March 2010 Archives


Supreme Court hears arguments on immigration, criminal contempt
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 31, 2010 3:05 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 Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether a person convicted under state law for simple drug possession (a federal law misdemeanor) has been "convicted" of an "aggravated felony" on the theory that he could have been prosecuted for recidivist simple possession (a federal law felony), even though there was no charge or finding of a prior conviction in his prosecution for possession. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act [text], a lawful permanent resident who has been "convicted" of an "aggravated felony" is ineligible to seek cancellation of removal. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that a state law conviction for simple drug possession could be an "aggravated felony" if the defendant could have been charged with a felony, affirming the Board of Immigration Appeals holding that Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo is ineligible for cancellation of removal. Counsel for the petitioner, Carachuri-Rosendo argued that, "[i]ndividuals, such as Petitioner, who have been convicted of drug possession but as to whom there has been no finding of recidivism, have been convicted of a misdemeanor punishable under the Controlled Substances Act rather than a felony." Counsel for the US government argued that, "Congress's judgment here was that all aliens who engage in the same serious conduct would be treated the same for immigration purposes."

In Robertson v. United States ex rel. Watson [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the court heard arguments on whether an action for criminal contempt in a congressionally created court may constitutionally be brought in the name and pursuant to the power of a private person, rather than in the name and pursuant to the power of the US. Counsel for the petitioner, John Robertson, argued:

The United States now agrees that the fact that a criminal offense may only be prosecuted by the sovereign is a foundational premise of our Constitution. Because Mr. Robertson was prosecuted for criminal contempt in a private right of action, his prosecution was unconstitutional, a nullity in our view, and his convictions must be vacated.
Counsel for US government argued as amicus curiae on behalf of respondent that:
when a single US Attorney's Office says that the government will decide to drop a certain set of charges, that US Attorney's Office we believe is - is speaking for itself, unless there is some indication that it is speaking more widely in such a way that will bind other parts of the government.





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Legally-binding climate treaty unlikely before 2011: UN official
Haley Wojdowski on March 31, 2010 1:30 PM ET

[JURIST] Executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) [official website] Yvo de Boer said Wednesday that it is unlikely a new climate change treaty will be concluded until 2011. After the Copenhagen summit (COP15) in December failed to produce [JURIST report] a binding agreement, de Boer expressed hope that the next annual meeting in November in Cancun, Mexico will get negotiations back on track [AP report]. The UNFCCC announced [press release] that 111 countries and the European Union (EU) have expressed support for the non-binding Copenhagen Accord [text, PDF], which calls for self-imposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions [JURIST news archive]. Additionally, the UNFCCC received 75 national pledges, from nations that account for more than 80 percent of global emissions from energy use, to cut or limit emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020. De Boer noted these pledges will not suffice to meet the Copenhagen Accord's goal of limiting global temperatures [UN News Centre report] to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Earlier this month, China and India, among the world's largest and most quickly growing producers of greenhouse gas emissions, agreed to endorse [JURIST report] the Copenhagen Accord. The UNFCCC announced [JURIST report] in February that another round of formal climate talks will be held April 9-11 in Bonn, Germany, to follow up on the recent Copenhagen conference. While no legally-binding agreement was reached at the conclusion of the COP15 in December, 192 UN member countries agreed to take note [UN News Centre report] of the non-binding accord developed by leaders from the US, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa. In January, more than 50 countries, including the US, China, and EU member states, submitted plans [JURIST report] to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the UNFCCC. Relative to 2005 levels, the US has pledged to reduce emissions to 17 percent, while China has targeted a 40 to 45 percent reduction per GDP unit. EU members pledged a 20 percent reduction below 1990 levels.






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Belgium parliamentary committee votes to impose nationwide burqa ban
Carrie Schimizzi on March 31, 2010 12:39 PM ET

[JURIST] A Belgian parliamentary committee voted unanimously Wednesday to ban the Islamic burqa [JURIST news archive] and other "full veils" from being worn in public. The proposed legislation [materials, in French] applies to areas "accessible to the public" or areas meant for "public use or to provide public services." Violators could face a penalty of up to seven days in jail or a fine of 15 to 25 euros. The proposed law does not impose restrictions on traditional Muslim headscarves, and it provides for groups to apply for a temporary exemption [Times Online report] for festivals or other events. The proposed ban has ignited concern among some who view it as an "attack on civil liberties." If approved by Parliament [official website, in Dutch], Belgium will be the first European nation to impose a nationwide restriction on traditional face-covering veils. The lower house of parliament is scheduled to vote on the bill on April 22.

France has also been pressing for a ban on the burqa. Earlier this week, the French Council of State [official website, in French] advised the French government [report, PDF; in French] that a complete ban on full Islamic veils risks violating [JURIST report] the French Constitution [text] and the European Convention on Human Rights [text]. Last week, French President Nicholas Sarkozy [official website, in French] announced that the government will introduce legislation [JURIST report] to ban traditional Muslim face veils [transcript, in French] in public places. Sarkozy's announcement came just weeks after a French parliamentary commission charged with investigating whether to enact laws banning the wearing of burqas released its report [text, PDF; in French] calling for a partial ban [JURIST report] that would apply in public facilities, including hospitals, schools, and public transportation, and to any individual attempting to receive public services. Also last week, lawmakers in Quebec introduced a bill that would ban women wearing full face veils from public services [Star report], such as receiving care at a hospital or going to a public university.






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India court hears final arguments in Mumbai terror attack trial
Michael Kraemer on March 31, 2010 12:38 PM ET

[JURIST] An Indian court on Wednesday heard final arguments in the trial of Mohammed Ajmal Kasab [NDTV backgrounder], accused of participating in the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], bringing the yearlong proceedings to a close. The court heard from more than 600 prosecution witnesses [WP report] and two members of the National Security Guard [official website] who responded to the attack. Prosecutors accuse Kasab of being one of the gunmen photographed during the attacks, which were allegedly coordinated by Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) [CFR backgrounder]. Kasab claims that he confessed to the crimes in February 2009 after being tortured [Hindu report] by police. Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam praised [WSJ report] the speed with which the trial was conducted. Judge ML Tahiliyani, specially appointed [PTI report] in January 2009 to preside over the trial of three suspects detained after the attacks, reserved judgment [Times of India report] until May 3.

The lawyer for the accused gunman faced several setbacks during the trial, including a failed change of venue to a juvenile court [Indian Express report] and the introduction of the disputed confession. Kasab's first defense lawyer was removed [JURIST report] last year because she had agreed to represent a victim of the attacks in a civil suit. Kasab first appeared [JURIST report] before Tahiliyani in March 2009 via video. In February 2009, Pakistan officials conceded [JURIST report] that the attacks were partially planned in their country and that the perpetrators traveled by ship [NYT report] from southern Pakistan to Mumbai. One scholar had suggested that an international tribunal be formed [JURIST op-ed] in order to avoid further complications between Pakistan and India. The attacks in Mumbai, which claimed at least 170 lives, were carried out at 10 locations across the city including the landmark Taj Mahal Palace hotel where nine of the 10 gunmen were killed.






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ICC grants prosecutor's request to investigate Kenya election violence
David Manes on March 31, 2010 12:07 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Wednesday granted the request [decision, PDF] of chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] to investigate the deadly violence perpetrated after the 2007 Kenyan presidential election [JURIST news archive]. Earlier this month, Ocampo submitted the names [JURIST report] of 20 senior political and business leaders who allegedly "bear the gravest responsibility" for the post-election violence. The ICC's decision to authorize the prosecutor's investigation means that Kenyan leaders may be called before the court. Summarizing the decision [press release], the court explained:


upon examination of the available information, bearing in mind the nature of the proceedings under article 15 of the Statute, the low threshold applicable at this stage, as well as the object and purpose of this decision, the information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed on Kenyan territory. The majority moreover found that all criteria for the exercise of the Court’s jurisdiction were satisfied, to the standard of proof applicable at this stage.

The prosecutor will outline the next steps for the investigation in a press conference [press release] on Thursday.

Ocampo provided the list of 20 names after ICC judges requested last month that he provide additional information regarding his request to open a formal investigation [JURIST reports] into allegations of crimes against humanity. 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. The allegations of fraud [JURIST report] following the 2007 elections led to violence that caused the deaths of more than 1,000 people and displacement of 500,000 others.





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Supreme Court rules lawyer must inform client of deportation risk for guilty plea
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 31, 2010 11:19 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Wednesday ruled [opinion, PDF] 7-2 in Padilla v. Kentucky [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the Sixth Amendment [text] guarantee of effective assistance of counsel requires a criminal defense lawyer to advise a non-citizen client that pleading guilty to an aggravated felony will trigger mandatory, automatic deportation. The Supreme Court of Kentucky ruled [opinion, PDF] that a guilty plea induced by bad advice does not amount to ineffective assistance of counsel and does not warrant setting aside the guilty plea. In reversing the decision below, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote:


We granted certiorari to decide whether, as a matter of federal law, Padilla's counsel had an obligation to advise him that the offense to which he was pleading guilty would result in his removal from this country. We agree with Padilla that constitutionally competent counsel would have advised him that his conviction for drug distribution made him subject to automatic deportation. Whether he is entitled to relief depends on whether he has been prejudiced, a matter that we do not address.

Justice Samuel Alito filed a concurring opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts. Justice Antonin Scalia filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Clarence Thomas joined.

Honduras native Jose Padilla has been a lawful permanent resident of the US for more than 40 years. He pleaded guilty to transporting a large amount of marijuana, making him subject to deportation proceedings. Padilla claims that he would not have pleaded guilty had his lawyer informed him that he would risk deportation. Padilla shares the same name as convicted terrorist Jose Padilla, currently serving a 17-year sentence, but is of no relation.





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Serbia parliament adopts declaration condemning Srebrenica massacre
Erin Bock on March 31, 2010 10:55 AM ET

[JURIST] The Serbian Parliament [official website] adopted a declaration early Wednesday morning condemning the 1995 Srebrenica massacre [BBC timeline; JURIST news archive], in which 8,000 Muslims were killed. After a day-long debate, "The Declaration of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia Condemning the Crime in Srebrenica" [official summary] was passed by a narrow margin, with 127 out 250 members [AP report] voting in its favor. The parliament also called upon other former Yugoslavian countries to issue similar declarations [press release]. Head of the Deputy Group for European Serbia Nada Kolundzija stated that "passing the declaration is in the Serbian people's best interest and it is its moral duty to distance itself from the crime." The declaration was also met with criticism from some members of parliament. MP Dragan Todorovic told Serbia's Radio Srbija that the declaration should be withdrawn [Radio Srbija report] because of the negative light it will cast on the nation. Other criticisms are that the declaration did not call the massacre a genocide and that the declaration did not condemn all of the crimes that occurred in Yugoslavia from 1991-1995.

On Tuesday, The Hague Appeals Court upheld UN immunity [JURIST report] from prosecution in claims brought by relatives of victims of the Srebrenica massacre. The group, known as the Mothers of Srebrenica, alleged that the Netherlands should be held liable for Dutch soldiers negligently failing to protect civilians during the Bosnian conflict by forcing them out of a UN-designated "safe area." The court found that immunity is essential to the UN being able to carry out its duties and that the Dutch soldiers could not be held responsible in their capacity as UN peacekeepers. Earlier this month, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [JURIST news archive] made his opening statement [JURIST report] before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, where he is being tried for war crimes. He is defending himself against 11 counts, including genocide and murder. Karadzic has called the massacre a farce [JURIST report] promulgated by Bosnian Muslims to incite hatred against Serbian forces. He could face life in prison if convicted.






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Supreme Court rules states cannot limit federal class action suits
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 31, 2010 10:13 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Wednesday ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 in Shady Grove Orthopedic Associates v. Allstate Insurance Co. [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a state legislature cannot prohibit the federal courts from using the class action device for state law claims. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the state law was substantive and could be applied in federal court, upholding a lower court's dismissal of the suit. In reversing the decision below, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for a divided court:

The short of the matter is that a Federal Rule governing procedure is valid whether or not it alters the outcome of the case in a way that induces forum shopping. To hold otherwise would be to "disembowel either the Constitution's grant of power over federal procedure" or Congress's exercise of it.
Justice John Paul Stevens filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, and Samuel Alito joined.

Shady Grove Orthopedic Associates filed a class action lawsuit against Allstate Insurance Co. [corporate websites] in federal court. The issue was whether a New York state law, which prohibits a lawsuit seeking a statutory penalty from being brought as a class action, is substantive or procedural under the Erie doctrine [backgrounder].





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Pakistan officials urge Switzerland to reopen Zardari corruption investigation
Brian Jackson on March 31, 2010 9:12 AM ET

[JURIST] Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau (NAB) [official website] on Wednesday asked Swiss officials to reopen a corruption investigation against Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari [official website]. The request [DAWN report] was made in a letter from the NAB, the country's chief anti-corruption body, to Swiss officials, but the Swiss Federal Department of Justice [official website] has not confirmed receipt of the request. Zardari was previously convicted of money laundering in Switzerland in 2003, but that conviction was later overturned [Al Jazeera report], and subsequent attempts by the Swiss to convict him were unsuccessful [JURIST report]. Aides to Zardari believe that presidential immunity protects him from prosecution, even after Pakistan's Supreme Court [official website] overturned an amnesty law [JURIST report] implemented by former president Pervez Musharaff. However, Zardari may face attacks on his eligibility to have been elected president in 2008, since prior allegations of corruption may have rendered him ineligible for office.

The request by the NAB comes one day after the Supreme Court ordered the bureau to reopen all corruption investigations [JURIST report] within 24 hours. That order was accompanied by a contempt of court notice for the bureau's chairman, Naveed Ahsan. The Supreme Court's order is likely to increase tensions between the president and the judiciary, which have recently clashed over court appointments [JURIST report]. The same day as the Supreme Court's order to the NAB, Pakistani police detained Ahmed Riaz Sheikh, Director General of the Federal Investigation Agency, in the first arrest of a government official since amnesty was rescinded. In December, a Pakistani court issued an arrest warrant [JURIST report] for Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who is accused of corruption.

11:00 AM ET - Swiss authorities have refused to reopen the corruption investigation [AP report], claiming Zardari still has legal immunity.






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Federal judge chides US government over ex-DEA agent settlement
Jay Carmella on March 31, 2010 9:03 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] criticized the government Tuesday for a lack of accountability, despite granting approval [order, PDF; opinion, PDF] to a $3 million settlement agreement in a civil suit brought by former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) [official website] agent Richard Horn. The government evoked the state secrets privilege [JURIST news archive] to prevent documents from being made public in the case in which Horn accused the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] of spying on him. Despite granting the approval, Chief Judge Royce Lamberth expressed his displeasure with the government for what he believed was a lack of accountability to the taxpayers. He wrote:

However, it is not without some misgiving that the Court reaches this decision. Another member of this Court last year approved the settlement of another case (involving the FBI's investigation of the anthrax mailings in late 2001) which involved payment to an individual plaintiff of almost $6,000,000 by the United States. It does not appear that any government official was ever held accountable this huge loss to the taxpayer.

Now this Court is called upon to approve a $3,000,000 payment to an individual plaintiff by the United States, and again it does not appear that any government officials have held accountable for this loss to the taxpayer. This is troubling to the the Court.
Lamberth asked US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] if there was an internal investigation regarding who committed the wrong-doing.

Horn, a former agent in Myanmar, is suing [summons and complaint] Franklin Huddle, the Chief of the Mission of the American Embassy in Myanmar, and Arthur Brown, a CIA agent stationed there, for violating his civil rights and anti-wiretapping laws [text] during 1992 and 1993. Huddle and Brown are alleged to have intercepted communications intended for Horn and to have conspired to have him removed from his position. In August, Lamberth ordered the government to grant security clearance [JURIST report] to lawyers on both sides of the civil suit. In late July, Lamberth ordered that documents relating to the case be unsealed [JURIST report], and charged that the CIA committed fraud in keeping the documents secret.





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Federal lawsuit challenges constitutionality of experimental prisons
Tara Tighe on March 31, 2010 8:50 AM ET

[JURIST] The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy website] filed suit [complaint, PDF; press release] on Tuesday challenging the strict visitation and communication restrictions [visiting regulations, PDF] at two experimental federal prison units called "Communications Management Units" (CMUs). The complaint alleges that the prisoners have suffered "severe and unjustifiable emotional distress" as a result of being deprived of fundamental constitutional rights. Prisoners at the CMUs are forbidden from hugging, touching, or embracing their children or spouses during visits. Transfers to the CMUs are not explained and cannot be appealed to a review board. CCR attorneys also claim that the CMUs have perpetuated a "pattern of religious and political discrimination and retaliation" because the vast majority of CMU prisoners are Muslim. CCR Attorney Alexis Agathocleous claims that the CMUs are an "experiment in social isolation" that has dispensed with due process and created a situation "ripe for abuse." On behalf of the prisoners, CCR is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. If granted, the injunction would place the prisoners in the general population of a less restrictive facility.

The CMUs, located in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Marion, Illinois, were secretly opened during the George W. Bush administration. The facilities were created in response to criticism [WP report] that the prison bureau had failed to adequately monitor terrorist inmates' communications. The CMUs allow prison officials to closely monitor and control the communications of certain prisoners and to isolate them from other prisoners and the outside world. Concerns about the restraints placed on inmate communication and the racial composition of the inmate population were voiced when the facilities were opened.






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Obama signs health care amendments, student loan reform into law
Steve Czajkowski on March 31, 2010 8:21 AM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed into law [transcript of remarks] the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act [HR 4872 materials], which represents a group of amendments to the recently approved health care legislation [JURIST news archive] and also provides changes to the administration of the federal student loan program. The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act [HR 3221 materials], a rider attached to the main bill, will remove banks and private lenders as providers for federal student loans and place that responsibility with the government. The health care amendments addressed concerns in the original bill raised by Republicans, including provisions to help uninsured Americans pay for coverage, concerns over the effects to Medicare, and lowering the penalty for not buying insurance. In his remarks, Obama lauded the changes made to the student loan program and the final passage of health care reform:

[T]he health insurance reform bill I signed won't fix every problem in our health care system in one fell swoop. But it does represent some of the toughest insurance reforms in history. It represents a major step forward towards giving Americans with insurance - and those without - a sense of security when it comes to their health care. It enshrines the principle that when you get sick, you've got a society there, a community, that is going to help you get back on your feet.

For a long time, our student loan system has worked for banks and financial institutions. Today, we're finally making our student loan system work for students and our families. But we're also doing something more. From the moment I was sworn into office, I've spoken about the urgent need for us to lay a new foundation for our economy and for our future. And two pillars of that foundation are health care and education, and each has long suffered from problems that we chose to kick down the road.
Republicans have criticized both bills [NYT report] as harmful to the economy.

Obama signed the original health care bill into law last week after it was passed by the House [JURIST reports] by a vote of 219 - 212. Following that, he signed an executive order [text; JURIST report] continuing a prohibition on the use of federal funds for abortion [JURIST news archive] except in cases of rape or incest or where a woman's life would be endangered, as part of a compromise with conservative Democrats. The same day that the original bill was signed into law, the attorneys general for 13 states filed suit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the new law [JURIST report].





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Afghanistan rights abuses leading to poverty: UN report
Steve Czajkowski on March 31, 2010 7:33 AM ET

[JURIST] Corruption, abuse of power, and a focus on short-term security goals in Afghanistan have intensified the issue of poverty, affecting more than two-thirds of the population, according to a Tuesday report [text, DOC; press release] from the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website]. According to the report 36 percent, or nine million people, live in absolute poverty and cannot meet basic needs. Additionally, 36 percent were found to live just above the poverty line. While the report said that many Afghan leaders shape public policy for their own personal or vested interests, it said that the lack of security, the disparate allocation of resources, and discrimination were also reasons for the extreme poverty. The report focused on the need to address human rights issues in order find a solution to hardships facing the Afghan people:

Poverty is neither accidental, nor inevitable in Afghanistan: it is both a cause and consequence of a massive human rights deficit including widespread impunity and inadequate investment in, and attention to, human rights.

Understanding the human rights dimension of poverty is critical to the identification of underlying structural problems and processes that, left unaddressed, run the risk of undermining poverty reduction initiatives. A human rights perspective and analysis helps ensure that causes, and not just consequences, inform the design and implementation of programmes geared to the alleviation or elimination of chronic poverty.
The information for the report was provided by a survey given to some of the poorest communities in the Afghan provinces, along with interviews of local and national experts.

Afghanistan has received much criticism for its human rights record. Earlier this month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] delivered a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] that said Afghanistan's human rights progress has been thwarted by armed conflict, censorship, abuse of power, and violence against women. In February, the US State Department (DOS) [official website] released its annual 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [DOS materials], criticizing Afghanistan [JURIST report] for its continued use of child labor. In November, Pillay urged [press release] Afghan President Hamad Karzai to put a stop to executions [JURIST report] and join nations calling for a death penalty moratorium after five prisoners were executed over the course of four days.





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Turkish government submits constitutional reform package to parliament
Sarah Miley on March 31, 2010 7:09 AM ET

[JURIST] The Turkish ruling party on Tuesday submitted its controversial reform package to parliament, despite warnings from Turkish President Abdullah Gul [BBC profile] that the party should take more precautions before amending the constitution. The reform package contains seven revisions [Hurriyet report] from the original amendments unveiled last week [JURIST report], including a highly-disputed reform to the judiciary system that would allow military and government officials to be tried in civilian court. The reform would also make it harder for the government to disband political parties that challenge the country's nationalist establishment and would ban the prosecution of the 1980 coup leaders. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish] created the amendments to promote democracy in Turkey and support its bid into the European Union (EU) [official website]. The parliamentary vote will take place next week, but will most likely be put to a public referendum as there may not be adequate support between the parties. Opposition parties have spoken out against the reforms, holding that the amendments are not aimed at enhancing democratic principles, but instead to cement AKP's standing as the ruling party.

The proposed amendments have been met with opposition by Turkey's Supreme Court [official website, in Turkish]. In an interview last week, the president of the court Hasan Gerceker [official profile, in Turkish] declared that the proposed amendments threaten separation of power and judicial independence [JURIST report]. Turkey has faced several obstacles as it works toward membership in the EU, including its human rights record, its stance towards political parties, and tension [JURIST news archive] between the AKP and the military.






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Supreme Court hears arguments on federal sentencing rules
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 30, 2010 4:30 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 Dillon v. United States [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether the federal sentencing guidelines [materials] are binding when a federal judge imposes a new sentence. Under the Supreme Court's 2005 ruling in United States v. Booker [opinion text], the guidelines are advisory only, but the court has never ruled on Booker's application to a sentence modification proceeding. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that Booker should not apply in sentence modification proceedings, upholding Percy Dillon's modified sentence. Counsel for the petitioner, Dillon, argued:

Sentencing commission policy cannot override this Court's clear and unambiguous directive to courts to treat the guidelines as advisory in all cases moving forward, and any interpretation of section 3582(c) that permits the commission to mandate sentences must be rejected, not only as matter of statutory stare decisis, but because it would violate the Sixth Amendment.
Counsel for the United States argued:
The provisions of the Sentencing Reform Act at issue in this case, unlike the provisions that were at issue in Booker, do not govern the imposition of sentence. They instead provide a discretionary mechanism for the exercise of leniency for defendants who have already been sentenced.
In Barber v. Thomas [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether the Sentencing Reform Act [18 USC § 3624(b), text] requires the federal prison system to calculate good time served credits based on the sentence imposed. The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) [official website] has been interpreting "term of imprisonment" to mean time served, rather than sentence imposed, as it is interpreted throughout federal sentencing statutes. The BOP's interpretation has resulted in fewer days of available credit each year of the sentence. Lower courts remain split on the question. Counsel for the petitioners argued that, "[t]he flaw in the Bureau of Prisons system is that they do not give credit towards the term of imprisonment as this statute in 3624(b) dictates." Counsel for the respondent argued in favor of the BOP's system.





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France council advises against complete burqa ban
Sarah Miley on March 30, 2010 3:37 PM ET

[JURIST] The French Council of State [official website, in French] on Tuesday advised the French government [report, PDF; in French] that a complete ban on full Islamic veils risks violating the French Constitution [text] and the European Convention on Human Rights [text]. The government requested that the council, the country's highest administrative court, review the proposed ban before drawing up legislation. The government has already banned public officials from wearing veils while operating in their official capacity, and also prohibits veils in public schools. The council held that even with the existence of these partial bans, which are based on France's secular principles, it could find no legal basis for a complete ban on veils in public places. The council held that there could be a legal foundation for the ban in situations that require public security and protections against fraud. This includes access to high security areas, the performance of official proceedings such as marriage and voting, and when acquiring identification materials. French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official website, in French] has been a strong proponent of the full veil ban and stated that legislation may go forward [BBC report] despite the Council's warnings.

The Council of State's review comes weeks after a French parliamentary commission charged with investigating whether to enact laws banning the wearing of burqas [JURIST news archive] or other full veils released its report [text, PDF; in French] calling for a partial ban [JURIST report] that would apply in public facilities, including hospitals, schools, and public transportation, and to any individual attempting to receive public services. While many people in France approve of the proposed legislation [CNN report], such measures have also faced opposition [JURIST comment] from critics who say such a law would alienate France's Muslim minority and violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [text], of which France is a signatory.






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Pakistan high court orders government to reopen corruption cases
Ann Riley on March 30, 2010 2:12 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] on Tuesday threatened to imprison the head of the country's corruption agency for failing to meet a 24-hour deadline to reopen several corruption cases. Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry [official profile; JURIST news archive] gave National Accountability Bureau (NAB) [official website] Chairman Naveed Ahsan and acting Chairman Irfan Nadeem another day to reopen the cases [AP report], including several against President Asif Ali Zardari [official website]. Ahsan pledged in writing that the cases would be reopened. The court's order displays the continuing tension between Pakistan's government and judiciary. In response to the court's orders, police detained [Reuters report] Director General of the Federal Investigation Agency Ahmed Riaz Sheikh [official website], who was convicted of corruption eight years ago. Sheikh's prison sentence was waived in 2002, and he was subsequently promoted within the agency, after former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] issued amnesty in 2007.

Tuesday's arrest is the first since the Supreme Court struck down [JURIST report] the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) [text], which granted immunity to Zardari and 8,000 other government officials from charges of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering, murder, and terrorism between January 1986 and October 1999. In December, a Pakistani court issued an arrest warrant [JURIST report] for Interior Minister Rehman Malik [official profile] on corruption charges. Malik is among 19 officials whose corruption cases the NAB has petitioned to reopen [PTI report] in an anti-corruption court in Rawalpindi. The NAB has also petitioned a Lahore court to reopen the cases of 32 individuals, including that of Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar [official profile]. The NRO was signed [JURIST report] by Musharraf as part of a power-sharing accord allowing former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto [BBC profile] to return to the country despite corruption charges [JURIST report] she had faced.






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France appeals court upholds oil company liability for 1999 spill
Sarah Paulsworth on March 30, 2010 1:31 PM ET

[JURIST] The Paris Appellate Court [official website, in French] on Tuesday upheld a lower court's 2008 decision finding French oil company Total [corporate website] and several other defendants criminally liable for an oil spill that occurred of the coast of Brittany in 1999. The court also increased the fine [LeMonde report, in French] against the defendants from 192 million euros to 200 million euros. Over 20,000 tons of oil [Euronews report] seeped from an oil tanker called Erika, which Total chartered from an Italian company, decimating 400 kilometers of coastline and causing harm to wildlife. Total said that it plans to review the judgment [press release] before deciding whether to appeal.

Total is not the first oil company to be subject to stiff penalties as a result of an oil spill. In June 2009, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that Exxon Mobil [corporate website] owes interest on the more than $500 million in punitive damages [JURIST report] awarded against it following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill [EPA backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. According to statistics [text] on major oil spills published by the non-profit International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation [official website], the Total oil spill off the cost of Brittany was the fourth largest oil spill since 1967, while the Exxon Valdez spill is ranked 35.






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Supreme Court limits government whistle-blower lawsuits
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 30, 2010 12:07 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday ruled [opinion, PDF] 7-2 in Graham County Soil & Water Conservation Dist. v. United States ex rel. Wilson [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that whistle-blowers cannot bring suit under the False Claims Act [text] to recover misspent government funds if the information used in the lawsuits came from state or local agencies' reports or audits. The suit arose out of public record documents that detailed a failure to obtain bids for the clean-up and reconstruction of storm-damaged portions of North Carolina. The petitioners claimed that the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit erred in concluding [opinion, PDF] that a state audit does not constitute an administrative report, audit, or investigation under the Act. In reversing the decision below, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote:


Since its enactment during the Civil War, the False Claims Act has authorized both the Attorney General and private qui tam relators to recover from persons who make false or fraudulent claims for payment to the United States. The Act now contains a provision barring qui tam actions based upon the public disclosure of allegations or transactions in certain specified sources. The question before us is whether the reference to "administrative" reports, audits, and investigations in that provision encompasses disclosures made in state and local sources as well as federal sources. We hold that it does.

Justice Antonin Scalia filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer.

The ruling could potentially bar thousands of lawsuits by whistle-blowers. However, Congress recently changed the language of the statute [SCOTUSblog report] as part of the health care reform bill [text] signed into law [JURIST report] last week. It is unclear whether the new wording will affect the case on remand.





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Russia president calls for amended terrorism laws in wake of subway bombings
Sarah Paulsworth on March 30, 2010 12:02 PM ET

[JURIST] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday proposed [statement, in Russian] amending the country's terrorism legislation in the wake of Monday's twin suicide bombing attacks [Moscow Times report] on Moscow subway stations. In televised remarks, Medvedev said:

We need to focus on improving legislation aimed at preventing acts of terrorism, on the work of various departments charged with investigating such crimes, and on other procedures related to transportation security and safety of people in crowded places. I think we have reason to revisit issues related to the proper administration of justice under terrorist legislation – under the ‘terrorism’ law and related crimes articles - and to talk about the need to improve such practices.



Top Russian officials, including Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive], and head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) Aleksandr Bortnikov have blamed insurgents from the North Caucasus [RFE/RL report] for the subway bombings. Russia's ombudsman for Chechnya Nurdi Nuhazhiyev warned Tuesday that Russia could now experience an increase in ethnic hatred crimes [RIA Novosti report] against people who appear to be from the North Caucasus.

In January, Putin called [transcript, in Russian] for a new age of human rights and safety [JURIST report] in the Caucasus. In October, the UN published a report on reforms Russia must take to protect human rights, highlighting the Caucasus region [JURIST report]. The UN report came less than a week after prominent opposition leader and human rights activist in Russia's southern province of Ingushetia [official website, in Russian], Maksharip Aushev, was shot dead [JURIST report] while traveling on a highway in the North Caucasus region of Kabardino-Balkaria.





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Australia high court orders accused war criminal extradited to Croatia
Tara Tighe on March 30, 2010 11:39 AM ET

[JURIST] The High Court of Australia [official website] on Tuesday ordered that alleged Serbian war criminal Dragan Vasiljkovic [Trial Watch backgrounder; JURIST news archive] be extradited to Croatia to face prosecution. Vasiljkovic, an Australian citizen also known as Daniel Snedden, is accused of war crimes occurring during the 1991-1995 Croatian war of independence [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. The high court's decision overturns a September ruling by the Federal Court of Australia [official website], which held [judgment text; JURIST report] that Vasiljkovic should not be extradited due to the risk that his political beliefs would subject him to prejudice if he were returned to Croatia.

The High Court's decision comes after a prolonged judicial debate over whether Vasiljkovic should be returned to Croatia to stand trial. In 2007, an Australian court ordered [JURIST report] that Vasiljkovic be handed over to Croatian authorities. Subsequent appeals resulted in conflicting federal court judgments and ultimately led to Tuesday's high court decision. Vasiljkovic was arrested in Australia in 2006 pursuant to an extradition request [JURIST reports] from the Croatian government.






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Supreme Court rules defendant's right to impartial jury not violated
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 30, 2010 11:08 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously in Berghuis v. Smith [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a defendant's Sixth Amendment [text] right to a jury drawn from a fair cross-section of the community was not violated when the African-American representation on the jury was disproportionate to the community population. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit applied the comparative-disparity test, which calculates the percentage of otherwise eligible jurors from a given group who are excluded from jury service, and held [opinion, PDF] that the defendant's right was violated. In reversing the decision below, the court declined to adopt an explicit standard. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote:

Each test is imperfect. Absolute disparity and comparative disparity measurements, courts have recognized, can be misleading when, as here, "members of the distinctive group comp[ose] [only] a small percentage of those eligible for jury service." And to our knowledge, "[n]o court ... has accepted [a standard deviation analysis] alone as determinative in Sixth Amendment challenges to jury selection systems."
Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion.

The defendant, Diapolis Smith, is an African-American convicted of second-degree murder by an all-white jury in Kent County, Michigan in 1993. At the time of Smith's trial, African-Americans constituted 7.28 percent of Kent County's jury-eligible population, and 6 percent of the pool from which potential jurors were drawn.





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Illinois judge upholds abortion parental notification law
Ann Riley on March 30, 2010 10:31 AM ET

[JURIST] An Illinois Cook County Circuit Court [official website] judge ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that the Parental Notice of Abortion Act of 1995 [text] is constitutional. While lifting the temporary restraining order on the law's enforcement, Judge Daniel Riley approved a 60-day grace period, preventing state officials from enforcing the law pending appeal procedures. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (ACLU-IL) [advocacy website] brought suit last year arguing that the law violates privacy, due process, equal protection, and gender equality guaranteed by the Illinois Constitution [text]. Responding to the judgment [press release], ACLU-IL Executive Director Colleen Connell said:


In the wake of today's ruling, we are reviewing our legal options, including an appeal of the Judge's decision. We note that the Judge was careful and blunt in describing the Illinois law as "unfortunate," and in noting that enforcement of the Act will result in horrible outcomes for some young women, including "physical and emotional abuse." However, the Judge ruled in favor of the State because he did not believe that the law would be harmful in every incident where a pregnant minor was compelled to notify a parent of her decision to terminate a pregnancy. We will move swiftly to take all necessary action so that the real threat of abuse so clearly identified by the Judge can be avoided.

Anti-abortion advocate the Thomas More Society [advocacy website] commended the decision [press release], stating that they looked forward "toward ending underage secret abortions."

Riley granted the temporary restraining order [JURIST report] in November, only hours after the Illinois Medical Disciplinary Board ruled to begin enforcing the law. The order was originally sought by the ACLU-IL in support of a suit brought by a local medical doctor and a women's clinic on behalf of themselves and their minor patients. ACLU-IL alleged that enforcement of the law would cause major harm [video] and compromise the privacy of some Illinois teen-aged women. The Illinois Department of Finance and Professional Regulation (DFPR) [official website] granted doctors a 90-day grace period [JURIST report] for enforcement of the parental notification requirement, following a ruling [JURIST report] by the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] that reversed a district court injunction [JURIST report] barring the law's enforcement. The 1995 law, which has never been enforced, authorizes state judges to waive the notice requirement if doing so would be in a minor's best interest, but otherwise requires parental notification for minors seeking an abortion.





