [JURIST report] to investigate the interrogations were too weak to hold offenders accountable, and that only a special prosecutor sanctioned by the attorney general could effectively investigate the allegations.

Earlier this month, the CIA admitted to destroying 92 tapes of interrogations of the "high-value" detainees, later admitting that 12 of the destroyed tapes [JURIST reports] included evidence of "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" (EIT). Rights groups and experts on torture have long criticized [JURIST news archive] the US for its use of EIT, and US President Barack Obama in January issued an executive order [text; JURIST report] explicitly banning the use of waterboarding and other techniques that do no comport with Geneva Convention safeguards for prisoners of war.





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Federal judge orders al-Marri to remain in prison pending trial
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 18, 2009 2:42 PM ET

[JURIST] A US magistrate judge in South Carolina ruled Wednesday that suspected al Qaeda operative Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri [NYT profile; JURIST news archive] must remain in prison as the criminal case against him proceeds. Judge Robert Carr denied al-Marri's request to be freed on bail, finding that he had failed to prove that he was not a danger to the community [Bloomberg report], despite his lawyer's assurance that he could be placed in a secure location until his trial. Al-Marri is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Illinois on Monday. It is unclear when he will be transferred from South Carolina.

Last week, the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] granted [order, PDF; JURIST report] a motion [text, PDF] by the US government to dismiss as moot an appeal challenging al-Marri's indefinite detention, following the Obama administration's decision to try al-Marri in US federal court [JURIST report]. Al-Marri was indicted [indictment text; DOJ press release] earlier this month on two charges of providing material support to al Qaeda and conspiring with others to provide material support to al Qaeda. In January, shortly after taking office, President Barack Obama ordered an immediate review [JURIST report] of al-Marri's detention. Al-Marri was arrested at his home in Peoria, Illinois by civilian authorities in 2001, and was indicted for other crimes. In 2003, then-President George W. Bush declared him an enemy combatant [CNN report] and ordered the attorney general to transfer custody of al-Marri to the defense secretary, claiming inherent authority to hold him indefinitely.






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Madagascar court approves president installed by military
Matt Glenn on March 18, 2009 10:57 AM ET

[JURIST] The High Constitutional Court [official website, in French] of Madagascar [BBC backgrounder] announced in a radio address Wednesday that it would accept the military's decision [L'Express report, in French] to install opposition leader Andry Rajoelina [Reuters profile] as the country's new president, one day after the resignation of President Marc Ravalomanana [BBC profile]. The court approved the presidency of 34-year-old Rajoelina despite a requirement in Madagascar's constitution [text, PDF] that the president be at least 40 years of age, declaring that his presidency would be legal for a maximum two-year term [China Daily report]. Ravalomanana passed control of the government to the military Tuesday after months of violence in hopes it would run the nation under a military directorate. The military subsequently passed power to Rajoelina, a former mayor of Madagascar's capital city of Antananarivo who had led protests against Ravalomanana's government. Members of the African Union [official website; JURIST news archive] have since decried Rajoelina's appointment as unconstitutional, indicating that the move may amount to a coup.

Madagascar has faced increasing political violence over the last two months leading to dozens of deaths. In February the police opened fire on anti-Ravalomanana demonstrators, killing 28 [BBC report]. Rajoelina was fired as mayor of Antananarivo [BBC report] in late January following his declaration that he was in charge of Madagascar and his failed efforts to impeach Ravalomanana. Much of the public unrest stemmed from criticisms that Ravalomanana failed to alleviate poverty, as well as his unpopular decision to shut down a television station [BBC report] owned by Rajoelina after the station aired an interview with one of Ravalomanana's former adversaries.






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UN rights chief praises reinstatement of Pakistan chief justice
Lucas Tanglen on March 18, 2009 9:27 AM ET

[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday praised [UN News Centre report; UN press briefing] the reinstatement [JURIST report] of Pakistan Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry [JURIST news archive]. Pillay's spokesman called the move "an important step in the process of restoring the rule of law in Pakistan," adding that judicial integrity is needed if Pakistan is to make progress in upholding human rights laws such as the UN Convention against Torture [text]. Pillay also praised Pakistani pledges to release activists arrested in recent protests, and called for leaders to end bans on public demonstrations.

Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani [BBC profile] announced early Monday that the government would reinstate Chaudhry in response to recent protests by members of the lawyers' movement and opposition politicians and supporters. The news was welcomed [JURIST report] by members of the Pakistani lawyers' movement, who rallied at Chaudhry's home [Geo TV report] Monday, as well as by international groups including the European Union, the UK, and the Association of Pakistani Lawyers. Gilani also ordered government officials to release [Dawn report] anyone arrested during the past week's so-called "long march" [JURIST reports].






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Obama administration to sign UN gay rights declaration: official
Ximena Marinero on March 18, 2009 9:09 AM ET

[JURIST] The administration of US President Barack Obama [official website] intends to endorse a UN declaration that calls for decriminalizing homosexuality, according to an anonymous official quoted in a Tuesday Associated Press report [text]. In December, the Bush administration declined to sign the statement signed by 66 other nations [UN press release, JURIST report]. The Bush administration offered the rationale that although the US also opposes sexual orientation discrimination, the federal government could not sign a statement which may have bound the US on matters pertaining to state jurisdiction. Among those states declining to support the statement were China, Russia, members of the Islamic Conference, and the Roman Catholic Church. The US Congress has yet to be notified of Obama's decision. Officials who spoke under conditions of anonymity said the Obama administration intends to continue to be vocal in its stance toward defending human rights.

Gay rights have been a contentious issue worldwide with little global consensus. In November, the parliament of Burundi criminalized homosexuality, and the Supreme Court of Nepal approved same-sex marriages [JURIST reports]. In October, the Portuguese parliament voted overwhelmingly against proposals to legalize same-sex marriage [JURIST report]. In the US, same-sex marriages are now permitted in Massachusetts and Connecticut [JURIST report]. Earlier this week the Vermont legislature began debating a bill [JURIST report] that would legalize same-sex marriage. In November, same-sex marriage bans passed [JURIST report] in California, Arizona, and Florida.

2:12 PM ET: The US State Department has issued an official statement [text] that the US is "is pleased to join the other 66 UN member states who have declared their support of this Statement that condemns human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity wherever they occur."






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Obama announces first federal appeals court nominee
Ingrid Burke on March 18, 2009 8:12 AM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] on Tuesday nominated [press release] Judge David Hamilton [official profile] to serve on the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website], thereby moving to fill the first of 15 federal appellate vacancies [DOJ materials]. Hamilton previously served for 14 years as a district judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana [official website] before having been appointed Chief Justice of that court in January 2008. Obama attributed his decision to Hamilton's reputation as a mainstream jurist:

Judge Hamilton has a long and impressive record of service and a history of handing down fair and judicious decisions. He will be a thoughtful and distinguished addition to the Seventh Circuit and I am extremely pleased to put him forward to serve the people of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
The first of Obama's federal judicial nominations has been broadly viewed as the first step in likely expansive civil rights reforms [WH materials]. In addition to the 15 circuit court vacancies, there are 52 vacancies in federal district courts for a total of 67. A number of these vacancies have opened in previously predominantly conservative circuits, including 11 in the Fourth Circuit and .





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Iraq cabinet urges presidency council to ratify Saddam officials' death sentences
Ximena Marinero on March 18, 2009 8:10 AM ET

[JURIST] The Iraqi Cabinet [official website, in Arabic] urged the Presidency Council [official website, in Arabic] Tuesday to ratify death sentences against three former Saddam Hussein officials. The sentences have been delayed because two of the members, President Jalal Talabani and Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, have opposed the sentences [AP report] of Hashim al-Taie and Hussein Rashid Mohammed, alleging that both men's roles in the 1988 Anfal campaign against ethnic Kurds [HRW backgrounder] were coerced on threats of death by Saddam Hussein. In accordance with Iraqi law, all three members of the Iraqi Presidential Council must approve the measures. The death sentences and convictions of al-Taie, Mohammed, and Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" [JURIST news archive], were upheld [JURIST report] by the Appeals Chamber of the Iraqi High Tribunal in September 2007 on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in connection to the 1988 Anfal campaign.

"Chemical Ali" has received two other death sentences in connection with the killings of rioting protesters [JURIST report] in Baghdad and Amarah following the alleged assassination of a prominent Shiite cleric, and for his involvement in the repression of Shiite protesters [JURIST report] in southern Iraq following the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Earlier this month, he was also sentenced to fifteen years [JURIST report] for his involvement in the 1992 murders of 42 merchants accused of price-gouging during a period of UN-imposed sanctions. Earlier this week, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] urged Iraq to commute the 128 death sentences [AI report] that have ratified and to reinstate a death penalty moratorium, alleging that "Iraqi trials do not always conform to international fair trial standards."






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Military appeals court upholds dismissal of charges against Haditha killings defendant
Lucas Tanglen on March 18, 2009 8:09 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals [official website] upheld [opinion, DOC] Tuesday a military judge's dismissal [JURIST report] of the charges against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani [JURIST news archive], the top-ranking US Marine to face court-martial [JURIST news archive] in the killing of 24 Iraqis [BBC backgrounder] in Haditha [JURIST news archive]. The court affirmed the appearance of "unlawful command influence" [JAG backgrounder] when a lawyer who had investigated the case sat in on meetings at which the case was discussed with the general who ultimately decided to charge Chessani. The court cited the government's failure to bring evidence to negate the appearance of unlawful command influence:

[A]n objective, disinterested observer, fully informed of all the facts and circumstances, would harbor significant doubt about the fairness of this proceeding. Thus, we are left to conclude that the Government has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt there was no apparent [unlawful command influence].
Chessani, who was the commander of the battalion involved in the killings, was charged with violation of a lawful general order and dereliction of duty for failing to start a war crimes investigation.

All but one of the eight Marines initially charged in connection to the Haditha incident have either had their charges dismissed or been found not guilty. In June, US Marine Corps 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson [defense website; JURIST news archive] was cleared on all counts, including charges that he ordered a subordinate officer to delete photographic evidence [JURIST reports] of the killings. The court-martial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich [defense website], leader of the squad implicated in the killings, was postponed indefinitely [JURIST report] in March 2008.





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Sixth Circuit upholds judgment against former El Salvador military commander
Andrew Gilmore on March 18, 2009 8:06 AM ET

[JURIST] A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] upheld [opinion, PDF] Tuesday a district court decision finding former El Salvador chief military commander Nicolas Carranza [CJA backgrounder] liable for murder and torture committed during the El Salvador civil war [PBS backgrounder] in the 1980s. In 2005, a Tennessee federal jury found Carranza liable [JURIST report] for acts of murder and torture in El Salvador under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA) [texts]. Carranza had appealed the jury verdict, claiming that the district court abused its discretion by holding that extraordinary circumstances justified equitable tolling of the statute of limitations, not granting comity to a Salvadoran amnesty law, and making various evidentiary rulings. He also argued that the district court erred in its jury instruction concerning command responsibility. In the opinion, Judge Eugene Siler addressed the Sixth Circuit's reasons for upholding the district court's decision to allow equitable tolling of the statute of limitations for claims under the ATS and the TVPA:

We have identified five factors a district court should consider when determining whether to equitably toll the statute of limitations: (1) lack of notice of the filing requirement, (2) lack of constructive knowledge of the filing requirement, (3) diligence in pursuing one’s rights, (4) absence of prejudice to the defendant, and (5) the plaintiff’s reasonableness in remaining ignorant of the particular legal requirement. ...

In sum, we conclude that the ten-year limitations period applicable to TVPA claims also governs claims under the ATS, equitable tolling principles apply, and the existence of extraordinary circumstances provides a justification for the application of the equitable tolling doctrine.
In February, Carranza was indicted [CJA press release, PDF] by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) for two counts of immigration fraud. During the 2005 trial [JURIST report], the jury heard testimony by five Salvadoran citizens who alleged they were tortured or had family members killed by soldiers who served under Carranza, the top commander of El Salvador's security forces during the civil war. A verdict was reached in favor of four of the five accusers with the jury awarding $500,000 in compensatory damages to each plaintiff. The lawsuit accused Carranza, who moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1985, of allowing crimes against humanity during the war. The Salvadoran plaintiffs brought their case in US court under the ATS, also called the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), which allows foreign victims of serious human rights abuse abroad to sue perpetrators in federal court.





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Russia court refuses request to drop new Khodorkovsky charges
Andrew Gilmore on March 18, 2009 7:07 AM ET

[JURIST] A Russian court Tuesday refused a request by defense lawyers to drop new embezzlement and money laundering charges [JURIST reports] against former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] and his former business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website]. The court also rejected a request by defense lawyers to have the case returned to state prosecutors [ITAR-TASS report] for further investigation. The lawyers for Khodorkovsky and Lebedev expressed incredulity [RIA Novosti report] at the court's decisions, and warned prosecutors and the court that the case would not result in easy convictions of the two. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are accused of illegally taking approximately $20 billion from Russian energy firm OAO Yukos Oil Co. [TIME backgrounder], but challenged the allegations, asserting that the evidence against them was insufficient [RIA Novosti report] to sustain the prosecution. If found guilty, Khodorkovsky could face 22 years in jail in addition to the eight years he is already serving for fraud and tax evasion.

Their trial on the charges began earlier this month [JURIST report]. Their request to have the charges dropped comes one day after Judge Viktor Danilkin refused to recuse himself [St. Petersburg Times report] from the case amid accusations of bias. Critics have claimed that the charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are politically motivated due to Khodorkovsky's opposition of former Russian president Vladimir Putin [JURIST news archive]. The transfer of the two from prison to Moscow to stand trial on the new charges was ordered [JURIST report] last month by a judge for the District Court in Moscow. Khodorkovsky still maintains that his 2005 conviction [JURIST report] on the fraud and tax evasion was unjust, and maintains his innocence. He requested early release from that sentence last July, but his application was rejected [JURIST reports] in August because he disobeyed guards at the Krasnokamensk penal colony [Guardian backgrounder], refused to participate in a training program, and faced the possibility of additional charges. Khodorkovsky has appealed [JURIST report] that decision.






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Rights group welcomes rehearing denial in detainee photo case
Andrew Morgan on March 17, 2009 3:44 PM ET

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] on Tuesday hailed [press release] a decision [text, PDF] by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] not to revisit an earlier decision requiring the Department of Defense (DOD) to disclose photographs of alleged detainee abuse. The Bush administration filed a request for rehearing either by panel or en banc in November in response to a Second Circuit ruling [JURIST report] that the DOD must release the photographs of Iraqi and Afghan detainees after redacting personally identifying information. Endorsing Tuesday's decision, ACLU staff attorney Amrit Singh said that:

This decision is a stinging rejection of the Bush administration's attempt to keep the public in the dark about the widespread abuse of prisoners held in U.S. custody abroad. These photographs demonstrate that prison abuse was not aberrational and not confined to Abu Ghraib. Release of the photographs would send a powerful message that the new administration intends to make a clean break from the unaccountability of the Bush years.
The government had sought to stifle release of the photographs, requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text], on the grounds that they would either invade the privacy of the detainees or insight retaliation against US forces abroad. The Second Circuit held that the redaction of private information ordered by a lower court would alleviate any privacy concerns, and that the failure to release information due to safety concerns requires that "an agency must identify at least one [endangered] individual with reasonable specificity."

Governmental secrecy and the scope of the FOIA have been frequent points of disagreement between the US government and rights groups in recent years. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) acknowledged earlier this month that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official websites] had destroyed [letter, PDF; JURIST report] 92 interrogation video tapes, despite an August 2008 judicial order [text, PDF]. In January, the Second Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that the DOD was not obligated under FOIA to release information on Guantanamo detainee interrogation to the Associated Press, citing privacy concerns and a lack of public interest in the information. In June, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the FOIA does not require the National Security Agency (NSA) [JURIST news archive] to tell lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainees whether it has used electronic surveillance methods to monitor their communications. Earlier this year, US President Barack Obama [official website] signed an executive order [text] granting broader access to public documents and "reaffirming the commitment to accountability and transparency."





