November 2009 Archives


Supreme Court hears arguments in False Claims Act, Vioxx fraud cases
Jaclyn Belczyk on November 30, 2009 2:38 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Monday in two cases. In Graham County Soil & Water Conservation Dist. v. United States ex rel. Wilson [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the Court heard arguments on the scope of the public disclosure jurisdictional bar [31 USC § 3730(e)(4)(A) text] of the False Claims Act, to determine if the Act allows federal jurisdiction in suits based on state or local government audits and investigations. The suit arose out of public record documents that detailed a failure to obtain bids for the clean-up and reconstruction of storm-damaged portions of North Carolina as well as a potential conflict of interest and whether or not these were publicly disclosed as per the Act. The petitioners claim that the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit erred in concluding [opinion, PDF] that a state audit does not constitute an administrative report, audit, or investigation under the Act. Counsel for the petitioners argued that the appeals court's "construction of the statute would have a devastating effect upon States, local governments, and the Federal fisc [sic]." Counsel for the respondent argued that "[t]he decision of the Fourth Circuit is correct because the text of the False Claims Act compels the result." Counsel for the US argued as amicus curiae supporting the respondent.

In Merck & Co. v. Reynolds [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the Court heard arguments on when the statute of limitations begins to run in a securities fraud case under the "inquiry notice" standard. Investors brought a class action suit against the drug maker Merck & Co. [corporate website] in November 2003, alleging that it had deliberately concealed information about the safety record of its painkiller Vioxx [JURIST news archive]. The case was dismissed by US District Court Judge Stanley Chester in April 2007 after he determined that investors were on "inquiry notice" of the alleged fraud in September 2001 when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] released a warning letter [text, PDF] about the painkiller. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reinstated the case [opinion, PDF] in September 2008, finding that Chester had "acted prematurely in finding as a matter of law that [the investors] were on inquiry notice of the alleged fraud." Counsel for petitioners argued:

The statute of limitations for private securities fraud claims incorporates the equitable principle known as the discovery rule; that is, the principle that the limitations period begins to run from the discovery of the facts constituting the violation. Under the discovery rule, a plaintiff who suspects the possibility that the defendant has engaged in wrongdoing is on inquiry notice and thereafter must exercise reasonable diligence in investigating his potential claim.

The court of appeals in this case erred at the first step.
Counsel for the respondents argued "[o]ur position is that Congress intended the word "discovery" in Section 1658 to have its normal and well-established meaning." Counsel for the US argued as amicus curiae supporting the respondents.





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Germany court begins trial of accused Nazi guard
Hillary Stemple on November 30, 2009 2:14 PM ET

[JURIST] The trial of alleged Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk [NNDB profile, JURIST news archive] began in Germany on Monday. It marks the first time a Nazi war crimes trial will focus on a low-ranking foreigner rather than a commander. The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk faces 27,900 accessory accounts stemming from his alleged involvement as a guard at Sobibor [Death Camps backgrounder] concentration camp. It is alleged that he volunteered to work at Sobibor [Abendzeitung report, in German] after being captured by German forces while serving as a member of the Soviet army. Multiple appeals were filed in regards to Demjanjuk's health, but he was found fit to stand trial and his appeals were rejected [JURIST reports] in October, paving the way for the trial to begin. The court is limiting the hearings to no more than two-90 minute sessions per day and is monitoring Demjanjuk's health. The trial is expected to last until May.

Demjanjuk's trial has been described [Spiegel report] as the last major Nazi war crimes trial to be held in Germany, but earlier this month German prosecutors charged [JURIST report] an unidentified 90-year-old German with 58 counts of murder stemming from his involvement with the Nazi party during World War II. A similar case is pending in the Spanish courts after the German appeals court in September permitted the case against three men alleged to be former Nazi guards to continue [JURIST report] in Spain.






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China considering lifting ban on visitors with HIV/AIDS: report
Megan McKee on November 30, 2009 1:07 PM ET

[JURIST] China is considering lifting a 20-year-old ban that keeps foreigners with HIV/AIDS from entering the country, according to a China Daily report [text] Monday. Vice-Minister of Health Huang Jiefu said that he hopes the ban will be lifted before the upcoming Shanghai Expo in May, which is expected to draw four million tourists. China's Ministry of Health [official website, in Chinese] is working alongside other government agencies in order to revise the ban by May, but if they cannot meet the deadline it is likely that the government will grant special waivers permitting people with HIV/AIDS to enter specifically for the event, as they did during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Currently the ban requires those entering the country for a short visit to declare at the border they are HIV-free, and those staying longer are required to undergo blood testing. The ban was enacted preceding understanding of how the virus was transmitted. China is one of 70 countries that still denies entry to those with HIV/AIDS.

Monday's announcement is part of a larger effort to counter HIV/AIDS related discrimination in China. In 2007 the Ministry of Health relaxed strict policies [JURIST report] that denied all HIV-positive aliens entry to the country. In 2006, China issued its first guidelines on HIV/AIDS [JURIST report], banning discrimination against those infected by the virus and providing for free treatment.






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India court removes defense lawyer for Mumbai terror attack suspect
Patrice Collins on November 30, 2009 11:51 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge in India on Monday removed the defense lawyer for Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab [NDTV profile], the lone surviving suspect of last year's Mumbai terror attacks [JURIST news archive]. Specially appointed judge M.L. Tahiliyani removed [PTI report] defense lawyer Abbas Kazmi [Times of India profile] after finding that Kazmi lied when he denied [IANS report] being informed of the Special Public Prosecutor's intent to examine 340 more witnesses of the attack. Kazmi, who will be replaced by his assistant, is not the first defense lawyer to be removed from the high profile case. Advocate Anjali Waghmare was removed [JURIST report] in April for ethical violations after agreeing to represent both the accused and a victim of the attack.

While Kasab faces 86 charges [Reuters backgrounder] in India, including waging war on India and murder, the Anti-Terrorism Court of Pakistan has indicted [JURIST report] seven men accused of planning the attacks. The suspects have been charged under Pakistan's Anti-Terrorism Act [text]. The men, who allegedly belong to outlawed terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) [CFR backgrounder], have pleaded not guilty. Pakistan has postponed the trial [JURIST report] of five others allegedly connected with the 2008 attack. 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.






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China ex-judge facing bribery charges found dead in detention cell
Ann Riley on November 30, 2009 11:47 AM ET

[JURIST] A former judicial official of China's southwest Chongqing Municipality, Wu Xiaoqing, was found dead [Xinhua report] Saturday while detained and facing charges for taking a large amount of bribes. In a statement to China Daily, the Chongqing Municipal Government [official website, in Chinese] said [China Daily report] that Wu's cellmates alerted the guards, who found that while hidden from security cameras Wu had committed suicide by hanging himself with the drawstring of his underwear. Wu was arrested in June [Xinhua report] for suspicion of taking bribes from gang members, totaling to about 3.57 million yuan (approximately 512,700 US dollars) between 1998 and 2008. Wu was also unable to explain how he obtained another $758,000. Along with Wu, deputy chief justice of the Chongqing Higher People's Court, Zhang Tao, was detained after reports that both were suspected of serious disciplinary offenses [Xinhua report]. The two police officers at the detention center at the time of Wu's death are under investigation.

Wu's arrest came among China's continuing attempt to clean up government corruption [JURIST news archive]. In October, two Chongqing courts sentenced [JURIST report] six individuals to death for their connections with organized crime gangs. In August, the Communist Party of China revoked the membership [JURIST report] of the former vice-president of the Supreme People's Court following a graft and corruption investigation. In March, the Supreme People's Court [official website, in Chinese] of China pledged to take steps to eliminate judicial corruption [JURIST report] with improved ethics education. In 2008, 712 court officials were punished for misconduct, allegedly causing negative social impacts [Xinhua report] and lessening the credibility of the courts. In January 2007, the Communist Party of China (CPC) [official website] promised to confront government corruption after former Chief Justice Xiao Yang called for judicial reform [JURIST reports] to regain the public's trust.






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Supreme Court to hear transnational securities fraud, double jeopardy cases
Jay Carmella on November 30, 2009 11:17 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in three cases. In Morrison v. National Australia Bank [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will consider whether foreign investors are entitled to bring fraud-on-the-market claims under Section 10(b) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 [text, PDF] when the stock purchased was that of a foreign company on a foreign securities exchange. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF] the decision of the district court to dismiss the claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. It found that actions outside of the US were more responsible for the fraud than anything that occurred within the US.

The Court also agreed to hear Renico v. Lett [docket; cert. petition, PDF]. The Court will consider whether double jeopardy is violated by a new trial after a state trial court declared a mistrial due to the jury's inability to reach a verdict. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF] the decision of the district court that the second trial violated the rights of the petitioner. The decision overturned a decision by the Michigan Supreme Court, which found that the second trial did not violate the double jeopardy bar.

In Barber v. Thomas [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will determine whether the Sentencing Reform Act [18 USC § 3624(b), text] requires the federal prison system to calculate good timed served credits based on the sentence imposed. The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) [official website] has been interrupting "term of imprisonment" to mean time served, rather than sentence imposed, as it is interpreted throughout federal sentencing statutes. The BOP's interpretation has resulted in fewer days of available credit each year of the sentence. Lower courts remain split on the question.






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Algeria court sentences Guantanamo detainee seeking asylum in US
Zach Zagger on November 30, 2009 11:08 AM ET

[JURIST] An Algerian court on Sunday sentenced [AFP report] Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Ahmed Belbacha [JURIST news archive] to 20 years in prison for being part of an "overseas terrorist group." Belbacha has been cleared for release from the US military prison facility but has said he does not want to return to his home country of Algeria for fear of torture and has requested asylum in the US. Belbacha has been held in Guantanamo since 2002 after he was captured in Pakistan. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] reported that he tried to commit suicide [press release] while in Guantanamo but would rather stay there than return to Algeria out of fear he will be tortured. HRW said that there are approximately 60 detainees [press release] who face a credible threat of torture or persecution if they return to their home country.

Last week, an Algerian criminal court acquitted [JURIST report] former Guantanamo Bay detainees Abdulli Feghoul and Terari Mohamed who were repatriated to Algeria in August 2008. They were held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility for seven years before a federal judge ordered their release [JURIST report] earlier this month. Last year, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit remanded [JURIST report] to district court a bid by Belbacha to obtain a preliminary injunction barring his transfer back to Algeria. The court had initially stayed [JURIST report] his transfer against the urging of the Bush administration. In 2007, US Supreme Court denied [JURIST report] Belbacha's emergency request to stay his transfer to Algeria.






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Former UK PM Blair was warned Iraq invasion could be illegal: report
Jonathan Cohen on November 30, 2009 10:46 AM ET

[JURIST] Former UK attorney general Peter Goldsmith [BBC profile] warned former prime minister Tony Blair [official profile; JURIST news archive] that the planned invasion of Iraq could be illegal, according to a letter leaked to the Iraq Inquiry [official website; BBC backgrounder], confirmed [Daily Mail report] by the Daily Mail on Sunday. The July 2002 letter laid out the reasons that Goldsmith believed the Iraq invasion might be illegal, including that an invasion could not be based on "regime change" alone. The existence of this letter will increase the difficulty for Blair to use a good-faith defense against charges that he knowingly led the country into an illegal invasion. He and Goldsmith are likely to be witnesses for the inquiry in the near future.

Sir John Chilcot [Guardian profile] is chairing an inquiry that began [JURIST report] investigations last Tuesday to determine the legality of the Iraq War. Earlier this month, documents implicating improper and possibly illegal conduct in relation to the war were leaked [JURIST report] to the British press. In October 2009, a UK High Court criticized [JURIST report] the Ministry of Defence for its failure to properly set up an independent inquiry into claims that war crimes had been committed by British soldiers following the so-called "Battle of Danny Boy" [BBC backgrounder] in southern Iraq.






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Supreme Court vacates decision to release detainee abuse photos
Jay Carmella on November 30, 2009 10:12 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday vacated and remanded [order list, PDF] a decision [JURIST report] by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] that required the Pentagon to release photos of abused detainees [JURIST news archive] in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Court remanded Dept. of Defense v. ACLU [docket] for further consideration under Section 565 of the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2010 [HR 2892, text]. The Act gives the Secretary of Defense the ability to prevent certain protected documents from being made public. Included in the definition of protected documents are photographs:


taken during the period beginning on September 11, 2001, through January 22, 2009; and relates to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates [official profile; JURIST news archive] exercised his authority [JURIST report] under the Act in November. Gates feared that the release of the photos would endanger American lives. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] vowed [press release] to continue to fight for the photos to be released.

The detainee abuse photos are now part of the records of the Department of Defense and the Department of the Army. In August, the Obama administration petitioned the US Supreme Court [JURIST report] to overturn the order to release the photos, alleging that this could lead to further violence in Iraq and Afghanistan that would endanger US civil and military personnel. In spite of its previous ruling, the Second Circuit ruled in June that the US government could continue to withhold photos [JURIST report] of alleged detainee abuse while it awaits a response from the Supreme Court. The original court mandate to release the photos came from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] challenge successfully brought by the ACLU in 2005.





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Switzerland voters approve ban on construction of minarets
Safiya Boucaud on November 30, 2009 9:36 AM ET

[JURIST] Swiss voters on Sunday approved a proposal [press release] to ban the construction of minarets. The results of the nationwide referendum revealed that more than 57 percent of Swiss voters support the constitutional ban against the construction of the Islamic towers. In response to the vote, the Swiss Federal Council [official website] stated:


The Federal Council and a clear majority of Parliament came out against the initiative. For the head of the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP), Federal Councillor Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, the outcome of the vote reflects fears among the population of Islamic fundamentalist tendencies, which reject our national traditions and which could disregard our legal order. "These concerns have to be taken seriously."

As a result of the Swiss referendum, the leader of the Dutch Freedom Party PVV [party website, in Dutch] announced [Volkskrant report, in Dutch] that the group would be asking the Dutch government to hold a similar referendum on banning the construction of minarets in the Netherlands. The backlash of this referendum has echoed through Europe and the Muslim community in Switzerland, with concerns that Muslims in Switzerland will be isolated. The president of the Coordination of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland has indicated [Bloomberg report] that he anticipates legal reactions to this referendum. Scholars in the Muslim world have seen this move as an insult to the Muslim community [AFP report] and have condemned the referendum and called on Muslims to use peaceful means and not be provoked by it.

Last year, the Swiss government announced [JURIST report] that Swiss nationalist parties had gathered enough signatures on their initiative against the construction of minarets [initiative website, in French] to force a national referendum on whether the country's constitution should be amended to ban the structures. The initiative was originally sponsored by the anti-immigrant Swiss People's Party (SVP) [party website].





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Landmark UN illegal fishing treaty approved
Carrie Schimizzi on November 29, 2009 12:42 PM ET

[JURIST] The first legally binding international treaty aimed at combating ships involved in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing has been approved [press release] by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) [official website] governing Conference. The Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing [text, PDF] is a landmark treaty aimed at efficient prevention of IUU fishing, a widespread global problem that has been a serious detriment on the legitimate fishing industry. Eleven FAO members - Angola, Brazil, Chile, the European Commission, Indonesia, Iceland, Norway, Samoa, Sierra Leone, the US, and Uruguay – signed the treaty immediately following its approval Wednesday, and the treaty will take effect once it has been ratified by 25 countries. Under the terms of the treaty, governments will be responsible for conducting regular port inspections and providing ports with proper equipment and inspectors. In addition, foreign fishing ships will be required to request permission to dock at designated ports ahead of time. The measures apply only to foreign vessels, but governments can elect to enforce the measures on their own ships as well. Assistant Director-General of FAO's Fisheries Department Ichiro Namura praised the treaty calling it a "milestone achievement" and saying, "[n]ow countries are committing to taking steps to identify, report and deny entry to offenders at ports where fishing fleets are received. That's a key back-door that will be slammed shut with the new international treaty."

An agreement [JURIST report] on the final text of the treaty was first reached by 91 FAO countries in September. Environmental groups have estimated that nearly 20 percent of landed fish were caught illegally [Reuters report], posing a detrimental global problem in the fishing industry. The US State Department [official website] called the treaty "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 has stated 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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China court hears first tainted milk civil lawsuit
Andrea Bottorff on November 29, 2009 10:26 AM ET

[JURIST] A Beijing court on Friday began hearing the first civil lawsuit by a family of an infant sickened during last year's melamine-tainted milk scandal [JURIST news archive]. Ma Xuexin brought suit against the bankrupt dairy company Sanlu and a Beijing supermarket that sold the contaminated milk, seeking damages for his son's medical expenses that are not covered [China Daily report] under the government's victim fund [JURIST report]. The hearing, which ended without a verdict, is one of only six milk scandal civil suits [AP report] accepted by Chinese courts. Judge Zhang Nan requested more evidence for the trial, which will resume on December 9. According to Beijing lawyer Xu Zhiyong, many of the affected families filed individual civil lawsuits [BBC report] after the Hebei Supreme Court rejected a class action suit [JURIST report] filed last year against the Sanlu dairy company by the families of children who died or were harmed by the tainted milk.

In January, lawyers for the victims' families petitioned [JURIST report] the Supreme People's Court [official website, in Chinese], China's highest court, to hear a class action lawsuit against 22 dairy companies involved in the contamination. The petition seeks more than $5 million in compensation [Shanghai Daily report] from the companies, including individual amounts more than double those provided for in the government fund. It is still unclear whether the court will accept the case. Currently, 21 people have been sentenced [Times report] in connection with the scandal, including two men executed last week [JURIST report] and the former Sanlu chairwoman, who was sentenced to life imprisonment and has since appealed [JURIST report].






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Canada high court upholds Wal-Mart's right to close store after unionization
Safiya Boucaud on November 28, 2009 12:13 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Canada [official website] on Friday upheld [judgment text] the right of Wal-Mart Inc. [corporate website, JURIST news archive], the world's largest retailer, to close its operations in Jonquiere, Quebec, shortly after a union attempted to organize employees in 2005. In a 6-3 decision, the court held that there was no law or precedent that forced an employer to stay in business. The suit was filed by laid off Wal-Mart workers who claimed that the retailer violated labor laws by shutting down its operations while negotiations were taking place for a collective agreement. The former employees also alleged that Wal-Mart had a history of being anti-union and that the closure of the store was a direct attack against the employees being involved with the union. The former employees brought suit under section 17 of the Quebec Labour Code [CanLII materials], which states that an employee may not be sanctioned for exercising any right under the Code. The court indicated that the former employees could have brought suit under section 12 instead, noting that:


A claim under s. 12 is logical because the essential thrust of the appellant's position is not that he alone or with some colleagues was singled out for discriminatory treatment but that Wal-Mart targeted generally the rights of all employees at the Jonquiere store (and elsewhere). Jobs were lost not only by union supporters but by others who were indifferent about the union or who were altogether against union representation.

Wal-Mart claims that it closed the store due to poor financial performance coupled with demands by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union to hire more employees [CBC report] pursuant to the first collective agreement. Wal-mart won both at the Quebec Superior Court and the Quebec Court of Appeals [official websites]. This was the first North American Wal-Mart to become unionized.

This is not the first time that Wal-Mart has been the subject of labor related disputes. Last year, labor groups in the US filed suit [JURIST report] against Wal-Mart alleging that the company violated federal election laws by forcing employees to attend meetings where political and presidential campaign issues were discussed. At issue in that suit was the Employee Free Choice Act [HR 800 materials], which would require a company to recognize a union as soon as a majority of a company's employees signed cards saying they want to organize a union.





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Ex-Khmer Rouge leader asks for acquittal at close of trial
Amelia Mathias on November 28, 2009 11:42 AM ET

[JURIST] Accused former Khmer Rouge leader Kaing Guek Eav [TrialWatch profile; JURIST news archive], more commonly known as "Duch," unexpectedly asked to be released at the close of his trial on Friday. His request before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] was a complete departure [NYT report] from his previous conduct, as he has cooperated with the trial and repeatedly apologized to his victims and their families. His lawyers took different approaches in their closing remarks, with one stating that his client was not guilty and the other asking for clemency. If Kaing is found guilty, he will serve 40 years in jail, so long as this departure from his earlier cooperation does not return him to the maximum sentence of life imprisonment [LAT report]. A verdict is expected in March.

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]. In August 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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US government delays enforcement of Internet gambling ban
Safiya Boucaud on November 28, 2009 10:33 AM ET

[JURIST] Enforcement of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) [HR 4411 materials] was delayed Friday until June 1, 2010, according to a joint statement [text, PDF] from the US Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve [official websites]. The UIGEA, which bans banks and financial institutions from intentionally accepting payments from credit cards, checks, or electronic fund transfers related to unlawful Internet bets was scheduled to take effect on December 1, 2009. The delay will give US banks and financial institutions six months to get in compliance with the new rules designed to curb Internet gambling. The joint statement, which elaborates on the reasons for postponement, states that:


The petitioners assert that an extension of the compliance date is necessary because a significant number of regulated entities will not have in place the necessary policies and procedures by the current December 1, 2009 compliance date. Petitioners assert that many small regulated entities do not have the resources necessary to develop and implement appropriate policies and procedures by the December 1, 2009 compliance date and cite the possibility of confusion regarding the term “unlawful Internet gambling.”

The petition for postponement came largely from financial institutions, the American Bankers Association and members of Congress. House Financial Services Committee [official website] Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) [official website], who is opposed to the UIGEA, has praised [press release] the move as an opportunity to implement legislation to overturn the act. Frank is responsible for introducing the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act [HR 2267 materials] into the House in May.

The Act was signed into law [JURIST report] by then-president George W. Bush in October 2006 amid controversy over the effects of the bill on US bettors and foreign companies. The US House of Representatives passed the UIGEA [JURIST report] in July 2006, and included exemptions for Internet gambling on horse racing and state lotteries.





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Berlusconi corruption trial to resume December 4
Amelia Mathias on November 28, 2009 9:32 AM ET

[JURIST] Italian judges announced Friday that the corruption trial of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [official profile, in Italian; BBC profile] will resume on December 4. The trial had been temporarily halted [Corriere della Sera report, in Italian] after the court ruled against Berlusconi's claim for immunity while he is in office. The trial is set to re-open amid controversy surrounding a bill [Xinhua report] that Berlusconi's supporters have introduced to parliament. The bill would shorten the amount of time prosecutors have to bring some charges to trial, including corruption charges. The bill has not yet been voted on, and parliament would also have to apply it retroactively to apply to Berlusconi's cases.

The corruption charges stem from reported payments from Berlusconi to his former lawyer David Mills [JURIST news archive] in order for Mills to provide false testimony at two trials in 1997 and 1998 involving Berlusconi's broadcasting company, Mediaset [corporate website, in Italian]. Last week, Berlusconi's separate trial for tax fraud was suspended until January [JURIST report]. In October, the Italian Constitutional Court [official website, in Italian] struck down [JURIST report] the 2008 law granting immunity from prosecution to the four highest officials of the country, finding it unconstitutional. Berlusconi has faced trial on at least six occasions involving charges of false accounting, tax fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, and giving false testimony [JURIST reports]. In October 2007, Berlusconi's April 2007 acquittal [JURIST reports] on bribery charges was upheld. In 2005, Berlusconi was acquitted of corruption charges despite testimony accusing him of giving kickbacks to the late Socialist premier Bettino Craxi [JURIST report].






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Federal appeals court rules Ohio executions can resume
Dwyer Arce on November 27, 2009 10:11 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] has ruled [opinion, PDF] that the execution of Kenneth Biros could proceed as scheduled, overturning a stay of execution issued by the district court [JURIST report] last month. The appeals court held Wednesday that the change to the execution procedure in Ohio removed the legal question from the case:

[T]he district court’s stay order must be vacated because any challenge to Ohio’s three drug execution protocol is now moot. Since Biros filed his lawsuit, the State has amended its lethal injection protocol. ... Ohio no longer follows the principal procedures that Biros challenges, the motion no longer presents a “live” dispute.
The challenged execution method, the so-called "set-to-die" procedure, was introduced [JURIST report] earlier this year, replacing the three-drug method used in most states. Executions in Ohio will be conducted with a single intravenous injection starting November 30, with two intramuscular injections serving as a backup in case a suitable vein cannot be found. Biros will be the first death row inmate to be executed using this procedure. Biros's attorney has promised to appeal the decision to the full Sixth Circuit or the US Supreme Court [official website], claiming [NYT report] that the execution order amounts to human experimentation.

The US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio [official website] issued a stay of execution for Biros last month, as the review of the lethal injection procedures in Ohio continued. Biros was the fourth Ohio death row inmate to be granted a stay of execution since the failed attempt to execute Romell Broom [JURIST report] in September. Along with Broom, the executions Darryl Durr and Lawrence Reynolds were also postponed until spring [JURIST report]. Biros was convicted of a 1991 murder and attempted rape and is scheduled to be executed on December 8.





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Iran government confiscates Nobel medal from rights lawyer Ebadi
Sarah Miley on November 27, 2009 7:58 AM ET

[JURIST] The Iranian government was accused Thursday of confiscating the Nobel Peace Prize medal awarded to human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi [Nobel profile; JURIST news archive]. The government seized the medal from Ebadi's safety deposit box in Tehran and froze her bank accounts three weeks ago, claiming that Ebadi owes $400,000 in taxes for the $1.3 million she was awarded by the Norwegian Nobel Committee [official website]. The Chairman of the Committee penned a letter [text, PDF] to the Iranian embassy in Oslo stating

It is...totally unacceptable that parts of Dr. Ebadi's property, including the Nobel medal and the Nobel Diploma, have been confiscated by the authorities...The Norwegian Nobel Committee urge Iran to live up to its commitments, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights...Many laureates, including Shirin Ebadi, have received the Prize because they insisted that their governments follow the basic principles of human rights. Some of these laureates were put in prison for an extended period of time. Yet, even in these cases their Nobel medals and diplomas were not confiscated.
The act is seen as an effort by Tehran to quiet dissidents, who have been actively protesting the controversial reelection [JURIST news archive] in June of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her promotion of democracy in Iran and defending the rights of women and children. She openly criticized the recent presidential elections and the treatment of protesters detained by the government. Ebadi has declared that she will not be deterred [AFP report] by the pressure of the Tehran government, and will continue fighting against human rights violations in Iran.

Ebadi has a history of conflict with Iranian government. In June Ebadi penned an open letter [text] to Ahmadinejad requesting for him to reopen the offices of her human rights group, which the Iranian security forces raided and closed [JURIST report] in December 2008. The Iranian judiciary declared that the office of Ebadi's Defenders of Human Rights Center [official website] did not have the proper legal permits. In May 2008 Ebadi's organization released its annual report in which it condemned the government [JURIST report] for continued harassment and intimidation of dissidents, students, reporters, labor activists, and other government critics. The report also criticized the government's increased policing of women's veils and the harsh punishments meted out to women found to be insufficiently covered, considering the practices to be violations of women's rights. In 2007, Ebadi urged the UN to investigate allegations that the Iranian government had been detaining women's rights activists [JURIST report] and charging them with national security offenses.





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Canada ex-defense chief rejects alleged military complicity in torture of Afghans
Patrice Collins on November 26, 2009 12:43 PM ET

[JURIST] Canadian former Chief of Defence Staff [National Defence website] Rick Hillier [profile] testified in front of the House of Commons Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan [official website] on Wednesday, denouncing allegations [JURIST report] that Afghan detainees transferred from Canadian to Afghani authority were likely tortured by Afghan officials. Hellier dismissed statements made last week by Richard Colvin,who represented the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) [official website] in Kandahar from 2006-2007, accusing both the government and military of ignoring and even suppressing reports [Reuters report] of torture by Afghan authorities. Colvin, currently deputy head of intelligence at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, cited upwards of 12 memos that he sent to top officials beginning in early 2006 indicating that captives transferred from a Canadian military base in Kandahar to Afghan authorities were subsequently tortured. After reviewing the reports, Hillier insisted [CBC report] that the reports did not contain any information that would require Canadian officials to bring them to his attention.

Amnesty International Canada
and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association [advocacy websites] filed complaints [JURIST report] in 2007 against the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal [official website], alleging complicity in torture by Canadian personnel serving in Afghanistan. Amnesty accused Canada of violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text] by turning Afghan detainees over to Afghan authorities without any protection against later cruel and unusual punishment. In March 2008, the Canadian Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC) [official website] decided to hold public hearings to investigate the country's detainee transfer process in Afghanistan despite a move from the Canadian Department of Justice to block the inquiry [JURIST reports]. In September, the Canadian Federal Court ruled [JURIST report] that the MPCC's authority was limited to the investigation of military police, and it did not have the authority "to investigate government policy and to inquire as to the state of knowledge of the Government of Canada at large."






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UK G20 report recommends new protest policing strategies
Brian Jackson on November 26, 2009 10:38 AM ET

[JURIST] The UK's Chief Inspectorate of Constabulary [official website] Wednesday released a report [PDF] critical of the manner in which British law enforcement handled protesters at the G20 summit held in London in April. The report also detailed a number of proposals to deal with future protester gatherings, including more proportionate amounts of force, increased training for police forces on techniques for handling public gatherings, and increased communication between protesters and police. In a release [PDF], Chief Inspector Denis O'Connor said, "the world is changing and the police need to think about changing their approach to policing protest." O'Connor also called for a comprehensive implementation of the changes, as British handling of large crowds will soon be on display again as the 2012 Summer Olympics [Guardian report] in London draw near.

The Inspectorate report came at the behest of Scotland Yard in the wake of the death of newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson [Guardian report] during the G20. Police handling of protesters was also an issue at the second G20 summit of the year, held in Pittsburgh in September. There were no deaths during the Pittsburgh G20, but police tactics, including the use of pepper spray, smoke canisters, and rubber bullets [New York Times report], was questioned. Perhaps the most controversial tactic was the use of the Long Range Acoustic Device [Post-Gazette report] against citizens, a tactic that raised a number questions and drew concern from commentators [Tribune-Review Op-Ed] and civil liberties advocates [JURIST Forum].






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Honduras high court rules Zelaya cannot return to power
Brian Jackson on November 26, 2009 9:52 AM ET

[JURIST] The Honduran Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] on Wednesday ruled that ousted former president Manuel Zelaya [JURIST news archive] cannot legally return to office. The court's decision [Reuters report] is a significant blow to Zelaya's prospects for regaining power. Under the so-called Tegucigalpa/San Jose accord [Honduras News materials], Zelaya would have been able to return to the office of president assuming Supreme Court approval and an affirmative vote by the Honduran legislature. The legislature's vote, originally scheduled for November 29th [Reuters report], has been moved back to December 2nd. It is not clear what effect the Court's non-binding opinion will have on that vote. Similarly, it is not clear how the decision will effect the results of the Honduran presidential election [Guardian report], scheduled for November 29th. Neither Zelaya nor current president Roberto Micheletti are on the ballot for that election.

The Honduran Supreme Court's opinion and the impending presidential election may signal an end to the five month-old saga that has drawn international attention to the small country. That saga began with a military coup [JURIST report] when the Supreme Court ordered Zelaya to be removed from power in June. In September, Zelaya returned to Honduras after a three-month period of exile, seeking refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. In late October, the possibility of his return to power was announced [JURIST report] by the interim government, with the condition of judicial and legislative approval.






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UK heterosexual couple to challenge denial of civil partnership
Ximena Marinero on November 25, 2009 5:41 PM ET

[JURIST] A UK heterosexual couple whose civil partnership [Directgov backgrounder] application was denied [BBC News report] by their local town council announced Wednesday that they will challenge the refusal in court. Tom Freeman and Katherine Doyle are the first heterosexual couple to apply for a civil partnership in the UK, where same-sex couples may obtain legal recognition with rights akin to those of a married couple. They allege that the denial constitutes discrimination based on sexual orientation, and that such a distinction amounts to segregation in matrimonial law. The human rights and gay rights activist Peter Tatchell is supporting [press release] the couple in their challenge and has decried the difference in application of the laws experienced by heterosexual and homosexual couples.

In the UK, civil partnerships were created exclusively to recognize same-sex couples by the Civil Partnerships Act of 2004 [text], and European nations remain divided on the issue of legal recognition of same sex couples [ILGA Europe backgrounder]. Several countries in Europe, including Spain and Norway [JURIST reports], recognize same-sex marriages. Other European countries recognize same-sex couples in various degrees through civil measures like registered partnerships and registered cohabitations, but the cohabitations are usually open to both heterosexual and homosexual couples. Countries like Hungary and Greece [JURIST reports] continue to ban legal recognition of same-sex couples.






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UK high court rules overdraft fees part of banking services cost
Ximena Marinero on November 25, 2009 3:05 PM ET

[JURIST] The UK Supreme Court [official website] on Wednesday ruled [text, PDF; press release] that the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) [official website] may not challenge the fairness of bank overdraft fee charges as a matter of law. The Court ruled in favor of seven major banks and one building society appealing a lower court decision, holding:


[T]he bank charges levied on personal current account customers in respect of unauthorized overdrafts...constitute part of the price of remuneration for the banking services provided and, in so far as the terms giving rise to the charges are in plain intelligible language, no assessment under the [Regulations] of the fairness of those terms may relate to their adequacy as against services provided.

The Court emphasized the limited nature of the decision in that the ruling does not pertain to whether or not the fees are fair, and characterized the fee system as one of cross-subsidies that enables the functioning of free-if-in-credit banking. The Justices wrote in their opinions that the banking fees may be challenged on other grounds and that legislative measures could be enacted to regulate the fees. The OFT considered [press release] the ruling a disappointment and will issue an announcement after determining whether to continue investigating the fees. The British Banker's Association [official website] welcomed the decision, but expressed willingness "to work together with the OFT in connection with its on-going Market study." The decision came as a surprise [Guardian report] to experts and consumers, many of whom had expected the Court to affirm the lower court decision.

In the UK, the OFT may review fairness of consumer contracts outside of the main subject matter, as delineated by the terms of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 SI 1999/2083 [text], based on European Council Directive 93/13/EEC. An estimated one-third of UK banks' retail revenue stems from overdraft fees, according to an OFT 2008 market study [press release; report, PDF] on personal current accounts.





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Rights group calls on UK to investigate Pakistan torture allegations
Hillary Stemple on November 25, 2009 11:13 AM ET

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Tuesday called for the UK to investigate allegations that government officials were complicit in the torture of British citizens in Pakistan from 2004 to 2007. The announcement followed the release of a report [text, PDF] alleges that Pakistani security agents tortured prisoners and then transferred them to British government officials for questioning. HRW concedes that there is no evidence that the officials were directly involved in the torture, but the report states:


[I]t is inconceivable that the UK government was unaware of the systematic use of torture in Pakistan. In the circumstances of the close security relationship between the two countries this would represent a significant failure of British intelligence...UK officials engaged in acts that virtually required that they knew about the use of torture in specific cases. Four men...have described meeting British officials while detained in Pakistan. In some cases this happened shortly after sessions in which the individuals had been tortured, when it was likely that clear and visible signs of torture were present. Further, UK officials supplied questions and lines of enquiry to Pakistan intelligence sources in cases in which detainees were tortured. UK officials knew that interrogations of these UK citizens were taking place and that torture was routinely used in interrogations. The UK was also putting pressure on Pakistani authorities for results. [sic]

British Foreign Office [official website] officials have denied the report, saying [Al Jazeera report] that the government rejects even the suggestion of complicity in torture.

The report comes amid increasing demand [JURIST report] for investigations into UK involvement in torture and rendition. The movement for greater transparency was set back last week when the British High Court ruled [JURIST report] that the government could keep some evidence secret in civil suits alleging torture. UK officials expressed concern that release of the information would pose a risk to national security and foreign relations with the US.





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US will not become party to anti-personnel landmine treaty
Hillary Stemple on November 25, 2009 10:19 AM ET

[JURIST] The US State Department (DOS) stated [press release] Tuesday that the US will not be signing the treaty [text; JURIST news archive] to ban the use of anti-personnel landmines. The announcement comes a week before the Second Review Conference [official website] the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction is set to be held in Cartagena, Colombia. For the first time, the US will send a delegation of humanitarian landmine observers to the conference. A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] expressed disappointment in the decision not to sign the treaty, but also welcomed [Reuters report] the presence of the observers as a possible sign of progress. To date 156 countries have signed the treaty [advocacy website], while 39, including China, Russia and India, have not.