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Supreme Court adopts standard for determining excessive investment fees
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 30, 2010 10:16 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously in Jones v. Harris Associates [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a shareholder does not have to show that a fund's investment adviser misled the fund's directors in order to have a cognizable claim of an excessive fee under § 36(b) of the Investment Company Act of 1940 [text]. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the claim is not cognizable unless the shareholder can show that the adviser misled the fund's directors who approved the fee. In vacating the decision below, the court adopted the Gartenberg standard, which provides that "to face liability under § 36(b), an investment adviser must charge a fee that is so disproportionately large that it bears no reasonable relationship to the services rendered and could not have been the product of arm's length bargaining. Justice Samuel Alito wrote:

By focusing almost entirely on the element of disclosure, the Seventh Circuit panel erred. The Gartenberg standard, which the panel rejected, may lack sharp analytical clarity, but we believe that it accurately reflects the compromise that is embodied in § 36(b), and it has provided a workable standard for nearly three decades. The debate between the Seventh Circuit panel and the dissent from the denial of rehearing regarding today's mutual fund market is a matter for Congress, not the courts.
Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion.

The case was brought by several plaintiffs who own shares in funds advised by Harris Associates [corporate website]. The plaintiffs claimed that the fees were too high in violation of § 36(b).





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Death penalty use decreasing worldwide: Amnesty report
Andrea Bottorff on March 30, 2010 9:52 AM ET

[JURIST] The number of countries using the death penalty [JURIST news archive] continued to drop during 2009, according to an annual report [text, PDF] published Monday by Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website]. According to the report, more than 700 people were executed last year in 18 countries, with the most executions carried out in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the US. Regionally, the majority of executions occurred in Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, while the US was the only country in the Americas to execute prisoners last year. AI's figures exclude the estimated thousands of executions conducted in China [press release], where the government refuses to release death penalty statistics. AI challenged China and other nations to disclose information about executions and condemned all forms of capital punishment:


Amnesty International believes that the death penalty legitimizes an irreversible act of violence by the state. Research demonstrates that the death penalty is often applied in a discriminatory manner, being used disproportionately against the poor, minorities and members of racial, ethnic and religious communities. The death penalty is often imposed after a grossly unfair trial. But even when trials respect international standards of fairness, the risk of executing the innocent can never be fully eliminated - the death penalty will inevitably claim innocent victims, as has been persistently demonstrated.

Despite the continued use of the death penalty in some countries, there is a growing movement toward international abolition. For the first time since AI started publishing its report, there were no executions in Europe for the year. Burundi and Togo also eliminated the death penalty last year, bringing the total number of abolitionist countries to 95. More than two-thirds of the world's countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.

Earlier this month, Taiwanese Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng [official profile] resigned in defense of her position against the death penalty [JURIST report]. Though Taiwan has not executed a criminal since 2005, Wang said she would not sign the execution warrants of any of the 44 prisoners still on death row. Last month, a South Korean high court ruled that the death penalty does not violate the South Korean constitution [JURIST report]. The court's decision could lead to a reinstatement of the death penalty in South Korea, which has held an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment since 1998. Earlier this year, Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia [official profile] 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. UN Under-Secretary-General Sergei Ordzhonikidze [official profile] has praised the increase in the 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 last month, 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.





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Federal judge invalidates patents on human cancer genes
Hillary Stemple on March 30, 2010 8:52 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that patents held on two genes linked to hereditary ovarian and breast cancer are invalid. The ruling was in response to a suit filed [JURIST report] by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) [advocacy websites] on behalf of patients and scientists challenging patents held by Myriad Genetics [corporate website] on the BCRA genes [NCI backgrounder]. Judge Robert Sweet held that, "[b]ecause the claimed isolated DNA is not markedly different from native DNA as it exists in nature, it constitutes unpatentable subject matter." The complaint also alleged that the patents were unconstitutional under the First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and Article I [text] of the Constitution, but the court did not address the constitutionality of the patents because the case could be decided under patent law. ACLU staff attorney Chris Hansen hailed the ruling [press release] as a "victory for the free flow of ideas in scientific research," stating:


The human genome, like the structure of blood, air or water, was discovered, not created. There is an endless amount of information on genes that begs for further discovery, and gene patents put up unacceptable barriers to the free exchange of ideas.

Opponents of the ruling contend [NYT report] that restricting patents on human genes will actually decrease the amount of genetic research performed by the public sector because it will no longer be profitable for companies to study human genes. They also say the result of the ruling will be to push genetic research into primarily government-funded institutions such as universities. Monday's ruling is expected to be appealed.

If Monday's ruling stands, it could invalidate patents covering nearly 2,000 human genes. Genetic research companies currently hold patents to approximately 20 percent of the human genetic code. Many of the patented genes are associated with diseases such as Alzheimer's and cancer. The holder of a gene patent can prevent others from studying the gene and can also develop testing for specific genetic mutations, which they can then market without direct competition.





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Dutch court upholds UN immunity for Srebrenica massacre
Megan McKee on March 30, 2010 8:06 AM ET

[JURIST] The Hague Appeals Court [official website, in Dutch] on Tuesday upheld [judgment, in Dutch; press release] the UN's immunity from prosecution by rejecting claims brought by relatives of victims of the Srebrenica massacre [BBC timeline; JURIST news archive] during the 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict. The relatives, known as the Mothers of Srebrenica, alleged that the Netherlands should be liable for the deaths because Dutch soldiers operating under the UN flag negligently failed to protect civilians by forcing the victims out of a UN-designated "safe area" [resolution materials] and turning them over to Bosnian Serbs, resulting in the death of 8,000 Muslim men and boys. The court found that immunity is essential to the UN's ability to carry out its duties, and that the Dutch acting as UN peacekeepers could not be held responsible [RNW report]. The decision upheld the district court's 2008 decision to dismiss the claims [JURIST report]. The Mothers of Srebrenica have vowed to appeal the case to the Netherlands Supreme Court and the European Court of Justice if necessary.

Earlier this month, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [case materials; JURIST news archive], charged with committing war crimes during the Bosnian conflict, appeared [JURIST report] before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia [official website] to make his opening statements. Karadzic began by denying any plan to expel Muslims from Serbia, and blaming Muslims and Western countries for triggering the civil war. Karadzic also accused [JURIST report] Bosnians of planting corpses and embellishing reports about fatalities, calling the Srebrenica massacre a farce [Guardian report] promulgated by Bosnian Muslims to incite hatred against Serbian forces. Karadzic is defending himself against 11 counts [amended indictment, PDF] including genocide and murder, and he faces life in prison if convicted.






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Germany chancellor proposes EU 'preferred partnership' with Turkey
Ximena Marinero on March 30, 2010 7:39 AM ET

[JURIST] German Chancellor Angela Merkel [official profile] on Monday maintained that Turkey should become a European Union (EU) "preferred partner" rather than continue as a candidate [EU materials] country for EU accession. Turkey has only opened 12 of the 35 chapters toward accession to the EU [criteria materials], and continues to face diplomatic challenges that compromise its bid towards accession. In particular, Turkey has yet to resolve its relation to Cyprus, and Merkel urged [N-TV report, in German] Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [official profile, in Turkish] to open Turkey's ports to vessels from Cyprus and take steps towards a conciliatory solution to the impasse on the island. Merkel also exhorted Turkey to agree [Hurriyet report] to increase sanctions for Iranian nuclear development and toned down prior discussions on teaching Turkish in the German school system. On Friday, after talks with EU officials in Brussels, the Turkish chief negotiator for Turkish accession to the EU, Egemen Bagis, rejected [SETimes report] the German proposal for a "preferred partnership."

Germany is the country with the largest community of Turkish emigres, with an estimated 2.5 million, and Turkey is one of its largest trading partners. Germany is also one of the staunchest opponents among EU members to Turkish EU membership. Turkey has faced several obstacles as it works toward accession. Turkish human rights and foreign relations are reportedly compromising the country's efforts toward EU accession, receiving mixed reviews [press release; JURIST report] in October in the European Commission's annual reports on enlargement strategy and candidate progress [reports, PDF]. Last May, an EU advisory council said that Turkey should do more [JURIST report] in terms of judicial reform, protection of citizens' rights, and various other efforts in order to further its request for accession.






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Former IBM executive pleads guilty to insider trading in Galleon probe
Michael Kraemer on March 29, 2010 3:20 PM ET

[JURIST] Former International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) [corporate website] senior vice president Robert Moffat pleaded guilty [press release, PDF] Monday to conspiracy and securities fraud charges stemming from his involvement in the largest hedge fund insider trading case in US history. US Attorney Preet Bharara [TIME profile] said, "[Moffat] willfully ignored his professional and legal responsibilities," and provided inside information in breach of fiduciary duties, facilitating illicit securities transactions. Moffat's plea is in connection with the probe surrounding Galleon Group [partnership website] hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam [FT profile; JURIST news archive] and former hedge fund consultant Danielle Chiesi. Moffat's conviction is the eleventh among 21 people currently under investigation [JURIST report] by the Department of Justice [official website].

Last month, a federal judge decided Rajaratnam's criminal trial [JURIST report] will begin October 25. Former Intel Capital [corporate website] executive Rajiv Goel pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to insider trading charges in connection with the Galleon probe earlier in February. Rajaratnam, Chiesi, Goel, and Moffat were arrested in October and charged [complaint, PDF] along with two 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 [JURIST report] in December after being indicted for insider trading.






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Supreme Court hears double jeopardy, transnational securities fraud cases
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 29, 2010 3:10 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 Renico v. Lett [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether double jeopardy is violated by a new trial after a state trial court declared a mistrial due to the jury's inability to reach a verdict. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF] the decision of the district court that the second trial violated the rights of the defendant, Reginald Lett. The decision overturned a decision by the Michigan Supreme Court, which found that the second trial did not violate the double jeopardy bar. Counsel for the petitioner argued that the Sixth Circuit failed to properly defer to the Michigan court under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) [text, PDF]. Counsel for the respondent, Lett, argued that, "habeas relief was properly granted."

In Morrison v. National Australia Bank [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the court heard arguments on whether foreign investors are entitled to bring fraud-on-the-market claims under Section 10(b) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 [text, PDF] when the stock purchased was that of a foreign company on a foreign securities exchange. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF] the decision of the district court to dismiss the claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. It found that actions outside of the US were more responsible for the fraud than anything that occurred within the US. Counsel for the petitioners argued that the federal court had jurisdiction over the claim. Counsel for the respondents argued, "unlike the rights of action that this Court has addressed in other extraterritoriality cases, the section 10(b) right is purely implied. Congress didn't intend for this right of action to exist even domestically, let alone extraterritorially." Counsel for the US government argued as amicus curiae on behalf of respondents.






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Russia president signs bill extending human cloning ban
Matt Glenn on March 29, 2010 2:26 PM ET

[JURIST] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile] signed a bill Monday re-implementing a ban on human cloning [JURIST news archive] in Russia, according to the Kremlin Press Service. The bill, which replaces a previous ban on human cloning that expired in 2007, prohibits attempts to clone human beings [RIA Novosti report] until the state determines how to regulate the practice. The bill does not prevent embryonic stem cell [NIH report; JURIST news archive] research. The lower [RIA Novosti report] and upper houses [RIA Novosti report] of Russia's parliament approved the legislation earlier this month.

Last year, the US National Institute of Health (NIH) [official website] issued proposed guidelines [JURIST report] for funding human embryonic research, which would allow funding only if the embryos would have otherwise been destroyed and the donor consented to their use for research. The guidelines also state that stem cells cannot be obtained from somatic cell nuclear transfer, or cloning, and from embryos specifically created for research. In 2007, the UN Institute of Advanced Studies [official website] called for a global ban [JURIST report] on cloning. In 2005, the UN General Assembly passed [JURIST report] a non-binding resolution [materials] calling for a total ban on human cloning, after negotiations for a binding treaty collapsed. More than 50 countries have enacted domestic bans on human cloning.






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France Internet piracy increasing despite new legislation: report
Steve Dotterer on March 29, 2010 1:03 PM ET

[JURIST] Some forms of online piracy in France are on the rise in spite of the recently passed anti-piracy law [legislative materials, in French; JURIST news archive], according to a March study [text, PDF; in French] conducted by the Marsouin Unit [official website, in French] at the University of Rennes [official website]. While 15 percent of individuals using Peer-to-Peer networking have stopped using such sites, Internet piracy has increased by 3 percent [Ars Technica report] since the law was passed, the study says. Much of the increase may attributable to the use of streaming technology and downloading sites not covered by the law. The new law has yet to take effect.

Online piracy has assumed increasing importance in the eyes of legislators across Europe, as many countries, including the UK, consider legislation [BBC report] that reflects the law enacted in France. The French bill was approved by the Constitutional Court in October after being given final approval by the French Parliament [JURIST reports] the previous month. Under the so-called "three strikes" law, the French government could send notices to Internet service providers to terminate an individual's Internet access for up to one year after a third violation of intellectual property laws for downloading or sharing movies and music. One of the key reasons this version of the law was upheld by the court, after it struck down an earlier version [JURIST report], is the requirement of judicial review prior to denial of Internet service.






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'Militia' members indicted for plotting to kill Michigan police officers
Carrie Schimizzi on March 29, 2010 12:05 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal grand jury in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan [official website] on Monday returned a five-count indictment [text, PDF] against nine suspected members of the Hutaree "militia" group accused of plotting to kill police officers. The group members allegedly planned to kill [AP report] Michigan law enforcement officers by, among other methods, making phony 911 calls and ambushing those who responded. The members then planned to attack the funeral processions of the fallen officers. The charges against the nine individuals include seditious conspiracy, attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, teaching the use of explosive materials and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence. The FBI announced that eight of the nine members of the group are in custody [press release] and had been indicted, and the ninth member is a currently at-large. Andrew Arena, the Special Agent in Charge, commented on the national interest in these arrests, saying, "[t]he FBI takes such extremist groups seriously, especially those who would target innocent citizens and the law enforcement officers who protect the citizens of the United States." One of the counts of the indictment, attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, carries a possible sentence of life in prison.

Right-wing nativist and so-called "patriot" anti-government militias such as the Hutaree are on the rise in the US, and a recent report by the Simon Wiesenthal Center [advocacy website] suggests that a lack of regulation on the Internet [JURIST report] is fueling this increased prevalence. A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) [advocacy website], released last year, noted that these groups are making a comeback [JURIST report] after declining in number for a number of years. The SPLC said that such groups are generally anti-tax, anti-immigration, and increasingly racially motivated since the election of the country's first African-American president, Barack Obama. The SPLC also warned that these groups could soon pose a security risk to the country, quoting one official as saying “[a]ll it's lacking is a spark. I think it's only a matter of time before you see threats and violence."






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Niger junta arrests ex-ministers for subversive activities
Ann Riley on March 29, 2010 11:36 AM ET

[JURIST] Nigerien police arrested a dozen former ministers and officials loyal to ousted president Mamadou Tandja [BBC profile] late Sunday. The close aides to Tandja, including former finance minister Lamine Zeine, former justice minister Garba Lompo, and former minister of public works Lamido Oumarou, were detained and questioned on charges of plotting and carrying out subversive activities [BBC report] against the military junta. Interior Minister Cisse Ousmane asserted over state television that there would be strict enforcement [Reuters report] against activities that disturb the peace and public order. After last month’s coup [JURIST report], acting head of state Major Salou Djibo [Xinhua profile] pledged to clean up the corruption, and the military junta, which is calling itself the Supreme Council for Restoration of Democracy (CSRD), has promised to turn Niger into a democracy. While the CSRD announced the creation of a task force to draft a new constitution and electoral laws, a constitutional committee, and a court to replace those that were dissolved [JURIST report] following the coup, it has given no time frame for the transition to civilian rule. International observers have urged the junta to hold elections and Niger has since been expelled [press release, PDF] from the African Union [official website].

The February coup, which left at least three Nigerien soldiers dead, was in response to a referendum abolishing presidential term limits [JURIST report], 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. After the coup, Nigerien rights group United Front for the Safeguard of Democratic Assets (Fusad), called for the prosecution of Tandja [JURIST report] on treason charges. Allied with the opposition party, Fusad 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. Niger [CIA World Factbook profile], which is known for its exportation of uranium, has gone through five constitutions and military regimes since it's founding in 1960.






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Europe court rules France did not violate detainees' rights
Gabriela Forbes on March 29, 2010 10:18 AM ET

[JURIST] The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [judgment; press release] Monday that France had not violated the rights of detainees to be brought promptly before a judicial officer. In a case brought by crewmembers of a Cambodian ship intercepted by French authorities under suspicion of carrying significant quantities of narcotics, the ECHR found that while the French government had violated the crewmembers' right to liberty under Article 5.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF] by confining them to their quarters under guard for 13 days while still at sea, there was no violation of their Article 5.3 right to "be brought promptly before a judge." The crewmembers were brought before investigating judges the same day they were brought on shore. The decision was much anticipated [AP report, in French] in French political and judiciary circles, since it is seen as having implications for the French government's current project to reform French criminal procedure [JURIST op-ed]. Opponents of the reform plan to substitute public prosecutors for traditional investigating judges had relied on ECHR case law to argue that such a move would compromise the right of the suspect to a fair and impartial investigation. French Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie [official profile, in French] has interpreted the decision as favorable [press release, in French] to the proposed reform.

The campaign for criminal procedure reform [advocacy website, in French] has gained momentum over the past few months as a result of other recent decisions by the ECHR in Salduz v. Turkey, Mooren v. Germany, Koslenik v. Ukraine [judgments], which called a lack of safeguards during police custody a violation of article 6 of the Convention. French lawyers and human rights groups have demanded that all suspects in police custody be given the right to see a lawyer immediately and access to a lawyer during interrogation, as well as be informed of their right to remain silent.






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Myanmar opposition party boycotting elections over 'unjust' law
Megan McKee on March 29, 2010 10:09 AM ET

[JURIST] Myanmar's largest opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) [party website], announced Monday that it will not participate in the nation's first elections in 20 years because of "unjust" election laws [JURIST report]. A spokesperson for the NLD explained that the party had unanimously decided not to register [AP report] for the elections because they viewed the nation's electoral laws as "undemocratic." Most notably, the Political Parties Registration Law bars [JURIST report] the NLD's leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] from participating in the election and prevents the NLD from participating if Suu Kyi remains the leader of the party. The NLD's refusal to take part in the elections could decrease the legitimacy of the elections in light of pressure on the current government to ensure that all groups are involved in the electoral process.

Last week, the UN Human Rights Council [official website] adopted a resolution [A/HRC/13/L.15 materials] condemning Myanmar for rights violations and urging [JURIST report] the ruling junta to conduct fair and free elections. Also last week, the Myanmar Supreme Court rejected [JURIST report] a lawsuit brought by the NLD to repeal the election laws preventing Suu Kyi from participating. Earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] said that the election laws do not meet international standards [JURIST report] for an inclusive political process, and the laws have also drawn criticism from Human Rights Watch [advocacy website], which said [press release] "[the new law] continues the sham political process that is aimed at creating the appearance of civilian rule with a military spine."






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Philippines clan leader cleared of rebellion charges
Daniel Richey on March 29, 2010 9:52 AM ET

[JURIST] A Quezon City court on Monday dismissed rebellion charges against 24 people, including Andal Ampatuan Sr., the leader of a Muslim clan in the Philippines' semi-autonomous southern province of Maguindanao, and four of his family members. The Philippines Department of Justice [official website] had implicated Ampatuan and several of his followers in the November slayings [press release] of 57 campaign workers, journalists, and supporters of family political rival Esmael Mangudadatu. Prosecutors claimed that in response to a police crackdown on the family following the massacre, Ampatuan, his three sons, his brother, and other members of his clan plotted to stage an armed rebellion against the Philippine government. Regional Trial Court judge Vivencio Baclig cleared the rebellion charges [Reuters report] against the Ampatuans and 19 others due to a lack of evidence. Acting Philippine Justice Secretary Alberto Agra said that the ruling would not effect the rebellion prosecution [JURIST report] of more than 600 members of the Ampatuan clan. The Ampatuans remain in custody awaiting trial on 57 counts of murder [Philippine Star report].

The Ampatuans and several of their followers are alleged to have intercepted Mangudadatu's convoy en route to declare his candidacy for governor at a regional election office, ultimately forcing his convoy to a remote hilltop where the Ampatuans' group killed and buried them. Following the killings, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [official website] imposed martial law [JURIST report] and suspended habeas corpus in Maguindanao. She later lifted the conditions, following international pressure and domestic legal challenges [JURIST reports].






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Obama urges Afghanistan government to reduce corruption
Dwyer Arce on March 29, 2010 8:48 AM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama on Sunday urged the Afghan government to reduce corruption and institute an effective judicial system. During a surprise visit to the country, Obama called on Afghan President Hamid Karzai [official website; JURIST news archive] to take steps to promote good governance [CBS/AP report], end cronyism, and curtail the opium trade [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen [official profile] echoed these sentiments [Reuters report] on Monday, linking the success of the coming offensive against the Taliban in Kandahar [CEIP backgrounder] and the wider US military campaign in Afghanistan [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] with the ability to reduce corruption and establish a legitimate government. National Security Advisor James Jones [official profile] also emphasized the importance of reducing corruption [NYT report] to US officials.

In January, Afghanistan's lower house of parliament, narrowly approved [JURIST report] Habibullah Galib as the country's new Minister of Justice after rejecting the renomination of then incumbent Sarwar Danish [official profile]. Galib's appointment was described by the director of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission [advocacy website] as a step backwards. In November, Afghan authorities announced that they had questioned two cabinet ministers [JURIST report] on corruption charges. Karzai had previously vowed to fight corruption [JURIST report] in his second term inaugural address amid pressure from the international community. Late last year, Afghanistan was ranked [JURIST report] the second most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International [advocacy website], behind only Somalia.






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China court convicts Australia mining employees of stealing commercial secrets
Hillary Stemple on March 29, 2010 7:21 AM ET

[JURIST] A Chinese court on Monday convicted four employees of Australian mining company Rio Tinto [corporate website] of receiving bribes and stealing commercial secretes. Rio Tinto's Shanghai manager, Australian national Stern Hu, and three Chinese colleagues were sentenced to between seven and 14 years in prison for accepting around USD $13.5 million in bribes and using "improper means" to gain secret commercial information that gave the company an advantage when bargaining with China over the importation of steel. The court concluded that Chinese companies paid an additional 1.02 billion yuan (USD $150 million) [Xinhua report] for steel last year because of the actions the four men. Rio Tinto said they were unable to comment [press release] on the conviction for stealing commercial secrets because that portion of the trial was held in a closed court. The statement also condemned the actions of the men and indicated they would be fired, stating:


Receiving bribes is a clear violation of Chinese law and Rio Tinto's code of conduct, The Way We Work. We have been informed of the clear evidence presented in court that showed beyond doubt that the four convicted employees had accepted bribes. By doing this they engaged in deplorable behaviour that is totally at odds with our strong ethical culture. In accordance with our policies we will terminate their employment.

The company also denied any internal wrongdoing in relation to the charges. In its ruling, the court indicated that at least two Chinese officials would be charged with passing the commercial secrets [NYT report] to Rio Tinto.

Hu and the three other defendants were accused last July [JURIST report] of stealing "state secrets" during stalled iron ore price negotiations. One month before the men were detained, Chinese lawmakers considered [JURIST report] a revised version of the country's sweeping state secrets [JURIST news archive] law to address Internet leaks of classified data. In June 2007, Human Rights in China [advocacy website] said that the state secrets system in China gives the government virtually complete power to halt the free flow of information [JURIST report], "undermining healthy governance and rule of law." In November 2006, Hong Kong reporter Ching Cheong [advocacy website, in Chese] began a five-year prison term for passing state secrets to Taiwanese intelligence, after the Beijing Higher People's Court affirmed [JURIST reports] the sentence on appeal. He was released [press release, in Chinese] in 2008 after serving half of the sentence.





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UN rights committee urges Uzbekistan to investigate 2005 Andijan clashes
Dwyer Arce on March 28, 2010 1:22 PM ET

[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Committee [official website] has called on Uzbekistan to carry out an independent investigation into the May 2005 Andijan clashes [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] between Uzbek protesters, soldiers and police that human rights groups claim killed up to 500 people [JURIST report]. Uzbek officials have officially put the death toll at 173. The Committee's report [text] comes a week before a visit by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website]. The report urges Uzbekistan to comply with previous recommendations and supply the Committee with information regarding Uzbek laws on use of firearms by police against civilians, stating:

[T]he Committee is concerned at the absence of a comprehensive and fully independent investigation on the exact circumstances of the events during which several hundreds of civilians, including women and children, were killed by the military and security services. It also notes with regret that [Uzbekistan] has not provided the requested information regarding the national rules on the use of firearms by security forces against civilians. [Uzbekistan] should conduct a fully independent investigation and ensure that those responsible for the killings of persons in the Andijan events are prosecuted and, if found guilty, punished, and that victims and their relatives are given full compensation.
The Committee also expressed concern over Uzbek laws and practices regarding torture, the treatment of refugees, the rights of suspected terrorists, judicial independence, and gender discrimination. Despite this, the Committee praised Uzbekistan's abolition of the death penalty, the introduction of habeas corpus, and the steps that have been taken by the government to combat child labor and human trafficking.

Friday's report is the first to be issued [Reuter report] on Uzbekistan by the Human Rights Committee since the Andijan clashes, which were sparked when thousands of protesters gathered [JURIST report] after rebels stormed a prison and freed a group of businessmen on trial for alleged Islamic extremism. The Committee is a panel of experts which meets three times a year to monitor compliance with the 1966 UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text] by ratifying states [list], of which Uzbekistan has been a member since 1995. The European Union (EU) [official website] announced in October that it would be lifting the final sanctions [JURIST report; text, PDF] imposed upon the country in November 2005 in the wake of the Andijan clashes. The sanctions were imposed due to the refusal to investigate the violent suppression of a protest of economic conditions in Andijan. The sanctions included suspending a cooperation accord, imposing an arms embargo, cutting aid to the country, and banning some Uzbek officials from traveling to Western Europe.





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Japan ICC judge urges more Asian participation to balance court
Steve Czajkowski on March 28, 2010 10:47 AM ET

[JURIST] A top Japanese judge on the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Sunday called on more Asian governments to participate in the tribunal so its regional representation would be more balanced. Judge Kuniko Ozaki [official profile], who was elected to the ICC in January, said that both Asia and the Middle East are underrepresented [Bernama report] on the court. Of the body's 18 judges only two are Asian: Ozaki and current ICC president judge Song Sang-Hyun [official profile]. Ozaki's comments echo statements [press release, PDF] made by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton [official profile] which encouraged other Asian countries to join the ICC following the ratification [JURIST report] of the the Rome Statute [text] by Bangladesh earlier this week.

On Monday, the Bangladesh Cabinet [official website] ratified the Rome Statute of ICC. The ratification will not, however, aid in Bangladesh's pending war crimes trials in connection with the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] against Pakistan [JURIST news archive], as the ICC can only prosecute crimes that took place on or after the date the statute took effect in 2002.






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DOJ releases details on 400 convicted of terrorism-related offenses since 9/11
Dwyer Arce on March 28, 2010 10:00 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] released information Friday on hundreds of people tried and convicted in federal courts on charges related to international terrorism since 9/11. The National Security Division (NSD) [official website] chart [text, PDF] has been maintained since the September 2001 attacks [JURIST news archive], and includes the name, charges, and sentences of 403 people, according to a letter [text] describing its contents. The chart divides the list into two categories. The first, including 159 names, comprises those convicted of crimes directly related to international terrorism, such as the use of weapons of mass destruction or terrorist acts against US nationals. The second category, including 244 names, is made up of those convicted of crimes not directly related to international terrorism, but with demonstrable links to it. In the letter, addressed to Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative Affairs [official websites] Ronald Weich explained the inclusion of the second category and outlined the benefits of federal trials:

Prosecuting terror-related targets using [the] ... offenses [in the second category] is often an effective method ... of deterring and disrupting potential terrorist planning and support activities. Indeed, one of the great strengths of the criminal justice system is the broad range of offenses that are available to arrest and convict individuals believed to be linked to terrorism, even if a terrorism offense cannot be established. ... Arresting and convicting both major and minor operatives, supporters, and facilitators can have crippling effects on terrorists' ability to carry out their plans.
Sessions has been highly critical [press release] of the composition of the NSD chart, noting that few of the convicts included on the list have committed acts on the level of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], the alleged 9/11 planner, and noted problems with the criminal prosecution of terror suspects. Sessions explained:
The great majority of the terrorism cases cited ... are in no way comparable to [that of Mohammed]. Most of the convictions in this list are for far lesser offenses, such as document fraud and immigration violations, while only a small handful concern conduct even remotely similar to a mass-casualty terrorist attack. ... Among the cases cited is that of Zacarias Moussaoui, which was fraught with procedural problems, delays, appeals, risks to classified evidence, and even a lone holdout juror who spared the 20th hijacker the death penalty. Due to gaps in federal law, many of the problems prosecutors encountered in the Moussaoui trial will be experienced in future terrorism trials.
In addition to Zaccarias Moussaoui, those listed in the first category include David Headley, Najibullah Zazi [JURIST news archives], and Richard Reid [BBC profile].

The Obama administration has faced intense criticism over its plans to try those held at Guantanamo Bay and others accused of terrorist acts in federal courts, as opposed to the military commissions [JURIST news archive] favored by the previous administration. Two weeks ago, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website], appearing before a House Appropriations [official website] subcommittee, defended his intention to try [JURIST report] suspected terrorists, including Mohammed, in federal court. In January, New York University's Center on Law and Security [official website] found that federal courts have had an 89 percent conviction rate [JURIST report] in terrorism cases since 2001.





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Missing China human rights lawyer speaks to journalists
Steve Czajkowski on March 28, 2010 9:17 AM ET

[JURIST] Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] spoke to a reporter [Reuters report] from Reuters Sunday verifying that he is alive and is living in Wutai mountain in China's Shanxi province. Gao, who had been missing for more than a year, said he had been released last year and that he wanted to "live a quiet life for a while." Another Chinese human rights lawyer, Li Heping, said that he had also spoken to Gao and confirmed his identity. Gao still appeared to be under some form of restraint in his interview, however, since he would not give details of his location nor did he answer any detailed questions about his current situation.

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 that he was tortured [AP report] after being arrested earlier that year 2007. He was originally part of the Chinese Communist Party and handled prominent cases involving the outlawed Falun Gong movement [Falun Dafa website], but fell into disfavor with the government in 2006 when he was convicted of subversion [JURIST report] and placed under house arrest. Gao had been most recently detained since February 2009.






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Haditha Marine squad leader set for court-martial
Daniel Makosky on March 27, 2010 4:21 PM ET

[JURIST] A US military judge Friday denied a motion to dismiss charges against US Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich [advocacy website; JURIST news archive], the leader of the squad implicated in the killing of 24 Iraqis [BBC backgrounder] in Haditha [USMC case materials; JURIST news archive] in November 2005. Lt. Col. David Jones ruled [AP report] that the evidence was insufficient to demonstrate that officers handling the case were improperly influenced by receiving information from an aide that had previously investigated the incident. Per military policy, the aide's prior involvement barred him from participating in the decisions to file charges or initiate court-martial [JURIST news archive] proceedings. Jones found, however, that the officers overseeing both decisions conducted ample independent research before reaching their conclusions. Wuterich's trial is now scheduled to begin September 13.

Wuterich's court-martial was postponed [JURIST report] in March 2008 to allow prosecutors time to appeal a judge's decision to throw out a subpoena for unaired footage from a CBS interview with the Marine. Wuterich was initially charged with unpremeditated murder, but the investigating officer recommended [JURIST report] in 2007 that the more serious charge be dropped. Of the eight Marines initially charged in connection to the Haditha incident, all but Wuterich have either had their charges dismissed or been found not guilty. Charges against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani [JURIST news archive] were dropped in June 2008, a decision that was upheld the following March [JURIST reports]. Also in June 2008, 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson [JURIST news archive] was cleared on all counts, including charges that he ordered a subordinate officer to delete photographic evidence [JURIST reports] of the killings. In August 2007, all charges against Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt and Capt. Randy W. Stone were dismissed [JURIST report]. An official report on the Haditha incident by US Army Major General Eldon Bargewell found "serious misconduct" [JURIST report] at all levels of the US Marine Corps chain of command.






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Federal appeals court strikes down contribution limits to political advocacy groups
Daniel Makosky on March 27, 2010 3:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] unanimously ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that limiting contributions from individuals to independent political advocacy organizations is unconstitutional. The court relied on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [opinion, PDF], which eased restrictions [JURIST report] on political and campaign spending by corporations on First Amendment grounds. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) [official website] contended that the Citizens United ruling was not applicable because it involved expenditure limits as opposed to contribution limits. The court rejected this argument and found the latter to be in violation of the First Amendment, saying:

Because Citizens United holds that independent expenditures do not corrupt or give the appearance of corruption as a matter of law, then the government can have no anti-corruption interest in limiting contributions to independent expenditure-only organizations. No matter which standard of review governs contribution limits, the limits on contributions to [political advocacy groups] cannot stand.
Prior to the ruling, donations to such organizations could not exceed $5,000 from any one person. The decision also upheld reporting and organizational requirements on the basis that the public has a valid interest in knowing the sources of a group's funding.

President Barack Obama has sharply criticized the Supreme Court's holding in Citizens United, most notably [JURIST reports] in his 2010 State of the Union address. 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. Citizen's United overturned Section 203 of the BCRA, 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. Earlier this month, the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] held a hearing [JURIST report] on the effects of the Citizens United decision.





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Federal judge upholds gun limits in DC after Supreme Court ruling
Bhargav Katikaneni on March 27, 2010 11:50 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that firearms regulations [text] in Washington DC, including a ban on assault weapons and a prohibition on large capacity ammunition feeding devices [ATF backgrounder], do not violate the US Second Amendment [text]. The ruling by Judge Ricardo M. Urbina [official profile] of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] also upholds new registration rules that require a gun owner to submit fingerprints, photographs, and pay for a ballistics test. In upholding the regulations, Urbina cited the 2008 Supreme Court ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller [JURIST report] which struck down an outright ban on handgun ownership in Washington DC nonetheless permitted the regulation of firearms. Urbina wrote:

Because the [City] Council provided ample evidence of the ways in which the registration requirements will effectuate the goal of promoting public safety, and because public safety is a quintessential matter of public regulation, the court concludes that there is at least a substantial nexus between the registration requirements and the important governmental interest underlying those requirements. As a result, the court denies the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and grants the defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment on Count One of the second amended complaint.
Urbina said the ban on assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition feeding devices is constitutional because such devices "fall outside the scope of the core second amendment right." Stephen P. Halbrook [firm profile], attorney for lead plaintiff Dick Heller [Heller Foundation profile], said that an appeal [Washington Post report] is likely.

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments [JURIST report] in McDonald v. City of Chicago [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report] to determine whether the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms applies to the states, and not just the District of Columbia.





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Former Thailand PM Thaksin appeals asset seizure order
Bhargav Katikaneni on March 27, 2010 11:10 AM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] claimed Friday that the Constitutional Court of Thailand [official website, in Thai] had wrongfully [Bangkok Post report] ordered the seizure of assets belonging to Thaksin and asked for a reconsideration of his case. Noppadon Pattama, Thaksin's legal advisor, said that new evidence had come to light [AFP report] showing that Thaksin did not abuse his power while in office to benefit himself. Lawyers for Thaksin's children are expected to file separate appeals against the ruling. A five-judge Supreme Court panel will decide [The Nation report] whether to accept the appeal.

The Thai Constitutional Court ruled [JURIST report] last month that Thaksin was guilty of using his power in office to personally benefit himself and other family members. The Court ordered that $1.4 billion of his estimated $2.2 billion fortune be seized. 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. Thaksin has claimed [statement] that all of his wealth was obtained legitimately. Thaksin was also convicted in absentia on corruption charges related to a land purchase and sentenced [JURIST report] to two years in prison. Thai officials have denied [JURIST report] claims that the country's judiciary is biased against the former prime minister.






