July 2009 Archives


Pakistan Supreme Court declares emergency rule unconstitutional
Andrew Morgan on July 31, 2009 2:31 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] on Friday declared [judgment, PDF] that former president Pervez Musharraf [official profile; JURIST news archive] violated the Constitution of Pakistan [text] when he declared emergency rule [proclamation, PDF] in November 2007. The court found that Musharraf's removal [JURIST report] of many members of the country's judiciary, including current Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry [official profile; JURIST news archive], and subsequent appointment of Abdul Hameed Dogar [JURIST news archive] as chief justice was unconstitutional and, as a result, judges appointed in consultation with Dogar were removed from office. The decision leaves intact judgments rendered by judges whose position has been declared unconstitutional and reverts lower court judges appointed to the Supreme Court and regional High Courts to their prior posts. In an attempt to avoid future political interference with the judiciary, the Supreme Court amended the judicial Code of Conduct to declare that no "Judge shall, hereinafter, offer any support in whatever manner to any un-constitutional functionary who acquires power otherwise than through the modes envisaged by the Constitution." The judgment does not affect the 2008 general election that brought President Asif Ali Zardari [official website] to power on the grounds that the welfare of the country is served by governmental continuity.

Last August, Musharraf resigned from office [JURIST report] in order to avoid impeachment proceedings by the country's parliament. Earlier that month, the country's coalition government said that it would push to impeach Musharraf because he had given a "clear commitment" to step down from office after his party was defeated in parliamentary elections [JURIST reports]. In June 2008, former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif [JURIST news archive] called for Musharraf to be tried for treason [JURIST report], labeling him a traitor disloyal to Pakistan and saying he should be punished for the "damage" that he had done to the country in the years since he led a military coup [BBC backgrounder] and unseated Sharif in 1999.






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UK court rules alleged hacker may be extradited to US
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 31, 2009 2:21 PM ET

[JURIST] The High Court in London ruled [judgment text] Friday that a man accused of hacking US government computers in 2001 and 2002 may be extradited to the US for prosecution. This is the latest in a series of failed appeals by systems analyst Gary McKinnon [BBC profile; advocacy website], who was arrested by British police in 2002 and indicted [text, PDF] by US authorities later that year on charges of hacking NASA, Department of Defense, Air Force, Army, and Navy computers in violation of US computer laws [18 USC 1030 text]. The British government granted the 2005 US extradition request, but McKinnon's lawyer appealed, alleging that US authorities had told McKinnon that if he did not plead guilty to the charges, he could be sentenced to life in prison since each of the seven counts against him is punishable by up to 10 years of imprisonment and a $250,000 fine [indictment press release]. McKinnon, who has Asperger's syndrome, lost an appeal [JURIST report] to the UK Law Lords last July. He filed a new appeal, asking the Secretary of State to consider new evidence as to his mental condition. The Secretary of State denied his appeal, and the court declined to overturn that decision.

In 2006, a UK court recommended [JURIST report] that the government extradite McKinnon to the US. His lawyers appealed, but, in 2007, High Court judges ruled [judgment text] that there were no grounds for appeal. McKinnon has not denied the charges against him but has said that he was motivated by a desire to uncover "hidden technology" capable of benefiting all of mankind and evidence of UFOs, which he claims is being suppressed by the US military.






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Federal judge finds student liable in music file-sharing case
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 31, 2009 1:13 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge ruled Thursday night that Boston University graduate student Joel Tenenbaum [defense website] is liable for illegally downloading music. Four record companies, including Sony BMG and Warner Brothers [corporate websites], brought suit against Tenenbaum in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts [official website], accusing him of illegally downloading 30 songs [complaint, PDF] in violation of copyright laws. Tenenbaum admitted to downloading hundreds of songs, and Judge Nancy Gertner directed the jury to consider only the amount of damages [Boston Globe report]. The jury began deliberations Friday. Tenenbaum faces a fine [AP report] of $750 to $30,000 per infringement, or as much as $150,000 if the infringement is found to have been willful.

In the only other file-sharing case to go to trial, Jammie Thomas-Rasset was found liable and fined $192 million last month [JURIST report]. The suit against Tenenbaum may be the last to be brought to trial, as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) [organization website] in December decided to discontinue pursuing [JURIST report] those accused of illegal file-sharing in court. The RIAA has indicated that it will work with internet service providers to identify and then deny service to those who infringe copyrights. The RIAA has also sent letters [press release] to thousands of individuals with an offer to settle infringement claims out of court.

11:30 PM ET - The jury ordered Tenenbaum to pay $675,000.






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Suu Kyi verdict delayed until August 11
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 31, 2009 11:46 AM ET

[JURIST] The Myanmar court hearing the trial of opposition pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Friday delayed the verdict until at least August 11. The court was scheduled to deliver the verdict Friday, after hearing closing arguments from the prosecution Monday and from the defense [JURIST reports] last week. Suu Kyi's lawyers said the court adjouned, saying it needed more time [AP report] to consider the issues. Suu Kyi faces charges of violating the terms of her house arrest for allowing an American to stay with her after he swam across a lake to visit.

Earlier this month, Suu Kyi's trial resumed after a delay [JURIST reports] with the testimony of Khin Moe Moe, a member of Suu Kyi's National League of Democracy (NLD) [party website] party, who claimed the charges were politically motivated. Last month, a Myanmar court sentenced [JURIST report] two members of the NLD to 18 months in prison after leading prayers for Suu Kyi's release. Her arrest was controversial and highly criticized [JURIST report] by the international community. She has spent 12 of the past 18 years in prison or under house arrest for alleged violations of an anti-subversion law [text, PDF]. News of Suu Kyi's trial has been met with criticism from numerous agencies and governments around the world. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] has said the charges [HRW report] against Suu Kyi are "trumped up."






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Venezuela AG proposes law limiting media freedom of expression
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 31, 2009 10:38 AM ET

[JURIST] Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega [official profile, in Spanish] on Thursday proposed legislation [press release, in Spanish] to limit the media's freedom of expression in certain circumstances, citing the importance of national security. Under the proposed law, journalists could face up to four years in prison for "threatening the social peace, security and independence of the nation, public order, stability of state institutions, mental health, and public morals and for generating a climate of impunity or insecurity. The law would also punish those who disseminate false information, resulting in public panic. Ortiz later stressed to the media that the measures are essential for balancing freedom of expression with safety and security concerns:



The Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) [advocacy website] called the proposed legislation [press release] a "serious setback to freedom of expression and democracy in Venezuela, and part of a pattern of repression by President Chavez to silence independent and critical voices." The National Assembly [official website, in Spanish], controlled by allies of President Hugo Chavez [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], began debating the measure Thursday and is expected to approve it within the next few months.

Venezuela has been criticized repeatedly for its limits on freedom of expression and religion. In May, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) [official website] added Venezuela to its "watch list" [JURIST report] of countries that limit religious freedom. In February the US State Department criticized Venezuela for press restrictions in its 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. In September, Venezuelan officials ordered two senior Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] staff to leave the country [JURIST report] after after the group released a report [press release] concluding that democracy and human rights have suffered during the Chavez administration.






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US signs UN disability rights treaty
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 31, 2009 9:41 AM ET

[JURIST] US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice [official profile] on Thursday signed [press release] the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities [official website; JURIST news archive]. The move came after US President Barack Obama announced [JURIST report] last week during a celebration commemorating the 19th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 [DOJ materials] that the US would sign the convention. The announcement was met with widespread approval [HRW news release; IDRM press release] by international and human rights organizations, as the Bush administration declined to sign the convention [JURIST report] at the time it was adopted, citing what it characterized as sufficient protective laws already in effect in the country. At the signing ceremony at UN headquarters, Rice said:

This Treaty, as you all know, is the first new human rights convention of the 21st century adopted by the United Nations and further advances the human rights of the 650 million people with disabilities worldwide. It urges equal protection and equal benefits under the law for all citizens, it rejects discrimination in all its forms, and calls for the full participation and inclusion in society of all persons with disabilities. ...

We all still have a great deal more to do at home and abroad. As President Obama has noted, people with disabilities far too often lack the choice to live in communities of their own choosing; their unemployment rate is much higher than those without disabilities; they are much more likely to live in poverty; health care is out of reach for far too many; and too many children with disabilities are denied a world-class education around the world. Discrimination against people with disabilities is not simply unjust; it hinders economic development, limits democracy, and erodes societies.
The convention must now be ratified [Senate materials] by a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities entered into force [JURIST report] in May 2008, and has been signed by 142 members and ratified by 62. The landmark treaty protects the 650 million persons living with disabilities worldwide [UN fact sheet] and holds that all disabled people should be treated as full-fledged citizens and completely integrated into society. The treaty also includes an Optional Protocol [text] granting individuals the right to petition a committee of experts for violations of the Convention after all national procedures have been exhausted.





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Germany high court rules intelligence may not be withheld from parliament
Matt Glenn on July 31, 2009 8:49 AM ET

[JURIST] Germany's Federal Constitutional Court [official website, in German] ruled [judgment, in German; press release, in German] Thursday that the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) [official website, in German] may not withhold information from parliament without good cause. The case began in 2006 [DW report] when the BND refused to tell Germany's Green Party [party website, in German] whether it was spying on members of parliament. Thursday's ruling requires that the government present a detailed explanation [Tagesschau report, in German] of its reasoning when it refuses to divulge information to parliament. Some members of parliament said they expect currently classified information to become declassified as a result of the the ruling.

Intelligence services of a number of countries have come under government scrutiny in the past month. Earlier this month the Canadian Security Intelligence Service [official website] was criticized [JURIST report] by Canada's Security Intelligence Review Committee [official website] for its role in interrogating a Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee. Also this month, the UK Metropolitan Police Service [official website] announced it was looking into [JURIST report] allegations that British intelligence officers mistreated former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed [JURIST news archive]. The United States House of Representatives Intelligence Committe [official website] announced earlier this month that it would open a formal investigation [JURIST report] into a plan to assassinate al Qaeda members that the Central Intelligence Committee (CIA) [official website] failed to disclose to Congress.






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UK Law Lords order clarification of assisted suicide law during final session
Matt Glenn on July 31, 2009 7:08 AM ET

[JURIST] The UK Law Lords [official website], during their final session Thursday, ordered [judgment text] the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) [official website] to clarify the UK's laws on assisted suicide. The case was brought by Debbie Purdy, a 46-year-old who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Purdy wants her husband to help her to travel to Switzerland to end her life when the disease becomes unbearable. Under the UK's Suicide Act 1961 [text], Purdy's husband could face up to 14 years in prison if he aids her in ending her life, even in Switzerland where physician-assisted suicide is legal. In demanding the DPP clarify the law, the Law Lords reasoned:


Ms Purdy's request for information is to be seen in the light of that background. As has been said, she does not seek an immunity. Instead she wants to be able to make an informed decision as to whether or not to ask for her husband's assistance. She is not willing to expose him to the risk of being prosecuted if he assists her. But the Director has declined to say what factors he will take into consideration in deciding whether or not it is in the public interest to prosecute those who assist people to end their lives in countries where assisted suicide is lawful. This presents her with a dilemma. If the risk of prosecution is sufficiently low, she can wait until the very last moment before she makes the journey. If the risk is too high she will have to make the journey unaided to end her life before she would otherwise wish to do so. Moreover she is not alone in finding herself in this predicament. Statements have been produced showing that others in her situation have chosen to travel without close family members to avoid the risk of their being prosecuted. Others have given up the idea of an assisted suicide altogether and have been left to die what has been described as a distressing and undignified death. It is patently obvious that the issue is not going to go away.

Thursday's ruling overturns a February ruling [text; JURIST report] by the Court of Appeals (Civil Division) [official website]. DPP Keir Starmer announced [press release] that he had already assembled a team to review the law and hoped to implement an interim policy by September, with a permanent policy in place by spring 2010. Thursday's judgments were the last [UK Parliament report] the Law Lords will issue as the UK's highest court. The UK Supreme Court [official website] will open and begin hearing cases in October.

Physician assisted suicide is a highly contested issue in Europe and other parts of the world. Many Britons have reportedly gone to the Dignitas clinic [website, in German] in Switzerland to obtain assisted suicides. Earlier this month, the House of Lords rejected a bill that would would have barred prosecuting those who go abroad to help others commit assisted suicide. Last year, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website] spoke out against laws allowing assisted suicide [BBC report], saying that he would not create laws that "put pressure on people to end their lives." Also last year, Luxembourg came close to passing a bill [JURIST report] to legalize assisted suicide but the measure was not approved by monarch Grand Duke Henri. Henri's veto prompted the Luxembourg Chamber of Deputies to amend the constitution [JURIST report] to eliminate the requirement that the Grand Duke approve of all legislation. In 2006, the House of Lords set aside a bill to legalize assisted suicide following opposition by physician groups [JURIST reports]. Euthanasia was legalized in the Netherlands [BBC report] in 2001, and Belgium followed suit [JURIST report] in 2002.





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Federal judge orders Jawad released from Guantanamo
Andrew Morgan on July 30, 2009 2:20 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Thursday ordered [text, PDF] that Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohammed Jawad [ACLU materials; JURIST news archive] be released prior to August 24. Largely adopting a proposed order [text, PDF] filed by the government on Wednesday, Judge Ellen Huvelle granted Jawad's habeas corpus petition, giving the government seven days to submit a report to Congress detailing any risk to national security presented by the release and providing a 15-day congressional notice period, as required by the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2009 (SAA) [text]. Jonathon Hafetz, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] National Security Project representing Jawad, welcomed the decision, saying:


Judge Huvelle made clear that Mr. Jawad has been illegally detained and the government has no credible evidence to continue holding him. We are pleased that the Justice Department has expressed a commitment to getting him home so that this nightmare of abuse and injustice can finally come to an end.

In a memorandum [text, PDF] supporting Wednesday's proposed order, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] had argued that logistical concern including the time required for congress to allocate the necesssary funds and for a military transport aircraft to be made available, required that Huvelle deny Jawad's request [JURIST report] to be released immediately. Jawad rejected the government's logistical argument, saying that his repatriation to Afghanistan by Afghan or intermediary officials could be planned in 24 hours and "in a manner that does not cost the U.S. Government a dime."

Last week, a judge ordered the suppression [order, PDF; JURIST report] of all out-of-court statements made by Jawad that may have been elicited through torture. Earlier this month, the DOJ chose not to oppose [response, PDF; JURIST report] a motion [text, PDF] filed by Jawad's lawyers to suppress the statements. In May, Jawad's military lawyers asked the Supreme Court of Afghanistan to demand his release [JURIST report] from Guantanamo. Jawad had been charged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] with attempted murder and intentionally causing serious bodily injury for his alleged role in a December 2002 grenade attack in Kabul that injured two US soldiers and an Afghan translator. In May 2008, Jawad moved [JURIST report] to have all charges against him dismissed on the basis of the abuse he claimed to have suffered.





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China officials detain prominent human rights lawyer
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 30, 2009 2:13 PM ET

[JURIST] Chinese human rights group Gongmeng [advocacy website, in Chinese] announced Thursday that its co-founder, prominent human rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong was arrested [press release, in Chinese] at his home early Wednesday morning and has not been heard from since. The group has also been unable to reach a second staff member, Zhuang Lu. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch [advocacy websites] have expressed concern over Xu and Zhuang's detentions, calling for their immediate release. China's recent measures against human rights lawyers are viewed by many as an attempt by the Chinese government to quash dissidence as the 60th anniversary of Communist rule approaches in October.

Zhiyong's arrest comes less than two weeks after Chinese officials from Beijing's Civil Affairs Bureau shut down [press release, in Chinese; JURIST report] Gongmeng's legal research center. Officials confiscated computers and other equipment, telling staff that the center was not properly registered. A lawyer for Gongmeng said that the research center was part of Gongmeng, which is properly registered. A statement from Gongmeng called the Civil Affairs Bureau's actions "illegal." Gongmeng had recently gained notoriety by representing the families of children who were sickened by tainted milk [JURIST news archive]. Earlier this month, the Chinese government suspended the licenses of 53 lawyers [press release, in Chinese] in Beijing, including prominent human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, for failing to pass an assessment or failing to register.






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House committee passes bill to eliminate cocaine sentencing disparity
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 30, 2009 12:26 PM ET

[JURIST] The US House Judiciary Committee [official website] voted 16-9 Wednesday to approve [press release] a bill [HR 3245 materials] that would eliminate sentencing disparities for powder and crack cocaine offenses. The bill, co-sponsored by committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) [official website] would eliminate the distinction between the two forms of the drug under federal law. Conyers said:

We have taken a big step today toward ending the disparity that exists between crack and powder cocaine sentencing. African Americans serve almost as much time in federal prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months), largely due to sentencing laws such as the 100-to-1 crack-powder cocaine disparity. Since 1980, the number of offenders in federal prisons for drug offenses has skyrocketed from less than 5,000 to almost 100,000 in 2009. Currently, drug offenders represent 52% of all federal prison inmates.

The time is long overdue to fix this law that the U.S. Sentencing Commission agrees disproportionately punishes African-Americans. After many years of hard work on this issue, we are one step closer to eliminating this inequity in federal sentencing.
The bill is supported by both the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) [press releases]. It will now go before the full House for consideration.

Crack cocaine sentencing policies have raised issues in the past about a disparate impact on African American offenders. Last month, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] urged sentencing reform [transcript text; JURIST report] for crack cocaine, calling for a review of disparities between sentencing guidelines for powder and crack. In April, other DOJ officials said Congress should eliminate the sentencing disparities [JURIST report] between crimes committed involving crack and powder cocaine during a hearing [materials] of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs [official website]. In April 2008, a study by the USSC reported [study, PDF; JURIST report] that more than 3,000 prison inmates convicted of crack cocaine offenses have had their sentences reduced under an amendment to sentencing guidelines. In 2007, the US Sentencing Commission (USSC) [official website] voted unanimously [JURIST report] to give retroactive effect to an earlier sentencing guideline amendment that reduced crack cocaine penalties [press release]. The amendment was intended to reduce the disparity between powdered cocaine and crack cocaine sentences.





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Israel launches internal criminal probes into Gaza misconduct
Andrew Morgan on July 30, 2009 11:50 AM ET

[JURIST] The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) [official website] on Thursday announced they are conducting criminal investigations into alleged intentional misconduct by their soldiers during December and January's fighting in the Gaza strip. In a report [text, PDF] seeking "to place the Gaza Operation in its proper factual and legal context," the IDF said that they are currently investigating 13 allegations against IDF personnel, including pillaging Palestinian homes, mistreating detainees, and using civilians as human shields. The report also details on-going field investigations that could form the basis for further criminal inquiries, at the discretion of the Military Advocate General [IDF materials]. Reporting the results of an investigation into war crimes allegations [press release] brought by IDF soldiers who participated in Operation Cast Lead [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], the IDF concluded that "that some of the stories were based on hearsay and were not consistent with verifiable facts." The report defended the campaign against criticism [JURIST report] from Amnesty International [advocacy website], UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] and others, saying that "Israel had both a right and an obligation to take military action against Hamas in Gaza to stop Hamas' almost incessant rocket and mortar attacks upon thousands of Israeli civilians and its other acts of terrorism."

The report comes in advance of a report from the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict [official website], expected in August, which has been strongly criticized [JURIST report] by Israel. The mission conducted public hearings [JURIST report] and field investigations into alleged war crimes committed by both IDF personnel and Hamas fighters. The mission began its field operations in Gaza in June, entering through Egypt after Israel announced it would not cooperate [JURIST report] with the investigation because it doubted the mission's objectivity. Both Israel and the US condemned [DOS briefing] a February report [text, PDF; JURIST report] that criticized Israel for failing to take adequate precautions to distinguish between civilians and combatants, calling the conclusion "anything but fair." In April, an internal Israeli military investigation found that war crimes had not been committed [JURIST report] in the offensive despite individual reports by Israeli soldiers [Haaretz report]. Israel has already disputed [JURIST report] a previous report to the UN Human Rights Council [official website] that accused it of human rights violations.






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Federal judge orders release of Kuwaiti Guantanamo detainee
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 30, 2009 11:09 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Wednesday ordered the release [order, PDF] of Kuwaiti Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Khaled Al-Mutairi. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly granted Al-Mutairi's petition for habeas corpus, finding insufficient evidence for his continued detention. The classified memorandum opinion, which sets forth in detail the reasons for Al-Mutairi's release, will be reviewed and released to the public within 48 hours. Al-Mutairi was detained in Pakistan in 2001 after traveling to Afghanistan to do charity work. Al-Mutairi is one of four Kuwaitis who remain at Guantanamo. Habeas proceedings for the other three are scheduled for August and September.

Since the US Supreme Court's June 2008 ruling in Boumediene v. Bush [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that Guantanamo detainees could challenge their imprisonment in federal court through the use of habeas corpus motions, several detainees have been granted release. Last month, Judge Richard Leon ordered the release [JURIST report] of Syrian national Abdulrahim Abdul Razak Al Ginco, finding that he could no longer be considered an "enemy combatant." In May, Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the release [JURIST report] of Yemeni Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, adopting a "substantially supported" standard for reviewing the habeas petitions filed by detainees, which makes no reference to the "enemy combatant" classification upon which the previous standard was based.






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Federal judge rules Pakistan woman alleged to be al Qaeda agent fit to stand trial
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 30, 2009 9:37 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Wednesday ruled [opinion, PDF] that Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman with alleged ties to al Qaeda, is mentally competent to stand trial. Siddiqui was charged [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] in August with assault and the attempted murder of a US officer after allegedly opening fire on agents at the Afghan detention facility where she was being held last July. Judge Richard Berman had entered a not guilty plea and ordered a psychiatric evaluation [JURIST report] of Siddiqui in September. The prosecution had requested the psychiatric evaluation on suspicions that Siddiqui was mentally unfit to stand trial, with defense attorney Elizabeth Fink agreeing that such evaluation was appropriate. Berman set a trial date for October 19.

Siddiqui, who was extradited to the US in August, was shot in the abdomen during the July skirmish leading to her charges. She has since refused proper medical care as well as communication with her legal counsel. Siddiqui's family has insisted that she is not an al Qaeda agent and that the FBI has publicized misleading information about her. They say that Siddiqui, a former student at Brandeis University and MIT in Boston, may have been a victim of extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive] after she vanished from Karachi, Pakistan in 2003. Defense lawyers have alleged that Siddiqui may have been wrongly detained and tortured [Washington Post report] at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Siddiqui was taken into custody in July after she was found loitering outside a provincial governor's compound with suspicious items in her handbag.






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DOJ indicts 32 for alleged Medicare fraud
Devin Montgomery on July 30, 2009 8:44 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Health and Human Services [official websites] on Wednesday announced the indictment [case summaries, PDF; press release] of 32 for allegedly filing $16 million dollars in fraudulent Medicare [official website] claims. According to the indictment, those involved in the scheme submitted claims for arthritis devices and nutrition packages that we either medically unnecessary or were never delivered to patients. The investigation that led to the indictments was conducted by the multi-agency Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) [official website] that was announced [press release] in May. Officials say that reducing Medicare fraud is necessary to the financial health of the program.

Last month, the DOJ announced the indictment [press release; JURIST report] of 53 health care providers and beneficiaries accused of submitting $50 million in fraudulent claims. In October, the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) [official website] implemented regulations [text] denying hospitals payment for treating conditions caused by some common medical errors [HHS backgrounder]. The new regulations were authorized by the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 [text], which directed the HHS to identify reasonably preventable conditions that result in high-cost or high-volume treatment and additional government payments.






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Russia finds largest oil producer broke competition laws
Devin Montgomery on July 30, 2009 7:33 AM ET

[JURIST] Russia's Federal Anti-Monopoly Service [official website] on Wednesday said that Rosneft [corporate website], the country's largest oil producer, broke unfair competition laws [press release, in Russian] by over-inflating wholesale prices of petroleum products. According to the FAS, Rosneft violated Article 10 of the country's Law on the Protection of Competition [text] by artificially decreasing the available supply of gasoline, kerosene, and diesel fuels during the first half of 2009. The FAS said that Rosneft could face fines of between one and 15 percent of the revenues it gained from the illegally marked-up products. A spokesman for Rosneft has said the company plans to appeal the finding [RIA Novosti report]. Oil companies Gazprom Neft and TNK-BP [corporate websites] have also been found to have broken the law.

Earlier this month, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian] urged lawmakers to pass an antitrust bill [text, PDF, in Russian; JURIST report] that would impose criminal penalties for unfair competition. Last year, FAS previously condemned Rosneft for breaking competition laws [JURIST report] during the summer of 2008. The government agency previously demanded that several oil companies cut their oil prices [RIA Novosti report].






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Iran to begin trials of election protesters
Devin Montgomery on July 29, 2009 1:41 PM ET

[JURIST] Iran officials said Wednesday that they plan to begin trials Sunday for 20 of those detained during protests of the controversial reelection [JURIST news archive] of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The protesters have been charged with crimes [PressTV report] ranging from vandalism and organizing riots to sending pictures of the protests to "enemy media." Iranian officials announced earlier this week [JURIST report] that it planned to either press charges against or release most of those held after the riots. It has already released 140 of those detained and closed one prison holding protesters, after Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] and other groups alleged that some protesters were beaten, deprived of sleep, and threatened with torture in an effort to force false confessions [report text; JURIST report].

Earlier this month, opposition leaders called for the release [JURIST report] of those detained for their alleged involvement in the protests. Also this month, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) [advocacy website] reported that the number of deaths that occurred at the protests exceeded government reports [press release; JURIST report]. Human rights groups have viewed the arrests as political repression [JURIST report], saying that Iranian forces are using the protests to "engage in what appears to be a major purge of reform-oriented individuals." Despite the controversy, the country's Guardian Council of the Constitution [official website, in Persian] recently certified the contested results [JURIST report], officially sanctioning the re-election of Ahmadinejad.






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Executions down worldwide: report
Devin Montgomery on July 29, 2009 12:42 PM ET

[JURIST] Anti-death-penalty group Hands Off Cain [advocacy website] said Wednesday that the number of countries with capital punishment, as well as the total number of executions was down in 2008 [report] from the previous year. According to the group, at least 5,727 executions were carried out in the 46 countries that retain the death penalty. It cited the execution of minors, public executions, and executions of those convicted of non-violent crimes as the most egregious cases. It also said that its estimates were likely low, as many executions are kept secret. It said that China continued to account for more executions than any other country. In 2008, the country executed at least 5,000 people, or more than 87 percent of the world's total. China said Wednesday that it plans to reduce [China Daily report] the number of executions it conducts. Hands Off Cain praised jurisdictions that had stopped using the penalty, particularly the state of New Mexico, which banned its use [press release; JURIST report] earlier this year.

In its 2007 report, Hands Off Cain reported that there were 5,851 executions and 51 countries with the death penalty. That represented an increase in executions, but a decrease in the number of countries with executions from the previous year [JURIST report]. Countries around the world also continue to debate details of the penalty, with the US ending a de facto national moratorium [JURIST report] on the death penalty last year when the US Supreme Court ruled in Baze v. Rees [JURIST report] that the three-drug lethal injection sequence [DPIC backgrounder] used in most states does not violate the Constitution. Recently, both China and India have contemplated switching to lethal injections, and Iran has stayed the executions [JURIST reports] of some convicted as minors.






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Ireland to take 2 Guantanamo detainees
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 29, 2009 11:33 AM ET

[JURIST] Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern [official profile] announced Wednesday that Ireland will accept two detainees [press release] being released from the US prison facility at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. The detainees will not be admitted as refugees, but rather with permanent residency rights [Guardian report], allowing them to work and move freely. Ahern said:


During my time as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I was the first EU Minister to call for the closure of the detention facility. The Government has consistently called for its closure since then. In making this decision I am conscious of the intention of the United States to close the centre at Guantanamo Bay, in part by transferring detainees, no longer regarded as posing a threat to security but who cannot return to their own countries, to other countries willing to accept them.

No timetable has been established for the transfer of the detainees, believed to be Uzbek nationals, but a transfer is expected within the next several months.

Earlier this month, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende [official profile] said that the Netherlands would be willing to consider [JURIST report] accepting Guantanamo Bay detainees, despite earlier statements to the contrary. Last month, Council of Europe (COE) [official website] Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg [official profile] urged [JURIST report] all member states to welcome certain released Guantanamo Bay detainees. A week earlier, the Council of the European Union [official website] agreed [JURIST report], which set forth the terms of accepting detainees in a way that would minimize any danger posed to other member states. In March, US officials met with leaders from the EU to discuss plans [JURIST report] to transfer detainees to European countries. Many countries have indicated their openness to accepting detainees, including Tunisia, Lithuania, and Portugal [JURIST reports]. Other states have expressed reservations about accepting detainees, including Poland and Spain [JURIST reports].





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Federal appeals court revives suit over Iran assassination
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 29, 2009 10:27 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that a lawsuit against Iran over the 1984 assassination of former chief of the Iranian armed forces Gholam Oveissi in France by Hezbollah [JURIST news archive] may proceed. The suit was brought by Oveissi's grandson, who alleged that the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS) funded and directed Hezbollah. The US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] found [opinion, PDF] that Iran and MOIS were liable for Oveissi's murder, but rejected the plaintiff's claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death, applying California law, which barred the claim, because the plaintiff was born in California citizen. The appeals court reversed the lower court decision, finding that French law should apply because the assassination took place in France:


We have no doubt that the United States has a strong interest in applying its domestic law to terrorist attacks on its nationals, especially when ... the attacks are "by reason of their nationality." But Gholam Oveissi was not an American national; nor has the plaintiff suggested that the defendants knew Oveissi had an American grandchild or that the United States or its nationals were in any other way the object of the attack. To the contrary, plaintiff's counsel conceded at oral argument that there is no evidence that Oveissi's assassination was intended to affect the United States. Moreover, the plaintiff's international terrorism expert testified that assassinations like this one "were intended to silence the Iranian regime's critics and to deter French intervention in Lebanon." Hence, if any country was the object of the attack, it was France. Accordingly, all of the relevant choice-of-law factors point to the application of French law to the plaintiff's claims.

The court remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings.

Oveissi served as chief of the Iranian armed forces under the Shah until the government was deposed by revolutionaries in 1979. Oveissi and his family fled to the US and then to France. His grandson was born during their short stay in California. Oveissi was assassinated in Paris in 1984 by Hezbollah, operating as Islamic Jihad.





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Jawad lawyers call for release citing Afghanistan support for repatriation
Devin Montgomery on July 29, 2009 10:23 AM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohammed Jawad [ACLU materials; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday called on the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] to sign off on the release [filing, PDF] of their client, claiming Afghanistan is ready to repatriate him. The lawyers say that prosecutors in the case have admitted that they do not have military justification [filing, PDF] to hold Jawad, but have cited the emergence of new evidence and logistical delays as reasons that the court should continue to hold him. According to the filing, government lawyers have said that the court should continue to hold Jawad as he may face a criminal investigation [JURIST report], and that there is a mandatory 15-day waiting period before government funds could be expended for his release. Dismissing both arguments, lawyers for Jawad said that the government has had plenty of time to compile evidence against him, and that Afghan officials have committed to covering all costs for his repatriation to the country:

Respondents recommend that the Court take two "considerations" into account when fashioning its relief: first, that the Attorney General has initiated a criminal investigation against Mr. Jawad based on evidence that was "not previously available for inclusion in the record," and second, that logistical considerations and financial constraints will require a period of "several weeks" to resolve. These "considerations" are nonsensical and the Court should disregard them. The insinuation that the evidence furnishing the basis for criminal prosecution is some fresh revelation that was discovered too recently to be included in the record is preposterous. As the dates of the reports in Respondents' Attachment A indicate, the Government has had possession of this evidence for several months...

[R]espondents can easily arrange for Mr. Jawad's repatriation in a manner that does not cost the U.S. Government a dime. All that is required of the United States is to allow a delegation from Afghanistan or from a neutral intermediary such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to fly to Guantanamo and pick him up, something that can easily be arranged in 24 hours or less. [citations omitted]
The judge in the case has scheduled a Thursday hearing [order, PDF] to consider the prosecution's justification for continuing to hold Jawad.

Last week, a judge ordered the suppression [order, PDF; JURIST report] of all out-of-court statements made by Jawad that may have been elicited through torture. Earlier this month, the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] chose not to oppose [response, PDF; JURIST report] a motion to suppress [text, PDF] the statements filed by Jawad's lawyers. In May, Jawad's military lawyers asked the Supreme Court of Afghanistan to demand his release [JURIST report] from Guantanamo. Jawad had been charged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] with attempted murder and intentionally causing serious bodily injury for his alleged role in a December 2002 grenade attack in Kabul that injured two US soldiers and an Afghan translator. In May 2008, Jawad moved [JURIST report] to have all charges against him dismissed on the basis of the abuse he claimed to have suffered.





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Parmalat and Bank of America reach $100 million settlement
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 29, 2009 9:52 AM ET

[JURIST] Bank of America (BOA) [corporate website] announced Tuesday that it has reached a settlement [press release] with Parmalat SpA [corporate website; JURIST news archive] in litigation stemming from the 2003 collapse of the Italian dairy giant. Under the terms of the settlement, BOA will pay Pamalat USD $100 million, which includes both cash and non-cash components. The settlement resolves a $10 million lawsuit filed by Parmalat against BOA in 2004 and a counterclaim [JURIST reports] filed by BOA, alleging the company engaged in fraud and is maliciously suing the bank to shift blame. The two companies filed a joint motion to stay proceedings [text, PDF], and further details of the settlement will become available once it has been filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website].

In December, an Italian court in Milan sentenced [JURIST report] Parmalat founder Calisto Tanzi [NNDB profile] to 10 years in prison for his role in the company's collapse of the Italian dairy giant. Tanzi was the first executive to be sentenced in connection with the €14 billion fraud scheme in 2003 that bankrupted the company. He was convicted of fraudulent bankruptcy and criminal association for allegedly concealing the company's debt. Seven other defendants were acquitted [Corriere Della Sera report, in Italian], including three former BOA employees and the former head of Parmalat Venezuela. An eighth corporate defendant, former Parmalat auditor Italaudit, was fined €240,000 and had €455,000 confiscated. Tanzi was indicted [JURIST report] along with approximately 20 other executives in July 2007. Parmalat filed for insolvency in December 2003 after discovering accounting discrepancies totaling nearly $5 billion in debt.






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House committee approves bill to regulate executive compensation
Devin Montgomery on July 29, 2009 9:20 AM ET

[JURIST] The US House Committee on Financial Services [official website] on Tuesday approved [press release] the Corporate and Financial Institution Compensation Fairness Act [HR 3269 text, PDF], which would restrict the way in which executives for publicly-traded companies can be compensated. Committee members say the bill would discourage executive compensation packages that emphasize short-term gains over long-term stability, which they say helped to cause the country's recent financial collapse. The bill includes a so-called "say-on-pay" provision that would allow shareholders an advisory vote on compensation. It would also require the disclosure of packages that include performance-based incentives and allow regulators to prohibit certain packages that are considered particularly "high risk." It does not provide a monetary cap on compensation. The entire House of Representatives [official website] is expected to discuss the bill on Friday.

The US has already imposed more stringent rules on compensation for executives of companies that received financial assistance from the government following the collapse. In April, the House approved [JURIST report] a bill [HR 1664 materials] that allows the Treasury Department [official website] to ban certain types of compensation at companies which receive federal bailout money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) [JURIST report]. Earlier that month, it passed [JURIST report] legislation [HR 1586 text, PDF] that would tax bonuses given to employees of companies that received money from government stimulus programs at 90 percent. In February, President Barack Obama [official profile] placed a $500,000 cap on executive compensation [WH press release; JURIST report] for companies receiving "exceptional assistance" from the federal government.






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Recording industry music downloading trial begins
Brian Jackson on July 29, 2009 7:39 AM ET

[JURIST] The substantive portion of the civil trial of Boston University graduate student Joel Tenenbaum [defense website], accused of illegally downloading seven songs [complaint, PDF], began in Boston on Tuesday. On Monday, jury selection [Boston Globe report] was completed, and, in a significant setback for the defense team, led by Harvard professor Charles Nesson [academic profile], Judge Nancy Gertner of the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts [official website], rejected [NECN report] Tenenbaum's proposed fair use [backgrounder] defense. The ruling was crucial, as Tenenbaum has admitted to downloading the songs, and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) [organization website] has possession of his computer hard drive. If found liable, Tenenbaum could face a fine of $80,000 per song, similar to that levied against Jammie Thomas-Rasset in a similar file-sharing case last month [JURIST report].

The suit against Tenenbaum, brought by four record companies including Sony BMG and Warner Brothers [corporate websites], may be the last to be brought to trial, as the RIAA in December decided to discontinue pursuing [JURIST report] those accused of illegal file-sharing in court. The RIAA has indicated that it will work with internet service providers to identify and then deny service to those who infringe copyrights. The RIAA has also sent letters [press release] to thousands of individuals with an offer to settle infringement claims out of court.






