[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.
[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].
[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.
[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].
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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.
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