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ICTY reduces former Serb leader's sentence
Safiya Boucaud on March 17, 2009 3:37 PM ET

[JURIST] The appellate chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Tuesday partially reversed the conviction and reduced the sentence [judgment summary, PDF; press release] of former Bosnian Serb parliamentary leader Momcilo Krajisnik [ICTY materials; JURIST news archive] from 27 to 20 years. Krajisnik was initially convicted [judgment, PDF; JURIST report] in 2006 on charges of persecution, extermination, murder, deportation, and forced transfer of non-Serb civilians during the 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict. The appellate chamber affirmed the trial chamber's ruling that Krajisnik had the intent to engage in deportation, forced transfer, and persecution of non-Serbs. It went on to hold that the trial chamber did not have any evidence that he intended to engage in crimes of murder and extermination and overturned the convictions for expanded crimes of murder, extermination, and persecution with the exception of the underlying acts of deportation and forcible transfer.

At Krajisnik's 2006 trial, the ICTY found him not guilty on a charge of genocide for which prosecutors had requested a life sentence [JURIST report]. He was instead sentenced to 27 years imprisonment. Krajisnik was initially indicted together with Biljana Plavsic [ICTY materials; JURIST news archive], the former Bosnian Serb president, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2003 after testifying against Krajisnik. Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [ICTY materials; JURIST news archive], with whom Krajisnik worked closely, was arrested last year [JURIST report] and currently faces war crimes charges before the ICTY.






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Vermont legislature considers same-sex marriage bill
Brian Jackson on March 17, 2009 11:49 AM ET

[JURIST] The Vermont State Legislature [official website] on Monday began a series of week-long hearings on a bill [S.0115 text, PDF] that would allow same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] in the state. The bill, "An Act to Protect Religious Freedom and Promote Equality in Civil Marriage," sponsored by Vermont State Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin and State Senators John Campbell and Claire Ayer [official profiles], changes the definition of marriage to "the legally recognized union of two people." Supporters and those opposed to the bill have come to the State House in Montpelier to to voice their opinions [NECN report]. The Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to conduct a hearing on S.0115 [materials] on Wednesday.

Vermont became the first state to offer civil unions to same-sex couples when then-Governor Howard Dean signed H.B.847 [text] into law in April 2000. If S.0115 were to become law in Vermont, that state would be the fourth to legalize same-sex marriage. In October, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the Connecticut Constitution requires that same-sex couples be allowed to marry. In May, the California Supreme Court held [JURIST report] that California marriage statutes that limited marriage to opposite-sex couples violated the California constitution. However, in November, Proposition 8 [JURIST news archive] was passed [JURIST report], amending the California constitution to define marriage as between a man and putting the status of same-sex marriages in California in doubt. In 2004, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health [opinion; JURIST report] that barring an individual from marriage based on the spouse's gender violated the Massachusetts Constitution.






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Federal judge criticizes Senate for politicizing confirmation process
Jay Carmella on March 17, 2009 9:08 AM ET

[JURIST] Chief judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] Royce Lamberth [official profile] criticized the US Senate [official website] on Monday for politicizing the federal judicial confirmation process. Lamberth accused both political parties [AP report] of causing harm to the federal judiciary by delaying the confirmation of federal appointees based on the clients they have previously represented. Lamberth was particularly critical of the recent delays in the confirmation of President Barack Obama's selections for positions at the Justice Department, David Ogden [professional profile] and Thomas Perrelli. Ogden, the nominee for Deputy Attorney General, went before the Senate Judiciary Committee [committee website] last month to defend his past representation [JURIST report] of parties opposing anti-pornography and pre-abortion parental notification laws. Lamberth said that such a partisan, divisive process has and will continue to discourage highly qualified individuals from seeking positions within the judiciary.

Last week, the Senate confirmed Ogden [JURIST report] as the new Deputy Attorney General by a vote of 65-28. Perrelli was also confirmed [Bloomberg report] as Associate Attorney General in a 72-20 vote by the Senate last week. Ogden and Perrelli were among the four former Clinton-era attorneys that were nominated [JURIST report] for high-level positions in the Obama administration in January. Both former president George W. Bush and the Senate Republican Committee [JURIST reports] have also criticized the confirmation process, citing vacancies that would last for years as nominees waited to be voted on, or were forced to withdraw their names.






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UN rights investigator cites North Korea for 'egregious' violations
Adrienne Lester on March 17, 2009 8:27 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea [JURIST news archive] Vitit Muntarbhorn [UN appointment release] said Monday that he found there to be a "broad range of egregious human rights violations" [press release] in the country. In a report to the UN Human Rights Council [official website], he criticized the country for using access to food as a method of controlling its population and for using torture in its prisons despite a formal ban. He also cited several areas in which the country needed to improve in both the short and long term, and called on the country to cooperate with the UN to improve the situation:

Of special importance for the country, in the short term, is the need to ensure effective provision of and access to food and other basic necessities for those in need of assistance, and to enable people to undertake economic activities to satisfy their basic needs and supplement their livelihood without State interference; to end the punishment of those who seek asylum abroad and who are sent back to their country; to terminate public executions and abuses against the security of the person, and other violations of fundamental rights and freedoms; to cooperate effectively to resolve the issue of foreigners abducted by the country; and to respond constructively to the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur.

In the longer term, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should seek to modernize its national system by instituting reforms to ensure greater participation of the people in the process and compliance with international human rights standards; reallocate national budgets, including military budgets, to the social sector; take more extensive food security-related measures; and guarantee personal security and freedoms by dismantling the pervasive surveillance and intelligence system, reforming the justice and prison system, and abiding by the rule of law.
Sang Il Hun, a North Korea representative to the Council, rejected Montarbhorn's conclusions, saying the country did not recognize [JURIST report] the UN General Assembly resolution [text] that created his position. Sang said the report was a politically motivated attack on the country, and that North Korea adequately protects human rights.

In December, the UN World Food Programme [official website] estimated that approximately 40 percent of North Korea's population, or 8.7 million people, will need food assistance [press release] this year due to a deficit in domestic cereal production. In October, Muntarbhorn urged North Korea to improve their rights record [JURIST report] because of their treatment of prisoners, unsuccessful defectors, and their failure to cooperate in locating kidnapped foreign citizens. In January 2008, Muntarbhorn made similar comments during his visit with a special UN envoy to Japan [press release; JURIST report] to assess the impact of the North Korean rights situation on that country. North Korea has frequently been accused of human trafficking, press repression, and "actively committing crimes against humanity" [JURIST reports].





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EU leaders discuss Guantanamo detainee transfer details with US officials
Jay Carmella on March 17, 2009 8:17 AM ET

[JURIST] Top officials from the Obama administration met with leaders from the European Union (EU) [official website; JURIST news archive] Monday to discuss plans to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] to European countries. US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] met with the delegation headed by European Justice and Security Commissioner Jacques Barrot [official profile] and Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer [official profile, in Czech] to encourage the EU's cooperation in closing the Guantanamo Bay facility by the end of the year. The US officials assured the EU that the US will provide background information [NYT report] pertaining to each prisoner to allow European countries to decide whether to accept them. EU members had previously expressed concern [JURIST report] over accepting detainees without first examining potential safety and security implications. The US is seeking European cooperation because of potential legal issues associated with keeping Guantanamo Bay detainees on US soil after the facility closes. The leaders remained in Washington Tuesday to continue discussions.

Last month, the European Parliament encouraged EU member nations to accept former Guantanamo prisoners soon after President Obama ordered the closure of the detention center [JURIST reports] in February. Spain, Ireland, and Portugal [JURIST reports] have already expressed their willingness to host detainees. Other EU members, including Poland [JURIST report], Sweden, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic [Financial Times report], have expressed strong reservations to doing so.






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Greece to reorganize police force in wake of violent protests
Amelia Mathias on March 17, 2009 8:12 AM ET

[JURIST] The Greek government announced Monday that it will seek to overhaul its police force in the wake of the December riots [BBC backgrounder] and last week's vandalism [Kathimerini report]. The Greek Interior Ministry [official website, in Greek] has enlisted the help of British police in order to streamline the Greek police force [Kathimerini report] and make it more effective. Both Scotland Yard and the City of London police force have promised aid, and former head of the London City police Ian Blair [BBC profile] and Scotland Yard official Christos Kalamatianos will lead the reorganization [UPI report]. The plan is to follow the model of British police forces by creating 30 rapid response teams of 12 officers each, with each team equipped with the latest technology and transportation.

The Greek police have been accused of being both ineffective and unnecessarily violent [JURIST op-ed], following the accidental shooting of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos in December 2008. The police were then unable to contain the riots that followed in the Athenian neighborhood of Exarcheia for over a week. Attempts to control the protesters, students who were quickly were joined by local anarchist groups, ended in isolating Exarcheia entirely [BBC report] until the demonstrations subsided. Police found it equally difficult to subdue a spree of vandalism on Friday in Kolonaki, another Athenian neighborhood, and Greek island Thessaloniki which ended with more than forty stores looted and several banks attacked. The youths responsible for the attacks dropped pamphlets [AP report] that pledged their allegiance to anarchist groups.






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Fifth Circuit rules Texas school 'moment of silence' law constitutional
Eszter Bardi on March 17, 2009 8:08 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] on Monday upheld [opinion, PDF] the constitutionality of a Texas law mandating daily observance of a minute of silence in public schools. The three-judge panel affirmed the ruling of the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas that deemed constitutional the 2003 amendments to § 25.0821 of the Texas Educational Code [text, PDF] which provide for the enforcement of a minute of silence during which prayer is an enumerated suggested activity. The appellants argued that the statute has a religious purpose, pointing to legislative history including a statement by a legislator about the lack of school prayer. The Fifth Circuit applied the standard set forth by the Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman [opinion text] to find that as long as the statute serves a plausible secular purpose, it does not violate the Establishment clause and an individual legislator's religious motivation for supporting the statute does not alter its constitutionality:

[O]ur review of legislative history is deferential, and such deference leads to an adequate secular purpose in this case. While we cannot allow a "sham" legislative purpose, we should generally defer to the stated legislative intent. Here, that intent was to promote patriotism and allow for a moment of quiet contemplation. These are valid secular purposes, and are not outweighed by limited legislative history showing that some legislators may have been motivated by religion.
In reaching its decision, the Fifth Circuit analogized to other circuits that have held similar moment of silence statutes constitutional if their provisions legitimately served a dual secular and religious purpose.

The use of prayer, moments of silence, or religious references in public schools has been highly contested. In January, an Illinois District court held that that an Illinois state law requiring a moment of silence in public schools is unconstitutional [JURIST report]. In July, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld [JURIST report] part of a Florida law that requires students in grades kindergarten through 12 to obtain parental permission before they can be excused from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance [JURIST news archive]. In 2005, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled [JURIST report] that the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools with the language "under God" is unconstitutional.





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Intel threatening to end cross-licensing agreement with rival AMD: SEC filing
Andrew Gilmore on March 17, 2009 7:49 AM ET

[JURIST] Computer chip maker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) [corporate website] revealed Monday in a filing [text] with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] that rival chip designer Intel Corp. [corporate website] is threatening to cancel licenses granted to AMD in a joint venture between the two firms. Intel has alleged in correspondence with AMD that AMD is in breach [Intel press release] of a 2001 cross-licensing patent agreement, and if the breach is not corrected within 60 days, Intel will terminate AMD's licenses and rights under the agreement. AMD has responded to the allegations by denying the existence of any breach, and has alleged that the controversy has been manufactured by Intel [Forbes.com report] to draw attention from a number recent of antitrust lawsuits [JURIST news archive]. The dispute between the two chip makers focuses on whether Global Foundries [corporate website], a chip foundry organized in a joint venture [Forbes.com backgrounder] with the government of Abu Dhabi, is a subsidiary of AMD.

Intel and AMD have been embroiled in legal controversies recently, particularly over Intel's business practices, which AMD has alleged are anti-competitive and amount to monopolization of the computer chip market. In July, the European Commission announced it was filing new charges [JURIST report] against Intel for providing "substantial" rebates to one computer retailer on the condition that it only use Intel processors, and that it had both paid a computer manufacturer to delay selling AMD-based devices and offered the manufacturer similar exclusivity rebates. In June, the US Federal Trade Commission [official website] launched an investigation [JURIST report] into Intel's business practices. Earlier that month, the Korean Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) levied nearly $26 million in fines [JURIST report] against Intel after a KFTC probe [JURIST report] found that the company had engaged in anti-competitive practices. In January, the state of New York opened an antitrust probe [JURIST report] into Intel's actions, and AMD has also filed [JURIST report] a civil suit [complaint, PDF; Intel response] against the company.






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Pakistan lawyers, supporters welcome Chaudhry reinstatement
Andrew Gilmore on March 17, 2009 6:31 AM ET

[JURIST] Members of the Pakistan lawyers' movement [JURIST news archive] on Monday welcomed the reinstatement [JURIST report] of Pakistan Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry [JURIST news archive], hailing the move as a major victory. Lawyers' movement supporters rallied at Chaudhry's home [Geo TV report] Monday, where the Chief Justice thanked the crowds for their support in the fight for reinstatement. Ali Ahmad Kurd, the president of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) commented favorably [NYT report] on the restoration, calling it a success for the country. Lawyers' movement leader Aitzaz Ahsan [JURIST news archive] celebrated the reinstatement, and called for Chaudhry's judicial neutrality [Dawn report] upon his return to the bench. The decision to reinstate Chaudry was also met with relief and positive statements from the European Union, the UK, and the Association of Pakistani Lawyers [Daily Times reports], a UK lawyers' group. A number of individual supporters of the lawyers' movement expressed their gratitude [Washington Post report] for Chaudhry's reinstatement, hailing it as a positive step for democratic rule in Pakistan.

Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani [BBC profile] announced early Monday that the government will reinstate Chaudhry in response to recent protests by members of the lawyers' movement and opposition politicians and supporters. Gilani also ordered government officials to release [Dawn report] anyone arrested during the past week's so-called "long march" [JURIST reports], which began Thursday. Reports first surfaced late Sunday that Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) [party website], had agreed to reinstate Chaudhry and other judges ousted by Zardari's predecessor Pervez Musharraf [JURIST news archive] in November 2007 after his declaration of emergency rule. Fomer prime minister Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website] have actively campaigned [JURIST report] for Chaudhry's reinstatement, leading a similar "long march" last summer. Chaudhry has always maintained that he is still chief justice [JURIST report] under the Pakistani constitution [text].






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Red Cross deemed CIA interrogation tactics torture: report
Eszter Bardi on March 16, 2009 2:56 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [official website] characterized CIA tactics used against terrorism suspects as constituting torture in a confidential 2007 report, according an article [text; press release] published in the New York Review of Books earlier this month. Author Mark Danner [personal website] wrote that he was able to obtain a copy of the report, originally intended for CIA general counsel John Rizzo, in which the ICRC drew conclusions on detainee treatment based on interviews with fourteen so-called "high-valued" detainees. Danner wrote that ICRC's report included detailed accounts of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, prolonged nudity, and cold water immersion, and that the ICRC found the detainees accounts to be consistent enough to be considered reliable. He quoted the ICRC as concluding that the treatment of the detainees constituted torture:

'The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.'
Reports issued by the ICRC are almost always confidential [ICRC backgrounder], but the group has reserved the right to publish findings under certain circumstances. The ICRC has a formal mandate under the Geneva Conventions [ICRC materials] to visit prisoners of war and inspect the conditions of their detention.

Earlier this month, the CIA admitted to destroying 92 tapes of interrogations of the "high-value" detainees, later admitting that 12 of the destroyed tapes [JURIST reports] included evidence of "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" (EIT). Rights groups and experts on torture have long criticized [JURIST news archive] the US for its use of EIT, and US President Barack Obama in January issued an executive order [text; JURIST report] explicitly banning the use of waterboarding and other techniques that do no comport with Geneva Convention safeguards for prisoners of war.





