May 2010 Archives


Pakistan court lifts Facebook ban
Andrew Morgan on May 31, 2010 2:34 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Lahore High Court (LHC) Monday ordered the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) [official websites] to restore access to the Facebook [corporate website] social networking website. The LHC had blocked access [JURIST report] to the website earlier this month, in response to a page created by a Facebook user which marked "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" [website], encouraging users to submit religiously-prohibited images of the Prophet Mohammed. LHC Judge Ijaz Chaudry said that the government, and not the court, should be responsible for blocking offensive internet content and called on the PTA to create a centralized system [AFP report] to block blasphemous content.

Depicting the Prophet Mohammad is considered blasphemous by Muslims, and has been a source of international controversy since 2005 when a Danish newspaper published caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in a series of cartoons [JURIST news archive]. After protests in many Muslim countries, lawsuits were filed against those who published or reprinted the cartoons in Yemen, France, and Jordan [JURIST reports]. Earlier this month, a Danish public prosecutor for the Utrecht District Court filed an appeal [JURIST report] against an April ruling [JURIST report] acquitting the Arab European League (AEL) of hate speech charges stemming from posting an inflammatory cartoon on their website insinuating that the Holocaust was fabricated. The court ruled that publishing the cartoon was not a criminal offense because it was intended to be a contribution to public debate regarding a perceived double standard in the distribution of the Danish Mohammad cartoons. In April, US citizen David Headley pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to 12 counts of federal terrorism, including charges related to an alleged plot against the Danish creator and publishers of the controversial cartoons.




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US Joint Chiefs chair urges 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' repeal delay pending review
Sarah Miley on May 31, 2010 11:35 AM ET

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[JURIST] Chairman of the US military Joint Chiefs of Staff [official website] Admiral Mike Mullen [official profile] on Sunday urged Congress to delay passing a legislative amendment [press release] to repeal the military's controversial "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy [10 USC § 654; JURIST news archive] until a review of the legislation is completed by the Pentagon. Mullen stated that the review was of "vital importance" in order for the policy to be properly implemented. The review was set to be completed by the end of this year but the amendment has been moving quickly through Congress, with the full House and a Senate committee voting this week to repeal the former law. In an interview with CNN [transcript], Mullen said that he supports the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" but asks Congress to respect the military's effort to understand the points of view of the troops and families affected by the legislation. The admiral claimed that although repeal is inevitable the completion of the review is necessary to prepare for implementation challenges such as "readiness, unit cohesion, [and] recruiting retention." Mullen stated that the "congressional clock" is often hard to predict, but "[the Pentagon] will complete th[e] review and certainly incorporate what we learned from that into implementation when that time comes." Defense Secretary Robert Gates [official profile] had also initially urged Congress to delay repealing the ban until the completion of the review, but has since backed the amended repeal legislation [POLITICO report].

Last week the US House of Representatives [official website] voted to approve a spending bill containing the amendment to repeal the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy [JURIST report]. The amendment [text, PDF] would prevent the repeal from taking effect until the completion of the Pentagon's review. In order for the repeal to take effect, the President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must sign and transmit to congressional defense committees a certification stating that the review has been considered and the recommended policy changes have been implemented. The compromise repeal provision was also approved last week by the Senate Armed Services Committee [official website]. The repeal of the controversial "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy has been an important issue for President Barack Obama since he took office, and its inclusion in the State of Union Address [JURIST report] reaffirmed it as a top priority for the administration.




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Bangladesh court drops final corruption case against PM
Sarah Miley on May 31, 2010 10:00 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Bangladesh High Court has dismissed the last of 15 corruption cases against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina [BBC profile], her lawyer said Monday. The court held that Hasina had not committed a criminal offense [AFP report] when she used government funds to to appoint US lobbyists to represent the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority [official website] during her 1996-2001 administration. All the cases were brought against Hasina between 2001 and 2008 when she was out of power. Since being sworn into office after her reelection [JURIST report] in December 2008 each charge has either been redacted by the accuser or quashed by the court. Supporters of Hasina claim that the charges filed against her were politically motivated by ex-PM Begum Khaleda Zia [Virtual Bangladesh profile; JURIST news archive], the leader of the military-backed regime displaced by Hasina. In April 2009 Bangladeshi judges explicitly dismissed two cases against Hasina on grounds that they were filed to harass her [JURIST report]. Zia is currently facing her own set of corruption charges. She was taken into custody [JURIST report] in September 2007 for embezzling over 21 million taka (US $305,000) in the Zia Orphanage Trust which is said to be nonexistent.

Hasina faced several legal hurdles before regaining her position as prime minister. She was arrested [JURIST report] in July 2007 on suspicion of extorting more than $1 million from two businesspersons while she was prime minister from 1996-2001. She denied [JURIST report] the accusations. After an investigation by Bangladesh's Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) [governing statute, PDF], she was formally charged with extortion [JURIST report] in January 2008. Five months later, she was indicted [JURIST report] after the ACC accused her of receiving about $440,000 in illegal kickbacks from a power-plant deal during her prior tenure as prime minister. In September 2008, Berlin-based corruption watchdog Transparency International [official website] rated Bangladesh [news release, PDF] the tenth most politically and administratively corrupt country out of 180 countries studied in 2008.




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Arizona governor removes state AG from immigration lawsuit defense
Erin Bock on May 30, 2010 5:16 PM ET

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[JURIST] Arizona Governor Jan Brewer [official website] said Friday that she will not seek the assistance [statement, PDF] of state Attorney General Terry Goddard [official website] in defending against challenges to the new immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive]. The announcement came after Goddard met with officials from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] Friday and held a press conference hours before the DOJ met with the governor and her legal team. Brewer expressed her displeasure at Goddard's meeting with the DOJ, calling it "disturbingly similar" to Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' correspondence with the Obama administration [press release] to assist in developing a plan to deploy National Guard troops to the US-Mexican border [JURIST report]. Brewer cited a provision in the new immigration bill that gives her authority to seek the assistance of outside counsel rather than the assistance of the attorney general in defending the bill:
The Legislature gave me this authority because of its lack of confidence in the Attorney General's willingness to vigorously defend this legislation that is so critical to protecting the safety and welfare of Arizona's citizens. ... Due to Attorney General Goddard's curious coordination with the U.S. Department of Justice today and his consistent opposition to Arizona's new immigration laws, I will direct my legal team to defend me and the State of Arizona rather than the Attorney General in the lawsuits challenging Arizona's immigration laws.
Goddard said that he urged the DOJ not to file its own lawsuit [press release] in opposition to the bill, saying that "Arizona will fight back" against any challenges. He called for the Obama administration to "implement comprehensive border reform" instead of adding another suit to those already pending against the state. The law is set to go into effect on July 29.

Several lawsuits have been filed in response to the bill, which was signed into law [JURIST reports] at the end of April, including a suit by an Arizona police officer alleging that the law will hamper police investigations. The American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] also filed suit [JURIST report], challenging the constitutionality of the law and seeking an injunction, though some find the law is constitutional on its face [JURIST op-ed]. Proponents of the law argue that it will discourage illegal immigration, while opponents contend it will lead to discriminatory police practices based on race. The Obama administration, though supporting immigration reform, has sharply criticized the law [JURIST report], calling it "misguided" and expressing concern that it could be applied in a discriminatory fashion. These criticisms are shared by Mexican President Felipe Calderon [official website, Spanish] who called the law a "violation of human rights" [JURIST report]. Earlier this month, a group of UN experts found that the law could violate international standards [JURIST report] that are binding on the US.




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US judge orders NYC bomb plot suspect deported to Pakistan
Erin Bock on May 30, 2010 3:34 PM ET


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[JURIST] A US immigration judge on Thursday ordered Times Square bombing suspect Aftab Ali Khan deported to his native Pakistan. Khan was arrested along with two other men earlier this month on immigration charges under the suspicion that they transferred money to Times Square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad, but Khan told authorities that he had never heard of Shahzad [AFP report]. Authorities believe that Khan might not have known what the money was for, but Shahzad's phone number was found in Khan's cell phone and written on an envelope in his apartment. Khan's lawyer Saher Macarius [firm website] attempted to convince the court to let Khan leave the country voluntarily, rather than through a deportation order, but Judge Robin Feder rejected the request. Khan has 30 days to appeal the order before being deported. Shahzad, a Pakastani-born US citizen, was taken into custody on May 3 [JURIST report] after an SUV containing explosives was found parked in Times Square on May 1. He was charged [complaint, PDF] with five counts, including attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to kill and maim people in the US, using and carrying a destructive device, transporting an explosive device, and attempting to damage buildings, vehicles and other property. He is scheduled for a hearing in a New York federal court on June 1.

Shahzad's arrest stirred up controversy [Capitolist report] over whether terrorism suspects should be read Miranda rights. Earlier this month, a group of US lawmakers introduced a bill [JURIST report] that would strip US citizenship rights from those suspected of engaging in acts of terrorism. The bill, known as the Terrorist Expatriation Act (TEA) [text, PDF], would give the State Department [official website] the power to revoke citizenship of a US national who provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization or engages in/supports hostilities against the US or its allies. The American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] came out against the bill [press release] finding it to be "unconstitutional and ineffective." Recent terrorism arrests have also created controversy over the proper venue in which to try those suspected of terrorism. In April, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] stated that the government has not ruled out [JURIST report] prosecuting certain high-profile terror suspects, such as alleged 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammad [JURIST news archive], in civilian court in New York City.




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UN SG calls for global reform of anti-gay laws
Sarah Miley on May 30, 2010 10:46 AM ET

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[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] called Saturday for gay rights reform [UN News Centre report] throughout the international community. Praising Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika [official website] for his Friday decision to pardon a gay couple recently sentenced to 14 years in prison on sodomy charges, Ban stated [speech text] that the UN cannot "stay quiet when people are denied fundamental rights - whatever their race or faith or age or gender or sexual orientation." Gay rights have been a contentious issue [Economist backgrounder] in both developed and developing nations, with more than 80 countries criminalizing homosexuality. The issue is especially prevalent in Africa where over 70 percent of countries criminalize non-traditional sexual orientation, with some charges carrying the death penalty. Although Mutharika pardoned the two men on their convictions of "indecent practices between males" and "unnatural offences" at the behest of the secretary-general, the president expressed his disapproval [AFP report] of homosexuality, calling it "totally wrong" and against the culture and traditions of Malawi. Mutharika's statement echoes the current tone of the African Union (AU) [official website], which Malawi now heads. The secretary-general will face an uphill battle with AU member-countries as most nations, although "secular," have prevalent religious leaders and strong public support for anti-gay legislation. Ban held that discrimination based on sexual orientation is not in line with basic international human rights, and heads of state must take action to reform their laws to meet UN standards for the protection of this fundamental right.

While African nations have been slow to protect gay rights, several other regions have recently passed legislation expanding the rights of homosexuals. Earlier this month, the Argentine Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Spanish] voted 126-109 in favor of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage [JURIST report] in the country. The bill would also give gay couples the right to adopt children, one of the bill's more controversial provisions. Portugal quickly followed suit two weeks later when President Anibal Cavaco Silva [official website, in Portuguese] signed a bill [JURIST report] that legalizes same-sex marriage but stops short of allowing same-sex couples to adopt. In April, the Philippines expanded political rights for the gay community when the Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that a prominent gay rights organization may field candidates in the upcoming national elections as an accredited political party. This progress is not reflected in recent legislation of many African nations. The secretary-general's next stop is Uganda, where the government is currently considering legislation [JURIST report] that would prohibit the sale of property to homosexuals and charge individuals who fail to report homosexual activity.




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Most Guantanamo detainees 'low-level' combatants: government report
Sarah Miley on May 30, 2010 8:49 AM ET

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[JURIST] A task force initiated by the US government to evaluate the status of Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees has reported that only 10 percent of inmates were terrorist leaders [report, PDF] when President Barack Obama [official website] took office in 2009. The Guantanamo Bay Task Force completed the report in January, but it was not disclosed to Congress until last week, according to the Washington Post, which published the report [WP report] Friday. The "rigorous interagency review" established that out of the 240 detainees, only two dozen were "leaders, operatives and facilitators involved in plots against the United States." The task force recommended 126 inmates be transferred and 36 be prosecuted by federal court or military tribunal. The task force also concluded that 48 detainees were too dangerous to be transferred, but were unable to be prosecuted, and 30 Yemeni detainees were being held on "conditional" detention based on the security environment in Yemen. In deciding which detainees should be subject to continued detention, the task force evaluated the inmates' roles in terrorist organizations, advanced training or experience, expressed recidivist intent, and history of association with extremist activity. The report also expressed the ongoing effort by the State Department to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo Bay and the extensive review process required for resettlement:
The process for engaging a country on resettlement issues can be lengthy and complicated. The State Department has engaged in discussion with dozens of countries across the globe to initiate or further resettlement negotiations once it has been determined that a government is open to discussions. When this process is successful, initial receptiveness leads to discussions regarding individual detainees, foreign government interagency review, foreign government interviews of prospective resettlement candidates, the foreign government's formal decision-making process, integration plans, and, ultimately, resettlement. The length of the effort often has been influenced by political and other issues in potential resettlement countries, third-country views with respect to detainee resettlement, and public views of the Guantanamo detention facility generally. Depending on how these factors affect individual cases, the process can be very lengthy.
The reported results were unanimously approved by all agencies involved, which included the Department of Justice, Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and Joint Chiefs of Staff [official websites].

The Obama administration continues its push to close the Guantanamo Bay facility, despite missing its self-imposed one-year deadline [JURIST report] in January. The administration has run into several hurdles in closing the prison, including opposition from members of Congress and the suspension of detainee transfers to Yemen [JURIST report]. Last week, the US House Armed Services Committee [official website] approved a bill [JURIST report] prohibiting the Obama administration from modifying or building a facility in the US to hold detainees currently held at Guantanamo. The bill requires [summary, PDF] that any plan to construct or modify US facilities to accommodate Guantanamo transfers be "accompanied by a thorough and comprehensive plan that outlines the merits, costs, and risks associated with utilizing such a facility." As the Obama administration has not presented such a plan to Congress, the bill prohibits the use of any funds for the purpose of preparing a US facility for Guantanamo transfers. The number of detainees at Guantanamo has significantly been reduced as the administration continues to transfer detainees to a growing list of countries, including Italy, Bulgaria, Spain, Maldives, Georgia, Albania, Latvia, Switzerland, Slovakia, Algeria, Somaliland, Palau, Belgium, Afghanistan, and Bermuda [JURIST reports].




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US lawyer arrested in Rwanda for genocide denial
Andrew Morgan on May 29, 2010 5:14 PM ET

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[JURIST] Rwandan police on Friday arrested American lawyer Peter Erlinder [professional profile; JURIST news archive] in Kigali on charges that he denied the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Erlinder, a defense lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and president of the ICTR's Association of Defense Lawyers [official websites] (ADAD), was in Rwanda to prepare his defense of opposition presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza [campaign website], who was arrested [JURIST report] last month on similar charges. International groups including the National Lawyers Guild, the International Criminal Defence Attorneys Association, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers [advocacy websites] have called for [press release] Erlinder's release, saying that the charges are politically motivated [AP report]. William Mitchell College of Law, where Erlinder teaches, has expressed concern for his safety [press release], saying they "support his commitment to justice, the rule of law, and public service." Rwandan Public Prosecutor Martin Ngoga said that Erlinder had become an organizer of genocide deniers [AFP report] and that Erlinder had traveled to Rwanda with full knowledge that denial of the genocide is illegal there.

In March, an aid to Ingabire who had been convicted in absentia, pleaded guilty to genocide charges [JURIST report] in exchange for a reduced prison sentence of 17 years. Last month, 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 in March, Agathe Habyarimana, the widow of assassinated Rwandan president Juvenal 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. Also in January, Rwandan lawmakers introduced a bill [JURIST report] to increase the criminal penalty for genocide denial imposed by a 2003 law.




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Supreme Court denies Blagojevich trial delay request
Andrew Morgan on May 29, 2010 4:34 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Friday denied a request by former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich [JURIST news archive] to delay the start of his corruption trial by 30 days. Blagojevich had sought to postpone the start of his trial in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois [official website] until the Supreme Court issues opinions in cases involving the federal honest services fraud statute [18 USC § 1346 text], arguing that it would be unfair to proceed with the trial if the Supreme Court were to declare the law unconstitutional. The statute is currently being challenged by former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling [JURIST news archives] as unconstitutionally vague in Skilling v. United States [JURIST report], and its application forms the basis of the appeals brought by former media mogul Conrad Black [CBC profile; JURIST news archive] in Black v. United States and former Alaska legislator Bruce Weyhrauch in Weyhrauch v. United States [JURIST reports]. Justice John Paul Stevens upheld a May decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website,] which denied the request [JURIST report] without issuing a written order.

In April, the prosecution was ordered to release [JURIST report] a 91-page government proffer outlining evidence in its case against Blagojevich. According to the proffer, Blagojevich tried to sell the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama, made appointments based on anticipated campaign contributions, and took kickbacks from a number of companies. In March, Blagojevich pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to eight amended corruption charges. In January 2009, the Illinois State Senate voted unanimously to convict Blagojevich of abuse of power and remove him from office [JURIST report], making him the first Illinois governor to be impeached and removed from office. Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were initially arrested [JURIST report] in December 2008 on allegations that they had conspired to sell the Senate seat.




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Nepal extends parliament term to develop new constitution
Sarah Miley on May 29, 2010 12:06 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Nepalese government on Friday extended the term of parliament by one year in order to develop a new democratic constitution. The agreement between Nepal's main political parties occurred just after midnight, when the Constituent Assembly [official website, in Nepalese] was due to dissolve along with nation's Interim Constitution [text, PDF]. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal [official website] also agreed to resign [AP report] in order to gain support of the rebel Maoist party [party website] in extending the parliamentary term and to leave the nation with a power-sharing government. The Maoists won election in 2008 to form the first secular government in Nepal but lost power nine months later in an effort to integrate rebel fighters into the national army. The Maoist party will now have significant control in the development of the new constitution, as it is the largest party in the new power-sharing government. Formal talks between party leaders will begin Sunday.

The peace process in Nepal has been hampered by human rights abuses, but several strides have been taken since the secular government inception in 2008. In March, Nepalese rights groups praised two recent judgments [JURIST report] by the District Court in Baitadi against caste-based discrimination. 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 last 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. In 2008, the Supreme Court of Nepal directed the country's government to end sexual orientation-based discrimination [JURIST report] and to extend equal rights to gender minorities, including same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive]. The order came in a lawsuit brought by several gay rights groups and follows a December 2007 ruling [BBC report] recognizing homosexuals as citizens under the classification "third sex." Nepal also has a history of human rights abuses stemming from the country's internal conflict. 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 Constituent Assembly. The assembly was elected in April 2008 and voted to abolish the monarchy [JURIST reports].




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ICTY prosecutor urges greater Croatia cooperation for EU accession
Sarah Miley on May 29, 2010 10:03 AM ET

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[JURIST] Chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] Serge Brammertz [official profile] said Friday that Croatia must make additional efforts to assist in investigations of war crimes during the 1991-1995 Balkan war [JURIST news archive]. Approval from Brammertz is crucial to Croatia's European Union (EU) [official website] bid, as it enters into the final round of negotiations with the hope to gain entry in 2012. Brammertz stated that while Croatia has been cooperative on most issues, he is still seeking wartime documents for the prosecution of three Croatian generals, which he requested from Croatia two years ago. Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor [official profile] claims that the government has performed a comprehensive administrative search for the military documents but has been unable to locate the outstanding materials in question. Defending [press release] the government's efforts, Kosor stated:
We have done all we could regarding the documents in question. We have handed over the documents we have found, and as regards to those we haven't found, our investigations have clearly established their chain of custody. We have very clearly described it [in our report] and sent it to the prosecutor.
Kosor also added that the exhaustive efforts of her ICTY "task force" have led to charges against 13 individuals, of which three have already been convicted. Kosor hopes that these accomplishments will be taken into consideration by the chief prosecutor when he briefs the UN Security Council and EU ministers in mid-June. Negotiations for Croatia's EU review of judiciary and fundamental rights is set to begin in June.

Croatia has been working hard to settle many of the human rights issues that have previously blocked its EU accession. In March, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [JURIST report] 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. In January, the Serbian government filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] against Croatia in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website], accusing the Croatian government of committing genocide during the Balkan war. The suit [press release, in Croation] is in response to a similar suit [case materials] filed by Croatia against Serbia in 1999. The ICJ ruled [JURIST report] last year that it has jurisdiction to hear that case. Serbia is also looking to gain membership into the EU in 2012, and will be assessed by Brammetz in June in regards to capture of two high-level Serbian targets still at large under the jurisdiction of the ICTY, Ratko Mladic [case materials; JURIST news archive] and Goran Hadzic [case materials].




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US House approves defense spending bill containing 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' repeal
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 28, 2010 4:38 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] voted 229-186 [roll call] Friday to approve a defense spending bill [HR 5136 materials] containing an amendment to repeal the military's controversial "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy [10 USC § 654; JURIST news archive]. The amendment [text, PDF], added Thursday on a vote of 234-194 [roll call], would prevent the repeal from taking effect until the completion of a review to determine what effects the repeal would have on military effectiveness, soldier retention, and family readiness. In order for the repeal to take effect after the review's completion, the president, secretary of defense, and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff must sign and transmit to congressional defense committees a certification stating that the review has been considered and the recommended policy changes have been implemented. Defense Secretary Robert Gates [official profile] spoke directly to troops [transcript; video] Friday, assuring them that the policy will only be revealed after a thorough analysis. The $700 billion National Defense Authorization Act will now go before the Senate, where it could face strong opposition from Republican lawmakers. The bill also contains a provision to bar the use of funds [JURIST report] to transfer or release Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees.

The compromise repeal provision was also approved Thursday by the Senate Armed Services Committee [official website. The Obama administration backed the proposal [JURIST report] on Monday, despite earlier opposition to passing a repeal before the completion of a comprehensive review. Gates had initially urged Congress to delay repealing the ban until the completion of the review, but has backed the amended repeal legislation [POLITICO report]. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen [official profile] has also backed the compromise legislation. A CNN poll [results, PDF] released Tuesday found that 78 percent of American adults believe that homosexuals should be able to serve openly in the military. In March, Gates announced changes to the enforcement [JURIST report] of the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy to make it more difficult to expel openly gay service members from the military. The repeal of the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy has been an important issue for President Barack Obama since he took office, and its inclusion in the State of Union Address [JURIST report] reaffirmed it as a top priority for the administration.




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India court charges ex-MP in connection with anti-Sikh riots
Dwyer Arce on May 28, 2010 3:01 PM ET

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[JURIST] An Indian court on Friday charged Sajjan Kumar [official profile], a former member of the Parliament of India in the ruling Congress Party [official websites], in connection with the 1984 anti-Sikh riots [TOI backgrounder]. Additional Sessions Judge Sunita Gupta of the Northeast District of Delhi [official website] charged [TOI report] Kumar and five others with conspiracy, murder, dacoity, and promoting enmity between communities under the Indian Penal Code [text]. The court found sufficient evidence to presume that a conspiracy and speeches made by Kumar incited the riots. The court is scheduled to begin hearing witnesses July 1. Kumar and his co-defendants pleaded not guilty, and, if convicted, they could face the death penalty.

The case was transferred [PTI report] from a special judge in the Central Bureau of Investigation [official website] to the Delhi court in April. The riots were precipitated by the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 by two of her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for Operation Blue Star [BBC backgrounders], a military campaign against Sikh militants. The riots spanned three days in October and November 1984, mostly affecting communities in Delhi, and leaving thousands of Sikhs dead.




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DC Circuit refuses evidentiary hearing for Uighur detainees
Sarah Miley on May 28, 2010 2:33 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday refused to order a new evidentiary hearing [opinion, PDF] in the case of five Chinese Muslim Uighurs detained at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archives]. Instead, in a per curiam decision, the court reinstated its original opinion, which gives political branches exclusive power in determining the release of non-citizens being held by the federal government. In April, the Supreme Court ordered the circuit court to reconsider [JURIST report] Kiyemba v. Obama [docket; CCR backgrounder] in light of the fact that each of the remaining Uighurs has received an offer of resettlement by another country. In response, the circuit court denied the petitioners' request to remand the case to the district court [JURIST report] for an evidentiary hearing on whether any of the resettlement offers were "appropriate," holding that it was in the power of the political branches to determine whether a country is appropriate for resettlement. The court further explained that even if the detainees had good reason to reject the resettlement offers, they still possessed no right to be released into the US:
In seven separate enactments - five of which remain in force today - Congress has prohibited the expenditure of any funds to bring any Guantanamo detainee to the United States. Petitioners say these statutes, which clearly apply to them, violate the Suspension Clause of the Constitution. But the statutes suspend nothing: petitioners never had a constitutional right to be brought to this country and released. Petitioners also argue that the new statutes are unlawful bills of attainder. The statutory restrictions, which apply to all Guantanamo detainees, are not legislative punishments; they deprive petitioners of no right they already possessed.
The Constitution Project [advocacy website], a bipartisan think tank focusing on constitutional issues, immediately denounced the judgment [press release]. The group criticized the court's ruling for being too broad on the issue of the judiciary's role the release of detainees. Authoring a separate concurring opinion, Circuit Judge Judith Rogers, agreed with the Constitution Project's assertion that the ruling was too broad, but held that there was no role for the judiciary in this case because the five Uighurs "hold the keys to their release from Guantanamo. All they must do is register their consent" to the proposed resettlement offers.

The DC circuit court's ruling came in a case informally referred to as Kiyemba I, which is separate from a different suit filed by the Uighur detainees, known as Kiyemba II. In March, the Supreme Court declined to rule [JURIST report] in Kiyemba II, on certain issues surrounding the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees. Lawyers for four Uighurs detained at Guantanamo were appealing [JURIST report] an April 2009 ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] by the DC circuit court, 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. Of the 22 Uighurs originally detained at Guantanamo Bay, 17 have accepted offers of relocation to other countries. Two Uighurs were transferred to Switzerland, six to Palau, four to Bermuda and five to Albania [JURIST reports].




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France appeals court denies Noriega bail request
Sarah Miley on May 28, 2010 12:58 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Paris Court of Appeals [official website] on Friday denied a request by former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] to be released from jail while awaiting his trial next month. Noriega claimed that he is too well-known to be a flight risk and that because of his partial paralysis and poor health, he is not receiving adequate care in Paris's La Sante prison. The court rejected his appeal, remanding him to custody. Noriega was extradited [JURIST report] to France last month by the US, where he had served a 17-year sentence on drug charges. Noriega faces money laundering charges in France for allegedly laundering $3 million in drug profits by purchasing property in Paris. His trial is set to begin [AFP report] on June 28 and will last for three days.

Last month, the French Justice Ministry denied [JURIST report] Noriega's request to be treated as a prisoner of war (POW). Justice Ministry spokesperson Guillaume Didier said that Noriega will not be treated as a POW [AFP report] because the charges are based on breaches of common law not related to military service. Earlier that week, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli [official profile, in Spanish] said that his government will seek the Noriega's extradition [JURIST report] to face charges of human rights violations in Panama. Noreiga had fought extradition [JURIST report] from the US since 2007. In March, the US Supreme Court declined to reconsider [JURIST report] Noriega's petition to stop the extradition process. Noriega was already sentenced in absentia [Reuters report] to 10 years in jail by a French court in 1999, but under French law is entitled to a new trial.




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Ninth Circuit upholds Arizona felon voter disenfranchisement law
Dwyer Arce on May 28, 2010 11:33 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Thursday upheld [opinion, PDF] Arizona laws barring former felons from voting until the completion of probation and the payment of outstanding fines. The Arizona Constitution [text] prohibits those convicted of felonies from voting, and state statute sets out the requirements of re-enfranchisement. The plaintiffs in the case brought the action under 42 USC s. 1983 [text], alleging that the Equal Protection Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder] of the US Constitution [text] only allows disenfranchisement for common law felonies. Plaintiffs also argued that the constitutional prohibition against poll taxes [text] was violated. The opinion, written by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, sitting with authorization under 28 USC s. 294(a) [text], concluded:
The Fourteenth Amendment permits States to disenfranchise felons, regardless of whether their offenses were recognized as felonies at common law. Requiring felons to satisfy the terms of their sentences before restoring their voting rights is rationally related to a legitimate state interest, and does not violate any of the various constitutional provisions plaintiffs rely upon.
O'Connor went on to dismiss the alleged poll tax violations because plaintiffs did not lose their right to vote "because they failed to pay a poll tax; it was abridged because they were convicted of felonies." Without voting rights after their felony convictions, the court held, the plaintiffs did not have a claim.

The Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in January that a Washington law prohibiting felons from voting violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act [text]. The Washington law, Article VI, Section 3 of the state constitution [text], stated that, "All persons convicted of infamous crime unless restored to their civil rights and all persons while they are judicially declared mentally incompetent are excluded from the elective franchise." Washington defines [text] an infamous crime as one, "punishable by death in the state penitentiary or imprisonment in a state correctional facility." In issuing its opinion, the Ninth Circuit noted that despite the state's efforts to amend the law to reduce the discriminatory effect, "it does not protect minorities from being denied the right to vote upon conviction by a criminal justice system that Plaintiffs have demonstrated is materially tainted by discrimination and bias." Felon voting rights are varied throughout the US [ProCon backgrounder], with 12 states completely restricting the right to vote depending on the crime committed, while Maine and Vermont allow all felons to vote, including those still serving their prison sentences.




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Australia to seek ICJ whaling injunction against Japan
Sarah Miley on May 28, 2010 11:22 AM ET

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[JURIST] Australian Environmental Protection Minister Peter Garrett [official profile] announced Friday that the Australian government will file suit against Japan [press release] in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] seeking an injunction against "scientific whaling" in the Southern Ocean. Australia claims that it has exhausted all possible resolutions available through the International Whaling Commission (IWC) [official website], an organization set up to monitor whale conservation under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling [text, PDF], and is now forced to take legal action:
Recent statements by whaling countries in the Commission have provided Australia with little cause for hope that our serious commitment to conservation of the world's whales will be reflected in any potential IWC compromise agreement. The Government has always been firm in our resolve that if we could not find a diplomatic resolution to our differences over this issue, we would pursue legal action. The Government's action fulfils that commitment. Australia will remain closely engaged in the IWC process and will continue to work hard in the lead up to and at the IWC meeting in June to pursue our objectives. ... Australia and Japan share a comprehensive strategic, security and economic partnership. ... The Government's action today reflects a disagreement in one element of a relationship that is deep, broad and multi-dimensional. Both Australia and Japan have agreed that, whatever our differences on whaling, this issue should not be allowed to jeopardise the strength and the growth of our bilateral relationship.
Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs [official website] called the timing of the lawsuit "regrettable" due to a proposal being developed by the IWC that will allow limited whaling [JURIST report]. Japan defends its scientific whaling activities stating the "lethal research" is allowed under whaling convention. Japan's motives have been heavily criticized by the international community though as the majority of meat from the hunt is sold at supermarkets and restaurants.

Commercial whaling was banned by the IWC in 1986, but Japanese whalers defend their whaling as scientific research because they collect data on the whale's age, diet, and birthing rate, before packaging and selling the meat. The Japanese mostly hunt for minke and finback whales, but have begun to hunt humpback whales, which have reached sustainable levels since being placed on the endangered species list in 1963. On Wednesday, the Tokyo District Court [official website] began the trial [JURIST report] of New Zealand anti-whaling activist Peter Bethune on five criminal charges in connection with boarding a Japanese whaling vessel as part of a protest in the Antarctic. The Japanese court system does not accept pleas before trial, but Bethune has made admission of guilt for four of the charges including trespass, destruction of property, illegal possession of a weapon and obstruction of business. He has denied the assault charge filed against him which stems from allegations that Bethune threw cartons of rancid butter at the vessel and injured a Japanese crewman in the process. If convicted, Bethune could face a prison term ranging from 15-25 years [TVNZ report], but his lawyer has indicated that the prosecutor may seek a sentence of two-and-a-half to three years. A verdict is expected [Daily Yomiuri report] as early as next month.




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Obama announces new regulations stemming from Gulf oil spill
Sarah Miley on May 28, 2010 10:36 AM ET

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[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] held a press conference [transcript] Thursday to announce new regulations to mitigate future oil spill disasters and the current plan of action for resolving the crisis created by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder] in the Gulf of Mexico. The government will be suspending several offshore drilling activities including exploration of platform locations in Alaska, pending lease sales in the Gulf and Virginia, and the drilling of 33 deepwater exploratory wells in the Gulf. The government will also suspend the issuance of new permits to drill deepwater wells for six months. Obama stated that increased government regulation in the oil industry was necessary to alter the "cozy and sometimes corrupt" relationship it has built with federal regulators, specifically the Minerals Management Service (MMS) [official website]. The president admitted that even though Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar [official profile] has worked hard to reform the once notoriously corrupt MMS, more action is necessary to ameliorate that agency's malfeasance. Responsibilities of the MMS, which include not only providing permits, but also enforcing laws governing oil drilling, will be divided so individuals who permit the drilling will be different from those that are in charge of regulation and enforcement of safety standards. New permits from the MMS will also require a 30-day safety and environmental review. When asked about the resignation of MMS director Elizabeth Birnbaum [official profile], Obama stated that he was not yet aware of the circumstances under which Birnbaum resigned, but that he had given Salazar command of the "top-to-bottom" reformation of the MMS and trusted him to secure a staff which is "operating at the highest level and aren't making excuses when things break down, but are intent on fixing them." Obama closed the press conference by reiterating his commitment to tackle the crisis created by the oil spill.

The US government has struggled to gain political control over the oil spill ever since the severity of the spill and the lack of federal regulation of offshore drilling became public. Last week, Obama signed an executive order establishing an independent commission [JURIST report] to investigate offshore drilling and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling will be charged with identifying the causes of the BP oil spill and developing options to mitigate future occurrences through laws, regulations and agency reform. The Obama administration has also asked Salazar to conduct a "top-to-bottom" reform of the MMS [speech text] and ordered immediate inspections of all deep water operations in the Gulf. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a result of an oil well blowout that caused an explosion 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf. The amount of oil spilled into the Gulf is part of an ongoing debate but the resulting oil slick has covered at least 2,500 square miles and has now surpassed the Exxon Valdez [JURIST news archive] as the worst oil spill in US history. The White House is keeping a daily chronology of events [text].




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US Congress advances 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' repeal legislation
Dwyer Arce on May 28, 2010 9:53 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US House of Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee [official websites] on Thursday advanced compromise legislation to repeal the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy [10 USC s. 654; JURIST news archive], sending it to a vote of the full Congress. The compromise would prevent the repeal from taking effect until the completion of a review to determine what effects the repeal would have on military effectiveness, soldier retention, and family readiness. In order for the repeal to take effect after the review's completion, the president, secretary of defense, and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff must sign and transmit to congressional defense committees a certification stating that the review has been considered and the recommended policy changes have been implemented. The House voted 234-194 [roll call], to add the compromise as an amendment to the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010 [texts, PDF], and is expected to vote [CNN report] on the full bill on Friday. The Senate committee voted 16-12 in favor of the amendment. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) [official website], a sponsor of the repeal, praised the committee vote, stating:
Today, the Senate Armed Services Committee took a historic step forward to strengthen our military effectiveness and to begin to end a discriminatory policy that dishonors those patriotic Americans who are willing to defend our country. [The] compromise amendment ... carefully accommodates the recommendations of the Pentagon working group and is consistent with the military’s standards of readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention. My strong belief is that if Americans seek to put their lives on the line to serve this blessed country of ours, we should not deny those patriots that opportunity because of their sexual orientation. The action which the Committee took today makes our country stronger and better.
Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) [official website], the lone Democratic committee member to vote against the amendment, described it as a preemption [press release] of the ongoing comprehensive review of the policy by the Department of Defense [official website], and could be construed as "disrespectful" by some members of the military. The addition of the amendment to the defense spending bill has prompted some Republican lawmakers to threaten to vote against the bill [The Hill report] in its entirety.

