May 2011 Archives


ECHR finds insufficient proof Khodorkovsky prosecution was politically motivated
Zach Zagger on May 31, 2011 4:42 PM ET

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[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] on Tuesday found [judgment text] that former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] did not prove his prosecution for tax evasion and fraud were politically motivated but that his detention violated human rights standards. The ECHR found violations of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms [text] due to the conditions of his detention, the speed and circumstances under which the charges were brought against him, and with the length of continued detention pending the investigation and trial. The ECHR found that he was held in an inhuman detention unit from August 2005 though October 2005 and that his forcible arrest to be brought as a witness with subsequent charges went beyond what were necessary. The ECHR noted that there was evidence suggesting political motivation but that Khodorkovsky did not show incontrovertible proof:
The Court admits that the applicant's case may raise a certain suspicion as to the real intent of the authorities, and that this state of suspicion might be sufficient for the domestic courts to refuse extradition, deny legal assistance, issue injunctions against the Russian Government, make pecuniary awards, etc. However, it is not sufficient for this Court to conclude that the whole legal machinery of the respondent State in the present case was ab intio misused, that from the beginning to the end the authorities were acting with bad faith and in blatant disregard of the Convention. This is a very serious claim which requires an incontrovertible and direct proof. Such proof... is absent from the case under examination.
The ECHR complaint originated in February 2004 claiming violations of the Convention about his arrest. Russia is a signatory of the Convention. The ECHR awarded Khodorkovsky € 10,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage, and € 14,543 for costs and expenses, which will be up to the Russian courts to enforce.

Last week, a Moscow court upheld the second fraud convictions [JURIST report] against Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website; JURIST news archive] but reduced their eight-year sentences to seven years. The two men, already serving a sentence handed down in 2005 for fraud and tax evasion, were convicted in December of embezzling from their company, Yukos Oil, and sentenced [JURIST reports] to an additional eight years. They appealed, alleging, among other things, that Judge Viktor Danilkin did not write the verdict [JURIST reports] and that he was coerced into reading it. Khodorkovsky vehemently criticized [press release] the ruling as flying in the face of the rule of law. The two men can now expect to be released in 2016 instead of 2017. The December verdict drew harsh international criticism [JURIST report], including from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile], who said [press release] that the ruling "raises serious questions about selective prosecution." The Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs [official website, in Russian] dismissed critics, saying [press release, in Russian] that "[a]ttempts to exert pressure on the court are unacceptable."




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Military prosecutors bring charges against 9/11 suspects
Zach Zagger on May 31, 2011 3:40 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] on Tuesday announced that military prosecutors have sworn charges [press release] against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and four other alleged 9/11 conspirators being held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. The DOD said Mohammed along with Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin 'Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi are being charged pursuant to Military Commissions Act of 2009, 10 U.S.C. §§ 948a, et seq [text]. All five are accused of eight charges: conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, destruction of property in violation of the law of war, hijacking aircraft, and terrorism. Pursuant to the Military Commissions Act, the sworn charges must be sent to an independent convening authority who determines whether to refer some, all or none of the charges to the military commission. If the convening authority refers the case, then he or she will choose a panel to act as jurors in the case. The DOD said that the prosecutors have recommended that the convening authority pursue the charges as capital.

Last month, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] announced that Mohammed and four others would be tried by a military commission [JURIST report] after the Obama administration abandoned attempts to have the 9/11 suspects tried in civilian courts. Holder had wanted the accused be tried before a federal civilian court [JURIST report] but referred the cases to the DOD after Congress imposed a series of restrictions [JURIST report] barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the US. In March 2010, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Martin Scheinin [official website] called on the Obama administration to hold civilian trials [JURIST report] for Mohammed and other suspected terrorists saying that the military commissions system is fatally flawed and cannot be reformed. Earlier that month, the ACLU released a full-page advertisement in the New York Times urging President Barack Obama [JURIST report] to uphold his pledge to try 9/11 suspects in civilian criminal court.




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Serbia court rejects Mladic appeal of extradition to ICTY on genocide charges
Zach Zagger on May 31, 2011 1:54 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Serbia War Crimes Court Tuesday rejected an appeal by alleged war criminal Ratko Mladic [ICTY backgrounder; JURIST news archive] of the decision that he is medically fit for extradition [JURIST report]. Snezana Malovic, Serbia's justice minister, confirmed [Aljazeera report] that the 69-year-old Mladic was being transported to the UN detention facility in The Hague to face charges in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website]. Milos Saljic, the lawyer representing Mladic, had filed an appeal [JURIST report] Monday seeking to block the extradition, arguing his health is too poor and seeking postponement until the court reviews the appeal, which formally requests that independent physicians, including cardiologists, neurosurgeons, orthopedists and gastroenterologists, be granted access to assess Mladic's condition. There have been no questions about Mladic's mental competence, as he told Saljic that he understands his circumstances and that he rejects the tribunal's authority.

Serbian authorities captured [ICTY press release] Mladic last week, ending a 16-year manhunt [JURIST report] for the former general colonel and commander of the army of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mladic was one of the two remaining at-large war criminals sought by the ICTY, along with Goran Hadzic. Mladic faces charges [amended indictment, PDF] of genocide and crimes against humanity, including murder, political persecution, forcible transfer and deportations, cruel treatment and the taking of peacekeepers as hostages. He is most infamous for ordering the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the massacre of Srebrenica during the Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archives].




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Supreme Court rules Ashcroft immune from suit over witness detention
Zach Zagger on May 31, 2011 12:46 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday ruled [opinion, PDF] in Ashcroft v. al-Kidd [Cornell LII Backgrounder] that a witness in a terror investigation cannot challenge the constitutionality of an objectively reasonable arrest pursuant to a validly obtained warrant even if the government did not call or had no intention of calling the witness for trial. Abdullah Al-Kidd argued that his arrest prior to flying to Saudi Arabia was unconstitutional since it was made for an improper motive. The court ruled 8-0, with four concurrences, to reverse and remand the decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website]. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself. The opinion of the court by Justice Antonin Scalia held that the warrant was objectively reasonable pursuant to the federal material witness statute [18 USC § 3144 text] and could not be challenged for improper motive. Scalia further held that former US attorney general John Ashcroft [JURIST news archive] was entitled to absolute immunity because he did not violate any clearly established law. Justice Anthony Kennedy filed a concurring opinion, which Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor joined in part, agreeing with the opinion of the court but making two observations. First, that the ruling leaves unresolved whether the government's use of the material witness statute in this case was lawful. Second, that actions of national office holders must be given deference for qualified immunity purposes where the law of different jurisdictions conflicts, especially when the action taken was consistent with the laws of the jurisdiction where it occurred. Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor questioned whether the warrant was "validly obtained" if the government failed to disclose to the judicial magistrate issuing the warrant that it had no intention to use al-Kidd as a witness, that he and his family are naturally-born US citizens, and that he in fact had a round-trip flight to Saudi Arabia. Ginsburg further noted that his harsh treatment and detention after being arrested "is a grim reminder of the need to install safeguards against disrespect for human dignity, constraints that will control officialdom even in perilous times."

Ashcroft appealed the decision [JURIST report] of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that absolute and qualified [AELE backgrounders] immunity do not shield him from the suit. During oral arguments [JURIST report], counsel for Ashcroft argued that the appellate court's ruling is contrary to precedent that states that intent plays no role in finding that absolute immunity applies to traditional prosecutorial functions, such as issuing material witness warrants. He also argued that, regardless of the finding on absolute immunity, qualified immunity protects officials unless their actions violate constitutional rights, which Ashcroft argues does not occur by using a material witness warrant in a pretextual manner. Counsel for respondent, an American citizen who was detained pursuant to a material witness warrant later found to be factually inaccurate, Al-Kidd argued that qualified immunity does not apply because the detention violated al-Kidd's Fourth Amendment [text] rights. He further argues that absolute immunity does not protect those who would use the material witness warrant to investigate an individual, and that the attorney general should not be permitted to claim greater immunity than the FBI agents that carried out his instructions.




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Supreme Court rules in patent infringement case
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 31, 2011 11:41 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 8-1 Tuesday in Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB, SA [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that induced patent infringement requires knowledge that the induced acts constitute patent infringement. Under 35 USC § 271(b) [text], a patent owner may bring suit against an individual "who actively induces infringement of a patent." The petitioners stood accused of inducing infringement of a patented deep fryer produced by SEB. The trial court allowed the issue to go to the jury, denying petitioners' motion to dismiss at the conclusion of the presentation of evidence, even though petitioners had no knowledge of SEB's patent. The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed, using the "deliberate indifference to a known risk" standard. In a majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, the court rejected the "deliberate indifference" standard, but nonetheless affirmed the judgment below:
[W]e agree that deliberate indifference to a known risk that a patent exists is not the appropriate standard under §271(b). We nevertheless affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals because the evidence in this case was plainly sufficient to support a finding of Pentalpha’s knowledge under the doctrine of willful blindness.
Justice Anthony Kennedy filed a dissenting opinion.

SEB owns a patent for a deep fryer. In 1997, Pentalpha, a subsidiary of Global-Tech Appliances, developed and manufactured a deep fryer that copied features of SEB's deep fryer. In 1999, SEB sued Global-Tech for patent infringement in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. The jury found Global-Tech liable for direct and active inducement of patent infringement, and Global-Tech appealed.




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Supreme Court to hear suspect identification case, rejects Conrad Black appeal
Zach Zagger on May 31, 2011 10:51 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in a case over a suspect identification but rejected the appeal of Canadian-born media magnate Conrad Black [CBC profile; JURIST news archive] over a fair trial. The court will hear Perry v. New Hampshire [docket], in which Barion Perry is challenging his conviction [AP report] for breaking into a car based on a witness identifying him as the perpetrator while he was in handcuffs under police custody. The witness claims she saw Perry break into the car and steal things but later could neither pick him out of a photo line-up nor describe his appearance. Perry argues that the identification was suggestive since he was in handcuffs, making him look like a criminal. The appeal comes after the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld Perry's conviction.

The Supreme Court denied certiorari in Black v. United States [docket; cert. petition, PDF] in which Black was seeking to have his remaining conviction overturned. Black was originally convicted on two counts of fraud and a third count of obstruction of justice after a jury acquitted him and his co-defendants of 15 other fraud counts. He appealed to the Supreme Court, which remanded [JURIST report] the case to the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] to apply a different standard for the two fraud counts. The Seventh Circuit vacated [JURIST report] the conviction for the fraud counts but left intact the obstruction of justice claim. Black argued that in applying the incorrect standard to the fraud counts had created error that should overturn his conviction on the remaining count because of the relation of the charges. Justice Elena Kagan did not take part in the decision to deny certiorari. Black said that he was not surprised [Canadian Business report] that the Supreme Court did not take another look at his case.




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China to issue harsher penalties, including death, for food safety violations
Zach Zagger on May 31, 2011 9:58 AM ET

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[JURIST] China's Supreme People's Court (SPC) [official website, in Chinese] issued a directive [press release, in Chinese] Friday instituting new harsher penalties under the criminal law for violations of food safety crimes. The penalties raise the prison sentences and eliminate the caps on fines and raises penalties for public officials found to have protected violators or taken bribes from them. The penalties for violators may even include the death penalty if the violation results in the someone's death. The SPC said that food safety incidents are endangering many lives. One major problem is using melamine as a milk additive [Xinhua report] to raise protein levels. In 2008 thousands of infants were diagnosed with kidney stones after being fed milk powder with melamine. The contaminated milk is believed to have caused [AP report] the deaths of at least six infants along with sickening about 300,000 others. There have also been problems with the recycling of old, moldy buns by steaming them and adding chemicals to make them seem fresh.

The problem of tainted Chinese milk is not subsiding, despite Chinese government promises to the contrary and attempts at reform [JURIST report]. Last September, police in China's Shanxi province in arrested seven individuals [JURIST report], including the executive of a dairy company, after that company's powdered milk was found to contain melamine. In July 2010, Chinese authorities discovered 64 tons of raw dairy materials [Xinhua report] contaminated with melamine in Qinghai province. In February, Chinese police arrested three individuals [JURIST report] for their roles in the 2008 tainted milk scandal. Two other individuals were executed [JURIST report] in November 2009 after being convicted of endangering public safety and selling toxic food.




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Cambodia asks ICJ to order withdrawal of Thai troops from disputed border area
Zach Zagger on May 31, 2011 8:44 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Cambodian government on Monday asked [press release] the UN International Court of Justice [official websites] to order Thai troops to withdraw from a disputed border area surrounding the Temple of Preah Vihear [UNESCO profile]. Cambodia sought clarification from the court of a 1962 decision [judgment, PDF] awarding the temple to the Cambodian city of Phnom Penh. Cambodia argued before a panel of 16 judges [Aljazeera report] that the troops in the surrounding area of the temple are a threat to the security and peace of the region. Thailand argues that the ICJ does not have jurisdiction to decide border disputes between countries. Thailand does not dispute [Bangkok Post report] the Cambodia's ownership of the temple ruins but does dispute ownership of the 4.6 kilometer area surrounding the temple.

Last month, Cambodia petitioned the court [JURIST report] requesting clarification of the 1962 order to "peacefully and definitely settle the boundary problem between [Cambodia and Thailand] in the area of the Temple of Preah Vihear." Parts of the Cambodia-Thailand border have never been formally demarcated, which has led to border disputes [BBC report]. In response to the latest border clash [JURIST report], UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official website; JURIST news archive] stressed that the dispute could not be resolved through military force [statement] and urged both sides to continue working towards a ceasefire.




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UN rights expert confirms authenticity of Sri Lanka war crimes video
Daniel Makosky on May 30, 2011 12:53 PM ET

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[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Christof Heyns [official website] on Monday urged the UN Human Rights Council [official website] to conduct further investigations into possible Sri Lankan war crimes after reconfirming the legitimacy of a video of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [JURIST news archive] members being executed by members of the Sri Lankan military. Heyns' conclusions are based on analysis by technical and forensic experts [AFP report], including pathologists, video analysts and a firearms expert, and echo findings [JURIST report] that led his predecessor last year to call for an independent investigation into Sri Lankan war crimes. Heyns, however, reviewed a longer version of the video than his predecessor. The Sri Lankan government has strongly denied the video's authenticity, calling it a fraud perpetrated by the LTTE.

A UN panel of experts said in a report released [JURIST report] last month that the parties on both sides may have committed war crimes during the final stages of the 26-year civil war between the Sri Lankan government and rebel LTTE forces. The Sri Lankan Ministry of External Affairs [official website] announced in December that the three-person panel would be allowed to visit [JURIST report] the island to investigate alleged war crimes. The decision represented a reversal after months of strong opposition [JURIST report] from the Sri Lankan government under President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official profile], who described the UN panel as an infringement on Sri Lanka's sovereignty. Rajapaksa instead appointed the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to investigate the final years of the conflict from the ceasefire in 2002 to its conclusion in 2009. The LLRC's credibility, however, has been contested by several human rights organizations, which contend that the commission lacks objectivity [PTI report]. The government has repeatedly denied accusations that its forces violated international law during the conflict.




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Mladic lawyer appeals extradition, seeks independent medical analysis
Daniel Makosky on May 30, 2011 11:35 AM ET

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[JURIST] Milos Saljic, the lawyer representing Ratko Mladic [JURIST news archive], announced on Monday that he has appealed last week's finding that his client is medically fit for extradition [JURIST report]. Serbian authorities must postpone Mladic's extradition [AP report] until the court reviews the appeal, which formally requests that independent physicians, including cardiologists, neurosurgeons, orthopedists and gastroenterologists, be granted access to assess Mladic's condition [B92 report]. Saljic believes Mladic's health is sufficiently poor to merit blocking extradition and, in turn, Mladic's hearings at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website]. There have been no questions about Mladic's mental competence, as he told Saljic [Guardian report] that he understands his circumstances and that he rejects the tribunal's authority. Serbian authorities captured [ICTY press release] Mladic last week, ending a 16-year manhunt [JURIST report] for the former general colonel and commander of the army of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mladic was one of the two remaining at-large war criminals sought by the ICTY, along with Goran Hadzic. Mladic faces charges [amended indictment, PDF] of genocide and crimes against humanity, including murder, political persecution, forcible transfer and deportations, cruel treatment and the taking of peacekeepers as hostages. He is most infamous for ordering the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the massacre of Srebrenica during the Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archives]. In December, the First Municipal Court in Belgrade acquitted 10 men [JURIST report] suspected of helping Mladic evade arrest. In September, ICTY prosecutor Serge Brammertz [official profile] called on Serbia and other governments [JURIST report] to increase efforts to find and arrest Mladic. Last May, Mladic's family filed a claim in the Belgrade District Court seeking to have him declared officially dead [JURIST report] in order to collect his state pension and sell his property. The ICTY announced earlier that month that the Office of the Prosecutor filed a motion to amend the indictment against Mladic [JURIST report] to include 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war in order to help speed up court proceedings.




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Egypt court fines Mubarak $90 million for Internet, telecom shutdown during protests
John Paul Putney on May 29, 2011 3:43 PM ET

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[JURIST] An Egyptian judge on Saturday fined former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile] and two ministers $90 million for shutting down Internet and mobile phone service during the protests culminating in his ouster. The massive fine, the first court ruling against Mubarak since leaving office [Telegraph report], is to compensate for damage to the economy [VOA report] resulting from the shutdown of services and must be paid from private assets [Egyptian Gazette report]. Mubarak, already under house arrest at a hospital, is responsible for $33.6 million [LA Times report] of the fine issued by the administrative court. The ousted leader has been ordered to stand trial on charges of corruption and conspiring to kill protesters [JURIST report], which may carry the death penalty.

Egypt has been heavily criticized by rights groups and international organizations for its handling of protesters. In April, tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square to demand the prosecution of Mubarak [JURIST report], his family and members of his regime. In March, an Egyptian prosecutor indicted three police officials [JURIST report] from the Beni Suef governorate on charges of murdering protesters during the Egyptian revolution. According to judicial sources, Major General Ahmed Abu Zeid, Colonel Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, Colonel Mohamed Othman as well as low-ranking officials were charged with attempted murder and murder in connection with a January 28 incident where police firing in Beni Suef resulted in 19 deaths and 300 injuries. In February, rights groups reported that the Egyptian military had improperly detained protesters, allowed prisoner abuse and tortured protester-detainees "to obtain information" [JURIST reports].




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Google responds to PayPal trade secrets lawsuit
Dwyer Arce on May 29, 2011 11:18 AM ET

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[JURIST] Google [corporate website] on Friday responded to allegations of misappropriating trade secrets made in a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] filed by PayPal [corporate website], arguing that it had done nothing illegal. The lawsuit was filed Thursday in the Superior Court of California [official website] following the unveiling of Google Wallet [service website] a mobile payment system to be utilized by Google's Android phone line. The suit centers on two former PayPal employees, Osama Bedier and Stephanie Tilenius, who PayPal claims were poached by Google following the breakdown of three-year negotiations to make PayPal the payment system of the Android phones. The lawsuit further alleges that Bedier had given Google confidential documents relating to PayPal's mobile payment strategies and willfully and maliciously shared his knowledge of the company's trade secrets after leaving PayPal, violating California state law [Cal. Civ. Code § 3426 et seq.]. The lawsuit also alleges that Tilenius assisted in recruiting Bedier from PayPal, violating contractual obligations requiring her to refrain from doing so for a year after her departure from the company. The lawsuit also alleges that Google violated state law prohibiting unfair business practices [Cal. BPC. Code § 17200 et seq.]. In response, Google emphasized that it respects trade secrets [WP report] and that state law and public policy recognize people's ability to seek better employment opportunities.

In recent years, Google has been the subject of litigation worldwide. In March, Microsoft [corporate website] announced that it would file a formal complaint [JURIST report] with the European Commission (EC) detailing alleged anticompetitive practices by Google. Google has been facing an ongoing investigation [JURIST report] by the EC over allegations of manipulation of search results to highlight Google's own products and services. The company has faced separate antitrust inquiries in Italy, Germany and France in addition to the EC probe, in which Microsoft-owned Bing subsidiary Caio was one of the original complainants. Microsoft's announcement came the same day the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a settlement [JURIST report] with the company over charges that it breached consumer privacy rights and was misleading during the launch of its social networking platform, Google Buzz [service website]. These reports came a week after a New York court ruling rejecting a proposed settlement [JURIST report] in the 2005 suit brought by authors and publishers over the Google Book Search project.




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Malta votes to legalize divorce
Dwyer Arce on May 29, 2011 10:17 AM ET

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[JURIST] Malta [BBC backgrounder] voters on Saturday approved a ballot question [text, PDF] asking whether divorce should be allowed in the country. The measure passed with 53 percent of the vote, and saw a 72 percent turnout [Times of Malta reports] among the predominantly Catholic 412,966 residents, the lowest turnout in its recent history. The archipelago nation is the last EU member state not to allow divorce. Under current Maltese law, a couple could apply for a court ordered legal separation or seek an annulment through the Catholic Church [official website]. Foreign divorces are also recognized. The vote was called after legislation [text, PDF] to allow divorce was introduced in the House of Representatives [official website]. Although non-binding, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, an opponent of legalized divorce, stated that his government would move to pass legislation [BBC report] in line with the referendum question, which read:
Do you agree with the introduction of the option of divorce in the case of a married couple who has been separated or has been living apart for at least four (4) years, and where there is no reasonable hope for reconciliation between the spouses, whilst adequate maintenance is guaranteed and the children are protected?
Proponents of the "yes" vote argued that it was necessary to reduce the influence of the church in Maltese government and to respect civil rights. Opponents argued that it would encourage the breakup of families and increase separation rates. The change will leave Vatican City and the Philippines the last two countries in with the world that do not allow divorce.

Chile was the last country to transition to legalized divorce in 2004 when its new marital code went into effect [JURIST report], replacing the code that had been in force since 1884. The new law permits divorce in the case of breach of marital duties, such as infidelity or domestic violence, or after a period of separation whose length depends on whether one party or both wish to end the marriage. Malta's vote comes a year after the European Commission (EC) [official website] proposed reforms to simplify and clarify international divorce laws [JURIST report]. Under the proposal, married couples from different EU countries could choose the country of the divorce, and the various courts would use a common formula to decide which country's law applies when a couple disagrees.




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Federal appeals court denies habeas for Yemeni Guantanamo detainee
LaToya Sawyer on May 28, 2011 3:34 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday affirmed [opinion, PDF] a lower court's decision confirming that Yemeni Guantanamo Bay detainee Musa'ab Omar al-Madhwani is lawfully detained for being part of al Qaeda. Madhwani challenged the denial of 2004 petition for writ of habeas corpus by the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] claiming that there was insufficient evidence to find that he was part of al Qaeda and that the district court improperly relied on evidence outside the record, abused its discretion in denying additional discovery and committed various legal errors, including due process violations. The court supported the use of the "command structure" test employed by the district court as "sufficient to show that a person is part of al Qaeda" in response to Madhwani's arguments against using an erroneous legal standard where only preponderance of evidence is needed to detain someone in connection with al Qaeda. Examining the evidence de novo, the appeals court found that:
In light of Madhwani's guesthouse and military training camp admissions, his carrying a rifle at the behest of camp superiors, his suspicious movements and implausible narrative and his final capture in the company of at least one known al-Qaida operative, we conclude that a preponderance of the evidence unmistakably showed Madhwani was "part of" al-Qaida when he was captured. In addition to challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, Madhwani offers a laundry list of evidentiary and legal complaints. None establishes a convincing basis for us to reverse the district court's denial of habeas corpus relief.
Madhwani remains at the Guantanamo detention facility.

Habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo detainees have been a struggle for federal courts this past year. In March, an appeals court blocked the release [JURIST report] of Guantanamo detainee Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman by overturning [opinion, PDF] a district court decision that claimed the government had failed to prove prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Uthman had received and executed orders from al Qaeda. In September, Kuwaiti Guantanamo detainee Fawzi Khalid Abdullah Fahad al Odah petitioned [text, PDF; JURIST report] the US Supreme Court [official website] to reverse a federal appeals court decision that denied him habeas corpus relief. The DC appeals court denied [text, PDF; JURIST report] habeas corpus relief to al Odah in July. The court affirmed the district court's ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that there was sufficient evidence against al Odah for him to be considered "part of" al Qaeda and Taliban forces.




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Federal judge strikes down ban on corporate donations to candidates
John Paul Putney on May 28, 2011 1:55 PM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] on Thursday struck down [opinion, PDF] a campaign finance law which bans corporations from making contributions to federal candidates, citing the controversial Supreme Court decision in Citizens United [opinion; JURIST report]. Judge James Cacheris dismissed a criminal count against two men charged with illegally reimbursing individuals for almost $200,000 in contributions [WP report] to Hillary Clinton's 2006 senate and 2008 presidential primary campaign. In dismissing the count, Cacheris stated that Citizens United had dissolved the legal underpinnings for the federal ban against direct contributions from corporations to a candidate:
For better or worse, Citizens United held that there is no distinction between an individual and a corporation with respect to political speech. ... Corporations and human beings are entitled to equal political speech rights. ... Thus, if an individual can make direct contributions within [the law's] limits, a corporation cannot be banned from doing the same thing.
Federal prosecutors have not indicated whether they will file a motion to reconsider the ruling, which seems probable.

Commentators have noted that judge Cacheris' opinion does not address the 2003 Supreme Court decision in Federal Election Commission v. Beaumont [opinion], which specifically upheld a ban on corporate contributions to election campaigns. Although Cacheris does acknowledge that another federal judge ruled on the same question but upheld the law, his opinion is silent on the Eighth Circuit's appellate ruling likewise upholding the ban. Cecheris' ruling does not follow the distinction between expenditures and contributions [AP report] upheld by the Eighth Circuit. Despite strong reactions to the ruling, the net impact is unclear because current election law limit individuals to $2,500 per candidate in each election, while corporate political action committees may contribute up to $5,000.




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UN rights office warns of Yemen civil war
LaToya Sawyer on May 28, 2011 1:34 PM ET

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[JURIST] The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] called for the Yemeni government on Friday to crack down on deadly violence, expressing fear that the violence will push the country into a civil war [press briefing]. The OHCHR's concerns follow escalated violence that has claimed more than 100 lives since President Ali Abdullah Saleh [official website, in Arabic; JURIST news archive ] on Monday refused [Al Jazeera video] for the third time to sign a pact that will transfer power to his deputy and end his 32-year reign as the nation's leader. In April, Saleh agreed to step down [JURIST report] within 30 days of signing an agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council [official website], a group of six nations from the region, in exchange for immunity for Saleh and his family from any prosecution. Saleh refused to sign the agreement on Monday because the opposition party did not come to his palace and sign the agreement in his presence. Saleh believes a public signing is imperative because the opposition party will be part of the interim government once he steps down. Outrage in the streets of Yemen has since escalated to violence, and the OHCHR has called on the Yemeni government to crack down on the excessive and disproportionate use of force against protesters. The UN is concerned that continued violence will not only bring the country to war, but cause large numbers of citizens to flee Yemen which could result in major humanitarian issues.

Violence and human rights abuses have been pressing issues in several Middle Eastern nations where protests have erupted. Last week, the UN expressed concern over Middle Eastern rights violations [JURIST report] after reports were released that in Syria alone 850 people had been killed since the demonstrations began in March. Concern for violence in Yemen surfaced when Saleh requested the Yemeni Parliament end anti-government protests by enacting new emergency laws that gave the government greater power to arrest and detain protesters and to censor the media. In April, two human rights organizations criticized Bahrain [JURIST report] for rampant human rights abuses that related to using the emergency law to trample on human rights and create a state of fear.




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UN rights expert calls for reform of Tunisia anti-terrorism law
John Paul Putney on May 28, 2011 12:40 PM ET

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[JURIST] UN human rights expert Martin Scheinin [official profile] called on the Transitional Government of Tunisia Thursday to reform the counter-terrorism [press release] law to comply with international human rights law. Scheinin, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, called for accountability [full statement] for "human rights violations committed in the name of counter-terrorism" and encouraged Tunisia to "continue to investigate ex officio allegation of torture and illegal detention." Scheinin's remarks come at the end of a five-day tour of the country. Despite assurances that the abusive anti-terrorism law had not been used since ousting former president Ben Ali [JURIST report], the UN expert found that judges still detain people under the 2003 law [AFP report] which requires little evidence. Scheinin urged continued progress:
Changes in the way Tunisia's security organs operate should not be limited to slogans, but should result in concrete measures. The first steps have been taken to establish accountability for those who attacked the demonstrators in January of this year. I welcome this positive development, but want to stress that in order to look truly forward towards a new Tunisia, it has to come to terms with dark remnants of its past. ... Investigating, prosecuting and trying those responsible for the crimes in question can also help rebuilding trust between the population and the security forces in the country.
Scheinin offered to assist Tunisia in replacing the 2003 law with a counterterrorism framework that complies with international law.

Last month, the US Department of State (DOS) [official website] released the 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [materials] noting the recent uprising in Tunisia had an ambiguous impact on human rights [JURIST report]. In February, the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs submitted a formal request to extradite former the president [JURIST report] following the filing of additional charges. Also in February, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called on the Tunisian transitional government to investigate incidents of police violence against protesters and end police brutality [HRW reports; JURIST report], and the UN reported that at least 219 died as a result of the protests, including 72 killed in prison riots.




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Vermont passes single-payer health care law
Julia Zebley on May 27, 2011 2:39 PM ET

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[JURIST] Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin [official website] signed a health care reform law [H 202 text, PDF] on Friday that promises [press release] to make a state single-payer system. The law, designed to reform Vermont's entire health care system, will regulate health insurance premiums and health care provider payments, putting providers on a budget and rewarding them for efficiency, rather than a "fee-for-service" structure.
As provided in Sec. 4 of this act, upon receipt by the state of necessary waivers from federal law, all Vermont residents shall be eligible for Green Mountain Care, a universal health care program that will provide health benefits through a single payment system. To the maximum extent allowable under federal law and waivers from federal law, Green Mountain Care shall include health coverage provided under the health benefit exchange established under chapter 18, subchapter 1 of Title 33; under Medicaid; under Medicare; by employers that choose to participate; and to state employees and municipal employees.
Although the law is signed, the plan to fully implement and finance single-payer health care will not be completed until 2014 at the earliest. Shumlin acknowledged that people have questions, and stated the next steps to universal health care will not be taken without the approval of Vermonters.
The law also creates a state health insurance exchange. Some have criticized the law [Burlington Press report] for eventually destroying private health insurance and being impossible to fund. Others suggest it will save [Reuters] $580 million annually, and $1.9 billion by 2019.

Unlike the national Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) [HR 3590; JURIST news archive], the Vermont law guarantees state health insurance to every citizen, whereas the PPACA has a mandate for every citizen to purchase health insurance of some form, likely private unless they are eligible for Medicare. Court challenges to the PPACA continue across the nation. Last week, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) sought reinstatement [JURIST report] of its dismissed lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health care reform law. In April, the US Supreme Court denied [JURIST report] Virginia's request for the court to rule on the constitutionality of the health care reform law on an expedited basis. A judge for the US District Court for the District of New Jersey rejected [JURIST report] a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality, on jurisdictional grounds of standing [Cornell LII backgrounder], similar to a dismissal [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the District of New Hampshire. A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida struck down the law in January, while in October, a judge in Michigan upheld the law [JURIST report]. US Courts of Appeal for the Third, Sixth and Fourth circuits are all hearing oral arguments in appeals of lower court rulings, while appeals are pending in the DC circuit as well as the Eighth and Ninth circuits.




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South Dakota abortion waiting period challenged
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 27, 2011 2:22 PM ET

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[JURIST] Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy websites] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] Friday challenging a South Dakota law [HB 1217 materials] requiring women to seek counseling at a pregnancy center and wait three days before obtaining an abortion [JURIST news archive]. The law, signed [JURIST report] by Governor Dennis Daugaard [official website] in March, is set to take effect July 1 and would impose the longest waiting period in the country. The groups filed suit in the US District Court for the District of South Dakota [official website] seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional. According to the complaint:
If the Act takes effect, it will deny, among other things, Plaintiffs' patients their constitutional right to decide whether to have a child, as well as their patients' and physicians' First Amendment freedoms and their patients' right to informational privacy; and subject Plaintiffs and their physicians to significant licensing penalties, including revocation of Planned Parenthood's license to operate a health care facility in Sioux Falls and its physicians' licenses to practice medicine, as well as criminal and civil penalties. To avoid this irreparable harm, Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief against the Act.
South Dakota law already requires that women wait 24 hours and be offered the opportunity to view a sonogram before undergoing an abortion procedure.

Several other states have also acted recently to tighten restrictions on abortions. Earlier this week, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton [official website] vetoed a pair of bills [JURIST report] that restricted state funding for abortions and banned them altogether after 20 weeks. Last week, Texas Governor Rick Perry [official website] signed into law a bill that requires women seeking an abortion to first get a sonogram [JURIST report]. Multiple states have acted to ban abortions after 20 weeks, when some studies suggest a fetus can begin feeling pain, including Missouri, Indiana, Alabama, Ohio, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas and Idaho [JURIST reports].




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South Korea court sentences 4 Somali pirates
Julia Zebley on May 27, 2011 2:16 PM ET

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[JURIST] A South Korean court sentenced a Somali pirate to life in prison, and three others to varying long-term sentences on Friday, for hijacking a South Korean ship. A fifth pirate pleaded guilty and was tried separately. The five men were charged with hijacking, maritime robbery and six other crimes, and they went on trial [JURIST reports] earlier this week. Mahomed Araye was sentenced to life imprisonment [Korea Times report] for an attempt to kill the captain of the ship, while the other three were sentenced to 13 to 15 years in prison. The defense claimed Araye did not attempt to kill the captain, and no one saw him fire the shots. Lawyers for the defense said they intend to appeal [AFP report].

This month, 10 pirates involved in hijacking a yacht, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, pleaded guilty in Virginia [JURIST reports]. Spain's National Court sentenced [JURIST report] two Somali pirates to 439 years in prison each for their involvement in the 2009 hijacking of a Spanish fishing boat off the coast of Somalia. Last month, a US district court sentenced a Somali pirate to 25 years in prison [JURIST report] for his role in attacking a Danish ship, as well as the US Navy's USS Ashland. In November, a federal jury in Virginia convicted [JURIST report] five Somali men on charges of piracy for their roles in an April attack on the USS Nichols. In August, piracy charges against six defendants were dismissed [JURIST report] when federal Judge Raymond Jackson ruled that piracy, as defined by the law of nations, does not include violence or aggression committed on the high seas, and rejected the government's argument for an expanded reading of the statute. Piracy remains an issue of international concern, as few countries have been willing to prosecute suspected pirates. The few that have attempted to do so include Germany, Seychelles, the Netherlands, Mauritius, Yemen, Somalia and Spain [JURIST reports].




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Europe rights court rules against Poland in abortion case
Julia Zebley on May 27, 2011 12:50 PM ET

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[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [judgment] on Thursday that a Polish woman who had been denied genetic testing [press release, PDF] and an abortion [JURIST news archive] was subjected to "inhuman treatment." The court found violations to Articles 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) and 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights [text].
Because the decision to continue or terminate a pregnancy had a profound effect on a woman's private life, including her physical and moral integrity, any interference with this decision must be analysed in light of the woman's right to privacy. This was true regardless of whether the interference directly affected the woman's access to legal abortion or affected it indirectly, by denying her the prerequisite healthcare she needed in order to make a decision regarding continuation or termination of the pregnancy. Numerous international conventions broadly recognised a woman's right to the highest attainable standard of health, including access to appropriate reproductive care. Privacy was particularly important in the case of sexual and reproductive healthcare, which must be provided in a manner consistent with women's rights to personal autonomy.
RR, the plaintiff, was pregnant and after several ultrasounds, believed her child to be "malformed." Signifying her intent to have an abortion if the child was disabled, she requested an amniocentesis. Her doctor refused both to perform the genetic test and to abort RR's fetus. She was also informed the hospital in question had refused to perform abortions for 150 years. After several more attempts to get an abortion were thwarted, RR gave birth to a girl with Turner syndrome. RR is to receive 45,000 euros in non-pecuniary damage and 15,000 euros for costs and expenses from Poland. Either party has three months to appeal to the Grand Chamber of the Court.

The ECHR has previously been called to rule on abortion rights in its signatory countries. In December, the ECHR ruled [JURIST report] that Ireland failed to provide "effective and accessible procedures" to allow a Lithuanian women to assert her constitutional right to a lawful abortion. In 2007, Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski declared that Poland planned to appeal a ruling [JURIST reports] by the ECHR that found Poland in violation of Article 8 for prohibiting a pregnant woman who had a serious risk of vision loss if she carried the pregnancy to term from obtaining an abortion. The ECHR rejected this appeal [JURIST report], reinforcing that the Polish government did not provide any procedural framework to resolve a dispute concerning whether a medical exception should be granted, or to facilitate "effective mechanisms capable of determining whether the conditions for obtaining a lawful abortion had been met." Gerolf Hagens [professional profile] has analyzed [JURIST comment] the ECHR's rulings on abortion.




