February 2010 Archives


Former Mozambique minister sentenced to 20 years for embezzlement
Dwyer Arce on February 28, 2010 1:50 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Mozambican Transportation Minister Antonio Munguambe was sentenced to twenty years in prison on Saturday for his involvement in the embezzlement of millions of dollars from a publicly owned company. The trial was the largest corruption proceeding brought in Mozambique since the country achieved independence from Portugal in 1975. Judge Dimas Marroa of Maputo City Court said that he was making an example of the defendants in sentencing [AP report] Munguambe along with four others for the theft of USD$1.7 million from the Mozambican Airport Company (ADM) during Munguambe's tenure in office between 2005 and 2008. Marroa cited evidence that Munguambe was aware of the theft and knowingly benefited from it, using the money to purchase a luxury car and to send his children to school in South Africa, rejecting claims by his defense attorney [allAfrica report] that he had no criminal intention. Antonio Bulande, Munguambe's assistant in the ministry was sentenced [DPA report] to two years for drawing a salary from a subsidiary of ADM under a fake name and using $15,000 to pay for his wedding. The other defendants were former officers of ADM, including former CEO Diodino Cambaza, who was sentenced to twenty-two years and finance director Antenor Pereira, receiving twenty years. The head of a subsidiary company, Deolinda Matos, was sentenced to two years and fifteen days after agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors. Marroa also ruled that the five had to reimburse ADM for the money they had taken. They have five days to appeal their convictions.

The trial began [AIM report] in November 2009 as part of a larger initiative of the Mozambican government [official website, in Portuguese] to reduce corruption in the government. In 2009, Mozambique's Central Office for the Fight Against Corruption and regional attorney's offices investigated 403 cases of corruption [allAfrica.com report]. Transparency International [advocacy website] ranks Mozambique among the most corrupt in the world [2009 CPI rankings]. Munguambe was removed from office by President Armando Guebuza [BBC profile] in 2008 after violent riots in Maputo sparked by an increase in the fares for bus travel, a primary source of transportation in the capital. Soon after, he and the four others were charged by prosecutors with the theft of public funds, for the abuse of functions, for making false statements, and for paying undue remunerations.






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Italy corruption trial of PM Berlusconi adjourned to March
Dwyer Arce on February 28, 2010 12:26 PM ET

[JURIST] The corruption trial of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] was adjourned for a month on Saturday, after the court rejected the defendant's request to suspend the trial. A court in Milan ruled [AFP report] that it could not wait for the Court of Cassation [official website, in Italian] to issue its opinion in the related prosecution of David Mills [JURIST news archive], as Berlusconi's defense requested, which could take as long as two or three months. Instead, the court set the next hearing [Reuters report] for March 26. Berlusconi, also facing another trial for tax fraud, castigated members of the judiciary [BBC report] on Friday, comparing them to communists and the Taliban [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], and accused them of trying to bring down his government. He also claimed that prosecutors had usurped sovereignty from the people. The head of the National Association of Magistrates [official website] later characterized Berlusconi's statements as intolerable aggression, prompting President Giorgio Napolitano [official profile, in Italian] to call for calm. Also on Saturday, an estimated 200,000 protesters rallied against Berlusconi [BBC report] in central Rome, accusing him of trying to evade the law and undermine the Italian legal system.

On Thurday, the Court of Cassation threw out the conviction against Mills [AFP report], citing a lapse of the ten-year statute of limitations. Mills was appealing his conviction and four and a half year sentence for accepting a $600,000 bribe from Berlusconi in exchange for providing favorable testimony at two of his previous trials. The charges against Berlusconi for the alleged bribe will expire next year. The Italian Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Italian] approved a bill [JURIST report; materials, in Italian] earlier this month that would allow cabinet ministers, including Berlusconi, to postpone criminal proceedings against them for up to 18 months on the grounds that they would interfere with official duties. The legislation is to be considered by the Senate [official website, in Italian] on March 9. The Senate approved a bill [JURIST report; materials, in Italian] in January that would shorten the trial and appeals process, putting strict time limits on its duration. Because of the bill's retroactive effect, two pending corruption cases against Berlusconi would be automatically dismissed. In October, Italy's Constitutional Court [official website, in Italian] struck down a law granting immunity [JURIST report] to the Prime Minister and four others, allowing charges of corruption to be reinstated. The Italian premier is facing two separate trials on charges of corruption and bribery and could face a third corruption trial [JURIST report] based on new information that recently surfaced, according to reports.






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Basque separatist leader arrested in France
Steve Czajkowski on February 28, 2010 10:02 AM ET

[JURIST] The Interior Ministry of Spain [official website, in Spanish] said Sunday that it has taken into custody the suspected leader of the Basque separatist group ETA [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive], along with two other people who are believed to be senior members of the group. Ibon Gogeascoechea Arronategui and the two others were arrested [AP report] in the French village of Cahan, after a long surveillance operation by Spain and France. In a nationally televised news conference, Spanish Interior Minister Alferdo Perez Rubalcaba [official profile] said that the men were planning to enter Spain with the "worst intentions." Gogeascoechea has been sought since 1997 for his role in planting explosives around the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao which was believed to be an assassination attempt [BBC report] on King Juan Carlos. The two other men - Beinat Aguinalde Ugartemendia, and Gergorio Jimenez Morales - are wanted for separate assassinations [RFI report] that took place in 2008.

Spain has made progress in its attempts to limit ETA influence in the past few years. In January Spanish Judge Fernando Grande-Marlaska ruled [JURIST report] that ETA had tried three times to assassinate former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar in 2001 but had failed. Grande-Marlaska detailed the three assassination attempts [El Pais report, in Spanish] as part of a description of the alleged crimes of ETA leader Pedro Maria Olano Zabala, who was arrested in the Basque region earlier that month. In September, accused ETA leader Mikel Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina refused to make any statement [JURIST report] during hearings before the Spanish National Court. In June, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] upheld [JURIST report] Spain's ban of Basque political groups Batasuna [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and Herri Batasuna for their alleged ties to ETA. In April, alleged ETA leader Jurdan Martitegi Lizaso [El Pais backgrounder, in Spanish] was arrested in France, and a Spanish judge charged [JURIST reports] him with murder for a May 2008 car bombing that killed a Spanish policeman.






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Colombia constitutional court strikes down Uribe third term referendum law
Ximena Marinero on February 27, 2010 3:16 PM ET

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of Colombia [official website, in Spanish] voted 7-2 Friday to strike down as unconstitutional [text, in Spanish] a law that would have allowed a referendum to amend the Colombian Constitution [text in Spanish] to enable current President Alvaro Uribe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to run for a third term. The court's decision was based on grave violations of principles of democratic participation and transparency that the court said took place during the campaign for the law. Among the irregularities cited by the court were flagrant excesses in campaign finance donations and the improper delegation of campaign funding to a civil organization that spent up to six times more than the statutory limit imposed by the National Electoral Council [official website, in Spanish]. Irregularities in the legislative process included a discrepancy between the text of the law that would have been voted on and the version approved by the Colombian Congress [official website], deficient public notice on the legislative vote, and voting rendered inappropriate due to legislators changing their political affiliation to approve the law. The decision may not be appealed. Uribe has enjoyed widespread support in recent polls, but a range of civic groups have welcomed [PDA press release, in Spanish; ColombiaNews video report] the court's decision.

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






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Cambodia opposition leader faces new lawsuit over Vietnam border controversy
Ximena Marinero on February 27, 2010 12:47 PM ET

[JURIST] Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy [party profile; JURIST news archive] was accused in a new lawsuit [Bangkok Post report] filed Friday in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court by the Cambodian government [official website] of forging and then disseminating a false map of the Cambodia-Vietnam border on his political party's website. The map [document, PDF] posted on the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) website shows an area along the border of the two countries in which Rainsy alleges the Vietnamese government tampered with four border posts, placing them further into Cambodian territory than UN, US Army, Google, and French colonial maps specify. If convicted, Rainsy could be sentenced to 15 years in prison for falsifying documents and an additional three years for posting those documents publicly. Earlier this month, Cambodian authorities admonished Google [Bloomberg report] for maps pertaining to another disputed border area. Rainsy and his political party maintain that the current Cambodian government have enabled Vietnam to encroach on Cambodian territory.

In January, Rainsy and two villagers were convicted [RFA report; JURIST report] in absentia of inciting racial discrimination and intentionally destroying posts demarcating the border between Cambodia and Vietnam last October. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called [press release] the closed-door trial of Sam Rainsy and the two villagers a "farce," saying the ruling demonstrates the government's control over the country's judiciary. In 2006, Rainsy received a royal pardon for a 2005 defamation conviction. He is currently self-exiled in France, but remains actively involved [press release] in Cambodian affairs.






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UN gives Israelis, Palestinians more time to finish Gaza conflict rights probe
Bhargav Katikaneni on February 27, 2010 12:44 PM ET

[JURIST] The United Nations General Assembly [official website] voted [press release] Friday to give the Israelis and Palestinians additional time to finish their separate investigations into alleged human rights violations that took place during the 2008-2009 conflict in Gaza [JURIST news archive]. The measure, which gives the two parties five additional months, was opposed by Israel and the US. While permanent Palestinian observer to the UN Riyad Mansour [UN backgrounder] called the resolution a "victory" [UN press release], Israeli Ambassador Gabriela Shalev [Ha'aretz profile] questioned [Ha'aretz report] the impartiality of the Palestinian investigation as it would be carried out by Hamas. Meanwhile, US Ambassador Alejandro Wolff [official profile] voted against [press release] the measure because Israel had already submitted a detailed report to the General Assembly, and because he said the resolution was inherently biased against Israel. He claimed the original UN fact-finding report on the Gaza conflict, the Goldstone report [JURIST news archive], was similarly biased.

Earlier this month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official website] said it was unclear [JURIST report] if Israel and the Palestinians had fully met UN demands to investigate war crimes that may have taken place during the Gaza conflict. In November 2009, the UN had originally adopted a resolution [JURIST report] giving the two parties three months to complete an independent investigation. According to the Goldstone report, which was officially endorsed [JURIST report] by the UN in October, both Israel and Hamas committed [JURIST report] human rights violations during the Gaza conflict. Both Israel and the US criticized [DOS briefing] the report. An internal Israel military investigation found that no war crimes had been committed [JURIST report] during the conflict, but Israel recently disciplined [JURIST report] two high-ranking officers for firing shells into a populated area of the Gaza strip.






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Leahy calls for release of DOJ e-mails from 'torture memo' lawyers
Bhargav Katikaneni on February 27, 2010 10:30 AM ET

[JURIST] US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official profile] said at a hearing Friday that he was prepared to subpoena [Harper's report] the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] if it did not turn over missing e-mail records of former Bush administration lawyers John Yoo [academic profile; JURIST news archive] and Patrick Philbin [firm profile] dealing with the so-called "torture memos" [JURIST news archive] justifying the use of harsh interrogation methods on terror suspects. Leahy urged [press release] that a "true accounting and a comprehensive review" be conducted to determine "how the United States government came to authorize torture." He said that a recently concluded DOJ investigation was limited to whether the lawyers violated "legal profession rules," and he was interested in the role that senior Bush administration officials had played in writing legal justifications for interrogation methods that critics have called torture. He observed:

The role of the White House in the politicization of the OLC and in ensuring that these opinions delivered the legal immunity they were looking for has yet to be fully explored. My sense is that such a review would reveal the same untoward and corrupting influence we found when we investigated the purging of United States Attorneys for political purposes.
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) [official profile], the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, countered [press release] that it was important to put the memos in context. He said they were written in 2002 when the lawyers were acting under tremendous pressure to prevent a future terrorist attack on the United States.

Last week, the DOJ overruled [JURIST report] the findings of an internal ethics investigation by the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) [official website], and said that Yoo and Jay Bybee [official profile; JURIST news archive], another former Bush administration lawyer, were not guilty of professional misconduct. Leahy previously called for a "truth commission" [JURIST report] to investigate Bush administration officials for authorizing the interrogation techniques. The Obama administration has said that it opposes [JURIST report] the formation of an independent investigatory commission.





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Scotland government unveils draft independence referendum bill
Matt Glenn on February 27, 2010 7:32 AM ET

[JURIST] Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond [official website] unveiled a proposal [consultation paper, PDF; press release] Thursday that, if passed, would allow Scottish voters to choose whether to expand the country's autonomy. The draft referendum contains two ballot papers. One version of the first question [text] asks whether Scotland should cut ties with the UK in most areas excluding foreign affairs, defense, monetary policy, and the currency. Another version of the first question [text] would reduce reliance on the UK in financial areas, allowing Scotland to, among other things, impose an income tax. The second ballot paper [text] goes farther, asking whether Scotland should become an independent state with the possibility of membership in the European Union, while retaining the queen as the head of state. In the foreword to the Bill Consultation Paper, Salmond wrote:

I believe that the future prosperity and development of Scotland is best served by Scotland becoming independent. The case for an independent Scotland is stronger and more urgent following recent economic events. It is exactly the flexibility that is offered by independence that Scotland needs if it is to deal most effectively with such challenges in the future. But I recognise that there are also those who argue that the responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament should be extended in more limited ways.
Scottish Conservative Party [party website] leader Annabel Goldie called the proposal [press release] a "standard distraction tool" to divert attention away from Salmond's failings, a sentiment echoed by leaders [Guardian report] of other opposition parties. The Bill Consultation Paper allows input on the proposed ballot measures until April 30.

The proposals are largely based on a November Scottish government report entitled "Your Scotland, Your Voice" [text, PDF] favoring increased devolution [BBC backgrounder] or independence. In June 2009 the Commission on Scottish Devolution [official website] released a report [text, PDF] calling for maintaining strong ties with the rest of the UK while giving the Scottish government greater autonomy in taxation, crime fighting and other areas of regulation. A 2007 government white paper [text, PDF] called for increased devolution and the possibility of a referendum on independence. In 2005 English Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned Scotland [BBC report] against leaving the UK and called for solidarity among UK countries. The Scottish parliament was created by the Scotland Act of 1998 [text] after a 1997 referendum [BBC results] showed support for a devolved Scottish government.





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ICTY begins war crimes trial of former Bosnian Serb general
Steve Dotterer on February 26, 2010 2:43 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Friday opened the trial [press release] of former Bosnian Serb leader Zdravko Tolimir [case materials; JURIST news archive]. Tolimir is charged [indictment, PDF] with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, crimes against humanity, and murder. The crimes with which Tolimir is charged were allegedly carried out against Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica [JURIST news archive] and Zepa from July-November 1995.

Also on Friday, the ICTY rejected a motion by Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [case materials; JURIST news archive] to delay the calling of witnesses in his own trial. Karadzic and Tolimir's cases are among the 40 ongoing trials at the ICTY. Tolimir, a former general and aide to top Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic [case materials; JURIST news archive], was apprehended in May 2007. Mladic and Bosnian Serb political leader Goran Hadzic [ICTY profile] remain at large. The ICTY has indicted 161 political and military officials since its creation in 1993.






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Venezuela rights chief disputes critical OAS report
Steve Dotterer on February 26, 2010 1:40 PM ET

[JURIST] The top Venezuelan human rights official on Thursday criticized [press release, Spanish] findings in a report [text; JURIST report] issued by the Organization of American States (OAS) [official website] Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) [official website]. Ombudsman Gabriela Ramirez [official profile, in Spanish], Venezuela's top rights official, said that the report makes unfair characterizations and undermines Venezuelan democracy. Ramirez responded to statistical findings in the report that suggest the perpetuation of undemocratic processes, saying that the data actually show an improved rights record. In a related statement issued Friday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] reaffirmed his belief that the IACHR, which has seven members elected by the OAS General Assembly, is an instrument of US imperialism [press release, in Spanish].

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






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Russia court rules civil cases tried in Europe rights court must be reconsidered
Sarah Paulsworth on February 26, 2010 12:34 PM ET

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court [official website, in Russian] of the Russian Federation ruled [press release, in Russian] Friday that Russian courts must reconsider civil cases decided by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website], ordering legislative amendments. The rule previously applied only to criminal and arbitration cases [Russia Today report]. The decision stems from a complaint [RIA Novosti report, in Russian] brought by three Russian citizens who won legal battles in the ECHR, only to find that Russian courts would not rehear their cases. The courts had cited [Radio Svabodna report, in Russian] Article 392 of Russia's Civil Procedure Code, which does not explicitly enumerate cases tried by the ECHR among cases that can be retried.

The Russian Federation has been working to reform its relations with the EHCR. Last month, the Russian Federation Council [official website, in Russian] voted to ratify Protocol 14 [text] to reform the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF]. In June, the Council of Europe (COE) harshly criticized Russia's judicial system and called for reform [JURIST report]. In recent years, Russia has had the largest number of cases pending in the ECHR out of any COE member-state. In 2009, Russia had 32,600 cases pending, followed next by Turkey, which had 12,800 cases pending, and in 2008 [statistics, PDF] Russia had 27,250 cases pending, followed next by Turkey, which had 11,100 cases pending. In 2008, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposed that Russian courts become more transparent [JURIST report] in order to restore faith in the justice system and prevent people from turning to the ECHR.






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UN, EU condemn Gaddafi call for Jihad against Switzerland
Jonathan Cohen on February 26, 2010 12:22 PM ET

[JURIST] UN Under-Secretary-General Sergei Ordzhonikidze [official profile] on Friday condemned calls by Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi [official website] for a jihad on Switzerland. Gaddafi issued the call [Telegraph report] in response to Switzerland's recent vote to ban the construction of minarets [JURIST report]. Ordzhonikidze called the declaration "inadmissible" [BBC report]. Also Friday, a spokesperson for EU high representative Catherine Ashton criticized Gaddafi's calls. Gaddafi had earlier warned [SwissInfo report] that the ban could make Switzerland an enticing target for al Qaeda.

In December, Hafid Ouardiri, a former spokesman at the Geneva Mosque, filed a complaint [JURIST report] at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] challenging the ban on the construction of minarets, a week after a group of Swiss intellectuals called for [JURIST report] the ban's reversal. Swiss Supreme Court President Lawrence Meyer also said [NZZ report, in German] that two suits have been filed in federal court challenging the ban's legality. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] has condemned the ban [JURIST report] as a form of religious discrimination. In 2008, 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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Congress approves Patriot Act extension absent new privacy measures
Sarah Paulsworth on February 26, 2010 11:20 AM ET

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] on Thursday approved a measure to extend expiring provisions of the USA Patriot Act [JURIST news archive] with no new privacy measures. Representatives voted 315-97 [Reuters report] in favor of the measure, which would allow federal authorities to conduct "roving" wiretaps, to compel the production of business, medical, and library records, and to track so-called "lone wolf" suspects who are not affiliated with an organization or country, so long as they are not US citizens. The vote came just one day after the Senate [official website] approved the extension [JURIST report]. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] criticized [press release] the extension, with Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office Laura Murphy saying:


Congress refuses to make reforming the Patriot Act a priority and continues to punt this crucial issue down the road. Once again, we have missed an opportunity to put the proper civil liberties and privacy protections into this bill. Congress should respect the rule of law and should have taken this opportunity to better protect the privacy and freedom of innocent Americans. We shouldn't have to live under these unconstitutional provisions for another year.

The extension will go into effect after approval from US President Barack Obama.

In September, the Obama administration asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to extend [JURIST report] the Patriot Act. The Judiciary Committee voted to reauthorize [JURIST report] the three provisions in question in October. In December, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] dismissed [JURIST report] a constitutional challenge to the Patriot Act due to lack of standing. The US District Court for the District of Oregon [official website] had previously ruled that certain provisions of the act were unconstitutional [JURIST report].





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Suspected terrorists indicted in New York City subway bomb plot
Daniel Makosky on February 26, 2010 11:04 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced [press release] Thursday that a federal grand jury in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York [official website] has returned a five-count superseding indictment [text, PDF] against suspected terrorists Adis Medunjanin and Zarein Ahmedzay. The men, both US citizens, have been charged with conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction and commit murder in the US, and providing material support to and receiving training from al Qaeda in connection with a plot to detonate explosives in the New York City subway system. Ahmedzay faces an additional count of making false statements in a terrorism investigation. Both men were arrested last month, and Medunjanin has pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to similar charges. Two of the counts carry possible sentences of life in prison. Both pleaded not guilty to the new charges on Friday.

Medunjanin and Ahmedzay are suspected of operating in conjunction with Najibullah Zazi, a native of Afghanistan arrested [BBC report] by FBI agents in Colorado last fall. The three allegedly traveled together [Reuters report] to Pakistan in 2008 to receive al Qaeda training. Zazi pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to three criminal charges earlier this week, including conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction in the US and to commit murder in a foreign country, as well as providing material support for al-Qaeda. He faces up to life in prison for two of the counts, and 15 years in prison for the third.






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Thailand court seizes assets from ousted prime minister
Patrice Collins on February 26, 2010 10:08 AM ET

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of Thailand [official website, in Thai] ruled Friday to seize 46.4 billion baht (USD $1.4 billion) in assets from ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] for abuses of power while in office. The court found [Bangkok Post report] that Thaksin crafted government telecommunications policy to benefit his family by providing them with shares in Shin Corporation [corporate website]. The shares were then sold just three days after the the government raised the maximum foreign ownership of telecommunication companies from 20 percent to 49 percent. The Thai attorney general sought to have all family assets seized, but the Court found [Bloomberg report] that 30.2 billion baht belonged to Thaksin’s family and could not be confiscated. Thaksin maintains [statement] that his wealth was honestly earned and taken for political reasons.

In November, Cambodia refused [JURIST report] a request by the current Thai administration to extradite Thaksin, heightening tensions among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) [official website]. In October 2008, 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 2008, 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.






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Myanmar high court rejects Suu Kyi appeal of house arrest extension
David Manes on February 26, 2010 9:44 AM ET

[JURIST] Myanmar's Supreme Court on Friday dismissed the latest appeal by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] against the extension of her house arrest. The court heard Suu Kyi's latest appeal [JURIST report] to the 18-month extension last month. Suu Kyi appealed to the supreme court in November after a lower court found her guilty [JURIST reports] of violating the terms of her house arrest when she allowed an American to stay with her after he swam across a lake to her home. Suu Kyi's lawyer, Nyan Win, said that he will file one final appeal [AP report] after learning the reasons for the court's decision. He has argued that the extension to Suu Kyi's arrest is based on provisions of the now-defunct 1974 constitution.

Suu Kyi's detention in her compound in Yangon will prohibit her from competing in this year's elections [BBC report] as a member of her National League for Democracy (NLD) [party website] party. Suu Kyi, who has been in prison or under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years, will be released in November [JURIST report], according to a government official, likely after the elections have taken place. The Myanmar Supreme Court agreed to hear Suu Kyi's case in December after an unsuccessful October appeal [JURIST report] to the Divisional Court in Rangoon. In addition to rejecting the appeal, the lower court ruled that Suu Kyi herself would be barred [JURIST report] from attending the proceedings.






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UK court releases previously withheld section in ex-Guantanamo detainee case
Daniel Makosky on February 26, 2010 9:12 AM ET

[JURIST] The England and Wales Court of Appeal [official website] on Friday disclosed additional text [judgment, PDF] that was omitted from a previous ruling related to former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed [JURIST news archives]. The language in question is critical of British intelligence service MI5 [official website], suggesting that its agents were aware of Mohamed's "mistreatment" while in US custody despite reports to the contrary and questioning the reliability of agents' statements. The court cited "the principles of open justice" in its decision to release the section, which was originally redacted after a senior governmental lawyer reviewed a draft of the judgment and raised concerns about its fairness. Amnesty International UK [advocacy website] welcomed the order and called for additional inquiries [press release] into the British government's involvement with torture.

The language was originally to be included in an order the court issued earlier this month that instructed the government to release seven previously withheld paragraphs [JURIST report] outlining the alleged torture of Mohamed. The court's ruling ended the long-running legal battle to keep the information classified. In December, British government lawyers argued that two UK High Court judges acted irresponsibly when they ruled that the details of the detention must be released [JURIST reports]. This was following an interim ruling [JURIST report] by Lord Justice Thomas and Justice Lloyd Jones that redacted the release. Last November, 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 2009, after charges against him were dismissed [JURIST reports] in October 2008. Mohamed had been held at Guantanamo Bay for four years on suspicion of conspiracy to commit terrorism [JURIST report].






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Italy high court dismisses bribery charges against ex-Berlusconi lawyer
Matt Glenn on February 26, 2010 8:52 AM ET

[JURIST] Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation [official website, in Italian] on Thursday overturned the bribery conviction of David Mills [JURIST news archive], a British barrister and former lawyer to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [official profile, in Italian; BBC profile]. The court agreed with prosecutors who said the statute of limitations had expired [Times report], but fined Mills [Corriere Della Sera report, in Italian] €250,000 for damaging the state's reputation and ordered Mills to pay €10,000 for legal costs. Mills was sentenced [JURIST report] last February to four-and-a-half years in prison for allegedly accepting USD $600,000 in bribes for offering false testimony at two trials in 1997 and 1998 involving Berlusconi's broadcasting company Mediaset [corporate website]. An appeals court upheld [JURIST report] his conviction in October. It appears likely that prosecutors will drop charges against Berlusconi [Telegraph report] associated with the incident since the court ruled the statute of limitations has expired. Berlusconi's trial was scheduled to resume Friday.

Berlusconi's trial was postponed [JURIST report] in January so that the court could hear Mills's appeal. Proceedings were previously delayed [JURIST report] late last year while the court determined whether Berlusconi was immune from prosecution. In October, the Italian Constitutional Court struck down [JURIST report] a law granting top Italian lawmakers immunity from prosecution while in office. Berlusconi was removed as a defendant in the case after the 2007 passage of the immunity law [JURIST report]. The bribery and corruption trial against Berlusconi and Mills began [JURIST report] in early 2007. Mills's allegedly false testimony was given during trials at which Berlusconi was acquitted [JURIST report] of paying kickbacks to the late Socialist premier Bettino Craxi.






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Turkish court continues bringing charges against officers in alleged coup plot
David Manes on February 26, 2010 8:33 AM ET

[JURIST] A Turkish court charged an additional 11 military officers Friday morning as the investigation into the military's so-called "Sledgehammer plot" to overthrow the government continues, bringing the total charged so far to 31. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke at a Justice Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish] meeting, vowing [AFP report] that all those involved in the plot would stand trial. Police also arrested 18 more officers [Reuters report] Friday, bringing the total detained to more than 50. Tensions between the military and the government appeared to ease after three top generals were released [JURIST report] from custody Thursday. Turkey's prime minister and president met [Reuters report] with the head of the armed forces, General Ilker Basbug, for three hours on Thursday, discussing ways to resolve the situation.

Twelve officers were charged in the alleged plot Wednesday after mass arrests [JURIST reports] Monday resulted in the detention of more than 40. Arrests and charges began after the newspaper Taraf [official website, in Turkish] revealed the 2003 Balyoz Security Operation Plan [Taraf report, in Turkish], or "Sledgehammer plot," last month. The plot included detailed plans to bomb Istanbul mosques and provoke Greece into shooting down a Turkish plane as part of an effort to undermine the government. Turkey's secular nationalist establishment, including the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) [official website, in Turkish], has had tense relations with the AKP government, which is accused of having radical Islamic ambitions. The TAF has been Turkey's strongest and most trusted institution for years. The military drafted the country's current constitution in 1982 after a coup d'état, one of four times that the military has overthrown the government in the past 50 years. The Sledgehammer plot is similar to the Ergenekon [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] conspiracy, in which the secular group is suspected of planning to overthrow [JURIST report] the AKP. The Ergenekon group is also alleged to be involved in bombings, political assassination plots, and the death of journalist Hrant Dink [BBC obituary]. Trials in the Ergenekon conspiracy [JURIST report] opened two years ago with more than 200 suspects in custody.






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France president admits 'mistakes' made during Rwanda conflict
Zach Zagger on February 26, 2010 7:45 AM ET

[JURIST] French President Nicholas Sarkozy [official website, in French] admitted [text, PDF, in French; video, in French] Thursday that France and the international community made "mistakes" in handling the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Sarkozy spoke while on a visit to Rwanda to meet with President Paul Kagame [official website; BBC profile], the first visit to Rwanda [BBC report] by a French president since the genocide of the Tutsi people by the Hutus. Sarkozy said France and the rest of the world made errors that allowed the genocide to happen but did not offer a formal apology. The trip is intended to strengthen ties between the two countries after France severed ties with Rwanda [JURIST report] in 2006 when a French judge accused Kagame of being involved in shooting down a plane carrying the former Rwandan president, which initiated the genocide. Kagame, the leader of the Tutsi rebels who took control of the country, ending the conflict, claims the plane was shot down by Hutu extremists to justify the mass killings during the genocide.

Prosecutions of those responsible for the genocide are ongoing. Earlier on Thursday, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] convicted [JURIST report] ex-army officer Ephrem Setako [case materials; Trial Watch profile] of genocide, crimes against humanity, and murder and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. Also this month, the ICTR convicted former Rwandan army officer Tharcisse Muvunyi [case materials; Trial Watch profile] of direct and public incitement to genocide and sentenced [JURIST report] him to 15 years imprisonment. In January, French Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner [official profiles] announced plans to create a special judicial service [JURIST report] to investigate and charge individuals accused of crimes against humanity and genocide in France or in other countries. The new judicial unit would streamline the prosecution of Rwandans living in France who are accused of war crimes committed during the 1994 conflict.






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Spain senate gives final approval to bill easing abortion laws
Daniel Makosky on February 26, 2010 6:31 AM ET

[JURIST] Spain's Senate [official website, in Spanish] on Wednesday gave final approval [press release, in Spanish] to a bill that will ease restrictions on abortions [JURIST news archive]. The legislation passed [El Pais report, in Spanish] once three veto proposals were denied by majority votes, after which 88 amendments were rejected. The new law allows for abortions to be performed up to 22 weeks with the confirmation of two doctors that there exists fetal malformation or that the pregnancy poses a serious risk to the mother's health. A fetus diagnosed with a life-threatening condition may be aborted after the 22 week period. Additionally, women aged 16 or 17 are also allowed to have an abortion without parental consent, though they must notify their parents. The legislation will effect four months after official publication, which is expected to occur in March.

Spain's lower house of parliament, the Congress of Deputies, passed the bill in December after it received approval [JURIST reports] from the Council of State in September. In October, hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied in Madrid [JURIST report] in opposition to the proposed legislation. The changes were proposed [JURIST report] last March by a panel of legal and medical experts led by Minister of Equality Bibiano Aido [official website, in Spanish], eliciting widespread protests [JURIST report] throughout Spain. The panel was formed [JURIST report] in September 2008 at the request of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero [official profile, in Spanish] as part of a series of social reforms that have included same-sex marriage [JURIST report] and streamlined divorce proceedings. The conservative Popular Party [party website, in Spanish] has repeatedly expressed the opinion [El Pais report, in Spanish] that relaxed abortion laws would stand in opposition to Article 15 of the Spanish Constitution [text], which guarantees the right to life. Prior to the revisions, Spanish abortion laws [BBC backgrounder] dated to 1985, after the end of the Franco regime, and were among the most restrictive in European nations. Abortions were permitted only in the case of rape, up to 12 weeks, severe fetal malformation, up to 22 weeks, or if the woman's physical or mental health was in danger.






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Australia court rules former Guantanamo detainee can sue government
Sarah Miley on February 26, 2010 6:10 AM ET

[JURIST] The Federal Court of Australia [official website] ruled Thursday that former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Mamdouh Habib [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] can sue the Australian government for complicity in his ill-treatment while incarcerated in Pakistan, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. Habib claims he suffered sleep deprivation, electrocution, and drug injections during his detainment, some of which happened in collusion with or in the presence of Australian officials. The Commonwealth of Australia, which denies the allegations, claimed the case should be thrown out because it was outside the realm of the judiciary to hear a case on the actions of foreign officials. A three-judge panel rejected this claim [BBC report] stating that torture offends the "ideal of common humanity," whether administered domestically or abroad, and can never be justified by official acts or policy. Habib said that he plans to sue the Australian government for unlimited damages.

In 2008, the Federal Court of Australia ruled against [JURIST report] Habib in his ongoing claim for compensation against the Australian government, finding that he was mistaken and was not interrogated anywhere under the control of the Australian government. Habib was detained in 2001 in Pakistan and was held in Egypt and Afghanistan before being sent to Guantanamo Bay for three years, where the US accused him of aiding terrorist militants. The US released him without charge [JURIST report] in 2005. Habib and his lawyers have repeatedly said that he was tortured while in US custody [JURIST reports].






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Turkish court releases former top military officers detained over coup plot
Zach Zagger on February 25, 2010 2:27 PM ET

[JURIST] A Turkish court on Thursday released three high ranking military officials detained for questioning over an alleged coup plot, hours after top political and military officials met to discuss the escalating situation. The court released [AP report] former chief of the Navy, Adm. Ozden Ornek, ex-chief of the Air Force Gen. Ibrahim Firtina, and Gen. Ergin Saygun, ex-deputy chief of the military, but all three remain under investigation. Turkish President Abdullah Gul [official website, in Turkish], Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Chief of General Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug [official profile], met in Ankara [NYT report], to discuss tensions over the coup plot and the ensuing prosecutions. Eight officers were charged early Thursday on top of the 12 charged [JURIST report] on Wednesday. Had Ornek and Firtina also been charged, they would have been the most senior military officers charged thus far in connection with the 2003 Balyoz Security Operation Plan [Taraf report, in Turkish], or "Sledgehammer plot," revealed last month by the newspaper Taraf [official website, in Turkish].

Ornek and Firtina were apprehended on Monday by Turkish police in an operation that detained more than 40 people [JURIST report] in connection to the coup. Turkey's secular nationalist establishment, including the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) [official website, in Turkish], has long conflicted with the ruling Justice Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish]. In July 2009, Gul approved [JURIST report] a law that would allow the prosecution of military personnel in civilian courts and would prevent military prosecution of civilians during peacetime. Gul said that the law was necessary for accession [JURIST report] to the European Union (EU) [official website]. The Sledgehammer plot is similar to the Ergenekon [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] conspiracy, in which the secular group is suspected of planning to overthrow [JURIST report] the AKP. The Ergenekon group is also alleged to be involved in bombings, political assassination plots, and the death of journalist Hrant Dink [BBC obituary]. The probe into the Ergenekon conspiracy has been criticized as an attempt by the AKP to silence opposition and further its imposition of Islamic principles [JURIST report] in violation of Turkey's secular constitution [text].






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UK chief prosecutor publishes new policy on assisted suicide
Sarah Miley on February 25, 2010 2:08 PM ET

[JURIST] UK Director of Public Prosecutions (DDP), Keir Starmer [official profile], published a new policy [text; press release] on Thursday for prosecutors in regards to cases of assisted suicide [JURIST news archive]. While the new policy does not legalize assisted suicide, it introduces six public interest considerations against prosecution, including compassion of the suspect, an effort to dissuade the victim, and reporting the suicide to the police. Starmer developed the new policy by gathering public opinion through a consultation process [materials], which garnered more than 5,000 responses. The DDP assured the public that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) [official website] will follow the new policy:


The policy is now more focused on the motivation of the suspect rather than the characteristics of the victim. The policy does not change the law on assisted suicide. It does not open the door for euthanasia. It does not override the will of Parliament. What it does is to provide a clear framework for prosecutors to decide which cases should proceed to court and which should not. ... As a result of the [public consultations] there have been changes to the policy. But that does not mean prosecutions are more or less likely. The policy has not been relaxed or tightened but there has been a change of focus.

Starmer went on to say that case assessment will not rely solely on public interest factors. Each case will be decided on its own facts and merits.

The new policy will replace an interim policy [JURIST report] set up by the DDP in September. The interim policy was published pursuant to a July order [judgment text; JURIST report] from the UK Law Lords [official website] to clarify the issue. The order resulted from a case brought by Debbie Purdy, a multiple sclerosis sufferer, who wants to travel to Switzerland with her husband to end her life. Under the country's Suicide Act 1961 [text], Purdy's husband faces criminal liability for aiding her suicide in another country. Many Britons have reportedly gone to the Dignitas clinic [website, in German] in Switzerland to obtain assisted suicides. Also in July, the House of Lords rejected a bill [JURIST report] that would would have barred prosecuting those who go abroad to help others commit assisted suicide. Last year, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website] spoke out against laws allowing assisted suicide [BBC report], saying that he would not create laws that "put pressure on people to end their lives."