The Obama administration on Monday backed the proposal [JURIST report], despite earlier opposition to passing a repeal before the completion of a comprehensive review. Defense Secretary Robert Gates [official profile] had initially urged Congress to delay repealing the ban until the completion of the review, but has backed the amended repeal legislation [POLITICO report]. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen [official profile] has also backed the compromise legislation. A CNN poll [results, PDF] released Tuesday found that 78 percent of American adults believe that homosexuals should be able to serve openly in the military. In March, Gates announced changes to the enforcement [JURIST report] of the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy to make it more difficult to expel openly gay service members from the military. The repeal of the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy has been an important issue for President Barack Obama since he took office, and its inclusion in the State of Union Address [JURIST report] reaffirmed it as a top priority for the administration.




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Amnesty annual report decries 'global justice gap'
Dwyer Arce on May 28, 2010 8:49 AM ET

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[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Thursday released its 2010 Annual Report [materials; press release], highlighting a "global justice gap" caused by influential governments avoiding accountability for human rights abuses. AI was critical of the actions of the Group of 20 (G20) nations, which it described as having a "particular responsibility to set an example," and called on its members to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official websites]. The report stated that world governments had yielded to political pressures and used international organizations and alliances to shield themselves from accountability for violating international human rights standards. The report cited veto use by permanent members of the UN Security Council [official website] to prevent the international community from taking action on rights violations committed by permanent members and their allies. It also cited the failure of the UN Human Rights Council [official website] to address rights violations during the Sri Lankan civil war [JURIST new archive] due to complacency by Sri Lanka's regional allies. In the accompanying press release, the organization elaborated:
Repression and injustice are flourishing in the global justice gap, condemning millions of people to abuse, oppression and poverty. ... Governments must ensure that no one is above the law, and that everyone has access to justice for all human rights violations. Until governments stop subordinating justice to political self-interest, freedom from fear and freedom from want will remain elusive for most of humanity.

The report included criticism of human rights practices from all corners of the world, ranging from the treatment of aboriginal peoples by the Canadian government, to the rise of racism in Europe [JURIST reports] and extrajudicial killings in Latin America. Despite the ongoing failure of governments worldwide to uphold international human rights, the spread of universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder] and the increasing applicability of international law made 2009 a landmark year for international justice, according to the report. The convictions of Alberto Fujimori and Reynaldo Bignone, the ICC arrest warrant issued for Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, the nearing conclusion of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and the creation of a human rights body [JURIST reports] by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were included as reasons for this.

Last year, AI Secretary-General Irene Khan stated that the global economic crisis is exacerbating [JURIST report] the world's human rights failures, urging governments to "invest in human rights as purposefully as they are investing in economic growth." Khan spoke at the release of the 2009 annual report, which says that wealthy nations have overlooked "massive human rights abuses, entrench[ed] poverty and endanger[ed] regional stability," while attempting to assemble economic recovery packages. Previous annual reports, including the 2008 report [JURIST report], have condemned US human rights violations in anti-terror efforts. The 2006 and 2007 reports [JURIST reports] were critical of the US and other "Western democratic states" for attempts "to roll back some fundamental principles of human rights" in their efforts to fight terrorism.




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Japan court begins trial of anti-whaling activist
Sarah Miley on May 27, 2010 2:17 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Tokyo District Court [official website] on Wednesday began [Sea Shepherd press release] the trial of New Zealand anti-whaling activist Peter Bethune on five criminal charges in connection with boarding a Japanese whaling vessel as part of a protest in the Antarctic. The Japanese court system does not accept pleas before trial, but Bethune has made admission of guilt for four of the charges including trespass, destruction of property, illegal possession of a weapon and obstruction of business. He has denied the assault charge filed against him which stems from allegations that Bethune threw cartons of rancid butter at the vessel and injured a Japanese crewman in the process. If convicted, Bethune could face a prison term ranging from 15-25 years [TVNZ report], but his lawyer has indicated that the prosecutor may seek a sentence of two-and-a-half to three years. A verdict is expected [Daily Yomiuri report] as early as next month.

Bethune's charges [JURIST report] stem from boarding the Shanon Maru II, a Japanese whaling vessel, in response to a January 6 collision with the anti-whaling vessel, the Ady Gil, which he captained. As a result of the collision, the bow of the Ady Gil was sheared off, and the crew was rescued by another ship. On February 15, Bethune allegedly approached the Shanon Maru II ship on a jet ski, cut through anti-boarding netting surrounding the ship, boarded the ship, and then presented its captain with a bill for $3 million in damage done to his ship. He was taken into custody and returned to Tokyo where he was arrested by the Japanese Coast Guard. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society [advocacy website], of which Bethune is a member, has criticized [press release] the indictment, saying the "charges are bogus" and that the group "questions the credibility of the entire Japanese judicial system for entertaining such absurdities." The group claims that Bethune is being held for "purely political reasons" in order set an example for anti-whaling activists.




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California judge combines state court claims against Toyota
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 27, 2010 2:08 PM ET

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[JURIST] A California judge on Wednesday consolidated more than 40 pending state court claims against Toyota [corporate website; JURIST news archive] relating to an alleged safety defect that caused cars to accelerate out of control. The claims include consumer-fraud class action and personal injury lawsuits. Judge Carl West of the Los Angeles County Superior Court [official website] recommended [Reuters report] that the state court lawsuits be heard by a judge in Orange County. The final decision on whether to consolidate the claims will be made by state Supreme Court [official website] Chief Justice Ronald George, who is expected to announce his decision in two to three weeks. Toyota is also facing more than 100 federal lawsuits, which were consolidated [JURIST report] last month. The state and federal claims will remain separate.

Last month, Toyota accepted a record civil penalty of $16.375 million [JURIST report] imposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) [official website] for a four-month delay in notifying the agency about a problem with "sticky" and "slow to return pedal" gas pedals in various car models. The fine, the largest ever assessed against a car maker, was based on a preliminary review of extensive corporate documents attained through an investigation [press release] launched by the NHTSA in February. Toyota has been under federal scrutiny since December 2009, and has recalled more than 8.5 million vehicles.




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Federal judge orders release of Yemeni Guantanamo detainee
Dwyer Arce on May 27, 2010 1:16 PM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Wednesday ordered the release of Yemeni Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Mohammed Hassen [NYT profile]. Hassen had been initially detained [Miami Herald report] in March 2002 following a raid in Faisalabad by Pakistani security forces. He has maintained throughout his detention that he had traveled to Pakistan to study the Qur'an [text] at Salafi University and had no knowledge of al Qaeda [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] prior to his detention. Hassen is the third detainee captured in this raid to be released. The court opinion remains classified.

The ruling brings the number of Guantanamo detainees who have prevailed in habeas corpus proceedings [JURIST news archive] in federal court to 36. The government has prevailed in only 14 cases. Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered the release [JURIST report] of Russian Guantanamo Bay detainee Ravil Mingazov [NYT profile]. In March, the DC court denied the habeas petition of Yemeni Guantanamo Bay detainee Makhtar Yahia Naji al Warafi [NYT materials] on its merits, allowing the US government to prolong the detention indefinitely. In late February, a DC judge 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.




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UNICEF expresses concern over Guantanamo detainee Khadr
Sarah Miley on May 27, 2010 1:01 PM ET

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[JURIST] UNICEF [official website] expressed concern [press release] Wednesday over Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee and former child soldier Omar Khadr [DOD Materials; JURIST news archive]. Khadr was arrested in Afghanistan in 2002 at the age of 15 after he allegedly threw a grenade that killed on soldier and injured another. The statement held that recruitment and use of child soldiers is a war crime and those that should be punished for a child's acts of violence are the adult recruiters who manipulate young children into committing violent crimes. UNICEF said that separate systems have been created to accommodate judicial proceedings for child soldiers and are much better equipped to adjudicate juveniles suspected of war crimes:
[F]ormer child soldiers need assistance for rehabilitation and reintegration into their communities, not condemnation or prosecution. The prosecution of Omar Khadr may set a dangerous international precedent for other children who are victims of recruitment in armed conflicts. At a time when the UN celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, we call on all governments that have ratified this treaty, including the United States, to uphold the spirit of the Protocol and all its provisions. In addition, anyone prosecuted for offenses they allegedly committed while a child should be treated in accordance with international juvenile justice standards, which provide them with special protections. Omar Khadr should not be prosecuted by a tribunal that is neither equipped nor required to provide these protections and meet these standards.
The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict requires States that ratify it to "take all feasible measures" to ensure that members of their armed forces under the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities. Khadr is the last child soldier being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Earlier this month, a UN official called on the US and Canada to respect international conventions [JURIST report] and release Khadr into Canadian custody. In February, Khadr's lawyers filed an emergency motion in the Federal Court of Canada [official website] challenging the decision of the Canadian government not to seek his repatriation [JURIST report]. The Canadian Supreme Court ruled that Canada was not obligated [JURIST report] to seek his repatriation despite having violated his rights under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text]. A US military judge has announced that Khadr's trial will begin on August 10 [JURIST report]. Army Col. Patrick Parrish also ordered pre-trial hearings [JURIST report] on the admissibility of Khadr's alleged confession to resume July 12. Khadr's pre-trial hearings were suspended last month so that Pentagon officials could submit him to a mental health evaluation.




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Israel high court chief criticizes government for violating West Bank building injunction
Dwyer Arce on May 27, 2010 11:20 AM ET

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[JURIST] President Dorit Beinisch [official profile] of the Supreme Court of Israel [official website, in Hebrew] on Wednesday criticized the Israeli government for ignoring an injunction against building an access road on Palestinian lands. The road would connect two West Bank settlements [CSM backgrounder] - Hayovel, a settlement that is illegal under Israeli law, and the legal Eli settlement. Beinisch ordered [Haaretz report] the government to explain why the injunction had been violated within 45 days and to justify the damage done to private property during construction. The Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria issued an injunction [JP report] against further construction in April 2009 after lawyers for Yesh Din [advocacy website], an Israeli human rights groups, brought suit alleging that paving the proposed road would cross privately owned lands and cut off the Palestinian village of Karyut from portions of surrounding farmland.

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] alleged in a report [JURIST report] that on at least 12 separate occasions, Israeli forces destroyed civilian property [press release], including homes, factories, farms, and greenhouses, without any lawful military purpose during the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in the Gaza Strip [BBC backgrounder]. In March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called [JURIST report] Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank "illegal." The statement came 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 a future state.




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US lawmakers mull bill to increase scrutiny of Guantanamo lawyers
Sarah Miley on May 27, 2010 10:56 AM ET

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[JURIST] US lawmakers are currently considering a Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] appropriations bill containing a section that would allow increased investigation by the Pentagon into the practices of lawyers representing Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees. Section 1037 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 [text, PDF] would allow the Pentagon's inspector general to conduct investigations if there is reasonable suspicion that a Guantanamo lawyer is interfering with DOD detention facility operations, violating DOD policy, violating any law that is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the inspector general, or generating a "material risk" to a member of the armed forces. Results from these investigations are reported back to Congress. The American Bar Association [association website] opposes the provision [press release], with President Carolyn Lamm stating Wednesday that the Department of Justice is the appropriate agency to investigate and prosecute lawyers for misconduct, not the DOD:
[The DOD legislation] will compromise the professional independence of counsel and divert already starved defense resources from defending clients to defending the conduct, practices, actions and strategies of their lawyers. The American system of justice depends on the essential role of lawyers in counseling their clients. This includes providing zealous and effective counsel, even to those accused of heinous crimes against this nation in the name of causes that evoke our contempt...[Lawyers] who engage in inappropriate conduct or counsel a client to engage in conduct that is criminal or fraudulent are subject to the disciplinary authority of the jurisdiction(s) in which they are admitted to practice.
The provision was proposed in response alleged malpractice [NYT report] by detainee lawyers, specifically allegations stemming from lawyers utilizing the John Adams Project [official website], a research and legal assistance organization. Representative Jeff Miller (R-FL) [official website] claims that researchers from the project supplied lawyers with pictures of interrogators to show their detainee clients. Guantanamo lawyers have rebuffed these statements, saying the pictures were acquired to use in trial for detainees who claim to have been illegally interrogated. Opponents of the bill have asked the provision to be thrown out before it is put up for a vote before the US House of Representatives this week.

The DOD appropriations bill, which was unanimously passed by the House Armed Services Committee [official website] last week, has also been a point of contention in the effort to shut down Guantanamo Bay. If passed, the legislation will prohibit [JURIST report] the Obama administration from modifying or building a facility in the US to hold detainees currently held at the detention facility. The bill requires [summary, PDF] that any plan to construct or modify US facilities to accommodate Guantanamo transfers be "accompanied by a thorough and comprehensive plan that outlines the merits, costs, and risks associated with utilizing such a facility." As the Obama administration has not presented such a plan to Congress, the bill prohibits the use of any funds for the purpose of preparing a US facility for Guantanamo transfers. The Obama administration continues its push to close the Guantanamo Bay facility, despite missing its self-imposed one-year deadline [JURIST report] in January.




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Lehman Brothers sues JPMorgan for billions over collapse
Sarah Miley on May 27, 2010 8:51 AM ET

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[JURIST] Lehman Brothers Holdings [corporate website] on Wednesday filed suit [complaint, PDF] against JPMorgan Chase & Co. [corporate website] for allegedly "siphoning" off billions of dollars in "critically-needed" assets days before the investment bank filed for a record-breaking bankruptcy. JPMorgan was Lehman's main short-term lender before its collapse and acted acted as a middleman between Lehman and its investors. In the complaint, Lehman accused JPMorgan executives of using inside knowledge to take advantage of Lehman during its financial downfall and pressured the brokerage firm to turn over $8.6 billion in collateral in September 2008. The last-minute transactions allegedly accelerated Lehman's free fall into bankruptcy, costing the investment bank tens of billions of dollars in "lost value." The complaint, which was filed in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] in Manhattan, is seeking monetary relief for JPMorgan's contribution in Lehman's downfall as a result of its wrongful conduct:
JPMorgan's insistence on the new agreements in August and September 2008, its unjustified demands for billions in additional collateral, and its refusal to return that collateral in the critical days before [Lehman's] bankruptcy filing, severely constrained [Lehman's] liquidity and impeded its ability to pursue and implement alternatives and initiatives that would have resulted in the preservation of billions in value. Instead, [Lehman's] liquidity constraints compelled an exigent chapter 11 filing that has resulted in tens of billions of dollars in additional lost value to the [Lehman] estate and its creditors. ... It is now too late to undo all the harm caused by the [Lehman] bankruptcy. It is not too late, however, to return to [Lehman's] estate and its creditors the billions of dollars of [Lehman] assets that JPMorgan illegally converted and continues to hold, and to compensate [Lehman] for all the damages that flow directly from JPMorgan's misconduct. This lawsuit seeks to return that value to the [Lehman] estate and to restore all of the creditors to the position they would have occupied but for JPMorgan's wrongful conduct.
A spokesperson for JPMorgan responded to the complaint [WSJ report] calling the suit "ill-conceived and meritless." In March, a bankruptcy judge approved an accord providing for JPMorgan to return several billion dollars of assets to Lehman's estate but giving Lehman a right to sue further.

The collapse of complex financial firms such as Lehman Brothers has spurred government action to increase regulation and oversight. Last week, the US Senate [official website] passed [JURIST report] the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 [S 3217 materials], focused on increasing regulation in the financial sector following the recent economic crisis [JURIST news archive]. The bill creates a new regulatory council to monitor financial institutions in order to prevent the companies from becoming "too big to fail." It also gives the Federal Reserve [official website] the power to supervise the largest financial companies and report to the government any risks the firms may pose to the economy at large. Additionally, a new consumer protection division will be established within the Federal Reserve to enforce rules against certain business practices like abusive mortgage lending and some credit card practices. As a final protection against future bailouts, the government will have the ability to seize and liquidate failing financial institutions before their collapse can have an adverse affect on the entire economy. US President Barack Obama praised the bill, but opponents of the legislation expressed concern that its passage will stifle the economy. The Senate bill has to be reconciled with the bill passed last December [JURIST report] by the US House of Representatives [official website] before Obama can sign it into law.




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Obama to send 1200 National Guard troops to US-Mexico border
Dwyer Arce on May 27, 2010 8:42 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Obama administration confirmed Tuesday that it will send 1,200 National Guard [official website] troops to the US-Mexican border in an effort to deter drug smuggling and illegal immigration. They will join the 300 National Guard troops and 26,000 border and customs officials already stationed at the border. The troops will assist [AP report] border agents in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, but will not be directly engaged in law enforcement activities. Additionally, the administration will request a $500 million supplemental appropriations bill from Congress in order to assist in law enforcement efforts along the border. Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) [official website] has expressed support [Miami Herald report] for the move, describing it as a good start. Arizona Senators John McCain (R) and Jon Kyl (R) [official websites] also described [press release] it as an "important first step," but continued:
[T]he President is not sending enough troops. We believe the situation on the border is far worse today than it was [in 2006] due to the escalating violence between the Mexican drug cartels and the Mexican government. For this reason, we need to deploy at least 6,000 National Guard troops to the border region. The fact that President Obama announced today that he will only be sending one-fifth of the troops we believe are required is a weak start and does not demonstrate an understanding of the current situation in the region.
McCain and Kyl introduced an amendment [text, PDF] on Wednesday that would appropriate $250 million of unused funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 [text, PDF] to fund the deployment of 6,000 troops.

The deployment comes amid an effort by President Barack Obama to garner Republican support for proposed immigration reform legislation. Renewed pressure for congressional action on the issue has come after Arizona passed a bill [JURIST report] making it a state crime to be in the country illegally and requiring state police to verify the immigration status of those suspected of being in the country illegally. The bill has faced sharp criticism from Obama, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, and the international community [JURIST reports]. The effort is the first attempt at immigration reform since the failed [JURIST report] Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill [S 1639 materials] in 2007. In 2006, former US president George W. Bush [official profile] announced [JURIST report] the deployment of up to 6,000 National Guard troops to the Mexican border as a prime element in a wide-ranging plan to 'fix' problems created by illegal immigration.




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Canada finance minister proposes national securities regulator
Dwyer Arce on May 26, 2010 1:46 PM ET

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[JURIST] Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty [official website] on Wednesday introduced legislation [text; official backgrounder] that would establish a single national securities regulatory body to replace the current system managed by individual provinces and territories. The Canadian Securities Act would establish the Canadian Securities Regulatory Authority (CSRA) [fact sheet], replacing the current "passport" system, which allows provincial authorities to issue registration recognized nationwide, with a single national authority with voluntary provincial participation. According to Flaherty, the CSRA is also intended to foster competitive capital markets and protect investors from fraudulent practices. It will be run by a board of directors accountable to the Ministry of Finance [official website]. The legislation would also redefine securities-related criminal offenses that would apply even in provinces not participating in the CRSA and would give concurrent prosecutorial jurisdiction to the federal and provincial governments. Flaherty explained the need [press release] for the legislation, stating:
Canada is the only major industrialized country that lacks a national securities regulator. This step will strengthen the stability, integrity and effectiveness of the Canadian financial system ... [by] harmoniz[ing] existing legislation in the form of a single statute. ... It proposes significant improvements in terms of governance, adjudication, financial stability, and regulatory and criminal enforcement, and provides a wide scope of authority to regulate financial instruments and participants in capital markets.
The legislation will be submitted to the Supreme Court of Canada [official website] to rule on the proposal's constitutionality [official backgrounder], a process that could take 10 to 24 months. Quebec Premier Jean Charest [official website] sharply criticized [Montreal Gazette report] the proposed legislation, stating that it would interfere with provincial jurisdiction and that his government would pursue a legal challenge in the Quebec Court of Appeal [officials website]. The governments of Alberta and Manitoba have also been critical of the legislation, prompting another court challenge from Alberta.

The legislation is based on the recommendations of a seven-member panel appointed by Flaherty, which concluded in January that the global financial crisis [FT backgrounder] increased the need for a national securities regulatory system. It comes as a culmination of the efforts of successive Canadian governments to form a single securities regulator. The global financial crisis has caused concern over securities regulations in other countries as well, prompting the US Department of Justice [official website] in April to open a criminal investigation [JURIST report] of Goldman, Sachs & Co. [corporate website] for possible securities fraud in mortgage trading. Earlier in April, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website; JURIST news archive] filed civil charges [JURIST report] against Goldman Sachs. The SEC alleges that Goldman made misleading statements and omissions to investors in early 2007 in violation of the Securities Act of 1933 [text, PDF] and Securities Exchange Act of 1934 [text, PDF]. Also in April, the German government announced [JURIST report] that it was considering legal action against the company. Britain has indicated that it may also pursue legal action [Bloomberg report] after it found out the scope of the allegations contained in the SEC lawsuit.




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ICC reports Sudan to UN for lack of cooperation with arrest warrants
Sarah Miley on May 26, 2010 1:11 PM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Wednesday reported [press release] Sudan to the UN Security Council [official website] for lack of cooperation in the pursuit of alleged war criminals [case materials] Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb [arrest warrants, PDF]. ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I released a decision [text, PDF] asking the Security Council to take any steps it deems appropriate to compel Sudan to comply with its obligation under Resolution 1593 [text, PDF], which provides that "the Government of Sudan and all other parties to the conflict in Darfur shall cooperate fully with and provide any necessary assistance to the Court and the Prosecutor pursuant to this resolution.'' The three-judge panel stated that the ICC has taken all possible measures to ensure cooperation from Sudan, but the government has refused to provide any assistance or information in regards to the case of Harun and Kushayb. Since the ICC concluded that it has exhausted all its resources, the responsibility will now be shifted to the Security Council to take appropriate action. Sudan, which is not a permanent member of the ICC under the Rome Statute [text], refuses to recognize the court's jurisdiction, stating that "the International Criminal Court has no place in this crisis at all." Harun and Kushayb are wanted for 51 counts [case materials] of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The decision stemmed from a request filed [JURIST report] by ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo [official profile] last month for a finding of non-cooperation pursuant to Article 87 of the Rome Statute for the government's refusal to arrest Harun and Kushayb. The request stated that "[t]o the contrary, the [government of Sudan] continues to commit crimes, promotes and protects the persons sought by the Court; and harasses all persons who are considered to be in favor of justice." The majority of the ICC caseload has come from Africa, causing tense relations with the governments in the region. On Monday, a collection of African civil society organizations issued a declaration urging greater cooperation [JURIST report] between the ICC and African nations in anticipation of the upcoming ICC Review Conference of the Rome Statute [official website]. The group of 124 organizations called on African governments to enhance their cooperation with the court and to make greater efforts in the execution of outstanding warrants. The review conference will take place in Kampala, Uganda from May 31 to June 11, 2010. During the conference, member states will consider proposed amendments [text] to the statute.




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Peru judge orders release of US woman held for involvement with rebel group
Dwyer Arce on May 26, 2010 11:52 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Peruvian judge on Tuesday ordered the release of Lori Berenson [advocacy website], a US citizen held since 1995 for collaboration with a Marxist rebel organization. Judge Jessica Leon Yarango cited [press release, in Spanish] good behavior, Berenson's renunciation of violence, and the completion of "re-education, rehabilitation and re-socialization," in deciding to grant parole. Berenson will not be allowed to leave the country until her parole period has ended and must make monthly court appearances. The prosecution has appealed the decision. Berenson was arrested in 1995 for involvement with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], a Marxist rebel group. She is alleged to have trained guerrillas [Guardian report] and moved weapons for the MRTA in addition to assisting the group in carrying out an attack on the Peruvian Congress [official website, in Spanish] by gaining access to the body using press credentials.

In 2005, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights [official website] denied an appeal request to reinterpret its November 2004 ruling [JURIST reports] that upheld Berenson's conviction. Lawyers for Berenson claimed that her trial failed to meet international standards for fairness, and sought to have her conviction and 20-year sentence overturned. In a 2000 CBS News interview [text], Berenson characterized her original trial proceedings as hostile and coercive, saying that she had faced a panel of hooded judges and that armed guards had aimed assault rifles at her and her lawyer's heads during the 10-minute proceeding. She was initially sentenced to life imprisonment by a military court, but the sentence was reduced to 20 years in a civil retrial in 2001.




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Italy agrees to take two more Guantanamo detainees
Sarah Miley on May 26, 2010 11:30 AM ET

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[JURIST] Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini [official profile] announced Tuesday that Italy will take two more detainees from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility [JURIST news archive]. The announcement came during a meeting the US officials from the National Security Council, including National Security Adviser James Jones. Italy's Interior Ministry [official website, in Italian] will review profiles of potential transferees before an agreement is made with US authorities on which detainees Italy will take. Italy hinted at the possibility that the selected detainees may be brought to Italy as cleared captives [Miami Herald report] rather than face trial or additional jail time. Last year, Italy accepted three Tunisian detainees [JURIST report] from Guantanamo to stand trial for terrorism charges.

The Obama administration continues its push to close the Guantanamo Bay facility, despite missing its self-imposed one-year deadline [JURIST report] in January. The administration has run into several hurdles in closing the prison, including opposition from members of Congress and the suspension of detainee transfers to Yemen [JURIST report]. Last week, the US House Armed Services Committee [official website] approved a bill [JURIST report] prohibiting the Obama administration from modifying or building a facility in the US to hold detainees currently held at Guantanamo. The bill requires [summary, PDF] that any plan to construct or modify US facilities to accommodate Guantanamo transfers be "accompanied by a thorough and comprehensive plan that outlines the merits, costs, and risks associated with utilizing such a facility." As the Obama administration has not presented such a plan to Congress, the bill prohibits the use of any funds for the purpose of preparing a US facility for Guantanamo transfers. The number of detainees at Guantanamo has significantly been reduced as the administration continues to transfer detainees to a growing list of countries including Bulgaria, Spain, Maldives, Georgia, Albania, Latvia, Switzerland, Slovakia, Algeria, Somaliland, Palau, Belgium, Afghanistan, and Bermuda [JURIST reports].




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Oklahoma voters to decide on health care opt-out amendment
Dwyer Arce on May 26, 2010 10:52 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Oklahoma House of Representatives [official website] on Tuesday voted 88-9 to put a constitutional amendment purporting to exempt state residents from the federal health care law [HR 3590; JURIST news archive] on the November ballot. The vote comes after the Oklahoma Senate [official website] voted 30-13 [roll call, PDF] in favor of the ballot initiative earlier this month. The legislation would ask voters whether they wanted to add an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution [text] prohibiting "forced participation in the health care system." If approved, the amendment would exempt state residents [press release] from any penalty for failing to purchase health insurance, according to the bill's sponsors. Most Americans will be required to purchase health insurance by 2014 under the health care law. In a statement [video], state Representative Mike Thompson (R) [official website], a sponsor of the bill, described the effort as a "shield ... from a federal takeover of our health care system," and stated:
SJR 59 is the answer to Oklahoma citizens about opting out of Obamacare. ... What this legislation does is it empowers the voters to make the decision whether or not they want a single payer system implemented on them. ... [T]his legislation builds upon the state constitution ... [which is] the first line of defense for a state.
The ballot initiative comes after the Oklahoma Senate failed to override a veto by Governor Brad Henry (D) [official website] of a bill that would have attempted to statutorily exempt state residents from the individual mandate provision of health care reform. Henry cited [veto message] the costs of litigation, could jeopardize health care funding from the federal government, and the inability of a state to "selectively ignore federal laws of its choosing," as reasons for the veto. The bill would have also allowed state legislators to sue the federal government to overturn the health care reform law.

Oklahoma joins Florida and Arizona in placing similar constitutional amendments on the November ballot. On Monday, the Obama administration filed a brief [JURIST report] urging the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by Virginia challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate provision of the health care reform. Earlier this month, the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) [association website], a small business lobby group, joined a separate lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging the health care reform law. The NFIB joined 20 states in a suit that began in March when a complaint seeking injunction and declaratory relief was filed [JURIST reports] in the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida [official website]. Among the allegations in the suit are violations of Article I and the Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution [text], committed by levying a tax without regard to census data, property, or profession, and for invading the the sovereignty of the states.




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Ousted Thailand PM appeals arrest warrant
Sarah Miley on May 26, 2010 10:32 AM ET

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[JURIST] A lawyer for ousted [JURIST report] Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Wednesday filed an appeal against an arrest warrant [JURIST report] issued Tuesday on charges of terrorism. Thaksin is accused of involvement in the the recent political violence [JURIST news archive] in Bangkok, as the figurehead of the pro-democracy protesters known as the red shirts [BBC backgrounder]. Thaksin's lawyer was accompanied by two additional red shirt leaders [Bangkok Post report], who have sworn they will testify that Thaksin was not involved in any acts of terrorism if the court chooses to hear the appeal. The red shirts' protests in the capital's central commercial district paralyzed the country for the past two months, and Thaksin has been repeatedly accused of organizing and financing the campaign. The former prime minster was removed from power in 2006 by a military coup and has been living abroad in Cambodia where the government has refused to extradite [JURIST report] him to Thailand for criminal prosecution. The Thai government hopes that the official charge of terrorism will make foreign governments more malleable in their extradition policies.

The Thai government's response to the recent conflict in Bangkok has been criticized by international human rights organizations. Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] expressed concern [JURIST report] about the treatment of anti-government protesters detained during the Bangkok demonstrations. The organization chided the Thai government for enacting a "draconian" emergency decree giving Thai security forces broad power to arrest individuals without formal charges and hold them in secret detention. The decree, which lacks judicial oversight, also prevents detainees from having access to legal counsel or family members. Earlier this month, a Thai court sentenced 27 protesters to six months in prison for violating the emergency decree. Under the strict security law [JURIST report] adopted in anticipation of the protests, the red shirts initially faced up to a year in prison, but their confessions allowed the district court to commute their sentences [AFP report]. During their protests, the red shirts demanded that Prime Minster Vejjajiva Abhisit [BBC backgrounder] resign and called for new elections. The Thai government implemented a curfew [JURIST report] in Bangkok and other areas of the country in response to violence that erupted when the leader of the red shirts announced an end to the protests. The curfew remains in effect as the government tries to maintain order.




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Mladic family seeks official death declaration
Sarah Miley on May 26, 2010 9:04 AM ET

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[JURIST] The family of war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic [case materials; JURIST news archive] will file a claim in the Belgrade District Court [official website, in Serbian] seeking to have the former military leader declared officially dead, according to Serbian media reports [Novosti report, in Serbian] Tuesday. This declaration would allow Mladic's family to collect his state pension and sell his property. Under Serbian law, an individual can be officially declared dead when he is over the age of 70 and no reliable information on his whereabouts has been discovered for five years. Mladic is 68, but his family is convinced he is no longer alive, as they have not heard from him in over seven years and he was in poor health at that time. A lawyer for the family stated that they will still file the claim and ask the court for leniency so the family can put Mladic's prosecution behind them. Deputy Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor Bruno Vekaric has dismissed [Press TV report] the family's request, calling it "speculation," and stressed that the investigation into the war crimes suspect's location will continue. Mladic is one of two high-level targets still at large under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website; JURIST news archive] and faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for allegedly overseeing the Srebrenica [JURIST news archive] massacre and other war crimes violations during the Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archive].

Earlier this month, the ICTY announced that the Office of the Prosecutor [official website] has filed a motion to amend [JURIST report] the indictment against Mladic. Prosecutors believe that the amended indictment will help speed up the court proceedings once he is captured. The amended indictment includes 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws and customs of war that took place between 1992-1995. In March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] said that the ICTY will continue to operate [JURIST report] beyond its originally planned end date, in part to apprehend both Mladic and political leader Goran Hadzic [case materials], who both face a significant number of charges. Ban estimated that it will be necessary for the court to remain open until 2013.




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Oklahoma legislature overrides veto of pre-abortion questionnaire bill
Dwyer Arce on May 26, 2010 8:46 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Oklahoma Senate [official website] voted 33-15 [roll call, PDF] Tuesday to override the veto of bill [HB 3284 text, RTF] that would require women seeking an abortion [JURIST news archive] to complete a questionnaire. The vote comes a day after the Oklahoma House of Representatives [official website] voted 84-13 to override the veto, allowing the proposed legislation to take effect November 1. The Statistical Abortion Report Act would require women to answer questions such as marital status, reasons for seeking the abortion, and whether the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. It would also require doctors performing the procedure to fill out a questionnaire about complications resulting from it. The bill was vetoed [press release] by Governor Brad Henry (D) [official website] on Monday, because of its "personally invasive" nature:
While I support reasonable restrictions on abortion, this legislation has numerous flaws. As with previous abortion bills I have vetoed, HB 3284 lacks an essential exemption for rape and incest victims. By forcing them to submit to a personally invasive questionnaire and posting the answers on a state website, this legislation will only increase the trauma of an already traumatic event. Victims of such horrific acts should be treated with dignity and respect in such situations, as should all people.
Paul Sund, a spokesman for Henry, criticized [Tulsa World report] the Senate's override because of the cost of litigating legal challenges that may arise from the bill. Supporters have said the measure is necessary to protect unborn children.

Two weeks ago, the Oklahoma Senate voted 32-11 [JURIST report] to pass the bill. Identical legislation was signed into law last session but was struck down [JURIST report] because it was part of a broader bill that violated the state constitution's single subject requirement. Earlier this month, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson [official profile] agreed to delay the implementation of another controversial new state law [HB 2780 text, RTF] requiring women seeking an abortion to consent first to an ultrasound after the Center for Reproductive Rights [advocacy website] requested a restraining order temporarily barring enforcement of the law. In April, the Oklahoma Senate voted to override [JURIST report] Henry's veto of two anti-abortion bills, including the ultrasound bill. The Oklahoma laws join another restrictive abortion law passed recently in Nebraska, which bans abortions after 20 weeks [JURIST report].




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Africa groups urge greater cooperation with ICC
Dwyer Arce on May 25, 2010 3:28 PM ET

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[JURIST] A collection of African civil society organizations on Monday issued a declaration [text] urging greater cooperation between the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] and African nations during the upcoming ICC review conference. The group of 124 organizations called on African governments to enhance their cooperation with the court and to make greater efforts in the execution of outstanding warrants. The declaration also urged member states to improve their national judicial systems in order to maintain the court's status as one of last resort, and called on states that had not ratified the Rome Statute [text], the treaty establishing the court, to do so. In explaining the purpose of the declaration and the need for greater continental cooperation with the ICC, the authoring organizations said:
We ... call on African governments to make the most of the upcoming review conference... The review conference comes at a critical time in the development of the ICC. ... [T]he court faces important challenges to implementing its mandate successfully, includ[ing] challenges in conducting court operations, such as obtaining adequate support ... [and] external attacks on the institution... The review conference offers an exceptional occasion for African governments to help advance the global fight against impunity by restating their commitment to justice for the victims of grave crimes and offering views on the development of international criminal justice and the ICC.
The Review Conference of the Rome Statute [official website] will take place in Kampala, Uganda from May 31 to June 11, 2010. During the conference, member states will consider proposed amendments [text] to the statute.

The majority of the ICC caseload has come from Africa, causing tense relations with the governments in the region. The ICC on Wednesday sent a delegation [JURIST report] from the Office of the Prosecutor [official website] to Guinea to further investigate the killing of more than 150 pro-democracy protesters in Conakry in September 2009. In March, ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] submitted [JURIST report] to ICC judges the names of 20 senior political and business leaders who "bear the gravest responsibility" for the deadly violence perpetrated after Kenya's 2007 presidential election [JURIST news archive]. In March 2009, the ICC issued an arrest warrant [JURIST report] for Sudanese head of state Omar al-Bashir [ICC materials, PDF; JURIST news archive], charging him with seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but declining to charge him with genocide. The warrant was rejected [BBC report] by Bashir, and strongly denounced [Reuters report] by the chairman of the African Union (AU) [official website], Muammar al-Gaddafi [BBC profile]. Gaddafi described the warrant as a form of terrorism and raised the possibility of the withdrawal of African member states in protest.