Last year, the Bush Administration decided against [JURIST report] adopting the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) [text]. More than 100 countries have adopted the convention [JURIST report], but major users of cluster munitions, including Russia and China, have not. While the US did not adopt the ban, claiming it would impede humanitarian efforts [JURIST report]by discouraging cooperation with non-signatories, it did adopt a formal policy [text,PDF] on cluster munitions "intended to minimize the potential unintended harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure."






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Third Circuit upholds school ban on religious holiday song performances
Matt Glenn on November 25, 2009 8:27 AM ET

[JURIST] A US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] panel ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that a school district's policy prohibiting the performance of religious holiday songs does not violate the First Amendment Establishment Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder]. Plaintiff Michael Stratechuk argued that the policy of the School District of South Orange and Maplewood [official website] in New Jersey, which prohibits the performance of religious holiday music had the impermissible purpose and effect of condemning religion. In rejecting Stratechuk's claim and affirming the district court's decision [opinion], the Third Circuit held that the policy was neutral toward religion and that it was a permissible way to ensure that the school did not violate the First Amendment by promoting religion.


We note with approval the District Court’s observation that the restriction on “the performance of holiday music, which changed earlier practices within the School District...[did not] automatically convey a message of disapproval of religion because as the Supreme Court observed in County of Allegheny, '[a] secular state, it must be remembered, is not the same as an atheistic or antireligious state.'"

The court noted that the school district allows the teaching of religious holiday songs, and that its music teachers routinely use them in class, so that the ban merely prohibits the public performance of the songs at related holiday events. Stratechuk's lawyer said Stratechuk will request [NJ Ledger report] that the full court rehear the case.

Last month, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in Salazar v. Bueno, a prominent Establishment Clause case regarding the legality of a cross on government land and whether transferring the land to a private party would cure the violation if one existed. In 2007, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the display violated the Establishment Clause and that transferring the land would not cure that violation.





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US rights groups back high court challenge to terrorism support laws
Jonathan Cohen on November 24, 2009 2:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU), the Constitution Project (CP), and the Rutherford Institute [advocacy websites] filed amici curiae briefs [ACLU brief, PDF; CP brief, PDF] Tuesday backing a challenge [JURIST report] to a federal law [18 USC § 2339B(a)(1)] that prohibits providing material support to terrorism. The groups supported a Humanitarian Law Project (HLP) [advocacy website] argument that the law defines "material support" too broadly. In a press release [text] that accompanied the filings, ACLU staff attorney Melissa Goodman summarized that group's view on the law:


The material support law is so vague and broad that peace, human rights and aid groups are left hopelessly guessing whether their constitutionally-protected speech could land them in jail...Cutting off aid to terrorism is undoubtedly an important government interest, but criminalizing legitimate peace-building and humanitarian work – including advocacy to end terrorism and violence – does nothing to further that interest and actually makes it more difficult to achieve.

The case, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project [CCR backgrounder], was granted certiorari [docket] by the US Supreme Court in September after the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down [opinion, PDF] parts of the law while upholding others. Earlier this month, the Constitution Project issued a report [text, PDF] calling for the reform of the material support laws which they claim criminalize protected speech. HLP has also challenged [JURIST report] Executive Order 13224 [DOT materials], which prohibits unlicensed US groups and individuals from providing services to certain terrorist organizations designated by the government.





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Argentina legislators approve bill to decriminalize defamation
Andrea Bottorff on November 24, 2009 2:02 PM ET

[JURIST] Argentina's Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Spanish] has passed a bill that would decriminalize defamation, bringing the government's policies more in line with the American Convention on Human Rights [text] and garnering praise [CPJ press release] from international human rights groups. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner [BBC profile] proposed the bill [transcript, in Spanish; JURIST report] in September, but the Senate [official website, in Spanish] must pass the bill before it can become law. The legislation would eliminate prison terms and lessen fines [IPI press release] for libel and slander as part of a broader plan to increase freedom of expression in Argentine telecommunications.

Kirchner's proposal came after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) reversed [opinion, PDF] an Argentine court conviction in the case of journalist Eduardo Kimel, who was charged [WPFC press release] with a fine and jail term after he criticized a judge in 1991. Last month, Kirchner signed into law [JURIST report] a controversial bill giving her government more power to regulate the media, while limiting the power of private media companies.






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ICC begins trial for Congolese nationals accused of war crimes
Sarah Miley on November 24, 2009 1:39 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] at The Hague began proceedings [press release] on Tuesday for the trial of two Congolese nationals [ICC backgrounder] believed to be responsible for the killings of more than 200 men, women, and children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2003. Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui [ICC profiles] both pleaded not guilty to three crimes against humanity and seven war crimes, including murder, sexual slavery, pillage, and the use of child soldiers. Katanga, a former commander in the Front for Patriotic Resistance of Ituri (FRPI), and Ngudjolo Chui, a former commander in the Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) [IRIN backgrounders], allegedly led two groups of child soldiers and militia in the attack against the village of Bogoro. Bogoro is located in the DRC's mineral-rich Ituri province, which has caused the territory to be an ongoing point of contention between Congolese militias. The prosecution will present 26 witnesses, 21 of whom will hide their identities due to ongoing hostility in the DRC. Lawyers for over 300 victims, including child soldiers, will also take part in the trial.

This trial is only the ICC's second case since its formation since 2002. The first trial began in January for the Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, whose militia base in Bogoro was the object of the 2003 attack. Lubanga [Al-Jazeera backgrounder] stands accused of war crimes for allegedly recruiting child soldiers to fight in the DRC in 2002-2003. Lubanga's trial was halted soon after it began when one of the child witnesses recanted his testimony [JURIST report] that Lubanga had recruited him for the militia. The prosecution has since concluded its case [JURIST report] and defense proceedings were recently postponed [press release] from their original date in October. Lubanga maintains he is innocent [JURIST report] of the charges against him.






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UK panel begins investigation into legality of Iraq war involvement
Daniel Makosky on November 24, 2009 1:38 PM ET

[JURIST] The Iraq Inquiry [official website; BBC backgrounder], charged with investigating UK involvement in Iraq, began its public proceedings in London on Tuesday. The committee is expected to assess the legality of the UK’s participation in the Iraq War, although several legal authorities have questioned [BBC News report] its ability to thoroughly evaluate the issue, since none of the five members are legal professionals. Chair of the Inquiry Sir John Chilcot [Guardian profile] opened the meeting [statement]:

The Iraq Inquiry was set up to identify the lessons that should be learned from the UK’s involvement in Iraq to help future governments who may face similar situations. To do this, we need to establish what happened. We are piecing this together from the evidence we are collecting from documents or from those who have first hand experience. We will then need to evaluate what went well and what didn’t – and, crucially, why.
Sir John later expanded on the nature of the committee, clarifying the extent of its authority:
[W]e are not a court or an inquest or a statutory inquiry; and our processes will reflect that difference. No one is on trial. We cannot determine guilt or innocence. Only a court can do that. But I make a commitment here that once we get to our final report, we will not shy away from making criticisms where they are warranted.
Later in the session, the panel focused on [BBC News report] the country’s pre-war foreign policy regarding Iraq, and heard testimony from four senior advisors, including a former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee [official website].

Documents implicating improper, and potentially illegal, activity by the UK government were leaked [JURIST report] to the press on Sunday. Last month, the UK High Court criticized [JURIST report] the Ministry of Defence for its failure to properly organize an independent inquiry into claims that war crimes had been committed by British soldiers. Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website] established the Iraq Inquiry committee in June 2009, but a report is not expected until the end of 2010.





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DOJ charges 8 with supporting Somalia terrorist organization
Jay Carmella on November 24, 2009 1:27 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Justice Department (DOJ) [official website] on Monday unsealed [press release, PDF] charging documents against eight defendants for recruiting for and providing financial support to the Somali terrorist organization al-Shabaab [JURIST news archive]. The defendants are being charged [Ahmed Omar et al. indictment, PDF; Mahamud Omar indictment, PDF; Faraax-Isse complaint, PDF] with recruiting approximately 20 individuals in the Minneapolis area on behalf of al-Shabaab, providing financial support for travel and weapons, and conspiring to kill, kidnap, maim or injure persons outside the US. Discussing the charges, Assistant Attorney General for National Security David Kris [official profile] said:

The recruitment of young people from Minneapolis and other US communities to fight for extremists in Somalia has been the focus of intense investigation for many months. While the charges unsealed today underscore our progress to date, this investigation is ongoing. Those who sign up to fight or recruit for al-Shabaab's terror network should be aware that they may well end up as defendants in the US or casualties of the Somali conflict.
The eight defendants are among 14 individuals charged so far in a larger investigation. On Tuesday, Omer Abdi Mohamed, who was arrested last week for supporting the terrorist activities, pleaded not guilty [AP report] during his arraignment.

Somalia is in disarray in the wake of ongoing internal unrest and is nominally under the control of a weak transitional government protected by international troops. The country has been a target of criticism for terrorism and corruption for many years. Earlier this month it ranked in the top five [JURIST report] of the world's most corrupt countries according to an index prepared by Transparency International (TI) [advocacy website].





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Russia human rights leader says lawyer was murdered in prison
Jay Carmella on November 24, 2009 12:59 PM ET

[JURIST] The chairwoman of Russia's Council for Promoting Civil and Human Rights [official website] on Monday called the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky a murder and a tragedy. Magnitsky, who was arrested on allegations of tax fraud and held for over a year without a trial after representing London-based hedge fund Hermitage Capital [corporate website] in a suit against Russian officials, died [JURIST report] last week in a Moscow prison. Ella Pamfilova met [RFE/RL report] with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev [official profile; JURIST news archive] to discuss the situation, as well as the overall state of affairs for human rights in Russia. Following the meeting, Medvedev ordered [NYT report] a government inquiry into Magnitsky's death. Magnitsky's family and employers have made allegations that on several occasions he was denied medical treatment that could have saved his life.

Pamfilova referenced Magnitsky as the latest in a series of high-profile individuals to die under uncertain circumstances in Russia. Earlier this month, a suspect was arrested for the double murder [JURIST reports] of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova. Markelov had represented famed journalist Anna Politskovskaya [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive] who was killed [JURIST report] in 2006. Russia has also received a great deal of criticism for apparently baseless detentions such as Magnitsky's. The expropriation of OAO Yukos Oil Co. [Time backgrounder] and the indictment against and detention of company founder, Mikhail Khordorkovsky [defense website] have provoked the condemnation [JURIST op-ed] of many legal experts abroad.






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Iraq parliament approves new election law following veto
David Manes on November 24, 2009 10:53 AM ET

[JURIST] The Iraqi parliament [official website, in Arabic] approved a new election law [press release, in Arabic] following last Wednesday's veto of a similar bill [JURIST report] by Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi [personal website, in Arabic]. Al-Hashemi indicated that he plans to veto the bill a second time [AFP report] because it has not adequately addressed his concerns, including representation for Iraqis living abroad. An estimated 1.5 million Iraqis live outside the country, and many are thought to be Sunnis who fled after Saddam Hussein's regime fell. The parliament may be able to overturn the second veto with a 60 percent majority if enough Shiite and Kurdish members approve the next bill. US Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill [official website] remarked,


[S]ome slippage would be okay, but we don't want a lot of slippage, so I hope they'll look very carefully at this and I hope we can get moving...I think what is most important is we get these elections going and get on with this process.

The parliament is now entering a recess that will last until December 8.

The Iraqi Constitution [text, PDF] requires general elections to be held by January 31 and requires the new election law to be approved unanimously by the three members of the Presidency Council [official website, in Arabic] within 60 days of the election, previously scheduled for January 18 of next year. After al-Hashemi's first veto, the Independent High Election Commission [official website, in Arabic] suspended their preparations for the election. Further debate on the proposed election law along with the recess will almost certainly delay the elections, which may affect the planned withdrawal of US military forces from Iraq. The elections may also include a referendum on the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [text, PDF], which allows US troops to remain in the country until the end of 2011. A draft bill requiring the referendum was approved by the Iraqi cabinet [JURIST report] in August. If the SOFA were rejected by Iraqi voters, US troops would have only one year to withdraw, which would be nearly a year ahead of schedule.





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China executes two men for roles in tainted milk scandal
Safiya Boucaud on November 24, 2009 9:40 AM ET

[JURIST] China announced on Tuesday that two people had been executed for their roles in last year's melamine tainted milk scandal [JURIST news archive], in which almost 300,000 children were sickened and at least six were killed. The two men, Zhang Yujun and Geng Jinping, were found responsible for selling at least three million pounds of the tainted milk powder, and were executed for the crimes of endangering public safety by dangerous means and for producing and selling toxic food. The men were originally sentenced to death [JURIST report] in January, but appealed their sentences. The Hebei Provincial Higher People's Court upheld the convictions [Xinhua report] in March. To date a total of 21 people have been tried and sentenced [Times Online report] for their involvement in the milk scandal. Of the 21, two were sentenced to death, one received a suspended death sentence, three were jailed for life, with the other 15 imprisoned for terms ranging from two to 15 years. Among those sentenced to life imprisonment is the former chairwoman for the Chinese dairy company at the heart of the scandal, who has since appealed [JURIST report].

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






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Ninth Circuit finds restrictions on legal aid groups constitutional
Steve Czajkowski on November 24, 2009 8:39 AM ET

[JURIST] A three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Monday affirmed [opinion, PDF; press release] a lower court decision which held that Congressional restrictions on organizations receiving federal grants through the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) [official website] do not violate the First Amendment [text]. In a 2-1 ruling, the Ninth Circuit found that limiting these legal aid groups' activities with respect to lobbying, client solicitation, participation in class actions, and attorneys’ fees was not unconstitutional. The suit was originally brought in 2005 by plaintiffs including Legal Aid Services of Oregon and the Oregon Law Center [official websites], claiming that the restrictions, also known as the Program Integrity Rules (PIR) [text, PDF] violated the First Amendment both facially and as applied. The court relied on US Supreme Court [official website] precedent in rejecting the plaintiff's complaint:


Congress did not discriminate against any particular viewpoint or motivating ideology, much less did it aim to suppress "ideas inimical to the Government’s own interest." The Restrictions simply limit specific procedural tools and strategies that grantee attorneys may utilize in the course of carrying out their legal advocacy...Because the Restrictions do not discriminate against a particular viewpoint, they are constitutional under Velazquez III.

In January, the Ninth Circuit rejected [opinion, PDF;press release] a similar challenge to the PIR filed by the State of Oregon. The court held that Oregon lacked standing to sue because the regulations did not harm the state in any way. The PIR was adopted in 1996 as the result of additional restrictions added to the 1974 LSC Act [text], which proscribes LSC grantees from using money for certain activities. Under the amendment, LSC grantees cannot engage in conduct prohibited by PIR, whether the funding is public or private.





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ICTY rejects Karadzic attempt to remove court-appointed counsel
Matt Glenn on November 24, 2009 7:45 AM ET

[JURIST] The Trial Chamber of International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Monday denied a motion [decision, PDF] filed by former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [case materials; JURIST news archive] requesting appellate review of the court's decision to assign standby counsel [decision, PDF; JURIST report]. Karadzic's motion [text, PDF] argued that the court did not give appointed counsel enough time to prepare a defense and that Karadzic should have been allowed to select his attorney. Karadzic currently represents himself and sought immediate Appeals Chamber review as provided by the ICTY's Rules of Procedure and Evidence [text, PDF], arguing that the assignment of an attorney had twice been found to materially affect the fair and expeditious conduct of proceedings against defendants. The court rejected Karadzic's motion as "vague" and noted that while Richard Harvey had been appointed standby counsel [decision, PDF; JURIST report], Karadzic retained the right to represent himself so long as he did not interfere with or unreasonably delay the proceedings. The court held that certification to the Appeals Chamber would not materially advance the proceedings. The trial is scheduled to resume March 1, 2010.

The ICTY began Karadzic’s trial in absentia last month after proceedings were temporarily adjourned when Karadzic failed to appear [JURIST reports] in court. Karadzic announced earlier that he planned to boycott [JURIST report] his trial because he had not been given adequate time to prepare a defense. He faces 11 charges [amended indictment, PDF], including genocide and murder, for war crimes allegedly committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian genocide [PPU backgrounder]. In June, the ICTY said that Karadzic's trial was expected to conclude in early 2012 [JURIST report]. His trial is planned to be the Tribunal's last.






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Military court convicts US soldier of abusing fellow troops
Megan McKee on November 24, 2009 6:55 AM ET

[JURIST] A US military court at Camp Arifjan [Global Security backgrounder] in Kuwait convicted Sergeant Jarret Taylor of abusing fellow troops and making a false official statement on Friday. Taylor's rank was reduced to private, he was sentenced to six months in jail, and was fined nearly $6,000. The behavior was discovered [CNN report] during the investigation of Private Keiffer Wilhelm's suicide in August, but it is unclear whether Taylor's actions contributed to the suicide. Taylor was one of four soldiers in a platoon stationed at Forward Operating Base Hunter in southern Iraq who have been charged [AFP report] with cruelty and maltreatment of soldiers. Two of the soldiers face future court martial, while another was dishonorably discharged.

Last week, federal prosecutors from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] indicated they would drop [JURIST report] manslaughter charges against a Blackwater Worldwide [JURIST news archive] security guard who had allegedly been involved in the September 2007 shooting incident in Baghdad [JURIST report] that killed 17 Iraqis. According to US Attorney for the District of Columbia Channing Phillips [official profile], a motion was filed under seal to dismiss the charges against Nicholas Slatten. No reason was given as to why the indictment was being dismissed, but prosecutors asked that they be allowed to resubmit the charges at a later date if desired.






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FBI report shows reported hate crimes in US up two percent
Hillary Stemple on November 23, 2009 2:17 PM ET

[JURIST] Reported hate crimes in the US increased by approximately two percent in 2008, the greatest reported increase since 2001, according to the 2008 Hate Crime Statistics [report; press release] released by the FBI [official website] on Monday. The FBI reported 7,780 single-bias hate crime incidents in 2008, up from the 7,621 reported in 2007 [FBI report; JURIST report]. The FBI noted that the increase does not necessarily reflect an actual rise in incidents, because the number of law agencies participating in the study increased in the last year. Racial discrimination accounted for 51.3 percent of reported hate crimes, a slight increase over the 50.8 percent reported in 2007. Hate crimes motivated by religion also increased slightly while crimes motivated by sexual orientation were reported with approximately the same frequency as in 2007. The only category to show a decrease was in ethnicity- and nationality-based crimes. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) [advocacy website] responded by issuing a statement [press release] calling for "a coordinated campaign to prevent, deter, and respond effectively to criminal violence motivated by bigotry and prejudice."

The report comes one month after President Barack Obama signed [JURIST report] into law a defense appropriations bill containing a measure extending the definition of federal hate crimes to include crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act [S 909 text], passed the US Senate and House of Representatives [JURIST reports] as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (NDAA) [HR 2647 materials]. Conservative members of Congress in both instances charged that the hate crimes provision was an inappropriate measure to include in a military appropriations bill, while some specifically opposed special protections to victims in those classes.






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Leaked documents question legality of UK involvement in Iraq
Haley Wojdowski on November 23, 2009 2:02 PM ET

[JURIST] UK government reports [The Sunday Telegraph materials] leaked on Sunday revealed many shortcomings in the country's involvement in the Iraq War, some possibly rising to the level of illegality. The documents show that the UK's plans for invasion of Iraq began secretly in February 2002 [Telegraph report], while former Prime Minister Tony Blair misled the public by saying there was no planned military action, but rather a plan for disarmament. Notably, the planning began before a UN resolution was endorsed and the materials suggest that the clandestine operation was rushed and lacked coherence. The reports also indicate that the operations were inadequately supplied, stating that some troops went into battle with only five bullets each and noting that the Foreign Office post-war planning unit was not set up until well after the war began. Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price stated [Wales News report] that the UK government should submit itself to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] if its actions are found to be illegal.

In October 2009, a UK High Court criticized the Ministry of Defence for its failure to properly set up an independent inquiry into claims that war crimes had been committed by British soldiers following the so-called "Battle of Danny Boy" [BBC backgrounder] in southern Iraq. The documents were leaked before the Iraq Inquiry [official website] also known as the Chilcot Inquiry due to the management of Sir John Chilcot [Guardian profile], could meet. An open session for the Inquiry is still set for Tuesday, but the report is not expected to be released until the end of 2010. The committee was set up in June 2009 by the prime minister in order to “identify lessons that can be learned from the Iraq conflict.”






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Kenya committee unveils new draft constitution
Jay Carmella on November 23, 2009 1:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The Kenyan Committee of Experts on Constitutional Review [official website] unveiled the initial Harmonized Draft Constitution [text, PDF] last week. The changes are intended [Xinhua report] to reduce the widespread injustice throughout the country, and specifically address issues that led to the violence following the 2007 presidential elections [JURIST news archive]. Following the issuance of the draft, the Kenyan public has one month to review and express concerns to the Committee of Experts. The Committee identified the executive and legislative branches, devolution of powers and bringing the constitution into effect as the most contentious issues [Committee materials]. The draft constitution alters the distribution of power [Daily Nation report] between the president and prime minister, reducing the power currently in the hands of the president, while putting the prime minister in charge of the daily operations of the government.

The allegations of fraud [JURIST report] following the 2007 elections led to violence that caused the deaths of more than 1,000 people and displacement of 500,000 others, and remains a concern in the international community. Earlier this month, the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] assigned three judges [JURIST report] to determine whether to allow Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] to initiate a formal investigation into the situation. The investigation may only proceed if Kenya does not conduct its own probe, which it has so far failed to do [JURIST report]. In October, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan [official profile; JURIST news archive] urged [JURIST report] Kenya to establish a local tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the violence.






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Algeria court acquits two former Guantanamo detainees
Ann Riley on November 23, 2009 12:30 PM ET

[JURIST] An Algerian criminal court acquitted former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees Abdulli Feghoul and Terari Mohamed on Sunday, according to the Algerie Presse Service (APS) [state news website, in French]. Feghoul and Mohamed were repatriated [DOD document, PDF; JURIST report] to Algeria in August 2008 after being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility for seven years. The Algerian state prosecutor had sought a 20-year sentence against Feghoul and Mohamed for allegedly belonging to a foreign terrorist group. Defense lawyer Farid Abbache stated [AP report] that while the former detainees admitted to be involved in theft and illegal drug trade, they denied any connection with terrorist groups.

Last week, a federal judge ordered the release [JURIST report] of Algerian Guantanamo Bay detainee Farhi Saeed Bin Mohammed. Earlier this month, lawyers for four Uighurs at Guantanamo Bay filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court, challenging an appellate ruling [JURIST reports] that prohibited courts from preventing the transfer of detainees to foreign countries for fear of prosecution or torture. In September, a judge denied [JURIST report] the habeas petition of Algerian detainee Sufiyan Barhoumi. Since the US Supreme Court's 2008 decision in Boumediene v. Bush [opinion, PDF; JURIST report], 30 Guantanamo Bay detainees have been released based on unlawful detention suits.






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Russia lawyer death prompts criticism from Hermitage founder
Patrice Collins on November 23, 2009 12:29 PM ET

[JURIST] A lawyer who represented London-based hedge fund Hermitage Capital [firm website] in a suit against Kremlin [official website, in Russian] officials alleging theft and fraud died in Matrosskaya Tishina Detention Center [BBC News report] in Moscow last week. Hermitage CEO William Browder had hired Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky to represent him from abroad after Browder was declared a national security threat and denied a visa by the Russian government in 2005. Russian authorities arrested Magnitsky after raiding the offices of Hermitage and Firestone Duncan [firm website], the law firm where Magnitsky worked. Russian officials claim that Magnitsky had conspired with Browder's companies to commit tax fraud, but Browder has since decried the allegations, claiming [London Times backgrounder] that certain Kremlin officials stole company information for their own financial gain. Testifying [transcript, PDF] in front of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) [official website] this summer, Browder stated:


In most countries of the world, the spheres of business executives, government officials and criminals don’t typically overlap. In Russia, these three groups have become essentially indistinguishable. All too often in today’s Russia, there is no contradiction in someone being a business executive, senior government official and crime boss all at the same time.

Magnitsky was held for over a year without bail [Radio Free Europe report] prior to his death, which prison officials say was caused by heart failure. Family members have stated that Magnitsky was repeatedly denied medical treatment while being detained in several detention centers. He was buried [Moscow Times report] Monday after Preobrazhensky Interregional Prosecutor’s Office [official website, in Russian] in Moscow refused requests for a second autopsy.

Magnitsky is the latest in a series of high-profile individuals to die under uncertain circumstances in Russia. Earlier this month, a suspect was arrested [JURIST report] for the double murder [JURIST report] of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova. Markelov had represented famed journalist Anna Politskovskaya [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive] who was shot and killed [JURIST report] in 2006. To date, no one has been convicted [JURIST report] for Politkovskaya's murder. Russia has also received a great deal of criticism for apparently baseless detentions such as Magnitsky's. The expropriation of OAO Yukos Oil Co. [Time backgrounder] and the indictment against and detention of company founder, Mikhail Khordorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] have provoked the condemnation [JURIST op-ed] of many legal experts abroad.





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China human rights activist Huang Qi sentenced to 3 years in prison
Zach Zagger on November 23, 2009 11:22 AM ET

[JURIST] A Chinese court sentenced human rights activist Huang Qi to three years in prison Monday on the charge of illegally holding state secrets. Huang was a critic [AP report] of the Chinese government's handling of the 2008 earthquake in the Sichuan Province [BBC backgrounder] that killed about 90,000 people. After the quake, he posted articles online criticizing the government's response and talked to foreign media outlets about how some children's deaths were the result of poorly-built schools. Huang was originally detained on June 10, 2008. The human rights group Amnesty International [advocacy website] issued a statement [text] on July 31, 2009 contending that China should drop charges against Huang and free him:


[Huang] will be yet another victim of the Chinese authorities’ use of the extensive, vague, and retroactive state secrets system to penalize lawful rights’ defence activities. [sic]

In February, Huang's trial was delayed [JURIST report] after a Chinese court postponed it for one day, leaving his attorney less than 24 hours to prepare his defense and prompting an immediate legal challenge. Earlier this month, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] report claimed [JURIST report] that Chinese citizens are being abducted by state agents and illegally detained in "black jails" where they are subjected to a host of human rights violations. China remains the subject of intense scrutiny from the international community due to the alleged failings of its criminal justice system.





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London police settle with family of man mistaken for terrorist
Jonathan Cohen on November 23, 2009 11:18 AM ET

[JURIST] London's Metropolitan Police Service (Met) [official website] and the family of Jean Charles de Menezes [BBC profile] on Tuesday announced [press release] an end to litigation stemming from de Menezes' death, caused by two Met officers in 2005. No details were given about the compensation awarded to the family:


[I]n view of the physical and mental distress caused to the members of the family by these events and the understandable publicity and press interest, it has been agreed that it is in the best interests of the family that no further statement in relation to this settlement will be made either by them or the Commissioner.

De Menezes was shot [JURIST report] by two Met police officers who thought he was involved in the London Transit bombings [JURIST news archive], in which four suicide bombers killed 52 people. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) [official website] found that the Met had violated [JURIST report] health and public safety laws during the shooting. CPS concluded that there was not enough evidence to bring charges [JURIST report] against the officers, but former Commissioner Sir Ian Blair [official profile] tendered his resignation [JURIST report] following the de Menezes incident.





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Afghan cabinet ministers investigated under suspicion of corruption
Safiya Boucaud on November 23, 2009 9:56 AM ET

[JURIST] The Afghan attorney general's office announced on Monday that two Afghan cabinet ministers are being questioned on corruption charges. The ministers are suspected of embezzlement [Reuters report] and are among 15 government officials currently under investigation. The announcement came a week after President Hamid Karzai [official profile, JURIST news archive] vowed [JURIST report] in his inaugural address to fight governmental corruption. The identities of the ministers will remain unknown, pursuant to Afghan law, which prohibits the naming of suspects until a conviction is upheld by the Supreme Court [official website]. Despite last week's pledge to fight corruption, Karzai has delayed [Telegraph report] signing the necessary arrest warrants needed to begin an official trial.

The international community, including the US and EU, has applied pressure to Karzai over corruption in the Afghan government. Earlier this month, Karzai announced [BBC report] the formation of a commission to investigate corruption in the same week that Afghanistan was ranked [JURIST report] by Transparency International [advocacy website] as the second most corrupt country in the world. The Obama administration has recently increased pressure on the Afghan government amid a major policy review [New York Times report] of the US war effort. The legitimacy and competence of the Afghan government is seen as a major factor in the deliberations by top US officials. Karzai was declared the winner [JURIST report] of the controversial presidential election [JURIST news archive] earlier this month when challenger Abdullah Abdullah [BBC profile] withdrew from the runoff.






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Federal judge dismisses civil suits against Pennsylvania judges
Matt Glenn on November 23, 2009 9:34 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania dismissed [opinion, PDF] five civil suits Friday against two Luzerne County, PA judges accused of taking kickbacks in exchange for sentencing juveniles to private detention facilities. Judge Richard Caputo ruled that Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella were immune from civil suits for actions they took as judges. Caputo held that § 1983 [text], which provides personal redress for wrongs committed by people acting on behalf of the government, only applies to judges when they act clearly outside of their jurisdiction or when they commit non-judicial acts. Lawyers for the plaintiffs stated that they plan to pursue cases [Scranton Times report] based on non-judicial acts the judges took in executing the scheme.

The judges' alleged actions have provoked calls for change [JURIST commentary] in the judicial system, and have created significant problems for the courts. Last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned thousands of cases tried by the two judges, adding to the hundreds convictions of juveniles unrepresented by counsel [JURIST reports] which were overturned in March. The men were indicted in September after withdrawing the guilty pleas [JURIST reports] they entered in February. The withdrawal came after a federal judge rejected their plea agreements, finding that the men did not accept responsibility and that the prison sentences were too lenient [JURIST op-ed]. The two former judges filed a motion to reinstate their agreements, but it was denied, clearing the way for a trial. Robert Powell, the owner of PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care juvenile facilities, has pleaded guilty to paying kickbacks to both Ciavarella and Conahan.






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Iran court sentences ex-VP for role in post-election unrest
Safiya Boucaud on November 22, 2009 11:45 AM ET

[JURIST] Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Court has sentenced former vice president and reformer Mohammad Ali Abtahi [archived blog profile] to six years in jail for his role in the unrest that followed the disputed June 12 presidential elections [JURIST news archive], according to Iranian news agencies Saturday. Abtahi, who had been in custody since just after the election has been temporarily released on $700,000 bail [IRNA report] pursuant to Iranian law which allows any person sentenced to more than three months in jail to be released on bail pending appeal. He served as vice president under Mohammad Khatami [BBC profile] from 1997 to 2005. Abtahi has 20 days to appeal his sentence.

Last week, an Iranian court sentenced five people to death [JURIST report] for their roles in post election protests. In August, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] called [JURIST report] for the prosecution of opposition leaders who allegedly conspired to orchestrate widespread protests.






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Rights group says Israel-Palestinian conflict claimed almost 9,000 lives in twenty years
Steve Czajkowski on November 22, 2009 10:30 AM ET

[JURIST] Marking its own 20th anniversary, Israeli human rights group B'Tselem [advocacy website] claimed Sunday that almost 9,000 people have been killed [materials; press release] in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians since 1989. A majority of the deaths - 7,398 - were Palestinians. Of that number, 1,537 were thought to be minors. The report also said that 2009 has resulted in the highest casualties for Palestinians - 1033 - most of which were incurred in fighting in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead [JURIST news archive]. During the same period, there were 1483 Israelis deaths, including 139 minors. The worst year for Israel was 2002, when 420 Israelis were killed during the second Palestinian intifada [BBC backgrounder]. The report also discussed the increase of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem [JURIST news archives] over the same time. In 1989 there were 69,800 Israelis living in the West Bank and 118,100 in East Jerusalem, compared to present numbers of about 300,000 and 190,000 respectively.

Earlier this month, the UN General Assembly [official website] adopted a resolution giving Israel and Palestine three months to conduct independent investigations into possible war crimes committed during last winter's Gaza conflict [JURIST news archive]. The General Assembly voted 114-18 with 44 abstentions [press release] expressing support for the Goldstone Report [text, PDF], the result of a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] fact-finding mission, which accused both Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) [official website] and Hamas [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] fighters of war crimes during the conflict. Israel has criticized the report as biased, questioned the objectivity of the fact-finding, and has urged the UN not to adopt the report's findings in a statement to the General Assembly [statement text].






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DOJ dropping charges against Blackwater guard involved in 2007 Iraq shootings
Steve Czajkowski on November 22, 2009 9:40 AM ET

[JURIST] Federal prosecutors from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] indicated Friday that they will drop manslaughter charges against a Blackwater Worldwide [JURIST news archive] security guard who had been involved in the September 2007 shooting incident in Baghdad [JURIST report] that killed 17 Iraqis. According to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia, Channing Phillips [official profile], a motion was filed under seal to dismiss the charges against Nicholas Slatten. No reason was given as to why the indictment was being dismissed, but prosecutors asked [Reuters report] that they be allowed to resubmit the charges at a later date if desired. Since the incident Blackwater has changed its name to Xe Services [corporate website].

Slatten was one of six guards indicted [text, PDF; JURIST report] in December on charges of voluntary manslaughter, attempt to commit manslaughter, and using and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, which carries a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence. Five of the guards pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] in January. However, a sixth guard pleaded guilty [text, PDF] to charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter for his role in the same incident. The Blackwater incident caused domestic outrage in Iraq and has prompted legal controversy in the US. In November 2008, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigation into the incident concluded that the shootings were unjustified [JURIST report]. Blackwater ended its operations in Iraq [JURIST report] in May.






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Key ICTR witnesses threatening to boycott genocide trials after acquittals: report
Jay Carmella on November 21, 2009 12:56 PM ET

[JURIST] Groups representing key witnesses appearing before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website; JURIST news archive] told Reuters Saturday that they may no longer participate in court trials following the acquittal of two suspects involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder]. The umbrella organization for the various survivor groups in Rwanda, IBUKA [advocacy website, in French], threatened [Reuters report] that if the ICTR did not reverse its decisions, the relationship between the ICTR and the survivor groups will end. Approximately 200 protesters marched in Kigali in opposition the ICTR's decisions.

The protests are in response to two decisions by the ICTR last week. On Tuesday, the ICTR overturned [JURIST report] the conviction and 20-year prison sentence of Protais Zigiranyirazo [case materials; Trial Watch profile]. The ICTR found that there was not sufficient evidence to convict him. Also on Tuesday, the ICTR acquitted [JURIST report] Catholic priest Hormisdas Nsengimana [case materials; Trial Watch profile] and ordered his immediate release. A three-judge panel concluded there was insufficient factual and legal basis to convict Nsengimana.






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UN rights resolution criticizes Iran for post-election violations
Jay Carmella on November 21, 2009 10:28 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Committee [official website] Friday passed a resolution criticizing Iran for human rights violations, especially in the aftermath of the controversial reelection [JURIST news archive] earlier this year of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [JURIST news archive]. The committee flagged detentions, arrests and the disappearance of individuals for exercising their freedoms of assembly and expression as areas of particular concern [JURIST report]. The committee resolution, which passed 74-48, will go before the UN General Assembly for approval in December. The Iranian government immediately downplayed the significance of the committee action, insisting that the majority of the General Assembly does not support it.

Last week, an Iranian court sentenced [JURIST report] five people to death for protesting the election result. Iran began trying some of the arrested protesters [JURIST report] in August. In July, Iranian officials announced [JURIST report] a plan to either press charges against or release most of those held after the riots. Also in July, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) [advocacy website] reported that the number of deaths that occurred during the election protests exceeded governments reports [JURIST report].






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Canada court orders review of US lesbian soldier refugee claim
Christian Ehret on November 21, 2009 10:09 AM ET

[JURIST] Canada's Federal Court [official website] Friday ordered a review [judgment, PDF] of a denial of refugee status for a lesbian US soldier who deserted the US Army in 2007 and fled to Canada. The Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) originally rejected Bethany Smith's application in February, finding that she had failed to seek protection within the US and that such protection would have been adequate. Smith claimed that she was severely harassed and discriminated against based on her sexual orientation while stationed in Kentucky and that she faced possible persecution if she returned to the US. Judge Yves de Montigny held that Smith had presented clear and convincing proof that the US was unable to protect her and found that the IRB member who reviewed the application reached an "unreasonable" conclusion.

