September 2009 Archives


Supreme Court takes gun rights, terrorism law cases
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 30, 2009 1:54 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Wednesday agreed to hear [order list, PDF] a controversial case dealing with gun rights and another dealing with a terrorism law. In McDonald v. Chicago [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will decide whether the Second Amendment [text] right to keep and bear arms is incorporated as against the states by the Fourteenth Amendment's Privileges or Immunities or Due Process Clauses. The appeal challenges a ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] by the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which upheld a Chicago handgun ban. Last year, the Supreme Court struck down a similar handgun ban in the District of Columbia in District of Columbia v. Heller [opinion, PDF; JURIST report], but circuit courts have so far refused to extend that ruling to other municipalities' handgun bans.

In Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project [docket; cert. petition, PDF] and Humanitarian Law Project v. Holder [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will consider the constitutionality of a federal law [18 USC § 2339B(a)(1)] that prohibits providing material support to terrorism. The US Department of Justice has used the provision to prosecute about 120 individuals, with approximately half of the prosecutions resulting in convictions. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down [opinion, PDF] parts of the law and upheld others, leading both parties to appeal.

The Court also granted certiorari in eight other cases.






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Prosecutor to drop charges against 4 students arrested during G-20 protests
Steve Czajkowski on September 30, 2009 1:03 PM ET

[JURIST] Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. [official website] said Tuesday that charges would be dropped against four University of Pittsburgh [academic website] students arrested during protests [JURIST report] of last week's Pittsburgh Group of 20 (G-20) Summit [official websites; JURIST news archive]. Zappala indicated that some of the students may have been used as pawns [WTAE report] by protesters and those looking to cause damage. Police have also said they are looking into the arrest of reporter Sadie Gurman from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette [media website]. Zappala commented that reporters doing their job should not have been arrested, but they must have obeyed orders from police to disperse. It is believed that 190 people were arrested [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report], 51 of whom were University of Pittsburgh students. There are currently 50 preliminary hearings scheduled for Wednesday at the Municipal Courts Building, and it is expected that there will be more arrests as surveillance videos are reviewed.

Last Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] and other civil liberties groups accused [JURIST report] police of using unnecessary force to disperse demonstrations at the summit. Witold "Vic" Walczak, Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA) [advocacy website] said that police deployed throughout the city acted in a manner that prevented lawful demonstrations [AP report], suppressed free speech, and failed to prevent criminal activity. ACLU-PA is collecting complaints about law enforcement activities during protests against the G-20 meeting, and has already filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] on behalf of Seeds of Peace and Three Rivers Climate Convergence (3RCC) [advocacy websites] alleging that police violated their constitutional rights. The ACLU is also taking complaints about police conduct [press release] at the university.






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DOJ asks Supreme Court to uphold rulings by two-member labor board
Steve Czajkowski on September 30, 2009 11:55 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Tuesday asked [press release] the Supreme Court [official website] to rule that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) [official website] is authorized to issue decisions regarding the Nation Labor Relations Act (NLRA) [text] when three out of five board seats are vacant. US Solicitor General Elena Kagan [official profile] filed a petition for certiorari in one case and a reply brief [texts, PDF] in another, asking the Court to uphold all decisions issued by the current two-member board, which consists of Democrat chair Wilma Liebman, and Republican member Peter Schaumber [official profiles]. The ruling would resolve a circuit split in which the the US Courts of Appeal for the First, Second, and Seventh Circuits [official websites] have upheld the board's decisions, and the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] has invalidated [opinion, PDF] them.

The NLRB has been operating with only two members since December 2007 when the terms of two previously appointed members expired. During this time the two-member board has issued more than 500 decisions, some of which have been appealed. US President Barack Obama nominated [AP report] three new members to board in August, but the appointees have not yet been considered by Congress. The NLRB was created in 1935 in order to administer the provisions of the NLRA, with each member's term lasting five years, staggered so that one term expires each year.






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Obama administration presses Congress for stronger chemical regulations
Amelia Mathias on September 30, 2009 10:04 AM ET

[JURIST] The Obama administration on Tuesday called for Congress to enact legislation to tighten chemical and toxin regulations. In a speech [text] before the Commonwealth Club [organization website] in San Francisco, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official site] administrator Lisa Jackson [official profile] said that existing laws were outdated and ineffective:

Our oversight of the 21st century chemical industry is based on the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. ... But over the years, not only has TSCA fallen behind the industry it's supposed to regulate - it's been proven an inadequate tool for providing the protection against chemical risks that the public rightfully expects. ...

Today I'm announcing clear Administration principles to guide Congress in writing a new chemical risk management law that will fix the weaknesses in TSCA.
The EPA is also working to maximize chemical regulation [EPA plan] under the current TSCA [EPA backgrounder]. The administration argues that reform is needed [AP report] because many of the chemicals in the TSCA are no longer used or produced, while other toxins are increasingly showing up in people's bodies that in 1976 were not considered dangerous. Led by the Obama administration's Essential Principles for Reform of Chemicals Management Legislation [text], US Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-CA) [official websites] are crafting legislation to be introduced later this year. Lautenberg welcomed [press release] Tuesday's announcement, calling it "a breakthrough for public health."

The Obama administration has taken several other steps to strengthen environmental regulations. In June, the EPA granted California permission [JURIST report] to enforce its own greenhouse gas emissions standards. Earlier that month, The US House of Representatives [official website] passed [JURIST report] a climate bill [HR 2454 materials] that focuses on clean energy, and Obama urged the Senate to follow suit. In March, the US Special Envoy on Climate Change announced [JURIST report] at a UN Convention on climate change that the US is committed [video] to the creation of an international treaty designed to combat global warming, but that such efforts would only succeed if they were economically feasible.





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France prosecutors ask judge to drop Chirac corruption charges
Amelia Mathias on September 30, 2009 9:07 AM ET

[JURIST] Paris prosecutors requested Tuesday that charges of embezzlement and corruption against former French president and Paris mayor Jacques Chirac [official profile; BBC profile] be dropped. As mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995, Chirac is alleged to have placed 45 people on his office payroll [AP report] who had no real jobs in Paris City Hall. The charges were filed in 2007 after Chirac's presidency ended and he no longer had judicial immunity. The prosecutors' request has been given to Judge Xaviere Simeoni, who is expected to make a decision this week about whether to continue with proceedings. In an interview given soon after his term as president ended, Chirac denied all wrongdoing [Le Monde report, in French].

The formal investigation into these allegations against Chirac was opened in 2007 [JURIST report]. Earlier that year, Chirac's lawyer Jean Veil indicated that judges would likely question Chirac [JURIST report], but emphasized that the Chirac would not answer questions concerning scandals that allegedly occurred during Chirac's tenure as president of France because the French Constitution grants judicial immunity to the president. In July 2007, French investigating magistrates questioned Chirac as a material witness [JURIST report] in their probe of the corruption allegations.






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US terrorism suspect pleads not guilty to bombings conspiracy charge
Ximena Marinero on September 30, 2009 8:12 AM ET

[JURIST] Suspected terrorist Najibullah Zazi pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction. Prosecutors from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] have said [LAT report] that they have significant information to use against Zazi, while his lawyer has countered that the prosecution cannot prove Zazi's guilt unless they identify the other conspirators. At Tuesday's hearing in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York [official website], Zazi was denied bail and ordered to remain in jail until his December 3 court date.

Zazi was indicted [indictment, PDF; JURIST report] last week with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, and could could face up to life in prison if convicted. Zazi, a native of Afghanistan, was arrested [BBC report] by FBI agents earlier this month in Colorado. He was originally charged with making false statements to the FBI, but those charges were dropped in light of the new charge. Zazi's father, Mohammed Zazi, and a third man, Ahmad Wais Afzali, were also arrested. Mohammed Zazi and Afzali have both been released on bail.






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Federal appeals court upholds mandatory anthrax vaccinations for military
Ximena Marinero on September 30, 2009 7:08 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Tuesday upheld [opinion, PDF] a mandatory anthrax vaccination program [official website] for some members of the military. The appeals court affirmed a February 2008 district court ruling that dismissed [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] a lawsuit brought by members of the US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] seeking to make an anthrax vaccine optional rather than mandatory. The lawsuit challenged the determination of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] that there was sufficient evidence of the vaccine's effectiveness since it had been based on a single study conducted in the 1950s with an earlier generation of the anthrax vaccine. The appeals court deferred to the FDA's determination, finding that it was:


a scientific judgment within its "area of expertise," the kind of judgment to which this court gives a "high level of deference." Moreover, as the plaintiffs themselves concede, there is no scientific evidence in the administrative record to contradict that judgment. In the absence of such evidence, we must defer to the FDA's judgment that [the anthrax vaccine] is effective.

The appeals court also ruled that the plaintiffs in the suit lacked standing to claim that they have suffered damages due to an allegedly unapproved DOD schedule of inoculations caused by a shortage in the vaccine from 2000 to 2002.

In 2005, the same appeals court ruled in favor of the government, which had asked the court to reinstate [JURIST report] the program. The ruling came after a federal district court ruled [JURIST report] that the DOD could administer anthrax vaccinations only on a voluntary basis. In October 2004, the district court had ordered the DOD to suspend its mandatory vaccination program [JURIST report] because the vaccine had not received proper approval by the FDA. The anthrax was labeled for use by individuals who were at high risk for exposure to the disease, but the Bush administration argued that that definition was broad enough to include military personnel.





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Federal judge refuses to block transfer of US detainee to Iraqi custody
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 29, 2009 3:08 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Monday denied [opinion, PDF] the habeas corpus petition of suspected terrorist and US citizen Shawqi Omar [JURIST news archive], allowing him to be transferred to Iraqi custody. Omar, detained by the US military in Iraq, had filed the petition arguing that the transfer would violate laws against transferring detainees to countries where they might be tortured. Judge Ricardo Urbina rejected that argument, relying on an April decision from the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website], which held [JURIST report] that US courts could not prevent the government from transferring Uighur detainees held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] to foreign countries on the grounds that detainees may face persecution or torture in the foreign country. Despite his ruling, Urbina expressed concern that petitioners fearing torture in other countries apparently have no redress in the court system.

Omar filed the habeas petition last year after the US Supreme Court [official website] rejected [JURIST report] an earlier appeal. Omar, whom the US describes as a close associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], was arrested in Baghdad in October 2004 after he was caught harboring an Iraqi insurgent and a group of foreign fighters illegally in Iraq. Omar's family says he is an innocent businessman who was seeking reconstruction contracts in Iraq, and that he will likely be tortured if removed from US custody.






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UN Gaza mission presents findings to rights council
Matt Glenn on September 29, 2009 1:58 PM ET

[JURIST] Head of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict [official website] Richard Goldstone formally presented [press release] the group's findings to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] Tuesday. In his opening remarks [text, DOC], Goldstone defended the report [text, PDF; JURIST report] against criticism from Israel, which has called the report biased [JURIST report]. Goldstone denied this allegation and said that Israel had failed to address the substance of the report, which found that Israel and Palestinian forces had likely committed war crimes during Operation Cast Lead [Global Security Backgrounder]. Goldstone emphasized accountability, stating:


The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point; the ongoing lack of justice is undermining any hope for a successful peace process and reinforcing an environment that fosters violence. Time and again, experience has taught us that overlooking justice only leads to increased conflict and violence.

Goldstone asked that the council implement the report's recommendations, including requiring Israel to report on the status of an independent investigation in six months.

The mission began its field operations in Gaza in June, entering Gaza through Egypt's Rafah crossing after Israel announced that it would not cooperate with the investigation, and concluded hearings [JURIST reports] in July. Goldstone was appointed to head the investigation [JURIST report] in April, amid strong criticism [JURIST report] from Israel. The probe followed a previous report [text, PDF; JURIST report], authored by UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, 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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Former Enron Broadband CEO sentenced to 16 months for wire fraud
Matt Glenn on September 29, 2009 1:03 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Enron Broadband Services (EBS) [JURIST news archive] CEO Joe Hirko was sentenced [DOJ press release] Monday to 16 months in prison for misrepresenting to investors the capabilities of Enron's broadband service. Hirko pleaded guilty last October to one count of wire fraud for issuing a press release falsely claiming that EBS had integrated a new feature into its broadband service. As part of the plea agreement, the government recommended Hirko receive a prison sentence of between 12 and 16 months. In addition to the prison sentence, Judge Vanessa Gilmore of the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas [official website] ordered [Houston Chronicle report] Hirko to pay $8.7 million in restitution. It is not yet known when Hirko will begin serving his sentence.

Hirko pleaded guilty weeks before he was scheduled to be tried for a second time near the end of last year. In May 2008, Gilmore ordered [JURIST report] Hirko and two other EBS executives to be retried after the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] refused to dismiss charges [JURIST report] against the men. The executives were found not guilty of several charges in 2005, but the jury was deadlocked on some issues and the three were later re-indicted [JURIST reports].






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Peru ex-president Fujimori pleads guilty to illegal wiretapping and bribery
Safiya Boucaud on September 29, 2009 10:26 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] pleaded guilty Monday to multiple counts of illegal wiretapping and bribery. Fujimori was charged with ordering former Peruvian intelligence director Vladimiro Montesino [BBC profile] to use government funds to secretly wiretap politicians, journalists, and other prominent Peruvians and to bribe [Andina report] congressmen and journalists to join his party and to support his 2000 re-election campaign. His guilty plea avoids a potentially long trial in which many prominent Peruvians would have been set to testify against him. The prosecutor recommended an eight-year sentence to be served concurrent to the 25-year sentence he received for committing human rights abuses. In addition to the sentence, prosecutors have requested that he pay $1.7 million to the state and $1 million to be shared between the people whose phone lines were illegally tapped.

In July, Fujimori was convicted and sentenced [JURIST report] to seven-and-a-half years in prison for paying former Peruvian intelligence director Montesino $15 million to resign in 2000 in the midst of the scandal that ultimately resulted in Fujimori's arrest [JURIST report] in 2005. 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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Guantanamo authorities release list of 78 detainees cleared for transfer
Safiya Boucaud on September 29, 2009 9:03 AM ET

[JURIST] The Joint Task Force [official website] responsible for reviewing the Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archives] detainees on Monday released a list [text, PDF] of 78 detainees cleared for transfer. The list contains the nationalities and the number of detainees to be released but does not specifically identify the detainees by name. It also does not list where these detainees will ultimately be transferred. The list, written in Arabic, English, and Pashto was initially posted around the Guantanamo prison [AP report] in an apparent effort to communicate directly with the detainees. The list may include the three detainees whose transfers were announced [JURIST report] by the US Department of Justice [official website] on Saturday. Two Uzbek detainees were released to Ireland as part of a deal with the US government and one Yemeni national was released back to Yemen.

While the Obama administration decides what to do with Guantanamo detainees who are still under investigation or who have been charged with crimes, a number of former detainees are being relocated around the globe. Last week, the US said that it plans to transfer up to eight Uighur detainees [JURIST report] to Palau, which has agreed to accept all but one of the remaining 13 Uighur detainees. Earlier this month, Hungary said that it would take one Guantanamo detainee [JURIST report] who is not under investigation by the US and who cannot return to his home country. In late August, Portugal accepted two Syrian nationals, and five other EU members agreed [JURIST reports] to give serious consideration to receiving former detainees.






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Honduras interim government to reinstate suspended constitutional rights
Ximena Marinero on September 29, 2009 8:24 AM ET

[JURIST] The head of the Honduran interim government Roberto Micheletti said Monday that he may lift restrictions on constitutional rights imposed Sunday by the end of the week. The de facto government passed an executive decree [text, in Spanish] late on Sunday night suspending five articles in the Honduran Constitution [text] for 45 days: personal freedom (Art. 69), freedom of expression of thought (Art. 72), freedom of association (Art. 78), freedom to circulate (Art. 81), and the requirement of written arrest warrant (Art. 84). The decree authorized the National Police to take any necessary measures to maintain peace and order in the country as protesters rally in support of deposed president Manuel Zelaya [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], ordering all the armed forces and all state agencies to support police operations. The decree also authorized the National Telecommunications Commission [official website, in Spanish] to suspend any media outlet whose actions are considered to be detrimental to peace and public order. In the early hours of Monday morning, the de facto government closed Radio Globo [media website, in Spanish] and television Channel 36, media outlets that allegedly support the ousted president. Zelaya has called for his supporters to disregard the decree characterizing its provisions as unlawful. The National Organization Against the Coup d'Etat (FNCGE) [advocacy website, in Spanish] called for supporters to disregard the decree and continue efforts to reinstate Zelaya by citing Article 3 in the Honduran Constitution that calls for disobedience to a usurper government and insurrection in defense of the constitutional order. Also on Monday, the Organization of American States (OAS) decried [press release] the decision of the Honduran government to deny entrance on Sunday to an OAS delegation purporting to support negotiations. Honduras has refused to allow the ambassadors of Spain, Mexico, Argentina, and Venezuela to return to the country in retaliation for unilaterally breaking off relations previously.

Zelaya has taken refuge at the Brazilian Embassy [official website, in Spanish] since returning to Honduras last week, despite calls [JURIST report] from Micheletti to hand him over under an arrest warrant [text and materials, PPT, in Spanish] issued by the Honduran Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] in June. On Saturday, the Honduran interim government gave the Brazilian government 10 days to define Zelaya's status in the embassy or face further consequences, meaning that Honduras is giving Brazil 10 days to close [El Faro report, in Spanish] the affairs of their embassy before Honduras considers the facilities simply a private office. Zelaya was ousted [JURIST report] on June 28 following a judicial order [press release, in Spanish] asserting that he had broken Honduran law by attempting to conduct a controversial referendum on constitutional reform [JURIST report] contrary to a Honduran Supreme Court ruling.






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UK chancellor urges banks to curtail bonuses in light of G-20 agreement
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 28, 2009 2:52 PM ET

[JURIST] UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling [official profile] on Monday urged banks to cut back on bonuses immediately instead of waiting for legislation following an agreement reached at last week's G-20 summit. In a speech to the Labour Party [party website] conference, Darling said [FT report] that he hoped banks around the world would all cut back on bonuses but acknowledged that British legislation would not be in place until after this season's round of bonuses. Darling also introduced a new Fiscal Responsibility Act [WSJ report] that will require the government to reduce the country's deficit, which currently stands at £800 billion. Specific plans for reducing the deficit will be laid out over the next several weeks in the Pre-Budget Report.

The US has also been taking steps to increase financial industry oversight. Earlier this month, US President Barack Obama [official website] stressed the need for stronger financial industry regulations [JURIST report] in a speech [transcript] marking the one-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings. In July, the Obama administration sent Congress [JURIST report] draft legislation [press release and materials] that would put the Federal Reserve [official website] in charge of regulating the largest financial firms. The proposed legislation would create an eight-member Financial Services Oversight Council 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 with identifying gaps in industry regulation that could lead to crises in the insurance or financial systems.






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Zimbabwe high court dismisses charges against rights activist Mukoko
Matt Glenn on September 28, 2009 2:16 PM ET

[JURIST] Zimbabwe's Supreme Court dismissed charges Monday against ten people, including rights activist Jestina Mukoko [advocacy website; JURIST news archive], who had been charged with conspiring against President Robert Mugabe [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The court held that Mukoko, who is the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) [advocacy website], was tortured by security forces [BBC report] and denied access to legal and medical assistance [Zimbabwe Times report] in violation of her constitutional rights. The court ruled [Zimbabwean report] that since Mukoko's rights were violated, she cannot be tried in connection with the crimes for which she was held. The judge said that the full judgment will be made available at a later date.

In May, Mukoko was released on bail, one day after a court forced her back into custody after ruling she had been improperly released on bail [JURIST reports] in March. Mukoko was held without charges from December through March. Mukoko was hospitalized [Zimbabwe Times report] for the treatment of injuries sustained during her detention and remained under medical care after her release from police custody. While in prison, it was reported that Mukoko was forced to ingest poison [JURIST report], an allegation that sparked a world-wide protest against Zimbabwean police methods. During her detention, Mukoko was denied bail [JURIST report] by Zimbabwean lower courts, but another court ruled that Mukoko could appeal her detention [JURIST report] to the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe under the Zimbabwe Constitution [text, PDF].






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Israel pressuring Palestinians to drop ICC case for cellular network: report
Matt Glenn on September 28, 2009 1:11 PM ET

[JURIST] Israel has threatened to deny the Palestinian Authority (PA) [IMEU backgrounder] permission for a second cellular phone provider to operate in the West Bank unless the PA drops its request that the International Criminal Court [official website] investigate Israel for possible war crimes, Haaretz [media website] reported [text] Sunday. The PA has contracted with Wataniya Mobile [corporate website] to provide service in the West Bank and faces a $300 million penalty if it does not receive Israel's approval by October 15. According to the report, Israel is using the impending deadline to pressure the PA into dropping its request [JURIST report] that the ICC investigate Israel for possible war crimes committed in December and January during Operation Cast Lead [Global Security backgrounder]. Israeli officials, according to Haaretz, feel betrayed by the PA, claiming that the PA urged Israel to take a strong stand against Hamas and then appealed to the ICC when Israel did so.

Israel recently rejected [JURIST report] a UN recommendation that the country establish an independent investigation into its actions during Operation Cast Lead. The recommendation came from a report [text, JURIST report] released earlier this month that found both Israeli and Palestinian forces had likely committed war crimes during the conflict. Israel refused to cooperate [JURIST report] in the investigation. Although the PA appealed to the ICC in February, the court ruled [JURIST report] it must first consider whether the PA is similar enough to a state under international law to appeal to the court.






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Qatar establishes constitutional court
Steve Czajkowski on September 28, 2009 10:42 AM ET

[JURIST] A new Constitutional Court of Qatar [CIA backgrounder], established to hear disputes over matters of constitutional interpretation, became functional [Peninsula report] Sunday. The court will act primarily to ensure that legislation complies with the country's constitution [text], which took effect [JURIST report] in 2005, but will also be an appellate court for disputes over lower courts' interpretations of the law. Those seeking review of a court decision will be given 60 days to bring the matter to the court. The court has also been given the authority to decide jurisdictional issues in lower courts and to appoint a court to hear a specific issue.

The Constitutional Court had been set to begin operation last October, but was delayed due to administrative problems. Constitutional courts are relatively uncommon in the Middle East. Egypt has a Supreme Constitutional Court [official backgrounder] that has a similar function to Qatar's new court.






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Disagreements over definition of 'terrorist' complicating US prosecutions: study
Steve Czajkowski on September 28, 2009 9:05 AM ET

[JURIST] Only about one out of every four individuals charged with terrorist activities has been prosecuted because federal agencies do not agree on what constitutes a terrorist, according to a study [text; press release] released Sunday by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) [official website] at Syracuse University. The study looked at thousands of records from the Administrative Office of the US Courts (AOUSC), the National Security Division (NSD), and the Executive Office for US Attorneys (EOUSA) [official websites], each of which keep independent records on terrorism cases. The TRAC report, which covered cases from the last five-and-a-half years, demonstrated an apparent disconnect between the agencies' definition of a terrorist because the various lists had few names in common. The report also showed that US attorneys had declined to indict approximately 67 percent of cases that had been recommended for prosecution over that time period, that rate being as high as 73 percent in 2008. A spokesperson for the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website], of which the NSD and EOUSA are part, disagreed [AP report] with the findings, saying the report uses different information than the DOJ.

Terrorism investigations are still a main concern of the federal government. Earlier this month FBI Director Robert Mueller [official profile] addressed [JURIST report] the FBI's role in leading the new specialized interrogation group to question top terrorist suspects as well as many other topics in a wide ranging oversight hearing [materials; recorded video] before the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website]. Mueller said that the new interrogation panel [JURIST report] will be a "joint effort" between the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website]. In August, the New York Times reported [text; JURIST report] that eight years after 9/11 [JURIST news archive], counterterrorism efforts continue to dominate the operations and budget of the FBI. The report said that since the attacks, the bureau has doubled the number of agents it assigns to counterterrorism efforts and has created specialized "threat squads" to investigate possible threats.






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US bill passage necessary for success of world climate change talks: US negotiator
Amelia Mathias on September 27, 2009 4:40 PM ET

[JURIST] The US will have a hard time convincing other countries to adopt emissions-cutting legislation so long as an American bill [text, PDF] capping carbon emissions remains unpassed, US climate change chief negotiator Jonathan Pershing said in an interview with AP published Sunday. The Waxman-Markey Climate Bill [HR 2454 materials] passed [JURIST report report] the House of Representatives in June by a vote of 219 to 212, with three members not present or abstaining, but has not yet been put up for a vote in the Senate, although it has been placed on the docket. There is some concern that Senate passage will be delayed into December or even beyond. The legislation is designed to create clean energy jobs, reduce US dependence on pollution-causing sources of energy and reduce global warming.

Some 1500 climate change negotiators from around the world will begin meeting under UN auspices in Bangkok [official website] Monday in a run-up to a major climate change meeting slated for Copenhagen in December. Thusfar Western countries have been unable to convince developing nations to commit to reductions in emissions when the Western world has not done so either. The Copenhagen meeting [official website] is supposed to establish a replacement for the controversial Kyoto Protocol [JURIST news archive], which the US did not sign.






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US officer who objected to Iraq war getting 'other than honorable' discharge
Amelia Mathias on September 27, 2009 4:22 PM ET

[JURIST] US Army First Lt. Ehren Watada [JURIST news archive] has won discharge from military service after a three year battle to avoid redeployment in Iraq, according to media reports Friday. Watada sought to leave the army [Honolulu Star Bulletin report] in 2006 in objection to the war in Iraq, arguing that by participating in it, he would be committing war crimes for which he could later be tried. Discharged "under other than honorable circumstances," Watada had at one point faced the prospect of a second court-martial after an initial military mistrial, but the case against him was dropped [JURIST reports] in May. Charges laid against him included conduct unbecoming an officer [NYT report] for Watada's comments about the war, and failure to show up for deployment. Watada will be formally discharged on October 2.

Watada, a Honolulu native who was the first commissioned officer in the US military to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq, refused to be classified as a conscientious objector because he did not object to war in general, just to the "illegal" war in Iraq. He offered to serve in Afghanistan, but the Army refused. His vocal protests and participation in rallies by Veterans for Peace and Courage to Resist [advocacy websites] led to the charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and the original charge of contempt toward officials.






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Three Guantanamo detainees transferred to Ireland, Yemen
Safiya Boucaud on September 27, 2009 10:00 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] Saturday announced [DOJ press release] that three more detainees have been released from the Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] prison. Two Uzbek detainees were transferred to Ireland and one Yemeni national was transferred to Yemen. According to the DOJ's release:


As directed by the President's Jan. 22, 2009 Executive Order, the interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force conducted a comprehensive review of each of these cases. As a result of that review, these detainees were approved for transfer from Guantanamo Bay. In accordance with Congressionally-mandated reporting requirements, the Administration informed Congress of its intent to transfer each of these detainees at least 15 days before their transfer.

The Irish government agreed [JURIST report] to accept the two Uzbek detainees this past July, but their identities will remain undisclosed at the request of the Irish government in order to maintain security and privacy. Yemeni detainee Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed was picked up [DOD materials, PDF] in an al Qaeda safe house in 2002 in Pakistan. The government had argued that Ahmed's detention was justified under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) [text]. US District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered [redacted opinion, PDF] Ali Ahmed's release in May.

While the Obama administration decides what to do with Guantanamo detainees who are still under investigation or who have been charged with crimes, a number of former detainees are being relocated around the globe. Last week, the US said that it plans to transfer up to eight Uighur detainees [JURIST report] to Palau. Earlier this month, Hungary said that it would take one Guantanamo detainee [JURIST report] who is not under investigation by the US and who cannot return to his home country. In late August, Portugal accepted two Syrian nationals , and five other EU members agreed [JURIST reports] to give serious consideration to receiving former detainees.





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Rights groups criticize police tactics at G-20
Andrew Morgan on September 26, 2009 4:39 PM ET

[JURIST] Police used unnecessary force to disperse demonstrations at the Pittsburgh Group of 20 (G-20) Summit [official websites], several civil liberties groups said Friday. Witold "Vic" Walczak, Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA) [advocacy website] said that police deployed throughout the city in a manner that prevented lawful demonstrations [AP report], suppressed free speech and failed to prevent criminal activity. ACLU-PA is collecting complaints [ACLU materials] about law enforcement activities during protests against the G-20 meeting, and has already filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] on behalf of Seeds of Peace and Three Rivers Climate Convergence (3RCC) [advocacy websites] alleging that police violated their constitutional rights. The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) [advocacy website] questioned [press release] the methods used by police during protests in the Lawrenceville and Oakland [JURIST reports] sections of Pittsburgh:


Police deployed chemical irritants, including CS gas, and long-range acoustic devices (LRAD) in residential neighborhoods on narrow streets where families and small children were exposed. Scores of riot police formed barricades at many intersections throughout neighborhoods miles away from the downtown area and the David Lawrence Convention Center. Outside the Courtyard Marriott in Shadyside, police deployed smoke bombs in the absence of protest activity, forcing bystanders and hotel residents to flee the area.

The NLG also noted that individual officers lacked visible identification, frustrating the work of NLG and ACLU legal observers. Police reportedly used similar tactics during a Friday night protest at Oakland's Schenley Plaza, where 110 people were arrested [PG report]. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl [official website] has, however, praised police for showing restraint[PG report] and credited them with providing for a peaceful summit.

Some 60 people were arrested [PG report] during protests Thursday in Oakland, and several others suffered minor injuries. This was in marked contrast to peaceful protests [JURIST report] that took place earlier in the day when protesters took to Pittsburgh's streets to call attention to a range of human rights issues around the world, including in Tibet [WPXI report], Myanmar [JURIST news archive] and Ethiopia [PG report]. Last week, the Pittsburgh City Council [official website] passed [JURIST report] an ordinance [text, PDF] in anticipation of the G-20 summit that allowed police to cite people in possession of certain items if they intend to use them unlawfully. The temporary ordinance expires at the end of the month. It prohibits the possession of tools or other items such as handcuffs, padlocks, and pipes with an intent to use those items to block access to streets, sidewalks, and public buildings or to defeat crowd control orders. A proposal to ban masks and hoods [text, PDF] during the summit was voted down [PG report] by the City Council.





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Guantanamo closure deadline may be missed: top US officials
Andrew Morgan on September 26, 2009 3:17 PM ET

[JURIST] The Obama administration may not be able to meet the January deadline set early this year for the closure of Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], senior administration officials said Friday. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officials told AP, the Washington Post, CNN [reports] and other media outlets that the difficulty in finding host countries for detainees who can be released and domestic facilities to hold prisoners who won't be released is unlikely to be resolved by January. The Washington Post reports that White House Counsel Gregory Craig - already an object of criticism [WSJ report] on this and other issues - has been relieved of his responsibility for overseeing the closure of the detention center. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) [official website] said that he would continue to oppose [FOX report] the closure "until there is a plan that keeps Americans as safe or safer than keeping detainees in the secure detention center." Meanwhile, Marine Major General Michael Lehnert [official profile], who oversaw the construction and initial operations at Guantanamo Bay, has said he supports closing the facility [AP report] as soon as practicable but rejected proposals to send detainees to domestic military installations.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration said that it will not push Congress [JURIST report] for legislation to authorize the indefinite detention of terror suspects, but will rely on its existing authority. In early September, US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] general counsel Jeh Johnson [official profile] said that the administration remains committed [JURIST report] to closing the military detention facility by early next year. Officials are reportedly still considering creating a military-civilian prison facility that would house its own court at a site in Michigan, but local residents have strongly opposed [JURIST reports] the plan. Officials are also considering trying detainees in federal courts, with cases assigned to federal prosecutors [JURIST report] last month.






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Iran leader denies violation of nuclear agreement
Bhargav Katikaneni on September 26, 2009 10:40 AM ET

[JURIST] Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] Saturday denied that Iran had broken nuclear development regulations in respect to a newly-disclosed nuclear facility, insisting that the applicable disclosure rules only require notice six months before nuclear material is introduced into the facility for the first time [Al Jazeera report]. At a press conference [WP report] Friday, US, British, French, and German leaders gathered in Pittsburgh for the G-20 summit said in a joint statement [press release] that Iran had violated the terms of agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)[official website] by failing to disclose in a timely manner the existence of a nuclear facility. Under the terms [IAEA board report, PDF] of a 2003 protocol [text, PDF] to Iran's original IAEA Safeguards Agreement [text, PDF], Iran was obligated to disclose the existence of the plant prior to construction. Iran unilaterally opted out [IAEA board report, PDF] of the protocol in May 2007, however, claiming that it did not apply as Iran had not yet ratified it [IPS report]. This position is not accepted by experts [WP/Carnegie Endowment Q & A]. The joint statement came a few days after Iran wrote [Daily Telegraph report] to the IAEA indicating the location of a new facility in the mountains near the city of Qum. French President Nicholas Sarkozy [official website, in French] said Iran must now disclose [AP report] any additional information it has about the facility by December or face sanctions.

In December 2006 the UN Security Council imposed sanctions [JURIST report] on Iran for continuing to enrich uranium and broadened them [JURIST report] three months later. The UN had previously ordered Iran to stop expanding [JURIST report] its nuclear program by August 31, 2006. Iran has said it will completely withdraw [JURIST report] from the IAEA if its "nuclear rights" are taken away. The IAEA and the western powers are particularly concerned about Iranian activities that might lead to the production of nuclear weapons. Iran has repeatedly insisted that its enrichment activities are not weapons-related.






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Germany president ratifies EU reform treaty
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 25, 2009 3:13 PM ET

[JURIST] German President Horst Koehler [official website, in German] on Friday signed the EU reform treaty, known as the Lisbon Treaty [EU materials; text], completing the country's problematic ratification process. The signature was the final step for ratification, after the Bundesrat [official website] gave final approval [JURIST report] earlier this week to a bill [text, PDF, in German] setting out the process for ratification. Although both houses of Germany's parliament had previously approved the treaty [JURIST report], the German Constitutional Court [official website, in German] ruled [judgment; JURIST report] in June that the treaty could not be ratified without certain parliamentary reforms ensuring Germany's sovereignty. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso thanked [DPA report] Germany for ratifying the treaty, calling it an "important step towards more capacity to act, democratic accountability and influence at global level."

Efforts to ratify [JURIST news archive] the treaty in all of the 27 member countries required for approval have met some obstacles. Although the treaty has been approved in 23 countries, Irish voters rejected [JURIST report] the treaty last year, leading Czech President Vaclav Klaus [official website] to refuse to sign the measure, despite approval [JURIST report] by the Czech Senate [official website]. In July 2008, Polish President Lech Kaczynski [official website] also refused to sign [JURIST report] the treaty despite parliamentary approval, calling it "pointless" in light of the Irish rejection. Ireland agreed in June to hold a second referendum [JURIST report] after EU leaders agreed to certain concessions [presidency conclusions, PDF]. The referendum is scheduled for next week.






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ICC upholds charges against accused DRC rebel leader
Andrew Morgan on September 25, 2009 3:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The appeals chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Friday upheld the admissibility [judgment, PDF; press release] of the case against former Congolese militia leader Germain Katanga [Trial Watch profile]. Katanga had argued that charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against him should be dropped because he was being tried for the same crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) [BBC backgrounder], and that the ICC case violated the principle of complementarity. The appeals chamber upheld the trial chamber's June dismissal [press release] of Katanga's challenge on the grounds that the there were no domestic proceedings against him at the time the charges were filed, and that subsequent investigations did not result in domestic charges. Noting that the aim of the Rome Statute [text, pdf] establishing the ICC is to ensure that "the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished," the court said:


The Chamber must nevertheless stress that the complementarity principle, as enshrined in the Statute, strikes a balance between safeguarding the primacy of domestic proceedings vis-à-vis the International Criminal Court on the one hand, and the goal of the Rome Statute to "put an end to impunity" on the other hand. If States do not or cannot investigate and, where necessary, prosecute, the International Criminal Court must be able to step in.

