[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.
[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].
[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."
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.
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.
[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.
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.
[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.
[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.
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].
[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.
[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.
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.
Feedroll provides free Paper Chase news boxes with headlines or digests precisely tailored to your website's look and feel, with content updated every 15 minutes. Customize and get the code.
Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible, ad-free format.