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US immigration detention centers violate rights: advocacy group
Devin Montgomery on July 28, 2009 3:15 PM ET

[JURIST] US detention centers for illegal immigrants have failed to meet basic standards [press release] for the treatment of those held at the facilities, according to a report [text, PDF] released Tuesday by the National Immigration Law Center [advocacy website] and two other groups. The groups said that immigrants being held in the US are often denied adequate visitation, telephone, recreation, legal information access, and grievance rights. It also said that the institutions failed to follow standards for detainee transfer, holding, and discipline procedures. The groups said that by denying immigrants these rights, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website] agency has failed to observe rules set out in its Detention Management Control Program Manual [text]:


There is no question that the nation's immigrant detention system is broken to its core. The findings in this report, as well as those recently documented by various government and independent agencies, reveal pervasive and extreme violations of the government's own detention standards as well as fundamental violations of basic human rights and notions of dignity. Simply by making detention standards enforceable and putting resources into enforcing them, both Congress and the administration could take concrete steps to ensure that no immigrant in the custody of the federal government is held in a facility that cannot or refuses to comply with these minimum requirements. More fundamentally, given the documented abuses in the nation's immigrant detention system, the federal government should halt the system's further expansion and make increased use of humane alternatives to detention.

The group called on the government to institute standards for the treatment of immigrants that have the force of law, to apply these standards to not only facilities operated by ICE but also those under the control of other agencies, and to increase mechanisms for internal reviews and transparency.

Since its creation in 2003, ICE has been criticized for many of the methods it uses to capture and detain illegal immigrants. Earlier this month, the Immigration Justice Clinic [academic website] at the Cardozo School of Law released a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] saying that immigration agents have committed numerous constitutional violations during raids on immigrants' homes. In February, the clinic reported that ICE documents [text, PDF] obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [5 USC § 552 text; JURIST news archive] show that Bush administration immigration enforcement tactics were both overly-aggressive and ineffective [JURIST report]. Earlier this month, the US Department of Homeland Security [official website] announced changes to immigration policies [press release; JURIST report] for state and local agencies. The new policies create uniform standards for local agencies that will require them to pursue all criminal charges leading to an immigrant's arrest prior to initiating removal proceedings.





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Rights group urges revision of Nicaragua absolute abortion ban
Devin Montgomery on July 28, 2009 2:11 PM ET

[JURIST] Amnesty International [advocacy website] on Monday called on Nicaragua to end its total ban on abortions [report, PDF; press release], saying that the lack of an exception for the mother's health has caused numerous deaths. AI also called for the country to eliminate severe criminal punishments for those who seek or perform abortions, saying that the penalties would often prevent women from receiving even non-abortion medical care. It also called for an exception allowing abortions in the cases of rape or incest. The group said that ban forces obstetricians to choose between medically necessary procedures and the law, and that it violates the UN Convention Against Torture, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [texts] and other treaties signed by the country:


Amnesty International considers the complete ban on abortion to be a serious breach of Nicaragua’s obligations to protect, respect and fulfil the human rights of women and girls both under its own Constitution and international treaties to which it is a party. The revision of the penal code is a retrogressive measure under international law and places Nicaragua at odds with proven public health policy.

Laws which have serious implications for the right to health and life of women and girls should be based on medical evidence and public health experience. It is clear that these laws are not. Women human rights defenders have been subjected to legal harassment and accused of the public defence of a crime (apología del delito) for campaigning for therapeutic abortion. This legal harassment has caused some fear on the part of others, such as doctors and nurses, and discouraged them from becoming too actively involved in campaigning on the issue. This has further stifled informed public debate and discussion around the implications of the law.

The absolute ban on abortions ban was first passed in 2006, when it was signed into law after being passed [JURIST reports] by the country's parliament. Abortion has long been illegal in Nicaragua, but the law eliminated a longstanding exception for the health of the mother.





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Senate committee recommends Sotomayor for Supreme Court
Devin Montgomery on July 28, 2009 1:02 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] on Tuesday voted 13-6 to recommend the confirmation [hearing materials] of Sonia Sotomayor [WH profile; JURIST news archive] for the Supreme Court [official website]. All 12 Democrats on the committee and one Republican voted in favor of the recommendation. In a statement [text] praising Sotomayor, committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] applauded her experience and dismissed allegations of prejudice:

Judge Sotomayor is well qualified; one need look no further than her experience, ability, temperament and judgment. The President nominated a person with more Federal judicial experience than any nominee in the last 100 years. He nominated someone with Federal trial judge experience and someone who was a prosecutor.

As her record and her testimony before the Committee reinforced, she is a restrained, fair and impartial judge who applies the law to the facts to decide cases. Ironically, the few decisions for which she has been criticized are cases in which she did not reach out to change the law or defy judicial precedent – in other words, cases in which she refused to "make law" from the bench.
In his statement [text], Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) [official website] explained his vote against Sotomayor, saying he still thought she brought bias and a judicial philosophy he opposed to the court:
Let me emphasize that I like Judge Sotomayor and believe she is a good person. I would like to be able to support her nomination. I believe, however, that a nominee’s approach to judging is more important than her resume, especially on the Supreme Court where Justices operate with the fewest constraints. Each nominee comes to the Senate with her own record, and it is that record that we must examine for clues about her judicial philosophy. Judge Sotomayor’s speeches and articles outline a troubling judicial philosophy which her appeals court cases, hearing testimony, and answers to post-hearing written questions do not neutralize.
The full Senate is scheduled to debate Sotomayor's nomination next week.

Support for Sotomayor in the Senate has approximated party lines with Jeff Sessions (R-AL) [official website] saying he would vote against her [JURIST report] on Monday. Last week, the committee delayed the vote [JURIST report] to send her nomination for consideration by the full Senate. Earlier this month, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary [association website] gave Sotomayor a unanimous "well-qualified" rating [letter, PDF; JURIST report]. In May, Sessions said that he did not anticipate a filibuster [JURIST report] against Sotomayor's nomination. Obama nominated Sotomayor in May to replace retiring [JURIST reports] Justice David Souter [official profile, PDF; JURIST news archive].





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Hollywood companies file suit against Pirate Bay file-sharing site
Christian Ehret on July 28, 2009 11:32 AM ET

[JURIST] Several Hollywood production companies filed suit Monday in Sweden against the operators of the file-sharing site The Pirate Bay [website], seeking an injunction. The US companies, including Disney, Universal, and Columbia Pictures, filed a writ to sue [The Local report] in the Stockholm District Court, requesting that the court order the owners to cease and desist the operation of their BitTorrent [backgrounder] website. In April, the website operators were sentenced to one year in prison for abetting copyright infringement [judgment, PDF, in Swedish; JURIST report]. Moniique Wadsted, who is representing the film companies, characterized the defendant's disregard for their April conviction as "unusual" and stated that the companies are not currently seeking any fines. Global Gaming Factory (GGF) [corporate website] is in the process of purchasing the website to operate it in a way that conforms with the law, which, according to Wadsted, is welcomed by the film companies. The Pirate Bay posts complaints and their responses on the website and maintains that no torrent files will ever be removed [materials]. Dutch anti-piracy group Bescherming Rechten Entertainment Industrie Nederland (BREIN) also recently filed suit against the website on behalf of copyright owners although The Pirate Bay responded with a defamation lawsuit [press release] against BREIN for criminal accusations made during a press conference.

Last week, the French National Assembly [official website] voted to delay a vote [JURIST report] on a new version of a controversial Internet piracy law. The French law originally subjected copyright violators to suspension of Internet access at the discretion of an administrative authority but the provision was rejected [JURIST report] by the country's Constitutional Council. In April, the Swedish Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED) went into effect, which resulted in a 33 percent decrease [BBC report] in Internet traffic. The law was based on similar legislation [text, PDF] passed by the EU and allows copyright holders to force internet service providers into providing information about users. Before the Swedish law was passed, copyright holders had no recourse [Wired report] in the country aside from reporting the alleged infringement to the police who were often reluctant to pursue the complaints.






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Rights group suing UK over rendition of suspected terrorist
Devin Montgomery on July 28, 2009 11:14 AM ET

[JURIST] Human rights group Reprieve [advocacy website] announced Tuesday that it is suing the British government [filing letter, PDF; press release] over the rendition of Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni [advocacy profile] from Indonesia to Egypt, where it says he was tortured. The group alleges that the UK allowed the US rendition flight of Madni to stop on the British island territory of Diego Garcia [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], despite government claims that the island was not part of the US's rendition program [JURIST news archive]. Reprieve seeks disclosure from both the UK and Diego Garcia governments of all information on Madni's treatment and Deigo Garcia's involvement in US renditions of terrorism suspects. It said the information was necessary for Madni to seek monetary damages from the government for what Reprieve said was the UK's complicity in his abuse.

After being held in Egypt, Madni was transferred to Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] and held there until September 2008 when he was released back to his home country of Pakistan. Shortly after his release, Pakistani Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani [official profile] sought the release [JURIST report] of all Pakistani detainees held at the base, so that the country's courts could handle the detainees. Later that month, a Pakistani delegation was denied access [JURIST report] to detainees held at Guantanamo. Madni does not face any charges in the US or Pakistan.






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Sexual violence being used as weapon in conflict-torn nations: UN SG
Christian Ehret on July 28, 2009 10:22 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] on Monday called for African, Asian and European countries to strengthen prevention and protection measures [UN News Centre report] against the use of sexual violence in armed conflicts. Ban's position was outlined in a report [text, PDF] released earlier this month, which stated that such violence has been systematically used in modern conflicts and is a "direct violation of international humanitarian, human rights and criminal law." The violence, which is primarily against women, is allegedly being used in furtherance of military, political, social, and economic objectives. Ban referred to instances of this problem occurring in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Sudan, Chad, Nepal, and other conflict-torn regions. The report claims that case law from international criminal tribunals for Rwanda (ICTR), the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and Sierra Leone (SCSR) [official websites] allows sexual violence to be considered a crime against humanity if it is part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population. The ICTR has recognized sexual violence as a form of genocide since it is a "step in the process of group destruction." Ban proposed that nations experiencing conflict should adopt measures that ensure punishment for offenders, eliminate amnesties and immunities for perpetrators of such crimes, and address inequalities and discrimination against women.

Earlier this month, the ICTR sentenced former Rwandan Armed Forces Colonel Tharcisse Renzaho [case materials] to life imprisonment [JURIST report] for genocide and crimes against humanity, finding that he encouraged the sexual abuse of women and other crimes during the 1994 Rwandan genocide [BBC backgrounder]. In June, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported that Kenyan troops tortured, raped, and committed other human rights violations [JURIST report] during an operation in the country's northeastern Mandera Triangle region.






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Iran releases 140 detained in post-election violence
Devin Montgomery on July 28, 2009 10:03 AM ET

[JURIST] An Iranian official announced Tuesday the release of approximately 140 people detained during violent protests following the controversial reelection [JURIST news archive] of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] has reported that some arrested protesters were beaten, deprived of sleep, and threatened with torture in an effort to force false confessions [report text; JURIST report]. An official for the country's judiciary has also said that it plans to decide soon whether to release or try approximately 500 detainees that remain in prison after being arrested during the protests. On Monday, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [official website] ordered the closure of the country's Kahrizak prison, in the wake of reported abuses and deaths at the prison.

Earlier this month, opposition leaders called for the release [JURIST report] of those detained for their alleged involvement in the protests. Also this month, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) [advocacy website] reported that the number of deaths that occurred at the protests exceeded government reports [press release; JURIST report]. Human rights groups have viewed the arrests as political repression [JURIST report], saying that Iranian forces are using the protests to "engage in what appears to be a major purge of reform-oriented individuals." Despite the controversy, the country's Guardian Council of the Constitution [official website, in Persian] recently certified the contested results [JURIST report], officially sanctioning the re-election of Ahmadinejad.






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Pfizer finalizes settlement with Nigeria state in drug testing lawsuit
Devin Montgomery on July 28, 2009 9:25 AM ET

[JURIST] Drug maker Pfizer [corporate website] finalized a settlement Monday with the Nigerian state of Kano in a lawsuit over allegedly illegal clinical trials the company conducted in Nigeria in 1996. The Kano government had filed a lawsuit [BBC backgrounder] against Pfizer in 2007, accusing the company of administering meningitis medication to 200 Nigerian children, including 100 with the then-experimental antibiotic Trovan [FDA backgrounder], without the authorization of the government or the consent of the patients' guardians. They also alleged that the testing killed 11 children and incapacitated 181 others, demanding a total of $2.75 billion in damages. Pfizer has consistently denied the allegations [statement of defense, PDF], and has said that the company's actions were both ethical and beneficial [press release]. The drug maker is expected to pay a total of $75 million to settle the claim, and the two sides plan to sign the settlement on Thursday.

Kano and Pfizer reached a tentative agreement in the case in April, after Pfizer expressed hope in October that a settlement could be reached after ongoing negotiations [JURIST reports] in the case. In 2007, a Nigerian court rejected a request by Pfizer [JURIST report] to dismiss the Nigerian government's lawsuit on technical grounds. Also last year, criminal court proceedings against Pfizer were suspended [JURIST report] at the request of prosecutors, who asked for more time to prepare for trial.






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Senate committee to hold hearings on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'
Jay Carmella on July 28, 2009 8:40 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate Armed Services Committee [official website] announced [press release] Monday that it will hold hearings this fall to review the US military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy [10 USC § 654 text; HRC backgrounder]. Under the policy, openly gay servicemen and women are subject to discharge from the US military. Committee member Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) [official website] commented:


This policy is wrong for our national security and wrong for the moral foundation upon which our country was founded. I thank Chairman Levin for agreeing to hold this important hearing. Numerous military leaders are telling us that the times have changed. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is an unfair, outdated measure that violates the civil rights of some of our bravest, most heroic men and women. By repealing this policy, we will increase America's strength - both militarily and morally.

It is estimated that nearly 13,000 servicemen and women have been discharged since the policy's initiation in 1993. Gillibrand estimated [CBS News report] that the US military has spent more than $95 million replacing these individuals.

Last month, the US Supreme Court [official website] denied certiorari [JURIST report] to review the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. In November 2008, more than 100 retired admirals and generals of the US military called for a repeal [JURIST report] of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. In June 2008, he US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld [JURIST report] "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The First Circuit's decision stands in stark contrast to a May 2008 ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held [JURIST report] that a soldier could not be dismissed on the basis of sexual orientation alone.





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Eleventh Circuit denies FedEx employees class certification
Jay Carmella on July 28, 2009 7:41 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] on Monday denied [opinion, PDF] FedEx Corporation [official website] employees suing over compensation the ability to gain class classification. The court's decision affirmed a decision by the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida [official website] that the claims rested too heavily on factual information that was unique to individual members of the suit. The court wrote:


The district court concluded that certification was improper primarily because individualized factual inquiries into whether and how long each employee worked without compensation would swamp any issues that were common to the class. The sole question before this Court is whether the district court abused its discretion in declining to certify the class. We hold that the district court acted within the bounds of its discretion and affirm its decision.

The employees' suit brought claims of breach of contract and unjust enrichment. The employees alleged that FedEx had failed to pay certain non-exempt employees for all work hours worked.

Various FedEx divisions have faced a considerable number of lawsuits from employees in recent years. In 2008, the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that a group of former and current employees met the requirements for filing an age discrimination lawsuit against the company under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) [text]. The unique employment status of the drivers of the Ground and Home Delivery divisions of the company has created considerable backlash. Through various lawsuits [advocacy website] across the country, individuals have attempted to have the courts force FedEx to categorize these individuals as employees rather than independent contractors.





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SEC makes rule banning 'naked' short selling permanent
Devin Montgomery on July 27, 2009 3:55 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] on Monday made permanent [rule, PDF; press release] a temporary ban on the so-called 'naked' short selling of stocks. In a normal short sale, a trader borrows and sells a stock, promising to buy it back at a certain price in the future, but in a "naked" short sale, the trader doesn't actually borrow the stock before selling it. In its release announcing the retention of the rule, the SEC said that allowing the practice often left traders in a position where they could not deliver the stock, which would artificially drive down its value. It said that these so-called "failures to deliver" were down over 75 percent since the implementation of the temporary rule [SEC backgrounder]. The SEC also said that it would seek to increase transparency concerning the legitimate short selling of stocks in an effort to bolster investor confidence.

The announcement comes as the US considers a number of new measures to stabilize markets in light of the recent downturn. Last week, the Obama administration sent Congress draft legislation [materials; JURIST report] that would put the Federal Reserve [official website] in charge of regulating the largest financial firms [text, PDF], having proposed similar changes [JURIST report] in June. In March, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner [official profile] indicated that the Department of the Treasury would propose stronger rules [JURIST report] in response to the current economic crisis. Geithner suggested that the Reserve and Treasury be given broader powers. In February, Geithner emphasized increasing restrictions on financial institutions [JURIST report] receiving government assistance.






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Yemen officials urge stronger gun-control, security laws
Christian Ehret on July 27, 2009 2:42 PM ET

[JURIST] Yemeni officials called on their parliament [official website, in Arabic] Monday to strengthen security and gun-control laws in an effort to end unrest and kidnappings and to improve the country's economy. Citing concerns with national unity, tourism and economic strains, Deputy Prime Minister Rshad al-Alimi urged the parliament [Reuters report] to criminalize unlicensed weapons and the public bearing of arms as well as limit the number of bodyguards allowed and increase penalties for kidnappers and armed attackers. The Yemeni House of Representatives on Monday considered these laws [press release, in Arabic] and others in an effort to improve economic and social development. The discussion of the new laws was prompted by a recent increase in al Qaeda attacks, rebellion by northern Shi'ite Muslims, and kidnappings of Western tourists and workers for government ransom.

Northern rebels have been the cause of much Yemeni unrest. In June, Yemen sentenced [JURIST report] 14 accused Zayidi Shi'ite rebels, among them outspoken Yemeni journalist Abdel Karim al-Khaywani [advocacy profile], for their roles in an ongoing Shi'ite uprising. All but one of those arrested received prison sentences of up to ten years, with the last rebel receiving the death sentence for plotting attacks on Yemeni military bases. Last year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] alleged that Yemeni security forces had unlawfully detained hundreds of individuals [JURIST report] since 2004 as part of its campaign against the rebels, finding that government forces arrested innocent individuals in order to pressure families to surrender and to silence journalists.






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Senator Sessions opposes Sotomayor confirmation
Christian Ehret on July 27, 2009 1:08 PM ET

[JURIST] Ranking Republican on the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Jeff Sessions (R-AL) [official website] opposed the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor [WH profile] on Monday, maintaining that she lacks "deep-rooted convictions" [USA Today editorial] needed to resist judicial activism. Although Sessions conceded that Sotomayor will likely be confirmed, he wrote that liberals "might find it a Pyrrhic victory." Referring to statements made by the nominee before the committee, Sessions claimed that she dismissed her prior statements about the role that personal experience plays in judicial decision-making in an attempt to "rebrand" her previously stated approach. Sessions questioned her testimony, saying:


Why not defend the philosophy she had articulated so carefully over the years? Because the American people overwhelmingly reject the notion that unelected judges should set policy or allow their social, moral, or political views to influence the outcome of cases. Rather, the public wants and expects restrained courts, tethered to the Constitution, and judges who impartially apply the law to the facts. In the end, her testimony served as a repudiation of judicial activism.

Sessions criticized Sotomayor's stance on employment discrimination, eminent domain, and the incorporation of the Second Amendment, saying that her decisions on these issues were "contrary to the Constitution," and "short on analysis."

Sotomayor's confirmation hearing took place earlier this month. Last week, the committee delayed a vote to send her nomination for consideration by the full Senate, rescheduling for July 28. Earlier this month, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary [association website] gave Sotomayor a unanimous "well-qualified" rating [letter, PDF; JURIST report]. In May, Sessions said that he did not anticipate a filibuster [JURIST report] against Sotomayor's nomination. Obama nominated Sotomayor in May to replace retiring [JURIST reports] Justice David Souter [official profile, PDF; JURIST news archive].





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Suu Kyi prosecution delivers closing arguments in Myanmar trial
Christian Ehret on July 27, 2009 11:32 AM ET

[JURIST] Myanmar prosecutors on Monday delivered final arguments in the trial against opposition pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], after being granted additional time to prepare. The Nobel Laureate and National League of Democracy (NLD) [party website] leader faces charges of violating her house arrest for allowing an American to stay after he swam across a lake to visit her. Suu Kyi's lawyer U Nyan Win plans to respond [NYT report] to the prosecution's arguments on Tuesday. No date has been set for the verdict. Also on Monday, Amnesty International [advocacy website] announced Suu Kyi as the 2009 recipient [press release] of their "Ambassador of Conscience" award, marking the 20-year anniversary of her arrest for alleged violations of an anti-subversion law [text]. The award recognizes "exceptional leadership and witness" in the protection and promotion of human rights.

Suu Kyi's trial has elicited condemnation and criticism [JURIST report] from the international community. Following a delay in the proceedings, the trial resumed earlier this month with the testimony of an NLD party member who claimed that the charges were politically motivated. Myanmar officials say they plans to release political prisoners [JURIST report] to allow them to participate in the 2010 general elections although it remains unclear whether Suu Kyi will be among those released.

7/28/09: The verdict is scheduled to be delivered Friday.






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India court convicts three in 2003 Mumbai bombing
Devin Montgomery on July 27, 2009 10:52 AM ET

[JURIST] A special Indian terrorism court on Monday found Ashrat Ansari, Hanif Sayed Anees, and Fehmida Sayed guilty of planning and carrying out a 2003 bomb attack in Mumbai [BBC backgrounder] that killed 52 people. They were convicted [PTI report] of conspiracy, murder, and attempt to murder under the country's 2002 Prevention of Terrorism Act [text] and other laws, and are suspected of belonging to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) [CFR backgrounder] terrorist group. Sentencing for the three is scheduled for August 4, and prosecutors have said they plan to seek the the death penalty.

Mumbai has suffered a number of terrorist attacks allegedly linked to the LeT in recent years, leading the government to consider controversial terrorism laws and institute special courts [JURIST reports] to try suspects. Earlier this month, India announced that it would continue the trial [JURIST report] of a man suspected in a 2008 Mumbai hotels attack [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] that killed more than 100 people despite his earlier admission of guilt [JURIST report]. Also this month, Pakistan began the trial [JURIST report] of five other men with possible ties to the 2008 attack. In 2006, authorities charged 30 people [JURIST report] for their connections to Mumbai train bombings [JURIST news archive] that occurred that year, after a lengthy investigation and the arrest of hundreds [JURIST reports].






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Russia authorities release alleged mob leader wanted by US
Devin Montgomery on July 27, 2009 9:44 AM ET

[JURIST] Russian police on Monday released suspected organized crime leader Semyon Mogilevich [FBI profile] after a court found that prosecutors lacked sufficient evidence to continue holding him. Mogilevich and another man, Vladimir Nekrasov, were arrested [JURIST report] in January 2008. The court ordered their release [RIA Novosti report], citing the length of time that they had already been detained and the relatively minor charges against them. Mogilevich is also wanted in the US [FBI profile] on unrelated charges for allegedly manipulating the stock of YBM Magnex International, and is suspected of involvement in more serious crimes including arms dealing and drug trafficking. The court subjected Mogilevich to a travel ban, and prosecutors have said they plan to re-file charges against him [Reuters report] later in the week.

Mogilevich and two others were indicted [press release, PDF] on US federal charges in 2003. They face 45 counts of racketeering, securities fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering charges. It is unlikely that Mogilevich will ever stand trial on the US charges, as the US and Russia do not have an extradition treaty.






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Microsoft offers 'browser ballot' to resolve European antitrust allegations
Abigail Salisbury on July 27, 2009 8:46 AM ET

[JURIST] Microsoft announced [materials] on Friday that it will offer European consumers an option to select from a list of several Web browsers "in an effort to address competition law issues related to Internet Explorer and interoperability." The European Commission (EC) welcomed [press release] Microsoft's "ballot screen" [Reuters report] proposal, adding that it "will now investigate its practical effectiveness in terms of ensuring genuine consumer choice." Last month, the EC had expressed concern [press release] that merely offering Internet Explorer separately from Windows would not resolve all of the alleged antitrust violations.

Microsoft has faced many legal challenges based on antitrust and unfair competition allegations. In June, a South Korean court ruled [JURIST report] that the corporation violated antitrust laws by packaging software with the Windows operating system, but dismissed requests for damages from two Korean software firms on the grounds that the damages were not sufficiently linked to Microsoft's conduct. In February, Google [corporate website] sought to join the EC's suit against Microsoft, alleging that the bundling of software violated an EC Treaty provision [Article 82 text] that prohibits the abuse of a dominant market position. In 2004, an EC action [materials; JURIST report] required the company to unbundle its media player and to share technical information with competitors and lower its prices, but Microsoft failed to comply with the judgment and the EC assessed a record fine [JURIST report] of €899 million ($1.3 billion). In May 2008, Microsoft filed an appeal [JURIST report] with the European Court of First Instance [official website], seeking to annul the fine.






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Rights groups hold Iran election protests in more than 100 cities worldwide
Ximena Marinero on July 27, 2009 8:37 AM ET

[JURIST] Protesters in more than 100 cities [list] gathered Saturday to show opposition to the alleged Iranian human and civil rights violations which followed the nation's controversial presidential election [JURIST news archive]. The Global Day of Action [official website] was organized by United for Iran, a coalition made up of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Nobel Women's Initiative [advocacy websites] and sought:


1. That the international community uphold the Iranian people’s human rights as a matter of international concern, and that the UN Secretary General should immediately appoint a delegation to travel to Iran to investigate the fate of prisoners as well as disappeared persons;
2. The immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, including journalists, students, and civil society activists;
3. An end to state-sponsored violence, and accountability for crimes committed; and
4. Freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of press as guaranteed by the Iranian constitution and Iran’s obligations under international covenants that it has signed.

Iran has been experiencing political unrest since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] declared his victory in June. Amnesty International estimates [detainee list] that hundreds and possibly thousands of peaceful protesters have been arrested by Iranian authorities. Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch reported [text; JURIST report] that some arrested protesters were beaten, deprived of sleep and threatened with torture in an effort to force false confessions. The number of deaths during post-election protests in Tehran exceeds government reports [press release; JURIST news report], according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) [advocacy website].





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Returning US soldiers' alleged crimes due to combat stress: report
Christian Ehret on July 27, 2009 8:24 AM ET

[JURIST] Crimes committed by US soldiers after returning from Iraq were caused by a lack of discipline combined with combat stress and substance abuse, according to a Colorado Springs Gazette report [text] released Friday. Ten infantry soldiers from a Fort Carson, Colorado military unit have been accused of murder, attempted murder, or manslaughter in the US since returning home from combat. These homicide charges and other crimes committed by Fort Carson soldiers have resulted in a sharp increase in military bookings at the El Paso County jail. The report alleges that, after being deployed to dangerous areas of Iraq, soldiers abandoned their training and were not properly disciplined for their actions. Some soldiers from the unit have reported the use of stun guns during raids, which is considered a war crime and is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions [materials], as well as the arbitrary killings of Iraqi civilians in what one called a "free-for-all." According to the report, emotional problems arising out of combat stress were ignored after some of the accused soldiers returned home. Although the Fort Carson soldiers were screened for post-traumatic stress disorder upon returning, many soldiers claimed that they lied about their experiences to "get it over with."

The news report follows the recent release of an Army report [text, PDF] on the Fort Carson homicides. The report found that stress, mental health issues, and substance abuse of returned soldiers were not properly addressed. The official report states that the accused soldiers were at risk for violent behavior due to several risk factors including a large number of deaths in their unit and extensive exposure to combat. However, the report concluded that the presence of such risk factors alone "[does] not entirely explain the clustering of crime" in the unit. In May, a UN report [text, PDF; JURIST report] found that the US failed to adequately prevent and prosecute war crimes and other disciplinary problems during its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report pointed to "chronic and deplorable accountability failures" that resulted in alleged unlawful killings by US forces. The UN also found that senior officers were not held responsible for the actions of lower-ranking soldiers under the doctrine of command responsibility.






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Egypt to try 26 Hezbollah-linked terror suspects in special state security court
Tere Miller-Sporrer on July 26, 2009 2:07 PM ET

[JURIST] Twenty-six men suspected both of plotting numerous attacks in Egypt [government website; JURIST news archive] and of having links to Hezbollah [JURIST news archive] were transferred Sunday to an emergency state court that deals specifically with terrorism and state security. Four of the men remain at large, among them group leader Mohammed Qubyan. In April, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah claimed that one of those detained, Mohammed Yusef Mansur, was a Hezbollah agent tasked with smuggling weapons into Palestine [Middle East Online report].

In February, Egypt made notable use of its emergency laws [EOHR backgrounder] and courts when it sentenced opposition leader Magdy Ahmed Hussein to two years in prison following a trial carried out under the laws that have been in effect since the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and were renewed [JURIST report] in May 2008. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] sharply criticized the renewal [JURIST report], saying the move showed "contempt for the rule of law." Egypt has used security courts extensively against members of the Muslim Brotherhood [party website; JURIST news archive].






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Congo prison worst in Africa: UN official
Tere Miller-Sporrer on July 26, 2009 1:46 PM ET

[JURIST] UN Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations [official website] Dmitry Titov [official profile] has called conditions in a Goma, Congo prison "inhumane" and said that it is the worst in Africa. Although built for 150 prisoners, the facility now holds 850. In a June riot the prisoners are reported to have raped some 20 women [EU press release]. Titov was on a working visit [MONUC press release] to the DRC to evaluate its prison system.

The current conflict in the DR Congo has been one of the most deadly in the world, claiming an estimated 45,000 lives [Guardian report] per month. Several prominent figures in the conflict - including ex-militia leaders Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and Jean Pierre Bemba - are currently facing prosecutions by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for atrocities.






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Gaza female lawyers ordered to wear religious headscarves in court
Ximena Marinero on July 26, 2009 1:00 PM ET

[JURIST] Chief Justice of the High Court of Justice in Gaza [JURIST news archive] Abdul Ra'ouf al-Halabi Sunday announced an order requiring female lawyers to wear traditional religious robes and headscarves or hijab [JURIST news archive] for any court appearances. The order, originally issued July 9, also establishes new guidelines for male lawyers. The decision has been criticized for establishing different courtroom garb rules for Palestinian areas in Gaza and the West Bank. In a statement Sunday the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights [advocacy website] said [press release] the decision also "violates the constitution and the law and undermines women's rights and personal freedoms ensured by the constitution," adding that the the Higher Justice Council in Hamas-controlled Gaza is unconstitutional because "its mandate derogates from the authorities of the Higher Judicial Council, which had already been established in accordance with the constitution." The decision will take effect on September 1 and coincides [Haaretz report] with a series of other Muslim religious laws that have been approved recently in Gaza.

Two parallel governments have been established in the territory of the Palestinian National Authority as a result of infighting between Hamas [JURIST news archive; CFR backgrounder] the secular Fatah Movement [BBC backgrounder], which currently holds the West Bank. Hamas began to replace [JURIST report] the Gaza courts in 2007 when the judiciary in the strip stopped cooperating with the Hamas government on orders from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas, which was elected as the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority in 2006, has refused to distance itself from terrorism or recognize Israel's right to exist as a nation-state, resulting in increased ostracism by the United States, the European Union, and Israel.






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US to sign UN disability rights treaty: Obama
Ximena Marinero on July 25, 2009 9:48 PM ET

[JURIST] President Barack Obama announced Friday that the United States will sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities [official website; JURIST news archive]. At a celebration commemorating the 19th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 [DOJ materials], Obama said that US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice [official profile] has been instructed to sign the convention next week. After the United States signs the convention, it must still be ratified [Senate materials] by a two-thirds majority in the Senate. The US move was met with widespread approval [HRW news release; IDRM press release] by international and human rights organizations, as the US Bush administration declined to sign the convention [JURIST report] at the time it was adopted, citing what it characterized as sufficient protective laws already in effect in the country.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities entered into force [JURIST report] in May 2008, and has been signed by 140 members and ratified by 60. The landmark treaty protects the 650 million persons living with disabilities worldwide [UN fact sheet] and holds that all disabled people should be treated as full-fledged citizens and completely integrated into society. The treaty also includes an Optional Protocol [Protocol text] granting individuals the right to petition a committee of experts for violations of the Convention after all national procedures have been exhausted.






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Obama administration may bring more Guantanamo detainees to US
Ximena Marinero on July 25, 2009 8:43 AM ET

[JURIST] The Obama administration is considering transferring more Guantanamo Bay detainees to the US, according to testimony [schedule] Friday by US Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Charles Johnson [official profile] to the the House Armed Services Committee [official website]. Some detainees could be transferred for long-term incarceration and others for prosecution, but none would be released domestically. Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani [JURIST news archive] was transferred [JURIST report] to New York in June to face criminal charges for alleged involvement in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya which killed 224 people. In a related development Friday, the Department of Justice petitioned the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official websites] for permission to continue to detain Mohammed Jawad [ACLU materials; JURIST news archive] while the department determines if he can be tried in a US-based federal court on criminal charges.

Johnson and Assistant Attorney General for National Security David Kris [official profile] urged Congress to pass proposed reforms to the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [text, PDF; JURIST news archive] and detainee policy. Both men faced criticism for failing to deliver a detailed plan on closing the Guantanamo Bay detainee facilities. Earlier this week their taskforce delayed release [JURIST news report] of a report on the matter after failing to meet a six-month reporting deadline, and instead presented an interim report [text, PDF; prosecution protocol, PDF].






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ICTY convicts Seselj of contempt for revealing witness identities
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 24, 2009 3:25 PM ET

[JURIST] The trial chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Friday convicted [press release; judgment summary, PDF] Serbian nationalist Volislav Seselj [ICTY materials; JURIST news archive] of contempt and sentenced him to 15 months in prison for authoring a book revealing pertinent information about several key witnesses. Seselj, leader of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, is currently on trial in the ICTY, charged [indictment, PDF] with three counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of war crimes. He is accused of establishing rogue paramilitary units affiliated with the SRS, which are believed to have massacred and otherwise persecuted Croats and other non-Serbs during the Balkan conflict. Seselj was charged with contempt [JURIST report] in January. Seselj's criminal trial was indefinitely suspended [JURIST report] in February over concerns of witness intimidation.

Volislav Seselj photo courtesy ICTY

This is the second contempt charge brought in the ICTY's trial of Seselj. In September, key witness Ljubisa Petkovic [ICTY backgrounder, PDF] was found guilty of contempt [JURIST report] for refusing to testify against Seselj. Last August, the ICTY suspended [JURIST report] Seselj's trial pending an appellate ruling on whether the defendant could represent himself. The ICTY had previously stripped Seselj of his right to defend himself after he failed to appear in court, despite an earlier appeals court ruling that he could represent himself [JURIST reports] provided he did not engage in courtroom behavior that "substantially obstruct[ed] the proper and expeditious proceedings in his case."





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Taiwan court to deliver ex-president Chen verdict in September
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 24, 2009 2:23 PM ET

[JURIST] The Taipei District court said Friday that a verdict in the corruption cases against former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] will be delivered on September 11. Presiding judge Tsai Shou-hsum said that the trial had entered its final stages [Xinhua report] and would conclude July 28. Tsai said the verdict for all four charges would be delivered at the same time [China Post report]. Chen, who was indicted [JURIST report] in December, faces possible life in prison on charges of embezzlement, receiving bribes, forgery, and money laundering. Chen dismissed his defense lawyers in May and announced he would not call any witnesses in protest of what he sees as a politically motivated prosecution.

Chen has long argued that current Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou [official website; JURIST news archive] is using Chen's trial to distance himself from Chen's anti-China views. Chen called the proceedings against him "political persecution" when his trial began [JURIST report] in March. Chen has staged three 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 reports] 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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Suu Kyi defense lawyers present closing arguments
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 24, 2009 1:00 PM ET

[JURIST] Defense lawyers for Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] presented their closing arguments Friday with the prosecution expected to offer its closing arguments Monday. Suu Kyi was reportedly disappointed [Al Jazeera report] with the court's decision to allow the prosecution more time to prepare their closing, as it is customary for both parties to give their closing arguments on the same day. Suu Kyi faces charges of violating the terms of her house arrest for allowing an American to stay with her after he swam across a lake to visit. Her lawyers did not know when a verdict [Reuters report] could be expected.

Earlier this month, Suu Kyi's trial resumed after a delay [JURIST reports] with the testimony of Khin Moe Moe, a member of Suu Kyi's National League of Democracy (NLD) [party website] party, who claimed the charges were politically motivated. Last month, a Myanmar court sentenced [JURIST report] two members of the NLD to 18 months in prison after leading prayers for Suu Kyi's release. Her arrest was controversial and highly criticized [JURIST report] by the international community. She has spent 12 of the past 18 years in prison or under house arrest for alleged violations of an anti-subversion law [text, PDF]. News of Suu Kyi's trial has been met with criticism from numerous agencies and governments around the world. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] has said the charges [HRW report] against Suu Kyi are "trumped up."