US President Barack Obama recently pledged [JURIST report] to end the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" [10 USC § 654 text] policy, which subjects openly gay individuals to military discharge. After the US Supreme Court [official website] denied certiorari [JURIST report] to review the policy in June, the US Senate Armed Services Committee [official website] announced [JURIST report] that it would hold hearings to review it. Last year, more than 100 retired admirals and generals of the US military called for a repeal [JURIST report] of the policy.






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Federal judge orders release of Algerian held at Guantanamo
Christian Ehret on November 21, 2009 8:59 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge on Friday ordered the release [order, PDF] of Algerian Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Farhi Saeed Bin Mohammed. Judge Gladys Kessler directed the government to "take all necessary and approrpriate steps to facilitate [Fari Saeed's] release forthwith." The order resulted from a civil action brought against the US government for unlawfully detaining [Miami Herald report] Farhi Saeed since 2002. Kessler's opinion remains classified pending review.

Thirty other Guantanamo Bay detainees have been released based on unlawful detention suits since the US Supreme Court's 2008 decision in Boumediene v. Bush [opinion, PDF; JURIST report]. Earlier this month, lawyers for four Uighurs at Guantanamo Bay filed a petition for certiorari [JURIST report] with the Supreme Court, challenging an appellate ruling [JURIST report] which prohibited courts from preventing the transfer of detainees to foreign countries for fear of prosecution or torture.






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ICTY appoints UK lawyer to represent Karadzic
Patrice Collins on November 20, 2009 3:05 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Friday appointed [press release] British lawyer Richard Harvey to represent Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [case materials; JURIST news archive] if he continues to boycott his trial when proceedings resume in March. Harvey is currently joint head of the British defense firm Garden Court Chambers [firm website] and has extensive experience in high profile criminal defense cases in both the ICTY and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website]. He served as lead defense counsel for Lahi Brahimaj [Trial Watch profile], who was accused of ordering the torture and murder of detainees at Jablanica detention center as local commander of the Kosovo Liberation Amy [CFR backgrounder] and co-counsel in the ICTY Haradin Bala and ICTR Juvenal Kajelijeli [Trial Watch backgrounders] prosecutions. It is unlikely that Karadzic, whose trial was adjourned [JURIST report] just days after it began because of his refusal to participate, will cooperate with Harvey. Karadzic claims that he is boycotting his trial because of inadequate time [JURIST report] to prepare a defense.

The ICTY announced earlier this month that it would appoint counsel [JURIST report] after a tribunal judge again denied Karadzic's request for a 10-month delay. Before requesting delay, Karadzic asked the UN Security Council to grant him immunity from trial after the ICTY appeals chamber rejected [JURIST reports] his argument that he was promised immunity by former US ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke in exchange for his resignation. Karadzic faces 11 charges [amended indictment, PDF], including genocide and murder, for war crimes committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.






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Islamic countries lobbying for treaty against religious defamation: report
Sarah Miley on November 20, 2009 2:05 PM ET

[JURIST] The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) [official website] has begun lobbying for the UN General Assembly [official website] to pass an international treaty protecting religious beliefs and symbols from defamation, according to an AP report [text] Friday. The efforts of the OIC are being led by Pakistan and Algeria with full support of the organization's 54 remaining members. The proposal is strongly opposed by western countries due to the effects the ban could have on freedom of speech and expression. The US government has openly condemned [AP report] the idea of a bar on defamation of religion, which could have the adverse affect of suppressing dissidents and reformists in Muslim countries. Pakistani diplomat, Marghoob Saleem Butt, defended the OIC's proposal telling the AP that, "[t]here has to be a balance between freedom of expression and respect for others. ... Taking the symbol of a whole religion and portraying him as a terrorist, that is where we draw the line." Butt was referring to a string of satirical Muslim comics published in Denmark four years ago, one of which depicted the Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist. The proposed ban does not state who would determine which actions would incite criminal liability, but these decision would likely be initially decided by each country's criminal court.

Last month, the US State Department [official website] released [JURIST report] its annual Report on International Religious Freedom [materials], criticizing Islamic countries for limiting religious expression. The report found that countries such as North Korea and Iran have attempted to prevent religious defamation as a way to limit religious expression. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile] said [transcript] that freedom of religion is essential not only in the US but in every society, and limiting an individual's right of expression reduces that freedom. In addition to North Korea and Iran, the report criticized Myanmar, China, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan.






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Israel Supreme Court bans for-profit prisons
Sarah Paulsworth on November 20, 2009 1:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Israel [official website, in Hebrew] banned privately-run prisons on Thursday, ruling [opinion, in Hebrew] 8-1 that they violate prisoners' fundamental rights and introduce an element of profit into the prison system. The decision followed a 2005 lawsuit brought by the Academic College of Law's Human Rights Department against Israel's Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Public Security, the Knesset [official websites, in Hebrew], and prison operator ALA Management. Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch wrote:


The arrangement lays the foundation for the transfer of basic law enforcement and imprisonment powers of the state to a private corporation that operates with the aim of making a profit. This transfer of these powers infringes the constitutional rights to personal freedom and human dignity rooted in Israel's Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom.

The case stemmed from the Knesset's 2004 adoption of Amendment 28 [text, in Hebrew] to Israel's Prison's Ordinance, which authorized the construction of a privately-run prison. In the lawsuit, the petitioners alleged that the transferring of prison powers to a private company violated prisoners' fundamental human rights, and that private organizations, working to maximize profit, might seek to reduce costs by skimping on prison facilities and paying guards poorly, further undermining those rights. The government of Israel contended that Amendment 28 envisaged the creation of only one private prison as a pilot project based a model from England, and said the rights of the prisoners at the private prison, like the rights of all other prisoners in Israel, remained dually protected by the law itself and administrative checks. The construction of the private prison, near Be'er Sheva, has already been completed [Haaretz report] and the Israeli government is expected to have to pay hundreds of millions of shekels in compensation to the construction company. The US, UK and Australia all have privately-run prisons.





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Federal judge orders health benefits for same-sex spouse of federal employee
Steve Dotterer on November 20, 2009 1:03 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Thursday ordered [text, PDF] the director of the Administrative Office of the US Courts (AO) [official website] to provide health benefits to the same-sex spouse of a federal employee. Karen Golinski, the federal court employee who sued for the benefits, was married in California during the six-month period during which same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] licenses were granted under state law. The director of the AO, Jim Duff, refused to certify Golinski's eligibility for the benefits to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) [official website], citing the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text], which prohibits federal recognition of gay and lesbian families. Judge Alex Kozinski rejected that argument, finding that the Federal Employee Health Benefits Act "permit[s] the coverage of same-sex spouses."

A similar order [JURIST report] was issued by the Ninth Circuit Wednesday, when a judge ordered the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Central District of California [official website] to compensate a gay man denied benefits for his male spouse. Also this week, New York's highest court ruled that same-sex spouses of state employees married in other states are entitled to benefits [JURIST report].






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Senate confirms Obama's earliest judicial nominee after delay
Zach Zagger on November 20, 2009 12:19 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] on Thursday voted 59-39 [roll call vote] to confirm Judge David Hamilton to the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website], overcoming Republican opposition to secure President Barack Obama's first and longest-delayed judicial nominee. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] said a Republican filibuster delayed [press release] the vote for five-and-a-half months, since it was first put on the Senate's executive calendar on June 4. On Tuesday, the Senate broke the Republican filibuster, voting 70-29 [roll call vote] to bring debate over the nomination to an end. Obama nominated Hamilton on March 17 and he is Obama's eighth judicial nominee [materials] to be confirmed by the Senate. The American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary [official website], which rates judicial nominees, unanimously gave Hamilton its highest rating [ratings, PDF] of "well qualified."

Hamilton's confirmation comes less than two weeks after the Senate confirmed [JURIST report] Judge Andre Davis to the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website], by a vote of 72-16 [roll call vote]. Obama's other judicial nominee confirmations [materials] include Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor [JURIST news archive], Second Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch, and three federal district court judges.






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US only holdout on UN child rights treaty after Somalia announces intent to ratify
Ann Riley on November 20, 2009 10:15 AM ET

[JURIST] The Somali Transitional Federal Government [official website] on Friday announced its intention to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) [official website], which, if successful, would make the US the only UN member state not to have done so. The UN International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) [official website] welcomed [Xinhua report] the announcement that Somalia's ministers had agreed in principle [Reuters report] to work toward ratification of the convention defining universal children's rights [official backgrounder, PDF]. The convention has been ratified by 193 nations, making it the world's most widely ratified human rights treaty. In commemoration of the 20th anniversary [press release] of the UN’s adoption of the CRC, UNICEF released a report [text, PDF; press release] detailing the progress and challenges remaining in protecting the rights of children. Noting that the Convention is largely compliant with US laws and that the US played a significant role in drafting the treaty, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] said Thursday that "US ratification is long over-due" and urged [press release] the president and Senate to ratify the convention.

In June, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice [official profile] said [AP report] that the Obama administration is seeking ways to have the US sign on to the treaty. In 1995, then-president Bill Clinton signed the CRC, but never submitted [AP report] it to be ratified by the Senate. Opponents of the CRC allege that the treaty puts US sovereignty in jeopardy and undermines parental rights [advocacy website]. Earlier this year, Obama signed [JURIST report] the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) [official website], the first international human rights treaty the US has signed in nearly a decade. The CRPD is awaiting ratification [Senate materials] in the Senate.






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Ninth Circuit upholds ruling to block advocacy intervention in Proposition 8 suit
Ximena Marinero on November 20, 2009 9:43 AM ET

[JURIST] A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Thursday affirmed [opinion, PDF] a lower court's denial [JURIST report] of a conservative advocacy group's motion to intervene in a challenge to Proposition 8 [text, PDF], California's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive]. The appeals court held that the district court did not abuse abuse its discretion by denying the motions to intervene. The Campaign for California Families (the Campaign) [advocacy website] had sought to intervene, alleging that the defending parties to the suit, Official Proponents of Proposition 8 and ProtectMarriage.com, would not adequately represent the interests of the Campaign. Judge Margaret McKeown rejected that argument:


The reality is that the Campaign and those advocating the constitutionality of Prop. 8 have identical interests—that is, to uphold Prop. 8. Any differences are rooted in style and degree, not the ultimate bottom line. Divergence of tactics and litigation strategy is not tantamount to divergence over the ultimate objective of the suit.

The Campaign alleges [AmLawDaily report] that the current defendants in the suit challenging Proposition 8 have compromised upholding the measure by conceding to facts that declare homosexuality is an immutable characteristics. The current defending parties deny those claims.

In August, a judge in the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] ruled that several advocacy organizations representing both sides of the issue could not intervene in the lawsuit [complaint, PDF] challenging Proposition 8. The lawsuit was filed [JURIST report] in May by former US solicitor general Ted Olson and prominent litigator David Boies [professional profiles], who were opposing counsel in Bush v. Gore [opinion], which decided the outcome of the contested 2000 US Presidential election [JURIST backgrounder]. The challenge was announced shortly after the California Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that state law challenges to the ban lacked merit. Proposition 8, approved by voters [JURIST report] in November, was a response to the California Supreme Court's decision last year striking down [JURIST report] a statutory ban on same-sex marriage as violating the equal protection and privacy provisions of the state constitution.





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Argentina Senate approves law to compel DNA from suspected 'Dirty War' children
Ximena Marinero on November 20, 2009 8:44 AM ET

[JURIST] The Argentine Senate [official website] on Thursday voted 57-1 to approve a law [materials, in Spanish] that authorizes the government to obtain DNA samples from individuals suspected to have been born to forced disappearance victims of the 1976-1983 "Dirty War" [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The law will amend Article 218 of the Criminal Penal Code to allow minimal biological samples to be taken from a person to determine biologic identity, authorizing judges to issue warrants to obtain alternate biological samples from personal effects using the least coercive methods necessary. Controversy around the law stemmed from issues of consent and right to privacy, as well as an individual's right to refuse knowledge of their biological parents. Among the supporters of the law is the association Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo [advocacy website], a group dedicated to obtaining restitution for the relatives of persons disappeared during the Pinochet dictatorship. Among the vocal opponents to the law is Ernestina Herrera de Noble, owner of the influential media group El Clarin, who has two adopted children born during the years of the Dirty War. Also on Thursday, the Argentine Senate approved [La Gaceta report, in Spanish] voted 38-20 to approve a law [materials, in Spanish] that establishes the National Genetic Information Bank as an autonomous institution under the Ministry of Science and Technology. The same Senate session also approved a law [materials, in Spanish] that will allow non governmental human rights organizations to bring suit in cases involving human rights violations or crimes against humanity, including crimes forced disappearances.

Last week, the National Chamber of Criminal Cassation enhanced [DyN report] a sentence imposed on a couple convicted of abducting children of forced disappearance victims and suppressing the child's identity, holding that these offenses constitute crimes against humanity. In August, the Supreme Court of Argentina [official website, in Spanish] ruled [JURIST report] in the case of two suspected children of disappeared persons that individuals cannot be required to submit blood samples to test whether they were abducted as children during the Pinochet regime, but that genetic material can be collected from personal effects. The case was raised by the association Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. The association has been able to locate about 100 of the 500 children they have set out to find.






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New York high court rules same-sex spouses of state employees entitled to benefits
Brian Jackson on November 20, 2009 8:21 AM ET

[JURIST] The New York Court of Appeals [official website] on Thursday dismissed a challenge [opinion, PDF] to two policies that provide benefits to same-sex couples married outside of the state. The first policy was a 2006 decision by the Westchester County executive to extend benefits to same-sex spouses of county employees. The second policy was a 2006 decision [memorandum, PDF] by the president of the New York Civil Service Commission, mandating an extension of full benefits to all spouses of state employees enrolled in the New York State Health Insurance Plan. Prior to that decision, extension of benefits to same-sex spouses was at the discretion of the individual state agencies. In explaining the court's decision to affirm the Appellate Division's dismissal, Judge Eugene Pigott Jr. stated that in regards to the Westchester policy, the plaintiffs failed to provide evidence of specific harms resulting from the policy, relying instead on, "bare legal conclusions with no factual specificity." In regards to the State Civil Service Commission policy, Pigott noted that under sections 161 and 164 of the New York Civil Service Laws [legislative materials], the commission president is authorized to establish a health insurance plan for state officers and their dependents, and that the president has discretion to define the scope of dependents for purposes of benefits. In a concurring opinion joined by three others, Judge Carmen Ciparick stated that she would have simply affirmed the dismissal on the grounds that, "same-sex marriages, valid where performed, are entitled to full legal recognition in New York under our State's longstanding marriage recognition rule."

Currently, New York does not permit same-sex marriages [JURIST news archive], but in April, Governor David Patterson announced legislation [JURIST report] that would allow same-sex couples to be married in the state. That legislation was approved [JURIST report] by the state assembly in May, and a senate vote is expected before the end of the year [NYT report]. Patterson had previously issued an order to all state agencies in 2008 to recognize same-sex marriages, citing a New York Appellate Division ruling [JURIST reports] that same-sex marriages performed out of state are entitled to recognition in New York.






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Somalia, Afghanistan ranked most corrupt countries in annual survey
Jaclyn Belczyk on November 20, 2009 7:32 AM ET

[JURIST] The conflict-ravaged nations of Somalia, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sudan, and Iraq rank among the world's most corrupt, according to the 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) [text; press release] prepared by Transparency International (TI) [advocacy website]. The index, released Tuesday, ranked 180 countries based on observations by businesspeople and analysts, giving each a score between 0 and 10. Somalia had the lowest score of 1.1, while Afghanistan scored 1.3, Myanmar scored 1.4, and Sudan and Iraq tied at 1.5. More than half of the countries surveyed had scores below 5. TI suggests that the global financial crisis may be contributing to corruption, especially in countries that lack stable governments. TI chair Huguette Labelle said:

Stemming corruption requires strong oversight by parliaments, a well performing judiciary, independent and properly resourced audit and anti-corruption agencies, vigorous law enforcement, transparency in public budgets, revenue and aid flows, as well as space for independent media and a vibrant civil society. The international community must find efficient ways to help war-torn countries to develop and sustain their own institutions.
The countries with the highest scores were New Zealand, with a 9.4 and Denmark, with a 9.3.

The 2008 CPI [text] also found Somalia, Myanmar, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan at the bottom of the list, as well as Haiti. Haiti improved its score in 2009, but still remains near the bottom of the list. The 2007 and 2006 CPIs [JURIST reports] had similar findings.





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Russia Constitutional Court extends moratorium on death penalty
Haley Wojdowski on November 19, 2009 3:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of Russia [official website, in Russian] on Thursday extended the moratorium [press release, in Russian] on the death penalty [JURIST news archive] until the Russian parliament ratifies an international treaty abolishing capital punishment. In 1997, Russia signed, but did not ratify, Protocol 6 of the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms [texts], which was put forward by the Council of Europe (COE) [official website] in 1983 to limit the exercise of the death penalty to cases involving "acts committed in time of war or of imminent threat of war." The court noted that Russia was invited to join the COE in part because of its expressed intention to place a moratorium on the penalty and take steps towards its abolition. The court also stated that allowing capital punishment may violate Russia's obligations under Protocol 6, citing Article 18 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT) [text, PDF], which requires signatories to "refrain from acts which would defeat the object and purpose of a treaty."

In December 2006, the Russian Duma [official website, in Russian] effectively extended [JURIST report] the national moratorium on the death penalty until 2010, when Chechnya [BBC backgrounder] is expected to become the last state to adopt a federal law establishing trials by jury. In February 1999, the Constitutional Court imposed a moratorium [Bloomberg report] on the death penalty until the federal law is implemented in all regions within the country. The Russian death penalty has drawn repeated criticism [JURIST report] from the COE, which has pressured Russia to abolish it completely.






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UK court orders release of details of ex-Guantanamo detainee's treatment
Brian Jackson on November 19, 2009 2:38 PM ET

[JURIST] The UK High Court ruled [judgment text] Thursday that the details of the detention of Binyam Mohamed [JURIST news archive] in Pakistan in 2002 must be released. This most recent decision is the latest in a series of back and forth rulings on whether redacted materials regarding Mohamed's detention should be disclosed. An October interim ruling [JURIST report] by Lord Justice Thomas and Justice Lloyd Jones resulted in a redacted release, which the High Court indicated it would revisit after receiving submissions from both the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) [official website] and Mohamed. In handing down this most recent decision, Thomas and Jones said that in making public details of a detainee's treatment, "we were not in the judgment 'giving away the intelligence secrets of a foreign country' or making public 'American secrets.'" Both justices were critical of Foreign Secretary David Milliband's efforts to keep the information classified [BBC report], noting that the US had already released similar information on the treatment of Abu Zubayah. As part of the judgment, the justices indicated that the FCO had already sought an expedited appeal of the decision, though that matter would be handled by another court and it is not clear how quickly the hearing will occur.

This decision comes one day after a separate judge on the High Court ruled that, in Mohamed's separate suit for damages, information relating to his treatment at Guantanamo Bay may be withheld [JURIST report] under a "closed material procedure." Mohamed was returned to the UK in February, after charges against him were dismissed in October 2008 [JURIST reports]. Mohamed had been held at Guantanamo Bay for four years, on suspicion of conspiracy to commit terrorism [JURIST report].






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Bangladesh Supreme Court upholds death sentence for coup officers
Andrea Bottorff on November 19, 2009 1:32 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Bangladesh [official website] on Thursday denied the appeals of five former military officers sentenced to death for the 1975 military coup assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman [Hindustan Times profile], the country's first leader. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed [official website], Mujibur's daughter, praised [press release] the latest decision in the 16-year old murder trial [ALBD timeline]. The convicted officers, who are currently in prison, may appeal to the prime minister for clemency. Hasina had promised to make her father's murder trial a priority of her administration when she was elected in 2008 to a second term in office [JURIST report].

Mujibur and 16 family members were killed during a military coup that erupted only four years after Bangladesh won independence [TIME backgrounder] from Pakistan in 1971. In April, the government of Bangladesh announced [JURIST report] that it was working with the UN to establish prosecutions of alleged war crimes committed during the 1971 War of Independence [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. The country ended 2 years of emergency rule in December 2008, with the government declaring [JURIST reports] its intent to restore [Daily Star report] the 1972 constitution [text, PDF].






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Europe court rules delayed airline passengers entitled to compensation
Steve Dotterer on November 19, 2009 12:59 PM ET

[JURIST] The European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] ruled [case materials; press release] Thursday that airline passengers confronted with flight delays of two hours or more may receive compensation equal to that of passengers whose flights are cancelled. The flat-rate compensation ranges between 250 and 600 euros. The case arose under European Parliament and European Council Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004 [text, PDF], which sets forth rules for compensation and assistance of airline passengers. The court found:

Given that the damage sustained by air passengers in cases of cancellation or long delay is comparable, passengers whose flights are delayed and passengers whose flights are cancelled cannot be treated differently without the principle of equal treatment being infringed. That is a fortiori the case in view of the aim sought by Regulation No 261/2004, which is to increase protection for all air passengers.

In those circumstances, the Court finds that passengers whose flights are delayed may rely on the right to compensation laid down in Article 7 of Regulation No 261/2004 where they suffer, on account of such flights, a loss of time equal to or in excess of three hours, that is to say when they reach their final destination three hours or more after the arrival time originally scheduled by the air carrier.
The judgment clarifies circumstances under which a "delay" or a "cancellation" occurs and the corresponding duties of airlines to affected passengers. A right to compensation does not arise if the airline can show "extraordinary" circumstances caused the delay. The task falls to national courts to determine the meaning of the ECJ ruling.

The German and Austrian courts that initially referred the case to the ECJ are expected to review the decision. The ECJ ruling mirrors a 2008 ruling [JURIST report], which upheld the right of compensation to passengers whose flights are canceled. The legislation, which went into effect [JURIST report] in 2005, requires airlines to compensate travelers for cancellations, delays, and denial of seats. It places the burden of proof on airlines if they wish to avoid payment. In 2006, the ECJ upheld [JURIST report] the airline passenger regulations in a challenge brought by International Air Transport Association [group website] and the European Low Fares Airline Association [group website; press release, PDF], which argued that the law was too costly to implement and some conditions were outside of the airlines' control.





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Afghanistan president vows to fight corruption in inaugural address
Dwyer Arce on November 19, 2009 12:01 PM ET

[JURIST] Afghan President Hamid Karzai [official profile, JURIST news archive] pledged to fight corruption in his government during his inaugural address [text, PDF] on Thursday. To this end, Karzai announced that he would soon be organizing a conference to research the sources of the corruption and bribery that is widespread throughout Afghanistan and find ways to combat it. Additionally, he announced that his office, in cooperation with the National Assembly [official website], would draft a new law that would require senior government officials to declare their assets and an expansion of bodies charged with the oversight of the government:

The Government of Afghanistan is committed to end the culture of impunity and violation of law and bring to justice those involved in spreading corruption and abuse of public property. To do this, will require effective and strong measures. Therefore, alongside an intensified judicial reform, all government anti-corruption efforts and agencies have to be strengthened and supported. Particular attention will be given to building the capacity and upgrading the High Office of Oversight for the Implementation of the Anti-Corruption Strategy. Measures for supporting the anti-corruption agencies include: increasing the scope of their authority, improving their capacity and resources for detection and investigation, expanding their organizational structure, as well as reforming the relevant anti-corruption laws and regulations.
Under intense pressure from the US and European Union, Karzai announced [BBC report] earlier this month the formation of a commission to investigate corruption in the government, which is ranked by Transparency International [advocacy website] as one of the most corrupt [ranking] in the world, with only Somalia ranked as more corrupt. Also during his address, Karzai set a goal of full Afghan control of security within five years and declared the government's intention of dismissing and prosecuting all officials connected with the illicit drug trade in the country.

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) [official website] earlier this month declared Karzai the winner [JURIST report] of the presidential election [JURIST news archive] after challenger Abdullah Abdullah [BBC profile] withdrew from the runoff election due to the his belief that the upcoming vote would not be free or fair. Karzai was originally declared to have secured over half of the vote, avoiding a runoff, but this was challenged by the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) [official website] in October when it invalided [JURIST report] a significant portion of Karzai's vote due to findings of fraud at 210 polling stations. Soon after the election was held in August, Abdullah alleged widespread voter fraud [JURIST report], filing more than 100 complaints with the ECC alleging ballot stuffing, inflated vote counts, and intimidation at the polls by Karzai supporters. The tumultuous election has come amid a major policy review [NYT report] of the US war effort in Afghanistan by the administration of US President Barack Obama [official profile]. The legitimacy and competence of the Afghan government is seen as a major factor in the deliberations by top US officials.





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Brazil top court rules for extradition of Italy fugitive
Carrie Schimizzi on November 19, 2009 11:41 AM ET

[JURIST] The Brazilian Supreme Court [official website, in Portuguese] on Wednesday voted 5-to-4 to extradite [press release, in Portuguese] former Italian guerrilla Cesare Battisti back to Italy, but left the final decision to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva [official profile, in Portuguese], who granted him asylum earlier this year. The high court has yet to decide if the order mandates Lula to extradite Battisti or merely authorizes him to do so. Early in the week, Battisti sent a letter [Reuters report] to Lula saying he would rather die in Brazil than be sent back to Italy. Lula granted Battisti political refugee status in January due to doubts about the fairness of his trial where he was convicted in absentia of four murders in the late 1970s. Battisti has firmly protested his extradition, going on a hunger strike [BBC report] last week in the Brazilian prison where he is being held. Italy considers Battisti a terrorist and has been pressuring the Brazilian government to extradite him.

Battisti was sentenced to life in prison in Italy for murders committed by the Armed Proletarians for Communism, an arm of a radical communist group known as the Red Brigades to which Battisti belonged. He escaped [BBC report] from an Italian prison in 1981 and fled to Brazil after spending ten years as a refugee in France. Battisti was arrested in Rio de Janeiro in March 2007. Other members of the Red Brigades group have been convicted for murders in Italy over the past few years. In 2005, three members, who were among five people sentenced to life in prison for the murder of government economic advisor Marco Biagi, were sentenced [JURIST reports] to another life term for the murder of Massimo D'Antona, a professor and legal consultant to the Minister of Labour. The murders occurred three years apart, but both victims were government advisers who were killed to deter reforms which would introduce greater flexibility to Italy's labor market. Four defendants were acquitted and nine other defendants received sentences ranging from four to 10 years in prison.






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Federal judge finds Army Corps of Engineers liable for Katrina damage
Daniel Makosky on November 19, 2009 10:35 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website] on Wednesday found [text, PDF] the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) [official website] negligent in its operation and maintenance of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MRGO) [USACE backgrounder]. Damages nearing $720,000 were awarded to five plaintiffs [case materials], who successfully demonstrated that known defects in the MRGO and the USACE's subsequent failure to take action contributed significantly to the devastation caused in the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish by Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive] in 2005. In his ruling, Judge Stanwood Duval wrote:


It is the Court's opinion that the negligence of the Corps, in this instance by failing to maintain the MRGO properly, was not policy, but insouciance, myopia and shortsightedness. ... The Corps had an opportunity to take a myriad of actions to alleviate this deterioration or rehabilitate this deterioration and failed to do so. Clearly the expression "talk is cheap" applies here.

Duval dismissed the claims of two additional plaintiffs, ruling that the USACE is not liable for flooding in the eastern part of the city. The decision is expected to ease the burden [AP report] for more than 100,000 victims pursuing similar claims in the area.

The USACE had sought dismissal of the suit on several occasions. In March, Duval found [JURIST report] that material questions of fact existed as to a potential violation of the USACE's mandate that, if proven, would preclude it from protection under the discretionary function exception of the Federal Tort Claims Act. Duval previously allowed the lawsuit to proceed in May 2008, when he ruled [JURIST report] that the outlet was a shipping channel and not a flood control outlet in connection with which the USACE would have been properly immune in tort, and rejected the USACE's argument that the MRGO was nonetheless part of a larger flood control system in the New Orleans area. Duval made a similar ruling [JURIST report] in February 2007 in the context of an earlier motion to dismiss. Three months before Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, an expert at the LSU Hurricane Center [official website] predicted that the MRGO could amplify storm surges by 20-40 percent. After Katrina, the center determined through computer modeling that the presence of the MRGO also increased the speed of the surge, causing an even greater detrimental effect [Washington Post report].





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Senior Canada diplomat accuses military of complicity in torture of Afghans
Megan McKee on November 19, 2009 10:22 AM ET

[JURIST] A former senior Canadian diplomat alleged Wednesday that the Canadian military was complicit in the torture of Afghans by their own government, during testimony before the House of Commons Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan [official website]. Richard Colvin, who represented the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) [official website] in Kandahar from 2006-2007 and is currently the deputy head of intelligence at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, said that captives transferred from a Canadian military base in Kandahar to Afghan authorities were subsequently tortured [Canwest News report]. Colvin accused both the government and military of ignoring and even suppressing reports of torture by Afghan authorities, citing upwards of twelve memos [Reuters report] that he sent to top officials beginning in early 2006. The minority Conservative Party [party website] government maintains that captives were not transferred if there was a threat of torture, and questions [CBC report] the validity of Colvin's information.

Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association [advocacy websites] filed complaints [JURIST report] in 2007 against the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal [official website], alleging complicity in torture by Canadian personnel serving in Afghanistan. Amnesty accused Canada of violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text] by turning Afghan detainees over to Afghan authorities without any protection against later cruel and unusual punishment. In March 2008, the Canadian Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC) [official website] decided to hold public hearings to investigate the country's detainee transfer process in Afghanistan despite a move from the Canadian Department of Justice to block the inquiry [JURIST reports]. In September, the Canadian Federal Court ruled [JURIST report] that the MPCC's authority was limited to the investigation of military police, and it did not have the authority "to investigate government policy and to inquire as to the state of knowledge of the Government of Canada at large."






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Ninth Circuit orders back pay for federal employee denied same-sex spouse benefits
Ximena Marinero on November 19, 2009 9:14 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ordered [text, PDF] the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Central District of California (FPD) [official website] on Wednesday to pay a monetary award to a man denied healthcare benefits for his same-sex spouse. Deputy federal public defender Brad Levenson brought the suit requesting the court to direct the FPD to obtain separate coverage for his spouse by contracting with private health insurance carriers or issue a monetary award in accordance with the Back Pay Act [backgrounder, PDF]. The court found that a back pay award would be the "necessary and appropriate" remedy "tailored as closely as possible" to address the specific violation within the scope of the Ninth Circuit's Employment Dispute Resolution Plan for Federal Public Defenders and Staff since the FPD does not have federal contracting authority. The case was remanded for the lower court to determine the appropriate monetary award. Judge Stephen Reinhardt was the Chair of the Standing Committee on Federal Public Defenders at the time of filing and continues to retain jurisdiction in the matter until Levenson's spouse receives his entitled benefits. Reinhardt reasoned:


[T]o the extent that the application of DOMA serves to preclude the provision of health insurance coverage to a same-sex spouse of a legally married federal employee because of the employee's and his or her spouse's sex or sexual orientation, DOMA as applied contravenes the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and is therefor unconstitutional.

Levenson's suit was based on a February Ninth Circuit court order [text, PDF] directing the Administrative Office (AO) of the United States Courts to secure the benefits to which Levinson's spouse is entitled as a California legally married couple. That order also determined that denying Levenson's spouse benefits violated the anti-discrimination provisions of the EDR Plan as well as the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause. The AO took actions to comply with that original order, but the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) intervened [MercuryNews report] invoking the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text] to prevent the AO from complying with the court order.





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Federal judge rules against military lawyers for former Guantanamo detainee
Christian Ehret on November 19, 2009 8:10 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge on Wednesday ruled [opinion, PDF] that former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Ahmed Ghailani [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive] does not have a right to be represented by his military defense lawyers in a civilian court. Military lawyers Colonel Jeffrey Colwell and Major Richard Reiter were reassigned by the Department of Defense [official website] despite their willingness to continue representing Ghailani and Judge Lewis Kaplan's initial ruling [JURIST report] in June allowing them to do so. Ghailani's court-appointed lawyer argued that the reassignment orders violated his Fifth Amendment right to due process and his Sixth Amendment [texts] right to effective assistance of counsel. Kaplan rejected the due process claim because of its post-indictment nature and held that, despite a right to continued services of appointed counsel in military proceedings, the right did not extend to Ghailani in civil court. Kaplan reasoned that:


the more generous protection of the right to counsel afforded in the military justice system is grounded in the Uniform Code of Military Justice and military regulations, not the Sixth Amendment. Accordingly, the military analogy lends no support to Ghailani's argument. He is entitled to, and is receiving, representation of appointed counsel at public expense. He is not entitled to choose particular government-paid counsel – military or civilian – and he does not have a right to the continued services of previously appointed counsel.

Despite his ruling, Kaplan recognized the "near-insurmountable difficulties created by the US government" in the case and that Ghailani's unique trust in his military attorneys may not be equaled.

In July, Ghailani's military lawyers requested access to secret prisons [JURIST news archive] operated by the Central Intelligence Agency [official website] at which their client was held prior to his transfer to Guantanamo Bay. Ghailani faces charges for his alleged involvement in the 1998 bombings of US embassies [PBS backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in Tanzania and Kenya and is the first Guantanamo detainee to be brought to the US for prosecution. Having been held at the Guantanamo facility since 2006, Ghailani was transferred [JURIST report] to the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] in June to face 286 separate counts including involvement in the bombings and conspiring with Osama bin Laden and other members of al Qaeda to kill Americans worldwide. He pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] at his initial appearance. The announcement [JURIST report] that Ghailani would be tried in federal court came earlier this year following the ordered review of all Guantanamo detainees pursuant to plans to close the detention facility [JURIST news archive].





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Cuba continues political repression, rights violations under Raul Castro: report
Ximena Marinero on November 19, 2009 7:20 AM ET

[JURIST] The Cuban government of Raul Castro [BBC profile] has continued to repress dissidents and violate fundamental civil liberties of Cubans, maintaining the mechanisms put in place by Fidel Castro [BBC profile], according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] report [text, PDF; press release] released on Wednesday. Specifically, HRW reported that 53 political dissidents imprisoned since 2003 under Fidel Castro remain imprisoned, as well as "scores of of individuals incarcerated for 'dangerousness' under Raul Castro." The HRW report claims that Raul Castro's government relies heavily on the Criminal Code offense of "dangerousness" [text], which provides for imprisonment of people suspected of behavior against socialist values. Among those imprisoned are individuals whose behavior included unemployment, voicing opinions contrary to the government, and staging peaceful protests. HRW maintains that Raul Castro's government has resorted to imposing short-term imprisonment measures to elude international critique, while mistreatment of prisoners may rise to the level of torture. The report does acknowledge that a limited amount of dissent outlets, like independent blogging, have been allowed to emerge in recent years. The Cuban Interests Section Washington DC has charged [text] in a statement published by the Miami Herald that the HRW report is an illegitimate and illegal evaluation that aims to manipulate public scrutiny away from the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs [official website] hearing [materials] on Thursday about ending the travel ban to Cuba.

The number of political prisoners in Cuba had declined from 234 in January 2008 to 205, while the number of brief detentions had increased, according to a Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) [El Pais backgrounder, in Spanish] report [JURIST report] in February. The same report also charged that the decline in the number of political prisoners was due to the new practice of imposing shorter prison terms for those arrested employed since 2003. In January, HRW acknowledged some attempts in 2008 by the Cuban government to improve its position on human rights in its 2009 report [report text] on the country. HRW decried that overall the Cuban government continues to deny its citizens their fundamental rights. Last year, Cuba was ranked 170th in the eighth annual Worldwide Index of Press Freedom [JURIST report] issued by Reporters Without Borders (RWB) [advocacy website].






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Holder defends 9/11 federal trials decision before Senate committee
Dwyer Arce on November 18, 2009 2:19 PM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] appeared Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] to answer questions regarding the decision to try five men accused of conspiring to commit the 9/11 terrorist attacks [JURIST news archive] in federal court. In his opening remarks [transcript; video], Holder refuted the arguments made by his predecessor [Washington Times report] and other lawmakers that the decision to try these men in civilian courts represents a "pre-9/11" mentality. Additionally, he sought to allay concerns voiced by critics that civilian courts are inadequate to handle the cases of suspected terrorists and will provide a public forum to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed [JURIST news archive], the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks:

Judges in federal court have firm control over the conduct of defendants and other participants in their courtrooms, and when the 9/11 conspirators are brought to trial, I have every confidence that the presiding judge will ensure appropriate decorum. And if [Mohammad] makes the same statements he made in his military commission proceedings, I have every confidence the nation and the world will see him for the coward he is. I’m not scared of what [Mohammad] will have to say at trial – and no one else needs to be either.
Holder was faced with heavy criticism during the hearing from Republican committee members. Ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) [official website] told Holder his decision was "dangerous, misguided, and unnecessary" and would create a security risk. The hearing comes amid efforts by the Obama administration to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] by next year. President Barack Obama on Wednesday confirmed [NYT report] that the facility would not be closed by the self-imposed January 22 deadline, as has been stated by administration officials [JURIST report] for the past several weeks.