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UN rights chief backs Gaza conflict report
Daniel Makosky on February 25, 2010 1:21 PM ET

[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] publicly supported [text] the final report [text, PDF] of the UN Fact Finding Mission of the Gaza Conflict [official website] on Wednesday, calling its conclusions sound. The report, originally adopted [JURIST report] by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] in October, accused both Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) [official website] and Hamas [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] fighters of war crimes during the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict [JURIST news archive]. Pillay praised the mission for its methodology, and the report itself for promoting accountability:


In a 60 year-long conflict marred by egregious human rights violations, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example, cynics are often ready to label accountability as utopia or, at least, as wishful thinking. However, the United Nations Fact Finding Mission succeeded in placing the acute need for accountability on the international community’s agenda, compelling different and often opposing constituencies to take note of the facts documented and the calls for justice from victims on all sides.
The report was met with criticism [Reuters report] from both Israeli and Hamas leaders, which Pillay dismissed as politically motivated.

Earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] said that it was unclear whether Israel and Palestine have fully met UN demands [JURIST reports] to set up a commission to investigate war crimes that may have occurred the conflict. Also this month, the Israeli Foreign Ministry [official website] released a 46-page report [JURIST report] to the UN, partially detailing Israeli operations in Gaza and revealing that the Israeli military had disciplined two high-ranking Army officers for firing shells into a populated area in the Gaza strip. Hamas also reported to the UN that it completed an independent investigation, finding that Palestinian forces innocent of any wrongdoing and that the Israeli civilian deaths were an accident.





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Maryland should recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages: state AG
Haley Wojdowski on February 25, 2010 12:52 PM ET

[JURIST] Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler [official website] said Wednesday that the state of Maryland and its agencies should recognize [opinion, PDF] same-sex marriages [JURIST news archive] performed lawfully in other states. Gansler's opinion, issued in response to a legislator's request for clarification of Maryland law, said that the state's highest court would likely rule that legal same-sex marriages from other states are valid in Maryland. Gansler concluded:


While the matter is not free from all doubt, in our view, the Court is likely to respect the law of other states and recognize a same-sex marriage contracted validly in another jurisdiction. In light of Maryland's developing public policy concerning intimate same-sex relationships, the Court would not readily invoke the public policy exception to the usual rule of recognition.

Gansler noted that this is a "prediction, not a prescription, as to the how the Court would approach this issue under current law." The opinion does not affect state law, but state agencies will use it as guidance.

In January, the Hawaii House of Representatives [official website] postponed indefinitely [JURIST report] a vote on legislation [text, PDF] that would have allowed persons in same-sex civil unions [JURIST news archive] the same rights as married heterosexual couples. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire, and is set to become legal in Washington DC [JURIST reports], pending Congressional inaction. New Jersey has recognized same-sex civil unions [JURIST report] since 2006.





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Anti-Semitic incidents on rise in Canada: report
Jonathan Cohen on February 25, 2010 12:24 PM ET

[JURIST] Incidents of anti-Semitism [JURIST news archive] in Canada have risen 11.4 percent [text, PDF] since 2008, according to a Wednesday report by B'nai Brith Canada [advocacy website]. The group found that there were 1,264 incidents of anti-Semitic harassment, violence, and vandalism in Canada during 2009. It also said that anti-Semitic incidents increased globally in 2009, linking them to a rise in Middle East strife:


[I]t is becoming increasingly complex to isolate anti-Israel rhetoric, which has been intentionally entangled in antisemitic discourse - from a completely separate, more "traditional" anti-Jewish hatred unconnected in any way to the Middle East conflict.

The group concluded by saying that the combination of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents has led to "creeping desensitization towards the defamation and resultant marginalization of the Jewish community," but that the trends should not be ignored.

In March 2009, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) [official website] found that there was a rise in European anti-Semitism incidents [JURIST report] since December of that year. In November 2008, the German parliament passed a resolution [JURIST report] requiring the government to track reports of anti-Semitism in the country and fund education to combat the problem. The Council of Europe released a report [JURIST report] in July 2008 emphasizing the need for European countries to examine their human rights records.





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Federal judge upholds continued detention of 2 Yemeni Guantanamo detainees
Andrea Bottorff on February 25, 2010 11:38 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled Wednesday that the government can continue to hold indefinitely two Yemeni Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees, even though the men had been cleared for release by the Bush administration two years ago. Judge Gladys Kessler denied the petitions for habeas corpus filed by Fahmi Salem Al-Assani and Suleiman Awadh Bin Agil Al-Nahdi [orders, PDF]. The men had been notified of their release in 2008, but the decision was suspended [Miami Herald report] when President Barack Obama took office. Full text of the opinions explaining Kessler's reasoning will be made public after passing a security clearance.

Nearly half of the 188 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo Bay are from Yemen. Last month, a Yemeni government official said that Yemen will build a rehabilitation center [JURIST report] for Guantanamo Bay detainees. The Obama administration has suspended the transfer [JURIST report] of Guantanamo detainees to Yemen after learning that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab [BBC profile, JURIST news archive], accused of trying to ignite explosives on a US-bound plane in December, had allegedly received his training in Yemen. Earlier in January, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the detention of Yemeni Guantanamo detainee Ghaleb Nassar Al-Bihani, ruling that he can remain in US custody, but, in December, the US government transferred six detainees [JURIST reports] back to Yemen. Also in December, a federal judge granted Yemeni detainee Saeed Hatim's petition for habeas corpus, ordering his release [JURIST report].






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Rwanda tribunal sentences ex-army officer to 25 years for genocide
Bhargav Katikaneni on February 25, 2010 10:48 AM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] on Thursday convicted [judgment summary, PDF] ex-army officer Ephrem Setako [case materials; Trial Watch profile] on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and murder and sentenced him [press release] to 25 years in prison. The tribunal found that Setanko, a lieutenant colonel in the Rwandan Army who was also head of the legal affairs division of the Ministry of Defense, ordered the killing of around 50 Hutus at a military camp in northern Rwanda between April and May 1994. He was acquitted of complicity to commit genocide, murder as a crime against humanity, and pillage as a war crime.

Setako went on trial [JURIST report] before the ICTR in 2008. He was arrested in the Netherlands in February 2004, and later transferred to a UN detention facility. He subsequently pleaded not guilty [press release]. Earlier this month, the tribunal convicted another ex-army officer, Tharcise Muvunyi [case materials; Trial Watch Profile], on similar charges [JURIST report] and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. There are currently 24 cases in progress [ICTR materials], and two others await trial. The ICTR was established to try genocide suspects for crimes occurring during the 1994 Rwandan conflict [HRW backgrounder; JURIST news archive] between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples, in which nearly 800,000 people, primarily Tutsis, were killed.






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South Korea high court rules death penalty constitutional
Andrea Bottorff on February 25, 2010 10:37 AM ET

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of Korea [official website, in Korean] ruled Thursday that the death penalty [JURIST news archive] does not violate the South Korean constitution [text, PDF]. The court's 5-4 decision could lead to a reinstatement of the death penalty in South Korea, which has held an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment [BBC report] since former president Kim Dae-Jung took office in 1998. Kim, who ruled from 1998 until his death in 2003, had opposed the death penalty [AFP report], but it is unclear whether the new government will uphold his 12-year precedent. The South Korean parliament [official website, in Korean] must vote on whether to reinstate capital punishment before any changes to the current system can take effect.

On Wednesday, UN Under-Secretary-General Sergei Ordzhonikidze [official profile] praised the increasing number of countries [JURIST report] that have suspended or abolished the death penalty. Speaking at the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty [FIDH backgrounder] in Geneva, Ordzhonikidze expressed hope that countries that have not abolished the death penalty would adopt the 2007 UN Resolution 62/149 [text], placing a moratorium on the use of capital punishment. Earlier this month, the Supreme People’s Court of China [official website, in Chinese] issued new guidelines for limiting capital punishment [JURIST report] in Chinese courts. The new rules instruct courts to issue the death penalty only to those who commit "extremely serious" crimes and allows reprieves for certain cases as allowed by law. Last month, Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia [official profile] announced that he would suspend [JURIST report, speech text] the death penalty and commute the sentences of all prisoners currently on death row to 30 years in prison. Tsakhia called for a permanent ban on the death penalty, saying that many mistakes are made in its administration, and that the system has been abused by those with power.






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Senate votes to extend Patriot Act provisions
Bhargav Katikaneni on February 25, 2010 9:23 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] voted Wednesday night to authorize three key provisions of the USA Patriot Act [JURIST news archive] set to expire on Sunday. The bill, passed [AP report] by a voice vote, would allow federal authorities to conduct "roving" wiretaps, to compel the production of business, medical, and library records, and to track so-called "lone wolf" suspects who are not affiliated with an organization or country, so long as they are not US citizens. Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] criticized [press release] the lack of increased privacy protections:


I would have preferred to add oversight and judicial review improvements to any extension of expiring provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act. A bipartisan majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced compromise legislation to the full Senate for consideration more than four months ago. Since then, I have worked with Senator Kyl, Senator Feinstein, members in the House, and the Senate leadership to make further improvements to this legislation, and the bill is strongly supported by the administration. The USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act should be an example of what Democrats and Republicans can accomplish when we work together but I understand some Republican Senators objected to passing the carefully crafted national security, oversight, and judicial review provisions in this legislation.

The House is scheduled to vote on extending the act Thursday.

In September, the Obama administration asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to extend [JURIST report] the Patriot Act. The Judiciary Committee voted to reauthorize [JURIST report] the three provisions in question in October. In December, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] dismissed [JURIST report] a constitutional challenge to the Patriot Act due to lack of standing. The US District Court for the District of Oregon [official website] had previously ruled that certain provisions of the act were unconstitutional [JURIST report].





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Senior UN official applauds states' efforts to end death penalty
Matt Glenn on February 25, 2010 8:51 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Under-Secretary-General Sergei Ordzhonikidze [official profile] on Wednesday praised the increasing number of countries [text] that have suspended or abolished the death penalty [JURIST news archive]. Speaking at the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty [FIDH backgrounder] in Geneva, Ordzhonikidze expressed hope [UN News Centre report] that countries that have not abolished the death penalty would adopt the 2007 UN Resolution 62/149 [text], placing a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. Ordzhonikidze urged pragmatism, stating:


We must not lose sight of the fact that abolishing the death penalty is a difficult and sensitive process for many societies. That is something we understand at the United Nations. Moving this process forward will require comprehensive and inclusive national debates. It is my hope that the discussions at this World Congress, which will highlight the practical experiences of countries that have either abolished the death penalty or instituted a moratorium, can help to stimulate such national debates.

The congress, which opened Wednesday [press release] is organized by Contre la Peine de Mort [advocacy website, in French] in partnership with the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty [advocacy website] and is scheduled to last through Friday.

Earlier this month, the Supreme People's Court of China [official website, in Chinese] issued new guidelines [JURIST report] for limiting capital punishment in Chinese courts, relying on a policy of "justice tempered with mercy." In January, Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia announced that he would suspend the death penalty [JURIST report] and commute the sentences of all prisoners currently on death row to 30 years in prison. In November, the Russian Constitutional Court [official website, in Russian] extended [JURIST report] a moratorium on the death penalty until the country's parliament ratifies an international treaty abolishing capital punishment. In July, Hands Off Cain [advocacy website], an anti-death penalty advocacy group, reported [JURIST report] that the number of countries with capital punishment, as well as the total number of executions was down in 2008 from the previous year. According to Amnesty International, 95 countries have abolished [AI report] the death penalty for all crimes. In March, New Mexico became the latest US state to abolish the death penalty [JURIST report].





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Venezuela government violating basic human rights: report
Carrie Schimizzi on February 25, 2010 8:02 AM ET

[JURIST] The Venezuelan government is continuously violating basic human rights [press release], particularly freedom of expression, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for the Organization of American States (OAS) [official website] said in a report [text] released Wednesday. The Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela report provides a detailed analysis on the state of human rights in the country, led by President Hugo Chavez [JURIST news archive], and ultimately concludes that not all citizens are ensured full enjoyment of their basic human rights. The IACHR, which prepared the report without being able to visit Venezuela due to the country's refusal, said that threats to human rights and democracy are serious issues. In particular, the report details the lack of freedom of expression, citing accounts in which the State is "punishing people based on their political convictions." The report also notes a lack of punishment for cases involving violence:


Acts of retaliation to quash dissent; attacks against human rights defenders and against journalists; repression of peaceful protest; abuse by State agents and common and organized crime; violence in the prison system; violence against women; and other grave violations of human rights are all characterized in Venezuela by the high levels of impunity associated with them.

The report cites improvements in the areas of economic, social, and cultural rights, but maintains that every citizen should be able to enjoy all basis rights, including civil and political rights. The report insists on Venezuela's compliance with the obligations it "freely assumed under the American Convention" and with the recommendations laid out by the IACHR in its report.

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





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European Commission examining possible Google antitrust violations
Matt Glenn on February 25, 2010 7:29 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Commission (EC) [official website] confirmed [press release] Wednesday that it has received three antitrust complaints against Google [corporate website] regarding the way the search engine ranks search results, but said it has not started a formal investigation. UK price comparison company Foundem [corporate website], French legal website EJustice [corporate website, in French], and consumer review website Ciao [corporate website] claim that Google impedes [Telegraph report] users' abilities to find companies' websites to prevent the companies from competing with Google and that Google binds partners to unreasonable agreements. Two of the companies have ties to Microsoft [corporate website] - Foundem is a member of a group partially funded by the computer company, while Ciao is owned by Microsoft and runs with Microsoft's search engine Bing. Google responded in a blog post [text], stating:


Though each case raises slightly different issues, the question they ultimately pose is whether Google is doing anything to choke off competition or hurt our users and partners. This is not the case. We always try to listen carefully if someone has a real concern and we work hard to put our users' interests first and to compete fair and square in the market. We believe our business practices reflect those commitments.

There was no word on whether the EC will initiate a formal investigation nor a timetable given for any possible investigations.

Google has faced numerous legal issues. Last week, a US judge heard arguments [JURIST report] on a proposed settlement over Google's book-scanning initiative [JURIST news archive]. Earlier this month, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] filed a statement of interest [JURIST report] urging to court to reject the settlement due to copyright and antitrust concerns. Also in February, a privacy group filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] alleging that the new Google social networking service Buzz violates privacy laws and requesting that the FTC investigate possible unfair business practices. Last year, a European Court of Justice advisory opinion found that Google's AdWords advertising service does not violate [JURIST report] European trademark law.





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Documents reveal CIA briefed lawmakers on enhanced interrogation techniques
Haley Wojdowski on February 25, 2010 7:19 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Central Intelligence Agency [official website] (CIA) [official website] briefed lawmakers [press release] between 2001 and 2007 on the specifics of enhanced interrogation techniques, according to declassified documents [text, PDF] made public by Judicial Watch [advocacy website] on Tuesday. The documents, obtained by Judicial Watch pursuant to a court order, indicate that at least 68 members of congress were briefed on the use of controversial techniques such as waterboarding [JURIST news archive] and include the dates on which these briefings took place. Some documents list the members of congress in attendance and the specific subjects discussed. The heavily redacted documents, marked "Top Secret," show that the CIA began the program after the 2002 capture of al Qaeda member Abu Zubaydah, but that they did not use the enhanced interrogation techniques until after receiving legal advice from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] in August 2002. Further documents are expected to be released.

Earlier this week, the DOJ overruled [JURIST report] the findings of a report [text, PDF] concluding that two Bush administration lawyers committed professional misconduct when they wrote memos [JURIST news archive] authorizing the use of certain interrogation techniques that critics have called torture. Instead, the DOJ said that John Yoo [academic profile; JURIST news archive], and Jay Bybee [official profile; JURIST news archive] were only guilty of "poor judgment" in writing the memos. In October, the CIA released letters and memoranda [JURIST report] detailing overseas interrogations that included sleep deprivation, dietary manipulation, and physical abuse. The documents, which analyzed the legality of "enhanced interrogation" procedures, were released pursuant to a court order resulting from ACLU litigation. In July, a former CIA counter-terrorism agent reported that waterboarding techniques were used prior to the issuance of legal memos authorizing the practice [JURIST reports]. In January 2009, President Barack Obama expressly banned [JURIST report] the use of torture in interrogations.






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Supreme Court hears arguments in sex offender registration case
Jaclyn Belczyk on February 24, 2010 3:53 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 Carr v. United States [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether the failure to register provision [18 USC § 2250] of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) can be applied retroactively to underlying offenses occurring before SORNA's enactment. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that, since the violation of failing to register was not complete when SORNA became applicable to the defendant, his rights under the ex post facto clause were not violated [opinion, PDF]. Counsel for the petitioner argued that statutory interpretation principles require that the provision not be applied retroactively:


When Congress uses ordinary words in the statute, those words should get their ordinary meaning. In SORNA, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, Congress did use ordinary words, and it used them in an ordinary way. But the government proposes that those words be given a most extraordinary reading.

Counsel for the US government argued that, "[p]etitioner's offense under 18 USC 2250(a) occurred when he failed to register as required by SORNA well after SORNA was enacted."

In United States v. Marcus [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit erred in its interpretation of Rule 52(b) [text] of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The Second Circuit adopted [opinion, PDF] as the appropriate standard for plain-error review of an asserted ex post facto violation whether "there is any possibility, no matter how unlikely, that the jury could have convicted based exclusively on pre-enactment conduct." Counsel for the US government argued that, "[u]nder Rule 52(b), a defendant asserting a forfeited claim of error may prevail only by showing at a minimum a reasonable possibility that the error actually affected the outcome of the case." Counsel for the respondent argued for the application of the Second Circuit's standard.





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Four Guantanamo detainees transferred to Albania, Spain
Carrie Schimizzi on February 24, 2010 2:26 PM ET

[JURIST] Four Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees have been transferred to Albania and Spain, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced Wednesday. Three detainees, Tunisia native Aleh Bin Hadi Asasi, Egypt native Sharif Fati Ali al Mishad, and Libya native Abdul Rauf Omar Mohammad Abu al Qusin, were transferred to Albania [press release] and the fourth, an unidentified detainee from the Palestinian territories, was transferred to Spain [press release]. The transfers, approved with unanimous consent by the Guantanamo Bay Task Force, add to the more than 580 Guantanamo detainees transferred to other nations since 2002. There are still 188 remaining at the Guantanamo facility in Cuba.

Earlier this month, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos announced that Spain would accept five Guantanamo detainees [JURIST report]. The country had previously agreed [JURIST report] to accept only two detainees, one Yemeni and one Palestinian, in response to a June request by the Obama administration, which continues its push to close the Guantanamo Bay facility, despite missing its self-imposed one-year deadline in January. The administration has run into several hurdles in closing the prison, including opposition from members of Congress and the suspension of detainee transfers to Yemen [JURIST report]. Spain and Albania join the growing list of countries that have recently accepted transfers, including Latvia, Switzerland, Slovakia, Afghanistan, Palau , Bermuda, Algeria and Somaliland [JURIST reports].






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Twelve Turkish military officers charged in alleged plot to overthrow government
David Manes on February 24, 2010 1:15 PM ET

[JURIST] Twelve high-ranking Turkish military officers were formally charged on Wednesday for their role in an alleged plot to overthrow Turkey's government. Among those charged [Hurriyet report] were four admirals, two retired colonels, and a retired brigadier general. More than 50 officers were arrested [Reuters report] on Monday, including former Navy Commander Adm. Ozden Ornek and former Air Force Commander Gen. Ibrahim Firtina. Turkey's Chief of General Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug [official profile] is scheduled to meet [AFP report] with President Abdullah Gul [official website, in Turkish] and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday to discuss the detentions. The officers are accused of participating in the 2003 Balyoz Security Operation Plan [Taraf report, in Turkish], or "Sledgehammer plot," revealed last month by the newspaper Taraf [official website, in Turkish], which included detailed plans to bomb Istanbul mosques and provoke Greece into shooting down a Turkish plane.

Turkey's secular nationalist establishment, including the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) [official website, in Turkish], has long conflicted with the ruling Justice Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish]. In July 2009, Gul approved [JURIST report] a law that would allow the prosecution of military personnel in civilian courts and would prevent military prosecution of civilians during peacetime. Gul said that the law was necessary for accession [JURIST report] to the European Union (EU) [official website]. The Sledgehammer plot is similar to the Ergenekon [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] conspiracy, in which the secular group is suspected of planning to overthrow [JURIST report] the AKP. The Ergenekon group is also alleged to be involved in bombings, political assassination plots, and the death of journalist Hrant Dink [BBC obituary]. The probe into the Ergenekon conspiracy has been criticized as an attempt by the AKP to silence opposition and further its imposition of Islamic principles [JURIST report] in violation of Turkey's secular constitution [text]. Trials against the Ergenekon group [JURIST report] opened two years ago with more than 200 suspects in custody.






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Supreme Court rules two-year break in interrogation satisfies Edwards requirement
Abigail Salisbury on February 24, 2010 12:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Wednesday ruled [opinion, PDF] 9-0 in Maryland v. Shatzer [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the Edwards v. Arizona [opinion text] prohibition against interrogation of a suspect who has invoked the Fifth Amendment right to counsel does not require suppression of statements if, after the suspect asks for counsel, there is a break of more than two years before resuming interrogation. The Court of Appeals of Maryland had ruled [opinion, PDF] that there was no break in custody and that the Edwards prohibition against interrogation still applied. Delivering the opinion of the Court, Justice Antonin Scalia explained:


It is easy to believe that a suspect may be coerced or badgered into abandoning his earlier refusal to be questioned without counsel in the paradigm Edwards case...in which the suspect has been arrested for a particular crime and is held in uninterrupted pretrial custody while that crime is being actively investigated. After the initial interrogation, and up to and including the second one, he remains cut off from his normal life and companions...[If] a suspect has been released from his pretrial custody and has returned to his normal life for some time before the later attempted interrogation, there is little reason to think that his change of heart regarding interrogation without counsel has been coerced....In these circumstances, it is far fetched to think that a police officer’s asking the suspect whether he would like to waive his Miranda rights will any more "wear down the accused," than did the first such request at the original attempted interrogation — which is of course not deemed coercive. [citations omitted]

Justice Clarence Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, while Justice John Paul Stevens filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

In 1966, the court held in Miranda that an individual must be "clearly informed," prior to custodial questioning, that he has, among other rights, "the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation." Michael Shatzer was an inmate at a correctional institution when he was first questioned regarding allegations that he had sexually abused his son. He invoked his right to counsel under Miranda and was returned to the general prison population. No further questioning was conducted until another officer interrogated Shatzer more than two years later, at which time he waived his rights and made incriminating statements. Shatzer was still incarcerated during the second questioning, but the Court held that being lawfully imprisoned was not sufficient to create the coercive atmosphere of custodial interrogation, since he had been allowed to return to his "normal life" in the general prison population.





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Hungary parliament passes bill criminalizing Holocaust denial
Jay Carmella on February 24, 2010 10:05 AM ET

[JURIST] The Hungarian Parliament [official website, in Hungarian] passed a bill on Monday that prohibits denials of the Holocaust [JURIST news archive]. The law, which passed 197-1 [Politics.hu report] with 142 members abstaining, makes denying the Holocaust a criminal offense punishable by up to 3 years in prison. The bill was proposed by Attila Mesterházy [official profile, in Hungarian], the Hungarian Socialist Party [official website, in Hungarian] candidate for prime minister, and was the final item considered before the parliament breaks for April elections. The bill now moves to Hungarian President László Sólyom [official website, in Hungarian] for approval. A measure put forward by the opposition Fidesz [party website, in Hungarian] party to similarly criminalize the denial of human rights violations committed by the country's former Communist regime was defeated 178-146 [Haaretz report]. Two previous proposals to criminalize hate speech were struck down by the Constitutional Court of Hungary [official website, in Hungarian] in 2008 on the grounds that they were unconstitutional infringements [JURIST report] on the freedom of expression, and that the targeted speech was already marginalized. Hungary is home to more than 50,000 Jews, giving it the largest Jewish population among the eastern members of the EU.

Hungary is not alone in attempting to criminalize denial of early 20th-century atrocities. In November, the German Federal Constitutional Court [official website, in German] upheld [JURIST report] legislation prohibiting public support and justification of the Nazi regime. In 2007, the European Union approved [JURIST report] a framework aimed at criminalizing denial of the Holocaust and other genocides after six years of contentious debate. In 2006, British politicians, writers and comedians urged members of the UK House of Commons [official website] to accept freedom of speech revisions in the controversial Racial and Religious Hatred Bill [text; BBC Q & A], which had been amended] by the British House of Lords [official website] to restrict punishable actions to "threatening words or behavior" rather than including words which may be insulting or abusive.






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Italy court convicts three Google executives of privacy violations
Brian Jackson on February 24, 2010 9:07 AM ET

[JURIST] An Italian court on Wednesday found three Google [corporate website] executives guilty of privacy violations for allowing a video depicting bullying to be posted on its website. The court in Milan found that the three men, David Carl Drummond, George De Los Reyes, and Peter Fleitcher, violated the privacy rights [ANSA report] of a young man with Down's Syndrome when they allowed a video showing his classmates bullying him to remain on the Google Italy website from September to November 2006. All three men were given a suspended sentence, though prosecutors had asked for a one-year imprisonment. A fourth defendant, Arvind Desikan, was found not guilty of privacy invasion, and a defamation claim against all four defendants was dismissed. Google's Deputy General Counsel reacted to the news quickly, with a strongly-worded statement [Google Blog post] calling the decision an attack on "the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built," and promising to appeal the ruling.

Wednesday's ruling is the latest in a string of privacy-related legal troubles for Google. Last week, an internet privacy group filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether Google's new Buzz service violates privacy laws and Google's own terms of service. Canada's Privacy Commissioner also raised concerns [press release] about the privacy protections present in the new social networking service. In January, Google threatened to withdraw [JURIST report] its services from China after hackers based in that country accessed e-mail addresses and other information from the accounts of human rights activists in December 2009.






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Ireland court dismisses case against only man charged in 1998 Omagh bombing
Jay Carmella on February 24, 2010 8:53 AM ET

[JURIST] The Irish Special Criminal Court [official website] on Wednesday dismissed the case against the only man criminally convicted for a role in the 1998 Omagh bombing [BBC archive; JURIST news archive], finding [RTE News report] that the evidence against Colm Murphy was not strong enough to support the conviction. In 2002, The Special Criminal Court originally sentenced Murphy to 14 years in prison for providing cell phones to those who planted the bomb. Murphy was granted a retrial [JURIST report] in 2005 when the appeals court found that the evidence against him had been mishandled by the police. During the retrial, the court found that the tainted evidence, which included false statements and illegal references to Murphy's previous convictions, could not support the case.

Despite the lack of criminal convictions related to the bombing, which killed twenty-nine people and injured hundreds more, a civil lawsuit was successfully brought against those involved. In June, the Belfast High Court found [judgment text; JURIST report] four men, including Murphy, responsible for the bombing and awarded £1.64 million to 12 plaintiffs. In December 2007, a Belfast judge found Sean Gerard Hoey not guilty of murder [JURIST report] in relation to the bombing, ruling that there was insufficient DNA evidence linking Hoey to the bomb to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he made the device. In 2005, the Irish Public Prosecution Service dropped charges [JURIST report] against another suspect, Anthony Joseph Donegan.






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Haiti judge to release two missionaries arrested for kidnapping
Steve Czajkowski on February 24, 2010 8:25 AM ET

[JURIST] A Haitian judge on Tuesday announced the forthcoming release of the last two US missionaries out of a group of 10 who were arrested on kidnapping charges [JURIST report] following the January 12 earthquake [JURIST news archive]. Eight members of the missionary group affiliated with the Central Valley Baptist Church [official website] of Idaho and the New Life Children's Refuge Charity [BBC profile] were released [JURIST report] last week. Laura Silsby, who is the leader of the group, and her assistant Charisa Coulter met with Judge Bernard Sainvil, who told [Reuters report] reporters that the women would be freed because there was no evidence of a crime. Silsby and Coulter had consistently denied any wrongdoing and said they only sought to help children who were suffering after the quake.

The Americans were charged [JURIST report] in connection with their attempt to take 33 children across the Haitian border into the Dominican Republic, where the group stated they hoped to start an orphanage. Haitian authorities asserted, however, that many of the children were not orphans, but had been given up by their parents when the missionaries promised a better life for the children. The 10 were each charged with one count of kidnapping and one count of criminal association. Even as American and Haitian lawyers worked toward their release last week, it was reported that the eight released missionaries accused [NYT report] Silsby and Coulter of misleading them. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused massive damage to property and infrastructure in Haiti, and the death toll has now been estimated at 230,000.






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US Army leaders express concern over suspending Don't Ask, Don't Tell
Brian Jackson on February 24, 2010 8:12 AM ET

[JURIST] US Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey Jr. [official profile, PDF] said Tuesday that he would not support a moratorium on discharging individuals from the military pursuant to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy while Congress conducted a review of the practice. Casey, the highest-ranking officer in the US Army, made the statement while testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee [official website] regarding the 2011 Defense Authorization Request. When asked by Committee Chairperson Carl Levin (D-MI) if he would oppose such a moratorium, Casey expressed concern [committee webcast] that a moratorium would complicate the process of reviewing the policy, adding, "we would be put in the position of implementing [a repeal] while we were studying it." Secretary of the Army John McHugh [official profile] also testified, saying that the Department of the Army would not object to such a moratorium if passed by Congress, despite potential legal issues regarding ongoing discharges, but that his personal preference would be to not have a moratorium. Leaders from the Department of the Navy is scheduled to testify [hearing calendar] before the Armed Services Committee on Thursday, and they will likely face similar questions.

Earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates [official profile] announced the creation of a panel [JURIST report] to study the effects of repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and to provide a plan for implementing such a repeal. That same day, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen announced his support [NYT report] for repealing the policy. The possible change in policy has been an important issue for President Barack Obama, highlighted by its inclusion in the State of the Union address in January. Last month, Admiral Mullen's legal advisers suggested [JURIST report] that he delay any internal efforts to repeal the policy until 2011. In October, Obama pledged [JURIST report] to end the controversial policy.






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UN climate change talks to resume in April
Steve Czajkowski on February 24, 2010 7:58 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) [official website] announced [press release, PDF] Tuesday that another round of formal climate talks will be held April 9-11 in Bonn, Germany to follow up on the recent UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen, Denmark [official website; JURIST report]. The decision to hold another session was made by the Bureau of the Conference of the Parties [UNFCCC backgrounder] during its first meeting this year in Bonn. UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer [UN profile] gave the reasoning for the new session:


Following the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, this constitutes a quick return to the negotiations. The decision to intensify the negotiating schedule underlines the commitment by governments to move the negotiations forward towards success in Cancun. This is further strengthened by the number of countries that have written to the secretariat with their country communications since Copenhagen.

The UNFCCC has two other negotiation sessions scheduled for this year. A meeting of its subsidiary bodies is planned for the end of May, and the next formal UN Climate Change Conference, COP16, is to be held in Cancun, Mexico at the end of November.

While no legally-binding agreement was reached at the conclusion of the COP15 in December, 192 UN member countries agreed to "take note" [press release] of a non-binding Copenhagen Accord [text, PDF] developed by leaders from the US, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa in an effort to limit the global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius. The Copenhagen Green Climate Fund was also established to assist poor nations in reducing the effects of climate change [JURIST news archive]. The Accord creates Annexes by which countries will pledge to attain national emission reductions by 2020, but the pledges are not binding. Critics of the Copenhagen Accord have said it lacks the enforcement mechanisms needed to ensure compliance, and that it is unlikely to limit global temperature rise to the indicated levels.





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Supreme Court hears arguments on terrorism support law
Jaclyn Belczyk on February 23, 2010 4:17 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 Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether a federal law [18 USC § 2339B(a)(1)] that prohibits providing material support to terrorism violates the First Amendment. The challenge was filed by the Humanitarian Law Project (HLP) [advocacy website] on behalf on several groups that wanted to support the Turkish Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Sri Lankan Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [JURIST news archives], both of which have been designated as terrorist organizations by the US government. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] portions of the "material support" law and upheld others in 2007, leading both the US government and HLP to appeal. Several rights groups have filed briefs [JURIST report] in support of HLP's position. At Tuesday's session, counsel for HLP argued that the law violates the First Amendment right to free speech, while US Solicitor General Elena Kagan argued that is a "vital weapon" for combating terrorism. Several justices appeared to express concern that the law was overly restrictive.

In United States v. O'Brien and Burgess [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether mandatory minimum sentencing enhancement for the use of a machine gun in a federal crime is an element of the underlying offense that must be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt or if it is to be determined by a judge at sentencing by a preponderance of the evidence. The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that such a determination should be made by a jury, relying on statutory interpretation and creating a circuit split. Counsel for the petitioner, the US government, argued that the language of the statute requires a judge to make the determination. Counsel for the respondents argued that such a result in foreclosed by the Supreme Court's statutory interpretation jurisprudence.






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Philippines high court rules president eligible to run for senate
Zach Zagger on February 23, 2010 2:09 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of the Philippines [official website] ruled Tuesday that current President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [official website; BBC profile] is eligible to run for the senate after her presidential term expires. The Supreme Court denied a petition [Manila Times report] brought by Rep. Risa Hontiveros [official website] of the Akbayan [party website] party-list, which sought to disqualify Arroyo from running for the senate, challenging the decision of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) [official website]. The petition alleged that Arroyo's office gives her an unfair advantage and criticized [press release] her for earmarking projects in the district in which she is running. Tuesday's decision comes after the court ruled [judgment text] Monday that a law requiring appointed officials to resign when they declare their candidacy for elected office is constitutional, but that the ruling does not affect elected officials because, "by the very nature of their office, [they] engage in partisan political activities almost all year round, even outside of the campaign period. The court overruled a December decision [judgment text] that held that the law violated the equal protection clause of the Philippine Constitution because it had separate rules for elected and appointed officials. A court spokesperson said [Manila Bulletin report] Tuesday that Monday's decision will not effect Arroyo's candidacy because she is an elected official.

Earlier this month, the Philippine Department of Justice (PDOJ) [official website] charged 197 people with murder [JURIST report] in connection with the November massacre in the semi-autonomous Maguindanao province that left 57 dead. Among those charged is Andal Ampatuan Sr., a former political ally to Arroyo, head of a Muslim clan, and former governor of Maguindanao province. Following the killings, Arroyo imposed martial law [JURIST report] and suspended habeas corpus in the province. She later lifted the conditions, following international pressure and domestic legal challenges [JURIST reports].






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Sri Lanka high court refuses to release defeated opposition presidential candidate
Sarah Paulsworth on February 23, 2010 1:09 PM ET

[JURIST] The Sri Lankas Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a petition [JURIST report] to release opposition presidential candidate and former general Sarath Fonseka [BBC profile]. The Court did, however, approve requests [BBC report] to ensure Fonseka's safety and to allow him greater access to lawyers, family, and colleagues. Fonseka has been in prison since February 8, when the Sri Lankan Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) announced [press release; JURIST report] that he was being held "in connection with certain fraudulent acts and other military offences," but charges have yet to be filed [AFP report]. Incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official website, in Sinhala] says Fonseka was planning a coup [BBC report]. Human Rights groups have expressed concern [JURIST report] that trying Fonseka in a military court, as the Sri Lankan government has advocated, will deprive the former general of "due process." The next hearing on Fonseka's case is scheduled for April 26.

Two weeks ago, Rajapaksa dissolved [JURIST report] Parliament [official website] and called for early parliamentary elections. It is believed that Rajapaksa is trying to harness momentum from the presidential election in January, in which he was re-elected, to gain more seats in parliament for his political party, Freedom Alliance. Earlier this month, 37 people, most of them military officers, were arrested in connection to an alleged assassination attempt against Rajapaksa. The Sri Lankan Supreme Court ruled this month that Rajapaksa's second term [JURIST report] will begin in November. The apparent victor in January's elections, Rajapaksa defeated Fonseka by an official margin of 18 points, winning re-election to a second term in office. Fonseka has disputed [Al Jazeera report] the results, saying violence and vote-counting irregularities invalidated the outcome.