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Patriot Act extended through 2015
Julia Zebley on May 27, 2011 10:49 AM ET

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[JURIST] US President Obama signed a four-year extension [press release] of the Patriot Act [materials; JURIST news archive] late Thursday night, minutes before it was set to expire. The bill passed the US Senate [official website] 72-23 [roll call vote], and shortly after passed the US House of Representatives [official website] by a vote of 250-153 [roll call vote]. Although major congressional leaders of both parties had agreed to a clean extension of the act [JURIST report] last week, delays were met when Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) [official website] filibustered the bill over the lack of an amendment process and serious concerns about privacy. After three days of filibustering, Paul received votes on two amendments that ultimately failed, both related to the ability of security officials to survey gun purchases. Controversial provisions renewed include provisions allowing the government to use roving wiretaps on multiple carriers and electronic devices and allowing the government to gain access to certain records relevant to its investigations. The "lone wolf" provision enables investigators to get warrants to conduct surveillance over targets not connected to any particular terrorist group.

Last February, the House passed a short-term extension until May 27 of the controversial surveillance provisions after they were set to expire on February 28, two days after the Senate passed [JURIST reports] the bill by an 86-12 vote. Earlier that week, a simple majority of the House approved a similar bill that would have extended the three provisions until December after it had failed [JURIST reports] the prior week under a special rule that required a two-thirds majority. Prior to that vote, the Obama administration released a statement of administration policy [text, PDF] vying for a three-year renewal of the provisions. The provisions were extended in February 2010 after the Obama administration asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to extend [JURIST reports] the Patriot Act.




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Serbia judge finds Mladic fit for extradition
Julia Zebley on May 27, 2011 9:11 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Serbian judge on Friday found Ratko Mladic [JURIST news archive] fit for extradition, despite concerns about his age and health. Serbian authorities captured [ICTY press release] Ratko Mladic on Thursday, ending a 16-year manhunt [JURIST report] for the former general colonel and commander of the army of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mladic's lawyer stated his client was not able to communicate well due to his fragile state, and the proceedings were then suspended briefly, but Mladic has been found fit to stand trial [B92 reports] and will be extradited to begin his hearings at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website]. There have been no questions about his mental competence, as he told his lawyer [Guardian report] that "he is aware he is under arrest, he knows where he is, and he said he does not recognise The Hague tribunal." Mladic has three days to appeal the decision.

Reactions continue to pour in around the world, many positive, but some wary. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] praised the arrest [statement]: "This is a historic day for international justice and for the world's collective fight against impunity. It sends a powerful message that those who are alleged to have committed crimes against humanity may try to evade justice but they will, in the end, be held accountable." Fellow indicted war criminal, currently undergoing trial at the ICTY, Radovan Karadzic [JURIST news archive] said [AP report], "President Karadzic is sorry for Gen. Mladic's loss of freedom and he looks forward to working with him to bring out the truth about what happened in Bosnia." Russian officials have expressed tepid approval of the arrest, but pointed out alleged inconsistencies in the ICTY trials [B92 report] and hoped Mladic would be treated fairly. Demonstrations began Thursday night in Serbia [B92 report], with approximately 700 people protesting Mladic's arrest. Belgrade authorities have ordered a ban on public gatherings in reaction. The Serb Radical Party (SRS) [political website, in Serbian] announced [press release, in Serbian] a rally for Mladic on Sunday.

Mladic was one of the two remaining at-large war criminals sought by the ICTY, along with Goran Hadzic. Mladic faces charges [amended indictment, PDF] of genocide and crimes against humanity, including murder, political persecution, forcible transfer and deportations, cruel treatment and the taking of peacekeepers as hostages. He is most infamous for ordering the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the massacre of Srebrenica during the Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archives]. In December, the First Municipal Court in Belgrade acquitted 10 men [JURIST report] suspected of helping Mladic evade arrest. In September, ICTY prosecutor Serge Brammertz [official profile] called on Serbia and other governments [JURIST report] to increase efforts to find and arrest Mladic. Brammertz said failure to arrest Mladic would send war criminals the message that if they avoid capture long enough, the world will cease to care about bringing them to justice. Brammertz also emphasized the importance of seeking justice for Mladic's victims. Authorities must work quickly to arrest Mladic, Brammertz noted, since the ICTY is scheduled to be shut down in three years. Last May, Mladic's family filed a claim in the Belgrade District Court seeking to have him declared officially dead [JURIST report] in order to collect his state pension and sell his property. Earlier that month, the ICTY announced that the Office of the Prosecutor filed a motion to amend the indictment against Mladic [JURIST report] to include 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war in order to help speed up court proceedings.




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Egypt housing minister sentenced to 5 years for illegal land deal
Dan Taglioli on May 27, 2011 7:32 AM ET

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[JURIST] An Egyptian court on Thursday convicted a former housing minister of corruption and sentenced him to five years in prison. Ahmed al-Maghrabi was found guilty of illegal acquisition of state land [Reuters report] for his part in the sale of the 18 acres of land to a prominent businessman, who was convicted in the same case and given a one-year suspended sentence. The public land was sold without auction and well below market value, in violation of a 1998 law. As a result, the two men were found guilty of wasting public funds and ordered to repay 72 million Egyptian pounds (USD $12.6 million) to the state for damaging public finances, and were then together fined an additional 72 million pounds. At this time Maghrabi also faces charges of profiteering and wasting public funds in another corruption suit involving a relative.

Maghrabi is the third senior minister from the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile] to be sentenced to a prison term. Earlier this month, an Egyptian criminal court convicted [JURIST report] the country's former tourism minister, Zoheir Garranah, for corruption and sentenced him to five years in prison. In April, Egyptian prosecutors charged [JURIST report] former prime minister Ahmed Nazif, former finance minister Yousef Boutros and former interior minister Habib el Adly with corruption. In March, a commission of Arab and Egyptian human rights groups accused the former president [JURIST report] and the country's police of murdering protesters during the demonstrations. The joint commission submitted their report to Egypt's top prosecutor for further investigation. The Supreme Military Council of Egypt, which assumed power after Mubarak's resignation, instructed Egypt's top prosecutor to investigate the death of protesters [RIA Novosti report] during the three weeks of demonstrations in the country. Last week Amnesty International reported that at least 840 people were killed [JURIST report], and more than 6,000 were injured, during the Egyptian protests.




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Italy court sentences Ex-Nazi soldiers to life imprisonment
Dan Taglioli on May 27, 2011 6:00 AM ET

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[JURIST] A military tribunal in Rome has convicted three former German soldiers of multiple murders committed during World War II. The three men were tried in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment [UPI report] for their parts in the massacre of 184 civilians in the village of Padule di Fucecchio in Tuscany on August 23, 1944. The killings of 94 mostly elderly men, 63 women and 27 children constituted one of the worst Nazi atrocities in Italy during the war. A year afterward Sgt. Charles Edmonson of the Special Investigations Branch became determined to find the perpetrators and took detailed accounts from witnesses. After Edmonson died in 1985 the statements were found in a cupboard in his home and later formed part of the prosecution's case against the three Germans. The ex-soldiers, 88, 91 and 94 years old, are not expected to serve time in prison because Germany is not required by law to release them into Italian custody. In addition to the life sentences, the court handed down an order for Germany to pay €12 million to surviving relatives of the victims, but Germany maintains it is not liable due to provisions of the 1947 Treaty of Peace [materials] and the 1961 Bilateral Compensation Agreement for Victims of the Nazi Regime.

A fourth defendant died during trial at the age of 100, a reminder that recent trials for Nazi atrocities will likely be some of the last. Earlier this month a Hungarian court began the trial [JURIST report] of accused Nazi Sandor Kepiro, who was named as the world's most wanted Nazi war crimes suspect by the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) [advocacy website], a Jewish human rights organization committed to finding and prosecuting Holocaust war criminals. Also this month, a German court convicted [JURIST report] Nazi guard John Demjanjuk [NNDB profile; JURIST news archive] for his role in murdering 28,000 at the Sobidor Death Camp. Demjanjuk, 91, was sentenced to five years in prison but released because of his advanced age and because appeals could take years. In November, Nazi guard Samuel Kunz [Trial Watch profile], 89, passed away [JURIST report] in his home before he could be brought to trial. He was accused of aiding in the killing of hundreds of thousands of Jewish people at the Belzec concentration camp [HRP backgrounder].




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Wisconsin judge invalidates union bargaining law
Julia Zebley on May 26, 2011 4:51 PM ET

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[JURIST] Dane County Circuit Court [official website] Judge Maryann Sumi on Thursday voided [opinion, PDF; findings of fact, PDF] the Budget Repair Bill [Senate Bill 11 text, PDF], Wisconsin's controversial measure limiting the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions, for violating the state's open meeting rules. Sumi, the judge who temporarily enjoined the law [JURIST report], clarified that her ruling is not on the legality of the law, but merely the violation of procedure. Wisconsin's open meetings law [materials] requires, "24 hours' notice, or two hours' notice if 'good cause' is shown." She clarified that legislative privilege does not bar this requirement:
This case is the exemplar of values protected by Open Meetings Law: transparency in government, the right of citizens to participate in their government, and respect for the rule of law. It is not this court's business to determine whether 2011 Wisconsin Act 11 is good public policy or bad public policy; that is the business of the Legislature. It is this court's responsibility, however, to apply the rule of law to the facts before it.
Republican state Senator Scott Fitzgerald [official website] has been the only supporter of the law to comment [press release] on the ruling, saying: "There's still a much larger separation-of-powers issue: whether one Madison judge can stand in the way of the other two democratically-elected branches of government. The Supreme Court is going to have the ultimate ruling, and they're still scheduled to hear the issue on June 6."

In March, Sumi issued an order [JURIST report] clarifying that the temporary restraining order prohibits not only publication of the bill, but implementation of its provisions as well. Sumi's order was issued in response to debate among government officials [JURIST report] that the law went into effect after it was published on the Wisconsin Legislative Bureau's website. The judge's temporary restraining order stemmed from a lawsuit [JURIST report] filed earlier in March month by District Attorney Ismael Ozanne claiming that Republican legislators passed the bill in violation of Wisconsin's open meetings law.




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US House passes $690 billion defense authorization bill
Zach Zagger on May 26, 2011 4:05 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US House of Representatives passed the $690 billion National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 [HR 1540 materials] Thursday, approving the basic funding plan with a 322-96 vote [roll call vote]. The bill contains many controversial provisions such as prohibitions on the use of funds to transfer Guantanamo [JURIST news archive] detainees to the US or other foreign countries, making it difficult for US President Barack Obama to close [JURIST report] the US Naval detention facility. Also on Thursday, the House passed an amendment to the bill 246-173 [roll call vote] proposed by Representative Vern Buchanan (R-FL) [official website] to require all foreign terror suspects to be tried by military tribunals. The Obama administration issued a statement earlier this week threatening a veto if such a provision is in the bill. The statement said such a provision:
is a dangerous and unprecedented challenge to critical Executive branch authority to determine when and where to prosecute detainees, based on the facts and the circumstances of each case and our national security interests. It unnecessarily constrains our Nation's counterterrorism efforts and would undermine our national security, particularly where our Federal courts are the best—or even the only—option for incapacitating dangerous terrorists.
The bill also contains a provision [Sec. 533] that would delay the the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) [10 USC § 654; JURIST news archive], which was on track [JURIST report] to be completely repealed by midsummer. The provision requires the chiefs of each military branch to provide written certification that the repeal of DADT be harmful to the "readiness, effectiveness, cohesion, and morale" of armed forces units. Laura Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] Washington Legislative Office, responded [press release] to the DADT condition:
Trying to throw a roadblock up to derail "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal at this point is a desperate attempt to postpone the inevitable. For nearly 20 years, lesbian, gay and bisexual service members have been forced to hide who they are and who they love in order to serve their country. It was with the will of the president, the uniformed and civilian leadership of the military and Congress itself that [DADT] was repealed and its implementation will continue to move forward successfully despite the attempts by some House members to disrupt it.
The bill must still be reconciled [AP report] with the Senate version which the Armed Forces Committee [official website] will begin crafting on June 13.

Last January, Obama signed the last defense authorization [JURIST report] bill which also contained limits on the transfer of Guantanamo detainees. The Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act of 2011 [HR 6523] imposed significant setbacks to the Obama administration's self-imposed deadline [JURIST report] for closing the military prison at Guantanamo.




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Federal appeals court restricts inequitable conduct defense for patent law
Julia Zebley on May 26, 2011 3:46 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit [official website] on Wednesday restricted [opinion, PDF] the use of the "inequitable conduct" defense for invalidating patents. Inequitable conduct previously allowed the judge to use his or her discretion in invalidating an otherwise valid patent if he or she believed the patent-holder had engaged in unfair practices when applying to the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) [official website], contrary to Rule 56 [text] of patent law. If it could be shown with clear and convincing evidence that the patent-holder withheld information, the patent would be found unenforceable. Sitting en banc, the court in Therasense, Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson and Co limited this defense to when the patent-holder's bad acts were related directly to the patent, and they had the intent to deceive others.
This court holds that, as a general matter, the materiality required to establish inequitable conduct is but-for materiality. When an applicant fails to disclose prior art to the PTO, that prior art is but-for material if the PTO would not have allowed a claim had it been aware of the undisclosed prior art. Hence, in assessing the materiality of a withheld reference, the court must determine whether the PTO would have allowed the claim if it had been aware of the undisclosed reference. In making this patentability determination, the court should apply the preponderance of the evidence standard and give claims their broadest reasonable construction.
Proving the intent requirement was also elevated to a "but-for" test. The court left an exception for egregious conduct not requiring the but-for standard that would render patents unenforceable.

This case builds on the 2009 decision, Exergen Corp. v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and SAAT Systems [text, PDF], which forced allegations of inequitable conduct to be pleaded specifically rather than generally. Any allegation must detail individuals' guilty inequitable conduct, the knowledge or information withheld or hidden from the PTO and how that conduct affected the patent application or the subsequent patent itself. This term, the US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB, SA [oral arguments transcript, PDF]. The court will determine whether the state of mind necessary for for a finding of inducing patent infringement is "deliberate indifference of a known risk" as proposed by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit or "purposeful, culpable expression and conduct", as stated by the court in MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd. [Oyez backgrounder].




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Minnesota governor vetoes bills restricting abortion rights
Zach Zagger on May 26, 2011 2:55 PM ET

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[JURIST] Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton [official website] vetoed a pair of bills [veto HF 201; veto HF 936] Wednesday that restricted state funding for abortions and banned them altogether after 20 weeks. Dayton vetoed Chapter 59 [text] of Minnesota House File 936, which would have banned all abortions after 20 weeks based on "substantial medical evidence that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by 20 weeks after fertilization." In Dayton's veto he said, "imposing civil penalties and making it a felony for a doctor to deliver care that is in the best interest of the patient is unconscionable." Dayton also vetoed Chapter 56 [text] of House File 201, which mandated that public funding to state-sponsored cannot be used to provide abortions. The veto letter stated that the law:
infringes on a woman's basic right to health and safety—a right every woman has, regardless of how she receives her health coverage. Our place is not between a woman and her doctor. The law already prescribes that state funding may only be used for abortions in cases of rape or incest, for health or therapeutic reasons, and when a woman's life is in danger. House File 201 would interfere with critical and difficult medical decisions.
Dayton's campaign was supported by abortion rights groups [Minneapolis Star Tribune report], and he was expected to issue the vetoes.

Earlier this week, a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio [official website] upheld an Ohio law that limits the use of the "abortion pill," overturning a 2006 injunction [JURIST reports]. The law requires that the use of the pill, RU-486 [FDA guidelines], conform with federal guidelines, which currently do not allow the pill to be used after seven weeks of pregnancy. Oklahoma has also prohibited the use of RU-486 [JURIST report]. In April, the Ohio Senate approved a bill [JURIST report] that would limit the availability of abortions after 20 weeks. That bill is pending in the House. Missouri, Indiana, Alabama and Oklahoma [JURIST reports] have each passed legislation this year which restricts the abortion procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Also, earlier this year, a legislative committee in the Ohio House of Representatives advanced [Columbus Dispatch report] the "Heartbeat Bill," [HB 125 text], which would ban abortions after the point at which a fetus's heartbeat becomes detectable in the womb.




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ACLU files class action suit against Indiana immigration law
Julia Zebley on May 26, 2011 1:56 PM ET

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[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed [press release] a class action lawsuit [complaint, PDF] on Wednesday in the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana [official website] challenging a controversial Indiana immigration law [SEA 590 text; JURIST report]. The law, inspired by an Arizona law [SB 1070 text; JURIST news archive], requires individuals to provide proof of their legal status at all times, calls for all public meetings, websites and documents to be in English only and makes undocumented aliens ineligible for in-state tuition rates, financial aid, grants or scholarships. The ACLU argues this law will lead to warrantless arrests of authorized and unauthorized aliens, as well as racial profiling:
Insofar as SEA 590 authorizes state and local law enforcement to arrest persons without reasonable suspicion or probable cause of any unlawful contact, much less criminal activity, it violates the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable seizures. SEA 590 also conflicts with and is preempted by the Immigration Nationality Act, which provides a comprehensive statutory framework for the regulation of immigration that among other things, contains detailed provisions governing the detention and release of non-citizens in removal proceedings.
The suit is filed on behalf of three individuals who "will be" harassed by the law. State Senator Mike Delph [official website], the author of the law, responded condemning the lawsuit [text]. The ACLU has mounted a similar suit in Utah, which resulted in an injunction [JURIST reports].

Last month, the Indiana House of Representatives also approved legislation [JURIST report] to revoke tax credits from businesses that hire illegal immigrants and require the use of the E-verify System [official website] to check the eligibility status of employees. Similar immigration laws have been enacted across the country. The Georgia General Assembly approved a bill requiring police to check the immigration status [JURIST report] of anyone they have probable cause to believe has committed a criminal offense and requiring businesses to use E-Verify to check the immigration status of potential employees. Similar legislation has also been approved in Alabama, Virginia and Oklahoma [JURIST reports]. Arizona's law is currently enjoined, and Governor Jan Brewer has pledged to appeal to the US Supreme Court [JURIST reports].




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Federal judge allows lawsuit over BP Deepwater Horizon drilling leases
Zach Zagger on May 26, 2011 1:34 PM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Alabama [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that environmental groups' lawsuit, challenging the government approval of oil drilling leases granted to the British Petroleum (BP) Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico, may continue. The Southern Environmental Law Center and the Defenders of Wildlife [advocacy websites] claim that the Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) [official website], formerly the Minerals Management Service (MMS), violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) [EPA materials] and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) [text] by approving more 221 drilling licenses for the Gulf of Mexico after last year's Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. They argue that further licenses should not be granted until a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is prepared. The government argues that the claim is moot since it is already preparing a new EIS and that it is not ripe since there is no way to determine whether future lease sales will be approved based on the completed EIS. But the court held that the environmental groups are challenging leases that were already granted after the disaster in reliance on the now invalid EIS. The court also rejected the government's attempt to dismiss a claim that BOEMRE failed to insure that there was likely "no jeopardy" to endangered species. However, the court did dismiss one of the group's claims that BOEMRE violated the NEPA by a failure to reinitiate consultation by relevant government agencies in assessing the impact on endangered species because BOEMRE produced evidence that it had done just that.

Last January, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill [official website] released its full final report [text], tracing the deeper root causes of the spill and recommending steps to avoid future incidents. The report highlights mistakes made by BP, as well as its partners Haliburton and Transocean [corporate websites], as the starting point that allowed the spill to take place, and finishes with recommendations based on those oversights. The report comes as another count against BP's practices leading up to the spill. In December, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] filed suit [JURIST report] against units of BP and several other companies over the April 2010 disaster. The government's lawsuit is one of hundreds filed against BP and other companies in connection with the oil spill. In August, the US Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation [official website] selected Judge Carl Barbier [FJC profile] to hear [JURIST report] more than 300 such lawsuits.




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Supreme Court rules witness tampering law requires likelihood of communication
Zach Zagger on May 26, 2011 12:41 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] Thursday ruled [opinion, PDF] in Fowler v. United States [Cornell LII backgrounder] that under a federal witness tampering statute [18 USC § 1512(a)(1)(C) text] the government must show there was a reasonable likelihood the witness would communicate relevant information to federal officers. Charles Fowler was convicted of killing a local police officer who had caught him and a group of accomplices preparing to rob a bank. The 7-2 opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer rejected the government's proposed rule that it only must establish the murder was committed to prevent a possible or potential communication to federal officers. The court found this standard to weigh too heavily in favor of the government. Still, the court said it is not necessary to show that a relevant communication to federal officers was actually or intended to be made. The court said the intent requirement was whether the murder was made "to prevent" relevant communications:
That is to say, where the defendant kills a person with an intent to prevent communication with law enforcement officers generally, that intent includes an intent to prevent communications with federal law enforcement officers only if it is reasonably likely under the circumstances that (in the absence of the killing) at least one of the relevant communications would have been made to a federal officer.
The court remanded the case for application of its ruling. Justice Antonin Scalia concurred but filed a separate opinion arguing that the standard should be whether "the defendant intended to prevent a communication which, had it been made, would beyond a reasonable doubt have been made to a federal law enforcement officer." He agreed that the case should be remanded but said he would hold that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction since there was little evidence that the local police officer would have reported it to federal officers. Justices Samuel Alito and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented arguing that the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction because a rational jury could infer that Fowler had intent to prevent the local officer from communicating evidence to a spectrum of law enforcement officers including federal officers.

At oral arguments [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] Fowler's counsel argued that the court should apply a narrower, "realistic likelihood" standard when determining if the victim would have provided information to federal authorities, rather than the government's vague, "reasonably possible" standard. The government responded that the reasonableness standard gives the jury discretion to determine whether a victim could have provided evidence to a federal agent, since it is not possible to know the "specific intent" of the deceased victim. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled [decision, PDF] that Fowler violated the statute by killing the police officer. Fowler protested that prosecutors failed to establish that it was likely the officer would transfer information to federal investigators or that it was likely that a federal investigation would be opened. The court held, however, that prosecutors need only establish that the defendant killed the victim to prevent the communication of a possible federal offense and that they had met that burden.




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Supreme Court upholds Arizona immigration employment law
Julia Zebley on May 26, 2011 11:57 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Thursday ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-3 in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a controversial Arizona employment law [materials] is not preempted by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) [text]. The law imposes penalties on businesses that hire illegal immigrants. Chief Justice Roberts delivered the first part of the opinion, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito, upholding the law as not explicitly preempted:
Arizona's licensing law falls well within the confines of the authority Congress chose to leave to the States and therefore is not expressly preempted. While IRCA prohibits States from imposing "civil or criminal sanctions" on those who employ unauthorized aliens, it preserves state authority to impose sanctions "through licensing and similar laws." That is what the Arizona law does—it instructs courts to suspend or revoke the business licenses of in-state employers that employ unauthorized aliens. The definition of "license" contained in the Arizona statute largely parrots the definition of "license" that Congress codified in the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
The second part of the opinion, which Thomas did not join, declares the act not impliedly preempted. The third part, joined by the majority, declares that requiring the federally optional E-Verify program is not impliedly preempted. Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in the decision. Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissented, arguing that the licensing sanctions in the law are contrary to the intent of IRCA, and that the E-Verify program is not reliable enough to be mandatory. Justice Sonia Sotomayor also filed a dissent, focusing on Arizona creating separate mechanisms to determine whether a business has employed an unauthorized alien, and that the law forces a decision on the use of a federal resource, which she considers Congress' express power.

IRCA precludes states from making significant laws on immigration. However, the commonly referred to "savings clause" "preempt(s) any State or local law imposing civil or criminal sanctions (other than through licensing and similar laws) upon those who employ, or recruit or refer for a fee for employment, unauthorized aliens." The Legal Arizona Workers Act "prohibits businesses from knowingly or intentionally hiring an 'unauthorized alien'" through requiring businesses to use several government programs, including E-Verify, to verify identities that are federally optional. If found employing unauthorized aliens, a business is subject to fines and a possible lose of license. E-Verify has been the subject of controversy due to inaccurate results showing legal immigrants as unauthorized aliens.




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Supreme Court dismisses Fourth Amendment child abuse case for mootness
Julia Zebley on May 26, 2011 11:18 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Thursday ruled [opinion, PDF] 7-2 to dismiss Camreta v. Greene [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] for mootness. The initial issue surrounded the circumstances for a warrant allowing officials to interview a minor, without parental notification, about abuse allegations. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that state child protective services workers Bob Camreta and James Alford were entitled to qualified immunity on Fourth Amendment [text] claims, relying on both a balancing test and the view that sexual abuse cases require "special needs," but ruled against the defendants on Fourteenth Amendment [text] claims. Camreta and Alford appealed the latter part of the decision. The Supreme Court first ruled that it may hear the appeals of prevailing parties in some circumstances. However, since the minor in the case moved out of her jurisdiction and will soon turn 18, the court found the case moot.
We conclude that this Court generally may review a lower court's constitutional ruling at the behest of a government official granted immunity. But we may not do so in this case for reasons peculiar to it. The case has become moot because the child has grown up and moved across the country, and so will never again be subject to the Oregon in-school interviewing practices whose constitutionality is at issue. We therefore do not reach the Fourth Amendment question in this case. In line with our normal practice when mootness frustrates a party's right to appeal, we vacate the part of the Ninth Circuit's opinion that decided the Fourth Amendment issue.
Justice Elena Kagan delivered the opinion. Justices Antonin Scalia and Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, filed concurrences. Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, in dissent, stated he would not have granted certiorari, due to mootness and not allowing prevailing parties to relitigate their claims.

Nearly 10 years ago in Oregon, child services was advised that Nimrod Greene was molesting his 9-year-old daughter, SG, the minor in this case. Camreta and Alford took SG out of class and interrogated her for two hours to determine if she was being sexually abused at home. Due to her answers and the previous allegations, Camreta believed she was being abused and obtained a protective order, removing SG and her sister from the home. SG and her sister were physically examined after this, but their mother was denied from being present at the examination. She eventually filed suit on behalf of her children against Camreta and Alford for Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations. SG has since moved to California.




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Supreme Court rules in Speedy Trial Act case
Zach Zagger on May 26, 2011 11:10 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] Thursday ruled [opinion, PDF] in United States v. Tinklenberg [Cornell LII backgrounder] that time for pretrial motions, regardless of whether they actually delay or are expected to delay the beginning of a trial, is excluded from the time in which the accused must be brought to trial. Jason Louis Tinklenberg was convicted of making methamphetamine. His trial began 287 days after his arraignment. The Speedy Trial Act of 1974 (STA) [18 USC § 3161(h)(1)(D) text] requires that accused be brought to trial within 70 days of the arraignment, but time can be excluded for things like pretrial motions. The opinion of the court, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, affirmed the decision [opinion, PDF] of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] to dismiss the charges but disagreed with its reasoning. The Sixth Circuit reasoned that the STA's exemption for "delay resulting from" pretrial motions most reasonably means that the motions actually cause delay or have an expectation to cause delay in the trial. The Supreme Court disagreed with this interpretation as not supported by the context of the phrase and that the courts of appeals have consistently rejected that reasoning in the 37-year history of the STA. Further, the court argued that its interpretation is supported by legislative history and that the Sixth Circuit's standard would make it more difficult to administer, thus hindering the STA's intention to secure fair and efficient trials. However, the court agreed that the indictment should be dismissed because the Sixth Circuit had improperly excluded transportation time in excess of 10 days for weekends and holiday. When the weekends and holidays were added it pushed the time period to trial over the STA's limit. Justice Antonin Scalia, with two others, concurred in the judgment but disagreed with the court's reliance on outside considerations. Scalia argued that the clear meaning of the text itself was that time for pretrial motions should be automatically excluded, regardless of the actual or expected delay. Justice Elena Kagan did not take part in the decision.

The court heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] in this case in February. Counsel for the government argued that the court should uphold precedent, saying that "[f]or more than 30 years, the courts of appeals had uniformly held that the exclusion applies automatically upon the filing of any motion, regardless of its effect on the trial schedule." Counsel for Tinklenberg argued that the court should use the "ordinary meaning" of the language in the statute, finding that the trial was delayed unlawfully.




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Federal judge rules accused Arizona shooter not competent to stand trial
Zach Zagger on May 26, 2011 10:14 AM ET

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[JURIST] A federal judge ruled Wednesday that accused Arizona shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, is not competent to stand trial due to mental illness. Judge Larry Burns for the US District Court for the District of Arizona [official website] made the ruling based on separate reports [Arizona Daily Star report] by psychologist Dr. Christina Pietz and psychiatrist Dr. Matthew Carroll who both evaluated Loughner and agreed that he is schizophrenic. Both the defense and the prosecution [motions text] stipulated to the accuracy of the information contained in the reports. The judge agreed that Loughner is unable to understand the proceedings against him and is unable to help in his defense. He was ordered to a federal psychiatric facility where he may remain until being determined fit to stand trial. During the hearing, Loughner apparently made nonsensical outbursts interrupting the proceedings.

Loughner was indicted on 49-counts [JURIST report] in connection with the Arizona shooting earlier this year at a "Congress on your Corner" event hosted by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AR) [official website], who is believed by authorities to be the target of the shootings. The indictment carries more severe charges than the original indictment [JURIST report] filed in January, accounting for all victims of the attack and carrying more serious penalties. The previous indictment received criticism because some people felt that it ignored many of the victims. Six people were killed in the shooting [USA Today report], including a Giffords staffer, a 9-year-old girl and federal judge John Roll. Giffords was critically injured when she was shot in the head from point blank range.




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Zimbabwe high court releases alleged coup plotters
Dan Taglioli on May 26, 2011 10:06 AM ET

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[JURIST] Zimbabwe's High Court in Harare on Tuesday ordered the release of six prisoners accused of plotting to overthrow Zimbabwe's president. The former army officers have been in prison since 2007 after being accused of planning to violently topple President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and replace him with the country's defense minister, Emerson Mnangagwa. The court held it is apparent that the defendants should not have been detained [CNN report], and a declaratory order will be issued to that effect. The High Court had dismissed the case in July because the defendants were held in custody without being brought to trial for more than six months, the limit imposed by law. The dismissal resulted in a re-indictment by prosecutors, but the defendants appealed to have the re-indictment thrown out At this time the state has not announced whether it plans to pursue the matter further. In Zimbabwe treason is punishable by death.

In March a Zimbabwe magistrate court ordered six of 45 activists arrested in Harare detained on charges of treason [JURIST report], releasing the remaining 39. The six activists not released will stand for the treason charges against them. The charges and subsequent arrests stem from the activists' attendance at a lecture on February 19, where footage of the widespread protests in Egypt [JURIST report], which resulted in the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile], was shown. Defense lawyers maintain they were participating in an academic debate on African politics while prosecutors contend they were engaged in a discussion regarding the possibility of an ouster of Mugabe. In making its decision, the court considered the activities each engaged in and held that the majority of them could be released as they had merely listened to allegedly treasonous utterances, in contrast with the other six who had organized and spoken at the meeting.




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Serbia arrests elusive war criminal Ratko Mladic
Julia Zebley on May 26, 2011 9:05 AM ET

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[JURIST] Serbian authorities have captured [ICTY press release] Ratko Mladic [JURIST news archive], it was announced Thursday, ending a 16-year manhunt for the former general colonel and commander of the army of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mladic was one of the two remaining at-large war criminals sought by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website], along with Goran Hadzic. Mladic faces charges [amended indictment, PDF] of genocide and crimes against humanity, including murder, political persecution, forcible transfer and deportations, cruel treatment and the taking of peacekeepers as hostages. He is most infamous for ordering the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the massacre of Srebrenica during the Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archives]. Serbian president Boris Tadic announced the news today [B92 report] in a press conference [in Bosnian]:

Extradition proceedings for trial in The Hague, Netherlands could take a week [BBC Report]. Despite overwhelming international approval of the arrest, including statements [Telegraph report] from European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, British Prime Minister David Cameron and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh-Rasmussen [press release], a poll earlier this year [B92 report] showed 52 percent of Serbians against Mladic's extradition. Although the capture of outstanding war criminals was one of the final bars to Serbia joining the EU, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte stated that the arrest will not automatically result in accession [Reuters].

In December, the First Municipal Court in Belgrade acquitted 10 men [JURIST report] suspected of helping Mladic evade arrest. In September, ICTY prosecutor Serge Brammertz [official profile] called on Serbia and other governments [JURIST report] to increase efforts to find and arrest Mladic. Brammertz said failure to arrest Mladic would send war criminals the message that if they avoid capture long enough, the world will cease to care about bringing them to justice. Brammertz also emphasized the importance of seeking justice for Mladic's victims. Authorities must work quickly to arrest Mladic, Brammertz noted, since the ICTY is scheduled to be shut down in three years. Last May, Mladic's family filed a claim in the Belgrade District Court seeking to have him declared officially dead [JURIST report] in order to collect his state pension and sell his property. Earlier that month, the ICTY announced that the Office of the Prosecutor filed a motion to amend the indictment against Mladic [JURIST report] to include 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war in order to help speed up court proceedings once Mladic is captured.




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UN rights chief urges peaceful resolution of Sudan conflict
Dan Taglioli on May 26, 2011 9:00 AM ET

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[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Tuesday called for a peaceful resolution [press release] to the escalating conflict in Abyei, the disputed oil-producing region between North and South Sudan. Last week a convoy of UN peacekeepers transporting troops of the northern Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) was attacked just north of Abyei, which is claimed by both sides but has been held by the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) since the 2005 peace deal that stifled the country's bloody civil war. Over the weekend the SAF responded to the assault on its troops by attacking and taking control of Abyei itself. The situation has raised fears of reigniting the north-south conflict that left 1.5 million dead. Pillay urged that civilians be afforded safe passage and protected pursuant to international human rights and humanitarian law. Stated Pillay:
I condemn the recent attacks and counter-attacks in the Abyei region by both sides—this is certainly no way to advance the peaceful coexistence of North and South Sudan. I am particularly alarmed by the shelling of civilian areas in Abyei by the SAF, as well as reports of aerial bombardment in other locations. ... I urge all parties to explore a negotiated solution to the Abyei crisis and to avoid a descent into further conflict and chaos.
Since the northern forces took over, the UN has confirmed reports of bombing and shelling in and around Abyei by the SAF, as well as widespread looting and burning of houses. Aid workers estimate 40,000 people have fled the area [BBC report]. While the UN has said that attacks on its peacekeepers amount to war crimes under international law, both the UN and the US have called on the northern troops to withdraw from Abyei. From the northern capital of Khartoum President Omar al-Bashir [BBC profile] has stated he will not withdraw troops from the region and insisted that the area belongs to the north.


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South Sudan is scheduled to become independent this summer. A total of 98.83 percent [SSRC materials] of nearly 3.8 million southern Sudanese voters voted for secession [JURIST report] in January's Southern Sudan's Independence Referendum, according to the final polling results released by the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission [official website]. After the official results were announced in Khartoum, al-Bashir, who campaigned against secession, issued a formal decree accepting the result [JURIST report] of the referendum. With the South's secession, the world's 193rd country will be announced on July 9 in the southern capital of Juba.




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Colombia senate passes victim compensation law
Erin Bock on May 26, 2011 8:55 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Colombian Senate [official website, in Spanish] passed a law on Wednesday to compensate citizens who have been victimized by ongoing civil turmoil. The Victims' Law and Land Restitution Law [backgrounder, in Spanish] will provide financial compensation and restitution of land to victims of internal armed conflicts involving paramilitaries and guerrillas during the past 30 years. Individuals who feel they have been victimized by the conflicts since January 1, 1985 are eligible for financial compensation, and those who have also had their land seized or abandoned their land in the wake of armed conflict are subject to restitution of their land. The government estimates that 4 million hectares of land were abandoned and 2 million were seized during conflicts. The government will utilize the current court system to hear litigation regarding compensation and restitution. Senator Juan Fernando Cristo [official website, in Spanish] stated [press release, in Spanish] that, while the law is not perfect, it is "a good law and part two of the history of this country." The entire process is expected to take 10 years to complete.

The US federal court system has heard several cases regarding corporate involvement in Colombian violence. In February, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] revived a wrongful death lawsuit [JURIST report] brought against Drummond Company [corporate website]. The plaintiffs alleged that, after Drummond employees in Colombia successfully unionized, the company hired the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) [CFR backgrounder], a group of paramilitaries, to break up the union and murder its leaders, plaintiff's fathers. In April 2010, victims of paramilitary violence in Colombia filed suit against Chiquita Brand International [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The plaintiffs were 242 Colombians who alleged that they had been seriously injured or had family members killed by the AUC, which received funding from Chiquita. In 2007, Chiquita was fined $25 million [JURIST report] after it admitted to making payments of around $1.7 million from 1997 to 2004 to the AUC.




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Indonesia cleric pleads not guilty to terror charges
Erin Bock on May 26, 2011 7:38 AM ET

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[JURIST] Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir [JURIST news archive] pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to terrorism charges for allegedly funding a terrorist training camp in the Indonesian province of Aceh to prepare Islamic radicals to carry out attacks in Jakarta. Prosecutors claim Bashir provided more than $62,000 to the group [AFP report], which was allegedly planning attacks modeled after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks [JURIST news archive] and targeting high-profile members of the Indonesian government. Bashir stated in his formal response to the charges that the trial and allegations are part of a conspiracy [Reuters report] to further the interests of the US and those who do not follow Islam. Bashir also denied allegations by prosecutors that the money provided to the group was used to purchase weapons. A verdict is expected to be handed down in June.

Bashir's trial began in February [JURIST report] in the District Court of South Jakarta. He is suspected of links to al Qaeda [CFR backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) [CFR backgrounder], a terrorist group with links to al Qaeda that has been implicated in a number of attacks in Indonesia, including the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing [JURIST news archive] that left more than 200 people dead. In 2006, the Indonesian Supreme Court overturned [JURIST report] Bashir's conviction on conspiracy charges connecting him with the bombings. He was released from prison [JURIST report] earlier in 2006 after spending 26 months in jail on different charges related to the bombings.