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Federal court rejects Republican challenge to campaign 'soft money' ban
Zach Zagger on March 26, 2010 3:58 PM ET

[JURIST] A three-judge panel of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that the Republican National Committee (RNC) [committee website] cannot raise "soft money" to use in state elections. "Soft money" refers to contributions beyond the ceilings imposed by campaign finance [JURIST news archive] laws. The case tests the limits of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [Cornell LII backgrounder], which eased restrictions [JURIST report] on political and campaign spending by corporations based on the First Amendment grounds. Specifically, the RNC tried to challenge Section 323(a) Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) [text] of 2002, which banned raising or spending "soft money," defining it as donations greater than $30,400 during a federal campaign, and limited state and local campaigns from donations greater than $10,000 from any one donor. The RNC argued that since the money would be used for state campaign purposes, it did not fall under the restrictions of the 2002 ban. The court granted summary judgment for the Federal Election Commission (FEC) [official website], saying it was bound by the Supreme Court decision in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission [Oyez backgrounder], which was partially overturned by Citizens United. However, the panel said Citizens United and campaign finance jurisprudence mean that Congress "may impose some limits on contributions to federal candidates and political parties because of the quid pro quo corruption or appearance of quid pro quo corruption that can be associated with such contributions." The case will likely be appealed could reach the Supreme Court.

US President Barack Obama has sharply criticized the Supreme Court's holding in Citizens United, most notably [JURIST reports] in this year's State of the Union speech. 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. Citizen's United overturned Section 203 of the BCRA, 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. Earlier this month, the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] held a hearing [JURIST report] on the effects of the Citizens United decision.






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State Department legal adviser defends unmanned drone strikes
Zach Zagger on March 26, 2010 2:34 PM ET

[JURIST] The Obama administration on Friday defended the legality of its use of unmanned predator drone strikes [JURIST news archive]. State Department Legal Adviser [official website] Harold Koh [academic profile] explained the administration's legal rationale in a speech [text] to the American Society of International Law [official website], saying the strikes "comply with all applicable law." Koh said the drone strikes fit the administration's principles governing targeting practices because the principle of distinction limits targeting for military objectives and not civilians or civilian structures, and the principle of proportionality prohibits attacks that will cause too much incidental death or injury to civilians or destruction of civilian objects in relation to the advantage of the military objective. Koh further explained that because international law allows a country to use lethal force to defend itself, the drone strikes cannot be considered "unlawful extrajudicial killings." Koh said the Obama administration is "committed" to ensuring its targeting practices are lawful but that:


recent events have shown, Al Qaeda has not abandoned its intent to attack the United States, and indeed continues to attack us. Thus, in this ongoing armed conflict, the United States has the authority under international law, and the responsibility to its citizens, to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks.



There has been growing criticism for the use of unmanned drones. Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed suit [JURIST report] seeking information related to the US government's use of unmanned drones. The ACLU alleges that the drones have been used by the military and CIA for unlawful killings in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. The ACLU also cites troubling reports indicating that US citizens may be targeted and killed by unmanned drones. In October, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston [official website] noted that the use of unmanned drones by the US to carry out attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan may be illegal [JURIST report]. Alston said, "[t]he onus is really on the government of the United States to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary executions, extrajudicial executions, are not in fact being carried out through the use of these weapons." Alston criticized the US policy in a report to the UN General Assembly's human rights committee that was presented as part of a larger demand that no state be free from accountability.





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US defense secretary appoints top military commissions authority
Steve Dotterer on March 26, 2010 2:30 PM ET

[JURIST] US Defense Secretary Robert Gates [official profile] on Thursday appointed [press release] retired Navy Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald [official profile] as the convening authority for military commissions [JURIST news archive]. Considered an expert in military law, MacDonald's experience as a former Navy judge advocate general played a significant role in the appointment process. MacDonald replaces Susan Crawford, a Bush administration appointee. The position was created under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [text, PDF] to oversee military commissions themselves, such as those at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], and also to oversee the Office of Military Commissions. Notably, the convening authority has the power to review and approve charges against "belligerents," pursuant to the Military Commissions Act.

The appointment may indicate that the Obama administration is planning to try accused 9/11 conspirators, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC Profile; JURIST news archive] in a military trial rather than in civilian criminal court, as Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] had originally announced [JURIST report]. Last week, Holder defended his decision [JURIST report] to try the suspected terrorists in civilian court. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website], a group that has been persistent in its advocacy of civilian trials for the 9/11 suspects, expressed support [press release] for Holder's decision. Earlier this month, the ACLU released a full-page advertisement in the New York Times urging President Barack Obama [JURIST report] to uphold his pledge to try 9/11 suspects in civilian criminal court. That release came just days after reports that White House advisers are considering recommending [JURIST report] that Mohammed be tried in a military court rather than through the civilian criminal justice system.






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Holder plans to appeal order releasing 9/11 suspect
Daniel Richey on March 26, 2010 1:38 PM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] said Thursday that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) would appeal a judge's order to release a Guantanamo Bay detainee suspected of involvement in the 9/11 [JURIST news archive] World Trade Center attacks. In a decision released Monday, US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] Judge James Robinson had granted [JURIST report] the habeas corpus petition of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, ordering his release. Slahi has been accused of recruiting for al Qaeda in Germany and ultimately helping alleged hijackers Mohammed Atta [JURIST news archives], Ziad Jarrah and Marwan al Sehhi find training in Afghanistan. The prosecution believes that Slahi had a "significant" role in planning the 9/11 attacks and sought the death penalty, but a key prosecutor, Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, stepped down from the case after it was revealed that "enhanced interrogation techniques" had been used [Senate Armed Services Committee report, PDF] to compel his confessions. Robinson's opinion is currently classified, but is expected to be publicly released at a later date.

Last year, the Federal Court of Canada [official website] dismissed an application [JURIST report] by Slahi requesting access to records of interrogations conducted by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) [official websites] both in Canada and at Guantanamo Bay. Slahi had sought the release of records to corroborate his allegations of mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay as part of his habeas petition.






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Zimbabwe leaders deny new constitution permits homosexual acts
Steve Dotterer on March 26, 2010 1:29 PM ET

[JURIST] Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] agreed at belated International Women's Day Celebrations on Friday that gay rights should not be constitutionally protected [AFP report]. While Zimbabwean "sexual deviancy" laws prohibit homosexual acts, some lawmakers have suggested that drafts of Zimbabwe's new constitution [JURIST report] decriminalize homosexual acts. Tsvangirai and Mugabe rejected [BBC report] such proposals, stating that the current law serves to promote unions between men and women. The leaders' agreement signaled a rare alignment of opinion in what has become a contentious power-sharing arrangement.

Last year, the Zimbabwean parliament formed a committee to draft a new constitution as part of the power-sharing agreement [JURIST reports] between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. It was hoped that a draft of the new constitution would be completed by this February [Mail and Guardian report] so that it could be decided upon via referendum in July and adopted by the end of the year. Zimbabwe last attempted a constitutional referendum in 2000, though it was rejected due to concerns about the extent of power that would be given to Mugabe. Once the constitution is ratified, Tsvangirai targets 2011 for a presidential election.






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UN rights resolution urges fair Myanmar elections
Sarah Paulsworth on March 26, 2010 1:15 PM ET

[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] on Friday adopted a resolution [A/HRC/13/L.15 materials] condemning Myanmar for rights violations [press release] and urging the ruling junta to conduct fair and free elections. The UNHRC also extended the mandate [UN News Centre report] for the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, for an additional year. Friday's resolution comes after several UN member states declared Thursday that Myanmar must release all political prisoners, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The statement was adopted during a meeting of the "Group of Friends of Myanmar," organized by UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon. During the meeting, developments in Myanmar, including the adoption of new election laws [JURIST report] that bar Suu Kyi from running in the upcoming election, were discussed. The "Group of Friends of Myanmar" include [AFP report] Australia, Britain, China, the European Union, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Norway, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the US, and Vietnam.

Earlier this week, Myanmar's Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit to repeal the election laws [JURIST report] filed by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) [party website]. In February, Myanmar's Supreme Court dismissed Suu Kyi's latest appeal [JURIST report] to the 18-month extension of her house arrest. Suu Kyi appealed to the high 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, 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 upcoming elections have taken place.






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Federal judge hands down 20-year sentence in largest identity theft case in US history
Patrice Collins on March 26, 2010 12:40 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts [official website] on Thursday sentenced [DOJ press release] a computer hacker to 20 years in prison for his role in the one of the largest identity theft cases in US history. Judge Patti Saris also ordered Albert Gonzalez to pay $25,000 and serve three years of probation. Gonzalez pleaded guilty [DOJ press release] in December to conspiring to hack into computer networks and stealing financial information relating to tens of millions of credit and debit cards. Gonzalez is reported to have worked as an informant [CNN report] for bank card thefts for the US Secret Service [official website] before he was arrested in 2008.

The US Department of Justice [DOJ] originally indicted [JURIST report] Gonzalez along with two unidentified Russian hackers for wire fraud and conspiracy. He was accused of stealing more than 130 million credit and debit card numbers by hacking into computer systems of companies including credit card payment processor Heartland Payment Systems, convenience store chain 7-Eleven, and supermarket chain Hannaford Brothers. Gonzalez was charged in May 2008 in the Eastern District of New York and in August 2008 in the District of Massachusetts in separate conspiracies. Friday's sentencing addressed both sets of charges.






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Indonesia constitutional court rejects challenge to broad anti-pornography law
Jonathan Cohen on March 26, 2010 12:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The Indonesian Constitutional Court [official website, in Bahasa] on Thursday rejected [press release, in Bahasa] a challenge to a controversial anti-pornography law. The law [text, in Bahasa] was purportedly designed to protect younger generations from pornographic and lewd materials. Critics challenged the bill for being too broad, discriminating against women, and targeting aspects of Indonesian tradition and culture, but the court rejected those arguments. Some areas of Indonesia, such as Bali, have refused to enforce the law [AP report]. While Indonesia is officially secular, it is the world's largest Muslim country by population, and some areas are ruled by Sharia law [JURIST news archive].

The Indonesian Parliament [official website] passed the law [JURIST report] in 2008, criminalizing all "obscene" works and "bodily movements" that could violate public morality. Proponents of the law included President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono [official website; BBC profile] and his administration, who claimed that the law would protect Islam and cultural art while eradicating pornography.






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Russia prosecutors ban 'Mein Kampf' for violating extremism law
Sarah Paulsworth on March 26, 2010 11:58 AM ET

[JURIST] The Russian Prosecutor General's Office [official website, in Russian] on Friday banned [press release, in Russian] Adolf Hitler's book Mein Kampf [Britannica backgrounder], finding it in violation of laws against extremism. The step was taken pursuant to Article I of Russia's Law to Combat Extremist Activities. According to the statement from the Prosecutor General's Office, "[t]he autobiographical book contains the ideas of Hitler's National Socialism, presenting the militaristic outlook that justifies discrimination and destruction of non-Aryan races that led to the start of World War II." Mein Kempf is readily available on Russian websites and also in bookshops throughout the country, but now people caught distributing or selling the book could be fined [RFE/RL report]. Some political commentators believe this step could contribute to a decrease of hate crimes in Russia, but others remain skeptical, saying it will be too difficult to stifle distribution [Reuters report], particularly via the Internet. Mein Kampf has also been banned in Austria, China and Germany, and its access is limited is several other countries.

Russia is currently struggling to limit hate crimes, which decreased in 2009 [JURIST report] according to the SOVA Center [advocacy website]. The Center report that 71 people were killed and 333 wounded in Russia in racially motivated attacks in 2009, down from 110 killed and 487 wounded in 2008. In December, the Russian Supreme Court [official website, in Russian] upheld [JURIST report] a lower court decision to shut down the Taganrog Jehovah's Witness congregation and ban the distribution of 34 Jehovah's Witness publications, finding both the Jehovah's Witness congregation and the publications are to be extremist. In 2007, the Russian parliament approved legislative amendments to change the prevailing definition of extremist crime [JURIST report] in Russian law to include activities taken for "political or ideological hatred."






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UN rights council adopts resolution condemning religious defamation
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 26, 2010 11:22 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Council [official website] on Thursday adopted a resolution [text, PDF] condemning religious defamation [JURIST news archive]. The non-binding resolution, proposed by Pakistan, passed with a vote of 20-17 [press release], with eight abstentions. The resolution has long been sought by Muslim countries, which claim that Muslims have faced discrimination, especially since the 9/11 attacks on the US. The resolution states that the council:

Strongly condemns all manifestations and acts of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance against national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and migrants and the stereotypes often applied to them, including on the basis of religion or belief, and urges all States to apply and, where required, reinforce existing laws when such xenophobic or intolerant acts, manifestations or expressions occur, in order to deny impunity for those who commit such acts;
The resolution also contained a provision condemning Switzerland's recent ban on the construction of minarets [JURIST report]. Western nations have expressed concern that the resolution could be used to justify restrictions on free speech [Reuters report].

In November, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) [official website] began lobbying the UN General Assembly [official website] to pass an international treaty [JURIST report] protecting religious beliefs and symbols from defamation. The efforts of the OIC are being led by Pakistan and Algeria with full support of the organization's 54 remaining members. The US government has openly condemned the idea of a bar on defamation of religion, which it claims could have the adverse affect of suppressing dissidents and reformists in Muslim countries. In October, the US State Department [official website] released [JURIST report] its annual Report on International Religious Freedom [materials], criticizing Islamic countries for limiting religious expression. The report found that countries such as North Korea and Iran have attempted to prevent religious defamation as a way to limit religious expression. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile] said [transcript] that freedom of religion is essential not only in the US but in every society, and limiting an individual's right of expression reduces that freedom.





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Rwanda opposition politician pleads guilty to genocide charges
Patrice Collins on March 26, 2010 11:08 AM ET

[JURIST] A Rwandan opposition politician pleaded guilty Thursday to charges connected to the 1994 genocide [HRW backgrounder] and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Joseph Ntawangundi, an aid to Hutu opposition leader Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, was convicted in absentia [New Times report] in 2007, and originally sentenced to 19 years in prison. Ntawangundi pleaded guilty after returning to Rwanda after many years in exile and received a two-year reduction in his sentence. The panel of judges for the Gacaca [official website], a system of local courts created to accelerate genocide trial proceedings, found Ntawangundi guilty of organizing the deaths of Tutsis while principal of a school in Gitwe. Ntawangundi originally maintained that he was not present in Rwanda at the time of the killing. The decision comes at a time when current Tutsi President Paul Kagame [official website] has received criticism [press release] from Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] for his treatment of opposition parties. Ingabire Umuhoza denied [New Times report] Ntawangundi's participation, arguing that Ntawangundi left the country in 1992 and that the Gacaca courts are being used to undermine political opposition.

Rwanda continues to try and convicted individuals who were responsible for the 1994 genocide. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website; JURIST news archive], was established for the prosecution of high-level officials responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law during the Rwandan genocide. Last week, the Appeals Chamber of the ICTR affirmed the genocide conviction [JURIST report] of popular Rwandan singer-songwriter Simon Bikindi [Trial Watch profile]. The court also reversed the conviction for counts of genocide, murder, and extermination against Rwandan district attorney Simeon Nchamihigo. Earlier this month, the widow of assassinated Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, Agathe Habyarimana, was arrested [JURIST report] in France on suspicions of complicity in genocide and was later released on bail. In January, the Rwandan government released a report [JURIST report] concluding that the assassination of then-president Juvenal Habyarimana, which sparked the genocide, was the work of Hutu extremists.






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Spain high court rules Garzon can face charges for Franco probe
Daniel Makosky on March 26, 2010 10:48 AM ET

[JURIST] The Spanish Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] on Thursday denied [order, DOC; in Spanish] an appeal by National Court judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], ruling that he may be formally charged for exceeding his jurisdictional authority. The five-judge panel upheld [El Pais report, in Spanish] the ability to review Garzon's actions related to his investigation [JURIST report] into war crimes allegedly committed under Francisco Franco [BBC backgrounder] during the Spanish Civil War [LOC backgrounder]. In October 2008, Garzon ordered the exhumation of 19 mass graves in Spain and ordered government agencies and the mayors of four cities to produce the names of people buried in mass graves in order to assemble a definitive national registry, despite a 1977 amnesty decree. The decision on whether to pursue charges is now returned to the same judge that issued a February ruling that Garzon may have violated [JURIST report] the amnesty law. If charged and convicted, Garzon could face disbarment. He maintains that he acted within the bounds of the law and appropriately applied the law at all times.

The Supreme Court originally allowed the investigation [JURIST report] into Garzon's actions in May as a result of a complaint filed by Manos Limpias [group website, in Spanish], a union of public servants in Spain that alleged Garzon acted in violation of Penal Code Article 446 [text, in Spanish] when he began his probe into the crimes committed by the Franco regime. Garzon is widely known for using universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder; JURIST news archive] extensively in the past to bring several high-profile cases, including those against Osama bin Laden and former Latin American dictator Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archives]. In January, Garzon announced he will begin an inquiry [JURIST report] into the suspected torture and ill-treatment of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. The Obama administration has not responded to Garzon's questions regarding the open investigation of detainee abuses at the facility. Garzon's inquiry has focused on Spanish citizen and ex-Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Abderraman Hamed [CNN report], and three others whom Garzon has said have significant connections with Spain. The domestic focus is due to recently passed laws [JURIST report] that limit the use of universal jurisdiction to offenses committed by or against Spaniards, or where the perpetrators are in Spain.






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UN Afghanistan rights body urges repeal of amnesty law
David Manes on March 26, 2010 9:17 AM ET

[JURIST] The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) [official website] human rights office on Thursday called on the government to repeal [UN News Centre report] the controversial National Stability and Reconciliation Law [RFE/RL backgrounder], which provides amnesty for war crimes and human rights violations committed before December 2001. A representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Afghanistan said at a press conference [transcript]:


The lack of political commitment to the justice agenda is seen by the High Commissioner as an urgent concern exemplified by the Amnesty Law; it was gazetted in December 2008 but it only came to light at the end of last year. This Law relieves Afghan authorities of their obligation to investigate and prosecute, on their own initiative, those allegedly responsible for gross violations of human rights. It contravenes Afghanistan's obligations under international law and it green-lights impunity and continued human rights violations. It ignores the grievances of victims and denies them access to justice. This Law also sends the wrong message to victims who have repeatedly called for justice and the removal of human rights violators from public office.

The call for repeal comes the day after the annual report [text, PDF] of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Afghanistan was presented in Geneva to the Human Rights Council.

Earlier this month, the Afghanistan Office of the President confirmed for the first time [JURIST report] that the law had been enacted by a two-thirds passage in the Parliament, which, under the constitution, does not require the president's signature. Afghanistan's Parliament approved the controversial law in 2007, but international human rights groups only became aware of the law when it was published in Afghanistan's latest official gazette. A week before the confirmation by the Office of the President, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged the repeal [JURIST report] of the law. HRW called the law an "absolute disgrace" and "a slap in the face to all the Afghans who suffered for years and years of war crimes and warlordism."





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Bangladesh establishes tribunal for 1971 war crimes
David Manes on March 26, 2010 8:22 AM ET

[JURIST] Bangladesh officials on Thursday announced the establishment of a special war crimes tribunal that will hear cases against individuals accused of war crimes during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. According to Law Minister Shafique Ahmed [official profile], the tribunal will include [AP report] three high court judges and six investigators retired from civilian, law enforcement, and military careers. The trials investigating the 1971 war crimes will take place under the recently amended International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973 [text]. Officials estimate that Pakistani soldiers and local militia participated in more than three million killings and 200,000 rapes.

On Monday, the Bangladesh Cabinet [official website] ratified the Rome Statute [JURIST report] of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Although the ratification will not directly affect Bangladesh's pending war crimes trials for the 1971 Liberation War because the ICC can only hear cases arising since its formation in 2002, it will require the country to update its laws to reflect provisions of the statute. Last month, the Bangladeshi government announced [JURIST report] that the prosecutors and investigators for the country's war crimes tribunal should be appointed in March. 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 war. Last April, the UN agreed to advise [JURIST report] the Bangladeshi government on the organization and operation of the tribunal.






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UN rights body condemns North Korea violations
Matt Glenn on March 26, 2010 7:50 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] adopted a resolution Thursday condemning North Korea [press release] for human rights violations. The resolution [A/HRC/13/L.13 materials] decries "grave, widespread and systematic human rights abuses in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, in particular the use of torture and labour camps against political prisoners and repatriated citizens of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea." The council extended the assignment of Special Rapporteur Vitit Muntarbhorn [official profile] for one year and asked that North Korea and the UN General Assembly cooperate with and assist Muntarbhorn in his mission.

Earlier this month Muntarbhorn, who has not been admitted into North Korea, presented a report [JURIST report] to the UNHRC that found the situation in North Korea was deteriorating and that sanctions had not improved human rights conditions. In October, Muntarbhorn criticized [JURIST report] North Korea for human rights violations. Muntarbhorn said that North Korea was responsible for a broad range of human rights violations [press release], including torture, public executions, and widespread hunger. In March 2009, Muntarbhorn told the UNHRC that he found egregious human rights violations [JURIST report] in North Korea. In October 2008, Muntarbhorn urged [JURIST report] North Korea to improve its treatment of prisoners and unsuccessful defectors, as well as to cooperate in locating kidnapped foreign citizens. In January 2008, Muntarbhorn made similar comments during his visit with a special UN envoy to Japan [JURIST report] to assess the impact of the North Korean rights situation on that country. North Korea has frequently been accused of human trafficking, press repression, and "actively committing crimes against humanity" [JURIST report].






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UK parliament panel calls for terror laws review
Matt Glenn on March 26, 2010 6:56 AM ET

[JURIST] The UK Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights [official website] recommended Thursday that the government review anti-terror laws and policies [report, PDF; press release] passed since the 9/11 [JURIST news archive] attacks to make sure they are necessary and do not violate human rights. The committee found that, despite claiming to support human rights, many government policies appeared to threaten those rights, questioning whether policies that may have been appropriate in the aftermath of the terror attacks should be maintained indefinitely. Concerns cited in the report include the appearance that the government has intentionally turned a blind eye to torture, the increased use of secret evidence in court, and the possibility of detaining suspects without bringing charges. The committee stated, "[w]e are concerned that the Government's approach means that in effect there is a permanent state of emergency, and that this inevitably has a deleterious effect on public debate about the justification for counter-terrorism measures." The report recommended establishing a commission to investigate the government's complicity in torture in light of the recent judgment [JURIST report] in the Binyam Mohammad [JURIST news archive] case. The report also recommended creating an office for a term of five years to study terrorism legislation and report to Parliament on the legislation as it relates to human rights.

Earlier this week, members of Parliament and human rights organizations signed a letter calling for an inquiry [JURIST report] into the UK's role in torture and rendition. Last week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official profile] failed to deliver a promised public revision of guidelines [JURIST report] given to UK intelligence officers for the treatment of detainees. Brown faces growing scrutiny of UK detainee procedures amid allegations from former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Binyam Mohamed that British intelligence officials were involved in his torture in Morocco. In February, rights group Reprieve initiated a lawsuit [JURIST report] against the UK government over its alleged torture of detainees, claiming that its unwillingness to disclose detainee policies suggests that they permit illegal torture.






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Philippines court orders arrest of 189 for November massacre
Ximena Marinero on March 25, 2010 3:43 PM ET

[JURIST] The Quezon City Trial Court in Manila on Thursday issued arrest warrants for 189 suspects for their alleged role in the November 2009 massacre [CSM backgrounder] in semi-autonomous Maguindanao province that left 57 dead. Eight more individuals are also wanted in connection with the killings, but they are already in custody [Manila Bulletin report] on separate charges for allegedly mobilizing a rebellion to interfere with investigations into the massacre, including Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his son. Also Thursday, the Philippine police reported that 142 of the wanted suspects are still at large [AP report]. The arrest orders were issued [WP report] only a day before the campaign period for the May 2011 parliamentary elections kicks off.

Last month, the Philippine Department of Justice (PDOJ) [official website] charged 197 people with murder [JURIST report] in connection with the November 2009 killings. Among those charged was Andal Ampatuan Sr., a former political ally to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [official website; BBC profile]. 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 Ampatuan Sr.'s sons, including Andal Ampatuan Jr., the mayor of the southern Philippine town of Datu Unsay, have also been charged. Ampatuan Jr. has pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to 41 counts of murder. 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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US defense secretary announces stricter measures for expelling gays from military
Jonathan Cohen on March 25, 2010 2:31 PM ET

[JURIST] US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday announced changes to the enforcement [press release] of the Don't Ask Don't, Tell [10 USC § 654 text; JURIST news archive] policy to make it more difficult to expel openly gay service members from the military. The changes, set to take effect immediately, include raising the level of who can initiate and conduct investigations, revising what constitutes credible information to initiate an investigation, and revising what constitutes a "reliable person" for initiating an investigation. Gates believes that these changes provide:


a greater measure of common sense and common decency to a process for handling what are difficult and complex issues for all involved. Of course, only Congress can repeal the current "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" statute. It remains the law, and we are obligated to enforce it. At the same time, these changes will allow us to execute the law in a fairer and more appropriate manner.

The armed services have 30 days to conform their regulations to these new standards, which will be in effect until the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Last week, retired US Marine Corps General John Sheehan [official profile] testified before the US Senate that he believes the Dutch military's inclusion of openly gay soldiers weakened their military [JURIST report]. Earlier this month, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010 [text, PDF] was introduced [JURIST report] in the Senate, which would allow gay soldiers to serve openly. US President Barack Obama has made clear that repealing the controversial policy is a top priority for his administration, pledging to end it in October and reiterating his commitment [JURIST reports] in the State of the Union address. In January, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, was advised to delay [JURIST report] any internal efforts to repeal the policy until 2011. In 2008, more than 100 retired admirals and generals of the US military called for a repeal [JURIST report] of the policy.





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US, Russia reach nuclear non-proliferation agreement to be signed in April
Zach Zagger on March 25, 2010 2:15 PM ET

[JURIST] The US and Russia reached an agreement Wednesday to reduce nuclear arms, marking the first such agreement between the two nuclear powers in nearly two decades. According to an anonymous Kremlin spokesperson, the two countries have come to an agreement [WP report] that will be finalized at a meeting Friday between US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profiles]. The new pact will supplant the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I Treaty) [materials], signed in 1991. The agreement treaty will be legally binding on both countries and will reduce long-range nuclear weapons by dropping the ceiling of 2,200 to between 1,500 and 1,675. The agreement will also limit the number of jets, land-bases, and submarines that can have nuclear warheads. It is expected that Obama and Medvedev will sign the agreement [NYT report] at a ceremony on April 8 in Prague.

The agreement comes after months of talks between the US and Russia since Obama and Medvedev came to tentative terms of the non-proliferation agreement in July. Both US and Russian officials have recently expressed desire to have the treaty in place prior to the upcoming Global Nuclear Security Summit [NTI backgrounder] in April, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference [CAC fact sheet] in May. Nuclear disarmament between the US and Russia, whose nuclear arsenals comprise 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons, languished [JURIST report] during the Bush administration. The treaty is considered a key part of easing tensions between the former Cold War rivals, which reached their worst point after the 2008 Georgia conflict [BBC backgrounder].






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Federal judge rules US may continue holding Yemeni Guantanamo detainee
Ximena Marinero on March 25, 2010 2:12 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Wednesday denied [order, PDF] a Yemeni Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee's habeas corpus petition on its merits, allowing the US government to prolong the detention indefinitely. Detainee Makhtar Yahia Naji al Warafi [NYT materials] was captured during the 2001-2002 American intervention campaign in Afghanistan and maintains that he was only a medical clinic worker at the time. The US government alleges that Pentagon intelligence demonstrates Warafi was a trained jihadist [Miami Herald report]. The order by judge Royce Lamberth cites a classified memorandum containing details of the reasoning, which was filed with the court security officer. Also Wednesday, Judge Gladys Kessler of the DC District Court dismissed [text, PDF] without prejudice the habeas corpus petition of Guantanamo detainee Zahar Bin Hamdoun [NYT materials], who was captured in 2002 in Pakistan. Hamdoun's lawyers had requested that the court delay [JNSLP report] proceedings in order to confer with him over new developments pertaining to evidence in the case.

Earlier this week, Judge James Robertson of the DC District Court ordered the release [JURIST report] of Mauritanian Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi [NYT materials], who had been accused of planning the 9/11 [JURIST news archive] terrorist attacks. Slahi has been in US custody for over seven years and brought a habeas corpus petition, claiming that he had been tortured in prison [Miami Herald report] and had made confessions under duress. In late February, Kessler ruled that the government can continue to hold indefinitely [JURIST report] two Yemeni Guantanamo Bay detainees, even though Fahmi Salem Al-Assani and Suleiman Awadh Bin Agil Al-Nahdi [orders, PDF] had been cleared for release by the Bush administration two years ago. The US government has prevailed in 12 of the 46 habeas corpus cases decided [JURIST news archive] in the DC District Court.






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US Senate passes health care reconciliation bill, sends to House for final vote
Sarah Miley on March 25, 2010 2:06 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] voted 56 to 43 [roll call] to pass a modified version of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 [HR 4872 materials] Thursday, after certain language in the original bill was altered to fix parliamentary problems highlighted by Republicans. The bill will now be sent back to the US House of Representatives [official website] for a final vote on the new language. Democratic leaders stated that the alterations, which involved student-lending legislation attached to health care bill, were minimal and should easily pass through the lower chamber. All Senate Republicans and three Democrats voted against the bill, but it still passed because budget reconciliation bills [Senate backgrounder] require only a simple majority, rather than the standard 60-member super-majority, to advance. The House vote is slated for Thursday evening.

US President Barack Obama signed the original bill into law on Tuesday after it was passed by the House [JURIST reports] by a vote of 219 - 212. He has since signed an executive order [text; JURIST report] continuing a prohibition on the use of federal funds for abortion [JURIST news archive] except in cases of rape or incest or where a woman's life would be endangered, as part of a compromise with conservative Democrats. The same day that the original bill was signed into law, the attorneys general (AGs) for 13 states filed suit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the new law [JURIST report]. Last week, Idaho Governor CL Otter signed into law [JURIST report] a bill banning a federal mandate that citizens purchase health insurance. Earlier in March, the Virginia legislature passed a similar bill [JURIST report] that Governor Bob McDonald has indicated he will sign. The AGs who filed suit Tuesday originally threatened the action in December, after the Senate passed its version [JURIST reports] of the health care overhaul bill.

9:30 PM ET - The House voted 220-207 [roll call] to approve the bill.






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Supreme Court stays execution of condemned Texas inmate seeking DNA test
Steve Czajkowski on March 25, 2010 12:58 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Wednesday granted [order, PDF] a temporary stay of execution for convicted murderer Henry "Hank" Skinner [advocacy website] who requested DNA testing be conducted in his case to prove his innocence. The court granted the stay just one hour prior to Skinner's execution and will now decide whether to grant certiorari. Skinner is requesting access to DNA testing based on a civil rights claim under § 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 [42 USC § 1983 text] instead of a federal habeas corpus challenge. In his petition, Skinner argued that lower courts are unclear on whether a DNA access claim may be granted under civil rights law or only under a habeas challenge following the Court's decision [text, PDF] in District Attorney's Office v. Osborne [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report]. The court is expected to make its decision to hear the case within the next few weeks. The French ambassador to the US had also pressed for a stay of execution [AFP report] for Skinner, who is married to a French anti-death penalty activist.

Skinner was convicted in 1995 of killing his girlfriend, Twila Jean Busby, and her two adult sons. Skinner has maintained his innocence saying he was not capable of committing the murders because of the amount of drugs and alcohol in his system on the day of the murders. While the prosecutors in the case did rely on some DNA evidence in the case, Skinner's attorneys argue they were selective in the tests they conducted. In District Attorney's Office v. Osborne, the court held that a defendant does not have the right to obtain post-conviction access to the state’s biological evidence in order to do DNA testing. The decision involved a claim for access under section 1983, but the majority rejected that approach saying it "would take the development of rules and procedures in this area out of the hands of legislatures and state courts shaping policy in a focused manner and turn it over to federal courts applying the broad parameters of the Due Process Clause."






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UN Secretary-General calls for eradication of modern slavery
Haley Wojdowski on March 25, 2010 12:20 PM ET

[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] on Thursday called for a renewed international commitment to eradicate all forms of slavery [statement text]. Ban's comments took place on the International Day of Remembrance of Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade [press release], which is held annually pursuant to General Assembly resolution A/62/L.32 [text]. In his statement, Ban said that the fight against slavery continues even though the practice may now take different forms than it has in the past:

Slavery is abhorrent. It is explicitly prohibited by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the United Nations has reaffirmed this principle many times, including in the Durban Declaration adopted at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism.

But slavery and slavery-like practices continue in many parts of the world. Slavery is mutating and re-emerging in modern forms, including debt bondage, the sale of children, and the trafficking of women and girls for sex. Its roots lie in ignorance, intolerance and greed.

We must create a climate in which such abuse and cruelty are inconceivable. One way is by remembering the past and honouring the victims of the transatlantic slave trade. By reminding ourselves of past injustices, we help to ensure that such systematic abuse of human rights can never be repeated.
Ban's sentiments were echoed in a statement [text] by Permanent US Representative to the UN Susan Rice [official profile].

In January, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that sex trafficking violates conventions against slavery and forced labor, finding both Russia and Cyprus liable in the case of a young woman who came from Russia to work in a Cyprus cabaret and was later found dead. In November 2009, the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] began proceedings [JURIST report] for the trial of two Congolese Nationals charged with war crimes including sexual slavery. During the same month, the War Crimes Court [official website, in Bosnian] of Bosnia and Herzegovina convicted [JURIST report] former Serbian commander Predrag Kujundzic of crimes against humanity, also accusing him of facilitating sexual slavery. In June 2009, the US Senate [official website] unanimously passed [JURIST report] a resolution [S Con Res 26 text, PDF] apologizing to African-Americans for slavery and racial segregation.





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UN rights council adopts resolutions criticizing Israel
Steve Czajkowski on March 25, 2010 12:00 PM ET

[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] on Wednesday passed three resolutions [press release] critical of Israeli practices towards Syrian and Palestinian territories. The resolutions were adopted [Haaretz report] during the 13th session of the UNHRC [materials] held in Geneva. One resolution titled "The grave human rights violations by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem" passed by a vote of 31 to 9 and made specific demands on Israel including:

... that the occupying Power, Israel, end its occupation of the Palestinian land occupied since 1967, and that it respect its commitments within the peace process towards the establishment of the independent sovereign Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living in peace and security with all its neighbours;

... that the occupying Power, Israel, stop the targeting of civilians and the systematic destruction of the cultural heritage of the Palestinian people, in addition to the destruction of public and private properties, as laid down in the Fourth Geneva Convention

... that Israel, the occupying Power, respect the religious and cultural rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, particularly in occupied East Jerusalem, as provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the core international human rights instruments, the Hague Conventions and the Geneva Conventions, and that it allow Palestinian citizens and worshippers unhindered access to their properties and religious sites therein
The other resolutions were critical of new and established Israeli settlements [draft text, DOC] in East Jerusalem, the Occupied Palestinian territories, and Golan and Israeli treatment of the Syrian people in Golan. A resolution supporting the Palestinian people's right to self-determination was also passed [Jerusalem Post report]. Additionally, the UNHRC is expected to approve another resolution Thursday calling for Israel to compensate Palestinians who were injured during last year's Operation Cast Lead [GlobalSecurity backgrounder].