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Spain police arrest Argentina 'Dirty War' fugitive accused of torture
Abigail Salisbury on July 24, 2009 11:38 AM ET

[JURIST] Spanish police announced Friday that they have arrested Jorge Alberto Soza, wanted in his home country of Argentina on torture charges stemming from his service in the police force during the country's military dictatorship. From 1976 to 1983, a period known as the "Dirty War" [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive], an estimated 20,000-30,000 people were forcibly kidnapped or "disappeared" in a campaign against suspected dissidents. The elderly Soza, who had been living in Spain for nearly two decades, was arrested [El Pais report, in Spanish] earlier this month after an Argentine court filed an arrest warrant an extradition request with the Spanish Foreign Ministry [official website, in Spanish]. Soza is being held in Spain while he awaits extradition to Argentina.

In February, Argentine defense officials announced the implementation of a new law [JURIST report] aimed at increasing civilian control over the military and its justice system. The law was seen by many as a response to the return of democracy and the rise of independent political institutions following the widespread human rights violations of the Dirty War era. In February, an Argentine court suspended its decision to release up to 20 suspects who are accused of committing human rights violations during the Dirty War after releasing the men pending bail [JURIST report]. In August, a court convicted former general Luciano Benjamin Mendendez and another former general [JURIST reports] and sentenced them to life terms for kidnapping, torturing, and murdering Peronist politician Guillermo Vargas Aignasse in 1976 during the coup. Last July, an Argentine court sentenced Menendez and four others to life in prison for the 1977 kidnapping, torture, and killing of four political dissidents during the Dirty War. In March 2008, Argentine politician and former police chief Luis Abelardo Patti was arrested for crimes allegedly committed during the period. In 2005, Argentina's Supreme Court struck down amnesty laws [JURIST report] adopted in the 1980s to protect potential defendants, prompting the government to reopen hundreds of human rights cases.






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Federal appeals court orders Interior Department to account in Indian Trust case
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 24, 2009 10:38 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that the US Department of the Interior (DOI) [official website] must provide an accounting in a 13-year class action lawsuit [plaintiffs' website; JURIST news archive] concerning the US government's alleged mismanagement of trust funds [DOI materials] for a group of some 500,000 American Indians. Both parties appealed two separate rulings from the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website]. In January 2008, district judge James Robertson ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the DOI "unreasonably delayed" the accounting of billions of dollars of American Indian money, holding that it was impossible for the DOI or for Congress to remedy the breach. In August 2008, Robertson ordered [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] the federal government to pay $455.6 million in restitution, despite plaintiffs' claims that they were owed $58 billion. The DC Circuit vacated both orders and remanded for further proceedings, holding, "that while the district court's analysis of duty and breach are generally correct, the court erred in freeing the Department of the Interior from its burden to make an accounting." Lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell said that Friday's ruling shows that the government "cannot simply throw up its hands and stop the accounting. She added, "[w]e will continue to seek justice, no matter how long that takes. Tens of thousands of beneficiaries have died while this case has been pending without ever receiving an accounting of their trust assets."

Congress established the Indian Trust in 1887 to hold proceeds from government-arranged leases of Indian lands. In an incendiary opinion [text, PDF] in 2005, district judge Royce Lamberth required the DOI to apologize to the plaintiffs [JURIST report] for its handling of the Trust, and to admit that information being provided to them regarding outstanding lost royalties on earnings from Indian land may be unreliable. In 2006, the DC Circuit removed Lamberth [JURIST report] from the case and reassigned it to Robertson. In March 2007, the plaintiffs rejected [JURIST report] a $7 billion settlement proposal from the US government.






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Senate Banking Committee urged to increase regulatory oversight
Abigail Salisbury on July 24, 2009 10:15 AM ET

[JURIST] US financial regulators and scholars advised [hearing materials; recorded video] the Senate Banking Committee [official website] on Thursday that "safety and soundness" can be restored to the financial system through increased regulatory oversight, but did not agree on the form that oversight should take. In his opening statement [text], committee Chair Christopher Dodd (D-CT) [official website] expressed doubt about the Obama administration's plan to control systemic risk to the economy by charging a Federal Reserve [official website] advisory panel with overseeing certain financial companies:

The Fed hasn't done a perfect job, to put it mildly, with the responsibilities it already has. This new authority could compromise the independence the Fed needs to carry out effective monetary policy. Additionally, systemic risk regulation involves too broad a range of issues for any one regulator to oversee.
Carnegie Mellon University Professor Allan Meltzer [academic profile] commented [transcript, PDF]:
[E]ffective regulation should await evidence and conclusions about the causes of the recent crisis...[R]eform should start by increasing a banker's responsibility for losses. The administration's proposal does the opposite by making the Federal Reserve responsible for systemic risk.
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] Chair Mary Schapiro [official profile] advocated [transcript, PDF] for increased regulation, transparency, and enforcement [JURIST report]:
[M]ajor institutions engage in enormous, virtually unregulated trading in synthetic versions of other, often regulated financial products. We can do much to reduce systemic risk if we close these gaps and ensure that similar products are regulated similarly.
Earlier this week, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit remanded for reconsideration [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] a rule [Rule 151] intended to fill such gaps in the "existing patchwork of state insurance laws." Last week, Chicago Board Options Exchange [corporate website] CEO William Brodsky appeared before the US House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services to call for the merger [testimony, PDF; JURIST report] of the SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) [official website]. Brodsky agreed with the Obama administration's position that a single authority should be assigned to supervise firms that potentially pose a risk to financial stability. He asserted that failing to modernize the current regulatory system has resulted in unregulated gaps, market congestion, and a lack of regulatory perspective. Last year, then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. unveiled a plan [JURIST report] to merge the SEC and CFTC to overhaul the nation's financial regulatory system.





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France Senate narrowly passes Sunday work bill
Benjamin Hackman on July 24, 2009 9:28 AM ET

[JURIST] The French Senate [official website, in French] on Thursday approved a controversial bill [materials, in French] that allows more businesses in Lille, Marseilles, and Paris to open on Sundays by a vote of 165-159. Under the bill, employees who work Sundays are to be paid at least twice what they normally would be paid. Absent a collective agreement, employees who work Sundays retain the right to take off three Sundays per year. The bill also provides that workers who seek employment and who would be opposed to working Sundays shall not be disqualified as candidates for jobs that would require them to work Sundays. French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official website, in French] and his Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) [party website, in French] supported the measure as a means of increasing economic activity. However, the Socialist party [party website, in French], which opposes the bill, appealed [CNN report] the bill’s constitutionality to the Constitutional Council [official website, in French], which is expected to rule in the next two weeks.

The French National Assembly [official website, in French] approved the bill [JURIST report] last week by a 282-238 vote. The bill alters a 1906 law that established the principle of "Sunday rest." The measure was defeated [Guardian report] last year after some UMP members opposed it. The Catholic church also condemned the measure. Sarkozy was elected [BBC report] in May 2007 on a platform that included the liberalization of France's economic policies, urging [Times report] citizens to "work more to earn more" as a way to stimulate economic growth.






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Terrorism trials should be held in US federal courts: rights group
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 24, 2009 9:13 AM ET

[JURIST] Terrorism suspects should be prosecuted in US federal courts [press release] instead of military commissions, according to a report [text, PDF] released Thursday by Human Rights First [advocacy website]. The report, prepared by two former federal prosecutors, claims that the civilian court system is fully equipped to try terrorism cases and argues against the creation of a new security court system or indefinite detention of certain individuals. According to the report, there is a 91 percent conviction rate for terrorism suspects in federal courts:


In sum, the federal courts, while not perfect, are a fit and flexible resource that should be used along with other government resources — including military force, intelligence gathering, diplomatic efforts, and cultural and economic initiatives — as an important part of a multi-pronged counterterrorism strategy. In contrast, the creation of a brand-new court system or preventive detention scheme from scratch would be expensive, uncertain, and almost certainly controversial.

The report is a followup from a May 2008 report [text, PDF; JURIST report] that reached the same conclusion.

The issue of where to try terrorism suspects has recently become controversial in the wake of US President Barack Obama's executive order [text; JURIST report] to close the military prison facility at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. Last month, the first Guantanamo detainee was transferred to the US to face trial [JURIST report] in a civilian court. In May, Obama announced [JURIST report] that he would revive the controversial military commissions system to try some Guantanamo detainees. The move drew criticism [JURIST report] from human rights groups, which called the plan "fatally flawed," continuing a long line of criticism of the commissions [JURIST report] for admitting some evidence that is barred from federal court, including hearsay or coerced confessions.





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Obama administration sends financial system overhaul legislation to Congress
Benjamin Hackman on July 24, 2009 8:36 AM ET

[JURIST] The Obama administration sent Congress draft legislation [press release and materials] Wednesday that would put the Federal Reserve [official website] in charge of regulating the largest financial firms [text, PDF]. The proposed legislation would create an eight-member Financial Services Oversight Council [text, PDF] to pinpoint risks in financial markets and would establish a National Bank Supervisor and Resolution Authority. It would also create within the Department of the Treasury [official website] an Office of National Insurance, the director of which would be charged [text, PDF] with identifying gaps in industry regulation that could lead to crises in the insurance or financial systems. The draft legislation would also amend the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956 [text] to give the Federal Reserve more power to regulate investment companies or advisors [text, PDF] registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission [official website] under the Investment Company Act of 1940 [text]. The purpose of the legislation is to prevent the recurrence of a crisis such as the one currently plaguing the financial system.

US President Barack Obama [official profile] proposed similar changes [JURIST report] in June. In March, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner [official profile] indicated that the Department of the Treasury would propose stronger rules [JURIST report] in response to the current economic crisis. Geithner suggested that the Reserve and Treasury be given broader powers. In February, Geithner emphasized increasing restrictions on financial institutions [JURIST report] receiving government assistance.






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European Commission sets stricter bank bailout rules
Matt Glenn on July 24, 2009 8:05 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Commission (EC) [official website] on Thursday announced [press release] new rules including a number of specific criteria [communication, PDF] that European banks seeking government assistance must meet. Under the new guidelines, banks are required to show they will become viable without further state support, banks and their owners are required to pay a share of the restructuring costs, and the restructuring must limit distortions in the European single market. The restructuring of banks is permitted under Article 87.3b) [text] of the EC treaty, which allows governments to "remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a Member State." Competition Minister Neelie Kroes [official profile] said:


The financial crisis may not be over yet, but we need to start working seriously with Member States to restructure European banks. We need to make banks viable again without state support and to re-invigorate competition in the Single Market. The guidelines adopted today will be a useful tool for banks and Member States by explaining the criteria the Commission will apply to restructuring aid for banks in the current period. It complements our previous guidance on state guarantees, recapitalisation and the treatment of impaired assets.

The new provisions are set to expire at the end of 2010. At that point the normal rules under Article 87.3c) will resume.

In June, US President Barack Obama [official profile] unveiled a plan [JURIST report] to steer US banks through the current recession. Obama's plan emphasized increased government oversight and regulatory powers. In February, Obama and US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner [official profile] announced increased regulations [JURIST report] of banks receiving federal bailout money.





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Federal agents arrest 44 including politicians in New Jersey corruption probe
Matt Glenn on July 24, 2009 7:09 AM ET

[JURIST] The FBI arrested and charged 44 people [press release; complaints, PDF] on a variety of conspiracy, extortion, money laundering, and corruption counts Thursday, including several local politicians. The FBI said that the investigation, which began as an investigation of a money laundering ring run by rabbis operating between New Jersey and Israel, only began to focus on public corruption when a cooperating witness went undercover and began contacting local politicians. Those charged include [NYT report] Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano, Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez, State Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, Jersey City City Council President Antonio Vega [official profiles], and Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini. New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine [official profile] said [press release], "[a]ny corruption is unacceptable - anywhere, anytime, by anybody. The scale of corruption we're seeing as this unfolds is simply outrageous and cannot be tolerated." Those arrested arraigned Thursday afternoon.

A number of public figures have faced corruption charges recently. Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojavich [JURIST news archive] was indicted [JURIST report] in April on corruption charges. In February, two Pennsylvania judges pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to accepting kickbacks in exchange for sentencing juveniles to certain facilities. FBI director Robert Mueller [official profile] said in April of last year that the FBI was investigating 2,500 public corruption cases [JURIST report], a 50 percent increase from five years prior.






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ICTY appeals chamber rules on interfering with Haradinaj witnesses
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 23, 2009 4:05 PM ET

[JURIST] The appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Thursday reversed the contempt conviction [press release; judgment summary, PDF] of Astrit Haraqija and affirmed the conviction of Bajrush Morina for interfering with a witness during the trial of former Kosovo Albanian military leader Ramush Haradinaj [ICTY materials, PDF; JURIST news archive]. The two prominent Kosovar Albanians were found guilty of contempt [JURIST report] in December. Haraqija, former Kosovo minister for Culture, Youth, and Sport, was sentenced to five months in prison, and Morina, former political advisor to the Deputy Minister of Culture, Youth, and Sport and a part-time journalist was sentenced to three months. The trial chamber found that Haraqija exercised influence over Morina and that Morina told a witness that other witnesses who had testified against Haradinaj had been killed. The appeals chamber reversed Haraqija's conviction, finding insufficient evidence, but rejected all of Morina's grounds for appeal. Both Haraqija and Morina have been on provisional release since completing their sentences.

Last July, the ICTY convicted a Kosovar journalist [JURIST report] of exposing the identity of a witness involved with the Haradinaj trial. Haradinaj was a senior commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], the ethnic Albanian guerrilla force that opposed Slobodan Milosevic [JURIST news archive] during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war [BBC backgrounder]. He was indicted [initial indictment text] by ICTY prosecutors in 2005. Haradinaj was acquitted [JURIST report] in April 2008, but former chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte’s claims of witness intimidation have brought the proceedings under scrutiny. Prosecutors are now appealing.






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Sri Lanka IMF loan should be contingent on human rights progress: HRW
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 23, 2009 2:14 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Monetary Fund (IMF) [official website] should require the Sri Lankan government to address human rights abuses [press release] as a condition for a USD $2.5 billion emergency loan, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said Thursday. HRW claims that even after the 25-year civil war between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [JURIST news archive] ended two months ago, the government continues to illegally hold more than 280,000 detainees. HRW Asia director Brad Adams said, "[t]o approve a loan, especially $600 million more than the government even asked for, while they have hundreds of thousands of people penned up in these camps is a reward for bad behavior, not an incentive to improve." The IMF is scheduled to vote on the loan on Friday.

Last month, HRW called for an international commission [JURIST report] to investigate human rights abuses that allegedly occurred during the civil war after a Sri Lankan government official announced that an internal investigation [JURIST reports] into human rights abuses during the conflict had ended. The announcement that the internal investigation had ended came just days after Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] urged [JURIST report] the Sri Lankan government to conduct a more serious inquiry into possible human rights abuse cases, including the killing of 17 aid workers. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] recently asked [JURIST report] Sri Lanka's government to conduct a "proper investigation" of any "credible allegations of violations of humanitarian law" arising from the recent conflict between the government and the LTTE. In May, the Council of the European Union [official website] called for an independent inquiry [JURIST report] into possible war crimes committed during fighting between the Sri Lankan government and LTTE. In March, the Sri Lankan government denied [JURIST report] allegations by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile; JURIST news archive] that 2,800 civilian deaths caused by recent military action against the LTTE may constitute war crimes.






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Mumbai terror attack trial to continue despite confession
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 23, 2009 1:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The trial of Mumbai terror attack [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] suspect Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab will continue in an Indian court, despite Kasab's admission of guilt [JURIST report], a judge ruled Thursday. Judge ML Tahilyani ruled that Kasab's confession was incomplete [NYT report], but should be entered into the record. Kasab, the only captured gunman from the attacks, is faced with 86 charges stemming from his participation in last November's killings. On Monday, he interrupted his trial to tell the court that he and several others traveled from their native Pakistan to India to commit the attack, which claimed at least 170 lives at ten locations across the city.

On Saturday, a Pakistani anti-terrorism court began the trial [JURIST report] of five men allegedly belonging to the Lashkar-e-Taiba [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] militant group suspected of planning and coordinating the terror attacks. Two Indian defendants linked to the group have pleaded not guilty [AFP report] to charges related to Kasab's alleged acts and are being tried in an Indian court. In February, Pakistani officials conceded [JURIST report] that the attacks were partially planned in their country, and have 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 damaging the already-unstable relationship between Pakistan and India.






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UN rights investigators denied access to Guantanamo detention facility
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 23, 2009 11:35 AM ET

[JURIST] The US government has turned down requests from two separate UN investigators to visit the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], the Washington Post reported [text] Thursday. UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak and UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Martin Scheinin [official websites] had each requested access to the facility as well as detailed information about the detention center and detainees. Nowak also requested interviews with several high-value detainees, but the requests were denied. US officials have said they are willing to cooperate with UN investigators but are unable to share secret intelligence information. While UN officials concede that the Obama administration is no longer engaging in many of the controversial practices of the Bush administration, Scheinin indicated that he is concerned that other countries are still citing US policies to justify abusive practices. Also Thursday, US Vice President Joe Biden [official profile] said that Guantanamo will close by January [AFP report].

Also this week, White House officials said that a report on the closure of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay will be delayed [JURIST report] for six months. Despite the delay, White House officials said they remain confident that the facility will be shut down by January, in order to comply with Obama's executive order [text; JURIST report]. Earlier this month, it was reported that US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] is still considering appointing a special prosecutor to investigate allegations of torture during the Bush administration.






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Rights group urges Cambodia tribunal to end perception of government interference
Abigail Salisbury on July 23, 2009 10:25 AM ET

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Wednesday called [press release] on the pre-trial chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] to determine the scope of its prosecutions "to thwart growing perceptions that court decisions are directed by the government." HRW's urging comes in response to a statement made by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen [BBC profile] last week that the ECCC, a UN-backed tribunal assembled to try former Khmer Rouge [BBC backgrounder] leaders, should not prosecute any suspects beyond the five currently in custody. The ECCC has been plagued by accusations of corruption, and HRW has long stated that verdicts could be tainted due to failure to follow fair trial standards [JURIST report].

The ECCC is currently trying its first case against former Khmer Rouge leader Kaing Guek Eav [TrialWatch backgrounder, JURIST news archive], also known as "Duch." In June, the court found that Kaing had been unlawfully held [JURIST report] by a Cambodian military court for the past 10 years, but denied a defense request for his release. In late April, Kaing admitted to training prison staff to use torture [JURIST report] to obtain confessions from prisoners, after he accepted responsibility [JURIST report] for the deaths of 12,000 Cambodians in the S-21 prison camp [backgrounder].






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Senate terminates federal judge impeachment proceedings
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 23, 2009 10:16 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] on Wednesday dismissed articles of impeachment [text, PDF] for former federal judge Samuel Kent [JURIST news archive]. The decision to terminate impeachment proceedings came after the White House accepted Kent's resignation [JURIST reports] last month. Kent resigned at the end of June after the US House of Representatives [official website] voted to impeach him [JURIST report]. Kent is the first federal judge to be impeached in 20 years, and only the thirteenth federal judge ever to be impeached.

Earlier last month, Kent submitted a letter of resignation [JURIST report] that would have been effective June 2010, allowing him to collect his $174,000 annual salary and full health benefits until then. In May, Kent pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to obstruction of justice [18 USC § 1512(c)(2) text] charges in connection with the alleged sexual harassment of his secretary and former case manager as part of a plea agreement [text, PDF] that prevented him from facing a criminal trial. Following his plea, he was sentenced [JURIST report] to 33 months in prison and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and $6,500 in restitution.






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Intel appeals European Commission 1.06 billion euro fine for antitrust violations
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 23, 2009 9:32 AM ET

[JURIST] Computer chip maker Intel Corp. [corporate website] on Wednesday filed an appeal with the European Court of First Instance [official website] challenging a May European Commission (EC) [official website] ruling fining Intel €1.06 billion [JURIST] for violating European Union antitrust laws. The EC ruled that Intel violated the laws [Article 82 backgrounder] by giving computer companies rebates to purchase nearly all of their supplies from Intel and paying companies not to use products made by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) [corporate website], Intel's main competitor. The appeal has not been made public, but Intel spokesperson Chuck Mulloy said that one of the arguments was that the fine is excessive [San Jose Mercury News report] and in violation of European human rights law. The court will likely issue a summary of the appeal [WSJ report] in September.

Intel has faced numerous antitrust suits [JURIST news archive]. Last June, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] opened a probe against Intel [JURIST report] for anti-competitive behavior. Last year, the Korean Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) [official website] fined Intel nearly $26 million [JURIST report] after a KFTC probe [JURIST report] found that the company had engaged in anti-competitive practices. The state of New York opened an antitrust probe [JURIST report] into Intel's actions and AMD also filed [JURIST report] a civil suit [complaint, PDF; Intel response] against the company last year.






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Missing Russia human rights activist found dead
Abigail Salisbury on July 23, 2009 8:44 AM ET

[JURIST] Russian officials announced on Wednesday that the body of Russian human rights activist Andrei Kulagin had been found in a quarry. Kulagin, the former head of rights group Spravedlivost, had been missing since May [AP report]. Although officials did not comment on the cause of death, Spravedlivost director Andrei Stolbunov believes Kulagin was murdered. The announcement comes just days after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile] approved amendments [JURIST report; summary, in Russian] to regulations governing non-governmental organizations (NGOs), loosening and simplifying registration requirements for the groups. The amendments eased reporting and auditing provisions and eliminated a requirement that the groups prove they are not a threat to the Russian state or identity.

Several human rights advocates have been killed in Russia in recent years. Last week, Russian activist Natalia Estemirova [BBC obituary] was reportedly kidnapped and murdered [JURIST report]. Estemirova had investigated allegations of human rights violations in Chechnya for about 10 years. A Kremlin spokesperson said opposition to her activism was likely the motive for her murder, and Medvedev has ordered an inquiry [BBC report] into the killing. In April, Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin [official profile] expressed concern [JURIST report] that activists in Russia were being attacked with greater frequency. In January, Russian human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov was shot and killed [JURIST report] in Moscow. Markelov had represented journalist Anna Politkovskaya [BBC obituary], who was shot to death [JURIST report] in October 2006.






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Ex-Credit Suisse broker pleads guilty to fraud and conspiracy
Brian Jackson on July 23, 2009 8:27 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Credit Suisse broker Julian Tzolov pleaded guilty Wednesday to multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy before the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York [official website]. Tzolov is accused [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] of defrauding clients out of more than $400 million [WSJ report] by selling high-risk, mortgage-backed securities to clients who requested low-risk investments, in violation of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, the Securities Act of 1933, and other SEC regulations [text]. Tzolov, who was captured last week in Spain [Bloomberg report] after violating the terms of his bail in early June, faces up to 20 years in prison for each count of fraud.

In light of the numerous acts of financial fraud that have been reported, the Obama administration has made protecting consumers a top priority. Last week, Securities and Exchange Commission chairperson Mary Schapiro pledged policy changes [JURIST report] that would improve the odds of preventing investment fraud. In May, the House of Representatives passed the Senate version [JURIST report] of the credit card holders' bill of rights, which the president signed the following day [press release]. Just two days prior, Obama signed [JURIST report] the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, strengthening criminal laws against financial fraud.






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Pakistan high court summons Musharraf to explain emergency rule declaration
Devin Montgomery on July 23, 2009 8:18 AM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] on Wednesday summoned former president Pervez Musharraf [JURIST news archive] to appear before the court and justify his November 2007 declaration of emergency rule [JURIST report] in the country. Under the rules, Musharraf had dismissed [JURIST report] many members of the country's judiciary, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry [official profile; JURIST news archive]. Musharraf had argued that the courts had interfered with his ability to combat extremist rebels in the country and that his action was permissible under Article 232 of Pakistan's constitution [text]. That claim was rejected by the Supreme Court at the time, but was later upheld [JURIST report] by a court reconstituted by Musharraf after the dismissal of the existing justices. The order calls for Musharraf to appear before the court on July 29. Legal experts from the country say that the order is not binding [Daily Times report] on Musharraf, but that it may signal possible further action against the former leader.

Last August, Musharraf resigned from office [press release; JURIST report] in order to avoid impeachment proceedings by the country's parliament. Earlier that month, the country's coalition government said that it would push to impeach Musharraf because he had given a "clear commitment" to step down from office after his party was defeated in parliamentary elections [JURIST reports]. In June 2008, former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif [JURIST news archive] called for Musharraf to be tried for treason [JURIST report], labeling him a traitor disloyal to Pakistan and saying he should be punished for the "damage" that he had done to the country in the years since he led a military coup [BBC backgrounder] and unseated Sharif in 1999.






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Senate narrowly rejects amendment to allow concealed firearms across state lines
Brian Jackson on July 23, 2009 7:34 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] on Wednesday rejected [roll call vote] a proposed amendment to a military appropriations bill [SR 1390 materials] that would allow individuals with permits to carry concealed firearms across state lines. The amendment [S.AMDT.1618 materials] was proposed by Senator John Thune (R-SD) [official profile] and had been a hotly contested issue, reflected by the 58-39 vote. Sixty votes were needed for passage. Thune expressed disappointment [press release] at the result, saying that the amendment had succumbed to "overheated rhetoric and fearmongering." The National Rifle Association [advocacy website], which had urged senators to vote for the amendment, viewed the narrow defeat as a victory [press release], noting that a majority of senators had voted for passage.

Wednesday's vote was the latest in a series of events surrounding gun-owners' rights in 2009. In early June, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit declined to apply the Second Amendment to the states [JURIST report] and upheld handgun bans in two Illinois municipalities. In May, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the credit card holders' bill of rights that would allow individuals to carry firearms in National Parks [JURIST report]. The amendment may have been in response to a March ruling by the US District Court for the District of Columbia enjoining a federal rule [JURIST report] which allowed concealed weapons to be carried in National Parks, as long as the individual is in compliance with state law.






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Hague arbitration court redraws Sudan oil region boundaries
Devin Montgomery on July 22, 2009 3:11 PM ET

[JURIST] The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) [official website] in The Hague issued an order [text, PDF; materials] Wednesday redrawing boundaries of Sudan's oil-producing Abyei region. The borders of the region had been disputed by the country's southern Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) [group website] and its northern, ruling National Congress Party (NCP) [party website]. The borders had originally been drawn by the Abyei Boundaries Commission (ABC) [report text] following a 2005 peace agreement [text, PDF] between the SPLM and NCP, but the PCA held that the ABC had exceeded its mandate when it determined some of the region's boundaries. The issue was brought to the PCA [arbitration agreement, PDF] by the SPLM and NCP, and both parties have said they will abide [VOA report] by the court's decision.

Control of revenues derived from the Abyei region's oil reserves was one of the factors that contributed to the country's violent civil war. A peace deal between the government and the SPLM was reached in late 2004, while a comprehensive peace deal, which also covered the country's Darfur region, was signed in early 2005 [JURIST reports].






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Saudi Arabia secretly detaining thousands: rights group
Abigail Salisbury on July 22, 2009 2:18 PM ET

[JURIST] Saudi Arabian officials are allegedly using anti-terrorism measures as an excuse to secretly detain, imprison, torture, and even kill thousands of people, according to a Wednesday report [text] by Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website]. In its report, AI also called on the international community to apply pressure to Saudi Arabia, specifically urging the League of Arab States [official website, in Arabic] to "[r]eview the Arab Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism and amend it in accordance with international standards, balancing the combating of terrorism with the need to ensure appropriate protection of human rights." AI emphasized that the nation's importance in global affairs makes pressuring it to improve human rights norms all the more important:


audi Arabia [is] strategically crucial for world powers and ... the country [has] enormous influence over regional and international affairs. ... However, the authorities in Saudi Arabia also use this religious, political and economic clout to shield the government from criticism on its human rights record by its allies.

Earlier this month, a Saudi Arabian court reportedly convicted 330 people [JURIST report] on terrorism-related charges. The Special Penal Court sentenced one defendant to death [Al Jazeera report], although the name of the prisoner and the charges against him were not made public. In February, the US Department of State released its 2008 Report on Human Rights Practices for Saudi Arabia [text; JURIST report], in which it identified several significant human rights issues, including "denial of public trials and lack of due process in the judicial system; political prisoners; incommunicado detention" and "lack of government transparency." Last October, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz [official website] announced that the kingdom had indicted 991 [Reuters report] suspected al Qaeda members. Human Rights Watch (HRW) sought access [HRW request] to the trials in an attempt to ensure compliance with international standards.





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US immigration home raids violate constitution: report
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 22, 2009 2:05 PM ET

[JURIST] Federal immigration agents conducting home raids have committed numerous constitutional violations, according a report [text, PDF] released Wednesday by the Immigration Justice Clinic [academic website] at the Cardozo School of Law. The report found that, since 2006, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website] agents routinely entered private homes in the middle of the night without warrants and seized residents without a legal basis in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The report also found that Latinos were disproportionately likely to be arrested during home raids, suggesting a pattern of racial profiling. Clinic director and co-author of the report Peter Markowitz said:


This report reveals an alarming pattern of federal immigration officials breaking into people's homes and bedrooms in the pre-dawn hours in flagrant violation of the Constitution. The government's heavy handed tactics are a monumental waste of public resources resulting primarily in the arrest of hard working immigrants who pose no danger at all to society.

The report concludes with several policy recommendations, including limiting home raid operations, obtaining warrants before conducting home raids, and improving training and supervision of home raid teams.

In February, the clinic reported that ICE documents [text, PDF] obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [5 USC § 552 text; JURIST news archive] show that Bush administration immigration enforcement tactics were both overly-aggressive and ineffective [JURIST report]. The documents show that in 2006 ICE policy increased arrest quotas from 125 to 1000 per year and eliminated a previous requirement that 75 percent of arrests must be "criminal aliens." The documents also indicate a significant increase in the ratio of non-criminal to criminal immigrants arrested by ICE since the changes were instituted. Immigration reform has been a top priority for the Obama administration. Earlier this month, the US Department of Homeland Security [official website] announced changes to immigration policies [press release; JURIST report] for state and local agencies. The new policies create uniform standards for local agencies that will require them to pursue all criminal charges leading to an immigrant's arrest prior to initiating removal proceedings. Also this month, ICE issued inspection notices [JURIST report] to 652 businesses as part of an increased effort to target employers using illegal immigrants. Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] vacated [order, PDF; JURIST report] an order [text, PDF] by former attorney general Michael Mukasey [JURIST news archive] that denied potential deportees the right to challenge immigration decisions based on ineffective assistance of counsel claims.





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UN SG Ban proposes campaign to prevent massive rights abuses
Devin Montgomery on July 22, 2009 11:04 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] on Wednesday called on world leaders to take new steps [statement; press release] to combat genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights abuses, introducing a report [materials] detailing a new campaign against the offenses. Called the "Responsibility to Protect" [campaign website], the campaign focuses on holding states responsible for preventing the abuses from happening to their citizens, drawing on international support to help countries prevent the abuses from occurring, and quickly enlisting the international community to end the abuses when they arise. Ban said that he hoped the implementation of such a campaign would help to prevent future atrocities:

Four years ago, our heads of state and government unanimously committed themselves to preventing genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity, as well as their incitement. This universal and irrevocable commitment was made at the highest level, without contradiction or challenge. Our common task now is to deliver on this historic pledge to the peoples of the world.

My report offers some initial ideas on how to go about this. These proposals, not the world leaders' solemn commitments, are to be the focus of our deliberations this week. The question before us is not whether, but how. From day one, I have made the patient work of turning lofty words into practical deeds among the highest priorities of my administration. In that spirit, it is high time to turn the promise of the responsibility to protect into practice.

The strategy outlined in my report, based on the 2005 Outcome Document, rests on three pillars: state responsibility; international assistance and capacity-building; and timely and decisive response.
The UN General Assembly will meet to discuss Ban's proposal on July 23.

The 2005 Outcome Document [text, PDF] was drafted during the 2005 Heads of State and Government World Summit [official website]. The document represented agreement [JURIST report] on several human rights issues by the assembly, but differences on others, like nuclear proliferation. Following its adoption, then-secretary general Kofi Annan promised follow-through on the issues, but warned that progress may be slow [JURIST report].





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Ohio conducts 1,000th US lethal injection since death penalty reinstatement
Abigail Salisbury on July 22, 2009 10:18 AM ET

[JURIST] Convicted murderer Marvallous Keene on Tuesday became the 1000th person to be executed by lethal injection in the US since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1976 case of Gregg v. Georgia [opinion text]. In 1993, Keene was found guilty of five counts of murder based on his participation in a series of six killings committed over three days the previous December. The Ohio Adult Parole Authority unanimously recommended against clemency [clemency report, PDF] late last month and Ohio Governor Ted Strickland denied Keene clemency [WHIOTV report] last week. Keene refused to speak with the parole board and instructed his appointed public defenders not to present any arguments on his behalf.

Last month, Ohio first used its new lethal injection method [JURIST report], called "set-to-die." The procedure requires officials to shake and call out to the prisoner after a sedative has been administered, and a second dose can then be given, if necessary. A de facto national moratorium [JURIST report] on the death penalty ended last year when the US Supreme Court ruled in Baze v. Rees [JURIST report] that the three-drug lethal injection sequence [DPIC backgrounder] used in most states does not violate the Constitution.






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Pentagon media program did not violate propaganda rules: report
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 22, 2009 9:39 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded Tuesday that the US Department of Defense (DOD) [official websites] did not violate prohibitions on propaganda [report text] by having retired military officers (RMOs) offer public support to the Bush administration's war policies. The GAO found that the DOD was not in violation of Pub L No 110-417, § 1056(c) [text, PDF], which provides that "[n]o part of any funds authorized to be appropriated in this or any other Act shall be used by the Department of Defense for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States not otherwise specifically authorized by law," when it had RMOs make media appearances as part of its "Public Affairs Outreach Program." The officers met repeatedly with Pentagon officials and even toured the military prison at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] before making appearances on various television news programs. In its opinion, the GAO found:


Clearly, DOD attempted to favorably influence public opinion with respect to the Administration's war policies in Iraq and Afghanistan through the RMOs. However, as we discuss below, and based on the record before us in this case, we conclude that DOD's public affairs outreach program to RMOs did not violate the prohibition. We found no evidence that DOD attempted to conceal from the public its outreach to RMOs or its role in providing RMOs with information, materials, access to department officials, travel, and luncheons. Moreover, we found no evidence that DOD contracted with or paid RMOs for positive commentary or analysis. Consequently, DOD's public affairs activities involving RMOs, in our opinion, did not violate the publicity or propaganda prohibition.

The DOD's inspector general issued a report with a similar finding [AP report] in January, but that report was withdrawn in May due to data inaccuracies.

In 2006, the DOD inspector general concluded that the US military's use of a propaganda program in Iraq was legal [JURIST report]. While the program involved planting and paying for favorable news about US operations in Iraqi newspapers, the report concluded that no laws or regulations on psychological operations were broken. In 2005, the inspector general concluded that websites like the Southeast European Times [media website], operated by the US military that pay journalists to write articles and commentary supporting military activities, are legal and do not infringe laws or government policies [JURIST report]. The investigation determined that two websites aimed at audiences in the Balkans and the Maghreb region of northern Africa are not covert propaganda and are properly identified as US government products, although the identifications are not prominent.





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Lithuania not increasing Holocaust restitution: justice minister
Devin Montgomery on July 22, 2009 9:23 AM ET

[JURIST] Lithuanian Justice Minister Remigijus Simasius [official profile, in Lithuanian] said Tuesday that the country does not plan [AP report] to increase the amount of restitution it will pay to Jewish Holocaust survivors in the country, according to the Associated Press. The ministry has recommended that approximately $53 million be paid to the country's 5,000 remaining Jews as restitution for property seized by the Nazis during WWII, but Jewish groups have argued that the amount is too small. Simasius said that it would be impossible to restore all property rights lost by the community, but World Jewish Restitution Organization [advocacy website] President Ronald Lauder said that the government had arbitrarily ignored [press release] many of the properties that his organization had identified as having been taken. The government's plan must be approved by the Lithuanian Parliament [official website] later this year, and would provide for restitution payments beginning in 2012.

Other European countries have also recently addressed Holocaust restitution. In March 2008, a Belgian government commission found [text, PDF, in French; JURIST report] that Holocaust survivors, victims' families, and the general Belgian Jewish community should receive $170 million to compensate for the money and goods they lost during World War II. In 2007, the commission found that the Belgian government had been complicit [JURIST report] in Nazi persecution of the Jewish population during the Holocaust, and the country's courts failed to hold Belgian authorities accountable for persecuting and deporting Jews after WWII.