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Rwanda genocide leader arrested in DRC
Julia Zebley on May 25, 2011 3:59 PM ET

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[JURIST] Rwandan genocide suspect and former Hutu militia leader Bernard Munyagishari has been arrested [press release] in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] announced on Wednesday. Munyagishari was wanted on charges of genocide and several crimes against humanity for leading a militia in the mass killings and rapes of Tutsi women. Munyagishari is being transferred to the ICTR from the DRC soon, but it is unknown when he will face trial. Nine major perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] remain at-large.

The ICTR convicted [JURIST report] former Rwandan army chief Augustin Bizimungu and three others last week. Last December, the ICTR sentenced [JURIST report] former Rwandan Armed Forces lieutenant Ildephonse Hategekimana to life imprisonment after convicting him on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. The court found Hategekimana guilty of three counts of genocide stemming from his involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, specifically in the massacre of civilian Tutsis in the Rwandan town of Butare. Last month, the ICTR removed US lawyer and JURIST Forum [website] contributor Peter Erlinder [professional profile; JURIST news archive] from his position as an ICTR defense lawyer. The appeals chamber said the dismissal was due to Erlinder's failure to appear at a tribunal and cited Rule 46 of the ICTR Rules of Procedure and Evidence [text] which allows the court impose sanctions for lawyer's misconduct. Erlinder argues [JURIST op-ed] the dismissal was part of a wider history of institutional bias that has helped the Rwandan government label him and other defense counsel "genocide deniers" subject to official threats of arrest and even death.




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UN rights chief criticizes Australia indigenous, asylum policies
Julia Zebley on May 25, 2011 3:17 PM ET

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[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Wednesday a rebuked [text] Australia for its political, rather than human rights based approach to indigenous people and asylum-seekers. Although she criticized some of the nation's practices, she had considerable praise for "a strong history of commitment to human rights at the international level, and also of course a robust system of democratic institutions." Nonetheless, she believes improvements are necessary in the realm of treatment of Aborigines and immigrants.
I welcome the National Apology and Australia's formal recognition of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, along with the significant investment being made to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and education. However, I believe these efforts are being undermined by policies that fail to recognise the right to self-determination for indigenous people, which is a key element of the UN Declaration.

In my discussions with Aboriginal people, I could sense the deep hurt and pain that they have suffered because of government policies that are imposed on them. I also saw Aboriginal people making great efforts to improve their communities, but noted that their efforts are often stifled by inappropriate and inflexible policies that fail to empower the most effective, local solutions.

On the topic of asylum-seekers, Pillay described situations where refugees wait in immigration centers for months or years. She recommended greater communication with both groups, a revamp of how the Aborigine Northern Territory is handled, and for political leaders to quit "demonizing" refugees and immigrants.

In recent years, the Australian government has recognized the long history of discrimination and disadvantage among its native citizens, although its efforts have not always resulted in better conditions. Last year, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard [official website] announced a national referendum [JURIST report] to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Australian Constitution. In August 2010, Amnesty International Australia (AIA) [advocacy website] criticized the racial discrimination [JURIST report] that exists in Australia, which, according to AIA, violates the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [texts]. In June, the Australian government reinstated its previously suspended Racial Discrimination Act [JURIST report] in the Northern Territory, which allows governmental authorities to regulate how welfare money is spent by the indigenous people of the country. UN special rapporteur James Anaya condemned the law, calling it problematic from a human rights point of view. In 2009, Australia endorsed [JURIST report] the aforementioned Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which reversed the position held by previous Australian governments. Former prime minister Kevin Rudd championed the cause of improved living conditions for and relations with Australia's indigenous population during his term in office and offered an official apology on behalf of the federal government in February 2008 for past mistreatment to the nation's indigenous population.




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Brazil lower house passes reforms easing restrictions on deforestation
Zach Zagger on May 25, 2011 3:03 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Brazil House of Deputies [official website, in Portuguese] passed reforms to the the country's forest code Tuesday that ease restrictions on deforestation and provide amnesty for prior deforestation violations. The amended code would allow [press release, in Portuguese] small farmers to cut down trees on hilltops and along rivers, two areas that were previously protected. It would also provide farmers with amnesty for violations of the forest code prior to July 22, 2008. The amendments were mainly pushed [BBC report] by Alldo Rebelo, head of the Communist Party of Brazil [official websites, in Portuguese], who argues [press release, in Portuguese] that the restrictions are disproportionately hurting small-scale farmers. The amendments still have to be passed by the Senate, where they are expected to meet tough opposition, and not be vetoed by President Dilma Rousseff [official websites, in Portuguese] before taking effect. A group of 10 former environmental ministers sent a letter dated May 23 [text, in Portuguese] to the president urging a balanced approach to environmental regulation that will promote both the agricultural industry and environmental sustainability.

The amendments to the forest code are the latest in Brazilian initiatives that attempt to find a balance between economic development and environmental concerns over Amazon deforestation. In June 2009, then-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva [official profile, in Portuguese] approved a controversial measure [JURIST report] that would allow legal privatization of publicly held Amazon land. The measure was aimed at stabilizing ownership of nearly 260,000 square miles of Amazon land, the contested ownership of which has sparked violence in the region. Da Silva vetoed sections of the bill, which some critics, including legislators [letter, text], environmentalists [Greenpeace press release, in Portuguese], and state prosecutors, had argued unjustly rewarded illegal land grabs and failed to distinguish between small farmers and large corporate and absentee landlords. Earlier in June 2009, the government announced [Reuters report] a program to pay farmers in the Amazon to reforest cleared land. IN 2008, Brazil set a goal to reduce Amazon deforestation by 70 percent [BBC report] over the next 10 years.




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Federal judge upholds Ohio law limiting 'abortion pill'
Julia Zebley on May 25, 2011 11:49 AM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio [official website] on Monday upheld an Ohio law [2919.123 text] that limits the use of the "abortion pill," overturning a 2006 injunction [JURIST report]. The law requires that the use of the pill, RU-486 [FDA guidelines], conform with federal guidelines, which currently do not allow the pill to be used after seven weeks of pregnancy. Judge Susan Dlott originally placed an injunction on the law [opinion, PDF] in 2006, finding it unconstitutional due to vagueness. The case was then appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website], which certified two questions [opinion, PDF] for the Ohio Supreme Court [official website]: "Does O.R.C. 2919.123 mandate that physicians in Ohio who perform abortions using mifepristone do so in compliance with the forty-nine-day gestational limit described in the FDA approval letter?" and "Does O.R.C. 2919.123 mandate that physicians in Ohio who perform abortions using mifepristone do so in compliance with the treatment protocols and dosage indications described in the drug's final printed labeling?" The Ohio Supreme Court opinion [text, PDF] found in the affirmative for both questions. Based on this ruling, Dlott found the law constitutional, rejecting the argument by Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio [advocacy website] that the law was still vague and forced women to choose surgical abortions. Planned Parenthood has not determined whether they will appeal the ruling.

Oklahoma has also prohibited the use of RU-486 [JURIST report]. In April, the Ohio Senate approved a bill [JURIST report] that would limit the availability of abortions after 20 weeks. That bill is pending in the House. Missouri, Indiana, Alabama and Oklahoma [JURIST reports] have each passed legislation this year which restricts the abortion procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Also, earlier this year, a legislative committee in the Ohio House of Representatives advanced [Columbus Dispatch report] the "Heartbeat Bill," [HB 125 text], which would ban abortions after the point at which a fetus's heartbeat becomes detectable in the womb.




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Arizona to file lawsuit over controversial state medical marijuana law
Zach Zagger on May 25, 2011 11:46 AM ET

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[JURIST] Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) [official website] announced Tuesday the state is filing a federal lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment over the legality of the state's controversial medical marijuana [JURIST news archive] law passed last November. Brewer said that it is necessary to see if the new law violates federal law [press release, PDF] in order to protect state workers charged with distributing the marijuana from federal prosecution. The lawsuit was spurred by a May 2 letter [text] sent to the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) [official website] by Dennis Burke, the US Attorney for the District of Arizona, warning the department that, regardless of the new state law, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The letter stated that the US Attorneys Office (USAO) [official website] would still prosecute those who manufacture and distribute the substance and that clear and unambiguous compliance with state law would not protect consumers from prosecution. Brewer decided to seek guidance from a federal court, saying:
For the state employees charged with administering the medical marijuana program or the Arizonans who intend to participate as consumers, it's important that we receive court guidance as to whether they are at risk for federal prosecution. As explained in a recent letter from the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, the federal government considers marijuana a controlled substance. Arizonans deserve clarity on an issue with such dire legal implications.
The ADHS Director, Will Humble, said that the department will continue to distribute [blog post] qualified patient and designated caregiver cards through its website.

Last November, Arizona voters approved [JURIST report] Proposition 203 [text, PDF] by a slim margin 50.13 to 49.87 percent, authorizing the possession of up to two-and-a-half ounces of medical marijuana or up to 12 cannabis plants. The medical marijuana is only allowed for individuals with any of a set list of medical conditions including cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and AIDS who have gotten a recommendation from their physician and have registered with the Arizona Department of Health Services. Arizona is the fifteenth state to legalize medical marijuana. In addition to Arizona, voters in California, South Dakota and Oregon also voted on a range of marijuana-based propositions during the midterm elections, all of which were rejected.




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Mozambique ex-minister embezzlement sentence reduced
Julia Zebley on May 25, 2011 11:27 AM ET

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[JURIST] Former Mozambique [BBC profile] transportation minister Antonio Munguambe's sentence for embezzlement was reduced on Tuesday from 20 years in prison [JURIST report] to four years and five months. The Supreme Court of Mozambique upheld the verdict [Journal News report, in Portuguese] against Munguambe for his involvement in the embezzlement of millions of dollars from a publicly owned company, the Mozambican Airport Company (ADM). They justified the reduced sentence by stating embezzling from a public company is a lesser offense than embezzling from the government [AFP report]. Munguambe's co-defendants in the case, the company's former chief executive, the ex-finance director, Munguambe's former chief of staff and the head of an airport catering company, also received varying reduced sentences. Munguambe and the others began to serve their sentences after the proceeding.

The trial was the largest corruption proceeding brought in Mozambique since the country achieved independence from Portugal in 1975, involving the theft of USD $1.7 million from the ADM during Munguambe's tenure in office between 2005 and 2008. The trial began [AIM report] in November 2009 as part of a larger initiative of the Mozambican government [official website, in Portuguese] to reduce corruption in the government. Transparency International [advocacy website] ranks Mozambique among the most corrupt in the world [2010 CPI report, PDF]. Munguambe was removed from office by President Armando Guebuza [BBC profile] in 2008 after violent riots in Maputo sparked by an increase in the fares for bus travel, a primary source of transportation in the capital. Soon after, he and the four others were charged by prosecutors with the theft of public funds, for the abuse of functions, for making false statements and for paying undue remunerations.




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ICTY charges Seselj with contempt over confidential information on website
Zach Zagger on May 25, 2011 10:54 AM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Tuesday initiated contempt proceedings against former Serb nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj [case materials; JURIST news archive], who is being tried for war crimes, for failing to remove confidential information from his website in violation of tribunal order. The Trial Chamber filed an order in lieu of an indictment [text, PDF] for contempt against Seselj because he has not complied with a May 9 order to remove three books he authored and five confidential filings [defense website] he submitted as part of his current trial and two previous contempt of court trials that reveal the identities of protected witnesses who testified against him. The contempt proceedings were brought under Rule 77(a)(ii) of the ICTY Rules of Procedure and Evidence [text, PDF], which authorizes the court to hold in contempt anyone who "knowingly and willfully interfere[s] with its administration of justice, including any person who ... discloses information relating to those proceedings in knowing violation of an order of a Chamber." This is the third time the ICTY has brought contempt charges against Seselj for failing to remove books from his website that revealed confidential information.

Earlier this month, the ICTY rejected [JURIST report] Seselj's attempt to have the charges against him dismissed, finding sufficient evidence for the trial to continue. He is charged with 14 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war. Seselj's war crimes trial, which began in 2006, resumed in early 2010, after being delayed [JURIST reports] for nearly a year over fears that witnesses were being intimidated. In February, Seselj went on trial [JURIST report] on charges that he released the names of 11 ICTY witnesses in violation of a confidentiality order. Last May, the ICTY appeals division upheld a 2009 contempt verdict [JURIST reports] against Seselj for revealing the identities of other witnesses that were supposed to remain confidential. 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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Rights groups criticize Iran detention of lawyers
Julia Zebley on May 25, 2011 9:08 AM ET

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[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) [advocacy websites] decried [statement] on Monday Iran's persecutions of lawyers, suggesting it is a move to repress dissent. They called for the immediate release of Nasrin Sotoudeh [JURIST news archive], Mohammad Seyfzadeh, Maedeh Ghaderi and Ghasem Sholeh Saadi, whom they claim are being held arbitrarily in violation of international law:
The recent targeting of lawyers, notably those who defend political prisoners and prisoners facing the death penalty, is part of the Iranian government's ongoing crackdown on civil society following the post-June 2009 election unrest in the country. By targeting defence lawyers, the Iranian authorities are limiting access to competent legal representation, a basic right and important fair trial guarantee.
AI and the ICJ had varying requests for other lawyers in flux in Iran, but praised Iran for the release of defense lawyer Mohammad Oliyaeifard after one year of imprisonment.

All of the lawyers mentioned are reportedly involved with Iran's human rights movement. Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced [JURIST report] in January to 11 years in prison. Sotoudeh has worked on several high-profile cases. She was the lawyer for Arash Rahmanipour, who was arrested for his role in the post-election protests on charges of mohareb, or being an enemy of God. Rahmanipour was executed [JURIST report] in January 2010. Sotoudeh also represented Isa Saharkhiz [Iran Press profile], a well-known press activist who was sentenced [JURIST report] to four years in prison in 2006 for publishing articles against the constitution and offending the state media. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] expressed particular concern [JURIST report] for Nasrin Sotoudeh in November. Mohammad Seyfzadeh was sentenced for "forming an association ... whose aim is to harm national security" and "being a member of an association whose aim is to harm national security" due to his involvement with the Centre for Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) [advocacy website]. Maedeh Ghaderi was arrested after defending her husband, a member of the Green Movement during the 2009 presidential election protests [JURIST news archive], and has been held without trial since March. It is also unknown if her husband has received a new lawyer. Ghasem Sholeh Saadi, a former member of Parliament and potential presidential candidate, was arrested and sentenced for a year and a half for writing a letter critical of the government. After being released, he was arrested, reportedly for the same act of writing a critical letter before his imprisonment, and sentenced to another year in prison.




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Ukraine prosecutors bring more corruption charges against ex-PM Tymoshenko
Zach Zagger on May 25, 2011 8:45 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Ukraine Prosecutor General's Office (PGO) [official website, in Ukrainian] again charged former prime minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; JURIST news archive] Tuesday in connection with alleged corruption during her time in office. She was charged under Article 365 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine [text] with abuse of office [press release, in Ukrainian] in connection with signing gas import contracts with Russia. She was given the charges when she was brought in for questioning [BBC report] by the PGO at the state capital building in Kiev. There was a small group of Tymoshenko supporters protesting outside the building. Tymoshenko denies the charges and argues that they are politically motivated. She criticized the speed at which the case was being moved forward on her website and claimed that the PGO reversed its decision to detain her under public pressure. She said:
They behaved as if everything had been decided and they were just carrying out formalities. I don't doubt that during the course of all this they reconsidered their desire to put me in jail only because of pressure from people, pressure from civil society, the media, deputies, and, I think, the international community. ... All of this has been cynically trumped-up, without any hint of the law, because they know there is no real court, and they know that the court will sign and endorse any resolution and decision they write.
The investigators argue that the 10-year gas contract deals she signed were too high, harming the economy, and that she did not have cabinet approval to sign them.

These charges are not the first brought against Tymoshenko by the PGO. In Feburary, the PGO combined two separate criminal cases [JURIST report] against her and concluded the pre-trial investigation. The combined cases against Tymoshenko include charges initiated in December for allegedly misappropriating state funds during her time as prime minister from 2007-2010 and new charges in January alleging that she abused her authority and exceeded her official duties [JURIST reports] while in office by purchasing "1000 Opel Combo" medical vans at a 20 percent mark-up. Tymoshenko said the vans were successful in providing medical services to rural villages. The current combined case against her is not the first time she has been prosecuted. Last May, prosecutors reopened a separate criminal investigation [JURIST report] into allegations that Tymoshenko attempted to bribe Supreme Court judges. Tymoshenko's government was dissolved in March 2010 after she narrowly lost the presidential election to Viktor Yanukovych [official website, in Ukrainian]. Tymoshenko had alleged that widespread voter fraud allowed Yanukovych to win the election.




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Egypt prosecutor: Mubarak to stand trial, could face death penalty
Zach Zagger on May 24, 2011 3:24 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Egyptian prosecutor general said Tuesday that former president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile; JURIST news archive] will be put on trial and could face the death penalty for conspiring to kill protesters during demonstrations in Egypt [JURIST news archive] early this year and for other corruption charges. However, many are still skeptical that Mubarak will actually make it to court, especially since he was able to evade detention for so long. Also, some human rights activists are concerned with the prosecutor's lack of transparency. The announcement comes before a planned demonstration Friday calling for Mubarak to stand trial. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] published a statement [press release] Tuesday calling for all those responsible for killing protesters to be tried, including the military. If Mubarak goes to trial, it would be the first time in modern history [AP report] an Arab leader has been toppled and tried solely by the nation's own people.

Last week, AI reported that at least 840 people were killed [JURIST report], and more than 6,000 were injured, during the Egyptian protests. Earlier this month, an Egyptian criminal court convicted [JURIST report] the country's former tourism minister, Zoheir Garranah, for corruption and sentenced him to five years in prison. In April, Egyptian prosecutors charged [JURIST report] former prime minister Ahmed Nazif, former finance minister Yousef Boutros and former interior minister Habib el Adly with corruption. In March, a commission of Arab and Egyptian human rights groups accused the former president [JURIST report] and the country's police of murdering protesters during the demonstrations. The joint commission submitted their report to Egypt's top prosecutor for further investigation. The Supreme Military Council of Egypt, which assumed power after Mubarak's resignation, instructed Egypt's top prosecutor to investigate the death of protesters [RIA Novosti report] during the three weeks of demonstrations in the country.




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EU announces plans to modernize, centralize intellectual property law
Zach Zagger on May 24, 2011 2:30 PM ET

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[JURIST] The European Commission [official website] on Tuesday announced proposed reforms to modernize the EU's intellectual property rights laws and create more centralized regulation. The EC, the EU's executive arm, said that reforms are necessary [press release] to better protect against Internet piracy and to protect consumers from fake products. The EC said that counterfeiters are going beyond copying luxury goods but that there is also a problem with fake health and hygiene products, car parts and cosmetics. The EC's proposed changes include: creating a unitary-patent protection scheme across the EU, modernizing the trademark system to protect brands and easing access to copyrighted works. Michel Barnier, the EU internal markets commissioner, made a statement [text]:
Ensuring the right level of protection of intellectual property rights in the single market is essential for Europe's economy. Progress depends on new ideas and new knowledge. There will be no investment in innovation if rights are not protected. On the other hand, consumers and users need to have access to cultural content, for example online music, for new business models and cultural diversity to both thrive. Our aim today is to get the balance between these two objectives right for [intellectual property rights] across the board. To make Europe's framework for intellectual property an enabler for companies and citizens and fit for the online world and the global competition for ideas.
There are inefficiencies with current EU intellectual property regulation such as music producers having to gain permission [Telegraph report] from each of the 27 EU nations before selling it across the EU.

Online piracy has assumed increasing importance in the eyes of legislators across Europe. In March 2010, a study conducted by the Marsouin Unit [official website, in French] at the University of Rennes [official website] found that in France some forms of online piracy are on the rise [JURIST report] in spite of the recently passed anti-piracy law [legislative materials, in French; JURIST news archive]. Some European countries, including the UK, have considered legislation [BBC report] that reflects the law enacted in France.




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Russia appeals court upholds Khodorkovsky conviction, reduces sentence
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 24, 2011 2:30 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Moscow City Court [official website, in Russian] on Tuesday upheld the second fraud convictions [press release, in Russian; video, in Russian] of former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] and his business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website; JURIST news archive] but reduced their eight-year sentences to seven years. The two men, already serving a sentence handed down in 2005 for fraud and tax evasion, were convicted in December of embezzling from their company, Yukos Oil, and sentenced [JURIST reports] to an additional eight years. They appealed, alleging, among other things, that Judge Viktor Danilkin did not write the verdict [JURIST reports] and that he was coerced into reading it. Khodorkovsky vehemently criticized [press release] Tuesday's ruling as flying in the face of the rule of law. The two men can now expect to be released in 2016 instead of 2017. Their lawyers plan to appeal [WP report] to the European Court of Human Rights [official website].

The December verdict drew harsh international criticism [JURIST report], including from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile], who said [press release] that the ruling "raises serious questions about selective prosecution." The Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs [official website, in Russian] dismissed critics, saying [press release, in Russian] that "[a]ttempts to exert pressure on the court are unacceptable." Last May, former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov [BBC profile] testified [JURIST report] that Vladimir Putin ordered Khodorkovsky's arrest for political reasons, indicating that Khodorkovsky had funded the Communist Party [party website, in Russian] without first getting approval to do so from the president. In March 2010, Khodorkovsky criticized Russia's justice system [JURIST report] as an "assembly line" that inevitably finds the government's political enemies to be guilty.




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Bank of America overdraft fee class action settlement gains preliminary approval
Zach Zagger on May 24, 2011 1:22 PM ET

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[JURIST] A class action settlement for $410 million between Bank of America (BOA) [corporate website] and customers claiming they were illegally charged overdraft fees was preliminarily approved on Monday in federal court. A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida [official website] approved the settlement plan [WSJ report] in which the plaintiffs' attorneys, the Alters Law Firm [corporate website], will receive as much as 30 percent of the settlement. BOA is just one of a number of large banks involved in the class action suit, including: Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo [corporate websites]. The settlement with BOA, which was reached in February [JURIST report], will provide remedy for more than a million plaintiffs in the class.

BOA is among more than two dozen US, Canadian and European lenders named as defendants in the class action lawsuit, which consolidated claims across the country in 2009. In their amended complaint [text, PDF], the plaintiffs claimed that BOA's practices were deceptive in that they did not reasonably notify customers that they had the option of opting out of the overdraft scheme and declining transactions. The complaint also alleged that BOA's excessive fees disproportionately effect low-income customers. BOA has been the target of several lawsuits. In January, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] against Countrywide Financial Corporation [AP backgrounder], a BOA subsidiary, in New York State Supreme Court [official website] alleging widespread fraud that resulted in substantial financial losses.




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Two more Somali pirates plead guilty in US court
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 24, 2011 1:07 PM ET

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[JURIST] Two Somali men pleaded guilty [press release] Monday to charges of piracy for their role in hijacking a yacht, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans. The guilty pleas by Jilani Abdiali and Burhan Abdirahman Yusuf join those entered Friday by Mohamud Hirs Issa Ali [JURIST report], Mohamud Salad Ali and Ali Abdi Mohamed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website]. The men have all admitted to engaging in piracy for financial gain and participating in the taking of the Quest. They deny personally shooting the hostages. US Attorney Neil MacBride said:
These Somali pirates admitted that they hijacked a US ship planning to make a big ransom off the four American hostages. Tragically, their co-conspirators gunned down the hostages in cold blood and these pirates now face spending the rest of their lives in prison, We hope the string of convictions in this and other cases help send a message to others that piracy against American vessels will not be tolerated.
Sentencing is scheduled for August 22 for Yusuf and September 6 for Abdiali. Both are expected to receive sentences of life in prison. Under the plea agreement, however, they could serve less time and eventually be deported to Somalia. There were 14 suspects indicted [JURIST report] in connection with the attack, and others are expected to plead guilty soon.

Earlier this month, Spain's National Court sentenced [JURIST report] two Somali pirates to 439 years in prison each for their involvement in the 2009 hijacking of a Spanish fishing boat off the coast of Somalia. Last month, a US district court sentenced a Somali pirate to 25 years in prison [JURIST report] for his role in attacking a Danish ship, as well as the US Navy's USS Ashland. In November, a federal jury in Virginia convicted [JURIST report] five Somali men on charges of piracy for their roles in an April attack on the USS Nichols. In August, piracy charges against six defendants were dismissed [JURIST report] when federal Judge Raymond Jackson ruled that piracy, as defined by the law of nations, does not include violence or aggression committed on the high seas, and rejected the government's argument for an expanded reading of the statute. Piracy remains an issue of international concern, as few countries have been willing to prosecute suspected pirates. The few that have attempted to do so include Germany, Seychelles, the Netherlands, Mauritius, Yemen, Somalia and Spain [JURIST reports].

5:00 PM ~ Two more Somali pirates pleaded guilty [press release] Tuesday.

5/25/11 ~ And two more pleaded guilty [press release] Wednesday, bringing the total to nine.




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Microsoft appeals fine imposed by EU antitrust regulators
Zach Zagger on May 24, 2011 11:53 AM ET

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[JURIST] Microsoft [corporate website] on Tuesday appealed a fine imposed by EU regulators for failing to fully comply with a 2004 antitrust ruling [text, PDF; EU materials]. Microsoft is seeking to reduce or eliminate its fine of 899 million euros (USD $1.3 billion) in the General Court [official website], the EU's second highest court. The company argues that the fines charged by the regulators under the European Commission (EC) [official website] are excessive and undeserved [Reuters report] because the EU regulators were not clear on how to follow the order. The EU set the then-record fine in 2008 after it found that Microsoft was not complying with the 2004 antitrust order to provide information so that other products could run on Microsoft-powered computers. The noncompliance fine was nearly double the original fine imposed in 2004. Microsoft has been embroiled in a decade-long battle with EU regulators and may have to wait six months to a year [Guardian report] for the appeals verdict.

Earlier this year, Microsoft filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the EC over alleged anticompetitive practices by Google [corporate website], which is under investigation [JURIST report] by the EC for allegations of manipulation of search results to highlight Google's own products and services. In October 2007, Microsoft said it would take the necessary steps [JURIST report] to comply with the 2004 EC antitrust ruling. The software company agreed to allow open source software developers to access and use interoperability information, reduce the royalties for a worldwide license, and make agreements between third party developers and Microsoft enforceable before the High Court in London.




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Fourth Circuit questions authority to hear health care law challenge
Zach Zagger on May 24, 2011 10:39 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] on Monday ordered [text, PDF] parties to file briefs discussing whether the challenge to the health care reform law [text; JURIST news archive] is barred by a federal law that prevents injunctions against taxes before the tax is imposed. The lawsuits in this consolidated appeal challenge the constitutionality of the individual mandate, which requires that all citizens purchase health insurance. The three-judge panel asked the parties to address the applicability of the Anti-Injunction Act [text] and whether the individual mandate can be considered a "tax" under the Act regardless if it is a "tax" for Article I purposes. During oral arguments [JURIST report], the government had argued that the individual mandate was an extension of the power to tax and that a failure to comply would be enforced through taxation. The Department of Justice (DOJ) had also tried to have the challenges dismissed under the Anti-Injunction Act, but those arguments were rejected, and the government did not make that argument on appeal. The two lawsuits are being brought by the state of Virginia and Liberty University [academic website], founded by the late Jerry Falwell. The Liberty University lawsuit appeals a decision to dismiss its challenge of the individual mandate, while Virginia is seeking to uphold a ruling that it is unconstitutional [JURIST reports]. The parties have until May 31 to file their briefs.

The constitutionality of the individual mandate is a source of controversy and has spawned multiple lawsuits. Last week, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] asked the parties to respond to whether the court had standing [JURIST report] to hear a challenge before the effective date of the law. Earlier this month, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) [advocacy website] sought to have its challenge reinstated in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] after it was dismissed by the lower court. Last February, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) asked federal judge Roger Vinson to clarify that states must continue to enact the health care reform law as the government appeals from Vinson's January ruling finding the law unconstitutional [JURIST reports].




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ICTR prosecutor uses new rule to preserve evidence against fugitive genocide financier
Michael Haggerson on May 24, 2011 9:54 AM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website; JURIST news archive] used a new procedure Monday to begin hearing evidence against alleged genocide financier Felicien Kabuga [JURIST news archive] who has yet to be arrested. The special deposition hearing allows for evidence to be heard before the court and preserved in the accused's absence pursuant to the new Rule 71 bis of the ICTR Rules of Procedure and Evidence [text, PDF]. Rule 71 bis states that "if within a reasonable time, a warrant of arrest has not been executed, the Prosecutor may submit a request to the President that evidence relating to the indictment be preserved for a further trial by special deposition recorded in a proceeding conducted by a single Judge." The prosecutor wants to preserve in the absence of Kabuga for fear that it may be lost due to death, the passage of time or the unavailability of witnesses in the future. Rule 71 bis was adopted [AFP report] by the judges in a plenary session in 2009, and the proceeding is unprecedented in the ICTR. It is believed that Kabuga is in Kenya, and the ICTR has previously called [JURIST report] for him to be turned over, but he nonetheless remains in hiding. Kabuga is accused of providing militia with tens of thousands of machetes used in the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder; JURIST news archive].

The ICTR continues to prosecute individuals for their roles in the Rwandan genocide. In March the ICTR handed out its strongest punishment to date [JURIST report], life in prison, against Jean-Baptiste Gatete, the former Mayor of Murambi Commune in Byumba prefecture. Gatete's case was one of several Rwandan genocide cases not transferred to Rwandan authorities [JURIST report]. In January the trial of former military official Idelphonse Nizeyimana [BBC profile], nicknamed the "Butcher of Butare" [RNW report], began before the ICTR [JURIST report]. Nizeyimana is accused of being among the Rwanda Armed Forces officers who played key roles in the Rwandan genocide. In December a French court charged [JURIST report] Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] leader Callixte Mbarushimana with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the Rwandan genocide after the ICTR refused to file charges against him due to insufficient evidence. In September, the trial of Gregoire Ndahimana, former governor of Kivumu, Rwanda, began before the ICTR [JURIST report] for his alleged role in the bulldozing of a parish which resulted in the deaths of 2,000 individuals hiding inside.




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FBI data shows overall decrease in crime from 2009 to 2010
Zach Zagger on May 23, 2011 3:42 PM ET

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[JURIST] Violent crime is down 5.5 percent from 2009 to 2010, according to preliminary data released Monday but the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) [official website]. The Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report, January-December 2010 [text] also showed a decrease in murder by 4.4 percent and in rape by 4.2 percent. The highest drop was the decrease in robbery at 9.5 percent. However, when broken down into four regions, Northeast, Midwest, South, and West, the Northeast saw an increase in murder by 8.3 percent, making it the only region to have a murder increase. The South saw significant decreases in crime with a 7.5 percent drop in both violent crimes and murder and a decrease of 12.6 percent in robberies. Cities voluntarily submit the data to the FBI, and the FBI warns that it might not create accurate city to city comparisons. All the figures are preliminary.

The 5.5 percent decrease was down from the 6.2 percent decrease reported in the 2010 six-month report from January to June [JURIST report], but is still the fourth year in a row that there has been a decrease in violent crime. Also in the FBI's six-month report released last December, murders dropped by 7.1 percent, robberies dropped by 10.7 percent, aggravated assaults dropped by 3.9 percent and forcible rapes dropped 6.2 percent. Last year, the FBI also reported a decrease in the number of hate crimes [JURIST report] and also cited additions to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crime Prevention Act [text; JURIST news archive] as positive improvements that will aid FBI investigation of hate crimes.




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Myanmar ethnic violence limiting transition to democracy: UN rights expert
Zach Zagger on May 23, 2011 2:55 PM ET

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[JURIST] Continued ethnic violence in Myanmar presents "serious limitations" to the government's transition to democracy, according to Tomas Ojea Quintana [official profile; JURIST news archive], a UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar. Quintana made a statement [text] Monday in conclusion to his mission to Thailand to study the government of Myanmar, where he has not been allowed to visit. He does not believe that the government is doing enough to provide a political solution to the ethnic conflicts in the border areas. Though he did say that the creation of national, state, and regional legislatures was a positive step, that it was alone not sufficient to stop the problem. Quintana said:
the situation of ethnic minority groups in the border areas presents serious limitations to the Government's intention to transition to democracy. Violence continues in many of these areas. Systematic militarization contributes to human rights abuses. These abuses include land confiscation, forced labor, internal displacement, extrajudicial killings and sexual violence. They are widespread, they continue today, and they remain essentially unaddressed by the authorities.
He also concluded that infrastructure projects had resulted in human rights abuses and said private companies should have a duty to no be complicit with such abuses.

Myanmar is struggling to transition to democracy with problems such as detaining political prisoners. Last week, Myanmar began releasing close to 15,000 prisoners, but many human rights groups claim the government is still holding many more political prisoners. Quintana urged Myanmar's military government to release 2,202 political prisoners [JURIST report] last December. Quintana called for the release of the "prisoners of conscience," many of whom, he says, suffer from health problems as a result of the harsh detention conditions. Quintana claims the release is necessary to promote democracy. In March, Myanmar underwent a transfer of power [BBC report] from a military regime to a civil system after holding its first elections in 20 years. However, critics argue that the new regime is merely a sham since it is made up of military generals and with the military party winning 80 percent of the vote.




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Honduras ex-president Zelaya signs agreement allowing return to country
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 23, 2011 2:30 PM ET

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[JURIST] Ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] signed an agreement [text, in Spanish] Sunday allowing his return to the country after nearly two years in exile. The agreement, brokered by the Venezuelan and Colombian governments, was signed [Heraldo report, in Spanish] in Cartagena, Colombia, by Zelaya and current President Porfirio Lobo. The move clears the way for Honduras to be readmitted to the Organization of American States (OAS) [official website], which expelled the country after the June 2009 coup [JURIST report] that saw Zelaya's ouster. Earlier this month, a Honduran court dismissed the two remaining conspiracy charges [JURIST report] against Zelaya, clearing the way for his return to the country.

In March, the Center for Constitutional Rights [advocacy website] filed a complaint [text, PDF] to compel the release of documents related to the coup [JURIST report]. The complaint names the US Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency [official websites] as defendants, alleging the agencies withheld documents regarding if and how the US government and its interests affected the coup. In November, International Criminal Court [official website] chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] opened a preliminary investigation [JURIST report] into the coup. Last July, a Honduran court dismissed abuse of power charges against Zelaya because his successor granted amnesty [JURIST reports] to Zelaya and those involved in his removal. In June 2010, Amnesty International [advocacy website] accused the Honduran government [JURIST report] of failing to address human rights violations stemming from the coup. AI contends that hundreds of people opposed to the coup were beaten and detained.




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UN rights expert: 300 died during Tunisia uprising
Zach Zagger on May 23, 2011 1:33 PM ET

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[JURIST] As many as 300 people died and 700 were injured during the month-long uprising in Tunisia earlier this year, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez said Saturday. The death toll is much higher than originally thought. Mendez is in Tunisia to assess the transition [LAT report] of the interim government and investigate the acts of violence. Some Tunisian human rights groups claim that there were continued acts [AFP report] of rape and torture even after the fall of former president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Mendez has called for a full investigation of all claims of rape and torture by security forces. Ben Ali left the presidency and fled the country in January after he declared a state of emergency [JURIST report] amid nationwide protests, banning public gatherings and allowing police to fire on anyone refusing to obey orders. The current interim government is led by the former leader of the lower house of parliament, Foued Mebezza, who assumed power as interim president [JURIST report] and will remain in power until elections are held.

There have been numerous reports of violence and torture against protesters by security forces during and after the revolution. In April, the government charged [JURIST report] former president Ben Ali with 18 offenses ranging from murder and conspiracy to trafficking and drug use. The charges stem mostly from allegations that Ben Ali authorized the use of force against protesters during the Tunisian revolution, resulting in the deaths of more than 200 protesters. The charges come after advocacy groups Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy websites] called for the Tunisian transitional government to investigate incidents of police violence against protesters and end police brutality [JURIST reports].




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Supreme Court rules on breach of contract suit involving state secrets
Zach Zagger on May 23, 2011 11:56 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday in General Dynamics Corp v. United States [Cornell LII backgrounder] that when the court dismisses a valid prima facie affirmative defense to the government's breach of contract claim under the state secrets privilege [JURIST news archive], the proper remedy is to leave the parties in the same position as they were in before the contract. The case is a consolidated case where General Dynamics and Boeing [corporate websites] contracted with the Navy [official website] to develop a new carrier-based stealth fighter plane, but failed to meet the terms of the agreement, prompting the government to end the contract. The companies claimed that they could not complete the work because the Navy refused to release access to secret technology about the "stealth" fighter under the state secrets doctrine. General Dynamics wanted the judgment against the Navy for $1.2 million in damages to be reinstated, while the Navy wanted General Dynamics to return $1.35 billion in progress payments for work it never approved. The court held in a unanimous opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia that the nature of the contract dealing with secret technology created a bar to judicial review of contract disputes of which the parties reasonably should have been aware. The court said, "Both parties—the Government no less than petitioners—must have assumed the risk that state secrets would prevent the adjudication of claims of inadequate performance."