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Federal court dismisses Broadcom antitrust complaint against Qualcomm
Ingrid Burke on March 16, 2009 10:45 AM ET

[JURIST] Wireless communications company Qualcomm [corporate website] announced [press release] Monday that the US District Court for the Southern District of California [official website] has dismissed [order, PDF] a lawsuit against it by longtime corporate rival Broadcom [corporate website] asking the court to declare several Qualcomm patents exhausted and unenforceable. In the order issued Thursday, Judge William Hayes held that Broadcom's complaint lacked grounds for relief based on a failure to list the particular patents that were allegedly exhausted. Broadcom also failed to identify sales or licenses which would have triggered the exhaustion of Qualcomm's patents. The court also found Broadcom's purported injuries were too speculative to warrant declaratory relief. Hayes wrote:

The Court has considered the totality of the circumstances and concludes that the Complaint does not allege a controversy of "sufficient immediacy andreality to warrant the issuance" of a far-reaching declaratory judgment premised on a finding that Qualcomm’s unidentified patents that are embodied in wireless chipsets and handsets are exhausted.
Broadcom filed this federal lawsuit against Qualcomm in 2008. The Supreme Court's decision in Quanta v. LG Electronics [opinion, PDF; JURIST report], an antitrust case in which the Court held that the sale of a patent triggers exhaustion, precipitated Broadcom's decision to seek declaratory relief against Qualcomm. This decision is only the latest in a long series of legal battles between the two corporations. In December, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit [official website] affirmed in part a holding against Qualcomm [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] on the basis of patent holdup. In September, the federal appeals court affirmed an injunction against Qualcomm [Reuters report] on the basis of their alleged infringement of two Broadcom patents.





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Germany chancellor urges stricter gun law enforcement in wake of shooting
Benjamin Hackman on March 16, 2009 8:40 AM ET

[JURIST] German Chancellor Angela Merkel [BBC profile] said in a radio interview [transcript, in German] Sunday that the German government must more strictly enforce its gun-control laws. Merkel's comments came less than a week after 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer shot and killed 16 people [AP reports] in southern Germany. Authorities believe Kretschmer obtained the gun he used in the shooting from an unsecured place in his parents' house. Under German law, stored guns must be locked [DW report] in safes. Merkel asked parents and educators to be vigilant in keeping guns out of children's hands and mentioned the possibility of random checks to make sure weapons are properly stored.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble [BBC profile] said last week that tightening Germany's gun-control laws would not eliminate youth gun violence [Reuters report]. Schaeuble called Germany's gun-control laws among the world's strictest [Reuters report]. In 2002, one house of Germany's parliament adopted a measure [CNN report] that required airgun owners to be licensed. That same day, a 19-year-old gunman shot and killed 17 people in Erfurt, though the shooting and legislation did not appear to be related. The German Police Union has said Germany's gun-control laws have not been properly enforced. Lawyers have said Kretschmer's father could be liable [Sunday Herald report] if it is shown he improperly stored the gun that Kretschmer eventually used in the shooting.






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Pakistan ousted chief justice to be reinstated
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 16, 2009 8:32 AM ET

[JURIST] Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani [BBC profile] announced Monday that the government will reinstate deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry [JURIST news archive] in response to recent protests by members of the Pakistan lawyers' movement [NYT backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and opposition politicians and supporters. In a televised address, Gilani announced that Chaudhry and other deposed judges will be reinstated [Daily Times report] March 21, when the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court retires. Gilani ordered government officials to release [Dawn report] anyone arrested during the past week's so-called "long march" [JURIST reports], which began Thursday. Gilani also announced that the government would file a petition to reverse [Jang News report] the recent Supreme Court ruling that barred [JURIST report] opposition leader and ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] from holding elected office based on a past criminal conviction. Finally, Gilani lifted a ban on public demonstrations.

Reports surfaced late Sunday that Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) [party website], had agreed to reinstate Chaudhry and other judges ousted by Zardari's predecessor Pervez Musharraf [JURIST news archive] in November 2007 after his declaration of emergency rule. Sharif and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website] have actively campaigned [JURIST report] for Chaudhry's reinstatement, leading a similar "long march" last summer. Chaudhry has always maintained that he is still chief justice [JURIST report] under the Pakistani constitution [text].






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US detaining record number of immigrants: report
Jay Carmella on March 16, 2009 8:14 AM ET

[JURIST] The number of immigrants detained by the US has drastically increased over the last decade, according to an AP report [text] issued Sunday. A US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website; JURIST news archive] database, obtain by the AP through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [5 USC § 552; JURIST news archive], indicates that on January 25, 32,000 individuals were detained in the US. This is nearly five times the 6,785 that were detained in 1994. The report also highlights the extended period of time that individuals have faced detention. The ICE estimates that the average detention period is 31 days, but the report indicates that nearly 10,000 detainees have been in custody for longer. There are 18,690 immigrants that are currently in US custody who have no criminal record, 400 of whom have been detained for more than one year. According to the report, 58 percent of the detainees do not have lawyers. The lack of representation has exacerbated some of the issues, including determining whether the ICE follows the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] 2001 ruling in Zadvydas v. Davis [Cornell LII backgrounder] that the ICE has six months to release or deport immigrants after their cases have been decided. The report indicated that 950 people are currently detained past this deadline. The ICE defends the detention system because it is the most effective way to ensure that individuals will appear before the court.

Last month, the ICE's tactics during the Bush administration were criticized [JURIST report] by the Cardozo School of Law's Immigration Justice Clinic [official website] for being overly-aggressive and ineffective. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano [official profile] issued a directive [text] in January calling for review and assessment of the ICE fugitive operation teams. The ICE has arrested [JURIST report] many non-criminal illegal immigrants in the past year, many of whom were imprisoned [JURIST report]. In April, Seton Hall Law School's Center for Social Justice filed a lawsuit [Star-Ledger report] claiming that warrantless immigration raids violate the US Constitution.






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Human rights leaders call for investigation into recent Gaza conflict
Tere Miller-Sporrer on March 16, 2009 7:59 AM ET

[JURIST] A group of 16 human rights investigators and judges "shocked to the core" by the events during the most recent Gaza conflict [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] have called for a full investigation of possible violations of the Geneva Conventions [link to texts] in an open letter [text] addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile; JURIST news archive] and all members of the UN Security Council. The signatories to the Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] supported letter include Archbishop Desmond Tutu [Nobel profile; JURIST news archive], former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson [official profile; JURIST news archive] and South African Justice Richard Goldstone [official profile]. They said:

As individuals with direct experience of international justice and reconciliation of conflict, we believe there is an important case to be made for an international investigation of gross violations of the laws of war, committed by all parties to the Gaza conflict. Without setting the record straight in a credible and impartial manner, it will be difficult for those communities that have borne the heavy cost of violence to move beyond the terrible aftermath of conflict and help build a better peace.
AI called for an arms embargo on Israel and Hamas following the release of a UN report detailing the use by both parties of foreign-made weapons. Several other investigations into the Gaza conflict are pending. Earlier in March, Iran announced that it would seek INTERPOL arrest warrants [JURIST report] for Israeli war crimes suspects. In January, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for an independent investigation [statement text; JURIST report] of possible war crimes and human rights violations in Gaza. International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is also attempting to gain jurisdiction over Israel [JURIST report] to investigate its actions in Gaza for alleged war crimes. Israel has already begun to consider defenses against possible war crimes charges, partly based on accusations [JURIST reports] that it used white phosphorus in a civilian area.





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Pakistan ex-PM leads march for judges as Chaudhry reinstatement rumored
Devin Montgomery on March 15, 2009 6:30 PM ET

[JURIST] Pakistan opposition leader and ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Sunday defied a house arrest order to lead a march by opposition activists and members of the Pakistan lawyers' movement [NYT backgrounder; JURIST news archive] against President Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) [party website]. The government had ordered Sharif and many of his supporters to remain in their homes, but Sharif said the order was illegal [Dawn report], and led an estimated crowd of 10,000 in the Lahore protest calling for full reinstatement of judges ousted by Zardari predecessor Pervez Musharraf in November 2007 after his declaration of emergency rule. During the march, protesters reportedly damaged state vehicles used to block roadways [Daily Times report] in the city, and police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Several high-ranking police officials resigned from their posts [Dawn report] Sunday, protesting tactics used against lawyers' movement members during recent demonstrations and detentions.

Sunday's protest was part of a "long march" to Islamabad which began [JURIST report] last Thursday and which is similar to last year's demonstrations against the Musharraf regime. Late last week, Zardari party spokesmen said that he might consider a compromise [JURIST report] deal with the movement on reinstatement and a recent Supreme Court ruling that barred Sharif [JURIST report] from holding elected office based on a past criminal conviction. Sharif and the PML-N have particularly urged the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry [JURIST news archive]. Chaudhry, supported by many members of Pakistan's bar, insists he is still chief justice [JURIST report] under the Pakistani constitution [text].

7:28 PM ET - Late reports from Pakistan Sunday suggested that Zardari was about to reinstate Chaudhry [BBC report], as well as other as-yet-unrestored judges. Reuters is quoting an unnamed government official [Reuters report] as saying that "Chaudhry will be restored, and there will also be a constitutional package."






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Turkish property rights still fail to meet EU standards: report
Devin Montgomery on March 15, 2009 4:01 PM ET

[JURIST] The Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (Tesev) [foundation website, in Turkish] issued a report [text, PDF, in Turkish] Saturday saying that despite recent attempts by the country to broaden property rights for religious minorities, it still falls short of requirements to join the European Union [accession website]. The majority Muslim country had long confiscated the property of non-Muslim religious foundations [HRAA backgrounder], but has in recent years decreased restrictions on minority and foreign property ownership, and in 2008 enacted legislation [AsiaNews report] providing for the return of some of the confiscated property. Despite these improvements, Tesev said that Turkey has not implemented a fair system to handle returns, and still heavily restricts the ability of minority foundations to acquire new property.

Property rights of minorities is one of several issues that Turkey has recently been addressing in efforts to join the EU. In October 2008, the Constitutional Court of Turkey [official website, in Turkish] struck down [text, in Turkish; JURIST report] an amendment to its constitution [text; materials] which would have allowed the wearing of headscarves in universities, after the European Court of Human Rights upheld [JURIST report] the ban. The court also rejected [JURIST report] a 2008 bid to ban [JURIST report] the country's ruling Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish], a decision praised by EU officials.






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Bolivia president begins redistributing land under new constitution
Lucas Tanglen on March 15, 2009 11:39 AM ET

[JURIST] Bolivian President Evo Morales [official website; BBC profile], empowered by his country's new constitution [PDF text, in Spanish], began redistributing land to indigenous farmers Saturday. In a ceremony on part of the land seized by the government from large owners, Morales turned over about 94,000 acres to Guarani Indians. Morales criticized the treatment of workers on large farms and asked wealthy landowners to embrace equality by voluntarily giving up some of their holdings. The original landowners can appeal the redistribution to the National Agrarian Tribunal [official website].

Bolivia's new constitution went into effect [JURIST report] in February, after being approved [JURIST report] by national referendum in January. The constitution limits single farms to 12,400 acres places economic and social requirements on farms. In October 2008, the Bolivian National Congress ratified [JURIST report] the proposed reforms after Morales agreed not to run for re-election in 2014.






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Kenya rights activists fleeing country after UN report release: AP
Lucas Tanglen on March 15, 2009 10:39 AM ET

[JURIST] Rights activists in Kenya [JURIST news archive] have faced threats since the release in February of a UN report [text] accusing the government of widespread extrajudicial executions, prompting some to leave the country or go into hiding [AP report], according to AP Saturday. Western Kenya activists have reportedly been followed by intelligence agents and have received harassing phone calls. Job Bwonya of Western Kenya Human Rights Watch [backgrounder] decided to flee to Uganda [JURIST news archive] after government officials demanded that he give them a list of witnesses he arranged to be interviewed for the report. By AP's count, four activists have left the country, and 10 have gone underground.

In his report on on extra-judicial killings in Kenya, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston [official website; JURIST news archive] said killings by the police were "systematic, widespread and carefully planned" and that they were committed with "utter impunity." Earlier this month, Alston called for an independent investigation [JURIST report] into the killings of Kenyan rights activists Oscar Kamau Kingara [advocacy profile] and John Paul Oulu. Last week, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga [official profile, BBC profile] announced that FBI [official website] agents from the US Embassy in Nairobi [official website] would assist in investigating [press release] the killing of the two men.






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Pakistan president weighing deal on judges to stop latest protests: report
Andrew Gilmore on March 14, 2009 1:56 PM ET

[JURIST] Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) [party website] Saturday were considering offering a compromise deal [Daily Times report]
to opposition factions - including members of the lawyers' movement [NYT backgrounder; JURIST news archive] - currently engaged in crippling anti-government protests and a "long march" [JURIST report] on Islamabad, according to local media reports. Under the terms of the deal, the government would fully reinstate the as-yet-unrestored judges ousted in November 2007 by then-president Pervez Musharraf [JURIST news archive] and would file an appeal [GEO TV report] of a recent Supreme Court ruling that barred [JURIST report] former prime minister Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website] and his brother from holding elected office based on prior criminal convictions arising out of the 1999 military coup that overthrew him.

The current long march, which began amid preemptive arrests and government violence [JURIST report] against opposition members, is similar to last year's lawyers' demonstrations against the Musharraf regime. Continuing turmoil over the country's judiciary split the PML-N and Zardari's PPP, formerly coalition partners [JURIST report]. Sharif and the PML-N have urged the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry [JURIST news archive], removed after then-president Musharraf declared emergency rule. Chaudhry, supported by many members of Pakistan's bar, insists he is still chief justice [JURIST report] under the Pakistani constitution [text].






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China releases two democracy activists: rights group
Andrew Gilmore on March 14, 2009 1:18 PM ET

[JURIST] The Chinese government released two democracy activists [HRIC press release] Thursday after serving eight years of their ten-year prison sentences, according to US-based Human Rights in China (HRIC) [advocacy website]. The two activists, Yang Zili and Zhang Yonghai, were sentenced [HRIC report] to prison along with two other activists in 2003 for "subversion of state power" [JURIST news archive] and "attempting to overthrow the Communist Party" after publishing online essays advocating political reform and rural democratization. After their release, Yang and Zhang will be subject to a two-year ban [AP report] on unauthorized communication with Western journalists, and prevented from gathering with other dissidents. Yang nonetheless participated in an interview [NYT report] with the New York Times Friday in Beijing, in apparent contravention of the ban. According to HRIC, all four of the dissidents, including the two who remain imprisoned, Xu Wei and Jin Haike, have complained of harsh treatment and intolerable living conditions in Chinese prisons.

China's official Communist Party [official website] has been criticized by rights groups [AI report, PDF; HRIC advocacy website] for its treatment of emerging opposition parties. Several prominent counterrevolutionaries have been imprisoned, including Hu Shigen [PEN profile], who was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but released [JURIST report] in August after serving 16 years. In June 2008, the US State Department said in its annual Advancing Freedom and Democracy Reports [text] that China "continued to deny its citizens basic democratic rights, and law enforcement authorities suppressed those perceived to threaten the legitimacy or authority of the Chinese Communist Party," charges which the Chinese government called "denial of reality and utterly groundless." [official statement; JURIST report].






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Sri Lanka rejects UN war crimes allegations
Steve Czajkowski on March 14, 2009 10:05 AM ET

[JURIST] The Sri Lankan government [official website; JURIST news archive] Saturday denied allegations [press release] by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile; JURIST news archive] that recent Sri Lankan military action [BBC backgrounder] against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [group website; JURIST news archive] has caused some 2,800 civilian deaths and may constitute war crimes. Pillay on Friday cited "credible sources" for the stated number of civilian deaths and said, "certain actions being undertaken by the Sri Lankan military and by the LTTE may constitute violations of international human rights and humanitarian law." Sri Lankan Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights Mahinda Samarsinghe [official profile] said the numbers were unconfirmed [Reuters report] and expressed dismay that Pillay was relying on numbers corresponding to those on the website TamilNet [advocacy website], which is maintained by the LTTE. The Sri Lankan government has also refused to hold cease-fire negotiations with the LTTE [AP report], as it believes it is close to ending the country's 25 year civil war [BBC timeline] that has resulted in over 70,000 deaths.