The trial of Katanga, formerly the leader of the Front for Patriotic Resistance of Ituri (FRPI), and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui [Trial Watch profile], former leader of the Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) [backgrounders], will begin in November. Katanga and Chui face charges including murder, rape, sexual slavery, using child soldiers and directing an attack on a civilian population in connection with their joint attack on the village of Bogoro, DRC, in February 2003.

In September 2008, the trial chamber confirmed [JURIST report] the charges against Katanga. He surrendered to the ICC and was transferred to the detention facility in the Hague in October 2007 after a warrant [text, pdf, in French] was issued for his arrest in July 2007. Former rebel leaders Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo [JURIST news archives] are also on trial at the ICC for their alleged involvement in atrocities committed in the DRC and neighboring Central African Republic (CAR) [BBC backgrounder]. Another alleged rebel leader, Bosco Ntaganda [Trial Watch profile] remains at large.





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Israel ex-prime minister corruption trial begins
Andrew Morgan on September 25, 2009 1:47 PM ET

[JURIST] The trial of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert [official profile; JURIST news archive] opened Friday on charges of fraud and corruption that led to his resignation last year. Olmert is accused of illegally accepting cash contributions from American businessman Moshe Talansky, double billing [JURIST reports] travel expenses to the state and charitable donors, and giving his former law partner Uri Messer access to state information. The judge from the Jerusalem District Court postponed the trial [Jerusalem Post report] until February 22 to allow Olmert to gather evidence necessary for his defense. Olmert denied [BBC report] the allegations, saying that he was confident that he would be acquitted. If convicted, Olmert faces up to five years in prison on each count. His is the first criminal trial [Haaretz report] of a current or former Israeli prime minister in the nation's history.

Olmert's trial comes after three years of allegations that he abused his official powers during his time as mayor of Jerusalem and minister of industry, trade, and labor. Attorney General Menahem Mazuz [official profile] formally indicted [JURIST report] Olmert in August. In April 2007, Olmert was investigated for improperly favoring his supporters [JURIST report] in distributing business grants during his time as trade minister. In January 2007, the Israeli Ministry of Justice announced plans to launch an investigation [JURIST report] into allegations that he promoted the interests of two business associates during the 2005 state sale of Bank Leumi [corporate website].






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UK High Court upholds mandatory retirement law pending government review
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 25, 2009 1:39 PM ET

[JURIST] The UK High Court on Friday upheld [judgment text] a law that permits mandatory retirement policies for workers who reach the age of 65, but said that there is a "compelling" case for raising the age above 65. The challenge to the default retirement age (DRA) was originally brought by Age Concern and Help the Aged [advocacy websites]. Justice Nicholas Blake rejected the challenge, noting his decision would have been different if the government had not announced a review of the law:


If Regulation 30 had been adopted for the first time in 2009, or there had been no indication of an imminent review, I would have concluded for all the above reasons that the selection of age 65 would not have been proportionate. It creates greater discriminatory effect than is necessary on a class of people who both are able to and want to continue in their employment. A higher age would not have any general detrimental labour market consequences or block access to high level jobs by future generations. If the selection of age 65 is not necessary it cannot therefore be justified. I would, accordingly, have granted relief requiring it to be reconsidered as a disproportionate measure and not capable of objective and reasonable justification in the light of all the information available to government.

The groups that challenged the law do not plan to appeal [BBC report] the ruling, as the government is currently reviewing the law.

In March, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] also upheld [JURIST report] the law, finding that it was not in violation of a European Commission [official website] directive [EC 2000/78, PDF] that prohibits discrimination based on age in regards to employment and occupation. In its decision, the ECJ emphasized that the UK regulations are only legal if they meet legitimate social policy objectives. The ruling followed a September opinion [JURIST report] by ECJ Advocate General Jan Marzak that concluded age-based classifications are justifiable in some circumstances. The ECJ ruling ultimately left the decision of whether the laws are legitimate and appropriate to the UK national courts.





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South Korea court rules ban on nighttime assemblies unconstitutional
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 25, 2009 12:43 PM ET

[JURIST] The South Korean Constitutional Court [official website, in Korean] ruled Thursday that a ban on nighttime assemblies is an unconstitutional violation of the right to free assembly. The court gave the National Assembly until June 30, 2010, to amend [Hankyoreh report] Article 10 of the Assembly and Demonstration Law [text, PDF, in Korean], which bans outdoor assemblies and demonstrations prior to sunrise and after sunset, finding that it violates the country's constitution [text]. The ruling came in the case of a man charged with organizing a street rally over imported beef and mad-cow disease at night, in which a district court asked the Constitutional Court to decide the constitutionality [Seoul Times report] of the law. Rights groups have welcomed the ruling, and one Korean law professor said [Hankyoreh op-ed] he "hope[s] this decision by the Constitutional Court will provide a starting point for straightening out the distorted 'law and order' that has been put in place based on the Assembly and Demonstration Law."

South Korea's Assembly and Demonstration law was enacted in 1962. Article 10 prohibits outdoor rallies after sunset without permission. Those who rally at night without prior approval face fines and jail time [AFP report]. The provision was previously upheld by the Constitutional Court in 1994.






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Europe rights court again holds Russia liable for Chechnya disappearances
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 25, 2009 11:48 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] on Thursday ruled that Russia is liable [press release] for the disappearance of two Chechen civilians. In the cases of Akhmed Rezvanov and Ramzan Babushev [judgments], the ECHR found Russia responsible for the disappearances of the two men in 2002 and 2003, respectively, fining Russia €90,000 [RIA Novosti report]. The court held that Russia had violated several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights [text], including the Article 2 right to life and the Article 3 right to be free from psychological suffering. The court also found that Russia had failed to investigate the disappearances.

The ECHR has repeatedly ruled against Russia in human rights cases involving Chechnya [JURIST news archive], and rights groups have urged Russia to enforce the judgments [JURIST report]. In April, the ECHR ordered [JURIST report] Russia to pay a total of €282,000 to compensate the families of Chechen abduction victims. In March, the court ordered Russia [JURIST report] to pay €37,000 to a Russian national for the death of her husband, who was chopping wood when Russian troops killed him in 2000. In December, the court determined [JURIST report] Russia had violated the human rights of six other Chechens who disappeared between 2001 and 2003, and ordered Russia [ECHR news release] to pay the victims' families €320,000. Also in December, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile] proposed [transcript, in Russian] that Russian courts become more transparent [JURIST report] in order to restore faith in the justice system and prevent people from turning to the ECHR.






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Iraq president presses UN for international tribunal to try bombing suspects
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 25, 2009 11:00 AM ET

[JURIST] Iraqi President Jalal Talabani [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Thursday urged the UN General Assembly [official website] to establish an independent international tribunal [statement, PDF] to investigate and try suspects in a recent series of deadly bombings. Talabani said that the scope and nature of the August 19 bombing of the foreign and finance ministries [BBC report] that left close to 100 dead necessitated an outside investigation. Despite noting progress in Iraqi security, foreign relations, and the economy, Talabani said:

The real danger currently facing Iraq is outside interference in its internal affairs which has committed the worst crimes against innocent Iraqis from various segments of society, men, women, children, and the elderly. In an attempt to destabilize security and stability achieved in Iraq during 2008 and 2009, Iraq has witnessed recently a series of bombings and terrorist attacks, the last of which was the "bloody Wednesday" explosions that targeted the Iraqi ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Finance which targeted the country's sovereign institutions on 19 August 2009. This led to many innocent victims, including many employees of the government, diplomats and administrators. These criminal acts and large number of victims have reached the level of genocide and crimes against humanity subject to punishment under international law. We believe these acts at this level of organization, complexity and magnitude cannot be planned, funded and implemented without support of external forces and parties and primary investigations indicate the involvement of external parties in the process.

Therefore, the government of the Republic of Iraq puts this important matter on the table of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and requests its submission to the Security Council for the purpose of forming an independent international investigation commission due to the nature and scope of the committed crimes which require an investigation outside the jurisdiction of Iraq and bring those found guilty to a special international criminal court.
Talabani also called on neighboring states [UN News Centre report] to help secure Iraq's borders to prevent similar attacks in the future.

Talabani's statement follows recent calls for an international tribunal [JURIST report] by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [official website, in Arabic; JURIST news archive]. Meeting with the US envoy in Iraq, al-Maliki described the worsening situation between Iraq and Syria [AP report], which has refused to hand over individuals suspected of planning the attacks. Al-Maliki's request for an international tribunal echo a letter [Reuters report] sent recently to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon that was forwarded to the UN Security Council [official websites], in which al-Maliki asked that an independent international commission of inquiry be set up to investigate the attacks. The Security Council has yet to respond to the request.





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Federal judge denies habeas petition of Algerian Guantanamo detainee
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 25, 2009 10:07 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] has denied the habeas corpus petition of Algerian Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Sufiyan Barhoumi, according to a Thursday Miami Herald report [text]. Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled in a still-classified opinion that the US may continue detaining Barhoumi, who is accused of training with al Qaeda, setting up a bomb-making shop, and purchasing supplies to make roadside bombs. This was Collyer's first ruling in a Guantanamo habeas case, bringing the total number of government victories to eight, while 30 detainees' habeas petitions have been granted.

Barhoumi originally faced conspiracy charges [DOD press release], but those charges were thrown out when the US Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in 2006 that the military commission system as initially constituted violated US and international law. Congress subsequently passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [text, PDF], which established the current military commissions system. Barhoumi was charged in May 2008 with with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, but those charges were later dropped [JURIST reports].






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Pittsburgh police clash with G-20 protesters
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 25, 2009 9:02 AM ET

[JURIST] Several demonstrations at the Pittsburgh Group of 20 (G-20) Summit [official websites] turned violent Thursday afternoon and late evening as protesters clashed with police. In the city's Oakland neighborhood, home of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, police in riot gear cleared protesters and student onlookers [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review report] from an area around Phipps Conservatory, where President Barack Obama had hosted a dinner for world leaders. Police ordered the crowd to disperse, then moved down nearby Forbes Avenue past the University of Pittsburgh School of Law using smoke canisters and rubber bullets as some protesters threw stones and broke the windows of several local businesses.



This video was shot on the corner of Forbes Ave. and Bouquet St., where the law school is located:



The law school building, JURIST's headquarters, was not damaged.

Earlier in the day, police dispersed an anarchists' march in the city's Lawrenceville neighborhood with pepper spray canisters and rubber bullets after announcing that it was an unlawful assembly.





More than 60 people were arrested [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report] during Thursday's protests, and several others were injured, though none seriously. Protests and demonstrations are expected to continue Friday. The largest march [protest website], organized by the Thomas Merton Center [advocacy website], is expected to move from Forbes Avenue to downtown around Noon local time.

The violent protests stood in marked contrast to peaceful protests [JURIST report] that took place earlier in the day when protesters took to Pittsburgh's streets to call attention to a range of global human rights issues. A group of Tibetan protesters [WPXI report] from across the US held a march to call Chinese President Hu Jintao's attention to recent human rights abuses in that region [JURIST news archive]. The march is scheduled to continue Friday. Another group rallied for freedom to practice Falun Gong [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review report], a religion whose followers face persecution in China [JURIST news archive]. On Pittsburgh's North Side, a group of Burmese monks marched in protest of human rights conditions in Myanmar [JURIST news archive]. The Coalition of Ethiopians for Human Rights marched downtown seeking fair elections [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report] in Ethiopia and the release of imprisoned opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa.

Editor's note: read eyewitness coverage of Thursday's Lawrenceville protest on JURIST Dateline.






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Poland, Estonia cannot alter CO2 allowances despite court victory: European Commission
Brian Jackson on September 25, 2009 8:26 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Commission (EC) [official website] said Thursday that Poland and Estonia cannot issue new carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances, despite a court victory on Wednesday. The announcement was made by EC Commissioner for the Environment Stavros Dimas, who indicated that the larger allowances proposed by the two nations must be approved [WSJ report] by the EC prior to implementation. On Wednesday, the European Court of First Instance at the Court of Justice of the European Communities [official websites] ruled [case materials] that the EC overstepped its authority in denying the allowances proposed by Poland and Estonia for the period of 2008-2012. While the EC called the data used to calculate the allowances for the two countries unreliable, the court said that the Commission did not describe why they were not reliable. The court decision has already had a collateral effect, as Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said that Italy should be able to issue additional CO2 allowances [EUobserver report].

The EC caps CO2 emissions of member countries through the Emission Trading System (ETS) [legislative materials], enacted in October 2003. Part of the ETS is a cap and trade system, which has recently come under consideration in the US. In late June, the US House of Representatives passed legislation [JURIST report] that included cap and trade among other means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. That legislation is currently pending before the Senate. The US has also acted in other ways to address concerns over climate change, including proposing new fuel economy standards and expressing tentative support [JURIST reports] for an international climate change treaty.

Editor's Note: Additional primary coverage of European Commission climate change policy available on JURIST's Dateline.






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US to transfer up to 8 Uighur Guantanamo detainees to Palau
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 25, 2009 8:06 AM ET

[JURIST] US Solicitor General Elena Kagan [official profile] told the Supreme Court [official website] in a letter [text, PDF] filed Thursday that the US plans to transfer up to eight Uighur Guantanamo Bay detainees [JURIST news archive] to Palau and that six have already agreed to the transfer. According to the letter, the government of Palau is willing to accept 12 of the 13 Uighurs still at Guantanamo. Kagan wrote:


On September 16 2009, the Department of State notified Congress in a classified submission that the U.S. government intends to transfer eight of the petitioners to Palau, with the transfer to occur no earlier than October 1. Although the Department of State hopes that all eight of these individuals will agree to be resettled in Palau, at this point six of them have made that commitment. Discussions with the remaining two of the eight petitioners are ongoing. The U.S. government has every reason to believe that at least six of the petitioners shortly will be resettled in Palau, although it is impossible to be certain until they actually board the plane. The date on which the plane is scheduled to depart Guantanamo for Palau is classified.

She added that the "United States is working diligently to find an appropriate place to resettle the remaining Uighur detainees."

In June, the Supreme Court closed its 2008 term without deciding whether to hear the case [JURIST report] of the remaining 13 Uighur Muslims at Guantanamo. The Court did not provide a reason for delaying its decision, but court watchers believe that it may have been based on a desire to avoid interference with a potential diplomatic solution. If the remaining Uighurs are transferred overseas before the Court decides to hear their case, it will likely be dismissed as moot. If not, the Court may reach a decision on whether to take the case in October when the 2009 term begins. Also in June, four of the Uighurs were transferred to Bermuda [JURIST report]. The Uighurs' release was ordered [opinion and order, PDF; JURIST report] by a US district court in October, but that decision was overturned [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in February by the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website]. The Chinese government has repeatedly demanded the repatriation of the Uighurs, maintaining that they are members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) [CFR backgrounder], a militant group that calls for separation from China and has been a US-designated terrorist group since 2002. The US has previously rejected China's calls to repatriate [JURIST report] the Uighurs, citing fear of torture upon their return.





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Switzerland, US sign treaty on sharing tax evader information
Brian Jackson on September 25, 2009 7:49 AM ET

[JURIST] The US and Switzerland signed a treaty [text, PDF] Wednesday that would increase the amount of information shared between the two nations on would-be tax evaders. The agreement was constructed in accordance with Article 26 of the Model Tax Convention [text, PDF], which states in relevant part:


The competent authorities of the Contracting States shall exchange such information as is foreseeably relevant for carrying out the provisions of this Convention or to the administration or enforcement of the domestic laws concerning taxes of every kind and description imposed on behalf of the Contracting States.

On Thursday, the Swiss government signed a similar agreement [SwissInfo report] with Qatar, which resulted in the removal of Switzerland from a list of international tax havens maintained by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) [official website]. The OECD called Swiss progress meaningful [press release], but said that implementation of new policies is the most important aspect of meeting OECD guidelines.

The new cooperative agreement between the US and Switzerland comes one month after former UBS [corporate website] banker Bradley Birkenfeld was sentenced to 40 months in prison [JURIST report] for helping a California real estate developer hide $200 million to avoid paying taxes. One day before that sentencing, a Swiss banker and lawyer were indicted in US federal court [JURIST report] for helping clients hide assets. Earlier in August, the US reached a preliminary agreement with Switzerland over the identification of anonymous accounts [JURIST report] in Swiss banks, which would aid US officials in identifying those who seek to evade taxes.





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DOJ announces indictment of suspected terrorist on conspiracy charge
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 24, 2009 4:47 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced [press release] Thursday that suspected terrorist Najibullah Zazi has been charged [indictment, PDF] with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction. A federal jury in the Eastern District of New York returned the one-count indictment Wednesday, alleging that Zazi conspired to bomb targets in the US. In a memorandum [text, PDF] in support of its motion for detention, the government alleged:


The evidence at trial will prove that the defendant conspired with others to detonate improvised explosive devices within the United States. In furtherance of the conspiracy, Zazi received detailed bomb-making instructions in Pakistan, purchased components of improvised explosive devices, and traveled to New York City on September 10, 2009 in furtherance of his criminal plans.

If convicted, Zazi could face up to life in prison.

Zazi, a native of Afghanistan, was arrested [BBC report] by FBI agents last week in Colorado. He was originally charged with making false statements to the FBI, but those charges are expected to be dropped in light of the new charge. Zazi's father, Mohammed Zazi, and a third man, Ahmad Wais Afzali, were also arrested. Mohammed Zazi was released [WSJ report] Thursday under court supervision, and Afzali is also expected to be released.





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UK government frees second terrorism suspect from control order
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 24, 2009 3:45 PM ET

[JURIST] The UK Home Office [official website] has released a top terrorism suspect from a control order [Guardian backgrounder; JURIST news archive] that subjected him to virtual house arrest because it did not want to reveal secret evidence, according to media reports Thursday. Home Secretary Alan Johnson [official profile] sent letters [Guardian report] to lawyers for the man, known only as AE, notifying them that the decision was made after considering a June Law Lords ruling [judgment, PDF; JURIST report] requiring the government to let detainees and subjects of control orders know generally what charges they face so that they can mount a defense. Lawyers for AE called for a repeal of the entire control order system, saying that their client and his family and suffered irreparable harm.

There are still 14 control orders in force, and last week Johnson said that the government would undertake a review [JURIST report] of the system. Johnson issued a ministerial statement [text] saying that his "current assessment is ... that the control order regime remains viable," but that he would "be keeping this assessment under review." Earlier this month, the Home Office released another terrorism suspect [JURIST report] from a control order because it did not want to reveal secret evidence. In August, a control order against a suspected terrorist known as AN was overturned [judgment text; JURIST report] by the UK High Court. At that time Johnson had announced plans [BBC report] to draft a new control order against AN. The UK Law Lords ruled [JURIST report] in a series of decisions last 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 violate human rights. Control orders allow the British government to conduct surveillance and impose house arrest on suspects where there does not exist enough evidence to prosecute. The orders can also be used to forbid the use of mobile phones and the Internet.






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Rights issues highlighted in peaceful G-20 Pittsburgh summit protests
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 24, 2009 2:22 PM ET

[JURIST] Protesters took to Pittsburgh's streets Thursday in peaceful demonstrations calling attention to a range of global human rights issues on the first day of the Group of 20 (G-20) Summit [official websites]. A group of Tibetan protesters [WPXI report] from across the US held a march to call Chinese President Hu Jintao's attention to recent human rights abuses in that region [JURIST news archive]. The march is scheduled to continue Friday. Another group rallied for freedom to practice Falun Gong [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review report], a religion whose followers face persecution in China [JURIST news archive]. On Pittsburgh's North Side, a group of Burmese monks marched in protest of human rights conditions in Myanmar [JURIST news archive]. The Coalition of Ethiopians for Human Rights marched downtown seeking fair elections [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report] in Ethiopia and the release of imprisoned opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa. Police presence has been increased throughout Pittsburgh, and some businesses, museums and educational institutions have boarded up or reinforced their windows along main thoroughfares in anticipation of continued protests that some fear might turn violent. Lawyers and trained legal observers [UPI report] from the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy websites] have congregated in Pittsburgh to monitor interactions between police and protesters. US President Barack Obama will host a dinner for delegates Thursday night, and the summit will continue through Friday.

Earlier this week, a federal judge declined to issue an injunction [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report] in a lawsuit [JURIST report] filed against the City of Pittsburgh on behalf of two protest groups, alleging that police had violated their constitutional rights. Seeds of Peace and Three Rivers Climate Convergence (3RCC) [advocacy websites] claimed that police searched and seized members of the groups and their property in violation of the Fourth Amendment [text] and that police retaliated against members for exercising their right to free speech under the First Amendment [text]. Last week, the same judge ruled [JURIST report] that the City of Pittsburgh had to grant a permit allowing CodePink [advocacy website] to set up a tent city in a park days before the summit, but allowed the city to deny permits to two other protest groups.






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Federal bank regulators defend efforts before House committee
Brian Jackson on September 24, 2009 12:44 PM ET

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives Financial Services Committee [official website] heard testimony [materials; recorded video] Wednesday from banking industry regulators, but dismissed their prior efforts as ineffective. Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan, Director of the Office of Thrift Supervision John Bowman, and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation chairman Sheila Blair defended [Reuters report] their past efforts, making a case for their continued oversight of the banking industry. In a prepared statement [text, PDF], Dugan said he agreed with many of the proposals currently being considered, but did not agree with an expanded regulatory role for the Federal Reserve or the broad power being considered for a Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). In response, Chairman Barney Frank criticized efforts [WSJ report] by the regulators to oversee the banking industry. By publicly dismissing current regulators' concerns and making concessions on the CFPA, it appears as though lawmakers are ready to move forward with plans [NYT report] for the new agency, which President Barack Obama proposed [JURIST report] in June.

Obama has repeatedly called for greater oversight of the banking industry. Earlier this month, Obama marked the one-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman by calling for more stringent regulation [JURIST report] of the financial services industry. In July, the administration sent Congress draft legislation [JURIST report] laying out many of the proposals Obama had made in the June statement concerning the CFPA. Obama also made a plea for greater regulation [JURIST report] in a February speech to a joint session of Congress.






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DOJ supports reauthorization of expiring Patriot Act provisions
Andrew Morgan on September 24, 2009 12:33 PM ET

[JURIST] A US Department of Justice (DOJ) official told the Senate Judiciary Committee [official websites] Wednesday that the Obama administration supports the reauthorization [statement, PDF] of three provisions of the USA Patriot Act [JURIST news archive] set to expire at the end of the year. Assistant Attorney General for National Security David Kris [official profile] said that the administration supports renewing portions of the act that allow federal authorities to conduct "roving" wiretaps, compel the production of business, medical and library records, and designate suspects as "lone wolf" agents of a foreign power:


[T]he Department and the Administration believe that each of these three provisions provides important and effective investigative authorities. We believe that the current statutory scheme, together with the rules, guidelines, and oversight mechanisms observed by the Executive branch with respect to these authorities, safeguard Americans’ privacy and civil liberties.

Kris acknowledged recent proposals by committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) [official websites], and others to limit the use of these provisions, saying that the administration is "ready and willing to work with Members on any specific proposals you may have to craft legislation that both provides effective investigative authorities and protects privacy and civil liberties." Legislation addressing the reauthorization, introduced [WP report] by Leahy last week, would also add an expiration date [statement] for the use of National Security Letters (NSLs) [CRS backgrounder, PDF; FBI backgrounder]. DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine [official profile] detailed to the committee the results of an OIG investigation into the use of NSLs, which found that the FBI had significantly understated [statement, PDF] the number of NSL requests from 2003 to 2006. Fine noted that FBI officials had "devoted significant time, energy, and resources to correcting its errors," but that it was "too early to definitively state whether the FBI's efforts have eliminated the problems."

The 2009 expiration date on Section 215, the "business records" provision, and Section 206, the "roving wiretap" provision, were set in March 2006 when the 16 key provisions [DOJ report] of the Patriot Act were renewed and 14 made permanent [JURIST report]. Additional civil liberties safeguards built into the renewal included allowing recipients of Section 215 subpoenas to challenge the accompanying gag order. In the wake of these amendments, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] withdrew a lawsuit challenging Section 215 [JURIST report]. Despite the amendments, a federal judge ruled last year that imposing gag orders on recipients of NSLs is unconstitutional without judicial review [JURIST report]





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Obama administration not seeking new terror detainee legislation: report
Brian Jackson on September 24, 2009 11:51 AM ET

[JURIST] The Obama administration will not push Congress for legislation to authorize the indefinite detention of terror suspects, the Washington Post reported [text] Wednesday. Instead, administration officials said they will rely on the authority granted through two resolutions passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks: Senate Joint Resolution 23 and House Joint Resolution 64 [materials]. Those resolutions give the president the power, "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations ... persons he determines ... in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such ... persons." While the administration will continue to rely on that authorization, it is unclear where future detainees may be housed, as the Department of Defense has recently indicated that they are still hoping to meet the January deadline [JURIST report] for the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive].

While the Obama administration decides on new detention policies, it also faces decisions on how to try suspected terrorists already facing charges. On Wednesday, Chief judge for military commissions Colonel James Pohl granted a government request to further postpone hearings for Saudi Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza al Darbi until January 11, 2010. Earlier this week, the administration was granted a 60-day continuance [JURIST report] in the trial of five suspected terrorists, including the alleged architect of the 9/11 attacks Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. That same day, Attorney General Eric Holder said that he would decide by November 16 whether to try the alleged terrorists in military or federal court [Miami Herald report].






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Military judge grants further delay in Guantanamo trial
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 24, 2009 11:43 AM ET

[JURIST] A US military judge on Wednesday granted a government request to further postpone hearings for Saudi Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza al Darbi [DOD materials]. Chief judge for military commissions Colonel James Pohl set a January 11, 2010 date [Miami Herald report] for a hearing on which statements would be admissible at trial. Darbi claims that statements he made while detained, first at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and later at Guantanamo Bay, were elicited through torture and therefore should be excluded from the case against him. In May, Pohl granted [JURIST report] the government's motion for a continuance until September 24, following a previously granted continuance [ruling, PDF] in February. Darbi is accused of plotting an attack that never took place on a ship in the Strait of Hormuz and training at an al Qaeda camp. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Darbi's case is one of six active military commission proceedings at Guantanamo. The government has also sought delays in the other cases. Earlier this week, Judge Stephen Henley granted [JURIST report] the government's request for a 60-day continuance [JURIST report] in the trial of five Guantanamo detainees accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks [JURIST news archive]. This is the government's third continuance in that case as well, having been granted 120-day continuances in January and May [JURIST reports]. Pentagon prosecutors said Attorney General Eric Holder will decide by November 16 [Miami Herald report] whether to continue the military commission proceeding or to transfer the case to federal court.






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Canada court limits probe into transfer of Afghan detainees
Andrew Morgan on September 24, 2009 11:02 AM ET

[JURIST] The Canadian Federal Court [official website] has ruled [judgment, PDF] that the Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC) [official website] lacked the authority to investigate complaints that Canadian forces illegally transferred detainees to Afghan custody with the Canadian government's knowledge. Noting that the MPCC is limited to complaints regarding "the conduct of a member of the Military Police in the performance of police duties," Justice Sean Harrington said that detention, release, and transfer of detainees "relate[s] to military operations that resulted from established military custom or practice."


[MPCC] has no jurisdiction to inquire into the conduct of the military at large, much less the conduct of persons who are not members of the military. Thus, while the Commission may legitimately inquire as to what any member of the Military Police knew, or had the means of knowing, it would be an excess of jurisdiction to investigate government policy and to inquire as to the state of knowledge of the Government of Canada at large, and more particularly the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), and to the extent, if any, it had relevant information to question why that information was not shared with the Military Police.

The decision does not limit the MPCC's jurisdiction to pursue claims that Canadian forces "failed to investigate alleged abuse of Afghan detainees." Harrington noted that the limitation on MPCC jurisdiction does not "give the Military Police or any member of the Canadian Forces free reign to ignore or violate Canadian and international laws pertaining to human rights," but only that the MPCC was not an appropriate forum for such investigations.

Earlier this month, the MPCC subpoeaned [CP report] records relating to the claims from senior government officials, including Canadian military commanders and officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade [official website], and sought a court order compelling their release. In April, the MPCC released a report [text, PDF] concluding that three Afghan detainees were not mistreated [JURIST report] while in Canadian military police custody in Kandahar in 2006. In February 2007, the MPCC announced [JURIST report] that it would investigate [MPCC case materials] complaints [JURIST report] brought by Amnesty International Canada (AIC) and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) [advocacy websites] that Canadian forces transferred detainees to Afghan custody knowing that they would likely be tortured, in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text] and international law. Following public outcry, Canada signed a new agreement regarding detainee transfers [JURIST report] with the Afghan government in May 2007, giving Canada the right to inspect detainees following their transfer.





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UK chief prosecutor publishes interim policy on assisted suicide
Christian Ehret on September 24, 2009 9:17 AM ET

[JURIST] UK Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer [official profile] published an interim policy on assisted suicide [press release] Wednesday that takes several factors into consideration in deciding whether to prosecute such cases. While the new policy does not legalize assisted suicide, it introduces public interest considerations that are to be weighed including compassion, age of the dying, the relation between the dying and those assisting, and the ability of the dying to make an informed decision. Maintaining that the new policy does not permit assisted suicide, Starmer said that prosecutors "must decide the importance of each public interest factor in the circumstances of each case" to determine which cases to prosecute. Public opinion on the issue will be gathered through a consultation process [materials] before a final policy is issued.

The interim policy was published pursuant to a July order [judgment text; JURIST report] from the UK Law Lords [official website] to clarify the issue. The order resulted from a case brought by Debbie Purdy, a multiple sclerosis sufferer, who wants to travel to Switzerland with her husband to end her life. Under the country's Suicide Act 1961 [text], Purdy's husband faces criminal liability for aiding her suicide in another country. Many Britons have reportedly gone to the Dignitas clinic [website, in German] in Switzerland to obtain assisted suicides. Also in July, the House of Lords rejected a bill [JURIST report] 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."






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DOJ announces state secrets reform policies
Christian Ehret on September 24, 2009 8:25 AM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] on Wednesday announced [memorandum, PDF] new state secrets [JURIST news archive] policies, seeking to establish greater government accountability and oversight. The new procedures and policies, set to take effect on October 1, are aimed at strengthening public confidence by limiting invocation of the state secrets privilege to instances where "genuine and significant harm to national defense or foreign relations is at stake." The new policies require approval by the attorney general and review by a committee comprised of senior Department of Justice (DOJ) officials. Additionally, the policies call for oversight by Congressional committees. The DOJ pledged [press release] not to invoke the privilege to conceal government wrongdoing or to avoid embarrassment. Holder called the new policies an "important step toward rebuilding the public's trust" while recognizing the importance of national security. The Constitution Project [advocacy website], which has previously called for [letter, PDF] state secrets reform, applauded the new policies [press release] but called for Congress to pass legislation to clarify that the judicial branch has the authority to determine what evidence is subject to the privilege. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] also called for legislative reform [press release] to reflect the new policies, maintaining that an outside check on the executive branch is needed. The State Secret Protection Act of 2009 [HR 984 materials], currently under consideration, aims at narrowing the application of the privilege.

The state secrets privilege, which allows the exclusion of evidence based on a government affidavit that such evidence may endanger national security, has been highly criticized by rights groups and others. Earlier this month, OpenTheGovernment.org [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF] examining the privilege and other transparency issues, concluding that the current administration has improved transparency [JURIST report], but more should be done. In February, the Obama administration reasserted the state secrets privilege [JURIST report] in a lawsuit over CIA rendition flights, drawing criticism from advocacy groups including the ACLU. The DOJ is currently seeking an en banc rehearing of the case, in which the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [JURIST reports] that the state secrets privilege does not bar a lawsuit against a company that allegedly provided logistical support for the flights.






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Honduras leader urges Brazil embassy to hand over Zelaya under arrest warrant
Ximena Marinero on September 24, 2009 8:03 AM ET

[JURIST] The head of the Honduran interim government Roberto Micheletti on Tuesday called on [La Prensa report, in Spanish] Brazil to deliver deposed president Manuel Zelaya [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] under an arrest warrant [text and materials, PPT in Spanish] issued by the Honduran Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] in June. Zelaya has taken refuge at the Brazilian Embassy [official website, in Spanish] since returning to Honduras Monday. The charges pending against Zelaya include crimes against the form of government, treason, abuse of authority, and usurping governmental powers to the detriment of the public administration and the State of Honduras. Honduran authorities have announced [La Tribuna report, in Spanish] that the curfew in place since 4:00PM Monday was lifted for a few hours Tuesday and Wednesday and will be lifted on Thursday morning. Despite the curfew, there has been widespread social unrest in the streets and there have been more than 100 arrests of suspected Zelaya supporters, as well as one death. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] said [UN News Centre report] Wednesday that "current conditions are not conducive to the holding of credible polls" scheduled for November, as he justified temporary suspension of assistance to the Honduran Supreme Electorate Court (TSE) [official website, in Spanish]. Amnesty International warned [press release] that "fundamental rights and the rule of law in [Honduras] are in grave danger."

Negotiations between Zelaya and Micheletti took place intermittently through Costa Rican President Oscar Arias until they were broken off in August by Micheletti, and the Supreme Court of Honduras unconditionally refused [criteria, PDF, in Spanish] to accept Zelaya's return to power regardless of terms. Zelaya also made several failed attempts to return to office, including attempting to fly into the country accompanied by international leaders. Also in August, the Supreme Court warned [JURIST report] that if Zelaya returned to the country, he would have to face the charges against him, while Micheletti announced that Honduras would go ahead with plans to hold elections. Zelaya was ousted [JURIST report] on June 28 following a judicial order [press release, in Spanish] asserting that he had broken Honduran law by attempting to conduct a controversial referendum on constitutional reform [JURIST report] contrary to a Honduran Supreme Court ruling.






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Rwanda tribunal begins genocide trial of former senior official
Ximena Marinero on September 24, 2009 7:06 AM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] on Wednesday began the trial [press release] of former Rwandan minister of planning Augustin Ngirabatware [case materials] for his alleged involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide [BBC backgrounder]. Ngirabatware faces charges [indictment, PDF] of:


genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitements to committ genocide; crimes against humanity for murder, extermination, rape, inhumane acts; and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions and of Additional Protocol II.

The prosecution has expressed confidence that with 17 witnesses they will be able to prove Ngirabatware's individual responsibility for those crimes, as well as that he knew about the crimes taking place and did nothing to prevent or prosecute them. Ngirabatware is the son-in-law of the man who allegedly provided financial support for the mass killings, and he is also suspected of having diverted foreign aid funds to the Interahamwe militia that carried out the killings.


German authorities transferred [JURIST report] Ngirabatware to the ICTR last October, where he pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. German police arrested Ngirabatware [JURIST report] in September 2007. Ngirabatware had been a fugitive since 2001, when the ICTR issued a warrant for his arrest. He was one of 18 fugitives wanted by the ICTR for their involvement the 1994 conflict between Hutus and Tutsis in which approximately 800,000 people, primarily Tutsis, died.