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Rights group claims DR Congo conflict prolonged by corporations
Brian Jackson on July 22, 2009 8:25 AM ET

[JURIST] International corporations that purchase minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo [BBC country profile] are responsible for prolonging the conflict in the African country, according to a report [text, PDF] issued Tuesday by human rights group Global Witness [advocacy website]. The report was critical of several specific corporations, including Amalgamated Metal Corporation, Afrimex, and Traxys [corporate websites], for "turning a blind-eye" to the source of minerals they purchase and then sell to manufacturers. In the war-torn country, the Congolese military and numerous militia groups control mines responsible for production of gold and wolframite, and the report alleges that the unregulated market brings significant profit to these groups [BBC report], fueling the conflict. The report concluded that despite some promising developments, there is still much work to be done to end the conflict, and that ending the conflict will not be easy:


The stakes are high, and those benefiting from the illicit exploitation of resources will not be willing to give up these riches easily. As evidence by patterns of the last 12 years, it is in the interests of all sides in the conflict, as well as unscrupulous businessmen, to prolong the anarchy, as it delivers financial benefits without accountability.

The current conflict in the DR Congo has been one of the most deadly in the world, claiming an estimated 45,000 [Guardian report] lives per month. While international corporations are still the focus of human rights groups, the international criminal community has taken a greater interest in prosecuting perpetrators of atrocities in the Congo. Earlier this month, prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) concluded their case [JURIST report] in the trial of ex-Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo. Lubanga is on trial for war crimes, including recruiting children to join the army. The ICC also recently ordered rebel leader Jean Pierre Bemba to stand trial [JURIST report] for atrocities committed during the decade-long conflict.





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House committee delays consumer financial protection agency legislation
Brian Jackson on July 22, 2009 7:39 AM ET

[JURIST] The US House Financial Services Committee [official website] on Tuesday delayed action on legislation [HR 3126 materials] that would create a consumer financial protection agency, slowing progress on a key Obama administration project. The delay was granted at the behest of financial industry leaders, who on Monday sent a letter [text, PDF] to the ranking members of the committee requesting a more measured approach to deliberations. The agency, proposed by the Obama administration [JURIST report] last month and put forth by Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) [official website], would assume significant oversight of the financial industry from the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Comptroller of Currency [official websites]. With the delay, the bill will not be the focus of House action until after the August recess.

Greater protection for consumers and regulation of the financial industry has been a priority of the Obama administration in the wake of the economic crisis of the past 16 months. In March, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner [official profile] indicated that the Department of the Treasury [official website] would propose stronger rules [prepared remarks; JURIST report] in response to the current economic crisis, and called for both the Reserve and Treasury to be given broader powers. In February, Geithner had emphasized increasing restrictions on financial institutions [press release, JURIST report] receiving government assistance.






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Iran implements controversial Internet data retention law
Devin Montgomery on July 21, 2009 4:22 PM ET

[JURIST] Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] has implemented a law requiring the country's Internet service providers to retain records of users' incoming and outgoing data for at least three months, according to a Monday report [text] by the state-run PressTV [media website] news agency. The government said the law is designed to help catch those who illegally steal others' personal information from the Internet, and that the data would only be monitored under court order or in the interest of national security. Critics argue that the law will enable the government to monitor and censor the internet use [Al Jazeera report] of reporters and political dissidents, whose blogging and use of social networking websites have thus far been able to evade press restrictions.

Iran has been experiencing political unrest since Ahmadenijad won the country's disputed June 12 election [JURIST news archive]. Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] reported that some arrested protesters were beaten, deprived of sleep and threatened with torture in an effort to force false confessions [report, text; JURIST report]. Also this month, opposition leaders called for the release [JURIST report] of those detained for their alleged involvement in the protests. Human rights groups have viewed the arrests as political repression [JURIST report], saying that Iranian forces are using the protests to "engage in what appears to be a major purge of reform-oriented individuals."






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Sotomayor committee vote delayed a week by Senate Republicans
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 21, 2009 3:35 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] on Tuesday delayed a vote on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor [WH profile; JURIST news archive] at the request of Senate Republicans. The vote on whether to send the nomination for consideration by the full Senate is now scheduled for July 28 [hearing notice]. Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] said that he was "disappointed" by the delay, but that he remained confident Sotomayor would be confirmed [Washington Post report] and seated by the time the Court reconvenes for a special argument session on September 9. Also this week, Sotomayor returned responses to written questions [materials] from several Republican senators. Four Republican senators have declared their support for Sotomayor, and she is likely to be supported by all Senate Democrats.

Sotomayor faced questions from senators during last week's confirmation hearings [JURIST report]. Earlier this month, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary [association website] gave Sotomayor a unanimous "well-qualified" rating [letter, PDF; JURIST report]. In May, Obama praised [JURIST report] Sotomayor's experience and wisdom, rebuking Republicans who would oppose her confirmation. Obama warned against partisanship in the confirmation process, saying that he hoped Congress would "avoid the political posturing and ideological brinksmanship" that marked past confirmation hearings. Obama nominated Sotomayor in May to replace retiring [JURIST reports] Justice David Souter [official profile, PDF; JURIST news archive].






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France lower house postpones vote on amended Internet piracy bill
Devin Montgomery on July 21, 2009 2:55 PM ET

[JURIST] The French National Assembly [official website] voted Tuesday to delay a vote [debate text, in French; materials, in French] on a new version [text, in French] of a controversial Internet piracy law, past its original July 24 date. The French Senate [official website, in French] approved [JURIST report] the law earlier this month after portions of its original version were rejected [decision, in French; JURIST report] in June by France's Constitutional Council [official website]. The original law subjected violators of copyright laws to suspension of Internet access at the discretion of a newly-created administrative authority bestowed with judicial power. The new law would leave discretion to suspend services to a judge, since the Constitutional Council ruled that the power to restrict the fundamental right of accessing the Internet should not be entrusted to an administrative authority. The determination to suspend access would be made on an infringer's third violation, after previously receiving two warnings. An Assembly vote on the measure is now likely [Reuters report] in September.

The bill, introduced by Cultural Minister Christine Albanel and supported by President Nicholas Sarkozy [official websites, in French], is aimed at reducing illegal downloads of protected works by proposing an escalating series of responses for users that are caught. The original version of the law was challenged [JURIST report] by the Socialist party on the grounds that it failed to find a balance between the rights of Internet users and those of copyright holders. In May, the original bill was approved by the National Assembly after initially defeating [JURIST reports] it in April. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry [organization website], representing the worldwide recording industry, has welcomed the legislation [press release], although it has been opposed [press release, in French] by French consumer interest group UFC-Que Choisir [advocacy website, in French] as well as cable and Internet providers [France 24 report].






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Venezuela judge removed from case against Chavez government critic
Devin Montgomery on July 21, 2009 12:22 PM ET

[JURIST] Venezuela judge Alicia Torres said Monday that she has been removed from her position presiding over a case against Globovision TV [media website, in Spanish] owner Guillermo Zuloaga. Zuloaga has been charged with usury and conspiracy [LAHT report] to commit a crime, and Torres said she was removed from the case after she refused to issue an order [Nacional report, in Spanish] prohibiting Zuloaga from leaving the country. Globovision has been critical of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez [JURIST news archive], and Zuloago has said the charges against him are politically motivated. Commentators have also said that Torres's dismissal is further evidence [Globovision report] of the government using the judiciary to quiet opponents.

Zuloaga's trial is the latest in a series of disputes between the government and independent media outlets. In May 2007, Venezuelan Information Minister William Lara filed lawsuits [JURIST report] against media giant CNN and Globovision, alleging that the two stations presented false information concerning Chavez and that Globovision issued a call for Chavez's assassination. In August 2007, the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice suspended an order [JURIST report] issued by the government's telecommunication commission requiring Radio Caracas Television to register as a "national audiovisual production service" or face shutdown after agreeing to hear a case on whether cable and satellite television channels are obligated to transmit government-mandated content. In July 2006, the Inter American Press Association claimed Chavez was silencing dissent [JURIST report] by prosecuting journalists under questionable circumstances.






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HRW urges Holder to open criminal investigation into Bush-era interrogations
Abigail Salisbury on July 21, 2009 10:15 AM ET

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] sent an open letter [text] Monday to US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] to "express [the organization's] strong support for opening a criminal investigation into abusive interrogation practices by the US government since the attacks of September 11, 2001." The letter appears to come in response to last week's Newsweek report [text; JURIST report] indicating that Holder was still considering appointing a prosecutor with "gravitas and grit" to investigate allegations of torture during the Bush administration. HRW's letter emphasized the need to fully investigate higher-level officials involved in policy-setting, saying "[a]ny investigation that failed to reach those at the center of the policy, while pinning responsibility on line officers, would lack credibility both domestically and internationally." Calls for an independent investigation of Bush administration policies have intensified in the last few months, since the Obama administration released four top secret memos [JURIST report] outlining the legal rationale behind controversial interrogation techniques.

In April, Democratic members of the US House Judiciary Committee sent Holder a letter urging him to appoint a special counsel [JURIST report] to investigate torture allegations made against Bush administration officials. Earlier that month, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official profile] reiterated his calls for a non-partisan truth commission [JURIST report] to investigate those responsible for authorizing certain interrogation techniques. Also in April, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence [official website] released a DOJ report [JURIST report] indicating that in 2002 former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice approved the use of waterboarding and other extreme interrogation techniques used by CIA agents against Guantanamo Bay detainees.






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Guantanamo closure reports delayed 6 months
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 21, 2009 9:51 AM ET

[JURIST] A report on the closure of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], due to be presented to US President Barack Obama [official website] Tuesday, will be delayed [press release, RTF] for six months, officials reported Monday. The government task force, assigned to create a new policy on terrorism detainees, missed its Tuesday deadline for a full report, instead presenting an interim report [text, PDF; prosecution protocol, PDF]. Another task force, appointed to review detainee interrogation policies, also missed the Tuesday deadline and received a two-month extension for its report. Despite the delay, White House officials said they remain confident that the facility will be shut down by January, in order to comply with Obama's executive order [text; JURIST report]. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] Executive Director Anthony Romero said:


The Obama administration must not slip into the same legal swamp that engulfed the Bush administration with its failed Guantanamo policies. Any effort to revamp the failed Guantanamo military commissions or enact a law to give any president the power to hold individuals indefinitely and without charge or trial is sure to be challenged in court and it will take years before justice is served. The only way to make good on President Obama's promise to shut down Guantanamo and end the military commissions is to charge and try the detainees in established federal criminal courts. Any effort to do otherwise will doom the Obama administration to lengthy litigation. A promise deferred could soon become a promise broken.

The delayed reports are the latest in a series of setbacks for Obama's plan to close the facility. Earlier this month, a former Guantanamo prosecutor told the House Judiciary Committee [official website] that the military commission system is "broken beyond repair" [JURIST report]. Also that week, a former US Navy Judge Advocate General [official website] told the Senate Armed Services Committee [official website] that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) [text, PDF] should be repealed rather than reformed [JURIST report]. In May, Obama announced [JURIST report] that he would use the controversial military commissions system to try some Guantanamo Bay detainees. The move drew criticism [JURIST report] from human rights groups, which called the plan "fatally flawed," continuing a long line of criticism of the commissions [JURIST report] for admitting some evidence that is barred from federal court, including hearsay or coerced confessions. Congress has also refused [JURIST report] Obama's requests for funding to close the facility because there is no firm plan in place.





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Russia eases restrictions on non-governmental organizations
Devin Montgomery on July 21, 2009 9:18 AM ET

[JURIST] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile] on Monday approved amendments [text, in Russian; summary, in Russian] to the country's law that regulates non-governmental organizations (NGOs), loosening and simplifying registration requirements for the groups. The amendments eased reporting and auditing requirements on the groups and eliminated a requirement that the groups prove they are not a threat to the Russian state or identity. The amendments passed both houses of the Russian parliament earlier this month after being introduced [statement text] by Medvedev on the June recommendation of the Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights Council [official website]. They are part of a longer-term plan [text] recommended by the council to improve the government's stance towards the groups, and Medvedev has said he sees the changes as important ones:


In my view this represents quite an important change in the law on public associations, including non-governmental organisations. I think this draft law is a good idea and I am submitting it to the State Duma today for consideration. But it makes sense that the working group represented here today should go on working on the modernisation of legislation in this area and the general development of civil society, since modernising the legislation and monitoring -- public monitoring of its implementation -- would in my view also be useful. It is not only the prosecutor's office that should follow up on this, but as representatives of public associations you should be involved as well.

Former president Vladimir Putin [JURIST news archive] signed [JURIST report] the original regulations into law in 2006 after "color revolutions" in Georgia and the Ukraine, which were seen as having been driven primarily by foreign-funded NGOs. That law received wide criticism [JURIST report] and Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] had reported [text, PDF; press release] that it exceeded the scope of permitted state NGO regulation and violated international law because it "grant[ed] officials excessive powers to interfere in the founding and operation of NGOs."





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Federal judge finds CIA committed fraud, orders documents unsealed
Jay Carmella on July 21, 2009 7:43 AM ET

[JURIST] Chief judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] Royce Lamberth found [opinion, PDF] Monday that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] committed fraud in its efforts to keep documents related to eavesdropping allegations a secret. The judge ruled that the CIA must unseal more than 200 documents relating to the case. Lamberth is also considering charges [AP report] against 6 other CIA members, including former CIA director George Tenet [BBC Profile]. The judge wrote:


Although this case has been sealed since its inception to protect sensitive information, it is clear from reading the Court of Appeals 2007 public opinion in this case and seeing the unclassified appendix that was filed on appeal that many of the issues are unclassified. The government acknowledged that indeed, the case could be unsealed, and that much of the information is unclassified. Accordingly, the Court ordered the government to file with the Court unclassified versions of every document in the case.

The lawsuit began in 1994, after former Drug Enforcement Agency [official website] agent Richard Horn felt that his was he being spied on by his superiors in Myanmar. Until recently, the CIA had requested the documents remain sealed in order to protect the agents in the field.

CIA tactics came under fire last week as the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee [official website] announced [JURIST report] it will launch an investigation into plans to assassinate al Qaeda members. The Committee has already requested documents [Washington Post report] from the CIA and will likely hold hearings. The Committee hopes to learn whether former vice president Dick Cheney told the CIA to hide the program from Congress as media reports alleged [NYT report; JURIST report] last week. Former Bush administration officials have defended the decision not to reveal the program to Congress on the grounds that the program was only in the planning phase and not yet fully developed.





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India high court refuses to suspend homosexuality decriminalization ruling
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 20, 2009 4:11 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of India [official website] refused Monday to suspend a lower court decision [judgment, PDF; JURIST report] declaring India's anti-sodomy law unconstitutional while it hears an appeal. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court accepted a petition challenging the decision by the Delhi High Court [official website], which found that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code [text, PDF], outlawing "carnal conduct against the order of nature," runs counter to Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Article 21 of the Indian Constitution [text, PDF]. The Delhi court's ruling is binding only in the Union Territory of Delhi [official website], while the Supreme Court's ruling would be binding nationwide. The hearing is scheduled to begin September 14.

The criminalization of homosexuality has been a divisive issue around the world. In April, an appeals court in Senegal ordered the release [JURIST report] of nine members of AIDS awareness group AIDES Senegal who had been convicted of sodomy and sentenced to eight years in prison. In November, the parliament of Burundi voted to criminalize homosexuality, a move condemned [JURIST reports] by human rights groups. In December, the UN General Assembly [official website] was divided [press release; JURIST report] over the issue as 66 nations signed a statement calling for decriminalization, and nearly 60 nations signed an opposing statement.






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Peru ex-president Fujimori sentenced to 7 1/2 years on corruption charges
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 20, 2009 3:01 PM ET

[JURIST] The Criminal Chamber of Peru's Supreme Court on Monday convicted former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on corruption charges and sentenced him to seven-and-a-half years in prison. Fujimori was accused of paying former Peruvian Intelligence Director Vladimiro Montesino [BBC profile] $15 million to resign in 2000 in the midst of the scandal that ultimately resulted in Fujimori's arrest [JURIST report] in 2005. Fujimori claimed that he made the payment because he feared Montesino was plotting a coup against the government. When his trial opened last week, Fujimori admitted to making the payment but denied any criminal responsibility [JURIST report]. Fujimori was also ordered to pay [El Comercio report, in Spanish] nearly USD $1 million in damages.



Lawyers for Fujimori plan to appeal the ruling.

Fujimori was convicted [JURIST report] in April of committing human rights abuses for approving multiple killings during his 1990-2000 presidency. The conviction and subsequent sentencing, which put Fujimori in prison for 25 years, was met with widespread approval [JURIST report] from the current government and human rights organization, despite Fujimori's planned appeal. In 2007, Fujimori was convicted [JURIST report] of ordering a warrantless search in 2000 on the apartment of Montesino's wife. Prosecutors alleged that the search was intended to uncover and confiscate documents that might incriminate Fujimori. Similar to the present charges, Fujimori admitted to the facts, but denied any wrongdoing.






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Federal court suppresses Guantanamo detainee 'torture' statements
Devin Montgomery on July 20, 2009 1:37 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Friday ordered the suppression [order, PDF] of all out-of-court statements made by Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad [ACLU materials; JURIST news archive] that may have been elicited through torture. Last week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] chose not to oppose [response, PDF; JURIST report] a motion to suppress [text, PDF] the statements filed by Jawad's lawyers. The court also denied the DOJ's request to have a hearing on the merits of their case against Jawad postponed past August 5, finding that granting the delay would violate the 2008 ruling in Boumediene v. Bush [text, PDF], which requires prompt habeas corpus hearings for the detainees. The DOJ has until July 24 to file their factual and legal basis for holding Jawad, without the benefit of the suppressed statements.

Jawad's case has been controversial due to repeated delays in the proceedings. In May, Jawad's military lawyers asked the Supreme Court of Afghanistan to demand his release [JURIST report] from Guantanamo. The petition for his release was because the planned closure [JURIST news archive] of the facility allegedly delayed the case in the US. In April, a federal judge ruled [JURIST report] that Jawad's habeas petition should not be delayed. Jawad has been charged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] with attempted murder and intentionally causing serious bodily injury for his alleged role in a December 2002 grenade attack in Kabul that injured two US soldiers and an Afghan translator. In May 2008, Jawad moved [JURIST report] to have all charges against him dismissed on the basis of the abuse he claimed to have suffered.






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ICTY convicts Bosnian Serb cousins of war crimes and crimes against humanity
Devin Montgomery on July 20, 2009 11:12 AM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Monday convicted [press release, PDF] Bosnian Serb cousins Milan Lukic and Sredoje Lukic [indictment; case backgrounder, PDF] of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their actions as part of a paramilitary unit during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. The men were found guilty of the murder, extermination, and torture of Bosnian Muslims, including two separate instances of killing scores of civilians by locking them in residential buildings and then setting the buildings on fire. Handing down the judgment, the court condemned the men's crimes:


The Pionirska street fire and the Bikavac fire exemplify the worst acts of inhumanity that a person may inflict upon others. In the all too long, sad and wretched history of man’s inhumanity to man, the Pionirska street and Bikavac fires must rank high. At the close of the twentieth century, a century marked by war and bloodshed on a colossal scale, these horrific events stand out for the viciousness of the incendiary attack, for the obvious premeditation and calculation that defined it, for the sheer callousness and brutality of herding, trapping and locking the victims in the two houses, thereby rendering them helpless in the ensuing inferno, and for the degree of pain and suffering inflicted on the victims as they were burnt alive. There is a unique cruelty in expunging all traces of the individual victims which must heighten the gravity ascribed to these crimes.

Milan was sentenced to life in prison and Sredoje was sentenced to 30 years.

Milan Lukic and Sredoje Lukic photos courtesy ICTY

The trial of the two men began last July [JURIST report]. In 2005, Milan Lukic was arrested [JURIST report] in Argentina. Earlier that year, he was convicted in absentia [JURIST report] by a Serbian war crimes court for his role in the 1993 abduction and killing of 20 Bosnian Muslims. In 2007, the ICTY announced it would conduct a joint trial of the Lukic cousins, revoking a planned referral [press release] of Sredoje's case to the War Crimes Chamber of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina [JURIST news archive]. The Bosnian War Crimes Chamber was established [JURIST report] in March 2005 to ease the backlog of the ICTY, which is currently trying to complete all its work by 2010.





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Mumbai terror attack suspect stops trial to plead guilty
Abigail Salisbury on July 20, 2009 9:34 AM ET

[JURIST] Mumbai terror attack [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] suspect Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab interrupted his trial in India Monday to confess and plead guilty to 86 charges stemming from his participation in last November's killings. Kasab, the only captured gunman from the attacks, told the court that he and several others traveled from their native Pakistan to India to commit the attack, which claimed at least 170 lives at ten locations across the city. When he was originally formally charged [BBC report] at a special court in Mumbai, he denied any involvement [JURIST report] in the attacks. The court must now verify that Kasab's confession was voluntary, and may then sentence him [IANS report] for his alleged crimes.

On Saturday, a Pakistani anti-terrorism court began the trial [JURIST report] of five men allegedly belonging to the Lashkar-e-Taiba [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] militant group suspected of planning and coordinating the terror attacks. Two Indian defendants linked to the group have pleaded not guilty [AFP report] to charges related to Kasab's alleged acts and are being tried in an Indian court. In February, Pakistani officials conceded [JURIST report] that the attacks were partially planned in their country, and have 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 damaging the already-unstable relationship between Pakistan and India.






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Turkish court begins second Ergenekon coup trial
Devin Montgomery on July 20, 2009 9:10 AM ET

[JURIST] A Turkish court on Monday began the trial of two former generals and 54 others suspected of planning to overthrow [JURIST report] the country's ruling Justice Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish]. Sener Eruygur, Hursit Tolon, and their co-defendants are accused of belonging to the country's secular Ergenekon [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] group, which is suspected of involvement in bombings, political assassination plots, and the death of journalist Hrant Dink [BBC obituary]. This is the second large trial of those arrested for alleged connections to the group. The trial of 86 others [JURIST report] began in October 2008, and prosecutors submitted an indictment for another 52 suspects [Hurriyet report] on Monday. Eruygur and Tolon face life in prison if convicted of leading Ergenekon. The probe has been criticized as an attempt by the AKP to silence opposition and further their imposition of Islamic principles [DPA report; JURIST report] in violation of Turkey's secular constitution [text].

In June, police arrested 20 others [JURIST report] in connection with the alleged plot. In May, the Turkish government merged [JURIST report] a case against a lawyer accused of killing a judge with its case against Ergenekon. In March, a Turkish court ordered the arrest [JURIST report] of Cumhuriyet journalist Mustafa Balbay and internet publisher Neriman Aydin for their alleged involvement with the groups. There are currently more than 200 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].






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US military recommends overhaul of Afghanistan prison system: report
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 20, 2009 8:21 AM ET

[JURIST] A US military study has recommended a complete overhaul [NYT report] of both the US-run and Afghan-run prisons in Afghanistan, the New York Times reported Sunday. After prison conditions continued to deteriorate, and a January report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan [official website] found widespread arbitrary detentions, Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, former deputy commanding general for detainee operations for the Multi National Force–Iraq [official website], was appointed to review all Afghan prison and detention issues. Stone has reportedly recommended separating extremists from the rest of the prison population to avoid militant recruiting within prisons, as well as training Afghan guards, prosecutors, and judges. Militant extremists would be housed in a separate facility, partially financed by the US, and the remaining detainees would be provided with vocational training. Officials reported that some of Stone's recommendations are already being implemented in a new facility that will house about 600 detainees, scheduled to open this fall.

Conditions at US-run facilities in Afghanistan, particularly at the US detention facility at Bagram Air Base [JURIST news archive; GlobalSecurity backgrounder], have been controversial, particularly after two detainees died in 2002 after having been beaten by US soldiers. Last week, it was reported that detainees held at Bagram have refused prison privileges to protest their detention. Last month, a judge from the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] dismissed [JURIST report] a habeas corpus petition filed by Afghan national and Bagram detainee Haji Wazir, because he was detained in a theater of war and his release would likely cause "friction with the host country." Also last month, several former Bagram detainees alleged [JURIST report] that they were subjected to physical abuse, death threats, "stress positions," extreme temperatures, and forced nudity while at the US facility. In April, the DC Circuit allowed habeas petitions [JURIST report] brought by three non-Afghan to proceed, but later certified and suspended [JURIST report] the order, allowing an interlocutory appeal on whether the detainees may invoke the Constitution's Suspension Clause [text].






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China official says police killed 12 in regional ethnic violence
Tere Miller-Sporrer on July 19, 2009 4:36 PM ET

[JURIST] Nur Bekri, chairman of the government in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region [official website], told the Xinhua News Agency [official website] Sunday that twelve "mobsters" had been fatally shot by police in the Chinese city of Urumqi on July 5 [Xinhua report] in riots that received extensive coverage in the West. Nur Bekri went on the say that the police had fired warning shots and that he was making the announcement in order "to erase the negative effects of the riots in the shortest period of time."

Shortly after the rioting, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] called for restraint [press release] from all sides and a respect for due process in arrests and prosecutions. Pillay's remarks come two days after violence broke out [NYT report] between Han Chinese and Uighur residents in Xinjiang's regional capital. The Chinese government says [Xinhua report] that the majority of those killed in the violence were Han residents killed by protesters, although the World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur American Association [advocacy websites] say that many protesters were killed by authorities but not included in the official death toll. The Uighur population, which is Muslim, is opposed [BBC backgrounder] to China's restrictive bans on religious practice, and say that the recent influx of Han Chinese has disenfranchised non-Chinese-speaking Uighurs.






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Egypt court reverses conviction of teacher accused of insulting president
Ximena Marinero on July 19, 2009 1:28 PM ET

[JURIST] The Adawa court of misdemeanors in the Egyptian city of Menya Saturday reversed the conviction [ANHRI press releases] of Mounir Saeed Hannah, a teacher charged with insulting President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak [official website] by authoring an unpublished satirical poem. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information [advocacy website] represented Hanna in his appeal, emphasizing to the court the responsibility of the judiciary as "the first defense front of freedom of expression." Initially unrepresented by counsel, Hanna was convicted and sentenced in June to three years in prison with a bail of 100,000 Egyptian pounds (US$18,000) after one of his coworkers reported the poem.

In February, the Agouza appeals court overturned [JURIST news report] the one year prison sentences of four newspaper editors convicted of defaming Mubarak and the ruling National Democratic Party [party website], but upheld the approximately US$3600 fines against the men.






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Pakistan court begins trial of 5 Mumbai terror attack suspects
Ximena Marinero on July 19, 2009 11:19 AM ET

[JURIST] A Pakistan anti-terrorism court Saturday began the trial of five men allegedly belonging to the Lakshar-e-Taiba (LeT) [CFR backgrounder] militant group suspected of planning and coordinating the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], according to Pakistan media reports [INN report]. The alleged commander of the attacks, Zaki-ur-Rahman Lahkvi [Global Jihad profile], is among the five, and will be indicted with the others when the trial resumes July 25. Based on investigations conducted by the Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency [official website], the five men are accused of providing "transport, accommodation, computer network, financial assistance and boats" to those who carried out the Mumbai attacks. One of the men has petitioned the court to give him access to the evidence submitted against him that he believes to be incomplete and false. The court also issued warrants for the arrest of seven more suspects that have been proclaimed as culprits.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [BBC profiles] released a joint statement [text] on Thursday "resolv[ing] to fight terrorism and to cooperate with each other to this end," and emphasizing the need to prosecute those responsible for the Mumbai attacks. Pakistan completed [JURIST news report] its probe into the Mumbai attacks last week. In February, Pakistani officials conceded [JURIST report] that the attacks were partially planned in their country. In June, India issued an arrest warrant [JURIST report] for Lahkvi, but Pakistan announced it would not hand over [IANS report] any of its citizens and would try them in Pakistan. 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.






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Federal court frees Los Angeles police department from DOJ oversight
Ximena Marinero on July 18, 2009 3:55 PM ET

[JURIST] The US District Court of the Central District of California [official website] Friday ended the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) [official website] consent decree [LAPD materials; PBS backgrounder] to federal oversight that the LAPD was forced into in 2001 resulting from US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division [official website] pressure after the Rampart Area Corruption Incident [PBS backgrounder]. Judge Gary Feess, Jr., who had presided over the decree, reasoned that the LAPD had accomplished substantial progress to merit release the department from federal supervision. Feess' ruling retained DOJ jurisdiction over an approved three-year transition agreement from federal oversight to Los Angeles Police Commission supervision, while specifying that if the mandated reform process is unsatisfactory, the LAPD risks returning to federal oversight. The ruling also emphasized the need for more reforms in officer training, officer financial disclosure policy, and reports on how officers address racial profiling complaints. While LAPD Chief William Bratton [official profile] viewed the ruling as long overdue, citing the significant progresses of the department, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California [advocacy website] Legal Director Mark Rosenbaum decried [press release] the ruling as a disappointment because "there [is] still too much evidence that skin color makes a difference in who is stopped, questioned, and arrested by the LAPD."

Feess extended the consent decree twice within the past month. In June, the Office of the Independent Monitor of the LAPD issued its final report [materials], referenced in Feess' ruling in recognizing the reform progress accomplished by the department. The original consent agreement was for five years, and called for an independent monitor over reforms in officer training, investigations, and audits to address Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights violations.






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House Intelligence Committee to investigate CIA secret assassination plan
Matt Glenn on July 18, 2009 1:19 PM ET

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee [official website] will launch an investigation into plans by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] to assassinate al Qaeda members, the Committee announced [press release] Friday. The Committee has already requested documents [Washington Post report] from the CIA and will likely hold hearings, according to Committee-member Jan Schakowsky [official profile]. The Committee hopes to learn whether former vice president Dick Cheney told the CIA to hide the program from Congress as media reports alleged [NYT report; JURIST report] last week. Former Bush administration officials have defended the decision not to reveal the program to Congress on the grounds that the program was only in the planning phase and not yet fully developed. It is not yet known whether the committee will call Cheney as a witness.

Members of Congress called for an investigation [JURIST report] into the program earlier this week. CIA director Leon Panetta [official profile] revealed the program to Congress and announced its termination in June.






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Obama administration may establish special interrogators unit: report
Matt Glenn on July 18, 2009 12:42 PM ET

[JURIST] The Obama administration may create a special unit of interrogators to handle certain terror suspects, the Wall St. Journal reported Saturday, citing unidentified government officials. In creating the unit, the administration would reduce the role of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] in interrogating suspects as the CIA has faced criticism [JURIST report] for its interrogation techniques [JURIST news archive] during the Bush administration. It is not clear which agencies the team would draw members from, but it is expected that members of both the CIA and the FBI would be included [AP report]. The interrogation team would reportedly not use certain controversial interrogation techniques like waterboarding [JURIST news archive]. A spokesperson for the White House [official website] refused to comment on the report.

The appropriateness of Bush-era intelligence policy has been hotly contested since the change in administration earlier this year. Last week, five federal agencies released a report [text; JURIST report] on the prior administration's warrantless wiretapping program that reviewed both the flawed legal origins of the program and questioned the effectiveness of information produced by wiretapping international communications of American citizens. In May, for Vice President Dick Cheney vigorously defended the national security policies [speech transcript; JURIST report] of the Bush administration in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) [organization website].






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Second Circuit overturns Muslim scholar visa denial
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 17, 2009 3:06 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday in favor of three organizations that had challenged the denial of a visa to a controversial Swiss Muslim scholar, reviving their claim. Tariq Ramadan [ACLU materials; JURIST news archive] had been invited to teach at the University of Notre Dame in 2004, but the government denied his visa, citing Ramadan's contributions to a charity, the Association de Secours Palestinien (ASP), which provided some financial support to Hamas [JURIST news archive]. The government claimed this rendered him inadmissible under the Immigration and Nationality Act [USCIS backgrounder] for having "engaged in a terrorist activity" by providing "material support" to a "terrorist organization." The Second Circuit vacated a district court decision [opinion, PDF] that granted summary judgment to the defendants, the director of Homeland Security and the secretary of state. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website], which filed suit on behalf of plaintiffs, welcomed [press release] Friday's decision, saying:


We're very pleased with the appeals court's decision. The court properly found that the exclusion of foreign scholars like Ramadan implicates the First Amendment rights of Americans, that the judiciary has a role in policing the government's exclusion of foreign scholars, and that in this case the government simply has not offered a constitutionally adequate justification for its actions.

The case was remanded back to the district court for further proceedings, but the ACLU expressed hope that the Obama administration would end Ramadan's exclusion without further litigation.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] in 2006 on behalf of American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors, and the PEN American Center [organization websites]. The government had originally excluded Ramadan for endorsing terrorism, but changed their position after the suit was filed. The ACLU challenged the exclusion on First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] grounds.





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China officials shut down rights group's legal research center
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 17, 2009 2:18 PM ET

[JURIST] Chinese officials from Beijing's Civil Affairs Bureau on Friday shut down [press release, in Chinese] the legal research center of the Gongmeng [advocacy website, in Chinese] human rights group. Officials confiscated computers and other equipment, telling staff that the center was not properly registered [AP report]. A lawyer for Gongmeng said that the research center was part of Gongmeng, which is properly registered. A statement from Gongmeng called the Civil Affairs Bureau's actions "illegal." Also this week, the Chinese government suspended the licenses of 53 lawyers [press release, in Chinese] in Beijing, including prominent human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, for failing to pass an assessment or failing to register. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] condemned the action, saying:


There are only a tiny group of lawyers left in China who are brave enough to take the risk of representing victims of human rights violations. A further crackdown against human rights lawyers is a major blow not only to these legal professionals but to the human rights defence [sic] movement in China.

These two actions are viewed by many human rights activists as an attempt by the Chinese government to quash dissidence [Reuters report] as the 60th anniversary of Communist rule approaches in October.

Gongmeng has recently gained notoriety by representing the families of children who were sickened by tainted milk [JURIST news archive]. In January, lawyers for the families of 213 Chinese children sickened or killed by melamine-contaminated milk petitioned the Supreme People's Court [official website, in Chinese], China's highest court, to hear a class action lawsuit against 22 dairy companies involved in the contamination. The petition seeks more than $5 million in compensation [Shanghai Daily report] from the companies, including individual amounts more than double those provided for in a government-sanctioned payout plan [JURIST report]. News of possible milk powder contamination by the chemical melamine first broke in September [Guardian report], following the death of an infant and reports that at least 50 other infants had fallen ill after consuming baby formula, leading to massive recalls [BBC report] of both liquid milk products and milk powders. The Chinese Health Ministry has attributed the deaths of six children to the contamination, and at least 294,000 other children have been affected.





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SEC and CFTC merger urged at House hearing
Christian Ehret on July 17, 2009 2:05 PM ET

[JURIST] Finance expert William Brodsky [FIA profile] on Friday called for the merger [testimony, PDF] of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) [official websites]. Brodsky and others testified before the US House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services [official website] to discuss Obama administration proposals for financial regulatory reform. The Chicago Board Options Exchange [corporate website] CEO maintained that merging the two financial regulators was necessary to account for "increasingly sophisticated technology." Brodsky argued that the failure to modernize the current regulatory system has resulted in unregulated gaps, market congestion, and a lack of regulatory perspective. He agreed with the proposal's recommendation that a single authority should be assigned to supervise firms that potentially pose a risk to financial stability:


It has become increasingly clear over the part two decades that our system of regulating securities and futures under two distinctly different statutory structures - with separate regulatory agencies and different congressional committees - causes needless legal uncertainty and delay, impedes innovation and competition, and imposes unnecessary costs on our financial markets.

Brodsky said that he supported the creation of a Financial Regulatory Oversight Council, which would be chaired by the Treasury, to resolve potential disputes between the SEC and CFTC.

The current economic crisis has been an impetus behind recent calls for financial reform. Earlier this week, SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro testified before the House Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance and Government-Sponsored Enterprises that the commission is engaging in more vigorous enforcement [testimony; JURIST report] of its rules and policies. Last week, the CFTC announced plans [press release, PDF; JURIST report] to hold a public hearing on a series of regulatory reforms aimed at curbing excessive speculation in energy commodity markets. CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler said that the different regulatory treatment given to agriculture commodities "deserves thoughtful review." In March, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said that his department plans to propose [JURIST report] stronger rules in response to the economic crisis. Last year, then-Treasury secretary Henry Paulson Jr. unveiled a plan [JURIST report] to merge the SEC and CFTC to overhaul the nation's financial regulatory system.





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Pakistan high court acquits ex-PM Sharif of hijacking, allows him to run for office
Christian Ehret on July 17, 2009 12:10 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] on Friday acquitted [judgment, PDF] opposition leader Nawaz Sharif on charges of hijacking a plane carrying General Pervez Musharraf [JURIST news archives] in 1999. The conviction had barred Sharif from running for office, although the court lifted the ban [JURIST reports] in May. It was alleged that then-prime minister Sharif ordered Musharraf's return flight to the country not to be permitted to land and to be diverted to another country after replacing him as chief of the Army Staff. The order came during a coup against Sharif that ultimately succeeded. The country's anti-terrorism court in 2000 acquitted all of the defendants in the case except Sharif. The Supreme Court ruled that, "looking at the case from any angle," hijacking or terrorism charges do not stand against Sharif.