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China government announces new regulations restricting Internet use
Sarah Miley on February 23, 2010 12:59 PM ET

[JURIST] The Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology [official website, in Chinese] has issued new regulations tightening restrictions on Internet use by requiring citizens operating websites to submit identity cards and meet with regulators before their sites can be registered. The Ministry maintains that the restrictions [BBC News report], made public Monday, are needed to regulate pornographic websites, which are banned in China, but Internet activists believe that the measures are just another step to tighten government control over Internet use. China froze registration [Register report] of new individual websites without business licenses in December, claiming that appropriate steps were not being taken to prevent the creation of pornographic sites. The ministry says that the December ban will be lifted with the enactment of the new registration policies. The increased restrictions have caused many Internet users to register their websites overseas in order to avoid government regulation.

The new policies come as the Chinese government continues negotiations with Google regarding the Internet company's January threat to discontinue operations in China [JURIST report] due to the country's overarching Internet censorship. Google's action was in response to a cyber attack on its Gmail service in December, which targeted the e-mail accounts of human rights activists in China and drew the ire of rights groups around the world. Google indicated that it would work with the Chinese government to find a way to allow an, "unfiltered search engine within the law as well," but also noted that if an agreement cannot be reached, it may close its offices there and shut down its Google.cn website. China responded [JURIST report] by reiterating its commitment to open Internet, but stressed that international Internet companies must follow Chinese law. A week later, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referenced the threat [JURIST report] by Google in a speech promoting Internet freedom and criticizing censorship, declaring that China "risk[s] walling themselves off from the progress of the next century." Chinese Foreign Ministry [official website, in Chinese] spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu criticized Clinton for her remarks stating that they were harmful to bilateral relations between the US and China.






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Supreme Court rules police warnings satisfied Miranda requirements
Jaclyn Belczyk on February 23, 2010 11:11 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday ruled [opinion, PDF] 7-2 in Florida v. Powell [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the requirements of Miranda v. Arizona [opinion text] are satisfied by advice that a suspect has "the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of [the law enforcement officers'] questions," and that he can invoke this right "at any time ... during th[e] interview." The trial court overruled the defense lawyer's objection, holding that the warning was sufficient, but the Florida Supreme Court reversed [opinion, PDF], finding the warning to be misleading enough to cause a reasonable person to conclude that he or she could only consult with an attorney before questioning. In reversing the decision below, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote:


The standard warnings used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation are exemplary. They provide, in relevant part: "You have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice before we ask you any questions. You have the right to have a lawyer with you during questioning." This advice is admirably informative, but we decline to declare its precise formulation necessary to meet Miranda's requirements. Different words were used in the advice Powell received, but they communicated the same essential message.

Justice John Paul Stevens filed a dissenting opinion, which Justice Stephen Breyer joined in part. Stevens and Breyer both concluded that the warnings were insufficient, and Stevens asserted that the Florida Supreme Court's decision rested on adequate and independent state grounds so that the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction to decide the case.

In 1966, the court held in Miranda that an individual must be "clearly informed," prior to custodial questioning, that he has, among other rights, "the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation." Kevin Powell was arrested in 2004 in connection with a robbery investigation and was told, "[y]ou have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions. ... You have the right to use any of these rights at any time you want during this interview." Powell signed off that he understood his rights and was willing to talk to investigators. He was subsequently charged in state court with possession of a weapon by a prohibited possessor, and his defense lawyer sought to suppress Powell's statements.





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Niger rights group urges prosecution of ousted president
Ann Riley on February 23, 2010 10:38 AM ET

[JURIST] Nigerien rights group, the United Front for the Safeguard of Democratic Assets (Fusad), called Tuesday for the prosecution of ousted president Mamadou Tandja [BBC profile] on treason charges. Fusad, which is allied with the opposition party that led last week's coup [JURIST report], claims that Tandja is guilty of corruption violating the constitution [AFP report], and alleges that he gave out contracts to foreign oil and uranium firms. Late Monday, the military junta, which is calling itself the Supreme Council for Restoration of Democracy (CSRD), announced [SAPA report] over state radio that Major Salou Djibo [Xinhua profile] will act as Niger's new head of state. As interim president, Dijbo will have the power to appoint the prime minister and remove ministers. The junta also announced the creation of a task force to draft a new constitution and electoral laws as well as a constitutional committee and a court to replace those that were dissolved [JURIST report] following last week's coup. The junta has given no time-frame for the transition to civilian rule, but the CSRD has promised to turn Niger into a democracy. President Seini Oumarou of the former ruling party, the National Movement for Society and Development (MNSD) has condemned the coup [VOA report], as Tandja and his prime minister remain under house arrest.

Last week's coup, which left at least three Nigerien soldiers dead, comes six months after a referendum was passed abolishing presidential term limits [JURIST reports] and allowing Tandja to remain in office for three more years and to run in any subsequent elections. Niger's opposition parties denounced the referendum, claiming that Tandja inflated poll numbers to support the new constitution's adoption. In September, members of the opposition parties said that police had detained 30 former opposition lawmakers [JURIST report], allegedly at the behest of Tandja. The 30 former members of parliament were arrested on charges of embezzlement [AFP report], but were likely being targeted for their dissidence, as they refused to recognize Tandja's expansion of powers. One week later, leader of the opposition Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) [party website, in French], Mahamadou Issoufou, was charged with financial crimes [JURIST report]. The PNDS claimed the corruption charges were politically motivated [BBC report]. Niger [CIA World Factbook profile], which is known for its exportation of uranium, has gone through five constitutions and military regimes since its founding in 1960.






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Supreme Court rules corporation's principal place of business is its 'nerve center'
Jaclyn Belczyk on February 23, 2010 10:18 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously in Hertz Corp. v. Friend [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that, for the purposes of diversity jurisdiction [USCourts backgrounder], a corporation's principal place of business shall be determined by the "nerve center" test. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had affirmed [opinion, PDF] 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. In reversing the decision below, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court:

The federal diversity jurisdiction statute provides 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." We seek here to resolve different interpretations that the Circuits have given this phrase. In doing so, we place primary weight upon the need for judicial administration of a jurisdictional statute to remain as simple as possible. And we conclude that the phrase "principal place of business" refers to the place where the corporation's high level officers direct, control, and coordinate the corporation's activities. Lower federal courts have often metaphorically called that place the corporation's "nerve center."
The court noted that "the 'nerve center' will typically be found at a corporation's headquarters."

Tuesday's ruling resolves a split among the circuit courts, which had been applying four different tests to determine a corporation's principal place of business. The Ninth Circuit applied the "place of operations" test, while the Seventh Circuit has used a "nerve center" test that only looks to where the corporation has its headquarters. The Third Circuit looked to the corporation's center of activity, while the Fifth, Sixth, Eigth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits considered the totality of the corporation's activities.





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France women's group takes legal action to ban 'veiled' candidate from election
Gabriela Forbes on February 23, 2010 10:15 AM ET

[JURIST] The French branch of the Arab Women's Solidarity Association (AWSA) [advocacy website] initiated proceedings [AFP report, in French] Sunday against the participation of a 'veiled' candidate in the upcoming French regional elections, following the dismissal of its initial legal action. The candidate, Ilham Moussaid, represents the New Anticapitalist Party [party website, in French], a radical left-wing party, in the southeast region of France, known as the Paca region. The administrative court of Marseilles rejected a demand to ban Moussaid last week, holding that inasmuch as the authorities had not yet come to a decision there could not be a violation of fundamental freedoms at that stage. The AWSA, along with a taxpayer of the Paca region, have demanded that the administrative court of Marseilles annul that decision on the grounds that it represents a violation of fundamental freedoms, namely the prevalent value of secularity and the freedom of conscience. A hearing was set to take place on Tuesday.

The announcement [France 24 report] of Moussaid's candidacy earlier this month received nationwide media attention, given the recent proposal by a parliamentary commission to ban the burqa [JURIST report]. Since 2004, French law [text, in French] has prohibited the wearing of a headscarf, along with other religious symbols, in schools, a ban that the parliamentary commission proposed to extend to all public institutions. 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 Muslim students for refusing to remove their headscarves.






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UK rights group suing government over alleged overseas torture policies
Andrea Bottorff on February 23, 2010 9:45 AM ET

[JURIST] UK rights group Reprieve [advocacy website] on Tuesday initiated legal action [text, PDF] against the UK government for its alleged use of torture policies overseas. Reprieve argues that the government's refusal to make such policies public [press release] suggests that the protocol is illegal and possibly allows torture. Reprieve will challenge the legality of the government's policies and will present information provided by an intelligence officer during cross examination [text, PDF] that implicated high-ranking officials in the promotion of abusive interrogations. The rights group criticized the government's silence on the issue and described the legal action:


Reprieve has therefore been forced to bring this litigation. Ten diverse examples of complicity are used to support the action: from British agents driving a prisoner around in a mobile interrogation unit in Iraq in the midst of his cycle of torture, to urging prisoners to cooperate with their abusers, to threats of rendition, to knowingly feeding questions to prisoners who were being mistreated.

The group seeks an official order preventing the military and intelligence officers from participating in torture. The government has responded that it does not condone torture [text, PDF] and has argued that Reprieve's facts are inaccurate.

Last month, Reprieve urged further inquiries relating to the investigation of three 2006 Guantanamo Bay suicides [JURIST reports] and suggested that the Obama administration had suppressed important information. In August, the group sued the UK government [JURIST report] over the rendition of two terrorism suspects to Afghanistan. A month earlier, Reprieve announced that it was suing the British government [JURIST report] over the rendition of Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni [advocacy profile] from Indonesia to Egypt, where it claims he was tortured.





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US lawyer appointed prosecutor for Sierra Leone war crimes court
Megan McKee on February 23, 2010 9:21 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] on Monday appointed [press release] US lawyer Brenda Hollis as the prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) [official website]. Hollis was appointed in consultation with the government of Sierra Leone, and the appointment was effective as of February 16. Prior to her appointment, Hollis was leading the prosecution against former Liberian president Charles Taylor [JURIST news archive]. Hollis previously worked in the office of the prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda [official websites]. Hollis succeeds Stephen Rapp [official profile], who resigned last year after US President Barack Obama nominated [JURIST report] him as the US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues.

In November, the SCSL handed over its detention facility [JURIST report] to the Sierra Leone Prison Service in a monumental step towards the court's resolution. In October, eight men judged guilty of war crimes by the court were transferred [JURIST report] to Rwanda to serve out their terms. Three of the men, leaders of the Revolutionary United Front [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], had their appeals rejected [JURIST report] in October, and are now serving sentences between 15 and 25 years. With these final sentences, the SCSL has largely fulfilled its purpose and will continue taking steps to close down [BBC report]. The only remaining indictee of the SCSL is Taylor. His trial, which could take up to four years [JURIST report], is being held in The Hague due to security concerns. 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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Holder praises role of civilian courts in obtaining guilty plea from terror suspect
Hillary Stemple on February 23, 2010 8:31 AM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] on Monday praised the role [press release] of the civilian criminal justice system in obtaining a guilty plea from suspected terrorist Najibullah Zazi. Zazi pleaded guilty [press release; JURIST report] on Monday to three criminal charges of conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction in the US and to commit murder in a foreign country, as well as of providing material support for al Qaeda. Holder indicated [AP report] that opposition to using civilian courts to try terror suspects was based on politics rather than facts. He also said that the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] would continue using civilian courts as a tool for trying terrorists, stating:

We are at war against a dangerous, intelligent and adaptable enemy, and we must use every weapon available to win that war. In this case, as it has in so many other cases, the criminal justice system has proved to be an invaluable weapon for disrupting plots and incapacitating terrorists, one that works in concert with the intelligence community and our military. We will continue to use it to protect the American people from terrorism.

As I have stated on other occasions, the criminal justice system also contains powerful incentives to induce pleas that yield long sentences and gain intelligence that can be used in the fight against Al Qaeda. We will use all available tools whenever possible against suspected terrorists.
Holder has been criticized [FOX News op-ed] for his stance on using the justice system rather than relying on military tribunals to prosecute suspected terrorists.

Holder's statement of support for the civilian criminal justice system comes one week after he indicated that the DOJ would be "flexible" [JURIST report] when deciding where to try 9/11 suspect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. He indicated that that a military tribunal must be considered in the wake of mounting public and political pressure, but that a civilian trial would help to ensure "swift, sure justice." Holder expressed the same sentiments [JURIST report] in an interview conducted by the Washington Post earlier this month, stating that more important than the location or forum is that the trial be transparent and adhere to the rules. The possibility of a civilian trial, first announced [JURIST report] in November, has received backlash from both New York City officials and members of Congress, including some who support closing Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive].





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Liberia reconciliation efforts must focus on developing legal institutions: UN report
Ximena Marinero on February 23, 2010 8:20 AM ET

[JURIST] Reconciliation in Liberia hinges on the development of its national security and its legal institutions, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] emphasized [UN News Centre report] in a new progress report [text, PDF] released Monday. The UN report recognizes that the final report [materials] of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) [official website] and its recommendations have proven to be deeply divisive, with "[t]he public debate focused on whether the leaders of the warring factions and others the Commission had found to be responsible for atrocities should be prosecuted." The report also asserts that "[t]he lack of public confidence in the justice system [has] continued to fuel incidents of mob violence." Gaps in the implementation of Liberia's national security strategy, which includes a bill that has not yet been presented in the legislature, "[impede] effective security and intelligence coordination and [create] a major obstacle to the establishment of the overall security architecture," according to the report. Limitations in human capacity and infrastructure pose challenges to the law sector as well as to the overall consolidation of state authority. Development in these areas will affect the length of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) [official website], which was extended to September 30, 2010.

The TRC released its final consolidated report in December 2009. Among its recommendations is a 30-year ban from holding office [JURIST report] for those who supported Liberia's 1997-2003 civil conflict, which could affect prominent leaders such as current President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf [BBC profile]. The report also contains a list of "Most Notorious Predators" and a list of perpetrators of economic crimes, which includes the head of the legal association for the defense of former president Charles Taylor [JURIST news archive]. Human rights organizations such as the Liberia Human Rights Campaign [advocacy website] have urged that the implementation of the TRC recommendations is "imperative." Liberia's civil war [UNMIL backgrounder; BBC backgrounder] left nearly 250,000 civilians dead and displaced more than 850,000. Taylor is currently on trial [case materials] before the Special Court for Sierra Leone [official website] for war crimes stemming from a "campaign to terrorize the civilian population" of Sierra Leone.






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US terrorism suspect pleads guilty to al Qaeda bomb plot
Ximena Marinero on February 23, 2010 7:20 AM ET

[JURIST] Suspected terrorist Najibullah Zazi pleaded guilty [press release] Monday to three criminal charges of conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction in the US and to commit murder in a foreign country, as well as providing material support for al Qaeda. At Monday's hearing in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York [official website], Zazi acknowledged [transcript] the three counts of superseding information for which he now faces up to life in prison for two of the counts, and 15 years in prison for the third. Zazi's sentencing is scheduled for June.

Zazi is a native of Afghanistan who was arrested [BBC report] by FBI agents in Colorado last fall. He was originally charged with making false statements to the FBI. In September, Zazi was indicted [indictment, PDF; JURIST report] and pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to the charge of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction. At the time, prosecutors from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] said that they had significant information to use against Zazi, while his lawyer countered that the prosecution could not prove Zazi's guilt unless they identified the other conspirators. Zazi's father was released [NYT report] last week on bail, having been charged with conspiring to destroy evidence of his son's activities. Two other men, Adis Medunjanin [JURIST report] and Zarein Ahmedzay, have been charged with conspiring to commit murder in a foreign country and of receiving military training from al Qaeda in connection with the plot.






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Supreme Court hears attorneys' fees, employment discrimination cases
Jaclyn Belczyk on February 22, 2010 4:14 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 Astrue v. Ratliff [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether an award of attorneys' fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) [28 USC § 2412] is payable to the prevailing party rather than to the party's attorneys so that is can be used to satisfy a pre-existing debt owed to the government. The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the fees are awarded to the attorneys, shielding them from government debt offset. Counsel for the petitioner argued:

EAJA provides that in an appropriate case a court shall award to a prevailing party fees and other expenses incurred by that party. Every court of appeals to have addressed the question, including the court below, recognized that the plain meaning of EAJA's text directs payment of EAJA fees and other expenses to the prevailing party, not her attorneys.
Counsel for the respondent argued that, "the government's position was legally erroneous and was not even substantially justified."

In Lewis v. City of Chicago [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the court heard arguments on whether a plaintiff seeking to bring a disparate impact employment discrimination suit must file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [official website] within 300 days after test results are released or 300 days after hiring decisions are announced. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the statute of limitations began running when the allegedly disparate results were announced, not when hiring decisions were made. Counsel for the petitioners argued:
On 11 separate occasions, Chicago used an unlawful cutoff score to determine which applicants it would hire as firefighters. There is no dispute that the cutoff score had an adverse impact on qualified black applicants and was not job-related.

The only question presented is whether each use of the cutoff score in each of the hiring rounds was a separate violation of Title VII. An affirmative answer to that question is both the best reading of the statute and the soundest policy.
Counsel for the respondent, the city of Chicago, argued that petitioners' "position cannot be squared with the statute." The case involves minority firefighters in Chicago and follows the court's decision last term in Ricci v. DeStafano [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] regarding the disparate impact doctrine of Title VII.





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UK government to end inmate early release program
Steve Dotterer on February 22, 2010 2:07 PM ET

[JURIST] UK Justice Minister Jack Straw [official profile] announced Monday that the government plans to terminate to the inmate early release program initiated in June 2007 to ease prison overcrowding [JURIST news archive]. In remarks before the House of Commons [official website], Straw indicated that inmates eligible for release under the End of Custody Licence (ECL) [text, PDF] scheme on or before March 12 would be set free and that the program would be concluded by April 9. The Conservative Party [party website] has long called for an end to the ECL, and Monday reaffirmed [press release] its stance following Straw's announcement.

Last month, the UK Parliament Justice Committee [official website] released a reinvestment report [text] urging the prison populations in England and Wales to be reduced by a third [JURIST report]. The committee found that incarceration is a relatively ineffective way of reducing crime except for serious offenders and that the amount of repeat offenders could be more efficiently reduced through rehabilitation programs such as housing, employment, education, and drug and alcohol services. The committee admits that the implementation of their proposed strategy would be complex and challenging, but that it is necessary to reduce the UK's heavy burden of prison overcrowding and the reduction of repeat offenders.






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Federal judge approves $150 million SEC-Bank of America settlement agreement
Hillary Stemple on February 22, 2010 1:22 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Monday accepted [opinion, PDF] a $150 million dollar settlement agreement between the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] and Bank of America (BOA) [corporate website]. In his ruling, Judge Jed Rakoff said he was "reluctantly agreeing" to the settlement, which he called "improved, but far from ideal" and "half-baked justice at best." Rakoff further indicated:


If the Court were deciding that question solely on the merits – de novo, as the lawyers say - the Court would reject the settlement as inadequate and misguided. But as both parties never hesitate to remind the Court, the law requires the Court to give substantial deference to the SEC as the regulatory body having primary responsibility for policing the securities markets, especially with respect to matters of transparency. While such deference can never be absolute - since the Judgment ultimately entered is the Court's and is enforced by the Court's contempt power – the Court would fail in its duty if it did not give considerable weight to the SEC's position.

The SEC had charged [JURIST report] BOA with misleading investors regarding billions of dollars paid to Merrill Lynch [corporate website] executives during the acquisition of the firm. Rakoff twice rejected a proposed settlement [JURIST report] between the SEC and BOA for $33 million, which did not admit any fault or directly penalize any corporate executives, calling the settlement unfair to the shareholders. Had an agreement not been reached, a trial was scheduled to begin next week.

The settlement agreement comes less than one month after New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo [JURIST news archive] filed civil charges [complaint; JURIST report] against BOA, former CEO Ken Lewis, and former CFO Joseph Price, alleging that the bank misled investors in order to acquire Merrill Lynch. The complaint alleges that Merrill Lynch had significant losses in the months leading up to a shareholder vote on the merger and that Lewis and Price violated the New York Martin Act [WLF backgrounder, PDF] because they knew of the losses but failed to disclose them to shareholders before the vote.





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Rights groups confirm CIA extraordinary rendition planes landed in Poland
Carrie Schimizzi on February 22, 2010 12:41 PM ET

[JURIST] Two human rights groups released documents [text, PDF] Monday confirming that planes associated with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) extraordinary rendition program [JURIST news archive] landed in Poland on six occasions in 2003. The Open Society Justice Initiative and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights [advocacy websites] released flight records obtained through a freedom of information act request to the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency (PANSA) [official website, in Polish]. Those records confirm [report, PDF] at least six plane landings linked to the CIA at the Szczytno-Szymany airport in northern Poland between February and September 2003. The flights' origins included Kabul, Afghanistan, and Morocco. The official records confirm for the first time Poland's association with the CIA's secret detainee program:


There are new and important details contained in the [documents], which provide - at the very least - confirmation of findings made in the June 2007 report of Council of Europe. These details are especially significant because they emanate from a Polish state authority and represent the first time that any agency of the Polish Government has provided public confirmation on the official record that aircraft associated with the CIA landed, repeatedly, at Szymany Airport.

In a statement, the executive director of the Justice Initiative used the report to demand accountability [press release] by the US on this issue, saying, "We are finding out the truth in Poland, and it is time for the US to come clean."

Poland has been investigating [JURIST report] the CIA's extraordinary rendition program since 2008. Under that program, terrorism suspects were seized and flown to secret locations outside the US for interrogation and imprisonment. Poland allegedly housed the largest CIA detention facility in Europe [JURIST report], but has previously denied any connection to the program. In addition to Poland, Romania and Lithuania [JURIST reports] are alleged to have housed secret CIA facilities. On his third day in office in 2009, US President Barack Obama ordered the closure [JURIST report] of all CIA secret prisons. In February 2007, the European Parliament condemned more than a dozen European states [JURIST report] for their roles in the program. Then-president George W. Bush acknowledged the existence of the secret facilities [JURIST report] in September 2006 but provided no details on their locations or operation.





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Iran authorities free 30 political prisoners detained after protests
Megan McKee on February 22, 2010 12:06 PM ET

[JURIST] Iranian authorities have released 30 political prisoners from Evin prison, opposition website Cyrusnews [official website, Persian] reported Sunday. The release [AKI report] is being attributed to family members of the imprisoned, who gathered outside the prison for a week demanding their relatives be freed. It is estimated that hundreds of students, activists, and journalists have been arrested as political prisoners following the ongoing anti-government protests that were spurred by last June's controversial presidential election [JURIST news archive] that saw the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [official website]. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] has called for the release of all political prisoners in Iran and condemned [press release] the nation, alleging a general contempt for human rights.

Last week, Iranian official Mohammad Javad Larijani told the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] that Iran is fulfilling its human rights obligations [JURIST report]. The UNHRC was examining Iran's human rights record as part of its two-week Universal Periodic Review [materials] session. AI has criticized [press release, PDF] Iran's report [text, PDF] to the UNHRC, calling its portrayal of the state of human rights in the nation distorted. Earlier this month, former Iranian deputy foreign minister Mohsen Aminzadeh was sentenced to six years in prison for his participation in post-election protests. Aminzadeh is one of the highest-ranking opposition officials to be convicted for protesting the highly disputed presidential election. Last month, Iran's Prosecutor-General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei called for sedition trials [JURIST report] against protest leaders. Earlier this month, Fars News Agency reported [JURIST report] that Iran will soon execute nine people for their roles in the post-election protests. The nine protesters were charged with the capital crime of moharebeh, which means waging war against God. Two others were executed [JURIST report] for the same crime in January.






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Supreme Court rules excessive force claims must be decided on nature of force
Jaclyn Belczyk on February 22, 2010 11:09 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] in Wilkins v. Gaddy [docket] that excessive force claims must be decided based on the nature of the force rather than the extent of the injury. The district court had dismissed a prisoner's excessive force claim after determining that his injuries were "de minimis." The Supreme Court found that the lower court had incorrectly applied the standard articulated in Hudson v. McMillian [opinion text], which held that "the use of excessive physical force against a prisoner may constitute cruel and unusual punishment [even] when the inmate does not suffer serious injury." The court reversed the decision below and remanded for further proceedings. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, arguing that Hudson was wrongly decided.

Also Monday, the court ruled [opinion, PDF] in Thaler v. Haynes [docket] that there is no precedent requiring a judge to have personally observed a prospective juror rejected for demeanor when ruling on an objection to a peremptory challenge. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had ruled that under Baston v. Kentucky [opinion text], the judge must have personally observed the prospective juror's behavior in order to determine whether he was rejected for demeanor or because of race. The Supreme Court reversed the decision below, finding that the appeals court had read too much into Baston.






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Obama unveils proposal to reconcile health care reform bills
Patrice Collins on February 22, 2010 10:42 AM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama on Monday released the administration's health care reform proposal [text, PDF], four days in advance of a bipartisan summit on the issue. The proposal seeks to reconcile the versions of the bills passed last year by the House of Representatives legislation [HR 3962 materials; JURIST report] and the Senate [text; JURIST report]. The administration has detailed what it considers to be the key points [WH materials] of the proposal, including the creation of a new state insurance exchange to expand health care coverage to Americans who are not provided health care by their employers and a Health Insurance Rate Authority to review rate increases and other unfair insurance practices. The proposal specifies initiatives to make the health care system more affordable while eliminating the Nebraska federal medical assistance percentages (FMAP) [ASPE backgrounder] provision of the House legislation. The provision would have demanded the federal government fund new enrollees in Nebraska's state health care system.

Obama's proposal is the first major step taken this year in an ongoing health care reform debate [JURIST news archive]. In December, 13 state attorneys general threatened legal action [JURIST report] against the Nebraska FMAP provision included in the House bill. The attorneys general argued that the provision is unconstitutional and "antithetical to the legitimate federal interests in the bill" that "the states share with the federal government the cost of providing such care to their citizens" because it exempts Nebraska from such shared cost. The Senate passed its version of the health care reform bill earlier in December in a 60-39 vote [roll call] that split down party lines. Senate Republicans vowed to continue to fight to amend the bill, arguing that it is too expensive and would violate personal rights [NYT report] by compelling people to buy health insurance. The House of Representatives approved its version of the legislation in November. The two bills must be reconciled before legislation can go to the president for signature.






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Supreme Court to consider removal procedures for child abuse database
Andrew Morgan on February 22, 2010 10:05 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in two cases. In County of Los Angeles v. Humphries [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court will be asked to address whether a plaintiff must show that a constitutional violation by a public entity was the result of a policy, custom, or practice of that entity before declaratory relief can be granted. The case arose after two parents were unable to have their names removed from California's Child Abuse Central Index [official materials], a database that collects reports of child abuse, after the charges against them were dismissed. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found [opinion, PDF] that the inability to remove "factually innocent" suspects from the database violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment and subsequently awarded $652,000 in attorneys' fees for the appeal. The county challenges the Ninth Circuit's ruling on the grounds that the couple failed to show that the county had adopted a policy or practice that resulted in the constitutional violation, as required by Monell v. Department of Social Services [opinion text] and that their failure to do so meant that they were not "prevailing parties" for the purposes of fee awards under 42 USC § 1988 [text].

In Harrington v. Richter [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court will consider whether a defense counsel's reliance on cross-examination in lieu of forensic evidence violates the client's Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. Granting federal habeas corpus review, the Ninth Circuit found [opinion, PDF] in an en banc rehearing that Richter's counsel "failed to undertake the most elementary task that a responsible defense attorney would perform" by not presenting forensic analysis of a blood pool found at the scene of a murder Richter is accused of committing. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit, the California Supreme Court, the California Court of Appeals, and the US District Court for the Eastern District of California had all previously rejected the application.






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Turkish police detain more than 40 in alleged coup plot
Ann Riley on February 22, 2010 9:36 AM ET

[JURIST] Turkish police on Monday detained more than 40 people in connection with an alleged military plot to overthrow the Islamic-rooted government. According to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [official profile, in Turkish; JURIST news archive], the arrests occurred during security operations in which 14 senior military officers, including former air force chief Ibrahim Firtina and former navy chief Ozden Ornek, were taken into custody. The investigation comes after the liberal newspaper Taraf [media website, in Turkish] exposed a plot by a group within the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) [official website, in Turkish] in January. The newspaper described the Balyoz Security Operation Plan (Sledgehammer plot) [Taraf report, in Turkish] and the 5,000 page document that detailed plans to bomb Istanbul mosques and provoke Greece into shooting down Turkish planes.

The alleged coup plot highlights the continuing power struggle between Turkey's ruling Justice Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish] and the country's secular nationalist establishment. The Sledgehammer plot is similar to the Ergenekon [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] conspiracy, in which the secular group is suspected of planning to overthrow [JURIST report] the AKP. The Ergenekon group is also alleged to be involved in bombings, political assassination plots, and the death of journalist Hrant Dink [BBC obituary]. The probe into the Ergenekon conspiracy has been criticized as an attempt by the AKP to silence opposition and further its imposition of Islamic principles [DPA report; JURIST report] in violation of Turkey's secular constitution [text]. Trials against the Ergenekon group [JURIST report] opened two years ago with more than 200 suspects in custody. The suspects include journalists, academics, army officers, policemen, and Turkish Workers' Party [party website, in Turkish] leader Dogu Perincek [JURIST report].






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Algeria court acquits former Guantanamo detainee
Dwyer Arce on February 22, 2010 8:26 AM ET

[JURIST] An Algerian criminal court on Sunday acquitted former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Mustafa Hemlili of charges of counterfeiting and affiliation to a militant group that is active abroad. Hemlili was released from Guantanamo, along with fellow inmate Hederbash Sufian, after a six-year detention period. The court separated the trials [Bernama report] of the two defendants, stating that the only link between them was the date of their release. Sufian's trial was postponed due to poor health after his lawyers presented evidence showing that he suffers from mental trauma as a result of his treatment at the US naval facility. Hemlili had traveled with family members to Mali, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan without a passport before going to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region [CFR backgrounder] to work with an international relief agency assisting Afghan refugees. After the 9/11 attacks [JURIST news archive], Hemlili was captured [QNA report] in Peshawar, Pakistan, with a forged Iraqi passport.

Last month, two other Guantanamo Bay detainees were transferred to Algeria [JURIST report], the latest in a string of transfers to the country spanning several years. Both were Algerian nationals, bringing the total number of Algerians released from Guantanamo [KUNA report] to 19. The transfer came amid criticisms from Republican Congress members after a Department of Defense [official website] official stated [JURIST report] that one in five detainees have returned to terrorist activities, according to a classified Pentagon report. Another Guantanamo Bay detainee, Ahmed Belbacha [JURIST news archive], was sentenced [JURIST report] to 20 years in prison for being part of an "overseas terrorist group" by an Algerian court in November. The week prior, the court acquitted [JURIST report] former detainees Abdulli Feghoul and Terari Mohamed. Feghoul and Mohamed were repatriated [JURIST report] to Algeria in August 2008 after being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility for seven years.






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Myanmar court sentences monk to 7 years during visit by UN rights envoy
Dwyer Arce on February 21, 2010 2:43 PM ET

[JURIST] A Buddhist monk was sentenced to seven years imprisonment in Myanmar during a visit by UN High Representative for Human Rights Tomas Ojea Quintana [official profile], an opposition lawyer confirmed Saturday. Gaw Thita was convicted [AP report] Wednesday by a special court in Insein Prison [BBC profile] for violating immigration laws in relation to a trip he took to Taiwan, unlawful association, and for failing to declare foreign currency, according to Aung Thein, a former lawyer for the National League for Democracy (NLD) [advocacy website]. Thita was arrested [AFP report] at Yangon International Airport in August along with seven other monks who were later released without charge. According to Thein, Thita had a valid passport and had not committed any immigration violations. Thita's conviction followed those of four dissidents on Monday, coinciding with the commencement of Quintana's five day visit to the country to assess the human rights situation before the planned 2010 general election [BBC report]. At a press conference [transcript, PDF] at the conclusion of his visit, Quintana expressed great disappointment:


Despite anticipation of landmark elections this year, I have not received any indication that the military government is willing to release all prisoners of conscience. ... Without full participation of the people including the 2,200 prisoners of conscience and the environment that allows the parties to engage in a full range of electoral activities, the elections ... will not be credible.

Quintana met with 15 prisoners during visits to three prisons, but his requests to meet with imprisoned opposition leader Aung Sun Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and junta leader Senior General Than Shwe [BBC profile] were denied. Quintana's report on the state of human rights in Myanmar is expected in March.

The ruling military junta released [JURIST report] 82-year old democracy activist U Tin Oo from six years of house arrest just days before Quintana's arrival. Oo, a decorated general, is the Vice-Chairman of the NLD, the opposition party headed by Suu Kyi. Thant Zin Oo, the general's son, said the release was a calculated political move [Irrawaddy report] designed to appease the UN. The government of Myanmar announced last year that it was processing grants of immunity [JURIST report] to allow prisoners to participate in the coming elections but it is unclear if the NLD will take part in them [AP report]. Home Minister Major General Maung Oo [official website] announced in January that Suu Kyi will be released from house arrest in November when her sentence is scheduled to expire. The announcement has been seen as an indication [AP report] that she will not be allowed to participate in the elections.





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Saudi Arabia minister to propose bill allowing female lawyers in court
Dwyer Arce on February 21, 2010 12:08 PM ET

[JURIST] Saudi Justice Minister Mohammed al-Eissa [ministry website, in Arabic] announced Saturday that women will be allowed to argue cases in court under a new law that his department is drafting. The law is expected to be issued in the near future and would allow female lawyers to represent [Arab News report] other women in cases related to family law, such as child custody, marriage, and divorce. The new law would also allow women to perform other legal functions without presenting witnesses, such as preliminary procedures with notaries, authorizing corporate contracts, registering properties, and mortgaging real estate. Eissa described the new law as part of an ongoing judicial reform undertaken by King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz [BBC profile] aimed at developing the legal system, which would also lead to the creation of specialized family courts for women to practice in. Currently, female lawyers are not allowed to practice [Al Jazeera report] before the Saudi judiciary, which is comprised solely of male religious clerics. The Saudi legal system [GlobalLex overview] is based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law, which enforces gender separation. Under this system, female lawyers work in designated sections of law and governmental offices designed to eliminate their interactions with the opposite sex.

Eissa was appointed [CEIP report] as justice minister last February as part of a larger government reorganization undertaken by Abdullah, which included the replacement of the heads of the education, health, and culture and media ministries, and saw the appointment of the first female deputy minister of women's education. In October 2007, Abdullah enacted a wide-ranging judicial reform bill [BBC report], creating new supreme, appeals, and general courts. The judicial reform also allocated two billion dollars to the construction of new court houses and the training of judges, who, before the reform, had wide latitude to rule according to their own interpretations of Islamic law and resisted the codification of laws or the idea of being bound by precedent. These reforms come after significant reforms of women's political rights in neighboring Kuwait, which has resulted in the enfranchisement of women in 2005, the appointment [JURIST reports] of Kuwaiti women to public office a month later, and the election [BBC report] of four women to the Kuwait National Assembly [official website, in Arabic] last June.






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Oklahoma judge strikes down multi-part abortion law
Steve Czajkowski on February 21, 2010 11:06 AM ET

[JURIST] Oklahoma state court judge Daniel Owens ruled [press release; docket] Friday that a state law [HB 1595, PDF], making it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion based on the gender of a fetus and requiring numerous reporting requirements, violates the Oklahoma Constitution [text]. Owens found that the law, called the Statistical Reporting of Abortions Act, violated the constitutional requirement that a law cover only a single subject. Provisions of the law banned doctors from performing an abortion based on a women's desire for a baby of a specific sex, required doctors to ask a series of more than 35 questions inquiring into a woman's relationships and reasons for wanting an abortion, and set up a website that would have displayed demographics based on the information gathered. The law allowed for criminal charges against doctors who failed to report the information. Oklahoma legislators have said [Oklahoman report] they will work around the ruling by passing separate bills to cover each subject of the invalidated law.