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France parliament gives final approval to controversial Internet piracy law
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 23, 2009 4:15 PM ET

[JURIST] The French parliament gave final approval Tuesday to a new version [text, in French] of a controversial Internet piracy law [text, in French] that would suspend users' Internet access after the third violation. The bill was approved by a joint legislative committee of the National Assembly and the Senate [official websites, in French] by a vote of 258-131. The new version, drafted after portions of it were rejected [judgment, in French; JURIST report] in June by the Constitutional Council [official website, in French], leaves discretion to suspend a user's Internet services to a judge instead of an administrative authority. The opposition Socialists, who brought the challenge against the original bill, vowed to challenge the new version [Reuters report] as well.

Other European governments are also taking steps to combat Internet piracy. Last month, the British Department for Business Innovation and Skills [official website] proposed stricter sanctions [JURIST report] against illegal file-sharing that would include restricting and suspending user Internet access. The proposed regulations would be managed by an administrative agency, the Office of Communications (Ofcom) [official website], which would report to Business Secretary Lord Peter Mandelson [BBC profile] recommending action against specific users. The measures could be implemented before initial year 2012 projections. While the proposal was welcomed by media industries, it provoked strong rejection among consumers and service providers. The government's consultation period on the subject is now due to close on September 29 after it was extended when changes to the proposal were announced.






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New York high court rules governor has authority to appoint lieutenant governor
Steve Czajkowski on September 23, 2009 1:28 PM ET

[JURIST] The New York Court of Appeals [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that Governor David Paterson [official website] has the authority to appoint a lieutenant governor, effectively making Richard Ravitch [NYT profile] the state's lieutenant governor. In a 4-3 decision, the court rejected the argument that Paterson had improperly relied on section 43 of the Public Officers Law [text] in making the appointment:

Where, as here, an office may not legally appear on the ballot except quadrennially, and there will be a lengthy period before the next election for the office may be held, plaintiff's reading of the durational limitation at issue would result in an extended vacancy running the balance of an elective term. This appears to be fundamentally incompatible with the main object of article XIII, § 3, expressed unequivocally in its first clause, which, of course, is to assure that vacancies are filled.

That election has been deemed impermissible as a means of filling a mid-term vacancy in the Lieutenant-Governorship does not, however, mean that the vacancy may not be filled. ... Filling the office by gubernatorial appointment is entirely consonant with the purpose of the post-Ward legislative and constitutional amendments, whereas requiring that the office be left vacant risked a scenario of the sort that the Legislature at Governor Dewey's behest sought to avoid - one in which a president pro tem of the Senate, quite possibly of a party other than the Governor, would, while performing the duties of the Lieutenant-Governor during a vacancy in the office, actively oppose the Governor's agenda and frustrate the work of the executive branch.
Tuesday's ruling reversed an August appellate court decision [opinion text; JURIST report] that Paterson acted beyond the scope of his constitutional authority when he appointed Ravitch. That decision had affirmed a lower court ruling that previously blocked the appointment.

Paterson appointed Ravitch [Bloomberg report] on July 8 while the state Senate was embroiled in a power struggle between Democrats and Republicans, but that decision was challenged by New York State Senator Dean Skelos (R) [official website], the Republican leader in the senate. New York had not had a lieutenant governor since former governor Eliot Spitzer resigned [NYT report] amid a prostitution scandal and Paterson became governor. The lieutenant governor serves as Senate president and casts tie-breaking votes.





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China appeals WTO ruling on US media imports
Steve Czajkowski on September 23, 2009 11:56 AM ET

[JURIST] China appealed an August World Trade Organization (WTO) [official website] ruling [text, PDF] Tuesday, arguing that Chinese controls on US imports of books, music, and audiovisual materials do not violate international trade regulations. The dispute [case materials] originally arose in April 2007 when the US filed a complaint over Chinese restrictions allowing certain state-owned companies to reserve the right to import types of entertainment media, effectively forcing US companies to conduct business with only those business channels. The complaint also challenged market access restrictions on foreign service providers. The WTO held [Reuters report] that while China may still censor certain media content, it may not use censorship as a justification for barriers on trade. The WTO appellate body will have two to three months to scrutinize [Xinhua report] the case, after which it will decide to confirm, modify, or overturn the ruling.

The August ruling was the latest result in the struggle for intellectual property rights between the US and China. In January, a dispute settlement panel of the WTO found [report, PDF; JURIST report] for the US that large parts of China's intellectual property scheme are inconsistent with its obligations under several international treaties, including the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) [text]. The panel's findings came as the result of a process initiated against China by the US [JURIST report] in August 2007 for alleged lax enforcement of copyright and trademark violations [JURIST report; WTO backgrounder]. The panel's report concluded that certain provisions of China's copyright law as well as certain Chinese customs measures are inconsistent with TRIPS because they "nullify or impair benefits accruing to the United States."






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Democratic Party fundraiser pleads not guilty in alleged Ponzi scheme
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 23, 2009 11:17 AM ET

[JURIST] Democratic Party fundraiser Hassan Nemazee, accused of orchestrating a $290 million pyramid scheme, pleaded not guilty to fraud charges Wednesday in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. Federal prosecutors indicted [text; press release, PDF] Nemazee Monday on three counts of bank fraud, each of which carries a maximum prison term of 30 years, and one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory prison term of two years. Nemazee could also face large fines and asset forfeitures. US Attorney Preet Bharara said:


For more than ten years, Hassan Nemazee projected the illusion of wealth, stealing more than $290 million so that he could lead a lavish lifestyle and play the part of heavyweight political fundraiser. ... Today's indictment exposes the sheer brazenness of Nemazee's schemes and marks the end of his decade of deception.

Nemazee, who was a fundraiser for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and other prominent Democrats, was arrested in August and is currently under house arrest as part of a bail agreement. He will be arraigned at a later date. A spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee said the DNC, Obama for America, and the Presidential Inaugural Committee will return or donate to charity [WSJ report] money raised by Nemazee.

In May, disgraced Democratic Party fundraiser Norman Hsu [JURIST news archive] was convicted [JURIST report] on charges of violating the Federal Elections Campaign Act (FECA) [text]. Hsu was accused of making illegal campaign contributions in other peoples' names in violation of the FECA. According to the indictment [text; JURIST report], Hsu also allegedly pressured clients to donate to his preferred democratic candidates and threatened to cut them off if they did not comply with his wishes. In September 2007, New York prosecutors charged [JURIST report] Hsu with orchestrating a $60 million Ponzi scheme in connection with the same events. Hsu pleaded guilty [NYT report] to those fraud charges in May. The FBI arrested [press release] Hsu in Colorado on federal charges of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution after Hsu failed to appear for a bail hearing in California on unrelated fraud charges on September 5, 2007. Hsu formerly raised funds for political candidates, including Clinton. Clinton agreed to return $850,000 she received from Hsu when news of the charges became public.





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Taiwan ex-president Chen indicted on additional embezzlement charge
Amelia Mathias on September 23, 2009 10:03 AM ET

[JURIST] Taiwan prosecutors filed a new indictment against former president Chen Shui-bian [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] Wednesday, less than two weeks after Chen was sentenced to life in prison [JURIST report] on other corruption charges. The new charge accuses Chen of embezzling $330,000 [Taiwan News report] from funds he received to travel overseas while president. Chen denies the charge and is appealing for its dismissal. Chen, who has always maintained his innocence, now seeks to apply US law [AP report] in the case against him, claiming that former colonial power Japan never transferred power over Taiwan to its current government.

Earlier this month, the Taipei District Court denied [JURIST report] Chen's request for release pending appeal. Last month, Chen filed suit [JURIST report] against the three judges hearing his corruption case, accusing them of illegally prolonging his detention. Chen was indicted [JURIST report] on corruption charges in December. He has staged three hunger strikes in protest of the charges against him, and in January he unsuccessfully appealed [JURIST reports] his pretrial detention. 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.






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Karadzic prosecutors unwilling to shorten indictment to expedite case
Amelia Mathias on September 23, 2009 9:00 AM ET

[JURIST] Prosecutors for the case against Radovan Karadzic [ICTY materials; JURIST news archive] in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] announced Tuesday that they would not drop any charges against the accused in order to expedite the case. The UN-appointed tribunal is under pressure to wrap up proceedings within a year and asked prosecutors earlier this month to shorten the indictment. Prosecutors said that dropping any of the charges would prevent them from prosecuting him for all of his alleged crimes. The request to shorten the indictment caused rioting in Sarajevo [AP report]. Karadzic's trial, which may last up to three years, is set to begin [JURIST report] on October 19.

Karadzic faces 11 charges [amended indictment, PDF], including genocide and murder, for war crimes committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. Last month, Karadzic sued the Serbian government for allegedly kidnapping him prior to announcing his arrest [JURIST reports] last year. He claimed that Serbian authorities officially reported his arrest three days after he was actually detained, delaying his appearance before a judge. Karadzic's capture came 13 years after being indicted by the ICTY in 1995.






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Accused Basque separatist leader refuses to make statements before Spain court
Ximena Marinero on September 23, 2009 8:05 AM ET

[JURIST] The accused leader of the military arm of Basque separatist group ETA [JURIST news archive] refused to make a statement at two hearings in the Spanish National Courts on Tuesday. Mikel Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina [BBC profile] faces a total of 21 charges for attacks and attempted attacks that took place between 2000 and 2008, but the proceedings [El Mundo report, in Spanish] Tuesday were specifically for five separate counts holding him responsible for five incidents in January and February of 2002. Aspiazu was captured [JURIST report] in France in November and was extradited to Spain on Monday. Spain is due to return him to French authorities by September 26 for further proceedings in the French legal system. The terms of the temporary extradition provided that Aspiazu would be entitled to the same legal rights as in France. The extradition is the first time France has agreed to transfer a suspect before investigation into charges against him has been completed.

In June, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] upheld [JURIST report] Spain's ban of Basque political groups Batasuna [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and Herri Batasuna for their alleged ties to ETA. In April, alleged ETA leader Jurdan Martitegi Lizaso [El Pais backgrounder, in Spanish] was arrested in France, and a Spanish judge charged [JURIST reports] him with murder for a May 2008 car bombing that killed a Spanish policeman. In February, Spain's Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] unanimously banned [JURIST report] the Basque separatist political groups Democracy 3 Million (D3M) and Askatasuna [orders, PDF, in Spanish] from participation in the coming March elections. In January, a Spanish court dismissed [JURIST report] the case against Basque Regional Prime Minister Juan Jose Ibarretxe. He and the two leaders of the Basque socialist party were charged [JURIST report] with illegally communicating with the banned. In September, the court banned [JURIST report] the Basque Nationalist Action Party (ANV) from taking part in political activities because of its alleged ties to Batasuna.






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ACLU lawsuit demands information on Bagram detainees
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 22, 2009 3:57 PM ET

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release] Tuesday seeking information related to the treatment of prisoners at the US detention facility at Bagram Air Base [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in Afghanistan. The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] against the Departments of Defense, Justice, and State, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official websites], follows a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] request [materials] filed by the ACLU in April. None of the departments have turned over any records in response to the request. ACLU staff attorney Melissa Goodman said:


There is growing concern that Bagram has become the new Guantanamo – except with hundreds more prisoners, held indefinitely in reportedly harsher conditions, with no access to lawyers or courts. ... Yet the public is still in the dark when it comes to basic facts such as whom our military is holding there, for how long and on what grounds, and the rules that govern their detention, release and treatment. As long as the Bagram prison is shrouded in secrecy, there is no way to know the truth or begin to address the problems that may exist.

The ACLU is seeking records including "a list of vital information about detainees being held there, the rules that govern the facility, and documents pertaining to the conditions of confinement and status review process afforded prisoners."

Earlier this month, the Obama administration issued new guidelines [JURIST report] allowing Bagram detainees to challenge their indefinite incarceration. Detainees will have access to members of the US military who would be able to gather classified evidence and question witnesses on behalf of any detainee challenging his detention. The military officials would not be lawyers, but they are expected to provide detainees, some of whom have been held for more than five years without charges, better representation before military-appointed review boards. The changes come amidst ongoing protests [JURIST report] by prisoners. Hundreds of Bagram detainees have been refusing shower and exercise time and have ceased participation in a family visits and teleconferences program set up by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [advocacy website].





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G-20 protest groups file suit alleging Pittsburgh police violating rights
Matt Glenn on September 22, 2009 2:12 PM ET

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy websites] filed suit [complaint, PDF] Monday on behalf of two groups protesting this week's Group of 20 (G-20) Summit [official websites] in Pittsburgh, alleging that police have violated their Constitutional rights. Seeds of Peace and Three Rivers Climate Convergence (3RCC) [advocacy websites] claim that police searched and seized members of the groups and their property in violation of the Fourth Amendment [text] and that police retaliated against members for exercising their right to free speech under the First Amendment [text]. Seeds of Peace claims that police detained their bus without cause, illegally searched and impounded the bus, and also conducted a warrantless raid on the property on which the bus was being stored. A hearing was held Tuesday in front of Judge Gary Lancaster of the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania [official website].

Last week, Lancaster ruled [JURIST report] that the city of Pittsburgh must grant a permit allowing CodePink [advocacy website] to set up a tent city in a park days before the summit, but allowed the city to deny permits to two other protest groups. Earlier that week, the Pittsburgh City Council [official website] passed [JURIST report] an ordinance [text, PDF] in anticipation of the G-20 summit that will allow police to cite people in possession of certain items if they intend to use them unlawfully. The temporary ordinance, passed in anticipation of protests at the summit scheduled for September 24 and 25, expires at the end of the month. It prohibits the possession of tools or other items such as handcuffs, padlocks, and pipes with an intent to use those items to block access to streets, sidewalks, and public buildings or to defeat crowd control orders. A proposal to ban masks and hoods [text, PDF] during the summit was voted down [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report] by the City Council earlier this month.

3:50 PM - Lancaster has declined to issue an injunction [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report] against the police actions. The groups may still seek monetary damages, as there was no ruling as to whether Constitutional violations occurred.






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ECJ advisory opinion finds Google ad system does not violate trademark law
Matt Glenn on September 22, 2009 1:14 PM ET

[JURIST] Google's AdWords, a system that causes advertisements to be shown alongside natural search results on Google [corporate website; JURIST news archive], does not violate EU trademark law, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] said in an advisory opinion [materials; press release, PDF] Tuesday. AdWords allows advertisers, for a fee, to select keywords that, when searched by a Google user, bring up a link to the advertiser's website. The suit, originally filed in France by Louis Vuitton [corporate website], alleges that AdWords infringes upon companies' trademarks by allowing advertisers, including competitors and those that sell imitation or counterfeit products, to use the trademarked names of brand name manufacturers and sellers. The case was referred to the ECJ by the Cour de Cassation [official website, in French], France's highest court. In stating that Google did not violate any trademarks through its use of AdWords, Advocate General Poiares Maduro [official profile] reasoned in part that most Internet users would not be surprised or confused to see links to products similar to those they searched for. The opinion did not, however, rule out holding Google liable where companies can show that the use of their trademark caused actual damage to the company. As an advisory opinion, Tuesday's opinion is non-binding, and the court will issue its judgment at a later date.

Google is currently engaged in other legal proceedings involving intellectual property. On Friday, the US Department of Justice [official website] filed a statement of interest [JURIST report] urging the US Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] to reject a settlement offer in a case involving Google's book search. The case originated when two lawsuits were brought against Google by the Authors Guild, an advocacy group seeking to preserve copyright protection for authors, and by other plaintiffs including the Association of American Publishers (AAP) [organization website], McGraw-Hill, Penguin Group, and Simon & Schuster [corporate websites] over Google's book-scanning initiative [Google Book Search website]. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, which was reached [JURIST report] last October, Google would pay $125 million to authors and publishers of copyrighted works. In return, Google would be allowed to display online up to 20 percent of the total pages of a copyrighted book, and would offer users an opportunity to purchase the remainder of any viewed book.






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'Toronto 18' member pleads guilty to terrorism charges
Safiya Boucaud on September 22, 2009 10:50 AM ET

[JURIST] A man currently imprisoned for smuggling guns into Canada pleaded guilty Monday to terrorism charges linked to the "Toronto 18" [Toronto Star backgrounder; advocacy website] plot. Ali Mohamed Dirie's guilty plea comes less than three weeks after the first member of the group to plead guilty was sentenced [JURIST report] to 14 years in prison for his role in connection with a plot to carry out terrorist attacks in Toronto [JURIST report] to protest Canada's military presence in Afghanistan. The extent of Dirie's involvement in the terrorist plot has not yet been divulged due to a court ordered publication ban that could affect others in the group currently facing charges. A detailed report is expected to be filed in the court this week.

The "Toronto 18," arrested in 2006, are accused of planning a series of violent attacks on civilians, public officials, and government buildings. Although little information was released about the minors arrested among the Toronto 18, the charges eventually laid against the 12 adult males included participating in a terrorist group, receiving training from a terrorist group, training terrorists, and importing weapons and ammunition for terrorism. In May, one of the group's members, the first person convicted under Canada's post-9/11 terrorism law was sentenced to 36 months [JURIST reports] in prison and released by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice [official website] in consideration of the time he had already served.






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Rights groups urge UN to investigate Iran post-election abuses
Safiya Boucaud on September 22, 2009 9:29 AM ET

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran [advocacy websites] on Monday called for [press release] the UN General Assembly [official website] to appoint a special envoy to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in Iran since the controversial June presidential election [JURIST news archive]. Both groups urged UN member states to seize the upcoming visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] as an opportunity to discuss human rights abuses the groups have documented since the June 12 election. Deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW Joe Stork said:


UN member states, meeting as the General Assembly, have a responsibility to uphold UN human rights principles and demand that Iran stop these grave violations. ... The international community's voice, heard through the UN, can make a big difference in bringing an end to this crisis.

Some of these documented violations of human rights include unlawful use of lethal force against peaceful protesters, lengthy solitary confinement, coerced confessions, and reports of torture and rape of detained protesters.

Iran has been experiencing turmoil in Tehran and elsewhere since Ahmadinejad won the election in June. Earlier this month, a panel of Iranian judiciary members dismissed claims [JURIST report] made by pro-reform presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi [NYT profile] that detainees arrested following the election were sexually assaulted. Also this month, opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi [IranTracker profile] called for continued protests [JURIST report], maintaining his position that the election was fraudulent. In August, the death of an Iranian prisoner in police custody was determined to have been caused by beatings [JURIST report] and poor prison conditions in the wake of the post-election turmoil. In early July, HRW reported that some arrested protesters were beaten, deprived of sleep, and threatened with torture in an effort to force false confessions [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."





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Second Circuit rules states may sue power companies over CO2 emissions
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 22, 2009 8:52 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that states can sue power companies for emitting carbon dioxide, allegedly contributing to global warming [JURIST news archive]. The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by eight states — California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin — as well as New York City and three land trusts against coal-burning utilities American Electric Power, Southern Company, Xcel Energy, Cinergy Corporation [corporate websites], and the Tennessee Valley Authority [official website]. In 2005, a judge in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] dismissed the suit [opinion, PDF; JURIST report], finding that the plaintiffs' claim was a non-justiciable political question. In reversing that decision, the Second Circuit ruled:


It cannot be gainsaid that global warming poses serious economic and ecological problems that have an impact on both domestic politics and international relations. Nevertheless, Defendants' characterization of this lawsuit as implicating "complex, inter-related and far-reaching policy questions about the causes of global climate change and the most appropriate response to it" magnifies to the outer limits the discrete domestic nuisance issues actually presented. A result of this magnification is to misstate the issues Plaintiffs seek to litigate. Nowhere in their complaints do Plaintiffs ask the court to fashion a comprehensive and far-reaching solution to global climate change, a task that arguably falls within the purview of the political branches. Instead, they seek to limit emissions from six domestic coal-fired electricity plants on the ground that such emissions constitute a public nuisance that they allege has caused, is causing, and will continue to cause them injury. A decision by a single federal court concerning a common law of nuisance cause of action, brought by domestic plaintiffs against domestic companies for domestic conduct, does not establish a national or international emissions policy (assuming that emissions caps are even put into place). Nor could a court set across-the-board domestic emissions standards or require any unilateral, mandatory emissions reductions over entities not party to the suit.

A spokesperson for American Electric Power said the company has not decided whether to appeal [NYT report].

The Obama administration has taken several steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions. In June, the US House of Representatives [official website] passed [JURIST report] a climate bill [HR 2454 materials] that focuses on clean energy. The bill calls for a reduction in greenhouse emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and by 80 percent by 2050 by establishing a cap-and-trade system. It also establishes for the first time limits on greenhouse gases that will become progressively stricter, providing an incentive for a transition to green energy sources ranging from "wind, solar, and geothermal power to safer nuclear energy and cleaner coal." The bill is now before the Senate [official website]. In May, the administration announced plans [JURIST report] for national fuel efficiency requirements. In March, the US Special Envoy on Climate Change announced [JURIST report] at a UN Convention on climate change that the US is committed [video] to the creation of an international treaty designed to combat global warming, but that such efforts would only succeed if they were economically feasible.





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FCC chair proposes new 'net neutrality' regulations
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 21, 2009 4:16 PM ET

[JURIST] Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] Chairman Julius Genachowski [official profile] on Monday proposed [press release, PDF] "net neutrality" [JURIST news archive] regulations that would prevent Internet providers from restricting access to particular services. At a speech [text; recorded video] at the Brookings Institution [think tank website], Genachowski unveiled OpenInternet.gov [official website], stressing the importance of "open Internet" principles. The FCC currently follows four open Internet principles: that consumers must be able to access the lawful Internet content, applications, and services of their choice, and attach non-harmful devices to the network. Genachowski introduced two new principles: preventing Internet providers from discriminating against particular Internet content or applications while allowing for reasonable network management, and ensuring that Internet providers are transparent about the network management practices they implement. Genachowski also said that the FCC would take steps to formally codify the principles as regulations, saying:

We have an obligation to ensure that the Internet is an enduring engine for U.S. economic growth, and a foundation for democracy in the 21st century. We have an obligation to ensure that the Internet remains a vast landscape of innovation and opportunity.

This is not about government regulation of the Internet. It's about fair rules of the road for companies that control access to the Internet. We will do as much as we need to do, and no more, to ensure that the Internet remains an unfettered platform for competition, creativity, and entrepreneurial activity.
Republican lawmakers have already introduced legislation [WSJ report] to prevent the FCC from moving forward with the new regulations, and wireless providers such as AT&T have also objected [Washington Post report].

The issue of net neutrality arises from concerns that broadband providers should not be free to accept money from content providers in exchange for preferential bandwidth treatment or to interfere with the content of competitors. Last year, the FCC said that it was ready to act [JURIST report] to ensure a proper balance is struck between consumer proponents of net neutrality principles and the telecommunication industry's interest in controlling the flow and content of Internet traffic over its networks. In 2006, the House Judiciary Committee approved [JURIST report] a net neutrality bill [HR 5417 materials] that would have applied federal antitrust law to alleged breaches of net neutrality, but the legislation was never approved by the full House.





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Military judge grants government 60-day continuance in Guantanamo trial
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 21, 2009 3:22 PM ET

[JURIST] A US military judge on Monday granted [order, PDF] the government's request for a 60-day continuance [JURIST report] in the trial of five Guantanamo Bay detainees accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks [JURIST news archives]. Judge Stephen Henley granted the delay in the case of self-proclaimed architect of the attacks Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], Ramzi bin al-Shibh [JURIST news archive], and three others, noting that the defendants do not oppose the delay. This is the government's third continuance in the case, having been granted 120-day continuances in January and May [JURIST reports]. Pentagon prosecutors said Attorney General Eric Holder will decide by November 16 [Miami Herald report] whether to continue the military commission proceedings or to transfer the case to federal court.

While the Obama administration decides what to do with Guantanamo detainees who are under investigation or who have been charged with crimes, a number of former detainees are being relocated around the globe in order to meet the January deadline for closing the facility. Last week, Hungary said that it would take one Guantanamo detainee [JURIST report]. Earlier this month, three Chinese Uighur Muslims agreed to be relocated to the Pacific island nation of Palau, and two more agreed [JURIST reports] over the weekend. In late August, Portugal accepted two Syrian nationals , and five other EU members agreed [JURIST reports] to give serious consideration to receiving former detainees.






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Rights group claims Italy, Libya violating international law on refugee treatment
Matt Glenn on September 21, 2009 1:55 PM ET

[JURIST] Italy systematically forces migrants to return to Libya where they face human rights abuses without screening them for possible asylum claims, according to a report [text, PDF; press release] released Monday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. The report found that Italy often intercepts migrants traveling by boat from Libya and fails to screen migrants for potential refugee status before returning the migrants to Libya. This policy, according to the report, violates a number of international agreements and norms including Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights [text] and the principle of non-refoulement [CW backgrounder]. Some of those interviewed for the report accused Italian troops of using excessive force, confiscating personal items and documents, and failing to offer food to the migrants. Upon being returned to Libya, the report found that migrants often face prolonged confinement and abuse. The report recommends that Libya overhaul its refugee detention system and investigate claims of abuse. Until such time, the report recommends that Italy cease to intercept migrants from Libya and make sure each migrant has a chance to present his or her case for asylum. The report also called on the European Union and other European institutions to ensure Italy's compliance with EU law and to pressure Libya to improve its treatment of refugees.

Illegal immigration is an increasing problem [BBC report] in Italy that resulted in approximately 36,000 people arriving by boat last year, mostly from Africa. In May, the lower house of Italy's parliament passed a bill [JURIST report] increasing penalties for illegal immigration. Also in May, the Italian government sent 227 migrants back to Libya [AFP report] without asylum hearings in violation of the UN Refugee Convention [text]. The UN Refugee Agency [official website] has urged Italian authorities to reconsider their position, pointing out that Libya is not a member of the UN Refugee Convention and is lacking a functional asylum system. HRW criticized the actions, maintaining that returning the migrants to Libya put them at risk for harm and inhumane treatment. In November, UN human rights experts expressed concern [JURIST report] for Italy's treatment of detained migrants and asylum seekers. The issues raised in Monday's report echo many of those raised by a similar HRW report [text; JURIST report] in 2006.






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UK Liberal Democrats demand independent torture investigation
Matt Glenn on September 21, 2009 1:01 PM ET

[JURIST] British Liberal Democrats [party website] voted Monday to support a motion [text; press release] calling for a public investigation into the UK's potential complicity in torture. The motion, passed at the party's conference [official website], calls for:


A full and independent public inquiry into the facts relating to the involvement or knowledge of the British Government on matters relating to torture, extraordinary rendition and the illegal transfer of detainees to foreign jurisdictions in the period between 11 September 2001 and 20 January 2009.

The motion also requests details relating to every British policy on the matters from the last 20 years, the release of 42 documents relating to the treatment of Binyam Mohamad [Reprieve profile; JURIST news archive], that foreign governments not support Tony Blair [official profile] for the presidency of the European Council [official website] pending a determination of his role in condoning torture, and that the UK renegotiate the US's use of Diego Garcia [Global Security backgrounder; JURIST news archive] "to include full respect for fundamental human rights and a complete accounting of the circumstances in which the base on that island was used in relation to internationally prohibited acts." The conference, which began Saturday, is scheduled to run through Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Foreign Secretary David Miliband [official profile] announced that the British government was investigating [JURIST report] allegations that Secret Intelligence Service officers had tortured detainees. The announcement came in response to a report [text] published in August by the UK Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights [official website] calling for an independent inquiry [JURIST report] into allegations regarding government complicity in the torture of UK terrorism suspects. Miliband, joined by Home Secretary Alan Johnson [official profile] and MI6 Chief John Scarlett, denied the allegations [JURIST report], saying that the UK does not participate in or condone the use of torture. Allegations in the report include the complicity in torture of Mohamed before he was brought to Guantanamo Bay. In July, the UK Metropolitan Police Service announced that it was investigating the alleged mistreatment [JURIST report] of Mohamed by intelligence officers. Mohamed claims that he was tortured by Pakistani agents and interrogated by FBI and MI5 agents complicit in his abuse. He was transferred to Morocco, allegedly part of the CIA's extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive] program, where he claims that British agents supplied his torturers with questions.





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Pakistan authorities place Mumbai terror attack suspect under house arrest
Safiya Boucaud on September 21, 2009 11:14 AM ET

[JURIST] Pakistani authorities on Monday placed under house arrest the leader of an Islamist group suspected of playing a key role in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks [JURIST news archive]. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed [Global Jihad backgrounder], the founder and leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)[CFR backgrounder] was restricted from leaving his home by Pakistani authorities pursuant to Pakistani governmental orders. This is the second time Saeed has been placed on house arrest. In June, a Pakistani court ended [JURIST report] Saeed's house arrest after not having enough evidence to link him and his group to the Mumbai attacks. There is no word from authorities on how long Saeed will be under house arrest.

On Saturday, Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced that his government would indict seven suspects [JURIST report] in the Mumbai terror attacks, also requesting further evidence from India that Saeed was involved in planning the attacks. In August, India sentenced three terrorists to death for their part in similar attacks in 2003 [JURIST report]. In July, India announced that it would continue the trial [JURIST report] of a man suspected in the 2008 hotel attack [BBC backgrounder] that killed more than 100 people, despite his mid-trial confession [JURIST report]. Pakistan has postponed the trial of five others [JURIST report] allegedly connected with the 2008 attack. 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 to institute special courts [JURIST reports] to try suspects.






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France ex-PM goes on trial for Sarkozy defamation
Safiya Boucaud on September 21, 2009 10:03 AM ET

[JURIST] A French court on Monday began the trial of former prime minister Dominique de Villepin [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], accused of slandering businessmen and top politicians including current French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official website, in French; JURIST news archive]. De Villepin is accused [AFP report] of having orchestrated the release of a fabricated list of government officials and business people who profited from illegal arms sales, including Sarkozy. Twenty witnesses are expected to testify during the trial, which is likely to run until the end of October. If found guilty, de Villepin could face up to five years in jail and a €45,000 fine.

In November, de Villepin was ordered to stand trial [JURIST report] for "complicity in slanderous denunciation" in connection with a long-running political scandal known as the Clearstream Affair [BBC backgrounder]. In 2006, French authorities searched de Villepin's home and questioned [JURIST reports] him for 17 hours in connection with the scandal. De Villepin's political image was tainted by the allegations as well as by his advance of an unpopular youth labor law [JURIST news archive] during his time as prime minister.






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Germany parliament gives final approval to bill for ratifying EU reform treaty
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 21, 2009 8:48 AM ET

[JURIST] The German Bundesrat [official website] gave final approval to a bill [text, PDF, in German] Friday that will allow Germany to ratify the EU reform treaty, known as the Lisbon Treaty [EU materials; text]. Although both houses of Germany's parliament had previously approved the treaty [JURIST report], the German Constitutional Court [official website] ruled [judgment; JURIST report] in June that the treaty could not be ratified without certain parliamentary reforms ensuring Germany's sovereignty. The Bundestag [official website, in German], Germany's lower house of parliament, passed the bill [JURIST report], which was drafted [JURIST report] in August, by a vote of 494-46 with two abstentions earlier this month. The bill will now be signed into law by President Horst Koehler [official profile, in German], paving the way for the treaty's ratification.

Efforts to ratify [JURIST news archive] the treaty in all of the 27 member countries required for approval have met some obstacles. Although the treaty has been approved in 23 countries, Irish voters rejected [JURIST report] the treaty last June, leading Czech President Vaclav Klaus [official website] to refuse to sign the measure, despite approval [JURIST report] by the Czech Senate [official website]. Last July, Polish President Lech Kaczynski [official website] refused to sign [JURIST report] the treaty despite parliamentary approval, calling it "pointless" in light of the Irish rejection. Ireland agreed in June to hold a second referendum [JURIST report] after EU leaders agreed to certain concessions [presidency conclusions, PDF].






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Pakistan to indict seven for 2008 Mumbai attacks
Amelia Mathias on September 20, 2009 3:28 PM ET

[JURIST] Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced Saturday that his government would indict seven suspects in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks [JURIST news archive]. He also requested further evidence [AP report] from India that the head of the erstwhile-Islamic charity and fundamentalist terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba [CFR backgrounder], Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, was involved in planning the attacks. Recent reports on Saeed's involvement filed by Pakistan have been met with skepticism [Pakistan Daily Times report] by India National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan.

In August, India sentenced three terrorists to death for their part in similar attacks in 2003 [JURIST report]. 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 to institute special courts [JURIST reports] to try suspects. In July, India announced that it would continue the trial [JURIST report] of a man suspected in a 2008 hotel attack [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] that killed more than 100 people, despite his mid-trial confession [JURIST report]. Pakistan has postponed the trial of five others [JURIST report] allegedly connected with the 2008 attack.






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Two more Uighur Guantanamo detainees agree to Palau transfer: report
Amelia Mathias on September 20, 2009 12:20 PM ET

[JURIST] Two more Uighur detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] have agreed to be transferred [AP report] to Palau, their lawyer told the Associated Press Saturday. Six of the remaining 13 Uighurs in Guantanamo Bay are now set to be transferred to the Pacific island. The detainees have been cleared for transfer since District Judge Ricardo Urbina ordered their release [JURIST report] from Guantanamo last October, but difficulties in finding an appropriate place to relocate them have impeded their release. The US Congress must approve the transfer, a process which will take approximately two weeks.

Four Uighurs agreed earlier this month to move to Palau [JURIST report]. At the close of its 2008 session, the US Supreme Court still had not ruled on an appeal [JURIST report] by the remaining detained Uighurs to gain their release. The appeal followed a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to stay the release [JURIST report] ordered by Urbina last October. Amid the legal wrangling over the Uighurs in the US, the Chinese government has repeatedly called for the detainees to be repatriated to China [JURIST report], a request the US has been reluctant to accommodate. Palau President Johnson Toribong offered to accept the Uighurs in June while four Uighurs were transferred to Bermuda [JURIST reports] that month.






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California inmate reduction plan falls short of federal mandate
Steve Czajkowski on September 20, 2009 10:35 AM ET

[JURIST] The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) [official website] issued a plan [text, PDF; press release] Friday to reduce prison overcrowding as ordered [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] by a special panel of federal judges in August, but the plan falls short of the order's requirements. According to the CDCR, the plan could reduce the overcrowding rate from 190 percent to 155 percent in the next three years. This falls short of the federal court order requiring a reduction to 137.5 percent, or a release of nearly 43,000 inmates from the state's 33 prison facilities, in the next two years. The plan provides various ways of reducing the overcrowding rate including transferring more prisoners to out-of-state prisons, GPS monitoring of inmates who violate parole, commuting sentences of inmates who are eligible for deportation, and building new facilities or converting unused space. It is not clear what action the court will take against the CDCR for failing to meet its mandate, but options include [WSJ report] holding Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger [official website] in contempt of court or instituting its own plan. With its filing of the plan, the CDCR also said that is was not abandoning its appeal of the special panel's ruling to the US Supreme Court [official website].

Last week, the Supreme Court denied [JURIST report] California's request to stay the court order temporarily. The special panel's ruling was the result of a lawsuit [court materials] brought by two inmates against the state's prison system, alleging that the overcrowding had resulted in a failure to provide [Los Angeles Times report] adequate physical and mental health care, depriving them of their constitutional rights. The prison system in the state was originally built [San Francisco Chronicle report] to handle around 80,000 prisoners, and it is estimated that there are currently 168,000 inmates being held in those facilities.