After his conviction, the ruling was suspended [JURIST report] after Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] petitioned the court to review the decision [JURIST report]. Earlier this year, Sharif and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website] led a protest march [JURIST report] against Zardari and his Pakistan People's Party (PPP) [party website] as part of the Pakistan lawyers' movement [JURIST news archive]. In March, Zardari formed a parliamentary committee [JURIST report] to review key terms of the Pakistani Constitution, and reinstated [JURIST report] Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry [JURIST news archive], who was ousted in 2007 after then-president Musharraf declared a state of emergency rule.






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Chinese-American first to be convicted under Economic Espionage Act
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 17, 2009 11:30 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Boeing [corporate website] engineer Dongfan "Greg" Chung was convicted [DOJ press release] Thursday of stealing corporate trade secrets related to the US Space Shuttle program and turning them over to China in the first ever trial under the Economic Espionage Act [DOJ backgrounder]. Chung, a native of China, was tried in the US District Court for the Central District of California [official website] in a non-jury trial and convicted on charges [indictment, PDF] of conspiracy to commit economic espionage, six counts of economic espionage to benefit a foreign country, one count of acting as an agent of the People’s Republic of China, and one count of making false statements to the FBI. Chung was remanded into custody to await sentencing, which is scheduled for November 9. Prosecutors plan to recommend a 15- to 20-year prison sentence [Los Angeles Times report].

Chung was arrested [DOJ press release; JURIST report] in February 2008. He worked for Rockwell International from 1973 until its defense and space unit was acquired by Boeing in 1996, and he continued to work for Boeing as an employee and then as a contractor through 2006. Chung's arrest resulted from an investigation into the case of Chi Mak [CI Centre backgrounder; JURIST report], a Chinese-American engineer convicted [BBC report] in 2007 of conspiring to smuggle sensitive naval intelligence data to China and sentenced [JURIST report] to more than 24 years in prison.






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Senate passes bill expanding hate crimes protection for gender and sexual orientation
Christian Ehret on July 17, 2009 10:39 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] approved a bill [S 909 materials] Thursday that would expand hate crimes law to include crimes motivated by sexual orientation or gender. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act would provide federal assistance to state and local authorities to prosecute hate crimes and would allow the federal government to prosecute such crimes that state or local prosecutors do not pursue. Current hate crimes law only protects crimes motivated by race, religion, color, or national origin. The measure was applauded [press release] by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) [official website], who called its approval a "victory for all Americans." Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) [official website] opposed the bill on the Senate floor, arguing that the wording of the legislation shows an intent to prosecute speech [official blog] "if it is part of the broader prosecution of an action that could be perceived as a hate crime." DeMint and others have also raised equal protection concerns for hate crime legislation.

The US House of Representatives [official website] considered similar legislation [HR 1913 materials] in April, approving the measure [JURIST report] by 249-175. Both the House and Senate bills include crimes motivated by disabilities as well as gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. In 2007, the House and Senate [JURIST reports] passed similar legislation but the broadened language was ultimately removed [JURIST report] during House and Senate negotiations.






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Federal judge dismisses Hillary Clinton 'Filegate' suit
Christian Ehret on July 17, 2009 9:20 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a suit against Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton [official profile] for allegedly misusing FBI background records to obtain information on Republican White House employees during Bill Clinton's presidency. US District Judge Royce Lamberth removed Clinton as a defendant [AP report] in the case [materials] because there was no legal basis to require Clinton to submit to an oral deposition. The controversy, known as "Filegate," stems from a Clinton administration request for FBI background checks on White House employees, which included Republican political appointees of prior administrations. The administration has defended itself by claiming that it was trying to reconstruct personnel files that were kept by former president George H.W. Bush. The lawsuit was brought by White House employees of prior administrations who alleged that the FBI and Clinton White House violated the Privacy Act [5 USC § 552a text] and that Hillary Clinton and others committed common law invasion of privacy. The Office of the Independent Counsel conducted an investigation into the matter and reported [press release] in 2000 that there was "no substantial and credible evidence" that Hillary Clinton was involved in seeking the FBI reports.

The plaintiffs in the Filegate suit have been represented by Judicial Watch [advocacy website], which filed suit [complaint, PDF; materials] earlier this year against Hillary Clinton in an unrelated case. The group alleges that the Article I, § 6 [text] "ineligibility clause" of the Constitution prohibits Clinton from serving as Secretary of State. The provision states that "[n]o Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time." Judicial Watch recently filed an opposition to Clinton's motion to dismiss [texts, PDF], asking the court to declare Clinton ineligible to serve as Secretary of State.






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Greece lawmakers approve DNA database and surveillance camera law
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 17, 2009 9:08 AM ET

[JURIST] The Greek Parliament [official website, in Greek] voted Wednesday to approve legislation that would create a DNA database and allow the use of surveillance cameras in fighting crime. The measure, supported by the ruling conservative New Democracy [party website, in Greek] party, would allow for the collection of DNA samples from all criminal suspects. Upon acquittal, the sample would be destroyed, but upon conviction, even for a misdemeanor [Ethnos report, in Greek], the sample would be stored for the rest of the defendant's life. The legislation also allows for surveillance camera footage to be stored for seven days. The measure was strongly opposed by members of various opposition parties, including the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) [party website, in Greek], which cited UK surveillance programs [JURIST news archive] to argue that surveillance cameras do not improve public safety [Ta Nea report, in Greek]. The legislation was also opposed by the Athens Bar Association [association website, in Greek], which argued [press release, in Greek], "[t]he constitutional principle of proportionality requires the legislature to restrict the taking of DNA material only to serious crimes such as homicide, organized crime, drugs, etc."

The new legislation comes partly as a result of last December's violent protests [BBC backgrounder] in Athens and other parts of the country, which were sparked when police officers shot and killed 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos [BBC report]. Reports indicated that Grigoropoulos and other youth were throwing stones at a police car and that the police believed he was throwing explosives. Demonstrations and riots protesting the shooting took place for weeks after Grigoropoulos' death. Last month, a council of judges in Athens ordered two police officers to stand trial [JURIST report] for Grigoropoulos's murder. In March, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] said that Greek authorities were not doing enough to ensure that the nation's police respect human rights [JURIST report], and urged 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. Earlier that month, the Greek government said that it would revamp its police force [JURIST report] in light of the riots. 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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Bush administration lawyer defends warrantless wiretapping program
Christian Ehret on July 17, 2009 8:27 AM ET

[JURIST] Former US Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel [official website] lawyer John Yoo [academic profile; JURIST news archive] defended warrantless wiretapping [WSJ report] in an essay published Thursday by the Wall Street Journal [media website]. Yoo was responding to a report [text; JURIST report] released by five government agencies that alleged that the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program relied on flawed legal analysis and produced results of questionable effectiveness, possibly in violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text]. Yoo claims that a "wall between domestic law enforcement and foreign intelligence" created by FISA contributed to the government's failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks. Calling FISA obsolete due to the fact that it was written with the Cold War in mind, Yoo contends that the law was not enacted to address "live war with an international terrorist organization." Since the legislature is too slow to be effective, Yoo argues, only the executive branch can effectively act in emergency circumstances to protect the public. Yoo discussed the supposed shortcomings of FISA:


Under FISA, to obtain a judicial wiretapping warrant the government is supposed to show probable cause that a specified target is a foreign agent. Unlike, say, Soviet spies working under diplomatic cover, terrorists are hard to identify. Yet they are vastly more dangerous. Monitoring their likely communications channels is the best way to track and stop them. Building evidence to prove past crimes, as in the civilian criminal system, is entirely beside the point. The best way to find an al Qaeda operative is to look at all email, text and phone traffic between Afghanistan and Pakistan and the U.S. This might involve the filtering of innocent traffic, just as roadblocks and airport screenings do.

The government report on the wiretapping program points out that Yoo's memorandum regarding the wiretaps do not mention the Supreme Court case of Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer [opinion text]. In Youngstown, the Court ruled that President Harry Truman overstepped his presidential authority in ordering the seizure of steel mills shut down by labor disputes during the Korean War. Yoo claims that the case does not address the scope of the president's power over war strategy.

Yoo, a Berkeley School of Law [academic website] professor, has faced much criticism for his role in drafting controversial interrogation memos [JURIST report]. Earlier this week, Yoo declared his intent to appeal [JURIST report] a lower court ruling that allowed a lawsuit filed against him alleging complicity in torture to proceed. Last week, it was reported that US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] is still considering appointing a special prosecutor [JURIST report] to investigate allegations of torture during the Bush administration. Several organizations have called for drafters of the memos to be disbarred [JURIST report]. In June, a federal judge dismissed 46 lawsuits [JURIST report] against the telecom industry, upholding provisions of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FISAAA), which gives immunity to telecom companies that assist the National Security Agency (NSA) with warrantless eavesdropping. The FISAAA granted the FISA court authority to review a wider range of wiretapping orders, prohibited the executive branch from overriding the court's authority, and ordered the DOJ and other agencies to issue this latest report on the country's use of wiretapping orders.





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Ousted Thailand PM fights seizure of $2.2 billion in assets
Matt Glenn on July 17, 2009 7:49 AM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] challenged the Thai government's decision to seize $2.2 billion of Thaksin's assets during a hearing Wednesday before Thailand's Supreme Court Criminal Division for Political Office Holders. The attorney general [official website, in Thai] claims Thaksin is unusually rich [Nation report] and accused him of making his fortune through abuse of his power. Thaksin's family made a great deal of their money by selling stock [Bangkok Post report] in Shin Corporation [corporate website] just three days after the government raised the maximum foreign ownership of telecommunication companies from 20 percent to 49 percent. Prosecutors claim Thaksin never paid taxes on the sale. Lawyers for Thaksin claim that the attempt to seize the assets is politically motivated and that Thaksin was not given an opportunity to call witnesses on his behalf before the Assets Examination Committee decided to seize his money.

In April, a Thai court issued an arrest warrant [JURIST report] for Thaksin, who fled Thailand last summer, a day after he called for the government to be overthrown. In October, a Thai court found Thaksin guilty [JURIST report] in absentia on corruption charges and he was sentenced to two years in prison. Last August, Thai prosecutors asked the Supreme Court to seize over $2 billion [JURIST report] from Thaksin's frozen accounts and holdings in relation to the charges. Last July, the Thai Attorney General's Office filed corruption charges [JURIST report] against Thaksin for his role in a 2003 resolution reducing fees paid by mobile phone companies to state telecommunications agencies. Later that month, Thaksin's wife, as well as her step brother and secretary, were convicted of tax evasion [JURIST report] as a result of her transferring $16.3 million worth of stock to the two. Also that month, the Supreme Court agreed to hear additional charges against Thaksin and 47 other for alleged misconduct [JURIST reports] related to the country's lottery system. Thaksin was ousted from power [JURIST report] in a 2006 military coup.






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Senators conclude Sotomayor questioning
Jaclyn Belczyk on July 16, 2009 4:00 PM ET

[JURIST] US Supreme Court [official website] nominee Sonia Sotomayor [WH profile; JURIST news archive] reiterated her commitment to applying the law fairly to the facts of each case as members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] concluded their questions [materials] Thursday. During questioning from Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) [official website], Sotomayor said:

The role of the courts is to interpret the law as Congress writes it. It may be the effect in a particular situation that, in the court doing that, in giving effect to Congress's intent, it has that outcome, but it's not the role of the judge to create that outcome. It's to interpret what Congress is doing and do what Congress wants.
After the Senators concluded their questioning, the committee began hearing testimony from witnesses speaking both for and against Sotomayor's confirmation. One witness who spoke against Sotomayor was Frank Ricci, the named plaintiff in the firefighter racial discrimination case of Ricci v. DeStefano [JURIST report], in which Sotomayor ruled in favor of the city of New Haven. Ricci said [testimony, PDF]:
Despite the important civil rights and constitutional claims we raised, the Court of Appeals panel disposed of our case in an unsigned, unpublished summary order that consisted of a single paragraph that mentioned my dyslexia and thus led everybody to think that this case was about me and a disability claim. This case had nothing to do with that. It had everything to do with ensuring our command officers were competent to answer the call and our right to advance in our profession based on merit regardless of race.
Testimony and questioning of the remaining witnesses will continue into Thursday evening.

On Wednesday, Sotomayor said that she has rejected personal bias [JURIST report] and "ruled according to the law" in abortion-related cases. On Tuesday, she defended her judicial record [JURIST report] and emphasized her reliance on precedent when deciding cases. Sotomayor's confirmation hearings began Monday with her saying that she would bring a "fidelity to the law" to the Court in her opening statement [materials; JURIST report], and Senators offering contrasting interpretations of her record in their opening statements [JURIST report]. Last week, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary [official website] gave Sotomayor a unanimous "well-qualified" rating [letter, PDF; JURIST report]. In May, Obama praised [JURIST report] Sotomayor's experience and wisdom, rebuking Republicans who would oppose her confirmation. Obama warned against partisanship in the confirmation process, saying that he hoped Congress would "avoid the political posturing and ideological brinksmanship" that marked past confirmation hearings. Obama nominated Sotomayor in May to replace retiring [JURIST reports] Justice David Souter [official profile, PDF; JURIST news archive].





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Bagram prisoners refuse privileges to protest detention
Andrew Morgan on July 16, 2009 3:04 PM ET

[JURIST] Detainees held at the US detention facility at Bagram Air Base [JURIST news archive; GlobalSecurity backgrounder] in Afghanistan have refused prison privileges to protest their detention, according to Thursday reports. Since early July, hundreds of Bagram detainees have refused shower and exercise time and have ceased participation in a family visits and teleconferences set up by International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [official website]. The ICRC, the only humanitarian group given access to the base, has discontinued [AFP report] the programs during the protest. A US military officials said that the detainees were protesting their lack of access [AP report] to US courts and the indefinite length of their detention.

Last month, a judge from the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] dismissed [JURIST report] a habeas corpus petition filed by Afghan national and Bagram detainee Haji Wazir, because he was detained in a theater of war and his release would likely cause "friction with the host country." Also last month, several former Bagram detainees alleged [JURIST report] that they were subjected to physical abuse, death threats, "stress positions," extreme temperatures, and forced nudity while at the US facility. In April, the DC Circuit allowed habeas petitions [JURIST report] brought by three non-Afghan to proceed, but later certified and suspended [JURIST report] the order, allowing an interlocutory appeal on whether the detainees may invoke the Constitution's Suspension Clause [text].






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France lower house approves Sunday work bill
Andrew Morgan on July 16, 2009 1:45 PM ET

[JURIST] The French National Assembly [official website, in French] on Wednesday approved [materials, in French] 282-238 a bill that would relax the country's restrictions on Sunday commercial activities. If passed by the Senate next week, the bill would alter a 1906 law establishing the principle of "Sunday rest" to allow businesses in tourist zones and major cities to open on Sundays. The proposal requires that businesses give employees the option to refuse Sunday working hours, that the refusal to work on Sunday should not effect employment or termination decisions, and that some workers be given overtime compensation for Sunday hours. French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official website, in French] and his Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) [party website] supported the measure as a way to increase economic activity, while labor unions such as the French Confederation of Christian Workers [union website] said that the bill undermines [press release] the country's social ties and threatens worker's quality of life.

The lifting of the Sunday commercial restriction is part of Sarkozy's plan to encourage more entrepreneurial activity in France. The measure was defeated [Guardian report] last year after meeting resistance from inside UMP, being condemned by the Catholic church and protested by workers and their representatives. Sarkozy was elected [BBC report] in May 2007 on a platform that included liberalization of France's economic policies, urging [Times report] citizens to "work more to earn more" as a means to encourage economic growth.






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DOJ agrees not to oppose suppression of Guantanamo detainee confession
Christian Ehret on July 16, 2009 1:36 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] stated on Wednesday that they do not oppose [response, PDF] a motion to suppress [text, PDF] the allegedly torture-induced confession of Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad [ACLU materials; JURIST news archive]. Jawad's motion sought to suppress all out-of-court statements made to US and Afghan officials on the grounds that they were the product of coercion and because they did not meet the voluntariness requirement of federal habeas proceedings. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] supported Jawad's motion, claiming that the government is still relying on the statements [press release] in question. Mainly at issue is a confession signed by Jawad at an Afghan police station after being arrested for allegedly throwing a grenade at US soldiers. Jawad's motion claimed that the confession was written in Persian, which he does not understand, and that he is "functionally illiterate," even in his native language. The motion also alleged that interrogators threatened to kill Jawad and his family if he did not confess. Post-arrest statements made by Jawad were previously suppressed by a military tribunal judge on the grounds that they were elicited by torture. Jawad's motion claimed that the government was collaterally estopped from religitating the issue. In their response, the DOJ asked for the status conference on Jawad's habeas action to be postponed until August.

Jawad's case has been controversial due to repeated delays in the proceedings. In May, Jawad's military lawyers asked the Supreme Court of Afghanistan to demand his release [JURIST report] from Guantanamo. The petition for his release was because the planned closure [JURIST news archive] of the facility allegedly delayed the case in the US. In April, a federal judge ruled [JURIST report] that Jawad's habeas petition should not be delayed. The judge based the ruling on the Boumediene v. Bush [opinion, PDF] decision, which calls for the prompt adjudication of Guantanamo detainees' habeas cases. The original military prosecutor of the case quit the military commission in September citing conscience reasons. Jawad has been charged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] with attempted murder and intentionally causing serious bodily injury for his alleged role in a December 2002 grenade attack in Kabul that injured two US soldiers and an Afghan translator. In May 2008, Jawad moved [JURIST report] to have all charges against him dismissed, alleging that he has been tortured in US custody and subjected to the so-called "frequent-flier program," in which certain inmates are moved between cells at two to four hour intervals in an attempt to cause physical stress through sleep deprivation.






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Guantanamo prosecutors seek delays in pending trials
Andrew Morgan on July 16, 2009 11:59 AM ET

[JURIST] Military prosecutors at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] on Wednesday sought to delay the trials of three suspected terrorists while the US government revises the military commission [JURIST news archive] system used to try them. At the second day of hearings held at the detention facility since US President Barack Obama [official website] took office, judges granted a government request to postpone proceedings in the case of accused al-Qaeda member Mohammed Kamin, but did not rule on similar motions in the cases of Omar Khadr and Ibrahim Ahmed al Qosi [DOD materials]. Military prosecutors said that, since changes made to the military commissions structure may invalidate the current proceedings [Reuters report] or require rehearing on specific issues, the court should stay the cases until the revisions are complete. Defense counsel for the detainees said that the delays would violate American legal principles by endorsing indefinite detention. Commander Suzanne Lachelier, defense counsel for alleged 9-11 co-conspirator Ramzi Binalshibh [DOD materials], predicted [Bloomberg report] that no more full trials would be completed at Guantanamo before its closure in January 2010, due to the inefficiencies created by the rules of evidence and the systemic review. An anonymous US official said on Wednesday that more than 60 detainees [Bloomberg report] had been cleared by the US government for transfer to other countries.

Last week, a former Guantanamo prosecutor told the House Judiciary Committee [official website] that the military commission system is "broken beyond repair" [JURIST report]. Also last week, a former US Navy Judge Advocate General [official website] told the Senate Armed Services Committee [official website] that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) [text, PDF] should be repealed rather than reformed [JURIST report]. Last month, that committee approved [JURIST report] a version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 [S 1033 materials] that would reform the use of classified, coerced, and hearsay evidence and allow defendants greater access to exculpatory evidence. Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) [official website] said that the changes were necessary for the military commissions to be considered "regularly constituted courts" within the meaning of the 2006 Supreme Court [official website] decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld [opinion, PDF; JURIST report]. In May, US President Barack Obama [official website] announced [JURIST report] that he would use the controversial military commissions system to try some Guantanamo Bay detainees. The move drew criticism [JURIST report] from human rights groups, which called the plan "fatally flawed," continuing a long line of criticism of the commissions [JURIST report] for admitting some evidence that is barred from federal court, including hearsay or coerced confessions. In January, Obama issued an executive order [text; JURIST report] directing the military prison be closed "as soon as practicable and no later than one year from the date of this order."






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Canada intelligence service criticized for role in interrogating Khadr
Christian Ehret on July 16, 2009 11:45 AM ET

[JURIST] The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) [official website] was criticized [press release] by the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) [official website] Wednesday for its role in interrogating Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr [DOD materials; JURIST news archive]. The committee reported [text] that the intelligence agency failed to consider Khadr's age and human rights issues regarding alleged mistreatment by US authorities during interviews. The report states that the detainee's age should have been taken into account because Canadian and international law dictates that minors are entitled to special consideration. SIRC chairman Gary Filmon suggested that CSIS "undertake a fundamental reassessment of how it carries out its work," stressing that it is important for the agency to demonstrate its capability of conducting operations abroad. The report additionally alleges that the service violated policies on confidentiality by allowing US authorities to videotape the interrogations. Also on Wednesday, Khadr reaffirmed his previous request [JURIST report] to have his US military lawyers dismissed from his case [AP report] for arguing and disagreeing among themselves. Khadr told the judge that he did not trust the military lawyers or their office.

The disputes among the members of Khadr's US defense team arose from chief defense counsel Colonel Peter Masciola's efforts to dismiss Lieutenant Commander William Kuebler [JURIST news archive] as lead counsel for Khadr after Kuebler filed a formal complaint against Masciola alleging a conflict of interest. After Masciola removed Kuebler [JURIST report] from the case, Parrish reinstated him [JURIST report], ruling that Masciola did not have the authority to remove counsel. Kuebler has long criticized Masciola's handling of the case and, in February, stated that he had prompted the investigation [JURIST report] of the defense team's ethics based on Masciola's leadership. Khadr has maintained his desire to be represented by Canadian lawyers Dennis Edney and Nathan Whitling. In April, the Federal Court of Canada ruled [JURIST report] that Prime Minister Stephen Harper must advocate for Khadr's repatriation based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom [text]. Soon after the ruling, an official for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs [official website] confirmed [JURIST report] the government’s intention to appeal. Khadr has allegedly admitted to throwing a hand grenade [JURIST report] that killed a US soldier in Afghanistan, and was charged [JURIST report] in April 2007 with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying.






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ICC prosecutor reviews names of Kenya election violence suspects
Andrew Morgan on July 16, 2009 10:20 AM ET

[JURIST] The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Thursday received and reviewed [press release] a sealed envelope listing the names of those believed to be responsible for the post-election violence in Kenya [JURIST report] in late 2007 and early 2008. ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] also received "six boxes of documents and supporting materials" compiled by the Commission of Inquiry on Post Election Violence (CIPEV), or Waki Commission. Moreno-Ocampo pledged to safeguard the contents of the envelope, so as not to jeopardize efforts to form a special tribunal [JURIST report] in Kenya to try perpetrators.


The content of the envelope will remain confidential, there will be no leaks[.] In accordance with the Rome Statute, my Office utilises all information received in our analysis work. The findings of the Waki Commission are important but they do not bind the Office; I should reach an impartial conclusion.

On Tuesday, Moreno-Ocampo received reports [press release] from Kenyan Attorney General Amos Wako [official profile] on his government's progress investigating the post-election violence. The Kenyan government agreed [press release] earlier this month to turn over information necessary for Moreno-Ocampo to conduct a preliminary investigation.

The sealed envelope was sent to the ICC [JURIST report] last week by former UN secretary-general and current chairman of the AU Panel of Eminent African Personalities Kofi Annan [official website; JURIST news archive]. Moreno-Ocampo said that the Kenyan government has the "the primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting these crimes" and had "committed to referring the case to the ICC by June 2010" if it is unable to create an appropriate tribunal by September, as planned [JURIST report]. Because Kenya is party to the Rome Statute [text, PDF], Moreno-Ocampo may prosecute suspects believed to have committed crimes over which the ICC has jurisdiction. In late December 2007, tens of thousands of protesters took to Kenya's streets accusing Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki [official profile] of election fraud after early opinion polls suggested rival Raila Odinga [official website] was in the lead. Kibaki ultimately won the election by a narrow margin. Two months later, in a move that could have eased the violence, Kibaki and Odinga agreed [JURIST report] to write a new constitution for Kenya. Earlier this year, however, Kenya's parliament rejected [press release; JURIST report] the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2009 [text, PDF], along with a Special Tribunal for Kenya Bill, 2009 [text, PDF] that would have set up a special domestic court to try persons believed to have committed post-election crimes. An estimated 1,500 people died as a result of the election violence.





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Switzerland court releases ex-Congo leader Mobutu assets to heirs
Christian Ehret on July 16, 2009 10:09 AM ET

[JURIST] The Swiss Federal Criminal Court [official website, in German] on Tuesday released the frozen assets [judgment, PDF; in German] of former Zaire leader Mobutu Sese Seko [profile]. The court ruled that the approximately 7.7 million Swiss francs stored in banks, which were said to have been gained illegally, will be returned to the late Mobutu's heirs. The funds were originally sought by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), formerly Zaire under Mobutu's control, but the Swiss prosecutor's office decided that Mobutu's heirs should receive it because the statute of limitations had run on the DRC's claim. An appeal brought by Basel University criminologist Mark Pieth to keep the assets frozen [BBC report] was subsequently rejected. Pieth alleged that Mobutu's heirs were criminal suspects and thus should not receive the funds. The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs [official website, in German] opposed the ruling [Geneva Lunch report], calling for legal reform on the issue of illicit assets. DRC Information Minister Lambert Mende claimed that Switzerland did not make enough of an attempt to give the disputed funds back to the country [BBC report].

The Swiss Federal Council ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs in December to draft a new law to address the confiscation and return of illicit assets of "politically exposed persons." Mobutu changed the Congo region's name to Zaire in 1971 after seizing power in 1965. His regime was overthrown in 1997 and he died a few months later while exiled in Morocco.






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Fourth Circuit rules Maryland liquor regulations violate federal antitrust law
Christian Ehret on July 16, 2009 8:27 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that Maryland alcohol price regulations violate federal antitrust laws. The court upheld their previous ruling [opinion, PDF] from 2001 that state pricing schemes for liquor and wine wholesalers restrain trade and constitute horizontal price fixing under the Sherman Antitrust Act [materials]. The regulations required wholesalers to disclose and lock-in prices at a fixed date every month and restricted them from offering volume discounts to retailers. Maryland defended the laws, claiming that their rights under the 21st Amendment [text] outweigh the federal law. The Fourth Circuit previously rejected the state's claims that the suit was barred by 11th Amendment [text] state immunity and that the Sherman Act did not apply to state actors. The court discussed the 21st Amendment issue:


despite the scheme's violation of federal law, the state is given the opportunity to demonstrate that its own interests outweigh those of the federal government. Here, a determination of effectiveness is essential to weigh the competing interests because the state's interests are weighed in the balance only insofar as they are actually advanced by the regulatory scheme. ... The 21st Amendment may provide "shelter" for a state's liquor statutes that violate the Sherman Act only if the state's interest truly outweighs the federal interest.

In a 2003 decision [opinion, PDF] in this case, the Fourth Circuit remanded the district court's order for consideration of Maryland and Delaware's excise tax rates in relation to the effectiveness of the regulatory scheme. The district court then conducted fact-finding on the issue and found that "the federal interest in promoting competition" outweighed Maryland's interests. On this appeal, the Fourth Circuit rejected Maryland's claims that the district court finding on the scheme's impact was based on flawed data.

The Sherman Act is a frequent subject of litigation. Last month, the US Supreme Court [official website] granted certiorari [docket; cert. petition, PDF] to consider whether the NFL and its member teams are a single entity that is exempt from rule of reason claims [JURIST report] under the Sherman Act. The suit arose out of an agreement granting Reebok an exclusive license for 10 years to market and sell products with team logos. The Seventh Circuit had ruled that the NFL and its teams were a single entity. In May, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced that it was reversing Bush-era antitrust policies that made it difficult to act against large companies that harm the interests of smaller companies. The DOJ withdrew a report [text, PDF] released in September 2008 that explored single entity violations of § 2 of the Sherman Act in which a competitor seeks or maintains monopoly power which harms consumers.





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UK judiciary should be consulted on constitutional changes: chief justice
Andrew Morgan on July 16, 2009 8:23 AM ET

[JURIST] The head of the UK's judiciary on Wednesday said that judges have been improperly excluded [text, PDF] from debate over "major constitutional changes" in recent years. In a speech at a judicial banquet held by the Lord Mayor of London Ian Luder, Lord Chief Justice Lord Igor Judge [official profiles] suggested that judges may have a have a "duty to speak" when issues affecting "constitutional arrangements and the administration of justice" are being considered by parliament, despite a new law that removes the Chief Justice's ability to speak in the House of Lords [official website]. Judge addressed a proposal to allow judicial review of parliamentary actions, saying that the he was "concerned" by the proposal because "it is imperative that ultimate responsibility for the governance of Parliament should remain with Parliament."


As I have said the judiciary should not be involved in the parliamentary process ... . Responsibility for ensuring that our parliamentary arrangements are satisfactory is vested directly in the High Court of Parliament itself, and it is and should remain accountable, not to the judiciary but to the electorate which, in our democratic process, ultimately hires and fires both the executive and the major legislative body.

Judge also expressed his disapproval of the enactment of new criminal justice laws, asking parliament if they can "possibly have less legislation, particularly in the field of criminal justice." He detailed the criminal statutes passed in 2003, including the Criminal Justice Act which had "339 sections and 38 schedules with a total of 1169 paragraphs" and "no less than 20 pages of statutory repeals," despite some of them going into "some sort of statutory limbo."

In January Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers [BBC profile], Judge's predecessor as chief justice, criticized [JURIST report] the increased difficulty and judicial workloads that resulted from a "stream of legislation."Phillips has previously spoken out against perceived problems with the UK justice system. In May 2007, he expressed concern over constitutional problems surrounding the split [BBC report] of the Ministry of Justice from the Home Office [official websites]. In March of that year, he said that government sentencing minimums [JURIST report] set in 2003 threatened to eventually fill up the country's prisons with "geriatric lifers." Phillips is expected to head the UK Supreme Court [JURIST report] when it opens in 2009.





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Russia human rights advocate Estemirova slain in Chechnya
Benjamin Hackman on July 16, 2009 8:03 AM ET

[JURIST] Russian human rights activist Natalia Estemirova [BBC obituary] was kidnapped in Grozny Wednesday morning and shot to death, according to news reports. Estemirova, 50, investigated allegations of human rights violations in Chechnya for about 10 years. Estemirova's body, which had been shot multiple times, was found Wednesday afternoon [Moscow Times report] in nearby Ingushetia. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile] said he was outraged [AFP report] and ordered an inquiry [BBC report] into Estemirova's killing. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] condemned Estemirova's killing and urged Russian leaders to ensure her killers are brought to justice [press release]. A Kremlin spokesperson said a motive for Estemirova's slaying was likely linked to her activism. Estemirova worked for Russian human rights organization Memorial [advocacy website, in Russian], which has accused [press release, in Russian] Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov [BBC profile] of responsibility in her death.

Estemirova is one of several rights advocates to be gunned down in Russia in recent years. In January, Russian human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov was shot and killed [JURIST report] in Moscow. Markelov represented journalist Anna Politkovskaya [BBC obituary], who was shot to death [JURIST report] in October 2006. In April, Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin [official profile] expressed concern [JURIST report] that activists in Russia were being attacked with greater frequency. According to HRW, more than 100 European Court of Human Rights [official website] judgments have found that Russia is responsible for grave human-rights violations in Chechnya.






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Malaysia opposition leader sodomy trial begins
Brian Jackson on July 16, 2009 7:22 AM ET

[JURIST] The sodomy trial of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim [official profile; JURIST news archive] began in Kuala Lampur on Wednesday, one year after he was arrested. Anwar is charged with sodomizing a male aide in June 2008, though his lawyers have claimed that he was not at the site of the suspected act [Bernama report]. Prior to the commencement of trial activities, Anwar's defense was denied a postponement to replace lead attorney Sulaiman Abdullah, who had withdrawn himself from the case due to illness [Star report]. While speaking with the press before the trial began, Anwar called the decision unreasonable and questioned whether he would receive a fair trial.



If convicted, Anwar faces up to 20 years in prison.

Anwar pleaded not guilty in August to the sodomy charges [JURIST report]. Anwar has called the accusations part of a government campaign to upset his political aspirations, including a parliamentary by-election he won [BBC report] in August. The current sodomy charge is the second against Anwar in the past 11 years. Anwar was Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister until he was fired in 1998 following sodomy charges of which he was initially convicted but later acquitted. He only recently reentered Malaysian politics following the expiration of a ten-year ban [JURIST report] against him for unrelated corruption charges.






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Sotomayor testifies she has decided abortion cases 'according to law'
Andrew Morgan on July 15, 2009 2:47 PM ET

[JURIST] US Supreme Court [official website] nominee Sonia Sotomayor [WH profile; JURIST news archive] told the US Senate [official website] during confirmation hearings [materials] on Wednesday said that she has rejected personal bias and "ruled according to the law" in abortion-related cases. During questioning by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) [official website], Sotomayor said that the White House did not ask her about her personal views on legal issues, including abortion, during the nomination process and that her judicial record reveals that she hadn't shown a personal bias. After providing her understanding of the current state of the law regarding abortion, she said that she would not predict the outcome of a hypothetical late-term abortion case posed by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) [official website] without specific knowledge of applicable state law. When asked by Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) [official website] to declare that Roe v. Wade [opinion] was "settled law" Sotomayor declined, saying that all standing precedents are entitled to the same treatment under stare decisis. Sotomayor also defended earlier statements [materials] she had made about the influence of background on decision-making, saying that she stands by the sentiment even if she had expressed it poorly.

On Tuesday, Sotomayor defended her judicial record [JURIST report] and emphasized her reliance on precedent when deciding cases. The hearings on Sotomayor's confirmation began Monday with her saying that she would bring a "fidelity to the law" to the Court in her opening statement [materials; JURIST report], and Senators offering contrasting interpretations of her record in their opening statements [JURIST report]. Last week, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary [official website] gave Sotomayor a unanimous "well-qualified" rating [letter, PDF; JURIST report]. In May, Obama praised [JURIST report] Sotomayor's experience and wisdom, rebuking Republicans who would oppose her confirmation. Obama warned against partisanship in the confirmation process, saying that he hoped Congress would "avoid the political posturing and ideological brinksmanship" that marked past confirmation hearings. Obama nominated Sotomayor in May to replace retiring [JURIST reports] Justice David Souter [official profile, PDF; JURIST news archive].






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Putin urges Russia lawmakers to approve stricter antitrust measures
Christian Ehret on July 15, 2009 2:13 PM ET

[JURIST] Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian] urged lawmakers Tuesday to pass an antitrust bill [text, PDF, in Russian; part 2; part 3] that would impose criminal penalties for unfair competition. The Federal Anti-Monopoly Service [official website, in Russian] said that the current law is too vague [press release, in Russian] and prevents criminal punishment. The draft bill seeks to amend current legislation to clarify the definition of unfair competition, establish administrative liability for state and local authorities, and make other antitrust provisions and clarifications. The proposed legislation would also modify Article 178 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation [materials, in Russian] to address criminal liability concerns. The bill was unanimously approved [press release, in Russian] by the Federation Council last week and was previously approved in May by the Duma [official websites, in Russian]. A second reading of the bill in the Duma, the lower house, is scheduled for Wednesday. Putin told Federation Council members that the bill's progress appeared to be deliberately procrastinated [Moscow Times report].

Antitrust issues have been a concern in Russia in regards to the oil industry. Last year, the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service announced that Russian oil companies Rosneft and LUKoil [corporate websites] broke competition laws [JURIST report] in the Russian market by fixing monopoly-like prices during the summer of 2008. The government agency previously demanded that several oil companies cut their oil prices [RIA Novosti report], including Rosneft, LUKoil, Gazprom Neft, and TNK-BP [corporate websites]. In September, Gazprom Neft and TNK-BP were also found in breach of competition laws.






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Netherlands considering accepting Guantanamo detainees
Andrew Morgan on July 15, 2009 11:56 AM ET

[JURIST] Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende [official profile] said Tuesday that the Netherlands would be willing to consider accepting Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees, despite earlier statements to the contrary. Meeting with US President Barack Obama [official website] in Washington, DC, Balkenende said that his country might accept transferred detainees [Dutch News report] if it would help to close the detention facility [JURIST news archive]. The Netherlands had initially denied [NRC Handelsblad report] US requests that other countries consider accepting detainees who could be returned to their home country, saying that the primary responsibility rested with the US. Balkenende had signaled a potential shift in the policy in an interview [video] with Radio Netherlands Worldwide [media website] earlier this month.