Holder on Friday announced [JURIST report] that the government will pursue federal charges against the five suspected 9/11 conspirators in a Manhattan district court by prosecutors from the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of Virginia [official websites]. Holder said that he recommended that the men be tried in civilian court after a case-by-case review conducted by the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense [official websites] according to a new protocol announced in July. Reactions to the decision have fallen mostly along partisan lines, with many Republicans opposing the plan [JURIST report], and many Democrats supporting it.





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UK court rules evidence may be kept secret in torture suit
Hillary Stemple on November 18, 2009 1:30 PM ET

[JURIST] The British High Court [official website] ruled [judgment text] Wednesday that the government may withhold evidence from seven claimants suing UK intelligence services MI5 and MI6 [official websites] for their roles in alleged torture at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. The court ruled that the agencies can rely on the evidence in their defense without disclosing it to the claimants. The ruling marks a departure [Independent report] from the "public interest immunity" procedure, which weighed the public interest in non-disclosure against the interests of justice. If the evidence was found to be so sensitive that it should not be revealed, the information could not be used by either side. The court indicated that a "closed material" procedure, where a "special advocate" reviews evidence not disclosed by the government and acts on behalf of the claimants, would be appropriate in this case. The ruling was condemned by Amnesty International [advocacy website], and lawyers representing the men have indicated they will appeal the decision.

The ruling comes amid criticism of an October ruling by the High Court ordering disclosure [JURIST reports] of portions of previously redacted text regarding the alleged torture of Binyam Mohamed [JURIST news archive], one of the seven men involved in the civil suit. UK officials have expressed concern that the release of alleged torture information would pose a risk to the national security of the UK and its relations with the US.






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Senate defeats amendment to block funds for holding Guantanamo detainees in US
Carrie Schimizzi on November 18, 2009 12:31 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] on Tuesday rejected an attempt to bar using federal funds to build or modify prisons in the US to hold detainees from Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. By a mostly party-line 57-43 vote [roll call vote], the Senate defeated an amendment [S AMDT 2774 text, PDF] to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act [text, PDF; HR 3082 materials], proposed by Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) [official website], which would have prevented federal funds from being used to construct or modify prison facilities in the US to hold Guantanamo detainees. The action suggests congressional Democrats may be lining up behind President Obama's vision for closing [JURIST report] the Guantanamo military prison. The Senate approved [roll call vote] the $133.9 billion fiscal 2010 spending bill after defeating the amendment, which Illinois officials feared could have complicated the Obama administration’s plans to move [JURIST report] Guantanamo detainees to the Thomson Correctional Facility [IDOC backgrounder], a maximum security prison in Northwestern Illinois. The proposed measure was also seen as a hindrance to President Obama's administration plans to try suspected terrorists in civilian courts in New York City.

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] announced [JURIST report] that the government will pursue federal charges in a Manhattan district court against five men accused of conspiring to commit the 9/11 terrorist attacks [JURIST news archive]. Earlier this month, the US Senate voted 54-45 [JURIST report] to defeat an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have prevented Guantanamo detainees accused of involvement in 9/11 from being tried in federal courts. In October, US President Barack Obama signed [JURIST report] into law the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2010 [HR 2892 materials] which allows for Guantanamo Bay detainees to be transferred to the US for prosecution.






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Iraq election law vetoed by Sunni vice president
David Manes on November 18, 2009 11:28 AM ET

[JURIST] Iraqi Sunni Arab Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi [personal website, in Arabic] on Wednesday announced his veto of the first article of the recently passed election law [JURIST report] at a press conference [transcript, in Arabic] in Baghdad. Hashemi said further amendments are necessary [AFP report] before the law will be acceptable, specifically calling for increased representation for Iraqis living abroad. An estimated 1.5 million Iraqis live outside the country, and many are thought to be Sunnis who fled after Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime fell. Hashemi is one of two Iraqi vice presidents who serve with the president on the Presidency Council [official website, in Arabic]. The Iraqi Constitution [text, PDF] requires that the Presidency Council unanimously approve legislation.

The constitution also requires that the election law be approved by the Presidency Council within 60 days of the election, which was scheduled for January 18 of next year. After Hashemi's announcement, the Independent High Election Commission [official website, in Arabic] suspended their preparations for the election. Further debate on the proposed law will likely delay the elections, which may affect the planned withdrawal of US military forces from Iraq. The elections may also include a referendum on the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [text, PDF], which allows US troops to remain in the country until the end of 2011. A draft bill requiring the referendum was approved by the Iraqi cabinet [JURIST report] in August. If the SOFA were rejected by Iraqi voters, US troops would have only one year to withdraw, which would result in a January 2011 withdrawal - nearly a year ahead of schedule.






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Virginia conducts first US electric chair execution in over a year
Jaclyn Belczyk on November 18, 2009 10:40 AM ET

[JURIST] Virginia authorities on Tuesday executed a prisoner by electric chair [JURIST news archive], conducting the country's first execution by electrocution in over a year. Former Army counterintelligence worker Larry Bill Elliott, who was convicted of a 2001 double murder, was executed Tuesday night after Virginia Governor Tim Kaine [official website] declined to intervene [press release]. The US Supreme Court [official website] had denied a request for a stay [order, PDF] on Monday. Virginia law allows condemned prisoners to choose lethal injection or electrocution.

The country's last execution by electric chair took place in South Carolina in June 2008. Virginia last executed a prisoner by electrocution [JURIST report] in 2006. In 2008, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that execution by electric chair is "cruel and unusual punishment" and is therefore unconstitutional. The electric chair remains an option in seven states, with two more allowing it only if lethal injection [JURIST news archive] is ruled unconstitutional.






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Iran to execute five post-election protesters
Amelia Mathias on November 18, 2009 9:05 AM ET

[JURIST] An Iranian court has sentenced five people to death for their roles in protests that took place after this summer's disputed elections [JURIST news archive], according to state media Tuesday. Another 81 people have been sentenced to prison [Al-Jazeera report] for up to 15 years. The names of those sentenced to death are unknown, and all have been sentenced for their cooperation with terrorist groups. All appeals have already been considered [BBC report] and the verdict as handed down by the court is final.

Iran began trying some of the arrested protesters [JURIST report] in August. The protesters on trial were charged with crimes [PressTV report] ranging from vandalism and organizing riots to sending pictures of the protests to "enemy media." In July Iranian officials announced [JURIST report] a plan to either press charges against or release most of those held after the riots. The government released 140 of those initially detained and closed one prison holding protesters after Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] and other groups alleged that some protesters were beaten, deprived of sleep, and threatened with torture in an effort to force false confessions [report text; JURIST report]. 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 [press release; JURIST report].






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Obama signs executive order establishing new unit to combat financial fraud
Jonathan Cohen on November 18, 2009 8:20 AM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama signed an executive order [text] Tuesday creating a Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force [press release] to be headed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] as lead agency. The task force, which continues the work of and replaces the federal government's Corporate Fraud Task Force (CFTC) [official website], is charged with building on "efforts already underway to combat mortgage, securities and corporate fraud by increasing coordination and fully utilizing the resources and expertise of the government's law enforcement and regulatory apparatus." Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Attorney General Eric Holder [official profiles] say the group will act aggressively to combat fraud and and prevent another economic meltdown. Holder will convene the first meeting of the task force within 30 days.

This latest effort to battle corporate fraud is part of a wide-ranging plan of financial reform [JURIST news archives] that includes new Senate legislation and executive proposals [JURIST reports] intending to strengthen legislation and limit loopholes. Members of the Obama administration have proposed strengthened regulations and increasing restrictions on financial institutions [JURIST report] in response to the current crisis.






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China court rules against Microsoft in licensing infringement case
Amelia Mathias on November 17, 2009 10:37 PM ET

[JURIST] The China Beijing No 1 Intermediary Court ruled on Monday that US software giant Microsoft [corporate website] had infringed upon the patent rights of local Chinese company Zhongyi Electronic [corporate website]. Zhongyi Electronic provided Chinese fonts for Microsoft to use in its Windows 1995 program, and claims that Microsoft had no right to continue using those fonts in later programs such as Windows 1998, 2000, 2003, and XP. Windows must now cease the sale [Financial Times report] of all those programs in China. Microsoft, which says that its intellectual property agreements with Zhongyi Electronic extended beyond the Windows 1995 deal, will appeal the ruling [Reuters report]. China has been long been criticized by the US government [JURIST report] for a "lax" intellectual property enforcement system.

Microsoft's legal difficulties outside the United States are nothing new. In June 2008, China opened an anti-monopoly investigation into Microsoft and other software companies [JURIST report]. In February 2008, the European Commission (EC) fined Microsoft 899 million euros [decision, PDF; press release] for failing to comply with a 2004 order [PDF text; JURIST report] requiring the company to share technical information with competitors. In response to the European decision and other judgments, the corporation has instituted an Antitrust Compliance Committee [official website]. In January 2008, the European Commission began an investigation [JURIST report] into new allegations that Microsoft has misused its market position. Last month, Microsoft announced it had filed an appeal [JURIST report] with the European Court of First Instance [official website], seeking to annul the fine.






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DC board rejects ballot initiative challenging law recognizing same-sex marriages
Matt Glenn on November 17, 2009 8:21 PM ET

[JURIST] The District of Columbia Board of Election and Ethics [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF; press release] Tuesday that Washington DC's Jury and Marriage Act (JAMA) [DC ST § 46-405.01 text], which allows DC to recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other jurisdictions, could not be challenged by a ballot initiative because overturning the law would violate the DC Human Rights Act (HRA) [text]. If passed, Marriage Initiative 2009 [text, PDF] would have overturned JAMA and declared, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is recognized in the district of Columbia." The Board held:

The District’s Initiative, Referendum and Recall Procedures Act requires the Board to refuse to accept referenda and initiatives which violate the HRA. Because the Initiative would authorize discrimination prohibited by the HRA, it is not a proper subject for initiative, and may not be accepted by the Board.
An attorney for the group Stand For Marriage DC [advocacy website], which sponsored the initiative, said the group plans to appeal [AP report] Tuesday's decision.

JAMA took affect [JURIST report] in July after Congress chose not to oppose the law. In May, the DC Council voted 12-1 to approve JAMA [JURIST report]. The DC Council gave the bill preliminary approval in April [JURIST report]. Currently, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa [JURIST reports] allow same-sex marriages to be performed within the state.





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Germany constitutional court upholds ban on public support of Nazi regime
Sarah Miley on November 17, 2009 2:14 PM ET

[JURIST] The German Federal Constitutional Court announced [press release, in German] Tuesday that it upheld [text, in German] legislation prohibiting public support and justification of the Nazi regime. The ruling, made earlier this month, means that neo-Nazis are forbidden from assembling for the purposes of of approving, glorifying or justifying the Nazi regime. Violations are punishable by up to three years in prison. The German constitution prohibits the state from banning a specific opinion, but the court distinguished this ruling based on the special circumstances.


[G]iven the injustice and terror the Nazi dictatorship caused, this exception is inherent for rules limiting propaganda approving the historic Nazi dictatorship.

The court reasoned that the restriction was necessary to protect public peace and the dignity of the victims of the Nazis, which are "supreme constitutional values." The legislation was originally enacted in 1991 as a response to neo-Nazis assembling for an annual memorial at the grave site of Rudolph Hess [History Place profile], Deputy of the Nazi party and close advisor to Adolph Hitler. The restriction was repealed in 2000, but in the following years neo-Nazi marches drew thousands of participants [The Guardian report], and the legislation was reenacted in 2005.

Courts are still dealing with the acts of alleged Nazi war criminals. This week, a 90-year-old German man was charged in a German court with 58 counts of murder stemming from his involvement with the Nazi party during World War II. The man, who has not been named, was a member of an SS tank regiment and allegedly shot 57 Jews [BBC report] in an Austrian forced labor camp. In July, German prosecutors charged [JURIST report] former Ohio resident John Demjanjuk [NNDB profile] with 27,900 accessory counts stemming from his alleged involvement as a guard at the Sobibor [Death Camps backgrounder] concentration camp, where more than 260,000 people were executed in gas chambers.





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DOJ lauds success of IRS amnesty for holders of undisclosed foreign accounts
Andrea Bottorff on November 17, 2009 2:13 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] and the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) [official website] announced [official press release] on Tuesday that more than 14,700 Americans have reported to the IRS previously hidden overseas bank accounts in response to a temporary forgiveness program [official website], allowing delinquent taxpayers to avoid criminal prosecution for tax evasion by paying all overdue taxes and penalties. The overwhelming response to the amnesty program eclipsed the 100 or so foreign account disclosures made last year and included bank accounts from 70 countries. US Deputy Attorney General David Ogden [official profile] praised the IRS program:

The Department of Justice is pleased with the extraordinary results achieved from this landmark settlement. The message to American taxpayers is clear: the era of bank secrecy and hidden assets is over. We will continue to work closely with the IRS and our international partners to ensure that our tax laws are enforced fully and fairly, and that the rule of law is vindicated.
Earlier this year, the US and Switzerland signed a treaty [JURIST report] that would increase the amount of information shared between the two nations on would-be tax evaders. The agreement, constructed in accordance with Article 26 of the Model Tax Convention [text, PDF], came one month after a former UBS [corporate website] banker 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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Second Circuit affirms civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart conviction
Jay Carmella on November 17, 2009 1:14 PM ET

[JURIST] A US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] panel affirmed [opinion, PDF] the conviction of civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday, and ordered her to begin her prison sentence. Stewart, along with Mohammed Yousry and Ahmed Abdel Satter, were convicted [Reuters report] of various crimes based on association with convicted terrorist Omar Abdel-Rahman. As part of his conviction, Rahmen is subject to Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), which limit his ability to communicate with individuals outside the prison. The court found that despite being a lawyer, Stewart was bound by the SAMs but knowingly and willfully lied about her intentions to comply. The court also found that Stewart provided and concealed material support to the conspiracy to murder persons in a foreign country and noted,


We conclude that the district court committed neither procedural error in calculating the applicable Guidelines ranges, nor substantive error in varying from those ranges pursuant to its consideration of the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). We nonetheless remand their cases to the district court to allow it to reconsider their sentences should it choose to do so in light of the resentencing of Stewart...[We] direct the court to revoke Stewart's and Yousry's bail pending appeal and to order them to surrender to the United States Marshal to begin serving their sentences forthwith.

In remanding the case, the Second Circuit panel suggested that the district court look at the length of the Stewart's sentence, having found that the current 28-month sentence "is out of line with the extreme seriousness of her criminal conduct."

Stewart was originally convicted by a jury in 2005, and the judgment was upheld [JURIST reports] by a federal judge later that year. In 2006, Stewart was sentenced [JURIST report] to 28 months in prison. Federal prosecutors had asked [JURIST report] for the maximum sentence of 30 years, saying that Stewart's "egregious, flagrant abuse of her profession...deserves to be severely punished." In 2007, Stewart was disbarred [JURIST report] in the state of New York after her voluntary resignation was rejected.





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Rwanda rebel leaders arrested in Germany
Daniel Makosky on November 17, 2009 1:04 PM ET

[JURIST] Rwandan rebel leader Ignace Murwanashyaka [Interpol warrant] and deputy Straton Musoni were arrested [press release, in German] in Germany on Tuesday on war crimes and crimes against humanity charges. Murwanashyaka is the leader of the predominantly Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. The two are accused of wielding “significant influence” over the militia’s operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo [JURIST news archive; BBC backgrounder], which are thought to include the rape and killing of hundreds of civilians. Arrest warrants for the men were issued on Monday following a year-long investigation.

German officials previously arrested [JURIST report] Murwanashyaka in 2006 for alleged violations of immigration laws. In 2005, Murwanashyaka claimed [JURIST report] that the FDLR would end its war against the government and transform its fight into a political struggle. Many rebels fled Rwanda and crossed into eastern Congo 15 years ago after their alleged involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder], during which an estimated 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, died.






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ICTR acquits Rwandan priest accused of genocide
Sarah Paulsworth on November 17, 2009 12:17 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website; JURIST news archive] Tuesday acquitted [ICTR press release] Catholic priest Hormisdas Nsengimana [case materials; Trial Watch profile] and ordered his immediate release. Nsengimma had been indicted [JURIST report] on four counts [indictment, PDF] of collaborating and ordering students to collaborate with the marauding Rwandan interahamwe [BBC backgrounder], as well as personally killing Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan genocide [BBC backgrounder]. A three-judge ICTR panel that included Erik Mose [official profile], presiding, Sergei Alekseevich Egorov [official profile] and Florence Rita Arrey [official profile] concluded there was insufficient factual and legal basis to convict Nsengimana. Nsengimana was arrested in Cameroon in March 2002 and made his initial appearance before the ICTR in April 2002. His trial began in June 22, 2007 and concluded in September 2008.

On Monday, the appeals chamber of the ICTR overturned [judgment, PDF; press release] the genocide conviction and 20-year prison sentence for Protais Zigiranyirazo [case materials; Trial Watch profile], ruling [JURIST report] that the the prosecution had lacked sufficient evidence to convict him. 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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US to send first observer to ICC
David Manes on November 17, 2009 12:07 PM ET

[JURIST] US State Department [official website] spokesman Ian Kelley confirmed [transcript] Monday that the US will send an observer to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website; JURIST news archive] for the first time this year. The announcement was made earlier in the day by US Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp [official profile], who said the country was still concerned [AP report] about the court exercising jurisdiction over US soldiers and officials. Kelley said sending an observer to the ICC would allow the US to start a dialogue with the court:

We will participate in these meetings as an observer and there will be an interagency delegation comprising of State Department and Defense Department officials, which will allow us to advance, use and engage all the delegations in various matters of interest to the U.S., specifically, our concerns about the definition of a crime of aggression, which is one of the main topics for discussion at this conference. This in no way suggests that we... no longer have concerns about the ICC. We do have concerns about it. We have specific concerns about assertion of jurisdiction over nationals of a nonparty state and the ability to exercise that jurisdiction without authorizations by the Security Council.
US commentators on the ICC have both supported and criticized the prospect of the country cooperating with the court. Legal scholars David Crane and Leila Sadat have called on the US to support the ICC [JURIST op-ed], writing that doing so would show the country's commitment to the international rule of law. The Heritage Foundation [advocacy website] has urged against support for the ICC [JURIST report], arguing that it is a threat to national sovereignty. Lending credibility to concerns that the court may try to bring US officials before the court, ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] warned in 2007 that President George W. Bush may one day face war crimes charges [JURIST report] before the ICC.





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Germany prosecutors charge accused Nazi with 58 counts of murder
Amelia Mathias on November 17, 2009 9:29 AM ET

[JURIST] A 90-year-old German man has been charged with 58 counts of murder stemming from his involvement with the Nazi party during World War II. The man, who has not been named, was a member of an SS tank regiment and allegedly shot 57 Jews [BBC report] in a ditch outside of Duisburg, Austria, as part of a forced labor camp. He is also accused of killing another laborer. German prosecutors compiled the case with the testimony of former Hitler Youth who were also involved, initially working off the tip of an Austrian student who became interested after the mass grave of the Jews was found in 1995. The court in Duisburg must now decide whether to move forward [AFP report], and the man has two weeks to raise an appeal.

This case comes just days before the trial of accused Nazi guard John Demjanjuk [NNDB profile; JURIST news archive] is set to begin. The US Department of Justice succeeding in deporting [JURIST report] Demjanjuk to Germany in May to face trial. In July, German prosecutors charged [JURIST report] Demjanjuk with 27,900 accessory counts stemming from his alleged involvement as a guard at the Sobibor [Death Camps backgrounder] concentration camp where more than 260,000 people were executed in gas chambers. It has been alleged that Demjanjuk volunteered to work at Sobibor [Abendzeitung report, in German] after being captured by German forces while serving a member of the Soviet army. Three other men accused of being former guards have had proceedings brought against them by a Spanish court, and warrants for their arrest have been issued. The German appeals court in September permitted the case to continue in the Spanish court [JURIST report].






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Eleventh Circuit rules ex-HealthSouth executive's sentence too lenient
Matt Glenn on November 17, 2009 8:47 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] for the third time vacated [opinion, PDF] a trial court's sentence of former HealthSouth [corporate website; JURIST news archive] executive Ken Livesay for being too lenient Monday, remanding the case to the lower court with a demand that Livesay be sentenced to time in jail. Livesay pleaded guilty in 2004 to charges that he participated in accounting fraud while at HealthSouth in order to overstate the company's earnings. In exchange for his guilty plea and testimony against fellow conspirators, the government promised to recommend a reduced sentence. In accordance with Federal Sentencing Guidelines [text], the government recommended five years imprisonment. The court, however, sentenced Livesay to five years of probation. The government appealed, and the Eleventh Circuit reversed the sentence [opinion, PDF], finding the sentence too lenient and not based on specific findings. On remand, the trial court found extensive cooperation by Livesay and once again sentenced him to five years probation. The government appealed, and once again the Eleventh Circuit vacated [opinion, PDF] the sentence. On remand, the trial court handed down the same sentence of five years of probation for the third time and the government once again appealed. In Tuesday's decision, the court held that due to the severity of the crime and the possibility of deterring similar behavior, the trial court's sentence was "patently unreasonable." The court continued, stating: "Not only do we hold that the particular sentence imposed below is unreasonable, but we also hold that any sentence of probation would be unreasonable given the magnitude and seriousness of Livesay’s criminal conduct."

Former HealthSouth founder and CEO Richard Scrushy [JURST news archive] was found liable [JURIST report] to the company's shareholders for fraud in June and ordered to pay $2.88 billion of restitution. Also in June, the Eleventh Circuit rejected [JURIST report] Scrushy's challenges to a $445 million settlement against HealthSouth. In May, the Eleventh Circuit denied [JURIST report] Scrushy's petition for an en banc rehearing of his conviction for unrelated federal bribery and corruption charges for paying campaign debts of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman [official profile] in exchange for a seat on a state-operated review board that regulates Alabama hospitals. In 2007, the US Securities and Exchange Commission [official website] settled its accounting fraud claims [JURIST report] against Scrushy for $81 million. In 2005, Scrushy was acquitted [JURIST report] of criminal charges of wire and mail fraud, money laundering, conspiracy, and violations of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. In 2003, HealthSouth conceded that its prior financial statements had overstated its income and assets by a substantial amount. Several class action suits were subsequently filed by investors against the company and its officers for alleged violations of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The actions were consolidated and, in 2006, the $445 million settlement was reached.






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Rwanda genocide tribunal overturns conviction of ex-president's brother-in-law
Matt Glenn on November 17, 2009 7:34 AM ET

[JURIST] The appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] on Monday overturned [judgment, PDF; press release] the genocide conviction and 20-year prison sentence for Protais Zigiranyirazo [case materials; Trial Watch profile], ruling that the the prosecution had lacked sufficient evidence to convict him. Zigiranyirazo, the brother-in-law of former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, was found guilty [judgment, PDF] last year of genocide and extermination in part for his role at Kesho Hill in which he allegedly ordered the slaughter of approximately 1,000 Tutsi refugees who had gathered at the hill during the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder]. The judge ruled that not only did the prosecution lack sufficient evidence, but the trial chamber improperly stated and applied the law in convicting Zigiranyirazo, giving insufficient weight to his alibi claims. In rejecting the trial chamber's conviction, the court stated:

The crimes Zigiranyirazo was accused of were very grave, meriting the most careful of analyses. Instead, the Trial Judgement misstated the principles of law governing the distribution of the burden of proof with regards to alibi and seriously erred in its handling of the evidence. Zigiranyirazo’s resulting convictions relating to Kesho Hill and the Kiyovu Roadblock violated the most basic and fundamental principles of justice.
The Rwandan government expressed dismay [New Times report] at the court's decision to release Zigiranyirazo, but said it had no choice but to accept the ruling.

In July, the UN Security Council [official website] extended the terms [JURIST report] for ICTR judges until December 31, 2010, or until they complete their cases. In March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon pledged his ongoing support [JURIST report] for the ICTR 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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Australia PM issues apology to migrant children
Steve Czajkowski on November 17, 2009 6:51 AM ET

[JURIST] Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd [official profile] on Monday issued an apology [speech transcript] to poor and underprivileged British children who were sent to Australia and other former British colonies over the last century with the supposed intention of giving them a better life, but were instead subjected to childhood of abuse and hard labor. It is believed that there are currently around 7,000 people living in Australia who survived the Child Migrants Program [Australia Parliament backgrounder], which is believed to have begun [Guardian report] in the 1920s and lasted until 1967. At the ceremony in the capital city of Canberra, which was attended by about 900 of the "Lost Innocents" [Australia Parliament backgrounder], Rudd expressed the country's regret:

Today, the Government of Australia will move the following motion of apology in the Parliament of Australia. We come together today to deal with an ugly chapter in our nation's history. And we come together today to offer our nation's apology.

We acknowledge the particular pain of children shipped to Australia as child migrants - robbed of your families, robbed of your homeland, regarded not as innocent children but regarded instead as a source of child labour.
In his speech, Rudd also addressed his apology to the larger group of around 500,000 Australian children, called the "Forgotten Australians" [Australia Parliament backgrounder], who suffered physical and emotional abuse and neglect in the state-run orphanages and foster care system during approximately the same time period. Despite recognition of the past problems, the Australian government has said it will not provide compensation [UKPA report] to the victims.

The Child Migrant Program was initially begun in the 1920s with the idea of providing British colonies with a supply of white workers and to establish certain religious denominations. It has been estimated that over 150,000 children were forcibly emigrated to former colonies including areas in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. It is believed that between 7,000 and 10,000 were shipped to Australia alone between 1947 and 1967. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website] is expected to make a similar apology [RNW report] in the coming year.





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International prosecutors call for convention on crimes against humanity
Hillary Stemple on November 16, 2009 3:17 PM ET

[JURIST] Prosecutors from the five major international tribunals on Monday called on member states [press release] "to seriously consider the adoption of a convention on the Suppression and Punishment of Crimes against Humanity." The statement came at the end of a three-day convention and reitereated the need to fight against impunity for perpetrators of serious international crimes. Representatives from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY), the Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL), the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), the International Criminal Court (ICC), and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) [official websites] attended the colloquium, which was held in Rwanda and hosted by the ICTR. The statement, which was unanimously adopted by the participants, also called on states to ensure their legal systems can effectively prosecute international crimes, to provide full cooperation to the all international criminal tribunals, and to become a party to the Rome Statute [text, PDF] of the ICC, if they have not already done so. Speaking at the closing ICTR President Judge Dennis Byron [official profile] spoke of the need for the tribunals to share their experiences and knowledge.

The ICC was established in 2002 in order to create a permanent international criminal court for the prosecution of "the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community." It is governed by the Rome Statute, which has been ratified [ICC Now website] by 110 of the 192 UN member states and signed by 139 member states. The US originally signed the treaty, but then-president George W. Bush "unsigned" it by informing the UN that the US did not intend to ratify it. Recent media reports have suggested that the Obama administration may be considering joining the ICC, but advocacy groups have urged [JURIST report] the White House not to re-sign the Rome Treaty. Other scholars have said that the time has come [JURIST op-ed] for the US to support the ICC. Other states that have refused to ratify the treaty include China, India, and Russia.






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Italy court adjourns Berlusconi tax fraud trial until January
Haley Wojdowski on November 16, 2009 2:23 PM ET

[JURIST] An Italian court on Monday reopened the tax fraud trial of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [official profile, in Italian; BBC profile], but immediately adjourned it until January as a result of official business. Berlusconi was unable to attend the hearing as a result of a global food summit in Rome. Counsel for Berlusconi said that he will be unavailable for trial hearings [BBC report] until January 18 because of his responsibilities as prime minister. The charges stem from purchase of broadcasting company Mediaset [corporate website, in Italian]. Berlusconi is also scheduled to go on trial [JURIST report] on corruption charges later this month.

In October, the Italian Constitutional Court [official website, in Italian] struck down [JURIST report] the 2008 law granting immunity from prosecution to the four highest officials of the country, finding it unconstitutional. Berlusconi has faced trial on at least six occasions involving charges of false accounting, tax fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, and giving false testimony [JURIST reports]. In October 2007, Berlusconi's April 2007 acquittal [JURIST reports] on bribery charges was upheld. In 2005, Berlusconi was acquitted of corruption charges despite testimony accusing him of giving kickbacks to the late Socialist premier Bettino Craxi [JURIST report].






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Supreme Court issues summary decision in favor of defense attorney
Jay Carmella on November 16, 2009 1:18 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] issued a summary decision [opinion, PDF] on Monday in Wong v. Belmontes [docket; cert. petition, PDF], finding that a defendant's attorney was not required to present mitigating evidence that could have given prosecutors an opportunity to discuss a previous murder committed by the defendant. The Court reversed the decision of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held [opinion, PDF] that the attorney's failure to present the alternative theory resulted in ineffective assistance of counsel during sentencing. In its per curium decision, the Court found:


It is hard to imagine expert testimony and additional facts about Belmontes' difficult childhood outweighing the facts of McConnell's murder. It becomes even harder to envision such a result when the evidence that Belmontes had committed another murder - 'the most powerful imaginable aggravating evidence,' as Judge Levi put it, is added to the mix. Schick's mitigation strategy failed, but the notion that the result could have been different if only Schick had put on more than the nine witnesses he did, or called expert witnesses to bolster his case, is fanciful.

Belmontes was convicted of murdering a woman in 1981 while trying to steal a stereo from her home.





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Sierra Leone war crimes court hands over control of detention facility
Megan McKee on November 16, 2009 12:56 PM ET

[JURIST] The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) [official website] on Monday handed over its detention facility [press release, PDF] to the Sierra Leone Prison Service in a monumental step towards the court's resolution. The Sierra Leone Prison Service will use the facility, which meets international standards, to house female prisoners. Director of Prisons Moses Showers emphasized the importance of providing for the welfare of female prisoners, saying "[f]emales [sic] prisoners all over the world are a marginalized lot, Sierra Leone not being an exception. Emphasis is usually placed for male inmates, and facilities provided for detention centres are usually concentrated for the development and welfare of male inmates."

In late October, eight men judged guilty of war crimes by the court were transferred [JURIST report] to Rwanda to serve out their terms. Because Sierra Leone had no adequate prison facilities, an agreement with Rwanda allowed the men to finish their terms [Reuters report] at Mpanga prison. Three of the men, leaders of the Revolutionary United Front [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], had their appeals rejected [JURIST report] earlier in October, and will now serve sentences between 15 and 25 years. Other transferees include members of the RUF-ally Armed Force Revolutionary Council and government-backed Civil Defence Forces. With these final sentences, the SCSL has largely fulfilled its purpose and will continue taking steps close down [BBC report]. The SCSL was created in a joint endeavor by the Government of Sierra Leone and the UN to provide a forum to try those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law, committed in Sierra Leone.






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Obama adminstration to open new Bagram detention facility
Patrice Collins on November 16, 2009 12:18 PM ET

[JURIST] International human rights officials toured the new US detention facility in Parwan, Afghanistan, at the edge of Bagram Air Base [official website] on Sunday. The new facility [NYT report], which has room for 1,400 detainees, is part of the Obama administration's wider efforts to improve its Afghan detainee system [JURIST news archive] and will eventually be controlled by the Afghan government. Officials have promised greater transparency based on a case management system [press release], which will allow detainees to be informed of the charges against them and provide them with the right to challenge government witnesses. Amnesty International, Human Rights First (HRF), and Human Rights Watch [advocacy websites] called on [press release] the Obama administration Monday to make sure its detention policy conforms to international law.

Last week, HRF urged the US to reform its detention policy [JURIST report] at Bagram in order to combat counterinsurgency. In September, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] seeking information related to the treatment of prisoners at Bagram, citing fears that is becoming the "new Guantanamo." Earlier that 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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Supreme Court to hear habeas corpus appeal
Jay Carmella on November 16, 2009 11:06 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in Magwood v. Culliver [docket; cert. petition, PDF]. The court limited its grant of certiorari to the first question presented, whether "[w]hen a person is resentenced after having obtained federal habeas relief from an earlier sentence, is a claim in a federal habeas petition challenging that new sentencing judgment a 'second or successive' claim under 28 USC § 2244(b) [text] if the petitioner could have challenged his previous sentence on the same constitutional grounds." The basic issue is whether a defendant can raise a challenge that could have been but was not raised in an earlier habeas petition. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF] the district court's decision to deny all cross-claims made by the defendant. The court of appeals reversed the district court's decision that the defendant had received ineffective assistance from counsel.

The case involves defendant Billy Joe Magwood, on death row in Alabama. Magwood was sentenced to death for murdering a county sheriff. His original death sentence was overturned in 1986, but he was later sentenced to death again. He challenged the second sentence, but the Eleventh Circuit ruled that his claim should have been raised in the first sentencing.






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Republicans opposing federal trial for 9/11 suspects
Jonathan Cohen on November 16, 2009 10:45 AM ET

[JURIST] Republican leaders on Sunday expressed strong opposition to the Obama administration's plan to pursue federal charges [JURIST report] against five men accused of conspiring to commit the 9/11 terrorist attacks [JURIST news archive]. Ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee [official website] Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) [official website] told [transcript, PDF] CBS's Face the Nation [media website] that he would:

do exactly what the President is doing with some of other people that they have down in Guantanamo. The President has said for some of these other - other individuals we will use military tribunals. And he hasn't really, you know, demonstrated to us as to why some are going to go into New York and be tried there and why others are going to go through military tribunals.
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani [official profile] also told [transcript] Fox News Sunday [media website] that he believes the suspects should be tried in military tribunals. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders spoke out in support of the plan. Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] told Face the Nation that
What we're saying to the world is the United States acts out of strength not out of fear. ... We're the most powerful nation on Earth. We have a judicial system that's the envy of the world. Let's show the world that we can use our power, we can use our judicial system, just as we did with Timothy McVeigh and send the people and convict the people.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile], speaking on NBC's Meet the Press [media website] agreed [transcript].

Sunday's statements are the latest in a series of partisan disagreements over how to handle the closure of the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. Also this weekend, Democrats spoke out in favor of a proposal to house detainees in an Illinois prison [JURIST reports], while Republicans opposed the plan. Last week the Center for American Progress (CAP) [advocacy website] issued a report [JURIST report] that said the failure to meet the self-imposed deadline for closure of Guantanamo was result of several missteps by the Obama administration. Earlier this month, the US Senate [official website] voted 54-45 [JURIST report] to defeat an amendment [S AMDT 2669 materials] to an appropriations bill [HR 2847 materials] that would have prevented Guantanamo detainees accused of involvement in 9/11 from being tried in federal courts. In October, US President Barack Obama signed [JURIST report] into law the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2010 [HR 2892 materials], which allows for Guantanamo Bay detainees to be transferred to the US only for prosecution.





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Illinois Democrats favor transferring Guantanamo detainees to local prison
Zach Zagger on November 16, 2009 10:42 AM ET

[JURIST] Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (D) and US Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) [official websites] expressed support [press release] Sunday for the Obama administration's proposal to move Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees to a facility in Northwestern Illinois. The Obama administration is reportedly evaluating [JURIST report] the Thomson Correctional Facility [IDOC backgrounder], a maximum security prison located about 150 miles west of Chicago, as a possible location to house accused terrorists. Quinn and Durbin requested that the administration conduct a preliminary economic impact analysis on the purchase of the facility for use by the Federal Bureau of Prisons [official website]. They pointed to the addition of an estimated 2,340-3,250 new jobs to the community and an estimated $790 million to $1.09 billion impact over four years as reasons to support the proposal. Durbin said the sale is a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to inject a much-needed economic boost to a struggling region.



Not all local leaders are supporting the possible transfer of accused terrorists to Illinois. US Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL) [official website] issued a letter [text] Saturday to President Barack Obama, urging him not to transfer detainees to the Thomson Facility because of fears that it will lead to terrorist activity in the Chicago area. While it is not clear whether the prison would be the only domestic facility for Guantanamo transferees, in order to hold detainees in US, Congress would have to change a law specifically prohibiting detainee transfers into the US except for trials. Last week, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] announced [JURIST report] that some of the detainees accused of perpetrating the 9/11 terrorist attacks would be tried on US soil, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Bin Al Shibh [JURIST news archives].