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DOJ urges federal judge to reject Google book search settlement
Steve Czajkowski on September 20, 2009 9:39 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] filed a statement of interest [text, PDF; press release] Friday urging the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] to reject a class action settlement [Authors Guild backgrounder] in a copyright suit [case materials] against Google. In its statement, which comes after an investigation [JURIST report] into the agreement, the DOJ told Judge Denny Chin that the proposed settlement raises concerns over class action, copyright, and antitrust law. The DOJ called the agreement discussions productive and proposed modifications to the agreement that included placing limits on provisions for future licensing, providing more protection for unknown rights holders, addressing foreign authors' concerns, and providing a way for Google's competitors to gain comparable access. The DOJ's actions were lauded [press release] by the Open Book Alliance [advocacy website], a group composed of some of Google's main competitors and a number of writers' associations, which is opposed to the settlement in its current form. The settlement is expected to be reviewed by the court on October 7.

The case originated when two lawsuits were brought against Google by the Authors Guild, an advocacy group seeking to preserve copyright protection for authors, and by other plaintiffs including the Association of American Publishers (AAP) [organization website], McGraw-Hill, Penguin Group, and Simon & Schuster [corporate websites] over Google's book-scanning initiative [Google Book Search website]. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, which was reached [JURIST report] last October, Google would pay $125 million to authors and publishers of copyrighted works. In return, Google would be allowed to display online up to 20 percent of the total pages of a copyrighted book, and would offer users an opportunity to purchase the remainder of any viewed book.






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UN official calls on Sri Lanka to investigate war crimes allegations
Bhargav Katikaneni on September 19, 2009 11:29 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe [official profile] on Saturday urged the Sri Lankan government to conduct an independent inquiry into allegations of war crimes during the civil war against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [JURIST archive]. After a visit to camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) [IDMC backgrounder], Pascoe also said [UN News Centre report] that the Sri Lankan government must make quicker progress in shutting down such camps and working toward political reconciliation among the country's warring ethnic factions. Speaking a press conference in Colombo, Pascoe said:


Internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in Government-run camps in Sri Lanka lack basic rights of freedom of movement, and the country is not making the expected progress towards a lasting peace in the wake of the end earlier this year to fighting between military forces and Tamil rebels.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa [BBC profile] said that the government plans to resettle 265,000 displaced persons [BBC report] by January. In separate interviews, Rajapaksa pledged more development [press release] in the country to work toward a lasting peace, while accusing Western nations of hypocrisy [Indian Express report] for criticizing his plans.

In May, as the country's decades-long civil war was coming to an end, Rajapaksa denied [JURIST report] humanitarian groups full access to refugee camps, saying the camps still needed to be screened for rebel fighters. The UN and other organizations have accused [JURIST report] both the Sri Lankan military and LTTE of human rights violations during the conflict. The Sri Lankan government finished its internal investigation of human rights violations in June while refusing to permit [JURIST reports] an external probe to conduct a full investigation.





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Federal appeals court rules nonprofit political spending limits unconstitutional
Christian Ehret on September 19, 2009 10:33 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that Federal Election Commission (FEC) [official website] regulations restricting the political spending of nonprofit groups violates the First Amendment. The suit was brought by pro-choice group EMILY'S List [advocacy website], which challenged recent FEC rules limiting the spending of nonprofits on election-related activities, including advertising and voter registration efforts. Finding the regulations to be in violation of the First Amendment rights to political expression and association, the majority reversed the lower court's ruling. The court relied on the US Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo [opinion text], which held that "contribution and expenditure limitations operate in an area of the most fundamental First Amendment activities." Although the court recognized an established government interest in combating corruption, which can often justify campaign finance regulation, they found the interest to only apply to contributions to candidates and parties. The majority relied on precedent, finding that:


The Supreme Court's case law establishes that those nonprofit entities, like individual citizens, are constitutionally entitled to raise and spend unlimited money in support of candidates for elected office – with the narrow exception that, under Austin, the Government may restrict to some degree how non-profits spend donations received from the general treasuries of for-profit corporations or unions.

In addition to First Amendment violations, the court found that certain provisions exceeded the FEC's regulatory authority under the Federal Election Campaign Act [text, PDF]. Under the statute, the court argued, the FEC cannot require nonprofits to use "hard money" for exclusively state and local election activities.

Campaign reform legislation has raised First Amendment concerns in the past. Earlier this month, the US Supreme Court heard re-arguments [JURIST report] in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [Cornell LII backgrounder] to decide whether Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission [Oyez backgrounders] should be overturned in deciding the case. The case originally sought to decide if the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) [text, PDF] permits the Federal Election Commission (FEC) [official website] to regulate the release and advertising of a 90-minute documentary questioning then-Senator Hillary Clinton's (D-NY) qualifications to serve as US president. In August, a federal court held that a Connecticut campaign finance law [text] violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments [JURIST report]. The court held that the law, which provided public funding to candidates in elections for state offices, was a "severe burden on the political opportunity of minor party candidates."





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Argentina lower House approves new media ownership laws
Bhargav Katikaneni on September 19, 2009 10:15 AM ET

[JURIST] Argentina's Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Spanish] approved a bill Thursday that would create new media ownership rules and a new regulatory body to interpret those laws. Argentine President Christina Fernandez De Kirchner [official website; BBC profile] said the proposed law, which would limit how many licenses a media company could own as well as its market share, will create a more competitive media. Critics, including the country's biggest media group, Clarin [media website, in Spanish], said the move is directed at suppressing dissent in the country. The bill passed by a wide margin of 147-7, but more than 100 lawmakers walked out [Reuters report] in protest before the vote could be taken. The bill will now go before the Argentine Senate [official website, in Spanish].

According to news reports, Kirchner blames her 20 percent approval rating and a mid-term election loss on Clarin, which controls 46 percent of the Argentina cable market, and wants to pass the law before losing [VOA report] her Congressional majority in December. Last week, tax agents raided [BBC report] the Clarin newspaper office, and currently, Argentine judges are holding a hearing [AP report] to determine whether the children of a Clarin director are illegally adopted orphans from Argentina's so-called "Dirty War" [JURIST news archive].






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Federal judge delays Ohio execution after failed attempt
Christian Ehret on September 19, 2009 9:33 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge on Friday delayed the execution of Ohio death row inmate Romell Broom, following several failed attempts at administering a lethal injection on Tuesday. Judge Gregory Frost of the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio [official website] issued the order [AP report] following claims that the multiple attempts to find a vein during the two-hour procedure constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment [text]. Ohio law [ORC 2949.22 text] requires lethal injections to "quickly and painlessly cause death." The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio [advocacy website] is launching an investigation [press release] into the failed execution and is calling for increased transparency in the lethal injection process.

Broom was convicted of the 1984 rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl. Earlier this month, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit rejected [opinion, PDF] Broom's deprivation of rights [42 USC § 1983 text] challenge to the method of execution on timeliness grounds. The same court denied [opinion text] Broom's request for habeas relief in 2006. In July, Ohio completed the 1000th lethal injection [JURIST report] in the US since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. In June, the state introduced a new lethal injection procedure that requires officials to shake and call out [JURIST report] to the prisoner after a sedative has been administered.






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Former CIA directors urge Obama to suspend interrogation probe
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 18, 2009 4:41 PM ET

[JURIST] Seven former directors of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] sent a letter [text, PDF] to President Barack Obama Friday urging him to suspend Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] investigation into allegations of prisoner abuse by CIA interrogators. The letter, signed by former directors Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet, John Deutch, R. James Woolsey, William Webster, and James Schlesinger, urged Obama to halt the investigation [JURIST report], announced last month by Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile]. In the letter, the former directors wrote:


The post-September 11 interrogations for which the Attorney General is opening an inquiry were investigated four years ago by career prosecutors. The CIA, at its own initiative, forwarded fewer than 20 instances where Agency officers appeared to have acted beyond their existing legal authorities. Career prosecutors under the supervision of the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia determined that one prosecution (of a CIA contractor) was warranted. A conviction was later obtained. They determined that prosecutions were not warranted in the other cases. In a number of these cases the CIA subsequently took administrative disciplinary steps against the individuals involved. Attorney General Holder’s decision to re-open the criminal investigation creates an atmosphere of continuous jeopardy for those whose cases the Department of Justice had previously declined to prosecute. Moreover, there is no reason to expect that the re-opened criminal investigation will remain narrowly focused.

The letter urged Obama to reverse Holder's decision to investigate in order to keep with his stated desire to the future, rather than the past.

After Holder announced the investigation last month, former US vice president Dick Cheney [JURIST news archive] accused [JURIST report] Obama of backtracking on his promise to not prosecute CIA agents for alleged abuses of suspected terrorist detainees under the Bush administration, calling it a political move. Holder's decision to initiate a preliminary review followed a recommendation by the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) [official website]. The White House press secretary said [press release] that Obama would not prevent Holder from opening investigations. Also last month, the DOJ released [JURIST report] a much anticipated 2004 CIA inspector general report [text, PDF] detailing controversial interrogation techniques used on terror detainees.

9/19/09: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] has condemned [press release], calling on the DOJ "to conduct a comprehensive criminal investigation into the Bush administration's rendition, interrogation and detention program."





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DOJ seeks to dismiss Defense of Marriage Act challenge
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 18, 2009 3:46 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Friday filed a motion to dismiss [text, PDF] a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive]. The suit was filed [JURIST report] in March in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts [official website] by the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) [advocacy website] on behalf of a group of plaintiffs who are or have been married under the state's same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] law. In its motion, the DOJ argued that it should be up to Congress to decide whether to repeal the law:


Congress is entitled under the Constitution to address issues of social reform on a piecemeal, or incremental, basis. Congress is therefore permitted to provide benefits only to those who have historically been permitted to marry, without extending the same benefits to those only recently permitted to do so. Its decision to maintain the federal status quo while preserving the ability of States to grant marriage rights to same-sex couples is rational. Congress may subsequently decide to extend federal benefits to same-sex marriages, and this Administration believes that Congress should do so. But its decision not to do so to this point is not irrational or unconstitutional.

GLAD Legal Director Gary Buseck said [press release] he remained "confident in the justice of our cause and the strength of our case."

Earlier this week, 90 members of the US House of Representatives [official website] introduced [JURIST report] a bill [HR 3567 text] to repeal DOMA. Last month, a federal judge in California dismissed a challenge [JURIST report] to DOMA on jurisdictional grounds. In July, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley [official profile] filed a suit challenging [JURIST report] DOMA on the grounds that it interferes with the state's right to define and regulate marriage. Also in July, a Washington, DC law took effect [JURIST report] that recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states or jurisdictions. Currently, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Iowa, Connecticut, and Massachusetts [JURIST reports] all allow same-sex marriage. Signed by former president Bill Clinton [official profile], DOMA refuses federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples, including social security, tax laws, and immigration rights, and defines marriage as between a man and a woman.





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Spain judge indicts alleged Nazi guards
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 18, 2009 2:01 PM ET

[JURIST] A Spanish judge on Thursday indicted three alleged former Nazi guards for crimes against humanity and genocide. Judge Ismael Moreno issued arrest warrants for US residents Johann Leprich and Anton Tittjung and Austrian resident Josias Kumpf. The three allegedly participated in the torture and disappearance [El Pais report, in Spanish] of more than 4,300 Spaniards at the Mauthausen, Sachsenhausen and Flossenburg concentration camps. A Spanish prosecutor asked in May that arrest warrants be issued [JURIST report] under Spain's universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder] doctrine, which gives Spain jurisdiction over foreign torture, terrorism, and war crimes only if the case is not subject to the legal system of the country involved. The prosecutor did not seek a warrant for a fourth suspect, John Demjanjuk [JURIST news archive], who is currently awaiting trial as an accessory to murder [JURIST report] in Germany for his involvement at the Sobibor camp [Death Camp backgrounder].

The suit was initiated in June 2008 by rights group Equipo Nizkor [advocacy website], which petitioned [press release, in Spanish] Spain's National Court to press charges against the four accused guards. Demjanjuk, 89, has fought a lengthy legal battle [AP timeline] over his alleged involvement with Nazi death camps during World War II. He was deported to Germany [JURIST report] earlier this month, after the US Supreme Court [official website] denied his stay of deportation [JURIST report].






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Spain Council of State approves proposed abortion reforms
Ximena Marinero on September 18, 2009 12:31 PM ET

[JURIST] The Spanish Council of State [official website, in Spanish] unanimously approved on Thursday the proposed law [text, DOC in Spanish; summary, in Spanish] to reform the existing framework [text, in Spanish] that governs abortion in Spain, finding that proposed reforms constitutional. The proposed law would allow women to seek abortions voluntarily until the fourteenth week, and until the twenty-second week if there is risk to the mother's health or severe fetal malformation. The bill would allow women 16 years and older to elect to have an abortion. The Council of State, the highest advisory organ in the executive branch, approved [El Pais report, in Spanish] the project in its entirety making only the recommendation that women ages 16-17 should have to notify their parents about the procedure unless they have compelling reasons not to. The Council's approval is the final consultation in the executive branch before the bill, called the Law on Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy and Sexual and Reproductive Health, undergoes a final review by the Council of Ministers [official website, in Spanish]. The proposal will then be submitted to the legislative branch, the General Courts [official website, in Spanish], which will have final say over the terms of the law. Current Spanish abortion law dates from 1985, after the end of the Franco regime. It stipulates that abortions may be permitted only in cases of pregnancy from rape, severe fetal malformation, or if the pregnancy would imperil the mother's physical or mental health within the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy.

The changes were proposed [JURIST report] in March by a panel of legal and medical experts led by the Minister of Equality Bibiano Aido [official website, in Spanish], eliciting widespread protests [JURIST report] throughout Spain. The panel was formed [JURIST report] last September at the request of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero [official profile, in Spanish] as part of a series of social reforms including same-sex marriage [JURIST report] and streamlined divorce proceedings. The conservative Popular Party [official website, in Spanish] has repeatedly expressed the opinion [El Pais report, in Spanish] that relaxed abortion laws would stand in opposition to Article 15 of the Spanish Constitution [text, in Spanish], which guarantees the right to life. Spanish abortion laws [BBC backgrounder] are among the most restrictive in European nations.






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Massachusetts House approves bill allowing governor to fill vacant US Senate seat
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 18, 2009 12:06 PM ET

[JURIST] The Massachusetts House of Representatives voted 95-58 [roll call] Thursday in favor of a bill [text, PDF] to allow the governor to appoint a temporary replacement for the late Edward Kennedy (D-MA) on the US Senate [official websites]. The bill would allow Governor Deval Patrick [official website] to appoint an interim senator to serve until a special election scheduled for January 19. The bill originally included a provision requiring that the appointee be of the same party as Kennedy, but that provision was removed [Boston Globe report] after strong Republican opposition. The bill will now go before the Massachusetts Senate, where supporters hope it will be approved next week.

Kennedy passed away late last month, leaving his Senate seat vacant. Democrats hope to fill his seat with another Democrat as soon as possible in order to regain 60 seats, making them filibuster-proof. This is viewed as particularly important in the ongoing health care reform debate.






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Federal judge orders release of Kuwaiti Guantanamo detainee
Brian Jackson on September 18, 2009 9:02 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Thursday granted [order, PDF] the habeas corpus petition filed by Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Fouad Al Rabiah, ordering his release. Al Rabiah, a Kuwaiti national, had been held at Guantanamo Bay for nearly eight years under suspicion of aiding al Qaeda and the Taliban. There has been no official response from the Obama administration, but a Department of Justice [official website] spokesperson has said that the order, issued by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is under review [Reuters report]. An unclassified version of the memorandum opinion accompanying the release order is expected to be available next week.

Al Rabiah is one of several Kuwaitis remaining at Guantanamo. Last month, Kollar-Kotelly denied [JURIST report] the habeas petition of Kuwaiti Guantanamo detainee Fawzi Khalid Abdullah Fahad Al Odah. She found that the government had shown that it was more likely than not that he "became part of Taliban and al Qaeda forces" after traveling to Afghanistan and attending a terrorist training camp. In July, she ordered the release [JURIST report] of Kuwaiti detainee Khaled Al-Mutairi.

9/28/09: A partially redacted memorandum opinion [text, PDF] has been released.






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Indiana appeals court declares state voter identification law unconstitutional
Brian Jackson on September 18, 2009 8:05 AM ET

[JURIST] The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that the state's voter identification requirement is unconstitutional. The provision, section IC 3-11-8-25.1 [text] of the Indiana Code, required individuals who wished to cast an official ballot in person to show identification prior to doing so. The challenge was brought by the League of Women Voters [advocacy website] following a 2008 US Supreme Court decision upholding the law [JURIST report]. The three-judge panel reversed a dismissal at the trial court level, holding that presentation of photo identification was a procedural regulation, rather than an impermissible voting qualification, but that the law violated the Indiana constitution's Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause [text] by not requiring those who submit mail-in ballots, or those who reside at state-licensed care facilities that also happen to be polling places, to present identification:


It seems that the inconsistent and impartial treatment favoring voters who reside at state care facilities which also happen to be polling places could be excised from the Voter I.D. Law without destroying the primary objectives of the Law. However, the same cannot be said for the inconsistent and partial treatment favoring absentee voters who choose to mail their votes without destroying the opportunity for mailing votes.

Following the ruling, Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita released a statement [text] condemning the persistent litigation, and said that the state will seek immediate appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Voter rights is a contentious issue that has been the subject of widespread litigation in the US. In early July, a coalition of advocacy groups filed suit [JURIST report] against Indiana and New Mexico, alleging that both states violate the "Motor Voter Act" [text] by not providing voter registration cards at public assistance agencies. In June, the US Department of Justice rejected a Georgia practice [JURIST report] that would use driver's license and Social Security databases to identify voters. In October 2008, a federal court enjoined [opinion, PDF] Georgia from using that same practice in elections. In January of this year, however, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Georgia voting law [JURIST report] that, like the law at issue in Indiana, required voters to present government-issued identification in order to vote.





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Former Rwanda official pleads guilty to complicity in genocide
Andrew Morgan on September 17, 2009 5:11 PM ET

[JURIST] A former Rwandan government official pleaded guilty [press release] Thursday to one count of complicity in genocide before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website]. Michel Bagaragaza [ICTR materials; Trial Watch profile] accepted charges that he funded, trained, and provided weapons to the Interahamwe [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], an extremist Hutu militia that was responsible for the deaths of thousands of ethnic Tutsi during the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder]. Prosecutors submitted an amended complaint with the plea agreement that withdrew genocide and conspiracy to commit genocide charges against the former director general of OCIR-Tea [official website], the agency which oversees Rwanda's tea industry. A sentencing hearing is planned for November 2.

Bagaragaza was transferred [JURIST report] in May 2008 to the ICTR in Arusha, Tanzania, after a Dutch court ruled that it did not have jurisdiction to try his case. In August 2007, the ICTR revoked [JURIST report] a previous order transferring Bagaragaza's case to a local court in the Netherlands after the country expressed doubt that its court system could handle the trial. In 2006, the ICTR denied [JURIST report] prosecutors' request to transfer Bagaragaza's trial to Norway because Norway did not have a specific law against genocide. Bagaragaza surrendered [JURIST report] to the ICTR in August 2005.






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Federal judge orders Pittsburgh to grant permit for G-20 'tent city' demonstration
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 17, 2009 4:17 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania [official website] ruled Thursday that the City of Pittsburgh [official website] must allow a tent city protest during next week's Group of 20 (G-20) [official website] summit [official website], but that it could deny permits to two other groups. In response to a lawsuit [JURIST report] brought last week by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy websites], Judge Gary Lancaster ruled [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report] that the city must issue a permit to CodePink [advocacy website] to set up a tent city in Point State Park [official website] in the days before the summit. Lancaster also ruled that the city could deny permits to the Thomas Merton Center [advocacy website] to hold a march through downtown and rally on a bridge and to other groups wishing to camp overnight in Schenley Park [official website]. CCR Vice President and University of Pittsburgh School of Law professor Jules Lobel said [press release]:


We regret the judge did not see eye-to-eye with us in allowing the groups to camp and rally. ... It is a still a great victory, however, that CodePink and Three Rivers Climate Convergence will be able to erect a symbolic tent city in the main park in downtown Pittsburgh and be heard during the G-20.

Since the suit was filed, the city granted permits [NYT report] to three of the original plaintiffs - the G6 Billion group and Bail Out the People, seeking to hold marches, and a group of artists seeking to use a city park.

Earlier this week, the Pittsburgh City Council [official website] passed [JURIST report] an ordinance [text, PDF] in anticipation of the G-20 summit that will allow police to cite people in possession of certain items if they intend to use them unlawfully. The temporary ordinance, passed in anticipation of protests at the summit scheduled for September 24 and 25, expires at the end of the month. It prohibits the possession of tools or other items such as handcuffs, padlocks, and pipes with an intent to use those items to block access to streets, sidewalks, and public buildings or to defeat crowd control orders. A proposal to ban masks and hoods [text, PDF] during the summit was voted down [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report] by the City Council last week.





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UK government to review control order system
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 17, 2009 3:28 PM ET

[JURIST] UK Home Secretary Alan Johnson [official profile] said Wednesday that the government will conduct a review of the control order [Guardian backgrounder; JURIST news archive] house arrest system in light of a June Law Lords ruling [judgment, PDF; JURIST report] requiring the government to let detainees know generally what charges they face so that they can mount a defense. Johnson issued a ministerial statement [text] saying that his "current assessment is ... that the control order regime remains viable," but that he would "be keeping this assessment under review." Speaking before the Police Superintendents' annual conference, Johnson said [text]:

[Control orders] are not and never were intended to be the first line of defence.

Where an individual is suspected of terrorist activity, our first objective will always be for that person to be tried and prosecuted in an open court, or deported if they are foreign nationals.

But there is a very small number of people who undoubtedly pose a substantial threat to public safety, and who for good reason, we can neither prosecute nor deport. ...

Control orders are a practical and proportionate legislative tool that can be applied in such cases. They are not perfect and one day, I hope they won't be necessary. But for a handful of people, they remain the best option we have for ensuring the public is safe and our security services are able to do their work effectively. That is why I announced in a ministerial statement issued an hour ago that I have decided to maintain the availability of control orders within the constrains of the House of Lords judgement.
Johnson also announced that he had asked the independent reviewer of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 [text], Lord Carlile of Berriew [official profile], to review the impact of the Law Lords judgment.

Johnson's announcement comes as last week, the UK Home Office [official website] released a top terrorism suspect [JURIST report] from a control order because it did not want to reveal secret evidence. In August, a control order against a suspected terrorist known as AN was overturned [judgment text; JURIST report] by the UK High Court. At that time Johnson had announced plans [BBC report] to draft a new control order against AN. The UK Law Lords ruled [JURIST report] in a series of decisions last 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 violate human rights. Control orders allow the British government to conduct surveillance and impose house arrest on suspects where there does not exist enough evidence to prosecute. The orders can also be used to forbid the use of mobile phones and the Internet.





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Virginia court sets November execution date for DC sniper
Andrew Morgan on September 17, 2009 2:31 PM ET

[JURIST] A Virginia court on Wednesday set a November 10 execution date for John Allen Muhammad [BBC profile], who was convicted of murder in 2005 for his role in a series of DC-area sniper shootings [JURIST news archive]. Prosecutors had sought to schedule [AP report] the execution for Monday, November 9, but Judge Mary Grace O'Brien of the Prince William County Circuit Court [official website] moved the date back one day to allow for last minute appeals [BBC report]. Muhammad's attorneys plan [AFP report] to ask Virginia governor Timothy Kaine for clemency, and to appeal Muhammad's death sentence to the US Supreme Court.

In August, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] upheld [JURIST report] the Virginia death sentence, despite Muhammad's allegations of "nondisclosure of exculpatory information by the prosecution" and "ineffective assistance of ... trial counsel." In 2007, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that a Maryland court did not err in finding Muhammad competent to stand trial in Maryland. Muhammad was sentenced in Maryland in June 2006 to six consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole following his conviction [JURIST reports] by a Maryland jury of six counts of murder. Maryland prosecutors did not seek the death penalty but wanted a second conviction in case his earlier Virginia conviction [JURIST reports] was overturned on appeal. Accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo [BBC profile], who pleaded guilty to the Virginia charges and received a life sentence, testified [JURIST reports] in the Maryland case that Muhammad pulled the trigger in five of the six killings there.






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US seeking 60-day delay in Guantanamo military trials
Brian Jackson on September 17, 2009 12:30 PM ET

[JURIST] The Obama administration on Wednesday sought a two-month delay [brief, PDF] in trials for detainees at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] while new options are considered. While trials have been on hold since President Barack Obama announced the planned closure of Guanatanamo [JURIST report] in January, the government declared its intention in a filing with the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in the case of Ramzi bin al-Shibh [JURIST news archive], a Guantanamo detainee who has been held since 2002. The government filed a brief in response to a motion to stay proceedings and a petition [texts, PDF] to rule the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [text, PDF] unconstitutional [JURIST report] filed by al-Shibh's lawyers. One of the options being considered by the administration to handle the cases of the more than 200 detainees still at Guantanamo is moving the trials to federal court [Washington Post report], an option that is also being considered for al-Shibh.

While the Obama administration decides what to do with Guantanamo detainees who are under investigation or who have been charged with crimes, a number of former detainees are being relocated around the globe. On Wednesday, Hungary said that it would select one Guantanamo detainee [JURIST report] to be relocated who is not under investigation by the US, and who cannot return to his home country. Earlier this month, three Chinese Uighur Muslims agreed [JURIST report] to be relocated to the Pacific island nation of Palau. In late August, Portugal accepted two Syrian nationals , and five other EU members agreed [JURIST reports] to give serious consideration to receiving former detainees.






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California courts implementing monthly closures to ease budget crisis
Brian Jackson on September 17, 2009 11:51 AM ET

[JURIST] California courts were closed Wednesday in the first of what will be a monthly shut down of the judiciary in an effort to reduce the state's budget gap. The closures were authorized as part of California Code 68070 [text], which allows for closure of the courts one day per month, "for the transaction of judicial business for one day per month and may adopt rules of court to implement this section." While the move may slow some court business, one provision of the code does mandate that a court officer:


be available for the signing of any necessary documents on an emergency basis during the time a court is closed under this section on the same basis as a judicial officer is available on Saturdays, Sundays, and judicial holidays, and any other time a court is closed.

California court employees held a rally [San Jose Mercury News report] Wednesday to protest the closures, arguing that court closures harm the public, an opinion echoed [SDNN report] by California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George [official profile]. The once monthly court closures, which will take place the third Wednesday of each month until June 2010, are expected to save the state [AP report] approximately $84 million.

Court closures are the latest money-saving tactic employed by California in the wake of state-wide budget issues, including a $26.3 billion state budget deficit [TIME report]. The Regents of the University of California recently indicated they would agree to student fee increases [San Jose Mercury News report] of 32 percent, one day after students and faculty at the 10 state-wide campuses called for a walkout [San Francisco Chronicle report] on the first scheduled day of classes to protest how the UC system has handled the budget crisis. In Los Angeles, the city council on Wednesday approved a plan for layoffs and furloughs [Los Angeles Times report] for city employees to counter the city's $400 million budget shortfall.





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FBI director reports on terrorism interrogations at Senate Judiciary hearing
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 17, 2009 10:47 AM ET

[JURIST] FBI Director Robert Mueller [official profile] addressed the FBI's role in leading the new specialized interrogation group to question top terrorist suspects as well as many other topics in a wide ranging oversight hearing [materials; recorded video] before the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Wednesday. Mueller said that the new interrogation panel [JURIST report] will be a "joint effort" between the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website]. In prepared remarks, Mueller said that while "safeguarding ... national security remains [the] primary concern," the FBI has also been making progress in other areas, such as combating white collar and violent crime. Mueller said that as of July 31, the FBI had more than 2,600 mortgage fraud cases pending, up from 1,600 cases in 2008, and that the agency has redirect resources into this area. Mueller also responded to a question about a recent Associated Press report [text] that the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) [official website] have been in conflict over each agency's responsibilities, saying that "as the inspector general points out, there are still issues." Mueller also denied that there is a proposal under consideration to strip protections from FBI whistleblowers.

Last month, the New York Times reported [text; JURIST report] that eight years after 9/11 [JURIST news archive], counterterrorism efforts continue to dominate the operations and budget of the FBI. Since the attacks, the bureau has doubled the number of agents it assigns to counterterrorism efforts and has created specialized "threat squads" to investigate possible threats. In March, Mueller told the Judiciary Committee that the rise in financial fraud investigations is limiting the ability [JURIST report] of the FBI to fight other crimes. In February, the FBI announced [JURIST report] that it was looking at shifting a number of agents from national security and counter terrorism activities to investigations involving financial fraud.






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EPA to review national smog standards regulations
Christian Ehret on September 17, 2009 9:37 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] on Wednesday announced [press release] that they would reconsider 2008 national smog standards regulations [text] to ensure accuracy and public health. After a thorough review of the scientific methods behind the existing standards, the EPA will propose revisions by December and will issue a final decision by August 2010. Ground-level ozone, referred to as smog, has been linked to respiratory health issues and adverse effects on the environment. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson addressed the decision to reconsider, saying:


This is one of the most important protection measures we can take to safeguard our health and our environment. Smog in the air we breathe can cause difficulty breathing and aggravate asthma, especially in children. Reconsidering these standards and ensuring acceptable levels of ground-level ozone could cut health care costs and make our cities healthier, safer places to live, work and play.

In addition to reviewing the current standards, the agency will also study the findings of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee [official website], which originally recommended stricter requirements.

The decision to review the smog standards came in response to a legal challenge [JURIST report] filed by Earthjustice [advocacy website] on behalf of several environmental organizations. The suit alleged that the EPA ignored the input of top scientists before issuing its smog regulations [JURIST report] in March 2008. The EPA has the power to monitor ozone levels under the Clean Air Act [text, PDF].





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US closes controversial Camp Bucca prison in Iraq
Christian Ehret on September 17, 2009 7:37 AM ET

[JURIST] The US closed [press release] the Camp Bucca [backgrounder] prison facility in Southern Iraq Wednesday, pursuant to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [text, PDF]. The remaining detainees were transferred from Camp Bucca, once the largest US detention facility in Iraq, to the two remaining US prison facilities, Camp Cropper and Camp Taji. Since the SOFA took effect on January 1, 5,703 prisoners have been released [JURIST report], while 8,305 remain in US custody. According to the agreement, the Iraqi government must have arrest warrants or detention orders to accept transferred prisoners into Iraqi facilities, otherwise risking release. Under the SOFA, the US must release all prisoners or transfer them to the control of the Iraqi government by 2011.

In anticipation of prisoner releases and transfers, the US began building a facility [JURIST report] in July to train Iraqi corrections officers. In November, Iraqi human rights activists expressed concern about the treatment of detainees [JURIST report] due to be transferred from US military custody to Iraqi authorities under the then-proposed security agreement. In August 2008, the US military said that it had released more than 10,000 Iraqi detainees [JURIST report] over the past year. Also that month, six US sailors were charged [JURIST report] for allegedly abusing detainees at Camp Bucca. Camp Bucca was at the center of controversy in 2003 when the so-called Taguba report [text, PDF] detailed instances of detainee abuse and found that the detention camp was well over its carrying capacity.






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Myanmar authorities bar Suu Kyi from attending appeal hearing
Ximena Marinero on September 17, 2009 7:05 AM ET

[JURIST] Myanmar authorities have denied [AFP report] a request from opposition pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to attend arguments on her appeal, her National League for Democracy (NLD) [party website] party told the Agence France-Presse Wednesday. NLD spokesperson and lawyer for Suu Kyi, Nyan Win, said an application to the police special information branch to be present for Friday's arguments was rejected. Government officials defended [AP report] that decision Thursday in commentary published in state newspaper Myanma Ahlin [text, PDF, in Burmese/Myanmar], saying that unless the court specifically required the presence of a defendant, the appeals process, including judgment, could be completed without her presence.

Earlier this month, the Divisional Court in Rangoon agreed to hear the appeal of Suu Kyi's recent conviction [JURIST reports] for violating state security laws. Suu Kyi was sentenced to an additional 18 months of house arrest for allowing American John Yettaw to stay in her home after he swam across a lake to get there. Yettaw, who was sentenced to seven years in prison with four years of hard labor, was released [JURIST report] last month after negotiations with US Senator Jim Webb (D-VA). Suu Kyi has spent 14 of the last 20 years in detention, and her latest conviction has been condemned [BBC report] by many world leaders and has given rise to international sanctions [JURIST report] against Myanmar's junta and members of the judiciary.






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Pittsburgh to cite G-20 demonstrators for intending illegal use of protest items
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 16, 2009 3:38 PM ET

[JURIST] The Pittsburgh City Council [official website] on Wednesday passed an ordinance [text, PDF] in anticipation of the upcoming Group of 20 (G-20) [official website] summit [official website] that will allow police to cite people in possession of certain items if they intend to use them unlawfully. The temporary ordinance, passed in anticipation of protests at the summit scheduled for September 24 and 25, expires at the end of the month. It prohibits the possession of tools or other items such as handcuffs, padlocks, and pipes with an intent to use those items to block access to streets, sidewalks, and public buildings or to defeat crowd control orders. Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Mike Huss said that the ordinance will help to protect the public [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report]. Councilman William Peduto [official profile], the only member of council to vote against the ordinance, said that laws prohibiting protesters from blocking access to streets and sidewalks and requiring them to obey dispersal orders already exist and that the ordinance allows officers "to make a judgment call not on an act but on an assumption of an act," exposing the city to federal lawsuits.

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] claiming that the US Secret Service, the City of Pittsburgh, and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources [official website] are acting illegally by failing to issue protest permits for the summit. The ACLU claims that the failure to issue protest permits for certain areas of the city is a violation of the First Amendment right to peaceful protest. In its complaint, the rights group argued for injunctive and declaratory relief claiming that only two protest permits have been issued so far for the G-20, and those two permits were far away from downtown Pittsburgh. A federal judge heard arguments [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report] in the suit Wednesday. A proposal to ban masks and hoods [text, PDF] during the summit was voted down [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report] by the City Council last week.






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Taiwan court denies ex-president Chen's release pending appeal
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 16, 2009 2:23 PM ET

[JURIST] The Taipei District Court has ruled that former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] will not be released on bail, according to an aide Wednesday. Chen was found guilty on corruption charges and sentenced to life in prison [JURIST report] last week. Under Taiwanese law, the life sentence will be automatically appealed, but Chen has also appealed the corruption conviction. Chen had sought release on bail pending appeal, but the three-judge panel rejected his request, finding [AFP report] that he posed a flight risk and that he could destroy evidence or collude with other suspects. Chen's aide said that Chen, who was maintained his innocence and called the charges politically motivated, was disappointed by the ruling.

Last month, Chen filed suit [JURIST report] against the three judges hearing his corruption case, accusing them of illegally prolonging his detention. Chen was indicted [JURIST report] on corruption charges in December. He has staged three hunger strikes in protest of the charges against him, and in January he unsuccessfully appealed [JURIST reports] his pretrial detention. 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.






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Hungary to accept Guantanamo detainee
Steve Czajkowski on September 16, 2009 1:47 PM ET

[JURIST] The Hungarian government said [press release, in Hungarian] Wednesday that it would accept one prisoner of its choosing from those still held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] in order to aid in the closure of the detention center. According to a statement [text, in Hungarian] by Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai [official profile], Hungary will accept a detainee from a list of candidates who will participate in an 18-month controlled integration process in the country. Bajnai said his country will receive a Palestinian man. Bajnai also added that the candidate will be one who is not under investigation or subject to any judicial proceedings in the US or abroad, and must be one who is not able to return to his home country.