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in this case in January. At oral arguments, counsel for the government argued that the "state-secrets privilege will be used to bar a claim at most only when the party that is relying on secret information is trying to use the Federal court to alter the legal status quo." Counsel for General Dynamics argued that the government is unable to prove that the contractor defaulted on the contract, meaning that the government terminated the contract for convenience and the company should keep the money paid for the partially performed services. The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit [official website] held [opinion, PDF] that the Navy was justified in canceling the contract because the companies were not fulfilling their contractual obligations.




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Supreme Court upholds order to reduce California prison population
Zach Zagger on May 23, 2011 10:31 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] in Brown v. Plata [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] to uphold the order requiring California to release up to 46,000 prisoners to remedy the state's overcrowded prisons [JURIST news archive]. In the 5-4 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court concluded that the extreme overcrowding of the California prison system is causing inmates to receive inadequate medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment [text]. In August 2009, a special panel of federal judges ordered [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] California to reduce its prison population by about 46,000 inmates or construct more facilities to handle the prisoners. It is apparent that California is unable to build the prisons and will have to release the prisoners. The court found the inability of the prison system to provide the "basic sustenance" of medical care is an Eighth Amendment violation that the courts must remedy: "A prison that deprives prisoners of basic sustenance, including adequate medical care, is incompatible with the concept of human dignity and has no place in civilized society." Kennedy also attached photographs depicting prisoners being forced to live in bunk-beds lined up in an open room and depicting small telephone-booth sized holding cells for prisoners waiting for a mental health crisis bed. The court said that the California prison system is operating at nearly 200 percent capacity. Three justices joined Justice Antonin Scalia in dissent, saying "the Court affirms what is perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our Nation's history." He argued that the system-wide problems did not establish any actual individual Eighth Amendment violations and, even if there were, the injunction forcing the state to release prisoners is beyond the court's authority.

The court heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] last November in this case, previously known as Schwarzenegger v. Plata [oral arguments transcript, PDF], over the order to release prisoners by the three-judge panel. The panel approved [order, PDF; JURIST report] a revised prison reduction plan [text, PDF] in January 2010, but action on the plan has been delayed, pending this Supreme Court appeal. Counsel for the state of California argued that the "extraordinary and unprecedented order ... requiring the release of between 36,000 and 45,000 inmates ... is extraordinarily premature." Counsel for the prisoners argued that the court must allow the lower court to provide a remedy for 20 years of overcrowding that has violated inmates' constitutional rights.




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Supreme Court to hear immigrant removal case
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 23, 2011 10:23 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] granted certiorari [order list, PDF] Monday in Kawashima v. Holder [docket; cert. petition, PDF] to clarify what counts as an aggravated felony for purposes of removing an immigrant from the country. Petitioners Akio and Fusako Kawashima are natives and citizens of Japan who were living in California as lawful permanent residents. Petitioners were charged with, and pleaded guilty to, filing, and aiding and abetting in filing, a false statement on a corporate tax return. An immigration judge concluded that the convictions were "aggravated felonies" within the meaning of 8 USC § 1101(a)(43)(M)(i) [text], ordering petitioners to be removed. The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the decision, and it was later upheld [opinion, PDF] by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has reached the opposite conclusion.

Also Monday, the court denied certiorari in Khadr v. Obama [docket], in which Guantanamo [JURIST news archive] detainees sought 30 days notice of transfer to countries where they fear torture. Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor would have granted certiorari, but four votes are required for the court to take a case. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself without explanation. The case originally included Canadian detainee Omar Khadr [JURIST news archive], but he has since pleaded guilty to terrorism charges [JURIST report].




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Dutch court rejects bias claim in hate speech case, orders trial to continue
Zach Zagger on May 23, 2011 9:39 AM ET

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[JURIST] An Amsterdam court on Monday rejected claims by Dutch politician Geert Wilders [personal website; JURIST news archive] that the hate speech charges [prosecution materials, in Dutch] against him should be dropped over claims of bias. Wilder, a right-wing politician, is on trial for making anti-Islamic statements. The charges against Wilders were dismissed in 2008, but an appeals court reversed that decision. Wilders claims that one of the judges had tried to convince [AFP report] the defense's expert witness to support the claims at a 2010 dinner party. He argues that the charges should be dropped because this shows bias and that it is no longer possible for him to have a fair trial. But the court found that there was not enough evidence to conclude that the judge ever tried to influence the witness. Wilders is alleged to have made inflammatory remarks against Islam. In one statement, he purportedly called the religion "fascist" and compared the Koran to Hitler's book Mein Kampf. While the court will allow prosecution to continue for any statements Wilders made likening Islam to Nazism, it dropped a complaint against him for referring to the Koran itself as "fascist," holding that prosecutors were precluded from including statements comparing Islam to fascism alone. Wilders maintains that his remarks were made as part of a legitimate political debate and are protected by his right to free speech. He faces up to one year in prison, but it is more likely that he will be fined if found guilty.

In March, an Amsterdam court rejected Wilders' claims of improper venue, ruling that the Amsterdam court has the authority to judge the case, given that the alleged statements were committed within its jurisdiction. In February, the court granted Wilders the right to set out the objections [BBC report] he had made during the initial trial, which was postponed following the dismissal of the original panel of judges [JURIST report] amidst allegations of bias. Prior to their dismissal, the original panel members heard the prosecution's case, which culminated in a request that Wilders be acquitted on all charges [JURIST report]. The prosecutors based their request on determinations that the politician's statements were directed at Islam and not Muslims themselves and additionally, that the evidence failed to establish that he intended to incite violence. The presentment of the prosecution's case followed an order from a panel of Dutch judges to resume the trial after initially rejecting claims of judicial bias [JURIST report]. The trial had previously been suspended [JURIST report] after a lawyer representing Wilders accused one of the judges of making a statement which cast him in an unfavorable light to the jury.




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Four accused Somali pirates go on trial in South Korea
Zach Zagger on May 23, 2011 8:55 AM ET

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[JURIST] Four alleged Somali pirates [JURIST news archive] captured from a hijacked ship are being put on trial in South Korea, but lawyers for the pirates argue the court does not have jurisdiction to try them. South Korean forces captured five alleged pirates in a raid on a hijacked South Korean chemical freighter, the Samho Jewelry, in January in the Arabian Sea. The five alleged pirates were transferred back to South Korea where they were indicted. One pleaded guilty with the other four standing trial [Yonhap News report] in the Busan District Court, which has jurisdiction over the area in which the shipping company is located. But lawyers for the alleged pirates argue that the South Korean court does not have jurisdiction to try them since they never should have been transferred back to South Korea. They argue under the UN Convention on Law of the Sea [text] and other treaties that South Korea has the authority to arrest pirates but not transfer them. The pirates will be tried by a 12-member jury which can recommend a verdict to the judges. The trial has been delayed due to translation issues but is set to last five days with the verdict on Friday. The court will also rule on the jurisdiction issue when it gives its final verdict Friday. This is the first attempt by South Korea to punish pirates. Some of the alleged pirates on trial are believed to have been a part of a group [AFP report] that South Korea paid a $9 million ransom to retrieve another one of its ships.

The US is also putting alleged pirates on trial in attempt to control a wave of international maritime piracy. Last week, a Somali man pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to charges of piracy and hostage taking in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] for overtaking a yacht containing four American citizens. The Americans, taken as hostages, were later killed by the pirates, the first US citizens to die due to the recent wave of piracy. Last month, a US district court sentenced a Somali pirate to 25 years in prison [JURIST report] for his role in attacking a Danish ship, as well as the US Navy's USS Ashland. In November, a federal jury in Virginia convicted [JURIST report] five Somali men on charges of piracy for their roles in an April attack on the USS Nichols. In August, piracy charges against six defendants were dismissed [JURIST report] when federal Judge Raymond Jackson ruled that piracy, as defined by the law of nations, does not include violence or aggression committed on the high seas, and rejected the government's argument for an expanded reading of the statute. Piracy remains an issue of international concern, as few countries have been willing to prosecute suspected pirates. The few that have attempted to do so include Germany, Seychelles, the Netherlands, Mauritius, Yemen, Somalia and Spain [JURIST reports].




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Minnesota legislature approves ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage
Sarah Posner on May 22, 2011 12:51 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Minnesota Legislature [official website] on Saturday approved adding a constitutional amendment [HF 1613, text] to ban same-sex marriage to the November 2012 ballot. The Minnesota House of Representatives [official website] voted 70-62 to approve the proposed amendment. In early May, the voter referendum received approval [JURIST report] by the Minnesota Senate [official website] by a vote of 38-27, with only one Democrat joining Republicans in supporting the amendment. Although Minnesota law already bans same-sex marriages, this constitutional amendment would ensure that the state court does not change this law. The proposed amendment will appear on the ballot asking voters: "shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?" Protesters on both sides of the issue gathered outside of the Minnesota House of Representatives for several days leading up to the vote. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton [official website] opposes any constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage but cannot prevent the measure from appearing on the ballot.

Same-sex marriage remains a controversial issue across the US. Last month, a Montana judge dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST report] that had called for the state to provide legal status to same-sex relationships. Also in April, the Indiana Senate [official website] overwhelmingly approved [JURIST report] an amendment to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage or any "substantially similar" status, and the Wyoming Senate [official website] in February approved a bill that would void in Wyoming any same-sex marriages and civil unions [JURIST report] performed in other jurisdictions. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington, DC [JURIST reports].




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Bahrain court upholds 2 death sentences for police killings
Sarah Posner on May 22, 2011 10:59 AM ET

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[JURIST] Bahrain's Appeal National Safety Court on Sunday unanimously upheld [BNA report] death sentences for two men convicted of killing police officers during anti-government protests in March. The court reduced the death sentences [JURIST report] of two others to life in prison. The four men were tried in the special appeals security court set up by Royal Decree in March, under emergency law, during the Shiite-led protests in Bahrain. The special court and other measure implemented under emergency law have been heavily criticized by various human rights groups. Nabeel Rajab, leader of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights [advocacy website] criticized the ruling, expressing his concern that the cases are politically motivated and an attempt for the government to stop protests [Reuters report]. The date for the two executions has not yet been disclosed but would first require the approval of Bahrain's king. The death penalty is rarely used in Bahrain and typically not used against the country's citizens.

Last week, Bahrain's Lower National Safety Court sentenced nine citizens to 20 years in prison [JURIST report] for kidnapping a police officer. The decision was announced by the government-owned Bahrain News Agency, without details of the charges or the incident. Among the convicted was prominent Shiite cleric Mohammed Habib al-Saffaf. The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights [advocacy website] said that all nine were involved in previous anti-government demonstrations [statement]. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] has urged the government of Bahrain to release detained activists [JURIST report] and exercise restraint against protesters.




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ICC prosecutor to begin investigation into Ivory Coast violence
Maureen Cosgrove on May 21, 2011 10:29 AM ET

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[JURIST] Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official websites] on Thursday submitted a request [text, PDF] to the court to begin an investigation into the Ivory Coast political conflict [JURIST news archive] during which thousands of people have been killed and displaced. ICC President Judge Sang-Hyun Song assigned [order, PDF; press release] the investigation to Pre-Trial Chamber II following Moreno-Ocampo's letter of intent. Moreno-Ocampo, who told reporters in early April that he was willing to investigate the alleged war crimes [JURIST report], indicated that he had a reasonable basis to believe crimes within the jurisdiction of the court had been committed on the Ivory Coast since November 2010. Despite the Ivory Coast not being a party to the Rome Statute [text], the ICC press release stated that the country had affirmed the jurisdiction of the court on several occasions. The formal investigation will likely focus [Reuters report] on former president Laurent Gbagbo [BBC profile], who refused to cede power following the November 28 election, as well as current, democratically elected President Alassane Ouattara [BBC profile].

In April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged [JURIST report] Ouattara to investigate "atrocities," including murder and rape, committed by opposing political forces during the recent conflicts. Earlier in April, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [official website] reported the deaths of at least 800 civilians [JURIST report] in the Ivory Coast town of Duekoue as a result of intercommunal violence that took place. Last month, the OHCHR called for an independent investigation into post-election violence [JURIST report]. The violence stemmed from Gbagbo's refusal to cede power to Ouattara, who won the November 2010 runoff election according to international observers. Gbagbo was elected president in 2000 to serve a five-year term, but he has maintained his office, delaying six successive elections.




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DC Circuit upholds default damages judgment against Syria
Maureen Cosgrove on May 21, 2011 9:47 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday unanimously ruled [opinion, PDF] to uphold a $413 million judgment against Syria for assisting in the the murders of two US contractors. In 2004, two military contractors assisting the US in Iraq, Olin Armstrong and Jack Hensley, were kidnapped, held hostage, and ultimately decapitated by al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi [JURIST news archive], videos of which were circulated on the internet. The contractors' estates filed suit under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA) [28 USC §§ 1330, 1602 et seq.], claiming Syrian officials provided material support [CNN report] for the murders in the form of "advice or assistance." The appeals court decided two procedural issues in favor of the estates of the two contractors, holding that the court had jurisdiction and that the families adequately effected service of process against Syria when they first filed suit. Syria made a number of other challenges to the district court's default judgment order rendered against the country, but the court upheld the ruling, finding that none of Syria's constitutional, procedural, or jurisdictional challenges to the default judgment had merit.

US citizens have brought similar suits against foreign nations under the FSIA. On Thursday, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia granted $300 million in punitive damages [JURIST report] in each of two cases against Iran for deaths resulting from suicide bombings by Iranian-backed terrorist groups. The court found that the plaintiffs could be awarded damages based on the exception to the FSIA for "state-sponsored terrorism." Other attempts to litigate pursuant to FSIA have failed, however. In 2009, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST report] brought by survivors of the 9/11 attacks [JURIST news archive] against the nation of Saudi Arabia and four of its princes, ruling that the defendants were protected from prosecution under the FSIA. The ruling upheld a 2005 ruling [JURIST report] by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.




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Russia president Medvedev calls for legal reforms, stronger judiciary
Zach Zagger on May 20, 2011 4:27 PM ET

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[JURIST] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile; JURIST news archive] expressed the need for Russia to improve its legal system and make a better commitment to the rule of law, during a speech [text] at a legal forum in St. Petersburg. Medvedev is trying to separate himself [Reuters report] from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website] who is running against him in the March 2012 presidential election. Medvedev said that during his time in office he has tried to root out the corruption that has plagued Russian politics. But he said that in order for real legal reform there must be a strong judicial system. He said:
Even the best possible laws on paper can prove ineffective in practice and remain no more than declarations if we do not have courts that work, or if we have excessive or overly lax administrative procedures. Sadly, we know this all too well from our own experience. Problems with enforcing laws, lack of respect for the courts, and corruption are not just issues affecting our public life, but are macroeconomic factors holding back our national wealth growth and putting a brake on our efforts to carry out economic decisions and social initiatives. The quality and competitiveness of legal institutions therefore play a vital part for assuring all countries' future, the Russian Federation's too.
Russia media and banking tycoon Alexander Lebedev on Thursday threw his support [BBC report] behind Putin joining Putin's an anti-corruption coalition.

In December 2008, Medvedev's first year in office, he proposed that Russian courts become more transparent in order to restore faith in the justice system and prevent people from turning to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website]. Speaking at the seventh All-Russian Congress of Judges, Medvedev said that the ECHR cannot and should not replace Russian courts. Russia is the source of more applications to the ECHR than any other country. Medvedev proposed measures to improve the quality of judges and provide broader access to court documents. He encouraged the congress to discuss his concerns and make concrete proposals. In June 2008, Medvedev said he was committed to improving Russia's human rights record and enforcing the rule of law, reiterating pledges he made at his May inauguration [JURIST reports]. Medvedev, himself a lawyer by training, promised top legal officials he would tackle corruption and intimidation in the Russian judicial system [JURIST report], calling for reforms to better train and support judges.




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Somali pirate pleads guilty in US court
Julia Zebley on May 20, 2011 4:24 PM ET

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[JURIST] A Somali man pleaded guilty [FBI press release] to charges of piracy and hostage taking on Friday in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] for overtaking a yacht containing four American citizens. The Americans, taken as hostages, were later killed by the pirates, the first US citizens to die in the recent wave of international maritime piracy [JURIST news archive]. Mohamud Hirs Issa Ali pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty, and is the first to plead out of the 14 men indicted [JURIST report]. Ten others are expected to plead soon [AFP report]. Although sentences will not be delivered until September [AP/PilotOnline report], as a condition of the plea agreement, Issa Ali and the others have agreed to extradition after their sentences are up. All are expected to receive life sentences

Earlier this month, Spain's National Court sentenced [JURIST report] two Somali pirates to 439 years in prison each for their involvement in the 2009 hijacking of a Spanish fishing boat off the coast of Somalia. Last month, a US district court sentenced a Somali pirate to 25 years in prison [JURIST report] for his role in attacking a Danish ship, as well as the US Navy's USS Ashland. In November, a federal jury in Virginia convicted [JURIST report] five Somali men on charges of piracy for their roles in an April attack on the USS Nichols. In August, piracy charges against six defendants were dismissed [JURIST report] when federal Judge Raymond Jackson ruled that piracy, as defined by the law of nations, does not include violence or aggression committed on the high seas, and rejected the government's argument for an expanded reading of the statute. Piracy remains an issue of international concern, as few countries have been willing to prosecute suspected pirates. The few that have attempted to do so include Germany, Seychelles, the Netherlands, Mauritius, Yemen, Somalia and Spain [JURIST reports].




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Iran implicated in 9/11 attacks by lawsuit
Julia Zebley on May 20, 2011 3:50 PM ET

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[JURIST] A lawsuit by relatives of 9/11 [JURIST news archive] victims has alleged that Iran knowingly aided [press release] al Qaeda [JURIST news archive] in carrying out the attacks, according to affidavits [memo of law, PDF] filed Thursday. Included in the affidavits, but under seal from the judge, are the testimonies of Iranian defectors who worked for Iran's intelligence service, declaring that Iran helped plan the attacks through Hezbollah [BBC Backgrounder], as well as facilitated the escapes of al Qaeda operatives after the attack. The affidavits also include depositions of 9/11 Commission workers who believe Iran helped to orchestrate the account:
Havlish experts specifically conclude that the evidence is clear and convincing that Iran materially supported al Qaeda. Although each of the Havlish experts' affidavits speaks for itself, two passages fairly summarize their views: It is our expert opinion to a reasonable degree of professional certainty that the Iranian Regime's use of terror and, specifically, its material support of al Qaeda in multiple terrorist attacks, including 9/11, is beyond question.
The initial suit [text, PDF], Havlish v. Bin Laden [materials] was filed in 2002. Plaintiffs seek a default judgment since Iran has not mounted a defense, and $100 billion in damages, but have stated that their principal focus is the US admitting Iran's involvement and mounting further investigations to that effect.

Previous attempts to indict other nations in the 9/11 attacks through litigation have failed. Two years ago, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST report] brought by survivors of the 9/11 attacks against the nation of Saudi Arabia and four of its princes, ruling that the defendants were protected from prosecution under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 [text]. The appeals court upheld a 2005 ruling [JURIST report] by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. The plaintiffs in that case were suing more than 200 defendants who allegedly helped fund and support Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda. Casey allowed a claim to proceed against the Saudi Binladen Group [corporate website], the successor to a construction company founded by Bin Laden's father, because additional discovery is necessary to determine whether the company "purposefully directed its activities at the United States." This is the first such suit against Iran.




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Federal judge grants punitive damages against Iran for suicide bombings
Zach Zagger on May 20, 2011 3:14 PM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Thursday granted $300 million in punitive damages in each of two cases against Iran for deaths resulting from suicide bombings by Iranian-backed terrorist groups. The two claims against Iran were brought on behalf of Seth Haim and Alan Beer [opinions, PDF], who were both killed in Israel by suicide bombers. In the opinions by Judge Royce Lamberth [official profile], the court found the the plaintiffs could be awarded damages based on an exception [28 USC § 1605A] to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) for "state-sponsored terrorism." The court said the exception creates a federal right of action against foreign states for which punitive damages may be awarded when the current foreign state was established prior to sponsoring of terrorism, the victim was an employee of the US government acting within the scope of employment, and where the claimant has given the foreign state against whom the action is brought a reasonable opportunity to arbitrate the claim. Lamberth concluded in the Beer case that the court "expresses hope that the sanction it issues today will play a measurable role in changing the conduct of Iran—and other supporters of international terrorism—in the future."

Iran has been the target of suits by US citizens seeking damages for deaths as a result of Iranian-backed terrorist groups. In February 2010, 85 victims of rocket attacks in Israel filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in DC District Court seeking damages from Iran and Iran's central bank for injuries suffered in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. The suit claims that Iran, between 2001 and 2006, gave Hezbollah [JURIST news archive] more than $50 million "with the specific intent and purpose of facilitating, enabling and causing Hezbollah to carry out terrorist attacks against American and Israeli targets in order to advance Iran's Policy and Goals" of undermining the US and abolishing Israel. In 2009, the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] in Ministry of Defense and Support for the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran v. Elahi [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the brother of dissident Cyrus Elahi, assassinated in Paris in 1990, cannot collect on a default judgment he holds against Iran by attaching a $2.8 million judgment obtained by the Iranian Ministry of Defense against California-based Cubic Defense Systems [corporate website]. Dariush Elahi was awarded $11.7 million in compensatory and $300 million in punitive damages after Iran refused to respond to his 2000 lawsuit brought in a Washington federal court, alleging that the Iranian government was responsible for his brother's death.




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France court orders Chirac corruption trial to resume
Zach Zagger on May 20, 2011 2:23 PM ET

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[JURIST] The French Court of Cassation [official website, in French], the country's highest appeals court, ruled that the corruption trial against former French president Jacques Chirac [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] can continue, rejecting a constitutional challenge brought by one of his co-defendants. Chirac is being tried for allegedly misusing funds during his time as Paris mayor in 1990. Chirac's co-defendant, Remy Chardon, his former chief of staff, challenged a decision by the prosecution to dismiss the statute of limitations in the case against Chardon violates the French Constitution. The court however found the claims were not valid [BBC report] and did not need to go to the Constitutional Council [official website], France's highest constitutional authority. The challenge has postponed the trial since March in only its second day.

The trial began despite the fact that the main plaintiff dropped out of the suit. Last September, the Paris city council accepted a settlement deal [JURIST report] in which the former president agreed to pay USD $741,000 in compensation for the money paid out for false jobs. In exchange, the city agreed to drop out of the corruption suit. Chirac stated that the settlement was not an admission of guilt. A French judge placed Chirac under preliminary investigation [JURIST report] in December 2009. Chirac's trial on corruption charges marks the first time [JURIST comment] a former president will have to answer to charges against him in a court of law. The trial is a combination of two separate corruption-related cases, in which Chirac allegedly financed the Rally for the Republic (RPR), now renamed as the Union for a Popular Movement [party website, in French], by illegally establishing fake city positions between 1977 and 1995 for party members to collect salaries totaling several million dollars.




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Belarus delivers suspended sentences to 2 presidential candidates for inciting riots
Julia Zebley on May 20, 2011 2:18 PM ET

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[JURIST] Belarus' Minsk City Court delivered suspended sentences on Friday to two former presidential candidates, Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu and Vital Rymasheuski, convicted of organizing protests following the re-election [JURIST report] of President Alexander Lukashenko [BBC profile, JURIST news archive] in December. The two-year suspended sentences [RFE/RL report] were handed down days after former presidential candidate Andrey Sannikau [Free Belarus Now profile] was sentenced to five years [JURIST report]. The two remaining presidential candidates who were awaiting trial, Mikalay Statkevich and Dzmitry Vus, were also supposed to be given sentences Friday, but sentencing has been postponed indefinitely. Another candidate was released in January [JURIST report], and the seventh has fled Belarus to seek asylum in the Czech Republic. All of the detained protesters [Belarusian Helsinki Committee] are accused of violating Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus for inciting and participating in riots. Nyaklyaeu attributed his shortened sentence to the support with protesters of the US and the EU. The EU is set to implement travel bans and asset-freezes on Lukashenko next week, and is reportedly considering further sanctions.

Hundreds of activists were arrested after protesting Lukashenko's 2006 presidential win, including opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich [JURIST reports]. While Lukashenko has since sought to improve his country's ties with western nations, the US State Department has historically criticized Belarus' human rights record [JURIST report]. The UN General Assembly Third Committee and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights [JURIST reports] have similarly denounced Belarus for human rights abuses. In 2008, the Belarus KGB detained at least 16 journalists [JURIST report] and searched their homes and offices for materials that allegedly libel Lukashenko. Also in 2008, Belarusian district courts sentenced at least 55 demonstrators [JURIST report], including journalists, for participating in a banned "Freedom Day" rally in Minsk to protest the presidency of Lukashenko. An opposition activist who was critical of Lukashenko during his 2006 presidential campaign was sentenced [JURIST report] to three years in jail in 2008 by a Belarusian court after being arrested for making comments that Lukashenko was connected to the disappearances of opposition leaders Yuri Zakharenko, Viktor Gonchar and Anatoly Krasovsky.




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Taiwan court indicts general for China espionage
Julia Zebley on May 20, 2011 12:35 PM ET

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[JURIST] A military court in Taiwan indicted a one-star general who confessed to spying for China on Friday. General Lo Hsien-che confessed [CNA report] to accepting bribes and divulging state secrets since March 2004. Due to his confession and relinquishment of bribes, the prosecutors plan to seek life in prison [Taipei Times report] rather than the death penaltyTa. Lo was the head of communications and electronic information at Army Command Headquarters, and there are fears that his espionage has compromised the US-Taiwan Po Sheng communications project, as well as Taiwan's weapons trade with the US. China allegedly lured Lo into committing espionage by having a Chinese female agent offer him sex and money.

Taiwan has had increasing difficulties with corruption. In November 2010, the Taiwan Supreme Prosecutors Office indicted 13 people [JURIST report], including three High Court judges, on charges of bribery, corruption and money laundering. The Taipei High Court acquitted former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on charges of embezzling USD $20 million from banks [JURIST report] that sought to protect themselves during Chen's financial reform program. Chen is also appealing a 20-year sentence for corruption and embezzlement. He was originally sentenced to life imprisonment, but the court reduced his sentence [JURIST reports] after finding that he had not embezzled as much money as previously thought. Chen was originally found guilty on corruption charges and sentenced to life in prison in September.




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Texas governor signs law requiring sonogram before abortion
Zach Zagger on May 20, 2011 12:21 PM ET

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[JURIST] Texas Governor Rick Perry [official website] signed into law Thursday a bill [HB 15 text; materials] that requires women seeking an abortion [JURIST news archive] to first get a sonogram. The law requires doctors to conduct a ultrasound and display the images at least 24 hours prior to an abortion, and would strip them of their medical licenses should they fail to do so. The law also requires doctors to provide "a simultaneous verbal explanation of the results of the live, real-time sonogram images, including a medical description of the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, and the presence of arms, legs, external members, and internal organs." The law contains exceptions from the requirements under certain circumstances, including rape, incest or fetal abnormalities.

The Texas House of Representatives [official website] approved the bill [JURIST report] in March. Earlier this week, the Missouri House of Representatives [official website] passed a bill prohibiting late-term abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Last month, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback (R) [official website] announced the signing [JURIST report] of two pieces of legislation restricting abortions in the state. One bill requires unemancipated minors to obtain notarized parental signatures before an abortion may be performed. The other, the "fetal pain bill", restricts abortions beyond 22 weeks of pregnancy based on the belief that a fetus can feel pain at that stage of gestation. Earlier in April, the Idaho legislature [official website] gave final approval [JURIST report] to a bill that would prohibit most abortions after 20 weeks of gestation.

Correction: The original text of this story said that the Texas law required "vaginal sonograms" before an abortion can be performed. The text of the law does not explicitly require vaginal sonograms. However, in many cases it will be necessary to administer the sonograms through a vaginal probe [The Dallas Morning News report]. [updated on February 9, 2012]




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Japan agrees to sign international child abduction treaty
Julia Zebley on May 20, 2011 11:49 AM ET

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[JURIST] Japan announced Friday that they will be signing the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction [text] at next week's G8 summit [Guardian archiver]. Signatories of the Convention are required to return a child who has been "wrongfully removed" from his or her country of habitual residence, typically through international custody disputes. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano [official website, in Japanese] stated that the decision was made for the welfare of children [Japan Times report], and that Prime Minister Naoto Kan [official website, in Japanese] and the cabinet were in favor of signing. Current Japanese law favors giving custody to one parent [BBC report] and allowing that parent to choose whether the other receives visitation. There is also opposition from a significant portion of mothers who fled from abusive spouses to Japan due to their custody laws. Edano stated that this will be taken into account in the new laws.

The Hague Convention, which currently has 84 signatories [text], seeks to eliminate difficulties that arise when a court in one country does not recognize custody decisions [DOS backgrounder] of a foreign court. Japan was urged to sign the treaty [JURIST report] by 10 other nations early last year. Russia remains the only G8 nation to not sign the treaty. China is also not a signatory.




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US congressional leaders agree to extend Patriot Act through 2015
Zach Zagger on May 20, 2011 11:35 AM ET

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[JURIST] Top US congressional leaders agreed Thursday to put forth a clean extension of controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act [text; JURIST news archive] until 2015. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) [official websites] agreed to extend [WP report] several key provisions of the Act with no amendments and will first put it to floor debate in the House next Monday, where it could reach a final vote by the following Wednesday. Controversial provisions to be renewed include provisions allowing the government to use roving wiretaps on multiple carriers and electronic devices and allowing the government to gain access to certain records relevant to its investigations. The "lone wolf" provision enables investigators to get warrants to conduct surveillance over targets not connected to any particular terrorist group. It is unclear whether House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) [official website] agrees with the extension.

Last February, the US House of Representatives [official website] passed a short-term extension [JURIST report] until May 27 of the controversial surveillance provisions after they were set to expire on February 28, two days after the US Senate [official website] passed [JURIST report] the bill by an 86-12 vote. Earlier that week, a simple majority of the House approved a similar bill that would have extended the three provisions until December after it had failed [JURIST reports] the prior week under a special rule that required a two-thirds majority. Prior to that vote, the Obama administration released a statement of administration policy [text, PDF] vying for a three-year renewal of the provisions. The provisions were extended in February 2010 after the Obama administration asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to extend [JURIST reports] the Patriot Act.




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Uruguay fails to overturn 1986 amnesty law
Julia Zebley on May 20, 2011 10:34 AM ET

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[JURIST] Uruguay's House of Representatives [official website, in Spanish] failed to partially repeal [El Pais report, in Spanish] the 1986 Expiry Law [text, in Spanish] on Thursday in a vote of 49-49. The Senate [official website, in Spanish] voted to void the amnesty law [JURIST report] last month, and, with the Broad Front party [party website, in Spanish] in control of the House, the bill was expected to pass. Broad Front Deputy Victor Semproni [official website, in Spanish] refused to vote [El Pais report, in Spanish] and thus quashed his party's majority. The law was criticized because, while allowing for prosecutions of veterans of the war, it did not allow for prosecution of rebel guerrillas also involved. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) [official website, in Spanish] effectively overturned the law [JURIST report] last month when it ruled [judgment, in Spanish] that Uruguay's government must bring to justice those responsible for the disappearance of a woman abducted by Uruguay government forces in 1976. In November, the Uruguayan Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] found the law to be unconstitutional [JURIST report].

Prior to November's judgment, Uruguay's Supreme Court had largely upheld the amnesty except in extreme circumstances, and in 2009 a popular vote failed to overturn the law [JURIST reports]. Many of the alleged kidnappings and deaths occurred in connection with Operation Condor [BBC backgrounder], a cooperative effort between the governments of Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Chile to eliminate left-wing political opponents. In June, ex-military officials in Argentina were put on trial [JURIST report] for the deaths of 65 activists in connection with Operation Condor. The Uruguayan government has also attempted to bring those responsible for the disappearance of leftist activist to justice. In 2006, eight former police and military officers were indicted by a Uruguayan court [JURIST report] on counts of kidnapping and conspiracy committed during the 1973-1985 dictatorship. The crimes were related to the 1976 disappearances of five members of an Uruguayan leftist group who fled to Argentina and were detained there by police, and who investigators suspect were victims of Operation Condor.




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Sixth Circuit asks health care challengers to explain why they can sue
Zach Zagger on May 20, 2011 10:27 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] has asked [order, PDF] challengers of the new health care reform law [text; JURIST news archive] to defend the legality of their participation in the case. The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) [advocacy website] is challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate which requires that all citizens purchase health insurance. The court asked the TMLC to file a 10-page brief addressing standing concerns and whether it is bringing a facial or as applied challenge to the health care law. The court wants TMLC to explain its injury in fact, having filed the challenge three years prior to the effective date of the health care and to explain what enforcement mechanisms the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) [official website] can even use to force compliance. It also wants to know if TMLC is bringing a facial challenge, because, if so, there is a higher standard they must meet. TMLC filed the appeal in December after a federal district court upheld [JURIST report] the health care law's constitutionality.

The constitutionality of the individual mandate is a source of controversy and has spawned multiple lawsuits. Earlier this week, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) [advocacy website] sought to have its challenge reinstated in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] after it was dismissed by the lower court. Last February, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) asked federal judge Roger Vinson to clarify that states must continue to enact the health care reform law as the government appeals from Vinson's January ruling finding the law unconstitutional [JURIST reports]. There is also an ongoing challenge in Virginia over a split decision in the US district courts with the Eastern District of Virginia ruling against individual mandate provision and the Western District of Virginia dismissing a challenge [JURIST reports].




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State Department legal adviser defends lawfulness of Bin Laden killing
Zach Zagger on May 20, 2011 9:07 AM ET

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[JURIST] US State Department [official website] Legal Adviser Harold Koh on Thursday defended the killing [JURIST report] of Osama Bin Laden [JURIST news archives] saying it was "consistent with the laws of armed conflict and US military doctrine" in a brief statement [text] published on OpinioJuris.org. Koh referenced a speech he made [JURIST report] in March 2010 defending the use of predator drones to kill US targets where he argued that al Qaeda is an imminent threat to the US, giving the US authority to defend itself using lethal force, which means targeting high-level al Qaeda leaders. Koh explained that the Obama administration is dedicated to the principles of distinction, meaning limiting attacks to military objectives, and proportionality, meaning limiting the death of civilians and damage to civilian property. In his recent statement, Koh said that materials collected during the Bin Laden raid confirm suspicions that Bin Laden remained an imminent threat to the US and its citizens and that his failure to submit to an appropriate surrender authorized the troops use of lethal force:
[T]he manner in which the U.S. operation was conducted—taking great pains both to distinguish between legitimate military objectives and civilians and to avoid excessive incidental injury to the latter—followed the principles of distinction and proportionality described above, and was designed specifically to preserve those principles, even if it meant putting U.S. forces in harm's way. Finally, consistent with the laws of armed conflict and U.S. military doctrine, the U.S. forces were prepared to capture bin Laden if he had surrendered in a way that they could safely accept. The laws of armed conflict require acceptance of a genuine offer of surrender that is clearly communicated by the surrendering party and received by the opposing force, under circumstances where it is feasible for the opposing force to accept that offer of surrender. But where that is not the case, those laws authorize use of lethal force against an enemy belligerent, under the circumstances presented here.
Former US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens also recently commented on the killing of Bin Laden during remarks at Northwestern University, saying the killing was legally justified [CNN report] and that he was proud of the US Navy SEALs who carried out the mission.

Earlier this month, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] said the killing of Bin Laden was lawful and justified. Testifying before the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website], Holder said that the shooting of Bin Laden was "consistent with our values," and that the soldiers who killed him "conducted themselves totally appropriately." Some do not agree. Curtis Doebbler, professor of law at Webster University and Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations, both in Geneva, Switzerland, argues the killing violated international law [JURIST op-ed] because it was a targeted killing carried out within Pakistan without the country's permission and because it was an "extrajudicial executions that violate the right to life."




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Rhode Island House approves civil union bill
Julia Zebley on May 20, 2011 8:51 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Rhode Island House of Representatives [official website] approved a civil union bill [Bill 2011-H6103aa, PDF] Thursday by a vote of 62 to 11 [press release]. The bill was voted out of committee [JURIST report] earlier this week and is modeled after similar legislation in Illinois, Delaware and Hawaii [JURIST reports], granting all rights of marriage to same-sex couples.

While in the House, several amendments failed [Providence Journal report], including one to convert the bill to a same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] bill, and another to clarify that marriage is reserved for opposite-sex couples. Another failed amendment would have put the decision to voters in a referendum. The bill is now sent to the Senate, where its passage is uncertain [AP report]. Governor Lincoln Chafee [official website] is expected to sign the bill but has expressed disappointment [NPR report] that it is limited to civil unions rather than same-sex marriage.

Same-sex marriage continues to be a controversial and divisive issue through the US, although a recent poll [materials] suggests support for legalization is growing. The Minnesota Senate [official website] earlier this month approved a voter referendum [JURIST report] to amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Last month, a Montana judge dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST report] that had called for the state to provide legal status to same-sex relationships. Also in April, the Indiana Senate [official website] overwhelmingly approved [JURIST report] an amendment to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage or any "substantially similar" status, and the Wyoming Senate [official website] in February approved a bill that would void in Wyoming any same-sex marriages and civil unions [JURIST report] performed in other jurisdictions. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington, DC [JURIST reports].