Last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] alleging that both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE are guilty of human rights violations. Earlier this year, Pillay condemned [press release; JURIST report] the deteriorating conditions of those trapped in the Vanni region, and called for investigations and prosecutions for the killings and other human rights abuses. HRW has repeatedly accused both sides of violations, and since 2007 has also criticized the government's de facto internment centers and its role in the increase in unlawful killings and other human rights violations [JURIST reports].






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Switzerland agrees to share private financial data under OECD rules
Steve Czajkowski on March 14, 2009 9:03 AM ET

[JURIST] The government of Switzerland [official website; JURIST news archive] said Friday it will follow standards [press release] set by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) [official website], adopting a more stringent definition of tax evasion and agreeing to cooperate with other countries in evasion investigations. Unlike many other countries, Switzerland differentiates between tax fraud and tax evasion [NY Times report], and tax evasion is not a crime. While this policy has not changed, by adopting the definition of tax evasion under Article 26 of the OECD Model Tax Convention [text, PDF] Switzerland will henceforward share information "with other countries in individual cases where a specific and justified request has been made." The Swiss government also made clear that by adopting the OECD definition it was not ending bank secrecy. A statement [press release] by the Federal Department of Finance on Saturday said that while the situation for non-resident foreigners has changed, the "decision will have no bearing on legally resident foreigners in Switzerland."

Owners of Swiss bank accounts have traditionally enjoyed great privacy, but Swiss banks have recently released information on certain clients. Earlier this month, UBS [corporate website] closed more than 14,000 accounts [USA Today report} owned by US citizens following a court settlement over accusations it assisted its clients with tax evasion. In 2006, the Swiss Justice Ministry [official website] granted US investigators access to information [JURIST report] about bank accounts of terrorism suspects. Prosecutors in the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] requested the information in a four-year old investigation into money laundering to support terrorist activities. Earlier the same year, the Swiss Supreme Court denied a Russian request [JURIST report] for the transfer of bank documents to Russia [JURIST news archive] which were relevant to an ongoing investigation into Russian oil giant Yukos [corporate website; JURIST news archive].






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Obama DOJ drops 'enemy combatant' classification, narrows scope of detention
Bernard Hibbitts on March 13, 2009 7:33 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice [official website] dropped the term "enemy combatant" from its legal lexicon Friday while limiting the range of persons eligible to be held at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Summarizing a memo [PDF text] submitted to the US District Court for the District of Columbia, the Department said in a press release that the new criterion for detention "does not rely on the President’s authority as Commander-in-Chief independent of Congress’s specific authorization" under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force [text] passed by Congress in September 2001. The AUMF authorized the use of force against nations, organizations, or persons the president determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the September 11 attacks, or harbored such organizations or persons. The Department also said the filing

draws on the international laws of war to inform the statutory authority conferred by Congress. It provides that individuals who supported al Qaeda or the Taliban are detainable only if the support was substantial. And it does not employ the phrase "enemy combatant."
Rights advocates had lobbied aggressively [JURIST comment] for the terminology change, which was effectuated as part of the Obama administration's general review of US detention policies, put in motion by a series of executive orders [JURIST report] issued in late January. The Justice Department said Friday that "further refinements of the government’s position" on detention might come as that review process continues.





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China legal official condemns torture, prison violence
Andrew Gilmore on March 13, 2009 4:42 PM ET

[JURIST] A former official of the China Ministry of Justice [official website] criticized torture [JURIST news archive] and violence in Chinese prisons Friday, calling for greater security measures [China Daily report] in correctional facilities. The comments come following the February cover-up of the death of a prisoner, whose death was officially attributed to a game of "hide and seek," but which was later revealed to be the result of an attack by a fellow prisoner [Xinhua report]. Officials of the Supreme People's Protectorate (SPP) [People's Daily backgrounder] told the China Daily that the SPP would increase its focus on the prevention of violence in the country's prisons, including violence and torture perpetrated by prison prosecutors and guards.

Friday's comments come amid heightened criticism of China's human rights record following the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. In September 2008, Human Rights in China (HRIC) [advocacy website] released a report [JURIST report] indicating that Chinese police and other officials still employ torture to elicit confessions and intimidate political dissidents despite domestic and international bans. A July 2008 report [PDF text; JURIST report] released by Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] said the country had failed to make real improvements in the area. The report, which updated an April 2008 AI report [PDF text] detailing ongoing human rights abuses in the country, evaluated the Chinese government on its use of the death penalty, administrative detentions, the detention and abuse of rights activists, including journalists and lawyers, and Internet censorship.






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Afghanistan top court affirms blasphemy sentence in secret hearing
Andrew Gilmore on March 13, 2009 3:43 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Afghanistan [court website] upheld a 20-year prison sentence for blasphemy against Afghani journalism student Sayad Parwaz Kambaksh [JURIST news archive] in a secret February hearing, according to statements by his lawyer quoted in Thursday media reports. Kambaksh and his lawyer were unaware of the secret hearing [Globe and Mail report], and were not given any opportunity to argue against the sentence before the court. Kambaksh was sentenced to death [JURIST report] in January 2008 for distributing papers questioning gender roles under Islam. Kambaksh had no legal representation [JURIST report] at trial 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] Islamic law.

Kambaksh appealed his death sentence [JURIST report] in May 2008 and appeared before a three-judge panel in October, saying the charges against him had been initiated 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. The court subsequently reduced his sentence [JURIST report] to 20 years in prison.






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Federal judge orders Stanford assets frozen indefinitely
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 13, 2009 9:16 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas [official website] on Thursday indefinitely froze the assets [order, PDF] of financier Allen Stanford [professional profile] at the instance of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website]. Stanford was charged [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] last month with orchestrating a fraudulent $8 billion investment scheme by selling certificates of deposits on the promise of improbably high interest rates. Judge David Godbey also issued an order [PDF text] releasing most customer brokerage accounts over $250,000 that had been frozen since February [Stanford receiver backgrounder].

Stanford, through his investment companies Stanford International Bank (SIB), Stanford Group Company (SGC) and Stanford Capital Management (SCM) [corporate websites] is accused of violating the Securities Act of 1933, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and the Investment Company Act of 1940 [materials]. Last month, US District Judge Reed O'Connor issued a temporary restraining order [PDF text] to freeze Stanford's assets, as customers rushed to withdraw their investments from SIB branches in Antigua and Venezuela.






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Senate confirms Ogden as Deputy Attorney General
Kayleigh Shebs on March 13, 2009 8:43 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] on Thursday confirmed David Ogden [professional profile; Senate materials] as the new Deputy Attorney General by a vote of 65-28 [roll call]. In debate Wednesday, Republicans opposed to the nomination focused on Ogden's actions while serving in the private sector, where he defended groups who actively opposed anti-pornography and pre-abortion prenatal notification laws. Before the vote, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] urged colleagues not to characterize Ogden by his clients:

Nominees from both Republican and Democratic administrations and Senators from both sides of the aisle have cautioned against opposing nominees based on their legal representations on behalf of clients. Like many others in this Chamber, I felt privileged to serve as a prosecutor, but I would hate to think I could not have served in that position because, before I was a prosecutor, I defended people who were accused of crimes. I was a lawyer. I wanted to make sure clients were given equal protection of the law. If we start singling out somebody because of their clients, what do you do? Do you say to this person: You defended somebody charged with murder and therefore you are in favor of murder?
Ogden faced questions about his clients [JURIST report] in confirmation hearings last month.

Ogden was nominated [JURIST report] as Deputy Attorney General in January by then President-elect Barack Obama. He was previously in private practice with the law firm WilmerHale [firm website].





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Serbia war crimes court convicts 13 in Vukovar killings retrial
Bernard Hibbitts on March 13, 2009 8:26 AM ET

[JURIST] A Serbian war crimes court in Belgrade convicted 13 Serbs Thursday in connection with the 1991 killings of over 200 Croatian POWs [BBC backgrounder] at a pig farm outside the Croatian town of Vukovar [JURIST archive]. Eighteen Serbs were originally charged over the incident. Charges against two were later dropped. Fourteen of the men were found guilty of war crimes in late 2005, but in 2006 Serbia's Supreme Court vacated that verdict and ordered a retrial [JURIST reports]. The 13 found guilty Thursday were sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to 20 years [BBC report].

Last month former Yugoslav National Army officer Miroslav Radic [Trial Watch backgrounder] sued Serbia for the four years and six months he was detained during his trial by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on charges arising from the Vukovar killings. The ICTY handed down convictions for three other Serbs [JURIST report] in 2007. Last year, Norway agreed to extradite [JURIST report] an unnamed Croatian citizen to Serbia for his alleged involvement in the massacre.






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Pakistan lawyers face government opposition on second 'long march'
Andrew Gilmore on March 12, 2009 5:43 PM ET

[JURIST] Members of the Pakistan lawyers' movement [NYT backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and opposition politicians and supporters began a "long march" from Karachi to Islamabad Thursday against the government of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) [party website]. The protesters, led by Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website], faced continued raids and arrests from government forces, which began Wednesday when police units moved against opposition leaders and supporters [JURIST report] ahead of the march and a rally organized by the PML-N and other opposition parties against the Zardari government. Members of the lawyers' movement were harassed by the Pakistani police, including movement leader Muneer Malik [JURIST news archive], who, according to JURIST's Pakistan correspondent, was arrested and later released on Thursday. Pakistan news organization Dawn has been covering the march and government actions [Dawn coverage], including the ongoing detentions of opposition figures and supporters as well as the progress of the march towards Islamabad. Some protesters have been prevented from leaving Karachi [AFP report] by government forces, who have used force [NYT report] to break up the march and stop the political protest. Lawyers' movement leader Aitzaz Ahsan [JURIST news archive] told Dawn that the movement and the march would only be inspired to greater opposition [Dawn report] by the government response.

The current long march is similar to last year's demonstrations against the regime of former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf [JURIST news archive]. The march comes as Pakistan teeters on the edge of political instability following last month's Supreme Court of Pakistan ruling that barred Sharif [JURIST report] from holding elected office based on a past criminal conviction. The Supreme Court's controversial decision followed continued turmoil over the country's judiciary, which has split the PML-N and Zardari's PPP, formerly coalition partners [JURIST report]. Sharif and the PML-N have urged the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry [JURIST news archive], ousted after then-president Musharraf declared emergency rule in November 2007. Chaudhry, supported by many members of Pakistan's bar, insists he is still chief justice [JURIST report] under the Pakistani constitution [text].






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Canada court sentences first suspect convicted under new anti-terrorism law
Andrew Gilmore on March 12, 2009 3:40 PM ET

[JURIST] Ontario Superior Court [official website] Justice Douglas Rutherford Thursday sentenced [reasons for sentence, PDF] Ottawa software developer Mohammed Momin Khawaja [CBC profile] to 10.5 years in prison for his involvement in an alleged terrorist plot to bomb targets in the UK. Khawaja was convicted [JURIST report] in October 2008 of designing a remote detonator and providing other support to a group that was convicted in 2007 [JURIST report] of planning to detonate a large fertilizer bomb. In the sentencing decision, Rutherford wrote:

Having found Momin Khawaja guilty as indicated in the Reasons for Judgment ... I have concluded that he should be sentenced to a further term of ten and one-half years in penitentiary. ...

I outlined earlier why the sentencing in this case had to emphasize denunciation and repudiation of terrorism, had to punish such behavior, had to have both special and general deterrent impact, and had to protect society at large from the repetition of such misconduct. In light of that and in light of the absence of any indication that Momin Khawaja is in any way repentant for his misdeeds or willing to make amends and commit to future behavior that complies with Canada’s laws and values, I have really no option but to require that he serve half of the terms of two years or more before being eligible for full parole. That means he will not be eligible for full parole until serving at least 5 of the total of ten and one-half years. To order otherwise would, in my view, fail to adequately serve the interests of the expression of society’s denunciation of the offences [sic] and the objectives of specific and general deterrence.
Khawaja was found guilty of participating in a terrorist group, instructing a person to finance terrorism, making property available to terrorists, contributing to a terrorist group, and facilitating terrorism under Canada's controversial Anti-Terrorism Act [text; CBC backgrounder]. He was cleared of two other terrorism charges related to his intent to aid in a specific act of terrorism, but was convicted on related criminal charges for possession of and intent to use explosives. In June 2008, Khawaja pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to the charges and his lawyer said the allegations were exaggerated and based on hearsay evidence that should have been excluded. In 2007, Canadian Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley refused to require the release of confidential evidence [JURIST report] against Khawaja, explaining that "disclosure of most of the information would be injurious to national security or to international relations." Khawaja was arrested [JURIST report] in March 2004, and was the first person to be charged and tried under the Anti-Terrorism Act.





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Bangladesh lifts ban on YouTube for publishing mutiny meeting audio
Caitlin Price on March 12, 2009 12:04 PM ET

[JURIST] Officials from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) [official website] said Thursday that a ban on video-sharing website YouTube [JURIST report] has been lifted, but did not comment on access to several other blocked websites that also posted a recording in which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina [official profile, BBC profile] is criticized by army officers over how she handled the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) [official website] mutiny [BBC backgrounder] in late February. The BTRC blocked several websites [AFP report] Sunday on government instructions that identified them as subversive or detrimental to the administration because the audio [YouTube clip, part 1 in Bangla; part 2, in Bangla] of the meeting could be distributed through them. BTRC Director Ziaul Islam told AFP Thursday that YouTube [corporate website] has been restored even though the audio is still available because tensions over the content have eased [AFP report]. BTRC Chairman Zia Ahmed confirmed the end of the YouTube ban but did not address other blocked blogs and websites hosting the audio including Esnips [corporate website].

Bangladeshi officials said Saturday that the government is considering trying by court-martial [JURIST report] the more than 1,000 border guards accused of participating in the BDR mutiny, which killed dozens of top BDR officials, including the force's commander. More than 40 suspects have been arrested, and Bangladeshi investigators said Thursday that interviews of the suspects have raised concerns [BBC report] of a possible link to the Islamic group Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) [SATP backgrounder], an organization previously tied to bombing plots across the country. A US FBI team sent to Bangladesh to assist in the investigation arrived on Sunday [BBN report], and Scotland Yard investigators have also joined the investigation. Hasina was elected to office in December 2008, ending two years of military rule.






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Iraq shoe-throwing journalist sentenced to 3 years in prison
Caitlin Price on March 12, 2009 11:07 AM ET

[JURIST] The Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI) [establishment order, PDF] on Thursday sentenced Muntadar al-Zaidi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], the Iraqi journalist accused of throwing his shoes at former US president George W. Bush, to three years in prison for assaulting a foreign leader. The verdict came after a three week postponement [JURIST report] during which the court considered arguments from al-Zaidi's counsel that Bush's visit was not official and that the assault charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, should not apply because al-Zaidi sought to insult but not injure the US president. Al-Zaidi pleaded innocent Thursday, calling his actions a natural response to the US presence in Iraq. The court rejected his arguments, ruling that Bush's visit was official and opting to sentence al-Zaidi under the assault charge rather than a lesser charge of insulting a foreign leader that is punishable by a maximum of three years. Al-Zaidi's defense team said Thursday that he will appeal the verdict, and also indicated that he may file suit internationally [AFP report] for human rights violations committed against him while in custody [JURIST report].

Al-Zaidi's trial was initially delayed [JURIST report] in December so the court could make a determination of the charges. The trial has been opposed for failing to meet international standards of due process and fairness [HRW report] and has been protested by Iraqis. The shoe-throwing incident occurred at a December 14 joint news conference [transcript] at which Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki [BBC profile] signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [text, PDF; CFR backgrounder] governing the future US military presence in the country. Al-Zaidi, who had allegedly suffered brutality first hand in Iraq having been kidnapped and released by Shiite militiamen in 2007 [Washington Post report], testified to a three-judge panel that his actions were meant to restore Iraqi citizens' pride.