Earlier this month, US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] general counsel Jeh Johnson [official profile] said that the Obama administration was still hoping to meet the January deadline [JURIST report] for closing the detention center at Guantanamo but that there were many challenges. The primary obstacle is the question of what should be done with detainees who cannot be released. Officials are reportedly still considering creating a military-civilian prison facility that would house its own court at a site in Michigan, but local residents have strongly opposed [JURIST reports] the plan. Officials are also considering trying detainees in federal courts, with cases assigned to federal prosecutors [JURIST report].






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Israel rejects UN call for independent inquiry into Gaza war crimes allegations
Steve Czajkowski on September 16, 2009 12:31 PM ET

[JURIST] Israeli officials on Wednesday rejected a call by the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict [official website] to establish an independent inquiry into accusations of war crimes during December and January's Operation Cast Lead [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] in the Gaza Strip [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The establishment of independent inquiry is one of the key suggestions from the UN report [text, PDF; JURIST report] issued Tuesday, which found that Israel impermissibly disregarded the welfare of civilians, failed to look into alleged misconduct by its soldiers, and used white phosphorous [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] in violation of international law during the conflict. In emphasizing Israel's stance on the commission's findings, President Shimon Peres harshly rebuked [statement] the conclusions of the report:


The Goldstone Commission report is a mockery of history. It fails to distinguish between the aggressor and a state exercising its right for self defense. War itself is a crime. The aggressor is the criminal. The side exercising self-defense has no other alternative.

The Israeli leadership is currently reaching out through diplomatic channels [Australian report] in order to lower the impact of the report. The UN commission also recommended [Times Online report] that Israel be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] if it does not conduct an independent investigation.

While much emphasis has been placed on the Israeli side of the conflict, the report also found that Palestinian fighters committed possible war crimes by firing mortars indiscriminately into civilian areas and mistreating prisoner of war Gilad Shalit [JURIST news archive] in violation of the Third Geneva Convention [text]. The mission began its field operations in Gaza in June, entering Gaza through Egypt's Rafah crossing after Israel announced that it would not cooperate with the investigation because it doubted the mission's objectivity, and concluded hearings [JURIST reports] in July. The probe followed a previous report [text, PDF; JURIST report], authored by UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, 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 to establish consolidated women's rights agency
Amelia Mathias on September 16, 2009 10:17 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN General Assembly [official website] passed [press release] a resolution [materials] Monday to consolidate four agencies to create one large, overarching department that will be responsible for women's rights development. The UN Development Fund for Women, the Division for the Advancement of Women, the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues, and the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women will be collapsed into one department [UN News Centre report], headed by an under-secretary-general. The resolution:


Strongly supports the consolidation of the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, the Division for the Advancement of Women, the United Nations Development Fund for Women and the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, into a composite entity, taking into account the existing mandates.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] supported the resolution [press release], and he is to have the department operational [Reuters report] within a year.

Women's rights continue to be a controversial issue around the world. Last week, the president of Mali refused to sign a new law expanding women's rights after mass protests [JURIST reports] against it. Last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that an Afghan Shi'ite law, amended to remove a provision requiring a wife to submit to sex with her husband, still violates [JURIST reports] women's rights. In November, HRW reported in anticipation of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women [advocacy website] that female domestic workers still face abusive and exploitative treatment [JURIST report] throughout Asia and the Middle East.





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US lawmakers introduce bill to repeal Defense of Marriage Act
Amelia Mathias on September 16, 2009 9:20 AM ET

[JURIST] Ninety members of the US House of Representatives [official website] introduced [press release] a bill [HR 3567 text] Tuesday to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive]. Signed by former president Bill Clinton [official profile], DOMA refuses federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples [JURIST news archive], including social security, tax laws, and immigration rights, and defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Clinton has stated his support [press release] for the the new bill, the goals of which President Barack Obama [official website] supported during his candidacy. Called the Respect for Marriage Act and introduced by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) [official site], the new bill would permit states to define marriage individually:


For the purposes of any Federal law in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be considered married if that individual's marriage is valid in the State where the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside any State, if the marriage is valid in the place where entered into and the marriage could have been entered into in a State.

No date has been set for voting on the bill, and it is unlikely to be a priority [NYT report] for the current session of Congress.

Last month, a federal judge in California dismissed a challenge [JURIST report] to DOMA on jurisdictional grounds. In July, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley [official profile] filed a suit challenging [JURIST report] DOMA on the grounds that it interferes with the state's right to define and regulate marriage. 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. Also in July, a Washington, DC law took effect [JURIST report] that recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states or jurisdictions. Currently, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Iowa, Connecticut, and Massachusetts [JURIST reports] all allow same-sex marriage.





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France lower house approves new version of Internet piracy bill
Ximena Marinero on September 16, 2009 8:08 AM ET

[JURIST] The French National Assembly [official website, in French] voted 285-225 Tuesday to approve a new version [text, in French] of a controversial Internet piracy law [text, in French] after portions of it were rejected [decision, in French; JURIST report] in June by the Constitutional Council [official website, in French]. The new version leaves discretion to suspend a user's Internet services to a judge after the Constitutional Council ruled that the power to restrict the fundamental right of accessing the Internet should not be entrusted to an administrative authority, as the original version [JURIST report] had proposed. The determination to suspend access for up to one year would be made on an infringer's third violation, after previously receiving two warnings. Consumers could be sanctioned for negligence for any illegal downloading unauthorized users conduct through their Internet accounts. Opponents of the bill argued that it still does not sufficiently afford an alleged infringer a meaningful way to challenge accusations. The French Senate [official website, in French] approved [JURIST report] a slightly different version of the bill in July, and a parliamentary commission will now reconcile the two versions before a final vote is conducted next week. The bill continues to generate controversy and Socialist members of parliament who oppose it have not ruled out another challenge to it in the Constitutional Council.

Other European governments are also taking steps to combat Internet piracy. Last month, the British Department for Business Innovation and Skills [official website] proposed stricter sanctions [JURIST report] against illegal file-sharing that would include restricting and suspending user Internet access. The proposed regulations would be managed by an administrative agency, the Office of Communications (Ofcom) [official website], which would report to Business Secretary Lord Peter Mandelson [BBC profile] recommending action against specific users. The measures could be implemented before initial year 2012 projections. While the proposal was welcomed by media industries, it provoked strong rejection among consumers and service providers. The government's consultation period on the subject is now due to close on September 29 after it was extended when changes to the proposal were announced.






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Afghanistan electoral commission orders recount at 10 percent of polls
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 15, 2009 3:37 PM ET

[JURIST] The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) [official website] in Afghanistan said Tuesday that ballots from about 10 percent of polls need to be recounted because of allegations of fraud in last month's presidential election. Canadian head of the ECC Grant Kippen said that ballots from about 2,500 polling places [AFP report] with clear and convincing evidence of fraud will be recounted. A recount could mean that President Hamid Karzai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], who currently has more than 54 percent of the vote, could be forced into a runoff election if the recount gives him less than 50 percent of the vote. A spokesperson for Karzai's main rival, Abdullah Abdullah [BBC profile], said that the recount was a step in the right direction but that the fraud is much more widespread [NYT report]. Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Tuesday that the European Union (EU) is urging a further probe [AP report] into allegations of fraud.

Last week, the ECC invalidated ballots [JURIST report] from certain polls in Kandahar, Ghazni, and Paktika [press releases, PDF] provinces. The ECC also ordered the Independent Election Commission (IEC) [official website] to conduct a partial recount [JURIST report] of votes from polling stations with high irregularities. The IEC said earlier this month that it is conducting its role faithfully and impartially [JURIST report] in an attempt to reassure the Afghan public amid allegations of voter fraud, mainly in response to the more than 100 complaints [JURIST report] filed with the ECC by Abdullah's campaign alleging ballot stuffing, inflated vote counts, and intimidation at the polls by Karzai supporters. Election observers also reported at least two instances of voters fingers, marked with indelible ink to avoid voter fraud, being cut off by Taliban insurgents [Los Angeles Times report].






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UN report finds evidence both Israel and Palestine committed Gaza war crimes
Matt Glenn on September 15, 2009 1:53 PM ET

[JURIST] Both Israel and Palestine committed war crimes that may amount to crimes against humanity during December and January's Operation Cast Lead [Global Security backgrounder] in the Gaza strip, according to a report [text, PDF; press release] released Tuesday by the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict [official website] headed by Richard Goldstone. The report found that Israel regularly impermissibly disregarded the welfare of civilians and even targeted civilians during the conflict in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention [texts]. The report also found that Israel failed to look into alleged misconduct by its soldiers and used white phosphorous [Global Security backgrounder] in violation of international law. The report accused Palestinian fighters of firing mortars indiscriminately into civilian areas and mistreating prisoner of war Gilad Shalit [JURIST news archive] in violation of the Third Geneva Convention [text]. Israel dismissed the report [MFA press release] as prejudiced and one-sided, citing the large number of countries that did not support the fact finding mission. The report, which will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council September 29, recommends that the UN Security Council [official websites] order Israel to investigate allegations of war crimes and prosecute any offenders. The report also recommended that a copy be sent to the International Criminal Court [official website] and that signatories of the Geneva Conventions begin to use universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder; JURIST news archive] where possible to investigate and prosecute grave violations of the Conventions.

Last month, a separate report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] concluded [JURIST report] that Israel's Operation Cast Lead violated international law as well as Palestinian rights. The mission began its field operations in Gaza in June, entering Gaza through Egypt's Rafah crossing after Israel announced that it would not cooperate with the investigation because it doubted the mission's objectivity, and concluded hearings [JURIST reports] in July. Goldstone was appointed to head the investigation [JURIST report] in April, amid strong criticism [JURIST report] from Israel. The probe follows a previous report [text, PDF; JURIST report], authored by UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, 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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ICTY approves release of former Bosnian Serb president
Safiya Boucaud on September 15, 2009 10:43 AM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] announced Tuesday that it has approved [decision, PDF] the release of former Bosnian president Biljana Plavsic [ICTY materials; BBC profile]. Her sentence was commuted after she served only two-thirds of her 11-year sentence for persecution. In giving the reasons for the commutation, the judge wrote:


I note first that she appears to have demonstrated substantial evidence of rehabilitation. Although previously taken into consideration at the time of her sentencing, Mrs. Plavsic's guilty plea indicates that she accepted responsibility for her crimes from an early stage of the proceedings. At the sentencing hearing, Mrs. Plavsic expressed her remorse and accepted that "[t]he knowledge that I am responsible for such human suffering and for soiling the character of my people will always be with me. In her statement in support of her motion for a change of plea it was also stated: "By accepting responsibility and expressing her remorse fully and unconditionally, Mrs. Plavsic hopes to offer some consolation to the innocent victims [ ... ] of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Plavsic, an ethnic Serb, will be eligible for conditional release from the Swedish prison where she is being held on October 27, but no specific release date has been set.

Plavsic pleaded guilty in 2001 to eight charges of war crimes for her part in planning the ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. Plavsic was initially indicted together with Momcilo Krajisnik [ICTY materials; JURIST news archive], the former Bosnian Serb parliamentary leader who was sentenced [JURIST report] to 20 years in prison for his crimes against humanity. Earlier this week, the war crimes trial began [JURIST report] for former high ranking Bosnian Serb officials Mico Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin [ICTY materials]. The two are accused of taking part in a criminal enterprise that also included Plavsic, Krajisnik, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic [JURIST news archives]. In 2006, the Bosnian Ambassador petitioned [JURIST report] for Plavsic's release in a letter to Sweden's former Foreign Minister saying Plavsic was in poor health and also criticizing the conditions of the prison.





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Iraq shoe-throwing journalist released from prison
Safiya Boucaud on September 15, 2009 9:29 AM ET

[JURIST] The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at former US president George W. Bush was released from prison Tuesday. Muntader al-Zaidi [BBC profile] was originally sentenced to three years on charges of assaulting a foreign leader but later had his sentence reduced [JURIST reports] to one year on a lesser charge of insulting a foreign leader. He was released after serving only nine months because of good behavior. Upon his release, al-Zaidi claimed that he was beaten with pipes and steel cables and that he received electric shocks during his first days in custody.

The shoe-throwing incident occurred at a December 14, 2008, joint news conference [transcript] at which Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [BBC profile] signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [text, PDF; JURIST news archive] governing the future US military presence in the country. Al-Zaidi, who had allegedly suffered brutality first hand in Iraq having been kidnapped and released by Shiite militiamen in 2007 [WP report], testified before a three-judge panel that his actions were meant to restore Iraqi citizens' pride.






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Niger opposition leader charged with corruption after protesting constitution
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 15, 2009 9:05 AM ET

[JURIST] A Niger opposition leader who opposed a constitutional referendum [JURIST report] to allow President Mamadou Tandja [BBC profile] to remain in office said Monday that he had been charged with financial crimes. Mahamadou Issoufou, leader of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) [party website, in French], claims the corruption charges are politically motivated [BBC report]. The charges against Issoufou come after three former lawmakers and a parliament official were jailed [AFP report] last week for embezzlement and 30 former lawmakers were arrested for embezzlement [JURIST report] earlier this month. Issoufou, who was barred from leaving the country [AFP report] last week, has been released on bail.

The Niger opposition has pledged to oppose [JURIST report] Tandja's new constitution. Among the constitutional changes is the abolition of a presidential two-term limit, allowing Tandja to remain in office for three more years [AFP report] and to run in any subsequent elections. The new constitution also allows the president to appoint one third of the members [CBC report] of a newly-created Senate, and establishes a media-monitoring position that would have the authority to jail reporters thought to present a threat to the country. In June, opposition leader Bazoum Mohamed of the PNDS accused Tandja of committing a coup d'etat [JURIST report] by annulling the West African country's Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court ruled in May that plans to hold a referendum on allowing a third term were unconstitutional. Tandja responded to the ruling by dissolving parliament and assuming emergency powers.






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US takes seat on UN rights council
Matt Glenn on September 15, 2009 8:04 AM ET

[JURIST] The US officially took its place on the UN Human Rights Council [official website] for the first time Monday. In an address [text] to the council, US Assistant Secretary for the Organization of International Affairs Esther Brimmer [official profile] discussed four themes the US sees as key to its role on the council: the universality of human rights, the importance of dialogue between countries, the application of fundamental principles of human rights, and the need for truth and honesty in confronting human rights violations. Brimmer acknowledged that the US had made mistakes regarding human rights in the past but noted the progress of the US in correcting those lapses. The US's term on the council will expire in 2011.

Last month, several human rights organizations criticized [JURIST report] the council's election process, alleging vote trading and a lack of effective candidates. The US was among 18 countries elected [JURIST report] to the council in May. In April, the US State Department [official website] released [press release; JURIST report] its commitments and pledges to human rights in anticipation of May election. The US announced its intent to seek a seat on the council [JURIST report] in early April, hoping to affect more change by working from inside the council than by boycotting the effort. The UNHRC was created [JURIST report] in 2006 to replace the much-criticized Committee on Human Rights, at which time the Bush administration declined to seek a Council seat or participate in its proceedings due to a perceived anti-Israeli sentiment by the UNHRC.






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FBI report shows decrease in US violent crime for second straight year
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 14, 2009 4:53 PM ET

[JURIST] The 2008 Crime in the US (CIUS) report [materials; report summary] released Monday by the FBI indicates that the level of violent crime in the US dropped by 1.9 percent between 2007 and 2008. Specifically, between 2006 and 2007, the estimated number of forcible rapes dropped by 1.6 percent to 89,000, the lowest figure in the past 20 years. Murders and non-negligent manslaughters dropped by 3.9 percent, aggravated assaults by 2.5 percent, and robberies by 0.7 percent. Additionally, the rate of property crime, which has decreased each year over the past five years, decreased again by about 0.8 percent. The western region of the US showed the largest decrease in violent crimes.

The drop follows a 0.7 percent drop [JURIST report] for 2007. That came after two years of increasing rates of similar crimes, including a 2006 increase of 1.3 percent and a 2005 increase of 2.3 percent [JURIST reports].






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ICTY begins war crimes trial of former high-level Bosnian Serb officials
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 14, 2009 4:07 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Monday began the trial [press release] of former high ranking Bosnian Serb officials Mico Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin [ICTY materials]. Stanisic, former Bosnian Serb interior minister, and Zupljanin, a former regional police chief, are charged [indictment, PDF] with persecution, extermination, murder, deportation, and torture of non-Serb civilians in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992. The two are accused of taking part in a criminal enterprise that also included Momcilo Krajisnik, Radovan Karadzic, Biljana Plavsic, and Ratko Mladic [JURIST news archives]. Stanisic and Zupljanin allegedly had direct control over the Serbian forces that carried out the plan to eliminate Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Croats, and other non-Serbs from the territory of the planned Serbian state.

A prosecution motion to have the cases of Stanisic and Zupljanin joined was granted in September 2008, and both men pleaded not guilty in November. Zupljanin was arrested in June 2008 by Serbian authorities and transferred [JURIST report] to the ICTY for trial. Stanisic surrendered to the ICTY in March 2005. Stanisic was originally indicted by the ICTY in 2005, and Zupljanin was indicted in 1999.






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Federal judge rejects SEC-Bank of America settlement, orders trial
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 14, 2009 3:22 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Monday rejected [order, PDF] a $33 million settlement agreement [press release] between the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] and Bank of America (BOA) [corporate website]. The SEC had charged BOA with misleading investors [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] regarding billions of dollars paid to Merrill Lynch [corporate website] executives during the acquisition of the firm. Judge Jed Rakoff rejected the settlement agreement and ordered a trial on the SEC's allegations, finding that it was unfair to shareholders:


It is not fair, first and foremost, because it does not comport with the most elementary notions of justice and morality, in that it proposes that the shareholders who were the victims of the Bank's alleged misconduct now pay the penalty for that misconduct. The SEC admits that the corporate penalties it here proposes will be "indirectly borne by [the] shareholders." But the SEC argues that this is justified because "[a] corporate penalty ... sends a strong signal to shareholders that unsatisfactory corporate conduct has occurred and allows shareholders to better assess the quality and performance of management." This hypothesis, however, makes no sense when applied to the facts here: for the notion that Bank of America shareholders, having been lied to blatantly in connection with the multi-billion-dollar purchase of a huge, nearly-bankrupt company, need to lose another $33 million of their money in order to "better assess the quality and performance of management" is absurd.

Rakoff set a trial date for February 1.

Rakoff previously refused to accept the settlement agreement [JURIST report]. The SEC complaint alleged that, during the merger of the two companies, the agreement for BOA to allow Merrill Lynch to pay discretionary bonuses was located in a separate document that was not disclosed prior to the shareholders' vote on the merger. The agreement allowed Merrill Lynch to pay up to $5.8 billion of the $50 billion merger consideration as executive bonuses. Ultimately, $3.6 billion in bonuses were paid to Merrill Lynch executives despite record losses in 2008. BOA agreed to settle with the SEC and pay a $33 million penalty but did not admit or deny the allegations.





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Obama urges stronger financial regulations one year after Lehman collapse
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 14, 2009 2:31 PM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] stressed the need for stronger financial industry regulations [press release] Monday in a speech [transcript] marking the one-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings. Obama warned that signs the economy is beginning to turn around should not cause Wall Street to forget the lessons of the past year, saying "[n]ormalcy cannot lead to complacency." Obama went on to lay out his plans for "the most ambitious overhaul of the financial regulatory system since the Great Depression":

First, we're proposing new rules to protect consumers and a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to enforce those rules. This crisis was not just the result of decisions made by the mightiest of financial firms. It was also the result of decisions made by ordinary Americans to open credit cards and take on mortgages. And while there were many who took out loans they knew they couldn't afford, there were also millions of Americans who signed contracts they didn't fully understand offered by lenders who didn't always tell the truth. ...

Second, we've got to close the loopholes that were at the heart of the crisis. Where there were gaps in the rules, regulators lacked the authority to take action. Where there were overlaps, regulators often lacked accountability for inaction. These weaknesses in oversight engendered systematic, and systemic, abuse. ...

Finally, we need to close the gaps that exist not just within this country but among countries. The United States is leading a coordinated response to promote recovery and to restore prosperity among both the world's largest economies and the world's fastest growing economies. At a summit in London in April, leaders agreed to work together in an unprecedented way to spur global demand but also to address the underlying problems that caused such a deep and lasting global recession. And this work will continue next week in Pittsburgh when I convene the G20, which has proven to be an effective forum for coordinating policies among key developed and emerging economies and one that I see taking on an important role in the future.
Obama spoke at Federal Hall in New York City to an audience [press release] comprising mainly Wall Street representatives as well as several members of Congress and the president's economic recovery advisory board.

In July, the Obama administration sent Congress [JURIST report] draft legislation [press release and materials] that would put the Federal Reserve [official website] in charge of regulating the largest financial firms. The proposed legislation would create an eight-member Financial Services Oversight Council 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 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 registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission [official website] under the Investment Company Act of 1940 [text]. Also in July, US financial regulators and scholars advised [JURIST report] the Senate Banking Committee [official website] 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.





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ICJ begins hearings in Argentina-Uruguay paper mill dispute
Matt Glenn on September 14, 2009 2:02 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] began hearings [press release, PDF] Monday in a treaty dispute [case materials] between Argentina and Uruguay. Argentina argues [Buenos Aires Herald report] that a pulp mill built on the Uruguay side of the Uruguay river, which divides the two countries, violates the 1975 Statute of the River Uruguay [text, PDF], a treaty calling for consultation and agreement between the two countries regarding activities that affect the river. Argentina claims that pollutants from the plant are causing extreme harm [El Pais report, in Spanish] to the river and surrounding environment and that Uruguay failed to obtain Argentina's approval before starting the project. Transcripts of oral arguments, which conclude October 2, will be posted to the ICJ website daily. The ICJ is not expected to issue a ruling until 2010.

In 2007, the ICJ refused [JURIST report] to order Argentina to prevent demonstrators protesting the plant from blocking traffic on roads and bridges into the country from Uruguay. In 2006, the ICJ denied [JURIST report] Argentina's request that Uruguay be ordered to stop construction on the plants.






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UK liquid bomb plotters sentenced to life in prison
Bhargav Katikaneni on September 14, 2009 1:28 PM ET

[JURIST] Three men convicted [JURIST report] of attempting to smuggle liquid explosives onto airplanes to blow them up were sentenced [Metropolitan Police press release] to life in prison Monday by the Woolwich Crown Court in London. Abdulla Ahmed Ali [GlobalSecurity profile], the ring leader, was sentenced [Guardian report] to a minimum of 40 years in prison, while Assad Sarwar and Tanvir Hussain [GlobalSecurity profiles] were sentenced to a minimum of 36 and 32 years, respectively, for the airline plot and conspiracy to murder. A fourth man, Umar Islam [Global Security profile], had been previously found guilty of conspiracy to murder and was also sentenced Monday to life in prison with a minimum sentence of 22 years.

The Crown initially charged eight men with conspiracy to blow up the airlines and conspiracy to murder. Three of them, Ibrahim Savant, Arafat Waheed Khan, Waheed Zahman [GlobalSecurity profiles] were found not guilty [AP report] of the conspiracy to murder charges, and had been previously been found not guilty of the conspiracy to blow up airlines, which the Crown has vowed to appeal. The eighth man, Mohammad Galzar [GlobalSecurity profile], was found not guilty of all charges. Both Savant and Islam had previously pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to "conspiring to create a public nuisance" by releasing videos about planned attacks.






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Bangladesh high court recommends against military trials for BDR mutiny suspects
Matt Glenn on September 14, 2009 1:06 PM ET

[JURIST] Bangladesh's Supreme Court [official website] recommended against military trials for Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) members who took part in February's border guard mutiny [BBC backgrounder], Law Minister Shafiq Ahmed [official profile] announced Monday. President Zillur Rahman [official profile] asked for the court's opinion to determine whether the accused should be tried under the Army Act of 1952 [text] or whether they should face civilian trials. The court took into account the advice of 10 top lawyers and legal experts, seven of whom opposed [People's Daily report] the use of military trials. An inter-ministerial meeting had been scheduled for Monday to decide the type of trials to be used, but that meeting has been delayed [Daily Star report] until Tuesday.

Soon after the mutiny, Bangladesh banned a number of websites [JURIST report], including YouTube [website], that featured recordings or could be used to distribute recordings of army officials criticizing Prime Minister Sheikha Hasina's handling of the mutiny, although the ban on YouTube was lifted [JURIST report] quickly. Bangladeshi officials announced in March that the government was considering trying by court-martial [JURIST report] the more than 1,000 border guards accused of participating in the BDR mutiny, which killed dozens of top BDR officials, including the force's commander. More than 40 suspects have been arrested, and Bangladeshi investigators said in March that interviews of the suspects have raised concerns [BBC report] of a possible link to the Islamic group Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) [SATP backgrounder], an organization previously tied to bombing plots across the country [JURIST report]. A US FBI team sent to Bangladesh to assist in the investigation arrived in March, and Scotland Yard investigators also joined the investigation.






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ICTY ex-spokesperson found guilty of contempt for revealing Milosevic secrets
Safiya Boucaud on September 14, 2009 10:30 AM ET

[JURIST] A specially appointed chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Monday found former spokesperson Florence Hartmann [BBC profile; ICTY materials, PDF] guilty of contempt [judgment summary, PDF; press release] for revealing confidential judicial decisions. She was also fined €7,000 to be paid in installments ending in November. Hartmann had been charged [press release, JURIST report] with two counts of contempt for allegedly disclosing protected information of appellate chamber decisions from the trial of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic [JURIST news archive] in a book and an article she wrote in 2007 and 2008. The presiding judge said:


This ... impacts upon the Tribunal's ability to exercise its jurisdiction to prosecute and punish serious violations of humanitarian law as prescribed by its mandate. Public confidence in the effectiveness of protective measures, orders and decisions is vital to the success of the work of the Tribunal.

Hartmann's trial began [JURIST report] in June. At an initial appearance, Hartmann did not enter a plea [JURIST report] and a plea of not guilty was entered on her behalf in November.

Hartmann formally served as the official spokesperson for chief ICTY prosecutor Carla del Ponte [BBC profile]. Before being indicted, Hartmann drew media attention by repeating allegations [JURIST report] that former US president Bill Clinton and former French president Jacques Chirac had planned a campaign [JURIST report] to capture Radovan Karadzic [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], but later backed down following a change in policy. Hartmann has also said that Russia aided in moving Karadzic to safety in Belarus, and alleged that the West helped in order to hide information about the Srebrenica massacre [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive].





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South Korea court again rules against Microsoft in antitrust suit
Safiya Boucaud on September 14, 2009 9:31 AM ET

[JURIST] The Seoul Central District Court on Monday found Microsoft [corporate website] in violation of South Korea's antitrust laws for bundling software programs with its Windows operating system. The court found the company's bundling practice to be in violation of fair competition rules and disruptive to the market. The court also dismissed a demand by South Korean software company Dideonet [corporate website] for almost $81 million dollars for damages allegedly suffered as a direct result of the bundling, noting a lack of evidence. This is the second suit within a few months in which Microsoft has been found liable for breach of South Korean antitrust laws. In June, the same court ruled that Microsoft violated antitrust laws [JURIST report] by packaging software with its Windows operating system, also dismissing requests for damages from two Korean software firms on the grounds that the damages were not sufficiently linked to Microsoft's conduct.

Microsoft has frequently faced antitrust and unfair competition claims. In July, the company announced [materials; JURIST report] that it would 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." In February, Google [corporate website] sought to join a European Commission lawsuit [JURIST reports] 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 by bundling its Internet Explorer web browser with the Windows operating system.






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Iran judicial panel rejects rape charges made by detained protestors
Steve Czajkowski on September 13, 2009 2:10 PM ET

[JURIST] A panel of Iranian judiciary members has dismissed claims made by pro-reform presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi [NYT profile] that detainees arrested following the disputed June 12 presidential election [JURIST news archive] were sexually assaulted, according to a state media report [text] Saturday. The panel, made up of Iranian Prosecutor General Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje'i, Judiciary Adviser Ali Khalafi, and Deputy Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeesi, found that there was no evidence to support Karoubi's allegations of rape and sexual harassment and that the claims were politically motivated. The panel also called for the arrest [AP report] of those spreading false allegations, which is seen as referring to Karroubi. On Tuesday, the Iranian government is said to have shut down the office of Karroubi's National Confidence Party [party website, in Arabic], which had been taking testimony about abuse from released prisoners. Also on Saturday, Iran's Supreme National Security Council banned newspapers from reporting [NYT report] on Karroubi or fellow opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive].

In August, Ahmadinejad called [JURIST report] for the prosecution of opposition leaders who allegedly conspired to orchestrate widespread protests after the presidential election. Human rights groups have accused [JURIST report] the Iranian government of using the protests to "engage in what appears to be a major purge of reform-oriented individuals."






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Argentina president introduces bill to decriminalize libel and slander
Amelia Mathias on September 13, 2009 1:26 PM ET

[JURIST] Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner [BBC profile] proposed a new bill [speech transcript, in Spanish] Friday that would erase libel and slander as crimes, part of a broader plan to change the way Argentina's telecommunications businesses are run. Opponents of that bill argue that its provisions, particularly those opening up cable television services to telephone companies, are aimed at helping companies sympathetic [Buenos Aires Herald report] to Kirchner. The media bill would also stop anti-competitiveness and create a new agency to govern appropriate content.

Kirchner made her announcement at a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the arrival in Argentina of members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.






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New US guidelines for Afghan prison will allow prisoners to challenge detention
Steve Czajkowski on September 13, 2009 10:02 AM ET

[JURIST] The Obama administration is preparing to issue new guidelines for the US detention facility at Bagram Air Base [JURIST news archive; GlobalSecurity backgrounder] in Afghanistan that would allow detainees to oppose their indefinite incarceration, according to media reports Sunday. The guidelines [NYT report] are expected to affect all of the approximately 600 prisoners by providing members of the US military who would be able to gather classified evidence and question witnesses on behalf of any detainee challenging their detention. The military officials would not be lawyers, but they are expected to give detainees, some of whom have been held for over five years without charges, better representation before military-appointed review boards. The changes come amidst ongoing protests [JURIST report] by prisoners. Hundreds of Bagram detainees have been refusing shower and exercise time and have ceased participation in a family visits and teleconferences program set up by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [advocacy website].

In July, a US military study commissioned after a critical January report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan [official website] recommended [JURIST report] a complete overhaul of both the US-run and Afghan-run prisons in Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, former deputy commanding general for detainee operations for the Multi National Force–Iraq [official website], recommended separating extremists from the rest of the prison population to avoid militant recruiting within prisons, as well as improving training for Afghan guards, prosecutors and judges. Extremists would be housed in a separate facility, partially financed by the US, and the remaining detainees would be provided with vocational training. Officials have reported that some of Stone's recommendations are already being implemented in a new facility scheduled to open this fall that will house about 600 detainees.






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Czech parliament approves constitutional amendment to allow early elections
Christian Ehret on September 12, 2009 11:19 AM ET

[JURIST] The Czech Parliament on Friday approved [press release, in Czech] a constitutional amendment [text, in Czech] that would allow the legislative body to dissolve and hold early elections. The lawmakers initially agreed [JURIST report] to amend the country's constitution [text] on Thursday following a decision [judgment, PDF, in Czech] by the country's Constitutional Court [official website, in Czech] that delayed the elections in response to a suit brought by independent lawmaker Milos Melcak [official website, in Czech]. Melcak alleged that the earlier scheduled elections violated his right to serve a full parliamentary term. The court ruled that the elections scheduled for October 9 and 10 would amount to a suspension of the constitution.

Earlier this month, after the court announced it would consider Melcak's suit, Czech President Vaclav Klaus [official website, in Czech] expressed his concern [JURIST report] for the decision and called it "highly political." Klaus held a meeting after the court's initial decision to discuss the proposed amendments. Former prime minister Mirek Topolanek [official website; JURIST news archive] formally resigned [JURIST report] in March, dissolving parliament, which led to the scheduling of the now-delayed October elections. The Czech Republic has been experiencing economic difficulty over the past year and the delayed election will further delay budget negotiations.






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Rights group sues Pittsburgh for failure to issue G-20 protest permits
Bhargav Katikaneni on September 12, 2009 11:09 AM ET

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] Friday in the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania [official website] claiming that the US Secret Service, the City of Pittsburgh, and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources [official websites] are acting illegally by failing to issue protest permits for the Group of 20 (G-20) [official website] summit scheduled in Pittsburgh [official website] on September 24-25. The ACLU claims that the failure to issue protest permits for certain areas of the City, notably Point State Park, Schenley Park [official websites], East Park, and Riverfront Park to groups including Thomas Merton center [advocacy website], is a violation of the First Amendment right to peaceful protest. In its complaint, the rights group argued for injunctive and declaratory relief claiming that only two protest permits have been issued so far for the G-20, and those two permits were far away from downtown Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl [official profile] said previously that the city has issued eight permits [Chicago Tribune report] so far and may issue more in the future. The City has also announced that it will lease [AP report] a downtown parking lot and two other sites [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report] for the benefit of protesters. A law to ban masks and hoods [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report] was voted down by the City Council last week.






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Federal court rejects Abu Ghraib detainees' lawsuit against contractors
Christian Ehret on September 12, 2009 9:59 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal appeals court on Friday rejected [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit brought against private contractors by Iraqi plaintiffs alleging torture at the Abu Ghraib prison [JURIST news archive]. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia [official website] held that federal law concerning "combatant activities" preempted the state tort claims brought by the former detainees. Redefining the test set out in the district court opinion, the DC Circuit ruled that, during wartime, tort claims arising out of a private service contractor's activities, over which the military holds command authority, shall be preempted. On appeal, the plaintiffs claimed [brief, PDF] that Titan Corporation and CACI International [corporate website] were liable for "serious abuse" occurring during their stay in the prison facility. They additionally asserted that the district court erred in failing to consider breach of contract and the military's inability to control or discipline contractual employees. A dissenting justice argued that employees of private contractors are not immune from civil lawsuits since they are not within the military's chain of command.

The actions of private military contractors in Iraq are considered to have been the impetus behind provisions in the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement [PDF; JURIST report] that grant Iraqi courts limited jurisdiction over foreign contractors. In June, Iraqi authorities released three private contractors from custody [JURIST report] due to insufficient evidence that they killed another contractor in Baghdad's Green Zone. In May, US military contractor Don Ayala was sentenced [JURIST report] in US federal court to five years probation and a $12,500 fine after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the 2008 shooting of an Afghan detainee.






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Supreme Court ruling requires California to create prison overcrowding reduction plan
Bhargav Katikaneni on September 12, 2009 9:51 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Friday refused to grant a request by the state of California to temporarily stay a lower court order to come up with a plan to reduce the number of inmates in its prisons [JURIST news archive]. In a brief order [text, PDF], the Court said that it would not stay an earlier order [text PDF; opinion summary, PDF] by a special federal court panel compelling California to create a plan [JURIST report] that will reduce the state's overcrowding from its current level of 190 percent of maximum capacity to a more manageable 137.5 percent. The Supreme Court noted that California was only appealing its need to create a plan to reduce prison overcrowding and that, ultimately, the plan would not be implemented until the Supreme Court had an opportunity to review the special panel's final order.