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Rights groups urge more transparency for Khmer Rouge tribunal
Daniel Richey on May 20, 2011 7:49 AM ET

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[JURIST] A coalition of more than 30 rights groups and development organizations in Cambodia issued an open letter [text, PDF] Thursday urging the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] to embrace a greater degree of transparency. In the letter, the groups outline "grave concerns" that the highly classified nature of Case 3 and Case 4 [materials] betrays a lack of "genuine" effort to bring the former members of the Khmer Rouge [BBC profile; JURIST news archives] to justice and implicates that the "impartiality, integrity and ... independence of ECCC judges are being tainted." The accusation comes amid mounting speculation that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen [BBC profile] has exerted undue influence over the court's proceedings. Hun has drawn criticism [Phnom Penh Post report] from rights groups and the international community for his public and at-times vehement opposition [AP report] to the continued work of the ECCC. The court further stoked suspicion Wednesday when it ordered [order, PDF; JURIST report] international co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley to recant statements he made earlier this month in a public brief [text, PDF] on the facts of Case 3. According to the court, the co-prosecutor lacked a "legal basis" for issuing statements about "crimes required to be judicially investigated" and violated the confidentiality provisions of the Internal Rules of the ECCC [text, PDF]. The groups' letter emphasized the Cambodian people's right to know such information:
One of the functions being fulfilled by the ECCC is to create an historical record about what happened. It is imperative that this record is as complete and accurate as possible. ... The Cambodians have a right to justice. ... In order to effectively exercise this right, all Cambodians need access to publicly available information. Ample information can be provided to victims while safeguarding the rights of those alleged to have perpetrated Khmer Rouge atrocities according to the highest international standards.
The groups said that they are "concerned that the mandate of the court ... is at risk of not being genuinely carried out" and emphasized that ECCC judges should be "prohibited from accepting or seeking any instructions from any government[.]"

Last October, Hun Sen informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] in a meeting that the government will not allow [JURIST report] the prosecution of low-ranking Khmer Rouge officers by the ECCC. Earlier this week in ECCC Case 2 [materials], a panel of judges denied a motion for pretrial release [JURIST report] by former Khmer Rouge official Ieng Sary [ECCC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Ieng, 85, served as deputy foreign minister under the Khmer Rouge regime during its reign in Cambodia from 1975-1979. Citing the ECCC rules and the Cambodian rules of criminal procedure, he argued that the court had no authority to detain a prisoner for more than three years without certain substantive rulings, making his detention illegal since November 2010. Ieng's co-defendants Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Thirith [ECCC backgrounders] have all challenged pretrial custody unsuccessfully. In March, Kaing Guek Eav [ECCC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], a former prison chief at the notorious Toul Sleng prison under the Khmer Rouge, better known as "Duch," appealed a 35-year sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity handed down by the ECCC [JURIST reports] last July. The conviction was the court's first since its founding in 2006.




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European Commission threatens legal action against member states over banking rules
Julia Zebley on May 19, 2011 3:09 PM ET

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[JURIST] The European Commission (EC) [official website] threatened [press release] on Thursday to send 10 member states to the European Court of Justice [official website] if they do not fully implement the Third Capital Requirements Directive 2010/76/EU [text, PDF]. The deadline for implementation was January 1, but Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain have yet to implement any measures of the directive, and Belgium, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Sweden have only partially implemented the directives.
The Directive in question amends the Capital Requirements Directives (2006/48/EC and 2006/49/EC). The aim of these Directives is to ensure the financial soundness of banks and investment firms. Together they stipulate how much of their own financial resources banks and investment firms must have in order to cover their risks and protect their depositors.
Later that day, Sweden promised [Bloomberg report] to implement the EC's recommendations. Spain also stated that they had complied [Bloomberg report] with almost all of the new directives. Greece, Slovakia, Poland and Slovenia are all drafting legislation on the topic. Italy, Portugal, Belgium and Luxembourg did not comment. Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain have two months to explain how they will implement the new regulations.

Principal changes include remuneration policies and practices within banks, capital requirements for resecuritisations, disclosure of securitisation exposures and capital requirements for the trading book. Specifically, the law restricts payments of "bank bonuses" and forces banks to disclose employees earning more than one million euro. The law, which has only been partially implemented in Belgium, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Sweden, concerns a requirement that banks have a certain amount of capital on hand at all times. The EC is responsible for ensuring European Union (EU) [official website] law is applied throughout all member states.




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Federal appeals court upholds renewal license for oldest nuclear plant
Zach Zagger on May 19, 2011 1:40 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] Thursday upheld [opinion, PDF] the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) [official website] decision to renew the operating license of the nation's oldest nuclear power plant. The court held the NRC did not abuse its discretion in renewing the license for another 10 years for the 40-year-old New Jersey plant. The New Jersey Environmental Federation (NJEF) [advocacy website] challenged the NRC procedures used to approve the renewal, seeking to force the NRC to reconsider the decision to renew the license. NJEF argues there is corrosion of the steel containment unit that encloses the reactor vessel may be causing radiation to leak into the Oyster Creek. The plant's owner, Exelon [corporate website], produced evidence that it had sufficiently protected against leakage and agreed to shut down the plant in 10 years. The court, on an abuse of discretion standard, found that NJEF did not meet its burden to reopen the record and refused to interfere with the agencies expertise:
We commend Citizens for their diligence in bringing these issues to the attention of the Board and the NRC. We also recognize that the Board and the NRC provided hundreds of pages detailing their decision making and gave due consideration to Citizens' concerns. We are confident that the NRC's review of Exelon's application was well-reasoned, and we will not second-guess technical decisions within the realm of its unique expertise.
The court also asked that the NRC, Exelon and NJEF comment on how the disaster in Japan causing a meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station should impact the Oyster Creek. The court concluded based on the NRC's determination that the containment was adequate that the events in Japan did not support granting the NJEF's petition. In April, Tamar Cerafici of the Cerafici Law Firm argued [JURIST op-ed] that the nuclear crisis in Japan highlights the need for an international response with clear, measured leadership from the US, saying that leadership is hollow unless the US adopts a coherent energy policy paying more than a begrudging acceptance of nuclear power. Last July, three administrative law judges with the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board [official website] denied a request [JURIST report] by the Obama administration and the US Department of Energy (DOE) [official website] to withdraw the government's application for a license to construct a permanent nuclear waste repository [Berkeley Lab backgrounder] in Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The DOE filed a motion to withdraw the application in March 2010 claiming that Yucca Mountain is not a "workable option" for the long-term disposal of nuclear waste and that "alternatives will better serve the public interest."



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Maryland passes bill forcing railroad to disclose Holocaust activities
Julia Zebley on May 19, 2011 12:58 PM ET

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[JURIST] Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley [official website] on Thursday signed into law a bill [SB 479 materials] designed to force French rail company SNCF [corporate website] to disclose its participation in the Holocaust to receive a state rail contract. SNCF allegedly transported 76,000 Jews and other prisoners [JTA report] from Paris to the German border from 1942 to 1944. Since their American subsidiary, Keolis America [official website], is pursuing a Maryland Area Regional Commuter train contract, SNCF will now be required to post all of their transportation records from the Holocaust. Due to bills pending [S 634; HR 1193] in the US Senate and House of Representatives, this could open up SNCF and other railroads that transported Jews for the Nazis to lawsuits in federal courts.

Prosecution of Nazis and their collaborators continues internationally. A Hungarian court began the trial [JURIST report] of accused Nazi Sandor Kepiro earlier this month, charged with war crimes committed during the 1942 Novi Sad massacre in Serbia. The trial of accused Nazi guard John Demjanjuk [NNDB profile, JURIST news archive] ended when he was convicted [JURIST report] but released because of his advanced age [DW report]. An appeal [JURIST report] is pending. In November, Nazi guard Samuel Kunz [Trial Watch profile], 89, passed away [JURIST report] in his home before he could be brought to trial. He was accused of aiding in the killing of hundreds of thousands of Jewish people at the Belzec concentration camp [HRP backgrounder].




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Hungary Nazi trial resumed after test of mental capabilities
Julia Zebley on May 19, 2011 12:14 PM ET

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[JURIST] The trial [JURIST report] of accused Nazi Sandor Kepiro esumed on Thursday after tests proving Kepiro was mentally capable of proceeding. After Kepiro said he could not understand Judge Bela Varga earlier this month, Varga ordered mental and hearing tests for the defendant. Kepiro returned to the court [AFP report] with special headphones to enable his hearing. Kepiro, 97, was named as the world's most wanted Nazi war crimes suspect by the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) [advocacy website], a Jewish human rights organization committed to finding and prosecuting Holocaust war criminals. Kepiro was convicted both in 1944 and 1946 and sentenced to 10 years for involvement in the raids, but he was released and fled to Argentina. He was located and apprehended by the SWC in 2006 and charged [JURIST report] in February. Kepiro has denied all charges. A verdict is expected on June 3.

Kepiro's trial is likely one of the last of an accused Nazi. Earlier this month, the trial of accused Nazi guard John Demjanjuk [NNDB profile, JURIST news archive] ended when he was convicted [JURIST report] but released because of his advanced age [DW report]. An appeal [JURIST report] is pending. In November, Nazi guard Samuel Kunz [Trial Watch profile], 89, passed away [JURIST report] in his home before he could be brought to trial. He was accused of aiding in the killing of hundreds of thousands of Jewish people at the Belzec concentration camp [HRP backgrounder].




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Bahrain court sentences Shiite cleric, 8 others for police kidnapping
Julia Zebley on May 19, 2011 11:34 AM ET

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[JURIST] Bahrain's Lower National Safety Court on Thursday sentenced nine citizens to 20 years in prison for kidnapping a police officer [BNA report]. The decision was announced by the government-owned Bahrain News Agency, without details of the charges or the incident. Among the convicted was prominent Shiite cleric Mohammed Habib al-Saffaf. The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights [advocacy website] said that all nine were involved in previous anti-government demonstrations [statement]. This special court, instituted in mid-March under King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa's three-month state of emergency [JURIST report] has been internationally criticized, most recently [JURIST report] by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website].

Six opposition leaders were arrested [JURIST report] in March after the government, backed by foreign troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) [official website], violently dispersed protesters in the capital of Manana. Many protesters are calling for the removal of the royal family, which has been in power since the 18th century. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged the government of Bahrain to release detained activists [JURIST report] and exercise restraint against protesters. She expressed concern over the prosecution of medical professionals and the death sentences [JURIST report] handed to four activists last month. In April, human rights organizations including HRW and Doctors Without Borders (DWB) [advocacy website] criticized Bahrain [JURIST report] for rampant human rights abuses related to anti-government protests.




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HRW urges further amendments to Bangladesh international crimes tribunal
Zach Zagger on May 19, 2011 11:11 AM ET

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[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] sent a letter [text] to the Bangladesh government Thursday praising its International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) [Facebook page] to prosecute those responsible for atrocities committed during the 1971 struggle for independence, but urged the government to ensure that the trials are carried out in accordance with international human rights expectations. The letter, sent to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, praised the parliament's passage of amendments to its International Crimes (Tribunals) Act of 1973 (ICA) [text, PDF], including instituting civilian judges rather than military judges and mandating independence for the tribunal's judicial functions. However, HRW says, "that additional amendments to the Act and Rules are necessary to ensure that trials are carried out in accordance with Bangladesh's international human rights obligations, international criminal law, and Bangladesh's constitution." HRW says the act was in accordance with international standards at the time but needs to be updated to be more like other international criminal tribunals around the world such as International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the Special Court for Sierra Leone [official websites].

Earlier this month, a petition was filed [bdnews24.com report] in the High Court challenging two sections of the ICA that were amended in 2009. The petition raises questions over whether the tribunal can prosecute any persons or only military personnel and over who may serve on the Supreme Court. In July 2010, the Bangladesh ICT issued four arrest warrants [JURIST report] for the leaders of the Islamist group Jamaat e Islami for crimes committed during 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War [GlobalSecurity backgrounders]. The Bangladesh ICT was established in March 2010 to hear cases against individuals accused of war crimes during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. According to Law Minister Shafique Ahmed [official profile], the tribunal will include [AP report] three high court judges and six investigators retired from civilian, law enforcement, and military careers.




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Ninth Circuit allows Argentine suit against Daimler AG for involvement in 'Dirty War'
Julia Zebley on May 19, 2011 10:31 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [text, PDF] Wednesday that a lawsuit by Argentine citizens can proceed against Daimler AG [official website] for the actions of Mercedes-Benz Argentina [official website, in Spanish] during the nation's 1976-1983 "Dirty War" [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The suit, which was dismissed by the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] in 2005 due to a lack of jurisdiction, alleges that Mercedes-Benz Argentina "collaborated with state security forces to kidnap, detain, torture, and kill the plaintiffs and/or their relatives." The plaintiffs seek damages under the alien tort statute [text] and the Torture Victims Protection Act of 1991 [text]. The initial judgment stated that the case should be brought in Argentina or Germany, Daimler AG's place of incorporation. In the opinion, Judge Reinhardt rejected this and stated the US has jurisdiction over the claims:
The reality is that in an increasingly complex and globalized economy, international corporations such as DCAG reap enormous profits from the sale of their goods in the United States. The sales are achieved through the use of major distributors, frequently in the form of subsidiaries. Many international companies organize their corporate structure and establish subsidiaries for the sole purpose of obtaining the maximum benefit from the American market. To the ordinary American, and certainly to us, it would seem odd, indeed, if the manufacturer of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, which are sold in California in vast numbers by its American subsidiary, for use on the state's streets and highways, could not be required to appear in the federal courts of that state.
He also determined that neither Argentina nor Germany would be fully adequate forums to address the suit. Daimler AG intends to appeal the decision [Reuters report] and denies all charges stemming from the original lawsuit.

Argentina continues to prosecute those accused of committing human rights abuses during the Dirty War. Earlier this week, eight former Argentine military officers were convicted for the massacre of Margarita Belen [JURIST report]. An Argentine federal court in April sentenced [JURIST report] former general Eduardo Cabanillas to life in prison for his involvement in the Dirty War. Former general Luciano Benjamin Menendez, already serving a life sentence, was sentenced to an additional life sentence [JURIST report] in March for the attack and murder of five urban guerrilla group members. Also in March, an Argentine court commenced the trial of former dictators Jorge Videla [Trial Watch profile; JURIST news archive] and Reynaldo Bignone [JURIST news archive] for allegedly overseeing a systematic plan to steal babies [JURIST report] born to political prisoners. In December, Videla was sentenced to life in prison [JURIST report] for crimes against humanity. Also last May, Argentine authorities arrested [JURIST report] former secret service agent Miguel Angel Furci on charges of human rights abuses. Furci, a former agent of the Secretariat of State Intelligence (SIDE), was charged with 70 kidnappings and the torture of detainees at Orletti.




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Egypt revolution resulted in at least 840 deaths: Amnesty report
Zach Zagger on May 19, 2011 10:07 AM ET

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[JURIST] At least 840 people were killed, and more than 6,000 were injured during the Egyptian revolution to oust former president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile; JURIST news archive], according to an Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] report [PDF] released Thursday. AI argues that Egypt must do more to deal with the victims of human rights violations the organization claims were perpetrated by Egypt's security forces. The report argues that the new Egyptian government should take three broad steps to remedying the violations: Egypt should "conduct full, impartial and independent investigations into all cases of human rights violations which took place during the unrest," provide financial compensation to those who suffered human rights violations, and "undertake a fundamental overhaul of all the security and law enforcement bodies, and make public a clear structure of the various security branches with a clear chain of command and full accountability under the law."

Earlier this month, former Egyptian interior minister Habib el-Adly was convicted [JURIST report] on charges of corruption and money laundering and sentenced to 12 years in prison. He is also set to face a separate trial this Saturday over his involvement in the killing of protesters. Mubarak is also facing charges [JURIST report] over the killings of protesters and could face the death penalty if convicted. He also faces charges [Ahram report] of corruption and embezzlement of public funds. Zakaria Shalash, head judge of the Cairo Court of Appeals, said this month that Mubarak may face execution [Ahram report] and that Adly's testimony could help prove Mubarak was an accomplice to the killings. In February, AI reported new evidence that the Supreme Military Council of Egypt had been torturing protester-detainees [JURIST report]. Through various detainee accounts, AI stated that individuals were tortured "to intimidate protesters and to obtain information about plans for the protests." Also in February, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported that the Egyptian military was improperly detaining protesters and allowing prisoner abuse [JURIST report].




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DOJ files brief in Florida health care appeal
Julia Zebley on May 19, 2011 9:22 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Wednesday urged the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] to overturn a ruling [brief, PDF] declaring the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) [HR 3590; JURIST news archive] unconstitutional. The DOJ argued that the health care reform law is constitutional due to the overwhelming burden on interstate commerce without the law's enactment:
Plaintiffs do not dispute that the commerce power allows Congress to regulate how people pay for services in the vast interstate health care services market, which is quintessential economic activity. They take issue, instead, with the means that Congress chose to regulate this economic activity. Plaintiffs urge that the correct way to ensure that people pay for the medical services they consume is not by imposing an insurance requirement, but by "imposing restrictions or penalties on individuals who attempt to consume health care services without insurance." ... Congress did not exceed its commerce power by opting to require minimum insurance coverage or the payment of a tax, instead of conditioning access to health care on the purchase of insurance and thereby denying the sick and injured access to medical care if they do not have coverage. Plaintiffs' proposed regulatory scheme disregards both the essential characteristics of the health care services market and the nature of insurance. Because the need for health care is unpredictable, plaintiffs' approach would require that individuals obtain insurance or else risk being left on the street after a car accident. Thus, under plaintiffs' scheme, the penalty for failing to maintain minimum coverage—denial of treatment—would be far more draconian than the tax penalty that Congress enacted.
In January, Judge Roger Vinson of the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida [official website] voided [JURIST report] the PPACA, saying that requiring all Americans over the age of 18 to have health insurance exceeded the power of Congress under the Commerce Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder]. The DOJ filed an appeal [JURIST report] in March.

Court challenges to the PPACA continue across the nation. Earlier this week, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) [advocacy website] sought reinstatement [JURIST report] of its dismissed lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health care reform law. In April, the US Supreme Court denied [JURIST report] Virginia's request for the court to rule on the constitutionality of the health care reform law on an expedited basis. A judge for the US District Court for the District of New Jersey [official website] rejected [JURIST report] a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality, on jurisdictional grounds of standing [Cornell LII backgrounder], similar to a dismissal [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the District of New Hampshire [official website]. A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida [official website] struck down the law in January, while in October, a judge in Michigan upheld the law [JURIST report]. US Courts of Appeal for the Third, Sixth and Fourth circuits are all hearing oral arguments in appeals of lower court rulings, while appeals are pending in the DC circuit as well as the Eighth and Ninth circuits.




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Afghan Guantanamo detainee, suspected terrorist dies in apparent suicide
Zach Zagger on May 19, 2011 8:55 AM ET

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[JURIST] An Afghan Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee believed to be an al Qaeda leader, was found dead in his cell in what appears to be a suicide [press release], the US Southern Command [official website] announced Wednesday. Guards found the 37-year-old Inayatullah not breathing and unresponsive in his cell. They immediately began rescue treatments and summoned emergency medical personnel, but they were unable to revive him. The remains are being treated in a culturally respectful way, but an autopsy is planned. The Navy is not immediately disclosing [AP report] details of the death or in which section of Guantanamo Inayatullah was being held. The death is still being investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Inayatullah was transferred to Guantanamo [JURIST report] in 2007. The Department of Defense (DOD) said that he admitted to being the head of al Qaeda operations in Zahedan, Iran, and to orchestrating al Qaeda terrorist attacks.

Numerous deaths and apparent suicides at Guantanamo have fueled critics arguing for the shut down of the controversial detention facility. In February, the Center for Constitutional Rights said the death of Guantanamo detainee Awal Gul, from a heart attack, highlighted the problems [JURIST report] with the facility. Gul had been detained at Guantanamo since October 2002. In January, Human Rights Watch criticized President Barack Obama [JURIST report] for failing to shut down the facility as he promised during the 2008 presidential campaign. In May 2008, detainee Mohammad al-Qahtani [JURIST news archive], a Saudi Arabian citizen known as the "20th hijacker" for his alleged role in 9/11, attempted suicide after he was reportedly upset about the charges the DOD brought against him. In June 2006, three detainees died [JURIST report] in apparent suicides. In 2005, American lawyer Joshua Colangelo-Bryan [professional profile] representing six Bahraini men who were being held without charges, said he witnessed an attempted suicide, which he argued was a sign of the desperation of the detainees.




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US Army charges sixth soldier in Afghanistan civilian deaths
Erin Bock on May 19, 2011 8:23 AM ET

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[JURIST] US Army prosecutors charged a sixth soldier on Tuesday for his involvement in a murder plot that led to the deaths of three Afghan civilians. Staff Sgt. David Bram of Joint Base Lewis-McChord [official website] is charged [Reuters report] with solicitation to commit premeditated murder, failure to report crimes including murder, planting evidence near the body of an Afghan national, unlawfully engaging in murder scenario conversations with subordinates and aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon. Bram is the sixth soldier from the 5th Stryker Brigade to be charged in connection with the three Afghan deaths, which took place between January and May of last year in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. A military investigation revealed that soldiers from the brigade had been plotting since 2009 to kill unarmed Afghans and stage them to look like casualties of combat. Another soldier, Specialist Jeremy Morlock [JURIST news archive] pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in March to three counts of murder as well as single counts of assault, conspiracy, obstructing justice and illegal drug use in exchange for a maximum sentence of 24 years in prison. Morlock described Bram's involvement in his plea agreement [AP report], claiming that Bram overhead other soldiers planning civilian deaths and told Morlock that it was clear to go ahead with one of the killings in January 2010. Bram faces up to 21 years in prison if convicted of all charges against him.

This does not mark the first time Bram will face charges before a military tribunal for misconduct. Bram was court-martialed in November [JURIST report] for charges unrelated to the murders. He was accused of severely beating an Army private in his unit to keep the soldier from informing superiors about alleged drug abuse within the unit. The charges included conspiracy to commit assault and battery, unlawfully striking another soldier, violating a lawful order, dereliction of duty, cruelty, maltreatment and endeavoring to impede an investigation. The probe into 12 members of the 5th Stryker Brigade regarding the civilian deaths began in May 2010 [JURIST report]. Staff Sgt. Robert Stevens, another member of the brigade, pleaded guilty in December [JURIST report] to shooting two unarmed Afghan farmers following a plea agreement that will allow him to remain in the military after serving a nine month sentence and testifying against other soldiers accused of terrorizing civilians.




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UN urges DRC to strengthen rule of law
Julia Zebley on May 18, 2011 3:54 PM ET

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[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] and the UN Security Council [official website] called Wednesday for continued reforms in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) [JURIST news archive] in order to strengthen the country's rule of law. President of the Security Council, Gerard Araud, spoke [text] on the DRC's "peace and security, the forthcoming elections, governance and institution building, and economic development":
The Security Council stresses the need for urgent progress, with regard to governance and institution building, on judicial reform and support to domestic courts, in order to ensure the rule of law and strengthen the fight against impunity. In this regard, the Council notes the interest of the Congolese authorities for establishing specialized mixed courts to address serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, complemented by their existing cooperation with the International Criminal Court.
Earlier, Ban also discussed [text] these four areas for development and emphasized the continued importance of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) [official website]. Both focused on the continued prevalence of sexual assaults in the nation. In response, the DRC called for the UN to withdraw from the nation [AFP report].

The DRC continues to be a center for turmoil in Africa. In March, a military court sentenced 11 army officers [JURIST report] to prison for raping more than 20 women last year. The same court found Lt Col Kibibi Mutware guilty of involvement in mass rapes [JURIST report] that took place on New Year's Day and sentenced him to 20 years imprisonment, dismissing him from the military. Eight of his troops were also given prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years and expelled from the army for their involvement in the attack. The DRC has been called the rape capital of the world [BBC report] by senior UN officials. Members of the UN Security Council expressed "outrage" [statement] last August over a different mass rape in the DRC, calling for justice for the victims [JURIST report]. In December 2009, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged MONUC to stop funding military groups [JURIST report] in the country that are committing human rights abuses. MONUC has been operating in DRC since 1999. The conflict in the DRC has claimed more than four million lives and has been ongoing since 1983. MONUC has overseen elections and continues to provide armed protection for civilians in certain areas, particularly the North and South Kivus provinces.




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Ivory Coast president asks ICC to launch probe into crimes after disputed election
Zach Zagger on May 18, 2011 3:30 PM ET

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[JURIST] Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara [BBC profile] has asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to launch an investigation into alleged crimes committed as a result of the disputed presidential elections last November, according to a letter [text, PDF, in French] dated May 3 and published to the ICC website Wednesday. The letter asks ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official website] to bring an impartial investigation [AFP report] into the most serious crimes since the November 28 election. Ocampo has said that his office will launch a formal investigation into the mass killings. Ouattara was sworn into office [WSJ report] earlier in May after months of conflict between his forces and those loyal to former president Laurent Gbagbo [BBC profile] who refused to leave office. Ouattara's forces, with the help of French military, finally captured Gbagbo in April after besieging his residence.

In April, a Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] report urged Ouattara to conduct an investigation [JURIST report] into alleged atrocities carried out by his forces in its attempts to secure the presidency. According to the report, the pro-Ouattara forces, known as the Republican Forces of the Ivory Coast, killed more than 100 civilians, raped at least 20 supporters of Gbagbo and burned at least 10 villages in March. Also last month, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [official website] reported the deaths of at least 800 civilians [JURIST report] in the Ivory Coast town of Duekoue as a result of intercommunal violence. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] had urged all parties in the Ivory Coast to show restraint and called for an independent investigation into post-election violence [JURIST reports]. In January, UN officials expressed "grave concerns" [JURIST report] regarding the post-election violence, cautioning that genocide could be imminent.




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Bulgaria government approves bill targeting organized crime
Julia Zebley on May 18, 2011 2:53 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Bulgarian government passed a long-delayed bill on Wednesday that allows "civil confiscation" of assets before conviction. This allows the Commission for Establishing of Property Acquired from Criminal Activity [official website] to launch investigations of people who cannot account for their income [Reuters report], in a move designed to target organized crime. The bill has yet to be passed by the parliament.

The European Commission (EC) [official website] released reports [JURIST report] in March 2010 that said Bulgaria [report, PDF; summary, PDF] needed to do more to combat corruption and organized crime and conduct judicial reforms in order to enjoy its full rights as a member of the European Union (EU) [official website]. 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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ICC warns Libya regime against covering up possible war crimes
Julia Zebley on May 18, 2011 1:58 PM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official websites] declared on Wednesday that any authority attempting to cover up crimes in Libya will be held accountable. In a letter sent to Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi [AFP report], Ocampo warned against diplomats covering up crimes for Libyan leader Mummar Gaddafi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Further, Ocampo alleged that cover-ups in Libya go so far that any trace of a crime is destroyed [Middle East Online report]. Ocampo announced Monday that he is seeking arrest warrants [JURIST report] for Gaddafi and two others in his "inner circle" on charges of crimes against humanity. Libya's government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim dismissed this, stating the court has no jurisdiction over Tripoli and denied that any war crimes had occurred.

Ocampo had previously said that his office was planning to seek five arrest warrants [JURIST report] in connection with Gaddafi's administration. He indicated that there was strong evidence of Gaddafi's involvement in various crimes against humanity, including the shooting of civilians, massive arrests, torture and forced disappearances. Ocampo revealed in April that his office had uncovered evidence [JURIST report] that Gaddafi planned to attack civilians to forestall regime-toppling revolution. Ocampo indicated that the plans were made in response to the conflicts in Tunisia and Egypt and included shooting civilians. In March, Ocampo told the press that he was 100 percent certain his office would bring charges [JURIST report] against Gaddafi. Also in March, the ICC launched a probe into allegations of crimes against humanity [JURIST report] by the Libyan government.




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ECCC judges order prosecutor to retract public request for further investigations
Zach Zagger on May 18, 2011 1:46 PM ET

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[JURIST] Judges at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] on Wednesday ordered [order, PDF] a prosecutor to retract statements requesting further investigation into those responsible for war crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archives] regime. Co-Investigating Judges You Bunleng and Siegfried Blunk [official profiles] issued the order demanding that Co-Prosecutor Andrew Cayley retract his statement within three days. Cayley released a statement [press release] to the public that he had requested further investigation by the court into ECCC Case 3 [materials]. He said the information was released pursuant to tribunal rules "to ensure that the public is duly informed about ongoing ECCC proceedings." The judges, however, said Cayley breached the tribunal's confidentiality and ordered the retraction, though did not say what the penalty would be for failure to comply. Some critics believe that the investigation into ECCC Case 3 was ended prematurely [AP report] after demands by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen [BBC profile] to limit the prosecutions.

Last October, Hun Sen informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] in a meeting that the government will not allow [JURIST report] the prosecution of low-ranking Khmer Rouge officers by the ECCC. Earlier this week in ECCC Case 2 [materials], a panel of judges denied a motion for pretrial release [JURIST report] by former Khmer Rouge official Ieng Sary [ECCC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Ieng, 85, served as deputy foreign minister under the Khmer Rouge regime during its reign in Cambodia from 1975-1979. Citing the ECCC rules and the Cambodian rules of criminal procedure, he argued that the court had no authority to detain a prisoner for more than three years without certain substantive rulings, making his detention illegal since November 2010. Ieng's co-defendants Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Thirith [ECCC backgrounders] have all challenged pretrial custody unsuccessfully. In March, Kaing Guek Eav [ECCC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], a former prison chief at the notorious Toul Sleng prison under the Khmer Rouge, better known as "Duch," appealed a 35-year sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity handed down by the ECCC [JURIST reports] last July. The conviction was the court's first since its founding in 2006.




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Rhode Island committee sends civil union bill to House
Julia Zebley on May 18, 2011 12:46 PM ET

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[JURIST] Rhode Island's House Judiciary Committee [official website] sent Bill 2011-H6103 [text, PDF] to the House floor [official website] after a 9-3 vote [AP report] in favor of it on Tuesday. The bill was introduced earlier this month [press release] and is modeled after similar laws in Illinois, Delaware and Hawaii [JURIST reports], granting all rights of marriage to same-sex couples. The bill, considered a compromise between gay and anti-gay rights activists, has upset both groups [AP report]. The House is expected to vote [materials] on the bill on Thursday.

Same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] continues to be a controversial and divisive issue through the US, although a recent poll [materials] suggests support for legalization is growing. The Minnesota Senate [official website] earlier this month approved a voter referendum [JURIST report] to amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Last month, a Montana judge dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST report] that had called for the state to provide legal status to same-sex relationships. Also in April, the Indiana Senate [official website] overwhelmingly approved [JURIST report] an amendment to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage or any "substantially similar" status, and the Wyoming Senate [official website] in February approved a bill that would void in Wyoming any same-sex marriages and civil unions [JURIST report] performed in other jurisdictions. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington, DC [JURIST reports].




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Israel ex-president prison sentence delayed pending appeal
Julia Zebley on May 18, 2011 11:33 AM ET

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[JURIST] Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] had his seven-year prison sentence for rape and sexual assault delayed Wednesday pending the completion of his appeal [JURIST reports]. The Supreme Court of Israel [official website, in Hebrew] also ruled earlier that the 300-page appeal will be made public [Ynet News report] in the future under court restrictions. The Tel Aviv District Court [official website] convicted Katsav [JURIST report] in December, finding that he assaulted a female employee of the Department of Tourism during his time as minister and two women at the President's Residence during his time as president. Katsav's appeal puts forth that his relationship with the female employee was consensual and the trying judiciary was biased against him due to the media's pervasiveness during the trial.

Katsav was initially indicted on rape charges [JURIST report] in 2009 for allegedly assaulting female employees in the 1990s. In 2008, Katsav rejected a plea agreement [JURIST report] that would have permitted him to plead guilty to lesser charges of indecent assault, sexual harassment and obstruction of justice in exchange for a suspended sentence and the dropping of rape charges. The plea deal had been criticized [JURIST report] by women's and civil rights activists, prompting five separate petitions to overturn the agreement.




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Argentina officers sentenced to life in prison for 'Dirty War' massacre
Julia Zebley on May 18, 2011 10:40 AM ET

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[JURIST] Eight former Argentine military officers were convicted on Monday of liability for the massacre of Margarita Belen [Provincial Commission for Memory materials, in Spanish] during the nation's 1976-1983 "Dirty War" [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The massacre involved the torture and execution of 22 political prisoners mostly belonging to the Montoneros, an urban guerrilla rebel group, on December 13, 1976, as they were transported between prisons. The military maintained that the prisoners were armed and attacked them. One officer was found not guilty [Clarin report, in Spanish].

Argentina continues to prosecute those accused of committing human rights abuses during the Dirty War. An Argentine federal court in April sentenced [JURIST report] former general Eduardo Cabanillas to life in prison for his involvement in the Dirty War. Former general Luciano Benjamin Menendez, already serving a life sentence, was sentenced to an additional life sentence [JURIST report] in March for the attack and murder of five urban guerrilla group members. Also in March, an Argentine court commenced the trial of former dictators Jorge Videla [Trial Watch profile; JURIST news archive] and Reynaldo Bignone [JURIST news archive] for allegedly overseeing a systematic plan to steal babies [JURIST report] born to political prisoners. In December, Videla was sentenced to life in prison [JURIST report] for crimes against humanity. Videla's trial commenced in July after he was charged with an additional 49 counts [JURIST reports] of murder, kidnapping and torture last May following the identification of 40 bodies in Buenos Aires in 2009. Also last May, Argentine authorities arrested [JURIST report] former secret service agent Miguel Angel Furci on charges of human rights abuses. Furci, a former agent of the Secretariat of State Intelligence (SIDE), was charged with 70 kidnappings and the torture of detainees at Orletti.




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Myanmar releasing nearly 15,000 prisoners after UN visit
Zach Zagger on May 18, 2011 10:33 AM ET

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[JURIST] Myanmar began releasing as many as 15,000 prisoners Tuesday as part of an amnesty program after a visit from a special envoy from the UN secretary-general, but rights groups claim the government has not gone far enough. On Monday, President Thein Sein issued an order [UPI report] commuting death sentences to life sentences and commuting prison sentences by one year. The UN secretary-general's envoy to Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar [official profile], visited the country from May 11-13 and called on the government to release all of its political prisoners. But few of the prisoners being released by the government are political prisoners. Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, criticized the response [press release]:
The government's gesture will be welcomed by a great many prisoners in Burma, but for the 2,100 political prisoners unjustly serving sentences of up to 65 years, the one-year reduction is a sick joke. This is a pathetic response to international calls for the immediate release of all political prisoners.
HRW is also calling on Myanmar to eliminate the death penalty entirely. The government maintains its position that it is not detaining any political prisoners [AP report].

In March, Myanmar underwent a transfer of power [BBC report] from a military regime to a civil system after holding its first elections in 20 years. However, critics argue that the new regime is merely a sham since it is made up of military generals and with the military party winning 80 percent of the vote. Last December, a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] expert Tomas Ojea Quintana [official profile; JURIST news archive], a UN Special Rapporteur, urged Myanmar's military government [JURIST report] to release 2,202 political prisoners. Quintana called for the release of the "prisoners of conscience," many of whom, he says, suffer from health problems as a result of the harsh detention conditions. Quintana claims the release is necessary to promote democracy. Last November, Myanmar's government released pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], ending her almost eight years under house arrest. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] hailed her release and encouraged the country to release all political prisoners [press release]. Suu Kyi's release came days after the Myanmar Supreme Court rejected an appeal [JURIST report] challenging the conditions of her house arrest.




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Khodorkovsky files appeal, seeks probe against judge
Julia Zebley on May 18, 2011 9:15 AM ET

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[JURIST] Lawyer for former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday appealed [executive summary, PDF] his December conviction [JURIST report] and requested that an Investigative Committee open a probe [text, in Russian] against Judge Viktor Danilkin. In February, Danilkin's assistant accused the judge of not writing the verdict [JURIST report] and stated he was coerced into reading it [interview text, in Russian]. Khodorkovsky's lawyers allege that Danilkin committed fraud and forgery and knowingly made unfair judgments. The appeal alleges that the verdict does not identify acts implying criminal liability, that there were fundamental and irreparable violations of due process and that the verdict contradicts previous rulings:
The verdict subsequently issued in the second criminal case against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev—most likely to be enshrined as "sacred" by the appellate court—does in fact rely upon canceling and changing laws of formal logic and commonly known facts. The verdict is a knowing and willful fictional description of purported criminal conduct, devoid of corpus delicti, blind to the preponderance of exculpatory evidence and built upon a bulldozing of due process. Should it be upheld as expected upon appeal, the verdict will stand as a monumental embarrassment to the Russian judiciary and to those state officials who seek to portray it as a valid act of justice.
The appeal hearing has been postponed for a week [Moscow Times report], so judges can fully understand Khodorkovsky's claims. Supporters of Khodorkovsky assert that this is to prevent President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile; JURIST news archive] from being questioned on the trial during his press conference on Wednesday.

In December, Danilkin sentenced [JURIST report] Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev [defense website; JURIST news archive], to six additional years in prison, extending their imprisonment to a total of 14 years. Their defense counsel staunchly criticized the ruling, claiming [press release] that the court blocked significant amounts of testimony and evidence submitted by the defense and systematically quashed objections to their omission. The verdict drew vehement international criticism [JURIST report], including from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile], who said [press release] that the ruling "raises serious questions about selective prosecution." The Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs [official website, in Russian] dismissed critics, saying [press release, in Russian] that "[a]ttempts to exert pressure on the court are unacceptable." The men are currently serving eight-year prison sentences for fraud and tax evasion [JURIST report], to which they were sentenced in 2005 for the same money laundering from Yukos. Last May, former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov [BBC profile] testified [JURIST report] that Putin ordered Khodorkovsky's arrest for political reasons, indicating that Khodorkovsky had funded the Communist Party [party website, in Russian] without first getting approval to do so from the president. In March 2010, Khodorkovsky criticized Russia's justice system [JURIST report] as an "assembly line" that inevitably finds the government's political enemies to be guilty.