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Madoff pleads guilty to securities fraud charges
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 12, 2009 10:32 AM ET

[JURIST] US financier Bernard Madoff [JURIST news archive] pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to all 11 charges of securities fraud [complaint, PDF; JURIST report]. The plea was entered at a hearing before Judge Denny Chin of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website]. Victims of Madoff's alleged multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme are expected to testify at the hearing later Thursday. Chin will then rule on whether Madoff should be allowed to continue to remain free on bail [NYT report]. Thursday's hearing is the first time Madoff has spoken publicly about the allegations facing him. Prosecutors are seeking a 150-year sentence, but a sentence is not expected for several months.

Last month, Madoff consented [JURIST report] to a partial judgment [SEC press release] with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] over civil charges brought by the SEC to obtain a preliminary injunction and asset freeze against him. The same day, SEC Division of Enforcement Director Linda Thomsen announced she was stepping down from her post [SEC press release]. In the week following Madoff's charges, SEC Chairman Christopher Cox [official profile] said that he would launch an immediate investigation [press release; JURIST report] into how the fraud allegedly perpetrated by Madoff went undetected for so long. In December, then-President-elect Barack Obama [official profile] named [press release] Mary Schapiro [professional profile] as the SEC Chairman, replacing Cox. Madoff was charged with securities fraud in December for allegedly violating the anti-fraud provisions of the Securities Act of 1933, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 [texts].

11:25 AM - Chin has ordered Madoff to be remanded in custody until his sentencing hearing June 16, effectively revoking his bail. He is expected to be held at Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center [official website].






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EEOC reports significant rise in employment discrimination claims for 2008
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 12, 2009 9:02 AM ET

[JURIST] The number of employment discrimination [JURIST news archive] charges against private employers filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [official website] increased by 15 percent in 2008 [press release] to reach record highs, according to EEOC statistics [materials] released Wednesday. The EEOC cited several possible reasons for the increase, "including economic conditions, increased diversity and demographic shifts in the labor force, employees' greater awareness of the law, EEOC's focus on systemic litigation, and changes to EEOC's intake practices." Of the 95,402 complaints filed with the EEOC in 2008, 35.6 percent covered allegations of racial discrimination, and 29.7 percent were based on alleged sex discrimination. Charges of age discrimination, which comprised only 23.2 percent in 2007, increased to 25.8 percent in 2008, with some experts suggesting that this may be due to older workers being disproportionately terminated [AP report] as a result of the recent economic downturn.

Last March, the EEOC reported a 9 percent increase [press release; JURIST report] in employment discrimination charges for 2007, the biggest annual increase since the early 1990s. In February 2007, the EEOC reported an increase in discrimination charges for 2006 [press release] for the first time since 2002. In February 2006, the EEOC reported that discrimination charges against private employers declined by five percent in 2005 [press release; JURIST report], the third straight year the number of complaints fell. EEOC officials pointed to several factors as potential causes of the decrease, including the EEOC's outreach and prevention efforts as well as a general economic slowdown. The EEOC is charged with enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws [EEOC materials] among private employers. The US Department of Justice enforces the federal anti-discrimination statutes for government workers.






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Zimbabwe opposition cabinet nominee freed on bail
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 12, 2009 8:16 AM ET

[JURIST] Zimbabwean authorities on Thursday released jailed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [party website] party treasurer general and opposition cabinet member-designate Roy Bennett [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], one day after the nation's Supreme Court denied a state appeal to keep him in prison. Bennett, a top aide to MDC head Morgan Tsvangirai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], faces charges under Zimbabwe's Public Order and Security Act [materials] for "attempting to commit terrorism, banditry and sabotage." Under the terms of his bail [Times report], Bennett had to pay USD $5,000 and surrender his passport, and he must report to police three times a week. Last week, the High Court rejected a state appeal seeking to deny Bennett bail [TGZ report], finding that the conditions of Bennett's release, set last month, were adequate. The attorney general's office then appealed that ruling [JURIST report] to the Supreme Court.

Bennett, who was arrested last month shortly before he was scheduled to be sworn as deputy agriculture minister in the new power-sharing coalition government [BBC report] led by Tsvangirai, is accused [JURIST report] of funding the purchase of fire arms and explosives intended to be used as part of an insurgency. It is feared that Bennett's arrest could pose a threat to the power-sharing agreement [JURIST report] between the MDC and the African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party of President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Bennett was originally sought for questioning [JURIST report] in relation to the allegations in 2006, but he had been seeking asylum in South Africa until recently [IOL report]. Treason charges against him were dropped [Times report] in favor of the terrorism and other charges.






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Pakistan police arrest lawyers, opposition leaders ahead of protest
Andrew Gilmore on March 11, 2009 4:40 PM ET

[JURIST] Pakistan [JURIST news archive] government forces conducted raids and arrested opposition members, including members of the country's lawyers' movement [NYT backgrounder; JURIST news archive], prior to a protest rally led Wednesday by former prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website] leader Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Among those targeted Tuesday night were lawyers' movement leader Aitzaz Ahsan [Dawn TV report] and Imran Khan, founder of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) [party website]. Following the raids, many opposition politicians and party leaders - including Khan, who avoided arrest - went into hiding [PTI press release]. At Wednesday's rally, Sharif had harsh words [Daily Times report] for Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], calling on supporters of the opposition parties to take to the streets [PML-N press release] with the party and the lawyers' movement in a march to the capital, reminiscent of the long march [JURIST news archive] held last summer. Sharif also equated the movements of the Zardari government against opposition members with the conduct of former president and military ruler Pervez Musharraf [JURIST news archive].

The arrests and rally come as Pakistan teeters on the edge of political instability following last month's Supreme Court of Pakistan ruling that barred Sharif [JURIST report] from holding elected office based on a past criminal conviction. The Supreme Court's controversial decision followed continued turmoil over the country's judiciary, which has split the PML-N and Zardari's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) [party website], formerly coalition partners [JURIST report]. Sharif and the PML-N have urged the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry [JURIST news archive], ousted after then-president Musharraf declared emergency rule in November 2007. Chaudhry, supported by many members of Pakistan's bar, insists he is still chief justice [JURIST report] under the Pakistani constitution [text].






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Canada court approves settlement in bacteria contamination class action suit
Andrew Gilmore on March 11, 2009 3:27 PM ET

[JURIST] The Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench [official website] on Tuesday approved a settlement agreement [text, PDF] between Canadian meatpacker Maple Leaf Foods [corporate website] and class action plaintiffs who brought suit against the company [plaintiffs website] in connection with sales of meat tainted with listeria monocytogenes [CDC backgrounder]. The tainted meat sickened 56 Canadians and caused 20 deaths across the country in 2008. Under the settlement, agreed to [JURIST report] by the plaintiffs and Maple Leaf in January, the company will pay between $25-27 million to settle the claims of class members who submit to the settlement agreement. The judge who approved the settlement agreement, Justice Ron Barclay, praised Maple Leaf Foods [Regina Leader-Post report] for its approach to the settlement of the lawsuit. The settlement agreement will be presented to a Quebec court next week for approval.

Last year's outbreak of listeriosis was traced [PHAC press release] to a Maple Leaf Foods processing plant near Toronto, Ontario. The plant was shut down in August 2008 [Vancouver Sun report], and is now running at limited production levels. The bacterial infection was spread through several products, which were promptly recalled [recall list, PDF] by the company. In response to the listeriosis outbreak, Maple Leaf Foods developed an action plan to ensure the ongoing safety of its products, including so-called "enhanced food safety protocols" [text].






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Libya releases 2 political prisoners convicted of plot to overthrow government
Tere Miller-Sporrer on March 11, 2009 12:29 PM ET

[JURIST] The government of Libya [official website; JURIST news archive] has released two men [HRW press release] convicted in 2007 of planning to overthrow the government and meeting with a foreign official, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] announced Tuesday. Jamal al-Haji and Faraj Humaid were arrested as part of a larger group in Tripoli in February 2007, in advance of a demonstration commemorating the deaths of 11 people during a 2006 clash between protesters and police. The nine other men arrested with al-Haji and Humaid were released [Frontline Defenders report] by the end of 2008. HRW Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson called the men's release "a particularly welcome step in light of the Libyan authorities' stated initiative of breaking with the past."

Libya has had a mixed human rights record in recent years. The release of the political prisoners comes as relations between Libya and the US are improving, though the State Department recently criticised [JURIST report] Libya for its continued detention of political prisoners [JURIST report] in its 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [DOS materials]. In 2008, the US and Libya reached an agreement to settle all pending lawsuits [JURIST report] brought by US terror victims against Libya. In 2004, the US lifted the remaining sanctions [JURIST report] against Libya as a reward for its agreement to dismantle its weapons programs. At the same time, Libya faced international criticism [JURIST report] for its treatment of six foreign medics [JURIST news archive] accused infecting hospital patients with HIV in 2007.






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Iraq court sentences top Saddam officials to 15 years for merchant killings
Andrew Gilmore on March 11, 2009 11:41 AM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal [governing statute, PDF] sentenced Ali Hassan al-Majid [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] Wednesday to 15 years in prison, respectively, for their parts in the 1992 murders of 42 merchants accused of price-gouging during a period of UN-imposed sanctions. Aziz and al-Majid, the cousin of Saddam Hussein better known as "Chemical Ali," were among eight defendants on trial for the murders, which were committed after a summary trial of the 42 merchants, who were not given a chance to appeal or defend themselves [Washington Post report] against the charges. Two other cousins of Hussein were sentenced to death in the case, three defendants were sentenced to prison terms, and one man was acquitted of all charges.

The sentences handed down against Aziz and al-Majid come nearly one week after Aziz was acquitted [JURIST report] of charges and al-Majid received a third death sentence in connection with the killing of protesters who rioted [HRW backgrounder] in Baghdad and Amarah following the alleged assassination of Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr - father of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr [CFR profile] - by Hussein agents. The trial against the eight defendants accused in the merchant killings began [JURIST report] last April. The trial was adjourned shortly after it opened and was resumed [JURIST report] nearly one month later in the absence of some defense lawyers and one of the defendants, al-Majid, who missed the resumption of the trial due to health concerns.






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Germany charges former Nazi guard and US resident with accessory to murder
Tere Miller-Sporrer on March 11, 2009 11:35 AM ET

[JURIST] German prosecutors announced Wednesday that they have filed charges against former Nazi concentration camp guard and Ohio resident John Demjanjuk [NNDB profile; JURIST news archive]. Demjanjuk is charged with 29,000 counts of accessory to murder [AP report] for his alleged involvement at the Sobibor [Death Camps backgrounder] concentration camp, where more than 260,000 people were executed in the gas chambers. A former Soviet solider, Demanjuk is accused of volunteering to work at Sobidor [Abendzeitung report, in German] following his capture by Germans. He allegedly worked at Sobidor for much of its existence, from March to September 1943. The German government will now seek Demanjuk's extradition from the US.

Demjanjuk has fought a lengthy legal battle over his alleged involvement with Nazi death camps during World War II. In May 2008, the US Supreme Court denied certiorari in Demjanjuk v. Mukasey [order, PDF; JURIST report], ending the appeals process for his deportation order. 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 2008. In 1988, Demjanjuk was convicted and sentenced to death by an Israeli court which found that he was a notorious guard from Treblinka nicknamed "Ivan the Terrible." The sentence was vacated by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1993, and Demjanjuk returned to the US.






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Europe court rules airplane prohibited items list must be published
Andrew Morgan on March 11, 2009 10:27 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] ruled Tuesday that an unpublished list of items prohibited from airplanes does not have any binding effect on individuals [decision; press release, PDF] unless it is made public. The list is set out in an annex to Regulation 622/2003 [text, PDF], but under Article 3 of that regulation is made available only to "persons duly authorised [sic] by a Member State or the Commission." The court found that because the regulation imposes obligations on individuals, Article 254 [text] of the Treaty Establishing the European Community requires that it be published in the Official Journal of the European Union before it takes effect. The court also found that a list prohibiting carry-on items was not within the scope of Article 8 of Regulation 2320/2002 [text, PDF], which outlines the confidentiality of civil aviation security procedures. The case was brought by an Austrian who was thrown off of a plane in Vienna after refusing to surrender his tennis racquets.

The EU passed Regulation 2320/2002 outlining EU-wide security requirements in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks [JURIST news archive]. These general security procedures have been modified to reflect emerging concerns, including a 2004 amendment to the secret prohibited items list. Despite privacy concerns, Europe has been moving closer to implementing a passenger data-sharing system [JURIST report], announced as part of a package of anti-terrorism measures [JURIST report] by EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security Franco Frattini [official profile] in November 2007. In July, the EU and US reached a new agreement on passenger data-sharing [JURIST report] under which air carriers will transmit passenger data directly to the US Department of Homeland Security within 15 minutes of a European flight's departure for the US.






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Trial lawyers propose changes to discovery rules
Andrew Gilmore on March 11, 2009 10:18 AM ET

[JURIST] High litigation costs are impeding the advancement of justice in the United States, and significant changes should be made to federal discovery rules, according to a report [text, PDF; ACTL press release, PDF] issued Wednesday by a special task force composed of members of the American College of Trial Lawyers (ACTL) [advocacy website] and the University of Denver's Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) [academic website]. Responding to what it described as a popular perception that the US civil justice system is "broken" [AP report] and in need of repair, the Task Force Committee on Discovery Project said it intends the 29 principles proposed in its report to act as a guide and provide an eventual underpinning for an anticipated "transformation of civil procedure in federal and state systems throughout the United States." Among the topics covered by the principles are: the "one-size-fits-all" approach to lawsuits contained in the current Federal Rules of Civil Procedure [text]; a move from notice-based pleadings to fact-based pleadings; details and mechanics of pre-trial discovery, including electronic discovery; the role of expert witnesses; and dispositive pre-trial motions.

The committee was formed to examine federal and state rules of civil procedure pertaining to discovery in order to determine [committee membership page] if the current rules could be adjusted to provide a "fair and less expensive approach to information exchange in litigation[.]" The group is composed of a number of prominent litigation attorneys from across the country, and has characterized the current discovery rules as outdated and not flexible enough to adapt to the rapid technological advances in litigation and trial practice.






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UN rapporteur warns rights council on US 'war on terror' policies
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 11, 2009 9:11 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Martin Scheinin [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday cited the case of Canadian citizen and former US detainee Maher Arar [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] in presenting a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] critical of international counterterrorism practices to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] in Geneva. Scheinin flagged Arar's deportation from the US
as an example of how intelligence sharing without "adequate safeguards" can lead to human rights violations. The report was broadly critical of US rendition [JURIST news archive] policies and also censured the United Kingdom [Independent report], Australia and other countries for providing assistance to the US. Speaking to reporters after presenting the report, Scheinin said that UN human rights investigators will be looking into possible human rights violations committed by the US [Reuters report] during the "war on terror" and that the investigation will not be relaxed because of a change in administrations. On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that the UK will not conduct an official judicial inquiry [AP report] into whether British intelligence officials ever acted illegally in assisting the US, but did note that police could initiate such investigations.

Scheinin has been a vocal proponent of greater limits on the power of intelligence agencies to act with limited safeguards under the justification of national security. In October, he urged the UN to restructure or eliminate [JURIST report] the existing terrorist "blacklisting" system. In June, he called on the US to set a concrete deadline [JURIST report] for closure of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, a task accomplished [JURIST report] in January by President Barack Obama. In May, he urged Spain to reform its legal standards [JURIST report] for the treatment of suspected terrorists.






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France parliament weighs cutting file-sharers' internet access
Devin Montgomery on March 11, 2009 8:06 AM ET

[JURIST] The French National Assembly [official website, in French] on Tuesday began considering a bill [materials, in French] that would allow the government to shut off internet access for those who repeatedly share or download copyrighted music and movies illegally. The bill, supported by French Minister of Culture Christine Albanel [official profile, in French] and passed by the country's Senate in October 2008, has been criticized [EDRI release] by consumer and rights groups who say it infringes on civil liberties and could lead to wholesale internet surveillance. Consumer group UFC-Que Choisir urged Assembly members to reject the bill [press release, in French], arguing that most illegal downloading could be stopped by the creation of subscription-based services that give consumers better legal access to copyrighted materials.