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Obama administration seeks dismissal of Virginia health care suit
Dwyer Arce on May 25, 2010 3:03 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Obama administration on Monday filed a brief [text, PDF] urging the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by the state of Virginia challenging the constitutionality of the recently enacted health care reform law [HR 3590 text; JURIST news archive]. The suit [complaint, PDF] filed by Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli [official website] challenges the constitutionality of the individual mandate provision of the health care bill, which would require most Americans to purchase some form of health insurance by 2014 and directly contradicts a state law [text, PDF; JURIST report] purporting to prevent the enforcement of a federal mandate. In the brief, attorneys representing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius [official website] argued that the state lacks standing to challenge the provision because it "alleges no actual or imminent injury to its own interests as a state," and went on to argue:
The Court would ... have to step beyond the proper role of the Judiciary, for Virginia does not satisfy ... standing to sue. The Commonwealth asserts it has standing to vindicate a sovereign interest in its new statute purporting to exempt Virginians from any federal requirement to purchase health insurance. A state cannot, however, manufacture its own standing to challenge a federal law by the simple expedient of passing a statute purporting to nullify it. ... Virginia itself neither has sustained a direct and concrete injury, nor is in immediate danger of such an injury. In seeking to speak on behalf of unnamed citizens, Virginia brings into a judicial setting arguments that failed in the legislative arena, where a proponent need not show immediate and concrete harm.
Additionally, the brief argued that even if Virginia had standing, the law is a constitutional exercise of congressional Commerce Clause power [Cornell LII backgrounder] under Supreme Court [official website] precedent.

The Virginia General Assembly [official website] passed the ban on a federal mandate in March. The Virginia Health Care Freedom Act was 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. Earlier this month, the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) [association website], a small business lobby group, joined a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] challenging the health care reform law. The NFIB joined 20 states in a suit that began in March when a complaint seeking injunction and declaratory relief was filed [JURIST reports] in the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida [official website]. Among the allegations in the suit are violations of Article I and the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution [text], committed by levying a tax without regard to census data, property, or profession, and for invading the the sovereignty of the states. The plaintiffs also assert that the law should not be upheld under the Commerce Clause. Also in May, the US Department of Justice [official website] filed [JURIST report] a response [brief text] to a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] challenging the health care law filed in March by the Thomas More Law Center [advocacy website] on the same day President Barack Obama signed the bill into law [JURIST report].




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Pakistan high court rejects appeal to jail Mumbai attack suspect
Sarah Miley on May 25, 2010 1:51 PM ET

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[JURIST] Pakistan's Supreme Court [official website] ruled Tuesday that a Pakistani cleric accused by India of plotting the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks [JURIST news archive] cannot be jailed due to lack of evidence. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed [Global Jihad profile] is the head of fundamentalist terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) [CFR backgrounder], which was allegedly behind the attacks. Pakistan put Saeed under virtual house arrest [JURIST report] one month after the onslaught, where he remained except for a three-month period last summer, but the Lahore High Court (LHC) [official website] ordered his release [JURIST report] in October after finding insufficient evidence to link him to the Mumbai attacks or al Qaeda [JURIST news archive]. The Supreme Court's ruling could strain the already fragile relationship between India and Pakistan, which had recently begun peace talks.

The charges against Saeed had been filed under the Pakistani Anti-Terrorism Act [text] and were related to speeches Saeed gave while visiting Faisalabad last year. It is claimed that he discussed [Times of India report] the significance of Jihad and asked for funding for his charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which is believed to be a front for the LeT. Saeed's lawyer successfully argued that JuD was not a banned group. In September, Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced that his government would indict seven suspects [JURIST report] for their role in the attacks, also requesting further evidence from India that Saeed was involved in planning the attacks. Mumbai has suffered a number of terrorist attacks allegedly linked to the LeT in recent years, leading the government to consider controversial terrorism laws and to institute special courts [JURIST reports] to try suspects.




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Thailand court charges ousted PM with terrorism
Sarah Miley on May 25, 2010 12:03 PM ET

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[JURIST] A criminal court in Thailand issued an arrest warrant on Tuesday for ousted [JURIST report] prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on charges of terrorism. Thaksin is accused of involvement in the the recent political violence [JURIST news archive] in Bangkok, which left more than 80 dead and more than 1,000 injured. Thaksin has been seen as the figurehead of the pro-democracy protesters, United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship [party website, in Thai], also known as red shirts [BBC backgrounder]. The red shirts' protests in the capital's central commercial district paralyzed the country for the past two months, and Thaksin has been repeatedly accused of organizing and financing the campaign. The former prime minster was removed from power in 2006 by a military coup and has been living abroad in Cambodia where the government has refused to extradite [JURIST report] him to Thailand for criminal prosecution. The Thai government hopes that the official charge of terrorism will make foreign governments more malleable in their extradition policies.

The Thai government's response to the recent conflict in Bangkok has been criticized by international human rights organizations. Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] expressed concern [JURIST report] about the treatment of anti-government protesters detained during the Bangkok demonstrations. The organization chided the Thai government for enacting a "draconian" emergency decree giving Thai security forces broad power to arrest individuals without formal charges and hold them in secret detention. The decree, which lacks judicial oversight, also prevents detainees from having access to legal counsel or family members. Earlier this month, a Thai court sentenced 27 protesters to six months in prison for violating the emergency decree. Under the strict security law [JURIST report] adopted in anticipation of the protests, the red shirts initially faced up to a year in prison, but their confessions allowed the district court to commute their sentences [AFP report]. During their protests, the red shirts demanded that Prime Minster Vejjajiva Abhisit resign and called for new elections. The Thai government implemented a curfew [JURIST report] in Bangkok and other areas of the country last week in response to violence that erupted when the leader of the red shirts announced an end to the protests. The curfew remains in effect as the government tries to maintain order.




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White House backs amendment to 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' repeal legislation
Dwyer Arce on May 25, 2010 11:39 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Obama administration on Monday backed a proposal that would prevent a repeal of the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy [10 USC s. 654; JURIST news archive] from taking effect until the completion of a comprehensive review of the repeal's effects. The amendment to the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010 [texts, PDF] would prevent the repeal from taking effect until the Department of Defense [official website] completes a review to determine what effects the repeal would have on military effectiveness, soldier retention, and family readiness. In order for the repeal to take effect after the review's completion, the president, secretary of defense, and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff must sign and transmit to congressional defense committees a certification stating that the review has been considered and the recommended policy changes have been implemented. In the letter [text, PDF] sent to the chief sponsors of the legislation expressing the administration's support of the amended legislation, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag [official profile] said:
the Administration is of the view that the proposed amendment meets the concerns raised by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The proposed amendment will ... ensure that the implementation of the repeal is consistent with standards of military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention. [S]uch an approach recognizes the critical need to allow our military and their families the full opportunity to inform and shape the implementation process.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates [official profile] had initially urged Congress to delay repealing the ban until the completion of the review, but has backed the amended repeal legislation [POLITICO report]. A CNN poll [results, PDF] released Tuesday found that 78 percent of American adults believe that homosexuals should be able to serve openly in the military. A vote on the proposed legislation is expected as early as this week.

In March, Gates announced changes to the enforcement [JURIST report] of the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy to make it more difficult to expel openly gay service members from the military. Also in March, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) introduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010 to the Senate [official websites]. The repeal of the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy has been an important issue for President Barack Obama since he took office, and its inclusion in the State of Union Address [JURIST report] reaffirmed it as a top priority for the administration. In January, legal advisers for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen [official profile], suggested that he delay any internal efforts [JURIST report] to repeal the policy until 2011.




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Dutch court begins Europe's first Somali pirate trial
Sarah Miley on May 25, 2010 10:30 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Netherlands District Court of Rotterdam [official website, in Dutch] on Tuesday commenced [press release, in Danish] the first European trial of Somali pirates [JURIST news archive] under charges of "sea robbery" for hijacking a cargo ship registered in the Netherlands Antilles. The five accused Somali pirates were arrested last year during an attempt to forcibly board the cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden after a Danish navy frigate sunk the pirates' boat. One defendant wept during his testimony, claiming [AP report] that the severe poverty in Somalia had driven him to piracy. The trial is scheduled to last five days, and the judgment is scheduled to be handed down in June. If convicted, the pirates could face a maximum of 12 years in prison.

The international community is supporting actions taken against piracy. Yemen's Ministry of Defense announced last week that a Yemeni court sentenced six Somali pirates to death [JURIST report] and six additional pirates to 10-year jail sentences for the hijacking of a Yemeni oil tanker in April 2009. Earlier this month, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) [office website] announced that the island nation of Seychelles will create a UN-supported center [JURIST report] to prosecute suspected pirates. This will be the second such court established for the prosecution of pirates, following only Kenya. Last month, the UN Security Council approved a resolution [JURIST report] calling on member states to criminalize piracy under their domestic laws and urging Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] to consider an international tribunal for prosecuting piracy. The Security Council resolution came the same week the UN announced that a trust fund established to combat piracy will be funding five projects [UN News Centre report] aimed at piracy committed in the waters around Somalia.




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Russia ex-PM testifies Khodorkovsky arrest politically motivated
Dwyer Arce on May 25, 2010 9:58 AM ET

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[JURIST] Former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov [BBC profile] on Monday testified that former president Vladimir Putin [official website; JURIST news archive] ordered the arrest of former oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] for political reasons. Testifying before the Khamovnichesky District Court, Kasyanov stated [Moscow Times report] that after questioning Putin on the subject several times, he finally indicated that Khodorkovsky had funded the Communist Party [party website, in Russian] without first getting approval to do so from the president, prompting the arrest. The left-leaning Union of Right Forces and Yabloko [party websites, in Russian] have acknowledged receiving funding from Khodorkovsky, which, according to Kasyanov, was authorized by Putin, but the Communist Party has denied ties to Khodorkovsky. Kasyanov went on to criticize [NYT report] the practice of seeking secret presidential approval for the otherwise legal funding of political parties. Kasyanov served as prime minister under Putin from 2000 to 2004, before being dismissed along with the entire cabinet, and has since become critical of Putin. Putin currently serves as prime minister under President Dmitri Medvedev [official website; BBC profile].

Last week, Khodorkovsky ended a two-day hunger strike [JURIST report] after a spokesperson for Medvedev indicated that Medvedev was familiar with a complaint Khodorkovsky made regarding the three-month extension of his detention. Also last week, Khodorkovsky sent an open letter to Russia's Supreme Court [official website, in Russian] contending that Russian courts are ignoring recent changes in the law that allow people charged with economic crimes to be released on bail pending the outcome of their trials. Khodorkovsky indicated the goal of his hunger strike had been achieved [press release], and that his intention was to change the judicial system going forward and not his current situation. Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website] are currently serving eight-year prison sentences after being convicted [JURIST report] in 2005 on fraud and tax evasion charges stemming from an attempt to embezzle and strip their Yukos [JURIST news archive] oil company of valuable assets. They are now charged with embezzling [JURIST report] USD $25 billion worth of oil produced by Yukos. The men have pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to the current charges, and face up to 20 additional years in prison if convicted.




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Rights groups petition UN on behalf of Spain judge Garzon
Sarah Miley on May 25, 2010 9:29 AM ET

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[JURIST] Several international human rights and jurist organizations on Monday petitioned the UN [text, PDF] to support Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] in his inquiry into human rights violations during the Spanish Civil War [LOC backgrounder] and to ask Spain to end his criminal prosecution. Garzon was suspended last week [JURIST report] by the Spanish General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) [official website, in Spanish] for abusing his power by opening an investigation into war crimes allegedly committed under Francisco Franco [BBC backgrounder]. He has also been formally charged [JURIST report] with abusing his power for violating Spain's 1977 amnesty laws, which bar investigation of all political crimes committed under the Franco regime. The international organizations argue [press release] that Spain's actions show an improper interference with what is supposed to be an independent judiciary, and that the investigation and interpretation of Spain's amnesty laws should be determined by judicial review and appeal:
By allowing Judge Garzon to be charged and suspended for carrying out his judicial duty to interpret the law as requiring the investigation of credible complaints of over 100,000 disappearances and executions, Spain is violating its positive legal duties arising from both domestic and international law to protect and enforce rights that are core to the implementation and enforcement of all human rights. ... The paramount duty of states to ensure and allow effective investigations of disappearances and executions has been defined by international instruments and interpreted and confirmed by national and international tribunals. ... Disappearances and executions remain in widespread use by states across the economic spectrum as a brutally effective means of neutralizing suspected opponents with absolute impunity. In the struggle between law and realpolitik, Judge Garzon has been a singular advocate for the proper universal enforcement of human rights and therefore one of the world's most effective opponents of impunity. The charges against him have effectively silenced him and will indubitably have a chilling effect on other judges called to make unpopular decisions regarding allegations of serious criminal wrongdoing by former state agents.
No trial date has been set to adjudicate the claims against Garzon, but, if convicted, he could face a suspension of up to 20 years.

Last week, the judiciary oversight committee of the CGPJ approved a request [JURIST report] by Garzon to work with the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. The ICC confirmed earlier this month [press release] that they had asked Garzon to work for them as a consultant for a period of seven months in order to improve their investigative methods. The CGPJ granted Garzon's request for leave indicating there was no legal reason preventing him from working as a consultant with the ICC. Thousands gathered [JURIST report] in cities across Spain last month in support of Garzon, chanting slogans and displaying flags of the pre-war Republican government ousted by Franco. Garzon is widely known for using universal jurisdiction extensively in the past to bring several high-profile rights cases, including those against Osama bin Laden and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archives].




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Kenya judges rule Islamic courts unconstitutional
Sarah Miley on May 25, 2010 8:12 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Kenyan constitutional court ruled [judgment, PDF] Monday that inclusion of Islamic "Kadhi" courts [official website] in the nation's current constitution [text, PDF] is illegal and discriminatory. The Kadhi court system, which elevates Islam over the country's other religions, was deemed unconstitutional because it does not coincide with Kenya's secular mandate. The court also held that supporting Kadhi courts with public funds is a form of segregation as it promotes the development of one religion over another. The three-judge panel did not determine whether the Islamic courts should be included in the nation's new constitution, which will be put to a referendum on August 4. Kenyan Attorney General Amos Wako [official profile] has moved to challenge the court's decision, calling the ruling itself unconstitutional. The Kadhi courts, which were created for the use of Muslims in areas of family law such as inheritance, marriage, divorce, and personal status, have become a contentious issue between political and religious leaders as Kenya's struggle to develop a new constitution reaches its final stages.

Earlier this month, Wako published [JURIST report] the country's draft constitution [text, PDF], which proposes more balance of power in the government. President Mwai Kibaki [official profile], Prime Minister Raila Odinga, and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka have all supported the proposed constitution [Daily Nation report] and have urged citizens to approve it in the public referendum. Despite the government leaders' widespread calls for cooperation and support, the proposed constitution still faces criticism, particularly from Kenyan religious figures who oppose [Daily Nation report] the draft's position on abortion, marriage, and divorce. The president's Cabinet members have encouraged the religious leaders to support the draft constitution and then pursue their goals through the political process [AP report] after the constitution is ratified. The draft includes several significant checks on presidential authority, including a requirement that presidential appointees face parliamentary confirmation and the removal of presidential appointment of judges. Members of Parliament receiving Cabinet positions will also have to relinquish their legislative seats. The changes are intended to reduce the widespread injustice throughout the country, and specifically address issues that led to violence following the 2007 presidential elections [JURIST news archive] where tens of thousands of protesters took to Kenya's streets accusing Kibaki of election fraud after early opinion polls suggested rival Odinga was in the lead.




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Obama introduces legislation seeking wider authority to cut spending
Dwyer Arce on May 24, 2010 5:25 PM ET

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[JURIST] US President Barack Obama sent legislation [text, PDF] to Congress on Monday that would give the president the ability to force Congress to vote on a repeal of spending provisions once they have been signed into law. Under the Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act of 2010, the president would have 45 days after signing spending legislation into law to issue a rescission proposal specifying the amount to be rescinded, the agency or program that will be affected, and the president's reasons for the rescission request. After issuing the proposal, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) [official website] would be authorized to withhold disbursement of the funds "notwithstanding any other provision of law." After the rescission is proposed, it must be considered by the appropriate committee of the House of Representatives [official website] within four days, and must be voted on, without amendment, by the committee. Otherwise, the proposal will be automatically removed from committee, allowing any member of the House to move to consider the proposal. OMB Director Peter Orszag [official profile] promoted the bill [statement], stating:
The Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act will empower the President and the Congress to eliminate unnecessary spending while discouraging waste in the first place. This is critically important both because we should never tolerate taxpayer dollars going to programs that are duplicative or ineffective and because, especially in the current fiscal environment, we cannot afford this waste.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) [official website] reacted favorably [press release] to the proposed legislation, but urged Obama to "call on Democrats in Congress to pass a real budget that reins in overall federal spending." Representative John Spratt (D-SC) [official website] will formally introduce [AP report] the bill later this week.

The proposed legislation is similar to that introduced to Congress by former president George W. Bush [official profile] in 2006, which was defeated in the Senate [official website] by a Democratic filibuster. In 1998, the Supreme Court [official website] ruled in Clinton v. City of New York [Cornell LII backgrounder] that the Line Item Veto Act (LIVA) [legislative materials] violated the Presentment Clause of the US Constitution [text], which only provides for the president to sign or veto a bill in its entirety. LIVA gave the president the unilateral ability to veto certain spending provisions after they had been signed into law, unless two-thirds of both houses of Congress voted to override the line item veto.




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Supreme court upholds fee shifting in ERISA case
Sarah Miley on May 24, 2010 2:55 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously in Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Insurance Co. [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that fee claimants filing lawsuits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) [materials] are not required to be a "prevailing party" in order to be eligible for an attorney's fees award under 29 USC s. 1132(g)(1) [text]. The fee-shifting statute applies in most ERISA lawsuits and allows the court to use discretion in assigning reasonable attorney's fees to either party. Bridget Hardt filed a claim under ERISA against her employer's insurance carrier, Reliance, after the carrier discontinued long term benefits it had previously awarded for a work-related injury. In pre-trial proceedings, the district court found "compelling evidence" in favor of Hardt but did not grant summary judgment in order to allow Reliance to reassess Hardt's application. Reliance complied with the district court order and upon further evaluation reinstated Hardt's benefits. No judgment was issued, but the district court awarded Hardt attorney's fees under s. 1132. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated [opinion, PDF] the fees award granted by the lower court, holding that Hardt had failed to establish that she qualified as a prevailing party. Justice Clarence Thomas, delivering the opinion of the court, held that the circuit court's addition of a prevailing party requirement was "inventing a statute rather than interpreting one" because s. 1132 expressly denotes that the district court can use its discretion to award attorney's fees to either party, and incorporates no "prevailing party" provision. Therefore, a court may award fees and costs under s. 1132(g)(1), as long as the fee claimant has achieved "some degree of success on the merits." The case was reversed and remanded to the Fourth Circuit for proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court's judgment.

In April, the Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that a district court has an obligation to defer to an ERISA plan administrator's reasonable interpretation of the terms of the plan if the plan administrator arrived at the interpretation outside the context of an administrative claim for benefits. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit had ruled that a district court is under no obligation to defer to an ERISA plan administrator's interpretation and that a district court has "allowable discretion" to adopt any "reasonable" interpretation of the terms of the plan.




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Supreme Court rules on plain error in alleged ex post facto violation
Dwyer Arce on May 24, 2010 2:15 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] 7-1 in United States v. Marcus [Cornell LII backgrounder] that the lower court had misapplied precedent interpreting plain error in an alleged ex post facto violation. The court held that the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit had erred in its interpretation of two criteria in finding that a plain error had occurred at trial under Rule 52(b) [text] of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which would allow the defendant to raise the defense of an ex post facto violation for the first time on appeal. The Second Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the appropriate standard for plain error review of an asserted ex post facto violation was whether "there is any possibility, no matter how unlikely, that the jury could have convicted based exclusively on pre-enactment conduct." In overturning this standard, Justice Stephen Breyer explained:
[Case law] set[s] forth ... that an appellate court may, in its discretion, correct an error not raised at trial only where the appellant demonstrates that (1) there is an "error"; (2) the error is "clear or obvious ... "; (3) the error "affected the appellant's substantial rights, which in the ordinary case means" it "affected the outcome of the district court proceedings"; and (4) "the error seriously affect[s] the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings." In our view, the Second Circuit's standard is inconsistent with the third and the fourth criteria set forth in these cases. The third criterion ... means that there must be a reasonable probability that the error affected the outcome of the trial. Th[e] standard [used by the Second Circuit] is irreconcilable with our "plain error" precedent. In cases applying this fourth criterion, we have suggested that, in most circumstances, an error that does not affect the jury's verdict does not significantly impugn the "fairness," "integrity," or "public reputation" of the judicial process.
Justice John Paul Stevens filed a dissenting opinion, disagreeing with the majority's conclusion that the appellate court was outside of its discretion:
The trial error at issue in this case undermined the defendant's substantial rights by allowing the jury to convict him on the basis of an incorrect belief that lawful conduct was unlawful. ... [T]he Court of Appeals properly exercised its discretion to remedy the error and to order a retrial.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor took no part in the proceedings. She heard the case when it was before the Second Circuit prior to her nomination [JURIST report] to the Supreme Court.

Respondent Glenn Marcus was convicted of sex trafficking and forced labor under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act [text, PDF], enacted in October 2000, for conduct that spanned from January 1999 to October 2001. In February, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] for the case. Counsel for the US government argued that, "[u]nder Rule 52(b), a defendant asserting a forfeited claim of error may prevail only by showing at a minimum a reasonable possibility that the error actually affected the outcome of the case." Counsel for the respondent argued for the application of the Second Circuit's standard.




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Supreme Court rules on mandatory minimum sentencing for federal gun crimes
Dwyer Arce on May 24, 2010 1:16 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously in United States v. O'Brien [Cornell LII backgrounder] that the question of whether a firearm is a machine gun must be proved to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt and is not a sentencing factor to be considered by the judge by a preponderance of the evidence. The court held that the type of firearm used in perpetrating a crime was an element of the crime under mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. The government had attempted to extend the sentence of the respondents under 18 USC s. 924(c) [text], which sets a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years for using a machine gun during a crime. The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that such a determination should be made by a jury. In doing so, the court relied on statutory interpretation outlined by the Supreme Court in Castillo v. United States [opinion, PDF; Cornell LII backgrounder] in interpreting a previous version of s. 924(c), creating a circuit split. The First Circuit held that the amendment to the statute had not altered the holding of Castillo. In upholding the decision below, Justice Anthony Kennedy explained:
Th[e] structural or stylistic change ... does not provide a "clear indication" that Congress meant to alter its treatment of machineguns as an offense element. A more logical explanation for the restructuring is that it broke up a lengthy principal paragraph, which exceeded 250 words[,] ... into a more readable statute. This is in step with current legislative drafting guidelines, which advise drafters to break lengthy statutory provisions into separate subsections that can be read more easily. ... These points are overcome, however, by the substantial weight of the other Castillo factors and the principle that Congress would not enact so significant a change without a clear indication of its purpose to do so. The evident congressional purpose was to amend the statute to ... make [it] more readable but not otherwise to alter the substance of the statute. The analysis and holding of Castillo control this case. The machinegun provision in [s.] 924(c)(1)(B)(ii) is an element of an offense.
Justice John Paul Stevens filed a concurring opinion, and Justice Clarence Thomas filed an opinion concurring in the judgment only.

Respondents Martin O'Brien and Arthur Burgess made a failed attempt to rob an armored car in 2005, using a firearm that the FBI alleged had been modified to operate as a fully-automatic weapon. The court heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] in February. Counsel for the petitioner, the US government, argued that the language of the statute requires a judge to make the determination. Counsel for the respondents argued that such a result is foreclosed by the Supreme Court's statutory interpretation jurisprudence.




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Supreme Court rules NFL teams not single entity for antitrust purposes
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 24, 2010 12:41 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously in American Needle v. NFL [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the National Football League (NFL) [league website] and its member teams are not a single entity that is exempt from rule of reason claims under Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act [text]. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the NFL and its member teams are a single entity under the Sherman Act. Reversing the decision below, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote:
Football teams that need to cooperate are not trapped by antitrust law. "[T]he special characteristics of this industry may provide a justification" for many kinds of agreements. The fact that NFL teams share an interest in making the entire league successful and profitable, and that they must cooperate in the production and scheduling of games, provides a perfectly sensible justification for making a host of collective decisions. But the conduct at issue in this case is still concerted activity under the Sherman Act that is subject to s. 1 analysis.
The case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings.

The NFL and its 32 member teams teams reached an agreement with Reebok [corporate website] to license and sell consumer headwear and clothing with the respective teams' logos and not to grant licenses to Reebok's competitors for 10 years. The antitrust suit was brought by American Needle [corporate website], which argued that the contract violated the Sherman Act.




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Supreme Court rules on time limits for employment discrimination suits
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 24, 2010 11:18 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously in Lewis v. City of Chicago [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a plaintiff who fails to file a timely challenge against the adoption of a discriminatory employment practice can later file a disparate impact claim challenging the application of the practice. The question was whether a plaintiff seeking to bring a disparate impact employment discrimination suit must file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [official website] within 300 days after test results were released or 300 days after hiring decisions were announced. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the statute of limitations began running when the allegedly disparate results were announced, not when hiring decisions were made. Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Antonin Scalia reversed the decision below, distinguishing disparate impact claims from disparate treatment claims:
For disparate-treatment claims - and others for which discriminatory intent is required - that means the plaintiff must demonstrate deliberate discrimination within the limitations period. But for claims that do not require discriminatory intent, no such demonstration is needed. Our opinions, it is true, described the harms of which the unsuccessful plaintiffs in those cases complained as "present effect[s]" of past discrimination. But the reason they could not be the present effects of present discrimination was that the charged discrimination required proof of discriminatory intent, which had not even been alleged. That reasoning has no application when, as here, the charge is disparate impact, which does not require discriminatory intent.
The case involved minority firefighters in Chicago who alleged that the city's eligibility test had a discriminatory impact on African Americans.

Last year, US President Barack Obama signed into law [JURIST report] the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 [S 181 materials], extending the deadline for employees to sue their employers for unequal pay discrimination under a disparate treatment theory. The law's "clarification" of equal pay protections effectively overturned the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co [opinion, PDF; JURIST report], which held that "a pay-setting decision is a discrete act that occurs at a particular point in time" and that the statutory period for filing a discrimination claim with the EEOC begins when that discrete act occurs. The new law altered Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [text] to clarify that the six-month statute of limitations controlling racial, gender, or national origin employment discrimination suits is applicable to each instance of a discriminatory practice, including the receipt of each paycheck, not only to the initial discriminatory act. The initial lawsuit was brought by Lilly Ledbetter, a 19-year Goodyear employee, who alleged that she received less pay than male counterparts because of gender discrimination. The Supreme Court upheld the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit's reversal [opinion, PDF] of a district court decision awarding Ledbetter $360,000 in damages.




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Supreme Court grants certiorari in five cases
Sarah Miley on May 24, 2010 10:19 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in five cases. In Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court granted a limited petition to decide whether a federal minimum safety standard [text], which authorizes automobile manufacturers to install a lap-only seat belt at the inboard seating positions of a vehicle, preempts a state tort action alleging that the manufacturer should have installed a lap and shoulder belt in one of those seating positions. A California state appeals court [official website] held [opinion, PDF] that a state action was preempted by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208 [text], which requires lap and shoulder seat belt assemblies only for outboard seating. Petitioners claim that Mazda [corporate website] had a duty to warn of safety risks associated with lap only seat belts under Wyeth v. Levine [opinion, PDF; JURIST report], in which the Supreme Court ruled that federal approval of labels giving warnings about effects of drugs does not bar lawsuits under state law claiming inadequate warnings of a health risk.

The court also granted a limited petition in Sossamon v. Texas [docket; cert. petition, PDF] to decide whether an individual may sue a state or state official in his official capacity for damages for violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act [42 USC s. 2000cc text], which grants prisoners permission to obtain injunctive and declaratory relief against the government when it imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a inmate. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed [opinion, PDF] a grant of summary judgment in favor of Texas and ordered further proceedings to determine if Texas had been exceeded its bounds under the act by prohibiting Sossamon to use the prison chapel for Christian worship, even though it was available for other uses.

The court granted certiorari to another federal preemption case on Monday in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion [docket; cert. petition, PDF]. The court will decide whether the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) [text], which provides for judicial facilitation of private dispute resolution through arbitration when the transaction involves interstate commerce, preempts states from enforcing alternate solutions when arbitration clauses are considered unconscionable. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the FAA does not preempt a California unconscionability law, which allowed a class action against AT&T mobile despite a contractual clause prohibiting such proceedings.

In Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn [docket; cert. petition, PDF] and Garriott v. Winn [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court granted a consolidated petition, allowing one hour for oral argument. The court will determine the constitutionality of an Arizona tax credit for donations to organizations that provide scholarships at private schools, which allows scholarships funded by religious organizations to be granted only to students attending parochial schools. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the taxpayers had standing to challenge the constitutionality of the law and allowed the claim to proceed. The outcome will determine if tax credit program unconstitutionally endorses or advances religion simply because taxpayers choose to direct more contributions to religious organization than nonreligious ones.

In Skinner v. Switzer [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court will decide whether a convicted prisoner seeking access to biological evidence for DNA testing may assert a civil rights claim under Section 1983 [text] or if such a claim is cognizable only under a writ of habeas corpus. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF] a district court decision to dismiss Skinner's s. 1983 claim seeking access to DNA evidence that may prove his innocence in the murders for which he is now sentenced to death, stating that relief could only be sought through habeas corpus. The Supreme Court court also granted a stay of execution until the case is decided.

The court dismissed [opinion, PDF] a writ of certiorari as improvidently granted in Robertson v. US ex rel. Watson [docket; JURIST report], which challenged the constitutionality of a District of Columbia law under which a private party can bring an action for criminal contempt. The decision included a lengthy dissent from Chief Justice Roberts joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Sonia Sotomayor, maintaining that a criminal action can only be brought against a defendant by society as a whole, and therefore the lower court erred in its judgment upholding the law.

Also Monday, the Supreme Court delivered a per curiam opinion for a summary reversal in the capital case of Jefferson v. Upton [docket]. The court reversed and remanded the judgment of the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which held that ineffective council defenses under habeas claims are subject to a higher standard than the normative "strong presumption of correctness" standard. The court's opinion is its twelfth summary reversal this session.




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Australia government announces new military court
Dwyer Arce on May 24, 2010 9:41 AM ET

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[JURIST] Australian Defense Minister John Faulkner and Attorney General Robert McClelland [official websites] announced Monday that the government will establish a new military court [press release] as part of a restructuring of the federal court system. The Military Court of Australia will be administered by the Federal Court of Australia and will have jurisdiction over Australian Defense Force (ADF) [official websites] personnel operating overseas who are accused of committing serious service offenses or elect to have their cases heard by the court. Judges on the court will be required to have military experience or familiarity with the armed forces but cannot be ADF members or within the military chain of command. In the joint statement, McClelland outlined the benefits of the new courts, stating:
Judicial officers appointed to the new Military Court of Australia will have the same independence and constitutional protections that apply in other federal courts. ... This new structure will achieve a more integrated and efficient system in order to effectively deliver legal and justice services to both the civilian and defence community.
Additionally, the proposed court restructuring would give jurisdiction over family law cases solely to the Family Court and would retain the Federal Magistrates Court [official websites] to exercise general federal law jurisdiction. Legislation to establish the new military court is to be introduced to the Parliament [official website] later this year, and the Military Court is expected to be operational by the end of 2011.

The new military courts would replace the interim arrangements that had been in use after the Australian Military Court (AMC) [Department of Defense backgrounder] was found unconstitutional [judgment text; JURIST report] by the High Court of Australia [official website] in August. The High Court held that the AMC employed the judicial power of the Commonwealth while AMC judges functioned within the hierarchy of the military, violating chapter three of the Australian Constitution [text]. The ruling cast doubt on approximately 170 cases that the AMC had ruled on since its inception in 2007. The case that prompted the ruling was brought as an appeal by sailor Brian Lane over a 2005 charge of indecent assault on a superior officer. Lane had argued [The Australian report] that the AMC did not have jurisdiction over the case and that the legislation creating the court was invalid. In response to the ruling, Faulker said that the previous military justice system would be reinstated [press release], which consisted mainly of trials by court martial and ADF magistrates. The AMC was established by the government of former prime minister John Howard [BBC profile] after a series of Senate Committee reports were critical of the system of military justice and recommended extensive changes.




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US violent crime rate drops for third straight year: FBI
Sarah Miley on May 24, 2010 8:38 AM ET

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[JURIST] The FBI on Monday released preliminary annual crime statistics for 2009, which indicated a drop in violent crime [press release] for the third year in a row. The FBI's Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report [text] disclosed that violent crime in the nation decreased 5.5 percent, and property crime declined 4.9 percent, when compared with data from 2008. According to the report, all four categories of violent crime fell in 2009, including murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. There were also declines across the board for all city groups, with large metropolitan areas having the biggest decrease at 7.5 percent. Additionally, property crime has continued to decrease for the seventh year in a row. The FBI compiled the data from crime statistics from more than 13,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide. The numbers in the report are preliminary and will be made official later this year.

In December, the FBI released a preliminary report covering the first half of 2009 [JURIST report], indicating a 4.4 percent decrease in violent crime from January to June. Specifically, murder decreased 10 percent, robbery dropped 6.5 percent, forcible rape fell 3.3 percent, and aggravated assault decreased 3.2 percent. While violent crime rates dropped across the country as a whole, in cities of populations between 10,000 and 24,999, violent crime increased 1.7 percent. The drop follows a 1.9 percent decrease for 2008 and a 0.7 percent decrease [JURIST reports] for 2007. That came after two years of increasing rates of similar crimes, including a 2006 increase of 1.3 percent and a 2005 increase of 2.3 percent [JURIST reports].




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BP refusing to follow EPA dispersant directive
Erin Bock on May 23, 2010 4:24 PM ET

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[JURIST] BP [official website; JURIST news archive] is balking at an US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] order issued Thursday directing it to find an alternative dispersant [press release] to address the Deepwater Horizon oil spill [official website] in the Gulf of Mexico. The agency Saturday released BP's response [text, PDF] to the directive [text, PDF] ordering the oil company to find a "less toxic and more effective dispersant" to combat the spill within 24 hours and begin using it within 72. Dispersants are chemicals that are used to break oil down into small droplets causing it to become more easily degradable. BP is using the dispersant Corexit 9500 [EPA chemical details] both on the surface of the spill and underwater at the source of the oil leak. BP said that it had found five possible alternatives, but stood by its decision to use Corexit 9500, saying it was a "better choice" for underwater use and had fewer long term effects. BP also said it already had a sufficient supply of Corexit and did not know whether it could obtain adequate quantities of any other chemical immediately. Portions of the response were redacted because BP cited it as confidential business information. The EPA is concerned about the environmental impact of Corexit 9500 because BP is using the dispersant in "unprecedented volumes" and because "much is unknown about the underwater use of dispersants." The EPA has not yet released a response to BP's refusal to stop using Corexit. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson [official website] returned to the Gulf Coast [Reuters report] Sunday to continue monitoring response efforts.

On Friday, President Barack Obama signed an executive order establishing an independent commission to investigate offshore drilling and this most recent oil spill [JURIST report]. The commission will identify the causes of the spill and develop options to help prevent future incidents. The spill was a result of an oil well blowout that caused an explosion 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf. The amount of oil spilled into the Gulf is still unknown and part of an ongoing debate, however the resulting oil slick has covered at least 2,500 square miles. The damage from the blowout is expected to be in excess of $8 billion [JURIST comment].