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Rights group claims Palestinian Authority, Hamas guilty of torture
Daniel Richey on May 18, 2011 8:50 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Palestinian human rights group released a report this week criticizing Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas [CFR backgrounders] security forces for violations of civil rights in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In its newest annual report, the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) [advocacy website] accuses the PA of torture, onerous security screenings and arbitrary detentions, while also accusing Hamas of torture and arbitrary arrests. The report warns the organizations not to allow Palestinians' rights to be suppressed by overwhelming security apparatuses, citing recent revolts in Arab states such as Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya [JURIST news archives] as the consequences of oppressive use of police power.

Accusations of human rights violations in the Palestinian territories [UNICEF backgrounder], not just by Israel but by the PA and Hamas as well, continue to be of international concern. In January, UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk alleged that Israeli authorities continued to commit illegal acts that threaten the viability of the Palestinian state [JURIST report] in the Palestinian territories, including the killing of four Palestinians by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) [official website]. Last September, a UN panel of experts [UN materials] criticized [JURIST report] investigations carried out by Israel and Hamas into the 2008-2009 conflict in the Gaza Strip [JURIST news archives], but praised the PA's report, which it said comported with international standards. In June 2010, Israel-based rights group B'Tselem [advocacy website] released an annual report [text, PDF; JURIST report] on human rights in the Palestinian territories, which noted that fatalities dropped 80 percent from 2009 to 2010 and that the quality of life had improved in the West Bank, something it attributed to a reduction in security checkpoints and detentions.




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US Senator Leahy proposes bill requiring warrants to search e-mails
Zach Zagger on May 18, 2011 8:47 AM ET

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[JURIST] US Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] introduced a bill [text, PDF] Tuesday amending the 25-year-old Electronic Communications and Privacy Act (EPCA) [text], which he authored, to require the government to obtain a warrant before searching private e-mails and other data stored on an Internet cloud. The bill removes the 180-day rule that only requires a warrant to search e-mails that are unopened and stored for less than 180 days. In 1986, e-mail was only stored on servers briefly [Wired report] before being delivered to the the recipient's inbox, and e-mail older than six months was assumed to be abandoned. Leahy, who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website], expressed the need to update the EPCA, passed in 1986, to bring it up to speed with the vast changes in Internet communication. He made a statement [press release] that, at the time, the EPCA was one of the nation's premier privacy laws:
But, today, this law is significantly outdated and out-paced by rapid changes in technology and the changing mission of our law enforcement agencies after September 11. Updating this law to reflect the realities of our time is essential to ensuring that our federal privacy laws keep pace with new technologies and the new threats to our security.
The American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] lauded the proposed legislation [press release] as a step forward but said more protections are needed such as stricter reporting requirements to inform the public how the surveillance powers are being used and a suppression remedy to exclude improperly obtained evidence from trial.

Last year, the Federal Bureau Investigation (FBI) [official website] came under fire after it was discovered it had collected more than 2,000 telephone records [JURIST report] between 2002 and 2006 by claiming the phone calls being made related to possible terrorism emergencies. The collection of telephone records on the basis of non-existent emergencies is a violation of the EPCA. In 2005, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] held that the EPCA should be broadly interpreted [JURIST report] to allow an e-mail provider alleged to have read correspondence in transit to customers to be tried on federal charges. The federal government filed suit [EPIC backgrounder] against Bradford Councilman, former vice president of online bookseller Interloc, which is now part of Alibris [corporate website], alleging the defendant provided customers with e-mail addresses and then directed employees to write code that would save and copy inbound communications from Amazon.com to those addresses before they were delivered.




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Ex-Khmer Rouge minister denied pre-trial release
Daniel Richey on May 18, 2011 7:55 AM ET

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[JURIST] A panel in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] on Monday denied [judgment, PDF] a motion for pretrial release by former Khmer Rouge [BBC backgrounder] official Ieng Sary [ECCC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Ieng, 85, served as deputy foreign minister under the Khmer Rouge regime during its reign in Cambodia from 1975-1979. Citing Rules 63(6-7) and 68(1) of the Internal Rules of the ECCC [text, PDF] and Article 210 of the Cambodian Code of Criminal Procedure [text, PDF, in French], he argued that the court had no authority to detain a prisoner for more than three years without certain substantive rulings, making his detention illegal since November 2010. Taking a different interpretation of the statutes and emphasizing the need to prevent the defendant from fleeing, the court denied Ieng's request:
[The Chamber has been] provided with limited practical particulars in support of the Defence request for bail. ... At the hearing, the Defence merely expressed the hope that either the Royal Government of Cambodia or the ECCC would be in a position to provide security, transportation and medical care for the Accused if he were detained outside the ECCC Detention Facility. It has not provided ... any guarantee that the Accused would respect summons to appear in court. The Chamber therefore finds continued detention at the ECCC to be necessary to ensure the presence of the Accused during trial proceedings[.]
Ieng faces charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in connection with the deaths of more than 2 million Cambodians in the Khmer Rouge "Killing Fields."

Ieng's co-defendants in ECCC Case 2 [materials], Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Thirith [ECCC backgrounders] have all challenged pretrial custody unsuccessfully. In March, Kaing Guek Eav [ECCC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], a former prison chief at the notorious Toul Sleng prison under the Khmer Rouge, better known as "Duch," appealed [JURIST report] a 35-year sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity handed down by the ECCC [JURIST report] last July. The conviction was the court's first since its founding in 2006.




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Hate crimes against LGBT people rise worldwide: UN rights chief
Zach Zagger on May 17, 2011 2:27 PM ET

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[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned Tuesday that hate crimes against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people are on the rise worldwide, marking the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Pillay said that statistics show that homophobic-based crimes are on the rise [UN News Centre report] around the world, urging that states act to stop this trend. Homosexuality remains a criminal offense in more than 70 countries, and Pillay argues that states have an obligation to decriminalize the behavior under international law. In a video message, Pillay said homophobia and transphobia are the same as other condemned forms of prejudice:
Homophobia and transphobia are no different to sexism, misogyny, racism, or xenophobia, but whereas these last forms of prejudice are universally condemned by governments, homophobia and transphobia are two often overlooked. Each and everyone of us is entitled to the same rights, to the same respect, and ethical treatment regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity.

In the US, some measures have been taken to stop hate crimes against LGBT individuals. In March, US Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) and Senator Al Franken (D-MN) [official websites] introduced legislation to protect LGBT students [JURIST report] in federally funded public elementary and high schools from bullying. In 2009, US President Barack Obama signed into law [JURIST report] a bill that contained a measure extending the definition of federal hate crimes to include crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. Homosexuality remains a crime in many countries including Uganda, which has been harshly criticized throughout the international community since the introduction [BBC report] in October 2009 of its Anti-Homosexuality Bill [text, PDF], which has since been stalled in the Parliament. The bill would impose harsh penalties for homosexuality, including death in some circumstances, and imposes punishments of up to three years in prison for individuals, including family members, who fail to report offenders. Uganda currently criminalizes homosexual behavior [BBC report] with up to 14 years in prison. Last year, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official website] called for countries around the world to abolish laws discriminating against gay and lesbian individuals [JURIST report].




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Federal appeals court upholds Minnesota campaign finance law
Zach Zagger on May 17, 2011 12:50 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday upheld [opinion, PDF] a Minnesota campaign financing [JURIST news archive] law prohibiting direct contributions to candidates and affiliated entities. The Minnesota law was being challenged by two non-profit advocacy organizations and a for-profit business which argued the law was in violation of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] making it unconstitutional to ban corporations from making independent expenditures, meaning political speech not coordinated with a particular candidate. The Minnesota law [text] forces corporations to contribute to a registered political fund subject to a various statutory requirements including the filing of disclosure reports. The Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the Taxpayer League of Minnesota [advocacy websites] and the for-profit Coastal Travel Enterprises [official website] argued that such requirements violate Citizens United's proscription on banning corporate independent expenditures and its ban on forcing corporations to make donations through Political Action Committees. However, the court held that:
Minnesota did not ban corporate independent expenditures. Instead, based upon the lower court's findings, as strongly supported by the record, we find that Minnesota created a statutory scheme designed to require corporations to disclose certain information when making independent expenditures. ... Based upon the record before the district court, Minnesota appears to have adequately tailored its laws because, as we found in the previous section, Minnesota's provisions collectively impose no materially greater burden on corporations than the disclosure laws at issue in Citizens United.
The Minnesota finance law was at the center of controversy when one of the disclosure reports showed that Target, Best Buy [corporate websites] and other corporations had donated money [Minneapolis Star Tribune report] to a group supporting Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. His stance against same-sex marriage caused protests against the companies.

Campaign finance regulation has been in a state of flux since Citizens United was decided in January of last year. Last month, a judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin [official website] dismissed two challenges [JURIST report] to campaign financing schemes for Wisconsin Supreme Court elections. Last March, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in two consolidated campaign finance cases. In Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether the First Amendment [text] forbids states from providing publicly financed candidates with additional government subsidies, which are triggered by independent expenditure groups' speech against such candidates or by the candidates' privately financed opponents. In McComish v. Bennett, the court will determine whether Arizona's matching funds and the law regulating campaign financing to equalize resources among candidates and interest groups, rather than advancing a compelling state interest in the least restrictive manner, violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments [text].




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Rwanda genocide tribunal convicts ex-military chief Bizimungu, 3 others
Zach Zagger on May 17, 2011 11:14 AM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] on Tuesday convicted former Rwandan army chief Augustin Bizimungu and three others involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Bizimungu was sentenced to 30 years in prison while two others, Francois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye and Innocent Sagahutu, to 20 years in prison and Augustin Ndindiliyimana to time served since his arrest in 2000. Bizimungu was found guilty on six counts of genocide and crimes against humanity for murder, extermination and rape in addition of violations of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions [text]. However, all four were acquitted on the charge of conspiracy to commit genocide with the court saying that it did not believe the prosecution had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the all four were involved in such a conspiracy. Bizimungu was arrested in August of 2002 in Angola and transferred to the tribunal in in 2004. During the genocide, Bizimungu ordered soldiers and policeman to exterminate [HRW report] tens of thousands of Tutsi civilians who had taken refuge in churches, hospitals and schools. The soldiers and police also forced ordinary civilians to join in the hunting down and killing of Tutsis under the threat of punishment.

Last December, the ICTR sentenced [JURIST report] former Rwandan Armed Forces lieutenant Ildephonse Hategekimana to life imprisonment after convicting him on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. The court found Hategekimana guilty of three counts of genocide stemming from his involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, specifically in the massacre of civilian Tutsis in the Rwandan town of Butare. Last month, the ICTR removed US lawyer and JURIST Forum [website] contributor Peter Erlinder [professional profile; JURIST news archive] from his position as an ICTR defense lawyer. The appeals chamber said the dismissal was due to Erlinder's failure to appear at a tribunal and cited Rule 46 of the ICTR Rules of Procedure and Evidence [text] which allows the court impose sanctions for lawyer's misconduct. Erlinder argues [JURIST op-ed] the dismissal was part of a wider history of institutional bias that has helped the Rwandan government label him and other defense counsel "genocide deniers" subject to official threats of arrest and even death.




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ACLJ appeals dismissal of health care reform lawsuit
Zach Zagger on May 17, 2011 9:52 AM ET

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[JURIST] The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) [advocacy website] Tuesday is seeking reinstatement of its dismissed lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health care reform law [text; JURIST news archive]. The ACLJ filed an appeal [brief, PDF] in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] asking the court to reverse a lower court decision to dismiss the lawsuit [JURIST report] last February, and enjoin the enforcement of the the part of the health reform law known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The brief argues PPACA's mandate that individual citizens purchase and maintain health insurance is unconstitutional because it is beyond Congress' power under the Commerce Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder]. The brief says:
The individual mandate is unconstitutional because it exceeds even the outermost bounds of Congress's Article I authority and is inconsistent with the constitutional system of dual sovereignty that divides power between the federal and State governments. ... Congress cannot 'regulate' inactivity by requiring individuals to buy a good or service as a condition of their lawful residence in the United States, and Congress does not have carte blanche to include unconstitutional provisions within a larger scheme of commercial regulation.
The brief further argues that the PPACA violates the two of the plaintiff's rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) [42 USC § 2000bb text] because they believe the individual mandate "would violate their religious belief that God will protect them from illness or injury" or force them to have to pay penalties for refusing to violate their faith. The ACLJ also filed amicus briefs in challenges to the health care reform law by the states of Florida and Virginia.

Last February, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] dismissed the ACLJ's lawsuit, ruling that Congress acted within its constitutional powers in passing the health care reform law. The court also found that the RFRA was not violated since the PPACA allows individuals to make a payment in lieu of coverage and the individual mandate is essential to the PPACA. The court concluded that the individual mandate was not a substantial burden on the plaintiffs' Christian faith and it is the "least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest." Also last February, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) asked federal judge Roger Vinson to clarify that states must continue to enact the PPACA as the government appeals from Vinson's January ruling finding the law unconstitutional [JURIST reports]. There is also an ongoing challenge in Virginia over a split decision in the US district courts with the Eastern District of Virginia ruling against individual mandate provision and the Western District of Virginia dismissing a challenge [JURIST reports]. In October, a federal judge in Michigan ruled [JURIST report] that the law is constitutional under the Commerce Clause.




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Germany prosecutors appeal release of convicted Nazi death camp guard Demjanjuk
Aman Kakar on May 17, 2011 8:49 AM ET

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[JURIST] German prosecutors said Monday they are appealing a German court's decision to release Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk [NNDB profile; JURIST news archive] after he was convicted [JURIST report] of helping murder thousands during the Holocaust. Last Thursday, a German court in Munich found the 91-year-old Demjanjuk guilty of assisting in the murder of nearly 28,000 Jews while serving as a guard at the Sobibor death camp. He was sentenced to five years in prison, less than the six years sought by the prosecution [JURIST report]. But Judge Ralph Alt ordered his release [DW report] because of his advanced age and because the verdict is not final. Appeals could take another year or more. With no surviving witnesses, Demjanjuk was convicted based on wartime documents as prosecutors proved he was guilty because he worked at the death camp. Germany's chief Nazi war crimes investigator also stated that there are two investigations underway [Reuters report] that are similar to the Demjanuk case.

Demjanjuk's trial began [JURIST report] in November 2009 but was marked by extensive delay. Last May, the court denied a motion to dismiss the charges [JURIST report] filed by the defense, which argued there was a lack of credible evidence. The court rejected the argument, saying they found the evidence against Demjanjuk to be strong. In October 2009, Demjanjuk was found fit to stand trial after the court rejected appeals relating to his health [JURIST reports], although the court limited hearings to no more than two 90-minute sessions per day. Demjanjuk fought a lengthy legal battle over his alleged involvement with Nazi death camps during World War II. He was living in the United States deported to Germany after the US Supreme Court [official website] denied his stay of deportation [JURIST report].




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Prosecutors urge transfer of international criminals to tribunals
Jennie Ryan on May 17, 2011 7:45 AM ET

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[JURIST] Prosecutors from six world criminal courts released a joint statement [text, PDF] Sunday urging the continued support and cooperation of the international community in aiding special tribunals in the prosecution of international criminals. The Sixth Colloquium of International Prosecutors took place over two days in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and included international prosecutors from the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) [official websites]. Prosecutors addressed the need for cooperation from states in transferring fugitives to the international courts and tribunals before they close and thus lose the ability to prosecute suspects:
[We] STRESS the urgent need to locate, arrest and transfer fugitives to the international criminal courts and tribunals whose closures are fast approaching [and] URGE national authorities to ensure full commitment to the end of impunity and to eliminating safe havens for those suspected or indicted for international crimes [and] RECOGNISE the essential support and cooperation of States in enabling international criminal courts and tribunals to pursue their respective mandates.
The SCSL is the first tribunal scheduled to close its operations following completion of the prosecution of former Liberian president Charles Taylor [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Taylor is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity [JURIST report] including murder, rape, sexual slavery and acts of terrorism.

This is not the first time a delegation of international criminal prosecutors has come together to urge the support of the international community. In September, current and former international prosecutors signed the fourth Chautauqua Declaration [text, PDF] praising recent advances in international law and urging countries to continue supporting the international courts [JURIST report] in order to maintain the spirit of the Nuremburg Principles [text]. At that time, prosecutors also urged countries to fulfill their obligations under international law by investigating and prosecuting, or transferring to the appropriate international court, suspects who violate international criminal law, including sitting heads of state.




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Malaysia court rules sodomy case against opposition leader Anwar to continue
Zach Zagger on May 16, 2011 3:09 PM ET

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[JURIST] A Malaysian court ruled Monday that prosecutors have enough evidence to pursue a sodomy case against opposition leader and former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim [official profile; JURIST news archive]. The Kuala Lumpur High Court ruling [CNN report] forces Anwar to enter his defense to the charge that he sodomized a former male political aide. Judge Zabidin Mohamad Diah said the testimony of the aide was credible, finding the evidence sufficient for a prima facie case against Anwar. Under Malaysian law, sodomy is punishable by 20 years in prison regardless of consent. This is the second sodomy case launched against Anwar who is expected to take the stand when the trial resumes June 6. Anwar has consistently argued that the allegations are a politically motivated attempt to silence the opposition. The continuance of the trial may strengthen [Reuters report] Prime Minister Najib Razak's majority government. A general election is expected to be called this year even though one is not due until 2013.

Anwar was arrested in July 2008 after he filed a lawsuit against his accuser [JURIST reports] in late June. Last December, Anwar filed a complaint [JURIST report] in a Malaysian court over a WikiLeaks [website] cable published by Australian newspapers stating he had engaged in sodomy. The leaked US diplomatic cable claimed Australia's Office of National Assessments [official website] had concluded, in agreement with Singapore's Intelligence Agency, that the sodomy charges against Anwar were the result of a set-up, but that he was in fact guilty of committing the acts. Last year, the Federal Court of Malaysia [official website], the country's highest court, rejected Anwar's 2006 defamation suit against against former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad [BBC profile] for allegedly suggesting at a human rights conference that Anwar was unfit for office because of his supposed homosexuality. Anwar was Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister under former Mahathir Mohamad until he was fired in 1998 following earlier sodomy charges of which he was initially convicted but later acquitted. He reentered Malaysian politics following the expiration of a ten-year ban [JURIST report] against him for unrelated corruption charges.




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Supreme Court rules on exception to whistleblower law
Zach Zagger on May 16, 2011 1:29 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-3 in Schindler Elevator Corp. v. US ex rel. Kirk [Cornell LII backgrounder, JURIST report] that a written response to a Freedom of Information Act [text; JURIST news archive] request is a "report" within the exception to a federal whistleblower law. Daniel Kirk brought a qui tam suit under the False Claims Act (FCA) alleging that his former employer Schindler Elevator had submitted hundreds of false claims under its federal contracts after he learned of the false claims from documents his wife received from a FOIA request. The Civil War-era FCA authorizes private citizens, dubbed qui tam relators, to sue on behalf of the US accusing federal contractors of fraudulent claims against the government. However, the FCA public disclosure bar [31 USC § 3730(e)(4)] forecloses qui tam suits "based upon the public disclosure of allegations or transactions ... in a congressional, administrative, or Government Accounting Office report, hearing, audit, or investigation." The five-justice majority opinion by Clarence Thomas held that the written response to the FOIA request met the definition of report, thus precluding Kirk from bringing his qui tam suit. The court found that the ordinary meaning of the term "report" supported including the FOIA response. Furthermore, Thomas noted that precluding a qui tam suit in this case was supported by the public disclosure bar's rationale to prevent windfalls to qui tam relators. Three justices dissented arguing that the FOIA documents only reinforced Kirk's own impressions from his experience working for Schindler Elevator and that FOIA documents should not automatically fall under the public disclosure bar. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself.

The ruling overturned the decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website], which held [opinion, PDF] that the FOIA information was not a report or investigation under the statute and was not barred from litigation. The Supreme Court specifically rejected the circuit court's argument applying the noscitur a sociis canon to find that the meaning of report was narrower than the ordinary meaning based on the words immediately neighboring it. At oral arguments, counsel for Schindler Elevator argued that the circuit court decision opens the door to "a host of lawsuits by relators with no meaningful information to contribute," which is a situation that the public disclosure bar was created to prevent. In response, counsel for the government and Kirk argued that Schindler's overly broad application of the public disclosure bar harms the policy goal of "encourag[ing] whistleblowers specifically to use government records in their investigations" under the False Claims Act.




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Supreme Court orders new hearing on employee benefits claim
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 16, 2011 11:19 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday in CIGNA Corp v. Amara [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a district court incorrectly ordered relief under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) [materials]. The court had been asked to determine what "showing" is required to entitle participants in the pension plan to recover benefits where there has been an alleged inconsistency between the explanation of benefits and the terms of the plan. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit applied a "likely harm" standard when affirming the district court's ruling that plaintiffs were entitled to additional benefits. The Supreme Court found that the district court was not authorized to grant relief under ERISA's recovery-of-benefits-due provision but that a different provision authorized similar relief, remanding the case to the district court for reconsideration. Justin Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority:
The upshot is that we can agree with CIGNA only to a limited extent. We believe that, to obtain relief by surcharge for violations of §§102(a) and 104(b), a plan participant or beneficiary must show that the violation injured him or her. But to do so, he or she need only show harm and causation. Although it is not always necessary to meet the more rigorous standard implicit in the words "detrimental reliance," actual harm must be shown.

We are not asked to reassess the evidence. And we are not asked about the other prerequisites for relief. We are asked about the standard of prejudice. And we conclude that the standard of prejudice must be borrowed from equitable principles, as modified by the obligations and injuries identified by ERISA itself. Information-related circumstances, violations, and injuries are potentially too various in nature to insist that harm must always meet that more vigorous "detrimental harm" standard when equity imposed no such strict requirement.

Justice Antonin Scalia filed an an opinion concurring in the judgment. Justice Sonia Sotomayor took no part in the decision.

The circuit courts have been deeply divided over the issue of what standard to apply, with some requiring a showing of prejudice or reliance in order to recover benefits and others only requiring a discrepancy between the explanation of benefits and the terms of the plan. The Second Circuit has been the only circuit to apply the "likely harm" standard.




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Supreme Court allows warrantless search when exigency is created by police
Zach Zagger on May 16, 2011 10:39 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] 8-1 in Kentucky v. King [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the exigent circumstances rule applies when the police do not act or threaten to act in a way that violates the Fourth Amendment [text]. The case involved a situation where police smelled marijuana outside an apartment door and then knocked on the door announcing their presence. When they heard sounds consistent with the destroying of evidence, they kicked down the door and saw, in plain view, the occupants attempting to destroy the drugs. The Kentucky Supreme Court [official website] held, despite the existence of exigent circumstances, a warrantless arrest was not supported because the police should reasonably have foreseen that their action would create the exigency. However, the US Supreme Court's opinion by Justice Samuel Alito held the police action does not create an exception to the exigent circumstances rule unless it violates the Fourth Amendment. In this case, since knocking on the door was lawful, the exigent circumstances created by the destruction of evidence supported the warrantless arrests. Alito argued that the occupants were under no obligation to open the door: "Occupants who choose not to stand on their constitutional rights but instead elect to attempt to destroy evidence have only themselves to blame for the warrantless exigent-circumstances search that may ensue." Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the lone dissent, arguing that court's ruling violates two Fourth Amendment principles: first, that warrantless arrests inside homes require higher scrutiny, and secondly, that, whenever practical, police should first acquire a warrant from a neutral magistrate.

The Supreme Court's ruling laid to rest a circuit court split with five different tests being used to determine whether the police-created exigency exception applied, with the states developing more. The Kentucky Supreme Court had applied a two-pronged test whereby a warrantless arrest is not allowed when either the police deliberately created the exigency in bad faith or whether it was reasonably foreseeable that the police action would create an exigency.




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Supreme Court to rule on claim against private prison contractors
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 16, 2011 10:22 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in Minneci v. Pollard [docket; cert. petition, PDF] to decide whether to allow a cause of action against private contractors running a federal prison. The issue is whether the court should imply a cause of action under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics [opinion text] against individual employees of private companies that contract with the federal government to provide prison services, where the plaintiff has adequate alternative remedies for the harm alleged and the defendants have no employment or contractual relationship with the government. Respondent Richard Lee Pollard sustained injuries while in federal prison and filed suit against the private company that had contracted with the government to run the facility, as well as several of its employees, alleging a violation of his Eighth Amendment [text] rights. A district court dismissed Pollard's case, finding that alternative and superior remedies were available in state court, but the Ninth Circuit reversed [opinion, PDF], creating a split among the circuit courts.

Also Monday, the court declined to hear an appeal on the CIA's extraordinary rendition program [JURIST news archive]. In a September en banc rehearing, the full US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to dismiss the suit [JURIST reports] against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan [corporate website] on the basis of the state secrets privilege [JURIST news archive]. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] appealed [JURIST report] to the Supreme Court in December.

The court also declined to rule on 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]. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected [JURIST report] Newdow's claim last May.




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ICC prosecutor seeks Gaddafi arrest warrant for crimes against humanity
Zach Zagger on May 16, 2011 9:13 AM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official websites] announced Monday that he is seeking arrest warrants for Libyan leader Mummar Gaddafi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and two others in his "inner circle" on charges of crimes against humanity. Ocampo said his office has gathered evidence that Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and his brother-in-law Abdullah al-Sanussi, plotted together to orchestrate attacks on civilians. He said Saif al-Islam was acting as a "defacto Prime Minister" and called al-Sanussi, Gaddafi's "right-hand man" and "executioner." Ocampo said his office was almost prepared for trial [BBC report], having collected quality testimony from some who have fled Libya. Ocampo said:
Muammar Gaddafi committed the crimes with the goal of preserving his authority. ... The [ICC prosecutor's office] was able to gather direct evidence about orders issued by Muammar Gaddafi himself. The evidence shows that Gaddafi relied on his inner circle to implement a systematic policy of suppressing any challenge to his authority.
The ICC judges still have to approve the arrest warrants. The Pre-Trial chamber may deny the request, approve it or ask for additional information before issuing the warrants. The Libyan government has already said it will ignore the warrants and criticized the authority of the ICC over African leaders.

Ocampo had previously said that his office was planning to seek five arrest warrants [JURIST report] in connection with Gaddafi's administration. He indicated that there was strong evidence of Gaddafi's involvement in various crimes against humanity, including the shooting of civilians, massive arrests, torture and forced disappearances. Ocampo revealed in April that his office had uncovered evidence [JURIST report] that Gaddafi planned to attack civilians to forestall regime-toppling revolution. Ocampo indicated that the plans were made in response to the conflicts in Tunisia and Egypt and included shooting civilians. In March, Ocampo told the press that he was 100 percent certain his office would bring charges [JURIST report] against Gaddafi. Also in March, the ICC launched a probe into allegations of crimes against humanity [JURIST report] by the Libyan government.




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Belarus presidential candidate sentenced to 5 years in prison for inciting riots
Julia Zebley on May 15, 2011 3:31 PM ET

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[JURIST] Belarus's Minsk City Court on Saturday sentenced former presidential candidate Andrey Sannikau [Free Belarus Now profile] to a five-year maximum security prison sentence for organizing protests following the re-election [JURIST report] of President Alexander Lukashenko [BBC profile, JURIST news archive] in December 2010. Lukashenko reportedly won 80 percent of the vote, while Sannikau was second with a distant 2.5 percent [RFE/RL report]. Currently, four other presidential candidates are awaiting trial, while one was released in January [JURIST report], and another has fled Belarus to seek asylum in the Czech Republic. All of the detained protesters [Belarusian Helsinki Committee] are accused of violating Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus, for inciting and participating in riots. In addition to maintaining that the election was rigged, Sannikau alleged confessions he gave before the trial were extracted under torture and threats to his family. Both the US [press statement] and the European Union (EU) [press release, PDF] have condemned Sannikau's conviction and the ongoing trials, with the US considering all those arrested on December 19 as "political prisoners" and promising to consider Belarus' human rights violations in future dealings with the nation.

Hundreds of activists were also arrested after protesting Lukashenko's 2006 presidential win, including opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich [JURIST reports]. While Lukashenko has since sought to improve his country's ties with western nations, the US State Department has historically criticized Belarus' human rights record [JURIST report]. The UN General Assembly Third Committee and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights [JURIST reports] have similarly denounced Belarus for human rights abuses. In 2008, the Belarus KGB detained at least 16 journalists [JURIST report] and searched their homes and offices for materials that allegedly libel Lukashenko. Also in 2008, Belarusian district courts sentenced at least 55 demonstrators [JURIST report], including journalists, for participating in a banned "Freedom Day" rally in Minsk to protest the presidency of Lukashenko. An opposition activist who was critical of Lukashenko during his 2006 presidential campaign was sentenced [JURIST report] to three years in jail in 2008 by a Belarusian court after being arrested for making comments that Lukashenko was connected to the disappearances of opposition leaders Yuri Zakharenko, Viktor Gonchar and Anatoly Krasovsky.




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Switzerland voters reject proposed ban on assisted suicide for foreigners
Zach Zagger on May 15, 2011 11:57 AM ET

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[JURIST] Voters in the Swiss city of Zurich on Sunday rejected proposed bans on assisted suicide [JURIST news archive] for foreigners seeking an end to their lives. The ban was aimed at stopping [BBC report] a phenomenon known as "death tourism" or "suicide tourism" where people travel to Switzerland from abroad to take advantage of its legal assisted suicide. Voters rejected two referenda: one to ban assisted suicide, and the other to limit it only to residents of Zurich. The city had become a popular destination for travelers from countries where assisted suicide remains illegal, including from the neighboring countries of Germany and France. The local organization Dignitas [official website, in German] has helped more than 1,000 people take their own lives. Two conservative parties, the Evangelical People's Party and the Federal Democratic Union [advocacy websites, in German] supported a one-year residency requirement in Zurich before being allowed to use assisted suicide services. Still, the major left and right parties urged voters to strike both referenda. Assisted suicide has been legal in Switzerland since 1941 and permits a non physician with no vested interest in death to provide passive assistance such as providing the necessary drugs.

Last year, Switzerland's Federal Council and Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) [official websites] introduced legislation to establish stricter rules on assisted suicide after a consultation with local governments, government agencies and other organizations found that 75 percent of respondents favored such a bill. In 2007, the Swiss Supreme Court ruled that people with serious mental illnesses may be permitted to commit physician assisted suicide under certain conditions. Also last year, the UK chief prosecutor issued a new policy for prosecuting assisted suicide cases, that, while not totally legalizing the practice, introduced six public interest considerations against prosecution, including compassion of the suspect, an effort to dissuade the victim and reporting the suicide to the police. Barbara Coombs Lee [President, Compassion and Choices] argued in support of the UK's measures [JURIST op-ed] that assisted suicide for terminally ill adults "has become a necessity for peace of mind in an age when medical science has turned the dying process into a long, slow, tortuous path of pain and degradation of function and personhood." In the US, after a ruling by the Montana supreme court [JURIST report] last year, assisted suicide is now legal in three states: Montana, Oregon and Washington.




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Bangladesh high court rules former martial law regime unconstitutional
Zach Zagger on May 15, 2011 10:19 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Bangladesh [official website] on Sunday struck down the nation's Seventh Amendment [constitution text] which legitimized the military rule of General HM Ershad. The court declared [Daily Star report] Ershad's martial law rules, regulations and orders to be illegal, void and unconstitutional, upholding a decision by the lower court. The court said, however, that international treaties formed during that period will still stand. Siddique Ahmed, who was convicted for murder by a martial law court in 1986, challenged the constitutionality of the Seventh Amendment and sought to have his conviction overturned. The Supreme Court cancelled Siddique's trial and conviction and ordered a retrial in a lower court. The court also granted Siddique bail to be released from jail. He was serving a sentence of life imprisonment.

Ershad came to power in 1982 after ousting the elected president Justice Abdus Sattar. He then suspended the constitution, dissolved parliament and declared himself the chief martial law administrator. The Seventh Amendment was passed in 1986 to amend the constitution to legitimize Ershad's usurpation.




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DOJ petitions federal appeals court for rehearing in wiretapping decision
Erin Bock on May 14, 2011 6:33 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday petitioned the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official websites] to reconsider a ruling [opinion, PDF] that plaintiffs in Amnesty v. Blai [ACLU materials] had standing to sue the US government over surveillance. The plaintiffs, including attorneys, journalists and rights organizations, facially challenged [JURIST report] Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [50 USC § 1881(a)], which was added by the FISA Amendments ACT of 2008 (FAA) [HR 6304 materials]. The law created procedures to allow electronic government surveillance of individuals living outside of the US for foreign intelligence purposes, which the plaintiffs alleged was violative of the Fourth Amendment, First Amendment and Article III of the Constitution. A 2009 ruling [JURIST report] from the US District Court in Manhattan dismissed the suit after finding the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue because they did not suffer an injury in fact. A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit determined that the plaintiffs had standing [JURIST report] because the law put them in a "lose-lose" situation whereby they could continue with their activities and risk monitoring or they could incur financial and professional costs in order to avoid monitoring. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU} [advocacy website], one of the plaintiffs in the case, urged the court to reject the petition for rehearing [statement], calling the government's efforts to block the FAA from judicial review "disappointing and dangerous."

The ACLU has been critical of other government surveillance programs. In February, Congress approved an extension of the USA Patriot Act [JURIST report] with no new privacy measures, allowing for continued use of roving wiretaps, tracking of "lone wolf" terrorism suspects and the government's ability to seize "any tangible items" in the course of surveillance. The ACLU criticized Congress for failing to add civil liberty and privacy protections into the bill and instead choosing to "punt [the] critical issue down the road." In December, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] dismissed [JURIST report] a constitutional challenge to the Patriot Act due to lack of standing. The US District Court for the District of Oregon [official website] had previously ruled that certain provisions of the act were unconstitutional [JURIST report].




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Bosnian Serb leader cancels referendum on war crimes court
Erin Bock on May 14, 2011 5:38 PM ET

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[JURIST] Milorad Dodik [official profile, in Serbian], president of the Bosnian Serb Republic, Republika Srpska [official website], announced on Friday that he has cancelled a referendum on the legality of the war crimes court that was set to take place next month. The referendum would have gauged support amongst citizens of Republika Srpska for the federal judiciary as well as the international envoy [Reuters report]. Proponents of the referendum insist that the judiciary is biased against Serbs in war crimes cases. Critics of the referendum questioned its legality, arguing that it is a violation of the Dayton Accords [materials], which separated Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) into two entities—Republika Srpksa is a mostly Serbian entity, and the Bosniak-Croat Federation is composed of mostly Muslims and Croats. Opponents argued that allowing only one region to determine the validity of a national system is illegal and would lead to increased ethnic tensions [Bloomberg report]. Dodik canceled the referendum in light of assurances made by Vice President of the European Commission Catherine Ashton [official profile] that the EU would review the judiciary [BBC report].

The War Crimes Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina [official website] was established in 2005 to reduce the caseload of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website]. In March, the court confirmed the indictment of a former police officer for genocide [JURIST report] for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre [JURIST news archive]. In January, the court sentenced a Muslim commander to 10 years in prison [JURIST report], overturning a 2008 acquittal regarding his failure to prevent the deaths of four prisoners in his custody and participating in their inhumane treatment. In December, the court convicted four former Bosnian Serb policemen [JURIST report] of killing at least 150 civilians during the 1992-1995 Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archive].




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Georgia governor signs anti-illegal immigration bill
Dan Taglioli on May 14, 2011 3:56 PM ET

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[JURIST] Georgia Governor Nathan Deal [official website] signed into law on Friday an "Arizona style" anti-illegal immigration bill [HB 87 text] that allows law enforcement officers to ask about immigration status when questioning suspects in criminal investigations. The law also imposes fines and prison sentences of up to one year for anyone who knowingly transports illegal immigrants during the commission of a crime, and requires businesses to use the federal E-Verify [official website] system to check the immigration status of potential employees, providing that workers convicted of using fake identification to gain employment could face up to 15 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. One report described the measure as one of the toughest anti-illegal immigration measures [CNN report] enacted by an individual state. In addition to demonstrations outside the capitol, the legislation has drawn threats of both lawsuits and boycotts, as did similar recent anti-illegal measures in other states.

The Georgia General Assembly [official website] approved the bill [JURIST report] in April. Several other state legislatures have also acted recently to implement so-called "Arizona style" immigration laws. Last month, the Indiana House of Representatives [official website] approved legislation [JURIST report] to revoke tax credits from businesses that hire illegal immigrants and require the use of the E-verify system to check the eligibility status of employees. Legislation similar to Georgia's has also been approved in Alabama, Virginia and Oklahoma [JURIST reports]. Arizona's law is currently enjoined, and Governor Jan Brewer has pledged to appeal to the US Supreme Court [JURIST reports].