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Legally binding agreement unlikely to emerge from climate summit: Obama
Ann Riley on November 16, 2009 9:39 AM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama acknowledged [press release] Sunday that it is unlikely that the December UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) [official website] in Copenhagen, Denmark, will produce a legally binding agreement addressing global climate change. Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs Michael Froman said that it is impractical to expect that a final, legally binding agreement could be negotiated in time for the summit in three weeks. At meetings for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) [official website] in Singapore, Obama and other leaders agreed with Danish Prime Minister and incoming COP15 host Lars Lokke Rasmussen [official profile, in Danish] that the summit should produce a five- to eight-page document with "precise language of a comprehensive political agreement" and negotiations should continue into 2010 to develop a binding legal treaty. Obama recognized [text] that the Copenhagen summit will serve as an important step in developing an international global warming treaty and that the US remains open to an agreement. Also Monday, 44 environmental ministers gathered [AFP report] in Copenhagen for a two-day closed meeting to plan for the conference and develop strategies to rescue the political climate deal.

The 192-nation conference in Copenhagen was originally designed to produce a new global climate change treaty, replacing the controversial 1997 Kyoto Protocol [JURIST news archive] expiring in 2012, which the US did not sign. However, many world leaders have conceded that reaching an agreement at the conference is unlikely. Last month, Director of the UN secretary-general’s Climate Change Support Team Janos Pasztor additionally conceded [JURIST report] that the summit might not produce a treaty, but encouraged participating representatives to work toward defining the content of an eventual, legally-binding agreement [press release]. Thus far, Western countries have been unable to convince developing nations to commit to reductions in emissions when the Western world has not done so either. 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. Negotiations on a new treaty began [JURIST report] last year.






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US defense department head bars public disclosure of detainee abuse photos
Safiya Boucaud on November 16, 2009 8:28 AM ET

[JURIST] US Defense Secretary Robert Gates [official profile] on Friday invoked his authority to bar public disclosure of about 40 photos depicting the abuse of Afghan and Iraqi detainees by US soldiers. The move was followed by a notification and request by the Obama administration asking the US Supreme Court [official website] to set aside [petition, PDF] the decision of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website], which affirmed [JURIST report] the district court's ruling that the government must release the photos. Gates's ability to invoke this authority is pursuant to section 565 of the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2010 [HR 2892 materials], signed into law [JURIST report] by President Barack Obama in late October. According to the brief:


The Act and the Secretary's certification require that the photographs currently at issue in this case be exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552. The judgment of the court of appeals therefore should be vacated and the case remanded to the court of appeals for further consideration in light of the new legislation and the Secretary's certification.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] expressed disappointment [press release] at Gates's decision.

The detainee abuse photos [JURIST news archive] are now part of the records of the Department of Defense and the Department of the Army. In August, the Obama administration petitioned the US Supreme Court [JURIST report] to overturn the district court's order, alleging that this could lead to further violence in Iraq and Afghanistan that would endanger US civil and military personnel. In spite of its previous ruling, the Second Circuit ruled in June that the US government could continue to withhold photos [JURIST report] of alleged detainee abuse while it awaits a response from the Supreme Court. The original court mandate to release the photos came from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] challenge successfully brought by the ACLU in 2005.





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Iran sets up committee to fight Internet crime
Amelia Mathias on November 15, 2009 4:09 PM ET

[JURIST] The Iranian government on Saturday announced the establishment of a new police unit to fight Internet crime, though opposition leaders say its true purpose is to crack down on protesters and voices of dissent, who rely on the Internet to get their message out. The police unit has proclaimed that it will particularly target [AP report] lies, fraud, and misinformation on the Internet. The 12-person committee will also prosecute Internet crimes as political crimes [ILNA report]. It is unknown exactly how the police unit will carry out its duties.

In July, Iran passed a law [JURIST report] holding all information that passes through Iranian Internet servers for three months before erasing it, a measure put in place after the June national elections. Iran has been experiencing political unrest since Mahmoud Ahmadenijad won the country's disputed June 12 election [JURIST news archive]. Many of the protests and demonstrations carried out in the wake of the election results were documented on the Internet, and word about them spread via Twitter and Facebook. Earlier in July, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] reported that some arrested protesters were beaten, deprived of sleep and threatened with torture in an effort to force false confessions [report text; JURIST report].






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Ninth Circuit orders new accounting of Ferdinand Marcos assets
Amelia Mathias on November 15, 2009 2:59 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Friday remanded [opinion, PDF] a case involving the assets of former Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos [official profile] to the district court for investigation. The court found that 30 million dollars held by Merrill Lynch for more than 30 years has been handled in a "curious" manner by US District Court Judge Manuel Real. The assets of Marcos were turned over after his death in 1988 and handed over to Real to distribute to his victims, as Real had presided over human rights cases [AP report] against Marcos in Hawaii. The Ninth Circuit found that:


This curious [account] statement plainly fails to account for all transactions involving the assets during the eight years they were held in the clerk of court's custody. It does not identify any earnings attributable to interest or dividends; it does not itemize gains or losses, or the prices of any securities bought or sold; it does not list specific transactions such as sales of securities or transfers of funds, who authorized any such transactions or the reasons therefor. It doesn't give the reader even a basic understanding of the path by which $33.8 million worth of assets deposited in September of 2000 came to be worth $34.7 million today.

The matter has been remanded to the district court for further investigation.

In June 2008, the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion text; JURIST report] that an interpleader action to determine ownership of assets held by Marcos could not continue because an indispensable party is protected by sovereign immunity. The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) claimed ownership of funds improperly moved out of the Philippines by Marcos and invested with US investment bank Merrill Lynch, as did Mariano Pimentel, the representative of a class of 9,539 people holding an unsatisfied human rights judgment [opinion text] against Marcos' estate. Merrill Lynch initiated the interpleader action to settle ownership of the funds, listing the Philippines, PCGG, and Pimentel, among others, as claimants. The Philippines and PCGG asserted their sovereign immunity from the suit and moved to dismiss the entire action, arguing that they were indispensable parties under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19(b) [text]. The Court ruled that the Philippine government was an indispensable party, overturning a decision by the Ninth Circuit and remanding the case to the district court with instructions to dismiss the interpleader action.





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Buenos Aires mayor will not appeal ruling allowing same-sex marriage
Steve Czajkowski on November 15, 2009 12:08 PM ET

[JURIST] Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri [BBC profile] said Friday he will not appeal [press release, in Spanish] a court ruling [VOA report] that allows same-sex marriages [JURIST news archives] in the capital city of Argentina. Macri called the ruling [Buenos Aires Herald report] a significant step, saying "it is important to accept and live with this new reality, which is the direction that the world goes, as to safeguard the right of every person to freely choose with whom to pair and be happy." Macri also said the decision not to appeal was difficult [CNN report], as he was under a lot of pressure to do so. The mayor likened the debate about same-sex marriage to that of the issue of divorce, saying it was considered traumatic at the time but is now normal. If the decision is not appealed, it would make Buenos Aires the first city in Latin American to recognize same-sex marriages.

On Friday, Buenos Aires Judge Gabriela Seijas permitted a same-sex couple to marry, after the civil registry in the city declined to acknowledge their marriage. Upon hearing the complaint of Alex Freyre and Jose Maria Di Bello, Seijas ordered the civil registry to validate the marriage saying, "the law should treat everybody with the same respect, regardless of their singularities, without the need to understanding and regulating them." Buenos Aires became the first Latin American city to legalize same-sex unions in 2002, and was later followed by four other Argentine cities. Argentina's Parliament [official website, in Spanish] is currently debating [El Mundo report, in Spanish] the matter of same-sex marriage for the first time, with 50,000 marching in support of legalization [JURIST report] last week. Two proposals are under review that would modify numerous laws in the nation's Civil Code [text, in Spanish] that define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.






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Illinois prison may be used to house Guantanamo detainees: reports
Steve Czajkowski on November 15, 2009 10:38 AM ET

[JURIST] White House officials are considering purchasing a prison facility in northwestern Illinois to house terrorism suspects currently being held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], according to media reports Saturday. The Thomson Correctional Facility [IDOC backgrounder], a maximum security prison located about 150 miles west of Chicago, is reportedly a leading alternative [AP report] being considered by the Federal Bureau of Prisons [official website] and other authorities involved in the decision on what to do with detainees from Guantanamo. Upon learning of the story, US Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL) [official website] issued a letter [text] to President Barack Obama, urging the president not to transfer detainees to the Thomson Facility because he fears, "the Chicago Metropolitan Area will become ground zero for Jihadist terrorist plots, recruitment and radicalization." While it is not clear whether the prison would be the only domestic facility for Guantanamo transferees, in order to hold detainees in US, Congress would have to change [LAT report] a law specifically prohibiting detainee transfers into the US except for trials.

The disagreement over the Illinois facility highlights the issues with the president's initiative to close the prison [JURIST news archive] at Guantanamo Bay. Last week the Center for American Progress (CAP) [advocacy website] issued a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] that said the failure to meet the self-imposed deadline for closure of Guantanamo was result of several missteps by the Obama administration. According to CAP, the shortfalls included failing to sufficiently staff the review task force and misreading Congress on key issues. The report also claimed that mistakes were made in deciding to keep a modified version of the Bush-era military commissions and the administration's request of Congress for $80 million to close the facility and relocate the detainees, which provided impetus for Congressional opponents to obstruct the process.






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France commission not pushing for burqa ban
Devin Montgomery on November 14, 2009 12:44 PM ET

[JURIST] French National Assembly representative Andre Gerin [official websites, in French] said Friday that the country will formally oppose the wearing of burqas [JURIST news archive], but is unlikely to pursue legislation [press release, in French] to ban the garment. Gerin is the head of a special commission [materials, in French] created by the French government to evaluate a ban on wearing burqas and other full-face veils in public. He said that even though he strongly opposes burqas, experts that testified before the panel had argued that a ban on the burqa would be hard to enforce and would antagonize Muslims in the country. He also said that while the wearing of burqas poses security and rights concerns, a law banning them would also threaten certain rights. Gerin's remarks came one day after French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official website, in French; JURIST news archive] reiterated his opposition [AP report] to the use of burqas. It is not clear what steps, short of a ban, the government will take to discourage use of the veils.

The commission began its hearings in July after being established [JURIST report] a month earlier to address the issue. In December 2008, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] unanimously ruled [JURIST report] that there was no human rights violation when a French school expelled two students for refusing to remove their headscarves. Last July, a Muslim woman's citizenship application was denied [JURIST report] because she failed to assimilate to French culture, and she practiced a type of Islam found incompatible with French values. In 2004, France passed a law [JURIST report] banning students from conspicuous religious items, including Muslim headscarves, in schools.






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Ohio to adopt single-drug lethal injection protocol
Devin Montgomery on November 14, 2009 11:19 AM ET

[JURIST] Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction [official website] director Terry Collins announced [press release] Friday that the state would adopt a single-drug lethal injection protocol, replacing its current three-drug method. The state undertook a review of its lethal injection practices in September after the planed execution of inmate Romell Broom failed [JURIST reports] when a suitable vein for the drugs' administration could not be found. The new protocol will consist of the intravenous injection of a single anesthetic, and will provide for the intramuscular injection of two other drugs if an appropriate vein cannot be found. Commentators on the change have said that the new protocol may be more humane [Columbus Dispatch report], but that it has not yet been used on humans. Ohio is the first state to adopt such a method.

Earlier this month, the Ohio Supreme Court [official website] set dates [announcement, PDF; JURIST report] for the lethal injection executions of two other inmates. The state's current protocol had been used since June when the state added a requirement [JURIST report] that officials shake and call out to the prisoner after the administration of the first of the three drugs. A de facto national moratorium [JURIST report] on the death penalty ended last year when the US Supreme Court ruled in Baze v. Rees [JURIST report] that the three-drug lethal injection sequence [DPIC backgrounder] used in most states does not violate the Constitution.






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DHS announces plans for immigration reform legislation
Christian Ehret on November 14, 2009 9:44 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] announced Friday that the Obama administration will push for immigration reform [press release] legislation early next year. Speaking at the Center for American Progress (CAP) [advocacy website], DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano [official profile] announced that the proposed legislation would be a "three-legged stool" that combines effective and fair enforcement, an improved process for legal immigration, and a "firm but fair way" to deal with illegal immigrants who are already in the US. Napolitano stressed that such reform was needed to protect the jobs of American workers during difficult economic times, saying:

Like the Administration’s other priorities, when it comes to immigration, we are addressing a status quo that is simply unacceptable. Everybody recognizes that our current system isn't working and that our immigration laws need to change. America's businesses, workers, and faith-based organizations are calling for reform. Law enforcement and government at every level are asking for reform.

Americans value our identity as both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. Unfortunately, too many politicians and pundits have treated these values as contradictory. They are not, and we will pursue reforms that emphasize both.
Pointing out that illegal immigration has slowed down since prior attempts at reform efforts in 2007, Napolitano said that results would be "far more attainable this time around."

Last month, DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website] announced [JURIST report] a plan for improving immigration detention policies and facilities in response to allegations of poor conditions and abuse. In August, ICE acknowledged that 11 deaths in immigration detention facilities had gone unreported [JURIST report]. The revelation of the additional deaths came in response to an American Civil Liberties Union Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] lawsuit seeking documents pertaining to detainee deaths. In response, ICE directed a review of all detainee deaths to make sure there were no other omissions. Also in August, ICE announced plans to implement large-scale changes [JURIST report] to its immigration detention system, including the creation of an Office of Detention Policy and Planning to ensure that detainees have health care access and are free from persecution.





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Former congressman sentenced to 13 years on corruption, bribery charges
Christian Ehret on November 14, 2009 8:20 AM ET

[JURIST] Former US congressman William Jefferson (D-LA) [official profile] was sentenced [press release] Friday to 13 years in prison on 11 counts of bribery and corruption. The US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] found that Jefferson solicited bribes between 2000 and 2005 while serving in the US House of Representatives, ordering him to forfeit $470,000. In return for the bribes, the court found that Jefferson used his office to promote businesses, including telecommunications deals, oil concessions, and satellite transmission contracts with various African countries. Although prosecutors originally sought a 33-year sentence, Jefferson's sentence is still the longest term of incarceration [Roll Call report] ordered for a former member of Congress.

Jefferson was convicted [JURIST report] in August and has been free on bail despite concerns that he posed a flight risk. Last year, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dismissed [JURIST report] Jefferson's appeal seeking to have the bribery charges dropped. He argued the accusations were based on evidence protected by the US Constitution's Speech or Debate Clause [text; backgrounder], which makes certain information relating to legislative action privileged. In March, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it planned to pursue Jefferson's case despite an appeals court ruling [JURIST reports] that other evidence confiscated from his office during an FBI raid was protected by the Speech or Debate Clause. Jefferson pleaded not guilty to the charges [JURIST reports] against him in June 2007. In January of that year, former Jefferson aide Brett Pfeffer pleaded guilty [DOJ press release] for his involvement.






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Khadr likely to face military commission: Holder
Jaclyn Belczyk on November 13, 2009 2:39 PM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] said Friday that Canadian Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] will likely be tried in the US military commission [JURIST news archive] system. Speaking during a news conference Friday after announcing [JURIST report] that five 9/11 [JURIST news archive] conspirators will be tried in US federal court, Holder responded [transcript] to a question on Khadr by saying, "[w]ell, we'll look at the Khadr matter. At this point, it is one of, I think - believe, one of the cases designated for a commission - a commission proceeding. And we will, as that case proceeds, see how it should be ultimately treated." The announcement came the same day that the Supreme Court of Canada [official website] heard arguments on the Canadian federal government's appeal [JURIST report] of a lower court decision [JURIST report] ordering the government to press for Khadr's release and repatriation.

Last month, US President Barack Obama signed a bill [JURIST report] amending the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [text, PDF] to provide suspected terrorists with greater due process rights, but many rights activists have argued that the changes are insufficient [JURIST comment] to fix a flawed system. Earlier in October, a US military judge dismissed Khadr's military lawyer in accordance with Khadr's request. Khadr has allegedly admitted to throwing a hand grenade that killed a US soldier in Afghanistan, and was charged [JURIST reports] in April 2007 with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying.






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White House counsel resigning in wake of Guantanamo criticisms
Sarah Miley on November 13, 2009 1:12 PM ET

[JURIST] The White House announced [press release] Friday that Gregory Craig [WhoRunsGov profile] is resigning as White House Counsel and will be replaced by Bob Bauer [profile profile], Obama's personal attorney. Craig's resignation [letter, PDF], effective in January, comes after months of criticism of his management of Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] policy initiatives, including the ban on torture and the release of documents on the treatment of terrorism suspects under the Bush administration. Craig gained notoriety by leading former president Bill Clinton's defense during his 1998 impeachment proceedings [PBS materials; JURIST materials]. In 2000, he represented the father of Elian Gonzalez [BBC backgrounder] in his successful effort to gain custody of his son and bring him back to Cuba from the US. In 1981-82, Craig defended John Hinckley [PBS profile], who was accused of an assassination attempt on former president Ronald Reagan. Obama praised Craig's service as White House counsel, stating that he "will continue to call on him for advice in the years ahead." Craig will be the highest official to step down from the Obama administration since appointments [JURIST report] last November. Bauer is expected to take over the position by the end of this year.

Craig's policy management is not the only issue that has come under fire for the administration's handling of Guantanamo Bay. The Center for American Progress (CAP) [advocacy website] released a report [JURIST report] on Tuesday criticizing the White House for several shortfalls in its decision-making process. According to CAP, these shortfalls include failing to sufficiently staff the review task force and misreading Congress on key issues. The report also claims that the administration's most significant mistakes were the decisions to keep a modified version of the Bush-era military commissions and its request of Congress for $80 million to close the facility and relocate the detainees, which provided impetus for Congressional opponents to obstruct the process. In October US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] announced that the Obama administration may miss its January deadline for closing Guantanamo Bay, echoing prior statements [JURIST reports] by top administration officials.






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Greek Orthodox Church protesting ECHR decision to ban crucifixes in schools
Patrice Collins on November 13, 2009 1:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The Greek Orthodox Church [church website] is urging Europeans to unite in protesting a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] decision [judgment, in French] to ban the crucifix from state schools, according to Thursday reports. The Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church, Ieronymos of Thebes and Livadia [church profile], has called an emergency meeting [BBC report] of the Holy Synod [church backgrounder] to discuss a plan to stop the ruling [JURIST report], which pertained specifically to the display of crucifixes in Italian schools, from setting a precedent throughout Europe. The Church fears that the Greek arm of human rights group Helsinki Monitor [advocacy website] will succeed in using the ruling to challenge the presence of religious icons in public settings in Greece. The chamber judgment, seen as threat to Christian symbolism, could ally the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, which split more than 1,000 years ago.

The ECHR ruling has been met with harsh criticism [Il Giornale report, in Italian] across Italy, and responses have included suggestions of holding a referendum on the subject. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi derided the ruling, stating that Italy is not bound to adhere to it [JURIST report]. His remarks were made on the same day that the Council of Ministers gave its approval [press release, in Italian] to appeal the decision. Berlusconi went so far as to say [Corriere della Sera report, in Italian] that even if Italy loses its appeal, he considers it to be disrespectful and that Italy would not be coerced into upholding it.






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Suu Kyi appeals house arrest to Myanmar top court
Sarah Paulsworth on November 13, 2009 1:03 PM ET

[JURIST] Opposition pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] filed an appeal in Myanmar's highest court on Friday challenging the 18-month extension of her house arrest. The head of Suu Kyi's legal team Kyi Win said that now that the appeal [AFP report] has been submitted to the High Court, they must wait to learn whether the court will agree to hear the case. Earlier this week, it was reported that a Senior Burmese official said there was a plan to release [AP report] Suu Kyi so she can organize her political party for next year's elections, but the international community remains skeptical.

Suu Kyi's house arrest stems from an August conviction [JURIST report] for violating state security laws by allowing American John Yettaw to stay in her home after he swam across a lake to get there. In October, the Divisional Court in Rangoon rejected Suu Kyi's appeal, after denying her request to attend [JURIST reports] the hearing. Yettaw, who was sentenced to seven years in prison with four years of hard labor, was released [JURIST report] in August 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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Holder announces federal trials for accused 9/11 conspirators
Andrew Morgan on November 13, 2009 12:33 PM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] on Friday announced [transcript; press release] that the government will pursue federal charges against five men accused of conspiring to commit the 9/11 terrorist attacks [JURIST news archive]. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi Bin Al Shibh, Walid Bin Attash, Ali Abdul-Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Al Hawsawi, all currently detained at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archives], will be tried in a Manhattan district court by prosecutors from the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of Virginia [official websites]. Holder said that he recommended that the men be tried in civilian court after a case-by-case review conducted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Defense (DOD) [official websites] according to a new protocol announced in July. Addressing concerns [NLJ op-ed] that the civilian court system would be unable to prosecute high-level terrorism cases, and that bringing the men to New York would pose a security risk, Holder said that he was "confident in the ability of our courts to provide these defendants a fair trial, just as they have for over 200 years."


The men have previously faced charges in military commissions [JURIST news archives] at the detention facility, but those proceedings were delayed in May and September after being suspended [JURIST reports] for 120 days in January. Saying that "it is important that we be able to use every forum possible to hold terrorists accountable for their actions," Holder also announced that five other men held in connection with the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole [official website; JURIST news archive] in Yemen will be tried by military commissions, which were amended [JURIST report] last month to ensure that due process rights were afforded to suspected terrorists.

Earlier this month, the US Senate [official website] voted 54-45 [roll call vote; JURIST report] to defeat an amendment [S AMDT 2669 materials] to an appropriations bill [HR 2847 materials] that would have prevented Guantanamo detainees accused of involvement in 9/11 from being tried in federal courts. In October, US President Barack Obama signed [JURIST report] into law the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2010 [HR 2892 materials], which allows for Guantanamo Bay detainees to be transferred to the US for prosecution and, among other provisions, requires certain information about each transferred detainee to be disclosed to Congress including costs, legal rationales, and possible risks. The legislation came after Holder indicated that the Obama administration might miss its January deadline for closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, echoing prior statements [JURIST reports] by top administration officials.





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UK official criticizes High Court for ordering release of torture evidence
Andrea Bottorff on November 13, 2009 11:15 AM ET

[JURIST] UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) [official website] Director of Defense and Strategic Threats, Simon Manley, criticized [Guardian report] Britain's High Court Thursday for jeopardizing national security by ordering the public release of evidence [judgment, PDF] of alleged torture of terrorism suspects. Manley accused the British judges of eroding trust between UK and foreign security officials, which he said would limit the willingness of foreign intelligence agencies to disclose sensitive information to UK authorities. The statement is a response to an October order [JURIST report] to disclose previously redacted portions of a judgment in the case of former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST archive] detainee Binyam Mohamed [ACLU profile, JURIST archive].

Manley's statement is the latest criticism against the British high courts for moving to release security information. Last month, UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband [official profile] expressed concern [JURIST report] that the release of alleged torture information would pose a risk to the national security of the UK and its relations with the US. Miliband has denied [JURIST report] allegations published [text] by the UK Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights [official website], saying that the UK does not participate in or condone the use of torture. Mohamed claims [JURIST report] 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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California files new plan to reduce prison overcrowding
Zach Zagger on November 13, 2009 10:22 AM ET

[JURIST] The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) [official website] filed a new plan [text, PDF] Thursday for reducing prison overcrowding [JURIST news archive] in the state. The new plan includes revisions made possible because of legislative enactments, including summary parole for lower-level offenses to reduce the amount of inmates re-entering the prison system for parole violations and credit earning enhancements to reduce time served. The Schwarzenegger administration [official website] promised [press release] that the revised plan would comply with a federal court order to reduce the prison population [JURIST report] issued by a three-judge panel in August. The panel issued its own benchmarks [text, PDF] insisting that California reduce its prison overcrowding rate from 190 percent to 137.5 percent by 2011.

The panel rejected [LAT report] CDCR's first plan [JURIST report], filed in September, which fell short of the order's requirements. That plan did not include the legislative enactments but provided various ways of reducing overcrowding, 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. Earlier in September, the US Supreme Court [official website] refused to grant a request [JURIST report] by the state of California to temporarily stay the court order.






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Salt Lake City bans sexual orientation discrimination with Mormon support
Brian Jackson on November 13, 2009 9:44 AM ET

[JURIST] The Salt Lake City Council [official website] has passed an a ordinance [text, PDF] prohibiting employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) [church website] gave its support. The ordinance, passed unanimously on Tuesday, makes Salt Lake City the first city in Utah to outlaw such discrimination. Michael Otterson, a Mormon Church official, said [remarks] that the church supported the legislation because it "does not do violence to the institution of marriage." Mormon endorsement of the ordinance was especially surprising given the church's support and funding of Proposition 8 [NYT report] in California, which banned same-sex marriage after it had been approved [JURIST reports] by the state Supreme Court. Opinions on the church's endorsement of the Salt Lake City ordinance varied, with groups praising [NYT report] and condemning [Sutherland Institute release] the move.

The US Congress is currently considering legislation [S 1584 materials; HR 3017 materials] to ban workplace discrimination motivated by an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identification. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, if passed, would protect employees from discriminatory hiring and firing practices, and from segregation or classification on the basis of sexual preference or gender identity. The bill would be the first federal legislation aimed at ensuring workplace equality for individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer (GLBTQ). The bill was introduced in the Senate [JURIST report] in August and in the House in June.






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US seeks seizure of mosques from Islamic foundation alleged to be Iran front
Brian Jackson on November 13, 2009 8:23 AM ET

[JURIST] The US government on Thursday amended a complaint against Islamic charity the Alavi Foundation [organization website] to include a request for the seizure of assets, including four mosques, claiming that the organization is actually controlled by the Iranian government. The amended complaint [text], originally filed in 2008, alleges that Alavi is funneling assets to fund Iran's nuclear program in violation of 18 USC § 981 [text]. The government had already sought to seize Alavi's 40 percent interest in a New York office building, but the amended complaint adds properties in Maryland, Texas, California, New York, each of which contains an Islamic center or mosque, 100 acres of land in Virginia, and the funds in nine US bank accounts. Alavi has not released an official statement, but a lawyer for the organization did express disappointment [NYT report] at the developments.

The attempted seizure of assets from an organization that promotes Persian culture comes at a time of sensitive US-Iranian relations. The same day that the government filed the amended complaint against Alavi, US President Barack Obama renewed many long-standing sanctions [Reuters report] against Iran. Earlier this week, Iran's prosecutor general charged three US backpackers with espionage after they illegally entered the country [JURIST reports] in August. Last week, Obama observed the 30th anniversary [press release] of the taking of the US embassy in Tehran by reiterating US respect for Iran and calling for Iran to normalize relations for the benefit of its citizens.






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US anti-terrorism laws turning away valid refugee claimants: rights group
Daniel Makosky on November 13, 2009 7:32 AM ET

[JURIST] More than 18,000 refugees have been unfairly denied permanent residency or asylum [press release] in the US due to the expanding definition of "terrorist activity" in the USA Patriot Act [text, PDF; JURIST news archive] and Real ID Act [text, PDF; JURIST news archive], according to a report [text, PDF] released Wednesday by Human Rights First (HRF) [advocacy website]. The report specifically cites the widening definitions of "terrorist organization" and "material support" and their strict application by federal immigration agencies since 2001 as the reasons individuals "[posing] no threat to American security" have been affected. Under the current interpretation of these laws, persons may fall within such categories on a number of bases, including ties to US-supported opposition groups or actions considered legal under international law. The report's author, Anwen Hughes, said:


These were not the people Congress intended to target. In fact many of these refugees supported the same causes the United States supports, or were victimized by forces the U.S. government also opposes. But attempts to solve this problem through piecemeal "waiver" announcements are not working.

In an effort to address the issue, agencies began reviewing the unique merits of individual requests four years ago, though the Department of Homeland Security [official website] has placed more than 7,500 cases on indefinite hold. HRF urged Congress and the Obama administration to "take a thorough and even-handed approach to address the roots of this problem."

Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] approved legislation to reauthorize three sections of the USA Patriot Act, shortly after receiving word [JURIST reports] of the Obama administration's support. The Patriot Act, passed in the wake of 9/11 [JURIST news archive], addresses a vast array of national security issues and has faced extensive criticism related to civil rights concerns [JURIST report]. In June, US Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) [official website] introduced a bill to revise and enhance the Real ID Act [JURIST report]. Intending to discourage illegal immigration by increasing the requirements to obtain government-issued IDs, the act first passed in 2005 [JURIST report] despite significant opposition. State Department [official website] officials testified in 2006 that anti-terrorism legislation had resulted in a 23 percent reduction [JURIST report] in refugees admitted to the US.





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Second Circuit rules CIA did not infringe ex-agent Plame's free speech rights
Brian Jackson on November 12, 2009 4:20 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] did not violate the free speech rights of former agent Valerie Plame [JURIST news archive] when it prevented her from revealing certain classified information in her recently published memoir. Specifically, Plame and her publisher Simon & Schuster [corporate website] alleged that the CIA infringed her right to free speech by preventing her from discussing information about her employment with the CIA prior to 2002. Plame put forth two theories in the suit: first that the CIA had already disclosed the dates of her pre-2002 employment, and, second, that the dates of her pre-2002 employment are so widely known following the controversy surrounding the disclosure of her identity that the CIA's insistence on keeping that information classified is unreasonable. The court rejected both theories, finding that Plame was the individual responsible for the release of the employment dates, and that classified information, though publicly available, is still classified:


As noted, when Ms. Wilson elected to serve with the CIA, she accepted a life-long restriction on her ability to disclose classified and classifiable information. That Ms. Wilson's service may have been cut short by the failure of others to respect the classified status of her employment may well have warranted investigation. But these circumstances do not absolve Ms. Wilson of her own secrecy obligations.

Neither Simon & Schuster nor Plame released statements following the court's ruling. Plame's memoir, Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House was published in 2007.

Last month, a federal judge ordered [JURIST report] the Department of Justice to release documents related to an interview regarding the leak with former vice president Dick Cheney. A jury previously convicted [JURIST report] Cheney aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby [JURIST news archive] of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the investigation into the leak of Plame's identity. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit later disbarred [JURIST report] Libby because of his conviction. In July 2007, a federal judge dismissed [JURIST report] a lawsuit brought by Plame against members of the Bush administration, finding lack of jurisdiction over tort law claims.





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Intel settles antitrust dispute with rival AMD for $1.25 billion
Brian Jackson on November 12, 2009 3:16 PM ET

[JURIST] Computer microchip manufacturer Intel on Thursday agreed to settle all outstanding legal issues with rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) [corporate websites] by paying paying its competitor $1.25 billion. The terms of the settlement were laid out in press releases by both Intel and AMD [texts], with the major provisions being a cessation of three antitrust suits by AMD against Intel, a promise by Intel to abide by new business practices, and a patent cross-licensing agreement between the two companies. On a conference call [transcript, PDF] with the media, AMD president and CEO Dirk Meyer thanked worldwide regulatory agencies for their work in bringing about a level playing field in the computer microchip market, and promised a bright future for AMD. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website], which had been investigating Intel's practices for violation of antitrust law, had no official comment on the settlement, but it is believed that the agreement will not shield Intel [WSJ report] from ongoing investigations.

The agreement with AMD settles at least some of the many issues Intel has faced regarding its business methods both in the US and around the world. Last week, the New York Attorney General filed an antitrust suit against Intel [JURIST report], alleging that the manufacturer illegally cornered the microchip market by threatening computer manufacturers if they used AMD chips and obtained exclusive licensing agreements from those companies in exchange for large payments. In July, Intel appealed [JURIST report] a € 1.6 million fine levied by the European Commission for violating European Union antitrust laws. Similarly, in June 2008, the Korean Fair Trade Commission fined Intel [JURIST report] $25 million for unfair practices. That same month, the FTC opened a probe [JURIST] into alleged anticompetitive business activity undertaken by Intel.






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Guantanamo detainee appealing suspension of habeas corpus proceedings
Carrie Schimizzi on November 12, 2009 2:48 PM ET

[JURIST] A Tajikistan native held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] has challenged [appellate brief, PDF] a federal judge's decision to suspend his habeas corpus proceedings after he was cleared for transfer to Tajikistan. Umar Hamzayevich Abdulayev alleges that Judge Reggie Walton of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] abused his discretion in staying indefinitely his petition for habeas corpus after the Joint Task Force [official website] responsible for reviewing Guantanamo Bay detainees had approved him for transfer to Tajikistan. According to the appeal, filed Tuesday in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website], Abdulayev fears torture and persecution if returned to Tajikistan. Abdulayev argues that the order to stop the review of his case deprives him of his right to challenge his detention and his right not to be transferred to a country where he will be persecuted. Abdulayev's lawyers argued:


The district court eviscerated the clear directives of the Supreme Court of the United States and the plain language of the habeas corpus statute that detainees at Guantanamo have a right to challenge their detention by petitioning the district court for a writ of habeas corpus, that the detainees are entitled to a prompt hearing and that "the costs of delay can no longer be borne by those who are held in custody" — delay that is now rapidly approaching its eighth year.

Abdulayev argues that he is entitled to release into the US if not transferred to a safe country of asylum.

Also this week, lawyers for four Chinese Muslim Uighurs detained at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] filed a petition for certiorari [JURIST report] with the US Supreme Court [official website], taking issue with the government policy for transferring detainees. The Uighurs are challenging a DC Circuit ruling [JURIST report] that US courts cannot prevent the government from transferring detainees held at Guantanamo Bay to foreign countries on the grounds that detainees may face prosecution or torture in the foreign country. The case, known as Kiyemba II, is separate from a case that the Court agreed to hear last month, known now as Kiyemba I, in which the Uighurs are challenging a DC Circuit ruling that blocked their release [JURIST reports] into the US.





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Delay in Guantanamo closure due to White House failings: report
Dwyer Arce on November 12, 2009 1:14 PM ET

[JURIST] The likely failure to meet the self-imposed deadline for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility [JURIST news archive] is due to several missteps by the Obama administration, according to a report [text, PDF] released Tuesday by the Center for American Progress (CAP) [advocacy website]. In the report, the CAP criticized the White House for several shortfalls in its decision-making process. According to CAP, these shortfalls include failing to sufficiently staff the review task force and misreading Congress on key issues. The report also claims that the administration's most significant mistakes were the decisions to keep a modified version of the Bush-era military commissions and its request of Congress for $80 million to close the facility and relocate the detainees, which provided impetus for Congressional opponents to obstruct the process. The report was quick to spread responsibility for the failure onto the previous administration and political opponents:


The challenges in closing Guantanamo have been significant and the criticism that President Barack Obama has received from many quarters has been as irresponsible as it is unrelenting. This political pressure should not cause the Obama administration to back away from necessary change. Modest reforms, while welcome, are not sufficient if it leaves the Bush administration's detention regime largely intact.

The report went on to propose several steps that should be taken by the administration in closing the detention facility, including extending the deadline to July 2010, prosecuting those held at Guantanamo in federal courts, and holding those convicted in civilian courts in prisons in the US.

On Sunday, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] announced [JURIST report] that officials are conducting reviews to determine which detainees may face trials in military or civilian courts in the US. In October, Obama signed [JURIST report] the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2010 [HR 2892 materials] into law, which allows for Guantanamo Bay detainees to be transferred to the US for prosecution. Congress also passed a bill last month amending [JURIST report] the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [text, PDF] to provide suspected terrorists with greater due process rights in military tribunals. The legislation comes after Holder announced that the Obama administration may miss its January deadline for closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, echoing prior statements [JURIST reports] by top administration officials.





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Somalia judge known for sentencing pirates, Islamists killed
Steve Dotterer on November 12, 2009 12:04 PM ET

[JURIST] A Somali judge known for jailing suspected pirates [JURIST news archive], human traffickers, and Islamist insurgents was shot dead Wednesday while leaving a mosque in the Puntland city of Bossaso. Judge Mohamed Abdi Aware of the Puntland high court and the Puntland Supreme Judicial Council, had recently jailed four members [IOL report] of the al-Shabaab Islamist group and had sentenced 12 suspected pirates [AFP report] to terms ranging from three to eight years. Northern Somali security minister Mohamed Said Samatar said that three suspects in the shooting have been arrested [Garowe Online report]. The judge's killing is thought to be an act of reprisal carried out by Somali gangs.