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UN Haiti mission investigating prison shootings
Sarah Miley on May 23, 2010 11:21 AM ET

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[JURIST] A spokesperson for the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti [official website] announced Saturday that the mission has launched an investigation into the shootings of dozens of prisoners in a jail riot following the January 12 earthquake [JURIST news archive] which killed over 200,000 people and left some 1 million homeless. An earlier investigation [NYT report] by the New York Times [media website] alleged that Haitian police officials opened fire on unarmed prisoners during the riot and sought to cover it up by claiming that prison ring-leader, Ti Mousson, murdered any inmates who refused to cooperate in his escape plan. According to the Times report, police officials raided the jail during the riot shouting for prisoners to lie down, but instead of securing the area began shooting the inmates, including those that had surrendered. One witness claims that some prisoners were killed systematically to "settle scores." Following the shooting, police authorities failed to notify inmates’ relatives of the deaths, buried bodies without conducting autopsies and burned the surviving prisoners’ bloodstained clothing. Prison authorities deny the allegations and claim that no shots were fired by police officers.

In February the acting head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti [official website] urged Haitians to turn in prisoners who escaped [JURIST reports] when the earthquake destroyed prisons and jails. The aftermath of the earthquake also placed a strain on detainees arrested since the disaster, as limited space and limited access to judges burdened the country's already tenuous criminal justice system.




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DOJ drops criminal probe of AIG executive
Sarah Miley on May 23, 2010 9:45 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] has decided not to file charges against former American International Group (AIG) [corporate website] executive Joseph Cassano, according to prosecutors from the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] on Saturday. The decision appears to end a two-year criminal investigation of several executives from AIG's Financial Products subsidiary [official website], which played a large role in constructing complex contracts known as credit-default swaps [TIME backgrounder] that insured bond losses tied to the US housing market. The SEC investigation was undertaken to determine whether AIG officials deceived investors and auditors in 2007 by misrepresenting the accounting value of a credit default swap portfolio, which nearly bankrupted the company. The SEC will continue its investigation into the London-based Financial Products subsidiary and could eventually lead to civil actions.

In August former AIG executives agreed to settle [JURIST report] a suit brought by the SEC alleging their involvement in inflating the company's reported financial records. The SEC accused former CEO Maurice Greenberg and former CFO Howard Smith of being "control persons" under the Securities Exchange Act [text], making them liable for AIG's securities law violations. The SEC claimed that the two executives made false statements which allowed the company to misrepresent key earnings between 2000 and 2005. Greenberg will pay $15 million in disgorgement and penalties without admitting any charges to "put these issues behind him," while Smith settled for $1.5 million.




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Obama nominates James Cole as Deputy AG
Andrew Morgan on May 22, 2010 2:00 PM ET

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[JURIST] US President Barack Obama Friday nominated former Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] lawyer James Cole [professional profile] for the position of Deputy Attorney General, the second highest position at the DOJ. Cole previously spent 13 years at the DOJ, including four years as head of the department's Public Integrity Section [official website], responsible for prosecuting government officials. During the 1997 investigation [CNN backgrounder] of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich [personal website], Cole served as the Special Counsel to the House Ethics Committee [official website]. The position of the Deputy Attorney General [official website] has been filled by Gary Grindler [official profile] since February, after first Obama Deputy AG David Ogden resigned [JURIST report] only nine months after being confirmed.

Ogden had been a key member of the Obama transition team at the DOJ prior to his nomination as Deputy AG [JURIST report]. The nomination was controversial, as conservative groups took issue [JURIST report] with his support for abortion rights, including the amicus brief [text, PDF] he wrote for the American Psychological Association in Planned Parenthood Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey [opinion, PDF].




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Obama commission to investigate BP Gulf oil spill
Sarah Miley on May 22, 2010 12:29 PM ET

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[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] signed an executive order [text] on Friday establishing an independent commission [White House weekly address] to investigate offshore drilling and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico [BBC backgrounder]. The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling will be charged with identifying the causes of the BP oil spill and developing options to mitigate future occurrences through laws, regulations and agency reform. The commission will be comprised of a maximum of seven bipartisan members with experience in relevant fields such as science, engineering and the oil and gas industry. The order outlined how the investigation will be administered:
The Commission shall hold public hearings and shall request information including relevant documents from Federal, State, and local officials, nongovernmental organizations, private entities, scientific institutions, industry and workforce representatives, communities, and others affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, as necessary to carry out its mission…The heads of executive departments and agencies, to the extent permitted by law and consistent with their ongoing activities in response to the oil spill, shall provide the Commission such information and cooperation as it may require for purposes of carrying out its mission…In carrying out its mission, the Commission shall be informed by, and shall strive to avoid duplicating, the analyses and investigations undertaken by other governmental, nongovernmental, and independent entities.
The US Department of Justice [official website] will work in tandem with the commission to make sure the investigation does not interfere with any ongoing investigations, law enforcement activities, or cost-recovery efforts arising out of the BP explosion and subsequent oil spill. The findings will be compiled and delivered to Obama within 60 says of the commission's first meeting.

Criminal and civil actions have been mounting against BP as evidence of the oil giant's lack of proper compliance with regulations has mounted. Earlier this week, DC-based consumer advocacy organization Food and Water Watch (FWW) [advocacy website] filed suit [JURIST report] in a US district court against the US Department of Interior (DOI) and the Minerals Management Service (MMS) [official websites] for an injunction to halt drilling at the BP Atlantis Facility [corporate website], another BP Gulf of Mexico site. The Obama administration has asked DOI Secretary Kenneth Salazar [official profile] to conduct a "top-to-bottom" reform of the MMS [speech text] and ordered immediate inspections of all deep water operations in the Gulf. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a result of an oil well blowout that caused an explosion 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf. The amount of oil spilled into the Gulf is part of an ongoing debate but the resulting oil slick has covered at least 2,500 square miles. The White House is keeping a daily chronology of events [text].




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Rights group fears ill-treatment of imprisoned Thai protesters
Sarah Miley on May 22, 2010 9:59 AM ET

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[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [official website] has expressed concern [press release] about the treatment of anti-government protesters detained during Thailand's latest round of political violence [JURIST news archive]. The group is chiding the Thai government for enacting an emergency decree giving Thai security forces broad power to arrest individuals without formal charges and hold them in secret detention. The decree, which lacks judicial oversight, also prevents detainees from having access to legal counsel or family members. HRW released the statement Thursday after security forces dispersed thousands of anti-government protesters known as red shirts [BBC backgrounder] from Bangkok's main commercial district and arrested several of the group's leaders. HRW acting Asia Director Elaine Pearson [official profile] said:
This terrible crisis is no excuse for mistreating detained protesters or holding them in secret detention. Those who committed crimes should be properly charged, but all should be treated according to international human rights standards and due process of law...Secret detention sites and unaccountable officials are a recipe for human rights abuses. Those arrested should be promptly brought before a judge and charged with a criminal offense or released.
HRW labeled Thailand's emergency decree "draconian," and alleged that the isolation tactics being used by the government greatly increased the risk of "disappearances," torture, and other human rights abuses.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva [official profile; JURIST news archive] on Friday promised an independent investigation [JURIST report] into the recent clashes between security forces and the red shirts, many of whom support ousted [JURIST report] prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], removed from power in a 2006 military coup. Abhisit discussed plans for reconciliation aimed at helping the country heal after the nearly two month-long conflict in Bangkok, which has left more than 80 dead. He pledged that due process of law would play an important role in the reconciliation, and that all people would be encouraged to participate in the democratic process. During their protests, the red shirts demanded that Abhisit resign and called for new elections. A member of Abhisit's cabinet has said, however, that new elections will not be held [CBC report] until the situation in the country had stabilized. The Thai government implemented a curfew [JURIST report] in Bangkok and other areas of the country on Wednesday in response to violence that erupted when the leader of the red shirts announced an end to the protests. The curfew remains in effect as the government tries to maintain order.




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House committee votes not to fund US facility for Guantanamo transfers
Andrew Morgan on May 22, 2010 8:34 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US House Armed Services Committee [official website] has approved a bill prohibiting the Obama administration from modifying or building a facility in the US to hold detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 [text, PDF] provides the Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] with $567 billion, but requires [summary, PDF] that any plan to construct or modify US facilities to accommodate Guantanamo transfers be "accompanied by a thorough and comprehensive plan that outlines the merits, costs, and risks associated with utilizing such a facility." As the Obama administration has not presented such a plan to Congress, the bill prohibits the use of any funds for the purpose of preparing a US facility for Guantanamo transfers. The bill also requires that the President submit a "comprehensive disposition plan and risk assessment" prior to transferring any detainees to the US, which Congress would have 120 days to review, and that the Secretary of Defense certifies to Congress that countries accepting Guantanamo transfers meet "strict security criteria." In response to the Wednesday vote, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn [official website] said that his state still plans to sell [AP report] the Thomson Correctional Center (TCC) [DOC backgrounder] to the federal government, despite a conflict between the provisions of the pending authorization act and a plan to use the facility to house Guantanamo detainees [JURIST report].

In November the US Senate [official website] defeated a measure which would have placed similar restrictions [JURIST report] into the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act [text, PDF; HR 3082 materials]. In June 2009, the US House denied [JURIST report] an Obama administration request for $60 million to fund the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and required the president to submit a detailed plan to Congress documenting the costs and risks of transferring a detainee to the US for trial or detention at least two months before the detainee is to be transferred. In October, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] announced that the Obama administration may miss its January deadline for closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, echoing prior statements [JURIST reports] by top administration officials. US President Barack Obama originally issued the executive order to close Guantanamo within a year [JURIST report] on January 22, 2009, two days after taking office.



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Spain court convicts three Basque separatist group members of terrorism
Hillary Stemple on May 21, 2010 4:07 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Spanish National Court on Friday convicted [judgment, PDF; in Spanish] three members of the Basque separatist group ETA [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive] on charges relating to a 2006 bombing in Madrid. Mattin Sarasola, Igor Portu, and Mikel San Sebastian were found guilty of murder, attempted murder, and taking part in a terrorist attack and were each sentenced to 1,040 years in prison. The men were also ordered to pay 1.2 mil euro (USD $1.48 mil) in damages to the families of their victims. The lengthy sentence is largely symbolic as Spain imposes a 40-year limitation on prison sentences for terrorism convictions. The 2006 Madrid bombing ended a ceasefire [AP report] that had been declared by ETA. ETA is listed as a banned terrorist group by the European Union and has been held responsible for more than 800 deaths over the past 40 years.

The Spanish government continues to actively pursue charges against ETA. In March, the court accused [JURIST report] the Venezuelan government of aiding ETA in a plot to assassinate members of the Colombian government in Spain. In February, the Interior Ministry of Spain [official website, in Spanish] said that it took into custody the suspected ETA leader [JURIST report], along with two other people who are believed to be senior members of the group. In January, Spanish Judge Fernando Grande-Marlaska ruled [JURIST report] that ETA had tried three times to assassinate former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar in 2001 but had failed. Last June, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] upheld [JURIST report] Spain's ban of Basque political groups Batasuna and Herri Batasuna for their alleged ties to ETA.




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Kyrgyzstan interim government approves draft constitution
Sarah Miley on May 21, 2010 2:18 PM ET

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[JURIST] The interim government of Kyrgyzstan on Thursday approved a draft constitution [text, DOC; in Russian] that will shift power from the president to the prime minister. The draft constitution defines Kyrgyzstan as a secular state and limits the president to one six-year term in office. It also increases the number of seats in parliament from 90 to 120. The draft was created by a constitutional committee that was made up mainly of representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and was advised by several international organizations. Several NGO activists disapproved of a last minute amendment to the draft entitled "On the Transitional Period," which extends the transition period until January 2012. The activists hold that the delay is unsubstantiated, and a government run by presidential decree risks corruption. A national referendum [JURIST report] on the draft constitution will be held on June 27 along with a referendum to approve Roza Otunbayeva [Telegraph profile] as "transition president" until elections in December 2011. The constitution will partially take effect upon publication of the referendum results with the remaining laws entering into force upon election of the new parliament.

Last month, Omurbek Tekebayev, part of the interim government that took power amid an anti-government uprising [JURIST report], said the new constitution would guarantee [AFP report] a parliamentary republic and reduce the powers of the president in order to prevent authoritarianism. He said the new constitution will also try to prevent powerful parliamentary majorities by limiting any political party to only 50 seats out of a 90-seat parliament. Under the draft constitution, the party winning the most votes will receive 65 out of 120 seats. The interim government was set up after protesters turned violent between April 6 and 8, resulting in the overthrow of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev [BBC profile]. The protests, prompted in part by a drastic increase in utility costs, led to at least 84 deaths [Reuters report] and many more injuries. Earlier last month, Otunbayeva launched the interim government [JURIST report] after the violence forced Bakiyev to flee the capital.




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Thailand PM promises independent probe of violent protests
Hillary Stemple on May 21, 2010 1:01 PM ET

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[JURIST] Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva [official profile; JURIST news archive] on Friday promised an independent investigation into recent clashes between anti-government protesters know as red shirts [BBC backgrounder] and security officials that left more than 80 dead. Abhisit discussed plans for reconciliation aimed at helping the country heal after a nearly two month-long conflict in Bangkok [JURIST news archive]. He indicated that due process of law would play an important role in the reconciliation, and that all people would be encouraged to participate in the democratic process. Abhisit also discussed implementation of reforms aimed at decreasing economic and social divisions within the country. He failed to address the primary reason for the protests, which was the claim [BBC report] that his government came to power illegitimately and that new elections should be held. During their protests, the red shirts demanded that Abhisit resign and call for new elections. A member of Abhisit's cabinet, however, indicated that new elections would not be held [CBC report] until the situation in the country had stabilized. The Thai government implemented a curfew [JURIST report] in Bangkok and other areas of the country on Wednesday in response to violence that erupted when the leader of the red shirts announced an end to the protests. The curfew remains in effect as the government tries to maintain order.

The red shirts are known for supporting ousted [JURIST report] prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] who was removed from power during a 2006 military coup. Thaksin was convicted [JURIST report] in absentia on corruption charges in October 2008. Despite the conviction, the Cambodian government refused to extradite [JURIST report] the ousted prime minister to face a two-year prison sentence.




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DC Circuit dismisses Bagram detainee habeas petitions
Sarah Miley on May 21, 2010 11:30 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday in Al Maqaleh v. Gates that detainees held at Bagram Air Force Base [official website; JURIST news archive] in Afghanistan cannot bring habeas corpus challenges in US courts. The circuit court reversed the district court's ruling, which allowed habeas corpus challenges [JURIST report] by three Bagram detainees pursuant to the Supreme Court's test in Boumediene v. Bush [opinion, PDF; JURIST report]. Chief Judge Sentelle, delivering the opinion of the three-judge panel, stated that the district court underestimated the significance of Bagram being located in an area of armed conflict, which differentiates the defendants' jurisdictional status from those detained at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. The court held that the current case was more comparable to Johnson v. Eisentrager [opinion text], where the Supreme Court held that US courts had no jurisdiction over war criminals held in a US-administered German prison. Irrespective of where the petitioner was captured, jurisdiction is decided by the level of control the US maintains over the detention facility:
While it is true that the United States holds a leasehold interest in Bagram, and held a leasehold interest in Guantanamo, the surrounding circumstances are hardly the same. The United States has maintained its total control of Guantanamo Bay for over a century, even in the face of a hostile government maintaining de jure sovereignty over the property. In Bagram, while the United States has options as to duration of the lease agreement, there is no indication of any intent to occupy the base with permanence, nor is there hostility on the part of the country. Therefore, the notion that de facto sovereignty extends to Bagram is no more real than would have been the same claim with respect to Landsberg in the Eisentrager case. While it is certainly realistic to assert that the United States has de facto sovereignty over Guantanamo, the same simply is not true with respect to Bagram. Though the site of detention analysis weighs in favor of the United States and against the petitioners, it is not determinative.
The circuit court acknowledged that prohibiting jurisdiction on these grounds may lead to military officials manipulating the system by transferring detainees to Bagram who would otherwise be placed in alternative facilities, but stated that there was no evidence of purposeful manipulation in the cases of the three defendants. This statement would seemingly allow additional suits to be filed if evidence of jurisdictional tampering is apparent.

Last June, Judge John Bates of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] granted a government motion [JURIST reports] to certify and suspend his earlier ruling, which allowed the challenges to proceed in the Maqaleh case. The certification allowed the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to seek interlocutory appeal from the DC Circuit. The DC district court has been the venue for many habeas challenges, especially for Guantanamo detainees suspected of involvement with terrorism. In April, Judge Thomas Hogan dismissed as moot [JURIST report] 105 habeas corpus petitions of non-citizen former Guantanamo Bay detainees no longer in US custody. Hogan wrote that in deciding the case, the court was answering one of the questions left open by Boumediene: "what happens to a Guantanamo detainee's habeas claim once he is transferred or released." In March, a judge ordered the release [JURIST report] of a Guantanamo 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 and had made confessions under duress.




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Germany court rejects motion to dismiss charges against alleged Nazi guard
Hillary Stemple on May 21, 2010 11:11 AM ET

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[JURIST] A German court on Thursday denied a motion to dismiss charges against alleged Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk [NNDB profile, JURIST news archive]. In a series of motions, Demjanjuk's lawyer asserted that the charges should be dismissed due to lack of credible evidence. The court rejected the argument, saying they found the evidence against Demjanjuk to be strong. The court did, however, indicate that they wanted to hear evidence from additional sources [AP report] before deciding on the credibility of witness statements already presented. Demjanjuk's trial marks the first time a Nazi war crimes trial is focusing on a low-ranking foreigner rather than a commander. The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk faces 27,900 accessory accounts stemming from his alleged involvement as a guard at Sobibor [Death Camps backgrounder] concentration camp. It is alleged that he volunteered to work at Sobibor [Abendzeitung report, in German] after being captured by German forces while serving as a member of the Soviet army. Multiple appeals were filed in regards to Demjanjuk's health, but he was found fit to stand trial and his appeals were rejected [JURIST reports] in October. Demjanjuk's trial began [JURIST report] in November, but the hearings have been limited to no more than two-90 minute sessions per day in deference to his health. The trial has been on hold for three days as Demjanjuk recieved medical treatment for chest pains.

The Holocaust continues to affect today's legal world. On Tuesday, the US Department of Justice [official website] announced that the Philadelphia Immigration Court [official website] had ordered the deportation [JURIST report] of former SS guard Anton Geiser to Austria for serving as an armed guard at the Sachsenhausen and the Buchenwald concentration camps during World War II. Last month, the Regensburg District Court in southern Germany convicted British Bishop Richard Williamson [JURIST report] of incitement for denying the Holocaust and ordered him to pay a 10,000 euro fine. In March, a German court sentenced [JURIST report] former Nazi SS member Heinrich Boere to life in prison for the 1944 murders of three Dutch civilians. 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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Rights group claims to have new evidence of Sri Lanka war crimes
Sarah Miley on May 21, 2010 11:08 AM ET

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[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [official website] announced Friday that it has acquired new evidence to support allegations of wartime abuses [press release] against civilians by both the government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [JURIST news archive] during the final months of the Sri Lankan civil war [JURIST news archive]. HRW examined more than 200 photographs taken during the last months of the civil war, which ended one year ago, and discovered several photos depicting human rights violations, including a five-photo array of an LTTE loyalist allegedly being executed by government combatants and a deceased woman in an LTTE uniform whose corpse appeared to be sexually abused or mutilated. HRW holds that this fresh evidence further demonstrates the need for an independent investigation into war crimes violations. A committee established by the Sri Lankan government in November to investigate the abuse has yet to report any findings. The HRW claims that Sri Lanka has a long history of setting up ad hoc commissions to deflect international scrutiny, but the intended goals rarely come to fruition.

Sri Lanka has faced numerous allegations of human rights violations originating from incidents that took place during the final months of the civil war. On Monday, the International Crisis Group (ICG) [official website] accused Sri Lankan security forces of war crimes, claiming that the violence of the 30-year civil war, which ended one year ago this month, escalated in January 2009 leaving thousands more dead than projected by the UN. The ICG went on to state that it had acquired enough evidence supporting allegations of shelling civilians, hospitals, and environmental facilities to warrant a independent inquiry by the UN on war crimes in Sri Lanka during the law months of the civil war. In March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] reaffirmed his plan to set up a UN panel [JURIST report] to investigate allegations of human rights violations during the civil war. Earlier that month, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official profile] rejected [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."




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UK to launch investigation into torture allegations
Sarah Miley on May 21, 2010 9:44 AM ET

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[JURIST] UK Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Secretary William Hague [official profile] said Friday that the UK will launch an investigation into allegations that overseas UK operatives were complicit in torture. Hague stated that the new coalition government will initiate a judge-led inquiry into the allegations, but no details were outlined in the legislative program [text, PDF] published Thursday by Prime Minister David Cameron [official profile]. In an interview [text] with the BBC, Hague stated:
We have said again in the coalition agreement that we want a judge-led inquiry. ... We will be setting out in the not-too-distant future what we are going to do about the allegations that have been made about complicity in torture. ... So will there be an inquiry of some form? Yes, both parties in the coalition said they wanted that. Now what we're working on is what form that should take.
At least 12 men have filed lawsuits against the UK claiming the government knew or should have known about the torture the men experienced overseas.

Earlier this month, the England and Wales Court of Appeal [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that state intelligence agencies cannot use secret evidence in their defense against abuse accusations by Binyam Mohamed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and several other UK residents who were held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. The judgment overturned a November ruling [JURIST report] of a UK high court, which held that defendants MI5 and MI6 [official websites] could utilize a "closed material procedure" that would allow them to rely on certain evidence without disclosing it to opposing counsel or committing it to the public record. The procedure, typically employed in criminal proceedings, is designed to allow concealment of evidence where disclosure would cause "real harm to the public interest." In February, the England and Wales Court of Appeal ruled [JURIST report] that the government must disclose several paragraphs [text] detailing the allegations of Mohamed's mistreatment that were previously omitted from an earlier ruling in his criminal trial. Mohamed was returned to the UK in 2009, four months after charges against him were dismissed [JURIST reports]. He was held at Guantanamo Bay for four years on suspicion of conspiracy to commit terrorism [JURIST report].




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US Senate approves financial reform legislation
Hillary Stemple on May 21, 2010 8:56 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] on Thursday passed the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 [S 3217 materials], focused on increasing regulation in the financial sector following the recent economic crisis [JURIST news archive]. The bill creates a new regulatory council to monitor financial institutions in order to prevent the companies from becoming "too big to fail." It also gives the Federal Reserve [official website] the power to supervise the largest financial companies and report to the government any risks the firms may pose to the economy at large. Additionally, a new consumer protection division will be established within the Federal Reserve to enforce rules against certain business practices like abusive mortgage lending and some credit card practices. As a final protection against future bailouts, the government will have the ability to seize and liquidate failing financial institutions before their collapse can have an adverse affect on the entire economy. US President Barack Obama [official website] praised the reform [press release], stating, "[o]ur goal is not to punish the banks, but to protect the larger economy and the American people from the kind of upheavals that we've seen in the past few years. And today's action was a major step forward in achieving that goal." Opponents of the bill, however, expressed concern that its passage will stifle the economy. Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) [official website] stated [press release], "[i]n its current form, the bill will do considerable damage to our competitiveness as a nation, not to mention harming job growth and our economic recovery." The Senate bill has to be reconciled with the bill passed last December [JURIST report] by the US House of Representatives [official website] before Obama can sign it into law.

Thursday's passage of the bill marks the end to a long struggle in the Senate over financial reform. The Senate Banking Committee [official website] proposed a bill [text, PDF; JURIST report] in 2009 that was met with resistance and resulted in the committee's development of the current bill. One provision in the bill that has been the source of much debate is the creation of a consumer protection agency. The US House Financial Services Committee [official website] had approved a bill to create the 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. Last 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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ICC prosecutors investigating 2009 military violence in Guinea
Sarah Miley on May 20, 2010 3:45 PM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Wednesday sent a delegation [press release] from the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) [official website] to Guinea to further investigate the killing of more than 150 pro-democracy protesters in Conakry in September 2009. The purpose of the visit is to consult with judicial authorities and gather additional information on the military violence [BBC backgrounder] waged against pro-democracy opposition groups that rallied against Guinean dictator Moussa Dadis Camara [BBC profile]. An assassination attempt on Camara two months later eventually drove him into exile. The current trip is a follow up investigation to the initial mission [JURIST report] carried out by Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda [official profile] in February. Guinea has been a party to the Rome Statute [text], which created the ICC, since 2003. The statute allows the ICC to adjudicate genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, but the court only acts if the member state is unable or unwilling to try those accused of committing serious crimes.

At the conclusion of Bensouda's initial trip in February, she determined that the ICC would work with the Guinean legal system [AFP report] to prosecute the offenders. Meanwhile, Guinean Prime Minister Jean Marie Dore [NYT profile] said that his country's legal system would have great difficulty [BBC report] prosecuting the crimes due to the lack of an impartial judicial system. Earlier that month, a commission created by Guinea's junta announced that former Guinean junta aide Lieutenant Aboubacar Cherif "Toumba" Diakite is the sole government official to blame for the massacre [JURIST report]. The commission's conclusion contradicts a UN report [JURIST report] that blamed Camara, Minister for Special Services Moussa Tiegboro Camara, and Toumba for the September 28 slayings. In October, the ICC placed the Guinean military under preliminary investigation for human rights violations related to the Conakry incident, and the UN and Guinea both announced they were creating commissions to investigate [JURIST reports] the killings.




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Lithuania court rules swastikas are part of historic legacy
Hillary Stemple on May 20, 2010 3:44 PM ET

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[JURIST] A Lithuanian court ruled Tuesday that the image of the swastika is part of the country's cultural identity and not a Nazi [JURIST news archive] symbol. The ruling came in response to a suit that was filed against a group of men [Lithuania Tribune report] who carried posters that included the symbol during a February Independence Day parade. A witness for the defense testified that the symbol had historical roots in the Baltic culture and that the image had been corrupted by others.

Parts of Europe continue to struggle with their Nazi history. Last month, a German court convicted a UK bishop [JURIST report] for denying the Holocaust. In February, the Hungarian Parliament [official website, in Hungarian] passed a bill [JURIST report] that prohibits denials of the Holocaust. In November, the German Federal Constitutional Court [official website, in German] upheld [JURIST report] legislation prohibiting public support and justification of the Nazi regime.




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Honduras drops suit against Brazil for sheltering ousted president Zelaya
Hillary Stemple on May 20, 2010 2:56 PM ET

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[JURIST] The International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] announced Wednesday that Honduras has dropped proceedings against Brazil [press release, PDF] relating to the June 2009 coup [JURIST report] in Honduras. The Honduran interim government began the proceedings [press release, PDF] last October in response to the sheltering of former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] in the Brazilian embassy during the coup. The ICJ was informed earlier this month that the charges were being withdrawn, and the order was granted [text, PDF] last week.

Earlier this month, a Honduran truth and reconciliation commission [JURIST report] was tasked with understanding what happened before, during, and after the coup and making recommendations for the future. In January, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo [NYT profile] granted amnesty to both Zelaya and military leaders accused of participation in the coup. Also in January, the Honduran Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] exonerated six military leaders [JURIST report] accused of abuse of power for their alleged role in the coup. In December, the Honduran Congress voted 111-14 not to reinstate [JURIST report] Zelaya. His ouster was the result of a judicial order [press release, in Spanish] that asserted Zelaya had broken Honduran law by attempting to conduct a controversial referendum on constitutional reform [JURIST report], contrary to a Supreme Court ruling.





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UK electoral commission calls for revision of voting law
Sarah Miley on May 20, 2010 2:44 PM ET

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[JURIST] The UK Electoral Commission [official website] called Thursday for revisions to the voting laws [report, PDF; press release] after 1,200 voters were unable to cast ballots in the May elections even though they had arrived at the polling station before closing. The report found that local authorities allocated too many voters to certain polling stations and provided many locations with inadequate staffing. The commission stated that in addition to several administrative changes that must occur, the UK election laws should be revised to allow voters who are queued when polls close to cast their ballots. Electoral Commission Chair Jenny Watson expressed her concern with the findings:
Our review found that some people who arrived before polls closed were unable to vote because Returning Officers did not have discretion to let them vote after 10pm. We are calling for urgent changes to electoral law so that any elector who is entitled to vote and who is queuing at a polling station at the close of poll will be allowed to vote. However, Returning Officers in the areas affected did not properly plan for, or react to, polling day problems. That is unacceptable. People in these areas were badly let down and have every right to be angry.
Poll access and voting problems were reported in Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle, and various parts of London.

Parliamentary elections have been a target for reform in the UK for many years. In February, former UK prime minister Gordon Brown on Tuesday proposed a referendum [JURIST report] to reform the nation's election system. Brown has proposed an alternative voting system in which voters would rank candidates in order of preference. In February 2009, legislation was proposed [JURIST report] that would allow the removal of members of the House of Lords [official website] for improper behavior. In 2007, then-UK prime minister Tony Blair pushed [JURIST report] for a half-elected, half-appointed House of Lords that removed all but 92 House members who still inherit their parliamentary seats. Proposals were initiated in 2006, with the release of a document by a cross-party working group on Lords' reform that hinted at a half-elected, half-appointed House with 450 Lords sitting in the chamber. In 2003, cabinet members rejected [BBC report] five different reform initiatives that varied from an entirely elected to entirely appointed House of Lords.




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Pakistan interior minister pardon challenged in court
Hillary Stemple on May 20, 2010 1:47 PM ET

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[JURIST] A petition was filed in a Pakistani court Wednesday challenging the pardon [JURIST report] of Interior Minister Rehman Malik [official profile] by President Asif Ali Zardari [official website]. The challenge alleges that under Article 45 of the Pakistan Constitution [text], presidential pardons can only be sought after all other legal remedies have been exhausted. Zardari issued the pardon on Tuesday after the Lahore High Court refused to throw out Malik's 2004 conviction. Malik was not present in Pakistan when he was convicted and sentenced to serve three years in prison. Last December, a Pakistani court issued an arrest warrant [JURIST report] for Malik related to the corruption charges after the Supreme Court [official website] struck down an amnesty order [JURIST report] that would have granted him immunity. The Supreme Court ruled [order, PDF] that the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) [text], which granted immunity to Zardari and 8,000 other government officials, was unconstitutional.

The court began hearing [JURIST report] the legal challenge to the NRO late last year. The NRO was signed [JURIST report] by former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] in 2007 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. The ordinance also applies to similar charges against politicians who were charged but not convicted of corruption between 1988 and 1999.




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France authorities arrest suspected Basque separatist leader
Sarah Miley on May 20, 2010 12:44 PM ET

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[JURIST] Four suspected members of armed Basque separatist group ETA [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] were arrested [press release, in Spanish] Thursday in France, including suspected ETA leader Mikel Kabikoitz Carrera Sarobe. The officers raided a residential block of the French city of Bayonne and arrested Sarobe along with two Spanish accomplices. Sarobe, a Spanish national, is alleged to be the military commander of the ETA and is the most wanted criminal in Spain, according to the Department of Interior [official website, in Spanish]. One detained accomplice was identified as Arkaitz Aguirregabiria del Barrio, who is deemed to be ETA's second in command and is wanted in France for the shooting of a police officer in March. ETA is listed as a banned terrorist group by the European Union and has been held responsible for more than 800 deaths over the past 40 years.

Spain and France have both made great strides recently in its attempts to limit ETA influence. In March, French prosecutors filed preliminary terrorism charges [JURIST report] against a suspected former leader of the ETA, along with two other people who are believed to be senior members of the group. A judicial source said that the charges against the alleged ETA members stem from preparations to commit a terrorist act, including theft, forgery, and illegal arms charges. That same month, the Spanish National Court sentenced [JURIST report] former Basque separatist party leader Arnaldo Otegi to two years in prison for promoting terrorism in a speech he gave. In January, Spanish judge Fernando Grande-Marlaska ruled [JURIST report] that ETA had tried three times to assassinate former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar in 2001 but had failed. Grande-Marlaska detailed the three assassination attempts [El Pais report, in Spanish] as part of a description of the alleged crimes of ETA leader Pedro Maria Olano Zabala, who was arrested in the Basque region earlier that month.




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UK government to reconsider US extradition of alleged hacker
Hillary Stemple on May 20, 2010 12:30 PM ET

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[JURIST] A member of the newly formed UK coalition government indicated Thursday that the extradition of alleged hacker Gary McKinnon [BBC profile; advocacy website] to the US will be delayed. Home Secretary Theresa May [official profile] considered an adjournment request from McKinnon's legal team and agreed to delay [press release] a scheduled judicial review in order to determine if he is medically fit for extradition. McKinnon was arrested by British police in 2002 and indicted [text, PDF] by US authorities later that year on charges of hacking NASA, Department of Defense, Air Force, Army, and Navy computers in violation of US computer laws [18 USC s. 1030 text]. The British government granted the 2005 US extradition request, but McKinnon's lawyer appealed, alleging that US authorities had told McKinnon that if he did not plead guilty to the charges, he could be sentenced to life in prison since each of the seven counts against him is punishable by up to 10 years of imprisonment and a $250,000 fine [indictment press release]. McKinnon, who has Asperger's syndrome, lost an appeal [JURIST report] to the UK High Court in London last July. May has indicated [Times Online report] she will carefully consider the UK's extradition treaty with the US as well as McKinnon's medical history before she determines if the extradition order should stand.

The UK's new coalition government has shown a willingness to reexamine existing legislation. On Tuesday, the government announced they will review [JURIST report] the country's Human Rights Act [BBC backgrounder] after two Pakistani terror suspects successfully avoided deportation by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission [official website] due to concerns for their safety. The Human Rights Act has been a point of contention between liberal and conservative groups in the UK. In 2006, then-prime minister Tony Blair called for an amendment to the act to allow the government greater discretion to protect public safety, while conservative leaders called for the act to be repealed [JURIST reports]. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] urged the new UK government to continue its support of the act last week in addition to a request for the government to set up a judiciary inquiry [JURIST report] on torture [JURIST news archive] allegations. The rights group claimed that allegations of complicity in the torture of terrorism suspects have badly damaged the nation's reputation and that steps need to be taken to restore the nation's reputation as "a nation that respects human rights."




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US military launches investigation into Afghanistan civilian deaths
Sarah Miley on May 20, 2010 11:30 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Department of Defense [official website] announced [press release] on Thursday that US Forces-Afghanistan has launched an investigation into allegations that a "small number" of soldiers are responsible for the unlawful deaths of three civilians in Afghanistan. The Army's Criminal Investigation Command [official website] began the investigation earlier this month after receiving credible information from the soldiers' unit. No charges have yet been filed against the soldiers suspected in the unlawful deaths, but one soldier has been placed in "pre-trial confinement." The probe also includes investigation into allegations of illegal drug use, assault and conspiracy.

Collateral damage has been a major issue in both the Afghanistan and Iraq [JURIST news archives] wars. Last month, a military appeals court reversed the conviction [JURIST report] of US Marine Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III for the 2006 killing of an Iraqi civilian, citing lack of a fair trial. Hutchins was serving an 11-year sentence, reduced from 15 years [JURIST report], for his role in the April 2006 kidnapping and murder of Iraqi civilian Hashim Ibrahim Awad in Hamdania [USMC materials; JURIST news archive]. He was convicted [JURIST report] in 2007 of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, making a false official statement, and larceny. Six Marines pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to charges related to their roles in the incident, which involved Awad being removed from his residence and killed, then arranged with a shovel and firearm to appear as if he were planting an improvised explosive device.