Last month, Council of Europe (COE) [official website] Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg [official profile] urged [JURIST report] all member states to welcome certain released Guantanamo Bay detainees. A week earlier, the Council of the European Union [official website] agreed [JURIST report], which set forth the terms of accepting detainees in a way that would minimize any danger posed to other member states. In March, US officials met with leaders from the EU to discuss plans [JURIST report] to transfer detainees to European countries. Many countries have indicated their openness to accepting detainees, including Tunisia, Lithuania, Ireland, and Portugal [JURIST reports]. Other states have expressed reservations about accepting detainees, including Poland and Spain [JURIST reports].






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SEC chair pledges stronger enforcement in House hearing
Christian Ehret on July 15, 2009 11:38 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] is engaging in more vigorous enforcement of its rules and policies [testimony] in order to address the financial crisis and improve investor protection, Chairman Mary Schapiro [official profile] testified before the US House of Representatives Subcommittee [official website] on Capital Markets, Insurance and Government-Sponsored Enterprises Tuesday. Schapiro testified that proposed policy changes will greatly improve the odds of preventing investment fraud and holding perpetrators responsible, maintaining that the SEC is "dedicated to learning from recent events," such as the Bernard Madoff scandal [JURIST news archives], and will make the necessary changes to restore investor confidence and efficient markets. Reforms include enhancing investor disclosure, streamlining enforcement procedures, strengthen standards governing brokers and advisers, and improving risk assessment capabilities. Schapiro discussed the motivation behind the commission's actions:


[I]n the wake of the Madoff fraud, I believe we owe it to investors to show them that we can and will adapt our ways and learn from our past errors so that we do not repeat them. The Madoff fraud is one that the agency did not detect, and not a day goes by that we don't regret it. ... I felt strongly that we could not wait for the conclusion of the Inspector General's investigation to begin making significant changes in response to the Madoff fraud. That is why we are implementing many of the measures I will outline today.

Schapiro welcomed President Barack Obama's increased SEC budget for 2010, saying that the near six percent increase is a key step in expanding staff and resources.

The policy reforms come in the wake of recent fraud litigation. Last month, financier Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison [JURIST report] on securities fraud charges [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] stemming from his multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme. Billionaire financier Allen Stanford [BBC report] last month pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] in federal court to 21 charges [indictment, PDF; JURIST report] of fraud, conspiracy and obstruction related to a $7 billion fraud scheme. Former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy [defense website; JURIST news archive] was ordered [JURIST report] to pay $2.88 billion to shareholders after being found guilty of fraud for inflating company profits, insider trading and other charges.





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Iran election demonstration death toll exceeds reported numbers: rights group
Christian Ehret on July 15, 2009 9:46 AM ET

[JURIST] The number of deaths during post-election protests in Tehran exceeds government reports [press release], the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) [advocacy website] reported Wednesday. The rights group claims that at least 34 demonstrators died on June 20, contrary to government reports of 11 deaths on that day and 20 deaths total since the disputed June 12 election [JURIST news archive]. The number was determined from morgue records of three hospitals located near major demonstration areas where militia and security forces opened fire on protesters. ICHRI spokesman Aaron Rhodes stated that information being gathered suggests that "hundreds of protesters were slaughtered" during the election demonstrations. The group also alleges that those thought to be detained may also be dead. Family members of missing protesters have reported that they were shown hundreds of photographs of corpses [Norooz report, in Persian] by authorities for identification purposes.

Iran has been experiencing turmoil in Tehran and elsewhere since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] won the election in June. Last week, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] reported that some arrested protesters were beaten, deprived of sleep and threatened with torture in an effort to force false confessions [report, text; JURIST report]. Also last week, opposition leaders called for the release of those detained for their alleged involvement in the protests. The request was brought jointly by candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi [IranTracker profile; JURIST news archive] and Mehdi Karroubi along with former president Mohammad Khatami, who also called for an immediate stop to the allegedly baseless arrests of dissidents. The country's Guardian Council of the Constitution [official website, in Persian] recently certified the contested results [press release, in Persian; JURIST report], officially sanctioning the re-election of Ahmadinejad. Human rights groups have viewed the arrests as political repression [JURIST report], saying that Iranian forces are using the protests to "engage in what appears to be a major purge of reform-oriented individuals."






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Maritime piracy doubled in first half of 2009: report
Andrew Morgan on July 15, 2009 9:07 AM ET

[JURIST] The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) [official website] reported on Wednesday that pirate attacks around the globe have doubled [press release] in the first half of 2009. The bulk of the upsurge has come from increased activity in the Gulf of Aden and Somali coastal waters, where 130 incidents occurred since January. The report attributes a lull in activity in June to poor weather conditions and said that "vigilance should nevertheless remain high during this period." IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan [professional profile, PDF] also urged a continued reporting effort in Nigeria, where there were 13 reported and 24 unreported attacks in the second quarter of 2009, mainly "against vessels supporting the oil industry." Incidents in Southeast Asia showed a two-fold increase between the first and second quarter, which Mukundan said was a "clear indication that piracy and robbery ... has the potential to escalate." Overall, the IMB says that "78 vessels were boarded worldwide, 75 vessels fired upon and 31 vessels hijacked with some 561 crew taken hostage, 19 injured, seven kidnapped, six killed and eight missing."

In May, five suspected Somali pirates went on trial [JURIST report] in Holland, accused of attempting to hijack [NRC Handelsblad report] a Dutch Antilles freighter in the Gulf of Aden. In April, a US Coast Guard chief called for the enforcement of international piracy laws [JURIST report], citing the importance of entering Somali waters to combat the problem. In March, the European Union (EU) [official website] announced an agreement with Kenya [JURIST report] to transfer suspected pirates captured by EU counter-pirate operations into Kenyan custody for prosecution. In October, the UN Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1838 [text, PDF; press release], condemning all acts of piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia, and calling on states to "deploy naval vessels and military aircraft to actively fight piracy on the high seas off the coast of Somalia." Although maritime piracy is increasingly widespread, Somalia's coast has been ranked as the most dangerous in the world [BBC report] due to a surge in attacks on ships carrying traded goods or humanitarian aid [NPR report].






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Fourth Circuit to rehear oral arguments in Moussaoui appeal
Christian Ehret on July 15, 2009 8:23 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday ordered new arguments [PDF] in the case of convicted terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The court is rehearing the case due to the retirement of Chief Judge Karen Williams, who heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in January. Williams announced last week [Times and Democrat report] that she was retiring due to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Moussaoui's counsel previously requested that his guilty plea and life sentence be withdrawn and a new trial be granted, arguing that his plea was involuntary due to Fifth and Sixth Amendment [text] violations. His lawyers additionally argued that Moussaoui's unawareness of the charges against him violated Rule 11 [text] of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and that his trial counsel did not have access to statements made by al Qaeda members denying Moussaoui's involvement in the 9/11 conspiracy [JURIST report]. The re-argument is scheduled to begin on September 25, 2009.

Moussaoui's lawyers appealed his conviction [JURIST report] in January 2008. He received a life sentence after pleading guilty [JURIST report] to six conspiracy charges [indictment] in connection with the 9/11 attacks, including conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, conspiracy to destroy aircraft and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction. He avoided the death penalty [JURIST report] due to one juror's refusal to agree to it.






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Seventh Circuit dissolves injunction against Illinois abortion notification law
Ingrid Burke on July 15, 2009 8:12 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] on Tuesday dissolved [opinion, PDF] an injunction that had previously barred the enforcement of a controversial abortion notification law in Illinois. Having been the subject of numerous court challenges, the Parental Notice of Abortion Act of 1995 [text] was most recently enjoined [JURIST report] by the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois [official website] early last year. That court found the statute invalid because its judicial bypass provision lacked language that would allow for a judge to waive the notification requirement in cases involving certain minors. The Seventh Circuit panel stated that the statute had a basis in US Supreme Court precedent:

[B]y encouraging parental involvement, without requiring it where the minor is mature or such involvement will do more harm than good, laws such as the notice statute before us are, at least facially, closely tailored to serve the state’s important interest in making sure minor women make informed decisions about whether to have an abortion
The court pointed to the statute’s language authorizing state judges to waive the notice requirement if doing so would be in a minor’s best interest. The court went on to emphasize the open nature of the statutory language, explaining that judges are not bound to consider both the maturity and the interests of the minor in any given case, and adding that minors lacking the maturity to consent to an abortion are provided for under the statute.

Prior to today's ruling, Illinois had been the only state in the region without an active parental notification law [JURIST news archive], causing pro-life groups to argue that minors from surrounding states travel to Illinois to obtain abortions. Thirty-five other US states have enforceable parental notification or permission laws. In June 2007, the governor of New Hampshire signed a repeal of the state's parental notification law [JURIST report], which never took effect. In 2006, voters in Oregon and California rejected statutes that would have required notification [JURIST report], although those measures allowed minors to request a judge to bypass the requirement.





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Prosecution concludes case in trial of Congo militia leader Lubanga
Brian Jackson on July 15, 2009 7:50 AM ET

[JURIST] The prosecution in the trial of Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo concluded its case [release] on Tuesday after presenting 22 weeks of testimony. The trial, occurring at the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] at The Hague, began in January [Guardian report], nearly three years after ICC prosecutors applied for an arrest warrant [PDF, in French]. Lubanga [Al-Jazeera backgrounder] stands accused of war crimes for allegedly recruiting child soldiers to fight in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DCR) in 2002-2003. The defense is expected to begin presenting its case in October.

Lubanga's trial was halted soon after it began when one of the child witnesses recanted his testimony [JURIST report] that Lubanga had recruited him for the militia. Lubanga maintains he is innocent [JURIST report] of the charges against him. Lubanga became the first war crimes defendant to appear before the ICC, formed in 2002, after he was taken into custody [JURIST report] in March 2006.






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Lithuania parliament approves child censorship bill
Brian Jackson on July 15, 2009 7:01 AM ET

[JURIST] The Lithuanian parliament [official website] on Tuesday approved a bill that would prohibit children from being exposed to information on a number of topics, including homosexuality. The parliament overrode the veto of former president Valdas Adamkus, who had rejected an earlier vote by the parliament [Baltic Times] to pass the bill. Under Lithuanian law, current president Dalia Grybauskaite cannot veto the bill again [BBC report], and must sign it within three days. Grybauskaite has said she will reluctantly sign the bill [DELFI report, in Lithuanian]. News of the bill's passage brought swift comment from rights groups across Europe [LGL release]. Amnesty International UK [advocacy website] warned that the bill [release] could, "institutionalise homophobia" and "further the stigmatisation of and prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people." [sic]

Worldwide, gay rights and the legal status of same-sex relationships are constantly evolving. In April, an appeals court in Senegal, where homosexual acts are a crime, overturned the sodomy conviction [JURIST report] of nine aid workers. In November 2008, 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 [JURIST report] against proposals to legalize same-sex marriage.






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Spain court dismisses charges against US soldiers for killing journalist in Iraq
Christian Ehret on July 14, 2009 3:32 PM ET

[JURIST] The Spanish National Court [CJA backgrounder] on Tuesday dismissed charges against three US soldiers who were accused of being involved in the death of Spanish cameraman Jose Couso [advocacy website, in Spanish]. The soldiers allegedly opened fire on a Baghdad hotel frequented by Western journalists in 2003 without provocation, killing two cameramen. The court recommended that the case be closed [La Opinion Coruna report, in Spanish] because Judge Santiago Pedraz Gomez [JURIST news archive], who reinstated the charges [JURIST report] in May, had produced no new evidence against the soldiers. Homicide charges filed against Sgt. Shawn Gibson, Capt. Philip Wolford and Lt. Col. Philip DeCamp [Trial Watch profiles] were initially dropped in 2007 due to a lack of evidence. US authorities have claimed that the attack was in response to hostile fire and was consistent with the rules of combat.

Gomez ordered [text, in Spanish; JURIST report] the soldiers' arrest in October 2005 after initiating investigations [JURIST report] into the incident in June of that year. The order was reversed by a panel of judges for the National Court in 2006. This reversal was then overturned by Spain's Supreme Court, resulting in arrest warrants being reissued [JURIST report] in January 2007. The soldiers were indicted [JURIST report] in April of that year.






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US House committee urged to reform mandatory minimum sentences
Andrew Morgan on July 14, 2009 2:00 PM ET

[JURIST] The US House Judiciary Committee [official website] on Tuesday examined [committee materials] the effects of mandatory minimum sentences in advance of consideration of three proposed bills intended to provide more discretion to judges during sentencing. Representatives of the Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), the US Judicial Conference and Americans for Tax Reform [advocacy websites] urged the Subcommittee on Crime Terrorism, and Homeland Security Membership [official website] to discard mandatory minimums and reassess the sentencing factors that judges are required to consider. Julie Stewart, President of FAMM, called [testimony, PDF] sentencing mandates "un-American," saying that:


mandatory minimums challenge basic structures on which our government is founded. Federal mandatory minimum laws upset federalism by turning many heretofore state drug offenses into federal crimes. In addition, state and federal mandatory sentencing laws distort traditional roles by transferring judicial discretion to legislatures as well as prosecutors, who, by choice of charge, exercise undue and unreviewable influence over sentencing.

Michael Sullivan, a former US Attorney and partner at Ashcroft Sullivan, emphasized [testimony, PDF] the uniformity and effectiveness of mandatory sentences, adding that "mandatory minimums are an important legislative tool to clearly communicate to the American people the value that Congress puts on crime prevention, reduction of victimization and appropriate punishment."

Last week, a group of federal judges urged [JURIST report] the US Sentencing Commission (USSC) [official website] to revise complicated and mechanical calculations used to determine federal criminal sentences. Last month, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] called for a review of disparities between sentencing guidelines for powder and crack cocaine, echoing concerns raised [JURIST report] by Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Lanny Breuer [official profile] in April. In April 2008, a study by the USSC reported [study, PDF; JURIST report] that more than 3,000 prison inmates convicted of crack cocaine offenses have had their sentences reduced under an amendment to sentencing guidelines. In 2007, the USSC voted unanimously [JURIST report] to give retroactive effect to an earlier sentencing guideline amendment that reduced crack cocaine penalties [press release]. In February 2008, then-US Attorney General Michael Mukasey unsuccessfully urged the Senate to block the amendment's retroactive effect [JURIST reports].





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Sotomayor defends judicial record on second day of confirmation hearings
Devin Montgomery on July 14, 2009 1:48 PM ET

[JURIST] US Supreme Court [official website] nominee Sonia Sotomayor [WH profile; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday defended her judicial record and emphasized her reliance on precedent when deciding cases in response to confirmation questioning [materials] by the US Senate [official website]. Sotomayor defended a now overturned [JURIST report] decision in Ricci v. DeStefano [Cornell LII backgrounder] that she joined while serving on the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. She said that the decision was supported by relevant precedent at the time, and that the Supreme Court had generated a new standard when it reversed the decision. She went on to minimize the significance of earlier statements [materials] she had made about the influence of her background on her decision-making, saying that she does "not believe that any ethnic, racial, or gender group has an advantage in sound judgment." She also responded to questions on abortion and gun rights by saying that current precedent recognizes a right to privacy derived from the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, but that it does not yet recognize Second Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounders] gun rights as also protecting against state restrictions on gun ownership. Also Tuesday, US President Barack Obama [official website] emailed media outlets reaffirming his support for Sotomayor, saying that her "brilliant legal mind is complemented by the practical lessons that can only be learned by applying the law to real world situations." Her confirmation hearings will continue on Wednesday with the testimony of numerous witnesses on Sotomayor's fitness for the Court. A vote on her confirmation is scheduled for August 6.

The hearings on Sotomayor's confirmation began Monday with her saying that she would bring a "fidelity to the law" to the Court in her opening statement [materials; JURIST report], and Senators offering contrasting interpretations of her record in their opening statements [JURIST report]. Last week, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary [official website] gave Sotomayor a unanimous "well-qualified" rating [letter, PDF; JURIST report]. In May, Obama praised [JURIST report] Sotomayor's experience and wisdom, rebuking Republicans who would oppose her confirmation. Obama warned against partisanship in the confirmation process, saying that he hoped Congress would "avoid the political posturing and ideological brinksmanship" that marked past confirmation hearings. Obama nominated Sotomayor in May to replace retiring [JURIST reports] Justice David Souter [official profile, PDF; JURIST news archive].






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Federal judge allows class-action status for immigrant fee challenge
Christian Ehret on July 14, 2009 1:45 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge on Monday granted class-action status to approximately 400,000 immigrants from Central America who allege that a separate service fee for immigration applicants violates a federal law [8 USC § 1254a text]. Judge Thelton Henderson of the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] ruled that the complaints could be brought as a class-action suit [San Francisco Chronicle report] since the immigrants make the same legal arguments. Hailing from Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, the plaintiffs legally entered the US due to natural disasters in their homelands pursuant to a federal law that grants temporary residence to foreigners in such situations. The 1990 law allowing entry into the US limits registration fees to $50, which was exceeded by an additional fee implemented in 1998 to take fingerprints, photographs, and electronic signatures. The government argues that the $50 limit only applies to the initial application fee and not to additional charges. The plaintiffs seek $100 million in refunds and a declaration that the excess fee is illegal.

Judge Henderson's decision to grant the plaintiffs class-action status comes during a series of Obama administration immigration reforms. On Friday, the US Department of Homeland Security [official website] announced changes to immigration policies [press release; JURIST report] for state and local agencies. The new policies create uniform standards for local agencies that will require them to pursue all criminal charges leading to an immigrant's arrest prior to initiating removal proceedings. Earlier this month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement [official website] issued inspection notices [JURIST report] to 652 businesses as part of an increased effort to target employers using illegal immigrants. Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] vacated [order, PDF; JURIST report] an order [text, PDF] by former attorney general Michael Mukasey [JURIST news archive] that denied potential deportees the right to challenge immigration decisions based on ineffective assistance of counsel claims.






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Rwanda genocide tribunal gives military officer life sentence on genocide charges
Christian Ehret on July 14, 2009 11:44 AM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] on Tuesday sentenced former Rwandan Armed Forces Colonel Tharcisse Renzaho [case materials] to life imprisonment [press release; judgment summary, PDF] after convicting him of crimes in connection with the 1994 Rwandan genocide [BBC backgrounder]. Renzaho was found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the Geneva Conventions [materials]. The court found that he supported killings by ordering the distribution of weapons to persons who killed Tutsis at roadblocks set up by him. The court additionally found that Renzaho supervised a selection process at a refugee site where about 40 Tutsis were abducted and killed, participated in an attack resulting in more than 100 Tutsi deaths, and encouraged the sexual abuse of women, which led to rape. The court acquitted Renzaho of complicity to commit genocide.

Renzaho's trial commenced [JURIST report] in January 2007 after the court heard testimony from 53 witnesses. He was originally arrested in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2002. The 1994 Rwandan genocide resulted in the deaths of over 800,000 people.






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Ex-CIA agent alleges waterboarding took place before authorization memos
Andrew Morgan on July 14, 2009 11:31 AM ET

[JURIST] A former CIA counter-terrorism agent alleges that top al Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] was waterboarded [JURIST news archive] prior to the issuance of legal memos [JURIST report] justifying the practice, the BBC reported [text] Monday. John Kiriakou, who was part of the CIA team that captured Zubaydah in Pakistan, said that the detainee was subject to the controversial interrogation technique prior to the August 2002 issuance of legal guidance from the Office of Legal Counsel [official website]. Kiriakou claims that former US President George W. Bush [official profile] had approved the technique in writing before the memos were authored. Kiriakou transferred out of the counter-terrorism section in July 2002.

The use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" became a contentious issue following allegations of mistreatment [JURIST report] made by Kiriakou and others. Last week, it was reported that US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] is still considering appointing a special prosecutor [JURIST report] to investigate allegations of torture during the Bush administration. In April, members of the US House Judiciary Committee [official website] urged Holder to appoint [JURIST report] a special counsel to investigate allegations of torture against Bush administration officials. Earlier in April, Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official profile] reiterated his calls for a non-partisan truth commission [JURIST report] to investigate authorization of enhanced interrogation techniques. Calls for an independent investigation of Bush administration interrogation policies intensified after the Obama administration released four top secret memos [JURIST report] outlining the legal rationale behind controversial techniques. In January, outgoing Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] director Michael Hayden [JURIST news archive] defended [JURIST report] the use of controversial interrogation techniques.






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Liberia ex-president Taylor takes stand denying war crimes allegations
Christian Ehret on July 14, 2009 10:39 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Liberian president Charles Taylor [case materials; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday denied war crimes allegations [recorded video] while testifying for the first time at his trial in the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) [official website]. Taylor faces 11 counts [indictment, PDF] of crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva Conventions [materials], and other violations of international humanitarian law stemming from a "campaign to terrorize the civilian population" of Sierra Leone. Taylor addressed allegations that he was "everything from a terrorist to a rapist," saying:


It is very, very, very unfortunate that the prosecution, because of disinformation, misinformation, lies, rumors, would associate me with such titles or descriptions. I am none of those, have never been, and will never be, whether they think so or not. [I] have fought all my life to do what I thought was right in the interest of justice and fair play. I resent that characterization of me, it is false, it is malicious.

Taylor also denied receiving jars full of diamonds by Liberian rebel forces. His defense claims that he could not have commanded rebel forces in Sierra Leone while acting as the president of Liberia.

Taylor's defense lawyers opened their case [JURIST report] Monday. His trial continues after the court denied his motion for acquittal [JURIST report] in May. Prosecutors previously expressed concern that the defense's list of 256 witnesses could make the trial last up to four additional years [JURIST report]. The list was defended by Taylor's counsel on the grounds that the prosecution, who rested their case in February, originally named 200 witnesses without intending to call all of them. The prosecution ended up presenting testimony from 91 witnesses.





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UK House of Lords supports creation of terrorism commissioner
Andrew Morgan on July 14, 2009 10:11 AM ET

[JURIST] The UK House of Lords [official website] on Monday approved a measure to create an independent commissioner for terrorism suspects, which must now go before the House of Commons. The Lords voted 145-103 on an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill [text, PDF; legislative materials] offered by Lord Lloyd, over the objections of members of the Labour Party [party website] of Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website]. The commissioner would assist judges when the government seeks to extend the pre-charge detention of terrorism suspects beyond the current 28-day limit, with the aid of classified information not available to the defendant and his lawyer. Opponents argued [BBC report] that the posts would be costly to operate and would create unnecessary impediments to prosecution.

The use of secret evidence in terrorism cases has created conflict in the UK. In June, a panel of nine UK Law Lords [official website] decided [JURIST report] that the use of secret evidence to impose controversial control orders to detain terrorism suspects violates the European Convention on Human Rights [text], ordering the cases of three suspects to be reheard. In February, a UK counter-terrorism official said that some suspects living under control orders have managed to maintain contact [JURIST report] with terrorist organizations. The UK Law Lords ruled [JURIST report] in a series of decisions in October that the government can continue to impose control orders on terror suspects in lieu of detention, but said that some elements of the orders issued under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 violate human rights.






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Congressmen urge investigation into secret CIA anti-terrorism program
Christian Ehret on July 14, 2009 8:59 AM ET

[JURIST] Members of Congress on Monday called for an investigation into a secret Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) program designed to kill al Qaeda members. The call follows the recently publicized information that former vice-president Dick Cheney directly ordered [JURIST report] the CIA to withhold information about the program from Congress and kept it secret for eight years. The intelligence committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate [official websites] were informed of the program by CIA director Leon Panetta [official profile] after he terminated it on June 23. Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA), a member of the House Intelligence Committee [official websites], said that the committee should look into the origin of the program's funding [The Hill report] and who kept it secret from Congress. Eshoo called for a full investigation and for the hiring of a prosecutor who is specialized in such areas of law. An executive order [text] issued by President Gerald Ford in 1976 banned assassinations but officials have maintained that the ban does not apply [NYT report] to the killing of enemies during war. Additionally, the National Security Act [text] requires the CIA to inform Congress of programs such as the one at issue. According to reports, the program had not yet become fully operational [WSJ report] but was only in the planning and possibly training stages.

Bush-era intelligence policy has been highly contested since the change in administration earlier this year. On Friday, five federal agencies released a report [text; JURIST report] on the prior administration's warrantless wiretapping program that reviewed both the flawed legal origins of the program and questioned the effectiveness of information produced by wiretapping international communications of American citizens. In May, Cheney defended the national security policies [speech transcript; JURIST report] of the Bush administration speaking at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) [organization website], while criticizing many of the security policies of President Barack Obama [official profile].






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Bush administration lawyer appeals decision not to dismiss torture lawsuit
Andrew Morgan on July 14, 2009 8:33 AM ET

[JURIST] Former US Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel [official website] lawyer John Yoo [academic profile; JURIST news archive] Monday declared his intent to appeal a lower court ruling [JURIST report] allowing a lawsuit against him alleging complicity in torture to proceed. Yoo is appealing a June decision by District Judge Jeffrey White not to dismiss [San Francisco Chronicle report] a lawsuit brought by convicted terrorist Jose Padilla [JURIST news archive] that claims Yoo's legal opinions endorsing enhanced interrogation techniques [JURIST news archive] led to Padilla being tortured. Padilla, a US citizen currently serving a 17-year sentence [JURIST report] on terrorism-related charges, says that he was tortured while held as an "enemy combatant" [JURIST news archive] in military custody in a Navy military brig in Charleston, South Carolina. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] said that it would pay for private counsel [Bloomberg report] to handle Yoo's appeal, because the government's defense had been based solely on qualified immunity and Yoo deserves counsel who will make all available arguments. A DOJ spokesperson said that paying for outside counsel is standard practice in cases where there is a potential legal disagreement between the DOJ and a defendant sued in an official capacity.

Yoo, a professor at the Berkeley School of Law [academic website] has faced sharp criticism for his role in drafting interrogation memos [JURIST report]. Last week, it was reported that US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] is still considering appointing a special prosecutor [JURIST report] to investigate allegations of torture during the Bush administration. In May, a number of organizations called for the drafters of the memos to be disbarred [JURIST report]. Also in May, former JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen told [JURIST report] an audience at the University of Nebraska College of Law [academic website] that the DOJ lawyers who had authorized the use of enhanced interrogation techniques had "disgraced not only their country but their profession." In April, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website], Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] renewed his call [JURIST report] for the formation of a non-partisan "truth commission" to investigate torture allegations. Also in April, UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak [official profile, DOC] insisted that under international law the US must prosecute [JURIST report] DOJ lawyers who drafted the memos. US President Barack Obama has said that he would not rule out the possibility of prosecuting [transcript; JURIST report] lawyers who authored the memos.






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Peru ex-president Fujimori denies criminal wrongdoing as corruption trial opens
Jay Carmella on July 14, 2009 7:39 AM ET

[JURIST] The corruption trial of former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] opened Monday with Fujimori confessing to having paid former Peruvian Intelligence Director Vladimiro Montesino [BBC profile] $15 million to resign in 2000, but denying any criminal liability. Fujimori's confession was limited [La Republica report, in Spanish] only to the facts in the case against him. He did not admit any wrongdoing or accept criminal responsibility because he repaid the $15 million to the government. Fujimori is accused of paying Montesino to resign in 2000 in the midst of the scandal that ultimately resulted in his arrest [JURIST report] in 2005. It is believed the Fujimori's decision to admit the facts is to limit the potential distraction that the trial would cause his daughter as she campaigns for president.

Fujimori was convicted [JURIST report] in April of committing human rights abuses for approving multiple killings during his 1990-2000 presidency. The conviction and subsequent sentencing, which puts Fujimori in prison for 25 years, was met with widespread approval [JURIST report] from the current government and human rights organization, despite Fujimori's planned appeal. In 2007, Fujimori was convicted [JURIST report] of ordering a warrantless search in 2000 on the apartment of Montesino's wife. Prosecutors alleged that the search was intended to uncover and confiscate documents that might incriminate Fujimori. Similar to the present charges, Fujimori admitted to the facts, but denied any wrongdoing.






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Sotomayor highlights 'fidelity to the law' in confirmation hearing
Andrew Morgan on July 13, 2009 2:48 PM ET

[JURIST] US Supreme Court [official website] nominee Sonia Sotomayor [WH profile; JURIST news archive] on Monday told the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] during confirmation hearings [materials; video] that she would bring to the Court a judicial philosophy rooted in "fidelity to the law." During her opening statement, Sotomayor emphasized the "different perspectives" she gained on the law as a prosecutor, a corporate attorney, and a judge, saying that her experience has allowed her to "witness[] the human consequences of my decisions." Addressing criticism that her speeches and decisions show a record of racial bias and "judicial activism," Sotomayor said that her "decisions have been made not to serve the interests of any one litigant":


The task of a judge is not to make the law – it is to apply the law. And it is clear, I believe, that my record in two courts reflects my rigorous commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to its terms; interpreting statutes according to their terms and Congress’s intent; and hewing faithfully to precedents established by the Supreme Court and my Circuit Court. In each case I have heard, I have applied the law to the facts at hand.

The process of judging is enhanced when the arguments and concerns of the parties to the litigation are understood and acknowledged. That is why I generally structure my opinions by setting out what the law requires and then by explaining why a contrary position, sympathetic or not, is accepted or rejected. That is how I seek to strengthen both the rule of law and faith in the impartiality of our justice system. My personal and professional experiences help me listen and understand, with the law always commanding the result in every case.

Sotomayor's confirmation hearing began Monday, with the Senators on the committee making opening statements [JURIST report] of their own. Committee chairman Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] said [text] that Sotomayor "is a careful and restrained judge with a deep respect for judicial precedent and for the powers of the other branches of the government, including the law-making role of Congress." Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) [official website] likewise recognized Sotomayor's experience in his own remarks [text], but said that "she appears to believe that her role is not constrained to objectively decide who wins based on the weight of the law, but who, in her opinion, should win."

Last week, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary [official website] gave Sotomayor a unanimous "well-qualified" rating [letter, PDF; JURIST report]. In May, Obama praised [JURIST report] Sotomayor's experience and wisdom, rebuking Republicans who would oppose her confirmation. Obama warned against partisanship in the confirmation process, saying that he hoped Congress would "avoid the political posturing and ideological brinksmanship" that marked past confirmation hearings. Obama nominated Sotomayor in May to replace retiring [JURIST reports] Justice David Souter [official profile, PDF; JURIST news archive].





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Myanmar to release political prisoners to participate in 2010 elections
Christian Ehret on July 13, 2009 1:55 PM ET

[JURIST] Myanmar is processing grants of amnesty [press release; recorded video, RealPlayer] to prisoners to allow them to participate in the 2010 general elections, ambassador U Than Swe told the UN Security Council [official website] on Monday. Additionally, Swe maintained that the country intended to implement other recommendations proposed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile; JURIST news archive]. The Security Council meeting followed Ban's visit to Myanmar earlier this month to address "several serious and long-standing concerns." During his visit, Ban met with head of state Senior General Than Shwe and Prime Minister General Thein Sein to discuss issues that could undermine the country's political process and to make recommendations including the release of political prisoners such as Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], resumption of talks between government and opposition officials and creating conditions for legitimate elections next year. The Secretary-General discussed his visit to the country and the need for fair elections:

My visit offered the clearest signal of the United Nations’ commitment to work with the Government and people of Myanmar to address issues that are of fundamental importance for the prospects of durable peace, democracy and development. ... I have made clear my expectation and that of the international community that the Government needs to deliver on the promise to make the 2010 elections inclusive, free and fair, and to take necessary steps on my specific proposals in the very near future.
Swe told the Council that Ban's visit was successful and that the government would cooperate with the UN's requests. Although the government did not arrange a requested meeting between Ban and Aung San Suu Kyi, Swe explained that Senior General Than Shwe was willing to allow such a meeting but that the court had independent jurisdiction over the matter.

Myanmar's political tension is exemplified by the recent trial of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. The pro-democracy advocate faces charges of violating the terms of her house arrest for allowing an American to stay with her after he swam across a lake to visit. Her arrest was controversial and highly criticized [JURIST report] by the international community. She has spent 12 of the past 18 years in prison or under house arrest for alleged violations of an anti-subversion law [text, PDF]. After many delays, Suu Kyi's trial resumed last week [JURIST report] with new witness testimony. It is unclear whether Suu Kyi will be among the prisoners released to participate in the elections. Last month, a Myanmar court sentenced two members of the National League of Democracy [party website] to 18 months in prison after convicting them of insulting religion by leading prayers for Suu Kyi's release.





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Senators split on Sotomayor judicial record as confirmaton hearings begin
Devin Montgomery on July 13, 2009 1:19 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] began confirmation hearings [materials; video] Monday for Supreme Court [official website] Associate Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor [WH profile], with Democratic and Republican senators offered contrasting interpretations of Sotomayor's judicial record and philosophy. In his opening remarks [text], committee chairman Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) cast Sotomayor as having extensive judicial experience and a moderate legal philosophy:

My review of her judicial record leads me to conclude that she is a careful and restrained judge with a deep respect for judicial precedent and for the powers of the other branches of the government, including the law-making role of Congress. That conclusion is supported by a number of independent studies that have been made of her record, and shines through in a comprehensive review of her tough and fair record on criminal cases. She has a deep understanding of the real lives of Americans, the duty of law enforcement to help keep Americans safe, and the responsibilities of all to respect the freedoms that define America.

Unfortunately, some have sought to twist her words and her record and to engage in partisan political attacks. Ideological pressure groups have attacked her before the President had even made his selection. They then stepped up their attacks by threatening Republican Senators who do not oppose her.

In truth, we do not have to speculate about what kind of a Justice she will be because we have seen the kind of judge she has been. She is a judge in which all Americans can have confidence. She has been a judge for all Americans and will be a Justice for all Americans.
Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) likewise recognized Sotomayor's experience in his own remarks [text], but expressed concern about statements that Sotomayor has made about the importance of her background and international legal approaches to her legal reasoning:
With a background that creates a prima facie case for confirmation, the primary question I believe Judge Sotomayor must address in this hearing is her understanding of the role of an appellate judge. From what she has said, she appears to believe that her role is not constrained to objectively decide who wins based on the weight of the law, but who, in her opinion, should win. The factors that will influence her decisions apparently include her 'gender and Latina heritage' and foreign legal concepts that get her 'creative juices going.'

...What is the traditional basis for judging in America? For 220 years, presidents and the Senate have focused on appointing and confirming judges and justices who are committed to putting aside their biases and prejudices and applying law to fairly and impartially resolve disputes between parties.
A vote on Sotomayor's confirmation is scheduled [JURIST report] for August 6.

Last week, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary [official website] gave Sotomayor a unanimous "well-qualified" rating [letter, PDF; JURIST report]. Sotomayor detailed her prior judgments, financial status, potential conflicts of interest and various other details of her past in a questionnaire she filed with the Judiciary Committee [JURIST report] in June . President Barack Obama has praised [JURIST report] Sotomayor's experience and wisdom, rebuking Republicans who would oppose her confirmation and warning against partisanship in the confirmation process, saying that he hoped Congress would "avoid the political posturing and ideological brinksmanship" that marked past confirmation hearings. Following Obama's May nomination of Sotomayor, Senator Jeff Sessions, the committee's top Republican, said that he did not anticipate a filibuster [JURIST reports] against the nominee.





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Uganda to arrest al-Bashir under ICC warrant if he enters country
Christian Ehret on July 13, 2009 12:30 PM ET

[JURIST] Ugandan officials announced Monday that they plan to arrest Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on war crimes charges if he enters the country, pursuant to an International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] warrant [JURIST news archive]. The announcement followed a meeting [AP report] between Ugandan minister for international affairs Henry Oryem Okello and ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo. The decision reflects a recommendation made by an African Union [official website] panel last week that AU countries cooperate with the warrant, contrary to a prior vote by the full AU to oppose the warrant [JURIST reports]. Although AU leaders claim that the warrant poses a threat [JURIST report] to Sudan's peace process, Ocampo maintains that Bashir's arrest is a legal obligation for the 30 AU countries that are parties to the Rome Statute [text].

Al-Bashir is accused of leading the systematic harassment and murder of members of the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups under the pretext of counter-insurgency since 2003. Prosecutors at the ICC announced last month that they would pursue genocide charges against Bashir, appealing the ICC's March decision to charge al-Bashir [JURIST reports] with war crimes and crimes against humanity but not genocide. Ocampo had long sought the warrant and, in July 2008, filed preliminary charges stemming from crimes allegedly committed in the Darfur region in violation of Articles 6, 7 and 9 of the Rome Statute.






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Accused Nigeria rebel leader given amnesty in treason case
Andrew Morgan on July 13, 2009 12:25 PM ET

[JURIST] Accused Nigerian rebel leader Henry Okah was released on Monday after the government dropped treason and gun trafficking charges against him. The government alleges that Okah is the leader of the rebel group Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) [BBC backgrounder], which has been conducting armed attacks against oil production facilities in the delta. Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua [BBC profile] agreed to grant unconditional pardon to MEND members that laid down their arms as part of a June amnesty agreement [Daily Independent report] intended to lead to a cessation of hostilities. Also on Monday, MEND claimed responsibility [VOA report] for an attack on an oil transfer dock in Lagos, its first attack outside of the Niger Delta region and a sign that some MEND members do not plan to accept amnesty [BBC report].