The law was challenged [petition, PDF] last year by the Center for Reproductive Rights [advocacy website] on behalf of two Oklahoma residents. In August a different state law [SB 1878, DOC] requiring women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound within an hour of the procedure was found to be unconstitutional [JURIST report]. That legislation was declared to be invalid based on the same single subject requirement. Provisions of that law also included requirements for abortion clinic signs, the administration of an early-term abortion pill, and rules on lawsuits relating to abortions. That ruling has been appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court [official website].






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Ukraine PM drops lawsuit challenging defeat in presidential election
Steve Czajkowski on February 21, 2010 10:13 AM ET

[JURIST] Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website, in Ukrainian] on Saturday withdrew [press release, in Ukrainian] her lawsuit [JURIST report] filed in the Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine claiming that the country's presidential election was corrupt. Tymoshenko dropped the suit claiming she would not receive a fair hearing in the court. She had alleged [Guardian report] that widespread voter fraud allowed her opponent, Viktor Yanukovych [personal website, in Ukrainian], to win the election. The prime minister's allegations of unfairness came after the court refused to consider certain documentary evidence and to call witnesses from the various district and precinct election commissions. Despite dropping her legal challenge, Tymoshenko has refused to acknowledge the legitimacy [BBC report] of Yanukovych's election and has refused his calls for her to step down.

Tymoshenko appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine after an initial fraud appeal to the Ukrainian Central Election Committee [official website, in Ukrainian] was rejected. Tymoshenko had called for the hearing be televised, a request the court refused, as a way of ensuring that the Ukrainian people know the truth. Many believed Tymoshenko had little chance for success. Western leaders, including US President Barack Obama, have already acknowledged [Day report] Yanukovych as the winner and even many of Tymoshenko supporters have questioned her motivation for the lawsuit.






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UK rights commission urges probe into torture collusion allegations
Ximena Marinero on February 20, 2010 1:07 PM ET

[JURIST] The UK Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) [official website] on Saturday called for an independent investigation [press release] into allegations that the government had knowledge of and was complicit in the torture of Binyam Mohamed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and 24 other British residents and citizens while they were held abroad as terror suspects. The EHRC's statement cites a letter from the organization's chair, Trevor Phillips [official profile], sent to Secretary of State Jack Straw [parliamentary profile] calling for the government to address concerns that the case of Mohamed was not an isolated instance. The EHRC called for an open and independent review, saying:


The Government has stated unequivocally that the allegations are unsubstantiated and that it does not condone or support torture carried out by foreign agencies. However, the Commission does not believe the Government's response to these allegations is sufficient and that not enough has been done to reassure the Commission and the public that these allegations are unfounded.

The EHRC's appeal coincides with the recent Court of Appeals disclosure of evidence [JURIST report] that Mohamed received "deliberate ill-treatment" by the US.

The former attorney general for England and Wales Lord Peter Goldsmith [JURIST news archive] earlier this month called for an investigation [JURIST report] into whether British intelligence agencies were complicit in the torture of terror suspects abroad. Days earlier, MI5 [official website] Director General Jonathan Evans [official profile] had denied [JURIST report] accusations that MI5 had collaborated with the US over the alleged torture of Mohammed in response to criticisms that the organization did not respect human rights, that it misled parliament, and that it supported a culture of suppression.





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DOJ clears Bush administration lawyers of professional misconduct allegations
Bhargav Katikaneni on February 20, 2010 12:21 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] has overruled the findings of a report [text, PDF] released Friday concluding that two Bush administration lawyers committed professional misconduct when they wrote memos [JURIST news archive] authorizing the use of certain interrogation techniques that critics have called torture. Instead, the DOJ said that John Yoo [academic profile; JURIST news archive], and Jay Bybee [official profile; JURIST news archive] were only guilty of "poor judgment" in writing the memos. An internal ethics investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) concluded that Yoo had committed "intentional professional misconduct when he violated his duty to exercise independent legal judgment and render thorough, objective and candid legal advice." The report also found that Bybee had committed professional misconduct when he acted in "reckless disregard" of his duty to exercise independent legal advice. However, David Margolis, an associate deputy attorney general, released a separate memo [text, PDF] overruling the OPR's report, finding its analysis was flawed because it did not have a clear definition of what constitutes professional misconduct. Margolis said:


This decision should not be viewed as an endorsement of the legal work that underlies those memoranda. However, OPR's own analytical framework defines "professional misconduct" such that a finding of misconduct depends on application of an known or unambiguous obligation or standard to the attorney's conduct. I am unpersuaded that OPR has identified such a standard.

While Margolis said that the memos contained "significant flaws," he said not all flaws constitute professional misconduct. He also criticized OPR for failing to identify a violation of a specific bar rule, but instead cobbling together standards of conduct from the DC Rules of Professional Conduct, an Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) [official website] memo issued in 2005, and other sources that do not directly apply. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Constitution Project [press releases] both called for a thorough investigation into the memos that targeted more senior Bush administration officials.

In July, Yoo appealed a district court ruling [JURIST reports] that allows a lawsuit alleging his complicity in torture to proceed. Meanwhile, former US attorney general John Ashcroft has defended the advice the DOJ gave the Bush administration on the use of certain interrogation techniques, saying that all guidelines issued by his office were legal. A coalition of organizations has filed complaints [JURIST report] with bar associations attempting to get Bybee, Yoo, and other Bush administration lawyers disbarred. Last March, a Spanish judge asked prosecutors to consider [JURIST report] investigating Bush administration lawyers, including Yoo and Bybee, for human rights violations under the principle of universal jurisdiction.





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ICC prosecutor concludes Guinea junta likely committed crimes against humanity
Bhargav Katikaneni on February 20, 2010 11:23 AM ET

[JURIST] International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] deputy prosecutor Fatou Bensouda [official profile] said Friday that Guinean authorities likely committed crimes against humanity when more than 150 pro-democracy protesters killed in Conarky [BBC backgrounder] in September 2009. At the conclusion of her three day visit [JURIST report], Bensouda, a Gambian lawyer, said that the ICC would work with the Guinean legal system [AFP report] to prosecute the offenders. Meanwhile, Guinean Prime Minister Jean Marie Dore [NYT profile] said that his country's legal system would have great difficulty [BBC report] prosecuting the crimes due to the lack of an impartial judicial system.

Earlier this month, a commission created by Guinea's junta announced [JURIST report] that former Guinean junta aide Lieutenant Aboubacar Cherif "Toumba" Diakite is the sole government official to blame for the massacre. The commission's conclusion contradicts a UN report [JURIST report] that blamed junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara [BBC profile], Minister for Special Services Moussa Tiegboro Camara, and Toumba for the September 28 slayings. In October, the ICC placed the Guinean military under preliminary investigation for human rights violations related to the Conakry incident, and the UN and Guinea both announced they were creating commissions to investigate [JURIST reports] the killings. The Conakry incident stemmed from a pro-democracy demonstration against Camara, who intended to push elections forward three months and stand for re-election.






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Council of Europe presses for rights court reform to ease backlog
Ximena Marinero on February 20, 2010 10:42 AM ET

[JURIST] The Council of Europe (COE) [official website] reached a joint declaration [text, PDF; press release] Friday to undertake reforms of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] by the end of 2011 in order to address the increasing number of complaints. The ECHR currently has a backlog of approximately 120,000 cases, of which an estimated 90 percent are inadmissible or lack a legal basis. At the Interlaken Conference [official website; fact sheet, PDF], all 47 member states recognized that reform is "indispensable and urgently required" in order to"reduce the backlog of cases and to adjudicate new cases within a reasonable time," as well as to "ensure the full and rapid execution of judgments of the Court and the effectiveness of its supervision by the Committee of Ministers." COE Commissioner of Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg remarked [text, PDF]:

[T]here is a serious gap of systematic implementation by member states of the Court judgments. Behind these figures one cannot but see the necessity to improve human rights protection at national level.

Any discussion about the difficulties of the European Court must focus on the need for prevention. The main question is not why the Court has difficulties to cope, but why so many individuals feel the need to go there with their complaints.
The declaration's Action Plan recognizes the need to preserve the right of individual petition, but considers changes to procedures that will reduce repetitive cases and filter admissible cases. Some of the measures proposed aim to increase efficiency [BBC report] by reducing the number of judges required to carry out some of these procedures.

The Swiss Chairmanship of the European Council of Ministers called the conference [SwissInfo report] amid concerns that the additional protocol on human rights recently ratified by all COE members would be insufficient to address the problems the ECHR currently faces. In January, Russia became the last COE member to ratify [JURIST report] Protocol 14 [text], which includes reforms to increase efficiency of the ECHR with measures such as filtering out inadmissible and repetitive cases. Russia was initially opposed to ratifying the protocol, which it claimed was politically motivated since an estimated 27,000 of the pending cases originated in Russia and reforms would enable them to be heard much sooner.





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Cigarette manufacturer asks Supreme Court to overturn rackeetering ruling
Steve Czajkowski on February 19, 2010 2:45 PM ET

[JURIST] Cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris USA [corporate website] on Friday asked [cert. petition, PDF] the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] to overturn a 2006 district court ruling [JURIST report] that held the tobacco industry [JURIST news archive] liable under civil racketeering laws for deceiving American consumers as to the health effects of their products. Philip Morris argued that the trial court's decision did not properly consider issues involving the First Amendment [text] and that the government's application of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) [18 USC § 1961–1968] was overbroad. The company gave its reasoning for the appeal:


The government's use of injunctive litigation to obtain regulatory authority that it had been unable to secure through the legislative and administrative processes upended the First Amendment, distorted RICO beyond recognition, and vastly exceeded the remedial authority of Article III courts. Absent further review, the government will henceforth be free to pervert RICO into a device for evading the legislative process, penalizing and chilling public debate on scientific matters, and constraining constitutionally protected speech through vague and sweeping injunctions. And, the government will be able to do so without significant procedural protections beyond the findings of a single judge.

Altria Group [corporate website], Phillip Morris' parent company, also filed a petition [cert. petition, PDF] in the case. Additionally on Friday, the Obama administration submitted a petition [cert. petition, PDF] in the case seeking to overturn a federal appeals court ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the government could not seek a $280 billion penalty against the companies for past profits and limited relief to prevention of future violations.

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia [official website] affirmed [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] the district court ruling in May. The US brought the initial action under RICO, which criminalizes the conduction or participation in the affairs of an enterprise that affects interstate or foreign commerce through a pattern of racketeering activity. The ruling required tobacco manufacturers to issue public statements to correct messages it had put out denying the health hazards of smoking, the addictiveness of smoking, the dangers of second-hand smoke, and the manufacturers' manipulation of cigarette design to ensure optimum nicotine delivery. The companies were also required to cease using any express or implied health terminology such as "light" or "low tar." While the appellate court affirmed many of the district court's remedial injunctions, it rejected a remedy that would have required tobacco manufacturers to effectively force retailers to display large freestanding displays to convey the corrective messages, reasoning that the district court did not consider the rights of innocent persons as required [18 USC § 1964] by RICO.





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Massachusetts AG seeking summary judgment in Defense of Marriage Act suit
Steve Dotterer on February 19, 2010 1:44 PM ET

[JURIST] Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley [official profile] moved for summary judgment [text, PDF] Thursday in a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] challenging the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text, JURIST news archive]. The case will be decided in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts [court website]. If the motion for summary judgment is granted, the DOMA, which defines marriage as the legal union between a man and a woman, would be declared unconstitutional without a trial. Excerpts from Coakley's memorandum supporting the motion for summary judgment outline the commonwealth's argument:

First, DOMA violates the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits Congress from intruding on areas of exclusive State authority, of which the definition and regulation of marriage is perhaps the clearest example. ... Second, DOMA - which Defendants admit is "discriminatory" - violates the Spending Clause by forcing the Commonwealth to engage in invidious discrimination against its own citizens in order to receive and retain federal funds in connection with two joint federal-state programs.

The government has until April 30 to file a response to the motion.

The Obama administration has said DOMA is discriminatory but has maintained that it is nonetheless constitutional. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] moved to dismiss [JURIST report] the lawsuit in November, stating it is the policy of the government to support federal statutes as long as there is a reasonable argument in favor of their constitutionality. Massachusetts, the first state to recognize gay marriage, initiated the suit [JURIST report] against the federal government in July. A similar suit was filed [JURIST report] in March by a group of Massachusetts plaintiffs who are or have been married under the state's same-sex marriage law. The DOJ has also sought to dismiss [JURIST report] that case.





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Noriega asks Supreme Court to reconsider blocking extradition to France
Zach Zagger on February 19, 2010 1:11 PM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for former Panamanian military leader Manuel Noriega [BBC backgrounder, JURIST news archive] filed a petition [text, PDF] with the US Supreme Court [official website] Friday seeking to block his extradition to France. Noriega is relying on the dissenting opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas in the court's January decision to deny certiorari in Noriega's appeal of a lower court's decision allowing extradition [JURIST reports]. Noriega argues that hearing his case would enable the Supreme Court to clarify the law after Boumediene v. Bush [opinion, PDF; JURIST report], which granted federal courts the power to review habeas petitions brought by "enemy combatants." He also contends that a ruling in this case could resolve confusion as to whether § 5 of the Military Commission Act of 2006 (MCA) [text, PDF] constitutes a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and whether it precludes prisoners such as Noriega from bringing claims under the Geneva Conventions [materials]. The petition argues that without clarification, "district courts considering as many as 200 habeas petitions will be forced to determine factual questions under a fog of uncertain constitutional jurisprudence," and that, unless the Court resolves the confusion, "the innocent and the guilty alike will continue to be denied meaningful review of both the conditions of their confinement and the length of their detention."

The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] upheld [opinion, PDF] Noriega's extradition in April, ruling he could not bring a claim to enforce rights under the Geneva Conventions because he was precluded by the MCA. Noriega was challenging a district court's August 2007 ruling that allowed his extradition [JURIST report] to France, where he is wanted on charges of money laundering through French banks. Noriega and his wife were sentenced in absentia [Reuters report] to 10 years in jail in 1999, but France has agreed to hold a new trial if he is extradited. Noriega has made multiple attempts to block his extradition. In addition to a January 2008 ruling [JURIST report] by US District Court Judge Paul Huck, another federal judge rejected [JURIST report] Noriega's arguments to block extradition in September 2007. The US State Department has indicated that it is satisfied that France will treat Noriega as a POW [JURIST report] if Noriega is extradited to that country.






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USDA reaches $1.25 billion settlement in black farmer discrimination case
Jonathan Cohen on February 19, 2010 12:01 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Justice (DOJ) [official websites] on Thursday announced [press release] a $1.25 billion settlement for African American farmers claiming they suffered racial discrimination in USDA loan programs. The settlement arises from the Pigford Case [CRS backgrounder, PDF], a class-action suit that was re-opened with the passage [JURIST report] of a 2008 Farm Bill [HR 6124 materials] to farmers left out of a 1999 settlement after missing a filing deadline and to thousands more who argued that the terms of the settlement were inadequate. Under the terms of the new settlement, individual farmers may demonstrate their entitlement to relief through a non-judicial claims process, and:


claimants who establish their credit-related claims will be entitled to receive up to $50,000 and debt relief. A separate track may provide actual damages of up to $250,000 through a more rigorous process. The actual value of awards may be reduced based on the total amount of funds made available and the number of successful claims.

In addition to the settlement, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack [official profile] said the USDA is implementing "a comprehensive program to take definitive action to move USDA into a new era as a model employer and premier service provider."

The Virginia-based National Black Farmers Association was allowed to proceed [JURIST report] with this suit because the Farm Bill included a provision [AP file report] that expressly permitted new claims of improper discrimination in the allocation of USDA resources, including loans, disaster relief, and other resources. In 1997, black farmers alleged in Pigford v. Glickman [BFAA backgrounder] that they were being denied USDA farm loans or forced to wait longer for loan approval than were non-minority farmers. The case was settled, and the court approved a consent decree, which set up a two-track dispute resolution system.





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Niger military leaders suspend constitution, dissolve state institutions after coup
Sarah Paulsworth on February 19, 2010 11:19 AM ET

[JURIST] Niger's military leaders on Thursday suspended the country's constitution [text, DOC] and dissolved all state institutions after the coup [JURIST report] that took place the same day. A spokesperson for the military junta, which is calling itself the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD), made the announcement [Reuters report] on state TV. The African Union (AU) [official website] condemned the coup in a statement [text, PDF] issued Friday by AU Chairperson of the Commission Jean Ping:


The Chairperson of the Commission stresses that the relevant AU instruments systematically condemn any unconstitutional change and, accordingly, he condemns the seizure of power by force that took place in Niger. He calls for the speedy return to constitutional order and affirms the readiness of the AU, in close collaboration with ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), to facilitate such a process.

Ping also noted that the AU has played an active role in facilitating dialogue within Niger on the country's tenuous political situation.

Thursday's coup, which left at least three Nigerien soldiers dead, comes six months after a referendum was passed abolishing presidential term limits [JURIST report] and allowing ousted president Mamadou Tandja [BBC profile] to remain in office for three more years and to run in any subsequent elections. Niger's opposition parties denounced the referendum, claiming that Tandja inflated poll numbers to support the new constitution's adoption. In September, members of the opposition parties said that police had detained 30 former opposition lawmakers [JURIST report], allegedly at the behest of Tandja. The 30 former members of parliament were arrested on charges of embezzlement [AFP report], but were likely being targeted for their dissidence, as they refused to recognize Tandja's expansion of powers. One week later, leader of the opposition Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) [party website, in French], Mahamadou Issoufou, was charged with financial crimes [JURIST report]. The PNDS claimed the corruption charges were politically motivated [BBC report]. Niger [CIA World Factbook profile], which is known for its exportation of uranium, has gone through five constitutions and military regimes since its founding in 1960.





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ICC judges seek additional information on Kenya post-election violence investigation
Patrice Collins on February 19, 2010 10:58 AM ET

[JURIST] Judges from the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Pre-Trial Chamber II requested Friday that chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] provide additional information [press release] regarding his request to open a formal investigation [JURIST report] into allegations of crimes against humanity committed during the 2007-2008 post-election violence in Kenya [JURIST news archive]. The judges stated that clarification and additional information was necessary to properly exercise their review function authorized under Article 15 of the Rome Statute [text]. Moreno-Ocampo's submission to investigate the Kenyan situation is historic, in that it is the first time he has used his proprio motu power, which allows him to initiate formal investigations upon authorization by the Pre-Trial Chamber. All other investigations conducted by the prosecutor have been at the behest of state parties [materials] or the UN Security Council [official website].

The ICC assigned three judges [JURIST report] to the Kenyan situation in November after receiving a letter from Moreno-Ocampo in which he said that he intended to request formal authorization to initiate an investigation. 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 in November, 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. Moreno-Ocampo first stated his intentions [JURIST report] to pursue the matter in October, citing Kenya's ratification of the Rome Statute 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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Bolivia president appoints 18 interim judges prior to election
Daniel Makosky on February 19, 2010 9:50 AM ET

[JURIST] Bolivian President Evo Morales [official website, in Spanish; BBC profile] on Thursday appointed [press release, in Spanish] 18 judges ahead of the country's judicial elections, calling the move "the beginning of the decolonization of the judiciary." The appointees will fill five vacancies on the country's Supreme Court, five on the Constitutional Court, and three on the Judiciary Council, while five others were named alternates. All will serve until judicial elections are held on December 5. Though roughly 20 of 26 high-level judicial posts were unoccupied prior to the announcement, the move has drawn criticism [BBC report] from Morales's opponents who fear it jeopardizes the judiciary's independence. The Bolivian National Congress [official website, in Spanish] passed legislation [Reuters report] last week authorizing Morales to appoint judicial officials on an interim basis until the election.

Popular election of high-level judicial officials is required under the country's new constitution, which went into effect last February after being approved [JURIST reports] via referendum in January 2009. In October 2008, the Bolivian National Congress ratified [JURIST report] the proposed reforms [JURIST news archive] after Morales agreed not to run for re-election in 2014. In August 2008, Morales won a confidence referendum, which he personally proposed [JURIST reports] in a bid to legitimize his campaign for the constitutional changes.






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Federal appeals court orders state to put both gay parents' names on birth certificate
David Manes on February 19, 2010 8:58 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that the state of Louisiana must issue a revised birth certificate for the adopted child of a same-sex couple showing both fathers' names. In 2006, Oren Adar and Mickey Ray Smith adopted their child in New York, where unmarried couples can legally adopt. The child was born in Louisiana, and the state refused to issue a birth certificate naming both fathers. The appeals court held that Louisiana is required to give full faith and credit to the New York adoption decree, upholding the judgment [opinion, PDF] of the district court. The appeals court described the weight of precedent in favor of the parents:


[T]here is virtually universal acknowledgment that Louisiana owes full faith and credit to the New York adoption decree and must recognize that the Adoptive Parents are [the] legal parents. Numerous authorities hold that a state must afford out-of-state adoption decrees full faith and credit. The parental rights and status of the Adoptive Parents, as adjudicated by the New York court, are not confined within that state's borders and do not cease to exist at Louisiana's borders.

Adar and Smith were represented by Lambda Legal [advocacy website], which praised [press release] the court's unanimous decision.

Lambda Legal successfully argued a similar case [JURIST report] in 2007, when the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit struck down an amendment [press release] to the Oklahoma constitution that would have prevented the state from recognizing adoptions by gay parents that were finalized in other US or foreign jurisdictions. Same-sex adoptive parents have recently been involved in numerous legal battles [JURIST news archive]. In 2008, a Florida trial court judge ruled [JURIST report] that a Florida statute preventing same-sex couples from adopting children was unconstitutional. Also that year, voters in Arkansas approved a ballot measure [JURIST reports] prohibiting gays, lesbians, and other unmarried cohabiting couples from becoming either foster or adoptive parents.





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Federal judge hears arguments on Google books settlement, delays ruling
Matt Glenn on February 19, 2010 7:33 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] announced at a hearing Thursday he is not ready to rule on a proposed class action settlement [Authors Guild backgrounder] in a copyright suit [case materials] over Google's book-scanning initiative [corporate website; JURIST news archive]. Judge Denny Chin heard arguments [AP report] from both sides on whether the settlement adequately protects the rights of publishers and authors and whether it violates antitrust law. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] argued that the proposed settlement fails to adequately protect the privacy interests [press release] of readers, stating:


Because the settlement does not contain any privacy protections for users, Google's system will be able to monitor which books users search for, which pages of the books they read and how long they spend on each page. Google could then combine information about readers' habits and interests with additional information it collects from other Google services, creating a massive "digital dossier" that would be highly tempting and possibly vulnerable to fishing expeditions by law enforcement or civil litigants.

Chin did not indicate when a ruling can be expected.

Earlier this month, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] filed a statement of interest [JURIST report] urging to court to reject the settlement due to copyright and antitrust concerns. The case originated when two lawsuits were brought against Google by the Authors Guild [advocacy website], a group seeking to preserve copyright protection for authors, and by other plaintiffs including the Association of American Publishers (AAP) [organization website], McGraw-Hill, Penguin Group, and Simon & Schuster [corporate websites]. Under the terms of the original settlement agreement, which was reached [JURIST report] in October 2008, 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. In a separate case, a French court ruled [JURIST report] in December that Google violated French copyright law through its book-scanning initiative.





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Niger president held hostage in apparent coup attempt
Sarah Miley on February 18, 2010 2:01 PM ET

[JURIST] Niger President Mamadou Tandja [BBC profile] was taken hostage on Thursday in an apparent coup attempt by dissident army officials, leaving at least three Nigerien soldiers dead. The opposition forces invaded the presidential palace [AP report] with machine guns during a meeting of government ministers and kidnapped Tandja along with half of his cabinet. The attack comes six months after a referendum was passed abolishing presidential term limits [JURIST report] and allowing Tandja to remain in office for three more years and to run in any subsequent elections. Niger's opposition parties denounced the referendum, claiming that Tandja inflated poll numbers to support the new constitution's adoption. The international community also responded to the supposedly invalid referendum by freezing non-humanitarian aid from Western countries and suspending Niger from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) [official website]. The coup has been condemned by both ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) [official website].

Several opposition leader were arrested after the parties pledged to oppose Tandja's new constitution, which also allowed the president to appoint one third of the members [CBC report] of a newly-created senate, and establish a media-monitoring position that would have the authority to jail reporters thought to present a threat to the country. In September, members of the opposition parties said that police had detained 30 former opposition lawmakers [JURIST report], allegedly at the behest of Tandja. The 30 former members of parliament were arrested on charges of embezzlement [AFP report], but were likely being targeted for their dissidence, as they refused to recognize Tandja's expansion of powers. One week later, Nigerien opposition leader of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) [party website, in French], Mahamadou Issoufou, was charged with financial crimes [JURIST report]. The PNDS claimed the corruption charges were politically motivated [BBC report]. Issoufou, who is barred from leaving the country [AFP report], has been released on bail. Niger [CIA World Factbook profile], which is known for its exportation of uranium, has gone through five constitutions and military regimes since its founding in 1960.






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Poland government joins suit against Russia for 1940 Katyn massacre
Zach Zagger on February 18, 2010 1:23 PM ET

[JURIST] The Polish government joined [Rzeczpospolita report, in Polish] a class-action on lawsuit Wednesday brought against Russia for the 1940 Katyn Massacre [Brittanica backgrounder; JURIST news archive] where 20,000 Poles were killed by the USSR. The suit [complaint], filed in May in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] is being brought by 13 Polish citizens who are relatives of the victims. They allege that the Russian government failed to provide adequate investigations into the incident and did not grant the relatives victim status. The complaint states:


[T]hey were denied an effective remedy which would have been able to reveal the true circumstances, in which their relatives had been killed. They pointed out that the above-mentioned deficiencies of the criminal investigation undermined the efficiency of other remedies, as the success of civil-law measures was made dependent on the result of criminal investigation.

The Polish government joining the suit gives it more legitimacy and enables the government to submit proposals to the court. Russia has until March 19 to respond to the allegations.

This is not the first attempt by the relatives of the Katyn massacre victims to seek a remedy. In January 2009, they were denied an appeal [JURIST report] to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation [official website, in Russian] to reopen investigations into the killings. The court reasoned that the Soviet-era criminal code to be applied to the killings places a 10-year statute of limitations on the proceedings. A decade-long official inquiry into the killing of 20,000 Poles during the 1939 annexation of Poland was closed in 2004 due to a lack of living potential defendants and expiration of the statute of limitations. In 1990, the government of Mikhail Gorbachev [Guardian profile] admitted that Soviet leader Josef Stalin [BBC backgrounder] had personally ordered [documents, in Russian] the killings.





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ICC deputy prosecutor in Guinea to investigate September massacre
Haley Wojdowski on February 18, 2010 12:25 PM ET

[JURIST] International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] deputy prosecutor Fatou Bensouda [official profile] arrived in Guinea Wednesday for a three-day investigation into the killing of more than 150 civilians in Conakry [BBC backgrounder] in September. During her investigation, Bensouda will determine whether the ICC has jurisdiction to try those responsible [AFP report] for the massacre if the government fails to do so. Bensouda has stated that the victims' families will have justice [BBC report]. The Rome Statute [text] enables the ICC to adjudicate genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, but the court only acts if the member state is unable or unwilling to try those accused of committing serious crimes.

Earlier this month, a commission created by Guinea's junta announced [JURIST report] that former Guinean junta aide Lieutenant Aboubacar Cherif "Toumba" Diakite is the sole government official to blame for the massacre. The commission's conclusion contradicts a UN report [JURIST report] that blamed junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara [BBC profile], Minister for Special Services Moussa Tiegboro Camara, and Toumba for the September 28 slayings. In October, the ICC placed the Guinean military under preliminary investigation for human rights violations related to the Conakry incident, and the UN and Guinea both announced they were creating commissions to investigate [JURIST reports] the killings. The Conakry incident stemmed from a pro-democracy demonstration against Camara, who intended to push elections forward three months and stand for re-election.






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Khadr lawyers file emergency motion after Canada declines to seek repatriation
Daniel Makosky on February 18, 2010 11:36 AM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers representing Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] filed an emergency motion Wednesday in the Canadian Federal Court [official website] challenging a diplomatic note sent by the Canadian government to the US State Department [official website]. The note asks that all evidence collected by Canadian officials be omitted [press release] from any US proceedings against Khadr but declines to seek his repatriation. Khadr's legal team cited constitutional objections [CBC report] and accused the government of acting in bad faith by declining to request Khadr's repatriation and for failing to consult them prior to issuing the note.

Earlier this month, the Harper administration announced [JURIST report] that it would not pursue Khadr's repatriation. The statement came after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled [text; JURIST report] in January that the government was not obligated to seek his return to Canada despite having violated his rights under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text]. Canadian officials questioned Khadr, who was captured at age 15, despite knowing that he was being indefinitely detained and had been subjected to sleep deprivation by US authorities. Still, the court held that forcing the government to press for Khadr's return was not an appropriate remedy, as such an order would overreach the court's authority. The ruling overturned a Federal Court of Appeals decision, which upheld a lower court order [JURIST reports] requiring the federal government to seek Khadr's repatriation.






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Federal judge sets hedge fund founder criminal trial for October
Jonathan Cohen on February 18, 2010 11:25 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge on Thursday decided that the criminal trial of Galleon Group [partnership website] hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam [FT profile; JURIST news archive] will begin October 25. Prosecutors had asked the judge to schedule the trial for June or July [Bloomberg report], but Rajaratnam and former hedge fund consultant Danielle Chiesi asked for more time to prepare a defense, saying it would be impossible to prepare fully by June or July. The judge noted that while he was pushing the trial back, he wants the criminal trial to take place before the civil trial. Rajaratnam agreed to move the civil trial back to accommodate.

Former Intel Capital [corporate website] executive Rajiv Goel pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to insider trading charges in connection with the Galleon probe earlier this month. In January, federal prosecutors indicted [JURIST report] seven more individuals in connection with the case. Rajaratnam and Chiesi were arrested in October and charged [complaint, PDF] along with four other individuals and two business entities with insider trading. The complaint alleged that the individuals provided Galleon Group and another hedge fund with material nonpublic information about several corporations upon which the funds traded, generating $25 million in illicit gain. Rajaratnam and Chiesi pleaded not guilty in December after being indicted for insider trading [JURIST reports].






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Pakistan president appoints justices selected by Supreme Court
Brian Jackson on February 18, 2010 10:58 AM ET

[JURIST] Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari [official website] on Wednesday appointed 34 new judges [press release], including three to the country's Supreme Court [official website], after Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry [official profile; JURIST news archive] blocked Zardari's original selections. The court blocked [JURIST report] the selections last week because Zardari did not consult with the Supreme Court prior to making the nominations, as mandated by section 177 [text] of the Pakistani Constitution. Among the new Supreme Court justices are Saqib Nisar and Asif Saeed Khosa. Nisar's appointment raised questions within Pakistan [Dawn op-ed], as Chaudhry had previously blocked his nomination to the Lahore High Court. Chaudhry administered the oath of office [Dawn report] to the new Supreme Court justices on Thursday, ending a week of controversy over judicial appointments. Within Pakistan, the resolution of the situation was seen as a victory [News editorial] for preservation of an independent judiciary.

Earlier this week, lawyers in Pakistan boycotted the courts [JURIST report] in protest of both Zardari's attempt at bypassing constitutional measures and at the Supreme Court's actions. The latest clash between the judiciary and the executive in Pakistan continues their history of disputes. Last month, the Supreme Court released a detailed judgment [JURIST report] in the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance [text] case, striking down [JURIST report] an ordinance granting immunity to Zardari and 8,000 other government officials from charges including corruption, embezzlement, murder, and terrorism between January 1986 and October 1999.






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France high court remands terrorism case against former Guantanamo detainees
Bhargav Katikaneni on February 18, 2010 9:17 AM ET

[JURIST] The French Court of Cassation [official website, in French] on Wednesday reversed an appellate court decision to overturn the convictions of five former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees, remanding the case to the lower court. A court spokesperson said the case will be heard by a specially created panel of the Paris appeals court. Regardless of the outcome, it is unlikely [AP report] the men will serve any additional time in prison. A lawyer for two of the defendants expressed disappointment [Le Monde report, in French] in the court's decision.

The Paris appeals court overturned the convictions [JURIST report] last February, finding that counter-terrorism agents from the French national security service DST [official website, in French] could not gather intelligence and conduct a criminal investigation at the same time. The five were originally convicted [JURIST report] in 2007 for criminal association with a terrorist organization, sentenced to time already served in Guantanamo, and released. The men were arrested in Afghanistan in 2001 and charged with attending an al Qaeda training camp. They were later detained at Guantanamo Bay and questioned by French counter-terrorism officials who failed to disclose [JURIST report] the meetings, before being repatriated [BBC report].






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North Carolina innocence commission releases first inmate
Andrea Bottorff on February 18, 2010 9:08 AM ET

[JURIST] The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission [official website] on Wednesday overturned a man's 1993 murder conviction in its first exoneration of an inmate who claimed to have been wrongly convicted. George Taylor, who had served 17 years of a life sentence and had exhausted all other appeals options, became the first person to be exonerated [Charlotte Observer report] under the commission since the commission's creation in 2006 [text, PDF]. To receive commission review, inmates with new evidence not previously considered in court can bring their innocence claims to an eight-member panel, consisting of judges, attorneys, a sheriff, a victim's advocate, and a member of the public. If five or more commission members consider the evidence to be a potential consideration for innocence, the case will then go to a panel of three North Carolina Superior Court [official website] judges, who must deliver a unanimous decision to overturn a conviction. The appointed commission judges found that faulty evidence and unreliable witnesses [Boston Herald report] were used to wrongfully convict Taylor at trial.

The commission, the first and only program of its kind in the US, was signed into law [JURIST report] in August 2006 and has received more than 600 claims of innocence. Its creation was prompted based on wrongful convictions in several high-profile cases in North Carolina, including Darryl Hunt, who was found innocent of murder based on DNA evidence after serving 18 years in jail, and Alan Gell [advocacy websites], who was released from death row based on evidence that prosecutors purposefully withheld in his trial. The commission is modeled after the UK's Criminal Cases Review Commission [official website].






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Haiti judge orders release of 8 US missionaries charged with kidnapping
Bhargav Katikaneni on February 18, 2010 8:15 AM ET

[JURIST] A Haitian judge on Wednesday ordered the release of eight of the 10 US missionaries held in a Haitian jail on kidnapping charges [JURIST report] in the wake of the January 12 earthquake [JURIST news archive]. Eight of the 10 members of the missionary group, affiliated with the Central Valley Baptist Church [official website] of Idaho and the New Life Children's Refuge Charity [BBC profile], were released without bail [AP report] Wednesday and flown overnight to Miami on an American military cargo plane. The eight were allowed to leave Haiti after the children's parents testified [Guardian report] that they voluntarily handed over the children to the missionaries because they were promised a better life. The two others, Laura Silsby [AP profile] and Charisa Coulter remain in custody while they are questioned by Judge Bernard Saint-Vil about their plan to take Haitian children out of the country to the neighboring Dominican republic without adoption certificates. Saint-Vil said the two others were being held because they been to Haiti prior to the earthquake [NYT report].

Saint-Vil had said last week that that would recommend [JURIST report] a provisional release pending an investigation. Even as American and Haitian lawyers worked toward their release last week, it was reported that the eight released missionaries accused [NYT report] Silsby and Coulter of misleading them. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused massive damage to property and infrastructure in Haiti, and the death toll has now been estimated at more than 200,000.