Other countries have also been struggling with how to balance protecting copyrighted material on the internet with privacy concerns. In December, the Recording Industry Association of America [association website] dropped [JURIST report] a number of lawsuits against illegal file-sharers after some of the defendants counter-sued the association [JURIST report] for tactics it used to track their internet use. In January 2008, the European Court of Justice [official website] held [judgment; JURIST report] that telecommunication companies operating in Spain were not obligated to disclose the identities of internet users suspected of illegal file sharing. In July 2007, a Belgium court ordered a file sharing website to filter or block access [JURIST report] to users sharing copyrighted material.






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Obama to limit scope of presidential signing statements
Safiya Boucaud on March 10, 2009 5:05 PM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official profile] issued a memorandum [text] Monday that proposes to limit the use of attaching presidential signing statements [1993 DOJ backgrounder] which raise constitutional or other legal questions before bills are signed into law. The memorandum suggested parameters for the disregard of statutory provisions based solely on differences in policy, yet at the same time recognized the need to uphold the historical and legal significance of raising valid constitutional objections. Obama also noted the public criticism of presidential signing statements generated by the George W. Bush [JURIST news archive] administration, and the memorandum states:

To ensure that all signing statements previously issued are followed only when consistent with these principles, executive branch departments and agencies are directed to seek the advice of the Attorney General before relying on signing statements issued prior to the date of this memorandum as the basis for disregarding, or otherwise refusing to comply with, any provision of a statute.
In addition, Obama set forth guidelines he will follow when using signing statements, including communicating with Congress when practicable, acting with restraint and caution, clearly and specifically stating objections if they arise, and constructing statutory provisions to avoid constitutional problems only if they are legitimate.

A report [text, PDF] issued in 2007 by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) [official website] said that Bush's use of bill signing statements had led to several instances where provisions of laws had been ignored in favor of the Bush administration's interpretation. Critics of the procedure, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and ranking Republican member Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official websites] have said that Bush's signing statements impermissibly intrude upon Congress's power to write and enact laws under Article I of the Constitution [text], which vests "[a]ll legislative powers herein granted" in Congress. In 2006, the American Bar Association (ABA) [official website] criticized the practice [JURIST report] as undermining congressional authority.





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Turkish police arrest 56 over alleged coup plot
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 10, 2009 4:14 PM ET

[JURIST] Turkish police on Tuesday arrested 56 people charged with plotting to overthrow the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website], including two retired generals. They were arrested [Reuters report] after the Istanbul prosecutor issued an indictment linking them to the Ergenekon [BBC backgrounder] group case. The group is allegedly responsible for bombing the headquarters of the newspaper Cumhuriyet [media website, in Turkish], assassinating Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink [BBC obituary], and planning other attacks to provoke a military coup to topple the AKP. Retired General Sener Eruygur and retired General Hursit Tolon were arrested last year but were released for health reasons.

Tuesday's arrests are the latest in a series of arrests related to the Ergenekon probe. Last week, a Turkish court ordered the arrest of Cumhuriyet [media website, in Turkish] journalist Mustafa Balbay and internet publisher Neriman Aydin for their alleged involvement the coup plot. There are currently more than 100 suspects in custody, with 40 arrested January 7, another 12 arrested January 12, and 30 arrested January 19. [JURIST reports]. The suspects include journalists, academics, army officers, policemen, and Turkish Workers' Party [party website, in Turkish] leader Dogu Perincek [JURIST report]. In October the High Criminal Court in Istanbul began the trial [JURIST report] of 86 defendants allegedly involved in the coup plot.






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Italy asks court to drop kidnapping charges in CIA rendition case on security grounds
Devin Montgomery on March 10, 2009 3:12 PM ET

[JURIST] The Italian government on Tuesday asked the country's Constitutional Court [official website] to dismiss kidnapping charges against US and Italian intelligence officers, arguing that allowing the case to go forward would harm the country's national security interests. The case involves 26 Americans being tried in absentia and five former Italian intelligence officials charged in the 2003 abduction and rendition [JURIST news archive] of Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr [JURIST news archive]. The Constitutional Court is now hearing the case [ANSA report] in closed sessions after suspending the case [JURIST report] for three months in order to allow the government and prosecutors to prepare arguments on the national security issues. Both Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and his predecessor, former Prime Minister Romano Prodi [BBC profile], have warned that certain evidence collected by the prosecution could jeopardize future collaboration between Italian and US spy services. Prosecutor Armando Spataro has accused Berlusconi, ex-Italian military intelligence agency chief Niccolo Pollari, and others of inflating security arguments to obstruct justice. The Constitutional Court is expected to rule on whether the case can go forward later this week.

Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was seized on the streets of Milan by CIA agents with the help of Italian operatives, then allegedly transferred to Egypt and tortured by Egypt's State Security Intelligence before being released [JURIST reports] in February 2007. Defense lawyers for Pollari have said they need Italian agents' testimony and classified government documents to assert their defense that Pollari was not involved in the kidnapping. Last May, Magi ruled that Berlusconi can be called to testify [JURIST report].






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Federal judge grants Guantanamo detainee request to dismiss suit challenging detention
Christian Ehret on March 10, 2009 2:18 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Tuesday dismissed [order, PDF] a lawsuit by Saudi Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Ghassan Abdullah al-Sharbi that challenged his confinement based on a request [text, PDF] from al-Sharbi himself. According to al-Sharbi's attorney, Judge Emmet Sullivan made the decision after a private hearing [Washington Post report] conducted Friday through a video link with the prison. Sullivan wrote:

While the Court may certainly question the wisdom of abandoning a legal challenge to a detention that has lasted seven years without trial, the Court cannot say that Mr. Al Sharbi is incompetent or is making the decision to withdraw the pending habeas petition involuntarily and unknowingly. Mr. Al Sharbi was able to articulate to the Court his own reasons for wishing to proceed in this manner. The Court cannot say that these reasons are based on incompetence, mental infirmity, or the result of threat or coercion.
The dismissal was without prejudice and would not bar al-Sharbi from bringing suit again.

Al-Sharbi was initially charged [DOD charge sheet, PDF] with conspiracy for his alleged involvement with al Qaeda. At a pre-trial hearing in 2006, al-Sharbi denied war-crime allegations [JURIST report] but admitted to fighting against the United States. The charges were thrown out when the Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in 2006 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. Al-Sharbi was charged again [JURIST report] in 2008 with a new conspiracy charge and for providing material support for terrorism. The charges against him were later dismissed without prejudice [JURIST report] although he remained in custody awaiting a decision on being recharged.





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Spain judicial body investigating terrorism judge Garzon
Safiya Boucaud on March 10, 2009 2:18 PM ET

[JURIST] Spain's General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) [official website, in Spanish] on Tuesday said that there will be an investigation into the failure of Judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to report his earnings while on sabbatical in the US. Garzon, famed for indicting Osama bin Laden and former Latin American dictator Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archives], took a leave of absence [El Pais report, in Spanish] and accepted a teaching position at New York University between 2005 and 2006 but did not report his earnings. According to CGPJ, any Spanish judge taking a leave of absence must report to the judicial oversight committee any salaries that will be received during that time. While there will be no disciplinary hearing, if he is found to be in violation of the rules, Garzon could be fined, suspended, or possibly expelled.

In addition to the Pinochet and bin Laden indictments, Garzon is well known for his involvement in high-profile investigations of terror and human rights cases. Last October, he ordered [JURIST report] the exhumation of 19 mass graves in Spain, launching an investigation into the disappearances of tens of thousands of people beginning in the Spanish Civil War [BBC backgrounder], and continuing through the early years of the Francisco Franco dictatorship [BBC backgrounder]. Garzon has also called for the creation of a "truth commission" [JURIST report] to uncover Franco-era abuses.






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China top judge pledges to eliminate judicial corruption
Christian Ehret on March 10, 2009 12:33 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme People's Court [official website, in Mandarin] of China will take steps to eliminate judicial corruption, according to a report delivered Tuesday to second session of the Eleventh National People's Congress [official website] by Chief Justice Wang Shengjun [official profile, in Mandarin]. Wang reported that that 712 court officials were punished for misconduct in 2008 and that such corruption has negative social impacts [Xinhua report] and affects the credibility of the courts. He said that the Supreme People's Court would take measures to lessen such corruption with improved ethics education.

In October, the Chinese legislature removed the vice president of the Supreme People's Court [JURIST report] without explanation, although there were allegations of a scandal. In January 2007, the Communist Party of China (CPC) [official website] promised to confront government corruption after former Chief Justice Xiao Yang called for judicial reform [JURIST reports] to regain the public's trust. Several months later, Xiao Yang applauded the reform [JURIST report] that had been achieved.






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Bangladesh continues ban on websites that published mutiny meeting audio
Ximena Marinero on March 10, 2009 10:06 AM ET

[JURIST] Head of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) [official website] Ziaul Islam said Tuesday that there are no plans in place to lift the ban on several websites that have posted a recording in which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina [official profile, BBC profile] is criticized by army officers over how she handled the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) [official website] mutiny [BBC backgrounder] in late February. The BTRC blocked several websites [AFP report] Sunday on government instructions that identified them as subversive or detrimental to the administration because the audio [YouTube clip, part 1 in Bangla; part 2, in Bangla] of the meeting could be distributed through them. Among the websites banned [Blitz report] are YouTube and Esnips [websites]. Bangladeshi media has reported on the contents of the meeting but has not published a transcript.

Bangladeshi officials said Saturday that the government is considering trying by court-martial [JURIST report] the more than 1,000 border guards accused of participating in the BDR mutiny, which killed dozens of top BDR officials, including the force's commander. The US FBI team sent to Bangladesh to assist in the investigation arrived on Sunday [BBN report], and Scotland Yard investigators are also expected to join in the investigation. Hasina was elected to office in December 2008, ending two years of military rule.






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International finance court should be formed to hear Madoff cases: lawyers group
Ximena Marinero on March 10, 2009 8:49 AM ET

[JURIST] A group of lawyers called Monday for the formation of an International Finance Court to adjudicate the issues around the Bernard Madoff [JURIST news archive] fraud case. The Madoff Case Global Alliance of Law Firms, established last month [press release, DOC] at a meeting in Spain, aims to form an international network [Reuters report] to facilitate sharing information and developing strategies. They say an international forum must be established to address the complex issues of the case because of their sheer magnitude and because they unfold across several legal systems. The group plans to meet Wednesday with US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] chairman Mary Schapiro [official profile] to lobby for their proposal. The alliance also plans to present their proposal to the Group of 20 (G-20) [official website] at their April meeting in London in the belief that their plan should be organized in conjunction with the UN, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. Leading the coalition of lawyers is Javier Cremades [professional profile, in Spanish], from the Spanish law firm Cremades & Calvo-Sotelo [firm website, in Spanish], and Gaytri Kachroo [professional profile], from the US law firm McCarter & English [firm website]. Cremades and his law firm have brought a lawsuit [summons, PDF] against the Spanish bank Santander [corporate website, in Spanish] in a US federal court, although the case has not yet been adjudicated as the judge questions the appropriateness of jurisdiction [Bloomberg report] and the need for court intervention. McCarter and English is the law firm representing Harry Markopolos [Boston Globe profile], a whistleblower who accused [text] Madoff of fraud before the SEC in 2005.

In February, Madoff consented to a partial judgment [JURIST report] with the SEC over civil charges brought by the SEC to obtain preliminary injunction and freeze Madoff's assets. Madoff still faces criminal charges [JURIST report] by the SEC. The SEC's capacity for enforcement has been heavily questioned in the wake of the alleged Ponzi schemes perpetrated by Madoff and other financiers like Allen Stanford [JURIST report].






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Rights group says Israel West Bank mining violates international law
Steve Czajkowski on March 9, 2009 4:08 PM ET

[JURIST] Israeli rights group Yesh Din [advocacy website, in Hebrew] filed a petition [text, PDF; press release] in the Supreme Court of Israel [official website] Monday, accusing the State of Israel of violating international law based on the mining operations it conducts within the West Bank. According to the complaint, the mining removes 12 million tons of stone and gravel each year from the West Bank, 9 million tons of which are used for the economic benefit of the State of Israel [AP report] and private Israeli companies. The group referred to many different international treaties, including provisions of the Geneva Conventions [ICRC materials], and general principles of international law in setting out its assertion of illegality:

The rules of occupation constitute a regime of temporary trust which necessitates that, among other things, any long-term alteration made in the occupied territory, inasmuch as it is permissible, shall benefit the local population (which is the population of protected civilians). Another, negative aspect of the trustee's duty are rules that ban the occupying power from exploiting the territories under its domain for its own needs, except for (with certain restrictions) its security needs.

Unlike in the case of the permissibility of mining for natural resources in an occupied territory as a rule, in this matter -- quarrying for natural resources for the benefit of the occupying power -- the scholars are not disputed at all. It is agreed by all of them that not only is this a violation of the international laws of occupation, but many of them even believe that under certain circumstances, this constitutes the war crime of pillage...the occupant does not have the right to use property or to other rights he manages in the occupied territories for purposes other than maintaining public order and safety in the occupied territory.
Israel has denied any violations, and said that the mining is carried out according to agreements with Palestinians [BBC report].

Israel has been strongly criticized by the international community over its settlement and land appropriation activities, particularly in the West Bank. In November, Switzerland condemned Israeli destruction of Palestinian homes [JURIST report] in East Jerusalem as a violation of international humanitarian law. In September, Israeli human rights group B'Tselem [advocacy website] reported that Israeli security policies have resulted in Palestinians being prevented from accessing land [JURIST report] adjacent to settlements in the West Bank. In July, Yesh Din highlighted the lack of investigations and prosecutions [JURIST report] of Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories who commit crimes against Palestinians. In June, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] said that Israeli plans to expand settlements [Ha'aretz report] in the West Bank violate international law [JURIST report].





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Kenya rights activist killings to be probed by FBI
Ximena Marinero on March 9, 2009 3:37 PM ET

[JURIST] Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga [official profile, BBC profile] announced Monday that US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) [official website] agents from the US Embassy in Nairobi [official website] will assist in investigating [press release] the killing of two human rights activists last week. Odinga requested US assistance [Capital News report], recognizing that there would be a serious issue of credibility because the police themselves are among the list of suspects and stating that "the government [is] committed to uphold all fundamental rights and freedoms bestowed in the constitution of the country." On Friday, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) charged that the killing of human rights activists Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu was part of a trend [AP report] to silence those who have denounced police human rights abuses and extrajudicial executions. The two men were officers for the Oscar Foundation [advocacy website], a group critical of the Kenyan government for its use of extra-judicial killings, and were killed in Nairobi [BBC report] Thursday following student protests against police.

On Friday UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions [official website] Philip Alston called for an independent investigation [JURIST report] into the killings. Alston also called for the resignation [Daily Nation report] of Police Commissioner Hussein Ali and Attorney General Amos Wako in light of the killings, but Ali rebuked Alston's call and said that the police were capable of investigating the murders without a special investigation. In February, Alston issued a report [text] on extra-judicial killings in Kenya in which he said that killings by the police in the country were "systematic, widespread and carefully planned," and that they were committed with "utter impunity." During his trip to the country, Alston met with Kingara, and the Oscar Foundation in 2007 issued its own report [text, JURIST report] claiming that police had killed more than 8,000 for their alleged connections to the Mungiki group.






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Obama reverses stem cell research ban
Steve Czajkowski on March 9, 2009 3:06 PM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] signed [press release] an executive order [text; fact sheet] Monday which removed the previous administration's restrictions on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell [JURIST news archive] research. The order fulfills Obama's campaign promise to reverse the limitations that were put in place eight years ago by the Bush administration. Obama stated his reasoning [prepared remarks] for removing the barriers in the order:

Research involving human embryonic stem cells and human non-embryonic stem cells has the potential to lead to better understanding and treatment of many disabling diseases and conditions. Advances over the past decade in this promising scientific field have been encouraging, leading to broad agreement in the scientific community that the research should be supported by Federal funds.