In its earlier order, the lower court noted that that due to extremely poor medical care, one inmate was "dying needlessly every six or seven days." In August 2008, California's court-appointed prison medical overseer J.Clark Kelso [official profile] asked the court to force the state to add 8 billion dollars [JURIST report] over the next five years to bring prison healthcare to constitutionally acceptable standards. In response to a 2006 order [JURIST report] to reduce overcrowding, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger [official website] ordered [JURIST report] the transfer of some prisoners out-of-state.






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Dutch-speaking Belgium schools to ban religious headscarves
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 11, 2009 3:48 PM ET

[JURIST] Belgian school officials announced Friday that Muslim headscarves [JURIST news archive] will be banned in about 700 schools in the Dutch-speaking northern region of Flanders. The move came after an administrative tribunal ruled Tuesday that individual schools could not impose a ban [AFP report] in response to complaints after two Antwerp schools banned headscarves at the beginning of the shcool year. The Flemish school board said that the regional ban will take effect immediately, but there will be a one-year grace period [DPA report] for schools that did not previously have a ban. There will also be an exception for religious classes.

Religious headscarves have been banned in schools in several European countries. The Dutch government announced plans [JURIST report] last September to ban burqas in schools. In 2004, France banned religious clothing and symbols in public schools [JURIST report]. A German court has upheld a similar ban [JURIST report]. In December, 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 in 1999 for refusing to remove their headscarves.






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Guantanamo detainee lawyers challenge constitutionality of military commissions
Andrew Morgan on September 11, 2009 3:25 PM ET

[JURIST] Military lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainee and alleged 9/11 co-conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh [JURIST news archives] on Wednesday asked [petition, PDF] the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] to declare the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) [text, PDF] unconstitutional. Commander Suzanne Lachelier and Lt. Commander Richard Federico of the US Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps [official website] argued that the MCA exceeds Congress' constitutional authority and that the military commissions formed under the MCA are not "regularly constituted" courts within the meaning of Common Article 3 [ICRC backgrounder] of the Geneva Convention:


These cases were never intended to do justice. Instead, what the government has sought, and to date received, is not a legitimate judicial proceeding but a political show trial. The process has been corrupted by illegitimate political considerations at every step. Political distortions of the judicial process begin with the MCA itself. The provision limiting its jurisdiction to aliens ... was designed to avoid the political consequences of imposing the MCA's facially unconstitutional procedures like this on American citizens. ... No other American criminal court system is so obviously founded on such politicized and illegitimate premises.

The petition also contends that the government's conduct in the trials has violated the Equal Protection principle regardless of the MCA's facial validity. Lachelier and Federico contend that interference from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) "has been an integral part of this system, with devastating effects on the fairness of the proceedings" and that recent investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) [official websites] has "destroyed attorney-client relationships and the ability of some counsel to perform their defense responsibilities."

Last month, military Judge Stephen Henley ruled that al-Shibh's lawyers would not be allowed [JURIST report] to tour secret CIA prisons, known as "black sites" in advance of a September 22 competency hearing. Henley also denied a defense request [JURIST report] to be made aware of what interrogation techniques were used on al-Shibh by the CIA prior to his transfer to Guantanamo Bay. His lawyers had argued that interrogation details were relevant to determining whether he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [NIMH backgrounder] or a permanent psychological disability, which would in turn affect his competency to stand trial. In July, Retired Judge Advocate General Rear Admiral John Hutson [academic profile] urged the Senate Armed Services Committee [official website] to repeal rather than reform [JURIST report] the MCA. Hutson said that although he was an "early and ardent supporter of military commissions," the process created to try enemy combatants "did not live up to the traditions" of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) [text] and had become a "significant distraction for the military."





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UK police to investigate claims intelligence service engaged in torture
Andrew Morgan on September 11, 2009 2:12 PM ET

[JURIST] UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband [official profile] announced [press release] Friday that the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) [official website] has referred allegations of torture by its officers to Attorney General Patricia Scotland [official profile] and the Metropolitan Police [official website] for investigation. In an open letter to Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague [official website], Miliband called the "scope and handling" of the investigation "a matter for the police" and noted that the SIS acted "on its own initiative, unprompted by any accusation against the Service or the individual concerned." Hague had written Miliband and Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website] last month, asking [letter text] whether the government intended to investigate allegations that agents from SIS, commonly called MI6, and its domestic counterpart participated in the torture of detainees in Egypt, Pakistan, and Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive].

Hague's letter came in response to a report [text] published in August by the UK Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights [official website] calling for an independent inquiry [JURIST report] into allegations regarding government complicity in the torture of UK terrorism suspects. Miliband, joined by Home Secretary Alan Johnson [official profile] and MI6 Chief John Scarlett, denied the allegations [JURIST report], saying that the UK does not participate in or condone the use of torture. Allegations in the report include the complicity in torture of UK resident Binyam Mohamed [Reprieve profile; JURIST news archive] before he was brought to Guantanamo Bay. In July, the UK Metropolitan Police Service announced that it was investigating the alleged mistreatment [JURIST report] of Mohamed by intelligence officers. Mohamed claims that he was tortured by Pakistani agents and interrogated by FBI and MI5 agents complicit in his abuse. He was transferred to Morocco, allegedly part of the CIA's extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive] program, where he claims that British agents supplied his torturers with questions.






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Obama administration committed to closing Guantanamo by early 2010: top DOD lawyer
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 11, 2009 10:44 AM ET

[JURIST] US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] general counsel Jeh Johnson [official profile] said Thursday that the Obama administration remains committed to closing the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] by early next year. Speaking before the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security [association website], Johnson said that the administration was still hoping to meet the January deadline [AP report] for the facility's closure but that there were many challenges. Johnson also criticized [Politico reoprt] recently released memos and reports [JURIST reports] that authorized harsh interrogation techniques, but made no comment on Attorney General Eric Holder's pending investigation [JURIST report] into torture allegations.

The primary obstacle to closing the detention center at Guantanamo is the question of what should be done with detainees who cannot be released. Officials are reportedly still considering creating a military-civilian prison facility that would house its own court at a site in Michigan, but local residents have strongly opposed [JURIST reports] the plan. Officials are also considering trying detainees in federal courts, with cases assigned to federal prosecutors [JURIST report] last month. There are currently 226 detainees remaining at Guantanamo.






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Taiwan ex-president Chen sentenced to life in prison on corruption charges
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 11, 2009 9:41 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] was found guilty Friday on corruption charges and sentenced to life in prison. Chen's wife Wu Shu-Chen was also given a life sentence [CNA report] after the pair were convicted on charges of embezzlement, receiving bribes, forgery, and money laundering. A three-judge panel of the Taipei District Court [official website, in Chinese] also sentenced their son to two-and-a-half years in prison and their daughter-in-law to one year and eight months. Two former presidential aides received 20 and 16-year sentences, respectively, while a third former aide, who confessed and expressed remorse, was found guilty but received no jail time. Before the verdict was delivered, Chen wrote in article [text, in Chinese] for Formosa News [media website, in Chinese] that he was a victim of political persecution and that his "heart is free" no matter what the verdict was. Under Taiwanese law, the life sentences will be automatically appealed.

Last week, the Taipei District Court sentenced [JURIST report] Wu to one year in prison on obstruction of justice charges for instructing her children how to respond to investigators probing the corruption allegations. Her son, daughter, and son-in-law were also sentenced to six months each in jail for misappropriating state funds. Last month, Chen filed suit [JURIST report] against the three judges hearing his corruption case, accusing them of illegally prolonging his detention. Chen was indicted [JURIST report] on corruption charges in December. He has staged three hunger strikes in protest of the charges against him, and in January he unsuccessfully appealed [JURIST reports] his pretrial detention. 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.






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UN-backed Afghanistan electoral commission invalidates ballots
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 11, 2009 8:38 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) [official website] on Thursday invalidated ballots from last month's presidential election from certain polls in Kandahar, Ghazni, and Paktika [press releases, PDF] provinces. The ECC found "clear and convincing evidence of fraud" at 51 polling stations in Kandahar, 27 polling stations in Ghazni, and five polling stations in Paktika, including "unfolded ballots, votes for candidates inserted inside bundles for other candidates, miscounted ballots, missing material, uniformity of markings, seal numbers which did not match numbers on the record of seals and lists of voters with numerous fictitious card numbers." Ballots were invalidated from both presidential and provincial council races, and no repeat vote will be conducted [AFP report]. The ECC also ordered a recount of ballots from several other polling stations. Meanwhile, preliminary results appear to name President Hamid Karzai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] the winner with more than 50 percent of the vote.

Earlier this week, the ECC ordered the Independent Election Commission (IEC) [official website] to conduct a partial recount [JURIST report] of votes from polling stations with high irregularities. The IEC said Saturday that it is conducting its role faithfully and impartially [JURIST report] in an attempt to reassure the Afghan public amid allegations of voter fraud, mainly in response to complaints by Abdullah Abdullah [BBC profile], who was the central challenger to Karzai. The IEC previously announced that it had invalidated [AP report] the results of 447 polling stations because of claims of fraud, but retracted on Monday alleging lack of authority to exclude such ballots. Abdullah's campaign filed more than 100 complaints [JURIST report] with the ECC alleging ballot stuffing, inflated vote counts, and intimidation at the polls by Karzai supporters. Election observers also reported at least two instances of voters fingers, marked with indelible ink to avoid voter fraud, being cut off by Taliban insurgents [Los Angeles Times report].






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Czech lawmakers agree to amend constitution as court cancels elections
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 10, 2009 4:00 PM ET

[JURIST] Czech lawmakers have agreed to amend the country's constitution [text] to allow parliamentary elections to take place in November, as the Constitutional Court [official website, in Czech] ruled [judgment, PDF, in Czech; press release, in Czech] Thursday that the scheduled October elections violate the constitution. Last week, the court delayed the elections [JURIST report], planned for October 9 and 10, after independent lawmaker Milos Melcak filed a complaint [text, PDF, in Czech] alleging that the scheduled elections violated his rights by not allowing him to serve his full parliamentary term. The court ruled Thursday that holding the elections in October would amount to a suspension of the constitution [Aktualne report]. Czech President Vaclav Klaus [official website, in Czech] sharply criticized [press release, in Czech] the court's decision, saying that it:

consciously and deliberately deepens the political crisis in our country.

If we want today and in the future to avoid similar situations, which threaten chaos and threaten the entire society, the moment is approaching when it will be necessary to adopt a new definition of the constitutional powers of the Constitutional Court.
Czech lawmakers from the Social Democrat and Civic Democrat parties agreed Wednesday to sidestep the anticipated court ruling by amending the constitution [Prague Post report] to allow a November election. The proposal must now be approved by a three-fifths majority of parliament.

Former prime minister Mirek Topolanek [official website; JURIST news archive] formally resigned [JURIST report] in March, dissolving parliament, which led to the scheduling of the now-delayed October elections. The Czech Republic has been experiencing economic difficulty over the past year, and the delayed election will further delay budget negotiations. Since the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the Czech Republic has been led by a series of governments lacking a strong majority [Bloomberg report].





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Japan urged to discontinue executing mentally ill prisoners
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 10, 2009 3:04 PM ET

[JURIST] Japan [JURIST news archive] continues to execute mentally ill prisoners [press release] despite a criminal code provision outlawing the practice, according to a report [text, PDF] released Thursday by Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website]. According to the report, while the exact number of prisoners with mental illnesses on death row is unknown, the Japanese government continuously executes prisoners with mental illnesses and leaves others on death row for years. The report also states that poor prison conditions and the many years spent on death row are contributing to prisoners developing mental illnesses while awaiting execution. AI Health Coordinator and lead author of the report James Welsh said:

To allow a prisoner to live for prolonged periods under the daily threat of imminent death is cruel, inhuman and degrading. Amnesty International's studies around the world have shown that those suffering mental health problems are at particular risk of ending up on death row.

Mental disorders can give rise to crimes, impair the ability of a defendant to participate in an effective legal defence, and are likely to play a significant role in the decision of prisoners to terminate appeals. In Japan, condemned inmates are also at risk of developing a serious mental illness while on death row.
AI concluded the report with a series of recommendations including establishing a death penalty moratorium with a view toward abolishing the death penalty completely.

One of the last developed nations to still use the death penalty, Japan has endured international criticism for the practice since it ended an unofficial moratorium [JURIST reports] on capital punishment in 1993. In November 2008, the UN Human Rights Committee urged Japan to take steps to abolish the death penalty [JURIST report]. AI issued a statement urging Japan to stop executions [text] after the hanging of four men in April 2008. In February 2008, a group of parliamentarians proposed a four-year moratorium on the practice [JURIST report]. In August 2007, Japan's national bar association called for a moratorium on the death penalty [JURIST report] until new safeguards are enacted to prevent wrongful executions.





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Uighur Guantanamo detainees agree to Palau relocation: report
Brian Jackson on September 10, 2009 12:49 PM ET

[JURIST] Three Chinese Uighur Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archives] since 2001 have agreed to be relocated to Palau [AP report], their lawyers told the Associated Press Wednesday. The detainees have been cleared for transfer since District Judge Ricardo Urbina ordered their release [JURIST report] from Guantanamo last October, but difficulties in finding an appropriate place to relocate them have impeded their release. The lawyer for two of the Uighurs, George Clarke, indicated that the three men may be relocated as early as October, but the spokesperson for Palau President Johnson Toribong, would not confirm [Times report] the impending transfer.

At the close of its 2008 session, the US Supreme Court still had not ruled on an appeal [JURIST report] by the Uighurs still in captivity to gain their release. The appeal followed a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to stay the release [JURIST report] ordered by Urbina last October. Amid the legal wrangling over the Uighurs in the US, the Chinese government has repeatedly called for the detainees to be repatriated to China [JURIST report], a request the US has been reluctant to accommodate. Toribong offered to accept the Uighurs in June while four Uighurs were transferred to Bermuda [JURIST reports] that month. There are 13 Uighurs still at Guantanamo Bay.






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ICC prosecutor to begin investigating NATO troops in Afghanistan
Brian Jackson on September 10, 2009 11:39 AM ET

[JURIST] The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] said Wednesday that he would begin investigating claims of war crimes by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) [official website] soldiers in Afghanistan. In a briefing, Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] said that in addition to investigations of possible NATO crimes, the ICC would also begin looking into possible atrocities committed by the Taliban [BBC report]. Moreno-Ocampo also stated that the ICC would not get involved [Reuters report] unless the government of Afghanistan or the UN specifically request. Despite that condition, Moreno-Ocampo did suggest that the ICC would open four new investigations [AP report] in the next three years.

With the ICC beginning discussions of examining war crimes in Afghanistan, the possibility that US citizens would be subject to criminal sanctions by the ICC has become an issue. Any possible exposure of US soldiers to the ICC's jurisdiction, however, would depend on whether the US ratifies the Rome Statute [text], from which the ICC draws its authority. In mid-August, the Heritage Foundation urged the Obama administration not to re-sign the treaty [JURIST report]. Currently, the US is a signatory to the treaty, but has not ratified the document. As a result, the US is not bound to the agreement, a situation that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lamented [Reuters report] recently.






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Former Pennsylvania judges indicted in juvenile sentencing scandal
Christian Ehret on September 10, 2009 8:19 AM ET

[JURIST] Two former Pennsylvania judges were indicted [press release] Wednesday by a federal grand jury on 48 counts in connection with alleged illegal actions to benefit private juvenile detention facilities. The charges against Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella, Jr. include racketeering, fraud, extortion, and money laundering for allegedly accepting at least $2,819,500 in illegal payments in return for making decisions in favor of the detention centers, including incarcerating youths to raise the occupancy of the facilities. In addition to criminal penalties, the prosecutor is requesting a forfeiture of the kickbacks that the former Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas [official website] judges allegedly received.

The issuing of the indictment follows the August withdrawal of the former judges' February guilty pleas [JURIST reports] on federal corruption charges [information, PDF] for honest services fraud and tax fraud. The judges withdrew their pleas after Judge Edwin Kosik rejected the initial plea agreement that the judges made, finding the 87-month prison sentences too lenient. Criminal law scholar David Harris [professional profile] criticized [JURIST op-ed] the plea agreement, saying that the sentence was not "nearly enough for the harm they did to the system of justice, to our collective belief in the rule of law, to these children, and to their families." In March, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided to overturn hundreds of juvenile convictions [JURIST report] and expunge records without hearing to rectify the judges' alleged actions. The Supreme Court's decision came at the recommendation of a Special Master [text, PDF] in response to a lawsuit brought by families of incarcerated youth.






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Spain judge Garzon defends 2008 Franco probe
Ximena Marinero on September 10, 2009 8:07 AM ET

[JURIST] Spanish National Court Judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] testified Wednesday before the Criminal Law Chamber of the Spanish Supreme Court [official website] in response to accusations that he exceeded his authority when he launched an investigation into war crimes allegedly committed under Francisco Franco [BBC backgrounder] despite a 1977 amnesty law. Garzon abstained from responding to questions from the complainants and answered only those of the judge, the prosecutor, and his own lawyer. Garzon maintained that he acted within the bounds of the law and appropriately applied the law at all times. The complaint against Garzon was lodged by Manos Limpias, a far-right leaning advocacy organization, and the conservative group Liberty and Identity Association [advocacy websites, in Spanish]. The court announced in May that it would hear the challenge [JURIST report]. If the court decides to hold a trial, Garzon could be tried for the crime of knowingly issuing a resolution without the authority to do so and could face disbarment.

In September 2008, Garzon ordered an investigation [JURIST report] in response to a complaint lodged by the Organization for Restoring Historical Memory [advocacy website, in Spanish] that the Franco regime carried out systematic killings and enforced disappearances of opponents. In October, Garzon ordered the exhumation [JURIST report] of mass graves where victims of the Franco regime are thought to be buried. The National Court has jurisdiction over crimes against the government and high authorities of the state. Spanish prosecutors challenged [JURIST report] the probe and Garzon subsequently dropped [BBC report] the investigation in November upon concluding that the suspects could not be held legally responsible as 44 of them, including Franco, were already deceased. Also in October, the UN called on for Spain to abolish the 1977 amnesty law [press release]. The Spanish parliament passed legislation [JURIST report] in 2007 condemning the Franco government, acknowledging its victims, and setting aside money to compensate them.






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Uruguay senate gives final approval to law allowing adoption by same-sex couples
Ximena Marinero on September 10, 2009 7:03 AM ET

[JURIST] The Uruguayan Senate [official website, in Spanish] voted 17-6 to approve [press release, in Spanish] a law legalizing adoption by same sex couples. The new law will permit adoptions by couples in both marriages and civil unions after four years of cohabitation. The bill includes other reforms to the Childhood and Adolescence Code [text, PDF, in Spanish], which governs adoptions, including giving the Children's and Adolescents' Institute of Uruguay (INAU) [official website, in Spanish] a more central role in the adoption process, shortening the adoption process, and removing the abandonment determination requirement in favor of an adoptability determination for a child to be eligible for adoption. The Senate initially voted to approve the bill in July, but changes made to the bill in the Uruguayan House of Representatives [official website, in Spanish], which approved [JURIST report] it last moth, necessitated a second vote. The bill continues to generate much controversy among conservative sectors like the Catholic Church, which have voiced strong opposition alleging concern for children's welfare. The bill must now be signed by President Tabare Vazquez [BBC profile], who has expressed support for the reforms.

The Uruguayan common-law relationship law [text, PDF, in Spanish] allows couples to apply to be legally recognized as a civil union after five years of living together regardless of the gender of the parties. It was enacted amid much controversy in December 2007 and went into effect in January 2008. In the US, adoption by same-sex couples continues to be a controversial issue. In November, a Florida court ruled [JURIST report] that a ban on adopting children for same-sex couples was unconstitutional, allowing a couple to adopt two children. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] upheld [opinion, PDF] the same Florida statute in 2005 as being rationally related to protecting the interests of children, and the US Supreme Court declined to review [WP report] that decision. In November, Arkansas voters approved a ballot measure [JURIST reports] prohibiting gays, lesbians, and other unmarried cohabiting couples from becoming either foster or adoptive parents.






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Karadzic war crimes trial set for October 19
Steve Czajkowski on September 9, 2009 1:17 PM ET

[JURIST] The trial of war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic [ICTY materials; JURIST news archive] is scheduled to begin October 19, according to a press release [text] from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] Wednesday. Presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon said the trial of the former Bosnian Serb leader is likely to last between two-and-a-half to three years. Karadzic faces 11 charges [amended indictment, PDF] including genocide and murder, for war crimes allegedly committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. Also on Tuesday, Kwon denied a request [AP report] from Karadzic, who is representing himself, for a 10-month delay in order to allow him to prepare his case. A pre-trial conference has been set for October 6.

Last month, Karadzic sued the Serbian government for allegedly kidnapping him prior to announcing his arrest [JURIST reports] last year. He claimed that Serbian authorities officially reported his arrest three days after he was actually detained, delaying his appearance before a judge. Karadzic's capture came 13 years after being indicted by the ICTY in 1995.






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Supreme Court rehears campaign finance arguments
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 9, 2009 11:36 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] reheard oral arguments [day call, PDF] Wednesday in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [oral argument transcript, PDF; Cornell LII backgrounder] to determine whether two precedent cases that uphold restraints on corporate election spending should be overturned. The two cases, Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission [Oyez backgrounders], upheld the facial validity of Section 203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) [text, PDF], which the Federal Election Commission (FEC) [official website] argues allows them to regulate the release of and advertising for a 90-minute documentary questioning then-Senator Hillary Clinton's qualifications to serve as US president. Petitioner Citizens United [advocacy website], a non-profit conservative advocacy corporation that produced the film, appealed on broad First Amendment grounds a decision [opinion, PDF] by the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website], which held that the movie was "electioneering communication" within the meaning of BCRA. At oral argument [recorded audio], counsel for Citizens United argued, "the most fundamental right that we can exercise in a democracy under the First Amendment is dialogue and communication about political candidates. We have wrapped up that freedom, smothered that freedom, with the most complicated set of regulations and bureaucratic controls." Counsel for the FEC argued that the Court show follow precedent, saying, "For over 100 years Congress has made a judgment that corporations must be subject to special rules when they participate in elections and this Court has never questioned that judgment." Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito seemed open to removing federal limits on corporate campaign spending, while Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor implied that they would issue a much narrower ruling. Justices Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, and Antonin Scalia have already said that they support overturning Austin and McConnell.

The Court originally heard oral arguments in March, but ordered a rehearing [JURIST reports] at the end of the 2008 term. The government had argued the Court's decisions in McConnell and Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life [opinion, PDF] allowed them to regulate the video because it was funded by a corporation and could not reasonably be interpreted as anything other than an appeal to vote against Clinton. Citizens United argued that the movie was the kind of "robust, uninhibited debate about a subject of intense political interest" that the First Amendment was designed to protect.






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DC Circuit upholds Congressional lobbying disclosure law
Steve Czajkowski on September 9, 2009 11:07 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Tuesday affirmed [opinion, PDF] a district court decision [opinion, PDF] upholding the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (HLOGA) [text, PDF], which requires members of Congress to disclose more information about their fund-raising efforts and gifts they receive from lobbyists, and also prohibits former congress members from lobbying for a short period of time. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) [official website] initially brought suit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website], arguing that section 207 of the HLOGA violates the First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] by requiring NAM and other groups to disclose the names of its members who contribute more than $5,000 quarterly to lobbying activities and those who actively participate in those activities. In rejecting NAM's constitutional arguments, the DC Circuit held that the legislation met the constitutional requirements of serving a compelling government interest and narrow tailoring, and also that the legislation is sufficiently clear:

[T]here is more than a "substantial" relation between the governmental interest in greater transparency and the information that amended § 1603(b)(3) requires to be disclosed; in fact, the section's disclosure requirements are narrowly tailored and effectively advance that interest. Moreover ... the governmental interest in providing information about "who is being hired, who is putting up the money, and how much" they are spending to influence federal decisionmakers ... is not just "some legitimate governmental interest..." It is a "vital national interest." ...

We conclude that, although the statute may not be a paragon of clarity, it is not so vague as to violate the Constitution, even applying the heightened standard applicable to regulation of speech ... the HLOGA marks the legislature's attempt to shine increasing light on the efforts of paid lobbyists to influence the public decisionmaking process. We find nothing unconstitutional in the way Congress has gone about that task.
A spokesperson said NAM is now considering an appeal [AP report].

The HLOGA was signed [JURIST report] into law in 2007 by then-president George W. Bush [official profile]. The legislation was designed to force lawmakers to disclose pet projects and divulge more details about campaign contributions. It requires congressmen to flag their support of earmarks [JURIST report] and disclose donations from lobbyists who "bundle" donations totaling over $15,000. The legislation also strips pensions from lawmakers found guilty of bribery or perjury.





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Former Bosnia Serb leader transferred to UK to serve 20-year sentence
Amelia Mathias on September 9, 2009 10:02 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Bosnian Serb leader Momcilo Krajisnik [ICTY materials; JURIST news archive] has been transferred to the UK to serve his 20-year prison sentence [press release], the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] announced Tuesday. Krajisnik was originally sentenced to 27 years in 2006, but his sentenced was reduced to 20 years [JURIST reports] in March after the charges of murder, extermination, and persecution were overturned on appeal. He will serve the 20-year sentence for crimes against humanity. Krajisnik will be the third ICTY prisoner to begin serving his sentence in the UK [BBC report] under the rules of the ICTY.

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






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Argentina court reinstates charges against ex-president over 2001 riot deaths
Amelia Mathias on September 9, 2009 9:18 AM ET

[JURIST] The Buenos Aires Appeals Court in Argentina overturned the dismissal of murder charges against former president Fernando de la Rua [BBC profile] on Tuesday. The charges were dismissed in April by Judge Claudio Bonadio after he said that the prosecution had not established sufficient evidence [Buenos Aires Herald report] to show that de la Rua initiated the chain of events that led to the deaths of five protesters. The court reinstated the charges Tuesday, ordering a magistrate to continue with the investigation. De la Rua was originally charged with five counts of manslaughter [JURIST report] in October 2007 for allegedly ordering the Federal Police to halt a demonstration that resulted in five deaths and more than 100 injuries [AP report].

The deaths came during riots sparked by a national economic crisis [BBC report] that caused de la Rua to flee the presidential residence and eventually resign his office just two years into his term. De la Rua has also faced several other criminal charges. In 2008, he defended himself [JURIST report] against bribery charges. In December 2004, an Argentinian court charged [JURIST report] him with improperly allocating public funds for his own private use and for the use of his political party while serving in public office.






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Germany passes law to exonerate Nazi-era 'war traitors'
Ximena Marinero on September 9, 2009 8:37 AM ET

[JURIST] The German Bundestag [official website, in German] unanimously passed a law [draft bill, PDF, in German] Tuesday overturning the conviction of Nazi-regime "war traitors." Among those whose names have been cleared are resistance fighters, people who aided Jews, and even people who were convicted for speaking in critical terms about the regime. The law clears the convictions [FOCUS report, in German] of an estimated 30,000 convicted German citizens, of which about 20,000 were executed during World War II. Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries [official profile] emphasized [press release, in German] that regardless of the role each person who was branded a traitor actually played during the war, each one of them was a victim of the Nazi criminal justice system.

The ruling conservative Christian Democratic Union [party website, in German] originally resisted the law in favor of maintaining the former exoneration procedure, which was conducted on a case-by-case basis by the Federal Ministry of Justice [official website, in German], due to concern that some of the offenders may have actually caused harm to third parties and would unjustly benefit from the law. The coalition government reached an agreement [JURIST report] to draft the new law in July. The German parliament relied on new research [Holocaust Education summary, in German] by two military historians that found that most of the offenders were low ranking soldiers. Germany has also taken other legislative measures to combat Nazi-era offenses. In November, German lawmakers passed [JURIST report] a law intended to counter anti-Semitism [JURIST news archive] just before the 70th anniversary of Kristalnacht [PBS backgrounder], when Nazi troops destroyed thousands of Jewish businesses and synagogues. In 2002, the German parliament passed a law [backgrounder, in German] exonerating conscientious objectors, deserters, and homosexuals.






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UN-backed Afghanistan electoral commission orders partial recount of votes
Ximena Marinero on September 9, 2009 7:28 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) [official website] on Tuesday ordered [press release, PDF] Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) [official website] to conduct a partial recount of votes from polling stations with high irregularities. According to ECC investigations:


The overwhelming majority in which the ECC found clear and convincing evidence of fraud were also characterized by either an exceptionally high number of presidential votes cast per station in relation to the number of ballots available; or an exceptionally high percentage of ballots cast for only one candidate; or both. The ECC also notes that the overwhelming majority of stations in which it found fraud had a number of ballots cast that were far in excess of what could be expected based on credible observer reports of low voter turnout.

Also Tuesday, the European Union Election Observation Mission to Afghanistan [official website] confirmed [press release, PDF] that "large scale ballot stuffing took place at polling station level" resulting in "hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes ... included among the preliminary official results posted on the IEC's website." And on Sunday, Afghanistan's highest ranking female judge Mehro Hameed told the Daily Telegraph that the recent pardons of five convicted major drug traffickers by President Hamid Karzai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] were a severe barrier to the rule of law [Telegraph report] in the country. The nephew of Karzai's campaign manager was among the pardoned.

The IEC said Saturday that it is conducting its role faithfully and impartially [JURIST report] in an attempt to reassure the Afghan public amid allegations of voter fraud in the recent presidential election [JURIST news archive], mainly in response to complaints by Abdullah Abdullah [BBC profile] who was the central challenger to Karzai. The IEC also announced Sunday that it invalidated [AP report] the results of 447 polling stations because of claims of fraud, but retracted on Monday alleging lack of authority to exclude such ballots. Abdullah said his campaign has filed more than 100 complaints [JURIST report] with the ECC alleging ballot stuffing, inflated vote counts, and intimidation at the polls by Karzai supporters. Election observers also reported at least two instances of voters fingers, marked with indelible ink to avoid voter fraud, being cut off by Taliban insurgents [Los Angeles Times report].





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Federal judge rules New York violating ADA by segregating mentally ill adults
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 8, 2009 3:29 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that the state of New York has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) [text; materials] by segregating mentally ill New York City residents in private homes under poor conditions. Disability Advocates, Inc. (DAI) [advocacy website] brought the suit in 2003 [NYT report] arguing that Judge Nicholas Garaufis should enjoin the practice of sending mentally ill people into these homes. While Garaufis stopped short of issuing the injunction, he did direct the state to come up with a remedial plan by mid-October, finding:

Following a five-week bench trial, DAI has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that its constituents, approximately 4,300 individuals with mental illness, are not receiving services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. The adult homes at issue are institutions that segregate residents from the community and impede residents' interactions with people who do not have disabilities. DAI has proven that virtually all of its constituents are qualified to receive services in "supported housing," a far more integrated setting in which individuals with mental illness live in apartments scattered throughout the community and receive flexible support services as needed. DAI has also proven that its constituents are not opposed to receiving services in more integrated settings. Therefore, DAI has established a violation of the integration mandate of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.

A government spokesperson said the ruling is under review [AP report], and it is unclear whether there will be an appeal.

The US is one of only 45 countries in the world with disability legislation, having adopted the ADA in 1990. Last year, Congress approved [JURIST report] the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 [HR 3195 materials], making it easier for employees with mental or physical handicaps to prove they are victims of workplace or hiring discrimination. In 2006, the UN General Assembly Wednesday adopted by acclamation [JURIST report] an international treaty on the rights of persons with disabilities [official website]. The US signed [JURIST report] that treaty in July at a ceremony marking the 19th anniversary of the ADA.





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Germany parliament approves bill for ratifying EU reform treaty
Matt Glenn on September 8, 2009 2:17 PM ET

[JURIST] The German Bundestag [official website, in German] approved a bill [text, PDF, in German] Tuesday that will allow Germany to ratify the EU reform treaty, known as the Lisbon Treaty [EU materials; text]. Although both houses of Germany's parliament had previously approved the treaty [JURIST report], the German Constitutional Court [official website] ruled [judgment; JURIST report] in June that the treaty could not be ratified without certain parliamentary reforms ensuring Germany's sovereignty. The Bundestag passed the bill [DW report], which was drafted [JURIST report] in August, by a vote of 494-46 with two abstentions. The bill must still be approved by the Bundesrat [official website], Germany's upper house of parliament, which will cast its vote September 18, and then signed into law by President Horst Koehler [official profile, in German].

Efforts to ratify [JURIST news archive] the treaty in all of the 27 member countries required for approval have met some obstacles. Although the treaty has been approved in 23 countries, Irish voters rejected [JURIST report] the treaty last June, leading Czech President Vaclav Klaus [official website] to refuse to sign the measure, despite approval [JURIST report] by the Czech Senate [official website]. Last July, Polish President Lech Kaczynski [official website] refused to sign [JURIST report] the treaty despite parliamentary approval, calling it "pointless" in light of the Irish rejection. Ireland agreed in June to hold a second referendum [JURIST report] after EU leaders agreed to certain concessions [presidency conclusions, PDF].






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Cambodia prosecutor recommends investigating 'last' 5 war crimes suspects
Matt Glenn on September 8, 2009 1:44 PM ET

[JURIST] The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] announced Tuesday that international co-prosecutor William Smith [official profile] recommends investigating [press release] five more potential war criminals in what would be the court's final investigations. The announcement came a day after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed hope [JURIST report] that the Court would cease to prosecute those suspected of war crimes during the Khmer Rouge [BBC backgrounder] regime due to security concerns. According to court rules, the names of the five suspects were not released. The release stated:


Based on a preliminary investigation, the Second Introductory Submission requests judicial investigation of eight (8) distinct factual situations of murder, torture, unlawful detention, forced labour and persecution. The factual allegations in this Introductory Submission, if proved, would constitute crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and violations of the 1956 Cambodian Penal Code. The Third Introductory Submission requests judicial investigation of thirty-two (32) distinct factual situations of murder, torture, unlawful detention, forced labour, and persecution. The factual allegations in the Third Introductory Submission, if proved, would constitute crimes against humanity, violations of the 1956 Cambodian Penal Code and genocide.

Smith was recently appointed acting international prosecutor to replace to replace Robert Petit when his resignation [JURIST reports] took effect September 1.

The ECCC is in the midst of its first trial of a former Khmer Rouge leader - Kaing Guek Eav [TrialWatch backgrounder, JURIST news archive], also known as "Duch." A verdict in that case is expected [JURIST report] in early 2010. Kaing is the first of eight ex-Khmer Rouge officials expected to be tried before the ECCC, which recently announced the establishment of an independent counselor to oversee anti-corruption efforts [JURIST reports]. Last month Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] asked the ECCC to determine the scope of its prosecutions [JURIST report] "to thwart growing perceptions that court decisions are directed by the government." In February, HRW warned that ECCC trials were in danger of being tainted for their failure to follow fair trial standards, and in January a Cambodian court agreed to hear a corruption case [JURIST reports] involving two ECCC judges.





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UK to support IRA bombing victims compensation claim against Libya
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 8, 2009 11:02 AM ET

[JURIST] British officials met Tuesday with lawyers for victims of Irish Republican Army (IRA) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] bombings in the 1980s and 90s to discuss seeking compensation from Libya. The meeting came after Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website] said Sunday that that British government would support efforts to win compensation [NYT report] from the Libyan government, which is accused of providing the IRA with explosives. Brown said that although the British government will not negotiate directly with Libya, it will establish a foreign office dedicated to getting compensation for the victims. Brown's statement is an apparent reversal of policy, as the Sunday Times of London reported that they had obtained documents showing that Brown did not support [Times report] seeking victims' compensation.