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Federal judge upholds rule limiting logging in Alaska forest
Matt Glenn on February 18, 2010 8:09 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] granted summary judgment [opinion, PDF] for the National Forest Service (NFS) [official website] Wednesday, upholding an agreement limiting the amount of timber that can be harvested in Alaska's Tongass National Forest [official website]. Several Alaska towns and companies challenged the 2008 Tongass National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (TLMP) [text, PDF], which, among other things, designated parts of the forest "old growth reserves," limiting the amount of timber that could be harvested. Under the TLMP, timber production is allowed in approximately 3.4 million acres [AP report] of the 17 million acre forest. The plaintiffs argued that by designating a portion of the forest "old growth reserves," the NFS withdrew the land from public use without congressional approval in violation of federal law [16 USC § 3213 text]. The court ruled, however, that the TLMP, in designating a portion "old growth reserves" did not "withdraw" that section of the forest under the meaning of the statute. The court also dismissed arguments that TLMP would not allow the Tongass to produce meet the market demand for timber as required by federal law [16 USC § 539d text].

In August, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld [JURIST report] a rule preventing the building of roads or the use of roadless land for timber production in national forests. In 2008, an en-banc panel of the Ninth Circuit granted broad deference [JURIST report] to the NFS when making decisions regarding the impact of logging on national forests. Earlier in the year, the same court ruled [opinion, PDF] that the NFS generally has the prerogative to determine which trees are candidates for clearing after after a forest fire, but directed the agency to more thoroughly consider whether any logging should be done in certain wilderness areas. The court previously reversed [JURIST report] a lower court order denying an injunction against a NFS plan to allow commercial logging in another forest to help pay for a wildfire prevention program. In 2005, the Ninth Circuit rejected a government plan [JURIST report] that would have opened large portions of the Tongass to logging.






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Israeli Hezbollah rocket victims sue Iran in US court
Matt Glenn on February 18, 2010 7:15 AM ET

[JURIST] Eighty-five victims of rocket attacks in Israel have filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] seeking damages from Iran and Iran's central bank for for injuries suffered in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. The suit, filed Monday, claims that Iran, between 2001 and 2006, gave Hezbollah [JURIST news archive] more than $50 million "with the specific intent and purpose of facilitating, enabling and causing Hezbollah to carry out terrorist attacks against American and Israeli targets in order to advance Iran's Policy and Goals" of undermining the US and abolishing Israel. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that Iran's funding allowed Hezbollah to carry out a rocket barrage [Ynet report] in July and August 2006 during a conflict with Israel. The plaintiffs are US, Canadian, and Israeli citizens who were injured or represent those killed in the attacks. The suit seeks $1 billion in compensatory damages and an unspecified amount in punitive damages.

In 2007, Human Rights Watch condemned Hezbollah for using rockets [JURIST report] against civilians during the conflict. Earlier that year, Amnesty International found that both Israel and Hezbollah failed to adequately investigate war crimes allegations [JURIST report] stemming from the conflict. In 2006, the UN Human Rights Council found that Israel had committed flagrant violations of human rights [JURIST report]. Human rights groups accused both Israel and Hezbollah of using weapons banned by international law for use against civilians [JURIST reports].






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Italy court says corruption cases have dramatically increased over past year
Carrie Schimizzi on February 17, 2010 2:56 PM ET

[JURIST] The Italian audit court, Corte del Conti [official website, in Italian], announced Wednesday that the number of corruption cases in Italy have risen by 229 percent over the past year. Court president Tullio Lazzaro [official profile, in Italian] voiced his concerns [Reuters report] over the significant increase in public corruption scandals from 2008 to 2009, saying that legal sanctions are no longer a sufficient deterrent to criminal behavior. In recent years, Italy has seen numerous corruption scandals [JURIST news archive] in both the business and political realms. A recent high-profile corruption scandal involves Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], currently facing a possible third corruption charge [JURIST report].

Berlusconi, who is already facing two separate trials on charges of corruption and bribery, is accused of embezzlement and tax fraud related to his television company Mediaset [media website, in Italian], though his lawyers have dismissed any substance to the charges. Berlusconi's son and 11 other members of Mediaset's board are also implicated. A Milan judge will decide if there is enough evidence to hold a trial, which could begin this month. In January, Italian judges postponed [JURIST report] a separate corruption trial at Berlusconi's lawyers' request. He is charged with paying his British lawyer David Mills [JURIST news archive] to provide false testimony in two trials involving Mediaset. His tax fraud trial has also been postponed [JURIST report]. Berlusconi has been previously acquitted of false accounting and bribery, and has had some other charges against him dropped [JURIST reports].






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Ukraine court delays presidential election certification pending appeal
Brian Jackson on February 17, 2010 2:38 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine [official website, in Ukrainian] on Wednesday delayed [press release, in Ukrainian] an official declaration of victory for the recent presidential elections pending a suit filed by election runner-up Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website, in Ukrainian]. Tymoshenko alleges widespread voter fraud allowed Viktor Yanukovych to win the election [official results, in Ukrainian] 49 percent to 45 percent. Tymoshenko filed her suit on Tuesday [JURIST report] after the Ukrainian Central Election Committee [official website, in Ukrainian] rejected a fraud appeal. The court has scheduled the hearing [press release, in Ukrainian] on Tymoshenko's suit for February 19.

Tymoshenko has been a controversial figure in Ukrainian politics during her two terms as prime minister. In March 2009, she called for constitutional changes [JURIST report] to provide more separation between parliamentary and presidential powers. In October 2008, Tymoshenko withdrew a lawsuit [JURIST report] she had brought against Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko [JURIST news archive] after he suspended a plan to hold early elections following the collapse of the country's coalition government. Before suspending the plan, Yushchenko had issued a decree abolishing a Kiev court after it tried to block [JURIST reports] his order dissolving parliament.






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Group claims Google Buzz social networking service may violate privacy laws
Brian Jackson on February 17, 2010 1:49 PM ET

[JURIST] An Internet privacy advocacy group on Wednesday filed a complaint [text, PDF] with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] alleging that the new Google [corporate website] social networking service Buzz violates privacy laws. The complaint was filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) [advocacy website] and asks the FTC to investigate possible unfair business practices, privacy violations, and to restore to users greater control over their private information, including e-mail contact lists. Google released Buzz [Google Blog post], a service built into Google's Gmail service, last week to bring about a "new way to start conversations about the things you find interesting." That release prompted almost immediate criticism [CNET op-ed] regarding the possible privacy issues that arise from making information about e-mail contacts available to others. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada [official website] has also raised concerns [press release] about privacy protections with Buzz, and has expressed interest in working with the company to address users' concerns.

Google's entry into the social networking realm has resulted in problems previously experienced by other providers, such as Facebook. In late January, the Canadian Privacy Commissioner launched a new investigation [JURIST report] into Facebook's default privacy settings. The Canadian Commissioner had previously worked with Facebook [JURIST report] in July and August of 2009 to increase users' control over privacy settings. In August, five users filed suit against Facebook [JURIST report] in US Federal Court in California, alleging that the site violates California privacy laws.






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Cluster munitions treaty to take effect August 1 after 30 countries ratify
Haley Wojdowski on February 17, 2010 1:15 PM ET

[JURIST] The UN announced [press release] on Tuesday that the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) [text; official website] will enter into force on August 1 after being ratified by 30 countries. Burkina Faso and Moldova both submitted their instruments of ratification [UN News Centre report] Tuesday, becoming the 29th and 30th countries to do so. In a statement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that "the Convention's entry into force just two years after its adoption demonstrates the world's collective revulsion at the impact of these terrible weapons." Several major users of cluster munitions, including the US, Russia, China, Israel, India, and Pakistan, have not adopted the convention, arguing that cluster bombs serve legitimate military purposes [AP report]. Ban urged "all States to become a party to the Convention without delay."

The CCM opened for signature [JURIST report] in December 2008 at a conference in Oslo, Norway. More than 100 countries adopted the convention [JURIST report] in May 2008 at a meeting in Dublin, Ireland. Strong supporters of the ban include the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Australia. Although 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 in June 2008 "intended to minimize the potential unintended harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure." Cluster bombs break apart, releasing large numbers of smaller, self-contained explosives which spread out before detonating upon impact. Their design aims to stop large-scale troop movements by maximizing bodily injury over a wide area. Bombs that fail to detonate can present a serious hazard for civilian populations.






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Finland government commission proposes semiautomatic handgun ban
David Manes on February 17, 2010 1:07 PM ET

[JURIST] A Finnish government commission established to investigate a 2008 school shooting proposed a ban on semiautomatic handguns [press release, in Finnish] in a report [text, PDF; in Finnish] released Wednesday. If approved by the Finnish Parliament [official website, in Finnish], the ban would affect more than 200,000 semiautomatic handguns across the country. The commission made other recommendations [AP report] for stricter gun control laws, including raising the age requirement for owning handguns from 15 to 20, making gun permits temporary, and requiring two years of shooting practice. Finland has 650,000 registered gun owners and a population of 5.3 million. According to the 2007 Small Arms Survey [materials], Finland ranks fifth in the world for gun ownership per capita with over three million civilian firearms.

The commission was set up by the Finnish Ministry of Justice [official website, in Finnish] to examine the September 2008 shooting at a vocational school in Kauhajoki, where a gunman killed nine students and one teacher. Less than one year earlier, a student killed eight people at a high school in Tuusula. Many observers, including Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen [official website] noted the "unfortunate" similarities [press release] between the two incidents, and Finnish government officials said they were ready to consider stricter gun control laws. After the killings, reform efforts began in both Finland and the European Union [JURIST reports].






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Former HealthSouth executive sentenced to 5 months in prison
Haley Wojdowski on February 17, 2010 12:33 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge from the US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama [official website] sentenced former HealthSouth [corporate website; JURIST news archive] executive Ken Livesay to five months in prison on Tuesday for his involvement in the company's accounting fraud. Judge Karon Bowdre sentenced [NBC report] Livesay for the fourth time after the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] in November vacated [JURIST report] the trial court's third sentence for being too lenient. The Eleventh Circuit had found that due to the severity of the crime and the possibility of deterring similar behavior, the trial court's sentence of five years probation was "patently unreasonable." The sentence remains below the 78 to 97 months recommended by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines [text]. 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.

HealthSouth founder and former 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 in 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 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 of 2002 [text]. 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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Malaysia appeals court refuses to dismiss sodomy charge against opposition leader
Carrie Schimizzi on February 17, 2010 12:03 PM ET

[JURIST] A Malaysian appeals court on Wednesday denied a request by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim [official profile; JURIST news archive] to dismiss the charge of sodomy against him. Anwar was appealing the Malaysian high court's December decision [JURIST report] not to dismiss the charge. Anwar is accused of sodomizing his former aide, Mohd Saiful Bukhari, in 2008. He contends the charge is a politically-motivated government conspiracy seeking to undermine his political career. He has pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to the charge. Anwar had previously sought to have the high-profile trial, which began earlier this month, postponed until the court of appeals had made its decision. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

The appeal is only one of numerous attempts by Anwar's defense team to have the trial postponed or dismissed. Last week, the trial was temporarily suspended [JURIST report] when Anwar's lawyers sought the removal of high court Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah for his failure to control prejudicial media coverage. The defense filed an objection asking Mohamad Zabidin to admonish Utusan Malaysia [media website, in Malay], a government-linked newspaper, for running suggestive headlines and photographs taken during the court's private visit to the scene of the alleged sexual encounter. Mohamad Zabidin denied the request and indicated the defense should file a police complaint against the newspaper instead. Anwar's lawyers are also hoping to have the trial postponed until his appeal of a decision [JURIST report] not to grant him access to the prosecution's evidence has been resolved.






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Federal judge dismisses Guantanamo detainee wrongful death suit
David Manes on February 17, 2010 11:54 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that claims of unlawful treatment and wrongful death brought on behalf of two former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees are barred by the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) [text, PDF]. The two men, Yasser Al-Zahrani and Salah Ali Abdullah Ahmed Al-Salami, were among three detainees who allegedly hanged themselves [JURIST report] in their cells in July 2006. The claim was brought [JURIST report] against former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld [JURIST news archive] and more than 100 military officers and personnel under the Alien Tort Claims Act [text], which provides that district courts have original jurisdiction to hear claims for torts "committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States." The defendants moved to dismiss the suit based on section 7 of the MCA, which removes the ability of federal courts to hear challenges to the treatment of aliens who have been "properly detained" as enemy combatants. In the ruling, US District Judge Ellen Huvelle found that since the two men had been properly detained, the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.

In January, the UK-based human rights group Reprieve [advocacy website] accused the Obama administration of suppressing information [JURIST report] relating to the investigation of the suicides and urged further inquiries. The statement came after former guards at the prison told Harper's Magazine that the three detainees experienced intense interrogations [Harper's report] in a remote area of the base just hours before the apparent suicide. According to the article, military personnel were instructed by a commanding officer that the media would be told that the deaths were suicides. The Obama administration issued a statement [Reuters report] indicating that it took the matter seriously and found no evidence of wrongdoing during its investigation. A 2008 investigation conducted by the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) [official website] concluded [JURIST report] that the cause of death was suicide.






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Number of journalists killed worldwide reaches record high in 2009
Jay Carmella on February 17, 2010 10:21 AM ET

[JURIST] The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) [advocacy website] issued its annual report [text, PDF; materials] on Tuesday confirming the work-related killings of more than 70 journalists worldwide during 2009, the highest in the 30-year history of the CPJ. Of the 71 confirmed killings identified in the report, 51 are believed [NYT report] to be murders, with several others still under investigation. The CPJ also found that the number of journalists currently in prison is near the highest point this decade. The report states:


At a time when technology is changing the way people around the world gather and receive information, when international news organization are cutting back and closing bureaus, freelancers, local reporters, and online journalists are more important than ever. The press critic A.J. Liebling once quipped, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." In today's world, that's just about everyone. While the rights of each journalist are protected by international law, few have large media organizations that can stand behind them. Instead, their safety and security depends on the ability of press freedom organizations to generate public attention and mobilize action.

The report also claims an alarming number of countries have taken action to limit or control journalists' ability to use the Internet as a means to present opposing viewpoints.

Incidents involving the death of journalists in the Philippines and Russia have drawn a significant amount of international attention over the last year. Last week, the Philippine Department of Justice (PDOJ) [official website] charged 197 people with murder [JURIST report] in connection with the November massacre in the semi-autonomous Maguindanao province that left 57 dead, including 31 journalists. Last month, a Russian journalist died [JURIST report] in a Siberian hospital from injuries he received during a police beating. In October, the UN Human Rights Committee [official website] issued a report [JURIST report] stating that Russia is failing to protect important human rights, including freedoms of speech and of the press.





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Ukraine PM files lawsuit challenging defeat in presidential election
Jay Carmella on February 17, 2010 9:03 AM ET

[JURIST] Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website, in Ukrainian] filed a lawsuit [press release, in Ukrainian] on Tuesday with the Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine claiming that last weekend's presidential election was corrupt. Tymoshenko alleges [Guardian report] that widespread voter fraud allowed her opponent, Viktor Yanukovych [personal website, in Ukrainian], to win the election. An initial fraud appeal to the Ukrainian Central Election Committee [official website, in Ukrainian] was rejected. Tymoshenko said that she hopes that the trial will be televised to ensure that the Ukrainian people know the truth. The likelihood of successful challenge for Tymoshenko is small. Western leaders, including US President Barack Obama, have already acknowledged [Day report] Yanukovych as the winner and even many of Tymoshenko supporters have questioned her motivation for the lawsuit.

Tymoshenko has a history of being at the center of controversial political moments in Ukraine. In March, she called for constitutional changes [JURIST report] to provide more separation between parliamentary and presidential powers. In October 2008, Tymoshenko withdrew a lawsuit [JURIST report] she had brought against Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko [official website; JURIST news archive] after he suspended a plan to hold early elections following the collapse of the country's coalition government. Before suspending the plan, Yushchenko had issued a decree abolishing a Kiev court after it tried to block [JURIST reports] his order dissolving parliament. Ukraine's leadership is divided in the wake of the 2004 Orange Revolution [Foreign Affairs backgrounder] that brought Yushchenko to power as president.






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Canada judge convicts 'Toronto 18' member on terrorism charges
Jay Carmella on February 17, 2010 8:16 AM ET

[JURIST] A member of the "Toronto 18" [Toronto Star backgrounder; JURIST news archive] was convicted on Tuesday for his role in the failed 2006 terrorist plot to bomb the Toronto Stock Exchange and other government buildings. Shareef Abdelhaleem, who pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] last month, was convicted after the Canadian judge found [Toronto Star report] that virtually no evidence existed to support his claims of entrapment. Adelhaleem argued that he was entrapped by Shaher Elsoheny, who was working as a police in informant and provided intelligence against Abdelhaleem and others that directly led to their arrests. The court found Adelhaleem to be the antithesis of a good witness during trial. It also found that the police used the necessary means in order to protect the public.

The "Toronto 18" remain an important symbol in the Canadian government's fight against terrorism. Last month, Amin Mohamed Durrani was released [JURIST report] after pleading guilty to participating in and assisting a terrorist group. Also in January, a Canadian court sentenced [JURIST report] two members of the group, Zakaria Amara and Saad Gaya [JURIST op-ed], to life and 12 years in prison, respectively, for their roles in the plot. Abdelhaleem was the first adult to be tried among the "Toronto 18" originally arrested and charged under Section 83 [Canadian DOJ backgrounder] of the Anti-Terrorism Act [text], Canada's post-9/11 legislation. Five more members of the group face trial in March.






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Florida man first to be compensated under state's wrongful incarceration act
Sarah Paulsworth on February 16, 2010 1:53 PM ET

[JURIST] A Florida man wrongfully imprisoned for three years and seven months accepted $179,000 in compensation Tuesday, becoming the first person to receive compensation under the state's Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act [text]. Leroy McGee was convicted of robbery [press release] in 1991, a crime he did not commit. After his release, McGee refused to accept the compensation offered to him by the state for eight months in effort to bring attention to alleged shortcomings in the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act. The act prohibits people with prior felony convictions from receiving compensation for wrongful imprisonment, commonly referred to as the "clean hands" provision, and does not provide compensation for legal fees incurred by wrongfully convicted people to be exonerated. A bill [text] was filed in Florida's Senate [official website] to eliminate the "clean hands" provision, but a similar bill has not yet been filed in the state’s House of Representatives [official website]. Congress has until March 1 to file bills for the year.

According to the Innocence Project [advocacy website], the federal government, the District of Columbia, and 27 states have compensation statutes of some form, while 23 states do not. In addition to the "clean hands" provision and the lack of compensation for legal fees, other shortcomings [Innocence Project report] in the compensation statutes include lack of uniformity and bars on compensation to people who are thought to have "contributed" to their wrongful conviction. In 2006, North Carolina established [JURIST report] the Inmate Innocence Commission to exonerate wrongfully imprisoned inmates.






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Bangladesh to appoint prosecutors for war crimes tribunal by March
Sarah Miley on February 16, 2010 11:35 AM ET

[JURIST] The Bangladesh government [official website] announced on Tuesday that prosecutors and investigators for the country's war crimes tribunal should be appointed by the first week of March. The tribunal will be used to conduct fair and transparent trials for those accused of war crimes during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] against Pakistan [JURIST news archive]. The announcement came after a meeting between Law Minister Shafique Ahmed and the director general of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) [official website]. The international development agency has offered the Bangladesh government USD 400 million for development projects, some of which may be used for the tribunal. The Bangladesh Parliament [official website] has allocated approximately USD 1.5 million for trial expenses. In April, the UN agreed to advise [JURIST report] the Bangladesh government on the organization and operation of the tribunal.

In July, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina [BBC profile] to improve war crimes laws [JURIST report] to bring justice to victims of the 1971 Liberation War. The rights group sent a letter to Hasina applauding the government's commitment in setting up tribunals to prosecute war criminals and asked for improvements to be made to the International Crimes Act of 1973. HRW requested that the trials be conducted by civilian judges, that the rights of the accused are respected, that there is proper protection for witnesses and victims who testify, that the law is consistent with international standards, and that the death penalty be excluded. HRW Asia director Brad Adams said that the law needs to be comprehensive enough to prevent the accused from challenging the entire process. HRW maintained that justice for the atrocities committed during the 1971 war is long overdue and that a lack of credibility for the Bangladesh tribunals would only benefit the accused war criminals.






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Myanmar court sentences Suu Kyi supporters to prison
Ann Riley on February 16, 2010 10:45 AM ET

[JURIST] A closed prison court in Myanmar on Monday sentenced Naw Ohn Hla and three other women to two years imprisonment with hard labor. The women, supporters of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], were accused [AP report] of causing public unrest. According to Nyan Win, spokesperson for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) [party website], the four women were arrested last October for offering religious literature to Buddhist monks at a high-profile monastery. The women additionally held prayer services for Suu Kyi's release. The judgment was offered the same day that UN special envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana [official profile] arrived in Myanmar to assess the state of human rights [UN News Centre report], while hoping to meet with Suu Kyi. On Tuesday, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF] urging Myanmar to end its practice of repressing ethnic minority activists [press release], lift its restrictions on freedom of association, assembly, and religion, and release all prisoners.

The women's arrest comes just four days after Suu Kyi learned that her appeal against the extension of her house arrest was rejected [News24 report]. In January, a Myanmar government official said that Suu Kyi would be released from house arrest [JURIST report] in November when her sentence is scheduled to end. The extension of 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. 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 was initially sentenced to three years in prison with hard labor, but her sentence was immediately commuted by junta chief General Than Shwe. 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 as a political move to prevent her from running in the upcoming elections. Her conviction has given rise to international sanctions [JURIST report] against Myanmar's junta and members of the judiciary.






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Iceland Parliament considering new measures to protect freedom of speech
Hillary Stemple on February 16, 2010 9:51 AM ET

[JURIST] The Icelandic Parliament [official website, in Icelandic] began considering measures Tuesday aimed at increasing protections for journalists and promoting freedom of speech and transparency in government. The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) [text] was developed by lawmakers in conjunction with Wikileaks, a non-profit website focused on exposing corruption and unethical actions perpetrated by governments and corporations. The measures were developed [CP report] partially in response to Iceland's 2008 economic crisis [BBC backgrounder], where a close relationship between the government and the media has been blamed for a lack of warning about the impending crisis. Supporters of IMMI believe [BBC report] if the initiative is implemented, members of the international press and investigative journalists will be drawn to the country by the protective aspects of the law. Stated goals of the initiative include:


[T]o make Iceland an attractive environment for the registration and operation of international press organizations, new media start-ups, human rights groups and internet data centers. It promises to strengthen our democracy through the power of transparency and to promote the nation's international standing and economy. We can create a comprehensive policy and legal framework to protect the free expression needed for investigative journalism and other politically important publishing. While some countries provide basic measures, Iceland now has an opportunity to build an internationally attractive legislative package built from the best laws of other nations.

In order to benefit from the initiative, media outlets would need to set up an office or a server and publish from Iceland.

Iceland has historically been viewed as a country with strong protections for freedom of the press. That reputation took a hit in 2009, following the economic crisis, when it fell to ninth in the annual Worldwide Index of Freedom [press release] released by Reporters Without Borders (RWB) [advocacy website, in French]. Iceland had been ranked first in 2007 and 2008, and second in 2006 [JURIST reports].





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EU to restrict Sri Lanka trade benefits over alleged human rights abuses
Andrea Bottorff on February 16, 2010 8:17 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Commission (EC) [official website] announced on Monday that it will withdraw trade benefits from Sri Lanka [press release] because of alleged human rights violations in the country. The decision to limit trade advantages comes after a year-long EC investigation in Sri Lanka that ended last October. The EC investigation report claimed that Sri Lanka has violated several UN conventions [text, PDF] that aim to prevent torture and protect civil, political, and child rights. EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht [official website] stressed that the decision is only temporary and suggested that the restrictions will be lifted when Sri Lankan officials address the rights abuses. The Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs [official website] also released a statement emphasizing the country's willingness to continue working with the international community [text] to protect citizens' rights, despite an ongoing struggle with terrorism. Sri Lanka will have six months to show an improvement in human rights before the new trade plan takes effect.

Sri Lanka has faced numerous allegations of human rights violations originating from incidents that took place during the final months of the civil war by both the government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [JURIST news archive]. Last month, a UN rights expert urged Sri Lanka [JURIST report] to conduct a war crimes probe after a video showing the execution of members of LTTE by members of the Sri Lankan military was authenticated. In October, the US State Department [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 to prosecute those responsible. While the government of Sri Lanka rejected [statement] the findings of the report, President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official website] decided in October to appoint an independent committee [JURIST report] to investigate allegations of human rights violations.






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Egypt state court system bars female judges
Megan McKee on February 16, 2010 7:52 AM ET

[JURIST] Egypt's State Council (Maglis id-Dowla) [POGAR backgrounder] association, an administrative court system with jurisdiction over cases involving the state, voted Monday to bar the appointment of female judges to the council. Of the 376 judges who participated in the vote [AFP report], 334 supported the bar against female appointments and 42 rejected it. Despite the overwhelming support the ban received, some are disappointed in the outcome of the vote, as it demonstrates a deep opposition to the government's campaign to eliminate gender discrimination in the judiciary. The decision could still be overruled by the Special Council, the body that oversees the State Council.

In 2007, 31 Egyptian women were selected [JURIST report] as judges by Egypt's Supreme Judicial Council, and later appointed by presidential decree despite ongoing resistance from the nation's conservatives. Council chief Mukbil Shakir selected the judges from a pool of state prosecutors who had passed a test for the positions. The move marked the first time in Egypt's history that women were named to preside over criminal or civil cases. In 2003, Tahany el-Gebaly became the nation's first female judge [Arabic News report] as a member of the Egyptian constitutional tribunal.






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UK rights commission says airport body scanners may be illegal
Steve Dotterer on February 16, 2010 7:18 AM ET

[JURIST] Controversial full-body scanners [CNN backgrounder] currently used in two UK airports may be illegal, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) [official website] announced [press release] Monday. The EHRC made the statement in a letter [text, PDF] to Department for Transport (DFT) [official website] Secretary Lord Andrew Adonis [official profile]. The commission's primary concerns relate to passengers' privacy and right to be free from discrimination:


We are yet to see sufficient evidence that this decision complies with the general or specific equality duties under the Race Relations Act [of] 1976, the Sex Discrimination Act [of] 1975 or the Disability Discrimination Act [of] 1995. These duties require a Secretary of State, in the performance of his or her functions, to give “due regard” to both the elimination of unlawful discrimination and the promotion of equality of opportunity and good relations between members of different racial groups.

A DFT spokesperson said [Telegraph report] the office is committed to ensuring passenger safety through legal means and that an assessment of the practice is currently underway.

The UK scanners were introduced February 1 in the Heathrow and Manchester Airports. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official profile] announced [JURIST report] the move toward body scanner use in January. European Union officials said in January that body scanners would not be installed [JURIST report] until further inquiries into privacy issues were made. The body scanners were introduced in part as a response to the failed US bombing attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab [Telegraph profile; JURIST news archive] on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day.





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Karadzic claims documents evidence weapons smuggling to Bosnian Muslims
Ximena Marinero on February 16, 2010 6:37 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [case materials; JURIST news archive] on Monday appeared before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] claiming that documents he seeks from former UN peacekeeper countries would provide evidence of arms smuggling to Bosnian Muslims during the 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict [PPU backgrounder]. Only Germany, France, and Croatia entered appearances at the hearing to contest [AFP report] the documents' disclosure. Karadzic alleges that peacekeeping countries supplied arms or were involved in the conflict providing support to Bosnian Muslims, prolonging the conflict and causing Bosnian Serbs to act in self-defense. According to an ICTY spokesperson, Monday's hearing was the last pre-trial hearing [DPA report], and the trial is scheduled to resume on March 1.

Last week, the ICTY dismissed Karadzic's appeal against the imposition of a court-appointed lawyer [JURIST reports]. In December, the Trial Chamber rejected Karadzic's motion [JURIST reports] challenging the legitimacy of the court. The ICTY began Karadzic's trial in absentia in October after Karadzic failed to appear [JURIST reports] in court. Karadzic had announced that he planned to boycott [JURIST report] his trial because he had not been given adequate time to prepare a defense. The ICTY has also repeatedly rejected [JURIST report] Karadzic's argument that he should be immune from trial based on an alleged agreement with former UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Karadzic faces 11 charges [amended indictment, PDF], including genocide and murder, for war crimes allegedly committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict. 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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Iran defends human rights record before UN council
Megan McKee on February 15, 2010 1:00 PM ET

[JURIST] Iranian official Mohammad Javad Larijani told the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] Monday that Iran is fulfilling its human rights obligations [video]. Larijani also said that the nation has implemented long-term plans to protect human rights [Reuters report]. Larijani rejected criticism suggesting the nation engaged in the torture and murder of dissidents, characterizing these allegations as politically motivated attempts to undermine Iran in light of the recent developments in its nuclear program. Larijani reiterated that Iran's nuclear program is intended for civilian use only. The UNHRC is examining [press release] Iran's human rights record, along with the records of 15 other nations, in its two-week Universal Periodic Review [materials] session. Amnesty International [advocacy website] criticized [press release, PDF] Iran's earlier report [text, PDF] to the UNHRC, calling its portrayal of the state of human rights in the nation distorted.

Last week, the European Union (EU) and the US government issued [JURIST report] a joint statement [text, PDF] condemning Iranian human rights violations since the disputed June presidential election [JURIST news archive]. The joint statement declared that the EU and the US were concerned about the possible increase in violence and repression during the anniversary of the founding of 1979 Islamic Republic [BBC backgrounder] on February 11 and called on Iran to live up to its international obligations with respect to human rights. Also, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates [official profile] and French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official website, in French] declared that Iran should receive stronger sanctions [VOA report] in response to news that the Iranian government had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of plans to begin enriching uranium for medical purposes last week.






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Holder 'flexible' on trying 9/11 suspects in civilian or military courts
Carrie Schimizzi on February 15, 2010 12:01 PM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] said in an interview [NYT report] with the New York Times Sunday that he hopes to hold a civilian trial for accused 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], but that a military tribunal must be considered in the wake of mounting public and political pressure. According to the interview, Holder prefers a civilian trial to ensure "swift, sure justice," but has not ruled out the option of a military commission in Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. When asked who would make the ultimate decision on where the trial will take place, Holder said, "I think that I make the final call, but if the president is not happy with that final call, he has the ability to reverse it." Holder also stated that he hopes the Obama administration will be able to announce a venue for the 9/11 trial within the next three weeks.

Holder expressed the same sentiments [JURIST report] in a Washington Post interview published last week. Holder said that more important than the location or forum is that the trial be transparent and adhere to the rules. Administration officials said President Barack Obama will take a greater role in deciding where and how the trial takes place, despite originally leaving the decision up to Holder. The possible civilian trial, first announced [JURIST report] in November, has received backlash from both New York City officials and members of Congress, including some who support closing Guantanamo Bay.






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Pakistan lawyers boycott courts over judicial appointments dispute
Ann Riley on February 15, 2010 11:25 AM ET

[JURIST] Hundreds of Pakistani lawyers boycotted the courts Monday in protest of the recent clash between President Asif Ali Zardari and the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official websites]. Lawyers protested and boycotted the courts [AFP report], refusing to attend court proceedings in Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi, and Quetta, after the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan (SCBAP) [official website] called for the strike. The boycotts come after the the Supreme Court on Saturday issued an emergency ruling [press release, PDF] denying [JURIST report] Zardari's judicial appointments. The legal community is divided [BBC report] over the issue, with lawyers supporting both the judiciary and Zardari gathering at the protests. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani [official website; BBC profile] has distanced himself from the appointments, claiming that his advice was not considered. The court has summoned Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan for a hearing on Thursday to determine the constitutionality of Zardari's actions.

Pakistan's executive and judiciary have historically had disputes, prompting instability. Last month, the Supreme Court released [JURIST report] a detailed judgment [judgment, PDF] in the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) [text] case, ruling unconstitutional an ordinance granting immunity to President Zardari and 8,000 other government officials from charges of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering, murder, and terrorism between January 1986 and October 1999. A special 17-member panel of the court rendered the original unanimous decision [JURIST report] in December, paving the way for corruption charges to be brought against Zardari. Zardari is immune from prosecution while in office, but challenges to his eligibility as a presidential candidate are expected. Many other government officials could face immediate prosecution.






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China prosecutors charge billionare with insider trading
Patrice Collins on February 15, 2010 10:15 AM ET

[JURIST] A Beijing court on Friday indicted Huang Guangyu, formerly China's richest man [Hurun report], with insider trading, bribery, and illegal business practices. The charges [WSJ report], brought by the Supreme People's Procuratorate [official website, in Chinese] come almost 15 months after Huang was initially placed under detention. His case has been the subject of intense media coverage in China involving allegations of bribery [Xinhua reports] to high-level Shanghai police among others. According to reports, Huang has been under investigation [EO report] by the Beijing Municipal People's Procuratorate for more than two years. He was previously the chairman of Pengrun Investments and founder of subsidiary GOME Electrical Appliances [corporate website], both publicly traded on the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock exchanges.

Huang's indictment is part of a wider campaign in China to crack down on corruption, which is seen by many as a threat [CE report] to China's future stability. Last week, the president of the Supreme People's Court (SPC) [official website, in Chinese] called for increased efforts [JURIST report] to fight corruption among the judiciary. The president's statement came just two weeks after former SPC vice president Huang Songyou was convicted [JURIST report] on bribery and embezzlement charges. Earlier in January, the Communist Party of China [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] announced [JURIST report] increasing oversight of the families of government officials to control corruption. Leader of the People's Republic, Hu Jintao [official profile], has made it a priority to combat grafting in China [Straits Times report], utilizing the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection [official website; in Chinese] to coordinate anti-corruption efforts among the public security, finance, judiciary, and diplomatic agencies.






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Spain to accept 5 Guantanamo detainees
Hillary Stemple on February 15, 2010 9:22 AM ET

[JURIST] Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos [official profile] announced Monday that Spain will accept five detainees currently being held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. Spain had previously agreed [JURIST report] to accept only two detainees, one Yemeni and one Palestinian, in response to a June request [AFP report] by the Obama administration. Moratinos indicated [El Pais report, in Spanish] that Spain was willing to increase the number of detainees accepted in order to help remedy what it sees as an unacceptable situation at the detention facility. No timetable has been set for the transfer, but Moratinos stated [BBC report] that it would occur in a way to protect the security of Spain.

The Obama administration continues its push to close the Guantanamo Bay facility, despite missing [NYT report] its self-imposed one-year deadline last month. The administration has run into several hurdles in closing the prison, including opposition from members of Congress and the suspension of detainee transfers to Yemen [JURIST report]. Spain joins a growing list of countries that have recently accepted transfers, including Latvia, Switzerland, Slovakia, Algeria, Afghanistan, Palau , Bermuda, Albania and Somaliland [JURIST reports].






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Australia court sentences 5 in domestic terrorism case
Dwyer Arce on February 15, 2010 8:20 AM ET

[JURIST] The New South Wales Supreme Court [official website] on Monday sentenced five men for conspiring to commit acts of terrorism. The five men are Australian citizens from Sydney and are of Lebanese, Libyan, and Bangladeshi descent. The lead conspirator and his lieutenant were sentenced [SMH report] to 28 years in prison, while the other three involved in the plot received between 23 and 26 years, all of which were to be dated from the time of their arrest in 2005. The men had pleaded not guilty to the conspiracy charges at the beginning of the 10-month trial, the longest in Australian history. During the trial, the prosecution charged [Telegraph report] that the five men wanted to terrorize the Australian public in retaliation for Australian involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars [GlobalSecurity backgrounders]. It was also charged that one of the men was trained in Pakistan [NYT report] by Lashkar-e-Taiba [CFR backgrounder], and three others were taken into the Australian outback and trained in a paramilitary-like camp. Although their target was unspecified, testimony during trial alleged that the conspirators considered attacking a football game and killing former prime minister John Howard [BBC profile].

The five men were convicted [JURIST report] of conspiracy to do acts in preparation of terrorist attacks in October. The men, who could not be named publicly, were found guilty of having stockpiled ammunition and bomb-making materials. Four co-conspirators had previously pleaded guilty [ABC report] to related charges, although this information was kept from the jury [Australian report] during the trial. The five faced a maximum of life in prison [Reuters report]. The jury returned the convictions after deliberating for 23 days [UPI report], hearing from 300 witnesses, and examining 3,000 exhibits, which included 30 days of video surveillance [ABC report] and 18 hours of taped phone calls. The men were arrested [ABC report] in a series of raids in 2005.