Israel has denounced the actions of the UNHRC many times in recent years. In October, the Israeli government rejected [JURIST report] a UNHRC resolution [text, PDF; JURIST report] endorsing the final report [JURIST report] of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict [official website]. The Israeli Foreign Ministry called the resolution "one-sided" and called on the international community to join Israel in rejecting it. In November 2008, an Israeli representative to the UN accused [JURIST report] the UNHRC of "targeting Israel in an obsessive and discriminatory fashion" and "fail[ing] to uphold the basic standards of human rights in an impartial, universal, non-selective, and objective manner." In April 2008, Israel announced [JURIST report] that it would no longer allow a UNHRC envoy on Israeli human rights to enter either Israel or the Palestinian territories after he called current Israeli actions against Palestinians a "Holocaust in the making."





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Federal judge lifts Noriega extradition stay
Erin Bock on March 25, 2010 9:07 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida [official website] on Wednesday lifted the stay [order, PDF] blocking the extradition of former Panamanian military leader Manuel Noriega [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] to France, where he is wanted on money laundering charges. This latest order comes two days after the US Supreme Court declined to reconsider [JURIST report] Noriega's petition to stop the extradition process. His lawyers filed the petition last month after the Supreme Court denied certiorari [JURIST reports] on the case in January. Noriega, who has been declared a prisoner of war, sought to enforce a provision of the Geneva Convention [ICRC backgrounder] that requires repatriation at the end of confinement.

Noriega has been fighting extradition [JURIST report] since 2007. He is wanted in France 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.






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EU proposes simplified international divorce laws
Bhargav Katikaneni on March 25, 2010 8:57 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Commission (EC) [official website] on Wednesday proposed reforms to simplify and clarify international divorce laws. Under the proposal, married couples from different European Union (EU) countries could choose the country of the divorce, and the various courts would use a common formula [press release] to decide which country's law applies when a couple disagrees. EC Vice President Viviane Reding [official website] said the law will protect [press release] the weaker spouse and reduce the costs of litigation:


International couples can encounter arbitrary legal problems that turn the tragedy of divorce into a financial and emotional disaster, making peoples' lives very hard. Thousands of couples find themselves in difficult personal situations because national legal systems have so far failed to provide clear answers. In many cases, children and the weaker spouse suffer. I do not want people in the EU to be left to manage complicated international divorces alone. I want them to have clear rules so that they always know where they stand. This is why we decided to move ahead today.

The measure, supported by 10 countries [BBC report], is expected to be passed under enhanced cooperation [EU backgrounder], which allows nine or more members to pass a law they deem important.

In January, EU Justice Ministers debated [JURIST report] whether to use enhanced cooperation for the first time to create a uniform marriage and divorce law for mixed-nationality couples. In hearings before the EU parliament, Reding said such a measure was necessary [press release] because cross-border divorces were a big problem as the law across the member countries varied significantly. For instance, in July, the UK recognized prenuptial agreements [JURIST report] as a valid contract for the first time, bringing its law in line with other European countries. The issue is currently on appeal before the UK Supreme Court.





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France to propose law banning full face veil in public: Sarkozy
Andrea Bottorff on March 25, 2010 8:29 AM ET

[JURIST] French President Nicholas Sarkozy [official website, in French] said Wednesday that the government will introduce legislation to ban traditional Muslim face veils [transcript, in French; video, in French] in public places. Sarkozy's announcement comes weeks after a French parliamentary commission charged with investigating whether to enact laws banning the wearing of burqas [JURIST news archive] or other "full veils" released its report [text, PDF; in French] calling for a partial ban [JURIST report] that would apply in public facilities, including hospitals, schools, and public transportation, and to any individual attempting to receive public services. Sarkozy supported the commission's suggestions, saying:


The full veil is contrary to the dignity of women. The answer is to ban the full veil. The government will introduce a bill to ban consistent with the general principles of our law.

While many people in France approve of the proposed legislation [CNN report], such measures have also faced opposition [JURIST comment] from critics who say such a law would alienate France's Muslim minority and violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [text], of which France is a signatory. Sarkozy did not give details about when or how the proposed law would take effect.

Also this week, lawmakers in Quebec introduced a bill that would ban women wearing full face veils from public services [Star report], such as receiving care at a hospital or going to a public university. Supporters of the bill, such as the Muslim Canadian Congress [advocacy website], argue that the proposed law would not violate human rights [JURIST comment] and would promote the ideals of a free and democratic society. Others say the bill only discriminates against Muslims while allowing for other types religious clothing.





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Russia lower house approves bill to ban pre-trial detention for financial crimes
Haley Wojdowski on March 25, 2010 7:42 AM ET

[JURIST] The Russian State Duma [official website, in Russian] on Wednesday approved a bill [text, DOC, in Russian; bill history, in Russian] to ban pre-trial detention for suspects accused of economic crimes. The legislation would allow those charged with financial crimes to be bailed out of jail [RIA Novosti report] at any time during legal proceedings for a minimum bail charge of 100,000 rubles (USD $3,300), and 500,000 rubles (USD $16,600) for serious crimes. The bill was introduced [RIA Novosti report] earlier this month by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official website, in Russian], who said that the measure would help cut the prison population and would also prevent prison from being used to pressure businessmen. The bill's introduction was welcomed [press release] by the lawyer for Yukos Oil [JURIST news archive] founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive], who was denied bail in 2003. The bill must now be approved by the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council [official website, in Russian].

Khodorkovsky recently criticized [JURIST report] the Russian justice system as an "assembly line" that inevitably finds the government's political enemies to be guilty. Both he and former business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website] are serving time on tax evasion and fraud charges, but Lebedev successfully challenged [JURIST report] the legality of his arrest and was awarded USD $14,300 in damages and legal fees by the European Court of Human Rights. The two are currently on trial on additional related charges of money laundering and embezzlement, to which they have pleaded not guilty [JURIST reports]. Some critics of the Russian government have argued that the charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are politically motivated [JURIST op-ed] due to Khodorkovsky's opposition to former Russian president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive].






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Federal judge strikes down Texas city immigrant housing ordinance
Matt Glenn on March 25, 2010 7:20 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas [official website] issued a permanent injunction [opinion, PDF] Wednesday against a Texas city ordinance prohibiting illegal immigrants [JURIST news archive] from renting property in the city. Judge Jane Boyle ruled that the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch cannot enforce Ordinance 2952 [text, PDF], which required prospective renters to affirm they were in the country legally, finding it to be preempted by federal law under the US Constitution's supremacy clause. The ordinance allowed the city to revoke a potential renter's residential occupancy license, a license required for anyone to rent a dwelling under the ordinance, if the federal government determined the immigrant was not in the country legally. Boyle wrote:


This is not a situation where the City is aiding in the enforcement of federal immigration law based on federal standards through the means set forth by federal law; rather, the City is attempting to enforce its own scheme that incorporates federal standards for purposes not contemplated by Congress. The City may take appropriate action to enforce the nation’s immigration laws, but it may not, even if it were to incorporate the proper standard, independently enforce its own immigration rules.

Plaintiffs were represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLUTX), which welcomed [press release] Boyle's ruling.

Boyle issued a temporary injunction [JURIST report] against enforcement of the ordinance in 2008. In the lawsuit [complaint, PDF] filed earlier in 2008 [JURIST report], several landlords and a former City Council member challenged the constitutionality of Ordinance 2952, alleging it denied immigrants equal protection and due process rights. The city passed the ordinance [JURIST report] after a previous law, Ordinance 2903 [DOC text], was struck down [JURIST report] by a US district judge in 2007 as an infringement of federal supremacy in the area of immigration. The Farmers Branch City Council passed the latest ordinance in an attempt to cure that flaw.





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Obama signs executive order limiting federal abortion funding
Matt Glenn on March 25, 2010 6:09 AM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama signed an executive order [text] Wednesday continuing a prohibition on the use of federal funds for abortion [JURIST news archive] except in cases of rape or incest or where a woman's life would be endangered. Some anti-abortion congressional Democrats insisted on the order [AP report] as a condition for their support of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [HR 3590 materials], which Obama signed into law [JURIST report] Tuesday. NARAL Pro-Choice America [advocacy website] President Nancy Keenan called anti-abortion Democrats' insistence on the executive order "deeply disappointing" [press release], saying that women's reproductive rights were being used as a bargaining chip. National Right to Life [advocacy website], meanwhile, called the executive order "meaningless," saying "it changes nothing" and fails [press release] "to correct any of the serious pro-abortion provisions in the bill."

The passage of the health care reform bill has been extremely controversial. The same day that the bill was signed into law, the attorneys general (AGs) for 13 states filed suit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the new law [JURIST report]. Last week, Idaho Governor CL Otter signed into law [JURIST report] a bill banning a federal mandate that citizens purchase health insurance. Earlier in March, the Virginia legislature passed a similar bill [JURIST report] that Governor Bob McDonald has indicated he will sign. The AGs who filed suit Tuesday originally threatened the action in December, after the Senate passed its version [JURIST reports] of the health care overhaul bill.






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Supreme Court hears arguments on shipment of goods, habeas corpus
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 24, 2010 3:14 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 Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha v. Regal-Beloit Corporation [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether the Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 [49 USC § 11706] applies to the inland rail transportation of goods in the US that originate out of the country when the shipment involved an extension of the Carriage of Good by Sea Act (COGSA) [46 USC § 30701]. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found [opinion, PDF] that the district court did not consider whether the parties had properly opted out of the Carmack Act, without which the COGSA does not apply. Counsel for the petitioners argued:

From its enactment in 1906 until very recently, it has been settled law for a century that the Carmack Amendment does not apply to the inland leg of an import through shipment. ... [T]he current scope of Carmack is consistent with its historic scope, which had a very limited special application to exports to Canada and Mexico. Other than that, it doesn't apply to foreign trade at all.
Counsel for the US government argued as amicus curiae on behalf of petitioners. Counsel for the respondents argued that, "[i]t does not take great mental gymnastics to read the plain language of this statute and resolve it the way the Ninth Circuit did in favor of Respondents."

In Magwood v. Patterson [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether, when a person is resentenced after having obtained federal habeas relief from an earlier sentence, a claim in a federal habeas petition challenging that new sentencing judgment a "second or successive" claim under 28 USC § 2244(b) [text] if the petitioner could have challenged his previous sentence on the same constitutional grounds. The basic issue is whether a defendant can raise a challenge that could have been but was not raised in an earlier habeas petition. The case involves defendant Billy Joe Magwood, on death row in Alabama. Magwood was sentenced to death for murdering a county sheriff. His original death sentence was overturned in 1986, but he was later sentenced to death again. He challenged the second sentence, but the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that his claim should have been raised in the first sentencing. Counsel for Magwood argued Wednesday that, "a petition, as here, that challenges a new death sentence cannot be a second or successive petition for the very simple reason that it challenges a State court judgment that has no - never been covered in a habeas petition before." Counsel for the respondents argued:
You have equitable principles that say when you have two parties, a party has a full and fair opportunity to praise a claim or to litigate. But the other party also has a finality interest. And once you take away your full and fair opportunity by not using it, the other party's interest in finality outweighs. That's what Congress envisioned in AEDPA. That's what this Court envisioned with the abuse of the write [sic] doctrine. That's why we don't allow someone who had a claim previously available that didn't use it to bring it again.





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US transfers 2 Uighur Guantanamo detainees to Switzerland
Michael Kraemer on March 24, 2010 1:13 PM ET

[JURIST] Two Uighurs held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archives] were transferred to Switzerland [press release] on Wednesday. Switzerland granted humanitarian type B residence permits allowing the two to live in the canton of Jura. Both have agreed to respect Swiss laws, learn the local language, and secure gainful employment. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] reported that the detainees had been cleared for release [press release] by the interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force and were transferred pursuant to an agreement with the government of Switzerland. The Swiss Federal Council announced [press release] earlier this month that it would provide sanctuary, despite warnings [JURIST report] from Chinese officials that doing so would jeopardize relations between the two countries.

Of the 22 Uighurs originally detained at Guantanamo Bay, 15 others have also accepted offers of relocation to other countries. Six Uighurs were transferred to Palau, four to Bermuda and five to Albania [JURIST reports]. This transfer comes after the US Supreme Court on Monday declined to rule [JURIST report] in Kiyemba II, a case regarding issues surrounding the transfer of Uighur Guantanamo Bay detainees. Lawyers for four Uighurs detained at Guantanamo were appealing [JURIST report] an April ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Columbia Circuit, which held that US courts cannot prevent the government from transferring Guantanamo detainees to foreign countries on the grounds that detainees may face prosecution or torture in the foreign country. The case is separate from a case the court remanded [JURIST report] to the DC circuit court earlier this month, known as Kiyemba I. The Chinese government maintains that the Uighurs are members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) [CFR backgrounder], a militant group that calls for separation from China and has been a US-designated terrorist group since 2002. The US has previously rejected China's calls to repatriate [JURIST report] the Uighurs, citing fear of torture upon their return.






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Rights group urges El Salvador to repeal amnesty law
Carrie Schimizzi on March 24, 2010 12:04 PM ET

[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Tuesday urged government officials in El Salvador to repeal [press release] a 1993 amnesty law that prevents any investigation [JURIST report] into killings committed during the country's 12-year civil war [PBS backgrounder], including the killing of respected Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero [BBC backgrounder, JURIST news archive]. AI also urged officials to cooperate with any investigation into the prosecution of those who committed criminal acts during the conflict. No offenders have been brought to justice for any crimes committed during the war. AI deputy director Kerrie Howard recommended the law be immediately repealed:


It is unacceptable that those responsible for thousands of disappearances, killings and torture have not been held to account for their crimes. The Amnesty law must be urgently repealed and full investigations, initiated.

Wednesday marks the thirtieth anniversary of Romero's death.

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





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NYT to pay damages to Singapore leaders for dynasty article
David Manes on March 24, 2010 11:03 AM ET

[JURIST] The New York Times (NYT) [media website] on Wednesday agreed to pay a total of $114,000 in damages to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew [official profiles], for an article that may have implied that the current prime minister attained his position as a result of their relationship. The paper also apologized [text] to the two leaders. The offending article, written by International Herald Tribune [media website] contributor Phillip Bowring on February 15, was titled "All in the Family," and identified several political dynasties in Asia. In its apology, the NYT wrote:


In a February 15, 2010, article, Mr. Bowring ... included these two men in a list of Asian political dynasties, which may have been understood by readers to infer that the younger Mr. Lee did not achieve his position through merit. We wish to state clearly that this inference was not intended. We apologize to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for any distress or embarrassment caused by any breach of the undertaking and the article.

Bowring's article contained a single reference to Singapore: "The list of Asian countries with governments headed by the offspring or spouses of former leaders is striking. ... Singapore's Lee Hsien Loong is Lee Kuan Yew's son." The newspaper removed the article, but it remains available [Khaleej Times text] from other sources.

Singapore leaders have sought damages against media organizations for alleged defamation before. Last March, a judge for the Supreme Court of Singapore [official website] ruled that a Wall Journal Journal Asia [media website] editor was in contempt of court and personally liable for damages [JURIST report] for publishing two editorials and a letter that criticized the impartiality of the city-state's judiciary.





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Russia ex-police officer found guilty of slander for YouTube corruption video
Jay Carmella on March 24, 2010 9:03 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Russian police officer Alexei Dymovsky [advocacy website, in Russian] was found guilty Tuesday in a defamation lawsuit for accusing Russian law enforcement officials of corruption on YouTube [corporate website]. A district court in the Russian city of Novorossiisk ordered [ITAR-TASS report] Dymovsky to pay both the chief of Novorosiisk police Vladimir Chernositov and chief of the Primorye precinct Valery Medvedev 50,000 rubles ($1,800) each. Dymovsky criticized [RIA Novosti report] the law enforcement officials last September. In the YouTube video addressed to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive], Drmovsky accused his superior officials of pressuring officers to improve their own crime statistics. He was also critical of the condition under which officers are expected to work. Dymovsky was fired following the video's posting, and was imprisoned [RIA Novosti report] for six weeks earlier this year. The Ministry of the Interior [official website] has ordered a probe into Dymovsky's accusations.

Dymovsky provides yet another example of corruption in the Russian law enforcement community. Six Russian officers disappeared [Moscow Times report] on Wednesday after their names were released to the media for falsely arresting homeless people in order to improve their crime figures. In January, Putin called for a new age of human rights and safety [JURIST report] in the Caucasus region of Russia, where the killings of journalists and activists have become increasingly common. Deaths of human rights workers are often blamed on the local police and security forces, who rarely face charges. Also in January, a Russian journalist died in prison [JURIST report] from injuries suffered during a police beating. In December, Putin called for greater oversight of officials [JURIST report] after a nightclub fire in Perm exposed widespread corruption among bureaucrats.






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Malaysia urged to drop sodomy charges against opposition leader
Tara Tighe on March 24, 2010 8:27 AM ET

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Wednesday urged [press release] the Malaysian government to drop all charges against former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim [official profile; JURIST news archive]. Anwar is accused of inappropriate sexual advances toward a male aide in 2008. HRW alleges that the trial has been "plagued by serious due process problems and government interference" and that the government should therefore drop all charges against Anwar. HRW Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said, "[t]he government should end this charade of justice and drop the charges against Anwar. Every step of the way, the court has blocked Anwar's lawyers from preparing a thorough defense." Anwar's trial is expected to resume on March 25.

Earlier this month, the Malaysian Federal Court rejected Anwar's claim [JURIST reports] that his 1998 removal from office was unconstitutional. Anwar went on trial in July on new allegations of sodomy, to which he has pleaded not guilty [JURIST reports]. Anwar's attempts to have the case dismissed have been repeatedly rejected [JURIST report] by the court. Anwar was removed from office [BBC report] in 1998 and banned from political life [JURIST report] for 10 years amid accusations of corruption, abuse of office, and sexual misconduct of which he was acquitted in 2004.






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US transfers 3 Guantanamo detainees to Georgia
Erin Bock on March 24, 2010 8:22 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced [press release] Tuesday that three Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees had been transferred to the country of Georgia [BBC profile]. The transfer was approved by unanimous consent of the Guantanamo Review Task Force, an inter-agency group that reviewed several factors regarding the detainees, including security. The identities of the released detainees are being withheld due to security and privacy concerns. The DOJ stated that the US "is grateful to Georgia for its willingness to support US efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay facility." More than 580 detainees have been transferred from Guantanamo Bay since 2002. With the departure of these last three detainees, 183 detainees remain [AP report] in the military prison.

This latest transfer comes after the Supreme Court on Monday declined to rule [JURIST report] in Kiyemba II, a case regarding issues surrounding the transfer of Uighur Guantanamo Bay detainees. Also on Monday, a judge in the US District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the release of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Guantanamo detainee who had been accused of planning the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In February, four detainees were transferred to Albania and Spain [JURIST report]. Other countries that have accepted transfers include Latvia, Switzerland, Slovakia, Afghanistan, Palau, Bermuda, Algeria, and Somaliland [JURIST reports]. The Obama administration failed to meet its deadline [JURIST report] of closing the prison by January 2010 after running into several hurdles, including opposition from members of Congress and the suspension of detainee transfers to Yemen [JURIST report].






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Bulgaria, Romania legal systems need improvement: EU report
Steve Czajkowski on March 24, 2010 7:46 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Commission (EC) [official website] released reports [press release] Tuesday that said Bulgaria [report, PDF; summary, PDF] and Romania [report, PDF; summary, PDF] must do more to combat corruption and organized crime, and conduct judicial reforms in order to enjoy their full rights as members of the EU. The reports represent the sixth assessments for the newest members of the EU under the Control and Verification Mechanism (CVM), which was setup as a way to verify progress of the two nations in meeting EU benchmarks on the issues. The EC said Romania has struggled to keep momentum on judicial reform, but commended it for making progress on corruption while warning more work is needed:

Only limited results can be demonstrated in judicial reform while no effective improvement could be noted for the difficult human resourcing situation in the judiciary and the capacity of the judicial system has been put under further strain by net staff losses. Regarding the fight against corruption, the report commends the continuously convincing track record of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate in the investigation and prosecution of high-level corruption cases. ... However, continued delays in high-level corruption trials, together with inconsistency and leniency in penalties applied by the courts, continue to present important challenges for Romania.
The EC made similar comments on Bulgaria:
Since mid-2009, Bulgaria responded to some recommendations of the Commission notably by an initiative to improve the objectivity of the annual appraisal of magistrates, the results of which however cannot be yet assessed. ... With regard to the fight against corruption and organised crime, Bulgaria plans to improve the effectiveness of the forfeiture of criminal assets by applying forfeiture to a wider group of persons related to a crime unless the legal origin of assets can be proven. ... Although a number of new investigations and indictments for high-level corruption and organised crime have recently been reported, delays in important cases continued and no conviction in a high-level case could be reported since mid 2009.
According to the EC, it will continue support for the countries and provide its next assessment by this summer.

The current assessments echo statements made in previous CVM progress reports [materials; JURIST report]. In January 2007, Bulgaria and Romania officially joined the EU [JURIST report] following six years of accession negotiations. Both countries have been required to comply with a series of benchmarks; failing to do so could result in EU intervention and the potential loss of economic aid under Articles 36-38 of the Act of Accession [text], which lays out safeguard mechanisms [EC backgrounder] in the event of problems posing a threat to the functioning of the EU.





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Myanmar high court rejects Suu Kyi lawsuit challenging election laws
Tara Tighe on March 24, 2010 7:30 AM ET

[JURIST] The Myanmar Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a lawsuit to repeal election laws [JURIST report] preventing pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] from participating in upcoming elections. The lawsuit was filed by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) [party website] in response to the recently enacted laws, which have garnered criticism [JURIST report] for prohibiting persons with criminal records or overt religious affiliations from attaining candidacy in the upcoming elections. Suu Kyi has said that she believes the NLD should not participate [Reuters report] due to the restrictive nature of the election laws. The NLD will be required to decide whether to register for participation in the elections in the coming weeks.

Last month, Myanmar's Supreme Court dismissed Suu Kyi's latest appeal [JURIST report] to the 18-month extension of her house arrest. Suu Kyi appealed to the high 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, 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 upcoming elections have taken place.






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Supreme Court hears arguments on two-member labor relations board
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 23, 2010 7:02 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Tuesday in New Process Steel v. National Labor Relations Board [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report] on whether the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) [official website] has the authority to decide cases where only two of the five-member board are present. Section 3(b) of the National Labor Relations Act [29 USC § 153(b)] provides that three members are enough to constitute a quorum of the NLRB. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found [opinion, PDF] that the NLRB had acted appropriately and affirmed its decision in full. Counsel for the petitioner, New Process Steel, argued that the "National Labor Relations Act clearly states that at all times, a quorum of the board will be not less than three members." Counsel for the NLRB argued that the plain text of the statute allows for a two-member board in certain circumstances. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] has urged the Court to uphold [JURIST report] all decisions by the two-member board.






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Attorneys general of 13 states file suit against health care reform law
Brian Jackson on March 23, 2010 6:32 PM ET

[JURIST] The attorneys general (AGs) of 13 states filed suit [complaint, PDF] in federal court in Florida on Tuesday challenging the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [HR 3590 materials]. The suit comes the same day that President Barack Obama signed the bill into law [JURIST report]. The suit is being led by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, who is joined by the AGs of South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Michigan, Utah, Pennsylvania, Alabama, South Dakota, Louisiana, Idaho, Washington and Colorado. Among the allegations in the suit are that the new law violates Article I, Sections Two and Nine, and the Tenth Amendment [text] of the US constitution by levying a tax without regard to census data, property or profession, and for invading the sovereignty of the states. The plaintiffs also assert that the law should not be upheld under either the commerce clause or the spending power [materials] granted to Congress under Article I. The suit asks for a declaratory judgment that the act is unconstitutional, an injunction against its enforcement, and attorney's fees.

The suit by the AGs is the latest chapter in the contentious issue of health care reform in the US. Last week, Idaho Governor CL Otter became the first governor [JURIST report] to sign into state law a bill barring the federal mandate to purchase health insurance. Earlier in March, the Virginia legislature passed a similar bill [JURIST report], that Governor Bob McDonald has indicated he will sign. The AGs who filed suit today originally threatened this action in December, after the Senate passed its version [JURIST reports] of the health care overhaul bill. The House of Representatives originally passed its version [JURIST report] of the bill in November.






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Obama signs health care reform bill into law
Brian Jackson on March 23, 2010 5:08 PM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed into law [transcript of remarks] a bill to significantly alter the US health care system. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [HR 3590 materials] was presented to the president on Monday after being passed [JURIST report] by the House of Representatives by a margin of 219-212 on Sunday. The new law will prohibit insurance providers from denying coverage to children because of pre-existing conditions and dropping individuals from insurance plans because of illness, and will require all insurance providers to provide a rationale for proposed increases in premiums. Prior to signing the bill, Obama made a series of remarks, paying homage to the individuals past and present who had worked for reform in the health care system.



In remarks [transcript] made at the Department of the Interior after signing the bill, Obama indicated that many of the provisions will require several years before they are fully implemented, though some, such as the prohibition on excluding children for pre-existing conditions, will take effect immediately.

The passage of the health care reform bill has been extremely controversial. The same day that the bill was signed into law, the attorneys general (AGs) for 13 states filed suit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the new law [JURIST report]. Last week, the Idaho Governor CL Otter, signed into law [JURIST report] a bill banning a federal mandate that citizens purchase health insurance. Earlier in March, the Virginia legislature passed a similar bill [JURIST report], that Governor Bob McDonald has indicated he will sign. The AGs who filed suit Tuesday originally threatened the action in December, after the Senate passed its version [JURIST reports] of the health care overhaul bill.






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Top Turkish judge: proposed constitutional amendments threaten judicial independence
Sarah Paulsworth on March 23, 2010 1:54 PM ET

[JURIST] The proposed amendments [text, PDF; in Turkish] to Turkey’s Constitution [text, in Turkish] threaten separation of power and judicial independence, the president of Turkey's Supreme Court [official website, in Turkish] Hasan Gerceker [official profile, in Turkish] declared on Monday in an interview [video, in Turkish] televised on NTV [official website, in Turkish]. "I want to indicate very clearly that some of the proposals being made are completely contrary to the principal of separation of power which has been enshrined in the Constitution since it was first adopted," he said. The government has declared that the proposed changes comport [Reuters report] with European Union (EU) standards, but Gerceker said that does not mean they should be blindly applied in Turkey.

The Turkish government unveiled [JURIST report] the controversial proposed amendments to 22 articles of the Turkish Constitution on Monday in hopes of making the government more democratic and strengthening the country's bid to join the EU [admission criteria]. The proposed amendments cover a wide range of issues [Hurriyet report], including the judicial system, women's rights, and collective bargaining for civil servants. The major reforms proposed include an amendment that would make party closures more difficult and an amendment to restructure the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HYSK) and the Constitutional Court [official websites, in Turkish]. Also included is an amendment to Article 15, which bans the prosecution of the 1980 coup leaders. The reform movement, led by Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish], has been challenged by the opposition party Republican People's Party (CHP). The bill will now go before Parliament, where it must be approved by two-thirds of the 550 members to become law.






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Google stops censoring China search results after legal dispute
Sarah Miley on March 23, 2010 12:13 PM ET

[JURIST] Google [corporate website] officially stopped censoring search results to Chinese users on Tuesday after a legal impasse was reached between the Internet giant and the Chinese government. Google announced Monday that it would be rerouting [press release] the Google.cn website through the company's Hong Kong site, which is not censored. Google explained its decision, stating:


Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard. We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement. We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we've faced - it's entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China. We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision.

China quickly responded to Google's rerouting plans and has now begun blocking results from the Hong Kong website as well. China claims that Google did not uphold agreements [Xinhua report] the firm had made when it entered the Chinese market in 2006, and that the company "violated its written promise" when it ceased censoring Internet searches. Chinese Foreign Ministry [official website, in Chinese] spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu stated in a press conference that the dispute with Google will not affect relations [transcript, in Chinese] between the US and China "unless someone politicizes the issue."

In February, China issued new regulations tightening restrictions on Internet use [JURIST report] by requiring citizens operating websites to submit identity cards and meet with regulators before their sites can be registered. The new policies came amid 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 would 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 [official website] 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." 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 student loan debts can be discharged without undue hardship claim
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 23, 2010 10:48 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously in United Student Aid Funds, Inc. v. Espinosa [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a bankruptcy court can discharge a student loan debt even if the student has not filed a claim of "undue hardship" under 11 USC § 523 [text]. The ruling affirms a decision [opinion, PDF] from the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held that student loans can be discharged within a Chapter 13 plan if the creditor receives notice of the plan and fails to object. Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said:


Where, as here, a party is notified of a plan's contents and fails to object to confirmation of the plan before the time for appeal expires, that party has been afforded a full and fair opportunity to litigate, and the party's failure to avail itself of that opportunity will not justify ... relief. We thus agree with the Court of Appeals that the Bankruptcy Court's confirmation order is not void.

The ruling resolves a circuit split on the issue.

The Supreme Court has recently taken up several bankruptcy issues. On Monday, the court heard arguments [JURIST report] in Hamilton, Chapter 13 Trustee v. Lanning [oral arguments transcript, PDF] on whether, in calculating a debtor's "projected disposable income," a bankruptcy court may consider evidence suggesting that the debtor's income or expenses will differ from her prior income or expenses. Earlier this month, the court ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz v. United States [Cornell LII backgrounder] that attorneys are considered debt relief agencies under the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) [text] when they provide qualifying services.





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Europe court rules Google not violating trademark law
Ann Riley on March 23, 2010 10:37 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] ruled [judgment materials; press release, PDF] Tuesday that Google [corporate website, JURIST news archive] did not violate trademark law by selling advertising linked to trademarked names. The court reasoned that Google was merely a platform for ads, clearing all search engines from trademark liability and protecting their main source of revenue. The luxury-goods group LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) [corporate website] first brought suit four years ago accusing Google's AdWords [service website] system of infringing upon companies' trademarks by allowing advertisers, including competitors and those selling imitation or counterfeit products, to purchase advertising space when a user searches for a product or trademarked name. While the court found AdWords to be a legal "information society service," it charged advertisers to make it clear that their products are different than the trademarked keyword. Google responded that the judgment reinforced [press release] the "fundamental principle behind the free flow of information over the internet." Additionally, Google stated that it works with brand owners to remove links to websites selling counterfeit goods.

Tuesday's judgment follows an advisory opinion against LVMH [JURIST report] issued by the EJC last year after the case was referred by the Cour de Cassation [official website, in French], France's highest court. In a separate case, a French court in February ordered Internet auction house eBay to pay LVMH €200,000 ($275,000) in damages [JURIST report] for paying search engines to direct customers to counterfeit LVMH products. The court found that eBay registered names similar to Louis Vuitton 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. 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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Federal judge orders release of Guantanamo detainee accused in 9/11 attacks
Andrea Bottorff on March 23, 2010 8:37 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Monday ordered the release of a Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee who had been accused of planning the 9/11 [JURIST news archive] terrorist attacks. Mohamedou Ould Slahi [NYT materials], a Mauritanian who has been in US custody for over seven years, brought a habeas corpus petition, claiming that he had been tortured in prison [Miami Herald report] and had made confessions under duress. Slahi was once considered a key al Qaeda leader and prosecutors had sought the death penalty against him [WSJ report]. However, a prominent government prosecutor stepped down from the case [PBS interview] because he did not support the alleged abusive treatment used against Slahi. The judge's decision is currently classified, although the court suggested that the files will become available at a future date.

Last year, the Federal Court of Canada [official website] dismissed an application [JURIST report] by Slahi requesting access to records of interrogations conducted by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) [official websites] both in Canada and at Guantanamo Bay. Slahi had sought the release of the records to corroborate his allegations of mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay as part of his ongoing habeas corpus petition.






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Bolivia president urges UN to declare access to clean water a basic human right
Hillary Stemple on March 23, 2010 8:27 AM ET

[JURIST] Bolivian President Evo Morales [BBC profile] on Monday called on the UN to declare access to safe drinking water a basic human right, marking World Water Day [official website]. While addressing the UN General Assembly's High Level Interactive Dialogue on Water, UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro [official profile] reiterated the importance [press release] of access to clean water resources as "vital for economic growth" and "central to public health, food security and stable societies," but fell short of declaring it a basic human right. Migiro also stressed that continuing climate change will only make the problem harder to address. Director General of the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) [official website] Irina Bokova also released a statement [press release, PDF] saying "water must be clean, it must stay clean and, most importantly, it must be accessible to all." Morales's administration has been working to increase access [NNN-Prensa Latina report] for Bolivian citizens to clean water since 2006, investing in new water and sewage systems throughout the country.

Morales has also been an advocate of other environmental reform. Disappointed in the outcome of the recent UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) [official website] in Copenhagen, Denmark, Bolivia is hosting an international meeting on climate change [Guardian report] next month, one week after the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) [official website] is scheduled [JURIST report] to hold another round of formal climate talks. While no legally-binding agreement was reached [JURIST report] 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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Germany court sentences former Nazi to life in prison
Megan McKee on March 23, 2010 7:56 AM ET

[JURIST] A German court on Tuesday sentenced former Nazi SS member Heinrich Boere to life in prison for the 1944 murders of three Dutch civilians. Boere's trial began in October after he was declared medically fit to stand trial. [JURIST report] During the trial, Boere admitted to the reprisal killings [BBC report] of a bicycle shop owner, a pharmacist, and a civilian member of the Dutch resistance, which he carried out as part of a SS death squad. Boere was sentenced to death [AP report] in absentia by a Dutch court in 1949, but the sentence was later commuted to life in prison. Boere never served his sentence, as one German court refused to extradite him because of the probability that he was a German national, and another refused the request that he serve his sentence in a German jail due to the likelihood the trial was unfair because Boere was not present for the proceedings. Boere plans to appeal the court's decision and will not begin serving his sentence until the appellate process is finished.

In November, a German court began the trial [JURIST report] of accused Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk [NNDB profile, JURIST news archive], marking the first time a Nazi war crimes trial will focus on a low-ranking foreigner rather than a commander. The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk faces 27,900 accessory accounts stemming from his alleged involvement as a guard at Sobibor [Death Camps backgrounder] concentration camp. In August, a German district court sentenced [JURIST report] former Nazi army officer Josef Scheungraber to life in prison for the 1944 reprisal killing of 10 Italian civilians. Scheungraber was convicted on 10 counts of murder and one count of attempted murder for ordering soldiers to blow up a barn in Falzano di Cortona, Tuscany, after forcing 11 civilians inside.






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Senate committee approves financial regulation bill
Ximena Marinero on March 23, 2010 6:06 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs [official website] on Monday voted 13-10 in favor of the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 [text, PDF; summary, PDF], aimed at increasing oversight of the American financial system in the wake of the recent economic crisis. The vote on the legislative initiative, introduced [JURIST report] by Senate Democrats earlier this month, was split along party lines, with all Republican members voting against the proposed legislation but declining to negotiate [NYT report] in committee despite the 401 amendments that had been filed. The bill includes proposals for creating consumer protection entities with oversight over consumer lending, complex companies, and the insurance industries; increased regulation for financial instruments, banking, and corporate governance; and new rules to strengthen accountability in applying financial regulation. Two prominent features of the bill are the Volcker Rule [WH materials] prohibiting banks from engaging in financial activities for profit where the funds do not benefit the banks' customers, and an initiative that gives the government power to break up financial institutions deemed "too big to fail." Ranking Republican senator Richard Shelby [official website] decried [statement] such an early vote, saying that "[f]orcing the Banking Committee to vote on this proposal in a single week is unrealistic and undercuts the potential for bipartisan agreement given the length and complexity of the bill." Senate voting on the bill is expected to be a protracted process until a version to which both Democrats and Republicans will agree is reached.