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Australia state lawmakers defeat bill to ban burqa
Hillary Stemple on May 20, 2010 11:28 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Legislative Council of the Parliament of New South Wales [official website] on Thursday voted 26-3 to end further debate [minutes, PDF] on a bill to ban the wearing of the burqa [JURIST news archive] and other face veils in public. The bill [materials], proposed by Christian Democrat Fred Nile [official profile], would have banned the wearing of the burqa in Australia's most populous state. Nile insisted the bill was aimed at protecting [AAP report] women's rights and improving security. Opponents, however, contended the bill would stigmatize Muslims and argued that the issue is not one of great importance. The bill's introduction came after a national debate on the issue following comments made by a conservative national senator [AFP report] calling for a national ban on the burqa.

Many jurisdictions are currently considering legislation that would ban the burqa. On Wednesday, the French Cabinet approved legislation [JURIST report] that would ban the wearing of the burqa or other face veils in public. On Tuesday, hearings began [CBC report] in Quebec's legislature on a bill introduced in March that would ban women from wearing full face veils from public services. Earlier this month, European Parliament [official website] Vice President Silvana Koch-Mehrin [official website, in German] expressed her support for a continent-wide burqa ban [JURIST report]. In April, the Belgian House of Representatives voted 136-0 to approve [JURIST report] a bill that would ban the burqa and other full face veils in public.




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US lawmakers release list of top copyright violators for 2010
Hillary Stemple on May 20, 2010 10:26 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus [official website] on Wednesday released the 2010 International Piracy Watch List [text, PDF] naming China, Russia, Canada, Spain, and Mexico as the worst countries for protecting copyrighted information. The bipartisan caucus also released a list of the top websites hosted overseas [text, PDF] providing unauthorized access to copyrighted material. The report stressed the risk posed to the US economy [press release, PDF] when intellectual property is not protected. Committee co-chair, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) [official website], stated:
International piracy of American intellectual property weakens a segment of our economy that long has supported innovation and great American jobs. Congress must work on a bipartisan basis to protect the creative industries and the jobs they support. The United States has been on the losing end of the largest theft of intellectual property in history. This must be stopped, and soon.
The report also lists specific steps each country needs to take to ensure protection of intellectual property including increasing liability under the laws of the individual countries and implementing effective border measures to protect against illegal international distribution of copyrighted materials.

Earlier this month, the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) [official website] placed Russia, China, and Canada [JURIST report] on its Priority Watch List [text, PDF] of 12 countries that are not adequately protecting intellectual property rights [press release]. In March, the Canadian government pledged to strengthen copyright laws [JURIST report]. Last year, the USTR placed Canada on its priority watch list [JURIST report] for the first time. In January 2009, a dispute settlement panel of the World Trade Organization (WTO) [official website] found for the US [JURIST report] that large parts of China's intellectual property scheme are inconsistent with its obligations under several international treaties, including the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) [text].




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UN SG calls for global ban on cell phone use while driving
Sarah Miley on May 20, 2010 10:08 AM ET

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[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] on Wednesday banned all UN employees [UN News Centre report] from using cellular devices while driving in an effort to take the prohibition against cell phone use global. Ban is teaming up with US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, US Ambassador Susan Rice [official profiles], and Jennifer Smith, president and co-founder of a national advocacy group, FocusDriven [advocacy website], to launch a global campaign to improve road safety by ending habits that distract the attention of drivers. Ban addressed reporters in New York, highlighting the danger [remarks] associated with the practice.
Every year, more than 1.2 million people die on the roads around the world, and as many as 50 million others are injured. ... Studies indicate that using a mobile phone increases the risk of a crash by about 4 times. And yet in some countries up to 90 percent of people use mobile phones while driving. We must instil [sic] a culture of road safety. A culture in which driving while distracted - on the phone, or text messaging - is unacceptable. ... I want every driver in the world to get the message: Texting while driving kills. No SMS is worth SOS. The United Nations is leading by example. That is why I am issuing an administrative instruction aimed at promoting road safety, saving lives and prohibiting all drivers of UN vehicles from texting while driving. I thank the leaders here for being a driving force for road safety. Together, we have a message to all drivers of the world: Don't let using a mobile for a few seconds make you or others immobile for life.
In March, the UN General Assembly [official website] proclaimed the period from 2011 to 2020 as the Decade of Action for Road Safety [press release] to encourage global efforts to halt or reverse the increasing trend in road traffic deaths and injuries around the world.

Several countries have been enacting cell phone use bans while operating motor vehicles in response to the increase in cell phone related accidents. In October, Ontario enacted a law banning the use of handheld devices [JURIST report] while driving, outlawing text messaging and talking on a cell phone while behind the wheel. Ontario joins other jurisdictions in Canada and the US to pass similar bans including Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Labrador, California, and New York. Earlier this October, US President Barack Obama signed [JURIST report] an executive order [text] making it illegal for federal employees or government contractors to use text messaging while driving. Despite numerous studies showing that drivers using handheld phones are more likely to get into a crash or near crash, some have criticized bans on using technology while driving. Dave McCurdy, CEO of the Auto Alliance [advocacy website], an automobile industry advocacy group, cautioned [Huffington Post op-ed] that increasing restrictions on technology use in automobiles may cross a threshold and hinder more than help. But the Auto Alliance's official position [press release] supports legislation that bans text messaging while driving.




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Thailand government imposes curfew as protesters surrender
Hillary Stemple on May 19, 2010 4:21 PM ET

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[JURIST] The government of Thailand on Wednesday imposed a curfew on Bangkok and other areas of the country in response to violence that erupted when the leader of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship [party website, in Thai], also known as the red shirts [BBC backgrounder], announced an end to the two-month long conflict in Bangkok [JURIST news archive] and surrendered to police. Members of the red shirts, known for supporting ousted [JURIST report] prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], refused to accept the end of the demonstrations and began rioting [Al Jazeera report] and setting fire to parts of Bangkok. Citizens of the areas affected by the curfew have been ordered to stay inside to ensure their own safety. The Thai military is expected to work through the night to try and reestablish order in the city.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] Navi Pillay [official profile] on Monday urged both the Thai government and anti-government protesters to seek a peaceful resolution [press release; JURIST report] to the current conflict. Last week, a Thai court sentenced 27 red shirt protesters [JURIST report] to six months in prison. Last month, Thailand's pro-government People's Alliance for Democracy Network [party website, in Thai; BBC backgrounder], known as yellow shirts, called for a declaration of martial law [JURIST report] to quell the anti-government movement spearheaded by the red shirts. Earlier in April, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced that he was prepared to negotiate [JURIST report] with red shirt protesters once they cease their illegal conduct. Because of the mounting violence, Abhisit has imposed a state of emergency [JURIST report] in Bangkok and neighboring provinces.




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ICTY upholds contempt conviction of Serb nationalist leader
Sarah Miley on May 19, 2010 4:09 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Wednesday affirmed the contempt conviction [press release] of Vojislav Seselj [case materials; JURIST news archive], a Serbian politician and former president of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) [BBC backgrounder]. Trial Chamber II found Seselj guilty of contempt [JURIST report] last year for authoring a book revealing pertinent information about several key witnesses and sentenced him to 15 months in prison. The Appeals Chamber denied all eight of Seselj's grounds of appeal. Seselj's war crimes trial just resumed in January, after being delayed [JURIST reports] for nearly a year over fears that witnesses were being intimidated. He is currently being tried before Trial Chamber III on 14 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war.

The ICTY had previously stripped Seselj of his right to defend himself after he failed to appear in court, despite an earlier appeals court ruling that he could represent himself [JURIST reports] provided he did not engage in courtroom behavior that "substantially obstruct[ed] the proper and expeditious proceedings in his case." Seselj is accused of establishing rogue paramilitary units affiliated with the SRS, which are believed to have massacred and otherwise persecuted Croats and other non-Serbs during the Balkan conflict.




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Khodorkovsky ends hunger strike in Russia prison
Hillary Stemple on May 19, 2010 3:11 PM ET

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[JURIST] Former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] on Wednesday ended his two-day hunger strike after a spokesperson for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official website] indicated that Medvedev was familiar with a complaint Khodorkovsky made regarding the three-month extension of his detention. On Monday, Khodorkovsky sent an open letter to Russia's Supreme Court [official website, in Russian] contending that Russian courts are ignoring recent changes in the law that allow people charged with economic crimes to be released on bail pending the outcome of their trials. Khodorkovsky indicated the goal of his hunger strike had been achieved [press release], stating:
In a situation when it is officially declared that President Medvedev is informed about the essence of the problem, I do not consider it necessary to insist on the form of discussion within government structures. I am convinced that now the position of Chairman of the Supreme Court, which he promised to inform to the public, as well as court decisions in particular cases, will reflects position of President of the Russian Federation as the author of the bill - the guarantor of rights and freedom of citizens of Russia.
He also indicated his hunger strike was to change the judicial system going forward and not his current situation.

Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website] are currently serving eight-year prison sentences after being convicted [JURIST report] in 2005 on fraud and tax evasion charges stemming from an attempt to embezzle and strip their Yukos [JURIST news archive] oil company of valuable assets. They are now charged with embezzling [JURIST report] USD $25 billion worth of oil produced by Yukos. The men have pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to the current charges, and face up to 20 additional years in prison if convicted. Khodorkovsky has previously criticized the Russian legal system, questioning the fairness of trials and expressing the need for widespread reform of the Russian court system [JURIST reports].




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Pakistan government blocks Facebook over Muhammad drawing competition
Sarah Miley on May 19, 2010 3:11 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority [official website] on Wednesday ordered Internet service providers to block [press release] social networking site Facebook [website] in response to a competition created by a group of the website's members entitled "Draw Muhammad Day." The PTA issued the order following a decision by the Lahore High Court (LHC) [JURIST news archive] to block the website indefinitely after Pakistan officials learned the competition would take place on May 20. The court also ordered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [official website] to open an investigation into why the competition was created. The government initially planned only to block access to the group's Facebook page, but after the LHC decision was issued, the Ministry of Information Technology [official website] immediately blocked the entire website.

Depicting the Prophet Muhammad is considered blasphemous by Muslims, and has been a source of international controversy since 2005 when a Danish newspaper published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a series of cartoons [JURIST news archive]. Earlier this month, a Danish public prosecutor for the Utrecht District Court filed an appeal [JURIST report] against an April ruling [JURIST report] acquitting the Arab European League (AEL) of hate speech charges stemming from posting an inflammatory cartoon on their website insinuating that the Holocaust was fabricated. The court ruled that publishing the cartoon was not a criminal offense because it was intended to be a contribution to public debate regarding a perceived double standard in the distribution of the Danish Muhammad cartoons. The prosecutor is appealing in order to determine if the cartoon was "unnecessarily offensive," stating that the court failed to rule on this issue. The prosecutor also found fault with the court's agreement that the cartoon pointed out a double standard, saying that the controversy surrounding the Danish cartoon depicting Muhammad does not equate with the publishing of the AEL's cartoon. The group depicted in the Muhammad cartoon was a "criminal group," the prosecutor said, but the Jewish people "still have no share in the above social debate."




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Obama reaffirms support for federal immigration reform
Hillary Stemple on May 19, 2010 2:18 PM ET

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[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] on Wednesday reaffirmed his commitment to comprehensive federal immigration reform, calling the recently passed Arizona immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive] "misguided." Obama held a joint press conference with Mexican President Filipe Calderon [official website, in Spanish] where he expressed concern [remarks] that the law could be applied in a discriminatory fashion and indicated the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] is considering bringing legal action to prevent enforcement of the law. Calderon condemned the Arizona bill but also indicated [remarks] that both countries must work together in order to develop a comprehensive approach to immigration that will benefit the entire region. Obama's stance on the Arizona law reflects his administration's immigration policy [official website] that aims "to bring people out of the shadows."

The Arizona bill, signed into law [JURIST report] in April by Governor Jan Brewer, has caused intense controversy. Proponents of the law argue that it will discourage illegal immigration, while opponents contend it will lead to discriminatory police practices based on race. On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] seeking an injunction against implementation of the law. That lawsuit joined two others filed last month [JURIST report] questioning the constitutionality of the law. Earlier this month, a group of UN human rights experts indicated the measure may violate international standards [JURIST report] that are binding on the US.




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ICTY upholds acquittal of Macedonia ex-interior minister
Sarah Miley on May 19, 2010 1:46 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Wednesday affirmed the acquittal [judgment, PDF] of former Macedonian interior minister Ljube Boskoski [case materials], while upholding the sentence imposed against Macedonian police officer Johan Tarculovski for alleged war crimes. In 2008, Boskoski was found not guilty [JURIST report] of neglecting his responsibility as a superior to punish subordinates who committed crimes during and after a 2001 police raid against ethnic Albanians in the the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Tarculovski, a former police officer in FYROM, was convicted of war crimes for having ordered, planned, and instigated crimes committed against ethnic Albanians during the raid. The Appeals Chamber held that the Trial Chamber was correct in its findings of fact and law against Tarculovski, proving beyond a reasonable doubt that his police force knew or should have known that the victims were taking not active part in the hostilities and that the prominent objective of the raid was to indiscriminately attack ethnic Albanians and their property. Tarculovski will remain in the Tribunal's Detention Unit pending finalization of arrangements for his transfer to the country where he will serve the rest of his 12-year sentence.

Boskoski and Tarculovski are the only Macedonians to be indicted by the ICTY. The two men jointly went on trial [JURIST report] in 2007 after being charged [amended indictment, PDF; case backgrounder, PDF] with murdering seven ethnic Albanian civilians in the village of Ljuboten [HRW backgrounder] during a 2001 conflict between local ethnic Albanian guerrillas and Macedonian government security forces. Tarculovski was accused of directing the attack on the village and Boskovski was accused of having command and control over the armed forces at the time of the alleged massacre. The two men surrendered [JURIST report] to the ICTY in 2005 after being charged with war crimes. Boskovski has also been in prison for charges relating to the murder of seven immigrants while he was the interior minister in 2002.




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France Cabinet approves legislation to ban burqa
Hillary Stemple on May 19, 2010 12:56 PM ET

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[JURIST] The French Cabinet on Wednesday approved legislation [materials, in French] that would make it illegal to wear the Islamic burqa [JURIST news archive] or other full face veils in public. Under the bill, women who wear the veil can be required by police to show their face, and, if they refuse, they can be forced to attend citizenship classes or be charged a USD $185 fine. The proposed legislation would also make it a crime [Al Jazeera report] to force a woman to cover her face, with a penalty of one year in prison and a fine of USD $18,555. French President Nicholas Sarkozy [official website, in French] indicated he was pleased with the bill [press release, in French] and that its passage is an important step toward insuring the fundamental value of human dignity, but the proposed legislation has also been met with criticism. Amnesty International [advocacy website] has called on French lawmakers to reject the ban [press release], saying would violate freedom of expression. Others have indicated they will challenge [AP report] the constitutionality of the ban [JURIST report] if the bill becomes law. The legislation is scheduled to be voted on by the National Assembly in July and the Senate [official websites, in French] in September.

Many jurisdictions are currently considering legislation that would ban the burqa. On Tuesday, hearings began [CBC report] in Quebec's legislature on a bill introduced in March that would ban women from wearing full face veils from public services. The proposed legislation garnered support from members of the Muslim Canadian Congress [advocacy website] who argue that the law would not violate human rights [JURIST comment] and would promote the ideals of a free and democratic society. Earlier this month, European Parliament [official website] Vice President Silvana Koch-Mehrin [official website, in German] expressed her support for a continent-wide burqa ban [JURIST report]. In April, the Belgian House of Representatives voted 136-0 to approve [JURIST report] a bill that would ban the burqa and other full face veils 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 measure must now go before the Senate.




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Senate committee sets Kagan confirmation hearings for June 28
Sarah Miley on May 19, 2010 11:22 AM ET

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[JURIST] Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official websites] announced in a committee hearing Wednesday that confirmation hearings for US Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan [official profile; JURIST news archive] will begin June 28 [press release]. Leahy's confirmation schedule mirrors the timelines followed for recent nominations, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The schedule should allow the confirmation hearings to be completed before the senators go on a week-long break in early July. Leahy said:
There is no reason to unduly delay consideration of this nomination. Justice Stevens announced on April 9 that he would be leaving the Court. He noted that "it would be in the best interests of the Court to have [his] successor appointed and confirmed well in advance of the commencement of the Court's next Term,"; and I wholeheartedly agree with Justice Stevens. That is in the best interests of the Court, and the country.
The Committee's ranking Republican Jeff Sessions (R-AL) [official website] responded [press release] to Leahy's announcement requesting that the hearings start after the July 4 recess in order for the senators in order to properly review Kagan's questionnaire and accompanying documentation. "At this time, it remains to be seen whether the schedule set by the Chairman will be adequate to allow us to meet our important constitutional responsibility to thoroughly review Ms. Kagan's record on behalf of the American people." Leahy's proposed timetable will put Senate on track to meet the president's goal of confirming Kagan by the time the court begins its new session in the fall.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee released [JURIST report] a bipartisan questionnaire [text, PDF] submitted by Kagan regarding her prior experience, financial status, potential conflicts of interest, and various other details of her past. The majority of the questionnaire is made up of various cases handled during her tenure with the solicitor general's office, which is responsible not only for litigation before the Supreme Court, but also for deciding which district court rulings will be challenged in the appeals courts. Kagan submitted the questionnaire on Tuesday along with thousands of pages of documentation supporting her responses [materials]. She will return to Washington, DC on Wednesday for individual meetings with senators who will vote on her nomination after the hearings are completed.




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Spain judicial panel allows judge Garzon to consult for ICC
Hillary Stemple on May 19, 2010 11:15 AM ET

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[JURIST] The judiciary oversight committee of the Spanish General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) [official website, in Spanish] on Tuesday approved a request [text, PDF; in Spanish] by judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] allowing him to work with the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. Garzon was suspended last week [JURIST report] by the CGPJ for abusing his power by opening an investigation into war crimes allegedly committed under Francisco Franco [BBC backgrounder] during the Spanish Civil War [LOC backgrounder]. The ICC confirmed earlier this month [press release] that they had asked Garzon to work for them as a consultant for a period of seven months in order to improve their investigative methods. The CGPJ granted Garzon's request for leave indicating there was no legal reason preventing him from working as a consultant with the ICC. Garzon still faces trial in Spain where he has been formally charged [JURIST report] with abusing his power although no trial date [AFP report] has been set. If convicted, Garzon could face a suspension of up to 20 years.

Thousands gathered [JURIST report] in cities across Spain last month in support of Garzon, chanting slogans and displaying flags of the pre-war Republican government ousted by Franco. The Spanish Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] charged [order, PDF; in Spanish] Garzon with abuse of power based on his 2008 ordered exhumation [JURIST report] of 19 mass graves in Spain. The purpose of the order was to assemble a definitive national registry of Civil War victims, despite a 1977 law granting amnesty for political crimes committed under Franco. Garzon appealed [JURIST report] the charges, alleging that the indictment issued by Spanish Supreme Court judge Luciano Varela was politically motivated [AFP report], compromised judicial independence, and sought to impose a specific interpretation of the 1977 law. Garzon is widely known for using universal jurisdiction extensively in the past to bring several high-profile rights cases, including those against Osama bin Laden and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archives].





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US immigration court orders ex-Nazi guard deported to Austria
Sarah Miley on May 19, 2010 10:04 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced Tuesday that the Philadelphia Immigration Court [official website] has ordered the deportation [press release] of former SS guard Anton Geiser to Austria for serving as an armed guard at the Sachsenhausen and the Buchenwald concentration camps during World War II. Geiser, who has been living in southwestern Pennsylvania since 1960, admitted to the allegations in the charging document. The court found that Geiser is removable under the 1978 Holtzman Amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act [text] because a visa may not be granted to anyone who was involved in persecutions based on race, religion, or national origin. Assistant US Attorney General Lanny Breuer [official profile] said, "[a]s a Nazi concentration camp guard during World War II, Anton Geiser must be held to account for his role in the persecution of countless men, women and children. The long passage of time will not diminish our resolve to deny refuge to such individuals." Geiser is currently not in custody and can appeal his case to the Board of Immigration Appeals [official website] in Washington, DC.

In 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit revoked [JURIST report] Geiser's US citizenship because he had obtained it illegally. The DOJ alleged [complaint] that the US government mistakenly granted him a visa in 1956 and then citizenship in 1962 without knowledge of his affiliation with the Nazi regime. In 2006, a district court judge ordered the revocation [opinion, PDF] of Geiser's citizenship, writing that it was legally necessary [8 USC s. 1451] because the citizenship was based on a visa he was ineligible to receive [Refugee Relief Act of 1953 s. 14]. The DOJ's Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP) [official website] handles cases, including Geiser's, aimed at denaturalizing or deporting former Nazis who participated in wartime persecutions.




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Somalia piracy suspect pleads guilty in federal court
Hillary Stemple on May 19, 2010 9:04 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Somali man charged with piracy [JURIST news archive] pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges of hijacking, kidnapping, and hostage taking related to last April's attack on the US container ship Maersk Alabama [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse was originally charged [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] with five counts relating to the pirate attack on the Alabama, including committing an act of piracy as defined by the law of nations, conspiracy to seize a ship by force, conspiracy to take hostages, and two counts relating to the use of a firearm during commission of a crime. As part of a plea agreement, the prosecution agreed to drop the charges of piracy against Muse in exchange for his guilty plea and a sentence of 27 to 33 years in prison. Muse agreed not to challenge the sentence, and he apologized [Reuters report] for his actions, claiming the act of piracy happened because of the current situation in Somalia. Somali officials have criticized [BBC report] the US for exercising jurisdiction over Muse and other pirate suspects [JURIST report], insisting that piracy prosecutions should be conducted by an international tribunal. They have also asked that Somali pirate suspects be returned to Somalia, which lacks a functioning central government to address the piracy problem. Muse is scheduled to be sentenced on October 19.

Piracy remains an issue of international concern. On Monday, the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) [official website] opened a UN conference on international crime by warning [JURIST report] about the inadequacies of the current international system in dealing with crimes like piracy. Earlier this month, the UNODC announced [JURIST report] that Seychelles will create a UN-supported center to prosecute suspected pirates. Last month, the UN Security Council unanimously approved [JURIST report] a resolution calling on member states to criminalize piracy under their domestic laws and urging Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] to consider an international tribunal for prosecuting piracy. The Security Council resolution came the same week the UN announced that a trust fund established to combat piracy will be funding five projects [UN News Centre report] aimed at piracy committed in the waters around Somalia.




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Senate committee releases detailed Kagan questionnaire
Sarah Miley on May 19, 2010 8:56 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] released a bipartisan questionnaire [text, PDF] on Tuesday submitted by Supreme Court [official website] nominee Elena Kagan [official profile; JURIST news archive] regarding her prior experience, financial status, potential conflicts of interest, and various other details of her past. The majority of the questionnaire is made up of various cases handled during her tenure with the solicitor general's office, which is responsible not only for litigation before the Supreme Court, but also for deciding which district court rulings will be challenged in the appeals courts. The questionnaire also contains transcripts of past speeches, her achievements as dean of Harvard, and over two decades of writings, including articles from Princeton's student newspaper, the Daily Princetonian, where she served as a writer and editorial page editor. Kagan submitted the questionnaire on Tuesday along with thousands of pages of documentation supporting her responses [materials]. The writings and speech transcripts were released by the White House [official website] in order for the Senate to gain a better understanding of President Barack Obama's nominee, whose lack of legal writing has left Republicans and many Democrats questioning her views on key issues. Kagan will return to Washington, DC on Wednesday for individual meetings with senators who will vote on her nomination later this summer.

Obama nominated [JURIST report] Kagan to the Supreme Court last week. If confirmed by the US Senate [official website], Kagan would replace Justice John Paul Stevens [official profile; JURIST news archive] when he retires [JURIST report] at the end of the current term. Obama said [transcript; video] that Kagan "is widely regarded as one of the nation's foremost legal minds." Speaking to the press, Kagan described the nomination as an "honor of a lifetime." Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) [official website] congratulated Kagan on her nomination but warned [statement] that the Senate would not "rush to judgment." If confirmed, Kagan will become the youngest justice and the fourth woman to serve on the Supreme Court.




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Federal judge orders release of three Michigan militia suspects
Hillary Stemple on May 18, 2010 3:13 PM ET

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[JURIST] A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the release of three individuals accused of crimes committed as part of the "Christian warrior" militia called Hutaree [militia website; CNN backgrounder]. Judge Victoria Roberts of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan [official website] ordered the release of the suspects, two men and one woman, after federal prosecutors withdrew their objections. Roberts originally granted bail [JURIST report] to all nine militia suspects, but the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] granted an emergency stay [JURIST report] blocking their release. The appeal on the release of the other six members is still pending. The nine members have been indicted [JURIST report] on charges of seditious conspiracy, attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, teaching the use of explosive materials, and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence in connection with a plan to kill Michigan law enforcement officers. The suspects being released will be monitored electronically and their freedom of movement will be severely restricted.

Militia groups such as the Hutaree are reportedly on the rise in the US. 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; JURIST comment], released last year, noted that these groups are making a comeback [JURIST report] after declining in number for several 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."

5/19/10: A fourth militia member was released [AP report] Wednesday.




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UK to review rights act after terror suspects avoid deportation
Sarah Miley on May 18, 2010 3:09 PM ET

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[JURIST] The UK coalition government will review the country's Human Rights Act [BBC backgrounder] after two Pakistani terror suspects successfully avoided deportation by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission [official website] due to concerns for their safety. The commission identified both Abid Naseer and Ahmed Faraz Khan as terrorism suspects but concluded that it was not possible for them to be deported to Pakistan, where terrorism suspects face torture or death.The Human Rights Act was created in 1988 to encompass the fundamental rights in the European Convention of Human Rights [text]. Policymakers hope that, by reviewing the act, they can develop a plan of action for ensuring deportees would be treated properly upon returning to their native countries. Since the act does not allow the two suspects to be detained without trial, the two men will most likely be subjected to control orders that would restrict their movement and require them to be under constant watch. Naseer and Khan were two of 10 Pakistani men captured last year in connection with a terrorism plot targeting Manchester and Liverpool.

The Human Rights Act has been a point of contention between liberal and conservative groups in the UK. In 2006, then-prime minister Tony Blair called for an amendment to the act to allow the government greater discretion to protect public safety, while conservative leaders called for the act to be repealed [JURIST reports]. Human Rights Watch [official website] urged the new UK government to continue its support of the act last week in addition to a request for the government to set up a judiciary inquiry [JURIST report] on torture [JURIST news archive] allegations. The rights group claimed that allegations of complicity in the torture of terrorism suspects have badly damaged the nation's reputation and that steps need to be taken to restore the nation's reputation as "a nation that respects human rights."




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Rights group claims Sri Lanka government committed war crimes
Sarah Miley on May 18, 2010 1:59 PM ET

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[JURIST] The International Crisis Group (ICG) [official website] on Monday accused Sri Lankan security forces of war crimes [report text] during the last months of the Sri Lankan civil war [JURIST news archive]. The ICG claims that the violence of the 30-year civil war, which ended one year ago this month, escalated in January 2009 leaving thousands more dead than projected by the UN:
The Sri Lankan security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) repeatedly violated international humanitarian law during the last five months of their 30-year civil war. Although both sides committed atrocities throughout the many years of conflict, the scale and nature of violations particularly worsened from January 2009 to the government’s declaration of victory in May. Evidence gathered by the International Crisis Group suggests that these months saw tens of thousands of Tamil civilian men, women, children and the elderly killed, countless more wounded, and hundreds of thousands deprived of adequate food and medical care, resulting in more deaths. This evidence also provides reasonable grounds to believe the Sri Lankan security forces committed war crimes with top government and military leaders potentially responsible. There is evidence of war crimes committed by the LTTE and its leaders as well, but most of them were killed and will never face justice.
The ICG went on to state that it had acquired enough evidence supporting allegations of shelling civilians, hospitals, and environmental facilities to warrant a independent inquiry by the UN on war crimes in Sri Lanka during the law months of the civil war. The Sri Lanka government denies these allegations and claims that no civilians were killed during the final months of the war. The UN has yet to comment on the report.

In March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] reaffirmed his plan to set up a UN panel [JURIST report] to investigate allegations of human rights violations during the civil war. Earlier that 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." The ICG report gives further validations to an independent UN inquiry into Sri Lankan war crimes. 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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Pakistan president pardons interior minister on corruption charges
Hillary Stemple on May 18, 2010 1:49 PM ET

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[JURIST] Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari [official website] on Tuesday pardoned Interior Minister Rehman Malik [official profile], convicted on corruption charges in 2004. Zardari issued the pardon after the Lahore High Court refused to throw out Malik's 2004 conviction. Malik was not present in Pakistan when he was convicted and sentenced to serve three years in prison. Last December, a Pakistani court issued an arrest warrant [JURIST report] for Malik related to the corruption charges after the Supreme Court [official website] struck down an amnesty order [JURIST report] that would have granted him immunity. The Supreme Court ruled [order, PDF] that the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) [text], which granted immunity to Zardari and 8,000 other government officials, was unconstitutional. Zardari's pardon of Malik is seen as an example of the tension [BBC report] existing between the executive and judicial branches within Pakistan.

The court began hearing [JURIST report] the legal challenge to the NRO late last year. The NRO was signed [JURIST report] by former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] in 2007 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. The ordinance also applies to similar charges against politicians who were charged but not convicted of corruption between 1988 and 1999.




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Yemen court sentences 6 Somali pirates to death
Sarah Miley on May 18, 2010 12:35 PM ET

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[JURIST] Yemen's Ministry of Defense [official website, in Arabic] announced Tuesday that a Yemeni court has sentenced six Somali pirates [JURIST news archive] to death and six additional pirates to 10-year jail sentences for the hijacking of a Yemeni oil tanker in April 2009. The convicted pirates must collectively pay 2 million Yemen riyals in compensatory damages to the Aden Refinery [corporate website, in Arabic], which owned the tanker. The refinery will be required to give a portion of the damages to the families of the two Yemeni crewman killed in the hijacking. Defense lawyers have appealed the verdict.

The international community is supporting actions taken against piracy. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) [office website] announced on Wednesday that the island nation of Seychelles will create a UN-supported center [JURIST report] to prosecute suspected pirates. The center will accept and try pirates captured by the European Union Naval Force Somalia (EU NAVFOR) [official website] off the coast of Somalia and surrounding areas. This will be the second such court established for the prosecution of pirates, following only Kenya. Last month, the UN Security Council approved a resolution [JURIST report] calling on member states to criminalize piracy under their domestic laws and urging Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] to consider an international tribunal for prosecuting piracy. The Security Council resolution came the same week the UN announced that a trust fund established to combat piracy will be funding five projects [UN News Centre report] aimed at piracy committed in the waters around Somalia.




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China court convicts billionare of insider trading
Hillary Stemple on May 18, 2010 12:19 PM ET

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[JURIST] A Chinese court on Tuesday convicted Huang Guangyu, formerly China's richest man [Hurun report], of illegal business dealings, insider trading, and corporate bribery. Huang was previously the chairman of Pengrun Investments and founder of subsidiary GOME Electrical Appliances [corporate website], both publicly traded on the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock exchanges. The court sentenced Huang to 14 years in prison, fined him 600 million yuan (88.23 million USD), and ordered him to turn over valuable assets. Huang was charged [JURIST report] in February by the Supreme People's Procuratorate [official website, in Chinese], almost 15 months after he was initially placed under detention. His case has been the subject of intense media coverage in China involving allegations of bribery [Xinhua reports] to high-level Shanghai police among others.

Huang's conviction is part of a wider campaign in China to crack down on corruption, which is seen by many as a threat [CE report] to China's future stability. On Monday, an appeals court upheld the conviction [JURIST report] of three mining employees for stealing commercial secrets. In February, the president of the Supreme People's Court (SPC) [official website, in Chinese] called for increased efforts [JURIST report] to fight corruption among the judiciary. The president's statement came just two weeks after former SPC vice president Huang Songyou was convicted [JURIST report] on bribery and embezzlement charges. In January, the Communist Party of China [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] announced [JURIST report] increased oversight of the families of government officials to control corruption.




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UN official stresses need for international efforts in fighting organized crime
Hillary Stemple on May 18, 2010 11:38 AM ET

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[JURIST] Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) [official website] Antonio Maria Costa on Monday opened a UN conference on international crime prevention by warning of the inadequacies of the current international crime control system. Costa indicated that organized crime is gaining economic strength [press release] and that countries must find ways to disrupt the international criminal market. In particular, Costa warned about the inadequacies of dealing with new threats against the environment, identity theft, and Internet crimes as well as the traditional threats of piracy, kidnapping, and slavery. Members of the conference were also urged to utilize the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime [materials] protocol adopted in 2000 as an important mechanism in crime prevention.

Costa's statements come two months after the EU released a report [JURIST report] detailing organized crime in Bulgaria and Romania and the steps the countries must take to gain full rights under the EU. That assessment echoed statements made in previous 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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Federal lawsuit seeks to stop drilling at BP Gulf platform
Sarah Miley on May 18, 2010 11:37 AM ET

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[JURIST] DC-based consumer advocacy organization Food and Water Watch (FWW) [advocacy website] filed suit [complaint, PDF] in a US district court Monday against the US Department of Interior (DOI) and the Minerals Management Service (MMS) [official websites] for an injunction to halt drilling at the BP Atlantis Facility [corporate website] in the Gulf of Mexico. FWW joined suit with Kenneth Abbott, a former safety contract engineer for BP, claiming that DOI and MMS allowed BP to operate the Atlantis Facility without documented, approved final engineering drawings considered critical to safe operation. FWW and Abbot hold that although federal law requires 100 percent engineer approved "as built" drawings for most platform systems, less then 10 percent of BP's Atlantis Facility drawings had met these specifications. The complaint, filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas [official website], lists several attempts by both FWW and Abbott to address this safety issues with the DOI and MMS, but no action was taken by either government organization to compel BP to produce the requisite drawings.
The gravity of BP's conduct has and will continue to have long lasting effect on the environment and public health, and DOI and MMS's failure to enforce its regulations against BP has only accelerated the time to another BP catastrophe. Accordingly, it is necessary that DOI and MMS be enjoined to temporarily prohibit production at the BP Atlantis Facility in order to protect and prevent further catastrophic destruction, and to further ensure the its regulations are enforced. ... [U]nless relief is granted by this Court, a catastrophe is certain to occur at the [facility], which will undoubtedly cause unprecedented, irreparable damages to the environment in and surround the Gulf of Mexico and the general public health.
BP has repeatedly claimed that it has worked with the DOI and MMS to meet the specifications required for the Atlantis Facility, but the allegations against them raise more doubts on how well federal regulators, especially MMS, have been inspecting BP facilities in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion [BBC backgrounder] last month. In response, the Obama administration asked DOI Secretary Kenneth Salazar [official profile] to conduct a "top-to-bottom" reform of the MMS [speech text] and ordered immediate inspections of all deep water operations in the Gulf. Salazar and other federal officials will be questioned on Tuesday by Senate committees on the efficacy of actions taken to prevent the April oil spill.

On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano [official profile] defended [testimony] the federal government's "all-hands-on-deck" response to the oil spill before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs [official website], stating that the government lacked the resources and expertise to deal with a spill of this magnitude, and must therefore depend on the response of BP to resolve the subsea oil spill. President Barack Obama has announced that he is forming a presidential commission [AP report] to investigate the cause of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and will be similar to the ones that investigated the Challenger explosion and the nuclear disaster on Three Mile Island. Also on Monday, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works [official website] asked US Attorney General Eric Holder to open an investigation [press release] into potential violations of civil and criminal laws related to the BP oil spill. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a result of an oil well blowout that the caused an explosion 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf. Eleven platform workers are missing and presumed dead, and 17 others were injured. The amount of oil spilled into the Gulf is part of an ongoing debate [NPR report] and has ranged from 5,000 to 100,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The resulting oil slick has covered at least 2,500 square miles. The White House is keeping a daily chronology of events [text].