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US lawmakers call for legislation to limit corporate campaign spending
Dwyer Arce on February 14, 2010 4:42 PM ET

[JURIST] US lawmakers on Thursday called for legislation [summary, PDF] to mitigate the effects of the recent Supreme Court decision easing restrictions [JURIST report] on political campaign spending by corporations. The proposal was put forth by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Representative Chris van Hollen (D-MD) [official websites]. As outlined, the legislation would ban foreign companies, or those controlled by foreign companies or governments, from contributing to US elections. Additionally, it would ban government contractors and the recipients of Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) [official website] funds from contributing. The legislative outline also proposed that corporate CEOs be required to appear at the end of any political advertising they funded to endorse it, and would require corporate entities to report their spending to the Federal Election Committee [official website]. In a press conference [video] explaining the proposal, Schumer said:


The [Citizens United v. FEC] decision was coercive to our democracy, hard to understand, and ... an infuriating one. ... Unlike most bills, this one has a deadline for action. ... If we don't act quickly, the court's ruling will have an immediate and disastrous impact on the 2010 elections. So our goal is to advance the legislation quickly, otherwise the Supreme Court will have predetermined the winner of the midterm elections. It won't be the Republicans or the Democrats. It will be corporate America.

In his statements, Schumer also referenced a poll [results, PDF] released last Monday, which found that 64 percent of those polled were against the ruling, including a majority of self-described Republicans.

Last month, the US Supreme Court decided [opinion, PDF] 5-4 in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [Cornell LII backgrounder] to ease restrictions on political campaign spending by corporations. The court was asked to consider Section 203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act [text, PDF], which prohibited corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures for speech defined as an "electioneering communication" or for speech expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate. President Barack Obama sharply criticized [JURIST report] the decision in his State of the Union Address [transcript] last month. Obama warned of the increased potential for powerful interest groups, both foreign and domestic, to wield excessive influence over American elections and called for bipartisan support of legislation to counteract the decision. The decision has caused a deep partisan divide [CNN report] over the topic, with Democratic officials largely opposing the decision, and Republican officials mostly in support.





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Former UK AG calls for clarification of government complicity in torture
Dwyer Arce on February 14, 2010 3:12 PM ET

[JURIST] The former attorney general for England and Wales Lord Peter Goldsmith [JURIST news archive] called for an investigation into whether British intelligence agencies were complicit in the torture of terror suspects abroad. Goldsmith said [Independent report] that government arguments against their complicity in torture by foreign intelligence services had only created more confusion about the issue. He stopped short of calling for a full public inquiry, stating that the government should decide the proper manner in which to clarify the matter. Goldsmith's statements are at odds with those of the government, which has adamantly denied any collusion in torture. Last week, Home Secretary Alan Johnson [official profile] described the allegations as ludicrous lies. The statement by Goldsmith has been viewed [Daily Mail report] as particularly damaging to the government, as it shows the first split in its previously unified response to the allegations, and because Goldsmith was a senior government official throughout the period in which the complicity is alleged to have occurred.

On Friday, Director General Jonathan Evans [official profile] of MI5 [official website] denied [JURIST report] accusations that it had collaborated with the US over the alleged torture of former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Binyam Mohamed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] in response to criticisms that the organization did not respect human rights, that it misled parliament, and that is supported a culture of suppression. On Wednesday, the England and Wales Court of Appeal [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that the government must disclose seven previously withheld paragraphs outlining the alleged torture of Mohamed. British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband [official profile] accepted the court's decision, disclosing the information.






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Canada rights tribunal rules polling places must be accessible to disabled voters
Ximena Marinero on February 14, 2010 12:31 PM ET

[JURIST] The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) [official website] on Friday ordered [decision, PDF] Elections Canada (EC) [official website] to comply with the Canadian Human Rights Act [materials] by ensuring that polling facilities are accessible to voters with disabilities. The CHRT ruled that in failing to provide accessible facilities for voters with disabilities, the EC "engaged in a discriminatory practice within the meaning of section 5 of the CHRA, [finding] the Complaint of James Peter Hughes is substantiated." The EC will also have to overhaul its policies and conduct training for Returning Officers and officials under their supervision concerning "disability and accessibility issues" as well as implement new procedures for addressing voter complaints on the subject in consultation with the Canadian Human Rights Commission [official website] and disabilities advocacy organizations and voters with disabilities. The Tribunal will continue to monitor the EC's progress on the order. The EC will also have to pay damages to Hughes for the discrimination he suffered. The Council of Canadians With Disabilities (CCD) [advocacy website] intervened as an interested party advocating [affidavit text] for Hughes's position.

Since 1992, amendments [EC backgrounder] to the Canada Elections Act [text] have resulted in improvements in access to polls for persons with disabilities. In the US, the General Accounting Office found [report] in June 2009 that access to polling sites for voters with disabilities after the Help America Vote Act of 2002 [text] has improved in comparison to year 2000 conditions from 16 percent to a current estimated 27 percent impediment-free facilities, but much progress is still needed. An estimated 45 percent of polling facilities that have potential impediments offer curbside voting to help voter with disabilities.






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China embassy claims missing rights lawyer working in Urumqi
Ximena Marinero on February 14, 2010 10:51 AM ET

[JURIST] The Chinese Embassy [official website] in Washington DC claims that prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng [advocacy website; JURIST news archive], missing for more than a year, is working in the Urumqi region [press release], according to human rights organization Dui Hua Foundation [advocacy website] on Saturday. The statement characterizes the information as "sparse," and it contradicts Gao's family by declaring that the activist has been in contact with his wife and family members. Chinese Foreign Ministry [official website, in Chinese] spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu [official profile] said [JURIST report] in late January that Gao is "where he should be." Earlier in January, Chinese lawyers and US-based rights group ChinaAid [advocacy website] called on [JURIST report] Beijing police to conduct a search for Gao.

Gao drew international attention in September 2007 when he wrote a letter [JURIST report] to the US Congress requesting assistance in improving human rights in China. Gao, who has also defended Christians and coal miners in China, claimed [AP report] that he was tortured after his arrest in 2007. He was convicted of subversion [JURIST report] and placed under house arrest in 2006. China has long received criticism [JURIST news archive] from watchdog groups for its treatment of rights activists such as Gao.






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Pakistan Supreme Court challenges president's judicial appointments
Steve Czajkowski on February 13, 2010 3:54 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] on Saturday deferred the appointment of two judges by President Asif Ali Zardari [official website] in an emergency ruling [press release, PDF] which has once again pitched the country's judiciary against its executive. Current Lahore High Court Justices Khawaja Muhammad Sharif and Mian Saqib Nisar were to be appointed as a Judge of the Supreme Court and as Acting Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court respectively. The Supreme Court denied the nominations because Zadir had not consulted Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry [official profile; JURIST news archive] over the appointment of Sharif to the Supreme Court as required by Article 177 of the Pakistani Constitution [text]. Nisar's assignment was dependent on Sharif's placement to the Supreme Court. Minister of Information Qamar Zaman Kaira said that Zardari did consult [AP report] with the Chief Justice, but it has also been reported that the judges questioned the validity [Dawn report] of their appointments.

Last month, the Pakistani Supreme Court released a detailed judgment [judgment, PDF] in the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) [text] case, ruling unconstitutional an ordinance granting immunity to President Zardari and 8,000 other government officials from charges of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering, murder, and terrorism between January 1986 and October 1999. A special 17-member panel of the court rendered the original unanimous decision [JURIST report] in December, paving the way for corruption charges to be brought against Zardari. Zardari is immune from prosecution while in office, but challenges to his eligibility as a presidential candidate are expected. Many other government officials could face immediate prosecution.






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Ivory Coast president dissolves parliament after voter fraud allegations
Steve Czajkowski on February 13, 2010 1:44 PM ET

[JURIST] Ivory Coast [JURIST news archive] President Laurent Gbagbo [BBC profile] on Friday dissolved [France24 report, video] the country's parliament and electoral commission based on allegations of voter fraud in the long delayed presidential elections in the African nation. On disbanding the government, Gbagbo charged Prime Minister Guillaume Soro [BBC profile] with creation of new government and deciding on a new election format. Gbagbo had accused Beugre Mambe, the head of the independent electoral commission, of fraud by attempting to register over 400,000 whom Gbagbo considers to be foreigners. Opposition parties such as the Ivory Coast Democratic Party (PDCI) [party website, in French] and Republican Gathering Party (RDR) [party website, in French] have said that most of those voters are ethnic groups in the north of the country, who would likely have voted against Gbagbo.

Gbagbo was elected president in 2000 to serve a five-year term, but he has managed to stay in office after elections after six successive elections have been delayed. The now deposed government had been the product of peace negotiations [AFP report] in 2007 between Gbagbo's government and northern rebels. Prior to 2007, the Ivory Coast had been divided into a southern region controlled by the government and a northern region controlled by rebel forces after a failed coup attempt in 2002, which started the country's Civil War [Reuters timeline].






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Myanmar frees opposition vice-chairman from 6-year house arrest
Bhargav Katikaneni on February 13, 2010 11:24 AM ET

[JURIST] The government of Myanmar released [BBC report] 82-year old democracy activist U Tin Oo from six years of house arrest [CNN report] on Friday, just days before UN special envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana [official profile] is to visit the country [AFP report]. Oo, a decorated general, is the Vice-Chairman of the National League of Democracy (NLD) [advocacy website], the opposition party headed by Aung San Syu Kyii [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], currently under house arrest herself. Opposition activists have been expecting his release [Mizzima report] after word leaked out the general was undergoing eye surgery at the American Eye Vision Hospital in Rangoon. Thant Zin Oo, the general's son, said the release was a calculated political move [Irrawaddy report] designed to appease the UN.

The Burmese government announced last year that it was processing grants of immunity [JURIST report] to allow prisoners to participate in the 2010 general elections [BBC report] but it is unclear if the NLD will take part in them [AP report]. Burmese Home Minister Major General Maung Oo [official website] recently announced that Suu Kyi will be released from house arrest in November when her sentence is scheduled to expire.






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Supreme Court seeks guidance on Uighur case after Swiss transfer announcement
Bhargav Katikaneni on February 13, 2010 10:32 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] Friday ordered [text, PDF] the Obama administration and lawyers for Chinese Uighurs detained at Guantanamo Bay to file briefs explaining how [AP report] Switzerland's decision to accept [JURIST report] two Uighurs as refugees affects their pending habeas petition [petitioner's brief, PDF; government brief in opposition, PDF]. The Court originally granted certiorari [JURIST report] in Kiyemba v. Obama [docket; Center for Constitutional Rights backgrounder] to determine whether it is within the power of the judicial branch to order the release of detainees into the United States. The Department of Justice argued last week that the Uighurs appeals were moot [JURIST report] after Switzerland announced its decision to accept the two Uighurs into its Country

The Obama administration has refused to repatriate [BBC report] the Chinese Uighurs due to fears that they may be mistreated in China, where they are considered terrorists. Of the 22 Uighurs originally detained at Guantanamo Bay, 17 have been relocated to other countries. Six Uighurs were transferred to Palau , four to Bermuda, five to Albania [JURIST reports], and two were accepted by Switzerland last week despite objections [Reuters report] from the Chinese government. Palau announced last week that it would accept [AFP report] the remaining five Uighurs.






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France minister proposes bill to restrict illegal immigration
Steve Czajkowski on February 12, 2010 4:08 PM ET

[JURIST] French Immigration Minister Eric Besson [official profile, in French] on Friday presented a bill that would create "transit zones" allowing the French government to immediately detain undocumented immigrants wherever they are found. According to Besson, the draft law [Le Monde report, in French] will allow the government to hold either a single individual or a group if they arrive outside a specified checkpoint. The legislation would also change the amount of time an immigrant has to challenge deportation from 30 days to 48 hours. Additionally, the bill would allow for a three year ban on returning to the country for those that are expelled, it would repeal the authority of certain judges to intervene in the cases dealing with the detention of illegal immigrants, and it would institute harsher fines and restrictions for employers who hire illegal workers. The bill is to be put before the Council of Ministers [official website, in French] in March.

French immigration laws have been the subject of controversy in recent years. In November 2008, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg [official profile] released a report saying that "French detention and immigration policies risk reducing human rights protection." On overall immigration policy, Hammarberg said [press release] that a French quota on irregular migrant worker expulsion was improper and that a permanent solution needs to be reached regarding the situation of minority Roma [JURIST news archive]. In September 2007, France's National Assembly [official website, in French] passed an immigration bill [materials, in French; JURIST report] that drew criticism because it permitted officials to test the DNA of an applicant seeking to rejoin family in France if immigration officials doubted the veracity of the application. In June 2006, the French parliament passed a conservative immigration bill [JURIST report] that tightened restrictions on unskilled, non-EU immigrants and required immigrants to sign a pledge to learn French and to abide by French law






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UK security head denies torture collaboration
Steve Czajkowski on February 12, 2010 3:12 PM ET

[JURIST] The head of the UK intelligence service MI5 [official website] on Friday denied [press release] accusations that it had collaborated with the US over the alleged torture of former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Binyam Mohamed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Director General Jonathan Evans [official profile] made the comments in response to criticisms [Guardian report] by Lord David Neuberger that the organization did not respect human rights, that it misled parliament, and that is supported a culture of suppression. Evans admitted that MI5 had made mistakes in the past but emphasized that the organization does not condone torture:


One shortfall [the Intelligence and Security Committee] highlighted in 2005 and again in 2007 was that the British intelligence community was slow to detect the emerging pattern of US mistreatment of detainees after September 11, a criticism that I accept. But there wasn’t any similar change of practice by the British intelligence agencies. We did not practise mistreatment or torture then and do not do so now, nor do we collude in torture or encourage others to torture on our behalf.

Neuberger's comments were made public following a ruling [judgment text; JURIST report] by the England and Wales Court of Appeal [official website] on Wednesday that held the government must disclose seven previously withheld paragraphs of a report outlining the alleged torture of Mohamed. The ruling ended the long-running legal battle to keep the information classified. In December, British government lawyers argued that two UK High Court judges acted irresponsibly when they ruled that the details of the detention must be released [JURIST reports]. This was following an interim ruling [JURIST report] by Lord Justice Thomas and Justice Lloyd Jones that redacted the release. Last November, 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."





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Rights group urges Nigeria acting president to remedy abuses
Steve Dotterer on February 12, 2010 1:55 PM ET

[JURIST] Nigerian acting President Goodluck Jonathan [BBC profile] must take action to "tackle the culture of impunity" in Nigeria, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said in a letter [text] dated Friday. HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth called on Jonathan to address rights abuses left unaddressed during the two-and-a-half-year term of the Umaru Yar'Adua [BBC profile] presidency. Specifically, the letter highlighted "endemic corruption, inter-communal violence, abuses by state security forces, and the crisis in the Niger Delta." The letter stated in part:


The two and a half years of the Yar'Adua presidency have seen a disappointing rate of progress, if not significant setbacks, in addressing these concerns. You have the chance to do better. Not only has the Nigerian government undermined efforts to tackle widespread corruption, but government security forces continue to commit serious abuses, such as extrajudicial killings and torture, with impunity. Promising initiatives that were undertaken by the Yar'Adua administration, such as police and electoral reform, have yet to translate into any tangible policy changes. Meanwhile, the government's 2009 amnesty plan for the Niger Delta has failed to address the root causes of the violence and instability - corruption and mismanagement of oil wealth and the arming of criminal gangs by ruling-party politicians.

HRW also urged the government to hold accountable those responsible for recent sectarian violence that took place in the city of Jos.

HRW's letter comes days after Jonathan assumed the presidency [JURIST report] in place of ailing president Yar'Adua. Yar'Adua, who suffers from a heart condition [AP report], was taken to a hospital in Saudi Arabia in November and has not been seen in public since then. While HRW has called on Jonathan directly, other rights groups have petitioned international authorities to take action to prevent recurring rights abuses. Earlier this month, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) [advocacy website] called for [JURIST report] an International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] investigation into the violence that took place in Jos in January. The ICC is considering [JURIST report] the petition.





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Holder not ruling out military trial for accused 9/11 conspirators
Zach Zagger on February 12, 2010 12:43 PM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] refused to rule out [WP report] a military commission for accused 9/11 co-conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], in an interview with the Washington Post published Friday. Holder said that more important than the location or forum is that the trial be transparent and adhere to the rules. Administration officials said President Barack Obama will take a greater role in deciding where and how the trial takes place, despite originally leaving the decision up to Holder. The possible civilian trial has received backlash from both New York City officials and members of Congress, including some who support closing Guantanamo Bay. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) [official website] said [press release] the 9/11 terror suspects should not be granted the same constitutional rights as American citizens and should be tried by military commission, proposing legislation to cut off funding for a civilian trial.

On Sunday, Obama said that a civilian trial in New York City for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is still a possibility, despite reports that the White House is considering other options [JURIST reports]. Obama said officials are looking into the logistical and security issues present before making the decision. The Obama administration has faced growing objections from New York City and state officials, and criticism over the planned trials since they were first announced [JURIST reports] in November. Last month, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg [official website] urged [JURIST report] the federal government not to hold the trial in the city citing costs and potential disruptions to the lives of New Yorkers. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said last month that upon being tried and convicted, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would likely be executed [JURIST report] because of the heinous nature of the crime.






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ICTY dismisses Karadzic appeal of court-appointed lawyer
Jonathan Cohen on February 12, 2010 11:59 AM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Friday dismissed [judgment, PDF] the appeal [text, PDF] against the imposition of a court-appointed lawyer by former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [case materials; JURIST news archive]. Last month, Karadzic appealed the imposition of a court-appointed lawyer [JURIST reports] claiming his right to "legal assistance of his own choosing" under Article 21(4)(d) of the Statute of the ICTY and the Appeals Chamber ruling [texts, PDF] in Prosecutor v. Seselj was being violated. Because Karadzic chose to represent himself, the Appeals Chamber found that he "does not enjoy any rights that are derived from choosing to be represented by legal counsel." They also stated that:


Karadzic's persistent obstructive behaviour has made it necessary, in the interests of justice, to limit his right to self-representation by assigning counsel to represent his interests,

noting "that the right to self-represent is not absolute and may be subject to certain limitations." Karadzic's trial is set to resume on Monday, March 1.

In December, the Trial Chamber rejected Karadzic's motion [JURIST reports] challenging the legitimacy of the court. In November, the ICTY denied a motion [JURIST report] filed by Karadzic requesting appellate review of the court's decision to assign standby counsel. The ICTY began Karadzic's trial in absentia in October after Karadzic failed to appear [JURIST reports] in court. Karadzic had announced that he planned to boycott [JURIST report] his trial because he had not been given adequate time to prepare a defense. The ICTY has also repeatedly rejected [JURIST report] Karadzic's argument that he should be immune from trial based on an alleged agreement with former UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Karadzic 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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Sri Lanka high court to review legality of opposition candidate's arrest
Sarah Paulsworth on February 12, 2010 11:56 AM ET

[JURIST] Sri Lanka's Supreme Court agreed on Friday to consider a petition questioning the legality of the arrest of opposition presidential candidate and former general Sarath Fonseka [BBC profile]. The petition was filed [AFP report] by Fonseka's wife. Also Friday, street protests against Fonseka's arrest continued for a third day. Lawyers marched silently in Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, clad in black ceremonial robes. Eight people were reportedly injured [Reuters report] in a clash between the protesters and police, as the protesters exited the Supreme Court. The Sri Lankan Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) announced [press release] Monday that Fonseka was arrested [JURIST report] "in connection with certain fraudulent acts and other military offences." Incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official website, in Sinhala] alleges that Fonseka was planning a coup [BBC report]. Human Rights groups have expressed concern [JURIST report] that the decision to try Fonseka in a military court will deprive him of "due process."

On Tuesday, Rajapaksa dissolved [JURIST report] Parliament [official website] and called for early parliamentary elections. It is believed that Rajapaksa is trying to harness momentum from the presidential election in January, in which he was re-elected, to gain more seats in parliament for his political party, Freedom Alliance. Last week, 37 people, most of them military officers, were arrested in connection to an alleged assassination attempt against Rajapaksa. The Sri Lankan Supreme Court ruled last week that Rajapaksa's second term [JURIST report] will begin in November. The apparent victor in January's elections, Rajapaksa defeated Fonseka by an official margin of 18 points, winning re-election to a second term in office. Fonseka has disputed [Al Jazeera report] the results, saying violence and vote-counting irregularities invalidated the outcome.






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Europe rights court finds Russia liable for Chechnya disappearances
Patrice Collins on February 12, 2010 10:07 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [press release] Friday that Russia breached the European Convention on Human Rights [text] in two cases concerning disappearances in Chechnya [JURIST news archive]. In the cases of Razman Guluyeva and Islam Dubayev [judgments], the ECHR held that Russia violated the right to life, the right to liberty and security, the right to an effective remedy, and prohibitions on inhuman or degrading treatment. Relatives of Guluyev brought the first case before the court, arguing that the Russian authorities had failed to properly investigate Guluyev's 2002 disappearance after he was taken from his home in Grozny by armed men in camouflage uniforms. Applicants in the second case are relatives of Dunbayev and Roman Bersnukayev, members of an armed militia in the Caucuses, who were abducted from the town of Urus-Martan in 2000 and 2001. Russia has been ordered to pay damages [RIA Novosti] in both instances.

The ECHR has repeatedly ruled against Russia in human rights cases involving Chechnya, and rights groups have urged Russia to enforce the judgments [JURIST report]. In September, the ECHR found Russia liable [JURIST report] for the disappearances of two civilians. In April, the ECHR ordered [JURIST report] Russia to pay a total of €282,000 to compensate the families of Chechen abduction victims. In March, the court ordered Russia [JURIST report] to pay €37,000 to a Russian national for the death of her husband, who was chopping wood when Russian troops killed him in 2000. In December 2008, the ECHR determined [JURIST report] Russia had violated the human rights of six other Chechens who disappeared between 2001 and 2003, and ordered Russia to pay the victims' families €320,000. Also last December, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile] proposed [transcript, in Russian] that Russian courts become more transparent [JURIST report] in order to restore faith in the justice system and prevent people from turning to the ECHR.






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Israel begins moving West Bank security barrier under court order
Daniel Makosky on February 12, 2010 9:35 AM ET

[JURIST] Israel has begun to reroute a segment of its West Bank security barrier [official website; JURIST news archive], said Ministry of Defense [official website, in Hebrew] spokesperson Shlomo Dror on Thursday. The modifications, which may not be completed until the end of the year, will shift the controversial barrier's path several hundred yards west [AFP report] of its current location near Bilin, and will return more than 800,000 square yards [JTA report] of land to Palestinian farmers. The move comes more than two years after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that the government must change the route because it excessively encroached on Palestinian territory and infringed on residents' rights to access fields and orchards blocked by the barrier.

The contested portion in Bilin is just 500 acres of a 410-mile wall along the West Bank border, which Israel began to construct in 2002 to keep suicide bombers from entering Israeli territory. The barrier has been denounced by Palestinians as a land grab that has broken up communities and families, but Israeli officials insist it is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks. In 2006, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered Israel to dismantle another section of the wall in the northern West Bank, but Israeli courts have also rejected [JURIST reports] petitions by Palestinians when security concerns outweighed the Palestinians' objections. In 2004, the International Court of Justice [official website] issued a non-binding advisory opinion [text; JURIST report] that parts of the wall should be torn down.






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Iraq appeals panel allows 28 banned candidates to stand for election
David Manes on February 12, 2010 9:10 AM ET

[JURIST] An Iraqi appeals panel ruled Thursday that 28 previously banned candidates can stand in the March 7 elections [JURIST news archive]. The ruling came after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [official website, in Arabic] said Monday that the dispute over banned candidates would be resolved [JURIST report] within the week. The Responsibility and Justice Committee had initially ruled that some banned 500 candidates could stand for election, despite allegations of ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party [BBC backgrounder], a decision that the Iraqi government characterized as illegal, but that decision was reversed [JURIST reports] Sunday when the panel acknowledged that it did not have to rule on all 500 candidates at once. Some candidates had already been replaced, and of 177 disqualified candidates who appealed their decisions, all but 37 were disqualified [Reuters report] for improper filing.

Last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official website] urged Iraq [AFP report] to allow the disqualified candidates to run. Iraqi leaders who opposed the original decision to exclude 500 candidates had called on [JURIST report] the Supreme Court to analyze whether the decision was legally binding. The Iraqi Parliament had been summoned to an emergency session on Sunday to debate whether to further postpone the scheduled March 7 elections, but the session was delayed when not enough lawmakers were present to achieve a quorum. The Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) [official website] previously postponed the parliamentary elections campaign, originally set to begin last Sunday, until Friday, when campaigning officially got underway [AFP report]. The election will determine the 325 members of the Council of Representatives of Iraq who will then elect the prime minister and president.






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UN rights expert sees progress in Sudan, but problems remain
Matt Glenn on February 12, 2010 8:05 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan Muhamed Chande Othman said Thursday that while Sudan has made progress [text] in protecting human rights, grave problems still exist. Othman praised [UN News Centre report] the "institutional and legislative reform" leading to the passage of several laws protecting children and the press and creating election and human rights commissions, but said that Sudan still faces a number of problems. Specifically, Othman expressed concern about the governments failure to appoint commissioners to the country's Human Rights Commission created eight months ago, criminal procedure laws that "infringe fundamental rights," and reports of threats and harassment directed against potential candidates for public office. On Darfur [JURIST news archive], Othman said many people lack access to justice, that the government often detains people for significant periods of time without bringing charges against them, and that the government has failed to bring to justice those suspected of committing war crimes.

On Wednesday, UN and Darfur government groups began work [JURIST report] on compensation for victims of the conflict in Darfur. On Monday, the African Union (AU) [official website] called for a hybrid court [JURIST report] of Sudanese and foreign judges to hear trials of individuals accused of war crimes in Darfur. Last week, the Appeals Chamber of the ICC reversed [JURIST report] a Pre-Trial Chamber decision that denied the application for an arrest warrant on genocide charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. In December, Sudan lawmakers agreed on a law addressing the implementation of a 2011 referendum on southern independence agreed to earlier in the month [JURIST reports]. Under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) [UN press release] that ended two decades of civil war, Sudan is expected to hold its first democratic multi-party elections in almost a quarter of a century in April.






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France court rules eBay intentionally led consumers to Louis Vuitton counterfeits
Matt Glenn on February 12, 2010 7:08 AM ET

[JURIST] The Paris District Court [official website, in French] on Thursday ordered Internet auction house eBay to pay LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) [corporate website] €200,000 ($275,000) in damages for paying search engines to direct customers to counterfeit LVMH products. The court found that eBay registered names similar to Louis Vuitton [AP report] with search engines knowing that consumers looking for counterfeit products would search using those terms and be led to auctions on eBay selling those goods. The court also ordered eBay to pay LVMH €30,000 ($41,300) in attorney's fees and said that auction company will be fined €1,000 for any future violations of Thursday's judgment. A spokesperson for eBay said the company has not decided whether to appeal [WSJ report] the judgment.

In a separate case in September, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] issued an advisory opinion against LVMH [JURIST report] in its suit to collect damages from Google for Google's AdWords system, which allows companies and individuals to purchase advertising space when a user searches for a product or brand name. In 2008, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled [JURIST report] that eBay has no duty to actively monitor its site for counterfeit goods. Earlier in 2008, however, a French court ordered eBay to pay LVMH $63 million [JURIST report] for failing to prevent the sale of counterfeit luxury goods.






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US intelligence chief condemns UK decision to release details of detainee treatment
Sarah Miley on February 12, 2010 6:52 AM ET

[JURIST] US Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair [official profile] on Wednesday condemned [press release, PDF] a UK Court of Appeal ruling [judgment text; JURIST report] that the British government must publish intelligence relating to the alleged torture of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed [JURIST news archives]. UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband [official profile] had expressed concern [press release] that releasing the information could harm US-UK cooperation, saying that it relies on the "principle that if a country shares intelligence with another, that country must agree before its intelligence is released." In his statement, Blair said that the ruling was a setback, but that the two countries would continue to share intelligence:


The protection of confidential information is essential to strong, effective security and intelligence cooperation among allies. The decision by a United Kingdom court to release classified information provided by the United States is not helpful, and we deeply regret it. The United States and the United Kingdom have a long history of close cooperation that relies on mutual respect for the handling of classified information. This court decision creates additional challenges, but our two countries will remain united in our efforts to fight against violent extremist groups.

Also Wednesday, a White House spokesperson said that the US was disappointed by the ruling.

The newly-released information includes seven paragraphs that summarized the torture of Mohamed, including sleep deprivation, shackling and mental stress and suffering that cased him to be put on suicide watch. The court's ruling ended the long-running legal battle to keep the information classified. In December, British government lawyers argued that two UK High Court judges acted irresponsibly when they ruled that the details of the detention must be released [JURIST reports]. This was following an interim ruling [JURIST report] by Lord Justice Thomas and Justice Lloyd Jones that redacted the release. Last November, 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 2009, after charges against him were dismissed [JURIST reports] in October 2008. Mohamed had been held at Guantanamo Bay for four years on suspicion of conspiracy to commit terrorism [JURIST report].





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Haiti judge recommends provisional release of US citizens in kidnapping case
Zach Zagger on February 11, 2010 2:53 PM ET

[JURIST] The Haitian judge overseeing the prosecution of 10 US citizens charged with kidnapping in the wake of the January 12 earthquake [JURIST news archive] said he will recommend their provisional release pending the investigation. Judge Bernard Saint-Vil said he will send the recommendation to the prosecutor [AP report], who has the ability to object, but ultimately the judge has the final say on whether they are released. The judge made the decision after hearing testimony from the childrens' parents that they were voluntarily given to the American missionaries. Even if released, the Americans will not be able to return to the US until a ruling on their case is made. It is unclear [NYT report] whether the prosecution will support the release or whether the charges will be dropped. If convicted, the missionaries face up to 24 years in prison.

The Americans, many of whom were from the Idaho-based New Life Children's Refuge [BBC profile], were charged [JURIST report] last week in connection to their attempt to take 33 children across the Haitian border into the Dominican Republic where the group claimed it hoped to start an orphanage. Haitian authorities claim, however, that many of the children were not orphans, but given up by their parents to the missionaries who promised a better life for the children. The ten were each charged with one count of kidnapping and one count of criminal association. Lawyer Edwin Coq, who is representing the group, said that prison conditions were sub-standard and that his clients were not receiving adequate food and water. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused massive damage to property and infrastructure in Haiti, and the death toll has now been estimated at 230,000.






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Rights group criticizes Sri Lanka court-martial of defeated opposition candidate
Haley Wojdowski on February 11, 2010 12:19 PM ET

[JURIST] The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) [official website] on Thursday criticized [press release] Sri Lanka's plans to court-martial defeated opposition presidential candidate and former general Sarath Fonseka [BBC profile]. The Sri Lankan Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) announced [press release] Monday that Fonseka was arrested [JURIST report] "in connection with certain fraudulent acts and other military offences." According to AHRC:


The case is being pursued in military courts, thus avoiding the country's ordinary courts and depriving him of due process. This is also depriving the public of information on his case. ... The overall situation created under these circumstances is one of intimidation and political tension. The Secretary General of the United Nations has made a request to avoid further tensions in the country. However, there does not seem to be any positive response on the part of the government to this request.

AHRC called for the "due process of law [to] prevail" and for "the authority of the country's ordinary courts [to] be preserved."

On Tuesday, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official website, in Sinhala] dissolved [JURIST report] Parliament [official website] and called for early parliamentary elections. It is believed that Rajapaksa is trying to harness momentum from the presidential election in January, in which he was re-elected, to gain more seats in parliament for his political party, Freedom Alliance. Last week, 37 people, most of them military officers, were arrested in connection to an alleged assassination attempt against Rajapaksa. The Sri Lankan Supreme Court ruled last week that Rajapaksa's second term [JURIST report] will begin in November. The apparent victor in January's elections, Rajapaksa defeated Fonseka by an official margin of 18 points, winning re-election to a second term in office. Fonseka has disputed [Al Jazeera report] the results, saying violence and vote-counting irregularities invalidated the outcome.





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Rwanda genocide tribunal sentences ex-army officer to 15 years for incitement
Jonathan Cohen on February 11, 2010 11:56 AM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] on Thursday convicted former Rwandan army officer Tharcisse Muvunyi [ICTR case materials; Trial Watch profile] of direct and public incitement to genocide and sentenced [press release] him to 15 years imprisonment. Muvunyi was the highest placed military officer in charge of security operations in the prefectures of Butare and Gikongoro and former commander of a Rwandan school for non-military officers. He was charged [indictment, PDF] with inciting Hutus to kill Tutsis at the Gikore Center in Butare prefecture sometime in early May 1994. Muvunyi will receive credit for time served since his arrest in 2000.

The ICTR began the retrial of Muvunyi last June after setting aside [JURIST reports] a previous conviction due to insufficient evidence. Muvunyi was convicted [JURIST report] in September 2006 for his role in the ethnic separation and subsequent killing of orphaned children and the killing of at least 140 students and Red Cross workers. Last March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] 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 [HRW backgrounder; JURIST news archive] between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples, in which nearly 800,000 people, primarily Tutsis, were killed.






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Uruguay ex-president sentenced to 30 years in prison over 1973 coup
Brian Jackson on February 11, 2010 10:48 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Uruguayan president Juan Maria Bordaberry was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison for his role in the country's 1973 military coup. Bordaberry was elected president in 1971, and in 1973 he worked with the military to dissolve the General Assembly, resulting in 12 years of military dictatorship [Country Studies backgrounder]. After his arrest in 2006 on charges of murder, prosecutors later charged [La Republica report, in Spanish] Bordaberry with violating Uruguay's constitution [materials, in Spanish]. Bordaberry, 81, has been under house arrest since 2007 [El Pais report, in Spanish] due to failing health, and it is not clear if that house arrest will continue, or if he will be transferred to prison.

Bordaberry is the second Uruguayan dictator to be sentenced to prison in the last six months. In October, former military leader Gregorio Alvarez was sentenced to 25 years in prison [JURIST report] for his role in 37 homicides that occurred during his four-year reign as president. Just before that sentencing, the country's Supreme Court found that laws shielding rulers from prosecution [JURIST report] for kidnapping and murder during the time of the military dictatorship were unconstitutional. Alvarez's time as president coincided with the last years [Country Studies backgrounder] of the military dictatorship that ruled Uruguay from the 1973 coup to 1985.






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EU blocks agreement to share financial information with US
Bhargav Katikaneni on February 11, 2010 10:14 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Parliament [official website] voted 378-196 Thursday to nullify [press release] an interim agreement between European Union (EU) member states and the US that gave American counter-terrorism officials access to the financial information of European citizens. The agreement was intended to last nine months, while the EU and US reached a permanent agreement to share European banking information via the SWIFT [official website] banking network. Opponents of the agreement said that it failed to protect [NYT report] the privacy of European residents, but those in favor of the deal argue that further delaying US access to the information increases security risks to both the US and EU.

US Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levy [official profile] spoke out [Europolitics Op-Ed] last week against EU attempts to block the data sharing system. He said the agreement was vital for counter-terrorism efforts, and that privacy concerns were overblown. The European Parliament had the right to block [WSJ report] the agreement under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty [EU backgrounder; JURIST news archive], which entered into force in December. The US and the EU had been sharing banking information since the 9/11 attacks, but the information only became public [NYT report] in 2006. The civil liberties committee of Parliament had earlier voted against [FT report] the agreement.






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Bosnian Serb parliament approves bill easing referendum process
Daniel Makosky on February 11, 2010 10:07 AM ET

[JURIST] The National Assembly [official website, in Serbian] of the Bosnian Serb Republic, Republika Srpska, passed legislation [Serbian Voice report, in Serbian] Wednesday intended to ease the process of holding referendums. Initiatives passed using the method would be binding only in the Serbian region [RFE/RL report], but some believe that it may lead to a referendum on independence [BBC report]. Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik indicated that he will utilize the referendum process to measure public support for the Dayton Accord [USDOS materials], which ended the Bosnian war. The US Embassy in Sarajevo warned [press release] that it would view any such referendum as "provocative," and cautioned against using the mechanism to "pursue a narrow political agenda."