In December, the US House of Representatives approved a similar bill [JURIST report] to create a consumer financial protection agency. The House Financial Services Committee [official website] had approved the bill in October, after originally delaying [JURIST reports] it at the behest of financial industry leaders in July. The creation of the agency is a key step in achieving the Obama administration's stated goal of tightening financial industry regulations. In June, the administration proposed a broad series of regulatory reforms [press release; JURIST report] aimed at restoring confidence in the US financial system. In 2009, the first legislative proposal [text, PDF; JURIST report] to reform the financial system since the 2008 economic crisis was met with resistance and resulted in the committee's development of the current bill.






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Supreme Court hears arguments in bankruptcy, tax cases
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 22, 2010 4:49 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 Hamilton, Chapter 13 Trustee v. Lanning [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether, in calculating a debtor's "projected disposable income," a bankruptcy court may consider evidence suggesting that the debtor's income or expenses will differ from her prior income or expenses. The US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit found [opinion, PDF] that a debtor's current monthly income is the appropriate income to use in this analysis. Counsel for the petitioner, the bankruptcy trustee, argued:


The Tenth Circuit and Stephanie Lanning were wrong in ignoring the new Chapter 13 means test contained in the 2005 amendments to the Bankruptcy Code. The amendments to the 2005 Bankruptcy Code were intended to reduce judicial discretion by inserting a formula rather than the judicial discretion that had previously been accorded to judges and to the litigants.

Counsel for the debtor argued that, "the word "projected" tells us to get a realistic estimation of what that amount of money's going to be." Counsel for the US government argued as amicus curiae on behalf of the respondent.

In Levin v. Commerce Energy, Inc. [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the court heard arguments on whether a challenge to state tax exemptions can occur in federal court when the suit does not involve the challenger's own tax assessment, but rather others that are similarly situated. The court will review whether the Tax Injunction Act [28 USC § 1341] or comity principles bar federal court jurisdiction. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed [opinion, PDF] the district court's decision, which granted a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court found that neither the Tax Injunction Act nor the general principles of comity barred the plaintiff's claim. Counsel for the petitioner, Ohio Tax Commissioner Richard Levin, argued:

Respondents are natural gas suppliers who object to the way Ohio taxes them. Their suit belongs in State court rather than Federal court for two independent reasons. First, principles of comity and federalism dictate that the State court should resolve challenges to the validity of their own tax laws. And second, the Tax Injunction Act squarely prohibits Federal courts from issuing declaratory judgments holding State tax laws unconstitutional.

Counsel for Commerce Energy argued that federal courts have jurisdiction over the claim.





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State attorneys general to challenge health care reform legislation
Steve Dotterer on March 22, 2010 3:47 PM ET

[JURIST] Attorneys general from several states said Monday that they plan to file lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the health care reform bill [text, PDF] passed [JURIST report] Sunday by the US House of Representatives [official website]. Attorneys general from at least 12 states - Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Washington, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota and Virginia - plan to file challenges after President Barack Obama signs the bill into law. Virginia plans to file a separate lawsuit from the single lawsuit to be brought by the other states. At issue in the lawsuits is the power of Congress to require individuals to purchase insurance. Congress has the power under Article I, Section 8 [text] of the US Constitution to regulate interstate commerce, and the states have decided to challenge this power's application to health care legislation. Obama is scheduled to sign the bill on Tuesday.

Last week, Idaho Governor CL "Butch" Otter (R) [official website] became the first governor to sign [JURIST report] a bill [H 391 text] into state law banning any federal mandate for individuals to have health insurance. The Idaho Health Freedom Act orders the state attorney general to file a lawsuit against the national government over any law making health insurance mandatory. Two weeks ago, the Virginia General Assembly [official website] passed [JURIST report] a similar bill [text, PDF]. The bill, called the Virginia Health Care Freedom Act, says that no individual shall be held liable if they refuse to sign up for health care. Governor Robert McDonnell (R) [official website] has said that he will sign [WTVR report] the bill into law. About 30 other states are working on similar measures to negate [ALEC report] the federal mandate for health insurance.






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Supreme Court declines to reconsider Noriega extradition appeal
Michael Kraemer on March 22, 2010 2:18 PM ET

[JURIST]] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday declined to reconsider [order list, PDF] a petition filed by former Panamanian military leader General Manuel Noriega [BBC backgrounder, JURIST news archive] to stop his extradition to France on money laundering charges. Noriega's lawyers filed the petition last month after the Supreme Court denied certiorari [JURIST reports] on the case in January. Noriega, who has been declared a prisoner of war, sought to enforce a provision of the Geneva Convention [ICRC backgrounder] that requires repatriation at the end of confinement. Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissented from the original denial of certiorari, arguing that the court should use the opportunity to resolve confusion over its decision in Boumediene v. Bush [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] granting federal courts the power to review habeas petitions brought by "enemy combatants."

Last April, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that Noriega's claim was precluded by § 5 of the Military Commission Act of 2006 [text, PDF], which the government argued "codifie[d] the principle that the Geneva Conventions [a]re not judicially enforceable by private parties." Noriega was challenging a district court's August 2007 ruling [JURIST report] that allows him to be extradited to France. He is wanted in France 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.






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Bangladesh cabinet ratifies ICC treaty
Megan McKee on March 22, 2010 2:09 PM ET

[JURIST] The Bangladesh Cabinet [official website] on Monday ratified the Rome Statute [text] of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. The ratification [BDnews24 report] will not aid in the nation's pending war crimes trials for the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] against Pakistan [JURIST news archive], as the ICC can only prosecute crimes that took place on or after the date the statute took effect in 2002. However, ratification of the statute requires countries to update their own laws to reflect the provisions of the statute. Bangladesh's 1971 war crimes trials will take place under the recently amended International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973 [text].

Last month, the Bangladeshi government announced [JURIST report] that the prosecutors and investigators for the country's war crimes tribunal should be appointed in March. The tribunal will be used to conduct fair and transparent trials for those accused of war crimes during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. 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 war. Last April, the UN agreed to advise [JURIST report] the Bangladeshi government on the organization and operation of the tribunal.






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Supreme Court declines to rule on abortion clinic layered protest zones
Hillary Stemple on March 22, 2010 1:54 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday declined to review [order list; PDF] a case involving a Massachusetts law [text] prohibiting people from protesting directly outside of abortion [JURIST news archive] clinics. Lawyers for the petitioners, parties "who regularly engage in pro-life counseling" outside clinics, were appealing a July ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] by the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website], which held that the law, which creates a 35-foot buffer zone around entrances and exits of reproductive health clinics, was a reasonable response to a significant threat to public safety. Opponents of the law say that it violates freedom of speech [AP report] while supporters say that it is necessary to ensure public safety and access to abortion clinics. The justices did not comment on the reason for denying certiorari, but the court may have found it unnecessary to review the law, as the Court upheld a lower court injunction that included several similar restrictions in 1994 in Madsen v. Women's Health Center [Oyez backgrounder].

Threats against abortion clinics and employees have been a longstanding concern, and the US courts of appeal have come to differing conclusions on the constitutionality of "buffer zone" laws meant to protect clinic patients and employees. In November, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] struck down [JURIST report] a City of Pittsburgh ordinance [text, PDF] that created a layered zone structure to prevent protesters from gathering outside abortion facilities. US Attorney General Eric Holder enlisted the US Marshall Service [official websites] last June to increase protection [JURIST report] for at-risk people and facilities following the shooting of abortion doctor George Tiller [BBC profile]. Last year, the Ninth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that the First Amendment protected an anti-abortion group's right to display graphic pictures of early-term aborted fetuses outside of a California middle school.






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Turkish government unveils proposed constitutional amendments
Carrie Schimizzi on March 22, 2010 12:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The Turkish government on Monday unveiled a controversial new reform bill proposing amendments [text, PDF; in Turkish] to 22 articles of the Turkish Constitution in hopes of making the government more democratic and strengthening the country's bid to join the European Union (EU) [admission criteria]. The proposed amendments cover a wide range of issues [Hurriyet report], including the judicial system, women's rights, and collective bargaining for civil servants. The major reforms proposed include an amendment that would make party closures more difficult and an amendment to restructure the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HYSK) and the Constitutional Court [official websites, in Turkish]. Also included is an amendment to Article 15, which bans the prosecution of the 1980 coup leaders. The reform movement, led by Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish], has been challenged by the opposition party Republican People's Party (CHP). The bill will now go before Parliament, where it must be approved by two-thirds of the 550 members to become law.

Earlier this month, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [official profile, in Turkish] announced [JURIST report] that the reform package with proposed constitutional changes would be submitted the EU by the end of March, following a meeting of the EU Reform Watch Group. The Watch Group, overseen by Minister and Chief EU Negotiator Egemen Bagis [official profile], was created to guide Turkey's accession to the EU. Turkey has faced several obstacles as it works toward membership in the EU, including its human rights record, its stance towards political parties, and tension [JURIST news archive] between the AKP and the military. Last year, the Constitutional Court of Turkey voted to ban [JURIST report] the Democratic Society Party (DTP) after finding the party had contacts with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], a separatist, designated terrorist group. Erdogan has sought to end Turkey's 25-year conflict [BBC report] with the PKK, which has been a major impediment to Turkey's bid to join the EU.






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Kazakhstan failing to prevent torture of detainees: rights group
Patrice Collins on March 22, 2010 10:29 AM ET

[JURIST] Kazakhstan's government is failing to curb torture [press release] by law enforcement officers, according a report [text, PDF] released Monday by Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website]. The report, which tracks Kazakhstan's progress in the area of human rights from the period of its adoption of the Convention Against Torture [text], is critical of several practices that seem to run counter to the goals of that convention. Under Kazakh law [AI report], all detentions must be registered within a three-hour time period in order to keep a suspect in pre-trial detention. AI claims that this law is rarely enforced, and most torture allegations arise from the practice of unacknowledged detentions. AI also expressed concern about the scorecard nature of assessing judges, which places pressure on judges to maintain a high conviction rate and makes them less likely to acquit or order greater investigation of allegations of torture. According to the report:


despite the good intentions shown by the measures noted above and the extensive education, reform and training programmes for law enforcement forces and the judiciary often run in conjunction and in cooperation with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international governmental organizations (IGOs), it has become evident that torture or other ill-treatment of individuals deprived of their liberty, whether formally detained or in de facto unacknowledged detention, continue to be routinely used.

The report concluded with a series of recommendations, including the formation of an independent agency to assess allegations of abuse at the hands of police.

Kazakhstan has come under increased scrutiny as the first former Soviet republic to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) [official website], a role it assumed at the beginning of 2010. In February, Kazakh NGOs asked [submission, PDF] the UN Human Rights Council [official website] to address instances of torture and the use unlawful evidence obtained through torture during trial. In August, Reporters Without Borders [advocacy website] condemned a Kazakh high court decision upholding the conviction [JURIST report] of a journalist charged with publishing state secrets. In December, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] said that the former Soviet nation is falling short [JURIST report] on reforms promised in advance of their assumption of the OSCE chairmanship.





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Nepal rights groups praise court rulings against caste-based discrimination
Ann Riley on March 22, 2010 10:23 AM ET

[JURIST] Nepalese rights groups on Sunday praised [press release, PDF] two recent judgments by the District Court in Baitadi against caste-based discrimination. Earlier this month, the court sentenced a man accused of assaulting the father of the groom during a July 2009 wedding for practicing "rituals reserved for high-caste communities" to one year in prison and a fine of 5,000 rupees. In a similar decision upheld by the Kanchanpur Appellate Court in August, the Baitadi District Court sentenced the main defendant accused of physically assaulting 12 Dalits during a festival to two years imprisonment and a fine of 25,000 rupees. Article 14 of the Interim Constitution of Nepal [text, PDF] prohibits racial discrimination on the basis of caste and sets grounds for punishment, entitling victims to compensation. The court cited the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination [text] and stated that caste supremacy discrimination is "morally unacceptable, socially unjust and dangerous." The UN human rights office in Nepal called the judgments an important step [UN News Centre report] in Nepal's fight against discrimination. The National Dalit Commission (NDC), the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal (OHCHR-Nepal) [official websites], urged authorities to enforce both sentences and promote awareness of caste-based discrimination.

In addition to caste-based discrimination, Nepal has a history of human rights abuses stemming from the country's internal conflict. Last year, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile; JURIST news archive] said the peace process in Nepal could be hampered [JURIST report] by "impunity for human rights abuses," citing the failure of Nepal's commissions on disappearances and truth and reconciliation to ensure justice for victims of abuse committed during the country's civil war. The decade-long Maoist guerrilla insurgency that left more than 13,000 people dead ended [JURIST report] in late 2006 when the Nepalese government signed a peace agreement that established the Nepalese Constituent Assembly (CA) [official website]. The CA was elected in April of 2008 and voted to abolish the monarchy [JURIST reports].






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Supreme Court declines to rule on Guantanamo detainee transfer process
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 22, 2010 10:09 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday declined to rule [order list, PDF] in the case known as Kiyemba II, in which the court was asked to consider issues surrounding the transfer of Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees. Lawyers for four Chinese Muslim Uighurs [JURIST news archive] detained at Guantanamo were appealing [JURIST report] an April ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Columbia Circuit, which held that US courts cannot prevent the government from transferring Guantanamo detainees to foreign countries on the grounds that detainees may face prosecution or torture in the foreign country. The case is separate from a case the court remanded [JURIST report] to the DC circuit court earlier this month, known as Kiyemba I.

Also Monday, the court granted certiorari in four cases. In Connick v. Thompson [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court will consider whether imposing failure-to-train liability on a district attorney's office for a single Brady violation contravenes the rigorous culpability and causation standards or undermines prosecutors' absolute immunity. Prosecutors hid exculpatory evidence in violation of defendant John Thompson's rights under Brady v. Maryland [opinion text]. The US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana entered a judgment [text, PDF] in favor of Thompson, and the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied [opinion, PDF] the motion for a new trial.

In Belleque v. Moore [docket, cert. petition, PDF], the court will consider whether the standard set forth in Arizona v. Fulminante [opinion text] - that the erroneous admission of a coerced confession at the trial is not harmless - applies if a collateral challenge is based on a defense attorney's decision not to move to suppress a confession prior to a guilty or no contest plea. If the standard applies, the court will then have to consider whether the application is "clearly established" under federal law. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the Fulminante standard should apply.

In Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court will consider whether an oral complaint of a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act [text, PDF] is protected conduct under the anti-retaliation provision [29 USC § 215(a)(3) text]. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that an oral complaint is not protect and later denied [opinions, PDF] a motion for a rehearing by the full court.

In Flores-Villar v. United States [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court will consider whether its decision in Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization Service [opinion text] permits gender discrimination that has no biological basis. Ruben Flores-Villar raised a Fifth Amendment equal protection challenge challenge to two former sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 USC § 1401(a)(7) and 8 USC § 1409 [texts], which impose a five-year residence requirement, after the age of 14, on US citizen fathers, but not on US citizen mothers, before they may transmit citizenship to a child born out of wedlock abroad to a non-citizen. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the provisions survive intermediate scrutiny.






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UK MPs, rights groups call for torture inquiry
Daniel Richey on March 22, 2010 9:44 AM ET

[JURIST] Human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Liberty, and Reprieve [advocacy websites] on Monday joined with members of British parliament in calling for an inquiry into the UK role in torture [JURIST news archive] and rendition during the war on terror. In an open letter [text, PDF], the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition [official website] demanded British officials conduct a public hearing on the role played by UK intelligence agencies and armed forces in the alleged torture and rendition of terror suspects. In the letter, the group suggests a lack of governmental transparency on the issue, saying "[t]he public should not have to rely on occasional speeches and lengthy judicial cases to discover the truth about such a serious issue."

The letter comes days after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official profile] failed to deliver a promised public revision of guidelines [JURIST report] given to UK intelligence officers for the treatment of detainees. Brown faces growing scrutiny of UK detainee procedures amid allegations from former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Binyam Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] that British intelligence officials were involved in his torture in Morocco. In February, Reprieve initiated a lawsuit [JURIST report] against the UK government over its alleged torture of detainees, claiming that its unwillingness to disclose detainee policies suggests that they permit illegal torture.






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US House passes health care reform legislation
Dwyer Arce on March 22, 2010 8:37 AM ET

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] on Sunday voted 219 - 212 [roll call] to approve a health care reform bill passed by the Senate in December, sending it to President Barack Obama for final approval. The bill, HR 3590 [text, PDF; materials] was passed after two hours of debate Sunday evening, gaining no Republican support. The bill's passage was quickly followed by the passage of a second bill [HR 4872 text, PDF; materials] by a margin of 220 - 211 [roll call], which is aimed at reconciling the Senate bill with that passed by the House in November and the proposal released by the White House [JURIST reports] earlier this month. The reconciliation bill is expected to be passed [CNN report] by Senate Democrats using the budget reconciliation [Senate backgrounder] process to bypass a Republican filibuster. Obama said [transcript] that the bill represents a "victory for the American people":


[T]oday's vote answers the prayers of every American who has hoped deeply for something to be done about a health care system that works for insurance companies, but not for ordinary people. For most Americans, this debate has never been about abstractions, the fight between right and left, Republican and Democrat - it's always been about something far more personal. ... They are why we committed ourselves to this cause. ... [The vote is] a victory for common sense.

During floor debate Sunday, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) [official website] urged defeat [transcript] of the bill, saying that it is "not what the American people need."

Today we stand here amidst the wreckage of what was once the respect and honor that this House was held in by our fellow citizens. ... We have failed to listen to America. And we have failed to reflect the will of our constituents. ... In this economy, with this unemployment, with our desperate need for jobs and economic growth, is this really the time to raise taxes, to create bureaucracies, and burden every job creator in our land.

The bill's passage comes as the climax to over a year of debate in Congress, and is a centerpiece of Obama's domestic agenda. According to an analysis [text, PDF] by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) [official website], the reconciliation bill will extend coverage to 32 million uninsured, at a cost of $940 billion over a decade, and will reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over the same period and $1.2 trillion in the following decade. Boehner disputes [FOX News report] these figures, saying that the CBO scoring process is predicated on a "fallacy."

The Senate passed [JURIST report] its version of the health care reform bill 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 initial version of the legislation in November. Last week, Idaho Governor CL "Butch" Otter (R) [official website] became the first governor to sign a bill [H 391 text; JURIST report] into state law banning any federal mandate for individuals to have health insurance. The Idaho Health Freedom Act orders the state attorney general to file a lawsuit against the national government over any law making health insurance mandatory. Two weeks ago, the Virginia General Assembly [official website] passed a similar bill [text, PDF; JURIST report]. The bill, called the Virginia Health Care Freedom Act, says that no individual shall be held liable if they refuse to sign up for health care. Governor Robert McDonnell (R) [official website] has said that he will sign [WTVR report] the bill into law. About 30 other states are working on similar measures to negate [ALEC report] the federal mandate for health insurance.





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Iraq election officials reject calls for recount on fraud allegations
Dwyer Arce on March 21, 2010 3:08 PM ET

[JURIST] Iraqi election officials on Sunday rejected allegations of fraud and calls for a recount of the ballots from the March 7 parliamentary election [CEIP backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Despite the demands for a recount [statement, in Arabic] Saturday by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [official website, in Arabic; BBC profile], which described the recount as necessary "to preserve political stability and stave off ... the resurgence of violence," an Independent High Election Commission (IHEC) [official website] official stated [BBC report] that a total recount of the ballots would not be feasible, and is not necessary, due to checks against fraud. Calls for a recount come amid a close election result between Maliki's Shi'ite dominated State of Law [official website] coalition, and their primary rival, former prime minister Iyad Allawi [official website, in Arabic; Al Jazeera profile] and his cross-sectarian Iraqiya coalition. With 95 percent of the vote counted on Sunday, Allawi maintained a lead [Reuters report] of around 11,000 votes over Maliki, with the full vote count to be announced Friday. In response to the recount demands, an Iraqiya spokesperson stated [Al Jazeera report] that a recount would delay the election results for months, negatively affecting the security situation. The close election result has prompted observers to predict that neither party will gain a majority of the 325-seat parliament, leading to possibly months of negotiations to form a government. Also on Sunday, a protest broke out in support of Maliki's recount demands in the city of Najaf, where 300 demonstrators gathered near the provincial government building.

The IHEC on Friday dismissed allegations of election fraud [JURIST report] from a member of the European Parliament [official website]. On Wednesday, The State of Law coalition first asked the IHEC for a recount [JURIST report], alleging fraud. State of Law spokesperson Ali Al Adib claimed that the ballots were manipulated [AP report] by the manager of an electronic counting center who is allegedly linked to Iraqiya. The allegations came after Iraqiya began to take a slight lead [Al Jazeera report] in a partial vote count released earlier this week. The IHEC said that there was no evidence [AP report] to back up the allegations. The fraud allegations are the latest in a series of problems plaguing the elections. Last month, an Iraqi appeals panel ruled [JURIST report] that 28 of the 500 candidates previously banned due to allegations of ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party [BBC backgrounder] could stand in the election. The initial ban was characterized by the Iraqi government as illegal, and was reversed [JURIST reports] when the panel acknowledged that it did not have to rule on all 500 candidates at once.






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UN SG calls for end to 'illegal' West Bank settlements
Dwyer Arce on March 21, 2010 12:19 PM ET

[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank "illegal," during a press conference [BBC report] Saturday. The statement comes two weeks after Israel announced [Haaretz report] the construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], where Palestinians hope to establish the capital of their future state. Ban said:


The world has condemned Israel's settlement expansion plans in East Jerusalem. Let us be clear, all settlement activities [are] illegal anywhere in Occupied Territory, the Quartet has reaffirmed that position. I'm also concerned about actions in Hebron, Jerusalem, and Israel. I urge all parties to respect sensitives and promote calm. We can and must find a way for Jerusalem to emerge from negotiations as the capital of two states with arrangements for holy sites acceptable to all.

During the press conference, in which Ban was joined by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad [BBC profile], Ban voiced his support [NYT report] for Fayyad's plans to build the institutions of an independent state by 2011, and called for the immediate resumption of peace talks to result in an independent Palestinian state within two years, echoing a statement [text] released by the Quartet on the Middle East Friday. The Quartet, a group comprising the US, European Union, UN, and Russia, dedicated to mediating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, urged the Israeli government to "freeze all settlement activity ... and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem." On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [official website; BBC profile] stated [WP report] that construction in East Jerusalem would not be restricted despite international criticism and pressure from the US.

Two weeks ago, indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians were postponed [Al Jazeera report] after the Israeli Interior Ministry [official website, in Hebrew] announced the construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem. The announcement coincided with a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden [official profile] to promote the talks, touching off a diplomatic row between the two nations. Israeli activity in the West Bank has remained a controversial issue, and has been deemed to violate international law on several occasions. In June 2008, Ban asserted that Israeli plans to expand settlements [Haaretz report] in the West Bank violated international law [JURIST report]. Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories were held to be illegal [opinion text, PDF] under international law by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] in 2004. Shortly after construction of the border wall [JURIST news archive] began in the West Bank in 2002, the ICJ held that it also violated international law [opinion text; JURIST report], amounting to a "de facto annexation."





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New York appeals court rules state can annul same-sex civil unions
Daniel Makosky on March 21, 2010 10:22 AM ET

[JURIST] A New York state appeals court ruled [text, PDF] Thursday that the state's courts have jurisdiction to hear requests to annul civil unions performed in other states. The Third Judicial Department Appellate Division [official website] reversed a 2008 Schenectady County Supreme Court [official website] decision, citing multiple protections New York affords to same-sex partnerships as sufficient to establish competency despite the state lacking its own civil union law:

Here, while New York has not created a specific mechanism for dissolution of a civil union validly entered into in another state, neither has it exercised its power, by statute or other legislative enactment, to prohibit an action for dissolution of a civil union. Since Supreme Court's jurisdiction over the subject matter of this action has not been proscribed, and this matter involves a dispute for which "adequate relief by means of an existing form of action is [un]available to the plaintiff," Supreme Court is competent to adjudicate the case.
The case involved a same-sex New York couple that that entered into a civil union in Vermont. Vermont, however, was unable to provide relief since it requires at least one party to be a resident of the state for at least one year.

The New York Senate [official website] rejected [JURIST report] legislation [text; materials] in December that would have legalized same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive]. The bill, introduced to the state legislature in April, passed [JURIST reports] in the General Assembly [official website] by a margin of 89-52 in May. The bill was again passed by the lower body in anticipation of the senate vote, as required by state law. New York, however, is currently one of the few US jurisdictions to recognize [JURIST report] same-sex marriages performed in other states.





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Rights group urges Spain to abolish civil war amnesty law
Ximena Marinero on March 20, 2010 3:22 PM ET

[JURIST] Spain should repeal its 1977 amnesty law [press release] that bars investigation and prosecution of crimes committed under the Franco regime rather than "prosecuting a judge seeking accountability for past abuses," Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said Friday. HRW called for Spain to comply with the 2008 recommendation [press release] from the UN Human Rights Committee [official website] to end the amnesty law. HRW asserts that the criminal investigation and pending judicial proceedings against Spanish National Court judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] are at odds with the very principles that Garzon helped to enforce in prosecuting human rights abuses abroad. According to HRW Americas director Jose Manuel Vivanco, "Spanish courts have routinely failed to investigate allegations of horrendous crimes of the past, but are being surprisingly active in prosecuting a judge who tried to push for accountability."

Garzon is under judicial scrutiny for ordering an investigation [JURIST report] in September 2008 in response to a complaint by the Organization for Restoring Historical Memory [advocacy website, in Spanish] that the Franco regime carried out systematic killings and enforced disappearances of opponents. Last month, a Spanish Supreme Court [official website] judge rejected Garzon's motion to dismiss the complaint [text in Spanish, DOC] originally lodged by Manos Limpias [advocacy website], a far-right leaning advocacy organization. The judge ruled that Garzon may have exceeded his jurisdictional authority when he launched an investigation [JURIST report] into war crimes allegedly committed under Francisco Franco [BBC backgrounder] and during the Spanish Civil War [LOC backgrounder]. Garzon maintains that he acted within the bounds of the law, basing his jurisdiction determination on the National Court's competence over crimes against the government and high authorities of the state. Garzon has petitioned [text in Spanish, PDF; El Pais report, in Spanish] the Spanish Supreme Court to allow him to continue in his duties during the investigation.






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Federal judge rejects proposed settlement for World Trade Center cleanup workers
Ximena Marinero on March 20, 2010 1:22 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Friday rejected a proposed settlement to address the claims of people with illnesses from working on the World Trade Center (WTC) in the months following 9/11 [JURIST news archive]. Judge Alvin Hellerstein cited concerns [WP report] over the fairness of claim amounts and the process to determine compensation as over-complicated. In addition, the judge said that lawyer fees should be limited and paid by the WTC Captive Insurance Company rather than by the claimants. The settlement [NYT report], announced last week, would have addressed more than 10,000 claims and would have awarded up to $657 million if all claimants accepted the settlement. Claimants would have been required to accept the terms of their settlement within 90 days and would have been allowed to appeal settlement amounts. Hellerstein will now require WTC Captive Insurance to consult with claimants on the settlement's terms, and he ordered judicial supervision of the claims process. The settlement will not be considered finalized until 95 percent of claimants have approved [NYT report] it. WTC Captive Insurance President Christine LaSala decried the judge's decision on what the insurer views as a fair settlement [fact sheet], and considered that the decision would render compensating claimants more difficult [WSJ report].

The WTC Captive Insurance Company is a non-profit company that was created by Public Law 108-7 [text, PDF] with $1 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) [official website] funding to provide for workers' claims over sicknesses contracted from exposure at the WTC site in the months following 9/11. In 2007, the City of New York agreed to enter into settlement negotiations over a federal class action lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 9,000 emergency and cleanup workers who may have inhaled toxic dust at WTC site, which Hellerstein allowed [JURIST reports] to proceed.






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Second Circuit orders Federal Reserve to release lending data to media
Bhargav Katikaneni on March 20, 2010 12:40 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that the Federal Reserve [official website] must release information about loans it made to banks during April and May 2008, a key moment in the financial crisis. The information was sought by Bloomberg News under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text, PDF]. The Second Circuit affirmed a ruling by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] and rejected the Federal Reserve's argument that the records fall under FOIA exceptions [text] four and five and that the information was privileged. In rejecting the Federal Reserve's argument, the court said:


The Board and the Clearing House undertake to show that disclosure would harm the banks that borrowed (by disclosing their prior distress) and the banking system as a whole (because banks under stress may hesitate to seek relief or rescue), and that these harms will reduce the effectiveness of measures critical to the banking system. The arguments are plausible, and forcefully made. But a test that permits an agency to deny disclosure because the agency thinks it best to do so (or convinces a court to think so, by logic or deference) would undermine "the basic policy that disclosure, not secrecy, is the dominant objective of [FOIA]."

In a companion case brought by Fox News, the court ruled [opinion, PDF] that the Federal Reserve must disclose loan information between August 2007 and November 2008.

Earlier this week, Senate Democrats introduced a bill [JURIST report] to increase financial regulation in light of the recent crisis. In September, banking industry regulators defended themselves [JURIST report] in front of the US House of Representatives Financial Services Committee [official website]. President Barack Obama has called for greater oversight [JURIST report] of the banking industry. In July, Obama sent draft legislation to Congress that would put the Federal Reserve in charge [JURIST report] of regulating the largest financial firms.





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France court convicts neo-Nazi group members
Gabriela Forbes on March 20, 2010 11:38 AM ET

[JURIST] The criminal court of Evry on Thursday convicted 14 members of neo-Nazi [JURIST news archive] group Nomad 88. The defendants faced charges [JURIST report] for their participation in a combat group, the illegal detention of weapons and explosives, and their responsibility in a shoot-out in 2008. The two leaders of the group, Camille Farout and Thomas Coumont, were sentenced [AFP report, in French] to four and three years imprisonment respectively, with partially suspended sentences, and ordered to pay damages. The other members received shorter or suspended sentences. The prosecution had demanded sanctions ranging from fines to 42 months of imprisonment. The hearing revealed that although the group was in possession of a substantial quantity of weapons [Le Parisien report, in French] and had engaged in military training, the ideological component was far from developed. The group committed mainly hate crimes, targeting easily identifiable social groups such as Romas [JURIST news archive] or immigrants. The court was told that since the start of the legal proceedings in 2008, the members had broken their ties to the neo-Nazi movement.

Formed in 2007, the group was disbanded in mid-2008 following the arrest of two of its members involved in a shoot-out. During its existence, it formed ties with other extremist nationalist groups, such as the Socialist Right [Le Figaro profile, in French], which are still in operation today despite governmental surveillance and efforts to suppress the movement [JURIST report].






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Turkish authorities charge 33 for alleged coup plot
Bhargav Katikaneni on March 20, 2010 10:37 AM ET

[JURIST] The Turkish government indicted 33 people Friday on charges of attempting to overthrow the government and establish military rule. The accused, some of whom include high-ranking military officials [AFP report], are alleged to have plotted with a secret group called Ergenekon [BBC Backgrounder; JURIST news archive] to assassinate prominent members of Turkey's Christian and Jewish minority groups, blame Islamic terrorists for the deaths, and seize power in the process. The plot was never carried out. A trial date is set for June 15.

Earlier this week, Turkish police detained [JURIST report] 20 people in connection with the alleged Ergenekon plot. Turkish prosecutors recently charged [JURIST report] an army general and a state prosecutor with belonging to Ergenekon and plotting to overthrow Turkey's ruling Justice Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish]. In February, more than 40 military officers were arrested and charged with a separate plot [JURIST report], the so-called Sledgehammer plot [JURIST report], to stage a coup by provoking a military confrontation with Greece and take advantage of the ensuing chaos. The Ergenekon investigation has been criticized as an attempt by the AKP to silence the opposition and impose [JURIST report] islamic principles on secular Turkey. Trials against the Ergenekon group started [JURIST report] two years ago.






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Iran jails reformist leader for propaganda against the revolution
Zach Zagger on March 19, 2010 1:19 PM ET

[JURIST] Iranian authorites jailed a reform movement leader after an appeals court upheld [Kaleme report, in Persian] a one-year-sentence for spreading propaganda against the Islamic republic, according to an opposition website Friday. Hossein Marashi was a leading supporter of Mir Hossein Mousavi who opposed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [JURIST news archive] in the disputed presidential election [JURIST news archive] last June. Marashi was an opposition party spokesman for the Executives of Construction and previously served as head of cultural and tourism under former president Mohammed Khatami. The court also upheld [AFP report] a ban on Marashi from participating in party political activity for six years.

Earlier this month, an Iranian appeals court upheld [JURIST] the death sentence for a 20-year-old student who took part in anti-government protests in December. Mohammad Amin Valian was convicted of Moharebeh, which means waging war against God and is punishable by death under Iranian law. Also in March, the official Iranian press supervisory body banned [JURIST report] reformist daily newspaper Etemaad [media website, in Persian] and moderate weekly magazine Iran Dokht [media website]. In late February, six journalists were released [AP report] from a Tehran prison, while many others remain incarcerated for their reformist views. In February, a joint US-EU statement [JURIST report] condemned Iranian action against protesters and other critics of government policy. The Iranian government responded strongly to opposition following June's disputed elections, prompting additional criticism from rights groups and advocacy organizations.






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Philippines lawyers protest ruling allowing president to appoint chief justice
Steve Dotterer on March 19, 2010 1:06 PM ET

[JURIST] Philippine lawyers and activists protested Friday in front of the Supreme Court [official website] in Manila following Wednesday's ruling [judgment text; JURIST report], which held that the constitution does not prevent President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [official website; BBC profile] from replacing retiring Chief Justice Reynato Puno prior to the May presidential elections. Among the activists were Philippine lawyers who used black candles to burn photos of the nine justices who ruled in favor of the decision. The right to protest is guaranteed in Article 3, Section 4 of the Philippine Constitution [text], but a Supreme Court official warned that lawyers participating in the protests would be disbarred if they exceed the legal limits of their right to protest. The appointment of the next chief justice has political significance because Arroyo's term ends June 30, and the appointment could be used to confer a political advantage in a reelection campaign.

The Supreme Court has previously sided with Arroyo, ruling last month that she is eligible to run for senate [JURIST report] after her presidential term expires. The court found the 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. Also last 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. 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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FDA announces final rule restricting tobacco sales and promotion to youth
Jonathan Cohen on March 19, 2010 12:33 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] on Thursday announced [press release] a final rule [text] restricting tobacco sales and promotions directed at youth. The Regulations Restricting the Sale and Distribution of Cigarettes and Smokeless Tobacco to Protect Children and Adolescents are a set of broad regulations "designed to significantly curb access to and the appeal of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products to children and adolescents in the United States." In order to do so, the FDA said that this rule:


prohibits the sale of cigarettes or smokeless tobacco to people younger than 18, prohibits the sale of cigarette packages with less than 20 cigarettes, prohibits distribution of free samples of cigarettes, restricts distribution of free samples of smokeless tobacco, and prohibits tobacco brand name sponsorship of any athletic, musical or other social or cultural events.

The FDA first began to regulate the tobacco industry in 1996, but,, in 2000 the US Supreme Court ruled in FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. [opinion text] that Congress had not provided the FDA with the authority to regulate tobacco products. The new rule, which comes 15 years after the FDA first proposed banning the sale and marketing of tobacco to youth, will go into effect June 22 as law.