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UN officials concerned over Middle East rights violations
Dan Taglioli on May 14, 2011 1:30 PM ET

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[JURIST] UN human rights officials expressed concern [UN News Centre report] Friday over rights violations in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen where governments have responded to ongoing reform protests with crackdowns and military deployments. The Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] is worried about NGO reports from Syria indicating as many as 850 people have been killed and thousands more arrested since demonstrations began in March. The UN Human Rights Council [official website] has ordered an assessment of the situation on the ground pending approval from Syrian authorities. Also in the Middle East, reports from Bahrain have indicated incommunicado detentions and denial of due process for hundreds of people connected with protests in the country, along with the reported torture and even death of some detainees. OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville stated:
We reiterate our call for prompt, impartial and transparent investigations into these allegations of grave human rights violations. We are deeply concerned about the reported scale of arbitrary detention and of the trials of civilians before military courts leading to life imprisonment and death sentences, which we have already said is illegal.
Colville also publicly urged Bahraini security forces to refrain from using force against peaceful protesters in planned upcoming demonstrations. Regarding nearby Yemen, Colville said the situation on the ground is difficult to assess due to authorities' lack of cooperation for humanitarian access, especially to afflicted areas. However, the OHCHR has condemned continued rights violations and killings across the country, and stands ready to deploy human rights officers to assess the situation, should Yemeni officials grant permission for such a visit.

At the end of April, the Human Rights Council, in an emergency special session, publicly condemned the violence [JURIST report] used by Syrian authorities against peaceful protesters. Also last month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] called for Syria to immediately halt the killings [JURIST report] and violence against civilian protesters in response to the fatal shootings of peaceful anti-government protesters. Pillay also urged the government of Bahrain to release detained activists [JURIST report] and exercise restraint against protesters. She expressed concern over the prosecution of medical professionals and the death sentences [JURIST report] handed to four activists last month. Earlier this month, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] released a report [text; PDF] urging the international community to pressure Yemeni authorities to investigate the deaths of protesters [JURIST report]. The report chronicles reports of beatings and use of excessive force by security forces including shootings of peaceful protesters. AI criticized the response of authorities to the mounting death tolls as woefully inadequate.




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Social media creating new opportunities for rights activists: AI report
Sarah Paulsworth on May 13, 2011 4:09 PM ET

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[JURIST] Recent revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa have demonstrated the unique opportunities that social media has created for human rights activists, according to an Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] report [text] released on Friday. However, repressive governments are now striking back by seeking to gain control of mobile telephone networks and the Internet. "The rise of social media offer an unprecedented opportunity for human rights change—but this change stands on a knife-edge," AI said in its report. In particular, during the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt [JURIST reports], the governments there restricted Internet access and shut down mobile telephone networks. At the same time, AI noted other governments, including the regimes in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya have embraced more ruthless tactics to counter activism, including murder. According to AI Secretary General Salil Shetty [official profile]:
People are rejecting fear. Courageous people, led largely by youth, are standing up and speaking out in the face of bullets, beatings, tear gas and tanks. This bravery—combined with new technology that is helping activists to outflank and expose government suppression of free speech and peaceful protest—is sending a signal to repressive governments that their days are numbered. But there is a serious fight-back from the forces of repression. The international community must seize the opportunity for change and ensure that 2011 is not a false dawn for human rights.
Much of the discontent that sparked the 2011 Arab revolutions was bubbling to surface even before 2011 and is reflected in AI's 2010 Annual Report [materials].

In late February, Human Rights Watch reported that more than 230 protesters had been killed within a six-day period in Libya, with the military and government supporters using live ammunition and machine guns on protesters, a shutdown of the Internet [JURIST report] and the arrest of those who spoke to foreign press. Syrian Internet users reported in early February that social media sites Facebook and YouTube are accessible [JURIST report] without proxy servers or VPNs. Syria appeared to be lifting the ban imposed in 2007 as a concession to avoid popular upheaval [DP report] in Syria. In late January, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay acknowledged reports of tactics including rubber-coated bullets, tear gas, water cannons and batons [JURIST report] in Egypt, and called on the government to investigate the reports of excessive force including civilian deaths. Pillay also pressed the government to lift the emergency law that had been in force for nearly 30 years and restore the use of mobile phones and social networks.




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Record companies reach settlement with file-sharing site LimeWire
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 13, 2011 4:02 PM ET

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[JURIST] Several major record companies announced Thursday that they have reached a $105 million settlement with music file-sharing website LimeWire [website]. A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] had issued a permanent injunction [text, PDF] in October to prevent the site from providing online users with the software necessary to share copyrighted files. The district court ruled that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) [trade website] has suffered and continues to suffer irreparable harm to its business and that even a permanent injunction will not give RIAA adequate remedy for its potential future injury as a result of continued peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing. The court also decided that LimeWire intentionally encouraged copyright infringement, particularly in light of its knowledge of other recent cases involving illegal file-sharing websites, like Grokster and Aimster [EFF materials]. The RIAA welcomed the settlement agreement:
The significant settlement underscores the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in the Grokster case—designing and operating services to profit from the theft of the world’s greatest music comes with a stiff price. The resolution of this case is another milestone in the continuing evolution of online music to a legitimate marketplace that appropriately rewards creators. This hard fought victory is reason for celebration by the entire music community, its fans and the legal services that play by the rules.
If a settlement had not been reached, LimeWire found Mark Gorton could have been liable for as much as $1.4 billion.

The US music industry has been actively litigating alleged copyright infringement in person-to-person online file sharing. In January 2010, a federal judge reduced [JURIST report] a $1.92 million jury verdict against a Minnesota woman who was found to have violated music copyrights to about $54,000. Chief Judge Michael Davis of the US District Court for the District Court of Minnesota [official website] called the damages amount "monstrous and shocking" and said the facts of the case could not justify the jury verdict. Davis emphasized that the defendant was an individual consumer who downloaded music for her own use and not for profit and also said that the damages to the plaintiffs, members of the RIAA, did not support the verdict. The judge ultimately decided the award should be triple the statutory minimum of $750 per song, because the defendant willfully shared 24 songs on the file-sharing program KaZaA [website] and because of the need for deterrence. In 2008, the RIAA said that it would discontinue its controversial policy [JURIST report] of suing suspected file-sharers and instead will seek cooperation with major Internet service providers to cut off access to repeat offenders.




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Missouri lawmakers approve late-term abortion ban
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 13, 2011 2:54 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Missouri House of Representatives [official website] on Thursday gave final approval [press release] to legislation [HB 213 materials] that would ban abortions [JURIST news archive] after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The measure, passed by a vote of 121-33, would impose penalties on doctors who fail to comply with the new restrictions. It would provide some exceptions, permitting abortions of viable fetuses only when the woman's life is endangered by a physical illness or disability, or when continued pregnancy poses the risk of substantial physical impairment to the pregnant woman. The legislation further requires a concurring opinion from a second physician before the abortion of a viable fetus can be performed. Doctors who abort viable fetuses in violation of the late-term abortion law could face up to seven years in prison and fines between $10,000 and $50,000. The measure was approved by the Senate in April after receiving preliminary approval [JURIST report] from the House in March. The bill will now go to Governor Jay Nixon [official website] for his signature.

Missouri is just the latest of several states to impose restrictions abortions after the 20-week mark, when some studies suggest a fetus can begin feeling pain. Indiana, Alabama, Ohio and Oklahoma [JURIST reports] have each passed legislation this year which restricts the abortion procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Iowa, Kansas and Idaho [JURIST reports] have also recently passed legislation restricting late-term abortions.




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ICC urges Djibouti to cooperate with arrest of al-Bashir
LaToya Sawyer on May 13, 2011 1:31 PM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Thursday informed [press release] the UN Security Council and the Assembly of States Parties about a recent visit by Sudanese President Omar-al Bashir [case materials; JURIST news archive] to Djibouti [BBC country profile] for the inauguration of the country's president. The notice also served as a reminder to Djibouti that, as a state party to the Rome Statute [text, PDF], it had an obligation to cooperate with warrants for arrests issued by the ICC for the Sudanese president. Al-Bashir faces seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity as well as three charges of genocide [JURIST reports] in relation to the Darfur conflict [BBC backgrounder]. The ICC rests its authority on enforcing Djibouti's obligation on prior decisions it has made regarding al-Bashir's arrest. The ICC reminded the states parties that pursuant to the warrants of arrests issued in March 2009 and July 2010 against al-Bashir, "the ICC Registrar had issued and transmitted requests for arrest and surrender of Mr. Al Bashir to all States Parties to the Rome Statute, including Djibouti." In addition to informing the council, the ICC has left room for the ICC and state party members to use any appropriate measures to effectuate the arrest of al-Bashir.

Other countries have also been reported for failing to arrest al-Bashir while he has been present inside their borders. In October, the ICC requested that Kenya arrest al-Bashir [JURIST report] while he visited that year for a second time. Previously, a-Bashir had visited Kenya for the signing of the country's new constitution [JURIST report]. Following his visit, the ICC reported Kenya [decision, PDF; JURIST report] to the UN Security Council and the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute for the violation in not arresting al-Bashir. Also following his August visit, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan urged Kenya to reaffirm its cooperation with the ICC by arresting al-Bashir [JURIST report]. In July, the ICC called for al-Bashir's arrest [JURIST report] during his visit to Chad, marking the first visit to an ICC member state since the warrants were issued. The ICC also reported Chad [decision, PDF] to the Security Council and Assembly of States Parties.




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McCain: Bin Laden information not obtained through torture
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 13, 2011 12:01 PM ET

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[JURIST] US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) [official website] said Thursday that information which led to the death of al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden [WP obituary; JURIST news archive] was not obtained through torture. Speaking on the floor of the US Senate [official website], McCain said that the name of Bin Laden's courier was not obtained from accused 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], contradicting reports from several current and former US officials:

In an op-ed published Thursday in the Washington Post, McCain argued that certain enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, constitute torture and that he opposes such techniques, saying, "abuse of prisoners sometimes produces good intelligence but often produces bad intelligence."

Bin Laden was killed [JURIST report] earlier this month in Pakistan by a small team of US military personnel. His death has ignited debate over whether it complied with international law. UN human rights officials have called on the US to disclose all details [JURIST report] related to Bin Laden's death. US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] has defended the killing as lawful and justified [JURIST report].




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Bangladesh high court lifts ban on fatwas, forbids enforcement
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 13, 2011 11:06 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Bangladesh [official website] on Thursday lifted a 10-year ban on fatwas, or Islamic religious edicts, but ruled that they cannot be enforced as punishment. The court found that fatwas can only be issued by appropriately educated persons [Daily Star report] and that no one can be forced to accept a fatwa. The court had declared fatwas illegal in 2001, but, in 2010, the court ruled that a person cannot be punished for issuing a fatwa. Thursday's ruling was welcomed [Daily Star report] by scholars and rights activists, but groups urged caution against the impact of the fatwa being declared legal. Clerics have criticized the ruling [BBC report].

Bangladesh, whose population is over 90 percent Muslim, has nonetheless maintained a secular legal system. In August, the Supreme Court ruled that workplaces and schools cannot force individuals to wear religious clothing [JURIST report] such as veils and skull caps. The court found that wearing religious clothing is an individual choice and cannot be made mandatory, and requiring individuals to wear religious clothing is a human rights violation in contravention of the Bangladeshi Constitution [text]. In July, the Supreme Court overturned a constitutional amendment that had allowed religious parties to participate in politics [JURIST report]. The court, upholding a lower court decision, held that the Fifth Amendment to the Bangladeshi Constitution, which allowed the participation of religious political parties and legitimized military rule, violated the principle of secularism and representative democracy found in the constitution's preamble.




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Pakistan court restrains president from political activities
LaToya Sawyer on May 13, 2011 10:51 AM ET

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[JURIST] Pakistan's Lahore High Court (LHC) [official website] ruled Thursday that President Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile] must not participate in political activities, insisting that the president's role is to remain neutral. Currently, Zardari also serves as a co-chairman for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) [party website]. The decision to remove Zardari from head of political party is in response to petitions challenging Zardari's ability to effectively serve in two roles [JURIST report]. Those in opposition to Zardari also claimed that Zardari was violating Pakistan's constitution [text] by serving in the capacity of president and party head simultaneously. The court rejected the argument that Zardari enjoyed presidential immunity from judicial intervention under the constitution. The LHC verdict, in support of the claim that the president should be a symbol of impartiality, ordered that Zardari disassociate himself from all political activities immediately.

Since becoming president in 2008, Zardari has faced several challenges. Last year, Zardari signed into law [JURIST report] the 18th Amendment bill [text, PDF], limiting presidential powers expanded under Pervez 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 to the office of the prime minister. 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]. 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 believed 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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France lower house approves ban on hydraulic fracturing
Aman Kakar on May 12, 2011 3:44 PM ET

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[JURIST] France's lower house, the National Assembly [official website, in French], approved a bill [TA Bill No. 658, materials, in French] on Wednesday to prohibit the drilling of gas and oil through hydraulic fracturing [EPA backgrounder] and to repeal hydraulic fracturing licenses granted to companies. The bill also requires license holders to submit a report within two months detailing the techniques used to mine for oil and gas. A list of the exclusive licenses to be repealed will appear in the Official Journal within three months if the bill becomes law. The bill was passed on a first reading. It must now be approved by the Senate.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, has become a controversial issue as it is implemented in the US and around the world. Hydraulic fracturing is a process in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped into the ground to create fractures in rocks which allows trapped gas and oil to come to surface. Environmental and health concerns associated with hydraulic fracturing include contamination of ground water, migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface and the potential mishandling of waste.




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Minnesota senate approves referendum on same-sex marriage ban
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 12, 2011 3:35 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Minnesota Senate [official website] on Wednesday approved a voter referendum [SF 1308 text] to amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive]. The measure was approved by a vote of 38 - 27, with only one Democrat joining Republicans in supporting the amendment. Minnesota law currently defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, but proponents say that a constitutional amendment is necessary to protect against same-sex marriage being legalized by a court. The measure must now be approved by the House of Representatives [official website], where it is expected to pass. If approved, it will go before voters in November 2012.

Same-sex marriage continues to be a controversial and divisive issue through the US, although a recent poll [materials] suggests support for legalization is growing. Last month, a Montana judge dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST report] that had called for the state to provide legal status to same-sex relationships. Also in April, the Indiana Senate [official website] overwhelmingly approved [JURIST report] an amendment to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage or any "substantially similar" status, and the Wyoming Senate [official website] in February approved a bill that would void in Wyoming any same-sex marriages and civil unions [JURIST report] performed in other jurisdictions. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington, DC [JURIST reports].




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House panel approves measure complicating 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' repeal
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 12, 2011 2:39 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee [official website] on Thursday approved legislation [press release] that could complicate the repeal of the military's controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy (DADT) [10 USC § 654; JURIST news archive]. The committee approved a revision to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 [materials] that would require the heads of all four military branches to certify that lifting the ban on gays in the military would not harm military operations. Currently, the repeal must only be certified by the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with full repeal to take place within 60 days of certification. The amendment was introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) [official website], who said [press release] that "excluding the service chiefs is a mistake." Gay rights groups such as Human Rights Campaign [advocacy website], however, claim [press release] that the measure is merely an "attempt to slow down repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and insert distracting issues into the debate."

US President Barack Obama signed the bill to repeal DADT [JURIST report] in December, but the process could still take months. Last month, US Undersecretary of Defense Clifford Stanley [official profile] testified that the repeal is on track to be complete midsummer [JURIST report]. The Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 [HR 2965 materials] was approved in the Senate in December after being passed [JURIST reports] by the House of Representatives the week before. Since the enactment of DADT in 1993, approximately 13,000 servicemen and women have been discharged from the armed forces as a result of the policy.




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Delaware governor signs same-sex civil unions bill
Aman Kakar on May 12, 2011 2:37 PM ET

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[JURIST] Delaware Governor Jack Markell [official website] on Wednesday signed into law a bill [SB 30 text] allowing same-sex civil unions [JURIST news archive] within the state. According to the legislation, individuals entering into a civil union "shall enjoy all the same rights, benefits, protections, and shall be subject to all the same responsibilities, as married persons under Delaware law." The bill also provides that "the rights of parties to a civil union, with respect to a child of whom either party becomes the parent during the term of the civil union, shall be the same as the rights (including presumptions of parentage) of married spouses." The Delaware Senate voted 13-6 to pass the bill in April, and the House of Representatives [official website] voted 26-15 the following week in favor of the bill [JURIST report]. The law takes effect on January 1, 2012. Delaware is the eighth state to allow civil unions for same-sex couples.

Issues surrounding same-sex civil unions and marriages continue to be debated throughout the US. In April, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire [official website] signed a bill [JURIST report] recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages [JURIST news archive] as legal domestic partnerships. House Bill 1649 amends the current law, which acknowledges out-of-state domestic partnerships and civil unions, but excludes same-sex marriage. The Senate approved the bill by a 28-19 vote after the House of Representatives passed the bill [JURIST report] by a similar margin. The bill will become effective 90 days after the close of the current legislative session. Also in April, the Arkansas Supreme Court [official website] upheld [JURIST report] a lower court decision invalidating a state ban on adoptions by same-sex couples. The court affirmed the decision of the Pulaski County Circuit Court invalidating Act 1 [ACLU backgrounder], a state law which prohibits all unmarried couples from adopting or fostering children in the state. The original suit was filed after the law was criticized for effectively denying all gay couples the right to adopt or foster a child because Arkansas does not recognize gay marriage.




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Federal judge refuses to block Indiana Planned Parenthood cuts
Alexandra Malatesta on May 12, 2011 12:36 PM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana [official website] on Wednesday denied a request from Planned Parenthood of Indiana (PPIN) [advocacy website] for an injunction and temporary restraining order to prevent Indiana from implementing a law cutting state funding for abortion [JURIST news archive] services. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels [official profile] signed the bill into law Tuesday in order to save $3 million in public funds used for services such as birth control, cancer screening and tests for sexually transmitted diseases. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website], together with PPIN, sought to maintain state funding while they pursued a suit challenging the law, but Judge Tanya Walton Pratt denied [AP report] their request. PPIN President and CEO Betty Cockrum criticized the ruling [press release]:
We are deeply disappointed that the judge decided not to stop this unconscionable law from impacting Hoosiers seeking preventive, reproductive health care. ... The ruling means that Hoosiers who rely on federal funding have lost access to their crucial and lifesaving preventive health care at Planned Parenthood of Indiana. ... [We] will continue to fight on behalf of thousands of patients at our 28 health centers around the state who count on PPIN for health care.
Ken Falk, Legal Director for the ACLU of Indiana, said [press release], "[f]amily planning dollars fund preventive health services that are critical to low-income and vulnerable women and their families... It is unlawful, unnecessary and cruel to deny these populations health services that they desperately need."

Tuesday's bill was approved [JURIST report] last month by the Indiana House of Representatives [official website] banning abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy, citing the possibility that after that point the fetus may be able to feel pain. Under HB 1210 [text, PDF], a physician must "[d]etermine in accordance with accepted medical standards the post-fertilization age of the fetus and which trimester the pregnant woman receiving the abortion is in [and] determine whether the fetus is viable" prior to performing an abortion. If the fetus is determined to be beyond the 20 week fertilization period, the abortion is banned. The bill makes the performance of an abortion beyond 20 weeks a criminal act with the limited exception of a procedure deemed necessary to save the life of the mother. The House also passed legislation [HB 1127 materials] mandating that an ultrasound be performed, and that the resulting image be viewed by the pregnant woman, before she can seek an abortion.




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Council of Europe launches international treaty to combat violence against women
Alexandra Malatesta on May 12, 2011 11:42 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Council of Europe (COE) [official website] on Wednesday launched the first international convention to combat violence against women [text]. The group announced [press release] that the "new landmark treaty of the Council of Europe opens the path for creating a legal framework at pan-European level to protect women against all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence." In response to a statistic that at least 15 percent of women [BBC article] have been victims of domestic violence, the treaty targets crimes including rape, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, forced abortion and forced sterilization. The treaty also recognizes:
the realization of de jure and de facto equality between women and men is a key element in the prevention of violence against women; ... that violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between women and men, which have led to domination over, and discrimination against, women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women; ... the structural nature of violence against women as gender-based violence, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men; ... ongoing human rights violations during armed conflicts that affect the civilian population, especially women in the form of widespread or systematic rape and sexual violence and the potential for increased gender-based violence both during and after conflicts; ... that women and girls are exposed to a higher risk of gender-based violence than men; ... that domestic violence affects women disproportionately, and that men may also be victims of domestic violence; [and] ... that children are victims of domestic violence, including as witnesses of violence in the family.
Thirteen countries signed the treaty during the 121st session held in Istanbul, including France, Germany and Spain.

Domestic violence continues to be a global problem. A 2010 Human Rights Watch report condemned [JURIST report] a United Arabic Emirates practice of a "husband['s] right to discipline his wife." The report noted that women in these countries still face many obstacles in achieving equality, and, despite the progress, women in the region still have little recourse for domestic violence and face discrimination in employment, education and politics. In 2009, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that the Turkish government is responsible for the death of a woman at the hands of her ex-husband because it failed to investigate complaints. A few months earlier, the India Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) [official website] announced that it would review [JURIST report] the country's controversial anti-dowry act [BBC backgrounder] because increasing numbers of Indian women had issued complaints about misuse. Despite legislation controlling the cultural and religious practice, India's dowry system continues illegally, leaving many women subject to abuse without enforcement of legal protections from so-called "dowry deaths". In 2008, Pakistan [JURIST report] instituted the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, 2008 [text, PDF], moving a step closer to outlawing domestic violence in the country by protecting women, children and domestic employees from mental, physical, and sexual abuse. In 2006, the COE released a report criticizing [JURIST report] France's human rights record and identifying impunity for domestic violence as a shortcoming in the French judicial system.




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Demjanjuk convicted of Nazi killings, released
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 12, 2011 11:00 AM ET

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[JURIST] A German court on Thursday convicted retired US autoworker John Demjanjuk [NNDB profile; JURIST news archive] of helping to murder thousands during the Holocaust, sentencing him to five years in prison and then releasing him pending appeal. The judge found that Demjanjuk, 91, served as a guard at the at the Sobidor death camp, assisting in the deaths of nearly 28,000 Jews. The five-year sentence is less than the six years sought by the prosecution [JURIST report]. Judge Ralph Alt ordered his release [DW report] because of his advanced age and because the verdict is not final. Appeals could take another year or more. This is likely to be one of the world's last Nazi war crimes trials.

Demjanjuk's trial, which began [JURIST report] in November 2009, was marked by extensive delay. Last May, the court denied a motion to dismiss the charges [JURIST report] filed by the defense, which argued there was a lack of credible evidence. The court rejected the argument, saying they found the evidence against Demjanjuk to be strong. In October 2009, Demjanjuk was found fit to stand trial after the court rejected appeals relating to his health [JURIST reports], although the court limited hearings to no more than two 90-minute sessions per day. Demjanjuk fought a lengthy legal battle over his alleged involvement with Nazi death camps during World War II. He was deported to Germany after the US Supreme Court [official website] denied his stay of deportation [JURIST report].




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Eleventh Circuit strikes bribery charges against ex-governor, ex-HealthSouth CEO
Aman Kakar on May 11, 2011 4:43 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] on Tuesday reversed two bribery charges [opinion, PDF] against former Alabama governor Don Siegelman [personal profile; JURIST news archive] and former HealthSouth [corporate website] CEO Richard Scrushy [JURIST news archive] and remanded the case for re-sentencing. The court upheld counts for federal funds bribery, depriving others of honest services, Scrushy's bribery of Siegelman and obstruction of justice. However, the court reversed counts based on the allegation that Scrushy used his seat on Alabama's Certificate of Need Review Board to attempt to affect the interests of HealthSouth and its competitors and that this self-dealing was a part of the larger scheme that Siegelman and Scrushy had orchestrated. The court agreed with Siegelman that there was no evidence at trial to link him to Scrushy's self-dealing scheme. The court also did not agree with the Government's post-Skilling theory of Scrushy's alleged bribery of another Health South employee:
The government's case, even in Counts 8 and 9, was always primarily focused on the pay-to-play scheme between Scrushy and Siegelman. The vast majority of the allegations and testimony went to prove this scheme. The government always described the scheme alleged in Counts 8 and 9 as selfdealing, and its attempt now—post-Skilling—to emphasize the alleged bribery of Adams finds some, but not much, support in the proof. The evidence that Adams intended to alter his official actions as a result of the receipt of benefits from Scrushy is insufficient, and Scrushy's convictions on Counts 8 and 9 must be reversed.
Scrushy said that he was pleased [FoxBusiness report] with the reversal of the bribery counts and that he plans to appeal to the Supreme Court [official website] to have the rest of the charges overturned.

Last June, the Supreme Court vacated the 2006 judgments [JURIST report] against Siegelman and Scrushy. Their cases were remanded to the Eleventh Circuit for proceedings consistent with the court's ruling in Skilling v. United States [opinion, PDF; JURIST report]. Siegelman and Scrushy were convicted in 2006 [JURIST report] on federal bribery and corruption charges. The convictions were appealed, and Siegelman had two counts of mail fraud reversed for lack of evidence. The court of appeals later denied a request [JURIST report] by Siegelman and Scrushy for an en banc rehearing of their convictions on charges of corruption.




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Rights group urges Bahrain torture investigation
Dan Taglioli on May 11, 2011 4:43 PM ET

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[JURIST] The government of Bahrain should suspend prosecution of civilians in military courts and set up an impartial commission to investigate torture allegations [press release], Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said Tuesday. A Bahraini military court was set to try 14 prominent government opposition activists Thursday, along with several more activists who are in hiding or exile and will be tried in absentia. Among the charges leveled against them are that they set up "terror groups to topple the royal regime and change the constitution," insulted the army, incited hatred, disseminated false information and illegally took part in rallies without notifying the authorities, according to state-run Bahrain News Agency (BNA) [official website]. Amnesty International has publicly stated [press release] that it "believes many of the defendants are likely to be prisoners of conscience, detained simply for exercising their right to peacefully express their political views in public." Subsequent to their arrests, at least two of the defendants were reportedly maltreated [Reuters report] during their incommunicado detainment, including prominent human rights defender Abdelhadi al-Khawaja, who at a court appearance this week bore visible signs of ill-treatment and perhaps torture, according to HRW. The New York-based rights group said that they could see a number of injuries to al-Khawaja's face, and that he told them he had been beaten and suffered four facial fractures, including one to his jaw that reportedly required four hours of surgery and a six-day stay at the Bahrain Defence Force hospital. BNA has denied the reports as fabricated and politically-motivated. Meanwhile, HRW has asked that Bahraini authorities allow all defendants full access to lawyers, family members and necessary medical care. HRW also noted that Bahrain is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits torture, and that the country has ratified the Convention Against Torture.

Six of the opposition leaders were arrested [JURIST report] in March after the government, backed by foreign troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) [official website], violently dispersed protesters in the capital of Manana. Many protesters are calling for the removal of the royal family, which has been in power since the 18th century. Last week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged the government of Bahrain to release detained activists [JURIST report] and exercise restraint against protesters. She expressed concern over the prosecution of medical professionals and the death sentences [JURIST report] handed to four activists last month. In April, human rights organizations including HRW and Doctors Without Borders (DWB) [advocacy website] criticized Bahrain [JURIST report] for rampant human rights abuses related to anti-government protests. This week Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa [official website] announced [JURIST report] that the three-month state of emergency [decree text, in Arabic] put in place [JURIST report] in mid-March in response to growing unrest, will be lifted two weeks early.




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India high court supports death penalty for honor killings
Aman Kakar on May 11, 2011 3:58 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Supreme Court of India [official website] on Monday expressed its support for death penalties for "honor killing" convictions in a ruling [text, PDF] upholding the life sentence for a man convicted of an honor killing. The court affirmed Bhagwan Dass's conviction on the charges of killing his daughter who had walked out of her marriage and began an affair with her cousin. The ruling by Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Misra advocated classifying honor killings as crimes that come within "the rarest of rare cases deserving death punishment." The court characterized the practice as barbaric and feudal and a slur on the nation. The court advocated for the death penalty as a deterrent and advised that the "gallows" await for those who plan on committing honor killings.

Although lower courts have given death sentences in honor killing cases, the Supreme Court had yet to weigh in on death penalties for honor killings. In April, the Supreme Court urged an end to honor killings [JURIST report] and called the custom wholly illegal. Last June, the Supreme Court ordered the central government and seven state governments to explain the steps they have taken to reduce honor killings [JURIST report]. The order came in response to a petition filed by Shakti Vahini [advocacy website], a non-governmental human rights organization seeking the implementation of stricter laws against the perpetrators of honor killings.




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UN rights official concerned over Syria relief access
Dan Taglioli on May 11, 2011 3:29 PM ET

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[JURIST] A UN rights official expressed concern [UN News Centre report] Tuesday regarding humanitarian aid access to Syrian cities where armed forces have been trying to put down anti-government protests. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos [official profile] issued a statement after the proposed relief mission to Deraa, the city where protests have been most extensive, failed to move forward on Sunday despite repeated entreaties to Syrian authorities for access. "The main objective of the mission was to independently assess the situation and plan a response if needed," Amos reported in her statement, but even a direct phone call from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] last week regarding the proposed assessment proved unavailing. Citing reports of Syrian tank deployment and shelling of residential areas, the humanitarian relief chief said she was worried that security operations in the cities could be preventing supplies of basic social services, especially hospital access for the many wounded civilians. Amos admitted she had no confirmation of the numbers, but Syrian human rights groups claim that hundreds of civilians have been killed and thousands more have been arrested or wounded.

Syria has struggled violently to end anti-government protests which began earlier this year. At the end of April the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website], in an emergency special session, publicly condemned the violence [JURIST report] used by Syrian authorities against peaceful protesters. Also last month UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] called for Syria to immediately halt the killings [JURIST report] and violence against civilian protesters in response to the fatal shootings of peaceful anti-government protesters. Assad has recently ended the 48-year-old state of emergency [JURIST report], an event of significant historical note, but protests have continued.




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India high court denies harsher sentences in Bhopal gas case
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 11, 2011 3:10 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Supreme Court of India [official website] on Wednesday dismissed [order, PDF] a government petition to impose harsher sentences on those convicted for their role in the 1984 Bhopal chemical spill disaster [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Seven former employees of US chemical producer Union Carbide [corporate website] were convicted [JURIST report] in June on charges of "death by negligence" and sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay USD $2,100. The sentences were decried as too lenient, and the Supreme Court agreed in August to reconsider a 1996 ruling [JURIST report] allowing the accused to be charged with negligence instead of culpable homicide. The Supreme Court, however, found Wednesday that there was no reason to overturn the 1996 ruling, dismissing the petition.

The convictions were the first related to the Bhopal disaster in which nearly 3,800 people were killed when toxic gas was accidentally released in the middle of the night by a chemical plant owned by a Union Carbide subsidiary company. Upwards of 15,000 others later died from exposure to the gas, and 50,000 were left permanently disabled. In November, the Indian government announced that it had authorized additional compensation [JURIST report] for the victims of the chemical spill. The new package includes USD $15.8 million, adding to the original disbursement in June of USD $148 million. In July, the Indian government apologized for improperly dumping waste [JURIST report] related to the Bhopal incident.




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US hedge fund founder convicted of insider trading
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 11, 2011 12:50 PM ET

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[JURIST] A federal jury on Wednesday convicted [press release, PDF] Galleon Group hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam on all 14 counts of insider trading. The jury in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] found that Rajaratnam orchestrated the largest hedge fund insider trading case in US history, finding him guilty of five counts of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and nine counts of securities fraud. US Attorney Preet Bharara said:
The message today is clear—there are rules and there are laws, and they apply to everyone, no matter who you are or how much money you have. Unlawful insider trading should be offensive to everyone who believes in, and relies on, the market. It cheats the ordinary investor, victimizes the companies whose information is stolen, and is an affront not only to the fairness of the market, but the rule of law. In just over 18 months, this office has charged 47 individuals with insider trading crimes; Rajaratnam is the 35th person to be convicted. We will continue to pursue and prosecute those who believe they are both above the law and too smart to get caught.
Rajaratnam faces a maximum sentence of 205 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for July 29. His lawyer plans to appeal [Bloomberg report].

Several other defendants have pleaded guilty in connection with the case. Danielle Chiesi pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in January. Former IBM [corporate website] senior vice president Robert Moffat was sentenced to six months in prison in September and ordered him to pay a $50,000 fine for his role in the scheme after pleading guilty [JURIST reports] in March 2010. Former Intel Capital [corporate website] executive Rajiv Goel pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to insider trading charges in February 2010. Rajaratnam, Chiesi, Goel and Moffat were arrested in October 2009 and charged [complaint, PDF] along with two other individuals and two business entities with insider trading. The complaint alleged that the individuals provided Galleon Group and another hedge fund with material nonpublic information about several corporations upon which the funds traded, generating $25 million in illicit gain. Rajaratnam and Chiesi originally pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] in December 2009 after being indicted for insider trading.




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Federal judge blocks Utah immigration law
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 11, 2011 11:54 AM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Utah [official website] on Tuesday blocked the state's controversial immigration law [HB 497 materials; JURIST news archive], less than 24 hours after it took effect. Judge Clark Waddoups issued a temporary restraining order [Salt Lake Tribune report] at the request of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) [advocacy websites] and other plaintiffs that challenged the law [JURIST report] last week. The bill, which has been compared to the Arizona immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive], was signed into law [JURIST report] in March by Governor Gary Herbert [official website] and requires police to check the immigration status of anyone arrested for an alleged felony or serious misdemeanor. The lawsuit claims that the law unconstitutionally interferes with federal powers over immigration enforcement and violates the Fourth Amendment search and seizure provision and the Equal Protection clause of the US Constitution. A hearing for a preliminary injunction was scheduled for July 14.

Several other state legislatures have also acted recently to implement so-called "Arizona style" immigration laws. Last month, the Indiana House of Representatives [official website] approved legislation [JURIST report] to revoke tax credits from businesses that hire illegal immigrants and require the use of the E-verify System [official website] to check the eligibility status of employees. Also in April, the Georgia General Assembly [official website] approved a bill requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone they have probable cause to believe has committed a criminal offense and requiring businesses to use E-Verify to check the immigration status of potential employees. Similar legislation has also been approved in Alabama, Virginia and Oklahoma [JURIST reports]. Arizona's law is currently enjoined, and Governor Jan Brewer has pledged to appeal to the US Supreme Court [JURIST reports].




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Georgia judge reverses decision, permits religious headwear in courtroom
John Paul Putney on May 11, 2011 10:22 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Georgia state court judge on Monday reversed his earlier decision blocking a Muslim man from entering his courtroom on three separate occasions on account of the man's religious headwear. Troy "Tariq" Montgomery wears a tight-fitting cap called a kufi—a traditional Muslim symbol of humility. Henry County State Court Judge James Chafin originally requested Montgomery show proof that wearing the kufi is required [AJC report]. The Judicial Council of Georgia decided to allow headwear for religious or medical reasons [AP report] in July 2009 following a similar dispute in December 2008 when a Muslim woman was arrested [JURIST report] after refusing to remove her headscarf in court [Times Georgian report]. Montgomery, who is contesting a speeding ticket, indicated he was surprised by the reversal and hopes no one else has to defend wearing Islamic attire in court.

The wearing of traditional religious clothing in court rooms and other public places has been highly contested in the US and around the world. In March, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to review a lower court order requiring a Muslim woman to remove her niqab [JURIST report] while testifying. The Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled [JURIST report] that a witness does not have to remove her veil unless the failure to do so will prevent the accused from receiving a fair trial, and should be determined on a case-by-case basis. In December, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia (ACLUGA) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Muslim woman [JURIST report] who was arrested for refusing to remove her headscarf in court. In October, the French Constitutional Council ruled [JURIST report] that a bill making it illegal to wear the Islamic burqa, niqab or other full face veils in public, conforms with the Constitution. Earlier that month, a Dutch politician suggested that the Netherlands will ban the burqa [JURIST report] as part of the government's plan to form a minority coalition. Last May, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that a Muslim woman's religious rights were not violated by police officers when she was forced to remove her headscarf while being detained in a holding cell. In April 2010, a judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan dismissed [JURIST report] a lawsuit against a Michigan judge who ordered a Muslim woman to remove her headscarf in court.




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Niger court drops corruption charges against ex-president Tandja
John Paul Putney on May 11, 2011 9:27 AM ET

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[JURIST] The appeals court in Niger's capital Niamey ordered the release of former president Mamadou Tandja [BBC profile] Tuesday after dropping all charges against the ousted leader. Tandja has been in custody for 14 months [AP report] following a military coup [JURIST report] in February 2010. The military junta charged Tandja with corruption [Reuters report] following his removal, based on a junta investigation that found USD $128 million was stolen during Tandja's 10-year presidency. The appeals court ruled that it was impossible to try a head of state after leaving office. The prosecution has not reacted to Tandja's release.

In November, voters in Niger have overwhelmingly approved a new constitution [JURIST report]. The Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD) suspended the previous constitution [JURIST reports], which allowed Tandja to remain in office for three more years and to run in any subsequent elections. The constitution is Niger's seventh since independence from France in 1960. In September 2009, members of Nigerien opposition parties said that police had detained 30 former opposition lawmakers allegedly at the behest of Tandja. The 30 former members of parliament were arrested on charges of embezzlement [JURIST report], but were likely being targeted for their dissidence, as they refused to recognize Tandja's expansion of powers. In February of last year, Nigerien rights group, the United Front for the Safeguard of Democratic Assets (Fusad), pushed for the prosecution [JURIST report] of Tandja on treason charges and corruption violating the constitution shortly after the coup.