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Portugal president ratifies same-sex marriage law
Hillary Stemple on May 18, 2010 10:12 AM ET

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[JURIST] Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva [official website, in Portuguese] on Monday signed a bill that legalizes same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] but stops short of allowing same-sex couples to adopt. The bill was approved [JURIST report] by the Portuguese Parliament [official website, in Portuguese] in January and found to be constitutional [text, in Portuguese] by the Constitutional Court [official website, in Portuguese] last month. Silva indicated he was unhappy with the manner in which the bill was passed but that he was signing the law so parliament could move on to other matters. He also indicated that he could have chosen to veto the bill, stating [press release, in Portuguese]:
The Parliamentary bill which allows marriage between persons of the same gender was submitted by me to the Constitutional Court for preventive investigation, and considered by this body as not unconstitutional. This, however, would not prevent the possibility of the President of the Republic using the vetoing power conferred upon him by the Constitution and return it to Parliament. However, regard should be given to the practical effects of such a decision and take into due account the superior national interest, in the face of the dramatic situation of the Country. As such, I believe that I should not contribute towards the unnecessary dragging out of this debate, which would only accentuate divisions among the Portuguese and stray the attention of politicians from the resolution of the issues which so grievously affect people's lives.
Same-sex marriage is now recognized by six countries in Europe including Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Norway [JURIST reports], while several other countries including the UK, France, and Germany recognize civil unions between same-sex partners.

Many countries are currently debating the issue of same-sex marriage, with varying results. Earlier this month, Argentina's lower house approved a bill [JURIST report] that would legalize same-sex marriage and allow same-sex couples to adopt. Last month, Italy's Constitutional Court rejected a challenge [JURIST report] to the constitutionality of the country's ban on same-sex marriage. In the US, individual states determine marital rights for same-sex couples. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Washington DC [JURIST reports]. Same-sex civil unions are currently recognized in Washington, New Jersey, Oregon, and Nevada [JURIST reports].




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UN rights chief urges peaceful resolution to Thailand conflict
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 18, 2010 9:27 AM ET

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[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] Navi Pillay [official profile] on Monday urged both the Thai government and anti-government protesters to seek a peaceful resolution [press release] to the current conflict [JURIST news archive]. Expressing deep concern at the escalating violence that has left dozens dead and many more injured, Pillay called on both sides to avoid further clashes and seek a diplomatic solution. Pillay called on the government to use force only in accordance with international human rights standards, warning that the situation could easily get out of hand:
To prevent further loss of life, I appeal to the protestors to step back from the brink, and the security forces to exercise maximum restraint in line with the instructions given by the Government. Ultimately, this situation can only be resolved by negotiation. I urge leaders to set aside pride and politics for the sake of the people of Thailand.
Pillay also noted that Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva [official website; BBC profile] has agreed to set up an independent fact-finding mission to inquire into the recent violence, stressing that the investigation should be impartial and thorough.

Last week, a Thai court sentenced 27 protesters [JURIST report] to six months in prison. The accused are members of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship [party website, in Thai], also known as red shirts [BBC backgrounder], who support ousted [JURIST report] prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Last month, Thailand's pro-government People's Alliance for Democracy Network [party website, in Thai; BBC backgrounder], known as yellow shirts, called for a declaration of martial law [JURIST report] to quell the anti-government movement spearheaded by the red shirts. Earlier in April, Vejjajiva announced that he was prepared to negotiate [JURIST report] with red shirt protesters once they cease their illegal conduct. Because of the mounting violence, Abhisit has imposed a state of emergency [JURIST report] in Bangkok and neighboring provinces.




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Haiti court convicts US missionary in orphan smuggling case
Sarah Miley on May 18, 2010 7:37 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Haitian court on Monday convicted US missionary Laura Silsby of attempting to illegally smuggle 33 Haitian children to the US through the Dominican Republic in the wake of the January 12 earthquake [JURIST news archive]. Silsby was found guilty of irregular travel [JURIST report] and sentenced to time served during judicial proceedings. At the opening of trial proceedings on Thursday, Haitian prosecutors claimed that Silsby knew she was breaking the law [AP report] when she attempted to take the children into the Dominican Republic and requested a six-month prison term [JURIST report]. The court agreed with the prosecution's allegations, but denied the request for additional prison time. Silsby has been released and is now permitted to leave the country and return home to Idaho.

Silsby was the only one to face trial of a group of 10 missionaries affiliated with the Central Valley Baptist Church [church website] of Idaho and the New Life Children's Refuge Charity [BBC profile] who were arrested [JURIST report] in January. A Haitian judge ordered the release of eight missionaries in February and then ordered the release of a ninth [JURIST reports] in March. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused massive damage to property and infrastructure in Haiti, and the death toll has been estimated at 230,000.




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Obama signs bill aimed at improving worldwide press freedom
Hillary Stemple on May 17, 2010 3:41 PM ET

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[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official profile] on Monday signed into law the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act [HR 3714 materials], aimed at promoting worldwide press freedom and drawing attention to countries where journalists are threatened, harmed, or censored. The law requires the secretary of state to submit an annual report to Congress detailing a description of the freedom of the press in each country, identifying countries where there have been violations of press freedom, and how the governments of the countries violating press freedom are responding to the violations. The law also establishes a grant program aimed at promoting press freedom. Critics of the law claim it takes no tangible steps toward promoting press freedom, but the co-sponsors of the bill indicated the law is a good first step, stating [press release]:
We hope this legislation will help the United States work with other nations to better protect [journalists] serving on the frontlines in the fight for greater accountability and transparency. Freedom of expression cannot exist where journalists are not safe from persecution and attack. Our government must promote freedom of the press by putting on center stage those countries in which journalists are killed, imprisoned, kidnapped, threatened, or censored.
The legislation is named after Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl [JURIST news archive] who was murdered after being abducted in Pakistan in 2002 while reporting on events following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US.

The US reports on press freedom will join those issued annually by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) [advocacy website] detailing the rankings of press freedom worldwide. In addition to their annual rankings, earlier this month, RSF issued a list of threats to press freedom [JURIST report]. Last month, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ordered the government of Azerbaijan [JURIST report] to secure the immediate release of imprisoned Azeri journalist Eynulla Fatuallyev, who was jailed on what many international organizations claim are spurious charges. Also last month, many rights groups expressed concern [JURIST report] over a Fiji draft bill that would allow the government to sentence journalists to up to five years in prison for publishing controversial content and require them to reveal sources of information. In March, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] urged the Cuban government [JURIST report] to allow more freedom of expression and release those jailed for criticizing the government.




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Iraq court overturns ban of nine new parliament members
Sarah Miley on May 17, 2010 2:31 PM ET

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[JURIST] The appeals court for Iraq's Justice and Accountability Commission on Monday overturned a ban on nine newly elected members of parliament accused of having ties to the banned Baath Party [BBC backgrounder].The ad hoc commission was created to eliminate Iraqi officials with potential connections to regime of Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive], who led the Baath party during his presidency. Eight of the banned candidates were members of the Sunni-backed coalition Iraqiya, which received the plurality of votes in the March 2010 parliamentary elections [CEIP backgrounder; JURIST news archive] by a two-seat margin. The ban by the commission, which is made up predominantly of Shiites, was perceived as a tactic by the Shiite bloc to garner seats from Iraqiya in order to gain the plurality for incumbent Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law [official website] coalition. A spokesperson for Iraqiya praised the decision [Reuters report] of the appeals court and stated that this decision was a victory for the Iraqi judicial system. The court's decision may mark the end of the election appeals, and the confirmed election results must now be certified by Iraq's highest court, which will lead to negotiations for the next prime minister.

Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) [official website] announced Sunday that the partial recount of the March parliamentary elections will not alter seat allocations [JURIST report] awarded in accordance with the provisional results. The commission held that the original count showed no signs of fraud or major irregularities [JURIST report], and confirmed the two-seat lead of the the Iraqiya coalition of Iyad Allawi [personal website, in Arabic; Al Jazeera profile] over al-Maliki's bloc. Last month, an IHEC review panel nullified the votes of 52 candidates for alleged ties to the Baath Party, including two candidates that had won seats in the Iraqi Council of Representatives [official website], at least one of which coming from Iraqiya. In February, an Iraqi appeals panel ruled [JURIST report] that 28 of the 500 candidates previously banned due to allegations of ties to the Baath Party 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. This came as a reversal of a previous decision, where it held that the candidates could stand in the coming elections, but would have to be cleared of the allegations against them before taking office.




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ACLU files lawsuit seeking injunction against Arizona immigration law
Hillary Stemple on May 17, 2010 1:21 PM ET

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[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] on Monday filed a class action lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release] in the US District Court for the District of Arizona [official website] seeking an injunction against the implementation of the recently passed Arizona immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive]. The ACLU is joined in the lawsuit by several other rights groups including the NAACP, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) [advocacy websites] as well as several individual plaintiffs. The suit is challenging the constitutionality of the law, stating that it violates the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution [text] as well as the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The complaint specifically states:
It is an impermissible encroachment into an area of exclusive federal authority and will interfere and conflict with the comprehensive federal immigration system enacted by Congress and implemented through a complex web of federal regulations and policies. According to law enforcement officials in Arizona and elsewhere, SB 1070 will cause widespread racial profiling and will subject many persons of color including countless U.S. citizens, and non-citizens who have federal permission to remain in the United States to unlawful interrogations, searches, seizures and arrests.
In addition to seeking an injunction against implementation of the bill, the suit is requesting that the entire bill be declared unconstitutional.

Monday's lawsuit joins two others filed [JURIST report] last month challenging the constitutionality of the Arizona law. The bill, signed into law [JURIST report] in April by Governor Jan Brewer, has caused intense controversy. Earlier this month, a group of UN human rights experts indicated the measure may violate international standards [JURIST report] that are binding on the US. Mexican President Felipe Calderon [official website, in Spanish] has strongly criticized [JURIST report] the new law, claiming that it opens the door to intolerance and hatred. US President Barack Obama also criticized the law [JURIST report], and called for federal immigration reform. Under the law, it is designated a crime to be in the country illegally, and immigrants unable to verify their legal status could be arrested and jailed for six months and fined $2,500.




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Supreme Court strikes down life sentences for juveniles facing non-homicide charges
Sarah Miley on May 17, 2010 12:57 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday held [opinion, PDF] in Graham v. Florida [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the Eighth Amendment [text] ban on cruel and unusual punishments prohibits the imprisonment of a juvenile for life without the possibility of parole as punishment for the juvenile's commission of a non-homicide offense. The First District Court of Appeal of Florida [official website] upheld the life sentence of Terrance Graham for a non-homicide offense committed when he was 17, concluding that Graham's sentence was not "grossly disproportionate" to his crimes. The district court interpreted Supreme Court prison sentencing precedent to prohibit a per se ban on juvenile life sentences, and ruled instead that each case must be judged on its own facts. Justice Anthony Kennedy, delivering the opinion of the court, reversed and remanded the district court opinion, holding that life sentences without parole wrongly deprive juveniles of the opportunity to become rehabilitated and rejoin society:
Terrance Graham's sentence guarantees he will die in prison without any meaningful opportunity to obtain release, no matter what he might do to demonstrate that the bad acts he committed as a teenager are not representative of his true character, even if he spends the next half century attempting to atone for his crimes and learn from his mistakes. The State has denied him any chance to later demonstrate that he is fit to rejoin society based solely on a non-homicide crime that he committed while he was a child in the eyes of the law. This the Eighth Amendment does not permit. ... A State need not guarantee the offender eventual release, but if it imposes a sentence of life it must provide him or her with some realistic opportunity to obtain release before the end of that term.
Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia and in part by Justice Samuel Alito. Alito also dissented in an opinion for himself. Justice John Paul Stevens concurred, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, even though these three Justices also joined the Kennedy majority opinion.

The court also handed down a per curiam decision on non-release sentences for juveniles in Sullivan v. Graham [opinion, PDF], dismissing the writ of certiorari as improvidently granted. It is uncertain whether defendant Joe Harris Sullivan, who was 13 when he committed his crime, will benefit from the ruling in the Graham case because Florida courts had turned aside Sullivan's Eighth Amendment challenge for procedural reasons. The Florida courts will now determine whether Sullivan can make a new challenge based on the Supreme Court's decision.




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Supreme Court rules on parental rights in international child custody case
Hillary Stemple on May 17, 2010 11:13 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] in Abbott v. Abbott [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a ne exeat clause, which prohibits one parent from removing a child from the country without the other parent's consent, confers a "right of custody" within the meaning of the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction [text]. The Hague Convention requires a country to return a child who has been "wrongfully removed" from his country of habitual residence. Under Art. 12, a "wrongful removal" is one that occurs "in breach of rights of custody." The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that ne exeat rights do not constitute "rights of custody" within the meaning of the Hague Convention. Reversing the decision below, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote:
Because Mr. Abbott has direct and regular visitation rights, it follows that he has a ne exeat right under article 49. The Convention recognizes that custody rights can be decreed jointly or alone and Mr. Abbott's ne exeat right is best classified as a "joint right of custody," which the Convention defines to "include rights relating to the care of the person of the child and, in particular, the right to determine the child's place of residence." Mr. Abbott's right to decide [his child's] country of residence allows him to determine the child's place of residence, especially given the Convention's purpose to prevent wrongful removal across international borders. It also gives him "rights relating to the care of the person of the child," in that choosing [his child's] residence country can determine the shape of his early and adolescent years and his language, identity, and culture and traditions. That a ne exeat right does not fit within traditional physical custody notions is beside the point because the Convention's definition of "rights of custody" controls.
Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in dissent and was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer. The case was remanded to the lower court.

The case was brought by petitioner Timothy Abbott after his ex-wife, respondent Jacquelyn Abbott, removed their son to the US from Chile without his permission in 2005. He argued that his ne exeat right gave him joint authority over the child's place of residence and that removing the child from Chile violated this right.




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Supreme Court upholds indefinite detention of mentally ill sex offenders
Sarah Miley on May 17, 2010 10:22 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] 7-2 in United States v. Comstock [Cornell LII backgrounder] that mentally ill sex offenders may be civilly committed beyond their prison sentences. The court upheld the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act [18 USC s. 4248 text], which allows a district court to order the civil commitment of a mentally ill, sexually dangerous federal prisoner beyond the date he would otherwise be released. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit had granted the defendant's motion to dismiss proceedings, holding that section 4248 exceeded Congress's powers under the Commerce Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder], that the "clear and convincing" requirement did not meet due process standards, and that the statute violated the Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments of the US Constitution. The court reversed and remanded the Fourth Circuit's decision, stating that the Necessary and Proper Clause [text] grants Congress sufficient authority to pass such laws. In delivering the opinion of the court, Justice Stephen Breyer stated that several considerations were used to compel the court's decision.
We take these five considerations together. They include: (1) the breadth of the Necessary and Proper Clause, (2) the long history of federal involvement in this arena, (3) the sound reasons for the statute's enactment in light of the Government's custodial interest in safeguarding the public from dangers posed by those in federal custody, (4) the statute's accommodation of state interests, and (5) the statute's narrow scope. Taken together, these considerations lead us to conclude that the statute is a "necessary and proper" means of exercising the federal authority that permits Congress to create federal criminal laws, to punish their violation, to imprison violators, to provide appropriately for those imprisoned, and to maintain the security of those who are not imprisoned but who may be affected by the federal imprisonment of others. The Constitution consequently authorizes Congress to enact the statute.
Justice Anthony Kennedy concurred in the judgment only, joined by Justice Samuel Alito. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia.

US Solicitor General and recent Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan [official profile; JURIST news archive] defended the law [JURIST report] in January stating that it was necessary to protect individuals from people who have the kind of mental illness that is going to cause grave danger to the community. She stated that the federal government is in the best position to prevent this kind of danger, and therefore has a duty to act as a federal custodian. While some of the justices were skeptical of Kagan's position, the majority of the court agreed with her assertion in its opinion. The court did not reach or decide any claim that the statute or its application denies equal protection, procedural or substantive due process, or any other constitutional rights.




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Supreme Court to decide if leniency plea delays habeas statute of limitations
Hillary Stemple on May 17, 2010 10:18 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in one case. In Wall v. Kholi [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court will decide whether a state court sentence-reduction motion consisting of a plea for leniency constitutes an "application for State post-conviction or other collateral review" under 28 USC s. 2244(d)(2) [text], resulting in an extension of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act's (AEDPA) [text, PDF] one-year limitations period for a state prisoner to file a federal habeas corpus petition. The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] reversed the district court's judgment that a petition for leniency is different from an appeal to correct legal errors and therefore does not result in a tolling of the statute of limitations under AEDPA. The First Circuit's decision was in line with a Tenth Circuit ruling on the same issue, but the Third, Fourth and Eleventh Circuits had previously ruled that a petition for leniency does not toll the statute of limitations under AEDPA.

Kholi was initially convicted in 1993 and sentenced to 10 life sentences, six running concurrently to four consecutive. He appealed his conviction to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, which affirmed the convictions in 1996, but he did not file a federal writ of habeas corpus at that time. He then filed a motion seeking sentence reduction as a form of post-conviction relief, which was denied. Kholi exhausted his procedural options regarding sentence reduction in 2007, at which time he began his appeal for federal writ of habeas corpus, well beyond AEDPA's standard one-year limitation on filing.




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Pakistan court challenges president's dual offices
Sarah Miley on May 17, 2010 9:10 AM ET

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[JURIST] Pakistan's Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday ordered the principal secretary for President Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] principle secretary to appear before the court in order to explain how Zardari is able to effectively serve as president while also leading the country's ruling party. The petition was filed [Reuters report] by the Pakistan Lawyers Forum, which agreed with the secretary's representation of Zardari due to security reasons. Zardari's control of these two offices does not violate Pakistan's Constitution [text], but the high court has previously barred officials from holding dual offices. After winning the presidency in September 2008, Zardari continued to serve as chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) [official website], which won the plurality of seats in the 2008 election and currently heads the ruling coalition. The principal secretary is set to appear before the court on May 25.

Zardari gained control of the presidency after former military leader Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] resigned amid impeachment pressure. In April, Zardari signed into law [JURIST report] the 18th Amendment bill [text, PDF], limiting presidential powers expanded under Musharraf. Under the amendment, which effectively reduces the role of the president to a figurehead, the vast majority of the president's powers will be transferred [AFP report] to the office of the prime minister [official website]. The introduction of the bill came amid controversy over reopening corruption investigations against Zardari. Weeks earlier, Pakistan's attorney general Anwar Mansoor announced his resignation over controversy surrounding a Supreme Court order to investigate corruption allegations [JURIST reports]. Last month, Swiss authorities denied a request [JURIST report] from Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau [official website], refusing to reopen a corruption investigation against Zardari. Aides to Zardari believe that presidential immunity protects him from prosecution, even after the Supreme Court overturned an amnesty law [JURIST report] implemented by Musharraf.




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China court upholds convictions of mining employees for stealing commercial secrets
Hillary Stemple on May 17, 2010 8:03 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Chinese appeals court on Monday upheld the convictions of three Chinese citizens convicted in March [JURIST report] of receiving bribes and stealing commercial secrets while employed by Australian mining company Rio Tinto [corporate website]. The men, Wang Yong, Ge Minqiang, and Liu Caikui, 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 Shanghai Higher People's Court affirmed [Xinhua report] the lower court's findings, holding that the procedures followed were proper and the convictions and sentences appropriate. A fourth man, Australian national Stern Hu, was also convicted of the same charges as his Chinese colleagues, but he chose not to appeal. In addition to serving prison time, the court indicated the men will be expected to turn over any money that was received illegally.

The men were initially accused last July [JURIST report] of stealing state secrets [JURIST news archive] during stalled iron ore price negotiations. China's state secrets law has frequently been criticized for the breadth of action which falls under the doctrine. Last month, the Chinese government revised [JURIST report] its sweeping state secrets law to require Internet and telecommunications companies to inform on customers who share state secrets. In November 2009, rights activist Huang Qi was sentenced to three years in prison [JURIST report] for violating the state secrets law when he discussed how some schools collapsed after the Sichuan province earthquake [BBC backgrounder] in 2008 because of shoddy construction. 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."




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Maldives offers to accept two Guantanamo detainees
Ann Riley on May 16, 2010 2:40 PM ET

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[JURIST] Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed [official website] has offered to accept two detainees held at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], discussing his decision [press release] during his weekly radio address on Friday. The offer is being described as a humanitarian gesture, but opposition parties have objected [BBC report] the move of the detainees. The Dhivehi Qaumee Party has threatened to file a case against the government for violating national security, and the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party [party websites, in Dhivehi] has submitted a case to the parliamentary National Security Committee [official website, in Dhivehi]. Nasheed encouraged those opposing the decision to submit their complaints and explained the offer, saying:
In my view, it is not in line at all with our Constitution, Islam, or 'Maldivianness' that we refuse to help especially Muslims, especially those wrongly imprisoned.
The prisoners have not been identified, but one is known to be from Palestine [AFP report]. The only Maldivian held at Guantanamo, Ibrahim Fauzee, was flown home in May 2005 after being arrested in 2002 while studying Islam in Pakistan.

The Obama administration continues its push to close the Guantanamo Bay facility, despite missing its self-imposed one-year deadline [JURIST report] in January. The administration has run into several hurdles in closing the prison, including opposition from members of Congress and the suspension of detainee transfers to Yemen [JURIST report]. Earlier this month, Spain and Bulgaria each accepted [JURIST report] their second detainees in response to a June request [AFP report] by the Obama administration. If they agree to accept the detainees, the Maldives will be part of a growing list of countries that have recently accepted transfers, including Bulgaria, Spain, Georgia, Albania, Latvia, Switzerland, Slovakia, Algeria, Somaliland, Palau, Belgium, Afghanistan, and Bermuda [JURIST reports].




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Iraq election results confirmed after partial recount
Sarah Miley on May 16, 2010 2:03 PM ET

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[JURIST] Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) [official website] announced on Sunday that the partial recount of the March parliamentary elections [CEIP backgrounder; JURIST news archive] will not alter seat allocations awarded in accordance with the provisional results. The commission held [JURIST report] that the original count showed no signs of fraud or major irregularities, and confirmed the two-seat lead of the the Iraqiya coalition of Iyad Allawi [personal website, in Arabic; Al Jazeera profile] over al-Maliki's State of Law [official website] coalition. The commission took 11 days to recount more than 2.5 million ballots by hand after incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki challenged the results [JURIST report] alleging voting fraud at the polls. Allawi's Iraqiya coalition, which garners the support of the Sunni minority, hopes the bloc's victory will be a turning point for bipartisan participation among the religious sects. Allawi's goal of unification may be thwarted though, as Maliki's bloc has already announced an alliance with the Shia Iraqi National Alliance, which polled third, to form the largest grouping in parliament. The confirmed election results must now be certified by Iraq's highest court, which will lead to negotiations for the next prime minister.

Last month, the IHEC ordered a manual recount of the ballots in Baghdad, where 68 seats of the 325-seat parliament were up for election, but did not begin the recount [JURIST reports] until the review panel defined more precisely what a recount entailed. Earlier in April, an IHEC review panel nullified the votes of 52 candidates for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party [BBC backgrounder], including two candidates that had won seats in the Iraqi Council of Representatives [official website], at least one of which coming from Iraqiya. In February, an Iraqi appeals panel ruled [JURIST report] that 28 of the 500 candidates previously banned due to allegations of ties to the Baath Party 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. This came as a reversal of a previous decision, where it held that the candidates could stand in the coming elections, but would have to be cleared of the allegations against them before taking office. The amount of time being taken to set up the new government may leave Iraq vulnerable to the violence that erupted after the 2005 parliamentary elections when the government took five months to negotiate a new government.




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Thailand court sentences protesters to six months in prison
Ann Riley on May 16, 2010 1:08 PM ET

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[JURIST] A Thai court on Saturday sentenced 27 protesters to six months in prison, according to the chief of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) [official website, in Thai] Tarit Pengit. The accused are members of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship [party website, in Thai], also known as red shirts [BBC backgrounder] and were arrested [Bangkok Post report] for violating an emergency decree prohibiting political gatherings of more than five people. Under the strict security law [JURIST report] adopted in anticipation of the protests, the red shirts initially faced up to a year in prison, but their confessions allowed the district court to commute their sentences [AFP report].

The conflict in Bangkok [JURIST news archive] over the last two months has left more than 25 dead and nearly 1,000 injured in connection with increasingly violent anti-government protests. Last month, Thailand's pro-government People's Alliance for Democracy Network [party website, in Thai; BBC backgrounder], known as "yellow shirts," called for a declaration of martial law [JURIST report] to quell the anti-government movement spearheaded by the red shirts. Earlier in April, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva [official website; BBC profile] announced that he is prepared to negotiate [JURIST report] with red shirt protesters once they cease their illegal conduct. Internal divisions have been mounting steadily in Thailand since the 2006 ouster [JURIST report] of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], whose progressive policies engendered the support of the poor rural class that largely constitutes the reds today. The yellows, primarily consisting of the urban middle-class, considered Shinawatra, as well as the reds, disloyal to the monarchy. Because of the mounting violence, Abhisit has imposed a state of emergency [JURIST report] in Bangkok and neighboring provinces.




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Rights group urges UK to set up judicial inquiry on torture
Erin Bock on May 15, 2010 2:16 PM ET

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[JURIST] Human Rights Watch [official website] on Friday urged the new UK government to set up a judicial inquiry [press release] on torture [JURIST news archive] allegations and reaffirm its support for human rights. The rights group claimed that allegations of complicity in the torture of terrorism suspects have badly damaged the nation's reputation and that steps need to be taken to restore the nation's reputation as "a nation that respects human rights." The group cited reports from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee [materials], which point out specific instances of torture and kidnapping in counterterrorism efforts. Among the many issues the group wants the government to reconsider include the power of the government to detain terrorism suspects for 28 days without a trial and the government's ability to deport detainees to countries where they may be tortured. The organization's London director, Tom Porteous, expressed his desire for the British government to make civil liberties more of a priority.
The two parties in government have indicated they are in substantial agreement on civil liberties. They should translate that into practice by making a clean break with the previous government's abusive approach to counterterrorism and by strengthening the UK's role in bringing to justice those responsible for international crimes at home and abroad.
The organization also urged the government to continue its support of the International Criminal Court [official website] and the Human Rights Act [text], which the government adopted in 1998.

Earlier this month, the England and Wales Court of Appeals [official website] ruled that security organizations MI5 and MI6 [official websites] could not use secret evidence in their defense against abuse allegations by Binyam Mohamed and other UK residents who were held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. The security organizations wanted to use a "closed material procedure" that would allow them to rely on certain evidence without disclosing it to opposing counsel or committing it to the public record out of fear that disclosure would harm the public interest and the agencies themselves. The court ruled in February that the government must disclose several paragraphs [JURIST report] detailing the allegations of Mohamed's mistreatment that were previously omitted from an earlier ruling. The Human Rights Act, passed to comply with the European Convention of Human Rights, has been a source of debate in the British government since is was adopted in 1998. In 2006, then-prime minister Tony Blair called for an amendment to the act to allow the government greater discretion to protect public safety, while conservative leaders called for the act to be repealed [JURIST reports].




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UN expert urges legal reforms to fight global hunger crisis
Ann Riley on May 15, 2010 1:34 PM ET

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[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food [official website] Olivier De Schutter [official profile] on Friday urged reforms [UN News Centre report] to legal systems to fight hunger and promote the right to food. The UN High-Level Task Force for the Global Food Crisis [official website] is meeting next week in Dublin to update the 2008 Comprehensive Framework of Action on Food [text, PDF]. In response to the global food price crisis, De Schutter has been reviewing the progress of countries' national adoption of the right to food, submitting reports on Benin, Brazil, Guatemala, and Nicaragua [texts, PDF] to the UN Human Rights Council [official website]. De Schutter emphasized the need for adequate legal mechanisms in remedying the global hunger crisis:
We tend to forget that in the fight against hunger, processes and institutions are as vital as new seeds; legal frameworks as necessary as agricultural investments; and participatory institutions as impactful in the long term as bags of fertilizers.
De Schutter's review cites successful legal measures that have upheld the right to food. In 2007, the South African Equity Court urged parties in a fishing dispute to develop new legislative policies to recognize fishermen's rights to equitable marine resources. In 2003, Brazil launched a "Zero Hunger" strategy with legal reforms that require 30 percent of school food to be purchased from family farms. Additionally, a 2001 India Supreme Court case has resulted in universal mid-day meals benefiting more than 118 million Indian children.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] has historically called for an increased effort to uphold the "fundamental human right" to food [JURIST report] for people around the world who suffer from chronic hunger. The right to adequate food is recognized in Articles 24(2)(c) and 27(3) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 12(2) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and Articles 25(f) and 28(1) of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights [texts] adopted by the UN in 1948 states that "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food."




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Iraq recount shows no signs of fraud in March elections
Ann Riley on May 15, 2010 12:13 PM ET

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[JURIST] Spokesman for Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) [official website] Qassim al-Aboudi announced Friday that the completed recount of votes cast in the March 7 parliamentary elections [CEIP backgrounder; JURIST news archive] showed no signs of fraud or major irregularities. The official tally [Reuters report] after the 11-day recount of 2.5 million ballots will be announced Monday. After the original count, the Iraqiya coalition of Iyad Allawi [personal website, in Arabic; Al Jazeera profile] garnered a slim two-seat lead over the State of Law [official website] coalition of incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [official website, in Arabic]. After alleging fraud [JURIST report], Al-Maliki said that the recount challenge was meant to show the credibility of the Iraq's election system and strengthen the confidence of voters.

Last month, the IHEC ordered a manual recount of the ballots in Baghdad, where 68 seats of the 325-seat parliament were up for election, but did not begin the recount [JURIST reports] until the review panel defined more precisely what a recount entailed. Earlier in April, an IHEC review panel nullified the votes of 52 candidates for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party [BBC backgrounder], including two candidates that had won seats in the Iraqi Council of Representatives [official website], at least one of which coming from Iraqiya. In February, an Iraqi appeals panel ruled [JURIST report] that 28 of the 500 candidates previously banned due to allegations of ties to the Baath Party 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. This came as a reversal of a previous decision, where it held that the candidates could stand in the coming elections, but would have to be cleared of the allegations against them before taking office.




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Small business lobby group joins health care lawsuit
Patrice Collins on May 15, 2010 10:48 AM ET

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[JURIST] The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) [association website], a small business lobby group, joined a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] on Friday challenging the constitutionality of the recently enacted health care reform law [text; JURIST news archive]. The NFIB joins 20 states in a legal battle that began in March when a complaint seeking injunction and declaratory relief was filed [JURIST reports] in a Florida federal court. The president and CEO of the NFIB commented [press release] on the association's decision to join the lawsuit:
Small business owners everywhere are rightfully concerned that the unconstitutional new mandates, countless rules and new taxes in the healthcare law will devastate their business and their ability to create jobs. They are also concerned about their personal freedoms. This law is the first time the federal government has required individuals to purchase something simply because they are alive. If Congress can regulate this type of inactivity, then there are essentially no limits to what they can mandate individuals to do.
Also Friday, Nevada joined the lawsuit [AP report] challenging the constitutionality of the new law.

Among the allegations in the suit are violations of Article I and the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution, committed by levying a tax without regard to census data, property, or profession, and for invading the the sovereignty of the states. The plaintiffs also assert that the law should not be upheld under the commerce clause. Earlier this week, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] filed [JURIST report] its first response [brief text] to one of several lawsuits challenging the controversial new health care law. In a brief filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan [official website], the DOJ defended the law, asserting that Congress acted within its powers to regulate interstate commerce. The suit [complaint, PDF], filed in March by conservative public interest group the Thomas More Law Center [advocacy website] on the same day President Barack Obama signed the bill into law [JURIST report], argues that the mandate that all individuals carry health insurance is unconstitutional.




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UN torture committee urges probe of Syria, Yemen, Jordan
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 14, 2010 4:19 PM ET

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[JURIST] The UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) [official website] on Friday urged [press release] Syria, Yemen, and Jordan to conduct thorough investigations into allegations of torture [JURIST news archive] by law enforcement officials. Concluding its forty-fourth session, the group of 10 independent experts [materials] issued conclusions and recommendations on eight countries. In Jordan, the CAT was "deeply concerned at the numerous, consistent and credible allegations of a widespread and routine practice of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in detention facilities and that such allegations were seldom investigated and prosecuted." In Syria, the committee was "deeply concerned about numerous, ongoing and consistent allegations concerning the routine use of torture by Syrian law enforcement and investigative officials, at their instigation or with their consent, in particular, in detention facilities." And in Yemen, the CAT was "deeply concerned at the numerous allegations, corroborated by a number of Yemeni and international sources, of a widespread practice of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in Yemeni prisons." The countries were urged to monitor and inspect detention facilities and to investigate torture allegations.

Last month, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] (HRW) called for an investigation into alleged war crimes [JURIST report] committed during the recent conflict between the government of Yemen and Shiite Huthi Rebels. According to HRW's report, the February truce between the factions has not resulted in any meaningful inquiry into air strikes on populated villages, indiscriminate violence, summary executions, and child soldiers, among other alleged violations. In February, Canadian citizen Maher Arar [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] asked the US Supreme Court [official website] to overturn a lower court ruling [JURIST report] that he cannot sue the US government for damages based on his detention, interrogation, and torture in Syria after he was mistakenly identified as a terrorist. Last year, HRW urged Jordan to restore its rule of law [JURIST report] by ending extrajudicial detentions of crime victims, personal enemies, and persons freed by the courts.




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Turkish minority party files suit to block proposed constitutional amendments
Daniel Makosky on May 14, 2010 2:48 PM ET

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[JURIST] Turkey's opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) [party website, in Turkish] filed suit [press release, in Turkish] in the country's Constitutional Court [official website, in Turkish] Friday in an effort to halt proposed constitutional amendments offered by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish]. The CHP is challenging reforms that seek to restructure the judiciary, claiming they compromise judicial independence [Hurriyet report] and represent an improper AKP attempt to fortify its power [Reuters report]. The suit also claims that the AKP committed several procedural errors when introducing the proposal. It is unknown when or how the court might rule, though a decision in favor of CHP may expedite elections currently scheduled in July 2011. The reform package is subject to a referendum currently slated for September 12.

The amendments [text, in Turkish] were approved [JURIST report] by the Turkish Grand National Assembly [official website, in Turkish] last week. Last month, the AKP submitted a revised version [JURIST report] of their proposed amendments, including a proposal to alter Article 157 of the Constitution [text, in Turkish] so that judges of the Military Supreme Administrative Court would have judicial immunity and be shielded from spurious claims. An earlier version of AKP's proposal was submitted [JURIST report] a week prior and contained seven revisions [Hurriyet report] from the package originally unveiled [JURIST report] at the end of March. Included amongst the changes were a highly-disputed reform to the judiciary system that would allow military and government officials to be tried in civilian court, another that would make it harder for the government to disband political parties that challenge the country's nationalist establishment, and a provision that would prohibit the prosecution of the 1980 coup leaders. AKP says it created the amendments to promote democracy in Turkey and support its bid into the European Union (EU) [official website].




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Canada foreign minister introduces bill to protect fresh water supply
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 14, 2010 1:58 PM ET

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[JURIST] Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon [official profile] on Thursday introduced legislation [press release] to strengthen prohibitions on bulk removal of Canada's fresh water outside the country. The Transboundary Waters Protection Act [C-26 text] would strengthen existing regulations by giving rivers and streams that cross international borders the same protection already in place for the Great Lakes. The bill would also give the federal government new powers of inspection and enforcement and would introduce penalties for violations, including fines of up to $6 million for corporate violations. The proposed legislation fulfills a 2008 promise by the Conservative government, but some critics claim that it does not go far enough because it exempts bottled water [Canwest report].