In August, several tobacco companies filed a federal lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act [text, PDF] on First Amendment grounds. In June, President Obama signed the act into law, just two weeks after it was approved by Congress [JURIST reports]. The law attempts to safeguard the public by granting the FDA certain authority to regulate tobacco products, among other provisions. Last year, the House Energy and Commerce Committee [official website] voted 38-12 to approve the bill [JURIST report]. The US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee [official website] approved a similar bill [JURIST report] in August 2007. Shortly before that, the former FDA commissioner said that the FDA lacked the resources [JURIST report] to handle tobacco regulation.





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Retired US general tells Senate committee gays weakened Dutch military
Daniel Makosky on March 19, 2010 12:19 PM ET

[JURIST] Retired US Marine Corps General John Sheehan [official profile] testified [video] before the US Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) [official website] on Thursday that he believes the Dutch military's inclusion of openly gay soldiers is partially responsible for the severity of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre during the Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archives]. Sheehan, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, made the remarks during a hearing [materials] charged with evaluating the future of the US military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy [10 § USC 654; JURIST news archive]. He argued that the Netherlands and several other European countries reconfigured their militaries for less demanding peacekeeping roles after the fall of the Soviet Union and subsequently "made a conscious effort to socialize their military - that includes the unionization of their militaries, it includes open homosexuality." The result, Sheehan contends, rendered their armed forces weaker and less effective. Dutch Minister of Defense Eimert van Middelkoop [official profile, in Dutch] called the comments "utter nonsense" [press release, in Dutch].

The Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010 [text, PDF] was introduced [JURIST report] in the Senate earlier this month, and would allow gay soldiers to serve openly if approved. The repeal of the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy has been an important issue for US President Barack Obama since he took office, and its inclusion in the State of Union Address [JURIST report] makes it clear that it remains a priority for the administration. In January, legal advisers for the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, suggested that he delay any internal efforts [JURIST report] to repeal the policy until 2011. In October, Obama pledged [JURIST report] to end the controversial policy. After the US Supreme Court [official website] denied certiorari [JURIST report] to review the policy in June, the SASC announced [JURIST reports] that it would hold hearings to review it. In 2008, more than 100 retired admirals and generals of the US military called for a repeal [JURIST report] of the policy.






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Iraq election commission rejects European fraud allegations
Sarah Paulsworth on March 19, 2010 11:35 AM ET

[JURIST] Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) [official website] on Friday dismissed allegations of election fraud [DPA report] from a member of the European Parliament [official website]. After the March 7 parliamentary elections [JURIST news archive], head of the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq, Struan Stevenson [official website], reported that he had received a "flood" of complaints about election fraud. He said [press release]:


The issue of fraud and ballot-rigging perpetrated by the Iranian regime and the ruling State of Law coalition is an extremely worrying situation for all political parties in Iraq. Many political leaders and officials who have participated in the elections have revealed such cheating with precise details during numerous interviews with the press and in emails to me and telephone conversations.

In its response, the IHEC called the fraud claims "baseless," but also expressed a willingness to investigate the allegations and take corrective measures if necessary. Also, on Wednesday, the State of Law Coalition led by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [official website, in Arabic] alleged fraud [JURIST report] and asked the IHEC to conduct a recount. In contrast, UN election observers reported [CSM report] that they have not seen any indicators of large-scale election fraud.

Fraud allegations are the latest in a series of problems plaguing the parliamentary elections. Last month, an Iraqi appeals panel ruled [JURIST report] that 28 previously banned candidates could stand for election. The Responsibility and Justice Committee had initially ruled that some 500 banned candidates could stand for election despite allegations of ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party [BBC backgrounder]. The decision was characterized by the Iraqi government as illegal, and was reversed [JURIST reports] when the panel acknowledged that it did not have to rule on all 500 candidates at once. Last year, the Iraqi parliament approved [JURIST report] an amended version of a controversial election law after numerous delays. The new version of the law increased the number of seats in parliament from 275 to 325, with 310 of those seats allotted to Iraq's 18 provinces and the remainder reserved for Iraqis living outside the country.





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US senators unveil bipartisan immigration reform proposal
Daniel Makosky on March 19, 2010 10:56 AM ET

[JURIST] Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) [official websites] on Thursday unveiled [WP op-ed] their proposal for comprehensive immigration reform. The plan entails four principal tenets: improving border security, creating a system through which temporary workers would be admitted, introducing biometric identification cards, and instituting a process to legalize illegal immigrants [JURIST news archive] currently residing within the US. Undocumented immigrants would receive legal status upon paying back taxes and fines, submitting to background checks, completing an English proficiency examination, and performing community service. All job-seeking US citizens and legal immigrants would be issued a tamper-proof Social Security card containing biometric identification information, which potential employers would use to confirm an applicant's identity and employment eligibility. Additionally, immigrants earning an advanced science, engineering, technology, or math degree from a US institution would receive green cards. The senators underscored the need for swift action, saying:


Our immigration system is badly broken. Although our borders have become far more secure in recent years, too many people seeking illegal entry get through. We have no way to track whether the millions who enter the United States on valid visas each year leave when they are supposed to. And employers are burdened by a complicated system for verifying workers' immigration status.

The proposal was met with praise [press release] from President Barack Obama, who encouraged the senators to draft corresponding legislation.

The Office of Immigration Statistics of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] released a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] in February estimating that the total number of illegal immigrants living in the US fell to 10.8 million during the year ending in January 2009, a seven percent decline from the previous year. In December, Democratic lawmakers introduced an immigration reform bill [JURIST report] 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, 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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Ninth Circuit denies rehearing on Ashcroft immunity petition
Patrice Collins on March 19, 2010 9:39 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Thursday denied [opinion, PDF] a petition by former attorney general John Ashcroft [JURIST news archive] to reconsider its decision that Ashcroft is not entitled to absolute and qualified immunity in an unlawful detention case. By declining to rehear its previous ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report], the court is allowing the lawsuit by US citizen Abdullah al-Kidd to go forward. Ashcroft could be found personally liable for misusing the material witness statute [18 USC § 3144 text; HRW backgrounder, PDF]. The court was split in its decision. In the dissent, Judge O'Scannlain questioned the scope of the majority's decision. He wrote:


By permitting al-Kidd's suit to proceed, the majority commits two distinct but equally troubling legal errors, each of which will have far-reaching implications for how government officials perform their duties. First, the majority strips Ashcroft of his official immunity, holding that it was clearly established at the time of al-Kidd’s arrest that prosecutors violate the Fourth Amendment when they obtain and execute a material witness warrant as a pretext for other law enforcement objectives. Second, by holding that Ashcroft may be personally liable if his subordinates swore false affidavits to obtain the warrant authorizing al-Kidd's arrest, the majority stretches beyond recognition the rule that a government official is liable only when he personally violates the constitution.

The majority opinion responded directly to the dissenting judges, rejecting their analysis and the potential ramifications from the decision. Upon learning of the court's decision, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] Immigrants' Rights Project Deputy Director Lee Gelernt criticized [press release] Ashcroft saying that he "deliberately distorted the federal material witness law to allow the detention of innocent people. ... [H]e should be held personally liable."

Ashcroft has faced a number of lawsuits for his actions while attorney general. In December, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that post-arrest detention is legal in cases where the detainees are reasonably detained in a case, finding Ashcroft not liable. The government had settled with five of the plaintiffs [JURIST report] for $1.26 million in November, despite admitting no wrongdoing. Ashcroft had previously claimed absolute immunity because his actions to seek a material witness warrant were those of a "prosecutor." He had claimed qualified immunity as an attorney general because his actions furthered an investigatory or national security function. In September, the Ninth Circuit rejected both of those claims, upholding a lower court decision [JURIST report]. In May, the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that a similar case challenging Ashcroft's immunity from lawsuits for mistreatment of prisoners could not go forward because of failure to adequately state a claim.





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Mumbai terror suspect pleads guilty in US court
Megan McKee on March 19, 2010 8:01 AM ET

[JURIST] US citizen and Chicago resident David Headley pleaded guilty [press release] to 12 counts of federal terrorism Thursday, including charges related to the 2008 Mumbai terror attack [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and an alleged plot against the Danish creator and publishers of controversial cartoons [JURIST news archive] depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The government had accused [indictment, PDF] Headley of conducting surveillance in preparation for the Mumbai attack for the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) [CFR backgrounder], which is blamed for the attack. Headley was also charged with conspiring to bomb the headquarters of Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten [media website, in Danish], which published the cartoons. In January, Headly pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to the charges in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois [official website]. It is thought he changed his plea to avoid extradition [BBC report] to India, Pakistan, or Denmark, or to avoid capital punishment.

In January, an Indian court rejected [JURIST report] a request by the lone surviving gunman from the Mumbai attacks for an international trial. Muhammad Ajmal Amir Kasab claimed he would not receive a fair trial in India. Kasab, whom India claims participated directly in the Mumbai attacks, said during his trial that he had met Headley while in jail after being arrested. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] has charged [press release] three men along with Headley for their role [JURIST report] in the Mumbai attacks and plot against the Danish Newspaper. Tahawwur Rana, a Chicago resident with Canadian citizenship, was charged with three counts of providing material support to terrorism, one each for his alleged roles in the Denmark plan and Mumbai attacks, and a third for alleged involvement with LeT. Retired Pakistani military officer Abdur Rehman and Ilyas Kashmiri, who is believed to have ties to al Qaeda [JURIST news archive], were also named in the indictment. Both face one count of conspiracy and one count of providing material support to terrorism for their alleged participation in the Danish newspaper plot. Rana is in federal custody and has pleaded not guilty, and Rehman and Kashmiri remain at-large.






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Gambia prosecutors charge 10 over alleged coup plot
Matt Glenn on March 19, 2010 7:26 AM ET

[JURIST] Gambian prosecutors on Thursday charged 10 men, including top military officials, with conspiring to overthrow the government of President Yahya Jammeh [official website]. The prosecution claims the men procured arms and troops [BBC report] in anticipation of a military coup. Eight of the ten men charged have been under arrest [AFP report] since November.

Last week, an opposition official complained of frequent incidents of indefinite detention [BBC report] of citizens, including government officials, without charges being filed. In February, Gambia ordered an envoy [Afrol report] from UNICEF [official website] to leave the country. Last September, Jammeh threatened to kill human rights workers [Newstime Africa] who threatened to destabilize his regime. Also in September, Jammeh pardoned six journalists [BBC report] who had been jailed for criticizing him. In 2006, 10 military officers were sentenced to jail [BBC report] for planning to overthrow Jammeh.






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Guatemala court approves extradition of ex-president to US
Matt Glenn on March 19, 2010 6:14 AM ET

[JURIST] A Guatemalan criminal court ruled Wednesday that former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo [CIDOB profile, in Spanish] can be extradited to the US to face charges of money laundering [indictment; press release, PDF]. Portillo, who was president of Guatemala from 2000 to 2004, has been charged in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on information provided by former members of Portillo's government. He is accused of taking $15.8 million from funds designated for the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense and siphoning it into bank accounts in Europe and Bermuda. The former president maintains he is not guilty [BBC report] of any of the charges. Portillo might face corruption charges [AFP report] in Guatemala before being extradited. Portillo's lawyers plan to appeal [La Prensa report, in Spanish] the extradition order.

Portillo was arrested [BBC report] in January following an arrest warrant issued by Guatemala [JURIST report] based on the US indictment. In 2008, Portillo was extradited [JURIST report] back to Guatemala from Mexico, where he had fled after his immunity expired along with his term in office. The extradition order was first signed [JURIST report] in 2006, but Portillo challenged it until the Mexican Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] ruled against him in January 2008. Numerous members of Portillo's cabinet were arrested and tried on fraud charges during his time in exile.






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New Jersey same-sex couples sue for equal marriage rights
Zach Zagger on March 18, 2010 4:55 PM ET

[JURIST] New Jersey same-sex couples who previously sued for marriage equality filed suit [motion, PDF] again Thursday seeking to legalize same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive]. The case is being brought [press release] on behalf of six couples and the surviving partner of a seventh by Lambda Legal [advocacy website]. They filed a motion in the Supreme Court of New Jersey [official website] arguing that the decision handed down in 2002 in Lewis v. Harris [decision text], which said same-sex couples should have "full rights and benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples," is not being followed adequately with civil unions. The plaintiffs claim that they "and other committed lesbian gay partners in New Jersey live in second-class circumstances, relegated to demonstrably inferior, state-created status of civil unions." They argue that same-sex couples lack workplace benefits and protections, face unequal treatment and lack of recognition in public accommodations and civic life, and that their children are "prejudiced by the unequal and inferior legal and social status" of civil unions.

In January, the New Jersey Senate voted 20-14 to defeat a bill [JURIST report] that would have legalized same-sex marriage in the state. The Senate Judiciary Committee had voted 7-6 in favor of the bill [JURIST report] in December, marking the first time that any body in the state legislature [official website] had approved same-sex marriage legislation. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Washington DC [JURIST reports]. New Jersey has recognized same-sex civil unions [JURIST report] since 2006.






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Turkish government arrests 20 more in connection with Ergenekon coup plot
Zach Zagger on March 18, 2010 3:27 PM ET

[JURIST] Turkish police detained 20 people Thursday in connection with the alleged Ergenekon [BBC profile, JURIST news archive] conspiracy to overthrow the Islamist-rooted government. Among those arrested [Reuters report] are retired and active military officers, but the identities and ranks of the individuals have not been released. The arrests are part of an ongoing operation to investigate the Ergenekon conspiracy by the ruling Justice Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish], which is currently at odds with the secular-rooted military and judiciary. More than 200 people have been arrested in connection with the Ergenekon conspiracy.

Earlier this month, Turkish prosecutors charged [JURIST report] an army general and a state prosecutor with belonging to Ergenekon. The AKP is also investigating another alleged coup plot, the "Sledgehammer," led by high-ranking military officials. In February, 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 [JURIST report], to discuss tensions over that alleged coup plot. Hours after that meeting, a Turkish court released three high ranking military officials that had been detained for questioning. Tensions in Turkey between the military and government have harmed Turkey's bid to join the European Union (EU) [official website]. Turkey's secular nationalist establishment, including the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) [official website, in Turkish], has long been at odds with the AKP.






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Togo court affirms contested election of incumbent president
Sarah Miley on March 18, 2010 3:05 PM ET

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of Togo [official website, in French] on Wednesday affirmed [Embassy press release, PDF] the election of incumbent President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbe [official profile] despite five suits alleging voter fraud filed by the opposition. The court held [AFP report] that the accusations made by the opposition were unsubstantiated. The final vote totals decided by the court gave Gnassingbe 60.88 percent of the vote, and his main opponent, Jean-Pierre Fabre, 33.93 percent. The final results closely resembled those originally reported after the March 4 election. Fabre has rejected the court's decision and stated that he plans to hold demonstrations against the election.

Last month, the court ruled that presidential candidate Kofi Yamgnane [campaign website, in French] was not eligible to run [JURIST report] in the election due to inconsistent records of his date of birth and conflicting immigration documents. Yamgnane asserted that the decision was a pretext to eliminate the most dangerous candidate to Gnassingbe's ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RTP) [party website, in French] party. Gnassingbe took office [JURIST report] in February 2005 immediately following the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema [BBC obituary], who was president of Togo for 38 years and one of the country's longest serving leaders. Gnassingbe's unconstitutional succession to office [JURIST report] was met with international outcry, and pressure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) [official website] member countries led to his resignation [JURIST reports]. Togo's Parliament then named Abass Bonfoh, a member of the ruling party, as acting president. In May 2005, the constitutional court confirmed Gnassingbe as the official winner of the disputed presidential election [JURIST reports].






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Rwanda tribunal affirms genocide conviction of Hutu singer
Sarah Miley on March 18, 2010 2:00 PM ET

[JURIST] The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] on Thursday affirmed [judgment, PDF; press release] the genocide conviction of popular Rwandan singer-songwriter Simon Bikindi [Trial Watch profile, case materials]. The charge was based on a speech Bikindi gave during the 1994 Rwanda genocide [HRW backgrounder] in which he called on Hutus to rise up and exterminate the Tutsis. Prosecutor Justice Hassan Bubacar Jallow [official profile] appealed the 15-year sentence [judgment, PDF; JURIST report] given to Bikindi in January on the grounds that it was inadequate punishment for "direct and public incitement to commit genocide." Bikindi appealed on the basis that the sentence was disproportionate to the gravity of the offense and that court erred in its evaluation of his association with extremist militia group, Interahamwe. The court rejected both appeals.

The court also reversed [judgment, PDF] several convictions against Rwandan district attorney Simeon Nchamihigo [Trial Watch profile, case materials]. In 2008, Nchamihigo was charged [JURIST report] with four counts of genocide, murder, extermination, and other crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment. The Appeals Chamber reversed his convictions of murder as a crime against humanity, extermination as a crime against humanity, and three counts of genocide. Nchamihigo's other convictions were affirmed and his sentence was reduced to 40 years. Both Bikindi and Nchamihigo are being held in the UN Detention Facility in Arusha, Tanzania, pending their transfer to the countries where they will serve their sentences.

Bikindi was first indicted and arrested in 2001. At the time of his arrest, Bikindi was living in the Netherlands. He fought extradition for several months but lost and was turned over to the ICTR in March 2002 where he pleaded not guilty [Hirondelle materials] to charges of genocide. His trial began [JURIST report] in September 2006 following numerous delays relating to court ordered amendments to the original indictment [trial minutes, PDF]. Nchamihigo was taken into custody by ICTR security staff in May 2001 when he was recognized while working as an investigator for the legal team defending former Rwandan army officer Samuel Imanishimwe. Nchamihigo was working with false identity papers under the name of Bahati Weza.






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Myanmar authorities release jailed US rights activist
Jonathan Cohen on March 18, 2010 1:21 PM ET

[JURIST] Myanmar authorities on Thursday released [advocacy press release, PDF] jailed democracy activist Nyi Nyi Aung [advocacy profile], ordering him to leave the country. Aung, a US citizen, had been sentenced to three years in prison [JURIST report] after being convicted on fraud and forgery charges [JURIST report] by a Myanmar court last month. Advocacy groups have argued [JURIST comment] that the charges against Aung were filed because of his political advocacy, and a group of 53 members of the US House of Representatives [official website] called for his immediate release [letter, PDF] following his conviction. Aung is expected to return to the US.

Myanmar has recently faced significant criticism of its human rights record. Last week, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana released a report saying that some of the country's violations may constitute war crimes [JURIST report]. Also last week, Myanmar's junta announced new election laws [JURIST report], one of which bars pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] from participating in the upcoming elections. The move that immediately criticized by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website], who said that the laws do not meet international standards [JURIST reports] for an inclusive political process. In January, a Myanmar government official said that Suu Kyi released from house arrest [JURIST report] in November when her sentence is scheduled to end, likely after the elections.






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China appeals court upholds life sentence for former supreme court judge
Haley Wojdowski on March 18, 2010 12:30 PM ET

[JURIST] The Hebei Province People's High Court in northern China on Wednesday upheld [China Daily report] a life sentence for former vice president of China's Supreme People's Court (SPC) [official website, in Chinese] Huang Songyou. Huang was convicted [JURIST report] in January of bribery and embezzlement, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Huang is the highest-ranking judge to be charged with corruption [China Daily report] since the founding of the People's Republic of China. Between 2005 and 2008, Huang allegedly embezzled 3.9 million yuan (about $574,000 USD) while serving as vice president of the SPC, and he allegedly embezzled 1.2 million yuan (about $175,000 USD) while serving as president of the Intermediate People's Court of Zhanjiang in 1997.

Huang's conviction comes amid initiatives by the Communist Party of China (CPC) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] to fight corruption in the judicial system in order to restore public confidence. In March, the president of the SPC, Wang Shengjun [official profile, in Chinese], called for increased efforts to fight corruption [JURIST report] in the country's court system. In January, the SPC announced new anti-corruption rules [JURIST report] in an effort to increase public confidence in the rule of law. Chinese courts are under the control of the CPC, which announced plans [JURIST report] earlier that month to increase oversight of the families of government officials to control corruption.






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US state prison population dropped in 2009: report
Bhargav Katikaneni on March 18, 2010 9:32 AM ET

[JURIST] The number of inmates in US state prisons has dropped for the first time in 40 years, according to a report [text] released Wednesday by the Pew Center on the States [advocacy website]. Led by California and Michigan, the state prison population decreased by 0.4 percent during 2009. Because of a slight increase in the federal system, the total number of prisoners in US prisons increased slightly between in 2009. According to the report, the decline is due to fewer prisoners entering the prison system, while the number of people leaving state prison in 2008 was an all-time high. The report said that even before facing financial difficulties, many states had already started reducing total admissions in 2007, and others had cut back on parole revocations. Director of the Pew Center's Public Safety Performance Project [advocacy website] Adam Gelb said [press release] that another important reason for the decline "is that states began to realize there are research-based ways they can cut their prison populations while continuing to protect public safety."

Last year, the Pew center reported [JURIST report] that one in 31 US adults is in prison, or on parole. The report found that men are five times as likely as women to be in prison and that black adults are four times as more likely as white adults. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) [official website], 7.3 million people were under some form of correctional supervision [BJS statistics] in 2008. According to the International Center for Prison Studies [official website], the US has the most prisoners per capita [text, PDF] in the world.






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Senate passes bill to reduce cocaine sentencing disparity
Bhargav Katikaneni on March 18, 2010 8:32 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] unanimously passed legislation [S 1789 materials] Wednesday to reduce sentencing disparities for powder and crack cocaine [JURIST news archive] offenses. The Fair Sentencing Act, introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) [official website], would amend existing law to reduce the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine convictions from 100:1 to 18:1. Durbin, who originally voted for the sentencing disparity, said that he would have preferred a 1:1 sentencing ratio [AP report] but was happy with the compromise. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] praised the bill but said it does not go far enough and that the proposed sentencing disparities would still disproportionately affect African-Americans. Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office Laura Murphy said [press release]:

The Fair Sentencing Act is an encouraging step toward eliminating the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine but still allows for a needlessly unfair sentencing framework. The unanimous passage of this bill speaks to the understanding across the political spectrum that this disparity is unjust and in need of reform. Years of research has yielded no evidence of any appreciable difference between crack and powder cocaine and yet we continue to inflict this disparity on Americans.

For over two decades, this sentencing disparity has been a stain on our justice system. Though this bill's passage is long overdue, it does not go far enough. Without a simple and fair 1-1 sentencing ratio for crack and powder cocaine, we cannot say that these sentencing laws meet constitutional muster.
The proposed law would also eliminate the five-year mandatory sentence for first-time possession of crack cocaine and would increase monetary penalties for drug trafficking. An identical version of the bill is expected to be passed by the House and signed into law by President Barack Obama.

The bill was approved [JURIST report] by the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] earlier this month. In July, the House Judiciary Committee [official website] voted to completely eliminate [JURIST report] the sentencing disparity. US Attorney General Eric Holder and other officials [JURIST reports] have also spoken publicly in favor of sentencing reform. In 2008, more than 3000 inmates convicted of crack cocaine offenses had their sentences reduced [JURIST report] under an amendment to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.





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Idaho governor first to sign law barring federal health insurance mandate
Andrea Bottorff on March 18, 2010 8:11 AM ET

[JURIST] Idaho Governor CL "Butch" Otter (R) [official website] on Wednesday became the first governor to sign a bill [H 391 text] into state law banning any federal mandate for individuals to have health insurance. The Idaho Health Freedom Act orders the state attorney general to file a lawsuit against the national government over any law making health insurance mandatory. The bill highlights efforts the state has made in local health care reform and stresses the state government's determination to oppose federal health care legislation [press release]. State Senate minority leader Kate Kelly (D) [official website] criticized the price tag on the new bill and accused Otter of fiscal irresponsibility [AP report]. The legislation will face legal challenges under the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution [Senate backgrounder], which gives federal law precedence over state law.

Last week, the Virginia legislature passed a similar bill that would ban federal mandates on health insurance [JURIST report], which the state's governor has pledged to sign. At least 37 other states have plans to introduce similar legislation, according to the American Legislative Council (ALEC) [official website], which published a model bill [press release] on which the initiatives are based. Last month, President Barack Obama released his own health care proposal [JURIST report] that seeks to reconcile versions of the bill passed by the House and Senate [JURIST reports] last year. Obama has argued that the legislation would overhaul private health insurance and provide affordable care for millions of Americans while Republicans have said they would block the bill [NYT report] because it was too expensive and would compel people to buy health insurance.






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UK cites increasing demand for human rights in 2009 annual report
Matt Glenn on March 18, 2010 7:59 AM ET

[JURIST] The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) [official website] released its Annual Report on Human Rights 2009 [text, PDF] Wednesday, noting the increasing demand for human rights by citizens throughout the world. The report also cited the contrasting argument by some governments that human rights are merely a Western construct that are unnecessary or inappropriate in certain countries. Introducing the report, UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband [official profile] said [press release] that several steps must be taken to uphold human rights around the world:

First, we must support the struggle for civil rights. When courageous protestors make their voices heard on the streets of Iran for example, we, making clear their desire for democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms; and when their Government responds with brutality, then we're right to speak up.

Second, we should provide practical help that meets individual countries' specific needs, working with civil society rather than lecturing Government. ...

Thirdly, we need to recognise that new technologies transform the ability of individuals to organise in the face of authoritarianism.
The report mentioned 22 countries of concern, including Myanmar for its detention of political prisoners including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi [JURIST news archives]. Despite improved commitments to human rights in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories [JURIST news archives], the report expressed concerns with Israeli actions in East Jerusalem and restrictions on the Gaza Strip as well as the Palestinian Authority's failure to condemn violence. The report indicated that human rights have decreased in Iran and Pakistan [JURIST news archives] since 2008. Sri Lanka [JURIST news archive] was the only new country added to the list.

Last week, the US State Department released its annual reports [JURIST report] on human rights conditions in almost 200 countries. Last year's FCO report focused on terrorism and global warming [JURIST report] as key issues. The UK also voiced concern [JURIST report] over the rights situations in many of the same countries in its 2007 report.





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Federal appeals court rules against child pornography charges in texting case
Matt Glenn on March 18, 2010 6:42 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that a Pennsylvania prosecutor cannot file child pornography charges against a teenage girl whose topless photo was found on a number of her schoolmates' cell phones, upholding a preliminary injunction. Wyoming County prosecutor George Skumanick threatened to bring felony charges against several students who possessed or appeared in nude and semi-nude pictures of underage girls found on cell phones of students in the Tunkahannock, Pennsylvania, School District if the students did not attend a program on sexual violence and gender identity. Three girls refused to attend the class and sought a temporary injunction prohibiting prosecution, which the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania [official website] issued [JURIST report] last March. Skumanick's successor promised not to prosecute two of the girls, leaving only one plaintiff on appeal. The appellate court held that the district court properly issued the injunction since it appeared that the state threatened to prosecute the girl in retaliation for exercising her First Amendment right not to write certain essays that would have been part of the program and for her parents exercising their Fourteenth Amendment right to control their child's education. The court also found that it was unlikely that the prosecution could be successful since there was no evidence that the girl manufactured or distributed the photo. The court stated:


At this preliminary stage we conclude that plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on their claims that any prosecution would not be based on probable cause that Doe committed a crime, but instead in retaliation for Doe's exercise of her constitutional rights not to attend the education program. Therefore, we affirm the grant of a preliminary injunction and remand for further proceedings.

The lawyer for Skumanick said that while he was disappointed with the ruling [Philadelphia Inquirer report], he was pleased that the court declined to rule that the photos themselves were protected by the First Amendment.


The plaintiffs were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLUPA) [advocacy website] and filed suit [complaint, PDF; case materials] against Skumanick last year. ACLUPA lawyer Witold Walczak contends [press release] that the photos are protected by the First Amendment and that requiring the girls to attend a re-education program interferes with the parents' rights to raise their daughters as they wish. According to the complaint, 20 percent of teens nationwide [survey results, PDF] have participated in the distribution of similar pictures, a phenomenon known as "sexting." This is the first circuit court ruling on the issue.





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Rights group urges Cuba to revoke laws restricting freedom of expression
Haley Wojdowski on March 17, 2010 1:21 PM ET

[JURIST] Human rights group Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Wednesday urged [press release] Cuban authorities to "revoke laws that restrict freedom of expression, assembly and association and to release all dissidents unfairly detained by the authorities." AI called on President Raul Castro [BBC profile] to invite UN experts and human rights organizations into the country to independently monitor the human rights situation. Currently, international independent human rights organizations are not permitted in the country. AI's statement also condemned vague legislation because it is "currently being interpreted in a way that infringes fundamental freedoms." For example, Article 72 [AI translation] of the Cuban Criminal Code makes "dangerousness" a jailable offense [AP report]. The statement was released as the 7th anniversary of the arrest of 75 Cuban dissidents [AP report] nears, with 53 of those arrested remaining in jail today.

Last week, the US State Department [official website] criticized Cuba for interfering with the right to privacy in its 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [materials; JURIST report]. In November, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] claiming that the Cuban government continued to repress dissidents and violate fundamental civil liberties of Cubans, and resorted to imposing short-term imprisonment measures to elude international critique. According to a February 2009 report by the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) [El Pais backgrounder, in Spanish], the number of political prisoners in Cuba had declined [JURIST report] from 234 in January 2008 to 205, while the number of brief detentions had increased. In January, HRW acknowledged some attempts in 2008 by the Cuban government to improve its position on human rights in its World Report 2009 [materials]. HRW decried that overall the Cuban government continues to deny its citizens their fundamental rights. In 2008, Cuba was ranked 170th in the eighth annual Worldwide Index of Press Freedom [JURIST report] issued by Reporters Without Borders (RWB) [advocacy website].






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Iraq ruling coalition alleges fraud in parliamentary election
Carrie Schimizzi on March 17, 2010 12:18 PM ET

[JURIST] The State of Law Coalition led by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [official website, in Arabic] on Wednesday asked the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) [official website] to recount ballots cast in the March 7 parliamentary election [JURIST news archive], alleging fraud. State of Law spokesperson Ali Al Adib claimed that the ballots were manipulated [AP report] by the manager of an electronic counting center who is allegedly linked to the rival Iraqiya bloc, led by former prime minister Iyad Allawi. The allegations of fraud come after Iraqiya showed a slight lead [Al Jazeera report] in a partial vote count released earlier this week. Allawi's coalition leads the race with seven out of 18 provinces, but the Iraqiya bloc is close behind, leading in five provinces. The IHEC said that there was no evidence [AP report] to back up the allegations. The election determines the 325 members of the Iraqi Council of Representatives [official website, in Arabic] who will then elect the prime minister and president.

The fraud allegations are the latest in a series of problems plaguing the parliamentary elections. Last month, an Iraqi appeals panel ruled [JURIST report] that 28 previously banned candidates could stand for election. The Responsibility and Justice Committee had initially ruled that some 500 banned candidates could stand for election despite allegations of ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party [BBC backgrounder]. The decision was characterized by the Iraqi government as illegal, and was reversed [JURIST reports] when the panel acknowledged that it did not have to rule on all 500 candidates at once. Last year, the Iraqi parliament approved [JURIST report] an amended version of a controversial election law after numerous delays. The new version of the law increased the number of seats in parliament from 275 to 325, with 310 of those seats allotted to Iraq's 18 provinces and the remainder reserved for Iraqis living outside the country.






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ACLU files suit seeking information on US drone attacks
David Manes on March 17, 2010 11:50 AM ET

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed suit [complaint, PDF] Tuesday seeking information related to the US government's use of unmanned Predator drones. The suit, filed in the US district court for the District of Columbia, seeks to enforce a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] request [text, PDF] made in January. The ACLU alleges that the unmanned warplanes have been used by the military and CIA for killings in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. The ACLU also cites troubling reports indicating that US citizens may be targeted and killed by Predator drones. The FOIA request asks "when, where and against whom drone strikes can be authorized," as well as for information related to civilian casualties. Director of the ACLU National Security Project Jameel Jaffer emphasized [press release] the importance of the information requested:


The government's use of drones to conduct targeted killings raises complicated questions - not only legal questions, but policy and moral questions as well. ... These kinds of questions ought to be discussed and debated publicly, not resolved secretly behind closed doors. While the Obama administration may legitimately withhold intelligence information as well as sensitive information about military strategy, it should disclose basic information about the scope of the drone program, the legal basis for the program and the civilian casualties that have resulted from the program.

The Air Force has more than 20 Predator drones operating in Afghanistan, and the role of the unmanned drones has increased [NYT report] in recent years.

In October, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston [official website] noted [JURIST report] that the use of unmanned warplanes by the US to carry out attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan may be illegal. Alston said, "[t]he onus is really on the government of the United States to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary executions, extrajudicial executions, are not in fact being carried out through the use of these weapons." Alston criticized the US policy in a report to the UN General Assembly's human rights committee that was presented as part of a larger demand that no state be free from accountability.





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Philippines Supreme Court rules president can appoint new chief justice
Jay Carmella on March 17, 2010 11:31 AM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of the Philippines [official website] ruled [judgment text; press release] Wednesday that the constitution does not prevent President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [official website; BBC profile] from replacing retiring Chief Justice Reynato Puno prior to the May presidential elections. The court found [Manila Bulletin report] that the constitutional provisions that prevent the president from appointing officials immediately before or after elections do not apply to the Supreme Court or to the judiciary in general. The court found:


The lack of any appointed occupant of the office of Chief Justice harms the independence of the Judiciary, because the Chief Justice is the head of the entire Judiciary. The Chief Justice performs functions absolutely significant to the life of the nation. With the entire Supreme Court being the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, the Chief Justice is the Chairman of the Tribunal. There being no obstacle to the appointment of the next Chief Justice, aside from its being mandatory for the incumbent President to make within the 90-day period from May 17, 2010, there is no justification to insist that the successor of Chief Justice Puno be appointed by the next President.

Individuals running to replace Arroyo as president expressed [GMA News report] displeasure with the court's decision, suggesting that the ruling gives the current president too much influence.

The Supreme Court has previously sided with Arroyo, ruling last month that she is eligible to run for senate [JURIST report] after her presidential term expires. The court found the 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. Also last 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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UK court rules Catholic adoption agency not required to consider gay couples
Brian Jackson on March 17, 2010 10:06 AM ET

[JURIST] The UK High Court ruled [judgment text] Wednesday that the Catholic social services agency Catholic Care [agency website] may refuse to consider same-sex couples as candidates for adoption, pending a review of their policy by the UK Charity Commission. The case revolved around interpretation of Regulation 18 of The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations of 2007 [materials]. That legislation forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation, except for charities, which, under Regulation 18, can refuse to assist individuals as long as they are acting as a "charitable instrument" and the restriction, "is imposed by reason of or on the grounds of the provisions of the charitable instrument." Based on the Chancery Division's reading of that regulation, Catholic Care will be permitted to continue its adoption practices [Guardian report] until the Charity Commission makes a ruling based on the court's interpretation of Regulation 18. In remitting the case for that ruling, Justice Briggs wrote:


On my interpretation of Regulation 18, the Commission is the body charged by Parliament with the task of carrying out that analysis. ... I have no reason to suppose that, directed as to the true interpretation of Regulation 18, the Charity Commission will not properly be able to carry out that analysis, either on the facts thus far proved, or upon the basis of such further evidence as it may consider necessary and appropriate to take into account.

The Bishop of Leeds issued a statement [press release] through Catholic Care calling the decision a victory and saying it, "will help in our determination to continue to provide this invaluable service to benefit children, families and communities." The gay rights charity Stonewall [advocacy website] condemned the ruling [press release], saying, "[i]t's clearly in the best interests of children in care to encourage as wide a pool of potential adopters as possible." Other Catholic agencies in the UK had either broken their ties to the Roman Catholic Church to comply with the new regulations, or had ceased their adoption operations. With the victory for Catholic Care, it is unclear whether those UK charities that had abandoned their adoption services will now begin providing those services again.