In July, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) [official website] reported that pirate attacks around the globe have doubled [JURIST report] in the first half of 2009. The bulk of the upsurge has come from increased activity in the Gulf of Aden and Somali coastal waters, a vital shipping route providing access to the Red Sea. UN Security Council Resolution 1838 [text, PDF], passed last fall, has condemned Somali piracy and called upon member states to combat it. In an effort to curb hijackings, the European Union, the US, and other countries have deployed naval warships to the region. Somalia has had no stable central government since 1991, although Puntland and Somaliland have established governments of their own. A Transitional Federal Government [CFR backgrounder] formed in 2004 is currently the de facto head of Somalia.






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ICTY reduces sentence of Bosnian Serb general
Haley Wojdowski on November 12, 2009 10:13 AM ET

[JURIST] The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Thursday reduced the sentence [judgment, PDF; press release] of former Bosnian Serb general Dragomir Milosevic [case materials] from 33 years to 29 years in prison. The Appeals Chamber partially affirmed the Trial Chamber's findings [judgment summary, PDF] and granted Milosevic’s appeal [defense brief, PDF] in part. The court held that evidence viewed by the Trial Chamber was not sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Milosevic planned and ordered three shelling campaigns against the civilian population of Sarajevo. However, the court noted that "the Trial Chamber made the findings necessary for the establishment of his command responsibility for [related] sniping incidents," and therefore confirmed Milosevic's responsibility as a superior officer under Article 7(3) ICTY Statute [text, PDF]. Judge Fausto Pocar noted that the Appeals Chamber's conclusions "do not in any way diminish his active and central role in the commission of the crimes."


Milosevic did more than merely tolerate the crimes as a commander; in maintaining and intensifying the campaign of shelling and sniping the civilian population in Sarajevo throughout the Indictment period, he provided additional encouragement to is subordinates to commit the crimes against civilians.

The court held that the reversal resulted in fewer victims for which Milosevic is responsible and, therefore, has "an impact, although limited, on Milosevic’s overall culpability," consequently reducing his sentence by four years.

In December 2007, the ICTY Trial Chamber sentenced [JURIST report] Milosevic to 33 years in prison after convicting him of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the shelling incidents in Sarajevo. Milosevic surrendered to the ICTY in 2004, and his trial began [JURIST reports] in January 2007. He was initially indicted in 1998 with Stanislav Galic, Milosevic's predecessor as commander of the Sarajevo Romanija Corps (SRK). Galic was convicted and sentenced to life in prison [JURIST report] in November 2006.





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China illegally detaining citizens in 'black jails': rights group
Megan McKee on November 12, 2009 9:44 AM ET

[JURIST] Chinese citizens are being abducted by state agents and illegally detained in "black jails" where they are subjected to a host of human rights violations, according to a report [text, PDF] released Thursday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. According to the report, the black jails are primarily used to sequester petitioners who come from rural areas to Beijing and other provincial capitals in order to pursue justice for wrongs that could not be resolved at local, lower levels of government. HRW built their report on the testimonies of 38 former detainees, including women and children, with all reporting unambiguously harsh conditions and many detailing physical and psychological abuse including beatings, sexual violence, threats, deprivation of food and sleep, and no access to legal counsel or medical care. HRW Asia advocacy director Sophie Richardson said [press release], "[t]he existence of black jails in the heart of Beijing makes a mockery of the Chinese government's rhetoric on improving human rights and respecting the rule of law." The Chinese government has systematically denied [AP report] all allegations of black jails, most recently doing so in a briefing on Thursday from Foreign Ministry [official website, in Chinese] spokesman Qin Gang.

In August, the Chinese government banned [JURIST report] the common practice of traveling to the capital of Beijing to file legal complaints. Under the new regulations, Chinese authorities will send representatives to provinces that produce many petitioners, and petitioners will also be able to file complaints online. In April, the Chinese government issued its first national plan [JURIST report] aimed at protecting human rights. The plan aims to protect people's rights to education, employment, medical and old-age care, and housing. It also seeks to protect ethnic minorities, promote gender equality, guarantee suspects the right to an impartial trial, and prohibit illegal detentions and the use of torture to extract confessions from suspects. The plan is based on principles found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [text] and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text], which the government has signed [accession chart] but not ratified [JURIST report].






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DC Catholic diocese says same-sex marriage law may force end to social services program
Christian Ehret on November 12, 2009 8:16 AM ET

[JURIST] The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington DC [organization website] pledged Tuesday to end its involvement in social services if a same-sex marriage bill [text, PDF] is approved by the city council. The religious organization claims that the bill interferes with its members' religious freedom by forcing them to choose between violating the law or abandoning their beliefs. Although the bill exempts religious organizations from having to equally "provide services, accommodations, facilities or goods for a purpose related to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage, or the promotion of marriage," the archdiocese argues that their freedom is restricted by being forced to recognize the unions by equally providing employee benefits and services to same-sex couples. CEO of DC Catholic Charities Edward Orzechowski expressed his concern [press release] that the narrow exemption language "will cause the government to discontinue our long partnership with them" and require the organization to defend their beliefs "rather than serve the poor." The current version of the bill was approved Tuesday by the council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary [official website].

In July, the DC city council approved a measure [JURIST report] to recognize same-sex marriages [JURIST news archive] performed elsewhere. Church leaders and others opposing the bill sought a referendum against it but were denied on the grounds that the action violated DC's Human Rights Act [materials]. Councilman Marion Barry [official website] was the only member to oppose the measure. Earlier this month, Maine failed to become the sixth US state to allow same-sex marriages when voters vetoed [JURIST report] the state's provision.






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Spain lawyer alleges discrimination after judge orders her to remove headscarf
Ximena Marinero on November 12, 2009 7:12 AM ET

[JURIST] A Spanish lawyer said Wednesday that she has filed a complaint with the General Council of the Judiciary [official website, in Spanish] alleging abuse of power and discrimination after a National Court judge asked her to leave the courtroom for declining to remove her hijab, or Muslim headscarf [JURIST news archive]. Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez asked lawyer Zoubida Barik Edidi to leave his courtroom last month, in which she was assisting the defense but not actually representing the defendant in a terrorism trial. Edidi has also lodged a complaint with the Madrid Bar Association. The lawyer has participated in several trials in which she was not asked to remove her headscarf, and she claims that her greatest motivation for filing the complaints is so that she may be certain in the future about whether she may wear her hijab in a courtroom. Article 37 of the General Statute of the Legal Profession [text in Spanish, PDF] governs the attire of lawyers and specifies only that lawyers must appear in courts wearing a robe and may wear a biretta, or traditional cap. A lawyer's attire is limited in the statute only in that that garb must be distinctive solely to the profession and appropriate for the dignity and respect of the law and the legal profession. In September, Bermudez required [El Pais report, in Spanish] a witness wearing a burqa to uncover her face in order to testify, but allowed her to do so facing away [video, in Spanish] from the court audience.

Spain has declined to address religious symbols in secular life with a specific national policy. The Ministry of Education [official website, in Spanish] allows local school councils to determine whether to allow display of religious symbols. The Ministry of Justice [official website, in Spanish] defers to the discretion of each individual judge to decide on religious symbols in the courtroom, including attire. Other countries in Europe continue to experience tension between religious and secularist values. Earlier this month, the European Court of Human Rights (EHCR) [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that displaying crucifixes in a public school classroom violates the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF], eliciting outcry [JURIST report] across the Italian political spectrum. In July, a commission created by the French National Assembly [official websites, in French] began hearings [JURIST report] to consider whether to enact laws banning the wearing of burqas or other "full veils" after French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official website, in French] strongly criticized [JURIST report] the practice. Last December, the ECHR unanimously ruled [JURIST report] that there was no human rights violation when a French school expelled two students for refusing to remove their headscarves.






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UK government announces proposal to remove innocent people from DNA database
Carrie Schimizzi on November 11, 2009 3:27 PM ET

[JURIST] The UK Home Office [official website] on Wednesday unveiled [press release] its plans for the retention of DNA profiles [JURIST news archive] in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The new proposals limit the amount of time DNA and fingerprint records of innocent people can be retained on the national database [official website]. Under the proposed measures, the profiles of all adults and 16- and 17-year-olds arrested but not convicted cannot be retained for more than six years. All other juveniles arrested but not convicted of any offense will have their profiles retained for three years, regardless of their age at the time of their arrest. The proposals maintain the ability to indefinitely hold DNA profiles of all convicted adults, juveniles convicted of serious offenses, and terror suspects whose profiles could be retained indefinitely, even if they are found not guilty, through a case-by-case review on national security grounds. In a statement [text, PDF], UK Home Secretary Alan Johnson [official profile] said he believes the proposals balance the public's concerns with the legitimate operational needs of the police:


The UK has been at the forefront of using DNA in the detection of crime for many years, and it has played a key role in the conviction of numerous individuals for the most serious of crimes over the years. The Government is determined that DNA and fingerprints should continue to play a key role in public protection and the prevention and detection of crime.

Johnson said that he plans to introduce the measures before Parliament as soon as possible. Civil Rights groups that believe the amendments still do not fully protect innocent people have criticized the new proposals. The Director of Liberty [advocacy website] Shami Chakrabarti said, "[i]t seems the Government still refuses to separate the innocent and the guilty and maintains a blanket approach to DNA retention."

The amended plans are the product of consideration taken from more than 500 public responses to the original proposals released [JURIST report] by the Home Office in May. The proposals are in response to a December ruling by the European Court of Human Rights [official website] that the British practice of keeping the fingerprints and DNA profiles of people arrested but not convicted of crimes was against privacy rights [JURIST report] and should not continue. Last year, the House of Lords ruled that the DNA database rules needed to be amended [Register report] to allow those not convicted to have their profiles deleted.





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ACLU files lawsuit alleging FBI involvement in rendition of US citizen
Hillary Stemple on November 11, 2009 2:23 PM ET

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed suit [complaint, PDF; press release] Tuesday on behalf of US citizen Amir Meshal, alleging that FBI agents were involved in his interrogation and rendition in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia in 2007. The suit, filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website], alleges that agents repeatedly threatened Meshal with torture, disappearance, and execution in order to force him to acknowledge ties with al Qaeda. Meshal was originally detained in Kenya while fleeing fighting in Mogadishu between militia known as Islamic Courts Union [BBC profile] and forces of the US and Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government of Somalia [official website; JURIST news archive]. After being held in Kenya, Meshal was returned to Somalia and eventually taken to Ethiopia where he was held until his release in May of 2007. No charges were ever filed against Meshal.

The issue of west African renditions was first raised by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] in March 2007 when they claimed [JURIST report] that the US, Kenya, and Ethiopia were cooperating with the transitional government of Somalia to secretly detain people fleeing that country's conflict. Further reports alleged [JURIST report] that US intelligence agents were involved with the secret prisons in Ethiopia and that citizens of western nations such as Sweden, Canada, and the US were being held there along with citizens of west African nations. The governments of Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia have all denied illegally transporting and jailing people, claiming they have only taken action against legitimate suspects.






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Uighur Guantanamo detainees seek Supreme Court review of transfer process
David Manes on November 11, 2009 12:51 PM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for four Chinese Muslim Uighurs detained at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] filed a petition for certiorari [text, PDF] with the US Supreme Court [official website] Tuesday, raising issues with the government policy for transferring detainees to other locations. The case, known as Kiyemba II, is an appeal from an April ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] by the US District Court for the District of Columbia, and is separate from a case that the Court agreed to hear [JURIST report] last month, known now as Kiyemba I. The first issue raised in the appeal is whether a federal court can require the government to give 30 days notice before detainees can be transferred out of Guantanamo Bay. This period would give the detainees time to bring any claims related to the transfer, such as potential persecution or torture, in US courts before they are transferred to locations outside of federal court jurisdiction. The second issue is the standard required for federal courts to issue an injunction under the All Writs Act [28 USC § 1651 text].

Of the 17 Uighurs were initially detained at Guantanamo Bay after being captured in Afghanistan, seven remain at the facility. Six Uighurs were released and transferred to the Republic of Palau last month, and four were released and transferred [JURIST reports] to Bermuda in June. All 17 Uighurs were cleared for release after the Bush administration no longer found them to be unlawful enemy combatants [10 USC § 948a text; JURIST news archive]. The Supreme Court is currently considering whether federal courts can order their release into the US.






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Rhode Island governor vetoes burial rights for domestic partners
Dwyer Arce on November 11, 2009 12:06 PM ET

[JURIST] Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri [official profile] vetoed legislation [text, PDF] on Tuesday that would have allowed domestic partners, including those in same-sex relationships, to claim the body of their partner and to make funeral arrangements. Neither domestic partnerships or civil unions are recognized in Rhode Island, and the bill would have required that a same-sex partner produce documentation establishing the nature of the relationship, such as proof of a joint bank account, mortgage, or car registration, and that the relationship had lasted for a year or longer. In his letter to lawmakers [text, PDF] explaining the veto, Carcieri said:


This bill represents a disturbing trend over the past few years of the incremental erosion of the principles surrounding traditional marriage, which is not the preferred way to approach this issue. If the General Assembly believes it would like to address the issue of domestic partnership, it should place the issue on the ballot and let the people of State of Rhode Island decide.

The sponsors of the bill, Senator Rhonda Perry and Representative David Segal [official profiles] have promised to push for an override [AP report] of the veto in the state legislature, where Democrats hold enough seats to make that possible.

The veto of the burial rights bill comes amid a larger battle in Rhode Island over same-sex marriage, which, according to a Brown University poll [press release], has the approval of 60 percent of registered voters in the state. Rhode Island and Maine remain the only two states in New England that do not recognize same-sex marriage. Advocates for same-sex couples have been met with mixed results over the last few years. Legislation to legalize same-sex marriage was vetoed in Maine [JURIST report] last week, but similar legislation was successful in New Hampshire and Vermont [JURIST reports] earlier this year. Legislation to the same end was passed [JURIST report] by the New York State Assembly in May, but has since stalled in the state senate. In April, the Iowa Supreme Court overturned [JURIST report] that state's ban on same-sex marriage, following the supreme courts of Connecticut, California, and Massachusetts [JURIST reports]. Last November, California voters approved Proposition 8 [JURIST report], making California the first state to outlaw same-sex marriage after legalizing it.





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Northern Iraq minorities victims of 'human rights catastrophe': HRW
Ann Riley on November 11, 2009 11:06 AM ET

[JURIST] Minority groups in northern Iraq have been the target of attacks [press release] by Sunni Arab extremist groups and harassment by Kurdish forces because of ongoing disputes with the country's central government, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] report [text, PDF] released Tuesday. HRW alleges that Yazidids, Shabaks, and Assyrian Christians are caught between the Arab and Kurd struggle for control of ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse disputed territories – the main front being Iraq’s second-most-populous province of Ninevah. The report documents attacks between February and March 2009 against minorities who resisted Kurdish efforts to bring the area under government control. HRW called on the Kurdish government to legally recognize Shabaks and Yazidis, allow minorities to participate in public affairs, and permit organizations with opposing political views to operate freely without retribution. HRW deputy Middle East Director Joe Stork said:


Iraqi Christians, Yazidis, and Shabaks have suffered extensively since 2003. Iraqi authorities, both Arab and Kurdish, need to rein in security forces, extremists and vigilante groups to send a message that minorities cannot be attacked with impunity.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) [official website] denied the allegations, claiming that minorities in Iraq have been targeted by terrorists and insurgent groups. In a statement Tuesday, the KRG responded [press release] that the HRW report "reveals a systematic misperception of the circumstances in Ninevah and a worrying ignorance of Iraqi history."

Last year, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) [official website] released [JURIST report] a report stating that human rights violations had continued in Iraq despite improvements in general security conditions. UNAMI highlighted its concern for the situation of minority groups, the displacement of civilians in the country, and the aspects of detention by the various authorities in Iraq. Under the regime of Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive], tens of thousands of Kurds were slaughtered during the Anfal campaign [HRW backgrounder; JURIST news archive] of 1988. After the overthrow of Saddam, Kurds have argued that much of the territory in dispute belongs to them.





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Former Bear Stearns fund managers acquitted
Steve Dotterer on November 11, 2009 10:17 AM ET

[JURIST] A jury US District Court for the Eastern District of New York [official website] found former Bear Stearns [corporate website] hedge fund managers Ralph Cioffi [BusinessWeek profile] and Matthew Tannin [Huffington Post profile] not guilty of federal securities-related charges Tuesday. While Cioffi alone was charged with insider trading, both men were charged with three counts of securities fraud and two counts of wire fraud in connection with the June 2007 collapse of their funds. As a result of the collapse, investors suffered nearly $1.8 billion in losses. US attorney Benton Campbell expressed disappointment [press release] with the verdict, but promised efforts to maintain the future integrity of securities markets.

The June 2008 Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] complaint [text, PDF] alleged that Cioffi and Tannin had taken leveraged positions in financial derivatives based on subprime mortgage-based assets and then taken steps to conceal ensuing losses from investors. As the financial crisis [Federal Reserve Bank timeline] deepened, Bear Stearns filed for bankruptcy, and JP Morgan Chase acquired the firm in March 2008, causing several lawsuits [JURIST report]. The financial crisis has seen banks and Wall Street firms come under fire for the level of risk they assumed in connection to the subprime mortgage securities market. With the acquittal of Cioffi and Tannin, government prosecutors may be less likely to pursue securities fraud charges against Wall Street executives implicated in bringing about the credit crisis, despite pledging stronger enforcement [JURIST report] in July.






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Cambodia refuses to extradite ousted Thailand PM Thaksin
Amelia Mathias on November 11, 2009 9:02 AM ET

[JURIST] The Cambodian government on Tuesday refused Thailand's request to extradite former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], escalating a political row that threatens to destabilize the efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) [official website]. Shinawatra arrived in Cambodia earlier this week and was appointed an economic advisor [VOA report] to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, though Shinawatra will not live in the country. Both counries have recalled their ambassadors [Bangkok Post report] and Thailand has declared its extradition treaty with Cambodia null and void. Other treaties between the two countries will also be reviewed for possible termination or revocation. ASEAN meets this weekend in Singapore.

Shinawatra has been fighting from afar to keep his assets from being seized [JURIST report] by the Thai government. In April, a Thai court issued an arrest warrant [JURIST report] for Thaksin, who fled Thailand last summer, a day after he called for the government to be overthrown. Last October, a Thai court found Thaksin guilty [JURIST report] in absentia on corruption charges and sentenced him to two years in prison. In August 2008, Thai prosecutors asked the Supreme Court to seize over $2 billion [JURIST report] from Thaksin's frozen accounts and holdings in relation to the charges. In July of last year, the Thai Attorney General's Office filed corruption charges [JURIST report] against Thaksin for his role in a 2003 resolution reducing fees paid by mobile phone companies to state telecommunications agencies. Later that month, Thaksin's wife, as well as her step-brother and secretary, were convicted of tax evasion [JURIST report] as a result of her transferring $16.3 million worth of stock to the two. Thaksin was ousted from power [JURIST report] in a 2006 military coup.






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Federal judge rules Christian-themed license plates unconstitutional
Matt Glenn on November 11, 2009 8:32 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of South Carolina [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that license plates produced by the state bearing a picture of a cross in front of a stained glass window and the words "I Believe" violate the US Constitution. Judge Cameron Currie ruled that the "I Believe Act" [SC Code § 56-3-10510], which allows the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to issue the plates "violates the Establishment Clause of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by advancing, endorsing, and promoting religion." Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) [advocacy website] attorney Ayesha Khan, who represented the plaintiffs, stated [press release] that the government cannot advocate one religion over another and she was "delighted that the judge has reminded South Carolina officials of that fact." South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer [official website] said the state will likely appeal the decision. Meanwhile, the Palmetto Family Council [advocacy website] changed its name to "I Believe," taking advantage of a law that allows private organizations to place their name and design on license plates to be issued to its members. It is not clear whether this action would withstand a legal challenge, although a South Carolina-based secular humanist organization, Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry [advocacy website], currently issues South Carolina license plates reading "In Reason We Trust."

Several states have recently been challenged for issuing license plates displaying religious or political messages. In 2008, a federal appeals court ruled [JURIST report] that Arizona's refusal to issue license plates saying "Choose Life" to an anti-abortion group violated the group's First Amendment free speech rights. Also in 2008, a federal circuit court judge issued a similar ruling [JURIST report], overturning a Missouri law as unconstitutionally vague. In 2006, a federal appeals court rejected [JURIST report] a challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] to a Tennessee statute providing for license plates with a pro-life message but not creating a pro-choice license plate. In 2004, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that a South Carolina law providing for license plates with an anti-abortion message violated the Constitution.






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France court rules gay woman may adopt
Matt Glenn on November 11, 2009 7:35 AM ET

[JURIST] A French court on Tuesday ordered the country's government to extend adoption rights to a gay woman. The court held that French adoption law [Article VIII French Civil Code], which currently allows single people to adopt children but bars same-sex partners from doing so, illegally discriminates [Le Monde report, in French] against homosexuals. In 1998, a woman identified only as Emmanuelle B. attempted to adopt a child as an individual, but did not hide the fact that she had a same-sex partner. The French government denied her application numerous times on the basis of her homosexuality. Tuesday's ruling, which overturned a lower court decision, is in line with a 2008 European Court of Human Rights [official website] ruling [judgment text], which held that France's adoption law discriminates against homosexuals in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights [text]. The French government expressed disagreement [Le Monde report, in French] with Tuesday's decision, but said it would comply with the ruling.

Last year, a Florida court declared unconstitutional [JURIST report] a law barring adoption by same-sex partners. In 2007, Tony Blair announced that a British law prohibiting discrimination against same-sex couples [JURIST report] in the adoption process would apply to all adoption services in the UK. In 2006, a federal judge ruled [JURIST report] that an Oklahoma statute barring same-sex couples from adopting violated the US Constitution.






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Senate banking chair introduces wide-ranging financial reform legislation
Jonathan Cohen on November 11, 2009 7:05 AM ET

[JURIST] US Senate Banking Committee [official website] chair Chris Dodd (D-CT) [official website] introduced Tuesday wide-ranging financial regulatory legislation [draft text, PDF; summary, PDF] designed to limit systemic risk to the country's economy. If passed, the bill would introduce a single federal bank regulator, create a consumer financial protection agency, and attempt to close certain regulatory loopholes. Dodd announced [press release] the bill, saying that it was necessary for the country's long-term financial stability:


This proposal will create a new architecture to make our financial institutions more transparent, more responsible, and more accountable to the American people. It will address the problems of the past, and look forward to the needs of the future. ... For decades, Washington has failed to deliver the substantial reform we need. If we fail again this time, our economy will be vulnerable to another crisis.

Chair of the House Financial Services Committee [official website] Barney Frank (D-MA) [official website] confirmed [press release] Tuesday that the House of Representatives would likely consider a similar bill. Opposition to the measure is expected [NYT report] from Republicans as well as conservative Democrats.

Federal bank regulators defended [JURIST report] their efforts to limit financial risk, in front of the House Financial Services Committee in September. In July, US financial regulators and scholars advised [JURIST report] the Senate Banking Committee that "safety and soundness" can be restored to the financial system through increased regulatory oversight. Earlier this year, Chicago Board Options Exchange [corporate website] CEO William Brodsky called for [JURIST report] the merger of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) [official websites], a plan which former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Jr. unveiled [JURIST report] last year.





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DC sniper executed after Virginia governor denies appeal for clemency
Andrea Bottorff on November 11, 2009 6:37 AM ET

[JURIST] Convicted DC-area sniper John Allen Muhammad [BBC profile] was executed by lethal injection Tuesday night after Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine [official website] rejected Muhammad's request for clemency and refused to suspend [press release] the execution. The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday had denied [order, PDF; JURIST report] Muhammad's application for a stay of execution and his petition for certiorari [texts, PDF], which he filed last week. In denying Muhammad clemency, Kaine said:

Muhammad's trial, verdict, and sentence have been reviewed by state and federal courts, including the Supreme Court of Virginia, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and the United States Supreme Court. Having carefully reviewed the petition for clemency and judicial opinions regarding this case, I find no compelling reason to set aside the sentence that was recommended by the jury and then imposed and affirmed by the courts.

Accordingly, I decline to intervene.
Muhammad was convicted of murder and sentenced to death [JURIST report] in Virginia in 2005 for his role in the 2002 DC-area sniper shootings [JURIST news archive]. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] upheld [JURIST report] the Virginia death sentence in August, despite Muhammad's allegations of "nondisclosure of exculpatory information by the prosecution" and "ineffective assistance of ... trial counsel." Muhammad was also 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.





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Supreme Court hears arguments on immigration, diversity jurisdiction
Jaclyn Belczyk on November 10, 2009 4:06 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Tuesday in two cases. In Kucana v. Holder [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the Court heard arguments on whether a federal statute [8 USC § 1252(a)(2)(B)(ii) text] gives federal courts jurisdiction to review rulings on motions to reopen decisions by the Board of Immigration Appeals [DOJ backgrounder]. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that it lacked jurisdiction to review petitioner Agron Kucana's claim. Counsel for the petitioner argued:

Congress did not express any intent to remove the Court's jurisdiction to review discretionary decisions, the authority for which is specified under any other subchapter or in regulations, nor did Congress express any intent to delegate its constitutional responsibility to determine Federal jurisdiction to the Attorney General.
Counsel for the respondent, the US government, argued in support of the petitioner that the Seventh Circuit had jurisdiction to review the case: "The statute at issue does not bar judicial review of denials of motions to reopen." Amicus curiae counsel was appointed to defend the decision below: "The plain language of the act strictly limits Federal court jurisdiction to review the discretionary decisions of immigration officials. In fact, as this Court has explained, the theme of the legislation was to protect the Attorney General's discretion from the courts."

In Hertz Corporation v. Friend [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the Court heard arguments on the correct standard for determining a principal place of business for the purposes of diversity jurisdiction [USCourts backgrounder]. Federal law [28 USC § 1332 text] stipulates that "a corporation shall be deemed to be a citizen of any State by which it has been incorporated and of the State where it has its principal place of business." There is a circuit split as to the proper test to apply. The appeal comes from a US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruling [opinion, PDF] affirming the district court's application of the "place of operations" test, which looks to the location of the corporation's business activities and only considers its "nerve center" if the activities do not substantially predominate in any one state. Counsel for the petitioner argued:
The better reading of the statute, in our view, is that it points to the location of the corporation's headquarters, the site from which a corporation directs and controls all the company's operations throughout all of its locations. And that is particularly the correct reading when the statutory language is considered in light of two considerations.
Counsel for the respondents argued:
For 50 years every circuit save the - save the Seventh had agreed - has agreed on one overriding principle: That courts must perform a balancing in determining the principal place of business of a corporation, and that balancing must include a determination of where the corporation's people and property are.
Counsel argued that the Ninth Circuit had appropriately performed such a balancing test.





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Kansas may implement monthly court closures to ease budget deficit
Sarah Miley on November 10, 2009 3:06 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Kansas [official website] has announced that it may have to shut down state courts for one week every month as a result of an $8 million judiciary budget deficit created by a legislative oversight. The shortfall resulted from the state senate cutting $11 million from the judiciary budget under the mistaken assumption [press release] that the difference would be made up in surcharges on court fees. This never came to fruition because of previous legislation that capped court fees at $10. Chief Justice Robert Davis [official profile] stated Friday that unless the budget is restored, the Supreme Court will be forced [Wichita Eagle report] to order the courts to close starting in February, resulting in involuntary unpaid leave for judicial staff. Judges would be granted exceptions for mandatory deadlines such as a speedy trial or issuance of search warrants. The state legislature intends to restore the budget as soon as possible in the 2010 session, which begins in January.

Kansas is not the only state to face court closures recently in an effort to decrease budget deficits. The Supreme Court of Hawaii announced [JURIST report] in October that state courts will be closed two Fridays each month beginning in November 2009 due to the financial conditions that currently exist in Hawaii. In September, the California court system instated [JURIST report] monthly court closures, which will take place the third Wednesday of each month until June 2010. The closures are expected to save the state approximately $84 million.






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Top Italy lawmaker to support Berlusconi judicial reform proposals
Daniel Makosky on November 10, 2009 1:03 PM ET

[JURIST] President of Italy's Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Italian] Gianfranco Fini [official profile, in Italian; BBC profile] said Tuesday that he would support legislation to limit the length of trials in the country. The reforms were proposed by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [official profile, in Italian; BBC profile], with Fini voicing his support after meeting with the prime minister. If passed, the bill would place a six-year cap on the total duration of a trial, including appeals. Critics have argued that Berlusconi, scheduled to stand trial [JURIST report] later this month on corruption charges from 1997, has pushed for the measure in an effort to avoid his own prosecution. The bill is expected to be introduced in the next few days.

Berlusconi is accused of bribing his former lawyer David Mills [JURIST news archive] in exchange for false testimony at two trials in 1997 and 1998 involving Berlusconi’s broadcasting company, Mediaset [corporate website, in Italian]. The trials began in 2007, though Berlusconi was removed as a defendant in July 2008 after a now-overturned law granted immunity to top Italian lawmakers [JURIST reports]. In February, Mills was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for accepting a $600,000 bribe, and that conviction was upheld [JURIST reports] last month. Berlusconi has faced trial on at least six occasions involving charges of false accounting, tax fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, and giving false testimony [JURIST reports]. In October 2007, Berlusconi's April 2007 acquittal on bribery charges was upheld [JURIST reports]. In 2005, Berlusconi was acquitted of corruption charges despite testimony accusing him of giving kickbacks to the late Socialist premier Bettino Craxi [JURIST report].






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Taliban inmates begin hunger strike at Kandahar prison
Jay Carmella on November 10, 2009 12:54 PM ET

[JURIST] More than 350 Taliban [JURIST news archive] inmates began a hunger strike on Sunday at the Sarposa prison in Kandahar [JURIST news archive] province in Afghanistan. The protest [Global and Mail report] is in response to the allegedly poor conditions within the prison, including the quality of the food and abuse by guards. The Afghan Ministry of Justice [official website] has sent a delegation to the prison to investigate. The Ministry of Justice fears the hungry strike could be a sign of a potential prison break attempt, after authorities learned that trucks loaded with explosives were instructed to destroy the prison walls. Millions of dollars have been spent [CTV report] in the last year in an effort to bolster security at the prison. The Afghan government has also increased the armed presence at the facility in recent days.

Security concerns are nothing new at the notorious prison. Last June, at least 870 inmates, with some reports estimating the number as being closer to 1,100, escaped [JURIST report] the prison after members of the Taliban conducted a bomb and rocket attack. The current heightened level of security is understandable as last year's prison break came just a month after an estimated 200-300 prisoners had ended [JURIST report] a similar hunger strike. The detainees were then protesting the slow nature of the Afghanistan judicial system and complaints that judicial rulings were being made based on allegations by US authorities. The hunger strike lasted for approximately one week.






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Senate confirms Obama's Fourth Circuit nominee
David Manes on November 10, 2009 12:07 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate official website] on Monday confirmed Judge Andre Davis, President Barack Obama's nominee to the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website], by a vote of 72-16 [roll call vote]. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website], the Davis confirmation was delayed [press release] by Republicans for five months after the committee reported the nomination to the Senate by a vote of 16 to 3. Davis was nominated to the court by then-president Bill Clinton in October 2000, and renominated by Obama in April 2009. Davis was the sixth of Obama's judicial nominees to be confirmed by the Senate. The other confirmations [materials] include Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor [JURIST news archive], Second Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch, and three federal district court judges. Immediately after Davis's confirmation, the Senate confirmed the seventh Obama nominee, federal district Judge Charlene Honeywell.

The Fourth Circuit encompasses West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. Before the Davis confirmation, five of the 15 seats on the court remained vacant. Of the 10 sitting judges, five were appointed by Democrats and five were appointed by Republicans. Davis is the sixth Democratic nominee, which could shift the balance of the court [AP report]. In recent years, the Fourth Circuit has ruled [JURIST news archive] on controversial issues. The court upheld the death sentence for DC sniper John Allen Muhammad, who is scheduled to be executed Tuesday [JURIST reports]. During the Bush administration, the court upheld the indefinite detention [JURIST report] of those labeled "enemy combatants."






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Mexico president calls for stronger adherence to rule of law
Sarah Paulsworth on November 10, 2009 11:04 AM ET

[JURIST] Mexican President Felipe Calderon [official website, in Spanish] on Monday made a public call for greater adherence to the rule of law, more transparent elections, and increased business competition in Mexico, during a speech [text, in Spanish] at the annual Mexico Business Summit [summit website]. Calderon criticized monopolistic business practices in Mexico, and said transparency was sorely lacking in elections conducted in the country. He also emphasized that only with rule of law can the economy flourish and orderly social life can exist. "The most important task of the state, friends, is this: to respect and enforce the law," he said. "It's the first thing that we commit to rules. And here the Federal Government is absolutely clear: enforce the law only by way of the law itself, which is the source of all legitimacy." Earlier in the summit, Mexico's Secretary of Public Security Genaro Garcia Luna [official profile, in Spanish] said that media had overemphasized drug violence [Xinhua report], claiming that theft is a bigger concern to public safety.

In August, Mexico qualified for $1.4 million in aid [JURIST report] from the US within the framework of the Merida Initiative [DOS materials], after the US State Department [official website] sent a report [text, PDF] to Congress indicating that Mexico was making progress in addressing human rights issues. report finds that Mexico is making progress in promoting police transparency, engaging civil society groups, investigating allegations of human rights abuses by police and military personnel, and prohibiting the use of coerced evidence in trial proceedings.






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Honduras lawmaker warns Zelaya reinstatement decision may be delayed
Safiya Boucaud on November 10, 2009 10:17 AM ET

[JURIST] President of the Honduran National Congress [official website, in Spanish] Jose Alfredo Saavedra said Monday that lawmakers will most likely not make a decision about whether to restore ousted president Manuel Zelaya [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] before the country's presidential elections take place later this month. Saavedra said that congress is awaiting an opinion from the Honduran Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish], and there is no indication when the court might rule. An agreement, known as the Tegucigalpa/San Jose Accord [Honduras News materials], reached last month would allow Zelaya to return to power conditioned on Supreme Court approval with a subsequent affirmative vote from the Honduran legislature. The US, which has refused to recognize the existence of the interim government headed by Roberto Micheletti [BBC profile], has warned that it will not support the elections if there is no adherence to the agreement that it helped broker. The accord calls for a unified government and leaves the decision to reinstate Zelaya in the hands of congress. It also called for Zelaya to propose members of the reconciliation government by November 5. Both Zelaya and Micheletti declared the agreement void last week after Zelaya did not submit names and Micheletti unilaterally announced a unity government.

In July, the Honduran Supreme Court refused [JURIST report] a petition by Organization of American States (OAS) [official website] Secretary General calling for the reinstatement of Zelaya as the country's head of state. Zelaya was ousted [JURIST report] in June, 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. Zelaya has made several failed attempts to return to office, including attempting to fly into the country accompanied by international leaders.






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Federal judge grants extension for Google book search settlement
Steve Czajkowski on November 10, 2009 9:06 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Monday extended a deadline for filing an amended settlement agreement [Authors Guild backgrounder] between Google [corporate website] and groups of authors and publishers over Google's book-scanning initiative [Google Book Search website]. Judge Denny Chin granted the delay after Google and other parties to the settlement submitted a letter [text, PDF] requesting that the original Monday deadline be extended to Friday, November 13. According to that letter, the groups had been meeting with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] in order to address concerns the DOJ had over the initial agreement [JURIST reports] developed last October. Chin is expected to hold a hearing [AFP report] in December or January on whether to approve the amended settlement.

In September, the DOJ filed a statement of interest [text, PDF; press release] urging Chin to reject a class action settlement in the copyright suit [case materials] against Google. In its statement, which came after an investigation [JURIST report] into the agreement, the DOJ said that the proposed settlement raises concerns over class action, copyright, and antitrust law. Under the terms of the initial agreement, 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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Former SEC Lawyer pleads guilty to fraud in Dreier investment scheme
Matt Glenn on November 10, 2009 8:01 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Securities and Exchange Commission(SEC) [official website] lawyer Robert Miller pleaded guilty [plea agreement, PDF] in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] to one count [criminal information, PDF] of securities fraud and one count of conspiracy in connection with the Marc Dreier [NYT backgrounder] fraud case, the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced [press release, PDF] Monday. According to the DOJ, Miller impersonated the manager of a Canadian pension plan in phone conversations in 2008 to help Dreier sell a fictitious promissory note Dreier claimed was worth $44.7 million to a New York hedge fund. As part of the plea agreement, Miller promised to cooperate with investigators and agreed to forfeit the $100,000 Dreier paid him for his role in the scheme. Miller faces a maximum jail sentence of 20 years and over $5 million in fines when he is sentenced February 5.