While Canada is believed to hold about one-fifth of the world's fresh water, water supply has become an increasingly contentious issue as the world's population continues to grow. In March, Bolivian President Evo Morales [BBC profile] called on the UN to declare access to safe drinking water a basic human right [JURIST report], marking World Water Day [official website]. In December, a California judge tentatively ruled that a 2003 Colorado River water use agreement is invalid [JURIST report]. The agreement settled a dispute over how to divide the Colorado River between California and six other states: Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Under the agreement, California would significantly reduce the amount of water diverted from farms to California cities over the course of 75 years.




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Spain judicial panel suspends judge Garzon over Franco probe
Daniel Makosky on May 14, 2010 1:36 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Spanish General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) [official website, in Spanish] voted unanimously Friday to suspend National Court judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] for abusing his power by opening an investigation into war crimes allegedly committed under Francisco Franco [BBC backgrounder] during the Spanish Civil War [LOC backgrounder]. The CGPJ, ruling 18-0 with three abstentions, was required to hand down the suspension once Garzon's final appeal to avoid trial was rejected [El Pais reports, in Spanish] on Wednesday.

No trial date [AFP report] has been set. If convicted, Garzon could face a suspension of up to 20 years. Garzon is also facing charges of bribery over money he received for seminars conducted in the US.

Thousands gathered [JURIST report] in cities across Spain last month in support of Garzon, chanting slogans and displaying flags of the pre-war Republican government ousted by Franco. In March, the Spanish Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] charged [order, PDF; in Spanish] Garzon with abuse of power based on Garzon's 2008 ordered exhumation [JURIST report] of 19 mass graves in Spain. The purpose of the order was to assemble a definitive national registry of Civil War victims, despite a 1977 law granting amnesty for political crimes committed under Franco. Garzon appealed [JURIST report] the charges in April, alleging that the indictment issued by Spanish Supreme Court judge Luciano Varela was politically motivated [AFP report], compromised judicial independence, and sought to impose a specific interpretation of the 1977 law. Garzon is widely known for using universal jurisdiction extensively in the past to bring several high-profile rights cases, including those against Osama bin Laden and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archives].




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UN elects 14 new members to rights council
Sarah Miley on May 14, 2010 12:13 PM ET

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[JURIST] The UN General Assembly [official website] on Thursday elected 14 new members [materials] to the Human Rights Council (HRC) [official website], half of which have questionable human rights records. Several of the new members, including Libya, Angola, Malaysia, Thailand, and Uganda have been accused of human rights violations. The election, which is performed as a secret ballot, was uncontested, as the number of candidates equaled the number of seats available for each regional group, essentially guaranteeing a seat to each candidate. The US has received criticism for not speaking against the HRC's acceptance of countries with ongoing human rights violations. American ambassador Susan Rice [official profile], stated that the Obama administration realizes the HRC is flawed, but that it is better to work on reform from within the council, rather than from the sidelines. Human Rights Watch [official website] said the the lack of competition in the HRC's elections undermines the standards [press release] set forth for membership and deprives the General Assembly of electing the most qualified candidates.

The HRC elections lost any sense of competition when Iran withdrew its candidacy for the Asia Group last month amid strong international opposition based on Iran's record for human rights violations. Iranian official Mohammad Javad Larijani told the HRC in February that it would pursue the candidacy and that Iran is fulfilling its human rights obligations [JURIST report]. Larijani also said that the nation has implemented long-term plans to protect human rights [Reuters report]. Larijani rejected criticism suggesting the nation engaged in the torture and murder of dissidents, characterizing these allegations as politically motivated attempts to undermine Iran in light of the recent developments in its nuclear program. Larijani reiterated that Iran's nuclear program is intended for civilian use only. Amnesty International [advocacy website] criticized [press release, PDF] Iran's earlier report [text, PDF] to the HRC, calling its portrayal of the state of human rights in the nation distorted. Iran's report was not able to sway the international community and withdrew its candidacy amid concern that it would not have the adequate support necessary to win the seat.




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Federal judge orders release of Russian Guantanamo detainee
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 14, 2010 11:25 AM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Thursday ordered the release [order, PDF] of Russian Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Ravil Mingazov [NYT profile]. Judge Henry Kennedy Jr ordered the government to "take all necessary and appropriate diplomatic steps to facilitate Mingazov's release forthwith." Government lawyers are currently reviewing the 44-page ruling, which has not yet been declassified. Mingazov, a former ballet dancer, was captured in Pakistan in 2002 [Miami Herald report] and turned over to US authorities. The Pentagon claimed he was captured in a raid on a suspected terrorist safe house and that he had attended a terror training camp, but Mingazov denied the claims. Mingazov is seeking release to a country other than Russia, after Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported in 2007 that seven former Guantanamo detainees suffered abuse and torture [JURIST report] at the hands of Russian law enforcement agencies following their release from US custody in 2004.

Thursday's ruling brings to 35 the number of Guantanamo detainees who have prevailed in habeas corpus proceedings [JURIST news archive] in federal court. The government has prevailed in only 13 cases. In March, the DC court denied the habeas petition of Yemeni Guantanamo Bay detainee Makhtar Yahia Naji al Warafi [NYT materials] on its merits, allowing the US government to prolong the detention indefinitely. Earlier that month, a federal judge 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 petition, claiming that he had been tortured in prison [Miami Herald report] and had made confessions under duress. In late February, a DC judge 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.




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Vermont Catholic diocese reaches settlement in clergy abuse cases
Sarah Miley on May 14, 2010 10:50 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Roman Catholic Diocese in Vermont [official website] on Thursday settled with dozens of former alter boys who alleged they were sexually abused by several clergy 30 years ago. The church agreed to pay 26 accusers a total of $17.65 million to drop child sex abuse cases pending in Burlington's Chittenden Superior Court [official website]. The original claims were filed eight years ago by 36 former altar boys and young members of the church against the state-wide Catholic diocese for negligence in hiring and supervising pedophile priests. Burlington's Bishop Salvatore Matano released a letter [text, PDF] on the diocese's website apologizing to those affected by the sexual abuse and assuring the members that the cost of the settlement will be the "sole responsibility" of the diocese:
No funds from parishes, institutions, charitable agencies of the Diocese or the Bishop's Fund have been used for past settlements, and none are being used to meet the financial obligations resulting from these present settlements. The intentions of our donors have been and continue to be both respected and upheld.
The diocese's unrestricted reserves have been depleted by the cost of the settlement. In order to pay the remainder, the diocese is attempting to sell several pieces of property and has secured an interim loan using diocesan property as collateral.The diocese also settled three cases [Times Argus report] that were on appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court [official website] for an undisclosed amount. This settlement will not preclude other accusers from filing suits against the church.

This settlement comes a month after the Vatican [official website] released church procedures [JURIST report] for handling alleged cases of sexual abuse by priests, instructing, "Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed." The "Guide to Understanding Basic CDF Procedures concerning Sexual Abuse Allegations" summarizes the procedures governing investigations by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) [official profile] into allegations of sex abuse by clergy members. The CDF guidelines provide for interim measures meant to ensure the safety of others during civil authorities' investigations or legal proceedings. The guidelines also outline a multi-tiered system of enforcement and appeals, including local bishops, the CDF, and the Pope himself. Since 2007, in the US alone, the Church has settled more than 500 cases [JURIST news archive] of abuse for over $900 million.




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Haiti prosecutors seeking prison for US missionary
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 14, 2010 9:23 AM ET

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[JURIST] Haitian prosecutors on Thursday requested a six-month prison term for a US missionary accused of illegally trying to remove 33 children from the country in the wake of the January 12 earthquake [JURIST news archive]. Prosecutors claimed that Laura Silsby knew she was breaking the law [AP report] when she attempted to take the children into the Dominican Republic. At the opening of her trial Thursday, Silsby testified that she believed all of the children were orphans whose parents were killed in the earthquake. It was later revealed that all but one of the children had at least one living parent. Silsby was originally charged with kidnapping, but that charge was later reduced to irregular travel [JURIST reports], which carries a prison term of six months to three years. A verdict is expected within a few days.

Silsby is the only one to face trial of a group of 10 missionaries affiliated with the Central Valley Baptist Church [church website] of Idaho and the New Life Children's Refuge Charity [BBC profile] who were arrested [JURIST report] in January. A Haitian judge ordered the release of eight missionaries in February and then ordered the release of a ninth in March. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused massive damage to property and infrastructure in Haiti, and the death toll has been estimated at 230,000.




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Spain prosecutor requests arrest warrants for CIA rendition agents
Ximena Marinero on May 13, 2010 4:22 PM ET

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[JURIST] A lawyer from the Spanish National Court Office of the Prosecutor on Wednesday petitioned judge Ismael Moreno to issue arrest warrants for 13 CIA agents who allegedly kidnapped a German citizen of Lebanese descent in 2003 as part of the Bush administration's extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive] program. Khaled el-Masri [JURIST news archive] claims that the CIA kidnapped him while he was traveling to Macedonia in 2003 and transported him to a secret detention facility in Afghanistan where he was held for four months. The Office of the Prosecutor alleges [WP report] that the court has jurisdiction to issue the warrants because the agents made a stop in Spanish territory using hidden identities without official Spanish government authorization to do so. Spanish newspaper El Pais published [text, in Spanish] the names of the alleged CIA agents in a recent story, also reporting that National Court Prosecutor Vicente Gonzalez Mota has petitioned the court to subpoena the London human rights organization Reprieve [advocacy website] to corroborate the agent names.

In 2008, el-Masri petitioned [ACLU materials; JURIST report] the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) [official website] to open an investigation of human rights violations by the US, alleging that he was tortured by the CIA. In 2007, the US Supreme Court rejected [JURIST report] without comment el-Masri's petition for certiorari, ostensibly supporting the Bush administration's contention that allowing el-Masri's federal lawsuit to proceed would require the revelation of state secrets. Also in 2007, the German Justice Ministry said that it would not press a formal request [JURIST report] to extradite the 13 CIA agents suspected of participating in el-Masri's alleged rendition after the Bush administration informed them it would not comply with a such a request despite a 2006 German investigation that concluded there was no evidence to disprove el-Masri's allegations.




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Zimbabwe government appeals cabinet nominee acquittal
Ximena Marinero on May 13, 2010 3:03 PM ET

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[JURIST] Zimbabwe Attorney General Johannes Tomana on Wednesday appealed the recent Supreme Court [court website] decision to acquit [JURIST report] Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [party website] party treasurer and deputy agriculture minister-nominee Roy Bennett [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] of terrorism and insurgency charges. Tomana alleged [AllAfrica report] that Justice Chinembiri Bhunu erred in evaluating the authenticity of electronic evidence against Bennett as a matter of law. Bennett, a close ally of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and opponent of President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] had faced charges under Zimbabwe's Public Order and Security Act [materials] for unlawfully possessing weapons and provoking others "to commit terrorism, banditry and sabotage." Members of Mugabe's political party ZANU-PF are opposed [VOA report] to confirming Bennett's 2009 deputy agriculture minister nomination. A spokesperson for Tsvangirai's MDC party denounced the government's move to appeal as politically motivated.

In January of this year, Zimbabwe's high court rejected [JURIST report] evidence from a key witness in Bennett's trial, ruling that statements the state intended to use to impeach Peter Michael Hitschmann's testimony were not freely made by Hitschmann and were invalid as evidence. Bennett's trial began in November after delays in October to allow his counsel to develop a defense. Bennett was originally arrested on weapons charges in February 2009, and was released [JURIST reports] on bail the following month. He was then re-arrested on the same charges in October, only to be released on bail again. Treason charges against him were dropped in favor of the terrorism and other charges. Bennett was originally sought for questioning [JURIST report] in relation to similar allegations in 2006 but had obtained asylum [IOL report] in South Africa.




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Israel unlawfully destroyed civilian property during Gaza conflict: HRW
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 13, 2010 1:27 PM ET

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[JURIST] Israeli forces unlawfully destroyed civilian property [press release] during the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in the Gaza strip, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said in a report [text] Thursday. According to the report, "'I Lost Everything': Israel's Unlawful Destruction of Property in the Gaza Conflict," there were at least 12 separate cases in which Israeli forces destroyed civilian property, including homes, factories, farms, and greenhouses, without any lawful military purpose. HRW urged the Israeli government to conduct a thorough investigation:
Conduct thorough and impartial investigations into alleged violations of international humanitarian law during the fighting of December 2008-January 2009 in Gaza. Make the investigation findings public and prosecute those responsible for war crimes in trials respecting international standards.
A spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) [official website] said that they are preparing a response to the report [Haaretz report].

Last month, HRW accused [JURIST report] both Israel and Hamas [JURIST news archives] of failing to conduct meaningful, credible investigations into accusations of war crimes during the Gaza conflict. In a 62-page report [text, PDF], HRW described the alleged law of war violations committed during the combat, along with the deficient responses from both sides. In February, HRW criticized [JURIST report] Israel for failing to demonstrate that it would conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of the alleged war crimes. Just prior to that, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] said that it was unclear whether Israel and Palestine have fully met UN demands [JURIST reports] to set up a commission to investigate war crimes that may occurred during the conflict.




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HTC files patent infringement complaint against Apple
Patrice Collins on May 13, 2010 12:24 PM ET

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[JURIST] Mobile phone maker HTC [corporate website] filed a complaint [press release] Wednesday against Apple [corporate website] with the US International Trade Commission (ITC) [official website] to freeze the importation and sale of iPhones, iPads, and iPods. HTC, based in Taiwan, has accused [ET report] Apple of infringing five patents, though it has not released details of the patents in question. Under US law [19 USC s. 1337 text, PDF], a company can seek redress for unfair practices in import trade by issuing a complaint and asking the ITC to place exclusion orders on the offending imports.

In March, Apple filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] against HTC in US District Court for the District of Delaware [official website] alleging that several of HTC's products infringe 10 patents owned by Apple. Apple also filed a complaint [text, PDF] against HTC with the ITC claiming infringement of 10 other Apple patents, seeking to bar the importation of infringing devices. Apple has recently been involved in numerous legal actions over alleged patent infringement. In October, Finnish telecommunications company Nokia [corporate website] filed suit [JURIST report] against Apple alleging that Apple infringed 10 of its patents since the first iPhone was released in 2007. The patents cover wireless data transmission, speech coding, and security/encryption.




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ICTY prosecutors seek to amend Mladic indictment
Jay Carmella on May 13, 2010 11:30 AM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website; JURIST news archive] announced Thursday that the Office of the Prosecutor [official website] has filed a motion to amend [press release] the indictment against former Bosnian Serb Commander Ratko Mladic [case materials; JURIST news archive]. Prosecutors believe that the amended indictment will help speed up the court proceedings against Mladic once he is captured. The amended indictment includes [AP report] 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws and customs of war that took place between 1992-1995. The prosecutor's office said:
As set out in the Indictment, Ratko Mladic together with Radovan Karadzic was a key member of an overarching joint criminal enterprise the objective of which was the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Croats from the territory in Bosnia and Hezegovina that Bosnian Serbs claimed for themselves. To achieve this aim, Ratko Mladic, acted in concert with others to commit crimes in different locations and at different times as alleged in the indictment.
Mladic has been a fugitive since 1995, despite frequent calls from the international community to bring him to justice.

The effort to capture and prosecute the participants involved in war crimes remains strong in Eastern Europe. Last week, EU police officers arrested [JURIST report] suspected war criminal Sabit Geci in Kosovo. Geci is accused of being a former member of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive], which allegedly tortured prisoners at an Albanian prison during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. In April, the ICTY resumed [JURIST report] the war crimes trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [case materials; JURIST news archive]. In August 2008, Serbian President Boris Tadic [official website] said that his country would fully cooperate with the ICTY [JURIST report] to find Mladic and arrest him. 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.




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Kazakhstan approves constitutional amendment to increase presidential powers
Jay Carmella on May 13, 2010 10:19 AM ET

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[JURIST] The upper house of the Kazakhstan parliament [official website] approved a constitutional amendment on Thursday to expand the powers of President Nursultan Nazarbayev [official website]. The bill, which was introduced to the parliament just last week, was approved [JURIST report] by the lower house of parliament on Wednesday, and now needs only the president's signature to become law. Nazarbayev would be given a significant amount of power [RFE/RL report] under the amendment, including being named the "leader of the nation." In addition, Nazarbayev would receive immunity from investigation or prosecution for life. The bill would make it illegal to deface images of him, distort facts of his biography, or publicly insult him and would guarantee that all his property and holdings cannot be confiscated for any reason. Nazarbayev's supporters believe that the president has earned such protections due to his ability as a nation builder. Opponents have urged the president not to sign the bill [AP report]. Nazarbayev has been linked to criminal activities in the past that can no longer be investigated, including laundering money out of the country and the killing of political opponents.

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 March, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] published a report criticizing the government [JURIST report] for failing to curb torture. In February, Kazakh non-governmental organizations asked [submission, PDF] the UN Human Rights Council [official website] to address instances of torture and the use of 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 2009, 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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Obama administration defends against health care lawsuit
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 13, 2010 9:33 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Tuesday filed its first response [brief text] to one of several lawsuits challenging the controversial new health care reform law [text; JURIST news archive]. In a brief filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan [official website], the DOJ defended the law, asserting that Congress acted within its powers to regulate interstate commerce. The suit [complaint, PDF], filed in March by conservative public interest group the Thomas More Law Center [advocacy website] on the same day President Barack Obama signed the bill into law [JURIST report], argues that the mandate that all individuals carry health insurance is unconstitutional. The DOJ responded:
Congress determined that the health care system in the United States is in crisis, spawning public expense and private tragedy. After decades of failed attempts, Congress enacted comprehensive health care reform to deal with this overwhelming national problem. The minimum coverage provision is vital to that comprehensive scheme. Enjoining it would thwart this reform and reignite the crisis that the elected branches of government acted to forestall.
The Thomas More Law Center is seeking an injunction against the individual mandate, which takes effect in 2014.

The Obama administration is also facing health care lawsuits in Virginia and Florida, filed by numerous state attorneys general. Last month, Georgia joined 18 other states [JURIST report] in a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] filed [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida [official website]. The 18 other states involved in the suit are Florida, Texas, South Carolina, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Washington, Colorado, Michigan, Utah, Alabama, South Dakota, Idaho, Indiana, North Dakota, Mississippi, Nevada, and Arizona. Seven more states are set to join the lawsuit [WP report] Friday. Meanwhile, Virginia has filed a separate lawsuit after that state's legislature passed a bill barring mandatory individual health coverage [JURIST report].




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Australia police capture suspected Serb war criminal
Patrice Collins on May 12, 2010 4:39 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Australian Federal Police (AFP) [official website] on Wednesday apprehended alleged Serbian war criminal Dragan Vasiljkovic [Trial Watch backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in New South Wales. Vasilijkovic, also known as Daniel Sneeden, had been on the run since March 30 after the High Court [official website] ordered his extradition [JURIST report] to Croatia. The AFP worked with the Dutch National Prosecutor's Office [official website] and the Netherlands' police agency after receiving information [Australian] that Vasilijkovic may have fled to the Netherlands.

Vasiljkovic, an Australian citizen, is accused of war crimes occurring during the 1991-1995 Croatian war of independence [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. The high court's decision to extradite overturns a September ruling by the Federal Court of Australia [official website], which held [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. 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 the 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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Kazakhstan lower house approves bill to increase president's power
Patrice Collins on May 12, 2010 3:36 PM ET

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[JURIST] The lower house of the Kazakhstan parliament [official website] approved a constitutional amendment Wednesday to expand the powers of President Nursultan Nazarbayev [official website]. The bill, which deems Nazarbayev "leader of the nation," grants immunity for acts carried out while in office. It also makes it illegal [NAKT report] to deface images of Nazarbayev, distort the facts of his biography, or publicly insult him. The bill's introduction came just a month after the president of neighboring Kyrgyzstan [JURIST news archive] was ousted in violent protests [JURIST report] The bill must now be approved by the upper h.ouse of parliament and signed by Nazarbayev before becoming law. Nazarbayev, the first president of the Republic of Kazakhstan, has no term limit under the country's constitution [text].

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 March Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] published a report criticizing the government [JURIST report] for failing to curb torture. In February, Kazakh non-governmental organizations 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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Ukraine prosecutors reopen criminal probe of ex-PM Tymoshenko
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 12, 2010 12:17 PM ET

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[JURIST] Ukrainian prosecutors said Wednesday that they have reopened a criminal investigation [press release, in Ukrainian] of opposition leader and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; JURIST news archive]. The probe into accusations that Tymoshenko attempted to bribe Supreme Court judges was originally opened in May 2004 and then suspended [JURIST report] in June 2005. Tymoshenko, who recently lost a hotly contested election to President Viktor Yanukovych [official website, in Ukrainian], claims that the investigation is politically motivated. Speaking to reporters, she said [press release], "[i]n every room of the Prosecutor General's Offices they're saying that Yanukovych personally instructed the leadership of the Prosecutor General's Office to find any reason to put me in jail in the next three to four months." Tymoshenko said that she has been summoned to speak with investigators [RFE/RL report] on May 17.

In February, Tymoshenko withdrew a lawsuit [JURIST reports] filed in the Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine claiming that the country's presidential election was corrupt. Tymoshenko dropped the suit claiming she would not receive a fair hearing in the court. She had alleged that widespread voter fraud allowed Yanukovych to win the election. Tymoshenko has a history of being at the center of controversial political moments in Ukraine. In March 2009, she called for constitutional changes [JURIST report] to provide more separation between parliamentary and presidential powers. In October 2008, Tymoshenko withdrew a lawsuit [JURIST report] she had brought against then-president Victor Yushchenko [JURIST news archive] after he suspended a plan to hold early elections following the collapse of the country's coalition government. Before suspending the plan, Yushchenko had issued a decree abolishing a Kiev court after it tried to block [JURIST reports] his order dissolving parliament.




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US military judge sets opening date for Khadr trial
Bhargav Katikaneni on May 12, 2010 11:52 AM ET

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[JURIST] A US military judge announced tuesday that the trial of Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr [DOD Materials; JURIST news archive] will begin on August 10 [scheduling order, PDF]. Army Col. Patrick Parrish also ordered pre-trial hearings [JURIST report] on the admissibility of Khadr's alleged confession to resume July 12. Khadr's pre-trial hearings were suspended last week so that Pentagon officials could submit him to a mental health evaluation. Khadr was arrested in Afghanistan in 2002 at the age of 15 after he allegedly threw a grenade that killed on soldier and injured another.

Last week, a UN official called on the US and Canada to respect international conventions [JURIST report] and release Khadr into Canadian custody. In February, Khadr's lawyers filed an emergency motion in the Federal Court of Canada [official website] challenging the decision of the Canadian government not to seek his repatriation [JURIST report]. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canada was not obligated [JURIST report] to seek his repatriation despite having violated his rights under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text].




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Federal appeals court rejects Blagojevich bid to delay trial
Bhargav Katikaneni on May 12, 2010 10:54 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] on Tuesday rejected [order text] a motion by former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich [JURIST news archive] to postpone his trial until the US Supreme Court [official website] issues its decision on whether the federal honest services fraud statute [18 USC s. 1346 text] is constitutional. Blagojevich, who has been charged with federal honest services fraud, along with racketeering, attempted extortion, bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, and conspiracy to commit extortion, said that it would be unfair to proceed with the trial if the Supreme Court does declare the federal honest services fraud law unconstitutional. The court rejected the argument, finding:
If the charges for deprivation of honest services had been the only pending counts, the denial of the request to continue the trial pending the Supreme Court's resolution of the cases pending before it might give us pause. However, the defendants face additional charges. In addition, the defendants cannot demonstrate that the challenged orders are effectively unreviewable at the end of the case.
Blagojevich's lawyer said that they are considering an appeal [AP report] to the Supreme Court, while an attorney for his brother and co-defendant Robert Blagojevich said they will appeal. The Supreme Court heard arguments [JURIST report] in March on whether the federal honest services fraud statute is unconstitutionally vague, and a decision is expected by June. The trial is set to begin June 3.

Last month, the prosecution was ordered [JURIST report] to release a 91-page government proffer outlining evidence in its case against Blagojevich. According to the proffer, Blagojevich tried to sell the senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama, made appointments based on anticipated campaign contributions, and took kickbacks from a number of companies. In March, Blagojevich pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to eight amended corruption charges. In January 2009, the Illinois State Senate voted unanimously [JURIST report] to convict Blagojevich of abuse of power and remove him from office. Blagojevich is the first Illinois governor to be impeached and removed from office. Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were initially arrested [JURIST report] in December 2008 on allegations that they had conspired to sell the Senate seat left vacant by Obama.




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Canada man pleads guilty in first terrorism fundraising case
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 12, 2010 10:32 AM ET

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[JURIST] Canadian resident Prapaharan Thambithurai pleaded guilty Tuesday to raising money for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [JURIST news archive] in the nation's first case involving fundraising for a banned terrorist group. Thambithurai admitted raising between $2,000 and $3,000 [Globe and Mail report] between late 2007 and March 2008, acknowledging that he knew part of the money would go to the LTTE, which was banned in Canada in 2006. Thambithurai is the first to be charged under the controversial terrorism financing legislation, introduced almost 10 years ago. The maximum sentence is 10 years in prison, but the prosecution is seeking only a two-year jail term. The defense has requested a three-year suspended sentence. Sentencing is scheduled for Friday.

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 LTTE, which ended last year. In January, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Philip Alston urged an investigation [JURIST report] into possible war crimes after authenticating a video of members of the LTTE being executed by members of the Sri Lankan military. In October, the US State Department [official website] released a report [text, PDF] on the conflict, urging [JURIST report] Sri Lankan officials to investigate reports of human rights violations and war crimes and prosecute those responsible. While the government of Sri Lanka rejected [statement] the findings of the report, President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official website] decided in October to appoint an independent committee [JURIST report] to investigate allegations of human rights violations.




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Oklahoma lawmakers approve bill requiring pre-abortion questionnaire
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 12, 2010 9:32 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Oklahoma Senate [official website] on Tuesday voted 32-11 in favor of a bill [HB 3284, RTF] that would require women seeking an abortion [JURIST news archive] to complete a questionnaire. The bill, known as the Statistical Abortion Report Act, would require women to answer questions [NewsOK report] such as marital status, reasons for seeking the abortion, and whether the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. An identical bill was signed into law last session but was struck down [JURIST report] because it was part of a broader bill that violated the state constitution's single subject requirement. Opponents of the bill have criticized it as intrusive, objecting to the fact that incest and rape victims are not exempt from the reporting requirement. Supporters have said the measure is necessary to protect unborn children. The bill is expected to be sent to Governor Brad Henry by the end of the week.

Last week, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson [official profile] agreed to delay the implementation of a controversial new state law [HB 2780 text, RTF] requiring women seeking an abortion to consent first to an ultrasound. The Center for Reproductive Rights [advocacy website] requested a restraining order temporarily barring enforcement of the law. In April, the Oklahoma Senate voted to override [JURIST report] Henry's veto of two anti-abortion bills, including the ultrasound bill. The Oklahoma laws join another restrictive abortion law passed recently in Nebraska, which bans abortions after 20 weeks [JURIST report].




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Federal judge orders Treasury to show probable cause for charity asset freeze
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 12, 2010 8:20 AM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio [official website] on Monday ruled [order, PDF] that the US Treasury Department [official website] must show probable cause for freezing the assets of an Ohio-based charity suspected of having ties to the militant Islamic group Hamas [JURIST news archive]. Judge James Carr had previously ruled [JURIST report] in August that the federal government could not freeze the assets of KindHearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development Inc. without probable cause. Carr had also ruled that the government must tell the organization the basis for the asset freeze and give the organization the opportunity to defend itself. In Monday's order, Carr wrote, "I thus find that it is within the scope of my power to remedy constitutional violations to order this post-hoc probable cause showing. I recognize that this is an unusual and atypical remedy, but this is an unusual and atypical situation." The suit [ACLU backgrounder] was brought in 2008 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website]. ACLU attorney Alexander Abdo welcomed the ruling [press release], saying, "[b]y requiring Congress to step in and fix the government's unconstitutional terrorist-designation scheme, the ruling restores a critical check on executive power."

In February 2009, several advocacy, rights, and philanthropic groups filed an amicus curiae brief [text, PDF; JURIST report] in the case, arguing against the classification of some charitable groups as terrorist organizations without due process. The brief argued that the designation of charitable groups as terrorist organizations without due process violates the groups' constitutional rights and discourage and undermine their humanitarian aid efforts. Kindhearts had argued that the Treasury's asset freeze, investigation, and refusal to allow KindHearts to dispute the findings were arbitrary and capricious and violated KindHearts' First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment [text] rights.




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France parliament passes resolution against burqa
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 11, 2010 3:36 PM ET

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[JURIST] The French National Assembly [official website, in French] on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution [text, in French] condemning the Islamic burqa [JURIST news archive] and other full face veils as contrary to gender equality. The resolution passed with 434 votes [AFP report, in French], with the remaining members of the 577-seat house abstaining. The passage of the resolution lays the groundwork for a complete ban on full face veils, with draft legislation to be presented to the Cabinet next week. The bill is then expected to go before parliament in July. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is pushing for the ban, despite the Council of State advising the government in March that a complete ban risks violating [JURIST reports] the French Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights [texts].

Last week, European Parliament [official website] Vice President Silvana Koch-Mehrin [official website, in German] expressed her support for a continent-wide burqa ban [JURIST report]. In April, the Belgian House of Representatives voted 136-0 to approve [JURIST report] a bill that would ban the burqa and other full face veils 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 measure must now go before the Senate. In March, lawmakers in Quebec introduced a bill [Star report] that would ban women from wearing full face veils from public services, which garnered support from members of the Muslim Canadian Congress [advocacy website] who argue that the law would not violate human rights [JURIST comment] and would promote the ideals of a free and democratic society.




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Vietnam appeals court upholds activists' sentences
Daniel Makosky on May 11, 2010 2:19 PM ET

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[JURIST] A Vietnamese appeals court on Tuesday affirmed the sentences facing two democracy activists convicted of subversion. The court upheld [BBC report] the sentence of five years imprisonment and three subsequent years of house arrest for prominent human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh [JURIST news archive], as well as the 16-year sentence against Internet entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc. The court reduced Le Thang Long's original five-year sentence to three-and-a-half years, while Nguyen Tien Trung did not appeal. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] had called for a complete dismissal [press release] of the charges, saying anything less "would be a new landmark of Vietnam's intolerance for political pluralism."

The four were accused [Reuters report] of activities aimed at ending Vietnam's communist rule and convicted [JURIST report] in January after a one-day trial. Dinh, the best known of the defendants, admitted [NYT report] to advocating multi-party democracy in Vietnam and joining the banned Democratic Party of Vietnam. In February, a Vietnamese court sentenced pro-democracy writer and rights activist Tran Khai Thanh Thuy to three-and-a-half years in prison on assault charges, a week after Pham Thanh Nghien received a four year sentence [JURIST reports] on charges of spreading anti-state propaganda. Pro-democracy dissident Tran Anh Kim was also sentenced [JURIST report] in December to five-and-a-half years in prison for subversion. Dinh was originally charged [JURIST report] in June with "colluding with foreign reactionaries to sabotage the Vietnamese State," in violation of Article 88 [text] of the Vietnamese penal code, for the alleged distribution of anti-government documents. He was also disbarred [JURIST report] following his arrest.




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Egypt parliament extends state of emergency
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 11, 2010 2:12 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Egyptian Parliament [official website] on Tuesday voted to extend the country's state of emergency [JURIST news archive] for two years. Despite the two-year extension, parliament voted to limit the application of the emergency laws [Al Jazeera report] only to cases of terrorism and drug trafficking. In a speech [text, PDF; in Arabic] to parliament, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif [official profile] said:
The emergency law will not be used to undermine freedoms or infringe upon rights if these two threats are not involved. The Government also commits itself to enforce safeguards regarding the use of these measures as required by the Constitution, the law and international agreements, and that all such measures be taken under judicial supervision. These are the standards which we will impose upon ourselves and which we are committed to because we are an ancient nation that has contributed to human rights; contributions which have been codified in constitutions, laws and treaties which we are committed to fulfilling.
Opposition groups are protesting [Al-Masry Al-Youm report] the extension of the emergency laws, claiming they have been ineffective and are used to stifle dissent.

One of the groups opposed to the extension of the emergency laws is the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) [party website; JURIST news archive], which has been banned in Egypt. Last month, Attorney General Abdul Magid Mahmoud announced that five international MB members will be tried in an Egyptian criminal court [JURIST report] on charges of money laundering. Egypt has also used the emergency laws extensively against other opposition parties. In July, the trial of 26 individuals with alleged ties to Hezbollah was transferred to a court [JURIST report] established under the emergency laws. In February 2009, a military court utilized the laws during a trial in which it sentenced [JURIST report] opposition leader Magdy Ahmed Hussein to two years in prison. The emergency laws have been in effect continuously since the 1981 assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and were renewed [JURIST report] most recently in May 2008.




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Suu Kyi files final appeal of house arrest extension
Daniel Makosky on May 11, 2010 1:34 PM ET

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[JURIST] Lawyers for pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] filed a final appeal in Myanmar's Supreme Court on Monday challenging the 18-month extension of her house arrest. The appeal requests that the court forward her case [AP report] to the Special Appellate Branch, a multi-judge panel that represents Suu Kyi's last means of legal recourse in the matter. Prior appeals to the supreme court in February and to a divisional court in October were rejected after a lower court found her guilty [JURIST reports] of violating the terms of her house arrest when she allowed an American to stay with her after he swam across a lake to her home. Suu Kyi's lawyer, Nyan Win, has argued that the extension to her arrest is based on provisions of the now-defunct 1974 constitution.

Last month, Suu Kyi also filed suit before the Myanmar's Supreme Court to stop the dissolution of her opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) [party website] under a controversial election law [JURIST report]. Additionally, the claim seeks to annul the part of the election law that bars political prisoners [JURIST report] from participating in elections, which would prevent Suu Kyi from competing in this year's elections as she is not scheduled for release until November [JURIST report]. The suit also requests the establishment of a parliament of lawmakers who won in the 1990 elections. Suu Kyi has been in prison or under house arrest for 14 of the last 20 years.




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UN rights experts say Arizona immigration law may violate international standards
Bhargav Katikaneni on May 11, 2010 11:45 AM ET

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[JURIST] A group of UN human rights experts said Monday that Arizona's new immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive] could violate international standards [press release] that are binding on the US. The group of six UN experts, which includes UN Special Rapporteur on human rights of migrants [official website] Jorge Bustamante [official profile], said the Arizona law might encourage discrimination:
A disturbing pattern of legislative activity hostile to ethnic minorities and immigrants has been established with the adoption of an immigration law that may allow for police action targeting individuals on the basis of their perceived ethnic origin, and a law that suppresses school programs featuring the histories and cultures of ethnic minorities. ... The law may lead to detaining and subjecting to interrogation persons primarily on the basis of their perceived ethnic characteristics. In Arizona, persons who appear to be of Mexican, Latin American, or indigenous origin are especially at risk of being targeted under the law
Arizona's immigration law makes it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant and requires police to question anyone whose immigration status appears suspect.

Since being passed, the Arizona law has been challenged by various groups on constitutional grounds. Arizona police officer Martin Escobar filed suit [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the District of Arizona [official website] alleging that the law is unconstitutional and could hamper police investigations. A second suit was filed by the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC) [official website], which argued that the law was preempted by federal law. Other groups, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) [official website], the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) [advocacy websites] have also said that they will challenge [press release] the bill.




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Federal judge refuses to drop charges against ex-Guantanamo detainee
Bhargav Katikaneni on May 11, 2010 10:59 AM ET

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[JURIST] A federal judge on Monday refused to dismiss criminal charges against former Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Ghailani [GlobalSecurity profile; JURIST news archive], despite his lawyers claims that he had been tortured in prison. Judge Lewis Kaplan of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) [official website] said that even if Ghailani was mistreated [NYT report] while in Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] custody, there was no connection between that and the current prosecution. Kaplan made no finding on whether Ghailani was subjected to torture. Kaplan has yet to rule on a motion to dismiss charges because of a violation of Ghailani's speedy trial rights [JURIST report].