Same-sex adoption has been an issue not only in the UK, but also in other countries. In February, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ordered [JURIST report] the state of Louisiana to place the names of two fathers on the birth certificate of a boy born in that state but adopted by a same-sex couple in New York. In November, a French court ruled that a law prohibiting same-sex couples from adopting children in France is discriminatory [JURIST report] and ordered that a single woman be allowed to adopt. In September, Uruguay's Senate approved a bill [JURIST report] legalizing same-sex adoption in that country. In November 2008, the same month that a Florida judge ruled that state's ban on same-sex adoption was unconstitutional, voters in Arkansas approved [JURIST reports] a ballot measure prohibiting all unmarried couples from adopting a child. Arkansas does not recognize same-sex marriage, and proponents of the act claimed it was aimed at same-sex couples.





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ICTY to remain in operation beyond 2010: UN SG
Jay Carmella on March 17, 2010 9:17 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] said [transcript; UN News Centre report] on Tuesday that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website; JURIST news archive] will continue to operate beyond its originally planned end date at the end of this year. Ban estimated that it will be necessary for the court to remain open until 2013. Part of the reason for the extension is that two of the primary suspects remain at large. Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic [case materials; JURIST news archive] and political leader Goran Hadzic [case materials] both face a significant number of charges. Ban said:


When these Special Tribunals were established, they were established for a temporary purpose with a certain date fixed. ... There is some broad agreement now that ICTY may need at least a few more years, to 2013 or so. Our hope is that all these pending cases should be expedited. If and when these two fugitives are arrested, then we will have to discuss again how we can adjust, or we can leave it to other mechanisms - this was discussed already between the ICTY and the Security Council. At this time, since we do not have any clear idea when these two fugitives would be arrested, with the help of those countries concerned, then they should live up to their schedules according to exit strategies.

Mladic faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for overseeing the Srebrenica [JURIST news archive] prison massacre and other killings of Bosnian Muslims and Croats, while Hadzic faces crimes against humanity charges for killings of non-Serbs and for abuses in Croatian prison camps.

Despite two of the highest-level targets remaining fugitives, the ICTY continues to actively prosecute other criminals. Last week, the court heard opening statements in the trial of Radovan Karadzic [case materials; JURIST news archive]. Karadzic claims that attacks against Bosnian Muslims were "staged," denying [JURIST reports] any involvement in war crimes allegedly committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict. Last month, Karadzic appeared before the ICTY seeking access to documents [JURIST report] he claimed showed evidence of weapons smuggling to Bosnian Muslims. Also last month, the ICTY opened the trial [JURIST report] 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 against Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica. The ICTY has indicted 161 political and military officials since its creation in 1993.





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Holder defends plan to try 9/11 suspects in civilian criminal courts
Brian Jackson on March 17, 2010 8:13 AM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] on Tuesday defended his intention to try suspected terrorists, including accused 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC Profile; JURIST news archive] in civilian criminal court. Holder faced numerous questions on the issue while testifying [video; prepared testimony, PDF] before a House Appropriations [official website] subcommittee, repeatedly defending the decision to use federal courts, as opposed to military commissions [JURIST news archive]. Holder drew distinctions between individuals to be tried in each venue based on the target of the terrorist act, the evidentiary rules available in each forum, and the national security considerations stemming from each method. Holder then defended the competency of judges in civilian courts in dealing with disruptive defendants, who would attempt to use their trial as a podium for their views. In discussing the possible safety of communities where the trials may be held, Holder said, "[l]ook at history, look at the way in which these cases have been conducted safely, without incident to communities and neighborhoods that surround the courthouses where these cases have been held," specifically citing the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui [JURIST news archive]. In terms of a timeline for when the final decision on the venue for these trials might be made, Holder indicated that a decision is still "weeks away."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website], a group that has been persistent in its advocacy of civilian trials for 9/11 suspects, expressed support [press release] for Holder's decision. Earlier this month, the ACLU released a full-page advertisement in the New York Times urging President Barack Obama [JURIST report] to uphold his pledge to try 9/11 suspects in civilian criminal court. That release came just days after reports that White House advisers are considering recommending [JURIST report] that Mohammed be tried in a military court rather than through the civilian criminal justice system. Holder announced in November that Mohammed would be tried in a civilian court [JURIST report] in Manhattan, drawing intense criticism. Holder has previously defended his decision [JURIST report] to charge suspected terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab [JURIST news archive], the so-called Christmas Day bomber, in US federal court.






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FCC presents broadband regulation plan to Congress
Steve Czajkowski on March 17, 2010 8:04 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] on Tuesday sent [press release, PDF] to Congress its National Broadband Plan [materials], which seeks to enact regulations to update the communications infrastructure in the US and to make broadband service available to millions of Americans. The plan is mandated by provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) [materials]. Notable goals of the plan include providing 100 million households with affordable 100-megabits-per-second Internet service, making 500 megahertz of wireless spectrum available for licensed and unlicensed use by mobile applications, and ensuring that all children are literate in digital technology by the time they leave high school. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski [official profile] commented [statement, PDF] on why the project is so important:

First, because broadband is essential to our global competitiveness - essential to job creation in a digital economy, to ongoing investment in vital 21st century infrastructure, and to our ability to lead the world in innovation.

Second, because broadband is essential for opportunity in America - for all Americans, from all communities and backgrounds, living in rural towns, inner cities, or in between.

And, third, because broadband is essential to solving so many of the challenges facing our nation - including education, health care, energy and public safety, each of which is specifically mentioned in the Congressional directive.
The broadband plan calls for action on all branches of the federal government, state and local governments, and private and nonprofit business sectors.

Going forward the plan will be the subject of a number of Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which allow for public comment on the proposed regulations. The plan follows the FCC's vote [JURIST report] in October to approve the formation of rules [notice, PDF] mandating so-called "net neutrality" [Google backgrounder; JURIST news archive], promising openness commensurate with the ideals of the Internet itself. The idea of net neutrality, supported unanimously by the FCC commissioners, is to allow an open flow of information over the Internet, regardless of the amount of revenue generated by the information. The implementation of the new rules has been vigorously opposed by telecommunications giants Verizon and AT&T [corporate websites], among others, which argue that such rules would inhibit their ability to effectively manage Internet traffic.





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UN SG proceeding with Sri Lanka rights panel
Steve Czajkowski on March 17, 2010 7:08 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] said Wednesday that he would not delay his plan [statement text] to set up a UN panel to investigate allegations of human rights violations during the Sri Lankan civil war [JURIST news archive]. Ban made the statement during a press conference in response to a question about a letter [Lankapuvath report] from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) [BBC backgrounder] to the secretary-general last week. Ban responded that the letter, which challenged the UN's authority to form the panel, was a misunderstanding, and he made clear his intention to form the panel:


[T]his panel will report to me directly and not to any other body. It is well within my power, I believe. I am convinced that it is well within my power as Secretary-General of the United Nations to ask such a body to furnish me with their advice of this nature. This does not in any way infringe on the sovereignty of Sri Lanka.

Ban added that there would be, "no delay in the establishment of the panel."

Earlier this month, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official profile] rejected [press release; JURIST report] Ban's plan to appoint a panel of experts to look into alleged rights abuses in the island nation's civil war, saying it "is totally uncalled for and unwarranted." Just prior to Rajapaksa's statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] criticized the state of human rights [JURIST report] in Sri Lanka, while presenting her annual report [press release] to the 13th Session [official website] of the Human Rights Council [official website]. 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].





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Europe rights court rules Croatia schools discriminated against Roma
Sarah Paulsworth on March 16, 2010 1:27 PM ET

[JURIST] The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [judgment; press release] Tuesday that the practice of segregating Roma [JURIST news archive] minority primary school students in Croatia from other pupils is discriminatory. The court declared the practice to be in contravention of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF], which prohibits discrimination, and of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1, which guarantees the right to an education. The court also found that the plaintiffs, 15 Roma citizens of Croatia, were deprived of their right to a fair trial within a reasonable amount of time, pursuant to Article 6 of the convention. The plaintiffs attended schools in northern Croatia between 1996 and 2000 and reported that they were segregated from other students and taught an inferior curriculum, suffering emotional and psychological harm as a result. Croatia's government countered that the Roma students were put in special classes because they lacked adequate command of the Croatian language. Tuesday's decision differs sharply from the ECHR's unanimous July 2008 decision [text] in this case, which found no violation.

Prior to this decision, the ECHR found segregated classes for Roma to be discriminatory in two other cases: DH and Others v. the Czech Republic [judgment] and Sampanis v. Greece [judgment, in French]. However, discrimination against Roma in schools remains widespread [press release] throughout Europe, according to the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) [advocacy website]. Roma have also faced inequitable treatment in other spheres. The US State Department's 2009 human rights report [JURIST report] noted an increase in the killings of Roma people in Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic [JURIST news archives]. In February of last year, Italian authorities dismantled illegal immigrant camps [JURIST report] heavily populated by members of the Roma minority following the alleged rape of a 14-year old girl by East European immigrants, which led to public outcry and vigilante reprisals. In 2008, then-secretary general of the Council of Europe Terry Davis called on officials to end discrimination [JURIST report] against Europe's Roma minority, after a confrontation between Czech police and far-right protesters attempting to attack a Roma suburb near the town of Litvinov.






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Afghanistan confirms enactment of war crimes pardon law
Sarah Miley on March 16, 2010 12:13 PM ET

[JURIST] The Afghanistan Office of the President [official website] openly confirmed for the first time on Tuesday that the government has enacted a law providing a blanket pardon for all war crimes and human rights violations occurring before December 2001. Spokesperson Waheed Omar said that the National Stability and Reconciliation Law [RFE/RL backgrounder] was passed in 2007 by two-thirds of the Parliament [official website], and therefore, under the constitution, did not require the signature of President Hamid Karzai [official profile]. The new law has been heavily criticized by human rights groups, which became aware of the law when it was published in Afghanistan's latest official gazette. In an interview with Reuters [Reuters report], Asia director for Human Rights Watch (HRW) [official website] Brad Adams called the law an "absolute disgrace" and "a slap in the face to all the Afghans who suffered for years and years of war crimes and warlordism." Adams questioned the validity of the two-year process taken to enact law, which was passed by a parliament made up largely of former members of armed groups, some of whom have been accused of war crimes. Adams has called on the US to pressure Afghanistan to repeal the law stating that "the US needs to decide whether they're with the victims or the perpetrators, and make their views known publicly." US President Barack Obama, who held a teleconference [press release] with Karzai on Monday concerning the "continued strategic partnership" between the US and Afghanistan, has yet to release a statement concerning the amnesty law.

HRW released a statement [JURIST report] last week urging the Afghan government to retract the amnesty law [press release]. HRW claims that the law protects alleged war criminals and human rights abusers, many of whom remain in positions of power within the government. The group says the law will also grant future immunity to people involved in current fighting in Afghanistan if they agree to reconciliation with the government. Supporters of the law note that criminal claims may still be brought by individuals, but HRW disputes this claim saying the court system is "barely functioning in much of the country, corruption is rampant, and there is no witness protection system."






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China officials warn Google to obey state Internet laws
Ann Riley on March 16, 2010 11:24 AM ET

[JURIST] Chinese officials on Tuesday repeated warnings to Google [corporate website] that even if the company decides to leave the country, it must obey Chinese laws [press release, in Chinese] and continue to filter search results. Spokesperson for China's Ministry of Commerce [official website, in Chinese] Yao Jian said that Google agreed to follow Chinese laws when it entered the market in 2006 and again warned the company to continue to respect [Reuters report] the country's legal regulations. Although Google has threatened to stop filtering search results, spokesperson for Google China Marsha Wang said Monday that the company is currently complying with censoring regulations [China Daily report] and has not received any instructions to shut down. Last week, China's Minister of Industry and Information Technology [official website, in Chinese] Li Yizhong [official profile, in Chinese] told reporters that a failure by Google to follow Chinese laws [AFP report] would result in consequences, but did not state any specific actions.

In February, China issued new regulations tightening restrictions on Internet use [JURIST report] by requiring citizens operating websites to submit identity cards and meet with regulators before their sites can be registered. The new policies came 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 [search engine] 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 [official website] 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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Sierra Leone judge rules woman can become local chief
Andrea Bottorff on March 16, 2010 10:37 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge in Sierra Leone ruled Tuesday that a woman has the right to become a regional political leader in the country. The High Court of Justice [official website] reversed a previous ban that had prevented Iye Kendor Bandabla from her birthright to compete for the position of paramount chief in her local district. The decision also upheld the 2009 Chieftaincy Act [text, PDF], which includes both gender pronouns in describing paramount chief candidate qualifications, suggesting that the legislators' intent was to allow both men and women to run for the position. Women are allowed to become chiefs in the southern regions, but traditionalists have banned women from holding the powerful position [BBC report] in rest of the country.

In December, a Sierra Leone court ruled against another woman, Elizabeth Simbiwa Sogbo-Tortu, saying that she could not become chief in her region [BBC report]. Tortu filed a complaint after traditionalists prevented her from running for the position, and she is currently pursuing a Supreme Court hearing. There is also evidence of discrimination [IRIN report] against women running for parliament, where only about 13 percent of the representatives are women. Sierra Leone has a history of human rights violations, but has been working to improve its rights record. The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) [official website] was established ten years ago [text, PDF] 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. 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. After upholding the sentences [JURIST report] of several former soldiers in October, and with only one remaining indictment [JURIST report] against former Liberian president Charles Taylor [JURIST news archive], the SCSL has largely fulfilled its purpose and will continue taking steps to close down.






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Senate Democrats introduce new financial regulation bill
Hillary Stemple on March 16, 2010 9:23 AM ET

[JURIST] Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee [official website] on Monday introduced the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 [text, PDF], aimed at increasing financial regulation in the wake of the recent financial crisis. The bill includes a provision meant to protect consumers from predatory lending by creating a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau housed within the Federal Reserve [official website]. The proposed legislation would also give the government the power to break up financial institutions that have been deemed "too big to fail" in order to prevent future situations where the failing of one firm could threaten the entire economy. The "Volcker Rule," prohibiting banks from owning, investing in, or sponsoring hedge funds, private equity funds, or proprietary trading funds for profit where the funds do not benefit the banks' customers, was also included in the proposed legislation. Other provisions included in the bill involve the restructuring of the federal banking system, regulation of the credit-rating agencies, and the creation of a committee to identify and manage risks to the economy. The executive session to mark up the bill is scheduled to begin on Monday.

This bill is the second financial reform bill to be proposed by the Senate Banking Committee following the 2008 financial crisis. The 2009 bill [text, PDF; JURIST report] was met with resistance and resulted in the committee's development of the new bill. In December, the US House of Representatives approved a similar bill [JURIST report]. The US House Financial Services Committee [official website] had approved a bill to create a consumer financial protection agency in October, after originally delaying [JURIST reports] it at the behest of financial industry leaders in July. The creation of the agency is a key step in achieving the Obama administration's stated goal of tightening financial industry regulations. In June, the administration proposed a broad series of regulatory reforms [press release; JURIST report] aimed at restoring confidence in the US financial system.






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Supreme Court denies stay of execution for Ohio inmate challenging injection protocol
Megan McKee on March 16, 2010 8:20 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website, JURIST news archive] on Monday refused [order, PDF] to stay the execution of Lawrence Reynolds, an Ohio inmate challenging the state's lethal injection procedure. Reynolds, who was convicted of strangling an elderly neighbor to death in 1994, asked the Supreme Court to postpone his execution in order to allow him time to assert his challenge. The court declined to delay the execution without comment. This is the state of Ohio's third attempt [AP report] at executing Reynolds. Ohio Governor Ted Strickland delayed [JURIST report] Reynolds's original execution date last fall, as the state was reviewing its execution method. Reynolds's execution was again delayed last week when prison guards found the inmate unconscious in his cell due to an overdose on pills. Reynolds is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday.

In December, Ohio prison officials conducted the first execution [JURIST report] using a new single-drug lethal injection protocol. Death row inmate Kenneth Biros was executed after the US Supreme Court rejected [order, PDF] a last-minute stay application. Biros's attorneys had argued that the use of the new procedure constitutes human experimentation, but some commentators have said that the single-drug protocol is more humane than the previous three-drug method. Ohio became the first state to adopt [JURIST report] the single-drug protocol in November. The state undertook a review of its lethal injection practices in September after the planed execution of inmate Romell Broom failed [JURIST reports] when a suitable vein for the drugs' administration could not be found. The new protocol consists of the intravenous injection of a single anesthetic, and provides for the intramuscular injection of two other drugs if an appropriate vein cannot be found.

11:45 AM ET - Reynolds was executed [AP report] at 10:27 AM.






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Lack of Internet regulations enables rise in hate content: report
Ximena Marinero on March 16, 2010 7:58 AM ET

[JURIST] The Internet has experienced a 20 percent increase in militant and hate content over the past year, according to a report released on Monday by the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Tolerance [advocacy website]. The report, titled "Digital Terrorism and Hate 2010," cites [CNN report] to the low levels of regulation of Internet content as one of the enabling conditions of the increase. The increase is most prevalent in social networking sites and personal blogs. The report also singles out some examples of websites whose creators went on to carry out terrorist or hate crimes, and warned that content found online not only incited, but also detailed how to carry out such crimes.

The US State Department 2010 annual rights report released [JURIST report] last week decries Internet censorship abroad. In August, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) [advocacy website] reported that right-wing nativist and so-called "patriot" anti-government militias are again on the rise [JURIST report] in the US. The SPLC said that such groups, which had declined severely since the 1990s, are generally anti-tax, anti-immigration, and increasingly racially motivated since the election of the country's first African-American president, Barack Obama.






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France court opens neo-Nazi trial
Gabriela Forbes on March 16, 2010 6:47 AM ET

[JURIST] The trial of 14 members of a neo-Nazi [JURIST news archive] group, Nomad 88, opened Monday before the criminal court of Evry, in the Parisian suburbs. Founded in 2008 to "purge" the suburbs, the group gained public attention in May 2008 when three members went on a shooting spree [Rue89 report, in French] in an area with a strong population of immigrant origin. Following their arrest, the police seized a haul of weapons, including machine guns, along with a large quantity of ammunition and extremist literature. During the hearing [AFP report, in French], one of the defendants claimed they wanted to "clear out" the "no-go" areas in the suburbs. The trial is expected to last through Friday.

Nomad 88 formed as a result of the 2005 civil unrest, when tension between the police and the youths of the suburbs was at its height, leading the government to decree that the country was in a state of emergency [JURIST report]. Though extremist far-right groups represent only a fringe movement, the phenomenon is considered worrying because they operate in semi-clandestinity, and subsist despite efforts to clamp down on them [JURIST report].






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Vietnam authorities release dissident priest from prison
Steve Dotterer on March 16, 2010 6:09 AM ET

[JURIST] Vietnamese authorities on Monday released a Catholic priest and leading rights activist from Hanoi prison. Father Nguyen Van Ly [Freedom Now profile] was released early Monday morning and has been reunited with his family in Hue. Ly had been arrested and charged in 2007 under Article 88 of Vietnam's Penal Code [text], which provides for the incarceration of individuals involved in "conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam." Ly was sentenced [JURIST report] to eight years' imprisonment for distributing anti-government documents and communicating with foreign pro-democracy activists. He suffered two strokes [AI press release] in 2009 that left him partially paralyzed. Calls for Ly's release included a June 2009 letter [text, PDF] from 37 US senators addressed to President Nguyen Minh Triet. Ly is known as one of the founders of Vietnamese pro-democracy movement Bloc 8406. Ly's international counsel Freedom Now [advocacy website] has praised him as a "prisoner of conscience" [press release, PDF].

Ly's release comes days after the release [JURIST report] of leading Vietnamese rights lawyer Le Thi Cong Nhan [AI backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. No clear connection has been identified between the two incidents, but the releases happen in the midst of what some rights groups such as Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] have termed [press release] a "campaign to silence dissent." At least 16 activists have been jailed in the last few months. Despite the releases of Ly and Nhan, other high-profile activists, such as human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai [JURIST report], are still serving sentences.






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North Korea rights situation continuing to deteriorate: UN investigator
Steve Dotterer on March 15, 2010 1:01 PM ET

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur for North Korea Vitit Muntarbhorn [official profile] said Monday that the North Korean human rights situation is continuing to deteriorate. Presenting his report [text, PDF] to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website], Muntarbhorn noted that any attempt to halt human rights violations in North Korea would require Security Council (SC) [official website] action. The rapporteur also said he has not been admitted to North Korea and has thus relied on reports from UN agencies, concerned rights groups, and refugees in making his assessment. Muntarbhorn also stated that sanctions [Guardian report] imposed on North Korea in an effort to promote denuclearization have fallen short of improving the country's human rights situation. North Korean diplomat Choe Myong Nam rejected [press release] the special rapporteur's allegations.

In October, Muntarbhorn criticized [JURIST report] North Korea for human rights violations. Muntarbhorn said that North Korea was responsible for a broad range of human rights violations [UN press release], including torture, public executions, and widespread hunger. In March 2009, Muntarbhorn told the UNHRC that he found egregious human rights violations [JURIST report] in North Korea. In October 2008, Muntarbhorn urged [JURIST report] North Korea to improve its treatment of prisoners and unsuccessful defectors, as well as to cooperate in locating kidnapped foreign citizens. In January 2008, Muntarbhorn made similar comments during his visit with a special UN envoy to Japan [JURIST report] to assess the impact of the North Korean rights situation on that country. North Korea has frequently been accused of human trafficking, press repression, and "actively committing crimes against humanity" [JURIST report].






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Ireland justice minister proposes blasphemy law referendum
Carrie Schimizzi on March 15, 2010 12:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern [official profile], on Sunday proposed [Atheist Ireland press release] holding a referendum later this year to remove the criminal offense of blasphemy from the Irish Constitution [text, PDF]. Blasphemy is a punishable offense under section 40 of the constitution, but the language of the text had been deemed too vague to hold any prosecutions. Ireland's Defamation Act of 2009 [text], which went into effect in January, redefined blasphemy as publishing or uttering "matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion" and imposed a penalty of a fine of up to 25,000 euros for those convicted. The Irish public has been very critical [Irish Times report] of the controversial law. Earlier this year, advocacy group Atheist Ireland [advocacy website] publicly challenged the law on their website by posting 25 potentially blasphemous statements [text] from both religious and public figures. The group praised Ahern's proposed referendum:


We reiterate our position that this law is both silly and dangerous: silly because it is introducing medieval canon law offence into a modern plularist republic; and dangerous because it incentives religious outrage and because its wording has already been adopted by Islamic States as part of their campaign to make blasphemy a crime internationally.

Ahern has stated that he only saw the Defamation Act as a short-term solution and that he was under his constitutional duty in reforming the old blasphemy law.

Blasphemy laws have been a controversial issue in several countries. Last month, a Pakistani government official told the Agence France-Presse that the country would begin to revise its blasphemy laws [JURIST report] later this year. Pakistan currently punishes blasphemy against Islam by death, but no one has yet been executed for the offense. Last year, the death sentence of Afghan journalism student Sayad Parwaz Kambaksh [JURIST news archive] for blasphemy was reduced [JURIST report] to 20 years' imprisonment by an Afghan appeals court. Kambaksh was sentenced to death [JURIST report] for distributing papers questioning gender roles under Islam. In 2008, the UK House of Lords voted to abolish [JURIST report] the criminal offenses of blasphemy and blasphemous libel from the UK common law.





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Sri Lanka ex-chief justice criticizes military trial for detained opposition leader
David Manes on March 15, 2010 11:58 AM ET

[JURIST] The former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka [JURIST news archive] on Monday criticized the government's treatment of detained opposition leader General Sarath Fonseka [BBC profile]. Sarath Nanda Silva, who retired from the Sri Lankan Supreme Court last year, accused [AFP report] the government of using the military justice system to prevent Fonseka from participating in the upcoming elections scheduled for April 8, and of violating Fonseka's civil rights. Silva's charge implicates Fonseka's presence in the military, rather than civilian system, which he says provides no recourse for Fonseka. Silva also said that Fonseka's arrest was made in violation of the country's constitution [text]. The military has charged Fonseka with mixing politics with the military, and improperly awarding procurement contracts. Fonseka's court-martial hearing begins on Tuesday [BBC report]. Fonseka is also scheduled for a hearing before the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka on April 26, where he will challenge his detention.

Also Monday, Sri Lanka criticized [Reuters report] a US State Department report [JURIST report], released last week, which accused Sri Lanka of violating its citizens' civil rights. Last month, the Sri Lankan Supreme Court rejected a petition to release Fonseka, who was taken into custody [JURIST reports] in early February. Also in February, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official profile], who defeated Fonseka in the January election, dissolved parliament and called for early parliamentary elections [JURIST report] in an attempt to harness momentum from his victory to gain more seats in parliament for his political party, Freedom Alliance. The Sri Lankan Supreme Court ruled last month that Rajapaksa's second term [JURIST report] will begin in November. Fonseka has disputed [Al Jazeera report] the election results, citing vote counting irregularities and violence.






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US transfers control of Camp Taji prison to Iraq authorities
Ann Riley on March 15, 2010 10:37 AM ET

[JURIST] The US military on Monday transferred Camp Taji [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], one of the two remaining detention facilities under US control, to Iraqi authorities. Located approximately 25 kilometers north of Baghdad, Taji currently houses about 2,900 detainees [AP report] held on arrest warrants, detention orders, or as convicted prisoners. About 100 detainees will remain in US custody. During the ceremony transferring Camp Taji, Brigadier General David Quantock, United States Forces-Iraq [official website] deputy commanding general for detainee operations, praised [AFP report] the Iraqi staff currently running the facility. Quantock added that Camp Cropper [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive], the only remaining US-run detention facility, would be transferred to Iraqi control on July 15.

The US began to scale back its Iraq detention facilities in September when Camp Bucca [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in Southern Iraq was closed [JURIST report] pursuant to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [text, PDF]. According to the agreement, all US troops must be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011, and the US must release all prisoners or transfer them to the control of Iraqi authorities. The Iraqi government must have arrest warrants or detention orders to accept transferred prisoners into Iraqi facilities, otherwise risking release. In anticipation of prisoner releases and transfers [JURIST report], the US opened a new facility in February to train Iraqi corrections officers [press release]. A fourth US-run prison, Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archive], was transferred back to Iraqi control [JURIST report] in 2006 following the release of photographs depicting prisoner abuse by US military personnel.






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China legislature approves electoral law reform
Dwyer Arce on March 15, 2010 9:26 AM ET

[JURIST] The Chinese National People's Congress (NPC) [official website, in Chinese] on Sunday approved an amendment to the electoral law mandating equal representation for rural and urban citizens. The electoral reform was adopted [Xinhua report] at the close of the Third Session [official website, in Chinese] of the Eleventh National People's Congress and was hailed [People's Daily report] by the People's Daily, a publication of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China [official websites], as having a "great significance to the improvement of the people's congress system and the development of the socialist democracy, as it could better demonstrate equality among people, regions and ethnic groups." The electoral reform also bans family members of candidates from acting as ballot counters and has been described as key to equal rights [Xinhua reports] by government officials. The NPC on Sunday also approved the Government Work Report [text], which predicts an 8 percent increase in GDP for 2010, along with the 2010 budget, including a 7.5 percent increase in defense spending over last year, and the work reports of the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate [official websites, in Chinese].

The electoral reforms were first proposed [JURIST report] at the start of the annual session last Monday. China's prior electoral law provided four times as many congressional representatives to residents of urban districts than residents of rural ones. This ratio was an improvement over the previous one that had been in place since 1953, which provided eight times as many representatives [PTI report] for urban districts over rural ones. Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee Wang Zhaoguo [People's Daily profile, in Chinese] explained [text] the need for the reform at the beginning of the session by pointing to the growth of the Chinese urban population since the last reform, which has grown from 13 percent in 1953 to nearly 30 percent in 1995, and in 2009 was nearing 50 percent. Despite reforms, China continues to face international criticism over human rights issues. China's human rights record was criticized in the US annual rights report for its repression of Tibetan and Uighur minorities, prompting Chinese criticism of the US rights record [JURIST reports] on issues of crime, racial discrimination, and poverty. China has also received criticism for its treatment of rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng [advocacy website; JURIST news archive], who was last seen in public on February 4, 2009.






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Egypt constitutional court allows women judges in state court system
Hillary Stemple on March 15, 2010 8:24 AM ET

[JURIST] Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court [official backgrounder] ruled Sunday that female judges can serve on the State Council (Maglis id-Dowla), an administrative court system with jurisdiction over cases involving the state. In its ruling, the court emphasized the equality of all citizens [AP report]. Last month, the general assembly of the State Council voted [JURIST report] to bar the appointment of female judges to the court. The council's supervisory committee later overruled that bar, which led Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif [official profile] to ask the Supreme Court to rule on the issue. Sunday's ruling stated that the general assembly did not have the authority to determine who can serve on the court and that only the supervisory committee can approve new judges. The supervisory committee is expected to review the issue [AFP report] later this month.

Last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] condemned [press release] the general assembly's vote and argued that all judicial positions should be open to women. 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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Italy court refuses to restore Berlusconi coalition candidate list
Sarah Paulsworth on March 14, 2010 2:48 PM ET

[JURIST] Italy’s highest administrative court, the State Council [official website, in Italian], announced Saturday that it would not restore a candidate list from the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The candidate list for the region of Lazio was submitted late [Reuters report] and contained People of Freedom party candidates for regional elections scheduled to be held at the end of this month. Lazio is the central province of Italy and includes Rome. The State Council’s decision flies in the face of an emergency government measure [BBC report] instituted earlier this month to ensure that the list would be validated.

Earlier this month, the Italian Senate [official website, in Italian] approved [JURIST report] a bill [materials, in Italian] allowing cabinet ministers, including Berlusconi to postpone criminal proceedings against them on the grounds that they would interfere with official duties. Critics contend that the legislation is specifically designed to protect Berlusconi from the prosecutions he faces. In January, hundreds of Italy's judges walked out of their courtrooms to protest the passage of legislation that placed strict time limits [JURIST reports] on the trial and appeals process. That bill was also criticized as being tailored for Berlusconi's benefit and would result in the automatic dismissal of two pending cases against him. Berlusconi was previously acquitted of false accounting and bribery, and has had other charges against him dropped [JURIST reports].






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US, Russia leaders look ahead to new nuclear arms reduction treaty
Ann Riley on March 14, 2010 9:37 AM ET

[JURIST] In a telephone conversation Saturday, US President Barack Obama and Russia President Dmitry Medvedev [official profiles] approved [press release, in Russian] of progress towards the first nuclear weapons reduction treaty since 1991. Wrapping up talks on the treaty to replace the recently expired Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I Treaty) [materials], Obama and Medvedev reviewed the negotiations, agreed to provide additional guidance to delegations [AFP report], and discussed plans for bilateral contacts. The landmark treaty will include significant reductions [WSJ report] in both the number of deployed nuclear weapons as well as the number of nuclear-delivery systems. Although a no time frame was given, the Kremlin [official website, in Russian] says the conversation opened the possibility for setting a firm date for signing. White House National Security Council [official website] spokesperson Mike Hammer described the talks as encouraging, saying that both Obama and Medvedev are committed to reaching an agreement soon [Reuters report]. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to visit Moscow on Thursday and Friday where she will discuss START with Russia Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov [official profiles].

Both US and Russia officials have recently expressed a desire to have the treaty in place prior to the upcoming Global Nuclear Security Summit [NTI backgrounder] in April, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference [CAC fact sheet] in May. Last month, US Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller [official profile] went to Paris to finalize the treaty [JURIST report] after Obama and Medvedev reached an in-principle agreement. In January, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov [official profile] said that nuclear arms reduction negotiations with the US were likely to resume [JURIST report] in early February. Nuclear disarmament between the US and Russia, whose nuclear arsenals comprise 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons, languished [JURIST report] during the Bush administration. The treaty is considered a key part of easing tensions between the former Cold War rivals, which reached their worst point after the 2008 Georgia conflict [BBC backgrounder]. Advocacy groups, including the Arms Control Association [advocacy website], support the treaty for not only limiting the number of nuclear weapons, but for also providing methods for each side to moderator the other. The US and Russia began nuclear disarmament talks last April and originally set a deadline for December, when START I expired. Last July, Obama and Medvedev agreed [NYT report] to tentative terms for the treaty.






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Serbia police arrest 9 suspected of Kosovo war crimes
Daniel Makosky on March 13, 2010 4:47 PM ET

[JURIST] Spokesperson for Serbia's Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor [official website] Bruno Vekaric Saturday announced the arrest of nine individuals suspected of committing war crimes during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The nine, members of the Serbian paramilitary group [B92 report] Sakali, are accused of the systematic murders [AP report] of 41 ethnic Albanians in May 1999. In all, roughly 200 civilians residing in and around the village of Cuska are believed to have been killed by these and 15 other suspects. Those in custody are scheduled to appear before an investigative judge.

In June, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] marked the 10-year anniversary of the conflict's end by reporting that many human rights abuses that occurred during the war in Kosovo have gone uninvestigated and unpunished [JURIST report]. Prosecutors have nonetheless secured several convictions. A week after AI's report, a Serbian court convicted [JURIST report] four former paramilitary officers of killing 14 Albanians in northern Kosovo. In April, four Serbian ex-policemen were convicted [JURIST report] of killing of 48 Albanian civilians in Suva Reka. In October 2008, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina [official website, in Bosnian] sentenced ex-policeman Vaso Todorovic to six years in prison [JURIST report] for the capture and detention of 40,000 Bosnian Muslims in 1995. Earlier that month, four Bosnian Serbs were arrested for the killing of 200 civilians [JURIST report] in Koricanske Stijene.






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Sweden, Turkey foreign ministers condemn Armenian genocide resolution
Daniel Makosky on March 13, 2010 3:35 PM ET

[JURIST] Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt [official website] and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu [official profile] Saturday jointly denounced the Swedish Parliament's Thursday passage of a resolution [text, in Swedish] recognizing the Ottoman Empire's killing of Armenians between 1915 and 1923 as genocide [JURIST news archive]. At a meeting of European foreign ministers in northern Finland Davutoglu questioned the rationale [Reuters report] of the move, one that Bildt characterized as the "politicization of history." Davutoglu insisted that his country would not succumb to political pressure. Both ministers noted concerns that the resolution would undermine the progress that Armenia and Turkey have made toward stabilizing their relations.

The Swedish Parliament adopted the resolution [JURIST report] by a vote of 131-130, prompting Turkey to recall its ambassador [press release] from Stockholm and cancel official events in Sweden. The Swedish resolution came only a week after the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs [official website] voted 23-22 to adopt [JURIST report] a resolution [H Res 252 text] labeling the killings as genocide. The US government has indicated that it will seek to block the resolution [JURIST report] from being put before the full House of Representatives. A similar resolution was passed by the committee in 2007, but it never reached the House floor [JURIST reports].






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Bosnia court indicts Serb police commander for alleged role in Srebrenica massacre
David Manes on March 13, 2010 10:49 AM ET

[JURIST] The Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) war crimes court [official website] indicted [Reuters report] the former Serb commander of a special police brigade Saturday for his alleged role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre during the Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archives]. The BiH prosecutor [official website] accuses Nedjo Ikonic of participating in the killing of thousands of Muslim men and boys including more than one thousand who escaped Srebinaca but were detained in a warehouse in the nearby village of Kravice. Ikonic was extradited [JURIST report] to BiH in January after he was arrested on an international arrest warrant. Three other former Bosnian Serb policemen have been indicted [JURIST report] on charges of genocide for their alleged roles massacre.