For the past 8 years, the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to fund and conduct human embryonic stem cell research has been limited by Presidential actions. The purpose of this order is to remove these limitations on scientific inquiry, to expand NIH support for the exploration of human stem cell research, and in so doing to enhance the contribution of America's scientists to important new discoveries and new therapies for the benefit of humankind.
Also Monday, Obama issued the Presidential Memorandum on Scientific Integrity [text; fact sheet], which charges the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) [official website] with developing strategies to ensure government agencies follow proper procedures for disclosing scientific findings, for reviewing such findings, and for protecting the scientific process, including protection of whistleblowers. The memorandum also orders the director to ensure that scientific and technology positions in the executive branch are filled based on an individual's technological knowledge, credentials, and experience.

In 2007, then-president George W. Bush vetoed [JURIST report] the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 [S 5 materials], which was intended to relax funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. At that time, the administration said the bill would, for the first time, compel taxpayers to support the destruction of human embryos, a "moral line" the president would not allow the nation to cross. In 2006, Bush vetoed a previous version [JURIST report] of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which was passed by the Senate to remove restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, saying he would not provide federal funding for stem cell research because many consider the destruction of embryos to be murder.





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Rights group says China not accounting for detained Tibetan protestors
Safiya Boucaud on March 9, 2009 2:35 PM ET

[JURIST] The Chinese government has not accounted for hundreds of Tibetan protesters arrested in connection with the March 2008 demonstrations in Tibet [BBC backgrounder], according to a Monday statement [press release] from Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website], which revealed a thorough review regarding the numbers of arrests, detentions, and trials of the protesters. The press release revealed discrepancies in the numbers of demonstrators detained and released as reported by state media sources and government officials. HRW also called on the Chinese government to provide an extensive account of all who were detained, released, tried, and sentenced in relation to the protests; to allow neutral international organizations full access to detention facilities; and to observe and respect the human rights of all the demonstrators in their custody. The Chinese government has insisted that the claims of human rights abuses have been perpetuated by ethnic Tibetan factions dissatisfied by the Communist Party. Asia advocacy director at HRW Sophie Richardson said that the Chinese government has been using these excuses and has not been cooperative with any international human rights organizations at revealing the numbers of alleged arbitrary arrests, detentions, and sentencing hearings, adding that:

The government's national security concerns do not exempt it from its obligation to respect fundamental rights and freedoms and offer equal status before the law to all its citizens, whatever their ethnicity ... Yet Beijing's own official accounts reflect judicial defects so severe that it is not possible to deliver a fair trial to any one accused of having taken part in the protests last year.
There are allegedly several hundred protesters still in custody and documents have revealed that contrary to information supplied by the Chinese government, several demonstrators died after the March 2008 demonstrations. To date there has been no public information regarding the trials of the remaining demonstrators.

Last June, the Chinese government released more than 1000 demonstrators [JURIST report] detained by authorities during the March 2008 demonstrations against Chinese rule in Tibet. In April 2008, a Chinese court sentenced 30 people to prison [JURIST report] for their roles in the demonstrations. Chinese officials have blamed the exiled Dalai Lama [personal website] for organizing the protests. Rights groups have criticized China for ongoing human rights violations [HRW materials] targeted at Tibetans, and many call for the total independence [advocacy website] of the currently "semi-autonomous" region.





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Supreme Court rules for state in racial minority voting rights case
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 9, 2009 10:57 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] decided four cases Monday. The Court ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 in Bartlett v. Strickland [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a racial minority group that comprises less than 50 percent of a district's population cannot succeed on a vote dilution claim. In a plurality opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy ruled that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act [text] does not require a redrawing of the district:

Crossover districts are, by definition, the result of white voters joining forces with minority voters to elect their preferred candidate. The Voting Rights Act was passed to foster this cooperation. We decline now to expand the reaches of §2 to require, by force of law, the voluntary cooperation our society has achieved.
The ruling upheld the decision of the North Carolina Supreme Court, which ruled [opinion, PDF] that the Act only applies to districts where the minority population constitutes 50 percent or more of voters. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Antonin Scalia joined. Justice David Souter filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer joined.

The Court ruled [opinion, PDF] in Vaden v. Discover Bank [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that federal courts have jurisdiction to hear lawsuits brought under the Federal Arbitration Act [text] to compel arbitration when the claim does not raise a federal question but the underlying dispute to be arbitrated involves federal law. However, the Court also ruled that the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit improperly found [opinion, PDF] that a federal question existed and reversed the opinion below. Writing for the Court, Ginsburg determined:
We agree with the Fourth Circuit in part. A federal court may "look through" a §4 petition and order arbitration if, "save for [the arbitration] agreement," the court would have jurisdiction over "the [substantive] controversy between the parties." We hold, however, that the Court of Appeals misidentified the dimensions of "the controversy between the parties." ... Given that entirely state-based plea and the established rule that federal-court jurisdiction cannot be invoked on the basis of a defense or counterclaim, the whole "controversy between the parties" does not qualify for federal-court adjudication.
Justice John Roberts filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Justices Stevens, Breyer, and Samuel Alito joined. Roberts agreed that the court should be able to "look through" to the underlying claim but would have allowed the district court to compel arbitration.

In Vermont v. Brillon [Cornell LII backgrounder, JURIST report], the Court ruled [opinion, PDF] 7-2 that delays caused solely by a public defender do not violate a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. The defendant Michael Brillon faced assault charges, awaiting trial for three years while he was assigned to six different public defenders. Ginsburg wrote for the majority:
Assigned counsel, just as retained counsel, act on behalf of their clients, and delays sought by counsel are ordinarily attributable to the defendants they represent. For a total of some six months of the time that elapsed between Brillon's arrest and his trial, Brillon lacked an attorney. The State may be charged with those months if the gaps resulted from the trial court's failure to appoint replacement counsel with dispatch. Similarly, the State may bear responsibility if there is "a breakdown in the public defender system." But, as the Vermont Supreme Court acknowledged, the record does not establish any such institutional breakdown. [citations omitted]
The ruling overturned the decision [opinion text] of the Vermont Supreme Court, which held that the delay violated Brillon's Sixth Amendment rights. Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, in which Stevens joined.

In Kansas v. Colorado [JURIST report], the Court ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously that it is limited to the same cap on expert witness fees that applies in a district court when the case falls under the Supreme Court's original and exclusive jurisdiction. The Court has constitutionally mandated original jurisdiction [Article 3, § 2 text] over the case because it is a dispute between two states. In 2001, the Court ruled [opinion] that Colorado was liable for millions of dollars in damages and interest for diverting water from the Arkansas River into Colorado farm lands. The dispute continued, and in 2004, the Court ordered a special master to further investigate the situation [opinion]. The special master determined that US law [28 USC § 1821(b) text] caps a witness' attendance fee at $40 per day, but Kansas argued that the legislative intent behind the statute was meant to bind only lower courts and that the Supreme Court is statutorily unlimited in awarding fees in cases of original jurisdiction. In an opinion by Alito, the Court overruled Kansas's exceptions to the special master's report:
[W]e conclude that the best approach is to have a uniform rule that applies in all federal cases.

We therefore hold that the expert witness attendance fees that are available in cases brought under our original jurisdiction shall be the same as the expert witness attendance fees that would be available in a district court under §1821(b).





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Supreme Court to decide investment adviser fees case
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 9, 2009 10:22 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] granted certiorari [order list, PDF] Monday in Jones v. Harris Associates [docket; cert. petition, PDF], in which the Court will consider whether a shareholder must show that the fund's investment adviser misled the fund's directors in order to have a cognizable claim of an excessive fee under section 36(b) of the Investment Company Act of 1940 [text]. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the claim is not cognizable unless the shareholder can show that the adviser misled the fund's directors who approved the fee. The case was brought by several plaintiffs who own shares in funds advised by Harris Associates [corporate website]. The plaintiffs claim that the fees are too high and are in violation of section 36(b).






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Israel ex-president to be indicted on rape, sexual assault charges
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 9, 2009 8:11 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] will be indicted on rape charges for allegedly assaulting several female employees in the 1990s, according to an announcement by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz on Sunday. Katsav will face charges [Haaretz report] of raping one woman while he served as minister of tourism and sexually assaulting two others during his presidency. Katsav's brother denounced the charges as false [Haaretz report], claiming Mazuz was unduly influenced. Women's rights organizations welcomed the decision [Haaretz report] to bring charges.

Katsav was originally accused of rape [JURIST report] and sexual assault in 2006. In April, Katsav rejected a controversial plea agreement [JURIST reports], under which he would have been permitted to plead guilty to lesser sex charges of indecent assault, sexual harassment, and obstruction of justice, in exchange for a suspended sentence and the dropping of the rape charges. The deal was heavily criticized [JURIST report] by women's and civil rights activists when it was first made public in 2007. A victim and several rights organizations filed five separate petitions [Haaretz report] to overturn the agreement, arguing that it was contrary to public interest, had no legal reason, and injured the principal of equality before the law. Despite the criticism, Mazuz defended the agreement as necessary to protect the office of the presidency from further injury and spare the country from embarrassment. Katsav resigned the presidency in 2007.






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Destroyed CIA interrogation tapes contained torture evidence: documents
Ximena Marinero on March 9, 2009 7:38 AM ET

[JURIST] Twelve of the 92 videotapes destroyed by the CIA [JURIST report] contained evidence of "enhanced interrogation techniques," according to redacted documents [text, PDF] filed Friday in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website]. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] had acknowledged last week that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] destroyed [letter, PDF] 92 videotapes of high value terrorism suspect interrogations [JURIST news archive], in response to an August 2008 judicial order [text, PDF] that the CIA turn over information regarding the tapes or provide specific justifications on why it could not release the information. The August 2008 order came in response to a December 2007 American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] motion [text, PDF] that the CIA be held in contempt of court for not providing information on the tapes during a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] lawsuit [ACLU materials] brought by the organization in an effort to access government materials on the interrogations.

A stay on the ACLU suit was filed by the DOJ in December 2007 while a criminal probe [JURIST report] was conducted on the videotapes' destruction. That order expired last week, and in a letter to the court, US Attorney Peter Skinner wrote that the DOJ now intends to provide as much of the information as possible. The ACLU intends to proceed [interview audio] on the lawsuit. The lawsuit was brought [CCR backgrounder] after the October 2003 request filed by the ACLU under FOIA for information pertaining to US held detainees in overseas facilities received in answer only a set of media talking points used by the Department of State.






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Obama distances himself from Holder statements on race in US
Devin Montgomery on March 8, 2009 3:53 PM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] has distanced himself from remarks by Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] in which he characterized the US as a "nation of cowards" on race matters, according to an interview [NYT report] with the New York Times published Saturday. Holder made the statement [text; JURIST report] during a Justice Department (DOJ) [official website] event commemorating Black History Month in February, and he has been criticized by some groups [VOA report] for the comment. In his interview with the Times, Obama said that Holder had made some good points in his speech, but that he would have advised the attorney general to use different language. Obama said that he believed the remaining racial tensions in the country could be best resolved by economic development and improved education and health care.

Earlier in February, the US Senate [official website] voted 75-21 to confirm [JURIST report] Holder as attorney general. Prior to becoming the attorney general, Holder served as a associate judge for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia [official website] and Deputy US Attorney General [archive materials] during the Clinton administration. Additionally, Holder served as acting attorney general during a brief period of the Bush administration before the confirmation of John Ashcroft [BBC profile].






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Sudan president Bashir threatens to expel diplomats, peacekeepers
Devin Montgomery on March 8, 2009 3:09 PM ET

[JURIST] Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Sunday continued to criticize foreign aid agencies he has expelled from the country, and threatened to expel remaining agencies, diplomats and peacekeepers in Sudan. Bashir has expelled 13 foreign aid agencies [VOA report] from Sudan after the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] last week issued a warrant [text, PDF] for his arrest. Human rights and other groups have urged Bashir [JURIST report] to allow the agencies to remain in the country, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] spokesman Rupert Colville has said that his office may investigate [JURIST report] whether Sudan's removal of the groups is a possible breach of human rights law or war crime. Bashir has said that he remains committed [JURIST report] to a peace deal his government has with opposition groups in the country despite the warrant, but warned that foreign nationals still in Sudan would have to obey his government or also face expulsion.

The ICC's warrant against Bashir includes [decision, PDF; JURIST report] seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The controversial arrest warrant [JURIST news archive] had been sought by ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile], who in July filed preliminary charges [text, PDF; JURIST report] against Bashir alleging genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed in the Darfur region in violation of Articles 6, 7, and 8 of the Rome Statute [text]. The ICC announced last week [JURIST report] that they would decide whether to issue an arrest warrant on Wednesday. The announcement came after the New York Times reported [NYT report] last month that the warrant had been issued, leading a court official quickly to issue a denial [JURIST report].






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Bangladesh considers court-martial for mutiny suspects
Lucas Tanglen on March 8, 2009 11:41 AM ET

[JURIST] Bangladeshi officials said Saturday that the government is considering trying by court-martial [JURIST report] the more than 1,000 border guards accused of participating in the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) [official website] mutiny [BBC backgrounder], which killed dozens of top BDR officials, including the force's commander. Law Minister Shafique Ahmed [official profile] said the government would wait [Daily Star report] for an investigation report before deciding between prosecution under conventional law or special tribunal. Ahmed said BDR members could be tried under the Army Act 1952 [text], while outsiders could face charges under the International War Crime Tribunal Act 1973 or the Special Tribunal Act, which would require a constitutional amendment. The death penalty is available under each of these laws. The US has sent a two-person FBI team [bdnews24 report] to Bangladesh to assist the investigation.

Last week, police in Bangladesh charged [JURIST report] more than 1,000 members of the paramilitary BDR in connection with the mutiny. The incident comes in a time of difficult transition for Bangladesh. Voters elected Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in December 2008, ending two years of military rule. In January, Ahmed declared [JURIST report] his government's desire to restore Bangladesh's 1972 constitution [text, PDF]. Prior to the elections, interim Bangladeshi president Iajuddin Ahmed signed [JURIST report] the Emergency Powers (Repeal) Ordinance of 2008, lifting a two-year state of emergency to allow for political campaigning. The state of emergency, declared in January 2007 [JURIST report], had suspended democratic rights throughout the country.






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Guantanamo ex-detainee claims memos show UK involved in alleged torture
Lucas Tanglen on March 8, 2009 9:55 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Binyam Mohamed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] claimed in Sunday media reports that documents sent from MI5 [official website] to the CIA [official website] show that the British intelligence agency was involved with his alleged torture in Morocco [JURIST news archive]. Mohamed claimed [Daily Mail report] the documents reveal that MI5 fed the CIA questions that ended up in the hands of his Moroccan interrogators. A telegraph to the CIA dated November 5, 2002, reportedly has the heading, "Request for further Detainee questioning." Mohamed, a native of Ethiopa [JURIST news archive] who claims to have been transferred to Morocco for torture under a US program of extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive], said he obtained the documents through the US legal process while seeking his release from Guantanamo Bay. Conservative MP David Davis [political website] called for investigations [Telegraph report] into British collusion in torture.

Last week, the UK government's independent reviewer of terror laws called for a judicial inquiry [JURIST report] into British complicity in US rendition and torture. British media reported last week that UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak told British ministers that MI5 may have been complicit [JURIST report] in torture committed while detainees including Mohamed were in US custody. Mohamed was returned to the UK [JURIST report] last week following seven years of detention, including five at Guantanamo Bay, where he was held on charges of conspiring to commit terrorism. Those charges were dismissed [JURIST report] in October, but Mohamed remained in custody while US authorities considered filing new charges.






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Sudan president affirms commitment to peace process, derides expelled aid groups
Andrew Gilmore on March 7, 2009 2:56 PM ET

[JURIST] Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] pledged his commitment to the peace process in his country at a Saturday rally, while deriding expelled aid groups and the arrest warrant [text, PDF] issued against him by the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] earlier this week. At the rally, al-Bashir told the assembled crowd [Xinhua report] that the country would not stray from the peace process and would avoid a return to war. Al-Bashir also used the rally to strike out at aid groups expelled from the country [JURIST report] earlier this week, calling them "spies and thieves" [Reuters report] and accusing them of using the majority of the money donated to them for personal profit.