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Federal appeals court hears arguments in health care reform challenge
Hillary Stemple on May 10, 2011 3:13 PM ET

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[JURIST] A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday heard oral arguments [court schedule, PDF] on the constitutionality of the health care reform law [HR 3590 text; JURIST news archive] in two cases challenging the law. Commonwealth of Virginia v. Sebelius [complaint, PDF; materials] was filed by the state's attorney general Kenneth Cuccinelli [official website] in March 2010 and challenges the law on the basis that Congress' use of the Commerce Clause [text] to compel citizens of Virginia to purchase health insurance is an extension of its power and breach of federalism principles. A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in December that the minimum coverage provision of the law is unconstitutional and that an individual's decision to purchase health insurance is beyond the reach of Congress and outside the purview of the Commerce, Necessary and Proper, General Welfare and Taxation powers enumerated in the US Constitution. Liberty University v. Geithner [complaint; PDF; materials] also challenged the statute as a violation of the Commerce Clause. A judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Virginia [official website] dismissed the suit [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in November finding that the individual mandate was within Congressional authority and that the plaintiffs had failed to state a claim. During the arguments, lawyers for Liberty University [academic website] maintained that the individual mandate was regulating an inactivity, which is beyond Congress' powers under the Commerce Clause, stating that, "commerce has never been extended to regulate simply idleness" and that choosing to avoid an economic transaction is not commerce. Liberty University also rejected the contention that the law falls within Congress's authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause [text]. A lawyer for the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] argued that Congress made specific findings regarding individual financial decisions regarding health care and that lack of participation in the health insurance market does not equate lack of participation in the health care market. The DOJ stated that active participation in the health care market is "a virtually universal feature of human existence" regardless of the intent to use health care. The DOJ also argued that Virginia lacks standing to challenge the individual mandate because the state can not show how they are harmed by the provision, and that the state's role as parens patriae is not valid in this situation. The DOJ argued that such a role would interject the states into "abstract political disputes" that are "best handled outside federal courtrooms." Lawyers for Virginia countered the DOJ argument regarding the state's standing stating that because the federal government is one of enumerated powers there must be a forum to address the limits of those powers and that "if the federal courts are not the forum, then there's no forum."

In April, the US Supreme Court [official website] denied [JURIST report] Virginia's request for the court to rule on the constitutionality of the health care reform law on an expedited basis. The writ was filed [JURIST report] in February by Cuccinelli, who sought to have the high court depart from its traditional procedure and instead review the constitutionality of the law before the Fourth Circuit ruled on the issue. Additional challenges to the law continue to proceed through the lower courts. In April, a judge for the US District Court for the District of New Jersey [official website] rejected [JURIST report] a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. Judge Freda Wolfson dismissed the lawsuit, brought without an attorney by two New Jersey residents, on jurisdictional grounds, ruling the two men had no standing [Cornell LII backgrounder] to challenge the law. In a similar ruling earlier in April, a judge for the US District Court for the District of New Hampshire [official website] dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST report] also challenging the law's constitutionality and held that the plaintiff, 80-year-old Harold Peterson, lacked standing because his Medicare coverage automatically satisfied the law's insurance mandate. A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida [official website] struck down the law in January, while in October, a judge in Michigan upheld the law [JURIST report]. US Courts of Appeal for the Third, Sixth and Eleventh circuits are all currently scheduled to hear oral arguments in appeals of lower court rulings, while appeals are pending in the DC circuit as well as the Eighth and Ninth circuits.




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Accused USS Cole bomber sues Poland over secret CIA prison site
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 10, 2011 1:27 PM ET

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[JURIST] Lawyers for accused USS Cole [JURIST news archive] bomber Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri [NYT profile] said Tuesday that they have filed suit [press release; case materials] against Poland in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] over his alleged torture at a secret CIA prison [JURIST news archive] in the country. Last month, the US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] announced that al-Nashiri would be tried in a military court and would be subject to capital charges [JURIST report]. The Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) [advocacy website] is asking the ECHR to intervene and direct Poland to "use all available means at its disposal to ensure that the United States does not subject him to the death penalty," arguing that Poland violated the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF]. The OSJI has also asked the court to direct Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland to intervene.

In March, Polish prosecutors investigating the alleged secret CIA prison announced that they were asking US officials to question al-Nashiri and a second Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee who claims he was held and abused at the site. The OSJI, which helped to launch the abuse investigation [JURIST report] last September, urged the US to provide assistance. The investigation into al-Nashiri's allegations of the secret prison's existence and his abuse there began soon after former Polish prime minister Leszek Miller denied any knowledge of a secret CIA prison [JURIST report] in Poland. His denial followed confirmation by a former CIA agent that the agency tortured [Spiegel report] al-Nashiri in 2002 at a secret prison located in Poland. According to the agent, al-Nashiri was stripped naked and hooded before a gun and a drill were held close to his head. Former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski has also denied the existence of the prisons. Both he and Miller maintain that they will not discuss the allegations of torture until the completion of an investigation into Poland's role in the US prisoner rendition [JURIST news archive] program. The original investigation into the existence of the CIA-operated prison was launched by the Polish government [JURIST report] in September 2008.




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Egypt court convicts ex-tourism minister for corruption
Zach Zagger on May 10, 2011 12:02 PM ET

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[JURIST] An Egyptian criminal court on Tuesday convicted the country's former tourism minister, Zoheir Garranah, for corruption and sentenced him to five years in prison. Garranah was found to have sold public land in the Red Sea province below market value to two businessmen. The two businessmen were also found guilty in absentia and also received five-year sentences. The court said that Garranah had illegally allocated the public land to the private developers. He is the second high-ranking state official to be found guilty of corruption since former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile; JURIST news archive] was forced from office in February. More convictions are likely since there are close to two dozen former Mubarak cabinet members and other business people who have been detained [AP report] for alleged corruption thus far, including the former prime minister, the speakers of parliament's two chambers, and Mubarak's two sons.

Prosecutors said last month that Mubarak could face the death penalty [JURIST report] if convicted of ordering attacks on protesters during the demonstrations in Egypt [JURIST news archive] early this year. Mubarak is also facing charges of corruption and embezzlement of public funds. His detention, extended [JURIST report] last month to give authorities more time to decide if they want to send him to jail or a prison hospital, was extended again Tuesday. He is being detained at Sharm el-Sheikh International Hospital after he was hospitalized for heart trouble. Also last month, an Egyptian court ordered that Mubarak's political party be dissolved [JURIST report]. The country's High Administrative Court said It would be illogical for Mubarak's National Democratic Party, which took control in 1978, to remain an entity. The court also liquidated the party's assets. Analysts call the court's decision an important step in the building of a multi-party system, which the country has not had for more than 30 years.




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Federal appeals court urged to block Oklahoma Islamic law ban
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 10, 2011 11:59 AM ET

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[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) [advocacy websites] on Monday asked the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] to uphold [brief, PDF] a lower court ruling that blocked an Oklahoma constitutional amendment banning courts from considering international or Islamic law. Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved the measure [JURIST report], State Question 755 (SQ 755) [text, PDF], last November with 70 percent of the vote. The ACLU and CAIR filed suit on behalf of Oklahoma citizen Muneer Awad, who argued that the ban would invalidate part of his will, which is partially rooted in Islamic Sharia Law, and a judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma [official website] issued a temporary injunction [JURIST report]. The groups argued that the amendment should be permanently enjoined:
As the District Court concluded after an evidentiary hearing, the proposed constitutional amendment has harmful, real-world consequences. The measure tramples the free exercise rights of a disfavored minority faith and constrains the ability of Plaintiff Muneer Awad and his fellow Muslims in Oklahoma to execute valid wills, assert religious liberty claims under the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act, and enjoy equal access to the state judicial system.

The "Save Our State Amendment" also undercuts a central tenet of the Establishment Clause, sending an unmistakable message that Muslims are religious and political outsiders in their own State. The District Court did not abuse its discretion in preliminarily enjoining this unprecedented measure.

It remains unclear exactly what effect the measure would have since foreign law is not binding on state or federal courts.

SQ 755 would prevent Oklahoma courts from "look[ing] to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures," requiring them only to look to legal precedents of other states for guidance, provided that state does not use Islamic law. It was sponsored by state Representative Rex Duncan (R) [official website], who described it as a preemptive strike against the use of Islamic law in Oklahoma. Duncan defended SQ 755 as necessary to protect Oklahoma [MSNBC video] from an attack on the fundamental Judeo-Christian principles on which he says the US is founded. Several other state legislatures are now considering similar measures.




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Arizona to ask Supreme Court to lift injunction on controversial immigration law
Zach Zagger on May 10, 2011 10:51 AM ET

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[JURIST] Arizona state officials said Monday the state will go directly to the US Supreme Court [official website] to lift the injunction preventing the state from enforcing its controversial immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive]. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) [official website] and Attorney General Tom Horne [official profile] announced [press release] that the state would immediately petition the Supreme Court to lift the injunction. Brewer said she knew the fight over SB 1070 would be a prolonged legal battle, but the state is taking it directly to the nation's highest court after unsuccessful attempts to have the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] lift the injunction. Arizona argues that it is on the front lines of a fight against cartel-led crime entering the US from the border with Mexico and that states have a right to pass laws to protect themselves. The announcement comes less than a month after a Ninth Circuit panel refused to lift the injunction [JURIST report] on parts of the immigration law, including a requirement that police officers enforcing other laws question people about their immigration status if the officers have reason to suspect they are an illegal immigrant. Arizona is also countersuing the federal government [JURIST report] for failing to adequately protect the US border with Mexico. The outcome over Arizona's immigration law will have serious implications on states' rights and immigration reform as similar bills are being considered ans passed by other state legislatures, including Utah, Oklahoma and Georgia [JURIST reports].

Last July, the US District Court for the District of Arizona [official website] granted a preliminary injunction [JURIST report] to the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] blocking implementation of the law. In affirming that decision, the Ninth Circuit held that "the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the United States demonstrated that it faced irreparable harm and that granting the preliminary injunction properly balanced the equities and was in the public interest." In addressing the equities and public interest, the Ninth Circuit indicated that the constitutional infringement of the Supremacy Clause [text] alleged by the DOJ could itself constitute irreparable harm to the federal government absent injunctive relief. The DOJ had sued [JURIST report] Arizona and Brewer last year, arguing that both the Constitution and federal law "do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country." The agency also claimed that the federal government has preeminent authority to regulate immigration matters and that the enforcement of the Arizona law is counterproductive to the national immigration policy.




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Australia lodges complaint against Japan whaling in ICJ
Michael Haggerson on May 9, 2011 3:51 PM ET

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[JURIST] Australia brought a complaint [materials] against Japan in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] on Monday for its whaling practices in the Antarctic. Australia initiated proceedings [JURIST report] in May 2010, and oral arguments are scheduled to begin in May 2012. Australia contends that Japan is in violation of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling [text, PDF] by not meeting its "good faith" obligation to halt the commercial killing of whales. Japan has defended the practice as scientific research [TIME report] because they collect data on the whale's age, diet and birthing rate, before packaging and selling the meat. Commercial whaling has been banned by the International Whaling Commission [official website] since 1986. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan [official website, in Japanese] stated that he was not concerned [The Australian] about the suit and that it would not affect Japan's relations with Australia.

Japan's whaling practices have sparked international controversy. In July, a Japanese court convicted anti-whaling activist Peter Bethune on charges of assault, trespass, destruction of property, illegal possession of a weapon and obstruction of business for boarding a Japanese whaling vessel [JURIST reports] as part of an anti-whaling protest in January 2010. Berthune, who called the charges "bogus," was extradited to New Zealand, and he will not serve prison time unless he returns to Japan. Last year's annual hunt was ended prematurely due to protests from the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society [advocacy website; press release].




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Austria court rules Croatia ex-PM can be extradited
Michael Haggerson on May 9, 2011 2:29 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Salzburg Provincial Court ruled on Monday that the extradition of former Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader can proceed. Sanader was arrested by Austrian officials [JURIST report] in December on charges of abuse of power, corruption and fraud for taking nearly €4 million from public firms and state institutions [Croatian Times report]. Counsel for Sanader announced that they would immediately appeal [AP] the ruling to the High Provincial Court in Linz and argued that it would be impossible for Sanader to receive a fair trial in Croatia. Croation president Ivo Josipovic [official website] said that Sanader would be entitled to a fair trial.

Croatian officials have been under serious pressure to the tackle the issue of corruption in order to gain accession [EU materials] to the EU by 2012. On the same day as Sanader was arrested, former interior ministry official Tomislav Mercep was arrested [JURIST report] on charges of committing war crimes. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF; press release] calling for the prosecution of individuals responsible for war crimes the day before Mercep's arrest. In November, a Croatian court sentenced [JURIST report] six men to 15 to 40 years in prison for their roles in the killing of a Croatian journalist in 2008. In 2008, Amnesty International (AI) called on the EU to use Croatia's status as a candidate country to ensure that the Croatian government actively investigates and prosecutes [JURIST report] suspected war criminals. AI criticized the slow pace of war crimes investigations, and noted that Croatian courts have mostly focused on crimes allegedly committed by ethnic Serbs even though Croats have also been accused of ethnic-based war crimes. In March 2005, the EU suspended entry talks [JURIST report] on the grounds that Croatia was failing to fully cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia [official website; JURIST news archive] investigating war crimes in the area. The entry talks were resumed in October of that year after the ICTY declared that Croatia was fully cooperating [JURIST report].




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Bahrain king lifts state of emergency
Sarah Paulsworth on May 9, 2011 11:23 AM ET

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[JURIST] Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa [official website] announced on Sunday that the three-month state of emergency [decree text, in Arabic] put in place [JURIST report] in mid-March in response to growing unrest, will be lifted two weeks early. The state of emergency was originally scheduled to expire on June 1. According to the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) [advocacy website], the trial for activists [BYSHR report] detained during the widespread unrest also started on Sunday. These people face a plethora of charges including terrorism, attempting to violently overthrow the government, insulting the military and participating in unsanctioned rallies. Fourteen of the defendants are in the custody of Bahrani law enforcement, while an additional six remain free. Some commentators allege the early lifting the state of emergency is intended to distract observers [NYT report] from the trial of the opposition activists.

Last week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged the government of Bahrain to release detained activists [JURIST report] and exercise restraint against protesters. She expressed concern over the prosecution of medical professionals and the death sentences [JURIST report] handed to four activists last month. In April, human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Doctors Without Borders (DWB) [advocacy websites] criticized Bahrain for rampant human rights abuses [JURIST report] related to anti-government protests. In March, six opposition leaders were arrested [JURIST report] after the government, backed by foreign troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) [official website], violently dispersed protesters in the capital of Manana.




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Ontario appeals court refuses to extradite terror suspect to US
Sarah Paulsworth on May 9, 2011 9:49 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Court of Appeal for Ontario [official website] on Friday upheld [judgment] a decision to halt extradition proceedings for Abdullah Khadr, an accused al Qaeda supporter and conspirator. Abdullah Khadr is the older brother of Omar Khadr [DOD materials; JURIST news archive], the youngest detainee at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. According to the appeals court, a Toronto judge was right to release Abdullah Khadr [JURIST report] last summer because extraditing him to the US would be tantamount to ignoring that he was allegedly subjected to torture in Pakistan at the behest of the US. The court said:
The rule of law must prevail even in the face of the dreadful threat of terrorism. We must adhere to our democratic and legal values, even if that adherence serves in the short term to benefit those who oppose and seek to destroy those values. For if we do not, in the longer term, the enemies of democracy and the rule of law will have succeeded. They will have demonstrated that our faith in our legal order is unable to withstand their threats.
The Toronto judge noted that Canada is still free to prosecute Abdullah Khadr itself. Additionally, Canada's government has 60 days to appeal Friday's decision.

Abdullah Khadr was detained by Canadian law enforcement in summer 2005 on the basis of a US warrant. In February 2006, the US government formally requested his extradition [JURIST report] from Canada. He was indicted [JURIST report] in 2006 by a US federal grand jury on four counts connected to his alleged procurement of destructive devices to be used against US forces in Afghanistan in 2003 and faces a possible life sentence and a USD $1,000,000 fine. Former US Attorney Michael Sullivan said he plans to pursue the extradition "aggressively." Abdullah Khadr admitted to attending an al Qaeda training camp at age 13, but denies the allegations of membership in the group or of supplying weapons to it. Another of Abdullah Khadr's brothers, Abdul Rahman Khadr, was released from Guantanamo in 2003.




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Ecuador voters approve judicial and social reforms
Drew Singer on May 8, 2011 3:41 PM ET

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[JURIST] Ecuadorian voters on Saturday approved [results, in Spanish] a series of judicial, social and other governmental reforms backed by President Rafael Correa [official website, in Spanish; BBC profile]. The judicial reforms will dissolve the standing oversight body and replace it with a temporary body to oversee the restructuring of the national court system. Other referendum items [text, PDF, in Spanish] will allow longer detentions of suspected criminals without charge, and include a prohibition on gambling and casinos, limits on bullfighting and cockfighting, as well as the banning of media companies from owning non-media companies. Correa claimed victory [CBC report] Saturday night over the results, which he argues are necessary to diffuse power. Opponents have claimed that the measures are aimed at solidifying power and quieting dissent, and have accused Correa of following the authoritarian model of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez [JURIST news archive].

The referendum was first certified [JURIST report] by the Constitutional Court of Ecuador [official website, in Spanish] in February. In October, the Ecuadorian government announced it would revise a controversial austerity law following unrest [JURIST report] and a suspected coup attempt in September. Police officers fired tear gas at Correa, surrounded the hospital at which he was being treated and trapped him there for 12 hours while protesting the public service law, which they feared would reduce their pay and benefits. In September 2008, Ecuadorian voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution [JURIST report] that consolidated and significantly expanded the powers held by Correa, including the power to dissolve the legislature and pass laws by decree.




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US lawmakers release draft online child privacy act
Sarah Posner on May 8, 2011 12:53 PM ET

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[JURIST] US Representatives Edward Markey (D-MA) and Joe Barton (R-TX) [official websites] released a draft bill [text, PDF] Friday that would restrict companies from tracking the Internet activity of minors without parental consent. The Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011 would amend existing federal law passed in 1998 due to changes in the internet and studies demonstrating the increased use of the internet by children. The new legislation would prevent companies from using the information of Internet users under 18 for targeted marketing purposes. The bill would also allow parents to remove the already collected information of their children from the Internet and would create a "Digital Marketing Bill of Rights for Teens" to restrict the collection of personal information of minors. Markey outlined the need for legislation action [press release]:
[K]ids growing up in this online environment ... need protection from the dangers that can lurk in cyberspace. Unfortunately, 'Where the Wild Things Are' can apply to the 21st century Internet and the beloved children's book. That's why to ensure that kids are protected, I am releasing this discussion draft of the 'Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011' so that kids do not have their online behavior tracked or their personal information collected or used without permission
The bill is among various proposed legislation that protects privacy online and requires online firms to provide an option for users not to be tracked.

In March, the Obama administration backed Internet privacy legislation [JURIST report] at a Senate hearing. The hearing followed reports released in December 2010 by the US Department of Commerce and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [reports, PDF] petitioning for stronger online privacy protections. In November 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] confirmed that it is investigating [JURIST report] Internet search company Google [corporate website; JURIST news archive] to determine if it violated communications laws when its Street View vehicles inadvertently collected private user data, including passwords and URLs, over WiFi networks.




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Siege of Syria town violates international law: HRW
John Paul Putney on May 7, 2011 8:00 PM ET

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[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Thursday urged [press release] Syria to lift the siege on the town of Daraa and accused Syrian authorities of violating international law in attempting to quell protesters. Movement in and out of Daraa came to a halt almost two weeks ago when the Syrian army surrounded the city, cutting electricity, phone lines and internet services as well as supplies such as food and medicine. According to HRW, the siege violates Syria's international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [text], which requires the Syrian government to respect "fundamental human rights" and the rule of law. The press release explained:
The Syrian government is collectively punishing the residents of Daraa because some demonstrators from the town dared protest against it. It would appear that the government has a lot to hide, because it's refusing to let Daraa residents out or independent observers in. ... Even if the Syrian army is truly 'hunting terrorists,' that is no reason to prevent the town's residents from leaving and to deny old women their medication. Syria has protested repeatedly about Israel's closure of Gaza, but it's doing the same to Daraa's residents.
Additionally, HRW cited reports that the Syrian government had been engaged in a "nationwide campaign of [arbitrary] arrests" to deter protesters and activists from continuing the demonstrations. HRW alleged that these arrests also violate international law.

Syria has struggled violently to end anti-government protests which began earlier this year. Last week, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website], in an emergency special session, publicly condemned the violence used by Syrian authorities [JURIST report] against peaceful protesters. Last month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] called for Syria to immediately halt the killings [JURIST report] and violence against civilian protesters in response to the fatal shootings of peaceful anti-government protesters. Also last month, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] ended the country's 48-year-old state of emergency [JURIST report], but protests have continued.




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Rights group alleges Gaddafi forces committed war crimes
Ashley Hileman on May 7, 2011 11:48 AM ET

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[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] accused forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi [BBC profile] of committing war crimes in Misratah in a report [text, PDF press release] on Thursday. According to the report, Gaddafi's troops have employed excessive use of lethal force against unarmed protesters, fired snipers at civilians in residential areas of the city and even deliberately used civilians as "human shields." "Shielding," AI alleged, "is a violation of international humanitarian law and constitutes a war crime." Additionally, according to AI Gaddafi's forces also used cluster munitions [JURIST news archive], which are heavily criticized by international observers and have been the subject of international eradication efforts. Misratah appears to be targeted as a result of its declaration in February of allegiance to opposition forces. While many have been able to escape the widespread violence, those left behind continue to suffer:
The scale of the relentless attacks that we have seen by al-Gaddafi forces to intimidate the residents of Misratah for more than two months is truly horrifying. It shows a total disregard for the lives of ordinary people and is in clear breach of international humanitarian law. ... Scores of residents not involved in armed confrontations have been killed and hundreds injured, many by indiscriminate 122mm Grad rockets fired from up to tens of kilometres away, and by mortars and 155mm artillery shells. Rockets, mortars and artillery shells are designed for use against massed infantry or armour. Under international humanitarian law, none of these weapons should ever be used in populated residential areas.
AI has urged Gaddafi to put an end to direct attacks on civilians and has called on the international community to lend financial and legal support to international investigations into human rights abuses in Libya.

Earlier this week, the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo announced [JURIST report] that an investigation has uncovered enough evidence to allow him to pursue warrants for forces loyal to Gaddafi for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Moreno-Ocampo said he has found evidence that Libya began hiring mercenaries as early as January in anticipation of protests after unrest began in the Middle East [JURIST news archive]. Regarding war crimes, the chief prosecutor claims to have uncovered evidence of the use of "cluster munitions, multiple rocket launchers and mortars, and other forms of heavy weaponry, in crowded urban areas, in particular Misratah." Moreno-Ocampo will present his evidence to the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC [official website] and request warrants be issued for three individuals.




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NLRB sues Arizona over union election laws
Ashley Hileman on May 7, 2011 11:22 AM ET

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[JURIST] The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) [official website] filed a complaint [text, PDF; press release] on Friday in the US District Court for the District of Arizona [official website], challenging a state constitutional amendment that guarantees a vote by secret ballot for employee representation. The NLRB, an independent US agency that is charged with conducting elections for labor unions and remedying unfair labor practices, argues that Article 2 § 37 [text] of Arizona's Constitution acts to limit the means by which employees can choose union representation and conflicts with various sections of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) [29 USC §§ 151-169]. According to the NLRB, the NLRA provides methods in addition to secret ballot elections for private-sector employees to choose a union but contends that the amendment forecloses these options:
Under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, private-sector employees have two ways to choose a union: They may vote in a secret-ballot election conducted by the NLRB, or they may persuade an employer to voluntarily recognize a union after showing majority support by signed authorization cards or other means. The state amendments prohibit the second method and therefore interfere with the exercise of a well-established federally-protected right. As the complaint submitted to the Court today explains, "The NLRA permits but does not require secret ballot elections for the designation, selection, or authorization of a collective bargaining representative where, for example, employees successfully petition their employer to voluntarily recognize their designated representative on the basis of reliable evidence of majority support."
As a result of this alleged direct conflict with federal law, the NLRB seeks a declaration that the amendment is preempted by the Supremacy Clause [Cornell LII background] of the US Constitution.

The constitutional amendment, passed by state voters in the November 2010 elections, is one of many new state laws that will impact labor unions. In April, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen filed a Petition for Supervisory Writ directly to the state Supreme Court after a trial judge temporary blocked [JURIST reports] a controversial bill that limits the rights of public employee unions. The suit claimed that the judge did not have the constitutional authority to block the publication of the Budget Repair Bill [Senate Bill 11, PDF]. It also asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court [official website] to immediately take jurisdiction of the case and dismiss it. In March, The Ohio Senate [official website] passed Senate Bill 5 [JURIST report], which altered Ohio labor law and restricts the collective bargaining abilities of unions for public sector workers. Under the legislation, unions can only collectively bargain for wages and equipment for personal safety and that public employees cannot strike.




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Florida legislature approves election law revisions
Daniel Makosky on May 6, 2011 5:06 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Florida House of Representatives [official website] on Thursday voted 77-38 to pass controversial legislation [HB 1355 materials] revising the state's election laws, only hours after the Senate [official website] did so by a 25-13 margin. The bill limits the window for early voting to one week prior to an election, down from the previously established two weeks, and imposes a series of additional regulations on organizations that enlist new voters, including that they register with the state, submit periodic reports and file voter registration materials within 48 hours of completion. It also requires voters that have moved between any of the state's counties to use provisional ballots if they wish to update their information while at a polling location. Opponents to the legislation charge that its design is politically motivated [AP report] to disproportionately affect Democratic constituencies, though its supporters argue that the measures are intended only to reduce election-related expenses and voter fraud. The bill will proceed to Governor Rick Scott [official website] for his signature or veto.

Earlier this month, the Georgia Supreme Court [official website] upheld [JURIST report] the state's 2006 Photo ID Act that requires voters to present one of six government-issued photo identifications in order to vote. The court ruled that the law "does not deprive any Georgia voter from casting a ballot in any election," and that presenting valid identification does not represent an unconstitutional impediment to voting. In contrast, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] struck down [JURIST report] a portion of an Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration in October. The court held that the law was inconsistent with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) [materials], which was passed with the intent of increasing voter registration and removing barriers to registration imposed by the states. The NVRA requires voters to attest to the validity of the information on their registration forms, including their citizenship, but does not require them to provide additional proof of citizenship. The law exceeded the federal statute, requiring applicants to show proof before registering to vote.




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California Supreme Court permits tobacco suits for subsequent medical conditions
Daniel Makosky on May 6, 2011 3:36 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Supreme Court of California [official website] on Thursday ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously to allow claims against tobacco companies for smoking-related ailments that arise after the statute of limitations for an earlier condition has elapsed. Though state law requires that parties file suit within two years of discovering an injury, the decision will allow smokers to proceed with claims based on medical conditions originating after a previous diagnosis so long as the injuries are "separate and distinct." Focusing on medical similarities over causation, Justice Joyce Kennard stated:
We hold that two physical injuries - both caused by the same tobacco use over the same period of time - can, in some circumstances, be considered "qualitatively different" for purposes of determining when the applicable statute of limitations period begins to run. Specifically, when a later-discovered disease is separate and distinct from an earlier-discovered disease, the earlier disease does not trigger the statute of limitations for a lawsuit based on the later disease.
The ruling allows many pending suits to continue, and is expected to generate an influx of new litigation.

Tobacco companies are currently involved in numerous lawsuits. The Illinois Court of Appeals for the Fifth District in February unanimously decided [JURIST report] to reopen a $10.1 billion class action against Philip Morris [corporate website] for allegedly misleading consumers into thinking that "light" cigarettes were safer and contained less tar. The ruling came in light of a favorable 2008 US Supreme Court decision [opinion, PDF] that state consumer protection laws can be used to hold cigarette companies liable for the marketing of "light" cigarettes. In December, Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds [corporate website], along with an industry trade group, filed an appeal [JURIST report] with the US Supreme Court to overturn a $271.5 million class action settlement for having "distort[ed] the entire body of public knowledge about the addictive effects of nicotine." The settlement was awarded [opinion, text] by the Louisiana Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] in order to establish a fund meant to help Louisianans quit smoking.




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Brazil supreme court recognizes same-sex civil unions
Julia Zebley on May 6, 2011 1:50 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Supreme Federal Court of Brazil [official website, in Portugese] unanimously recognized legal rights [press release, in Portugese] for partners in same-sex civil unions [JURIST news archive] on Thursday. Through the ruling, gay couples in "stable relationships" now have rights to community property, alimony, health insurance and tax benefits, adoption, and inheritance rights. The court disregarded a portion of the civil code, instead deferring to Article 3, Clause IV of the Federal Constitution [full text, in Portugese], which provides that the state should "promote the good of everyone, without distinction of origin, race, sex, color, age and other forms of discrimination." The court upheld the distinction between civil unions and marriage. Lawmaker Jean Wyllys [official website, in Portugese] plans to introduce a constitutional amendment to legalize same-sex marriage [Correio Braziliense report, in Portugese] as soon as he obtains the necessary number of signatures. Brazil becomes the largest country to legalize unions for same-sex couples, and the third South American nation, after Uruguay and Argentina [JURIST report].

Foreign and domestic courts and legislators are increasingly addressing the issue of gay marriage. Last month, Hungary added a prohibition against gay marriage [JURIST report] to its Constitution. France upheld a same-sex marriage ban [JURIST report] in January. In the US, judges in Wisconsin, California and Texas [JURIST reports] confronted the issue last year. Governments in Mexico, Kenya, Portugal and Germany [JURIST reports] are also addressing the issue.




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UN special rapporteurs on executions want full statement of facts on Bin Laden killing
Julia Zebley on May 6, 2011 1:35 PM ET

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[JURIST] Human rights experts from the UN Commission for Human Rights [official website] on Friday called on the US to disclose further details [press release] on the killing of al Qaeda [JURIST news archive] leader Osama Bin Laden [WP obituary; JURIST news archive]. Special Rapporteurs Christof Heyns and Martin Scheinin [official websites] are seeking more information in order "to allow an assessment in terms of international human rights law standards. For instance it will be particularly important to know if the planning of the mission allowed an effort to capture Bin Laden." The request comes a day after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] also insisted on "a full disclosure of the accurate facts" surrounding the killing of Bin Laden [JURIST report]. The White House has altered the official account [press briefing] of the killing since US President Barack Obama [official profile] first announced [statement] that a small team of US military personnel attacked a compound in which Bin Laden had been hiding, killing Bin Laden [JURIST report] and taking possession of his body. The Obama administration now maintains that Bin Laden was unarmed when killed, despite earlier statements that he had fired on US forces.

As founder and leader of al Qaeda, Bin Laden represents the highest profile terror target captured or killed by the US. US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] said Wednesday that the killing of Bin Laden by US forces on Sunday was lawful and justified [JURIST report]. Testifying before the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website], Holder said that the shooting of Bin Laden was "consistent with our values," and that the soldiers who killed him "conducted themselves totally appropriately." In April, Holder announced that the priorities of the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] will include protecting Americans from terrorism [JURIST report] at home and abroad, fighting violent crime, combating financial fraud and protecting the most vulnerable members of society.




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UN rights chief urges Bahrain to free detained protesters
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 5, 2011 4:09 PM ET

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[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Thursday urged the government of Bahrain [OHCHR materials] to release detained activists [press release] and exercise restraint against protesters. Pillay called on leaders to "urgently conduct an independent, impartial investigation and bring all those who were responsible for assaulting and killing protestors to justice." She expressed concern over the prosecution of medical professionals and the death sentences [JURIST report] handed to four activists last month. Pillay said:
The trial of civilians before military courts is always a cause of concern. The application of the death penalty without due process and after a trial held in secrecy is illegal and absolutely unacceptable. ... The defendants are entitled to fair trials before civil courts, in accordance with international legal standards and in keeping with Bahrain’s international human rights obligations.
Pillay also repeated calls for the government to allow an assessment mission from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Last month, human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Doctors Without Borders (DWB) [advocacy websites] criticized Bahrain for rampant human rights abuses [JURIST report] related to anti-government protests. In March, six opposition leaders were arrested [JURIST report] after the government, backed by foreign troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) [official website], violently dispersed protesters in the capital of Manana. Days earlier, Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa [official website] declared [JURIST report] a three-month state of emergency [decree text, in Arabic] in response to growing unrest in the island nation. The state of emergency came just days after a group of 22 Bahraini lawmakers, part of an independent pro-government bloc, called on the King to impose martial law [JURIST report] under articles 36 and 123 of the Bahraini Constitution [text, PDF].




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Ivory Coast high court declares Ouattara president
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 5, 2011 3:29 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Ivory Coast Constitutional Council, the nation's highest court, on Thursday declared Alassane Ouattara [BBC profile] winner of the country's disputed presidential election, reversing a previous decision. The court originally refused to ratify the results of the November election, sparking months of violence between supporters of Ouattara and incumbent candidate Laurent Gbagbo [BBC profile]. Constitutional Council President Paul Yao N'Dre said that Ouattara was invited to take the oath of office [Reuters report] as soon as possible.

Last month, Human Rights Watch urged Ouattara to investigate "atrocities" [JURIST report], including murder and rape, committed by opposing political forces during the recent conflict. Also in April, International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] said that he is willing to investigate [JURIST report] alleged war crimes in the Ivory Coast. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [official website] reported the deaths of at least 800 civilians [JURIST report] in the Ivory Coast town of Duekoue as a result of intercommunal violence that took place. Gbagbo was arrested on April 11.




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Kyrgyzstan commission implicates military in June 2010 violence
Maureen Cosgrove on May 5, 2011 2:17 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission [official website] on Tuesday concluded [report, PDF] that the Kyrgyzstan military handed out weapons to Kyrgyz mobs who attacked minority Uzbeks last summer. The international, independent inquiry into the June 2010 ethnic violence [Guardian backgrounder; JURIST news archive] that resulted in more than 300 deaths and an additional 2,000 injuries discovered [AP report] that security forces participated in the violence that killed hundreds of Uzbeks:
The seizure, distribution and use of weapons during the events is a particularly disturbing feature of the events. In many instances crowds of attackers seized firearms and ammunition from the military and police in circumstances largely unopposed by troops or officers. Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) were also surrendered. The KIC notes, with some concern, that some 80 weapons and about 19,000 rounds of ammunition have not been recovered. The authorities of Kyrgyzstan have failed to carry out appropriate criminal and disciplinary investigations into the loss of weapons.
The commission also suggested that if the allegations are proven true in a court of law, the conduct may amount to crimes against humanity. Following the announcement by the commission, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called on Kyrgyzstan's authorities to urgently investigate and prosecute [press release] those responsible for any human rights violations. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Tuesday also urged [press release] the Kyrgyzstan authorities to promptly carry out the report's recommendations to investigate and prosecute participants in the alleged violations.

In November, a court in Kyrgyzstan sentenced 19 ethnic Uzbeks for their involvement in the summer attack. Seventeen of the Uzbeks received life sentences and two received 25-year sentences for their participation in a June 13 riot [24.kg report] that blocked a major highway and killed 16 people in the Suzak district. In September, a Kyrgyz court issued the first convictions [JURIST report] in connection with the June 2010 riots, handing down prison terms for eight ethnic Uzbeks in a case stemming from the murder of a Kyrgyz police officer during the violence. Judge Nurgazy Alymkulov of the Nooken District Court [GlobaLex backgrounder] sentenced five to life terms [RFE/RL report] on charges of murder, fomenting ethnic hatred, instigating violence and organizing public unrest. Two others were sentenced to 20 years in prison, and the last was sentenced to nine. Among those given life sentences was prominent Uzbek human rights activist Azimjan Askarov. The convictions were later described as politically motivated [Reuters report]. In July, the Kyrgyz government announced that it had opened more than 1,000 criminal cases [JURIST report] stemming from the violence, and that 106 individuals had been detained, with 97 in custody. Also in July, Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva [Telegraph profile] established the commission [JURIST report] to investigate the ethnic violence against the country's Uzbek population.




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UN rights chief calls for full disclosure on Bin Laden killing
Maureen Cosgrove on May 5, 2011 1:29 PM ET

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[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] on Thursday insisted on "a full disclosure of the accurate facts" surrounding the killing of al Qaeda [JURIST news archive] leader Osama Bin Laden [WP obituary; JURIST news archive]. The White House has altered the official account [press briefing] of the killing since US President Barack Obama [official profile] first announced [statement] that a small team of US military personnel attacked a compound in which Bin Laden had been hiding, killing Bin Laden [JURIST report] and taking possession of his body. The White House's changing factual account of the raid has raised questions about whether the US special operations forces intended to capture Bin Laden alive. Recognizing that the US had intended to arrest Bin Laden, Pillay acknowledged [AFP report] that doing so would have been unlikely under most circumstances. Pillay also indicated that, while the UN condemns terrorism, counter-terrorism activity must be carried out in compliance with international law.

As founder and leader of al Qaeda, Bin Laden represents the highest profile terror target captured or killed by the US. US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] said Wednesday that the killing of Bin Laden by US forces on Sunday was lawful and justified [JURIST report]. Testifying before the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website], Holder said that the shooting of Bin Laden was "consistent with our values," and that the soldiers who killed him "conducted themselves totally appropriately." In April, Holder announced that the priorities of the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] will include protecting Americans from terrorism [JURIST report] at home and abroad, fighting violent crime, combating financial fraud and protecting the most vulnerable members of society.




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Accused Nazi goes on trial in Hungary
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 5, 2011 11:10 AM ET