Republika Srpska is one of two entities that comprise Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The Bosnian Constitution [text] was agreed to in 1995 as part of the Dayton Accord, ending the four-year civil war. It was designed to share power between the three majority ethnic groups - Serbs, Bosniaks, and Croats - but limits power for ethnic minorities. In December, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled that the constitution illegally discriminates against ethnic minorities [JURIST report] by not allowing them to run for high political office. BiH reached an agreement with the European Union in 2008 to bring its constitution in line with the European Convention on Human Rights.






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Japan foreign minister apologizes for Korea colonization
Andrea Bottorff on February 11, 2010 9:34 AM ET

[JURIST] Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada [official profile] on Thursday offered an apology to Korea for Japan's 20th-century colonization of the Korean peninsula. At a meeting in Seoul with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-Hwan [official profile], Okada said that the Japanese government regrets its history of colonial rule [Korea Times report] over Korea and the alleged war crimes that resulted. Okada also praised the 1995 Murayama Statement [text], the most notable public apology for Japanese imperialism, in which the Japanese government pledged to promote peace with its Asian neighbors. Okada and Myung-Hwan agreed to work toward a more stabilized relationship [AFP report] between their countries.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Japan's annexation of Korea, which lasted from 1910 to 1945. Japan is accused of committing war crimes during its imperial years, and the two countries still suffer from diplomatic conflicts and competition over disputed territory [Xinhua report]. Recently, Okada has been busy promoting more conciliatory foreign policy under Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama [official website, in Japanese], who came to office last September. Last week, Okada met with ambassadors from eight countries to consider signing an international treaty [JURIST report] that will help prevent parental child abductions across borders.






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China appeals court upholds 11-year sentence for pro-democracy activist
Bhargav Katikaneni on February 11, 2010 8:29 AM ET

[JURIST] A Chinese appeals court on Thursday upheld the 11-year prison sentence [JURIST report] for democracy activist Liu Xiaobo [JURIST news archive], despite calls for his release from US and European Union (EU) officials. Liu was tried [JURIST report] in December on subversion charges in a trial that lasted only two hours and was closed to foreign diplomats. In his appeal, Liu's lawyers argued [press release] that he was innocent, claiming:


1) The existing evidence does not prove Liu Xiaobo's subjective intent to incite subversion of state power;
2) The charges of inciting subversion of state power against Liu Xiaobo in the indictment are based upon [writings] quoted out of context;
3) The charges in the indictment blur the line between a citizen's free speech and criminal offenses; and
4) There have been major flaws during the investigation, the procuratorate's examination before prosecution, and the trial of this case.

US ambassador to China Jon Huntsman [official profile] and EU representative Simon Sharp had both urged the Chinese government to release Liu. Huntsman said [press release] that China was acting "inconsistent[ly] with internationally recognized norms of human rights" by prosecuting someone for expressing his political opinions. Chinese officials rejected the criticism as unfair [Xinhua report].

Liu, who spent two years in prison following the Tiananmen Square [BBC backgrounder] uprising, has long challenged China's one-party rule, and co-authored Charter 08 [text], a petition calling for political reforms in the country. Liu was formally arrested in June and charged [JURIST reports] in December, but he has been in detention since December 2008, shortly before the petition's release. In June, rights groups marked the 20th anniversary of the 1989 uprising in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, calling for the government to investigate the incident [JURIST report] and implement changes called for by Charter 08.





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Iraq expels former Blackwater employees: report
Matt Glenn on February 11, 2010 8:10 AM ET

[JURIST] Iraq Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani told the Associated Press Wednesday that the Iraqi government has ordered [AP report] approximately 250 former Blackwater [JURIST news archive] employees to leave Iraq by the end of the week. The Iraqi government was reacting to a US federal court's December decision to dismiss charges against five former Blackwater employees accused of killing 17 innocent Iraqi civilians [JURIST reports] in 2007 because information against the defendants was obtained unconstitutionally. Al-Bolani said that all those ordered to leave worked in Iraq for Blackwater at the time of the shooting. Some now work for other security companies while others, according to al-Bolani, work for a subsidiary of Xe Services [corporate website], the corporation that used to be Blackwater. Those who do not leave by this weekend will be charged with violating their visas, according to the report.

Earlier this month the New York Times reported that the US Department of Justice [official website] is investigating Xe [JURIST report] to determine whether the company bribed the Iraqi government to allow Blackwater to continue operating in Iraq following the 2007 shootings. In January, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced that Iraq will file lawsuits against Blackwater [JURIST reports] for the 2007 killings in both US and Iraqi courts. US Vice-President Joe Biden has said that the DOJ will appeal the dismissal [JURIST report]. Blackwater ceased operations in Baghdad [JURIST report] in May 2009 when its security contracts for the protection of US diplomats expired.






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UN, Darfur groups begin work on compensation for war victims
Matt Glenn on February 11, 2010 7:06 AM ET

[JURIST] Representatives from the African Union/United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) [official website] met with members of the Transitional Darfur Regional Authority (TDRA) and the Darfur Compensation Commission Wednesday to discuss the compensation [press release] of Darfur [JURIST news archive] conflict victims. UNAMID's mandate calls for the organization to work with state governments to ensure that victims are compensated. The DCC, which was created as a part of the TDRA under the Darfur Peace Agreement [text, PDF], is charged with hearing claims for compensation arising from the Darfur conflict and making awards based on those claims. UNAMID representatives also attended a meeting of the Darfur Human Rights Forum [allAfrica.com report] in North Darfur Wednesday.

On Monday, the African Union (AU) [official website] called for a hybrid court [JURIST report] of Sudanese and foreign judges to hear trials of individuals accused of war crimes in Darfur. Last week, the Appeals Chamber of the ICC reversed [JURIST report] a Pre-Trial Chamber decision that denied the application for an arrest warrant on genocide charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The court emphasized that the reversal was procedural in nature and declined to enter a finding of genocidal intent or to order the Pre-Trial Chamber to issue a genocide warrant for al-Bashir, as requested [text] by ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile]. The case has now been remanded back to the Pre-Trial Chamber to reconsider whether al-Bashir acted with genocidal intent. In a letter to the AU last month, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] urged Sudan to accept ICC war crimes decisions [letter text] in addition to any combined Sudanese and foreign court. The AU High-Level Panel on Darfur first suggested a hybrid court in an October report [text, PDF] to the AU Peace and Security Council.






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Blagojevich pleads not guilty to amended corruption charges
Brian Jackson on February 10, 2010 2:32 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich [JURIST news archive] pleaded not guilty Wednesday to amended corruption charges. Blagojevich entered the plea [Chicago Tribune report] in response to eight amended charges [JURIST report], including racketeering, attempted extortion, bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, and conspiracy to commit extortion. Those additional charges allow prosecutors to try Blagojevich without relying on the federal honest services fraud statute [18 USC § 1346 text], which some believe the Supreme Court may soon declare unconstitutional in some contexts. Following his appearance in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Blagojevich released a statement [text] asking that all of the recorded conversations that the government has be played during the course of the trial. Blagojevich has indicated that he will testify at the trial [WSJ report], which is scheduled to start June 3 [JURIST report].

In April, Blagojevich pleaded not guilty to 16 felony counts [JURIST reports], including wire fraud, attempted extortion, racketeering conspiracy, extortion conspiracy, and making false statements. In January 2009, the Illinois State Senate voted unanimously [JURIST report] to convict Blagojevich of abuse of power and remove him from office. Blagojevich is the first Illinois governor to be impeached and removed from office. Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were initially arrested [JURIST report] in December 2008 on allegations that they had conspired to sell the Senate seat left vacant by President Barack Obama.






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Myanmar court sentences US rights activist to 3 years for fraud
Haley Wojdowski on February 10, 2010 1:21 PM ET

[JURIST] A court in Myanmar on Wednesday convicted rights activist and US citizen Kyaw Zaw Lwin, also known as Nyi Nyi Aung [Freedom Now profile], on charges of fraud and forgery. Aung was sentenced to three years in prison [AFP report] for forging an identity card, and one year each for failing to declare foreign currency and immigration violations, to be serve concurrently. The charges [JURIST report] carried a potential maximum of 10 years. The activist's lawyer, Nyan Win, said that they will appeal the conviction [BBC report]. Aung was arrested on September 3 when he entered the country, and was initially accused of inciting anti-government unrest. Freedom Now [advocacy website], which represents Aung, claimed [press release, PDF] that the government has committed a variety of human rights violations [JURIST comment] while detaining him. Fifty-three members of the US House of Representatives have called [letter, PDF] on Myanmar to release Aung, but the US government has not officially requested a release. International rights groups such as Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] have also urged [press release] the government to release Aung.

In January, a Myanmar government official said that pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], also represented by Freedom Now, will be released from house arrest [JURIST report] in November when her sentence is scheduled to end. The extension of 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. 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 was initially sentenced to three years in prison with hard labor, but her sentence was immediately commuted by junta chief General Than Shwe. 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 as a political move to prevent her from running in the upcoming elections. Her conviction has given rise to international sanctions [JURIST report] against Myanmar's junta and members of the judiciary.






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China high court limits use of death penalty
Carrie Schimizzi on February 10, 2010 12:46 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme People's Court of China [official website, in Chinese] on Tuesday issued new guidelines for limiting capital punishment [Xinhua report] in Chinese courts, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. The guidelines rely on a policy of "justice tempered with mercy" and instruct courts to issue the death penalty [JURIST news archive] only to those who commit "extremely serious" crimes. According to the report, cases involving repeat offenders, gang-related crimes, and government corruption cases should be handled with severity. However, the guidelines also state that reprieves should be issued in certain cases as allowed by law.

China has recently faced significant criticism of its human rights record and use of the death penalty. Last month, a Chinese court sentenced [JURIST report] four people to death in connection with the July Xinjiang riots [JURIST news archive]. At least 26 people have received death sentences for their roles in the riots. In November, the Chinese government carried out the executions [JURIST report] of nine others convicted in connection with the riots for murder, assault, arson, and robbery, after a review by the Supreme People's Court upheld their sentences. Last year, China said that it planned to reduce [China Daily report] the number of executions it conducts. Anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain [advocacy website] has said that China continues to account for more executions [JURIST report] than any other country. In 2008, the country executed at least 5,000 people, or more than 87 percent of the world's total.






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UN Haiti chief urges residents to turn over escaped prisoners
Brian Jackson on February 10, 2010 12:30 PM ET

[JURIST] The acting head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti [official website] said Tuesday that while conditions are currently stable, the Haitian people must turn in the thousands of prisoners that escaped [JURIST report] when the January 12 earthquake [JURIST news archive] destroyed prisons and jails. Edmond Mulet called upon the residents of Haiti to turn over to authorities the more than 5,000 prisoners [Reuters report] that the UN peacekeeping force has helped to detain since entering Haiti in 2004. It is estimated that only three dozen escaped prisoners have been detained [AP report] since January 12. The aftermath of the earthquake has also placed a strain on detainees arrested since the disaster, as limited space and limited access to judges has caused the criminal justice system and those in it additional hardship [Washington Post report].

In late January, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that strengthening human rights [JURIST report] is an integral part of the rebuilding process in Haiti. Earlier in January, US President Barack Obama signed a bill [JURIST report] that will allow US citizens to claim donations to Haitian relief efforts as a deduction on their 2009 tax returns. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced that Haitian nationals present in the US before the earthquake will be given temporary protected status and will not be deported for the next 18 months, but Haitian refugees who arrive in the US illegally will be sent back to their home country [JURIST reports]. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused massive damage to property and infrastructure in Haiti, and the death toll has now been estimated at 230,000.






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US illegal immigrant population declined last year: report
David Manes on February 10, 2010 11:44 AM ET

[JURIST] The Office of Immigration Statistics of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] released a report [text, PDF] Wednesday estimating that the total number of illegal immigrants [JURIST news archive] living in the US fell to 10.8 million during the year ending in January 2009. The DHS calculates the "unauthorized resident population" by subtracting the number of legal permanent residents, asylees, refugees, and non-immigrants from estimates of the total foreign-born population. The seven percent decline from 11.6 million in January 2008 is attributed by many to the economic decline during that period. According to DHS estimates, 10.8 million is the smallest population of unauthorized residents since 2005, when there were an estimated 10.5 million [report, PDF]. A Pew Hispanic Center [advocacy website] report [text, PDF] released in July showed a similar decline in the Mexican immigrant population in the US. The report clarified that although the recession has hurt employment of Latino immigrants [press release], the decline resulted from decreased immigration into the US rather than from immigrants leaving the US to go back to Mexico.

In December, Democratic lawmakers introduced an immigration reform bill in the US House of Representatives [official website] that would give undocumented immigrants an easier path to seek legal status in the country. The proposed legislation, which is titled the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIR ASAP) [bill summary, PDF], follows the Obama administration's announcement [JURIST report] that it would seek immigration reform early in 2010. In November, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano [official profile] said that the proposed reform 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. The proposed bill is also the first attempt at immigration reform since the failed [JURIST report] Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill [S 1639 materials] in 2007. At that time, detractors called the bill too lenient on illegal immigrants and said that by granting legal status to illegal aliens, the US was granting "amnesty."






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Federal appeals court rules inmate strip searches constitutional
Jay Carmella on February 10, 2010 10:13 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that strip searching all incoming inmates does not violate the Fourth Amendment [text] and is necessary to prevent illegal substances from entering prisons. San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey had enacted the policy to strip search new inmates in response the rising amount of drugs and weapons being brought into jails. The court found the policy to be reasonable, considering the nature of US prison system and the documented evidence of illegal materials entering prisons. The court ruled:


[W]e conclude that San Francisco's policy requiring strip searches of all arrestees classified for custodial housing in the general population was facially reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. ... Because the policy did not violate plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment rights, we reverse the district court's denial of Sheriff Hennessey's motion for summary judgment.

The decision overturned [San Francisco Chronicle report] a 1984 decision by the Ninth Circuit that limited searches to inmates accused of violent or drug-related crimes.

The court's willingness to overturn its previous decision highlights the growing problems association with drugs and US prisons. The large number of arrests for drug-related crimes has led to prison overcrowding [JURIST news archive] throughout the country, but particularly in California. Last month, a panel of federal judges approved [JURIST report] a revised plan filed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) [official website] for reducing the prison population. The CDCR filed the plan in November after the panel rejected the first plan because it did not comply with a federal court order to reduce the prison population [JURIST reports]. The original 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.





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UK appeals court orders release of details on ex-Guantanamo detainee's treatment
Jay Carmella on February 10, 2010 9:02 AM ET

[JURIST] The England and Wales Court of Appeal [official website] on Wednesday ruled [judgment text] that the government must disclose the seven previously withheld paragraphs outlining the alleged torture of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed [JURIST news archives]. In rejecting the government's appeal, the court found that, "publication of the redacted paragraphs would not reveal information which would be of interest to a terrorist or criminal or provide any potential material of value to a terrorist or a criminal." British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband [official profile] accepted the court's decision and disclosed [press release] the information, but emphasized [BBC report] the importance of the intelligence relationship between the US and Britain. Advocacy groups such as Amnesty International UK [advocacy website] welcomed the court's ruling and called for additional inquiries [press release] into the British government's involvement with the torture.

Wednesday's ruling ends the long-running legal battle to keep the information classified. In December, British government lawyers argued that two UK High Court judges acted irresponsibly when they ruled that the details of the detention must be released [JURIST reports]. This was following an interim ruling [JURIST report] by Lord Justice Thomas and Justice Lloyd Jones that redacted the release. Last November, 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 2009, after charges against him were dismissed [JURIST reports] in October 2008. Mohamed had been held at Guantanamo Bay for four years on suspicion of conspiracy to commit terrorism [JURIST report].






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Iran court sentences one to death, eight to prison for role in December protests
Jay Carmella on February 10, 2010 8:11 AM ET

[JURIST] An Iranian court sentenced [ISNA report, in Persian] one person to death and eight others to prison on Tuesday for their involvement in protests last December. The men were arrested [AFP report] for participating in protests [JURIST report] that interrupted the Shia Muslim celebration of Ashura. The unidentified man sentenced to death becomes the twelfth person to receive capital punishment for involvement in protests last year in Iran. Among the eight men that received prison sentences was Behzad Nabavi, a well-known activist and former Minister of Industry and Deputy Speaker of the Iranian Parliament. Nabavi received [AP report] a sentence of five years imprisonment. The government charged the individuals with being enemies of god for violating community security, propaganda, attacking police, and arson.

The Iranian government continues to charge citizens in connection with the December protests, as well as those that followed the June presidential election [JURIST news archive]. Last week, former deputy foreign minister Mohsen Aminzadeh was sentenced [JURIST report] to six years in prison for his participation in post-election protests. Earlier this month, a report [JURIST report] indicated that Iran will soon execute nine people for their roles in the post-election protests. Two others were executed [JURIST report] in January. Last month, Iran's Prosecutor-General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei called for sedition trials [JURIST report] against leaders of protests following the presidential election.






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Nigeria VP takes over for ailing president after parliamentary vote
Jay Carmella on February 10, 2010 7:06 AM ET

[JURIST] Nigerian Vice President Goodluck Jonathan [Online Nigeria profile] will assume the role of president after the parliament voted on Tuesday for him to take over for ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua [BBC profile]. Jonathan reluctantly accepted [BBC report] the presidency under the circumstances and asked for the country to pray for Yar'Adua as he continues to battle a heart condition. The parliament's motion included [Nigeria Independent report] a clause that would return power to Yar'Adua upon his recovery. Yar'Adua has been receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia since late November.

Last month, a Nigerian court ruled that Yar'Adua is not required [JURIST report] to formally transfer his powers to Jonathan or any other interim leader. Also in January, the court ordered [JURIST report] Nigeria's cabinet to pass a resolution within 14 days on whether Yar'Adua is capable of running the country. A judge for Nigeria's Federal High Court ordered [JURIST report] Jonathan to assume executive powers in Yar'Adua's absence. In 2008, the Nigerian Supreme Court upheld the results of disputed 2007 election that brought Yar'Adua to power, despite opposition groups' allegations of fraud [JURIST reports].






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Former Intel executive pleads guilty to insider trading in Galleon probe
Sarah Miley on February 9, 2010 3:30 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Intel Capital [corporate website] executive Rajiv Goel pleaded guilty [press release, PDF] to insider trading charges on Monday in connection with the probe surrounding Galleon Group [partnership website] hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam [Financial Times profile; JURIST news archive] and former hedge fund consultant Danielle Chiesi. The US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York alleged that:


From 2007 through 2009, Goel and Rajaratnam (who met in the 1980s while attending the same business school) engaged in an insider trading scheme in which Goel obtained material, nonpublic information ("Inside Information") relating to Intel and provided that information to Rajaratnam. Goel provided the Inside Information with the understanding that Rajaratnam would trade on it, in breach of his fiduciary and other duties of trust and confidence owed to Intel. Goel provided Inside Information to Rajaratnam because of his friendship with Rajaratnam, from which Goel benefited in various ways, including financially.

Goel pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and one count of securities fraud. The charges carry a potential 25 year sentence and over 5 million dollars in fines. Goel is the ninth defendant to plead guilty out of 21 charged in the probe.

Rajaratnam and Chiesi were arrested in October and charged [complaint, PDF] along with four other individuals and two business entities with insider trading. The complaint alleged that the individuals, including a managing director at Intel Corp., a director at McKinsey & Co., and a senior executive at IBM [corporate websites], provided Galleon Group and another hedge fund with material nonpublic information about several corporations upon which the funds traded, generating $25 million in illicit gain. Rajaratnam and Chiesi pleaded not guilty in December after being indicted for insider trading [JURIST reports].





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ICC considering investigation into recent Nigeria violence
Sarah Paulsworth on February 9, 2010 2:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] will consider a petition from the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) [advocacy website] calling for an investigation into recent violence in Jos, Nigeria, according to a response letter [text, PDF] sent to SERAP Monday. SERAP lawyer Femi Falana welcomed [press release, DOC] the ICC's response, saying:


This is an important decision; we look forward to the ICC getting fully involved and addressing the subject matter of the petition. Given the persistent lack of political will by the Nigerian government to address the problem, we believe the intervention by the ICC in this case is especially important as the ICC can once and for all address the responsible of those who instigated the violence in Jos. The ICC decision is also an important development for the tens of thousands of victims of the latest violence and previous outbreaks of deadly violence in Jos. Ending impunity for the cycle of violence in many parts of Nigeria is absolutely important for sustainable peace, stability and security, and for the country’s social, economic and political development.

SERAP sent a letter [text, DOC] to International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] last week requesting an inquiry [JURIST report] into the spate of religious violence [BBC report] that erupted in Jos in January.

Violence between Muslims and Christians in Jos claimed at least 326 lives in January. Jos is located between Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north and Christian south. Riots also took place in Jos in 2001 and 2008. While most Jos Christians back the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), the majority of Muslims back the opposition All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP). SERAP allegations that the Nigerian government is unable to meet its obligations to protect human rights have compounded the country's existing political turmoil [JURIST report], as ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua [BBC profile] is out of the country receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.





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Philippines prosecutors charge 197 for November massacre
Ann Riley on February 9, 2010 1:39 PM ET

[JURIST] The Philippine Department of Justice (PDOJ) [official website] on Tuesday charged 197 people with murder [press release] in connection with the November massacre in the semi-autonomous Maguindanao province that left 57 dead. Among those charged is Andal Ampatuan Sr., a former political ally to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [official website; BBC profile], head of a Muslim clan, and former governor of Maguindanao province. Prosecutors allege that the powerful Ampatuan clan took supporters of Esmael Mangudadatu [Manila Times profile], Ampatuan's son's opposition candidate in the May Maguindanao governor elections, Mangudadatu's wife and pregnant sister, and journalists to a remote hilltop where the victims were murdered and buried. A PDOJ panel, headed by Senior State Prosecutor Leo Dacera, created a 78-page resolution concluding that the massacre was the result of a conspiracy. The PDOJ also submitted evidence to conclude that members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) [official websites] participated in the preparation and massacre. The resolution states:


Considering such positive identification of these respondents as direct participants in the commission of the crime of murder, they should be indicted. ... There is direct evidence that these respondents agreed to commit the crime. Their acts and the attendant circumstances surrounding the commission of the crime unveil a common aim that would make all of them co-principals in the crime committed.

In December, the PDOJ began the trial [JURIST report] of more than 600 people charged with rebellion for allegedly interfering with government operations following the killings. Several of Amapuan Sr.'s sons, including Andal Ampatuan Jr., the mayor of the southern Philippine town of Datu Unsay, have also been charged. Amapuan Jr. has pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to 41 counts of murder. Arroyo imposed martial law [JURIST report] and suspended habeas corpus in the province in the wake of the killings. She later lifted the conditions, following international pressure and domestic legal challenges [JURIST reports].





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Sri Lanka president dissolves parliament, calls for early elections
Sarah Paulsworth on February 9, 2010 12:10 PM ET

[JURIST] Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official website, in Sinhala] dissolved Parliament [official website] on Tuesday and called for early parliamentary elections. The country's parliamentary elections could now be conducted [BBC report] as early as April 8, with the new parliament convening as early as April 22. It is believed that Rajapaksa is trying to harness momentum from the presidential election in January, in which he was re-elected, to gain more seats in parliament for his political party, Freedom Alliance. This move comes just one day after Sri Lankan military police arrested [JURIST report] defeated opposition presidential candidate and former general Sarath Fonseka [BBC profile]. The Sri Lankan Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) announced [press release] that Fonseka was arrested "in connection with certain fraudulent acts and other military offences." Officials said Tuesday that Fonseka will face a court-martial.

Last week, 37 people, most of them military officers, were arrested in connection to an alleged assassination attempt against Rajapaksa. The Sri Lankan Supreme Court ruled last week that Rajapaksa's second term [JURIST report] will begin in November. The apparent victor in January's elections, Rajapaksa defeated Fonseka by an official margin of 18 points, winning re-election to a second term in office. Fonseka has disputed [Al Jazeera report] the results, however, saying violence and vote-counting irregularities invalidated the outcome.






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Bahrain using torture to extract confessions: HRW
Sarah Miley on February 9, 2010 11:47 AM ET

[JURIST] The government of Bahrain has reverted to using torture [press release] to gain confessions from detainees after a decade of reform banning such practices, according to a report [text] released Monday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. HRW conducted interviews with 20 former detainees who claimed that they had suffered torture and ill-treatment as early as 2007. The reversion appears to coincide with the rising political tension between Shia Muslims and the Sunni-run government. As confrontations became more violent, several Shia protesters were arrested by security forces and reportedly tortured during interrogations:


Security officials appear to have utilized a specific repertoire of techniques against many of those arrested designed to inflict pain and elicit confessions. These techniques included the use of electro-shock devices, suspension in painful positions, beating the soles of the feet (falaka), and beatings of the head, torso, and limbs. Some detainees also reported that security officials had threatened to kill them or to rape them or members of their families. Many detainees were subjected to more than one of these practices. The use of these techniques, separately and in combination, violates Bahrain’s obligations as a state party to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture) and other international treaties, as well as the prohibition of torture in Bahraini law.

The report also claims that prosecutors "failed to respond appropriately to [detainees'] complaints of ill-treatment" by not launching formal investigations and administering medical examinations. Officials with the Ministry of Interior and the Public Prosecution Office [official websites, in Arabic] claim that the "allegations had been fabricated" through a conspiracy created while the detainees were confined together. HRW stated that these claims were negated by medical reports, court papers, and evidence that many of the detainees interviewed were kept in solitary confinement. The detainees' allegations were strengthened when a Bahraini court acquitted all defendants on all charges on the basis of medical reports that evidenced that "defendants had been physically coerced into confessing."

Arrests of Shia protesters increased when Bahrain's King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa [BBC profile] ratified [JURIST report] a controversial protest law in 2006 that some rights groups suggest could be inconsistent with common international rights standards. The Amendments to Law 18/1973 criminalizes unauthorized protests, prohibits foreign nationals from demonstrating, and bans demonstrators from certain public places such as hospitals, airports, and near diplomatic offices and other international organizations. HRW suggested that the Amendment may run afoul of Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [text], which Bahrain has not yet ratified.





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Germany court rules welfare law unconstitutional
Ann Riley on February 9, 2010 10:45 AM ET

[JURIST] Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court [official website, in German] ruled [judgment, in German] Tuesday that the country's five-year-old social welfare benefit law is unconstitutional. The benefit, known as Hartz IV, merges unemployment and social assistance programs and is only granted where individuals do not have sufficient means, income, or property of their own. Under the current structure, the standard benefit for single adults is €345; €311 for spouses, civil partners, and live-in partners; €207 for children under 14 years; and €276 for children 15 years old or older. The court determined [press release, in German] that the provisions of the standard benefit calculations for adults and children do not abide by the constitutional requirements of Articles 1.1 and 20.1 of Germany's Basic Law [text, PDF; in German], which guarantee a minimum benefit that provides the means to live with basic human dignity. The court gave the legislature until the end of 2010 to create new guidelines, including a provision to guarantee a dignified minimum income.

The Hartz IV is the fourth act in a series of reforms developed by the Commission on the Modern Services in the Labor Market (Hartz Commission) [materials, in German], established in 2002 to reform the labor market and develop a more efficient public service employment system. In October, the Constitutional Court conducted oral hearings for three cases [press releases, in German] questioning whether the standard benefits were compatible with the Basic Law. Previously, Germany's Federal Social Court [official website, in German] held in 2009 the Hartz IV provision for children under 14 years is unconstitutional [press release, in German]. Additionally, the Federal Constitutional Court held in 2007 that the formation of job centers established by Hertz IV, in part violated [press release, in German] the constitution.






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African Union calls for hybrid court to try Darfur genocide cases
Andrea Bottorff on February 9, 2010 9:06 AM ET

[JURIST] The African Union (AU) [official website] on Monday called for a hybrid court of Sudanese and foreign judges to hear trials of individuals accused of war crimes in Darfur [JURIST news archive]. The AU Implementation Panel, led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki [ANC profile], renewed its request for the combined court a week after the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] issued a ruling to reconsider genocide charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir [JURIST news archive]. The AU had issued a statement condemning the ICC decision and stressing the need for African participation [press release] in seeking justice in Sudan:


The African Union is confident that, with genuine support from the international community, the Sudanese people have the capacity to triumph over their long-standing divisions and accelerate the process of the pursuit of democracy and development. On its part the AU, which was the first to take the initiative and assume responsibility for peace and protection in Darfur, will remain actively engaged, as the crisis in Sudan is also Africa’s crisis; indeed, it profoundly affects the continent’s largest country at a critical moment in its national history, as well as its many neighbours and the continent as a whole. The African Union is convinced that the achievement of lasting peace, justice and reconciliation in Sudan requires Sudanese ownership and Africa’s leadership, with the full support of the international community.

Mbeki suggested that the hybrid court would help maintain Sudanese confidence [News24 report] in achieving justice for the people of Darfur.

Last week, the Appeals Chamber of the ICC reversed [JURIST report] a Pre-Trial Chamber decision that denied the application for an arrest warrant on genocide charges against al-Bashir. The court emphasized that the reversal was procedural in nature and declined to enter a finding of genocidal intent or to order the Pre-Trial Chamber to issue a genocide warrant for al-Bashir, as requested [text] by ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile]. The case has now been remanded back to the Pre-Trial Chamber to reconsider whether al-Bashir acted with genocidal intent. In a letter to the AU last month, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] urged Sudan to accept ICC war crimes decisions [letter text] in addition to any combined Sudanese and foreign court. The AU High-Level Panel on Darfur first suggested a hybrid court in an October report [text, PDF] to the AU Peace and Security Council.





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Chinese-American sentenced to 15 years following espionage conviction
Hillary Stemple on February 9, 2010 8:41 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Boeing [corporate website] engineer Dongfan "Greg" Chung was sentenced Monday to 15 years in prison, following his July 2009 conviction [JURIST report] under the 1996 Economic Espionage Act [DOJ backgrounder]. Chung, a native of China, was convicted by the US District Court for the Central District of California [official website] in a non-jury trial of stealing corporate trade secrets related to the US Space Shuttle program and turning them over to China. Chung was convicted on charges [indictment, PDF] related to more than 300,000 sensitive documents that were found in his home, including conspiracy to commit economic espionage, six counts of economic espionage to benefit a foreign country, one count of acting as an agent of the People’s Republic of China, and one count of making false statements to the FBI. Prosecutors recommended a 20-year sentence [AP report] as a way to deter future cases of espionage against the US. The 15-year sentence is viewed as a life sentence for Chung who is 74 years old.

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






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China earthquake activist sentenced to 5 years in prison for subversion
Megan McKee on February 9, 2010 8:05 AM ET

[JURIST] A Chinese court on Tuesday sentenced human rights activist Tan Zuoren to five years in prison on subversion charges. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] says that Zuoren sought to release an independent report [AI report] documenting the lethal consequences of substandard construction in the Sichuan province's 2008 earthquake [BBC backgrounder], which left some 90,000 dead. Although Zuoren was charged with and convicted of inciting subversion to state power, allegations stemming from e-mails critical of the government's 1989 policy toward the Tiananmen Square [NYT backgrounder] pro-democracy demonstrators, AI and Zuoren's supporters maintain the earthquake report is the reason [NYT report] for his arrest and conviction. AI has urged the government to release Zuoren, and Zuoren's lawyer has reported his intentions to appeal the ruling.

A Chinese court sentenced another earthquake activist [JURIST report] Huang Qi to three years in prison in November on the charge of illegally holding state secrets. Huang was a critic of the Chinese government's handling of the 2008 disaster. 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. AI issued a statement [text] in July urging China to drop the charges against Huang and release him from custody.






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EU, US condemn Iran human rights violations
Ximena Marinero on February 9, 2010 7:28 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Union (EU) and the US government on Monday issued a joint statement [text, PDF] condemning Iranian human rights violations since the disputed June presidential election [JURIST news archive]. According to the statement, the Iranian government must respect international human rights principles, especially during the coming anniversary of the founding of the 1979 Islamic Republic [BBC backgrounder] this week. The joint statement declares that the EU and the US:


are particularly concerned by the potential for further violence and repression during the coming days, especially around the anniversary of the Islamic Republic's founding on 11 February. We call on the Government of Iran to live up to its international human rights obligations, to end its abuses against its own people, to hold accountable those who have committed the abuses and to release those who are exercising their rights.

Also on Monday, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates [official profile] and French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official website, in French] declared that Iran should receive stronger sanctions [VOA report] in response to news that the Iranian government had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of plans to begin enriching uranium for medical purposes on Tuesday.

The Iranian government continues to prosecute its citizens for their alleged roles in protesting the 2009 presidential elections. Earlier this week, former Iranian deputy foreign minister Mohsen Aminzadeh was sentenced [JURIST report] to six years in prison, making him the highest ranking official convicted thus far. Two individuals were hanged [JURIST report] in January, and the Fars News Agency [official website] has reported [JURIST report] that nine more will soon be executed for their roles in the post-election protests. Last month, Amnesty International [advocacy website] labeled [JURIST report] human rights violations committed by the Iranian government following the election among the worst of the past 20 years. In September, human rights groups called for [JURIST report] the UN General Assembly [official website] to appoint a special envoy to investigate allegations of rights violations. Alleged human rights abuses of detainees include sexual assault, beatings, and forced confessions [JURIST reports].





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Former UK foreign minister denies ignoring legal advice against Iraq invasion
Ximena Marinero on February 9, 2010 6:31 AM ET

[JURIST] Former UK Foreign Ministry secretary Jack Straw [parliamentary profile] testified [transcript, PDF; video] to the Iraq Inquiry [official website] on Monday that he did not ignore legal advice that the 2003 Iraq invasion lacked basis in international law. During Straw's second appearance before the public inquiry, he explained that he noted but did not accept the advice of former chief legal adviser to the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) [official website] Sir Michael Wood [UN profile, PDF] because he believed that Wood's January 2003 advice contradicted his prior counsel. Straw also characterized the decision by former UK attorney general Peter Goldsmith [professional profile] that a second UN resolution was unnecessary as:


not a decision on the merits of taking military action? it was a question as to whether we could consider those merits. The two are different. Advice that we had a legal option to 6 take military action then allowed us to consider the moral and political case for that military action.

Wood told the Iraq Inquiry last month that he had advised the Foreign Ministry that the 2003 Iraq invasion was illegal [JURIST report]. Wood testified that the invasion was "contrary to international law" because it was never authorized by the UN Security Council [official website], and that Straw had rejected his advice at the time. Earlier this month, the Iraq Inquiry released [JURIST report] a 2002 letter [text, PDF] from Goldsmith to former secretary of defense Geoffrey Hoon [personal profile] in which he warned the Cabinet that the Iraq invasion was not supported by international law. Former UK prime minister Tony Blair [official profile; JURIST news archive] is also facing criticism over the legality of the Iraq War. In testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, former UK international development secretary Clare Short said that Blair was "misleading" and "deceitful" [JURIST report] with the Cabinet and parliament regarding the Iraq invasion.





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Sri Lanka military police arrest defeated opposition candidate
Steve Dotterer on February 8, 2010 1:08 PM ET

[JURIST] Sri Lankan military police on Monday arrested defeated opposition presidential candidate and former general Sarath Fonseka [BBC profile]. The Sri Lankan Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) announced [press release] that Fonseka was arrested "in connection with certain fraudulent acts and other military offences." Fonseka, who orchestrated the successful military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [JURIST news archive] in May, unsuccessfully attempted to turn the military campaign to political advantage in January's presidential elections [NYT report].

Last week 37 people, most of them military officers, were arrested in connection to an alleged assassination attempt against current President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official website]. The Sri Lankan Supreme Court ruled last Tuesday that Rajapaksa's second term [JURIST report] will begin in November. The apparent victor in January's elections, Rajapaksa defeated Fonseka by an official margin of 18 points, winning re-election to a second term in office. Fonseka has disputed [Al Jazeera report] the results, however, saying violence and vote-counting irregularities invalidated the outcome.