Last week, Dreier's former broker Kosta Kovachev pleaded guilty [NYT report] to conspiracy to commit wire securities fraud and wire fraud and to wire fraud for his role in the scheme. Dreier, the founder and managing partner of New York-based law firm Dreier LLP, was sentenced in July to 20 years in prison for selling $700 million in false promissory notes. In May, Dreier pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to one count of money laundering and numerous fraud and conspiracy counts. Dreier was arrested [DOJ press release, PDF] in New York in December after being arrested and then released in Canada. He was charged with one count of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud. A superseding indictment [DOJ press release, PDF] filed in March charged him with one count of conspiracy to commit securities and wire fraud, one count of securities fraud, five counts of wire fraud, and one count of money laundering.






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Supreme Court hears business method patent, Eighth Amendment cases
Christian Ehret on November 9, 2009 5:01 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Monday in three cases. In Graham v. Florida [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the Court heard arguments questioning whether the Eighth Amendment [text] ban on cruel and unusual punishment prohibits imprisoning a juvenile for life without parole for a non-homicide violation. Counsel for the petitioner argued that such a sentence is "particularly cruel to adolescents because...it gives up on [them] and determines that [they are] forever unfit to live in civil society." Counsel for the government argued that a "categorical rule" regarding sentencing for minors would undermine Florida's and other states' adopted juvenile justice systems, going against a national consensus and trend.

In the similar case of Sullivan v. Florida [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments about whether imposing a life sentence without parole on a 13-year-old for a non-homicide violation constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. During the arguments, the Court focused on a two-year statute of limitations on seeking post-conviction relief, which would have run out in 1993. Counsel for petitioner Sullivan argued that after the Court's decision in Roper v. Simmons [opinion text], which held that the death penalty is unconstitutional as it applies to crimes committed by minors, certain death row prisoners would get a better sentence than petitioner. Relying on the Court's reasoning in Roper, Sullivan's counsel argued that the petitioner's case is entitled to review.

In Bilski v. Kappos [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the Court heard arguments on the scope of patentable subject matter in regards to a challenged business method patent [Jones Day backgrounder]. The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, sitting en banc, narrowly defined [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] the "machine or transformation" test for processes, requiring that a process be tied to a particular machine or cause a transformation of physical matter. During arguments, the Court approached the issue of classifying business methods and other processes as patentable subject matter broadly and with skepticism. Counsel for petitioner argued that the Court's decision in Diamond v. Diehr [opinion text], which held that a physical process controlled by a computer was patentable, contains language about non-patentable subject matter that confirms the patentability of business methods. Justice Stevens was interested in the opinion of the late Judge Rich on the matter, to which petitioner's counsel responded by pointing out that the esteemed patent jurist wrote for the Federal Circuit in State Street Bank & Trust Co. v. Signature Financial Group, Inc. [opinion text], approving the patent eligibility of a data processing system for implementing a hub and spoke investment system. One of the problems with the current transformation test, counsel argued, is that "it would exclude some valuable inventions that I think everyone would agree are technological under any test." Counsel referred to important patents from the past, such as Samuel Morse's patent [materials] for using his encoded alphabet in connection with telegraphy, that might not survive the Federal Circuit's current test. Counsel for respondent asked for narrow relief as opposed to a broad ruling on process patents generally.






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Zimbabwe trial begins for opposition cabinet nominee
Haley Wojdowski on November 9, 2009 2:27 PM ET

[JURIST] The trial of Zimbabwe Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [party website] party treasurer and deputy agriculture minister-nominee Roy Bennett [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] began Monday, but was adjourned until Wednesday to allow Judge Chinembiri Bhunu to make a decision regarding the admissibility of evidence. Bennett's defense lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, asked the court to prohibit evidence obtained from the attorney general's main witness, Mike Hitschmann, alleging he was tortured by officials [MDC press release] and did not implicate Bennett during his own trial. The attorney general countered that the defense's outline breached court regulations [SW Radio Africa report]. Bhunu is expected to rule on both parties' arguments when the trial resumes on Wednesday.

Bennett's trial was delayed [JURIST report] in October to allow counsel more time to develop a defense. Bennett faces charges [CNN report] under Zimbabwe's Public Order and Security Act [materials] for unlawfully possessing weapons and provoking others "to commit terrorism, banditry and sabotage." The weapons charges involve a possible death sentence. Bennett was originally arrested on weapons charges in February, and was later released [JURIST reports] on bail in March. Bennett was then re-arrested [Reuters report] on the same charges in October, only to be released on bail again. Bennett was originally sought for questioning [JURIST report] in relation to similar allegations in 2006, but he had been seeking asylum in South Africa until recently [IOL report]. Treason charges against him were dropped [Times report] in favor of the terrorism and other charges. Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai had nominated Bennett to be deputy agriculture minister.






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Argentina demonstrators march in support of same-sex marriage bills
Megan McKee on November 9, 2009 2:17 PM ET

[JURIST] Some 50,000 people marched in Buenos Aires on Saturday in support of gay pride and to encourage the timely approval of legislation set to legalize same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive]. Argentina's Parliament [official website, in Spanish] is currently debating [El Mundo report, in Spanish] the matter of same-sex marriage for the first time. Before the parliament are two proposals that seek to modify numerous laws in the nation's Civil Code [text, in Spanish] that define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. A bill [text, in Spanish] proposed by lawmaker Vilma Ibarra [official website, in Spanish] seeks to establish that all references to the institution of marriage in the Civil Code refer equally to homosexual and heterosexual marriages. The second bill [text, in Spanish], signed by many lawmakers, seeks to define marriage as a union between couples of the opposite sex or the same sex, and additionally stipulates that all married couples without exception should be afforded the right to adopt.

Buenos Aires became the first Latin American city to legalize same-sex unions in 2002, and was later followed by four other Argentine cities. Same-sex unions are also currently recognized in Mexico City, and some Brazilian states. Uruguay remains the only Latin American country that has nationally legalized same-sex unions. Uruguay has since expanded the rights given to same-sex couples by passing a law earlier this year allowing same-sex couples to adopt [JURIST report]. Canada [JURIST report] is the only American nation to have legalized same-sex marriage, and Spain [JURIST report] is the only nation in the Spanish-speaking world to have done the same. Both nations legalized gay marriage in 2005.






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Guantanamo detainee: conditions have declined under Obama administration
Jay Carmella on November 9, 2009 2:15 PM ET

[JURIST] A letter [text, PDF] from a Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee, made public Monday, alleges that conditions at the prison have worsened for detainees a year after the election of US President Barack Obama [official website]. Abdul Rahman Shalabi wrote the letter [Al Jazeera report] in September, describing his declining physical condition. Last week, independent medical experts Dr. Sondra Crosby and Dr. Emily A. Keram [reports, PDF], submitted declarations to the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] regarding Shalabi's health. Both doctors confirmed that the detainee is in need of immediate medical assistance. Shalabi wrote:


I am Sick, I am Sick, what should I do, the pain is severe, and headache is severe, my nose is having inflammation, so what should I do. I am in the hospital, if the doctor is unable to make a decision or manage the hospital, so who can do that. There are provocations, and harassment that continue day and night. ... Note: Last time they measured my weight, it was (108) pounds. My weight has dropped from sadness and provocations, daily humiliations and harassments [sic] and the sickness.

Despite promises from the Obama administration that conditions at the prison would improve, several detainees expressed similar complaints to Shalabi. Detainees claim that they have been denied social time, had their belongings taken away, and have even been prevented from taking part in traditional group prayer during Ramadan without justification. Authorities at the facility have denied any allegations of wrong-doing.

This is not first report regarding the lack of improvement in conditions for the detainees. In April, Mohammad El Gharani accused [JURIST report] guards of abuse. El Gharani said the guards regularly beat him, used tear gas against him, and have broken his teeth. In February, US the Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] reported [JURIST report] that conditions at the prison met the requirements of the Geneva Conventions. The report did indicate that there were areas where conditions should improve, including increasing detainee-to-detainee contact, better training for guards, easier detainee access to health care services, and video recording of interrogations. In January, Obama issued an executive order [JURIST report] directing that the prison be closed "as soon as practicable, and no later than 1 year from the date of this order," but senior officials have recently indicated that the deadline may be missed [JURIST report].





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Supreme Court denies stay of execution for DC sniper
Hillary Stemple on November 9, 2009 2:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday denied [order, PDF] a stay of execution for convicted DC-area sniper John Allen Muhammad [BBC profile], clearing the way for his scheduled execution [JURIST report] on Tuesday. Muhammad had filed an application for stay of execution as well as a petition for certiorari [texts, PDF] last week. The Court denied both the stay application and the petition for certiorari. Justice John Paul Stevens filed an opinion dissenting from the denial of a temporary stay, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor:

This case highlights once again the perversity of executing inmates before their appeals process has been fully concluded. Under our normal practice, Muhammad's timely petition for certiorari would have been reviewed at our Conference on November 24, 2009. Virginia has scheduled his execution for November 10, however, so we must resolve the petition on an expedited basis unless we grant a temporary stay. By denying Muhammad's stay application, we have allowed Virginia to truncate our deliberative process on a matter — involving a death row inmate — that demands the most careful attention. ...

I continue to believe that the Court would be wise to adopt a practice of staying all executions scheduled in advance of the completion of our review of a capital defendant's first application for a federal writ of habeas corpus. Such a practice would give meaningful effect to the distinction Congress has drawn between first and successive habeas petitions. It would also serve the interests of avoiding irreversible error, facilitating the efficient management of our docket, and preserving basic fairness by ensuring death row in-mates receive the same procedural safeguards that ordinary inmates receive.
Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine [official website] is still considering Muhammad's request for clemency. Muhammad's execution is scheduled for 9:00 PM ET.

Muhammad was convicted of murder and sentenced [JURIST report] to death in Virginia in 2005 for his role in the DC-area sniper shootings [JURIST news archive]. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] upheld [JURIST report] the Virginia death sentence in August, despite Muhammad's allegations of "nondisclosure of exculpatory information by the prosecution" and "ineffective assistance of ... trial counsel." Muhammad was also 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.





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Canada prosecutors charge second Rwanda genocide suspect under war crimes act
Jay Carmella on November 9, 2009 12:44 PM ET

[JURIST] Canadian prosecutors announced Saturday that a Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder] suspect has been charged under Canada's Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act [text, PDF]. Jacques Mungwarere, arrested [Ottawa Citizen report] Friday by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) [official website], is only the second person to be charged under the law. Mungwarere claimed asylum in Canada in 2001, but never obtained Canadian citizenship. The investigation into Mungwarere's potential involvement in the genocide began in 2003. The War Crimes Section [official website] of the RCMP made several trips to Rwanda and the US in an effort to put together their case against Mungwarere. Lawyers from the Public Prosecution Service of Canada [official website] will prosecute Mungwarere.

The first man charged under the act was Desire Munyaneza [Trial Watch profile]. In October, he was sentenced to life imprisonment [JURIST report] for war crimes committed during the Rwandan genocide. Munyaneza was convicted [JURIST report] in May of seven counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes under the act. He was arrested [JURIST report] in 2005 by the RCMP after a five-year investigation. The trial, which was briefly postponed [JURIST report] after Munyaneza was beaten by a fellow prison inmate, lasted two years and included evidence from multiple nations. International legal observers expect Munyaneza's trial to set precedent for future war crimes litigation.






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China executes 9 convicted of Xinjiang riot killings
Patrice Collins on November 9, 2009 12:08 PM ET

[JURIST] The Chinese government has executed nine people sentenced to death for their role in the July Xinjiang riots [JURIST news archive], state media reported [text, in Chinese] Monday. The report indicated that the individuals were executed "according to the law" after their sentences were approved by the Supreme People's Court [official website, in Chinese] but did not provide further details such as the date of the executions or the ethnicity of the deceased. Last month, the Higher People's Court of Xinjiang upheld the sentences, handed down on October 12 and October 15 [JURIST reports], ruling that the sentences were appropriate and supported by sufficient evidence. The nine were convicted of murder, assault, arson, and robbery during July's violent demonstrations that left 200 people dead and many more injured. Also Monday, Chinese prosecutors charged 20 additional suspects [Xinhua report] with murder, arson, robbery, intentional injury, and explosion for their roles during the riots.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] has criticized [JURIST report] the trials for failing to meet Chinese and international fairness and due process standards. The advocacy group claims that the government violated both Chinese law and international standards by failing to announce the trials and closing the proceedings to international journalists and observers. HRW has also claimed that more than 40 Uighur men have disappeared [JURIST report] since being detained by Chinese security forces. In early July, violence broke out [NYT report] in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang province, between Han Chinese and Uighur residents. The Muslim Uighur population is opposed [BBC backgrounder] to China's restrictive bans on religious practice and says that the recent influx of Han Chinese has disenfranchised non-Chinese-speaking Uighurs.






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Iran prosecutor charges 3 US backpackers with espionage
Ann Riley on November 9, 2009 11:58 AM ET

[JURIST] Iran’s prosecutor general Abbas Jafari Dolat-Abadi said Monday that the three American hikers arrested in July for illegally entering Iran are being charged with espionage [IRNA report]. In statements to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Dolat-Abadi further declared that the investigation of the American citizens' charges has begun and the state of their case will soon be announced. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official website], who met with the families of the hikers last week, responded [transcript] Monday that she believes that there is no evidence to support any of the charges, urging the Iranian government to exercise compassion and release the hikers. The Americans, Shane Bauer, Sara Shourd, and Joshua Fattal, who possessed Iraqi and Syrian visas, were arrested [JURIST report] for illegally entering Iran near the city of Marivan at the Malakh Khor border. Their families maintain that they had accidentally crossed the border while backpacking through northern Iraq, while an Iraqi police officer reported that the three backpackers were linked [PressTV report] to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website]. Dolat-Abadi also said Monday that the Danish journalist arrested last week is still under investigation. Niels Kroghsgaard allegedly introduced [FNS report] himself as a reporter but held no evidence of proof.

In September, media workers and reformists urged [JURIST report] Dolat-Abadi to remove bans placed on newspapers and to free journalists who were imprisoned during the term of his predecessor, Saeed Mortazavi [JURIST news archive]. In May, Iran released [JURIST report] convicted US journalist Roxana Saberi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Saberi, a dual US-Iran citizen, was originally arrested for illegally purchasing alcohol and was later sentenced to eight years in prison [JURIST report] on espionage charges. In 2007, Iran charged Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh and media correspondent Parnaz Azima with allegedly engaging in an espionage conspiracy [JURIST report]. Tajbakhsh and Azima, along with two other Iranian-Americans, were originally accused of being part of a US-organized spy network. The Committee to Protect Journalists [advocacy website] reported last year that Iran ranked sixth [report text] in the world for imprisoned journalists.






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Iraq parliament passes controversial election law
Zach Zagger on November 9, 2009 10:42 AM ET

[JURIST] The Iraqi Parliament [official website, in Arabic] passed a controversial election law amendment [text, in Arabic] on Sunday, paving the way for January elections as mandated by the Iraqi Constitution [text, PDF]. The new law addresses two issues that were the cause of an impasse [JURIST report]. The amended law calls for open lists that name the candidates, not just their parties. It also gives the UN authority to take part in overseeing voting regulations in the oil-rich city and province of Kirkuk [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], where the return of displaced Kurds has created disputed population and voter registration records. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [official website] called [press release, in Arabic] the passage of the election law a "historic victory of the will of the people." UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] welcomed the agreement [press release], calling the elections "a crucial opportunity to advance national reconciliation and contribute to Iraq’s political progress." US President Barack Obama [official website] called [press release] the agreement "an important milestone as the Iraqi people continue to take responsibility for their future." Elections are unlikely [CNN report] to take place before the planned date of January 16, but will happen by January 31.

Last week, an official from the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission [official website] called for a delay [JURIST report] of the January 16 parliamentary elections because of the impasse over updating the election law. A delay could have had an effect on the Obama administration's troop withdrawal plan. US military commanders planned to start withdrawing troops depending on the outcome of a draft bill approved [JURIST report] by the Iraqi Cabinet that would require a referendum on the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [text, PDF], which allows US troops to remain in the country until the end of 2011. Under the proposed bill, which must still be approved by the Iraqi Parliament, the referendum was supposed to occur during the January 16 elections. If the SOFA were rejected by Iraqi voters, US troops would have only one year to withdraw [Washington Post report], which would result in a January 2011 withdrawal - nearly a year ahead of schedule. No parliamentary vote on the bill has been scheduled.






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Madagascar rivals agree on transitional unity government after presidency dispute
Jonathan Cohen on November 9, 2009 10:32 AM ET

[JURIST] The current and former leaders of Madagascar reached a transitional power-sharing agreement on Saturday. According to the agreement, President Andry Rajoelina [official profile, in French] will now share power with representatives of the parties of ousted president Marc Ravalomanana [BBC profile] and former president Albert Zafy. The agreement came out of meetings [materials, PDF, in French] in Addis Abeba and is to be in accord with the Maputo agreements [materials, in French] reached earlier this year. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] welcomed [UN News Centre report] the deal and urged the leaders to speedily inaugurate the new transitional government, which is to be in power until elections are held next year.

The power-sharing deal comes in spite of Ravalomanana being convicted of misusing state funds [JURIST report] in June of this year. Although members of the African Union [official website] declared it unconstitutional, the high court approved the installment of Rajoelina in March of this year, after Ravalomanana resigned [BBC report] and handed power to the military. Supporters of Ravalomanana were arrested [JURIST report] and accused of inciting disorder and ordering [BBC report] soldiers to open fire on protesters.






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El Salvador government agrees to open investigation into archbishop death
Amelia Mathias on November 9, 2009 9:23 AM ET

[JURIST] El Salvador government officials agreed on Friday to a state investigation into the death of Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero [BBC backgrounder], shot and killed in 1980. The announcement of the investigation [El Pais report, in Spanish] comes nearly a decade after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights [official website] first recommended an inquiry into the murder. El Salvador has put off an investigation for years claiming that its amnesty laws enacted in 1993 prevent any investigation [JURIST report] into illegal acts committed during the 1980-1992 civil war [PBS backgrounder].

Romero was assassinated by a death squad while saying mass in San Salvador. An outspoken critic of the military junta, his death is viewed as one of the catalysts of the war, which left more than 70,000 people dead. In 2004, a federal court in the US held Alvaro Saravia liable [CJA case backgrounder] for Romero's murder and ordered him to pay $10 million in damages to the archbishop's family. While other suits have been brought [JURIST report] against former Salvadoran state agents in US courts, human rights groups contend that the amnesty laws [ISP report] have undermined the rule of law and led to impunity in El Salvador. Other Latin American countries have recently overturned similar amnesty laws including Uruguay and Argentina [JURIST reports].






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Sudan political parties accuse each other of voter fraud ahead of 2010 elections
Safiya Boucaud on November 8, 2009 12:42 PM ET

[JURIST] Rival political parties in Sudan [JURIST news archive] have accused each other of fraud, torture, intimidation, and sabotage as voters began registering Sunday for the first democratic multi-party elections in almost a quarter of a century, slated for April of next year. The dominant National Congress Party (NCP) [party website] has been accused of buying votes, using government resources for their campaign, and busing people into areas for registration where they do not currently reside. The NCP and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) [FAS backgrounder] comprise the current coalition government created pursuant to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) [UN press release] that ended two decades of civil war. Both parties have been disagreeing on sensitive electoral issues [Sudan Tribune report] relating to the required number of voters needed to recognize the voting process and to declare the independence of Southern Sudan.

Last November, the Sudanese parliament approved the appointment of a nine-member independent electoral commission [JURIST report] to oversee the upcoming vote. In July 2008, the parliament passed a long-anticipated electoral law [JURIST report] dictating how the country's parliamentary seats will be allotted. The law reserves some seats for candidates chosen by popular vote, and some for proportional representation of political parties including seats reserved for women. Following the signing of the CPA, the country also approved a new constitution and installed a new government, and the country's state of emergency was lifted [JURIST reports], except in Darfur and a region on the eastern border.






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Officials vetting Guantanamo detainees for possible US trials: Holder
Steve Czajkowski on November 8, 2009 11:34 AM ET

[JURIST] US officials are conducting reviews to determine which Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees may face trials in military or civilian courts in the US, according to statements [AP report] made by Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] to reporters Sunday. Holder also said a decision on whether to hold such proceedings may come as early as November 16. The remarks came as Holder was attending the Sixth Ministerial Global Forum on Fighting Corruption and Safeguarding Integrity [official website] held in Doha, Qatar. Holder did not make it clear whether the reviews include those accused in the 9/11 attacks [JURIST news archive].

Last week, the US Senate [official website] voted 54-45 [roll call vote; JURIST report] to defeat an amendment [S AMDT 2669 materials] to an appropriations bill [HR 2847 materials] that would have prevented Guantanamo detainees accused of involvement in 9/11 from being tried in federal courts. In October, US President Barack Obama signed [JURIST report] into law the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2010 [HR 2892 materials], which allows for Guantanamo Bay detainees to be transferred to the US for prosecution. The legislation came after Holder indicated that the Obama administration might miss its January deadline for closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, echoing prior statements [JURIST reports] by top administration officials.






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House passes landmark health care reform bill
Steve Czajkowski on November 8, 2009 10:05 AM ET

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] late Saturday passed [press release] landmark legislation [HR 3962 materials] designed to reform the US health care system. The bill, entitled the Affordable Health Care for America Act, passed by a narrow vote of 220-215 [roll call], with only one Republican, Congressman Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-LA) [official website], voting with the majority. The legislation has an estimated cost of around $1 trillon [WSJ report] over ten years and would provide insurance [AP report] to 36 million more people, extending coverage to nearly 96 percent of Americans. It also expands eligibility for Medicaid [official website], includes subsidies for middle-class citizens whose employers do not provide access to affordable coverage, and provides measures prohibiting health care providers from refusing coverage due to pre-existing conditions. The House bill includes the so-called "public option," a government-provided insurance alternative to private insurance when that is unavailable. Also on Saturday, in a last-minute compromise prior to voting on the entire reform bill, the House approved an amendment [materials] strictly limiting the use of public funds to cover abortion procedures by a vote of 240-194 [roll call].

The final health care package is a combination of similar bills passed by House committees over the summer. Other legislation is moving through the Senate. Health care reform [JURIST news archive] has been a top priority of the Obama administration over the past several months. Some have complained that without a public option for low-income individuals, reform would not go far enough to fix the nation's health care system. Conservatives have argued that proposed additional taxes on expensive insurance policies already in place would make reform too costly. Approximately 47 million Americans are uninsured, according to the National Coalition on Health Care [advocacy website], though that number is disputed.






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Italy will not remove crucifix from public display: Berlusconi
Ximena Marinero on November 7, 2009 3:37 PM ET

[JURIST] Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Friday that Italy is not bound by last week's European Court of Human Rights (EHCR) [official website] ruling [judgment, in French; JURIST report] that displaying crucifixes in a public school classroom violates the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF]. Berlusconi's remarks were made on the same day that the Council of Ministers gave its approval [press release, in Italian] to appeal the decision. Berlusconi went so far as to say [Corriere della Sera report, in Italian] that even if Italy loses its appeal of Lautsi v. Italy, he considers it to be disrespectful and Italy would not be coerced into upholding it. The actual decision recognizes a violation of Article 2 of Protocol I and Article 9 of the rights convention and mandates that Italy must pay 5000 euros to the complainant Lautsi for moral damages. The decision is not explicit about any measure Italy must take in regards to crucifixes in public places. There has been widespread public outcry [Il Giornale report, in Italian] in Italy over the decision from across the political spectrum, and responses have included suggestions of holding a referendum on the subject.

Tension between secularism and religious values continues to drive the controversy behind display of religious symbols across Europe. In Spain, the subject of crucifixes in public schools continues to be controversial [El Pais report, in Spanish] with the government abstaining from mandating their removal and local court decisions mandating their removal. In March, Bulgaria approved [IslamOnline report] a law to ban religious symbols in schools, including clothing items like the hijab. In 2004, France banned religious clothing and symbols in public schools [JURIST report]. A German court has upheld a similar ban [JURIST report].






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FBI charges 14 more in Galleon Group insider trading scandal
Andrew Morgan on November 7, 2009 1:23 PM ET

[JURIST] Federal authorities have filed charges [press release] against 14 people in connection with insider trading at the hedge fund company Galleon Group [corporate website], weeks after the arrest [JURIST report] of the company's founder. An investigation by the FBI allegedly revealed more than $20 million in illegal profits and led to criminal charges [charging documents] against hedge fund managers, analysts, and lawyers involved in the scheme. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] also filed civil charges [complaint, PDF] against 13 individuals and companies alleging more than $33 million in illicit gains related to Galleon Group. Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara [official website] said that the charges showed the government's focus on white collar prosecution.


When we announced our first arrests three weeks ago, I said this case should be a wake-up call for Wall Street. Today the alarm bells have only grown louder. Over the last three weeks, we have charged 20 defendants with more than $40 million worth of alleged insider trading, and our investigation is ongoing. When criminal activity is your business model, business as usual has to stop.

Bharara and FBI Assistant Director Joseph Demarest [official profile] said that the investigation made use of wiretapping techniques, including "court-authorized pen register and telephone toll records, consensually-recorded conversations between cooperating sources and others, and court-authorized wire taps on various telephones." Speaking at a panel discussion held by the Practising Law Institute [corporate website], Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer [official profile] said Friday that the use of wiretaps was vital to a renewed focus [Reuters report] at the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on the prosecution of white collar crime.

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





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Taiwan high court rules prostitution law unconstitutional
Ximena Marinero on November 7, 2009 1:16 PM ET

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court [official website] of Taiwan ruled Friday that a law penalizing prostitutes and not their clients is unconstitutional because it undermines equality under the country's constitution [text]. The Social Order and Maintenance Act will have to be amended to meet constitutional fairness requirements, but will remain in effect two years from the date of the decision. Taiwan is currently reevaluating [Reuters report] treatment of prostitution under the laws of the island, and perhaps including such measures as establishing zones in which prostitution would be legal.

Taiwan regulated [Kyodo report] prostitution until 1997, when it was banned following an initiative by then-Taipei mayor Chen Shui-bian [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The system that allowed licensed prostitutes to continue to work while they transitioned to different occupations was only phased out in 2001.






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HRW claims Iran police sexually assaulted detainees held after election protests
Andrew Morgan on November 7, 2009 12:42 PM ET

[JURIST] Iranian officials covered up the sexual assault of detainees held after the disputed June 12 presidential election [JURIST news archive], Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said Friday. HRW documented [AP report] the rape and sexual assault of three protesters at the hands of Iranian security personnel, including one case which was accompanied by a medical examiner's report. HRW claims that officials at the Tehran hospital that treated a 27-year-old activist for injuries suffered while in custody, including those indicative of forced sexual contact, tried to destroy the physician's report. The allegations of detainee mistreatment came days after the arrest of 109 [Reuters report] supporters of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] during clashes with police [PBS report] at rallies held to mark the 30th anniversary of the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran.

In September, an Iranian judicial panel rejected [JURIST report] similar allegations of detainee assault brought by pro-reform presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi [NYT profile] and called for the arrest of those spreading false allegations. In August, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] called for the prosecution of opposition leaders [JURIST report] 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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ICC assigns judges to Kenya post-election violence situation
Jaclyn Belczyk on November 6, 2009 4:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] announced Friday that it has assigned [decision, PDF; press release] three judges to the situation involving the violence perpetrated in the wake of Kenya's 2007 presidential elections [JURIST news archive]. The decision came in response to a Thursday letter [text, PDF] from chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] in which he said that he intends to request formal authorization in December to initiate an investigation into the situation. Moreno-Ocampo may not begin a formal investigation until he receives the judges' authorization. The investigation may only proceed if Kenya does not conduct its own investigation into the matter, which it has thus far failed to do [JURIST report].

Earlier Thursday, Moreno-Ocampo met with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki [official profile] and opposition leader Raila Odinga [campaign website] to inform them of his plans to seek an investigation [JURIST report]. Moreno-Ocampo first stated his intentions [JURIST report] to pursue the matter in October, citing Kenya's ratification of the Rome Statute [text, PDF] as grounds for jurisdiction. In August, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called for an independent tribunal [JURIST report] with international support and participation because "the Kenyan judiciary lacks independence," and the necessary reforms announced [transcript] by the Kenyan Cabinet [official website] in late July would be insufficient. Earlier in July, Moreno-Ocampo received and reviewed a sealed envelope sent to the ICC [JURIST reports] by former UN secretary-general and current chairman of the African Union Panel of Eminent African Personalities Kofi Annan [UN profile] that contained a list of suspects believed to be responsible for the violence. More than 1,000 people were killed and 500,000 displaced following allegations of fraud [JURIST report] in the country's presidential election.






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Rights group urges US government to reform Afghanistan detainee policy
Jaclyn Belczyk on November 6, 2009 2:56 PM ET

[JURIST] The US should reform its detention policy [press release] at Bagram Air Base [JURIST news archive] in Afghanistan in order to combat counterinsurgency, according to a report [text, PDF] released Thursday by Human Rights First (HRF) [advocacy website]. HRF called on the governments of the US and Afghanistan to reach an agreement that "set[s] forth grounds and procedures for detention in accordance with international law." The report also urged the US to make sure that detainees have opportunities to challenge the lawfulness of their detentions. The report's author, Sahr MuhammedAlly, said:


Successful counterinsurgency depends on US actions being seen as fair, humane, and beneficial to the security of the Afghan people, whose cooperation is needed to ensure a stable Afghanistan. To achieve this goal, the US government should take further steps now to support US goals of bolstering Afghan sovereignty, increase the capacity of the Afghans to handle detentions on their own, and to establish legitimacy of US detentions in the eyes of the Afghan people by reducing the risks of arbitrary detentions, mistaken captures, and to ensure detainees a more meaningful way to challenge their detention.

HRW also released a second report [text, PDF] Thursday outlining the detention and trials of detainees interviewed in April 2009.

In September, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] seeking information related to the treatment of prisoners at Bagram, citing fears that is becoming the "new Guantanamo." Earlier that 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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Russia suspect confesses to killing human rights lawyer
Patrice Collins on November 6, 2009 1:05 PM ET

[JURIST] A lawyer for the man accused of the double murder [JURIST report] of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova said Friday that his client has confessed to the crime. Nikita Tikhonov and female companion Yevgenia Khasis were arrested Thursday and brought before the Basmanny District Court. In an interview [materials, in Russian] on the radio program Echo Moskvy, Tikhonov's lawyer, Yevgeny Skripelev, said Tikhonov did not intend to kill [Interfax report, in Russian] Baburova and murdered Markelov out of personal animosity rather than ideological grounds. Skripelev refuted claims that Tikhonov was part of the banned ultra-nationalist group Russian National Unity, insisting that he operated on his own accord. Markelov gained notoriety as director the the Rule of Law Institute [advocacy website] prosecuting human rights abuses in Chechnya. He was leaving a press conference concerning his appeal against the early parole [Moscow Times report] of Yuri Budanov, a former Russian military commander convicted of murdering a Chechen woman, when he and Babarova were shot in broad daylight in front of the Kropotkinskaya metro station.

Markelov represented famed journalist Anna Politkovskaya [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive], who was shot to death [JURIST report] in October 2006. To date, no one has been convicted [JURIST report] of Politkovskaya's murder. Markelov, Barbarova, and Politkovskaya are among many Russian human rights activists and journalists who have been murdered recently. Earlier this summer, Chechen human rights activist Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband Alik Dzhabrailov were found dead [JURIST report] in the trunk of their car after being abducted in front of their workplace. The killings came less than a month after the death [JURIST report] of Russian human rights activist Natalia Estemirova [BBC obituary]. In July, the body of Russian human rights activist Andrei Kulagin [JURIST report] was found in a quarry. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that, between 1992 and 2006, 42 journalists were killed [JURIST report] in Russia.






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Washington voters approve expanded domestic partnership rights
Megan McKee on November 6, 2009 10:45 AM ET

[JURIST] Washington voters have narrowly approved Referendum 71 (R-71) [text, PDF], expanding the state's domestic partnership law, according to results Thursday. R-71 was a ballot measure that asked Washington residents to decide the fate of the state's 2009 domestic partnership law [materials; JURIST report], which has been nicknamed the "everything but marriage law," as it affords domestic partners all rights enjoyed by married couples under Washington state law. Under R-71, same-sex partners registered with the state will receive some 250 new rights [Olympian report] and all of the approximately 425 state rights afforded to married couples, including the rights to inherit a partner's public pension and to take leave to care for a sick or injured partner. The legislation was signed in May by the governor and originally set to take effect on July 26, but its implementation was put on hold pending the results of the referendum. Official results [materials] report that the measure was approved by 52.56 percent and rejected by 47.44 percent of voters, but it only carried nine of the state's 39 counties.

R-71 builds on the earlier expansion of domestic partnership rights by lawmakers in 2007 and 2008. The 2007 domestic partnership law [text, PDF; JURIST report] allowed same-sex couples over the age of 18 living together to register with the state's domestic partnership registry. Registered same-sex couples were afforded hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights, and the right to authorize medical decisions for one's partner. In 2008, lawmakers expanded the previous year's law, giving domestic partners legal standing under laws covering probate and trusts, community property, and guardianship.






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UN General Assembly adopts resolution requiring independent Gaza investigations
Zach Zagger on November 6, 2009 10:21 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN General Assembly [official website] on Thursday adopted a resolution giving Israel and Palestine three months to conduct independent investigations into possible war crimes committed during last winter's Gaza conflict [JURIST news archive]. The General Assembly voted 114-18 with 44 abstentions [press release] expressing support for the Goldstone Report [text, PDF], the result of a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] fact-finding mission, which accused both Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) [official website] and Hamas [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] fighters of war crimes during the conflict. Israel has criticized the report as biased, questioned the objectivity of the fact-finding, and on Wednesday urged the UN not to adopt the report's findings in a statement to the General Assembly [statement text]. Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs [official website] spokesperson Yigal Palmor said that Israel rejects [press release] Thursday's resolution, calling it "completely detached from realities on the ground":


The results of the vote and the large number of member states who voted against or abstained, demonstrate clearly that the resolution does not have the support of the "moral majority" of UN members. ... During Operation "Cast Lead" in Gaza, the Israel Defense Force demonstrated higher military and moral standards than each and every one of this resolution's instigators. Israel, like any other democratic nation, maintains the right to self-defense, and, as was witnessed in recent days, will continue to act to protect the lives of its citizens from the threat of international terrorism.

The UN Security Council [official website] is unlikely to take action on the General Assembly's non-binding resolution, as China was alone among the five permanent members [UN materials] in supporting the resolution.

In October, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [official profile] announced [JURIST report] the formation of a task force to respond to the Goldstone Report. The formation of the task force came just two weeks after the UNHRC passed a resolution officially endorsing [JURIST report] the Goldstone Report. In September, Richard Goldstone, head of the Gaza mission, presented his findings [JURIST report] to the UNHRC. The Goldstone 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.





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Senate defeats proposal to prevent 9/11 suspects from being tried in federal court
Andrea Bottorff on November 6, 2009 10:05 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] voted 54-45 [roll call vote] Thursday to defeat an amendment [S AMDT 2669 materials] to an appropriations bill [HR 2847 materials] that would have prevented Guantanamo Bay detainees accused of involvement in 9/11 [JURIST news archives] from being tried in federal courts. The amendment was proposed by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) [official website] in response to a letter [text] opposing federal court trials, signed by families of 9/11 victims. The decision is a success for US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates [official profile], who had supported allowing the government to decide between civilian and military trials. US President Barack Obama's administration expects to announce plans for detainee prosecutions by November 16.

In October, Obama signed [JURIST report] the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2010 [HR 2892 materials] into law, which allows for Guantanamo Bay detainees to be transferred to the US for prosecution. The bill allocates $42.78 billion for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] and, among other provisions, requires certain information about each transferred detainee to be disclosed to Congress including costs, legal rationales, and possible risks. Additionally, in order to close the Guantanamo facility, the president will be required to submit a report to Congress detailing the disposition of each current detainee. Congress also passed a bill last month amending [JURIST report] the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [text, PDF] to provide suspected terrorists with greater due process rights in military tribunals. The legislation comes after Holder announced that the Obama administration may miss its January deadline for closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, echoing prior statements [JURIST reports] by top administration officials.