On Thursday, al-Bashir strongly criticized [JURIST report] the ICC warrant, calling it an attempt by Western powers to reassert colonial power over the country. The warrant, issued [decision, PDF; JURIST report] on Wednesday, charged him with seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but did not include genocide charges. The controversial arrest warrant [JURIST news archive] had been sought by ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile], who in July filed preliminary charges [text, PDF; JURIST report] against Bashir alleging genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed in the Darfur region in violation of Articles 6, 7, and 8 of the Rome Statute [text].






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Blagojevich loses bid to force prosecutor Fitzgerald from case
Andrew Gilmore on March 7, 2009 2:27 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois [official website] on Friday rejected an attempt by former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich [JURIST news archive] to have US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois [official website] removed from his federal corruption case. The ruling by Judge James Holderman denied [Bloomberg report] Blagojevich's request to disqualify Fitzgerald from the case. Blagojevich had argued that Fitzgerald should be removed from the case for making biased and inflammatory remarks during a January press conference.

In January, the Illinois State Senate voted unanimously [JURIST report] to convict Blagojevich of abuse of power and remove him from office. Blagojevich is the first Illinois governor to be impeached and removed from office. Earlier that month, the Illinois House of Representatives [official website] voted 114-1 to impeach [JURIST report]. Blagojevich had boycotted [JURIST report] the impeachment proceedings against him, appearing only at the end of the Senate hearings to make a final plea to remain in office. Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were arrested [JURIST report] in December by federal agents on charges of corruption. Both Blagojevich and Harris have been charged [DOJ press release, PDF] with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery. They are accused of conspiring to sell or trade the senate seat left vacant by President Barack Obama, obtaining illegal campaign contributions, and threatening to withhold assistance to the Chicago Tribune with the sale of Wrigley Field unless two editorial writers who had been critical of Blagojevich were fired. Harris resigned his position after the arrest, but Blagojevich refused to resign.






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Federal judge sentences Armenian to 22 years for smuggling weapons into US
Steve Czajkowski on March 7, 2009 11:15 AM ET

[JURIST] Armenian international arms dealer Artur Solomonyan was sentenced to 22 years in prison [press release, PDF] Friday for attempting to smuggle weapons from Eastern Europe into the US, according to the US Attorney's Office for Southern District of New York [official website]. Solomonyan and South African Christiaan Spies were found to be the leaders of a group of 18, all of whom were convicted [FBI press release] in 2007 for arranging to sell [RIA Novosti report] shoulder fired surface to air missiles, rocket propelled grenades, and other Russian-made high powered weaponry to a confidential informant posing as an arms dealer for al Qaeda. The sentence was imposed by Judge Richard Howell of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website], who presided over the previous convictions.

According to the original complaint [text, PDF], from December 2003 to March 2005, Solomonyan, Spies, and another man, Ioseb Kharabadze, met with the confidential informant at various times in New York City and provided the informant with a number of assault rifles and machine guns. The FBI arrested [Washington Post report] the men in 2005 before any of the larger weapons were obtained. The complaint also alleged that Solomonyan had offered to sell uranium to the informant.






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Eleventh Circuit upholds convictions against former Alabama governor, HealthSouth CEO
Steve Czajkowski on March 7, 2009 10:01 AM ET

[JURIST] A three judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] on Friday upheld [opinion, PDF] the 2006 convictions [DOJ press release; JURIST report] of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman (D) [official profile; JURIST news archive] and former HealthSouth [corporate website] CEO Richard Scrushy [JURIST news archive] on federal bribery and corruption charges. The reversed two counts of mail fraud against Siegelman based a lack of evidence, but upheld the remaining five charges. All of the charges against Scrushy were upheld. In confirming the bribery charges, the court rejected the appellants' argument that there was not evidence of an explicit agreement of quid pro quo between Siegelman and Scrushy, a necessary element for federal bribery charges:

What is missing in this record, according to defendants, is any evidence of a discussion between Governor Siegelman and Scrushy to the effect of "I will make this contribution, and in exchange for this contribution you will appoint me["]... We disagree ... Bailey’s testimony was competent evidence that Siegelman and Scrushy had agreed to a deal in which Scrushy’s donation would be rewarded with a seat on the CON Board. The jurors were free to give it a different construction, but they did not. Furthermore, this was not the sole evidence that Scrushy bribed Siegelman. The jury was entitled to construe this conversation in the context of the substantial additional testimony they had heard regarding Scrushy’s donation to the lottery campaign fund.
While the court remanded Siegelman's case for resentencing, his attorneys have said they will appeal [AP report] the decision.

In 2007, Siegelman was sentenced [JURIST report] to over seven years in prison. Siegelman was originally convicted on seven counts, including bribery, conspiracy, and mail fraud. Scrushy was found guilty of fraud and both were also convicted in connection with a $500,000 payment from Scrushy for Siegelman's 1999 campaign debts in exchange for a seat on a state-operated review board that regulates hospitals. Scrushy was also sentenced to six years and 10 months in prison.





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Whole Foods reaches settlement with FTC over Wild Oats merger
Andrew Gilmore on March 6, 2009 4:48 PM ET

[JURIST] Organic grocer Whole Foods Market [corporate website] agreed to a settlement [decision and order, PDF; FTC docket] with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] on Friday over its 2007 merger with rival grocer Wild Oats Market [corporate website]. If approved by the FTC Commissioners, the settlement will require Whole Foods to divest itself of approximately 32 store locations, including 13 operating stores and 19 closed locations, as well as all Wild Oats intellectual property, including the Wild Oats brand name and trademarks. In return, the FTC will stop its legal attempts [JURIST news archive] to block the merger. In a press release [text], the Acting Director of the FTC's Bureau of Competition David Wales said:

Over the past two years we never wavered in our belief that Whole Foods’ acquisition of Wild Oats was anticompetitive, and we were prepared to demonstrate in court the actual, real-world consumer harm that resulted from the transaction[.] The consent order announced today is a major win for consumers and is the result of the superb work done by all the FTC staff.
In January, a federal appeals court rejected a complaint [JURIST report] filed by Whole Foods seeking an injunction to bar the FTC from holding administrative proceedings [FTC administrative docket] concerning the Wild Oats merger. Whole Foods and the FTC have been engaged in ongoing litigation [FTC litigation docket] over the Whole Foods-Wild Oats merger since it occurred in 2007. In August 2007, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit refused to block the merger [JURIST report], despite an appeal by the FTC. The court reviewed the case in July 2008 and ordered the district court to reconsider [JURIST report] the potential impacts of the merger on the market. The district court has not yet ruled on the matter.





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Turkish journalist arrested in connection with alleged coup plot
Adrienne Lester on March 6, 2009 2:51 PM ET

[JURIST] A Turkish court ordered the arrest of Cumhuriyet [media website, in Turkish] journalist Mustafa Balbay Thursday for his alleged involvement in a plot to overthrow the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website]. Balbay was arrested [Hurriyet report] along with internet publisher Neriman Aydin as part of the ongoing probe into secular group Ergenekon [BBC backgrounder]. The Ergenekon probe has been criticized as an attempt by the AKP to silence opposition and further their imposition of Islamic principles [Ha'aretz report; JURIST report] in violation of Turkey's secular constitution [text].

The arrests of Balbay and Aydin are among many others related to the Ergenekon probe. There are currently more than 100 suspects in custody, with 40 arrested January 7, another 12 arrested January 12, and 30 arrested January 19. [JURIST reports]. The suspects arrested include journalists, academics, army officers, policemen and Turkish Workers' Party [party website, in Turkish] leader Dogu Perincek [JURIST report]. These arrests came after the October trial [JURIST report] by the High Criminal Court in Istanbul for 86 defendants allegedly involved in the coup plot.






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Supreme Court dismisses al-Marri 'enemy combatant' appeal as moot
Andrew Gilmore on March 6, 2009 2:45 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Friday granted [order, PDF] a motion by the US government to dismiss as moot an appeal challenging the indefinite detention of suspected al Qaeda operative Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri [NYT profile; JURIST news archive]. The Court had granted certiorari [JURIST report] in December on al-Marri's appeal of a ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upholding his detention. Acting Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler presented a motion [text, PDF] to the Court, asking it to dismiss the appeal as moot in light of the administration's decision last week to try al-Marri in US federal court [JURIST report]. Al-Marri was indicted [indictment text; DOJ press release] last week on two charges of providing material support to al Qaeda and conspiring with others to provide material support to al Qaeda.

In January, shortly after taking office, President Barack Obama ordered an immediate review [JURIST report] of al-Marri's detention. Al-Marri was arrested at his home in Peoria, Illinois by civilian authorities in 2001, and was indicted for other crimes. In 2003, then-President George W. Bush declared him an enemy combatant [CNN report] and ordered the attorney general to transfer custody of al-Marri to the defense secretary, claiming inherent authority to hold him indefinitely. His indefinite detention and classification as an enemy combatant caused controversy between the Bush administration and rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website], which is providing him with legal representation [case materials]. Al-Marri has claimed abuse [JURIST report] while being held in a US Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina, where he currently remains.






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Khodorkovsky seeks dismissal of new charges for lack of evidence
Amelia Mathias on March 6, 2009 1:06 PM ET

[JURIST] Defense lawyers for former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] on Friday sought to have new charges [JURIST report] of embezzlement and money laundering against Khordorkovsky and his former business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website] dropped. The two men are accused of illegally taking approximately $20 billion from Russian energy firm OAO Yukos Oil Co. [TIME backgrounder], but challenged the allegations, asserting that the evidence against them was insufficient [RIA Novosti report] to sustain the prosecution. Their trial on the charges began on Wednesday [JURIST report] and their latest request comes one day after Judge Viktor Danilkin refused to recuse himself [St. Petersburg Times report] from the case amid accusations of bias. If found guilty, Khodorkovsky could face 22 years in jail in addition to the eight years he is already serving for fraud and tax evasion.

Critics have claimed that the charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are politically motivated due to Khodorkovsky's opposition of former Russian president Vladimir Putin [JURIST news archive]. The transfer of the two from prison to Moscow to stand trial on the new charges was ordered [JURIST report] two weeks ago by a judge for the District Court in Moscow. Khodorkovsky still maintains that his 2005 conviction [JURIST report] on the fraud and tax evasion was unjust, and maintains his innocence. He requested early release from that sentence last July, but his application was rejected [JURIST reports] in August because he disobeyed guards at the Krasnokamensk penal colony [Guardian backgrounder], refused to participate in a training program, and faced the possibility of additional charges. Khodorkovsky has appealed [JURIST report] that decision.






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EU, Kenya reach pirate prosecution agreement
Kayleigh Shebs on March 6, 2009 12:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The European Union (EU) [official website] announced Friday that it has entered into an agreement with Kenya [press release, PDF] to transfer suspected pirates [JURIST news archive] captured by EU counter-pirate operations into Kenyan custody for prosecution. The agreement contains provisions for the nine Somali pirates captured by German forces [DW report] on Tuesday, and "defines modalities" for any capture of suspected pirates in the future. Germany has maintained a presence in the Gulf of Aden as a part of the EU's Naval Forces Atalanta mission to stem pirate activity in the troubled Gulf region. The EU's agreement with Kenya is the first agreement [DW report] between the EU and a country located within that African region.

Kenya has become the lead prosecutor of suspected pirates captured by third-party countries within the Gulf of Aden. In November, eight Somalis were charged [JURIST report] in a Kenyan court [Kenya judiciary website] for piracy after being turned over to Kenyan officials by the British Royal Navy [official website]. In January 2006, the US Navy [official website] captured 10 Somali men 200 miles off the coast of Somalia and turned them over to Kenyan courts in Mombasa for prosecution [press release]. In November 2006, each of the 10 men was sentenced to seven years in prison.






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Kenya rights activist killings must be investigated: UN special rapporteur
Devin Montgomery on March 6, 2009 9:04 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions [official website] Philip Alston on Friday called for an independent investigation into the Thursday killings of Kenyan human rights activists Oscar Kamau Kingara [advocacy profile] and John Paul Oulu. The two men were officers for the Oscar Foundation [advocacy website], a group critical of the Kenyan government for its use of extra-judicial killings, and were killed in Nairobi [BBC report] following student protests against police. Earlier in the day, a government official had accused [Standard report] the Oscar Foundation of fundraising for the Mungiki [BBC backgrounder] religious group, which has been banned in the country. Alston also called for the resignation [Daily Nation report] of Police Commissioner Hussein Ali and Attorney General Amos Wako in light of the killings, but Ali rebuked Alston's call and said that the police were capable of investigating the murders without a special investigation.

In February, Alston issued a report [text] on extra-judicial killings in Kenya in which he said that killings by the police in the country were "systematic, widespread and carefully planned," and that they were committed with "utter impunity." During his trip to the country, Alston met with Kingara, and the Oscar Foundation in 2007 issued its own report [text, JURIST report] claiming that police had killed more than 8,000 for their alleged connections to the Mungiki group.






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Spain panel proposes sweeping abortion reforms
Ingrid Burke on March 6, 2009 8:58 AM ET

[JURIST] A panel of legal and medical experts headed by Spanish Minister of Equality Bibiano Aido [official website, in Spanish] on Wednesday proposed sweeping reforms [press release, in Spanish] to Spain's current abortion [JURIST news archive] laws. The panel contends that women should have the right to choose to abort during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Where the fetus is malformed or where the mother faces serious health risks, the panel suggests the right to abort should extend for up to 22 weeks. In cases where extreme fetal malformation would likely prove incompatible with life, the panel recommends extending the right to abort beyond 22 weeks. The panel also suggests the necessity of lowering the legal age from 18 to 16. These reforms are in sharp contrast with the current law, established in 1985, which allows women over the age of 18 the right to abort only in cases of rape (up to 12 weeks), fetal malformation (up to 22 weeks), and serious health risks to the mother (at any stage). Aido issued a statement [statement, PDF, in Spanish] in anticipation of public opposition to the reforms, urging society to view the law as a necessarily neutral guarantee of fairness to and protection of women in Spain. The Association for Families and Human Dignity [profile, in Spanish], a pro-life advocacy group, has already expressed their view that adding a relaxation of the law would be harmful to women [Diariocritico report, in Spanish] and would result in a spike of the number of abortions performed in the country.

The panel was formed in September [JURIST report] at the request of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero [official profile, in Spanish] as part of a series of social reforms including same-sex marriage [JURIST report] and streamlined divorce proceedings. Since Aido's committee was formed, the conservative Popular Party [official website, in Spanish] has repeatedly expressed the opinion [El Pais report, in Spanish] that relaxed abortion laws would stand in opposition to Article 15 of the Spanish Constitution [text, in Spanish], which guarantees the right to life.






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UN may investigate Sudan for expelling foreign aid groups
Bhargav Katikaneni on March 6, 2009 8:23 AM ET

[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] spokesman Rupert Colville said Friday that his office may investigate whether Sudan's expulsion of foreign aid agencies [Oxfam press release] is a possible breach of human rights law or war crime. Colville said that such an investigation had not yet begun, but strongly criticized [NYT report] Sudan for ordering the groups to leave. Also Friday, UN High Commissioner for Refugees [official website] spokesman Ron Redmond warned that the removal of the aid agencies could have a serious impact [press release] not only in Darfur, but also in the rest of Sudan and the region:

Our experience shows that when vulnerable populations are unable to get the help they need, they go elsewhere in search of protection and assistance. If food can't get through to people, for example, then those people will soon suffer and have to look elsewhere.

With some 4.7 million Sudanese – including 2.7 million internally displaced – already receiving assistance in Darfur, we are very concerned over the prospect of new population movements in the region should the fragile aid lifeline inside Sudan be disrupted. There are also 40,000 Chadian refugees in West Darfur.
The statements come after an earlier plea [press release] by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official website] asking Sudan to allow the the agencies to remain in the country.

The expulsion of the groups is seen as retribution [JURIST report] by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir [ICC materials, PDF; JURIST news archive] against Western powers after the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]