Tuesday's meeting comes on the heels of the controversy surrounding the release [JURIST report] to Libya of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi [BBC profile] who was recently diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. In November, Libya made its final deposit [JURIST report] to a $1.5 billion fund for US terrorism victims that will be used to settle claims for victims of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1986 bombing of the La Belle disco [BBC backgrounder] in Berlin, Germany. Libya has also made payments to compensate British victims of the Lockerbie bombing, but no agreement has ever been reached to compensate victims of the IRA attacks.






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Mexico president replaces attorney general in charge of anti-drug efforts
Safiya Boucaud on September 8, 2009 10:32 AM ET

[JURIST] Mexican President Felipe Calderon [official website, in Spanish] on Monday accepted the resignation [text] of Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora [official profile], a key player in Mexico's efforts against drug cartels and drug-related violence. Medina Mora will be replaced by the former attorney general of a northern Mexican state, Arturo Chavez. In his address to the media, Calderon said:


Mr. Medina Mora's work has been instrumental in confiscating record amounts from criminals and in bringing many of the leaders of the main criminal organizations in Mexico to justice. His commitment was crucial to purging police and above all, ministerial corps through Operation Clean-Up. I would also like to highlight his role in promoting the laws that will enable us to create a new legal architecture to consolidate the Rule of Law, such as the Constitutional Reform of the Penal Justice System and the new Organic Law of the Attorney General's Office. I have asked [Media Mora] to continue contributing to the nation through the Mexican Foreign Service in a mission that will be announced in due course. Assistant Legal Attorney General and Head of Special Affairs Juan Miguel Alcantara will temporarily take over, guaranteeing the continuity of operations in the Attorney General's office and resolving the issues involved in it, in accordance with Article 89 of the Organic Law Regulations of the Attorney General's Office. I will propose the designation, according to Article 89, Section 9 of the Constitution, of Arturo Chavez, as the new Attorney General, whose nomination I will submit to Senate for approval.

Medina Mora had served in the position of attorney general for the past three years and had served during the prior administration as the head of Mexico's Centro de Investigacion y Seguridad Nacional (CISEN) [official website, in Spanish], the equivalent of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Medina Mora's resignation comes amid continued efforts to crack down on the Mexican drug cartels. Last month, 10 accused Mexican drug cartel leaders and 33 others were indicted [JURIST report] in New York and Chicago. In May, Mexican security forces arrested [JURIST report] 27 Mexican public officials on drug-related corruption charges. In April, the Mexican Senate passed an amendment [JURIST report] to the country's constitution that would permit the government to seize property from suspected drug traffickers and other criminals prior to conviction. Last November, Mexican authorities detained former Assistant Attorney General Noe Ramirez [JURIST report], accusing him of receiving monthly payments of $450,000 from the Pacifico drug cartel in exchange for confidential information regarding government anti-drug enforcement efforts. Also last year, reports indicated that both the Assistant Attorney General's Office Specializing in Organized Crime (SIEDO) and the US Embassy in Mexico had been infiltrated [JURIST report] by a branch of the Sinaloa drug cartel, which paid officials to turn over confidential information. The chief of Mexico's Federal Preventative Police resigned [JURIST report] in connection with the investigation.





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Obama administration secrecy policies improved over predecessor: report
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 8, 2009 9:50 AM ET

[JURIST] The administration of US President Barack Obama [official website] has improved government transparency over the Bush administration, but there is more that should be done, according a report [text, PDF; press release, PDF] released Tuesday OpenTheGovernment.org [advocacy website], a coalition of public interest groups. The Secrecy Report Card 09 provides a non-quantitative overview of the first six months of the Obama administration, finding that while promises of openness have been encouraging, in practice there has been room for greater transparency in some instances, concluding that the "record to date is mixed." The report also found that the Bush administration improved secrecy policies during its final year:


The final year of the Bush-Cheney Administration saw slight decreases in secrecy in a number of areas in the executive branch. The record is not clear that there was a concomitant increase in openness. Signs of progress exist in some areas toward more openness, the results of continued determination on the part of the public and its representatives. Congress continues working to identify ways to rein in the use and abuse of categories, such as "Sensitive But Unclassified," and has also taken steps to counter the tendencies of agencies and departments in areas such as over-classification.

The report examined indicators such as national security letter requests, assertions of the "state secrets" privilege, assertions of executive privilege, and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [JURIST news archive] requests.

On Friday, the White House announced that for the first time in history it will disclose the names of all White House visitors [press release]. The Obama administration recently released a highly anticipated CIA interrogation report along with other documents but then refused to release [JURIST reports] further detainee treatment documents in response to a FOIA request from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website]. In February, the Obama administration reasserted the state secrets privilege [JURIST report] in a lawsuit over CIA rendition flights, drawing criticism from advocacy groups including the ACLU. The Department of Justice is currently seeking an en banc rehearing of the case, in which the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [JURIST reports] that the state secrets privilege does not bar a lawsuit against a company that allegedly provided logistical support for the flights.





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Iraq PM calls for international tribunal to try suspects for recent bombings
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 8, 2009 8:30 AM ET

[JURIST] Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [official website, in Arabic; JURIST news archive] on Sunday reiterated calls for the UN to establish an international tribunal to investigate and try suspects accused in the August 19 bombing of the foreign and finance ministries [BBC report] that left close to 100 dead. Meeting with the US envoy in Iraq, al-Maliki also described the worsening situation between Iraq and Syria [AP report], which has refused to hand over individuals suspected of planning the attacks. Al-Maliki's request for an international tribunal echo a letter [Reuters report] sent recently to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon that was forwarded to the UN Security Council [official websites], in which al-Maliki asked that an independent international commission of inquiry be set up to investigate the attacks. The Security Council has yet to respond to the request.

The August attacks came less than two months after US troops withdrew from urban centers under the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [text, PDF], which allows US troops to remain in the country until the end of 2011. In the days before the bombings, the Iraqi Cabinet approved a draft bill that would require a referendum [JURIST report] on the SOFA. Under the proposed bill, which must still be approved by the Iraqi Parliament, the referendum would occur during the parliamentary elections, scheduled for January 16. If the SOFA were rejected by Iraqi voters, US troops would have only one year to withdraw, resulting in a January 2011 withdrawal, nearly a year ahead of schedule. No parliamentary vote on the bill has been scheduled.






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UK court convicts 3 charged in transatlantic airline bombing plot
Amelia Mathias on September 7, 2009 2:29 PM ET

[JURIST] A UK jury found three men guilty of conspiracy to murder [Metropolitan Police press release] after plotting to blow up transatlantic flights using liquid explosives [JURIST news archive]. The three men, Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar, and Tanvid Hussain, were part of a larger plot allegedly organized by British national Rashid Rauf, arrested in Pakistan. Four other suspects were not convicted and two more must be retried after the juries could not decide upon their guilt. Scotland Yard said the case involved the most evidence that has ever been brought against a suspect at a terrorism trial. All three are expected to receive their sentences [Guardian report] on September 14.

The suspected plot, which British authorities announced they had foiled [JURIST report] in August 2006, allegedly involved using liquid explosives disguised as beverages to blow up jets bound for North America from Heathrow Airport. Shortly after those arrests, UK Home Secretary John Reid told journalists that the threat of terrorism required balancing individuals' civil liberties [JURIST report] against the "collective right to security."






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Cambodia PM calls for halt to further genocide arrests
Amelia Mathias on September 7, 2009 1:05 PM ET

[JURIST] Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen [official profile] announced Monday that while he hoped no further potential war criminals would be tried in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia [ECCC] [official site], he would continue to support the court financially should international backers drop out. Sen, who has led the country for the past twenty years, said he fears further trials of those accused of war crimes during the period Khmer Rouge rule in the 1970s could tear the country apart and possibly even plunge it back into violence [AP report]. Sen's comments came in response to an announcement from investigators last week that more tribunal suspects may be arrested [CTV report].

The ECCC is in the midst of its first trial of a former Khmer Rouge leader - Kaing Guek Eav [TrialWatch backgrounder, JURIST news archive], also known as "Duch." A verdict in that case is expected [JURIST report] in early 2010. Kaing is the first of eight ex-Khmer Rouge officials expected to be tried before the ECCC, which recently announced the establishment of an independent counselor to oversee anti-corruption efforts [JURIST reports]. Last month Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] asked the ECCC to determine the scope of its prosecutions [JURIST report] "to thwart growing perceptions that court decisions are directed by the government." In February, HRW warned that ECCC trials were in danger of being tainted for their failure to follow fair trial standards, and in January a Cambodian court agreed to hear a corruption case [JURIST reports] involving two ECCC judges.






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UK terrorism suspect freed from control order
Steve Czajkowski on September 7, 2009 10:56 AM ET

[JURIST] The UK Home Office [official website] has released a top terrorism suspect from a control order [ Guardian backgrounder; JURIST news archive] subjecting him to virtual house arrest because it did not want to reveal secret evidence, according to media reports Monday. Home Secretary Alan Johnson [official profile] sent a letter [Times report] to the man of Libyan and British nationality, know only as AF, at the end of last month freeing him from the three-year-old control order, but the letter did not give a reason why. The decision to free the suspect followed a June ruling [judgment, PDF; JURIST report] by a panel of nine UK Law Lords [official website] which required the government to let detainees and subjects of control orders know generally what charges they face so that they can mount a defense. It is believed that the decision to free AF will lead to at least 20 others subject to control orders to challenge the cases [AFP report] against them.

Control orders allow the British government to conduct surveillance and impose house arrest on suspects where there does not exist enough evidence to prosecute. The orders can also be used to forbid the use of mobile phones and the Internet. In August, a control order against a suspected terrorist known as AN was overturned [judgment text; JURIST report] by the UK High Court. At that time Johnson had announced plans [BBC report] to draft a new control order against AN. 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 [text] violate human rights.






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Bangladesh ex-PM Zia facing October corruption trial
Steve Czajkowski on September 7, 2009 9:58 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia [UN profile; JURIST news archive] and her son, Tarique Rahman [BBC profile], will face court proceedings [Reuters report] on corruption charges starting in October, officials from the Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate Court said Monday. Zia, the head of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party [party website], her son, and four others are accused [Xinhua report] of embezzling over 21 million taka (US $305,000) in the Zia Orphanage Trust which is said to be nonexistent. The case was originally filed [Daily Star report] in August by the country's Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) [governing statute], which had previously sought to lay other corruption charges [JURIST report] against Zia. The latest charges are the first to be filed against a high-profile Bangladeshi politician since current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina [AP profile] and many members of her Bangladesh Awami League [party website] were elected [JURIST report] in December, displacing a military-backed regime.

In May, Morshed Khan, who served as Zia's foreign minister, began serving [JURIST report] a 13-year sentence for illegally amassing nearly $250,000. Khan initially fled the country following the January 2007 state of emergency declaration [JURIST report] that suspended democratic rights in Bangladesh. Three other Zia officials were jailed [JURIST report] in November. Zia herself was taken into custody [JURIST report] on suspicion of corruption in September 2007.






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Niger opposition lawmakers arrested for embezzlement after protesting constitution
Amelia Mathias on September 6, 2009 3:37 PM ET

[JURIST] Members of the Niger opposition party said Saturday that police had detained 30 former opposition lawmakers, allegedly at the behest of Niger President Mamadou Tandja [BBC profile]. The 30 former member of parliament were arrested on charges of embezzlement [AFP report], but are likely being targeted for their opposition to Tandja's dissolution of parliament [BBC report] and new constitution [JURIST report], which permits him to run for office for an indefinite number of terms. The arrested politicians, who are being held without bail, refuse to recognize Tandja's expansion of his powers. Tandja's term in office is currently slated to end [Voice of America report] on December 22.

The opposition already pledged [JURIST report] to oppose Tandja's new constitution. Among the new constitution's changes is the abolition of a presidential two-term limit, allowing Tandja to remain in office for three more years [AFP report] and to run in any subsequent elections, allowing the president to appoint one third of the members [CBC report] of a newly-created Senate, and establishing a media-monitoring position that would have the authority to jail reporters thought to present a threat to the country. In the lead-up to the election, CDFR had encouraged a popular boycott of the referendum on constitutional grounds, forming the basis for its dismissal of official electoral statistics. In June, opposition leader Bazoum Mohamed of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) [party website] accused Tandja of committing a coup d'etat [JURIST report] by annulling the West African country's Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court ruled in May that plans to hold a referendum on allowing a third term were unconstitutional. Tandja responded to the ruling by dissolving parliament and assuming emergency powers.






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Pakistan judicial reform needed: report
Amelia Mathias on September 6, 2009 3:04 PM ET

[JURIST] Pakistan's rule of law is stymied by long traditions of lawlessness and dictatorship, says the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute [official site] in a new report [text, PDF press release]. The report, published Thursday, stems from observations and more than 100 interviews conducted with all Pakistani individuals who have some stake in the court system there, from judges to defendants, over the course of two weeks in March and April. Though the report praises Pakistani lawyers for their part in restoring Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry [JURIST news archive] to his post, it raises many concerns about the lack of judicial oversight for judges, protection of them and their families, and the Islamisation of Pakistani law, particularly by location. The report further elucidates thirty-five recommendations for implementation, saying:


The justice system must no longer be regarded as subordinate to political expediency. Expectations are high that the judiciary in particular, and the legal profession in general, will take a leading role in restoring the rule of law and the protection of human rights in Pakistan. There are no simple means of solving the many challenges facing the justice system. Purely cosmetic changes will no longer be sufficient to ensure that fundamental rights are not only implemented but truly respected in Pakistan.

Chaudhry called for an end to corruption in the Pakistani judiciary on the first day he was reinstated [JURIST reports] in March. Chaudhry resumed his position amid great celebration [BBC video] by Pakistani lawyers, 16 months after being removed from his post [JURIST report] by then-president Pervez Musharraf [JURIST news archive]. Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Muslim League had actively campaigned for Chaudhry's reinstatement, and Chaudhry maintained that he was still chief justice [JURIST reports] under the Pakistani constitution, even after his ouster.





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Iran media activists urge new prosecutor to free detained journalists
Steve Czajkowski on September 6, 2009 11:25 AM ET

[JURIST] Media workers and reformists are urging Iran's new prosecutor general Abbas Jafari Dolat-Abadi [PressTV report] to remove bans placed on newspapers and to free journalists who were imprisoned during the term of his predecessor, Saeed Mortazavi [JURIST news archive], according to a letter posted Saturday on the website of leading reform party Mosharekat [party website, in Persian]. The letter was accompanied by more than 300 signatures of support. Mortasavi is believed to have closed down around 120 news publications and has overseen the trials of more than 100 individuals out of more than 4,000 who were arrested during recent political protests [JURIST news archive]. It is not entirely clear how many journalists are currently being held, but a source told Reuters that there may be as many 38 still in custody [Reuters report].

Last week Iranian judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani [profile] removed [JURIST report] Mortazavi from office, for reasons which are still unclear. Larijani, who himself was appointed early last month [JURIST report] amid protests over the disputed re-election [JURIST news archive] of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [official profile; JURIST news archive], chose Dolat-Abadi, a former provincial judiciary head, as Tehran's new prosecutor general.






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Afghanistan election commission defends poll results against fraud allegations
Steve Czajkowski on September 6, 2009 10:01 AM ET

[JURIST] Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) [official website] said Saturday that it is doing its job faithfully and impartially in an attempt to reassure the Afghan public amid allegations of voter fraud in the recent presidential election [JURIST news archive]. The remarks are mainly in response to complaints by Abdullah Abdullah [BBC profile], the central challenger to current President Hamid Karzai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The IEC also announced Sunday that it has invalidated [AP report] the results of 447 polling stations because of claims of fraud. While it is not clear how many votes are included in those rejections, the latest election results [IEC poll returns] released Sunday indicate Karzai is in the lead with 48.6 percent. Karzai would need to obtain at least 50 percent of the vote in order to avoid a runoff with the second place candidate. The preliminary results of the election are to be released on September 7, and the final results of the election are scheduled to be certified by September 17.

Soon after the election was held last month Abdullah alleged widespread voter fraud [JURIST report] in the presidential election. Abdullah said his campaign has filed more than 100 complaints [Washington Post report] with the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) [official website] alleging ballot stuffing, inflated vote counts, and intimidation at the polls by Karzai supporters. Election observers also reported at least two instances of voters fingers, marked with indelible ink to avoid voter fraud, being cut off by Taliban insurgents [Los Angeles Times report]. The Free & Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) [official website] said the amputations took place in the southern Kandahar province, which has been plagued by violence. In preliminary findings [text, PDF; press release, PDF] released last month, the European Union Election Observation Mission to Afghanistan [official website] found that while the holding of the election was a victory for Afghan people, the process was marred with voter intimidation and security problems.






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Iran opposition candidate Mousavi calls for continued protests over disputed election
Christian Ehret on September 5, 2009 12:49 PM ET

[JURIST] Iran opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi [IranTracker profile] on Saturday called for continued protests over the recent controversial election [JURIST report] in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [BBC profile] was re-elected. Mousavi maintained his position that the election was fraudulent and urged supporters [Reuters report] to oppose the results. Mousavi's statements came just days after Ahmadinejad called for the prosecution of opposition leaders [JURIST report], including Mousavi, for allegedly conspiring to orchestrate mass protests immediately following the election.

The protests over the election and the resulting arrests have been the subject of recent debate. Last week, Iran began the fourth mass trial [JURIST report] of election protesters and reformists. Earlier in August, three UN human rights experts called on Iran's Revolutionary Court to reject protesters' confessions obtained through torture [JURIST report]. Iran's Prosecutor General Ghorban Ali Dorri Najafabadi acknowledged [JURIST report] last month that some protesters arrested after the election were tortured. Human rights groups have called arrests 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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Belgium accepts Guantanamo Bay detainee for resettlement
Bhargav Katikaneni on September 5, 2009 11:45 AM ET

[JURIST] The Belgian Foreign Ministry [official website] announced press release] Friday that they have accepted a former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee into their country for resettlement. The Belgian government announced that the detainee, who has not been named, will receive a work permit and that further "accompanying measures will be specific with a view to ensuring his effective integration in Belgium." In August, Belgium sent a delegation to Guantanamo Bay to interview [JURIST report] a detainee for potential transfer.

The White House recently gave notice [JURIST report] to Congress that six Guantanamo Bay detainees would be transferred out of the country. Of the six, one was sent to Afghanistan, two were sent to Portugal, and two will be sent to Ireland [JURIST reports]. Meanwhile, the residents of a Michigan town where a federal prison set to close is being considered to house the remaining Guantanamo detainees have protested [JURIST report] the move. President Barack Obama signed an executive order [JURIST report] in January, ordering the detention facility to be closed within a year and the remaining prisoners moved elsewhere.






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WTO issues preliminary ruling against EU Airbus subsidies
Christian Ehret on September 5, 2009 11:39 AM ET

[JURIST] The World Trade Organization (WTO) [website] on Friday ruled that Airbus received illegal subsidies from European governments, according to sources familiar with the unreleased decision. The preliminary ruling [Washington Post report] came in response to a complaint [materials; JURIST report] filed by the US Trade Representative alleging that the subsidies caused material harm to US aircraft manufacturer Boeing [corporate website], in violation of the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures [WTO backgrounder] and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 [text, PDF]. Representative Norm Dicks (D-WA) responded to the ruling [press release], saying that the subsidies allowed Airbus to "steal US aircraft manufacturing jobs" and that they should be curtailed immediately to "restore a level global marketplace." The WTO has yet to rule on a counterclaim brought by the EU alleging that US aid to Boeing is in violation of agreements.

In February, Congress amended a US economic stimulus package after the European Union expressed concern [JURIST reports] over a "Buy American" provision in the legislation. The EU stated that they were prepared to take legal action over the provision that allegedly violated the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement, an ensurement that both the US and EU will have substantial procurement opportunities in either region.






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Ninth Circuit rules no Ashcroft immunity from illegal detention lawsuit
Bhargav Katikaneni on September 5, 2009 10:10 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that former attorney general John Ashcroft [JURIST news archive] is not entitled to absolute and qualified immunity, allowing an unlawful detention lawsuit by US citizen Abdullah Al-Kidd to go forward. At the heart of the case is whether the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] policy of using the federal material witness statute [18 USC § 3144 text; HRW backgrounder, PDF] as a way to preemptively detain and investigate terrorism suspects without probable cause is lawful. The Ninth Circuit said that Al-Kidd's case had three legitimate causes of action that could go forward, concluding:


We are confident that, in light of the experience of the American colonists with the abuses of the British Crown, the Framers of our Constitution would have disapproved of the arrest, detention, and harsh confinement of a United States citizen as a "material witness" under the circumstances, and for the immediate purpose alleged, in al-Kidd's complaint. Sadly, however, even now, more than 217 years after the ratification of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, some confidently assert that the government has the power to arrest and detain or restrict American citizens for months on end, in sometimes primitive conditions, not because there is evidence that they have committed a crime, but merely because the government wishes to investigate them for possible wrongdoing, or to prevent them from having contact with others in the outside world. We find this to be repugnant to the Constitution, and a painful reminder of some of the most ignominious chapters of our national history.

Ashcroft had previously claimed absolute immunity because his actions to seek a material witness warrant were those of a "prosecutor." He had claimed qualified immunity as an attorney general because his actions furthered an investigatory or national security function. The court rejected both of those claims, upholding a lower court decision [JURIST report].

In May , the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that a similar case challenging Ashcroft's immunity from lawsuits for mistreatment of prisoners could not go forward because of failure to adequately state a claim. Without ruling on the substance of the allegations, the Court remanded the case to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] so that it may decide whether to allow the plaintiff an opportunity to amend his complaint. The Court declined to rule on Ashcroft's assertion of qualified immunity, except to note that the denial of a motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity "can fall within the narrow class of appealable orders despite 'the absence of a final judgment'" and that the Second Circuit therefore had proper interlocutory jurisdiction over the case.





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Federal judge sentences ex-US soldier to life in Mahmudiya rape-murder case
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 4, 2009 3:14 PM ET

[JURIST] Former US soldier Steven Green [JURIST news archive] was sentenced Friday to five consecutive life terms in prison for the rape and murder of an Iraqi teenage girl [JURIST news archive] and the murder of her family in Mahmudiya. A federal jury in the US District Court for the Western District of Kentucky [official website], which convicted [JURIST report] Green in May, failed to reach a unanimous decision on whether Green should get the death penalty, automatically giving him a life sentence [JURIST report] that was confirmed Friday. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty [JURIST report], but Green's defense maintained that he did not deserve capital punishment due to the highly stressful combat situation he was in and a lack of sufficient leadership.

Green faced a civilian jury after being discharged from the military for a psychiatric disorder before the charges were brought. He was one of six soldiers [JURIST report] charged with involvement in the rape and murders. Three other soldiers pleaded guilty in court-martial proceedings and a fourth was convicted. Spc. James Barker and Sgt. Paul Cortez were sentenced to 90 and 100 years respectively, while Pfc. Bryan Howard [JURIST reports], who stayed at the checkpoint and had prior knowledge of the plans, was sentenced to 27 months in jail. The fourth, Pfc. Jesse Spielman [JURIST report], was convicted by a military jury and sentenced to 110 years. Prosecutors dropped charges of dereliction of duty against the sixth member, Sgt. Anthony Yribe, who was other than honorably discharged.






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Myanmar court agrees to hear Suu Kyi appeal
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 4, 2009 2:02 PM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for Myanmar opposition pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] said Friday that the Divisional Court in Rangoon has agreed to hear an appeal of her recent conviction [JURIST report] for violating state security laws. Suu Kyi was sentenced to an additional 18 months of house for allowing American John Yettaw to stay in her home after he swam across a lake to get there. Yettaw, who was sentenced to seven years in prison with four years of hard labor, was released [JURIST report] last month after negotiations with US Senator Jim Webb (D-VA). The court is scheduled to hear Suu Kyi's appeal, which was filed Thursday, on September 18.

Suu Kyi's conviction was condemned [BBC report] by many world leaders. The European Union (EU) [official website] issued a statement [press release] saying, "[t]he proceedings against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, on charges which were brought twenty years after she was first wrongfully arrested, have been in breach of national and international law. The EU urges the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release her." US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile] said [press release], "she should not have been tried and she should not have been convicted. We continue to call for her release from continuing house arrest." Last month, the Council of the European Union [official website] announced sanctions [JURIST report] against members of the Myanmar judiciary responsible for the verdict. Suu Kyi has spent 14 of the last 20 years in detention.






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Canada court sentences 'Toronto 18' conspirator to 14 years in prison
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 4, 2009 1:03 PM ET

[JURIST] A Canadian court on Thursday sentenced Saad Khalid to 14 years in prison for his involvement in plotting to attack targets in Toronto, Canada [JURIST report]. Khalid, one of the so-called "Toronto 18" [Toronto Star backgrounder; advocacy website], was credited with seven years [Toronto Star report] for time served. Khalid pleaded guilty in May to one count of participating in a militant plot with the intention of causing an explosion. He had argued that he was not the leader of the group. The court accepted that argument but still found that he had a fairly high degree of responsibility. Khalid's lawyer said his client is content with the outcome and has no plans to appeal [CBC report] the sentence.

The "Toronto 18," arrested in 2006, are accused of planning a series of violent attacks on civilians, public officials, and government buildings. Although little information was released about the minors arrested among the Toronto 18, the charges eventually laid against the 12 adult males included participating in a terrorist group, receiving training from a terrorist group, training terrorists, and importing weapons and ammunition for terrorism. In May, one of the group's members, the first person convicted under Canada's post-9/11 terrorism law was sentenced to 36 months [JURIST reports] in prison and released by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice [official website] in consideration of the time he had already served.






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US Treasury eases Cuba family travel restrictions
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 4, 2009 11:07 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of the Treasury [official website] on Thursday lifted travel restrictions and restrictions on money transfers [press release] between Cuban-Americans and their families in Cuba. The department also authorized US telecommunications companies work within Cuba to facilitate communication between families split between the two countries. The move was championed by Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) [official website], who said [press release] Thursday:

Our previous policy hurt family farmers and restricted their ability to get their products to the Cuban marketplace, and I'm pleased to see that these new regulations recognize the importance of my legislation when it comes to giving our nation's agricultural producers access to the Cuban marketplace.

This change will make it easier for our producers to sell their goods to Cuba, and it makes good economic sense for family farmers in North Dakota and across the country.
The eased restrictions still do not lift the general economic embargo [DOS backgrounder] that has been in place against Cuba since 1962. Travel restrictions to Cuba will remain in effect for Americans of non-Cuban descent, and Americans continue to be barred from sending gifts to high-ranking Cuban politicians.

The Obama administration ordered the restrictions to be lifted [JURIST report] in April. Earlier this year, Congress approved legislation that relaxed rules put in place by the Bush administration in 2004 [JURIST report]. In February, a bill [HR 874 materials] was introduced [JURIST report] into the US House of Representatives [official website] that would end the ban on travel by US residents to Cuba. A similar bill [S 428 materials] is pending in the US Senate [official website]. In October 2008, the UN General Assembly [official website] adopted [press release] by 185-3 a resolution [text, PDF] urging the US to lift [JURIST report] its longstanding embargo on Cuba.





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Federal judges deny California request to stay prison population reduction order
Brian Jackson on September 4, 2009 10:20 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal judicial panel on Thursday denied [opinion, PDF] California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's request to stay an order [text, PDF] to reduce the prison population in the state. The request stemmed from an August ruling mandating that California reduce its prison population [JURIST report] by nearly 43,000 inmates in response to a lawsuit by two inmates alleging that overcrowding in California prisons reduces access to physical and mental health care and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. In its order Thursday, the court found that it has:


been more than patient with the state and its officials. Throughout the proceedings, we have had considerable difficulty in determining their positions, in view of their conflicting representations before this and other official bodies. We are persuaded that it is not in the best interests of all concerned to act as swiftly as possible. Further delays and obstruction will not well serve the people of the state, and will not be tolerated by this court.

Currently at issue is whether the federal panel has the authority to force California to reduce the number of inmates housed at 33 prisons state-wide. The Schwarzenegger administration has indicated it will appeal the panel's original ruling to the US Supreme Court, and Attorney General Jerry Brown filed notice that the appeal will be imminent [Los Angeles Times report].

California has long faced the problem of overcrowded prisons. The same panel of judges that issued the inmate reduction order in August issued a similar, tentative ruling in February [JURIST report]. In August 2008, court-appointed medical overseer J. Clark Kelso asked the US District Court for the Northern District of California to order the state to infuse $8 billion [JURIST report] into the prison system to improve healthcare for inmates. In May 2008, Schwarzenegger decided against a plan [JURIST report] to release 22,000 "low-risk" prisoners to alleviate overcrowding.





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Canada government to appeal asylum for white South African
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 4, 2009 9:38 AM ET

[JURIST] A spokesperson for the department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) [official website] said Thursday that the Canadian government will appeal a controversial decision by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) [official website] to grant asylum to a white South African man who claims he faced persecution in his homeland because of race. The ruling was issued [Times report] last week in the case of Brandon Huntley who came to Canada in 2006 as a carnival worker and then stayed illegally before filing an asylum claim. Huntley claimed [Globe and Mail report] that he was the victim of attempted robberies and racial slurs and that he could not get a job because of his race. The Federal Court will decide whether to hear the case within a month, and will then hold a hearing [Reuters report] about three months later if the case is accepted.

The IRB's decision sparked outrage in South Africa where race is still an extremely sensitive issue, 15 years after the end of apartheid. Earlier this week, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) [party website] condemned [press release] the decision as "racist." The South African Institute of Race Relations [advocacy website] said [press release, PDF] that it "has found no evidence that there is a general pattern of racial attacks on white South Africans by black South Africans. Rather ... the vast majority of the victims of violent crime are black."






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Federal appeals court stays injunction on Microsoft Word sales
Brian Jackson on September 4, 2009 7:32 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit [official website] on Thursday granted [order, PDF] a request by Microsoft Corporation [corporate website] to stay an injunction [text, PDF] that would have prevented the company from selling its popular word processing program Microsoft Word. The court ruled in a brief per curiam opinion that Microsoft had met its burden to stay the injunction. Microsoft had filed the emergency motion [text, PDF] for a stay of injunction on August 18, arguing that if the injunction were upheld, distributors of Microsoft products would be irreparably harmed. Microsoft did not release an official statement following the ruling, but a spokesperson did express satisfaction [Bloomberg report] with the result. The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Microsoft's appeal on September 23.

Microsoft filed its motion for an emergency stay less than one week after the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas issued the injunction [JURIST report]. The court held that Microsoft infringed a patent for XML coding held by Canadian company i4i [corporate website], which was the latest legal challenge for Microsoft. In June, a South Korean court ruled that Microsoft violated anti-trust laws [JURIST report] by packaging software with its Windows operating system. In late February, Google sought to join anti-trust litigation [JURIST report] against Microsoft in the EU, arguing that by packaging the Internet Explorer browser with the Windows operating system, Microsoft is stifling competition in the web browser market.






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Russia high court sends Politkovskaya murder investigation back to prosecutors
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 3, 2009 3:44 PM ET

[JURIST] The Russian Supreme Court [official website, in Russian] on Thursday ruled that the case of murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive] should be returned to prosecutors for further investigation. The court overturned [RIA Novosti report] a lower court decision [JURIST report] not to combine the case against Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, Dzhabrail Makhmudov, and Ibragim Makhmudov with an investigation against other suspects, including Rustam Makhmudov, the brother of Dzhabrail and Ibragim, who is thought to be in hiding under an alias. Reporters Without Borders [advocacy website] welcomed the court's decision, saying [press release] it offers "a degree of hope." Also Thursday, the Supreme Court upheld [RIA Novosti report] its decision to annul the acquittal of the three suspects. Their lawyer said he plans an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights [official website].

The Supreme Court ordered the retrial [JURIST report] of the three suspects in June after prosecutors argued the trial judge made procedural errors. Khadzhikurbanov, Dzhabrail Makhmudov, and Ibragim Makhmudov were acquitted [JURIST report] in February after a jury found that the evidence against the three was not enough [RIA Novosti report] to support convictions. A week later, prosecutors appealed the acquittals [JURIST report]. In November 2008, the Russian Prosecutor General's Office [official website, in Russian] requested a new judge [JURIST report], claiming that Moscow Military District Court judge Yevgeny Zubov had violated procedural rules. Zubov refused to recuse himself [JURIST report] from the trial. Khadzhikurbanov, Dzhabrail Makhmudov, and Ibragim Makhmudov were arrested [JURIST report] in August 2007 in connection with Politkovskaya's 2006 slaying.






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SEC inspector general report details Madoff investigation errors
Brian Jackson on September 3, 2009 12:55 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] made a number of missteps that could have uncovered the fraud committed by Bernard Madoff [JURIST news archive] at an earlier date, according to an inspector general's report [text, PDF] released Wednesday. The report indicated that between 1992 and 2008, six complaints were lodged with the SEC concerning Madoff's hedge fund operation. One of the complaints [text], submitted in 2005 by independent fraud investigator Harry Markopolos, raised doubts as to the level of return seen with Madoff's fund. The inspector general's report concluded:


As the foregoing demonstrates, despite numerous credible and detailed complaints, the SEC never properly examined or investigated Madoff's trading and never took the necessary, but basic, steps to determine if Madoff was operating a Ponzi scheme. Had these efforts been made with appropriate follow-up at any time beginning in June of 1992 until December 2008, the SEC could have uncovered the Ponzi scheme well before Madoff confessed.

SEC chair Mary Schapiro released a statement [text] expressing not only regret at missing the warning signs, but confidence that the agency has implemented the proper regulations to prevent a similar event from taking place in the future.

The Madoff case has had regulators in both the US and abroad [JURIST report] reevaluating their policies. In early August, Madoff's former financial chief Frank DiPascali pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to charges of fraud, conspiracy, tax evasion, and perjury for his role in the multi-billion dollar ponzi scheme. In mid-July, SEC chair Schapiro pledged more vigorous enforcement of securities policies, two weeks after Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison [JURIST reports].





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Canada rights tribunal rules hate speech law violates free expression
Brian Jackson on September 3, 2009 11:48 AM ET

[JURIST] The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal [official website] ruled [decision, PDF] Wednesday that Canada's Internet Hate Speech law unconstitutionally violates the right to free expression. The law, section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act [text], proscribed individuals or groups from:


communicat[ing] telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.

The party contesting the legality of section 13, Marc Lemire, argued that section 13 violates sections 24(1), 52(1), 2(a), 2(b), and 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text], and sections 1(d), 1(f), and 2 of the Canadian Bill of Rights [text]. In rendering his decision, Tribunal Vice-Chairperson Athanasios Hadjis [official profile] ruled that section 13 of the Human Rights Act violated section 2(b), but not sections 2(a) or 7 of the Canadian Charter, nor any of the at issue sections of the Bill of Rights. While the Tribunal ruled that section 13 of the Human Rights Act is contrary to free speech protections in Canada, the Tribunal cannot declare the law invalid, and can only refuse to sanction Lemire for his actions - allegedly posting discriminatory material on Internet message boards.