Ghailani faces charges for his 1998 involvement in the bombings of US embassies [PBS backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in Kenya and Tanzania which killed 224 people. Last week, Kaplan ruled that Ghailani must attend the opening of his trial [JURIST report], requiring him to submit to strip searches he claims are traumatic. In November, Kaplan ruled that Ghailani does not have a right to be represented by his military defense lawyers [JURIST report] in a civilian court. In July, Ghailani's military lawyers requested access [JURIST report] to the CIA "black sites" at which their client was held prior to his transfer to Guantanamo Bay and was allegedly subjected to cruel interrogation methods. Ghailani was the first Guantanamo detainee to be brought to the US for prosecution. Having been held at the Guantanamo facility since 2006, Ghailani was transferred [JURIST report] to the SDNY in June to face 286 separate counts, including involvement in the bombings and conspiring with Osama bin Laden and other members of al Qaeda to kill Americans worldwide. He pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] at his initial appearance.




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Red Cross confirms secret Bagram prison: BBC
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 11, 2010 10:31 AM ET

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[JURIST] The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [official website] has confirmed the existence of a secret detention facility at Bagram Air Base [official website; JURIST news archive], according to a Tuesday BBC News report [text]. The BBC reported last month that nine Afghan witnesses have claimed that they were held and tortured in a secret US prison [JURIST report] at Bagram. The witnesses say that they were allegedly captured by American forces and taken to a secret location where they were abused and interrogated [BBC report], then later transported to an official detention facility in Parwan, a new prison recently opened [JURIST report] at the edge of Bagram Air Base. Torture allegations include sleep deprivation, disorientation, beating, and humiliation tactics. Despite the alleged witness accounts of torture, the US government has continued to deny the existence of secret prisons in Afghanistan.

Last month, Al Jazeera reported that a US military official said the US is in negotiations to transfer non-Afghan detainees [JURIST report] at Bagram Air Base back to their home countries. Earlier in April, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed habeas corpus petitions [JURIST report] on behalf of four detainees held at Bagram Air Base, claiming that none of the men has engaged in hostile behavior directed at the US, nor are they members of groups that purport to do so. In January, the US Department of Defense released a list of names of 645 prisoners detained at Bagram in response to a Freedom Of Information Act lawsuit filed [JURIST reports] by the ACLU last September. Prisoners at Bagram have launched previous habeas corpus challenges [JURIST report] in US courts but thus far have been less successful than those held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive].




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Argentina ex-secret agent arrested on 'Dirty War' abuse charges
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 11, 2010 9:25 AM ET

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[JURIST] Argentine authorities on Monday arrested former secret service agent Miguel Angel Furci on charges of human rights abuses committed during the nation's 1976-83 "Dirty War" [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Furci, a former agent of the Secretariat of State Intelligence (SIDE), was charged with 70 kidnappings [Terra report, in Spanish] and the torture of detainees at a secret Buenos Aires facility known as Automotores Orletti. The detentions were part of "Operation Condor" [BBC backgrounder], a campaign by the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay to round up left-wing dissidents. At a hearing Monday, Furci admitted to serving in the SIDE and acknowledged the existence of the secret prison. Furci has already served a seven-year sentence for a 1976 kidnapping. His trial is scheduled to start [BBC report] on June 3.

Argentina continues to prosecute those accused of committing human rights abuses during the Dirty War. Last week, the Spanish government extradited [JURIST report] pilot Julio Alberto Poch to Argentina to face trial for his alleged role. Poch was a navy officer at Argentina's Naval Mechanics School [backgrounder, in Spanish], one of the most notorious detention centers of the military dictatorship, and is believed to have piloted flights known as "death flights," which were used to dump the military junta's political opponents into the Plata River and the Atlantic Ocean. Also last week, former Argentine military junta leader Jorge Rafael Videla [Trial Watch profile; JURIST news archive] was charged [JURIST report] with an additional 49 counts of murder, kidnapping, and torture for crimes allegedly committed during Argentina's Dirty War. Last month, a federal court in Argentina sentenced [JURIST report] former president and military general Reynaldo Bignone [JURIST news archive] to 25 years in prison for human rights abuses during his 1982 to 1983 presidency. During the Dirty War, an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people were forcibly kidnapped or "disappeared" in a government-sponsored campaign against suspected dissidents.




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Accused 'Toronto 18' leader pleads guilty mid-trial
Sarah Paulsworth on May 10, 2010 3:23 PM ET

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[JURIST] The accused leader of the Toronto 18 [Toronto Star backgrounder; JURIST news archive], Fahim Ahmad, unexpectedly switched his plea to guilty on Monday in the midst of his Canadian trial on terrorism charges. Ahmad is on trial [Toronto Star report] with Steven Chand and Asad Ansari as the last members to be prosecuted for their involvement in the Toronto 18, a group that allegedly conducted terrorist trainings camps and was planning a number of terrorist attacks with the objective of forcing Canada to withdraw its military troops from Afghanistan. The judge advised the jury that Ahmad's guilty plea is not be taken into consideration in deliberations over Chand and Ansari. This trial represents the first terrorism case in Canada to be tried by a jury [Toronto Star report].

In February, Toronto 18 member Shareef Abdelhaleem was convicted [JURIST report] after a Canadian judge found [Toronto Star report] that virtually no evidence existed to support his claims of entrapment. In January, Amin Mohamed Durrani was released [JURIST report] after pleading guilty to participating in and assisting a terrorist group. Also in January, a Canadian court sentenced [JURIST report] two members of the group, Zakaria Amara and Saad Gaya [JURIST op-ed], to life and 12 years in prison, respectively, for their roles in the plot. Abdelhaleem was the first adult to be tried among the "Toronto 18" originally arrested and charged under Section 83 [Canadian DOJ backgrounder] of the Anti-Terrorism Act [text], Canada's post-9/11 legislation.




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US mediation board eases union election rules for airlines, railroads
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 10, 2010 2:47 PM ET

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[JURIST] The National Mediation Board (NMB) [official website] on Monday issued a new labor rule [text, PDF] that will make it easier for airline and railroad workers to unionize. Under the new rule, the union must only win a majority from votes cast, rather than a majority from all eligible voters. The new rule marks a departure from 76 years of practice under the Railway Labor Act, bringing airlines and railroads in line with most other companies, whose union activities are governed by the National Labor Relations Act [texts]. The rule change is expected to trigger union elections [Reuters report] at Delta Airlines and could also impact JetBlue Airways and AirTran Holdings [corporate websites]. The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) [website] hailed the new rule [press release] as "more fair and more in line with democratic principles." The Air Transport Association (ATA) [website], however, plans to challenge the new rule in court [press release] on behalf of the airlines. The final rule change will take effect in 30 days after publication in the Federal Register Tuesday.

The NMB originally proposed the rule change in October after a request from the AFL-CIO. The proposal came shortly after US President Barack Obama named Linda Puchala to the three-member board, giving Democrats a 2-1 majority. Board chairman Elizabeth Dougherty issued a strongly worded dissent [text, PDF] against the rule change, accusing the board of acting out of political motivation. Airlines and railroads employ more than 500,000 workers, with approximately two-thirds of those already in unions.




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Zimbabwe high court dismisses terrorism charges against cabinet nominee
Ximena Marinero on May 10, 2010 12:47 PM ET

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[JURIST] Zimbabwe's Supreme Court [court website] on Monday dismissed terrorism and other charges against Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [party website] party treasurer and deputy agriculture minister-nominee Roy Bennett [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Bennett, a close ally of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] ally and opponent of President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], was acquitted after the presiding judge found insufficient evidence to convict [AP report]. Bennett had faced charges under Zimbabwe's Public Order and Security Act [materials] for unlawfully possessing weapons and provoking others "to commit terrorism, banditry and sabotage." The weapons charges had carried a potential death sentence. Tsvangirai had nominated Bennett to be deputy agriculture minister, but Mugabe refused to swear him in until Bennett was cleared of all charges. Bennett now expects Mugabe to uphold [CNN report] those terms.

In January of this year, Zimbabwe's high court rejected [JURIST report] evidence from a key witness in Bennett's trial, ruling that statements the state intended to use to impeach Peter Michael Hitschmann's testimony were not freely made by Hitschmann and were invalid as evidence. Bennett's trial began in November after delays in October to allow his counsel to develop a defense. Bennett was originally arrested on weapons charges in February 2009, and was released [JURIST reports] on bail the following month. He was then re-arrested on the same charges in October, only to be released on bail again. Treason charges against him were dropped in favor of the terrorism and other charges. Bennett was originally sought for questioning [JURIST report] in relation to similar allegations in 2006 but had obtained asylum [IOL report] in South Africa.




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Kuwait court acquits eight accused of planning attack on US base
Matt Glenn on May 10, 2010 11:46 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Kuwaiti court on Monday acquitted eight men accused of planning to attack a US base 70 miles south of Kuwait city whom Kuwaiti authorities say have ties to al Qaeda. Defense lawyer Mohammad al-Kundari claims that the six men arrested were subjected to torture [AFP report] in prison and coerced into making false confessions. Two men were tried in absentia. One, who is still wanted on other charges, has eluded Kuwaiti authorities, and the other is in Lebanon facing separate terrorism charges. Five of the six men in court will be released, while the other is currently serving a life sentence on terror charges.

US courts have also conducted numerous trials for those accused of plotting against the military. In February, a US federal court convicted [JURIST report] Pakistani Aafia Siddiqui [JURIST news archive] on charges that she tried to kill US personnel on a base in Afghanistan where she was being held. Last year, a federal court sentenced five men [JURIST report] to life in prison for their roles on an attempted attack on Fort Dix [official website] in New Jersey. Last year, Iraqi insurgent Wesam al Delama, the first insurgent tried in US federal court, was sentenced to 25 years in prison [JURIST report] for planning attacks on US troops in Iraq.




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Obama nominates Solicitor General Elena Kagan to US Supreme Court
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 10, 2010 10:16 AM ET

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[JURIST] US President Barack Obama on Monday nominated [press release] Solicitor General Elena Kagan [official profile; JURIST news archive] to the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive]. If confirmed by the US Senate [official website], Kagan would replace Justice John Paul Stevens [official profile; JURIST news archive] when he retires [JURIST report] at the end of the current term. Obama said [transcript; video] that Kagan "is widely regarded as one of the nation's foremost legal minds." Speaking to the press, Kagan described the nomination as an "honor of a lifetime." Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) congratulated Kagan on her nomination but warned [statement] that the Senate would not "rush to judgment." If confirmed, Kagan will become the youngest justice and the fourth woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

Obama said last month that he would take into account a potential nominee's position on individual liberty [JURIST report], including women's rights, when nominating a Supreme Court justice. Earlier in April, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] predicted that Obama would nominate a replacement for Stevens in time for hearings to be concluded over the summer [JURIST report]. Kagan became the first woman solicitor general [JURIST report] when she was confirmed by the Senate in March 2009 by a vote of 61-31. Prior to that, she served as dean of Harvard Law School [JURIST report] since 2003.




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Obama administration seeking to limit Miranda rights in terror cases
Matt Glenn on May 10, 2010 9:28 AM ET

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[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] said Sunday that the Obama administration plans to ask Congress to enact legislation allowing interrogators to question terror suspects for a longer period of time than currently allowed before informing them of their constitutional rights to remain silent and be represented by an attorney. Holder's announcement [NYT report] came after many criticized interrogators for informing so-called "Christmas Day Bomber" Umar Farouk Adbulmutallab [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], and Faisal Shahzad [JURIST news archive], whom authorities accuse of attempting to detonate a car bomb in Times Square last week, of their Miranda rights. The law, as established in Miranda v. Arizona [opinion text], generally prohibits law enforcement from using statements made by an arrested suspect before they have informed the suspect of his rights. In 1984, however, the Supreme Court recognized a "public safety exception" to this rule in New York v. Quarles [opinion text], whereby officials may question a suspect before informing him of his rights if there is an immediate risk to public safety. Holder indicated that the safety risks posed by terrorism [JURIST news archive] may require a similar or even greater exception in order for law enforcement to gather information necessary to prevent terror attacks.

Last week, lawmakers introduced a bill [JURIST report] that, if passed, would strip US citizenship rights from those suspected of engaging in terrorism. Earlier last week, Shahzad was charged with terrorism [JURIST report] for his role in attempted the Times Square bombing. In March, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) proposed a law [JURIST report] that would require terror suspects to be stripped of their Miranda rights and to face military interrogation and trial. Amos Guiora of the University of Utah College of Law criticized the proposed legislation [JURIST op-ed], claiming its impact "would be a fundamental miscarriage of justice." In February, Holder defended his decision [JURIST report] to try Abdulmutallab in federal court as well as the decision to read him his Miranda rights.




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Comoros high court overturns extension of presidential term
Dwyer Arce on May 9, 2010 3:43 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of Comoros [BBC backgrounder] on Saturday overturned [official report, in French] an extension of the president's term in office, holding that his mandate will end later this month. The court ruled that after the mandate ends on May 26 the president of the Muslim Indian Ocean nation will not be able to dissolve parliament or replace members of the Constitutional Court until the inauguration of a new president. The term extension has been described [Reuters report] by President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi [official website; BBC profile] as a cost-saving measure intended to synchronize local and federal elections. The law would have postponed elections until November 2011 and has caused tension with the opposition based on the island of Moheli, which was next in line to take over the country's rotating presidency. African Union [official website] Special Envoy José Francesco Madeira has been attempting to broker an agreement [Al Watwan report, in French] between Sambi and the opposition, who have demanded that the presidential elections be held in December. The term extension was approved by voters [AFP report] in a national referendum in May 2009, along with changes to the Comoros Constitution [text, in French] that establish Islam as the state religion and give the president the ability to dissolve parliament. The law was approved by the parliament in March of this year.

Under the current constitution, which took effect in 2002, the presidency is rotated every four years between candidates from the islands of Anjouan, Moheli, and Grand Comore. Sambi, of Anjouan, was elected [BBC report] to the presidency in 2006, defeating two other candidates from the same island. Former president Azali Assoumani [allAfrica profile, in French] of Grand Comore handed over power soon after in the first peaceful transition of power in Comoros since independence from France in 1975. Currently, Freedom House [advocacy website] ranks [report, PDF] Comoros as one of only two electoral democracies in the Arab world, along with Mauritania. Since independence Comoros has faced ongoing political instability, resulting in twenty coups and coup attempts and violent secession bids by the islands of Anjouan and Moheli. The most recent coup saw Assoumani take power in 1999.




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China disbars two human rights lawyers
David Manes on May 9, 2010 11:06 AM ET

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[JURIST] Two Chinese human rights lawyers who have represented Falun Gong [group website; BBC backgrounder] defendants were permanently disbarred [Tang decision, Liu decision, in Chinese] Friday after being accused of disrupting courtrooms. In a Beijing Municipal Judicial Bureau [official website, in Chinese] hearing last month, Liu Wei and Tang Jitian were accused of breaking laws by disputing court rulings as they defended a Falun Gong practitioner in Luzhou. The group Human Rights In China (HRIC) [advocacy website] reports [press release] that the lawyers participated in filing a complaint [text, in Chinese] with the Beijing Public Security Bureau alleging that the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice and the Beijing Lawyers Association were effectively blackmailing lawyers by charging high fees for annual registration. Li Subin, the lawyer in charge of the complaint, suggested that the lawyers' disbarment is a result of their role in filing the complaint. An HRIC spokesperson criticized the decision to disbar Tang and Liu:
In revoking Tang's and Liu's licenses because they withdrew from a show trial in which the judge had made it impossible for them to do their work, the Beijing Bureau of Justice has made a mockery of justice and the rule of law.
Both lawyers said they planned to appeal the decision vigorously.

Amnesty International [advocacy website] criticized the disbarment hearing [press release] held last month, calling it "absurd" and claiming that "[g]overnment authorities in China continue to harass and disrupt the work of lawyers taking politically sensitive cases." China banned the Falun Gong movement in 1999, and its followers have faced a severe crackdown over the past decade. In addition to representing members of the banned sect, Tang and Liu have represented victims of government home demolition and individuals suffering discrimination for having HIV/AIDS and other diseases.




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Germany high court rejects temporary injunction against Greece bailout contribution
Haley Wojdowski on May 8, 2010 1:05 PM ET

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[JURIST] Germany's constitutional court [official website, in German] Saturday refused [judgment, in German; press release, in German] to issue a temporary injunction against the German government's €22.4 billion ($28.5 billion) contribution [WSJ report] to a bailout package for Greece, which has lately been gripped by a critical debt crisis [BBC report]. The suit, brought by four lawyers and a businessman, claimed that the contribution would violate Germany's constitutional law. The court held that the complainants did not produce any "concrete evidence" that their rights, in particular their rights under Article 14 [text, in German] of Germany's Basic Law, could be "seriously and irreversibly" affected as a result of the guaranteed loan. The court's press release also noted that potential liability risk as a result of the contribution is outweighed by reducing the risks of damaging Germany's national economy as a result of instability of the European Monetary Union.

On Friday in Brussels, euro-zone leaders approved [BBC report] a €110 billion aid package for Greece to be repaid over three years. The "euro rebels," [DW report], the same four lawyers who brought the Greece suit, had previously sought to block block Germany's adoption of the euro.




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Nokia sues Apple for alleged iPad, iPhone patent infringements
Carrie Schimizzi on May 8, 2010 10:04 AM ET

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[JURIST] Finnish telecommunications company Nokia [corporate website] announced Friday that it has filed a complaint [press release] in the US District Court in the Western District for Wisconsin [official website] alleging that Apple [corporate website] iPad and iPhone 3G products infringe five Nokia patents. The complaint claims that patents for enhanced speech and data transmission, as well as innovations in antenna configurations, are among the infringed technologies. The lawsuit is Nokia's latest move in a wide-ranging attack on Apple's patent position. In October Nokia sued Apple [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the District of Delaware [official website] for allegedly violating 10 patents [press release] on wireless technology on the iPhone. In December, Apple counter-sued, claiming Nokia had stolen 13 patents from the company.

Nokia is not the only competing corporation to have taken legal action against Apple over its iPhone brand. In November 2008, EMT Technologies Inc. sued Apple, claiming the company infringed EMT's patent [Computerworld report] for "apparatus and method of manipulating a region on a wireless device screen for viewing, zooming and scrolling Internet content." Earlier that year, Apple settled a suit [CNET report] with Klausner Technologies, which claimed Apple had infringed a patent [CNET report] relating to its visual voicemail function. In 2007, Apple was the target of another patent infringement suit relating to the iPhone keyboard [Ars Technica report].




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Canada high court rules journalists lack broad right to shield confidential sources
Hillary Stemple on May 7, 2010 4:16 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Canadian Supreme Court [official website] ruled [judgment text] Friday that journalists do not have an automatic right to shield their sources and that decisions on who is entitled to remain anonymous will be made on a case by case basis. The ruling upholds an order requiring a former National Post reporter to turn over evidence to police in connection with an on-going investigation. In addition to ruling on the merits of the case, the court issued standards to be used in deciding future cases involving confidential sources. The court indicated that in the future a balancing of interests should occur, stating:
The public also has an interest in being informed about matters of public importance that may only see the light of day through the cooperation of sources who will not speak except on condition of confidentiality. The role of investigative journalism has expanded over the years to help fill what has been described as a democratic deficit in the transparency and accountability of our public institutions. There is a demonstrated need, as well, to shine the light of public scrutiny on the dark corners of some private institutions. In appropriate circumstances, accordingly, the courts will respect a promise of confidentiality given to a secret source by a journalist or an editor. The public's interest in being informed about matters that might only be revealed by secret sources, however, is not absolute. It must be balanced against other important public interests, including the investigation of crime. In some situations, the public's interest in protecting a secret source from disclosure may be outweighed by other competing public interests and a promise of confidentiality will not in such cases justify the suppression of the evidence.
The court also noted that, due to the numerous forms of alternative media in use today, it would be impracticable to apply a broad rule to every situation. A lawyer for the National Post indicated that while the ruling on the merits was disappointing [Toronto Star report], the clear guidelines laid out by the court are beneficial.

Protection for journalists [JURIST news archive] continues to be a worldwide concern. Last month, Germany announced plans to enact legislation [JURIST report] meant to increase freedom of the press. In February, the Icelandic Parliament [official website, in Icelandic] began considering measures [JURIST report] aimed at increasing protections for journalists and promoting freedom of speech and transparency in government. Last December, the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] approved a bill [JURIST report] that would protect journalists' abilities to shield sources in federal court proceedings. Reporters Without Borders [advocacy website] ranked Iceland number one in press freedom in 2009 [2009 rankings], while ranking Germany eighteenth, Canada nineteenth, and the US twentieth.




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Federal appeals court rejects bid to remove 'God' from presidential oath
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 7, 2010 3:49 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday rejected [opinion, PDF] an attempt to remove the phrase "so help me God" from the presidential oath. The challenge was brought by atheist Michael Newdow [JURIST news archive] and several other groups, who claimed the phrase violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment [text]. Newdow had unsuccessfully sought an injunction against use of the phrase and an inaugural prayer during the 2009 inauguration, and he also sought to block their inclusion in the 2013 and 2017 inaugural ceremonies. Rejecting the appeal, the court concluded, "plaintiffs' claims regarding the 2009 inaugural ceremony are moot and plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the 2013 and 2017 inaugurations." The court concluded:
The only apparent avenue of redress for plaintiffs' claimed injuries would be injunctive or declaratory relief against all possible President-elects and the President himself. But such relief is unavailable. Beyond the fact that plaintiffs fail to name future President-elects or the President in their suit, plaintiffs cannot sue all possible President-elects for the same reason they cannot sue all possible inaugural participants; as discussed, general injunctions are outside the judicial power. With regard to the President, courts do not have jurisdiction to enjoin him ... and have never submitted the President to declaratory relief.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh concurred in the judgment and would have gone so far as to rule that the inclusion of the phrase and the inaugural prayer are constitutional.

In March, The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in another suit brought by Newdow that a teacher-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools does not violate the constitution [JURIST report]. The Ninth Circuit also upheld the use of the phrase "In God We Trust" on currency. 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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Turkish parliament approves constitutional reforms
Hillary Stemple on May 7, 2010 3:21 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Turkish Grand National Assembly [official website, in Turkish] on Friday approved a series of constitutional amendments [text, in Turkish] which had been proposed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) [official website, in Turkish]. Changes in the reform package include an overhaul of the Constitutional Court, changes to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) [official websites, in Turkish], and new limitations on the power of military courts. Proponents of the reforms insist they are necessary in order for Turkey to meet the democratic and human rights standards required for admission to the European Union (EU) [official website]. Opponents, however, contend [ANSAmed report] the reforms are meant to consolidate power and to bring the traditionally secular judiciary and military under control of the government. The reform package received enough votes to send it to a nationwide referendum but failed to garner the two-thirds majority support needed to enact the law immediately. Opposition parties have indicated they will attempt to block the referendum through an appeal to the Constitutional Court, but they must obtain the signatures of 110 supporters in parliament before the appeal can proceed. If the referendum proceeds, it is expected to occur before the end of July.

Turkey has faced several obstacles as it works toward membership in the EU, including opposition to the constitutional reforms, its human rights record, its stance towards political parties, and tension [JURIST news archive] between the AKP and the military. Last month the president of Turkey's Supreme Court [official website, in Turkish] Hasan Gerceker [official profile, in Turkish] declared that the proposed amendments threaten separation of power and judicial independence [JURIST report]. 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. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [official profile; in Turkish] 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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Lithuania court overturns gay pride parade ban
Megan McKee on May 7, 2010 2:14 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Lithuanian Supreme Administration Court ruled Friday that the nation's first gay pride parade may proceed as scheduled, overturning a lower court's decision to ban the parade. The lower court imposed the ban last week citing safety concerns for the participants due to fear of violent protesters. The appeals court held that the government must protect freedom of assembly and expression [AP report] under the European Convention on Human Rights [text] regardless of a group's unpopularity or minority status. The parade is set to take place on Saturday in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Hundreds of people are expected to participate, and an even larger number of protesters is anticipated.

In 2008, several Russian gay rights activists were arrested [JURIST report] by police in Moscow for holding events commemorating the 1993 law that put an end to government prosecution for homosexual activity in Russia. It was the third consecutive year Moscow Pride [advocacy website] held events around the city to elude officials attempting to enforce a local ban on gay pride parades [JURIST report] that was put in place due to fears of violence. Other celebrations took place at a nearby monument to nineteenth-century Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, widely considered to have been a homosexual. Demonstration organizer Nicolas Alexeyev said the monument was chosen to "pay tribute to a person who was gay himself," but noted that the celebration had to be concealed because of societal disapproval for and "repressive" laws against granting parade permits to gay-rights activists.




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Kenya AG publishes draft constitution
Andrea Bottorff on May 7, 2010 12:15 PM ET

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[JURIST] Kenyan Attorney General Amos Wako [official profile] on Thursday published the country's draft constitution [text, PDF], which proposes more balance of power in the government. President Mwai Kibaki [official profile], Prime Minister Raila Odinga, and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka have all supported the proposed constitution [Daily Nation report] and have urged citizens to approve it in a public referendum to be held within 90 days. Despite the government leaders' widespread calls for cooperation and support, the proposed constitution still faces criticism, particularly from Kenyan religious figures who oppose [Daily Nation report] the draft's position on abortion, marriage, and divorce. The president's Cabinet members have encouraged the religious leaders to support the draft constitution and then pursue their goals through the political process [AP report] after the constitution is ratified.

Last month, the Kenyan Parliament [official website] unanimously approved [JURIST report] the draft constitution. The draft includes several significant checks on presidential authority, including a requirement that presidential appointees face parliamentary confirmation and the removal of presidential appointment of judges. Members of Parliament receiving Cabinet positions will also have to relinquish their legislative seats. The first draft of the constitution was unveiled [JURIST report] in November. The changes are intended to reduce the widespread injustice throughout the country, and specifically address issues that led to violence following the 2007 presidential elections [JURIST news archive].




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UN official calls for Khadr's release to Canada
Andrea Bottorff on May 7, 2010 11:10 AM ET

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[JURIST] A UN official on Thursday urged the US and Canada to respect international convention [UN News Centre report] and release Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] into Canadian custody. UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy [official profile] said that releasing Khadr, a Canadian citizen who has been held at Guantanamo Bay since his 2002 capture by US forces in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old, would fall in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child [official website], which has been ratified by Canada, but not the US. Coomaraswamy also called for the governments to follow the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child [text, PDF], which encourages countries to release children detained in violation of the treaty and take control of the "physical and psychological recovery" of the children and "their social reintegration." The convention has been ratified by 193 nations since 1989, making it the world's most widely ratified human rights treaty.

Last week, Khadr refused to attend preliminary hearings relating to his pending murder and terrorism charges [JURIST reports], claiming he was being mistreated by military guards. The hearings were being held in order to determine if statements made by Khadr during his interrogation should be suppressed [JURIST report]. They were to be the last preliminary hearings before his US military commission [JURIST news archive] trial in July. Khadr's lawyers filed an emergency motion [JURIST report] in February in the Federal Court of Canada [official website] challenging the decision of the Canadian government not to seek his repatriation from the US [JURIST report]. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled [JURIST report] in January that the government was not obligated to seek Khadr's return to Canada despite having violated his rights under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text].




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Navy SEAL acquitted of assaulting Iraqi prisoner
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 7, 2010 10:24 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Virginia military jury on Thursday acquitted US Navy SEAL [official website] Matthew McCabe on charges of assaulting a high-profile Iraqi detainee. Petty Officer 2nd Class McCabe was accused of punching Ahmed Hashim Abed, implicated in the killing of four American contractors in Fallujah [JURIST new archive] in 2004. McCabe was charged with assault, dereliction of duty, and lying to investigators, and he could have faced up to a year in prison if convicted. The prosecution's key witness testified [AP report] that he saw McCabe punch Abed, but the testimony was contradicted by several defense witnesses. The jury deliberated for an hour and 40 minutes before returning a verdict of not guilty.

Last month, two other SEALs were acquitted in connection with the alleged assault. Unlike McCabe, Petty Officer 1st Class Julio Huertas and Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Keefe were tried in Iraq so that they could confront their accuser. Detainee abuse has been a major issue during the Iraq war, and the case against the three Navy SEALS has been seen by some critics as an attempt to compensate for other abuses like those at Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archive].




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US lawmakers introduce bill to strip terror suspects of citizenship rights
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 7, 2010 8:57 AM ET

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[JURIST] A group of US lawmakers introduced a bill [press release] Thursday that would strip US citizenship rights from those suspected of engaging in terrorism [JURIST news archive]. The Terrorist Expatriation Act (TEA) [text, PDF; summary, PDF], introduced by Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Scott Brown (R-MA) and Representatives Jason Altmire (D-PA) and Charlie Dent (R-PA) [official websites], would allow the State Department [official website] to revoke the citizenship of a US national who provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) or who engages in or supports hostilities against the US or its allies. Under the proposed law, the State Department would make an administrative determination that a US Citizen has indicated an intent to renounce their citizenship by supporting an FTO. That individual would then have the right to appeal that determination within the State Department and then to a federal district court. The bill would amend an existing federal statute [8 USC s. 1481 text] that identifies seven ways Americans can lose their citizenship for engaging in specific acts "with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality." Lieberman said [statement], "[t]hose who join such groups join our enemy and should no longer be entitled to the rights and privileges of US citizenship, including the rights and privileges of having a US passport that can be used as a tool to wage terror against America." The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) decried the proposal [press release] as "unconstitutional and ineffective."

Among the examples Lieberman cited was the recent arrest of accused Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad. Shahzad, a Pakistani-born US citizen has been charged [JURIST report] with five counts, including attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to kill and maim people in the US, using and carrying a destructive device, transporting an explosive device, and attempting to damage building, vehicles, and other property. Shahzad's arrest has stirred up controversy [Capitolist report] over whether terrorism suspects should be read Miranda rights. Lieberman also cited the December arrest [JURIST report] of Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, accused of attempting to set off an explosive device on an airplane bound from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day. Abdulmutallab, who was also read his Miranda rights, has entered a plea of not guilty [JURIST report].




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EU police arrest war crimes suspect in Kosovo
Andrea Bottorff on May 6, 2010 3:37 PM ET

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[JURIST] European Union police officers on Thursday arrested a suspected war criminal in Kosovo. Sabit Geci is accused of being a former member of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive], which allegedly tortured prisoners at an Albanian prison during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The European Union Law and Justice Mission (Eulex) [official website], which arrested Geci, conducts war crimes investigations [BBC report] along with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the UN Mission in Kosovo [official websites]. The EU has stationed thousands of officials in Kosovo to conduct war crimes investigations and protect the justice system [AP report].

Last month, Council of Europe Commissioner on Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg [official profile] criticized an agreement [JURIST report] reached between Germany and Kosovo that would return to Kosovo thousands of refugees who fled to Germany during the Kosovo war. The agreement called for Germany to repatriate up to 2,500 refugees per year [AFP report] and ensured that refugees from all ethnic groups will face repatriation. Hammarberg worried that Kosovo does not yet have the infrastructure [DW report] to care for the returning refugees or to protect them from ethnically motivated violence. Also last month, Swedish police arrested a Serbian man [JURIST report] suspected of committing war crimes in the Kosovo village of Cuska during the war. In March, a spokesperson for Serbia's Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor [official website] announced the arrest of nine individuals [JURIST report] suspected of being members of the Serbian paramilitary group [B92 report] Sakali and accused of the systematic murders of 41 ethnic Albanians in May 1999.




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FCC proposes new approach to broadband regulation
Andrea Bottorff on May 6, 2010 2:56 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] Thursday announced a new proposal that would allow the agency to regulate broadband Internet access despite a recent court ruling striking down [JURIST report] a key part of the proposed FCC National Broadband Plan [official website; materials]. The new approach classifies broadband transmission as a telecommunications service [statement] subject to FCC regulation. FCC General Counsel Austin Schlick said the proposed classification respects both the precedent established in last month's court ruling, as well as the framework of the Communications Act of 1934 [text, PDF]. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski explained that the new proposal is a compromise that will prevent too much regulation of the Internet, while still allowing regulations that will make broadband more accessible nationwide, as set forth in the 2010 Broadband Action Agenda [materials]. Genachowski described the next step for the new proposal [statement]:
I will ask my Commission colleagues to join me in soon launching a public process seeking comment on this narrow and tailored approach. ... As we move forward, my focus will be on the best method for restoring the shared understanding of FCC authority that existed before the Comcast decision and for putting in place a solid legal foundation for achieving the policy goals that benefit consumers and our economy in the most effective and least intrusive way.
Two Republican FCC Commissioners opposed the new approach, saying in a joint statement [text, PDF] that the FCC is overstepping its authority by acting without Congressional authorization.

Last month, the FCC vowed to move ahead [JURIST report] with its National Broadband Plan after the previous week's court ruling that it lacked the power to enforce net neutrality [JURIST news archive]. Net neutrality, which is unanimously supported [JURIST report] by the FCC's commissioners, was thought essential to the goal of an open flow of information over the Internet regardless of the amount of revenue generated by the information. The FCC sent the plan [JURIST report] to Congress for approval in March, seeking approval to enact regulations to update the communications infrastructure in the US and make broadband service available to millions more Americans. Telecommunications companies Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast [corporate websites] argue that net neutrality would inhibit their ability to effectively manage Internet traffic.




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Federal judge orders ex-Guantanamo detainee to attend trial despite strip searches
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 6, 2010 2:09 PM ET

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[JURIST] A federal judge ruled Thursday that former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Ahmed Ghailani [GlobalSecurity profile; JURIST news archive] must attend the opening of his trial, requiring him to submit to strip searches he claims are traumatic. Judge Lewis Kaplan of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) [official website] ruled that Ghailani is competent to waive his right to attend court proceedings, but that he must appear at least once [Reuters report] at the opening of his trial. Ghailani has claimed that the strip searches trigger the post-traumatic stress disorder [WSJ report] he suffers as a result of his treatment at Guantanamo. Ghailani's trial is set to begin in September.

Ghailani faces charges for his alleged involvement in the 1998 bombings of US embassies [PBS backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in Tanzania and Kenya, which killed 224 people. In January, Ghailani's lawyers argued that the charges should be dismissed [JURIST report] because he was denied his right to a speedy trial. In November, Kaplan ruled that Ghailani does not have a right to be represented by his military defense lawyers [JURIST report] in a civilian court. In July, Ghailani's military lawyers requested access [JURIST report] to the CIA "black sites" at which their client was held prior to his transfer to Guantanamo Bay and was allegedly subjected to cruel interrogation methods. Ghailani was the first Guantanamo detainee to be brought to the US for prosecution. Having been held at the Guantanamo facility since 2006, Ghailani was transferred [JURIST report] to the SDNY in June to face 286 separate counts, including involvement in the bombings and conspiring with Osama bin Laden and other members of al Qaeda to kill Americans worldwide. He pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] at his initial appearance.




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Federal appeals court blocks release of Michigan militia suspects
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 6, 2010 1:01 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] on Thursday issued an emergency stay blocking the release of nine individuals accused of plotting to overthrow the US government as part of the Hutaree militia [website; CNN backgrounder]. Judge Victoria Roberts of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan [official website] had granted bail [JURIST report] Monday, ruling that the eight men and one woman must relinquish weapons and weapons permits, remain confined to their homes, and be kept under electronic surveillance. Roberts later suspended the release at the prosecution's request but lifted her stay Wednesday evening, causing prosecutors to seek an emergency stay from the Sixth Circuit. The defense must respond by 5:00 PM ET Thursday. The nine members have been indicted [JURIST report] on charges of seditious conspiracy, attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, teaching the use of explosive materials, and possessing a firearm du