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Iran opposition leader sentenced to six years in prison for post-election protests
Carrie Schimizzi on February 8, 2010 12:48 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Iranian deputy foreign minister Mohsen Aminzadeh has been sentenced [ISNA report, in Persian] to six years in prison for his participation in protesting last year's contested Iranian presidential election [JURIST news archive], state-run Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) [media website, in Persian] reported Monday. Aminzadeh was a leading member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front and a supporter of Green Movement leader Mir Hossein Moussavi [JURIST news archive] during the June 2009 election. He was an outspoken critic of the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. According to ISNA, Aminzadeh was convicted by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran of conspiring to disturb security and spreading propaganda. The Iranian government has yet to officially confirm Aminzadeh’s sentence.

Aminzadeh is one of the highest-ranking opposition officials to be convicted for protesting the highly disputed presidential election. Last month, Iran's Prosecutor-General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei called for sedition trials [JURIST report] against leaders of protests following the presidential election. Earlier this month, Fars News Agency [official website] reported [JURIST report] that Iran will soon execute nine people for their roles in the post-election protests. The nine protesters were charged with the capital crime of moharebeh, which means waging war against God. Two others were executed [JURIST report] for the same crime in January. Mousavi has condemned the hangings, which he views as being aimed at deterring protesters from taking to the streets on February 11, the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution [BBC backgrounder].






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ICC drops charges against Sudan rebel leader
Megan McKee on February 8, 2010 12:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Monday declined to confirm charges [judgment, PDF; press release] against Darfur rebel chief Bahr Idriss Abu Garda [case materials; JURIST news archive]. The ruling came after a preliminary hearing [JURIST report] in October to address war crimes charges that arose out of Abu Garda's alleged involvement in the September 2007 attacks [BBC report] against a peacekeeping mission located in North-Darfur. Despite the pre-trial chamber's finding that the mission was entitled to civilian protection under the international law of armed conflicts, and that the case was of the appropriate severity to move forward, the chamber unanimously found that the prosecution did not sufficiently demonstrate that the charges against Abu Garda could withstand scrutiny at trial. If the prosecution provides additional evidence, it may still seek the confirmation of the charges, or it may petition the chamber to appeal the decision.

The ICC completed [JURIST report] the confirmation of charges hearing in October, during which prosecutors alleged that Abu Garda controlled the Justice and Equality Movement [official website, in Arabic] during the 2007 attacks, which resulted in the death of 12 African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) soldiers and several injuries. The defense argued that Abu Garda is not responsible for the attack and that the AMIS had lost its protected status [video] under international law, making it a legitimate military target. Abu Garda is the first suspect to appear before the ICC with regard to the Darfur situation [JURIST news archive], making his first appearance [JURIST report] in May 2009 to deny responsibility for war crimes.






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Iraq PM: election ban dispute to be resolved this week
Patrice Collins on February 8, 2010 11:08 AM ET

[JURIST] Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [official website, in Arabic] said Monday that a dispute over banned candidates will be resolved by Friday when campaigning is scheduled to begin for the upcoming elections [JURIST news archive]. He assured [AFP report] Iraqis that the appeals panel will be able to rule on candidates' eligibility within the week. Al-Maliki's endorsement of the court comes after the appeals panel reversed [JURIST report] its previous decision, holding that it was mistaken in thinking it had to rule on all 500 candidates, and would engage in a candidate-by-candidate review of the 177 politicians that had appealed to the court.

The panel's original ruling overturned a decision by the Justice and Accountability Commission disqualifying more than 500 mostly Sunni politicians for suspected links to the outlawed Baath Party [BBC backgrounder]. While the US disagrees [VOA report] with the exclusion of Sunni candidates, Iraqi leaders opposed the panel's original decision and urged [JURIST report] the Supreme Court to analyze whether the decision was legally binding. The Iraqi Parliament had been summoned to an emergency session on Sunday to debate whether to further postpone the scheduled March 7 elections, but the session was delayed when not enough lawmakers were present to achieve a quorum. The Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) [official website] previously postponed [NYT report] the parliamentary elections campaign, originally set to begin Sunday, for five days.






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UK judge criticizes banning of Sikh ceremonial dagger in public places
Ann Riley on February 8, 2010 10:53 AM ET

[JURIST] Sir Mota Singh QC, Britain’s first Asian judge, said in an interview with BBC's Asian Network Monday that Sikhs [JURIST news archive] should be permitted to wear their ceremonial daggers [BBC report] to school and other public places. Sikhism requires that Sikh males wear the ceremonial dagger, known as a kirpan [Sikh Coalition backgrounder], at all times, but they are forbidden to use it as a weapon. Sir Mota, who is now retired, made his comments following several recent high-profile cases in which Sikhs have been asked to remove their kirpans, turbans, and other religious garb in the workplace or school. In October, a British employment tribunal awarded a Sikh policeman £10,000 for indirect racial and religious discrimination and harassment [Guardian report] after he was ordered to remove his turban during riot training. Also last year, a boy was forced to leave [Telegraph report] the Compton School in Barnet, north London for wearing a kirpan. His family has not yet brought a discrimination claim against the school. In 2008, the British High Court ruled in favor [Daily Mail report] of 14-year-old Sarika Singh after she was disciplined by her school for wearing a steel bangle, a symbol of Sikh faith called a Kara, breaking the school's "no jewelry" rule.

Sir Mota's comments come in the context of years of international tension over the wearing of religious dress [JURIST news archive]. In 2007, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) [official website] revised security procedures relating to headwear, after Sikhs criticized [JURIST reports] the potential for religious profiling. In 2006, the Supreme Court of Canada [official website] overturned [JURIST report] a Quebec school board's ban on carrying Sikh ceremonial daggers at school, ruling that it infringed students' religious freedom under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text]. The French Conseil d'Etat [official website] held [JURIST report] in 2006 that Sikhs have to remove their turbans to be photographed for driver's licenses as a matter of public security.






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Obama still considering NYC trial for 9/11 suspects
Dwyer Arce on February 8, 2010 9:40 AM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama said Sunday in an interview [video] with CBS News that he hasn't ruled out a civilian trial in New York City for accused 9/11 co-conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [JURIST news archive]. However, Obama stressed that he was considering the logistical and security issues that have been presented in making the decision. The Obama administration has faced growing objections from New York City and state officials, and criticism over the planned trials since they were first announced [JURIST reports] in November. Responding to those critical of his plans, Obama stated:

I think that the important thing for the public to understand is we're not handling any of these cases any different than the Bush administration handled them all through 9/11. They prosecuted 190 folks in these Article III courts, got convictions and those folks are in maximum security prisons right now. And there have been no escapes.
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) [official website] responded [AP report] shortly after the interview, saying that the logistical and security concerns rendered the administration's current plans infeasible, and that the plans should be dropped. Congressman Pete King (R-NY) [official website] echoed these sentiments [Daily News report], adding that Mohammed should be tried by the military, instead of putting New Yorkers at greater risk.

In January, a senior administration official announced that the White House was considering moving [JURIST report] the trials of Mohammed and other high-profile terror suspects out of New York City. Two days before, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg [official website] cited costs and potential disruptions to the lives of New Yorkers in urging [JURIST report] the federal government not to use the city as a venue for the trials. Earlier this month, Bloomberg claimed [JURIST report] that providing security for the trial in New York would cost the city more than $216 million in the first year and $206 million in any additional years. Bloomberg originally backed the idea of trying some of the terrorists currently held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] in Manhattan due to its proximity to ground zero and the symbolic significance of convicting the suspects there.





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Malaysia opposition leader seeking removal of high court judge in sodomy trial
Hillary Stemple on February 8, 2010 8:34 AM ET

[JURIST] The sodomy trial of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim [official profile; JURIST news archive] was temporarily suspended Monday as defense lawyers sought the removal of high court Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah for his failure to control prejudicial media coverage. The defense filed an objection asking Mohamad Zabidin to admonish Utusan Malaysia [media website, in Malay], a government-linked newspaper, for running suggestive headlines and photographs taken during the court's private visit to the scene of the alleged sexual encounter. Mohamad Zabidin denied the request Friday [Al Jazeera report] and indicated the defense should file a police complaint against the newspaper instead. Anwar's defense lawyers are also hoping the trial will be postponed until the resolution of his appeals of the High Court's refusal to dismiss the sodomy charge and the Federal Court's decision [JURIST reports] not to grant him access to prosecution evidence. Mohamad Zabidin is expected to hear arguments about his removal on Tuesday.

The high-profile trial began last week, 18 months after Anwar was charged [JURIST reports] with sodomizing his former aid Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan. He pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] in 2008 and alleges that the prosecution is part of a government conspiracy to undermine his political agenda. Anwar was Malaysia's deputy prime minister until he was fired in 1998 following sodomy charges of which he was initially convicted but later acquitted. He recently reentered Malaysian politics following the expiration of a ten-year ban [JURIST report] against him for unrelated corruption charges.






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Iran officials arrest 7 alleged US operatives ahead of scheduled protests
Dwyer Arce on February 7, 2010 4:12 PM ET

[JURIST] Iranian authorities have arrested seven for allegedly planning to provoke rioting on February 11, the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution [BBC backgrounder], including several in the employ of the US Central Intelligence Agency [official website], according to a statement released Sunday by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. The seven people detained were said to be linked [Reuters report] to the US-funded Radio Farda [media website, in Persian], a Prague-based Persian language radio station that has been blocked by the Iranian government, and was described in the statement [ISNA report] as a counter-revolutionary and Zionist satellite channel. According to Iranian authorities, the seven were trained [AFP report] in Dubai and Istanbul and played a key role in the anti-government protests [JURIST report] held in Tehran last December, during the Shi'ite holy day of Ashura [BBC backgrounder]. According to authorities, they were to flee the country after February 11.

Last week, Fars News Agency [official website] reported [JURIST report] that Iran will soon execute nine people for their roles in last summer's post-election protests [JURIST news archive]. The nine protesters were charged with the capital crime of moharebeh, which means waging war against God. Two others were executed [JURIST report] for the same crime last month. Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi [JURIST news archive] has condemned the hangings, which he views as being aimed at deterring protesters from taking to the streets during the coming anniversary. The Iranian government has faced significant international scrutiny for its handling of the post-election protests and treatment of thousands arrested as a result. Last month, Amnesty International [official website] labeled [JURIST report] human rights violations committed by the Iranian government following the election among the worst of the past 20 years. In September, human rights groups called for [JURIST report] the UN General Assembly [official website] to appoint a special envoy to investigate allegations of rights violations. Alleged human rights abuses of detainees include sexual assault, beatings, and forced confessions [JURIST reports].






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Iraq appeals panel reverses ruling on banned candidates
Dwyer Arce on February 7, 2010 2:38 PM ET

[JURIST] The Iraqi appeals panel that had ruled last week that 500 mostly Sunni politicians accused of ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party [BBC backgrounder] could stand in the coming elections reversed its decision Sunday. In its ruling [Reuters report], which was handed down as hundreds protested in Baghdad, the court stated that it was mistaken in thinking it had to rule on all 500 candidates, and would engage in a candidate-by-candidate review of the 177 politicians that had appealed to the court unless a political solution was reached. Official campaigning before the March 7 polls was scheduled to start Sunday, but was postponed [BBC report] last week by the Iraqi Independent High Election Commission [official website] until Friday in order to allow more time to resolve the crisis. Also on Sunday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [official profile, in Arabic; BBC profile] was forced to reschedule [Al Jazeera report] an emergency parliamentary meeting to address the election standoff when only 75 of Iraq's 275 parliamentarians arrived, denying him a quorum. Most of the banned candidates are from parties running against [NYT report] al-Maliki's ruling coalition, including those from a party led by a former Shi'ite prime minister, which has been seen as the most significant threat to al-Maliki's coalition.

Last week's ruling overturned a decision by the Justice and Accountability Commission disqualifying more than 500 mostly Sunni politicians for suspected links to the outlawed Baath Party. The appeals panel held [WSJ report] that the candidates could stand in the coming elections, but would have to be cleared of the allegations against them before taking office. This compromise is said to closely model a solution proposed by US Vice President Joe Biden [official profile]. The decision was met with widespread criticism by the Shi'ite-led government. On Thursday, a spokesperson for Iraq's Shi'ite government, Ali Al-Dabbagh [official website, in Arabic], said that the decision was illegal and unconstitutional [JURIST report]. US officials have been concerned over the election dispute [BBC report] because it is seen as a threat to the credibility of the elections, which are supposed to be a milestone in Iraq's postwar development and a major step toward the scheduled withdrawal of US troops from the country.






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Israel probe of Gaza fighting not impartial: HRW
Steve Czajkowski on February 7, 2010 10:38 AM ET

[JURIST] Israel has not shown that it will conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of alleged war crimes during the January 2009 Gaza conflict [JURIST news archive], Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said [press release] Sunday. HRW said that it met with lawyers from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) [official website], but it did not receive information concerning how Israel was looking into decisions made by military commanders or overall policy. HRW also cast doubt on Israel's claim that it has conducted about 150 investigations into incidents in Gaza, saying that many of the them were not criminal investigations because there were not interviews with the soldiers involved or victims and witnesses. Joe Stork, deputy director for Human Rights Watch in the Middle East, emphasized that Israel must go beyond looking into specific incidents:


Israel claims it is conducting credible and impartial investigations, but it has so far failed to make that case. ... The Israeli investigations so far have looked mostly at soldiers who disobeyed orders or the rules of engagement, but failed to ask the crucial question about whether those orders and rules of engagement themselves violated the laws of war.

On Thursday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] said [JURIST report] that it is unclear [BBC report] whether Israel and Palestine have fully met UN demands [JURIST report] to set up a commission to investigate war crimes that may occurred during the conflict. The UN General Assembly [official website] adopted a resolution [JURIST report] in November giving Israel and Palestine three months to complete an investigation into war crimes allegations. Last month, the Israeli Foreign Ministry [official website] released its 46-page report [JURIST report] to the UN, partially detailing Israeli operations in Gaza and revealing that the Israeli military had disciplined [JURIST report] two high-ranking Army officers for firing shells into a populated area in the Gaza strip. Hamas has also denied that it committed war crimes, saying that Israeli civilian deaths during the conflict were an accident.





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Pakistan to revise blasphemy laws: report
Steve Czajkowski on February 7, 2010 9:37 AM ET

[JURIST] Pakistan will begin to revise its blasphemy laws [AFP report] later this year, a government official told the Agence France-Presse Sunday. Pakistan's Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti [official profile] said he has been speaking to various political parties in Pakistan and that his government is committed to doing away with laws that are discriminatory to minorities. Bhatti made the comments at an interview with the AFP in Washington, DC, where he met with various lawmakers and officials during the National Prayer Breakfast. Bhatti discussed a proposed change in the law that would force judges to investigate blasphemy cases before they are docketed. The proposed law would also make the punishment for a false complaint the same as a primary violation.

Pakistan currently punishes blasphemy against Islam by death, but no one has yet been executed for the offense. The blasphemy laws were introduced in 1986 [AsiaNews report] as a way of protecting Muslim beliefs from insults. Many critics believe the law have been used as a means for discrimination and inciting violence. In August, it is believed that allegations of blasphemy led to violence [AP report] between Muslims and Christians in the Punjab city of Gorja.






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Obama administration argues Uighur Guantanamo detainee appeal now moot
Ximena Marinero on February 7, 2010 9:29 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Friday urged [brief, PDF] the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] to dismiss as moot an appeal filed by Chinese Muslim Uighurs detained at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archives]. The court granted certiorari [JURIST report] in the case, known as Kiyemba I [docket], in October to determine whether it is within the power of the judicial branch to order the release of detainees into the US. The Obama administration argues that the case is now moot after Switzerland agreed to accept [JURIST report] the remaining two Uighurs for whom "resettlement" arrangements had not been reached. The DOJ reasons that:


legal constraints prevent the courts from ordering that petitioners be brought to and released in the United States. ... As this Court has long affirmed, the power to admit or exclude aliens is a sovereign prerogative vested in the political Branches, and "it is not within the province of any court, unless expressly authorized by law, to review [that] determination..." Finally, even assuming arguendo that a judicial order compelling the Executive to bring an alien into the United States were justified in some circumstances, the government's sustained and successful efforts to resettle petitioners should preclude such an order in this case.
Of the 22 Uighurs originally detained at Guantanamo Bay, 15 have been relocated. Six Uighurs were transferred to Palau in October, four were sent to Bermuda last June, and five were received by Albania [JURIST reports] in 2006. Of the remaining seven Uighurs, Palau has expressed willingness to accept another five, and the Swiss Federal Council announced [press release] last week that it would accept the remaining two for humanitarian reasons and despite recent warnings [JURIST report] to the contrary by the Chinese Embassy in Switzerland [official website]. China has continued to call for repatriation [JURIST report] of the Uighur detainees that Chinese authorities consider to be part of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) [CFR backgrounder], a militant group that calls for separation from China and which has been a US-designated terrorist group since 2002. The US has previously rejected China's calls to repatriate the Uighurs, citing fear of torture upon their return.





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Iraq leaders pressure high court to rule on suspected Baath party candidates ban
Ximena Marinero on February 7, 2010 8:23 AM ET

[JURIST] Iraqi leaders on Saturday urged the country's Supreme Court to rule on the recent electoral appeals panel decision allowing about 500 candidates who had been banned for alleged ties to the outlawed Baath party [BBC backgrounder] to run in the March 7 parliamentary elections. The Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) [official website] has turned to the Iraq Supreme Court questioning whether last week's ruling is binding. A high-level meeting [AFP report] with judicial officials, which included Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Parliament Speaker Ayad al-Sammaraie [BBC profiles], resulted in a call for the controversy to be resolved by February 12, when the four-week election campaign period kicks off. The Iraqi Parliament has been summoned to an emergency session Sunday to debate whether to postpone the scheduled March 7 elections.

On Thursday, the IHEC postponed [NYT report] the parliamentary elections campaign, originally set to begin Sunday, for five days. Spokesperson for Iraq's Shi'ite government Ali Al-Dabbagh [official website, in Arabic] has called last week's decision [WSJ report] to allow the candidates to run illegal and unconstitutional [JURIST report]. Under the ruling, candidates would only be allowed [Al Jazeera report] to take office after their alleged ties are investigated. In December 2008, Iraq arrested [JURIST report] 23 interior ministry officials for allegedly attempting to rebuild the Baath party. The Iraqi De-Baathification Commission [official website, in Arabic], established in 2003, has prompted the removal [JURIST report] of approximately 30,000 alleged Baathists from public life. In 2008, Iraq adopted the Accountability and Justice law [JURIST report], which allows most former Baathists to be reinstated into public life.






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Lebanon tribunal head says Hariri probe on track
Jonathan Cohen on February 6, 2010 11:03 AM ET

[JURIST] The head of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) [official website; JURIST news archive] Friday reassured [press release] the Lebanese public that the investigation is on track. When asked about the progress of the investigation into the death of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri [JURIST news archive], the head of the STL

underlined the fact that the Tribunal already has in place all the legal and administrative instruments necessary for its work, and is fully operational so that justice may be dispensed with complete independence and impartiality in accordance with the highest international standards.
The STL has also agreed to set up a liaison to assist in communications with Lebanon and also to implement decisions and orders in the state.

In April, a judge for the tribunal ordered the release of four generals [JURIST report] who had been held on suspicion of their involvement in the death of Hariri. Earlier this month, STL pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen ordered [UN News Centre report] prosecutor Daniel Bellemare [Ya Libnan profile] to submit either a reasoned request for the continued detention of the four generals or a declination thereof. A Lebanese judge ordered the transfer of documents [JURIST report] relating to Hariri’s assassination to the STL early this month, thereby granting sole jurisdiction over the case against the four accused generals to the tribunal. In March 2008, lead prosecutor Bellamare said he believed a criminal network was behind the assassination [JURIST report]. The investigation into the assassination has been extended past its original anticipated end date and expanded [JURIST reports] to cover other assassinations in the country. Several reports from the International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) [authorizing resolution; UN materials], also headed by Bellemare, have implicated Syrian officials [JURIST report] in Hariri's death.





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Son of Liberia ex-president ordered to pay $22 million to torture victims
Jonathan Cohen on February 6, 2010 10:07 AM ET

[JURIST] A US federal court Friday ordered a final judgment of $22 million [press release, PDF] against Charles Emmanuel "Chuckie" Taylor, Jr." to be paid to five torture victims. Charles was charged [indictment, PDF] with torture while he was in charge of Liberia's Anti-Terrorism Unit (ATU). The order issued by the judge outlined:


the multiple forms of torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment; arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention to which the plaintiffs were subjected and recognizes the past, present and future physical and mental suffering those abuses inflicted.

Human Rights USA [advocacy website], which served as amicus curaie in the criminal case and represented plaintiffs in the civil case against Taylor, said it hoped the award would "serve as a deterrent to others who believe they could mistreat fellow humans in this manner and never be held accountable."

Taylor is the son of former Liberian president Charles Taylor [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], who is currently on trial [case website] before the Special Court for Sierra Leone [official website] sitting at The Hague. Taylor faces 11 counts [indictment, PDF] of crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva Conventions [materials], and other violations of international humanitarian law stemming from a "campaign to terrorize the civilian population" of Sierra Leone.





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Federal judge allows suit against Chiquita for Colombia killings to proceed
Steve Czajkowski on February 5, 2010 3:34 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge ruled Thursday that a lawsuit [case materials] that accuses Chiquita Brands International Inc. [corporate website] of assisting Marxist rebels who killed Colombian missionaries may go forward. The suit was brought [Palm Beach Post report] by family members of five North American missionaries who had worked for the New Tribes Mission (NTM) [mission website] in South America and were killed in separate incidents between 1995 and 1996. Judge Kenneth Marra held that the plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged that Chiquita provided funding to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], which resulted in the deaths of the missionaries. Chiquita admitted it had paid FARC for protection of its workers but it argued that it did not condone the killings. Marra rejected this defense, saying the allegations raised the inference of a conspiracy between Chiquita and FARC.

The suit was originally filed in March 2008, and was the first of its kind [Bloomberg report] brought under a 1992 law that allows US citizens to sue for terrorist acts committed by US firms abroad. In 2007, Chiquita was fined $25 million after it admitted to making payments of around $1.7 million from 1997 to 2004 to FARC and another terrorist group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] in Colombia. Following that admission, hundreds of family members of Colombians killed by FARC filed lawsuits in the US against Chiquita under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) [text]. In January, Chiquita settled [Bloomberg report] a shareholder lawsuit over the illegal payments.






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Top military appeals court upholds Abu Ghraib guard convictions
Steve Dotterer on February 5, 2010 1:52 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces [official website] on Friday upheld [case materials] the convictions of two soldiers found guilty of offenses committed as guards at Abu Ghraib prison [JURIST news archive]. Army Spc. Sabrina Harman [opinion, PDF] had been convicted [JURIST report] of conspiracy, dereliction of duty and maltreatment of prisoners dating back to November 2003. Sgt. Michael Smith [opinion, PDF], similarly, was found guilty [JURIST report] of conspiracy to maltreat prisoners, dereliction of duty and indecent acts. Harman first gained notoriety by posing with a thumbs-up sign beside a pyramid of naked detainees, while Smith is best known for using a Belgian shepherd to intimidate prisoners. The appeals court upheld the convictions, finding no reversible error in the decision of the lower court, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals. The convictions recognized limited rights on the part of detainees outside the US.

Last May, the Obama administration decided not to release photographs [JURIST report] allegedly depicting rape and sexual assault carried out against Abu Ghraib detainees. Sexual abuse of detainees and other rights violations at Abu Ghraib occurring after the US invasion of Iraq have long been issues of concern for rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website]. In 2006, Abu Ghraib was turned over to Iraqi authorities and has since been renamed Baghdad Central Prison [JURIST report].






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Obama, Congress denounce Uganda anti-gay bill
Zach Zagger on February 5, 2010 1:15 PM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton [official website] on Thursday denounced proposed legislation in the Ugandan parliament [official website] that would implement harsh punishments for homosexual behavior, including the death penalty in some circumstances. Obama called the the proposed bill "odious" and said, "we may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it's unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are."



Obama and Clinton's criticism comes a day after US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs [official website] introduced a congressional resolution [resolution, PDF] condemning the Ugandan bill.

The US is not the only one criticizing Uganda over the proposed anti-gay bill. In January, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] said the bill was discriminatory [JURIST report] and could harm Uganda's reputation internationally. In addition to same-sex sexual relations, the bill also imposes punishments of up to three years in prison for those who fail to report the identity of a person who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered within 24 hours, including family members. The bill has come under fire since it was introduced [BBC report] in October by David Bahati, a MP from the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) [party website]. Uganda currently criminalizes [BBC report] homosexual behavior with up to 14 years in prison. The Ugandan parliament is expected to debate the bill in late February or early March.






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ICTY again charges Serb nationalist leader with contempt of court
Sarah Paulsworth on February 5, 2010 12:00 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Thursday charged [order, PDF; press release] former Serbian Radical Party (SRS) [official website, in Serbian] leader Volislav Seselj [ICTY materials; JURIST news archive] with contempt of the court. The charge was prompted by Seselj's inclusion of information that could expose the identities of 13 protected witnesses in three books he wrote. Seselj’s trial just resumed [JURIST report] in January, after being delayed [JURIST report] for nearly a year over fears that witnesses were being intimidated.

In July, the ICTY convicted [JURIST report] Seselj of contempt and sentenced him to 15 months in prison for authoring a book revealing pertinent information about several key witnesses. Seselj was charged with contempt [JURIST report] last January. The ICTY had previously stripped Seselj of his right to defend himself after he failed to appear in court, despite an earlier appeals court ruling that he could represent himself [JURIST reports] provided he did not engage in courtroom behavior that "substantially obstruct[ed] the proper and expeditious proceedings in his case." Seselj is on trial in the ICTY, charged [indictment, PDF] with three counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of war crimes. He is accused of establishing rogue paramilitary units affiliated with the SRS, which are believed to have massacred and otherwise persecuted Croats and other non-Serbs during the Balkan conflict.






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Vietnam court sentences pro-democracy activist to prison for assault
Patrice Collins on February 5, 2010 10:08 AM ET

[JURIST] A Vietnamese court on Friday sentenced pro-democracy writer and rights activist Tran Khai Thanh Thuy to three-and-a-half years in prison on assault charges. Thuy and her husband, who received two years' house arrest, were convicted [RFA report, in Vietnamese] in a one-day trial of assaulting two men during an argument about the parking of their motorbike. Thuy maintains that the men attacked her husband without provocation and that she acted only to come to her husband's defense. Her arrest has been condemned by members of the US Congress [press release, PDF] who called on the Vietnamese government to release human rights activists. Thuy, who has received the Hellman Prize for Persecuted Writers [HRW report], was last arrested in 2009 [Pen Report] after she publicly expressed support for six government dissidents facing trial. In 2007, she was imprisoned for nine months [HRW report] after founding an association to assist citizens with land claims against the government.

Vietnam has recently arrested and tried [JURIST news archive] several democracy activists. Last week a Vietnamese court sentenced Pham Thanh Nghien [JURIST report] to four years in prison on charges of spreading anti-state propaganda. Earlier in January four democracy activists were convicted [JURIST report] of subversion in a one-day trial. Prominent human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh [JURIST news archive], Le Thang Long, and Nguyen Tien Trung were given prison sentences between 5-7 years, and Internet entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc received a 16-year sentence. Dinh was originally charged [JURIST report] with spreading propaganda under Article 88, but was eventually convicted of the more serious crime of subversion. Last month, pro-democracy dissident Tran Anh Kim was also sentenced [JURIST report] to five-and-a-half years in prison for subversion.






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DOJ urges additional revisions to Google book search settlement
Daniel Makosky on February 5, 2010 8:36 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] filed a statement of interest [text, PDF; press release] Thursday urging the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] to reject the amended class action settlement [Authors Guild backgrounder] in a copyright suit [case materials] over Google's book-scanning initiative [Google Books website]. In its statement, which notes “substantial progress” toward resolving issues raised [JURIST report] in September, the DOJ cites lingering copyright and antitrust concerns in the proposed settlement. The DOJ also stated that the agreement would provide Google with "anticompetitive advantages" with potentially monopolistic effects. The Open Book Alliance [advocacy website], a group composed of some of Google's main competitors and several writers' associations, praised [press release] the DOJ's filing and said the current version of the agreement is "overreaching." The settlement is expected to be reviewed by Judge Denny Chin on February 18.

The case originated when two lawsuits were brought against Google by the Authors Guild [advocacy website], a group seeking to preserve copyright protection for authors, and by other plaintiffs including the Association of American Publishers (AAP) [organization website], McGraw-Hill, Penguin Group, and Simon & Schuster [corporate websites]. Under the terms of the original settlement agreement, which was reached [JURIST report] in October 2008, 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. In a separate case, a French court ruled [JURIST report] in December that Google violated French copyright law through its book-scanning initiative.






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UN chief unsure whether Israeli, Palestinian war crimes reports meet UN mandate
Bhargav Katikaneni on February 5, 2010 8:07 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] said Thursday that it is unclear [BBC report] whether Israel and Palestine have fully met UN demands [JURIST report] to set up a commission to investigate war crimes that may occurred during the Gaza conflict [JURIST news archive]. The UN General Assembly [official website] adopted a resolution [press release] in November giving Israel and Palestine three months to complete an investigation into war crimes allegations. In a press briefing [text] before Ban's report to the General Assembly, a UN spokesperson said that the secretary-general has received reports from both the Israeli and Palestinian governments, but he is unsure [AFP report] about whether they fully comply with the UN resolution. Ban's report to the general assembly is expected to be released after UN member states first receive a copy.

Last week, the Israeli Foreign Ministry [official website] released its 46-page report [JURIST report] to the UN, partially detailing Israeli operations in Gaza and revealing that the Israeli military had disciplined two high-ranking Army officers for firing shells into a populated area in the Gaza strip. Hamas has also denied that it committed war crimes, saying that Israeli civilian deaths during the conflict were an accident [Reuters report]. The investigations come after the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] adopted the findings of the Goldstone Report [JURIST reports], the result of a UNHRC fact-finding mission which said that both the Israeli Defense Forces [official website] and Hamas [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] had committed war crimes during the conflict.






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Africa rights commission rules Kenya illegally evicted indigenous people
David Manes on February 5, 2010 7:50 AM ET

[JURIST] The African Commission on Human and People's Rights [official website] ruled [order, PDF] Thursday that the government of Kenya violated the rights of the Endorois [MRGI backgrounder] people when it forcibly evicted them from their land. The Endorois are a group of about 60,000 people who were removed from their land around Lake Bogoria in 1973 when the Kenyan government began developing the region. They were represented by Minority Rights Group International (MRGI) and the Kenyan organization Minority Rights Development [advocacy websites], which filed the initial complaint with the commission in 2003. The African Commission found that the government violated Articles 1, 8, 14, 17, 21 and 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights [text], and ordered the government to take steps within three months to begin returning the land to the Endorois and providing them with compensation. A Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] lawyer representing the Endorois applauded the decision [press release], calling it "the first of its kind." Another lawyer for the Endorois, Korir Sing'Oei, praised [press release] the commission's decision:


This ruling is likely to further expose the inadequacy of Kenya's current constitution, which fails to accord protection to minorities, indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups. It will put pressure on those drafting the new constitution to put in place positive measures to address this glaring omission.

Kenya is currently in the process of revising its constitution [JURIST news archive], having unveiled a new draft [JURIST report] in November.

Other African peoples have faced similar land disputes with their governments, including the Botswana San, or Bushmen [SI backgrounder] people who were relocated by the government from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in 1997. A spokesperson for a rights group representing the Bushmen announced [JURIST report] last month that they would take their land dispute case against the Botswana government to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website; JURIST news archive].





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Haiti officials charge 10 Americans with kidnapping children
Matt Glenn on February 5, 2010 7:45 AM ET

[JURIST] Haitian authorities charged ten US citizens Thursday with kidnapping 33 children. The Americans, many of whom were from the Idaho-based New Life Children's Refuge [BBC profile], were arrested [JURIST report] last week for attempting to take the children across the Haitian border into the Dominican Republic where the group claimed it hoped to start an orphanage. Haitian authorities claim, however, that many of the children were not orphans, but given up by their parents to the missionaries who promised a better life for the children. Group-leader Laura Silsby denied [Idaho Statesman report] Haitian authorities' claims that the group intended to put some of the children up for adoption. The ten were each charged with one count of kidnapping [AP report] and one count of criminal association. Lawyer Edwin Coq, who is representing the group, said that prison conditions were sub-standard and that his clients were not receiving adequate food and water. If convicted, the missionaries face up to 24 years in prison.

Last week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] said that strengthening human rights [JURIST report] is an integral part of the rebuilding process in Haiti. In her remarks, Pillay mentioned the role that the inhumane living conditions may have had in the high casualty numbers resulting from the January 12 earthquake [NYT backgrounder; JURIST news archive], placing blame on the regime of Francois Duvalier [BBC profile] for those conditions. Last month, US President Barack Obama signed a bill [JURIST report] that will allow US citizens to claim donations to Haitian relief efforts as a deduction on their 2009 tax returns. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano [official profile] announced that Haitian nationals present in the US before the earthquake will be given temporary protected status and will not be deported for the next 18 months, but Haitian refugees who arrive in the US illegally will be sent back to their home country [JURIST reports]. The US has also granted humanitarian parole to Haitian orphans [JURIST report] to allow them to enter the US for medical treatment. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused massive damage to property and infrastructure in Haiti, and the death toll has been estimated at 150,000.






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Canada government will not seek Khadr repatriation
Megan McKee on February 5, 2010 7:41 AM ET

[JURIST] Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon [official profile] said Wednesday that the Harper administration will not seek the repatriation of Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr [DOD materials; JURIST news archive]. Cannon said that while the government is considering options to remedy the violation of Khadr's constitutional rights, it will not press for his return because he faces charges in the US. Spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Dimitri Soudas, affirmed that this decision does not represent a shift [Canwest report] in the government's policy toward Khadr, who is set to go before a US military commission [JURIST report] in July on numerous charges for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a US army medic.

This announcement follows last week's ruling [judgment text, JURIST report], which held that the interrogation of Khadr by Canadian officials while in detention violated section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text]. Canadian officials questioned Khadr, who was captured at age 15, despite knowing that he was being indefinitely detained and had been subjected to sleep deprivation by US authorities. Still, the court held that forcing the government to press for Khadr's return was not an appropriate remedy, as such an order would overreach the court's authority. The ruling overturned a Federal Court of Appeals decision, which upheld a lower court order [JURIST reports] requiring the federal government to seek Khadr's repatriation.






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US prosecutors bring new charges against Illinois ex-governor Blagojevich
Matt Glenn on February 5, 2010 6:47 AM ET

[JURIST] Prosecutors from the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois [official website] issued a superseding indictment [text] against former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich [JURIST news archive] Thursday. The new indictment, which does not allege additional wrongdoing but contains eight new charges [government filing text] related to racketeering, extortion, and bribery, allows prosecutors to try Blagojevich without relying on the federal honest services fraud statute [18 USC § 1346 text], which some believe the Supreme Court may soon declare unconstitutional in some contexts. Blagojavich is scheduled to be arraigned [Chicago Tribune report] next Wednesday, with his trial set to begin in June [JURIST report].

In December, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in two honest services fraud cases. At issue is whether the statute applies to a private defendant where there is no proof he intended to cause economic harm and whether the statute is applicable without showing that a plaintiff violated a separate law. In October, the Supreme Court granted certiorari [JURIST report] to determine whether ex-Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling may be prosecuted under the "honest services" fraud statute absent proof that he intended to privately gain through the alleged fraud. In April, Blagojevich pleaded not guilty to 16 felony counts [JURIST reports], including wire fraud, attempted extortion, racketeering conspiracy, extortion conspiracy, and making false statements. In January 2009, the Illinois State Senate voted unanimously [JURIST report] to convict Blagojevich of abuse of power and remove him from office. Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were initially arrested [JURIST report] in December on allegations that they had conspired to sell the Senate seat left vacant by President Barack Obama.






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