In April 2008, Okah was formally charged [JURIST report] with treason in a closed court hearing after a secret February extradition. He was arrested in Angola in September 2007 after attempting to buy weapons and explosives. MEND has attacked [BBC backgrounder] pipelines, refineries and oil workers in an attempt to force changes in the distribution of wealth generated by Nigeria's petroleum industry.






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Liberia ex-president Taylor begins defense against war crimes charges
Christian Ehret on July 13, 2009 11:22 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Liberian president Charles Taylor [JURIST news archive] began his defense [case materials] Monday against war crimes charges [indictment, PDF] that include 11 counts of crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva Conventions, and other violations of international humanitarian law. Taylor's trial continues in the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) [official website] after the court denied his motion for acquittal [JURIST report] in May. Prosecutors told the court last week that the trial could take up to four additional years [JURIST report] due to the number of defense witnesses. Taylor's counsel defended the list of 256 witnesses by pointing out that the prosecution originally named more than 200 witnesses without intending to call all of them. The prosecution rested their case in February 2009 after presenting testimony from 91 witnesses.

The Taylor prosecution has been led by Stephen Rapp [official profile], who was nominated [JURIST report] last week as Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues by US President Barack Obama [official profile]. Rapp told the media in February that the court was considering releasing Taylor [JURIST report] due to a lack of funds, echoing his previous concerns about the case that prompted Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] to urge donors to contribute to the court [JURIST report] for the purposes of finishing the trial. Following complaints of prejudice in 2007, the SCSL increased [JURIST reports] Taylor's defense funding to $100,000 a month. Although Taylor claims to be indigent, a five-member UN investigatory panel found in June 2007 that he retains control over millions of dollars [JURIST report] hidden in African banks. The trial is being held in The Hague, Netherlands, due to security concerns in Sierra Leone.






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ICJ rules Costa Rica has right to commercial navigation of San Juan River
Andrew Morgan on July 13, 2009 11:12 AM ET

[JURIST] The International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF] Monday that Nicaragua has interfered with Costa Rica's right of free navigation on the San Juan river, which separates the two Central American nations. Costa Rica filed a complaint [case materials] in the ICJ in 2005, arguing that although Nicaragua has sovereignty over the river, that country was impeding free navigation in violation of Article VI of the 1858 Treaty of Limits by requiring visas for passengers aboard Costa Rican ships, requiring that ships stop at Nicaraguan posts, and preventing Costa Rican police from using the river to re-supply river posts. The ICJ found that the treaty did establish Costa Rica's right to free navigation for "commercial purposes," and that "commerce" meant both cargo and transportation. Accordingly, said the court, visa requirements would give Nicaragua undue control over a Costa Rican right, and could not be exercised consistent with the treaty. Similarly, the court rejected Costa Rica's argument that its free navigation of the river gave its ships the freedom to dock at the Nicaragua bank without coming under Nicaraguan control. Recognizing Nicaragua's sovereignty over the river, the court found that passport and identification requirements were not an impediment to Costa Rica's use of the river. Further, the court found that official Costa Rican vehicles, including police boats, are not covered under "commercial purposes," though should be allowed when performing services necessary to the river region's inhabitants.

The ICJ heard oral arguments [press release] in the case in March. The court is also currently considering a maritime boundary dispute between Peru and Chile [ICJ materials; JURIST report] and recently decided a maritime case between Malaysia and Singapore [ICJ materials; JURIST report].






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Germany prosecutors file charges against alleged Nazi guard
Christian Ehret on July 13, 2009 9:57 AM ET

[JURIST] German prosecutors on Monday filed charges [press release, in German] against alleged Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk [NNDB profile; JURIST news archive] for being an accessory to murder during World War II. Demjanjuk faces 27,900 accessory counts stemming from his alleged involvement as a guard at the Sobibor [Death Camps backgrounder] concentration camp where more than 260,000 people were executed in gas chambers. The official charges follow a recent determination by German prison medical experts that the elderly Demjanjuk is fit to stand trial. The former Ohio resident was deported in May by the US after exhausting his appeals for a stay and having his objections to extradition rejected [JURIST reports] by a German court. It has been alleged that Demjanjuk volunteered to work at Sobibor [Abendzeitung report, in German] after being captured by German forces while serving a member of the Soviet army.

Demjanjuk's deportation marked the end of a lengthy legal battle [AP timeline] centered around whether his age and health would permit him to stand trial. Prior to his deportation, German prosecutors filed charges [JURIST report] against him in March, alleging 29,000 accessory counts. In 2008, the US Supreme Court [official website] denied certiorari in Demjanjuk v. Mukasey [order, PDF; JURIST report], ending the appeals process for a prior deportation order. Demjanjuk was appealing a 2005 ruling [JURIST report] by then-US Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy which ordered his deportation. Demjanjuk had previously lost his appeal to the BIA. In 1988, Demjanjuk was convicted and sentenced to death by an Israeli court, though the sentence was vacated by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1993.






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Iraq antiquities law central to preventing more damage to Babylon: UNESCO
Andrew Morgan on July 13, 2009 9:15 AM ET

[JURIST] The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) [official website] has urged adherence to Iraqi antiquities law in a report on damage to the ancient city of Babylon before and since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. A committee composed of Iraqi and international archaeologists said in a report [text, PDF] issued Thursday that adherence to the law regarding the excavation, transportation, and sale of Iraqi artifacts is necessary to preventing further damage to the site, use of which as a coalition military base had caused direct and indirect damage. Although UNESCO called the military use a "grave encroachment" on the site, Mohamed Djelid, director of UNESCO’s Office for Iraq [official website] said that the committee's goal was to catalog the damage, not to assign blame [press release]. The report also noted damage done to the site prior to the invasion, including the construction of palaces and restaurants by Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive], looting of the site after Multi-National Force-Iraq [official website] turned the site over to Iraqi control, and the moving of significant artifacts to European museums by early archaeologists.

Control and use of the site and its artifacts has been controversial. The Iraqi central antiquities office's focus on preserving and excavating ancient Babylon has been at odds [AP report] with the local provincial government's desire to bolster tourism. Many of the city's most recognizable artifacts have long been removed, including the stone tablets on which Hammurabi's Code [museum website, in French] is inscribed, and the Ishtar Gate [backgrounder] of King Nebuchadnezzar II, installed in European museums since the early twentieth century.






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US immigration authorities announce changes to local enforcement policies
Christian Ehret on July 13, 2009 8:28 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] on Friday announced changes to immigration enforcement policies [press release] for state and local agencies. Created by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website] agency, the changes affect agreements made between DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano [official profile] and state and local law enforcement agencies, allowing those agencies to perform immigration enforcement tasks with criminal aliens. Such partnerships are allowed under § 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act [text]. The new polices create uniform standards for agencies that will require them to pursue all criminal charges leading to an immigrant's arrest and prioritizes cases of immigrants accused of major drug offenses or violent crimes. The changes address concerns that police may arrest immigrants for minor offenses "as a guise to initiate removal proceedings." Napolitano said that the new agreement "supports local efforts to protect public safety by giving law enforcement the tools to identify and remove dangerous criminal aliens." ICE official John Morton [official profile] called the partnership program "essential," maintaining that it allows the ICE "to better utilize the resources and capabilities" of agencies across the nation. Government investigators found that old partnership agreements were unclear [AP report] and exemplified misguided Bush administration policy.

Friday's announcement is the latest in a series of Obama administration immigration reforms. Earlier this month, ICE issued inspection notices [JURIST report] to 652 businesses as part of an increased effort to target employers using illegal immigrants. Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] vacated [order, PDF; JURIST report] an order [text, PDF] by former attorney general Michael Mukasey [JURIST news archive] that denied potential deportees the right to challenge immigration decisions based on ineffective assistance of counsel claims. In March, Napolitano and other officials proposed an overhaul [press release] of US immigration policy. In February, Napolitano called for a review [JURIST report] of workplace raids conducted by ICE agents. ICE has arrested [JURIST report] many non-criminal illegal immigrants in the past year, many of whom were imprisoned [JURIST report].






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Cheney ordered CIA to withhold secret program from Congress: report
Ximena Marinero on July 12, 2009 12:00 PM ET

[JURIST] Former vice-president Dick Cheney [JURIST news archive] directly ordered the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] to withhold from Congress information on a counterterrorism program kept secret for eight years until it was terminated by current CIA director Leon Panetta [official profile], according to a Saturday New York Times report [text]. The secret counterterrorism program was initiated in the months following the 9/11 attacks [JURIST news archive], and details about the program's scope have not been disclosed to the public. Panetta informed [NPR report] Congress in an emergency closed meeting with both the Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representatives and the Senate [official websites] on June 24, after learning about the program and immediately terminating in on June 23. According to Congressman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) [official website], Chairman of the House Intelligence committee, the CIA would have violated National Security Act [text] requirements that Congress be kept informed of programs such as this one by keeping it a secret.

On Friday, five federal agencies released a report [text; JURIST report] on the president's warrantless wiretapping program that reviewed both the flawed legal origins of the program as well as questioned the effectiveness of information produced by wiretapping international communications of American citizens. In May, Cheney defended the national security policies [speech transcript; JURIST report] of the Bush administration speaking at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) [organization website], while criticizing many of the security policies of President Barack Obama [official profile].






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AG Holder still considering investigation of Bush-era torture allegations: report
Tere Miller-Sporrer on July 12, 2009 10:58 AM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] is still considering appointing a prosecutor to investigate allegations of torture during the Bush administration, Newsweek reported [text] Saturday. Despite pressure from the White House [official website] to "look forward, not backwards" with regard to Bush-era interrogation tactics [JURIST news archive], Holder has reportedly requested a list of ten candidates, five from within the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] and five from outside the agency. According to the report, the person selected, if anyone is selected at all, must have "gravitas and grit." DOJ sources indicated to Newsweek that Holder is aware of the politically charged, and thus delicate, nature of a possible investigation but feels compelled to investigate both because the legal authorizations for the interrogation techniques were themselves questionable and because some interrogators went beyond what was authorized. A final decision is expected to be announced within the next few weeks.

In April, Democratic members of the US House Judiciary Committee [official website] sent Holder a letter urging him to appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations of torture [press release and letter text; JURIST report] against Bush administration officials. Earlier in April, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official profile] had reiterated his calls for a non-partisan truth commission [JURIST report] to investigate Bush administration officials responsible for authorizing certain interrogation techniques. Also in April, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence [official website] released a report [text; JURIST report] by the DOJ indicating that former attorney general John Ashcroft and former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in 2002 approved the use of waterboarding and other extreme interrogation techniques used by CIA agents against Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archives] detainees. The report supports many of the conclusions of a November Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) [official website] report [text, PDF; JURIST report] detailing the extent of top Bush administration officials' involvement in implementing the techniques, which was declassified [JURIST report] in April 2009. Calls for an independent investigation of Bush administration interrogation policies intensified after the Obama administration released four top secret memos [JURIST report] outlining the legal rationale behind controversial techniques.






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Multi-agency report questions presidential warrantless wiretapping program
Ximena Marinero on July 12, 2009 10:48 AM ET

[JURIST] The Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program [JURIST news archive] relied on a flawed legal analysis at its inception and produced results of questionable effectiveness, according to an unclassified version of a report [text] released Friday by five government agencies. The report, prepared by inspector generals at the US Department of Justice (DOJ), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Office of National Intelligence (ONI) [official websites], says that agency officials had "difficulty evaluating the precise contribution of the PSP [President's Surveillance Program] to counterterrorism efforts because it was most often viewed as one source among many available ..." despite the "unprecedented collection activities" that the program entailed. The report also cited lack of awareness of the program and the poor quality of the information it produced that has been described by receiving officers as vague. It recommended careful monitoring of any retained information collected. Responding to the report, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] Legislative Counsel Michelle Richardson emphasized [press release] "that the power Congress authorized with the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] Amendments Act is even broader than the illegal program the Bush administration was conducting, and is most likely just as ineffective. Giving up the Fourth Amendment for an ineffective program is a double slap in the face of Americans."

In June a federal judge upheld [JURIST report] provisions of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FISAAA) giving immunity to telecom companies from liability associated with assisting the National Security Agency (NSA) with warrantless eavesdropping, dismissing 46 lawsuits against the telecom industry. In January, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review made public [JURIST report] a ruling from August 2008 that upheld the Protect America Act [text], a previous 2007 amendment to FISA that allowed warrantless wiretaps of international phone and e-mail communications. After the amendment, warrants were still required to monitor purely domestic communications. The 2008 FISA amendment law granted the FISA court authority to review a wider range of wiretapping orders, prohibited the executive branch from overriding the court's authority, and ordered the DOJ and other agencies to issue this latest report on the country's use of wiretapping orders.






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Pakistan to begin trial of 5 Mumbai terror attack suspects
Matt Glenn on July 11, 2009 2:59 PM ET

[JURIST] Pakistan has completed its probe into in last November's terror attacks in Mumbai [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and will likely begin trying next week five men arrested in connection with the attacks, Pakistan's Minister of the Interior Rehman Malik [official profile] announced Saturday. Malik named [IANS report] Zaki-ur-Rahman Lahkvi [Global Jihad profile], one of the men to stand trial, as the commander in the attacks. Lahkvi is the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) [CFR backgrounder], the group suspected of planning and coordinating the attacks. Malik praised Pakistani investigators [APP report] for the speed with which they conducted the investigation. India has accused Pakistan of proceeding too slowly in its investigation, but Malik asserted that if either country was acting too slowly it was India. Thirteen other men were announced as proclaimed offenders by Malik for their roles in the terror attacks, and Malik urged Pakistanis to help find these men so they could be tried.

In June, India issued an arrest warrant [JURIST report] for Lahkvi, but Pakistan announced it would not hand over [IANS report] any of its citizens and would try them in Pakistan. In May, Pakistani citizen Mohammed Ajmal Kasab pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to involvement with the Mumbai attacks. Two Indian defendants linked to LeT also pleaded not guilty [AFP report] to conspiracy charges related to the charges against Kasab. In February, Pakistani officials conceded [JURIST report] that the attacks were partially planned in their country. 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. 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.






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Federal appeals court rules neighborhood vehicle checkpoints unconstitutional
Ximena Marinero on July 11, 2009 2:20 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday a neighborhood motorist checkpoint program unconstitutionally violated plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment [text] rights. The court overturned a ruling by the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website], applying precedent from the Supreme Court's decision in City of Indianapolis v. Edmond [text]. In Edmonds, the police sought to deter uncommitted crimes:


the primary purpose of the Indianapolis checkpoint program [was] ultimately indistinguishable from the general interest in crime control, the checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment. ... It is this rule which governs the present case, and as the purpose of the [neighborhood safety zone] checkpoint program is not immediately distinguishable from the general interest in crime control, appellants' argument that the seizures were unconstitutional appears headed for ultimate victory.

The court concluded that for this reason, the harm to appellants was evident and that the appellants had a compelling case that there was a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights. DC District Attorney Peter Nickles [official profile] has said that the city will appeal [ABC video] the decision, while Police Chief Cathy Lanier [official profile] issued a statement [text] saying that the department did not attempt to circumvent the constitution in doing what they considered was appropriate for the situation.

The lower court decision had denied the four plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction to enjoin future implementation of Metropolitan Police Department Special Order 08-06, which, in June 2008, established a police Neighborhood Safety Zone (NSZ) program that was implemented for two periods of time in the Trinidad neighborhood of DC. Eleven checkpoints were set up to control incoming motorists from coming into the neighborhood unless they met approved category requirements that entailed proving their address in the neighborhood or reasons for entering. The original lawsuit was brought by four plaintiffs who were denied entrance into the neighborhood during the first implementation. The case was brought on behalf of the plaintiffs by the Partnership for Civil Justice [advocacy website].





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DC Circuit rules prosecutors cannot subpoena House ethics committee testimony
Matt Glenn on July 11, 2009 1:02 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website] announced [opinion, PDF] Thursday that prosecutors cannot subpoena statements made by a former congressman to the US House of Representatives Ethics Committee [official website], unsealing [order, PDF] a June 23 opinion. In overturning the lower court's ruling, the court ruled that the Constitution's Speech and Debate Clause [Article I, Section 6 text], which states that "for any speech or debate in either House, [Congresspersons] shall not be questioned in any other place," precludes prosecutors from using statements made by former US congressman Tom Feeney (R-FL) [campaign website] before the Ethics Committee in a criminal investigation. At issue are a number of statements and documents produced for the Committee by Feeney while he was under investigation by the committee for taking a trip to Scotland allegedly paid for by former lobbyist Jack Abramoff [JURIST news archive]. Attorneys for the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] attempted to subpoena those statements and documents, but the ruling quashed the subpoena. In a concurring opinion, Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh called for an en banc rehearing to clarify the court's position on the Speech and Debate Clause.

Feeney failed to retain his seat in the House [AP report], losing in last year's election as his Democrat challenger emphasized Feeney's ties to the jailed Abramoff. The DOJ began investigating Feeney after he admitted to the House Ethics Committee he could not be sure who paid for his 2003 trip to Scotland. The Committee determined that by taking the trip Feeney had violated House Rules [Washington Times report], and Feeney paid $5,643 to the US Treasury. Feeney originally contacted the Ethics Committee after media reports indicated that Abramoff had paid for the trip.






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Kurdistan parliament delays constitutional referendum
Andrew Morgan on July 10, 2009 2:53 PM ET

[JURIST] The Kurdish Parliament [official website] announced [press release, in Arabic] Friday that it was postponing a public referendum on approval of the Constitution of Kurdistan [text, in Arabic]. The vote had previously been scheduled to coincide with parliamentary elections later this month, but parliamentary president Adnan Mufti [official profile] said that the election commission was unable to organize both votes on the same day for logistical reasons. MPs in the semi-autonomous region of Iraq approved [AFP report] the constitution by a vote of 96-15 in June.

Kurdistan's constitution has been controversial in Iraq. Last month, Shi'ite, Sunni and secular members of the Iraqi Parliament [official website, in Arabic] criticized [AFP report] the constitution, saying that its broad assertions of power and claim to disputed areas such as Kirkuk [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] made it both politically divisive and unconstitutional [IOR report]. In July 2008, Kurdish members of the Iraqi Parliament walked out [JURIST report] to protest a proposed election bill that would establish a provincial council in Kirkuk to include equal numbers of Kurdish, Arabs and Turkmeni representatives.






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African Union panel recommends cooperating with ICC Bashir arrest warrant
Devin Montgomery on July 10, 2009 1:25 PM ET

[JURIST] An African Union (AU) [official website] panel [meeting materials, DOC] led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki [ANC profile] recommended Friday that the AU cooperate with International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] efforts to arrest Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity [JURIST report]. The recommendation comes in stark contrast to a vote by the full AU last week not to cooperate with the ICC [JURIST report] on the arrest. Mbeki said the panel made its recommendation on the principle that those sought by international courts should be required [Reuters report] to face the charges against them. Leaders who have opposed the warrant for Bashir's arrest argue that it poses a threat [JURIST report] to Sudan's peace process.

Al-Bashir is accused of leading the systematic harassment and murder of members of the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups under the pretext of counter-insurgency since 2003. A controversial warrant [JURIST news archive] for his arrest had long been sought by ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile], who in July 2008 filed preliminary charges [text, PDF; JURIST report] against al-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 court had originally refused to charge Bashir with genocide, but prosecutors appealed that decision [JURIST report] earlier this week.






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UK police begin investigation into alleged abuse of Guantanamo detainee
Christian Ehret on July 10, 2009 12:40 PM ET

[JURIST] The UK Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) [official website] announced Friday that it is investigating the alleged mistreatment [press release] of an Ethiopian Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee by British intelligence officers. Binyam Mohamed [Reprieve profile; JURIST news archive], who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, claims that while he was held in Pakistan for three months he was tortured by Pakistani agents [Independent report] and interrogated by FBI and MI5 agents complicit in his abuse. Binyam was later transferred to Morocco, allegedly as part of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program [JURIST news archive]. Binyam also claims that British agents supplied torturers in Morocco with questions. According to the announcement, the MPS team assigned to the case will work closely with the Crown Prosecution Service [official webpage] throughout the investigation.

In May, London High Court judges agreed to reconsider a prior decision [JURIST reports] to redact information from a ruling regarding Binyam after it was challenged on the grounds that the information may be essential to his defense. Following four years of detention at Guantanamo, Binyam was returned to the UK in February. He was originally sent to the prison based on suspicion of war crimes in connection with an alleged involvement with al Qaeda attacks on the US. The charges against him were dismissed [JURIST report] in October 2008.






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China accuses Australia mining company employees of stealing 'state secrets'
Andrew Morgan on July 10, 2009 12:25 PM ET

[JURIST] Chinese authorities on Wednesday detained four employees of Australian mining company Rio Tinto [corporate website] on suspicion of stealing 'state secrets' during stalled iron ore price negotiations. Rio Tinto's Shanghai manager Stern Hu, who is an Australian citizen, along with three of the company's Chinese employees are accused [Xinhua report] of bribing officials and steel industry executives in order to obtain information that would be advantageous during negotiations. Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith [official website] said that the government "has continued its efforts to secure consular access to" Hu, and had notified [press release] Chinese authorities of its intent to conduct a consular visit on Friday. Rio Tinto spokesman Tony Shaffer said that the company was not aware [Bloomberg report] of any evidence supporting the accusations. Chinese authorities said that they would handle [Xinhua report] the case "according to the law." On Friday, an executive from Chinese steelmaker Shougang Group [corporate website] was also detained [CNN report] in connection with the Rio Tinto investigation.

Last month, Chinese lawmakers considered [JURIST report] a revised version of the country's sweeping state secrets [JURIST news archive] law to address Internet leaks of classified data. In June 2007, Human Rights in China [advocacy website] released a report [text; JURIST report] saying that the state secrets system in China gives the government virtually complete power to halt the free flow of information, "undermining healthy governance and rule of law." In November 2006, Hong Kong reporter Ching Cheong [advocacy website; SCMP Q/A] began a 5-year prison term [JURIST report] for passing state secrets to Taiwanese intelligence, after the Beijing Higher People's Court affirmed [JURIST report] the sentence on appeal. He was released [press release, in Chinese] in 2008 after serving half of the sentence.






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Somalia violence may constitute war crimes: UN rights commissioner
Christian Ehret on July 10, 2009 11:15 AM ET

[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] said Thursday that human rights violations committed during recent Somalian conflicts may amount to war crimes [press release]. Pillay said that ongoing violence between Islamist rebels and the newly-formed government has resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths, despite a peace accord signed last year. Pillay's office reported that the rebel groups, Al-Shabab [Economist backgrounder] and Hisb-ul-Islam, have carried out extrajudicial executions, planted explosives in civilian areas and used civilians as shields. Both rebel and government fighters have allegedly used torture, indiscriminately fired mortars into civilian-populated areas and recruited child soldiers. Calling for the violence to stop, Pillay said perpetrators should be held responsible:

There needs to be a much greater effort to protect civilians. Displaced people and human rights defenders, aid workers and journalists are among those most exposed, and in some cases are being directly targeted. ... The gathering of evidence, by all who are in a position to do so, has to continue so that those committing these terrible crimes in Somalia will one day receive their due punishment before a court of law, and their victims will finally see justice being done.
Pillay said that human rights violators should be brought to justice, possibly for war crimes, once order is restored in the country. Since May, over 200,000 people have fled Mogadishu due to the conflicts.

Somalia has endured a lengthy civil war and several rounds of failed peace talks [BBC timeline] since the collapse of its last civil government in 1991. Last month, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees condemned violence [JURIST report] inflicted upon civilians in Mogadishu as a violation of international human rights law. In April, the Somali parliament, meeting in Djibouti to avoid violence in Mogadishu, voted to adopt [JURIST report] Islamic Sharia law [CFR backgrounder; JURIST news archive] as part of a cease-fire agreement with the country's Hizb al-Islamiya and Al-Shabaab rebels. Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed [BBC profile] expressed his support [JURIST report] for the adoption of a moderate form of Sharia in March as part of peace talks with the rebels.





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Federal judges urge simplification of sentencing guidelines
Andrew Morgan on July 10, 2009 11:12 AM ET

[JURIST] A group of federal judges on Thursday urged the US Sentencing Commission (USSC) [official website] to revise complicated and mechanical calculations used to determine federal criminal sentences. Federal circuit and district court judges praised [Bloomberg report] the 2005 Supreme Court [official website] decision in US v. Booker [opinion], which made the USSC's guidelines advisory rather than mandatory, but said that the rules remain esoteric and time-consuming in practice. Second Circuit Court of Appeals [official website] Judge Jon O. Newman [official profile] testified that the "time has come to step back from minute tinkering," adding [testimony, PDF] that


the Commission should reexamine and discard its basic premise that for every discrete increment of criminal conduct there must be a discrete increment of punishment. Then, after considering the far less complicated guideline systems in the states that have adopted sentencing guidelines, it should start all over and fashion a simplified guideline system.

Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh [official profile] of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals [official website] argued that the Booker decision has increased disparity in federal sentences by allowing judges a degree of discretion that may not be based on legal grounds. He said that the federal guidelines should not be made entirely advisory, in order to guarantee some consistency in sentencing. The judges met [agenda] with the USSC at the Court of International Trade [official website] in New York as part of the commission's effort to gather information regarding its Federal Sentencing Guidelines [USSC materials].

Last month, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] called for a review of disparities between sentencing guidelines for powder and crack cocaine, echoing concerns raised [JURIST report] by Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Lanny Breuer [official profile] in April. In April 2008, a study by the USSC reported [study, PDF; JURIST report] that more than 3,000 prison inmates convicted of crack cocaine offenses have had their sentences reduced under an amendment to sentencing guidelines. In 2007, the USSC voted unanimously [JURIST report] to give retroactive effect to an earlier sentencing guideline amendment that reduced crack cocaine penalties [press release]. In February 2008, then-US Attorney General Michael Mukasey unsuccessfully urged the Senate to block the amendment's retroactive effect [JURIST reports].





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Turkish president signs law allowing civilian courts to prosecute military personnel
Andrew Morgan on July 10, 2009 10:19 AM ET

[JURIST] Turkish President Abdullah Gul [official website, in Turkish] on Thursday approved a law that would allow the prosecution of military personnel in civilian courts and would prevent military prosecution of civilians during peacetime. Gul said that the law was necessary for accession [JURIST report] to the European Union (EU) [official website], but suggested [BBC report] that parliament amend the law to clarify the civil court's jurisdiction over service members. Opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) [party website] deputy chairman Onur Oymen [personal website] said that the law was "technically flawed and unconstitutional," and vowed to challenge [Hurriyet report] the law in the Constitutional Court. Former Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Turk called the law unconstitutional and has questioned [Hurriyet report] the circumstances under which it was passed by parliament last month. Bekir Bozdag [official profile, in Turkish], an MP from Gul's Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish], said that the law is constitutional [Cumhuriyet report, in Turkish] and serves to protect the political sphere from military influence, not inject politics into military affairs.

Constitutional reforms are necessary for Turkey's accession to the EU, since its constitution was written under military rule and limits freedom of expression and religion. On Sunday, Turkish military officials sent a letter [JURIST report] to Gul urging him not to approve the law because it runs counter to Article 145 [text] of the Turkish Constitution, which outlines the responsibilities of the military justice system. In May, secular judges in Turkey warned [JURIST report] the ruling AKP that proposed constitutional amendments were going too far in promoting an Islamist agenda. Earlier this year, a report [text, PDF, in Turkish] by advocacy group Tesev [advocacy website] argued that Turkish property rights still fell short [JURIST report] of those required to join the EU. Last year, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso [official profile] addressed the Turkish parliament [JURIST report] to applaud the government's efforts to reform a controversial provision of the Turkish penal code [JURIST report] but stressed that further efforts would be necessary.






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Afghanistan revises marital sex provisions in personal status law
Christian Ehret on July 10, 2009 9:55 AM ET

[JURIST] The Afghan government has revised a controversial law which appeared to legalize marital rape, according to statements made by government officials on Thursday. The provisions of the Shi'ite personal status law [Reuters backgrounder] requiring a wife to submit to sex with her husband were removed [AP report] along with other provisions, following international condemnation and protests. Afghan President Hamid Karzai [BBC profile] pledged to amend the original law [JURIST report] to align it with international human rights standards, reportedly claiming to have not realized its effects [Reuters report] due to the law's length and theological language. The law only applies to the country's Shi'a population and no longer regulates spousal sexual relations or requires women to ask permission from their husbands to leave their homes.

The Afghan law elicited strong reactions from outside and within the country. In April, Karzai submitted the law to the Ministry of Justice [JURIST report] for review after suspending it and promising revisions. Key Shi’ite cleric Mohammad Asif Mohsseni defended the law [JURIST report], chastising Western critics for interfering with Afghan democracy. Following Mohsseni's endorsement and prior to Karzai's promise to revise the law, Afghan women protesters were attacked [JURIST report] by conservative Muslims while staging demonstrations and had to be rescued by police forces. US President Barack Obama [official profile] called the law "abhorrent," saying that respect for women and their freedom is an important principle [transcript text] that all nations should uphold. Karzai's decision to sign the law [JURIST report] was one of several actions that Karzai has been criticized for since his appointment as Afghanistan's interim president in 2002.






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Suu Kyi trial resumes with new witness testimony
Devin Montgomery on July 10, 2009 9:49 AM ET

[JURIST] The trial of Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] resumed Friday with the testimony of Khin Moe Moe, a member of Suu Kyi's National League of Democracy (NLD) [party website] party. Suu Kyi is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest by allowing an American to stay at her home, but Khin Moe Moe argued that she is being tried under a version of the country's constitution that is no longer valid [AP report]. Suu Kyi has also argued that the government guards at her house should have turned the man away. Khin Moe Moe was originally banned from testifying, but is now one of two witnesses who were allowed [JURIST reports] to testify in her defense. The hearing was conducted in the prison in which Suu Kyi is being held under tight security, and will resume on July 24. She faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

In June, a Myanmar court sentenced [JURIST report] two members of the NLD to 18 months in prison after leading prayers for Suu Kyi's release. Her arrest was controversial and highly criticized [JURIST report] by the international community. She has spent 12 of the past 18 years in prison or under house arrest for alleged violations of an anti-subversion law [text, PDF]. News of Suu Kyi's trial has been met with criticism from numerous agencies and governments around the world. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] has said the charges [HRW report] against Suu Kyi are "trumped up."






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Islamic charity seeks summary judgment on NSA wiretapping case
Andrew Morgan on July 10, 2009 8:43 AM ET

[JURIST] The Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation [JURIST news archive] on Wednesday filed [motion, PDF] a request for partial summary judgment [FRCP 56 text] concluding that the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] illegally wiretapped several conversations between the charity and its lawyers. The organization is suing [JURIST report; EFF materials] the government for the wiretapping and is seeking both disclosure of what was intercepted and monetary damages. Al-Haramain argues that there is "no genuine issue of material fact" as to whether the NSA recorded their conversations in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text; JURIST news archive], unless the government can produce evidence of a classified warrant to do so. The motion also rejects the government's claim that FISA is an unconstitutional intrusion on executive authority, arguing that the law overrides that authority:

If the Executive Branch were free to ignore FISA in the name of national security, then the Executive Branch would also be free, at its unfettered discretion, to ignore a judgment by this Court of defendants' liability for violating FISA. That would not bode well for the future of the constitutional separation of powers, for it would concentrate too much power in the President.
Al-Haramain notes that several prominent members of the Obama administration, including Attorney General Eric Holder, Solicitor General Elena Kagan [official profiles] and Obama himself have previously admitted that the President has neither inherent authority nor authority under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) [text, PDF] to disregard FISA. Hearings in the lawsuit are scheduled to begin in September in the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website].

In February, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals [official website] affirmed the district court's ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] denying [JURIST report] a government appeal seeking to keep an NSA call log secret, despite its accidental release to Al-Haramain in 2004. The call log had been deemed a state secret [SourceWatch backgrounder; JURIST report] but the decision required the government to allow the foundation to view the document. JURIST contributor Victor Comras [official profile] said that District Judge Vaughn R. Walker had done a "truly remarkable job" balancing national security and due process [JURIST op-ed] in the case. Walker had previously dismissed the suit [JURIST report], finding that Al-Haramain lacked a cause of action because the state secrets privilege [JURIST news archive] trumped procedural requirements under FISA.





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First Circuit upholds law requiring 'buffer zone' for abortion clinic protesters
Christian Ehret on July 10, 2009 8:28 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal appeals court Wednesday upheld [opinion, PDF] a Massachusetts law [text] prohibiting people from protesting directly outside of abortion clinics. The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] ruled that the law, which creates a 35-foot buffer zone around entrances and exits of reproductive health clinics, was a reasonable response to a significant threat to public safety. The challenge to the statute alleged a First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] violation, but the court rejected that claim, affirming the district court's decision [opinion, PDF] and holding that the law merely regulated the time, place and manner in which speech may occur. The court reasoned:

The correct inquiry is whether, in light of the totality of the circumstances, a time-place-manner regulation burdens substantially more speech than necessary and, concomitantly, whether such a regulation leaves open adequate alternative channels of communication. ... [T]he 2007 Act places no burden at all on the plaintiffs' activities outside the 35-foot buffer zone. They can speak, gesticulate, wear screen-printed T-shirts, display signs, use loudspeakers, and engage in the whole gamut of lawful expressive activities. Those messages may be seen and heard by individuals entering, departing, or within the buffer zone. ... Any willing listener is at liberty to leave the zone, approach those outside it, and request more information.
The suit was brought against Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley [official profile] by parties "who regularly engage in pro-life counseling" outside clinics. Among other arguments, the plaintiffs contended that, while the statute was facially content-neutral, the restrictions were enacted to curb anti-abortion speech and are based on evidence from biased sources.

Threats against abortion clinics and employees have been a longstanding concern. In the wake of the shooting of abortion doctor George Tiller [BBC report], US Attorney General Eric Holder enlisted the US Marshal Service [official websites] to offer protection [JURIST report] to other at-risk people and facilities throughout the country. Tiller's clinic, where he performed late-term abortions, was bombed in 1985 and the doctor was shot twice in 1993. Last year, the Ninth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that the First Amendment protected an anti-abortion group's right to display graphic pictures of early-term aborted fetuses outside of a California middle school.





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Annan submits names of Kenya election violence suspects to ICC prosecutor
Benjamin Hackman on July 10, 2009 8:14 AM ET

[JURIST] Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan [official website; JURIST news archive] Thursday delivered the names [Guardian report] of those believed responsible for the post-election violence in Kenya [JURIST report] in late 2007 and early 2008 to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] in The Hague. Annan sent a sealed envelope [ICC news release] to ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] despite a June announcement that he would give Kenya until August [JURIST report] to form a tribunal to investigate the violence before handing over the names of suspects to the ICC. Last week, a Kenyan delegation had pledged [JURIST report] to formulate a prosecution plan by September. Because Kenya is party to the Rome Statute [text, PDF], Moreno-Ocampo may prosecute suspects believed to have committed crimes over which the ICC has jurisdiction.

In late December 2007, tens of thousands of protesters took to Kenya's streets accusing Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki [official profile] of election fraud after early opinion polls suggested rival Raila Odinga [official website] was in the lead. Kibaki ultimately won the election by a narrow margin. Two months later, in a move that could have eased the violence, Kibaki and Odinga agreed [JURIST report] to write a new constitution for Kenya. Earlier this year, however, Kenya's parliament rejected [press release; JURIST report] the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2009 [text, PDF], along with a Special Tribunal for Kenya Bill, 2009 [text, PDF] that would have set up a special domestic court to try persons believed to have committed post-election crimes. An estimated 1,500 people died as a result of the election violence.






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Sweden will be first EU nation to extradite Rwandan facing genocide charges
Matt Glenn on July 10, 2009 7:42 AM ET

[JURIST] Sweden will become the first European Union (EU) nation to extradite a Rwandan to his native country so that he can stand trial for his alleged role in Rwanda's 1994 genocide [HRW backgrounder], Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask [official profile] announced Thursday. The announcement comes in response to a Rwandan government request [Aftonbladet report, in Swedish] for Sweden to turn over Sylvere Ahorugeze, a Tutu who headed the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority [official website] during Rwanda's civil war. Ahorugeze had been living in Denmark for several years as a refugee before being arrested in Sweden. In May, the Supreme Court of Sweden [official website] ruled [JURIST report] in favor of his extradition. He is expected to arrive in Rwanda within three weeks.

In May, a Rwandan Hutu was the first to be convicted [JURIST report] under Canada's new Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act [text, PDF]. In April, the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) [official website] called on the Rwandan government to investigate reports of killings [JURIST report] during and after the uprising by the Rwandan Patriotic Army. In March, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile; JURIST news archive] pledged his ongoing support [JURIST report] for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda [JURIST news archive] (ICTR) and stressed that the international community must continue to combat genocide.