The BiH war crimes court was set up in 2005 to relieve the caseload of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website], and is authorized to try lower-level war crime suspects. The court delivered its first sentences [JURIST report] against war crimes suspects from Yugoslavia's violent ethnic conflicts of the 1990s in July 2008, convicting seven of genocide for their involvement in killings committed at the Srebrenica [JURIST news archive] prison camp. The ICTY retains jurisdiction over high-level war crimes allegations, such as those against Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic [ICTY materials; JURIST news archive] and General Ratko Mladic [ICTY materials].






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France court orders far-right anti-Islamic posters removed
Gabriela Forbes on March 13, 2010 10:24 AM ET

Photo source or description

[JURIST] A court of first instance in Marseilles Friday ordered that anti-Islamic campaign posters put up by the far-right National Front [party website, in French] be taken down [Le Figaro report, in French]. The posters [Le Figaro report, in French], proclaiming “No to Islamism”, depict a fully veiled woman standing next to a map of France with the pattern of the Algerian flag on it, and are directly inspired by Swiss posters deployed during the referendum on minarets [JURIST report]. The court held them to constitute an unlawful disturbance of public order. In a press release [text, in French], the party denounced the decision as “a serious violation of the freedom of opinion and of speech during an election period” and said it will appeal against it. The Algerian government had issued a complaint [AFP report, in French] about the posters Monday.

The National Front drew international attention in 2002 when party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen came second in the first run of the presidential elections. From 2002 to 2006 the party was the third largest one in the country, and is expected to come fourth in the regional elections [TNS-Sofres statistics, in French, PDF].




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California DA files consumer protection suit against Toyota
David Manes on March 13, 2010 10:09 AM ET

[JURIST] The California Orange County District Attorney (OCDA) [official website] filed a consumer protection suit [complaint, PDF] against car manufacturer Toyota [corporate website] on Friday, alleging that the company knowingly sold vehicles with acceleration defects. The suit seeks up to $2,500 in penalties for each violation of California's Unfair Business Practices Act [text]. The OCDA outlined [press release] the case against Toyota, saying it


...intends to prove the following in the litigation: Despite knowledge of the defects, Toyota continues to sell and lease its cars and trucks while knowingly concealing and suppressing information about the defects from consumers. Since 2001, Toyota is accused of falsely representing to the public that Toyota-manufactured vehicles are safe and reliable. Toyota continues to conceal from consumers that their vehicles cause sudden, uncontrollable acceleration when drivers are not touching the accelerator and attempt to use their brakes.

In response to the OCDA announcement, Toyota said that it had not yet received the formal complaint [press release] and would not comment on pending litigation.

The OCDA suit is the first consumer protection action [AFP report] brought against Toyota by a US district attorney; numerous individuals, however, have already brought suits against the Japanese automaker seeking compensation for damages and injuries. In a recent JURIST op-ed, law professor Bruce Aronson noted that Toyota's traditional governing structure contrasts with the typical American model and suggested that in light of its current manufacturing and public relations crisis, Toyota consider changing its corporate structure to give its board of directors more oversight power.





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Federal court rejects claims that thimerosal vaccines caused children's autism
Bernard Hibbitts on March 12, 2010 4:43 PM ET

[JURIST] Three special masters sitting in the US Federal Court of Claims [official website] Friday rejected [opinions, PDF] three compensation actions brought in a coordinated omnibus proceeding [backgrounder, PDF; HRSA backgrounder] by families of autistic children who had argued that their children's autism was induced by vaccines containing mercury-laden thimerosol. The families had sought compensation under the no-fault National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program [HRSA backgrounder]. Special Master Patricia Campbell-Smith wrote that her petitioners had not "presented a scientifically sound theory", citing evidence that it was "biologically implausible." In February special masters in the same court rejected arguments [JURIST report] made in three other test cases against the US Department of Health and Human Services by families alleging that their children's autism was caused by a combination of common childhood vaccines.

Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative, has been at the center of several health debates. In 2005, HHS officials said that state laws prohibiting thimerosal could impede efforts [JURIST report] to fight an avian flu pandemic should an outbreak occur. Most doctors believe thimerosal is safe, saying it does not affect the body in the same manner as mercury found in pollutants, but several groups claim that use of the preservative can be linked to neurological diseases including autism. Creation of mercury-free vaccines requires packaging individual doses, which is expected to pose a major problem if large batches of the vaccine need to be rushed in the event of an avian flu pandemic. Doctors partially attribute recent outbreaks of measles and other infectious diseases [Bloomberg report] in the US to an increasing reluctance among parents to expose children to vaccines.






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UN Myanmar expert says some government rights violations may be war crimes
Amelia Mathias on March 12, 2010 3:11 PM ET

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana released a report [text, PDF] Friday criticizing the government of Myanmar for long-standing human rights abuses and said some of those might qualify as war crimes prosecutable by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Quintana observed:

there is a pattern of gross and systematic violation of human rights which has been in place for many years and still continues. The human rights that are part of this pattern are broad ranging and include the rights to life, to liberty, to personal integrity, to freedom of expression, assembly and religion, to judicial remedy and due process of law, to nationality, to protection of civilians and internally displaced communities and to prohibition against discrimination, among others.

Given the gross and systematic nature of human rights violations in Myanmar over a period of many years, and the lack of accountability, there is an indication that those human rights violations are the result of a State policy that involves authorities in the executive, military and judiciary at all levels. According to consistent reports, the possibility exists that some of these human rights violations may entail categories of crimes against humanity or war crimes under the terms of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Myanmar is expected to hold elections in October.

Myanmar has a long history of human rights abuses. The UN released a report Thursday stating that the elections expected in October will not meet international standards of fairness. Earlier this week, the military junta enacted [Al Jazeera report] five laws to govern the upcoming election and has been publicly announcing them one-at-a-time in state-run newspapers. One of the most notable ramifications of the new laws is that Suu Kyi will be prevented from participating in the election unless she is released from prison. The new law would also prevent Suu Kyi from remaining as the head of the NLD if the party wishes to participate in the election.





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Taiwan justice minister resigns over death penalty dispute
Amelia Mathias on March 12, 2010 2:03 PM ET

[JURIST] Taiwanese Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng [official profile] resigned Thursday in defense of her position against the death penalty. Though Taiwan has not executed a criminal since 2005, Wang said she would not sign [BBC report] the execution warrants of any of the 44 prisoners [Taiwan News report] still on death row. Her resignation was sparked by possible criticism [Reuters report] of her position by the office of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou [JURIST news archive], a member of her own Kuomintang party. Three-fourths of Taiwanese citizens favor the death penalty. Taiwanese Premier Wu Den-yih has already appointed a replacement [CNA report].

In February, UN Under-Secretary-General Sergei Ordzhonikidze [official profile] praised the increase in the 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.






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Ginsburg backs end to judicial elections
Sarah Miley on March 12, 2010 1:32 PM ET

[JURIST] US Supreme Court [official website] Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg [Oyez profile] endorsed a ban on the election of judges at the state and local level on Thursday while speaking at a conference for the National Association of Women Judges [official website]. Ginsburg said she supported her former colleague, retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor [JURIST news archive], in her campaign [JURIST report] to urge state legislatures to move towards merit-based judicial appointments instead of direct judicial elections. Both women take issue with the fundraising aspect of judicial elections and the campaign promises that are made in order to secure funds. According to the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) [advocacy website] there are 33 states that select judges through direct elections. Ginsburg noted in her speech that she dissented from a 2002 decision which stated that no limits could be put on the issues and topics discussed by judicial candidates. She claims that the First Amendment allows "sensible limits" to be put on candidates to ensure the impartiality the distinguishes a judicial office from a political office.

The O'Connor Judicial Selection Initiative (OJSI) [advocacy website] came in response to a June 2009 decision [JURIST report] by the US Supreme Court that West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals [official website] Justice Brent Benjamin [official profile] violated the due process [Cornell LII backgrounder] rights of a civil plaintiff when he did not recuse himself from a case where the defendant was one of his major campaign contributors. The OJSI is urging legislatures to adopt a system similar to one O'Connor helped to introduce in Arizona, where a state commission made up mostly of non-lawyers pick judges, governors appoint judges selected by the commissions, and voters decide in future elections whether the judges stay in office. Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery [official profile] has called the appointment system elitist and says [CNN report] that elections make him accountable to the citizens of Pennsylvania, rather than the governor or a commission.






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China chides US on rights record in report response
Sarah Miley on March 12, 2010 12:15 PM ET

[JURIST] The Chinese government responded on Friday to the release [JURIST report] of a US human rights report critical of China by issuing its own report [text] criticizing the US human rights record. The report covered issues relating to crime, racial discrimination, and poverty, and accused the US of using its hegemonic power to continue "trampling" on the sovereignty of other countries while "posing as the world judge of human rights":

For a long time, [the US] has placed itself above other countries, considered itself "world human rights police" and ignored its own serious human rights problems. It releases Country Reports on Human Rights Practices year after year to accuse other countries and takes human rights as a political instrument to interfere in other countries' internal affairs, defame other nations' image and seek its own strategic interests. This fully exposes its double standards on the human rights issue, and has inevitably drawn resolute opposition and strong denouncement from world people. At a time when the world is suffering a serious human rights disaster caused by the US subprime crisis-induced global financial crisis, the US government still ignores its own serious human rights problems but revels in accusing other countries. It is really a pity.
While the US report [AP report] is drawn largely from the work of rights groups and American diplomats, China's response mainly cited US media reports as evidence of its claims, along with data from non-governmental organizations and federal and state governments.

The annual dueling [JURIST report] between the US and China on human rights has lasted over a decade. In 2008 the Department of State accused [JURIST report] the Chinese government of denying its citizens basic human rights while also urging judicial reform and improved governmental transparency. Special mention was made of violence in Tibet.





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Senate Judiciary Committee approves bill reducing cocaine sentencing disparities
Patrice Collins on March 12, 2010 9:12 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Thursday unanimously approved a bill [bill; S. 1789] to reduce sentencing disparities for powder and crack cocaine offenses. The Fair Sentencing Act, introduced by Senator Dick Durbin [D-IL; official profile], is intended to bridge the gap between crack and powder cocaine sentencing by amending the Controlled Substances Act [text] and the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act [text]. The Act directs the US Sentencing Commission (USSC) [official website] to review its trafficking guidelines to reflect aggravating factors such as the use of a weapon or commission of violence. It would increase the amount of crack cocaine required for imposition of a mandatory trafficking prison term and eliminate the five year mandatory prison sentence for simple possession of crack.

Last July, the US House Judiciary Committee [official website] approved a similar bill [JURIST report] that would eliminate the distinction between crack cocaine and powder cocaine under federal law. Crack cocaine sentencing policies have raised controversy by virtue of their disparate impact on African American offenders. Last June, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] urged sentencing reform [transcript text; JURIST report] for crack cocaine, calling for a review of disparities between sentencing guidelines for powder and crack. In April, other DOJ officials said Congress should eliminate the sentencing disparities [JURIST report] between crimes committed involving crack and powder cocaine during a hearing [materials] of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs [official website]. In April 2008, a study by the USSC reported [study, PDF; JURIST report] that more than 3,000 prison inmates convicted of crack cocaine offenses have had their sentences reduced under an amendment to sentencing guidelines. In 2007, the USSC voted unanimously [JURIST report] to give retroactive effect to an earlier sentencing guideline amendment that reduced crack cocaine penalties [press release].






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Sweden parliament approves Armenian genocide resolution
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 11, 2010 4:12 PM ET

[JURIST] The Swedish Parliament [official website, in Swedish] on Thursday voted 131-130 to approve a resolution [text, in Swedish] that recognizes the Ottoman Empire's killing of Armenians between 1915 and 1923 as genocide [JURIST news archive]. Of the 349 assembly members, 88 were absent [AP report]. The resolution was opposed by the ruling center-right coalition and supported by the opposition left. It passed when several members of the ruling party sided with the opposition. The Turkish government has condemned the resolution, recalling its ambassador to Sweden [Reuters report].

The vote comes only a week after the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs [official website] voted 23-22 to adopt [JURIST report] a resolution [H Res 252 text] labeling the killings as genocide. The US government has indicated that it will seek to block the resolution [JURIST report] from being put before the full House of Representatives. A similar resolution was passed by the committee in 2007, but it never reached the House floor [JURIST reports].






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Ninth Circuit upholds Pledge of Allegiance in public schools
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 11, 2010 3:24 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that a teacher-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools does not violate the constitution. Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow [JURIST news archive] had challenged the practice on behalf of several families, arguing that the phrase "under God" violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment [text]. In reversing a lower court decision [JURIST report] that had ruled in Newdow's favor, the appeals court ruled 2-1:

that the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the Establishment Clause because Congress' ostensible and predominant purpose was to inspire patriotism and that the context of the Pledge - its wording as a whole, the preamble to the statute, and this nation's history—demonstrate that it is a predominantly patriotic exercise. For these reasons, the phrase "one Nation under God" does not turn this patriotic exercise into a religious activity.

Accordingly, we hold that California's statute requiring school districts to begin the school day with an "appropriate patriotic exercise" does not violate the Establishment Clause even though it permits teachers to lead students in recitation
of the Pledge.
In a separate case decided Thursday, the Ninth Circuit upheld [opinion, PDF] the use of the phrase "In God We Trust" on currency. That challenge was also brought by Newdow.

Newdow originally sued to have the phrase "under God" removed from the pledge in 2000. The Ninth Circuit ruled in Newdow's favor in 2002, but the Supreme Court dismissed his case [JURIST report] in 2004 for lack of standing. Newdow also filed suit to ban the recitation of a prayer during the 2005 presidential inauguration, but that claim was rejected [JURIST reports].





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US House votes to impeach federal judge
Patrice Collins on March 11, 2010 2:30 PM ET

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] voted [H Res 1031 materials] Thursday to impeach federal judge Thomas Porteous [official profile] of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website]. The case will now proceed to the US Senate [official website] where a two-thirds majority is required to convict Porteous of committing high crimes and misdemeanors while in office, specifically perjury and accepting bribes from lawyers. The investigation of Porteous was opened [JURIST report] by the US House Judiciary Committee [official website] in 2008. The committee unanimously approved a resolution creating a task force to conduct the inquiry, which was the first of a sitting federal judge in nearly 20 years.

After an investigation [report text, PDF] by a special committee, the Judicial Conference found "substantial evidence" that Porteous had signed false financial disclosure forms, falsified statements in a personal bankruptcy proceeding, made false representations to secure a bank loan, and violated criminal laws and ethical rules [texts] by soliciting and receiving "cash and other things of value" from lawyers in a bench trial over which he was presiding. Porteous's decision in that case, In re Liljeberg enters v. Lifemark Hospitals, was later partially reversed [opinion text] by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website], which last week publicly reprimanded Porteous [text, PDF]. The US Constitution gives the House the power to impeach [academic backgrounder] "all civil Officers of the United States" on suspicion of "high Crimes and Misdemeanors." Thirteen federal judges have been impeached [FJC backgrounder], of which seven have been convicted.






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US State Department releases 2009 annual rights reports
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 11, 2010 12:39 PM ET

[JURIST] The US State Department (DOS) [official website] on Thursday released its 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [materials]. Announcing the release [video; statement text], Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the US has recommitted "to continue the hard work of making human rights a human reality." In its introduction [text] to the reports, which covered 194 countries, the DOS noted that human rights violations have continued throughout the world, noting several global trends:

In 2009, governments across the globe continued to commit serious violations of human rights. As we survey the world, there still are an alarming number of reports of torture, extrajudicial killings, and other violations of universal human rights. Often these violations relating to the integrity of the person are in countries where conflicts are occurring. These violent attacks are a central concern wherever they take place.

In a significant number of countries, governments have imposed new and often draconian restrictions on NGOs. Since 2008, no fewer than 25 governments have imposed new restrictions on the ability of these organizations to register, to operate freely, or to receive foreign funding, adversely impacting freedom of association. In many countries, human rights defenders are singled out for particularly harsh treatment, and in the most egregious cases, they are imprisoned or even attacked or killed in reaction to their advocacy.

These restrictions and repressive measures are part of a larger pattern of governmental efforts to control dissenting or critical voices. This pattern also extends to the media and to new forms of electronic communications through the Internet and other new technologies. Restrictions on freedom of expression, including on members of the media, are increasing and becoming more severe. In many cases, such restrictions are applied subtly by autocrats aiming to avoid attention from human rights groups and donor countries, such as through the threat of criminal penalties and administrative or economic obstacles, rather than through violence or imprisonment; the end result is still a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

A third trend we observed is the continuing and escalating discrimination and persecution of members of vulnerable groups – often racial, religious, or ethnic minorities, but also women, members of indigenous communities, children, persons with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups that lack the political power in their societies to defend their own interests.
In Africa [materials], the DOS criticized continuing conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. It also criticized Uganda for its treatment of homosexuals and Nigeria [JURIST news archives] for extrajudicial killings.

In East Asia and the Pacific [materials], the DOS criticized China for its increased Internet censorship and Myanmar for attacks on ethnic minorities. The DOS also criticized North Korea for denying citizens freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, and Vietnam [JURIST news archives] for suppressing dissent.

In Europe and Eurasia [materials], the DOS said that the situation in the North Caucasus region of Russia has worsened. The DOS also criticized Belarus for restrictions on civil liberties and Switzerland for passing a constitutional amendment banning the construction of minarets. The Department noted an increase in the killings of Roma people in Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic [JURIST news archives].

In the Near East and North Africa, the DOS criticized Egypt for failing to respect the freedom of association and the freedom of religion and Saudi Arabia for violence against women. The DOS also criticized Iran for human rights violations following the disputed presidential election last June, Israel for violations during last year's Operation Cast Lead, and Iraq [JURIST news archives] for ongoing rights abuses.

In South and Central Asia [materials], the DOS said human rights had deteriorated in Afghanistan because of increased insurgent attacks. The Department said that civilian authorities had taken positive steps in Pakistan, but that significant challenges remain. The DOS criticized Sri Lanka for using excessive force before the end of the conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) last May and Uzbekistan [JURIST news archives] for restricting freedom of the press.

In the Western Hemisphere [materials], the DOS praised Colombia for an active independent media, but warned of intimidation by members of illegal armed groups. The DOS criticized Cuba for interfering with the right to privacy and Venezuela [JURIST news archives] for attacking private media owners.

The DOS issues its yearly reports on human rights practices to Congress under a legal mandate [22 USC § 2151n text], and has filed similar reports for 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 [JURIST reports] and previous years.





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ICC prosecutors meet with Russia officials over South Ossetia conflict
Steve Czajkowski on March 11, 2010 11:06 AM ET

[JURIST] A group of delegates from the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official websites] concluded a meeting [press release] in Moscow Wednesday over Russian claims of war crimes committed by Georgia during the South Ossetia conflict [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in August 2008. The meeting, which was not attended by chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile], was held at the invitation of the Russian Federation and was based on Moreno-Ocampo's announcement [JURIST report] of a preliminary investigation at the time of the conflict. Officials from the OTP meet with members of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the Office of the Prosecutor General, and Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation [official websites, in Russian], where the OTP was presented with the progress of Russia's national judicial proceedings related to the alleged war crimes. Moreno-Ocampo expressed his full support for honest proceedings on the allegations, and said his office has "offered to support in every possible way efforts by the Russian judiciary to do justice for all victims of these crimes." A similar visit to Georgia is to take place later this year.

The South Ossetia conflict lasted for five days in August 2008 when Georgia tried to take control of its breakaway region, and Russian troops defended the region, entering Georgia. According to a report [materials; JURIST report] released by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia (IIFFMCG) [official website] in October, Georgia violated international law when it shelled the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali in August 2008. The IIFFMCG also found that military action against Russian forces was not justified because the commission could not substantiate Georgian claims of a large-scale Russian military presence in the region prior to the Georgian offensive. In August, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official website, in Russian] proposed a bill in response to the conflict that would allow the Russian army to intervene beyond its borders [JURIST report] to protect Russian citizens abroad. In February 2008, the US State Department released its annual country reports on human rights [JURIST report], accusing both Russia and Georgia [text] of violations during the conflict. Georgia and Russia [JURIST reports] are currently exchanging allegations of war crimes in the ICC and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website].






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Myanmar election laws do not meet international standards: UN SG
Steve Czajkowski on March 11, 2010 10:06 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] said [press release] Wednesday that recently announced election laws [JURIST report] in Myanmar [JURIST news archive] do not meet international standards for an inclusive political process, in particular because they do not allow pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to participate. Ban's statement was issued the same day the ruling military junta introduced [JURIST report] the Political Parties Registration Law, which prevents political prisoners from participating in the election and also makes it illegal for members of religious orders, insurgent groups, and foreigners to join political parties. Ban called on the Myanmar leaders to ensure that country's first election in 20 years is "fair, transparent and credible" and allows all of Myanmar's citizen's to be involved. The election law also drew criticism from the Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website], which said [press release] "[the new law] continues the sham political process that is aimed at creating the appearance of civilian rule with a military spine." Additionally, on Thursday the military junta nominated [DPA report] a 17-member commission to supervise the elections and invalidated the 1990 election, which brought Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) [party website] to power.

On Monday, the military junta enacted [Al Jazeera report] five laws to govern the upcoming election and has been publicly announcing them one at a time in state-run newspapers. One of the most notable ramifications of the new laws is that Suu Kyi will be prevented from participating in the election unless she is released from prison. The new law would also prevent Suu Kyi from remaining as the head of the NLD if the party wishes to participate in the election. The NLD has not committed [AFP report] to taking part in the polls, claiming that the 2008 constitution is unfair because it bans Suu Kyi from taking part in the polls and reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for the military. Suu Kyi, speaking through her lawyer, on Thursday called on [AFP report] the Myanmar people to give a unified response to what she called the unjust election law.






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Cambodia parliament passes controversial anti-corruption bill
Bhargav Katikaneni on March 11, 2010 9:53 AM ET

[JURIST] The Cambodian parliament [official website] passed a controversial anti-corruption bill Wednesday meant to further transparency in government while opposition parties staged a walkout, saying the new law would stifle criticism and foster corruption. The law will create a national anti-corruption council to oversee investigators, but critics have said that the lack of independence from the government is troubling. Members of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) [party website] and foreign NGOs criticized [Phnom Penh Post report] the law because it could potentially punish whistle blowers with prison terms, and does not require government officials and their spouses to disclose their assets. The UN mission in Cambodia [official website] released a statement [text] tentatively supporting the bill but calling on the government to allow more time for public debate.

Transparency International (TI) [advocacy website] has criticized Cambodian corruption, and the country is ranked [TI corruption index] near the top of the list of most corrupt countries in the world. Last year, the UN cut off funding for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia [official website], a court set up to prosecute Khmer Rouge officials, after it was accused of corruption [JURIST report] through a kick-back scheme. The UN and Cambodian officials later failed to reach an agreement on a system to monitor corruption [JURIST report] and the court had to rely on international donations [JURIST report] to make up for the shortfall.






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Virginia legislature passes bill barring mandatory individual health coverage
Bhargav Katikaneni on March 11, 2010 8:23 AM ET

[JURIST] The Virginia General Assembly [official website] on Wednesday passed a bill [text, PDF] that will ban any federal mandate for individuals to have health insurance. The bill, called the Virginia Health Care Freedom Act, is the first of its kind [WP report] passed by any state, and says that no individual shall be held liable if they refuse to sign up for health care. Governor Robert McDonnell [official website] has said that he will sign [WTVR report] the bill into law. About 30 other states are working on a similar measure to negate [ALEC report] the widely expected federal mandate for health insurance.

Last month, President Barack Obama released his own health care proposal [JURIST report] that seeks to reconcile versions of the bill passed by the House and Senate [JURIST reports] last year. In December, 13 state attorney generals threatened to sue [JURIST report] unless a provision in the Senate bill exempting Nebraska from much of its health care costs was removed. Obama has argued that the legislation would overhaul private health insurance and provide affordable care for millions of Americans while Republicans have said they would block the bill [NYT report] because it was too expensive and would compel people to buy health insurance.






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Nigeria police to charge 49 with murder over recent ethnic violence
Hillary Stemple on March 10, 2010 3:30 PM ET

[JURIST] Nigerian police officials said Wednesday that 49 people, predominately Muslims, will be charged with murder following the recent killing of Christian villagers near the city of Jos. Reports have varied [BBC report] as to the number of people killed in the weekend attack, but police now put the number at 109. The attacks were apparently in retaliation [AP report] for the January violence between Muslims and Christians which left more than 300, mostly Muslims, dead. The city of Jos is located in an area of central Nigeria, which divides the predominately Muslim northern part of the country from the primarily Christian south. Authorities have indicated that the area is being patrolled by security forces to prevent further violence. Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called on the Nigerian government to prosecute those responsible [JURIST report] for the violence.

Last month, HRW urged [JURIST report] acting President Goodluck Jonathan [BBC profile] to to "tackle the culture of impunity" in Nigeria. While HRW has called on Jonathan directly, other rights groups have petitioned international authorities to take action to prevent recurring rights abuses. Earlier in February, 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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Rights group urges Afghanistan to repeal war crimes amnesty law
Hillary Stemple on March 10, 2010 2:24 PM ET

[JURIST] The Afghan government should retract a law granting amnesty [press release] for war crimes and human rights abuses committed prior to December 2001, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said Wednesday. The National Stability and Reconciliation Law was originally passed by the Afghan Parliament [official website] in 2007, but did not take effect until it was recently published in the official gazette. HRW claims that the law protects alleged war criminals and human rights abusers, many of whom remain in positions of power within the government. The group says the law will also grant future immunity to people involved in current fighting in Afghanistan if they agree to reconciliation with the government. Supporters of the law note that criminal claims may still be brought by individuals, but HRW disputes this claim saying the court system is "barely functioning in much of the country, corruption is rampant, and there is no witness protection system." Afghan President Hamid Karzai [official profile; JURIST news archive] had previously indicated he would not sign [Reuters report] the act into law.

In 2007, Karzai signed a bill [JURIST report] granting amnesty to groups that allegedly committed war crimes. The 2007 resolution barred the state from independently prosecuting individuals for war crimes absent accusation from an alleged victim. A previous version of the same bill drew popular support [JURIST reports], but Karzai refused to sign the bill in the original form.






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Senate committee hears testimony on limiting corporate campaign spending
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 10, 2010 1:27 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] held a hearing [materials; video] Wednesday on the effects of the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [opinion, PDF], which eased restrictions [JURIST report] on political campaign spending by corporations. The hearing, entitled "We the People? Corporate Spending in American Elections after Citizens United," did not focus on any specific bill, but rather on general legislative efforts [JURIST report] to limit the ruling's effects. Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] said [testimony] that the "Citizens United decision turns the idea of Government of, by and for the people on its head." Witness Bradley Smith, law professor and chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics [advocacy website], countered [testimony, PDF] that "the Court's decision in Citizens United is one of the most clearly correct decisions of the Court's term," and that "Congress need not 'fix' this sound decision."

In January, the US Supreme Court ruled 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] in January. 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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Italy parliament approves bill shielding Berlusconi from trial
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 10, 2010 12:20 PM ET

[JURIST] The Italian Senate [official website, in Italian] on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill [materials, in Italian] that would allow cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], to postpone criminal proceedings against them on the grounds that they would interfere with official duties. The legislation, passed by a vote of 169-126 [Corriere della Sera report, in Italian] with three members abstaining, will allow officials to suspend trials against them for up to 18 months by claiming a "legitimate impediment" to appearing in court. Critics contend that the legislation is specifically designed to protect Berlusconi from the prosecutions he faces, while supporters claim that it will modernize the country's judicial system and allow elected officials to perform their duties.

The bill was approved [JURIST report] by the Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Italian] last month. In January, hundreds of Italy's judges walked out of their courtrooms to protest the passage of legislation that placed strict time limits [JURIST reports] on the trial and appeals process. That bill was also criticized as being tailored for Berlusiconi's benefit and would result in the automatic dismissal of two pending cases against him. Later that month, it was reported that Berlusconi could also face a third trial based on information that surfaced recently. Berlusconi currently faces a corruption trial and a tax fraud trial, both of which have been postponed. The leader has been previously acquitted of false accounting and bribery, and has had other charges against him dropped [JURIST reports].






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Myanmar junta announces new election law barring Suu Kyi from participating
Jay Carmella on March 10, 2010 11:24 AM ET

[JURIST] Myanmar's military junta announced the implementation of another election law on Wednesday that establishes procedures for the country's first election in 20 years. The Political Parties Registration Law prevents [IANS report] political prisoners from participating in the election and also makes it illegal for members of religious orders, insurgent groups, and foreigners to join political parties. The most notable ramification of the new law is that it would prevent pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] from participating in the election unless she is released from prison. The new law would also prevent Suu Kyi from remaining as the head of the National League for Democracy (NLD) [party website] if the party wishes to participate in the election. The NLD has not committed [AFP report] to taking part in the polls, claiming that the 2008 constitution is unfair because it bans Suu Kyi from taking part in the polls and reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for the military. An election date has not been set.

The Political Parties Registration Law is one of the five laws being enacted by the military junta in anticipation of the election. On Tuesday, the junta unveiled [JURIST report] the Union Election Commission Law, which states that the military government will appoint a five-member commission that will supervise and have the final say on all electoral matters. In February, UN High Representative for Human Rights Tomas Ojea Quintana [official profile] expressed great disappointment [JURIST report] during his visit to Myanmar, stating that without certain action the elections "will not be credible." Also in February, Myanmar's Supreme Court dismissed [JURIST report] the latest appeal by Suu Kyi against the extension of her house arrest. 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.






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Iran court begins trial of prison officials charged with murdering detainees
Jay Carmella on March 10, 2010 10:18 AM ET

[JURIST] An Iranian court on Tuesday began the trial of 12 Iranian prison officials accused of torturing three prisoners to death, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) [official website, in Persian]. The three victims, identified as Mohsen Rouholamini, Mohammad Kamrani, and Amir Javadifar, were arrested for their involvement in the protests following the June 12 presidential election [JURIST news archive]. The names of the defendants are unknown because the presiding judge has prevented [Tehran Times report] any trial information from being disclosed. The 12 Kahrizak prison officials were charged [JURIST report] with murder in December. The Iranian government acknowledged [JURIST report] in August that the detainees had been tortured, yet initially claimed that the three men had died from meningitis.

Observers have accused the Iranian government of conducting the trial as a mere political move. In January, an Iranian parliamentary inquiry found [JURIST report] that Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi was responsible for the deaths. The report alleged that Mortazavi, the prosecutor responsible for overseeing the Kahrizak prison, ordered that the prisoners be transferred to Kahrizak, where they were tortured and beaten to death. Last month, the US government and EU issued a joint statement [JURIST report] condemning the human rights violations following the presidential election. In December, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] labeled [JURIST report] the human rights violations committed by the Iranian government following the election among the worst of the past 20 years.






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International lawyers urge UN to condemn detention of missing China rights advocate
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 10, 2010 9:09 AM ET

[JURIST] An international group of human rights lawyers on Tuesday petitioned [text, PDF; press release, PDF] the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention [official website] to condemn to the detention of Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng [advocacy website; JURIST news archive], missing for more than a year. The group is seeking a declaration that Gao's detention is a violation of international law. According to the petition, Gao's detention violates both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [texts]:


Mr. Gao's current predicament is merely the culmination of a pattern and practice by which the Chinese government has consistently and clearly violated Article 19 of both the Universal Declaration and the ICCPR. Without an arrest warrant to attest otherwise, we can only assume that Mr. Gao's current detention is related to his outspoken criticism of the Chinese government's human rights record relating to religious freedom. Detaining Mr. Gao as punishment for or to prevent his defense of persecuted religious groups is a violation of Article 19(2).

The group also clams that Gao's detention violates Chinese law.

Last month, human rights organization Dui Hua Foundation [advocacy website] reported that the Chinese Embassy [official website] in Washington DC claims that Gao is working in the Urumqi region [JURIST report] of China. 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 has been detained since February 4, 2009.





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India upper house approves quota for women lawmakers
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 9, 2010 3:55 PM ET

[JURIST] India's upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha [official website], on Tuesday approved a bill to ensure that one-third of seats in parliament are reserved for women. The Women's Reservation Bill [2008 text, PDF], introduced [JURIST report] Monday, would increase the number of women serving in the 543-seat legislature, which currently has no gender quota, from 59 to at least 181. The bill was passed by a vote of 191-1 [Hindu report] after seven lawmakers were suspended for causing a disturbance Monday by tearing up the bill and throwing it at the chairman. The bill, which requires a constitutional amendment, will now go before the Lok Sabha [official website], the lower house of parliament, where it is expected to pass. It must then be approved by at least half the states.

The controversial legislation was originally proposed in 1996, but has been repeatedly blocked. Last year, India elected its first woman president and first woman speaker of parliament. India currently reserves one-third of seats on local governing bodies for women, and, last year, increased the quota to 50 percent.






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UN rights experts urge civilian trials for 9/11 suspects
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 9, 2010 2:39 PM ET

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Martin Scheinin [official website] on Tuesday urged the Obama administration to hold civilian trials for accused 9/11 conspirators, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [JURIST news archives]. Scheinin called [Reuters report] the military commissions [JURIST news archive] system "fatally flawed" and said that reforming the system would not help. Meanwhile, UN Special Rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak [official profile, DOC] also argued that the suspects should face a civilian trial. A White House official said Monday that while a civilian trial for Mohammed may no longer be a realistic option, the Obama administration is working with lawmakers to allow for civilian trials [AP report] for other suspected terrorists.

On Sunday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] released a full-page advertisement [image] in the New York Times, imploring President Barack Obama to fulfill his pledge to try suspected 9/11 terrorists in federal courts [JURIST report]. It was reported on Friday that White House advisers are considering recommending [JURIST report] that Mohammed be tried in a military court rather than through the civilian criminal justice system. Attorney General Eric Holder announced in November that Mohammed would be tried in a civilian court [JURIST report] in Manhattan, drawing intense criticism. Last month, Holder defended his decision [JURIST report] to charge suspected terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab [JURIST news archive], the so-called Christmas Day bomber, in US federal court. Holder, who has resisted calls from high-level Republicans [AP Report] to try Abdulmutallab in front of a military tribunal, said that the civilian criminal justice system was capable of handling his trial.






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China, India agree to non-binding climate accord
Megan McKee on March 9, 2010 1:16 PM ET

[JURIST] China and India agreed Tuesday to endorse the non-binding Copenhagen Accord [text, PDF], which calls for self-imposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions [JURIST news archive]. Some 100 countries have already agreed [NYT report] to be associated with the non-binding accord, which arose from the UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) [official website; JURIST report] held in Copenhagen in December. China and India, nations that are among the world's largest and most quickly growing producers of greenhouse gas emissions, were the last major players to sign on to the agreement. Their delay caused some concern about the agreement's credibility and potential future impact.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) [official website] announced [JURIST report] in February that another round of formal climate talks will be held April 9-11 in Bonn, Germany, to follow up on the recent Copenhagen conference. 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 the non-binding accord 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. In January, more than 50 countries, including the US, China, and EU member states, submitted plans [JURIST report] to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the UNFCCC. Relative to 2005 levels, the US has pledged to reduce emissions to 17 percent, while China has targeted a 40 to 45 percent reduction per GDP unit. EU members pledged a 20 percent reduction below 1990 levels.






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Myanmar junta announces election laws
Haley Wojdowski on March 9, 2010 11:49 AM ET