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EU agrees on rules to reform telecommunications markets
Ann Riley on November 6, 2009 9:55 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers [official websites] on Thursday unanimously reached an agreement [press release] on rules to increase competition between telecommunications providers and protect the consumer rights of Internet and mobile phone users. The agreement on the European Union (EU) Telecoms Reform package was reached after intense negotiations by the conciliation committee, which was arranged by the European Commission (EC) [official website] and composed of representatives of the 27 member states, Parliament, the Council of Ministers, and the EC. EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding [official website] praised [video] the agreement, saying:


The reform will substantially enhance consumer rights and consumer choice in Europe's telecoms markets, and add new guarantees to ensure the openness and neutrality of the Internet. It will boost competition and investment in telecoms markets, and open up airwaves for new mobile services, allowing Internet broadband for all Europeans.

The committee unanimously agreed on a provision substantially protecting the rights of EU citizens while providing procedural and judicial safeguards and due process rights, which Reding called a "strong signal that the EU takes fundamental rights very seriously." A plenary session of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers is scheduled to vote on the new provision within the next six weeks. The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), established by the agreement to ensure increasingly neutral and open Internet and broadband access for all Europeans, is set to be created in the spring of 2010, followed a year later by the transfer of the Telecoms Reform into the national legislation of the 27 EU member states.

The Telecoms Reform package was initially proposed [press release] by the EC in November 2007. In May, the European Parliament endorsed [press release] the Telecoms Reform, adding a controversial amendment establishing procedural and judicial rights of EU citizens and the degree to which the Internet should be protected by EU law. Last month, the French Constitutional Council [official website, in French] approved [JURIST report] a controversial Internet piracy law [JURIST news archive] that would allow authorities to terminate an individual's Internet access for up to one year after a third violation of intellectual property laws for downloading or sharing movies and music. In contrast, the Finnish government announced last month that Internet access is a legal right [JURIST report] for all citizens, becoming the first country to make such a declaration.





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Iraq official urges election delay after parliament fails to update law
Sarah Miley on November 6, 2009 9:53 AM ET

[JURIST] An official from the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission on Friday called for a delay of the January 16 parliamentary elections, after the Iraqi Parliament [official websites, in Arabic] remained at an impasse over updating a controversial provincial election law [JURIST report]. Electoral commission chief Faraj al-Haidari told state media that it would be impossible to organize elections by January 16. The parliament is at a stalemate [JURIST report] over two disputed issues - the inclusion of candidate names on the ballot instead of a closed list of parties, which would threaten the incumbency of powerful but unpopular MPs; and deciding who will be allowed to vote in the ethnically divided city of Kirkuk [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], which is residence to thousands of Kurds as well as Arabs. Many Arabs in Kirkuk feel that the voter records should pre-date the immigration of the Kurds, empowering Arab parties, or split the city into two voting districts. The election law was supposed to be passed 90 days before the election, which according to the Iraqi Constitution [text, PDF] must take place by January 31, 2010. The election was pushed up to January 16 as a result of a Shia religious holiday in early February, which means the election delay will possibly miss its constitutional deadline and be delayed for several months.

The possible delay in Iraqi legislative elections will also have an effect on the Obama administration's troop withdrawal plan. American military commanders planned to start withdrawing troops depending on the outcome of a draft bill approved [JURIST report] by the Iraqi Cabinet that would require a referendum on the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [text, PDF], which allows US troops to remain in the country until the end of 2011. Under the proposed bill, which must still be approved by the Iraqi Parliament, the referendum was supposed to occur during the January 16 elections. If the SOFA were rejected by Iraqi voters, US troops would have only one year to withdraw [Washington Post report], which would result in a January 2011 withdrawal - nearly a year ahead of schedule, making it one of the largest logistical feats taken on by a modern army. No parliamentary vote on the bill has been scheduled.






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ICC sets trial of Congo rebel leader Bemba for April 27
Ximena Marinero on November 6, 2009 8:08 AM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Thursday set the trial date [order, PDF; press release] for former Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo [ICC materials; JURIST news archive] for April 27. The trial date was set to give the defense six months of preparation from the date the Office of the Prosecutor fulfills its disclosure obligations, in compliance with the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence. The ICC order also allotted the defense €30,150 per month to be paid for the period beginning in March 2009 and until there is a "material change in circumstances." Bemba is accused of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Central African Republic (CAR) [BBC backgrounder] as military leader of the Congo Liberation Movement (MLC) [party website, in French] from October 2002 to May 2003. During the trial, the prosecution intends to call 37 witnesses and introduce 476 documents.

The ICC Appeals Chamber decided in September that Bemba Gombo will remain in custody until his trial. In August, the ICC ordered Bemba to stand trial [JURIST report] for the alleged commission of violent war crimes. Bemba was arrested [JURIST report] in Belgium after the ICC issued a warrant for his arrest in May 2008 for his actions in the CAR. He was indicted and transferred [JURIST report] to the ICC in July 2008. The proceedings against Bemba were initially postponed, but the pre-trial hearing [JURIST reports] to determine what charges the rebel leader is to face commenced in January. Bemba was elected to the Congolese Senate after losing a run-off presidential election [JURIST report] to Joseph Kabila [BBC profile], who, in December 2006, became the first freely-elected president of the DRC since 1960. After the election, Bemba's private militia force led a violent campaign against government troops until the DRC Supreme Court rejected his election challenge [JURIST report].






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Former Rwanda official sentenced to 8 years for complicity in genocide
Dwyer Arce on November 5, 2009 2:09 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] on Thursday sentenced [press release] former director of the Rwanda tea industry Michel Bagaragaza [case materials; Trial Watch profile] to eight years in prison on charges of complicity in genocide [indictment, PDF]. As director general of OCIR-Tea [official website], Bagaragaza was accused of training, funding, and arming the Interahamwe [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], a Hutu militia responsible for the deaths of thousands of Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder]. In explaining the leniency of the sentence [judgment summary, PDF] in relation to the charge, the trial chamber of the ICTR stated:


Bagaragaza has provided invaluable assistance to the Prosecution in its investigations. His assistance started before he was indicted without concern for self-incrimination, continued without reservation after he was indicted and detained, and he has indicated his willingness to also assist in the future. Bagaragaza has thereby, to a remarkable degree, contributed to the process of truthfinding with respect to the Rwandan tragedy and to national reconciliation. This warrants a substantial reduction of the sentence that the gravity of his offence would otherwise carry.

The eight-year prison term includes the four years Bagaragaza has already spent in custody at The Hague and in Arusha, Tanzania.

Bagaragaza pleaded guilty [JURIST report] last month to the charge of complicity in genocide, after which the prosecution submitted an amended indictment [hearing minutes, PDF] dropping the charges of genocide and conspiracy to commit genocide. Bagaragaza was transferred [JURIST report] from The Hague to the ICTR in Arusha, Tanzania, in May 2008 after a Dutch court ruled that it lacked 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] a request by the prosecution 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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House finance committee approves investor protections bill
Brian Jackson on November 5, 2009 1:10 PM ET

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives Financial Services Committee [official website] on Wednesday voted 41-28 [press release; record vote, PDF] for passage of the Investor Protection Act [HR 3817 materials]. Among the regulations included in the bill are an enhancement of powers for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website], additional protections for whistleblowers, and establishment of fiduciary duties for brokers and dealers. Bill sponsor Paul Kanjorski (D-PA) [official website] said:


In order to maintain a sound economy, we must improve investor protection and confidence. The Investor Protection Act aims to achieve these goals while also improving enforcement powers at the US Securities and Exchange Commission and implementing a fiduciary standard for broker-dealers and investment advisers to ensure that customers' interests are at the forefront of investment recommendations. Our financial system has failed far too many investors for far too long and we must change course. I believe this bill has the capabilities to address many of the problems we continue to face.

With its passage by a strict party-line vote, the bill now moves to the full House, though committee chair Barney Frank (D-MA) [official website] indicated on Tuesday that full House voting on this and other financial reform measures is not likely to begin until December [WSJ report].

In the wake of the collapse of the housing and credit markets, as well as the Bernard Madoff scandal [JURIST news archive], financial services reform has been a focus of lawmakers in 2009. In late October, the House Financial Services Committee approved proposed legislation that would establish transparency in credit rating agencies [JURIST report]. That same week, the committee also approved a bill to create a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, an agency that President Barack Obama called for [JURIST reports] in June. In early September, the SEC inspector general released a report [JURIST report] outlining missteps by the agency in failing to detect the Ponzi scheme that led to Madoff's investors losing an estimated $21 billion.





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ICTY to appoint counsel for Karadzic
Steve Dotterer on November 5, 2009 12:12 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] announced [press release] Thursday that former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [case materials; JURIST news archive] will be appointed counsel [decision, PDF] to represent him in the event that he does not appear in court. The ICTY announced the decision in response to Karadzic's boycott of war crimes proceedings [JURIST report] against him. Karadzic was boycotting the proceedings based on his assertion that he has had inadequate time [JURIST report] to prepare his defense. Karadzic appeared [JURIST report] in court earlier this week to renew his plea for more time, but that request was again denied. The ICTY adjourned the trial until March 1 to give the newly-appointed counsel time to prepare.

Karadzic faces 11 counts [indictment, PDF] of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war. The charges arise from crimes committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, including those committed in the Srebrenica massacre [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Karadzic has claimed immunity from proceedings, but the ICTY has rejected [JURIST report] his argument. Karadzic was originally indicted [text, PDF] by the ICTY in 1995 but had been in hiding under an assumed identity until his arrest [JURIST report] in July 2008. Prior ICTY estimates [statement, PDF] have identified Karadzic's trial as the tribunal's last, although ICTY fugitives Ratko Mladic [BBC profile] and Goran Hadzic [PBS profile] have yet to be apprehended [JURIST report].






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Top Sri Lanka military official departs US unquestioned on rights abuse allegations
Carrie Schimizzi on November 5, 2009 12:05 PM ET

[JURIST] Sri Lanka's Chief of Defense Staff General Sarath Fonseka [official profile] returned home [press release] Thursday without being questioned by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] about alleged war crimes. Fonseka, a US permanent resident with a diplomatic passport and a Green Card, had traveled to the US to visit his daughters in Oklahoma. The Sri Lankan government was concerned that the DHS was seeking testimony from Fonseka against Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa [official profile] on allegations of human rights violations. Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry released a statement saying:


[Fonseka] was not subjected to any questioning prior to his departure by the United States Department of Homeland Security or any other agency of the US Government. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs appreciates the receptive and constructive attitude adopted by the US authorities, which in turn allowed General Fonseka to leave the United States without any damage to the national interest of Sri Lanka and to the dignity of his Office.

Earlier this week, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama [official website] objected [JURIST report] to the plans and asserted that any information from Fonseka is privileged and cannot legally be shared with a third party without consent from the Sri Lankan government.

The allegations of human rights violations originate from incidents that took place during the final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war by both the government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [JURIST archive]. Last month, the US Department of State (DOS) [official website] released a report [text, PDF] on the conflict urging [JURIST report] Sri Lankan officials to investigate reports of human rights violations and war crimes and prosecute those responsible. While the government of Sri Lanka rejected [statement] the findings of the DOS report, President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official website] decided last month to appoint an independent committee [JURIST report] to investigate allegations of human rights violations.





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Indonesia law enforcement officials resign amid corruption scandal
Haley Wojdowski on November 5, 2009 11:46 AM ET

[JURIST] Two senior Indonesian law enforcement officials resigned Thursday after being linked to an alleged plot to weaken the Corruption Eradication Commisions (KPK) [official website, in Indonesian], an anti-corruption agency. Deputy Attorney General Abdul Hakim Ritonga and Chief Detective Susno Duadjia were mentioned by name [Jakarta Globe report] in a tape recorded conversation about a plan to fabricate charges [Al Jazeera report] against KPK leaders. The tapes were released by the KPK [press release, in Indonesian] and played as part of the defense of two KPK officials, Chandra Hamzah and Bibit Samad Riyanto, during nationally televised court proceedings. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono [official profile] said that more resignations or suspensions may be forthcoming since he advised law enforcement officials to suspend [BBC report] those whose names were mentioned in the tapes.

In October 2008, an Indonesian court sentenced [JURIST report] former Bank Indonesia (BI) [official website] chief Burhanuddin Abdullah to five years in prison on corruption charges for knowingly approving the misappropriation of $10 million of the central bank's funds as the result of an investigation by the KPK. The KPK began investigating the Indonesian Supreme Court [JURIST report] for suspected embezzlement in June 2008. Yudhoyono was elected [BBC report] in October 2004 on an anti-corruption platform and has since struggled to rein-in corruption [JURIST report] in Indonesia's judicial system. In 2006, World Bank officials called judicial corruption one of the biggest challenges [JURIST report] for Indonesia, and anti-corruption group Transparency International [official website] has since said that the country is perceived as one of the most corrupt [rankings list; regional analysis, PDF] worldwide.






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ICC prosecutor seeking formal investigation into Kenya post-election violence
Daniel Makosky on November 5, 2009 11:09 AM ET

[JURIST] International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] on Thursday announced that he will ask the ICC to open a formal inquiry into violence perpetrated in the wake of Kenya's 2007 presidential elections [JURIST news archive]. Following a meeting to discuss the ICC inquiry with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki [official profile] and opposition leader Raila Odinga [campaign website], Moreno-Ocampo said that crimes against humanity committed during the post-election period justify an ICC investigation.


I consider the conflict in Kenya were crimes against humanity and I consider, that, therefore, the gravity is there, so therefore I should proceed. So I informed them in December I will request to the judges of the International Criminal Court to open an investigation.



Moreno-Ocampo first stated his intentions [JURIST report] to pursue the matter in October, citing Kenya’s ratification of the Rome Statute [text, PDF] as grounds for jurisdiction.

In August, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called for an independent tribunal [JURIST report] with international support and participation because "the Kenyan judiciary lacks independence," and the necessary reforms announced [transcript] by the Kenyan Cabinet [official website] in late July would be insufficient. Earlier in July, Moreno-Ocampo received and reviewed a sealed envelope sent to the ICC [JURIST reports] by former UN secretary-general and current chairman of the African Union Panel of Eminent African Personalities Kofi Annan [UN profile] that contained a list of suspects believed to be responsible for the violence. More than 1,000 people were killed and 500,000 displaced following allegations of fraud [JURIST report] in the country's presidential election.





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New York AG files antitrust suit against Intel
Christian Ehret on November 5, 2009 8:04 AM ET

[JURIST] The New York Attorney General [official website] on Wednesday filed an antitrust suit [complaint, PDF; press release] against Intel [corporate website], alleging that the microprocessor manufacturer engaged in illegal conduct to further its dominance in the marketplace. The complaint alleges that Intel obtained exclusive contracts from manufacturers in exchange for large payments. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo claims that many of these agreements were aimed at specifically disadvantaging Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) [corporate website], one of the company's strongest competitors. Such agreements are claimed to have been enforced despite not being part of any written contract. The complaint also alleges that Intel threatened to withhold funding or development from computer companies if they marketed or promoted AMD-based systems. Computer manufacturers allegedly involved in these agreements include IBM, HP, and Dell [corporate websites]. Cuomo commented on the suit:


Rather than compete fairly, Intel used bribery and coercion to maintain a stranglehold on the market. Intel's actions not only unfairly restricted potential competitors, but also hurt average consumers who were robbed of better products and lower prices. These illegal tactics must stop and competition must be restored to this vital marketplace.

The investigation, which began [JURIST report] in January 2008, is based largely on internal e-mail correspondence and documents from various computer manufacturers as well as witness testimony.

Intel has faced numerous antitrust allegations [JURIST news archive] in the past. In July, Intel appealed a European Commission (EC) ruling [JURIST reports] that fined the company €1.06 billion for violating European Union antitrust laws. Similarly to the allegations brought by New York, the EC held that the company paid manufacturers to not use AMD products. In June 2008, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] opened a probe against Intel [JURIST report] for anti-competitive behavior. Also last year, the Korean Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) [official website] fined Intel nearly $26 million after a KFTC probe [JURIST reports] found that the company had engaged in anti-competitive practices. In 2005, AMD filed [JURIST report] a civil suit [complaint, PDF] against Intel. The court date for that suit is set for January 2010.





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Illinois court again delays enforcement of abortion parental notification law
Ximena Marinero on November 5, 2009 7:44 AM ET

[JURIST] An Illinois Cook County Circuit Court [official website] judge on Wednesday granted a temporary restraining order on the Parental Notice of Abortion Act of 1995 [text] only hours after the Illinois Medical Disciplinary Board had ruled to begin enforcing the law. The order was sought by the the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (ACLU-IL) [advocacy website] in support of a suit brought by a local medical doctor and a women's clinic on behalf of themselves and their minor patients. ACLU-IL alleged that enforcement of the law would cause major harm [video] and compromise the privacy of some Illinois teen-aged women. The Medical Disciplinary Board had declined [Chicago Sun-Times report] on Wednesday to extend a 90-day grace period that the Illinois Department of Finance and Professional Regulation (DFPR) [official website] granted [statement, PDF] in August. Anti-abortion advocates like the Pro-Life Action League [advocacy website] had welcomed the Board's decision but later in the day expressed disappointment [Chicago Tribune report] over the temporary restraining order.

The DFPR's decisiont to grant a grace period followed a ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in July by the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] that reversed a district court injunction [JURIST report] barring the law's enforcement. The 1995 law, which has never been enforced, authorizes state judges to waive the notice requirement if doing so would be in a minor's best interest, but otherwise requires parental notification for minors seeking an abortion. Controversy on abortion laws has also continued in other states. In August, a judge in the US District Court for the District of South Dakota [official website] issued a ruling [JURIST report] clarifying that South Dakota doctors are required to tell women seeking an abortion that they are about to terminate a unique human life before performing the procedure, partially upholding a state law. In the same month, an Oklahoma state court judge ruled [JURIST report] that a state law [SB 1878, DOC] requiring women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound within an hour of the procedure violates the Oklahoma Constitution [text].






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Ohio Supreme Court schedules executions despite review of lethal injection process
David Manes on November 5, 2009 7:06 AM ET

[JURIST] The Ohio Supreme Court [official website] set dates [announcement, PDF] Wednesday for two inmates to be executed by lethal injection [JURIST news archive], despite a temporary stay on executions in the state. Michael Bueke is scheduled to be executed on May 13 of next year, and Richard Nields is scheduled to be executed on June 10. Ohio's lethal injection process is currently under review after the failed execution of Romell Broom [JURIST report] in September, but Governor Ted Strickland expects the review process to be completed before the end of the year [press release].

Executions in Ohio have been postponed since September. Last month, a federal court delayed the execution of Kenneth Biros, and Strickland issued a temporary reprieve [JURIST reports] for Lawrence Reynolds and Darryl Durr. The controversy over Ohio's lethal injection procedures began when, during Broom's execution, officials failed on multiple attempts over two hours to find his vein for the lethal injection. A federal judge eventually issued an order delaying his execution.






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Sarajevo researchers unveil Bosnia war crimes atlas
Dwyer Arce on November 4, 2009 2:14 PM ET

[JURIST] Researchers in Sarajevo on Tuesday unveiled [press release, in Croatian] a Google Earth tool mapping the sites of war crimes committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian genocide [PPU backgrounder]. The Bosnian war crimes atlas [materials, in Croatian] was compiled by the Research and Documentation Center (RDC) [advocacy website, in Croatian], a Sarajevo-based research organization tasked with collecting data regarding the events of the three-year conflict. RDC director Mirsad Tokaca described the project as:


an educational tool offering access to facts regarding mass killings, rape, war victims, and court judgments, as well as data on the destruction of the religious, cultural and historical heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina ... represent[ing] a digital memorial to all victims of the last war, regardless of their ethnic, religious, political and social affiliation.

The atlas pinpoints [screenshot] 50,000 individual geographical locations where war crimes occurred, including those of mass killings and mass graves, in addition to the names of individual victims and court documentation. The project has been criticized [Reuters report] by prominent Bosnian Muslims for placing the estimated number of casualties at around 100,000, significantly lower than the frequently cited figure of 250,000.

The launch of the atlas came on the same day that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] denied [JURIST report] a request by former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [case materials; JURIST news archive] for additional time in preparing his defense against numerous charges [amended indictment, PDF], including genocide and murder, for his conduct during the Bosnian genocide. The ICTY resumed the trial in absentia last week after Karadzic boycotted the proceedings [JURIST reports], citing a lack of time for preparation. Karadzic is expected to be the final indictee tried by the ICTY. His trial is expected to conclude by early 2012.





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Supreme Court hears arguments in prosecutorial immunity, capital cases
Jaclyn Belczyk on November 4, 2009 1:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Wednesday in two cases. In Pottawattamie County v. McGhee [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the Court heard arguments on whether a prosecutor may be subjected to a civil trial and potential damages for a wrongful conviction and incarceration where the prosecutor allegedly (1) violated a criminal defendant's "substantive due process" rights by procuring false testimony during the criminal investigation, and then (2) introduced that same testimony against the criminal defendant at trial. The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that prosecutors were not protected from suit by absolute immunity. Counsel for the petitioners argued:


If a prosecutor's absolute immunity in judicial proceedings means anything, it means that a prosecutor may not be sued because a trial has ended in a conviction, Yet that is exactly what happened in this case.

The US government argued on behalf of petitioners as amicus curiae. Counsel for the respondents argued that the Court had already ruled against immunity on exactly the same issue in a previous case.

In Wood v. Allen [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether the state court erred in concluding that during the sentencing phase of a capital case the defense attorney's failure to present the defendant's impaired mental functioning did not constitute ineffective counsel and whether the circuit court erred in its application of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) [text, PDF] to the review of the state court decision. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed [opinion, PDF] a district court decision that had granted the defendant Holly Wood's habeas petition. Counsel for the petitioner Wood argued, "that there was no strategic decision here, that in fact it was a failure to investigate in violation of this Court." Counsel for the respondents argued that the AEDPA was applied correctly.





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Italy judge convicts 23 former CIA agents in rendition trial
Carrie Schimizzi on November 4, 2009 12:24 PM ET

[JURIST] Judge Oscar Magi of the Fourth Chamber of the Court of Milan [official website, in Italian] on Wednesday convicted 23 former CIA agents for the 2003 kidnapping and rendition [JURIST news archive] of Egyptian terror suspect Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr. The nearly three-year trial, which was delayed [JURIST news archive] many times, is the first in the world involving the CIA's extraordinary rendition flights [JURIST news archive]. Former Milan CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady was sentenced to eight years in prison, while 22 other Americans were sentenced [IGN report, in Italian] to five years. Magi acquitted three other Americans, finding diplomatic immunity, and five Italian operatives, due to Italy's withholding of evidence [JURIST report] because of national security issues. The convicted Americans were tried in absentia and are not in custody. A US State Department [official website] spokesperson said [video] the US is "disappointed by the verdicts," but declined to comment further. The enforceability of the verdicts remains in question as sentences in Italy are not served until all appeals are exhausted.

Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, 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. In September, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] filed a motion to dismiss [JURIST report] a lawsuit brought by former State Department official Sabrina De Sousa seeking diplomatic immunity against the Italian charges. De Sousa was one of the Americans sentenced to five years. The CIA's rendition program has been the source of much controversy and litigation. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama announced [JURIST report] the US would continue its practice of sending terror detainees to third countries for interrogation with increased oversight by the State Department to prevent torture.






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Ohio voters approve creation of controversial livestock care standards board
Sarah Paulsworth on November 4, 2009 10:47 AM ET

[JURIST] Ohio voters on Tuesday approved [results] a ballot measure [text] to create the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, commonly referred to as Issue 2. The purpose of the board will be to maintain food safety, encourage locally grown and raised food, and protect Ohio farms and families. The measure will amend the Ohio Constitution and prevent groups from putting livestock care issues on future ballots through a citizen-initiated voter referendum. Ohio Department of Agriculture [official website] Director Robert Boggs [official profile] said [op-ed, PDF]:

Issue 2 is critical to Ohio for several reasons. It will mean ensuring the continued viability and success of our livestock and poultry farmers. It will mean that we can maintain the excellent care of livestock and poultry in our state. It will mean that we can protect Ohio family farms. It will mean that we can sustain the availability of safe, locally-grown food. This initiative is not a question of policy; it is a process for improvement.
Issue 2 was controversial because animal rights groups alleged the amendment was proposed by Ohio's farming industry to prevent certain animal care reforms proposed by the Humane Society of the United States [advocacy website] (HSUS) that some view as a threat to the agriculture industry. President and CEO of HSUS Wayne Pacelle [official profile] said [statement]:
By packaging Issue 2 as pro-animal welfare and pro-food safety, the architects of the ballot measure went a long way to assure its passage. We have not viewed Issue 2 as a poisonous package, but rather an empty one. The Ohio Farm Bureau and other agribusiness lobby groups cooked it up in an effort to block real reform. Now that the Issue 2 campaign is over, we can get on with such real reform – a measure to phase out the extreme confinement of animals in veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages, where they cannot even turn around and stretch their limbs.
According to HSUS, seven states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, and Oregon — have banned the use of inhumane confinement devices for farm animals, largely through voter-initiated referenda. HSUS said the approval of Issue 2 ensures "that Ohio lags behind other states and public opinion when it comes to the treatment of farm animals and movement away from the worst factory farming practices."





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Maine voters approve expansion of medical marijuana law
Brian Jackson on November 4, 2009 10:18 AM ET

[JURIST] Voters in Maine on Tuesday approved an expansion [proposed legislation, PDF] of the state's existing medical marijuana laws by a 59 to 41 percent margin [Bangor Daily News report], with 87 percent of precincts reporting. The proposed legislation, Question 5 on the Maine ballot, will allow for increased access to medical marijuana through dispensaries, and will increase the number of ailments for which marijuana can be prescribed. Although there were no serious challenges mounted against the proposal, the editorial boards of many Maine newspapers opposed [Bangor Daily News op-ed; Sun Journal op-ed; Morning-Sentinel op-ed] Question 5's passage, citing a lack of oversight of dispensaries and potential law enforcement problems. A group calling itself Maine Citizens for Medical Marijuana, was also opposed to the measure [Bangor Daily News report], claiming that the measure gave the government too much control. Despite the somewhat negative view held by each of those publications and the advocacy group, the Question's passage was never seriously in doubt, as the final tracking poll [text, PDF] showed residents supported the measure by a 59 to 32 percent margin. The overwhelming support for expansion of medical marijuana may also be a positive sign for a proposal that will be circulated to Maine voters for placement on the 2010 ballot entitled An Act to Repeal the Prohibition on Cannabis, Hemp and Marijuana [petition text]. Supporters of that bill will have until September 2010 to collect the required number of signatures for placement on the November ballot.

With Question 5's passage, Maine becomes the fifth state to allow dispensaries [ABC News report], following California, Colorado, Rhode Island, and New Mexico. Last month, US Attorney General Eric Holder issued guidelines for a new policy [JURIST report] for investigating and prosecuting state-sanctioned medical marijuana use. Those guidelines reflect a pledge made by Holder in March to stop federal raids [JURIST report] on medical marijuana dispensaries that comply with state laws. Ending such raids was one of President Barack Obama's campaign promises [Boston Globe report], a view that differed sharply from the policy of the Bush administration.






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New York voters approve inmate non-profit work
Hillary Stemple on November 4, 2009 10:11 AM ET

[JURIST] New York voters approved a ballot measure Tuesday amending the state constitution [text] to allow the state legislature to pass a law permitting prisoners to work with non-profit organizations on a voluntary basis. Prisoners previously participated in work programs with non-profit organizations, but a 2005 opinion issued by the Commission of Correction [official website] indicated that the practice might be unconstitutional. Prisoners are currently permitted to work for municipal governments on a voluntary basis. The ballot measure passed [NYT report] 67.6 percent to 32.4 percent with 98 percent of precincts reporting.

The Department of Correctional Services [official website] as well as prisoner advocacy groups were in favor [AP report] of the measure. Chairman of the State Assembly's Correction Committee [official website] Jeffrion Aubrey said the ballot measure would help rehabilitate prisoners and reintegrate them into society. In order for the measure to appear on the ballot [NYT report], it had to be approved by both houses of the state legislature in two consecutive legislative terms.






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UN DR Congo mission urged to stop funding military groups committing rights abuses
Amelia Mathias on November 4, 2009 9:49 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN Organization Mission in DR Congo (MONUC) [official website] has given funding and support to military groups that are committing human rights abuses [press release], according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] Tuesday. HRW detailed the alleged attacks, rapes, and murders of civilians, calling them war crimes. HRW senior researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg said:


Some Congolese army soldiers are committing war crimes by viciously targeting the very people they should be protecting. MONUC's continued willingness to provide support for such abusive military operations implicates them in violations of the laws of war.

MONUC suspended financial support to the Congolese army's 213th Brigade until a report and investigation can be completed [UN press briefing]. HRW urged MUNOC to suspend support to all operations "until abusive commanders are removed and effective measures are in place to protect the civilian population."

In December, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] reported [JURIST report] that rape and sexual warfare have been employed by both the DRC military and by rebel forces. In November 2008, MUNOC head Alan Doss [appointment release] condemned [JURIST report] recent killings of civilians by militias in the country as war crimes. MONUC has been operating in DRC since 1999. The conflict there has claimed more than four million lives and has been ongoing since 1983. MONUC has overseen elections and continues to provide armed protection for civilians in certain areas, particularly the North and South Kivus provinces.





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Texas voters approve amendment limiting eminent domain
Sarah Miley on November 4, 2009 9:32 AM ET

[JURIST] An amendment to the Texas Constitution [text] limiting government enforcement of eminent domain was overwhelmingly approved [unofficial results] by voters on Tuesday with more than 80 percent of those polled voting favorably. Proposition 11 [text and materials] prohibits government officials from taking private property and allotting it to private buyers for the purpose of economic development or to increase tax revenues unless the property owner consents. It further limits the government's ability to enforce eminent domain by requiring approval of two-thirds of the bicameral legislature, starting January 1, 2010. Proposition 11 is especially important to farmers in Texas who have suffered at the hands of eminent domain by losing their farmland to private developers. While farmers are glad eminent domain is a prominent issue in the election, the Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) [advocacy website] holds that the proposition falls short [press release] of the necessary actions that need to be taken by the government.

An additional provision the TFB proposed to be included in the amendment would have established fair compensation for land taken for government projects. This proposal arose from the threat of eminent domain abuse by projects such as the Trans-Texas Corridor [official website], a superhighway plan championed by the Texas governor, which would have required the acquisition of more than 600,000 acres of farmland for access roads and ramps. While the project was officially phased out [Dallas Morning News report] last week, the state still plans to make major renovations on I-35, which would inevitably effect farmers in Texas.






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Climate conference may not produce treaty: UN Secretary-General
Amelia Mathias on November 4, 2009 9:07 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] attempted [remarks] Tuesday to temper expectations for the UN Climate Change Conference [official site] in Copenhagen set to take place in a month, saying that it might not result in a treaty. The meeting, which will host world leaders, is an effort to replace the controversial Kyoto Protocol [JURIST news archive], which several nations, including the US, did not sign. While still expressing hope for a binding agreement, Ban said that conference could still be a success. Ban said in remarks after meeting with UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown that:

We will continue, together with the world leaders and particularly key developed countries and key major emerging economies, so that we can have a comprehensive, balanced, equitable and binding agreement in December this year.

First and foremost, the developed countries should lead this campaign, considering all their historical responsibilities, and also considering that they are the countries who have most of the capacities, financial and technological. Now, we need at this time more than that, we need political will. If there is political will, I am sure that there is a way we can conclude a binding agreement in Copenhagen. We will continue until such a time. I am reasonably optimistic that Copenhagen will be a very important milestone. At the same time, realistically speaking, we may not be able to have all the words on detailed matters.
Despite lowered expectations, Ban also still expects [Financial Times report] a political agreement on mid-term targets, mitigation actions, help for vulnerable countries, and agreements on managing support and technology. The Copenhagen meeting will begin on December 7 and run for a week and a half.

This is not the first time a UN official has drawn attention to the obstacles standing in the way of a binding agreement. In October, a UN official working in Bangkok on the precursor meeting said that US hesitancy to pass a climate bill could doom the conference. Also last month, some 1,500 climate change negotiators from around the world met under UN auspices in Bangkok [official website] as a precursor to the major climate change meeting slated for Copenhagen in December. Western countries have been unable to convince developing nations to commit to reductions in emissions when the Western world has not done so either. 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. Negotiations on a new treaty began [JURIST report] last year.





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Maine voters veto same-sex marriage legislation
Dwyer Arce on November 4, 2009 9:00 AM ET

[JURIST] Maine voters approved a ballot initiative Tuesday that repealed a same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] bill [text] passed by the state legislature last May. Question 1 [text], which read, "Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?" was projected to prevail by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent with 87 percent of votes counted, according to unofficial results [WMTW report] as of Wednesday at 9:00 AM ET. The legislation was set to take effect in September until Question 1 qualified for the ballot after gaining the required signatures in a process [materials] allowing voters to override laws passed by the legislature. The petition for the veto began soon after Governor John Baldacci [official profile] signed the legislation into law [JURIST report] last May.

The bill would have made Maine the sixth state to recognize marriage between same-sex couples, after similar legislative initiatives were successful in New Hampshire and Vermont [JURIST reports]. Legislation to the same end was passed [JURIST report] by the New York State Assembly in May, but has since stalled in the state senate. In April, the Iowa Supreme Court overturned [JURIST report] that state's ban on same-sex marriage, following the supreme courts of Connecticut, California, and Massachusetts [JURIST reports]. Last November, California voters approved Proposition 8 [JURIST report], a ballot initiative similar to Maine's, amending the California constitution to exclude same-sex couples from marriage and effectively overriding the ruling of the high court.






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US government settles with post 9/11 detention plaintiffs for $1.26 million
Matt Glenn on November 4, 2009 8:41 AM ET

[JURIST] Five men who claim they were illegally detained after 9/11 [JURIST news archive] reached a settlement agreement [CCR release] with the US government for $1.26 million, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy website], which represented the men, announced Tuesday. The men were part of Turkmen v. Ashcroft [CCR backgrounder], a suit against several Bush administration officials and law enforcement organizations. The suit [complaint, PDF], which was filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York [official website] in 2004, claims that immigration officials arrested the men on immigration charges as suspected terrorists, that the men were abused while in detention, and that the government held the men for months after they had been eliminated as terror suspects. The government did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement. CCR announced that the two plaintiffs who did not reach an agreement will continue the case, and CCR has sought permission to add five additional plaintiffs.

In 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] heard oral arguments [NYT report] in the case, but has not reached a decision. In 2007, a district court judge granted the government's motion to dismiss [text, PDF] a number of the claims, but refused to dismiss the abuse claims. Also in 2007, the government charged [JURIST report] several guards at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn official website], the location in which men were detained, with abusing prisoners.






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Former Madoff accountant pleads guilty to fraud charges
Matt Glenn on November 4, 2009 7:45 AM ET

[JURIST] Former outside accountant for Bernard Madoff [JURIST news archive], David Friehling [case materials], pleaded guilty [plea agreement, PDF; DOJ press release, PDF] Tuesday to fraud charges in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website]. Despite his guilty plea, Friehling did not admit knowledge of Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Friehling, who was charged [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] in March, pleaded guilty on nine counts, including securities fraud, investment adviser fraud, making false filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website], and obstructing or impeding the enforcement of internal revenue laws. Friehling also agreed to forfeit $3,183,000 in addition to other property obtained through his services to Madoff and promised to cooperate in the government's investigation surrounding the Madoff scandal. Friehling faces a maximum sentence of 114 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for February 26.

Madoff's former financial chief Frank DiPascali pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in August for his role in Madoff's scheme. In June, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison [JURIST report]. Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 charges of fraud in March after agreeing to a partial judgment from the SEC [JURIST reports] for civil charges stemming from his role in defrauding investors.






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Europe rights court rules crucifixes in public schools violate Convention
Jonathan Cohen on November 4, 2009 7:08 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (EHCR) [official website] ruled [judgment, in French] Tuesday that displaying a crucifix in a public school classroom violates the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF]. The lawsuit was brought against Italy by Soile Lautsi, who claimed that displaying a crucifix "infringed the constitutional principles of secularism and of impartiality on the part of the public authorities." The EHCR stated [press release] that the hanging of the crucifix was a violation of Article 2 of Protocol I and Article 9 of the