The Tribunal's ruling is the third in the last 13 months that has strengthened free speech protections in Canada and weakened hate speech laws. In October 2008, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal dismissed [JURIST report] a complaint alleging that the Canadian newspaper Maclean's incited hatred against Muslims. Earlier in 2008, another lawsuit against Maclean's was dismissed [JURIST report] by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Both 2008 decisions arose from an article [text] in by Mark Steyn entitled "The future belongs to Islam".





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Lawyers for alleged al Qaeda media director appeal conviction
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 3, 2009 10:49 AM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for alleged al Qaeda media director Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al Bahlul [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday appealed [brief, PDF] his conviction and life sentence [JURIST reports] for conspiring with al Qaeda, soliciting murder, and providing material support for terrorism. His Pentagon-appointed defense lawyers argued that his constitutional rights were violated because a supposed al Qaeda recruitment film he released is protected speech under the First Amendment. His lawyers argued:


The First Amendment ... bars the prosecution of political argument except in a few narrow circumstances, such as incitement. Here, no reasonable trier of fact could find that State of the Ummah rises to the level of incitement ... The record instead shows that State of the Ummah is exactly what the government contended it was – a political argument that provoked the very kind of debate and dissent that warrants its protection per se under the First Amendment. Additionally, it was incumbent upon the military judge to instruct the members on what speech is and is not criminal. This he did not do and the government exploited this fact to put Mr. al Bahlul's political beliefs on trial.

Al Bahlul's appeal was required under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [text, PDF], and it is unclear [Miami Herald report] whether he authorized the appeal. Al Bahlul previously boycotted much of his trial proceedings. It is also unclear when and where the appeal will be heard because of proposed changes by the Obama administration.

Al Bahlul, a 39-year old Yemeni citizen, went on trial [JURIST report] at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] last October. He is alleged to have been Osama bin Laden's personal assistant and media secretary and was charged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] in February 2008 with conspiracy, solicitation to commit murder and attacks on civilians, and providing material support for terrorism. He is accused of researching the financial impact of the 9/11 attacks and also releasing the "martyr wills" of 9/11 hijackers Muhammed Atta and Ziad al Jarrah as propaganda videos. Al Bahlul was the second detainee to go on trial at Guantanamo since the prison there opened in 2002 and is the only convicted criminal currently held at the facility.





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Chile judge discloses report detailing Pinochet secret fortune
Ximena Marinero on September 3, 2009 9:51 AM ET

[JURIST] Chilean judge Manuel Valderrama disclosed on Wednesday a report on the extent and sources of the secret fortune of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] that amounts to $25,978,602 in accounts held outside of Chile, of which $20,199,753 is suspected to to have been embezzled from official funds. The funds were accumulated [Los Tiempos report, in Spanish] over the period from 1973 to 2004, when a Senate sub-committee investigation uncovered the accounts [JURIST report]. On Tuesday, retired general Sergio Moreno Saravia was detained in connection with the embezzlement case on an order [press release, in Spanish] from Valderrama. During the Pinochet regime, Saravia exercised discretion over funds that belonged to the presidency and chief army command and would have been an accomplice to transfer the funds outside of the country. Also on Tuesday, Judge Victor Montiglio ordered the arrests [BBC report] of 129 suspects in connection with Pinochet-era "Dirty War" human rights violations on charges of aggravated kidnapping and homicide. Of the 129 former secret police agents, 25 have already been detained, and more than half of them have never faced charges. All 129 allegedly played a role in detaining and then guarding enforced disappearance victims. The orders were issued in connection with investigations on three separate "Dirty War" operations: Operation Condor, Operation Colombo [JURIST news archives], and the Calle Conferencia case. Montiglio had previously brought charges [JURIST report] against Pinochet for his role in Operacion Colombo.

In April, Montiglio charged [JURIST report] three former senior Pinochet-era military officers as accomplices for their role in the October 1973 killings of 14 leftist political opponents as part of the so-called "Caravan of Death" [BBC backgrounder]. Pinochet's youngest son, former secretary, and estate executor have previously been indicted [JURIST report] for their actions around Pinochet's finances for maliciously making false or incomplete tax declarations. In January 2006, Pinochet's wife, four of five children, daughter-in-law, and former secretary and lawyer were indicted, but a year later the Santiago Court of Appeals dropped most of the charges [JURIST reports]. In October 2007, 23 family members and former associates, including Pinochet's wife, five children, former secretary, and three retired army generals, were indicted [JURIST report] on corruption charges for aiding Pinochet in the "misuse of fiscal funds" during his regime. The following month, the Supreme Court of Chile upheld an appeals court decision to drop the charges [JURIST reports] because the accused were not government employees at the time and thus could not be charged with embezzling government funds.






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Pfizer settles health care fraud suit for record $2.3 billion
Christian Ehret on September 3, 2009 9:19 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced [press release] Wednesday that pharmaceutical company Pfizer [corporate website] and its subsidiary have settled a health care fraud suit [fact sheet] for a record $2.3 billion. The DOJ brought a felony claim against Pfizer under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act [materials] alleging that the drug Bextra was misbranded and promoted for "off-label" uses with the intent to defraud or mislead. Subsidiary Pharmacia & Upjohn Company pleaded guilty to the charges and agreed to pay a $1.195 billion fine, the largest criminal fine ever imposed in the US. Pfizer has also agreed to pay $1 billion to settle civil claims brought under the False Claims Act [text] alleging that it illegally promoted the drugs Bextra, Geodon, Zyvox and Lyrica, caused false claims to be submitted to health care programs, and paid kickbacks to health care providers. The settlement is the largest civil fraud settlement against a pharmaceutical company in US history. US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) [official website] Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that the settlement will secure the future of Medicare, Medicaid, and other government insurance programs. Pfizer denied all of the civil allegations [press release] except those that involve the improper promotion of Zyvox. Additionally, the pharmaceutical company entered into an agreement with the HHS that sets new policies and requires them to continue the maintenance of a compliance program for five years. At a press conference [prepared remarks] Wednesday, Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli maintained that "combating health care fraud is one of this Administration’s top law enforcement priorities."

In July, Pfizer reached a final settlement [JURIST report] with the Nigerian state of Kano over allegedly illegal clinical trials [BBC backgrounder] of the then-experimental antibiotic Trovan [FDA backgrounder] conducted in 1996. The suit accused the company of administering meningitis medication to 200 Nigerian children, 100 of which included Trovan, without government authorization or guardian consent. The Nigerian state of Kano claimed that the testing resulted in the death of 11 children and the incapacitation of 181 others and demanded $2.75 billion in damages. The company has denied the allegations, calling its actions ethical and beneficial, and is expected to pay $75 million to settle the suit.






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CIA refuses to release further documents on detainee treatment practices
Christian Ehret on September 3, 2009 8:24 AM ET

[JURIST] The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] has announced [declaration, PDF] that they would not release further documents regarding investigations into alleged detainee mistreatment in Iraq and Afghanistan. Filed late Monday in response to a Freedom of Information Act suit [materials] brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website], the declaration maintains that the withheld documents and information describing interrogation and rendition procedures are "highly sensitive" and fall into FOIA exceptions. The unreleased information supposedly details how the CIA developed its program and coordinated with other US agencies, how it targeted terrorists, and how it worked with its liaison partners to develop "information that was essential to protecting the United States." The declaration argues that releasing such information would expose the names of CIA employees and sources, intra-agency discussions and deliberations, attorney-client communications, and private personnel files. The ACLU responded [press release] to the filing, saying that the arguments are "utterly disconnected from the Obama administration's stated positions" on ending torture and restoring transparency.

Last week, the CIA released letters and memoranda [JURIST report] detailing the conduction of overseas interrogations that included sleep deprivation, dietary manipulation and physical abuse. The documents, which analyzed the legality of "enhanced interrogation" procedures, were released pursuant to a court order resulting from the ACLU FOIA litigation. Also last week, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will "open a preliminary review" [JURIST report] into allegations of prisoner abuse by CIA interrogators during the Bush administration. In July, a former CIA counter-terrorism agent reported that waterboarding techniques were used prior to the issuance of legal memos authorizing the practice [JURIST reports]. Also in July, former DOJ lawyer and memo author John Yoo declared his intent to appeal a ruling that allowed a lawsuit [JURIST reports] against him for complicity in torture. The suit claims that Yoo's legal opinions endorsing certain interrogation techniques led to torture.






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Colombia lower house approves referendum on allowing third presidential term
Ximena Marinero on September 3, 2009 7:35 AM ET

[JURIST] The Colombian House of Representatives [official website, in Spanish] on Tuesday voted 85-5 [official results, DOC, in Spanish] to approve a bill [text, PPS, in Spanish] to hold a referendum on whether President Alvaro Uribe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] can run for a third presidential term. There were 76 abstentions. To pass the bill, 83 votes were necessary, and one of the additional votes came from a representative who had vowed to abstain [El Heraldo report, in Spanish] from voting because of a preliminary investigation into his actions in the 2004 voting process on the constitutional amendment that allowed Uribe to run for a second term. The bill will now have to be evaluated within the next 90 days by the Constitutional Court [official website, in Spanish]. Also Tuesday, the Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] of Colombia issued a decision [El Heraldo report, in Spanish] to continue investigating 86 members of Congress for alleged irregularities and receiving political favors during the 2004 voting process and for ties to paramilitary forces. On Wednesday, a leading conservative senator accused of receiving political favors in 2004 turned himself in [Telam report, in Spanish] after the Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for him on Tuesday. The opposition and members of academia have decried [press release, PDF, in Spanish] the proposed referendum as a severe damage to democracy, and some Uribe supporters have also spoken against the measure. Uribe has not officially announced whether he would run for re-election if the referendum results were in favor of allowing a third term.

The Colombian Senate [official website] in May approved [press release, in Spanish; JURIST report] a proposal to hold a referendum on amending the country's constitution [text, in Spanish] to allow for a third presidential term. Uribe was elected to a second term in 2006 after a similar referendum, approved by Congress [NYT report] in December 2004 and the Constitutional Court [JURIST report] in October 2005, lifted the original one-term limit. In June 2008, the Colombian Supreme Court ruled [AP report] that a legal inquiry should be held into the election after it found that a legislator had been bribed to help push through the constitutional changes. In response, Uribe called for a referendum [JURIST report] on the election.






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Czech president floats constitutional amendments after court delays elections
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 2, 2009 4:03 PM ET

[JURIST] Czech President Vaclav Klaus [official website, in Czech] on Wednesday called an emergency meeting [press release, in Czech] of political officials to discuss potential changes to the country's constitution, one day after the Constitutional Court [official website, in Czech] delayed elections [press release, in Czech] planned for October 9 and 10 to consider a suit by a lawmaker. The court delayed the election after independent lawmaker Milos Melcak filed a complaint [text, PDF, in Czech] alleging that the scheduled elections violated his rights by not allowing him to serve his full parliamentary term. Klaus said [press release, in Czech] he was "seriously concerned" by the court's decision, calling it "highly political." At Wednesday's meeting, politicians agreed to establish a working group to prepare amendments to the constitution that would make it easier to dissolve parliament and call new elections.

Former prime minister Mirek Topolanek [official website; JURIST news archive] formally resigned [JURIST report] in March, dissolving parliament, which led to the scheduling of the now-delayed October elections. The Czech Republic has been experiencing economic difficulty over the past year, and the delayed election will further delay budget negotiations. Since the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the Czech Republic has been led by a series of governments lacking a strong majority [Bloomberg report].






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Thailand court sentences political activist to 18 years for royal defamation
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 2, 2009 3:18 PM ET

[JURIST] A Thai criminal court has sentenced political activist Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul [advocacy website] to 18 years in prison for insulting the royal family. Darunee was convicted [The Nation report] last Friday on charges of violating Thailand's lese majeste [UPI backgrounder] law, which prohibits defaming, insulting, or threatening "King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent." Darunee was accused of denouncing the royal family during a July 2008 speech while speaking at a political rally for the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) party of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Darunee's lawyer says he plans an appeal [Bangkok Post report].

In June, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called for a public trial [JURIST report] for Darunee after Judge Prommat Toosang on ordered [Reuters report] that the trial be closed for national security reasons. AI's Asia-Pacific director Sam Zarifi noted that although the closure of trials is legitimate under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [text] and the Thai Constitution [text, in Thai], the government "will have a very difficult time explaining why the trial of someone charged with making an insulting remark could compromise Thailand's national security." Zafiri said that Prommat's guarantee of a fair trial was inadequate and "simply not verifiable" unless the trial is conducted in public. Thaksin was removed from power in 2006 by a military coup and was later as convicted on corruption charges [JURIST reports] by the Supreme Court of Thailand.






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Scotland parliament votes to condemn Lockerbie bomber release
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 2, 2009 3:06 PM ET

[JURIST] The Scottish Parliament [official website] voted 73-50 Wednesday to condemn last month's decision by Scottish Justice Minister Kennny MacAskill [official profile] to release [JURIST report] to Libya convicted Pan Am Flight 103 [BBC backgrounder] bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi [BBC profile]. The symbolic vote was a defeat for the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) [party website] but did not represent an attempt to overthrow the government. The vote comes as documents [materials] released Tuesday indicate that the British Middle East minister and other officials told MacAskill that there were no legal obstacles to Megrahi's release. Also Wednesday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website] denied that there was any cover-up [press release] of a deal between the UK and Libya for Megrahi's release, reiterating that it was a Scottish decision.

Last week, MacAskill defended his decision to release the terminally ill Megrahi to Libya after strong opposition [JURIST reports] from US government officials. In November, the High Court denied [JURIST report] Megrahi's request to be released on bail during the appeals process. Lawyers for Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, were denied access in March 2008 to a "missing document," that they had sought [JURIST reports] in appealing his conviction. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) [official website] granted an appeal [JURIST report] in Megrahi's case in June 2007 and referred it the High Court after the commission identified six grounds [press release, PDF] for a possible "miscarriage of justice" in his trial and conviction. In 2003, Libya made its final compensation payment [JURIST report] to a US fund for victims' families in November 2008 after agreeing to accept responsibility for the 1988 airline bombing that killed all 259 on board [victims website], including 180 Americans.






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Australia court allows accused Serb war criminal extradition appeal
Steve Czajkowski on September 2, 2009 1:31 PM ET

[JURIST] The Federal Court of Australia [official website] ruled [judgment text] Wednesday that former Serbian paramilitary commander Dragan Vasiljkovic [Trial Watch backgrounder] may appeal his extradition to Croatia, finding a real chance of prejudice if the extradition were carried out. Vasiljkovic, also known as Daniel Snedden, is accused of war crimes in connection with his treatment of Croatian prisoners during the 1991-1995 war of independence [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. According to the court, Vasiljkovic's political beliefs were the main reason behind the decision to allow the appeal:

The mitigating factor, however, operates by reference to "political beliefs". The appellant's political beliefs concern what he describes in his Statement as "the self determination of Serbian people in the Balkans in those areas where they constitute a majority", in particular in the Krajina ... The appellant's political belief is "that the Krajina Serbs have a right to return to their homeland and are entitled to an independent state". He played a significant role as a military commander in the military conflict in the former Yugoslavia that began at Knin in June 1991, particularly the battle for Glina. The extradition request refers in express terms to the armed conflict in Knin between the armed forces of the Republic of Croatia and the armed aggressor's Serbian paramilitary troops of the anti-constitutional entity the "Republic of Krajina" in which the appellant was a commander. It follows that the mitigating factor is applied by reason of a person's political belief.

The court had ordered Vasiljkovic to be released from custody but that decision was delayed until Friday to give Croatian officials time to chose whether to appeal [B92 report] the ruling.

Vasiljkovic was arrested [JURIST report] in Australia in 2006 at Croatia's request. In February the Australian Federal Court dismissed [judgment text; JURIST report] Vasiljkovic's application for review of a 2007 extradition order [JURIST report] that he be handed over to Croatian authorities. In 2007, a lower Australian court ordered that he be handed over to Croatian authorities pursuant to that extradition request. Vasiljkovic moved to Australia in 1969 at the age of 15 and became an Australian citizen before returning to Serbia to participate in the conflict.





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Fiji suspended from Commonwealth for not reinstating constitutional democracy
Steve Czajkowski on September 2, 2009 12:14 PM ET

[JURIST] The Commonwealth of Nations [official website] on Tuesday suspended [press release] the island nation of Fiji [JURIST news archive] from its organization because it failed to meet the September 1 deadline for reinstating a constitutional democracy and opening a national dialogue following its December 2006 military coup [JURIST report]. Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma [official profile] said that a letter received from Fiji's military leader Commodore Josaia Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] did not meet the conditions set out by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) in July, which called for Fiji's military government to bring back the President’s Political Dialogue Forum (PPDF) process in order to hold independent elections by 2010. Fiji's acting Prime Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau responded that it was not possible [AP report] to meet the Commonwealth's deadline because of the extent of political reform in the country, and that elections would be held in 2014. Many critics have decried the current regime for human rights abuses, including Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith [official profile] who released a statement [text] Wednesday saying that the planned elections in 2014 are "unacceptable," and that "Australia continues to be very concerned about human rights abuses by the regime, particularly the reduced independence of the judiciary, media censorship, intimidation of opponents, and the recent harassment of Methodist Church leaders."

This is not the country's first suspension from an international organization following the 2006 coup. In May, Pacific Islands Forum [official website] suspended [press release; JURIST report] Fiji's membership in the 16-nation bloc after Fiji's military government failed to meet a May 1 deadline to schedule elections. That suspension followed April events in which Fijian President Ratu Josefa Iloilo [official profile] suspended the constitution [JURIST report] and revoked the appointment of all judicial officers after a ruling [JURIST report] from the Fiji Court of Appeal declaring the appointment of the military government following the 2006 coup unconstitutional. Niue Premier and Forum Chairman Toke Talagi [official profile] said that the suspension stemmed from Fiji's rejection of democratic governance and obligations under the Forum's Biketawa Declaration [text, PDF], adding that a "regime which displays such a total disregard for basic human rights, democracy and freedom has no place in the Pacific Islands Forum."






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First UN illegal fishing treaty agreed to
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 2, 2009 10:32 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) [official website] announced [press release] Tuesday that a group of 91 countries have reached an agreement on the final text of the first ever treaty [text, PDF] to combat illegal fishing. The Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing aims to prevent illegally caught fish from entering international markets. Under the terms of the treaty, foreign vessels will need special docking permission, countries will conduct regular inspections, and information sharing networks must be created. FAO Assistant-Director General for Fisheries and Aquaculture Ichiro Nomura said:


By frustrating responsible management, IUU fishing damages the productivity of fisheries — or leads to their collapse. That's a serious problem for the people who depend on them for food and income. This treaty represents a real, palpable advance in the ongoing effort to stamp it out.

The treaty will now go before the FAO Committee on Constitutional and Legal Matters and the FAO Council later this month and then to the FAO Conference in November for final review and formal adoption. Once the treaty is adopted by 25 countries, it will enter into force within 30 days.

Illegal fishing has become a widespread global problem because it has a serious detriment on the legitimate fishing industry. Environmental groups have estimated that nearly 20 percent of landed fish were caught illegally. The US State Department [official website] said last week that the treaty is "a step forward in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing." The International Ocean Governance Director of the Pew Environment Group [advocacy website] Stefan Flothmann said [press release] that "the treaty's effectiveness relies heavily upon its broad ratification, successful implementation and the willingness of nations to share enforcement information."





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DOJ seeks dismissal of diplomatic immunity suit in Italy CIA rendition case
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 2, 2009 9:36 AM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Monday filed a motion to dismiss [text, PDF] a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] brought by a former State Department [official website] official seeking diplomatic immunity against Italian charges of helping to unlawfully kidnap a suspected terrorist. Sabrina De Sousa is one of 26 Americans and seven Italians on trial in Italy [JURIST news archive] for the 2003 abduction of Egyptian cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar. De Sousa is on trial in absentia and filed suit [NYT report] in May asking the government to invoke diplomatic immunity on her behalf, as it has neither invoked nor waived diplomatic immunity for those on trial. The government moved to dismiss her case [AP report] Monday, arguing that the courts lack the power to intervene in a matter of foreign policy that should be left to the executive branch:


By this action, Plaintiff Sabrina De Sousa seeks to have this Court direct the United States Department of State to assert immunity on her behalf in a foreign judicial proceeding. To do so, however, would require this Court to subject to judicial review the exercise of a discretionary right that has consistently been viewed under U.S. and international law as belonging to the state, and thereby strip the Executive Branch of the discretion that all governments enjoy with respect to the assertion or waiver of immunity consistent with the needs of the state. Doing so would inject the Court into matters of foreign policy, international diplomacy, and treaty practice which are not the province of the judiciary. Such matters, which are "delicate, complex, and involve large elements of prophecy," are "wholly confided by our Constitution to the political departments of the government, Executive and Legislative" and "are decisions of a kind for which the Judiciary has neither aptitude, facilities nor responsibility and have long been held to belong in the domain of political power not subject to judicial intrusion or inquiry."

Last month, the DOJ agreed to pay for an Italian lawyer [AP report] for De Sousa, but the trial has nearly reached its end.

Nasr was seized on the streets of Milan in 2003 by CIA agents with the help of Italian operatives, then allegedly transferred to Egypt and tortured by Egypt's State Security Intelligence before being released [JURIST reports] in February 2007. De Sousa is accused of working for the CIA under diplomatic cover, but she has denied any affiliation or involvement in the kidnapping. The trial has been delayed many times throughout its course. In May, the Italian judge presiding over the trial ruled that it could proceed despite evidence being excluded [JURIST reports] for national security reasons.





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Former Taiwan first lady sentenced to year in prison for obstructing justice
Amelia Mathias on September 2, 2009 9:14 AM ET

[JURIST] The Taipei District Court [official site, in Chinese] sentenced former Taiwanese first lady Wu Shu-Chen to one year in prison for obstructing justice in a corruption case against her. Wu Shu-Chen, wife of embattled former president Chen Shui-bian [JURIST news archive], was found guilty of instructing her children on how to respond to investigators. Though initially sentenced to two years in prison, Wu's sentence was reduced due to her confession [Taiwan News report]. Her son, daughter, and son-in-law have also been sentenced to six months each in jail for saying that they had taken money out of a government fund for gifts for their parents, when in fact the money had been used for personal purposes. Wu's case is also entangled with the allegations against her husband, who is on trial for embezzlement and bribe-taking. A verdict for him, as well as further verdicts for Wu, are expected on September 11 [JURIST report].

Wu pleaded guilty to money-laundering charges [JURIST report] in February. In addition to the former first couple, prosecutors have indicted their son and daughter-in-law, three former presidential aides, and eight other associates and family members. Also in February, Chen's sister-in-law 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 been detained since his arrest in November, and in January Taiwan's High Court rejected his appeal of the decision to detain him [JURIST reports] while he awaits trial, citing him as a flight risk.






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Guatemala court convicts paramilitary in first enforced disappearance trial
Ximena Marinero on September 2, 2009 8:33 AM ET

[JURIST] A Guatemalan paramilitary was convicted and sentenced to 150 years in prison for the enforced disappearance of six indigenous persons during the Guatemalan civil war [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. The trial of Felipe Cusanero, which began [JURIST report] in 2008, was the first time a defendant was tried for enforced disappearance in Guatemala. The trial, conducted at the Criminal Court of First Instance in the city of Chimaltenango, was followed closely [Prensa Libre report, in Spanish] by families of the disappeared persons, the local community, and foreign diplomats. Although Cusanero is suspected of having forced the disappearances of more than six people, testimony in the trial came from six families who lost a member between the years of 1982 and 1984. At the time, Cusanero functioned as a military commissioner in the rural locality, in charge of reporting on potential leftist movements and recruiting for the military forces. Human rights activists and foreign diplomats have expressed hope [AFP report, in Spanish] that this case opens the possibility of prosecuting those responsible at higher levels for enforced disappearances and killings during the Guatemalan armed conflict.

Of an estimated 45,000 disappeared persons and 200,000 casualties during the 36-year civil war, 83 percent were indigenous Guatemalans, according to the findings of a UN-backed truth commission report [text]. The Guatemalan armed conflict ended with peace accord negotiations [NACLA report] in 1996 that included an amnesty law covering war crimes that was decried as conducive to impunity by human rights organizations. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights commemorated [press release; JURIST report] the International Day of the Disappeared Monday, calling on states to eliminate enforced disappearances and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance [text, PDF]. The International Convention has been signed [JURIST report] by at least 57 countries but has not been ratified by the required 20 to take effect. It has not been endorsed by several countries including the US, England, Spain, Germany, and Italy.






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Finland court begins genocide trial of former Rwandan pastor
Ximena Marinero on September 2, 2009 7:30 AM ET

[JURIST] A Finnish court on Tuesday began the trial of former Rwandan pastor Francois Bazaramba, accused of involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder]. Bazaramba has denied charges of involvement in the genocide as well as the 15 counts of murder against him. On Tuesday, he petitioned [YLE report] to disqualify the trial judge for statements made to the press on Monday that Bazaramba alleges demonstrate the judge's bias. His motion was denied. The trial is the first time a genocide case has been heard in Finland. The Finnish Penal Code [text, PDF] provides that Finland must bring charges against an offender whose extradition has not been granted if the offense is punishable by more than six months of imprisonment. The Finnish government denied the Rwandan extradition request [press release] for Bazaramba in February, citing the possibility that Rwandan authorities would be unable to ensure a fair trial. Bazaramba was charged [JURIST report] in June and is being tried under universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder]. Amnesty International [advocacy website] called the trial an "important step against impunity" [press release], but has abstained from taking a position on the charges against Bazaramba. The trial will hear from witnesses in Kigali and then resume in Porvoo, Finland. If convicted, Bazaramba could face a life sentence.

In July, Sweden became the first European Union (EU) nation to grant an extradition request [JURIST report] by the Rwandan government. Sylvere Ahorugeze [Trial Watch backgrounder], a Tutu who headed the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority [official website] during Rwanda's civil war, has appealed to the European Court on Human Rights [official website], which has granted a stay on the extradition pending review of his case. 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 May. In March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon pledged his ongoing support [JURIST report] for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] and stressed that the international community must continue to combat genocide. The ICTR was established to try genocide suspects for crimes occurring during the 1994 Rwandan conflict between Hutus and Tutsis in which approximately 800,000 people, primarily Tutsis, died.






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Identities of Guantanamo detainees released to Portugal revealed
Matt Glenn on September 1, 2009 2:29 PM ET

[JURIST] The identities of two former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees who were released to Portugal [JURIST report] last week were revealed Monday in papers filed with the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website]. Mohammad Khan Tumani [transfer notice, PDF], who claims that his father is still detained [Miami Herald report] at Guantanamo Bay, accused the US and Pakistan governments of harsh interrogation methods amounting to torture. Tumani, detained for about 10 years, was among five detainees listed in a letter [text] by Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] to US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] in March urging him to give the five special attention and expedited trials due to their status as juveniles when they were detained. In addition to the harsh interrogation practices, the letter cites claims from Tumani's lawyers that Tumani attempted suicide while at Guantanamo Bay. The other detainee was Moammar Dokhan [transfer notice, PDF], a former Syrian army recruit. Both men are Syrian nationals and neither was ever charged with a crime.

The agreement to transfer the detainees was made earlier this month at the request of the US government [JURIST report], making Portugal the third European nation to formally agree to accept Guantanamo detainees. Last month, Ireland announced [JURIST report] that it would take two detainees. In May, Algerian Guantanamo detainee Lakhdar Boumediene was released and accepted by France [JURIST report]. Last month, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said that the Netherlands would be willing to consider [JURIST report] accepting Guantanamo Bay detainees, despite earlier statements to the contrary. In June, the Council of the European Union reached an agreement [JURIST report] setting forth the terms of accepting detainees in a way that would minimize any danger posed to other member states.






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DOJ to expand Civil Rights Division: Holder
Matt Glenn on September 1, 2009 1:11 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] plans to expand its Civil Rights Division [official website] and more actively enforce anti-discrimination laws, Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] told the New York Times [media website] in an interview [NYT report] published Monday. The increased focus on civil rights marks a change in focus from the previous administration, which, according to the New York Times [NYT report; JURIST report], shifted resources from preventing racial discrimination to protecting religious rights. Among the new measures described by Holder are President Barack Obama's plan to add more than 50 lawyers to the Civil Rights Division and increased enforcement of anti-discrimination laws in areas in which minorities are often adversely affected, including housing and employment.

Holder has implemented a number of changes to the DOJ in regards to civil rights since being confirmed [JURIST report] in February. In June, Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] that hate crime legislation [JURIST report] is one of the DOJ's top priorities. Also in June, the DOJ rejected [JURIST report] as discriminatory a Georgia law requiring voters to have identification. At his swearing in ceremony, Holder pledged [JURIST report] to restore the traditions of fairness and neutrality to the department. In January, a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] released by the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility [official websites] found that under the Bush administration, DOJ applicants faced discrimination in the hiring process if they did not have conservative views.






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Federal judge denies Al Odah Guantanamo habeas petition
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 1, 2009 11:24 AM ET

[JURIST] Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] denied the habeas corpus petition of Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Fawzi Khalid Abdullah Fahad Al Odah in a partially redacted opinion [text, PDF] made public Monday. Kollar-Kelly denied Al Odah's habeas petition last week, finding that the government had shown that it was more likely than not that he "became part of Taliban and al Qaeda forces" after traveling to Afghanistan and attending a terrorist training camp. Despite refusing to give the government's hearsay evidence authoritative weight, Kollar-Kotelly concluded:


At bottom, this evidence reflects that Al Odah made a conscious choice to ally himself with the Taliban instead of extricating himself from the country. His explanation that he chose to avoid the fighting in Afghanistan but mistakenly ended up carrying a weapon in the Tora Bora mountains during the Battle of Tora Bora becomes increasingly incredible each time the evidence reveals that he moved ever closer to the fighting and repeatedly accepted directions from those affiliated with the Taliban. Based on all of the evidence in the record, the Court concludes that the only reasonable inference is that Al Odah made a conscious decision to become a part of the Taliban's forces, and not that he became innocently ensnared in fighting after unsuccessfully attempting to leave the country.

In making her decision, Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the "key inquiry" for determining whether an individual has become part of the Taliban or al Qaeda is "whether the individual functions or participates within or under the command structure of the organization — i.e., whether he received and executes orders or directions."

Al Odah's case, pending since 2002, was the second-oldest Guantanamo case in the DC District Court. Al-Odah's case was a companion case to the 2008 Supreme Court ruling in Boumediene v. Bush [opinion text; JURIST report], in which the Court determined that Guantanamo detainees have a constitutional right to bring a habeas challenge in federal court. Al Odah's case was also a companion case to the 2004 Supreme Court decision of Rasul v. Bush [opinion text; JURIST report], in which the Court ruled that US courts have jurisdiction to hear challenges brought by foreign-born detainees to contest their captivity and treatment at Guantanamo Bay.





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Tobacco companies file lawsuit claiming new federal regulations violate First Amendment
Safiya Boucaud on September 1, 2009 10:53 AM ET

[JURIST] Several US tobacco companies, including R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard [corporate websites], filed a federal lawsuit [complaint, PDF] Monday challenging a new tobacco regulation law on First Amendment grounds. The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Western District of Kentucky [official website], challenges portions of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act [text, PDF], which contains several provisions that the tobacco companies allege restrict or ban truthful speech in violation of the First Amendment. The complaint alleges among other things that the act:


severely restricts Plaintiffs' ability to communicate with adult consumers through advertising in magazines, on packaging, through direct mail, and at retail points of sale throughout the country. It also restricts almost every other remaining thoroughfare of speech, such as brand name sponsorship of artistic events in adult-only venues. Indeed, the Act even compels Plaintiffs to carry anti-tobacco messages drafted by the Government by appropriating a large portion of their packaging, simultaneously violating the Plaintiff manufacturers' First Amendment rights and taking their property rights. And many of the Act's provisions are not even limited to commercial speech, but go so far as to prohibit Plaintiffs from participating in core scientific and policy debates regarding their lawful products.

R.J. Reynolds senior vice president and general counsel Martin Holton said [press release] that the suit does not challenge Congress's right to grant the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] authority to regulate the tobacco industry, but rather certain provisions that they believe unlawfully restrict their free speech.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was approved [JURIST report] by Congress in June and signed into law on June 22 by President Barack Obama [official website]. It attempts to safeguard the public by granting the FDA certain authority to regulate tobacco products, among other provisions. Last year, the House Energy and Commerce Committee [official website] voted 38-12 to approve the bill [JURIST report]. At the time, supporters said the bill would help to inform the public of the risks of smoking and make cigarettes safer. Opponents criticized the legislation, saying it could give the public a false sense of security about smoking and that the FDA might not be able to handle the burden of regulation. The US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee [official website] approved a similar bill [JURIST report] in August 2007. Shortly before that, the former FDA commissioner said that the FDA lacked the resources [JURIST report] to handle tobacco regulation. The FDA first began to regulate the tobacco industry in 1996, but in 2000 the Supreme Court ruled in FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. [opinion text] that Congress had not provided the FDA with the authority to regulate tobacco products.





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Iran election protester death deemed result of abuse in police custody
Safiya Boucaud on September 1, 2009 9:32 AM ET

[JURIST] The death of an Iranian prisoner in police custody was determined to have been caused by beatings and poor prison conditions [MNA report] in the wake of the post-election turmoil [JURIST news archive], according to the semi-official Mehr News Agency Monday. Mohsen Rouhalamini, son of the adviser to defeated presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai [Iran Focus profile] was said by police authorities to have died of meningitis. The medical report by a state forensic doctor stated that Rouhalamini's death was not caused by meningitis but was caused by multiple blows [AP report] and severe injury to his body after being kept in a detention center and then transferred to a prison. Rouhalamini was arrested as part of the Iranian government's attempts to control the protests [JURIST report] that broke out after the June 12 presidential election.

Last week, Iran began the fourth mass trial [JURIST report] of election protesters and reformists. Earlier in August, three UN human rights experts called on Iran's Revolutionary Court to reject protesters' confessions obtained through torture [JURIST report]. Also this month, Iran's Prosecutor General Ghorban Ali Dorri Najafabadi acknowledged [JURIST report] that some protesters arrested after the election were tortured. In July, Iran released [JURIST report] some 140 detainees arrested during the election aftermath 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 [JURIST report]. Earlier that month, opposition leaders called for the release [JURIST report] of those detained for their alleged involvement in the protests. Also in July, 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 [JURIST report].






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DC Circuit strikes down FCC rule limiting cable companies' market control
Jaclyn Belczyk on September 1, 2009 8:34 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday struck down [opinion, PDF] a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] rule preventing cable companies from controlling more than 30 percent of the US market. In a challenge brought by Comcast [corporate website], the nation's largest cable company, the court found the rule to be arbitrary and capricious. The court held that "the 30% subscriber limit is arbitrary and capricious because the Commission failed adequately to take account of the substantial competition cable operators face from non-cable video programming distributors." FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said [press release] "[t]he FCC staff is currently reviewing the Court's decision with respect to the limit previously adopted and the Commission will take this decision fully into account in future action to implement the law."

In 2001, the DC Circuit struck down a previous version of the FCC rule that also set a 30 percent cap but used a different formula to calculate market share. The rule was reinstated [press release] in 2007. The FCC originally set the rule in 1993 under the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992 [47 USC § 533(f)(1) text], which directed the FCC to "prescrib[e] rules and regulations ... [to] ensure that no cable operator or group of cable operators can unfairly impede ... the flow of video programming from the video programmer to the consumer." Cable companies have long objected to the rule, arguing that it violates their First Amendment right to free speech.






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