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India Supreme Court to hear homosexuality decriminalization challenge
Andrew Morgan on July 9, 2009 3:25 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of India [official website] on Thursday accepted a petition challenging a lower court ruling declaring [JURIST report] India's anti-sodomy law unconstitutional. Sushil Kumar Kaushal asked the Court to set aside a ruling [judgment, PDF] by the Delhi High Court [official website], which found that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code [text, PDF], outlawing "carnal conduct against the order of nature," runs counter to Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Article 21 of the Indian Constitution [text, PDF]. In his petition, Kaushal argued that decriminalizing homosexual conduct will increase the spread of HIV, and will lead to calls to legalize beastiality. Chief Justice of India Konakuppakatil Balakrishnan [official profile] asked the Indian government and the Naz Foundation [advocacy website], the plaintiff in the original case, to appear during a scheduled July 20 hearing. The Delhi court's ruling is binding only in the Union Territory of Delhi [official website], while the Supreme Court's ruling would be binding nationwide.

The criminalization of homosexuality has been a divisive issue around the world. In April, an appeals court in Senegal ordered the release [JURIST report] of nine members of AIDS awareness group AIDES Senegal who had been convicted of sodomy and sentenced to eight years in prison. In November, the parliament of Burundi voted to criminalize homosexuality, a move condemned [JURIST reports] by human rights groups. In December, the UN General Assembly [official website] was divided [press release; JURIST report] over the issue as 66 nations signed a statement calling for decriminalization, and nearly 60 nations signed an opposing statement.






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Bangladesh urged to improve war crimes laws
Christian Ehret on July 9, 2009 2:53 PM ET

[JURIST] Bangladesh should improve their war crimes laws [letter text] to bring justice to victims of the 1971 War of Independence [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] from Pakistan, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina [BBC profile] Wednesday. The rights group sent a letter to Hasina applauding the government's commitment in setting up tribunals to prosecute war criminals and asked for improvements to be made to the International Crimes Act of 1973 [text, PDF]. HRW requested that the trials be conducted by civilian judges, that the rights of the accused are respected, that there is proper protection for witnesses and victims who testify, that the law is consistent with international standards, and that the death penalty be excluded. Law Minister Shafique Ahmed has already presented changes [AFP report] to the law to make it "fair and neutral," including provisions to allow convicted offenders to appeal. HRW Asia director Brad Adams said that the law needs to be comprehensive enough to prevent the accused from challenging the entire process. The letter addressed the changes in international human rights since the 1973 passage of the Bangladesh law:


While the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act may have been largely based on international standards at the time of its drafting, international criminal law has evolved significantly since, including with the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 1998 and its coming into force after ratification by 60 states in 2002. The Rome statute and the ICC's corresponding jurisprudence reflect international norms, which Bangladesh, as a signatory to the Rome statute, should follow.

HRW maintained that justice for the atrocities committed during the 1971 war is long overdue and that a lack of credibility for the Bangladesh tribunals would only benefit the accused war criminals.

In May, HRW called for the Bangladesh government to investigate torture [JURIST report], illegal detentions, and extrajudicial killings allegedly conducted by the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence and the Rapid Action Battalion [official websites]. In April, the Bangladesh government announced [JURIST report] that it was working with the UN to organize war crimes prosecutions for alleged violations during the 1971 war and that they were considering conducting trials in the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website].





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States violating voter registration laws: advocacy groups
Andrew Morgan on July 9, 2009 2:11 PM ET

[JURIST] A collection of advocacy groups filed suit Thursday against New Mexico and Indiana [complaints, PDF] alleging that the states have failed to comply with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) [text] by not providing voter registration cards at public assistance agencies. Commonly known as the "Motor Voter Act," NVRA requires that states make voter registration materials available in "all offices in the State that provide public assistance," or are "primarily engaged in providing services to persons with disabilities." Advocacy groups Project Vote, Demos, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), and the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law [advocacy websites] sought injunctive relief from federal courts, alleging that the states have consistently failed to provide registration materials at food stamp, Medicaid, and other public assistance offices. Brenda Wright [official profile], director of Demos' Democracy Program, said that the non-compliance has reduced low-income voter registrations [Demos report, PDF] by 91 percent in New Mexico and 97 percent in Indiana, compared to the first years of the NVRA.

Last month, the US District Court for the Western District of Missouri [official website] approved a settlement [Lawyer's Committee press release] between the coalition and the Missouri Department of Social Services (DSS) [official website] allowing recovery of $450,000 in legal costs. The court issued a preliminary injunction in July 2008, requiring DSS to provide voter registration and assistance to their clients. The Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] has also brought several cases [case materials] seeking enforcement of the NVRA. In 2007, the DOJ's Civil Rights Division [official website] announced [JURIST report] that they would be increasing NVRA enforcement efforts.






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Ethiopia lawmakers pass controversial new anti-terrorism law
Christian Ehret on July 9, 2009 12:51 PM ET

[JURIST] Ethiopian lawmakers passed a controversial new anti-terrorism Tuesday law that rights groups claim will negatively affect human rights in the country. Ethiopian authorities responded [VOA report] Wednesday to a recent Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] report [text], which expressed concern that the law could "punish political speech and peaceful protest as terrorist acts and encourage unfair trials." HRW argued that the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation violates due process and freedoms of speech and assembly since the law is ambiguous and could be construed to suppress political opposition. Ethiopia maintained that the legislation is necessary to address threats from internal rebel groups and denied that it will be used to quash political dissent. Lawmakers passed the bill [AFP report] Tuesday without making the changes urged by HRW. Ethiopian Communications Minister Bereket Simon maintained that the law is constitutionally permissible and in compliance with international law by arguing that the country has a right to defend itself against rebels. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy group] argued that, while Ethiopia faces legitimate security concerns, anti-terrorism laws must be enacted [AI report] in accordance with international rights standards. The law is supported by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi [BBC profile].

Human rights in Ethiopia have been intensely scrutinized by the international community. The Ethiopian National Priorities Consultative Process [advocacy website] met in Chicago last week to agree on a resolution [text, PDF] that expresses concern over civil rights. The group was troubled by proclamations being passed by the ruling regime, calling anti-terrorism laws and others "draconian" and repressive. In January, the Ethiopian Parliament adopted legislation [JURIST report] to prevent certain foreign charities from being involved in areas that the government believes are internal affairs including human rights and equality. In June, HRW released a report attacking Ethiopian human rights practices in the Ogaden region [JURIST report]. In October 2007, the US House of Representatives passed the Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007 [JURIST commentary], aimed in part at encouraging the improvement of the human rights situation in Ethiopia. The bill is currently before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. In July 2007, HRW accused Ethiopian troops of violating international humanitarian law [JURIST report] by burning homes and forcibly relocating civilians in Ogaden.






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France Senate approves new version of Internet piracy bill
Christian Ehret on July 9, 2009 11:22 AM ET

[JURIST] The French Senate [official website, in French] on Wednesday approved [vote, in French] a new version [text, in French] of a controversial Internet piracy law after portions of it were rejected [decision, in French; JURIST report] last month by France's Constitutional Council [official website]. The original law subjected violators of copyright laws to suspension of Internet access at the discretion of a newly-created administrative authority bestowed with judicial power. The new law leaves the discretion to suspend services to a judge, since the Constitutional Council ruled that the power to restrict the fundamental right of accessing the Internet should not be entrusted to an administrative authority. The determination to suspend access will be made on an infringer's third violation, after previously receiving two warnings. Senate Socialists voted against the measure [text, in French] after Senator Bodin Yannick [official profile, in French] called it fragile, inefficient, and ambiguous. Senate Socialist Marie-Christine Blandin [official profile, in French] expressed concern over the fact that people are responsible under the law for those illegally using their internet connections, reasoning that it jeopardizes the presumption of innocence. Chairman of the Committee on Culture, Education, and Communication Jacques Legendre [official profile, in French] maintained that the law was important to protect culture and its creators. The measure, which was approved by a 189-142 vote, must now go before the lower house of parliament.

The bill, introduced by Cultural Minister Christine Albanel and supported by President Nicholas Sarkozy [official websites, in French], is aimed at reducing illegal downloads of protected works by proposing an escalating series of responses for users that are caught. The original version of the law was challenged [JURIST report] by the Socialist party on the grounds that it failed to find a balance between the rights of Internet users and those of copyright holders. In May, the original bill was approved by the National Assembly after initially defeating [JURIST reports] it in April. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry [organization website], representing the worldwide recording industry, has welcomed the legislation [press release], although it has been opposed [press release, in French] by French consumer interest group UFC-Que Choisir [advocacy website, in French] as well as cable and Internet providers [France 24 report].






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Kosovo court retries parliamentary deputy on war crimes charges
Andrew Morgan on July 9, 2009 11:17 AM ET

[JURIST] A Kosovo court on Wednesday began trial of three former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) members accused of committing war crimes during the 1998-1999 Balkan ethnic conflicts [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The trial, being held in the Kosovo's District Court of Prishtina, involves a mixed team made up of local and European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) [official website] authorities. Former KLA commander and current parliamentary deputy Rrustem Mustafa [official website] along with two KLA soldiers, Latif Gashi and Nazif Mehmeti, are accused of torturing five ethnic Albanians detained near the town of Podujevo. Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci [official website], also a former KLA member, commented [AFP report] that the government is confident that the men will be acquitted. In 2003, the three were convicted of murder based on the same events, but the ruling was overturned [B92 report] by the Kosovo Supreme Court in 2005.

EULEX reached [JURIST report] its first guilty verdict in March, after formally beginning operations [JURIST report] last December. Also in March, the trial of two Serbian defendants was blocked [JURIST report] by hundreds of Serbian protesters and has been postponed indefinitely. Kosovo officially declared its independence from Serbia [JURIST report] in February 2008, and its new constitution [text] went into effect [JURIST report] that June. Kosovo's status as an independent nation has been recognized by over 60 countries, but Serbia has officially condemned the declaration [text, JURIST report] as illegal, citing UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999) [text]. China and Russia, both members of the UN Security Council, support Serbia's position on Kosovo.






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France commission begins hearing proposed burqa ban testimony
Andrew Morgan on July 9, 2009 10:07 AM ET

[JURIST] A commission created by the French National Assembly [official websites, in French] began hearings Wednesday to consider whether to enact laws banning the wearing of burqas [JURIST news archive] or other "full veils." The commission heard testimony from anthropologist Dounia Bouzar [video, in French; TIME profile] who suggested that a broad ban on covering one's face to conceal identity is preferable to a law that singles out Muslims. Bouzar said that the recent popularity of the burqa amongst French Muslims was due to religious "gurus" who have misconstrued the teachings of Islam. The commission also heard from University of Nice [academic website, in French] philosopher Abdennour Bidar [video, in French], who urged the commission to find a way to prevent the spread of the practice, though he was unsure whether this goal is best accomplished through legislation.

The commission was established [JURIST report] last month, after French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official website, in French; JURIST news archive] strongly criticized the practice [transcript, PDF, in French], saying that "the burqa is not welcome in France." The controversy between the Muslim community and the French government over the burqa has existed for several years. In December 2008, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] unanimously ruled [JURIST report] that there was no human rights violation when a French school expelled two students for refusing to remove their headscarves. Last July, a Muslim woman's citizenship application was denied [JURIST report] because she failed to assimilate to French culture and she practiced a type of Islam found incompatible with French values. In 2004, France passed a law [JURIST report] banning students from conspicuous religious items, including Muslim headscarves, in schools.






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Ninth Circuit upholds Washington state rule requiring dispensing of Plan B contraceptive
Christian Ehret on July 9, 2009 9:19 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Wednesday upheld [opinion, PDF] the state of Washington's mandates prohibiting patient discrimination and requiring that pharmacies deliver lawfully-prescribed, approved medications. Under the rules, pharmacists are not required [WAC § 246-863-095 text] to dispense medication if they personally object to it, but will be subjected to professional discipline for destroying or refusing to return an unfilled lawful prescription, violating a patient's privacy, or discriminating against or harassing a patient. Pharmacies will be required [WAC § 246-869-010 text] to deliver lawfully prescribed medications or devices and to distribute drugs and devices approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] in a timely manner. A pharmacist's personal objections to dispensing a particular drug may be "accommodated" in any way that the pharmacy decides is suitable, excluding referring the patient to another pharmacy. The ruling reverses a district court decision [JURIST report] that the rules violated pharmacies' and pharmacists' First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] rights, asserting that the lower court incorrectly applied a heightened level of scrutiny to the laws and that the injunction issued was overbroad:

Because the rules are neutral and generally applicable, the district court should have subjected the rules to the rational basis standard of review. The district court instead introduced a heightened scrutiny to a neutral law of general applicability, contrary to the rule of Smith and Lukumi. When a law is neutral and generally applicable, the rational basis test applies. ... Under rational basis review, the rules will be upheld if they are rationally related to a legitimate governmental purpose. ... [I]t appears that the new rules are rationally related to Washington’s legitimate interest in ensuring that its citizen-patients receive lawfully prescribed medications without delay.
Although the rules apply to all prescribed medications, the suit focused on the availability of Plan B [product backgrounder], a post-coital emergency contraceptive, which is supposed to be taken within 24 hours of sexual activity to be fully effective. Due to concerns over pharmacists' refusals to dispense prescribed medications and the importance of timely access, the Washington State Board of Pharmacy [official website] promulgated the rules in 2007.

Plan B has been the subject of considerable legislative and judicial activity since the FDA approved nonprescription access to the drug in 2006. In March, a federal judge in New York overturned [order, PDF; JURIST report] an FDA policy that limited the nonprescription availability of the drug to women over the age of 18. 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 over-the-counter sale of Plan B. 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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Iran forcing confessions from political prisoners: rights group
Andrew Morgan on July 9, 2009 8:38 AM ET

[JURIST] People arrested in Iran after last month's disputed presidential election [JURIST news archive] have been beaten, deprived of sleep, and threatened with torture in an effort to force false confessions, according to a report [text] released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. HRW alleges that Iranian authorities are attempting to support accusations that the post-election civil unrest was orchestrated by Western powers by having detainees sign blank statements or give videotaped confession under duress. The report points to the cases of Amir Hossein Mahdavi, editor of the reformist newspaper Andishe No, and Maziar Bahari, a Newsweek [media websites] correspondent, as emblematic of the situation in Iran. Both were arrested, detained, and subsequently confessed to their involvement in foreign-directed plots on state television, though supporters of both men have defended their innocence. Among the first-hand accounts gathered for the report is that of a 17-year-old who was beaten, sleep deprived, and given a blank confession to sign during four days in detention, and another describing the release of prisoners with "bruised faces and hands" from Tehran's Revolutionary Court. An eyewitness said that a list of people who were still detained was posted outside the court, suggesting that "their families should come back in a couple of weeks." HRW urged authorities to allow prisoners "to communicate with counsel of his own choosing" and "not to be compelled to ... confess guilt" in accordance with Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text], to which Iran is a party. Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [official profile; BBC profile] on Monday warned Western nations [BBC report] to stay out of the country's internal affairs, claiming that relations with meddling countries would suffer

Iran has been experiencing turmoil in Tehran and elsewhere since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] was declared the winner the election in June. Last week, a conservative paper called for opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi [IranTracker profile; JURIST news archive] and former president Mohammad Khatami to be tried for treason [JURIST report] for their involvement in post-election protests. Also last week, the Iranian government barred the publication [press release, in Persian; JURIST report] of a newspaper linked to candidate Mehdi Karroubi, attempting to quash political dissidence. The country's Guardian Council of the Constitution [official website, in Persian] recently certified the contested results [press release, in Persian; JURIST report], officially sanctioning the re-election of Ahmadinejad. Authorities stated that those arrested would be dealt with [Reuters report] by the court system. Human rights groups have viewed the arrests as political repression [JURIST report], saying that Iranian forces are using the protests to "engage in what appears to be a major purge of reform-oriented individuals."






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Obama nominates international prosecutor as ambassador for war crimes issues
Christian Ehret on July 9, 2009 8:27 AM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official profile] announced Tuesday his intent to nominate [press release] war crimes prosecutor Stephen Rapp [official profile] as Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues. In this position, Rapp will head the Office of War Crimes Issues at the US Department of State [official website], coordinating US support for war crimes prosecutions in international and domestic tribunals. Rapp will advise Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile] and formulate government policy responses to war crimes. The office works with foreign governments, courts, and non-government organizations to deal with the accountability of such crimes in areas including the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, and other regions that have experienced genocide and crimes against humanity. He will replace Clint Wilson [official profile], who has served in the post since June 2006.

Rapp currently serves as Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone [official website] and has led prosecutions against alleged perpetrators of war crimes during the civil war in Sierra Leone, including former Liberian president Charles Taylor [case materials; JURIST news archive]. In February, Rapp told the media that the court was considering releasing Taylor due to a lack of funds, but the trial continued, and prosecutors warned this week that the trial could last up to four years [JURIST reports]. Rapp had previously expressed concerns regarding court funding, prompting Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] to urge donors to contribute [JURIST report] to the court for the purposes of finishing Taylor's trial. Prior to this role, Rapp was chief of prosecutions for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website], serving as a senior trial attorney for a team that convicted mass media leaders for incitement to commit genocide. Rapp has also served as a US attorney for the Northern District of Iowa [official website], a staff director for a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, a member of the Iowa legislature, and as a private attorney.






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ICC still seeking arrest of Uganda war crimes suspects after 4 years
Devin Montgomery on July 9, 2009 7:02 AM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] said Wednesday that it is still seeking the arrest [press release] of Ugandan rebel leader and war crimes suspect Joseph Kony [BBC profile] and his deputies, four years after warrants for the men were issued by the court. Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) [BBC backgrounder], is wanted [warrant, PDF; case materials] by the ICC on 33 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, rape, sexual enslavement, and conscription of children. The court said that it "remains hopeful" that it will still apprehend the men with the help of the DR Congo, Ugandan, and Sudanese governments and through efforts [JURIST reports] by the UN Mission to the DR Congo [official website]. Kony has insisted that he his not guilty [JURIST report] of the atrocities attributed to him, describing himself as a "freedom fighter" rather than a criminal.

Warrants for the men were made public [JURIST report] in October 2005, after being the first to be issued by the court in July of that year. The ICC has repeatedly called for the arrest of the men, and has not conceded to Ugandan requests that the charges be dropped [JURIST reports] as part of a peace deal with the LRA. In May 2008, Uganda created the High Court of Uganda [JURIST report] to try LRA rebels, but the ICC warrants remain in effect [JURIST report].






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Blagojevich aide pleads guilty to wire fraud
Brian Jackson on July 9, 2009 6:48 AM ET

[JURIST] John Harris, former chief of staff to Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich [JURIST news archive], pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud on Wednesday in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois [court website]. The guilty plea is the first in the high-profile case [DOJ press release, PDF] concerning the suspected efforts of Blagojevich to sell President Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. As part of the agreement, Harris will testify [Reuters report] against the five remaining defendants, including Blagojevich, whose trial will begin in June 2010 [JURIST report]. In exchange for his plea and testimony, Harris will face no more than 35 months in prison [AP report].

In April, Blagojevich pleaded not guilty to 16 felony counts [JURIST reports], including wire fraud, attempted extortion, racketeering conspiracy, extortion conspiracy, and making false statements. 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. Blagojevich and Harris were initially arrested [JURIST report] in December.






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Massachusetts AG challenges federal law against same-sex marriage as discriminatory
Christian Ehret on July 8, 2009 2:02 PM ET

[JURIST] Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley [official profile] filed suit [complaint, PDF] Wednesday against the US government, challenging a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text] that allegedly interferes with the state's same-sex marriage law [JURIST report]. Coakley argues that the federal law, which denies federal recognition for same-sex marriages, interferes with the state's right to define and regulate marriage. The complaint, filed in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts [official website], alleges that the DOMA excludes more than 16,000 married same-sex couples and their families in Massachusetts from rights and protections afforded to other married couples. The suit claims that the federal law violates the US Constitution [materials] by interfering with the state's sovereign authority to define and regulate marriage for its residents, exceeding Congress's legislative authority under the Spending Clause of Article I. The state alleges that § 3 of the federal law creates separate and unequal categories of married individuals, prohibiting same-sex spouses from filing joint federal tax returns, receiving Social Security survivor benefits, guaranteed leave from work for spousal illness and other rights given to married couples of the opposite sex. Coakley addressed the problems [press release] with the federal law:


It is unconstitutional for the federal government to discriminate, as it does because of DOMA's restrictive definition of marriage. It is also unconstitutional for the federal government to decide who is married and to create a system of first- and second-class marriages. The federal government cannot require states, such as Massachusetts, to further the discrimination through federal programs, either. The time has come for this injustice to end.

The complaint focuses on the state's Medicaid program, MassHealth, and a veteran burial program sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services (DVA) [official webpages]. MassHealth offers healthcare coverage to qualifying residents of Massachusetts while the veteran program provides burial services for Massachusetts veterans and their spouses at cemeteries owned and operated by the DVA. Coakley's office is seeking an order that prohibits the federal government from enforcing the challenged provision of the DOMA against the state of Massachusetts as well as a declaration that the provision is unconstitutional as applied to the state, MassHealth, and the DVS.

Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex marriages in 2004 and has since issued licenses to more than 16,000 same-sex couples. In March, a group of Massachusetts plaintiffs who are or have been married under the state's same-sex marriage law filed a similar lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging DOMA. Other jurisdictions have also recently dealt with same-sex marriage issues. Although Maine became the fifth state to allow same-sex marriages [JURIST report] in May, the Stand for Marriage Maine coalition [advocacy website] announced Wednesday that they have collected more than the requisite 55,087 signatures [press release] needed to put a veto on the November ballot, allowing voters to decide on the law. On Tuesday, a Washington, DC law took effect [JURIST report] that recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states or jurisdictions. Currently, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa [JURIST reports] all allow same-sex marriage.





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Saudi court convicts 330 on terrorism charges
Andrew Morgan on July 8, 2009 1:52 PM ET

[JURIST] A court in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday convicted 330 people on terrorism-related charges, according to a report by the state-run Saudi Press Agency [official website]. The Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution brought charges including belonging to a terrorist group, conspiracy to cause mayhem and insecurity, financing terrorism, and treason against people accused of conducting, financing and assisting a series of al Qaeda-linked attacks in 2003. The Special Penal Court sentenced one defendant to death [Al Jazeera report], although the name of the prisoner and the charges against him were not made public. A bureau spokesman said that the defendants could appeal their verdicts.

In October, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz [official website] announced that the kingdom had indicted 991 [Reuters report] suspected al Qaeda members in connection with a series of domestic attacks that killed 164. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] has been cricital [HRW report] of the Saudi justice system generally, and sought access [HRW request] to the trials to ensure that they complied with international standards.






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ICTY again rejects Karadzic 'immunity' claim
Christian Ehret on July 8, 2009 12:40 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Wednesday rejected [decision, PDF] an immunity claim [motion, PDF] brought by war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic [ICTY materials; JURIST news archive], citing irrelevance between a possible immunity deal and his trial. The decision to reject the claims follows Karadzic's recent renewal [JURIST report] of his immunity defense in which he claims that war crimes charges against him should be dropped because of an apparent deal he made with former US ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke. Karadzic requested an evidentiary hearing on the claims, maintaining that Holbrooke offered him immunity from prosecution if he voluntary left power in 1996 and that there were two witnesses to the agreement. The court ruled that Karadzic had failed to show that Holbrooke had acted with the authority of the UN Security Council and that there was an abuse of process in the proceedings. Holbrooke has denied the allegations of an immunity deal and prosecutors have found no documents to verify the existence of any such deal. Earlier this year, the appellate chamber of the ICTY upheld a December 2008 ruling [JURIST report], which declared that no immunity deal existed and that even if there was such an agreement, it would not be valid under international law.

In June, the ICTY said that Karadzic's trial would start in late August [JURIST report], estimating that it will conclude in early 2012. His trial is planned to be the tribunal's last. Karadzic has twice refused to enter pleas [JURIST report] to 11 charges against him including genocide, murder, persecution, deportation, and "other inhumane acts," for war crimes allegedly committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, including the 1995 Srebrenica massacre [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Karadzic was originally indicted [indictment text] by the ICTY in 1995 but had been in hiding under an assumed identity until his arrest last year [JURIST report].






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Military commissions system 'broken': former Guantanamo prosecutor
Andrew Morgan on July 8, 2009 11:21 AM ET

[JURIST] A former prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] told the House Judiciary Committee [official website] Wednesday that the military commission [JURIST news archive] system used to try detained enemy combatants is "broken beyond repair." In testimony [prepared remarks, PDF] at a hearing [materials] before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, US Army Reserve Judge Advocate General Corps [official website], said that although he was a "true believer" when he was detailed to the detention facility, he had come to believe that the commissions undermined "the fundamental values ... upon which this great country was founded." Asked by the subcommittee to address the legal issues surrounding the continuance of the military commission system, Vandeveld said:


We do not need military commissions. They are broken and beyond repair. We do not need indefinite detention, and we do not need a new system of "national security courts." Instead, we should try those whose guilt we can prove while observing "the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples" — in other words, using those long-standing rules of due process required by Article III courts and military courts-martial — and resettle or repatriate those whom we cannot. That is the only solution that is consistent with American values and American law.

Vandeveld said that even the "good faith effort at revision" passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee [official website] last month leaves in place "provisions that are illegal and unconstitutional, undermine defendants' basic fair trial rights," and "harm the reputation of the United States." Vandeveld is the seventh military prosecutor to resign [LAT report] from his post at Guantanamo. The committee also heard testimony from Deborah Pearlstein [academic profile] from the Princeton University Program in Law and Public Affairs [academic website], Thomas Joscelyn [advocacy profile] of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies [advocacy website] and Denise LeBoeuf [advocacy profile] from the American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website].

On Tuesday, Retired Rear Admiral John Hutson [academic profile], formerly the US Navy's Judge Advocate General [official website], told [JURIST report] the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) [text, PDF] should be repealed rather than reformed. Last month, that committee approved [JURIST report] a version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 [S 1033 materials] that would reform the use of classified, coerced, and hearsay evidence and allow defendants greater access to exculpatory evidence. Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) [official website] said that the changes were necessary for the military commissions to be considered "regularly constituted courts" within the meaning of the 2006 Supreme Court [official website] decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld [opinion, PDF; JURIST report]. In May, US President Barack Obama [official website] announced [JURIST report] that he would use the controversial military commissions system to try some Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees. The move drew criticism [JURIST report] from human rights groups, which called the plan "fatally flawed," continuing a long line of criticism of the commissions [JURIST report] for admitting some evidence that is barred from federal court, including hearsay or coerced confessions. In January, Obama issued an executive order [text; JURIST report] directing the military prison be closed "as soon as practicable and no later than one year from the date of this order."





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UK House of Lords rejects assisted suicide measure
Christian Ehret on July 8, 2009 9:55 AM ET

[JURIST] The UK House of Lords [official website] on Tuesday rejected a proposed amendment [press release] that would have barred the prosecution of those who go abroad to help others commit assisted suicide. The proposed provision of the Coroners and Justice Bill [materials], which covered "acts not capable of encouraging or assisting suicide," was rejected by a 141-194 vote [vote text] during a line-by-line examination of the bill. Lord Falconer introduced the measure, which called for a waiver of the Suicide Act 1961 [text] if two doctors confirm that the person seeking suicide is terminally ill and competent enough to make a decision and if the person to makes a declaration of intent to seek an assisted suicide abroad. The provision would have amended the Suicide Act to account for such exceptions to the possible 14-year prison sentence imposed by the law for assisting, aiding, abetting, counseling, or procuring an assisted suicide. Dignity in Dying [advocacy website] CEO Sarah Wootton said [press release] that the group would "continue to fight for something that so many others feel very passionately about," calling for allowances "to allow mentally competent, terminally ill adults to make important life decisions for themselves." The House of Lords will continue examining the Coroners and Justice Bill, which was already passed by the House of Commons and contains provisions relating to coroners, criminal law, infanticide, suicide, child pornography, sentencing, legal aid, and other issues.

Physician assisted suicide is a highly contested issue in Europe and other parts of the world. Many Britons have reportedly gone to the Dignitas clinic [website, in German] in Switzerland to obtain assisted suicides. In February, the England and Wales Court of Appeals [official website] refused to clarify the ban on assisted suicide at the request of a British woman [JURIST report] who feared legal repercussions for her husband if he accompanied her to a different country to obtain an assisted suicide. Last year, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website] spoke out against laws allowing assisted suicide [BBC report], saying that he would not create laws that "put pressure on people to end their lives." Also last year, Luxembourg came close to passing a bill [JURIST report] to legalize assisted suicide but the measure was not approved by monarch Grand Duke Henri. Henri's veto prompted the Luxembourg Chamber of Deputies to amend the constitution [JURIST report] to eliminate the requirement that the Grand Duke approve of all legislation. In 2006, the House of Lords set aside a bill to legalize assisted suicide following opposition by physician groups [JURIST reports]. Euthanasia was legalized in the Netherlands [BBC report] in 2001, and Belgium followed suit [JURIST report] in 2002.






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US futures commission proposes energy speculation limits
Andrew Morgan on July 8, 2009 9:32 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) [official website] on Tuesday announced [press release, PDF] plans to hold a public hearing on a series of regulatory reforms aimed at curbing excessive speculation in energy commodity markets. CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler [official profile] said that the different regulatory treatment given to agriculture commodities, for which the CFTC sets position limits, and energy commodities, for which position limits are set by the exchanges, "deserves thoughtful review." The Commission is considering extending CFTC trade volume limits to energy markets, in an effort to "ensure a fair and transparent price discovery process for all commodities." The commission is also examining whether the bona fide hedging transaction exemption in the Commidity Exchange Act [7 USC § 1 text], should continue to apply to transactions used to hedge purely financial risk, rather than risk "arising from the actual use of the commodity." Gensler said that the proposed reforms were a part of the Commission's "existing authorities to ensure market integrity."

Gensler was confirmed [remarks, PDF] as CFTC Chairman in May, at a time when the administration of US President Barack Obama [official website] is departing [CQ report] from the deregulatory attitude of the George W. Bush [official profile] administration. Last year, the US Senate [official website] rejected a bill [S 3268 text, PDF; materials] designed to amend the Commodity Exchange Act to prevent unchecked energy speculation. The House of Representatives [official website] passed [roll call] its own commodities reform [text, PDF] in September.






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UN rights investigators conclude Gaza hearings
Andrew Morgan on July 8, 2009 8:37 AM ET

[JURIST] Investigators from the UN Human Rights Council [official website] on Tuesday concluded public hearings [press release] into alleged violations of international human rights law during December and January's fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip. The head of the four person UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict [official website], former South African Constitutional Court [official profile] judge Richard Goldstone, said that the goal of the hearings "was to show the human side of the suffering; to give a voice to the victims so that they are not lost among statistics." The mission heard from Israeli and Palestinian victims, military experts, and lawyers over four days of hearings in Gaza and Geneva. The mission plans to seek further information from the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas prior to reporting their findings to the Human Rights Council in September.

The mission began [JURIST report] its field operations in Gaza in June, entering Gaza through Egypt's Rafah crossing after Israel announced that it would not cooperate [JURIST report] with the investigation because it doubted the mission's objectivity. Goldstone was appointed to head the investigation [JURIST report] in April, amongst strong criticism [JURIST report] from Israel. The probe follows a previous report [text, PDF; JURIST report], authored by UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk [appointment release], which criticized Israel for failing to take adequate precautions to distinguish between civilians and combatants in their offensives in the region. Both Israel and the US criticized [DOS briefing] the report, calling the rapporteur's views "anything but fair." In April, an internal Israeli military investigation found that war crimes had not been committed [JURIST report] in the offensive despite individual reports by Israeli soldiers [Haaretz report]. Israel has already disputed [JURIST report] a previous report to the UNHRC that accused it of human rights violations.






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UN extends terms for ICTY and ICTR judges until cases completed
Christian Ehret on July 8, 2009 8:27 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN Security Council [official website] on Tuesday extended the terms for judges from the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR) [official websites] until December 31, 2010, or until they complete their cases. In unanimously adopting resolutions 1877 and 1878 [press releases], the Security Council extended the terms for 30 permanent and ad litem ICTY judges and 17 ICTR judges. Additionally, the Council decided that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] would be able to appoint additional ad litem judges for existing or new trials. The passage of the resolutions follows briefings last week [press release] by tribunal officials who supported the term extensions. Appellate judges previously had their terms extended to the end of 2010, although the Council decided to review those extensions prior to the end of 2009. The extensions were welcomed by the ICTY [press release].

The tribunals, created by the UN in 1993 and 1994, have been planning to close after completing their caseloads. ICTR President Dennis Byron supported the extensions, affirming that the court is trying to conclude the evidence phase of all trials by the end of the year. ICTY President and presiding appellate judge Patrick Robinson [official profile] has stated that most of the work in both the ICTY and ICTR would be completed by the end of 2012 [JURIST report], earlier than the tribunals' previous estimate of 2015. The trial for Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [ICTY materials; JURIST news archive] is set to be the ICTY's last, starting in late August with an estimated end date of early 2012.






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UK justice secretary proposes expanded war crimes prosecution laws
Brian Jackson on July 8, 2009 7:52 AM ET

[JURIST] Britain's Justice Secretary Jack Straw [official profile] on Tuesday proposed expanded laws [press release] that would allow British authorities to prosecute non-resident individuals suspected of war crimes. With the proposed changes, individuals who currently live in the UK, but are not residents, may be prosecuted for war crimes or genocide that took place as long ago as 1991. Such an extension would allow individuals suspected of war crimes in Yugoslavia [RAND backgrounder] and Rwanda [BBC backgrounder] to face charges in the UK. Straw said:


Serious crimes of this nature are best dealt with in the country where the crimes took place. That is where the evidence will be most easily accessible, and where witnesses will be easier to contact. It is also the best solution because witnesses and survivors can see justice being done. Failing that, these crimes should be dealt with by international courts or tribunals where they exist. However, there may be circumstances where these options are not available. We have therefore decided that we should strengthen domestic law in this area.

Under current law, the International Criminal Court Act 2001 [text], non-residents can only be prosecuted for atrocities that occurred after 2001. The UK's official advisor on terrorism, Lord Carlile of Berriew [official profile], has proposed amendments to the Coroners and Justice Bill [materials] to expand the power to prosecute to individuals who are merely present in the UK [Guardian report], which is more inclusive than Straw's proposal, which would only cover those living in the UK.

The current proposal comes less than a month after advocacy group Aegis Trust [advocacy website] recommended removing the 2001 statutory bar [JURIST report] from the current law. In their report [PDF], the Trust speculated that as many as 22 war criminals currently reside in the UK. In a similar plea in 2006, Amnesty International [advocacy website] released a report [PDF] critical of the British government for failing to prosecute two men suspected of genocide in Rwanda.





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DC begins recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere
Christian Ehret on July 7, 2009 3:02 PM ET

[JURIST] A Washington, DC law [text, PDF] recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states or jurisdictions took effect Tuesday, following Congressional inaction on the matter. The Jury and Marriage Amendment Act of 2009, passed by the Council of the District of Columbia [official website] in May by a 12-1 final vote [JURIST report], was subject to Congressional review pursuant to the Home Rule Act [text, PDF] before becoming law. Councilman Marion Barry [official profile] cast the only dissenting vote. Although Congress was urged to oppose the law [AP report] by church leaders, they took no action. Last month, DC Superior Court Judge Judith Retchin upheld a denial of a referendum on the bill, ruling that it violated DC's Human Rights Act [materials]. Councilman David Catania [official profile] applauded the judge's decision [press release], saying that:


Both the Board of Elections and now the Court have stated very specifically that old court cases limiting marriage to heterosexual couples are no longer relevant. In addition, they have recognized the Council's march towards equal marriage rights as real and relevant. And finally, they have concluded that any action that would curtail those rights is a form of discrimination that is specifically prohibited by the Human Rights Act.

The challengers who sought a referendum include Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr. and Reverend Walter Fauntroy, who argued that DC deliberately impeded debates [Washington Times report] on the issue by introducing the provision in the context of amending another bill.

Last month, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch [official website] signed legislation [JURIST report] that allows same-sex marriages to be performed in the state as long as religious organizations are not required to participate in the services or recognize the unions. The Nevada Assembly has also passed [JURIST report] a same-sex partnership bill over a gubernatorial veto. In May, the New York State Assembly [official website] passed a bill [JURIST report] that would allow same-sex marriages to be performed in the state. That bill will now go before the state senate. Also in May, Maine became the fifth state to allow same-sex marriage [JURIST report] when Governor John Baldacci [official website] signed a same-sex marriage bill into law. In April, Vermont became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage through a vote of the legisl