August 2011 Archives


Idaho woman challenges state anti-abortion laws
Dan Taglioli on August 31, 2011 4:10 PM ET

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[JURIST] An Idaho woman has filed suit seeking to prevent prosecution of other women under the state's standing abortion [JURIST news archive] laws. Mother of three Jennie Linn McCormack was prosecuted earlier this year [Reuters report] under a 1972 state law that makes it a felony to end one's own pregnancy, and is now challenging both that law and Idaho's newly-enacted "fetal pain" anti-abortion statute [JURIST report]. The new law, passed in April, makes it a felony to terminate a pregnancy after 20 weeks based on controversial science indicating a fetus may feel pain after 20 weeks of development. McCormack discovered she was pregnant in the fall of last year and, using a combination of FDA-approved abortion pills obtained over the Internet in December, terminated her pregnancy at between 20 and 21 weeks of gestation. Because McCormack terminated her pregnancy before the new statute's passage she could not be prosecuted for its violation, and a judge dismissed for lack of evidence the charges brought under the 1972 law. McCormack is now leading a class-action lawsuit to challenge both laws based on the claim that they pose unconstitutional barriers to abortion. Specifically McCormack, who has a monthly income of less than $250, claims that the 1972 law discriminates against women of limited means by forcing them to obtain surgical procedures that are both costly and locally unavailable.

Since the November elections state legislatures across the country have been implementing measures to restrict abortions, and challenges to these laws are appearing in many states. On Tuesday a federal judge blocked several provisions of a new Texas abortion law [JURIST report] that places restrictions on the procedure and requires a doctor to show a sonogram to and play the sounds of the fetal heartbeat for a woman prior to performing an abortion. Earlier this month the Arizona Court of Appeals [official website] ended a two-year injunction [JURIST report] on portions of a law that restricted abortion practices, suggesting that the lower judge had applied "strict scrutiny" in error rather than an "undue burden" test. Also this month the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit challenging a Kansas law [JURIST report] that prohibits insurance companies from including coverage for abortion in their comprehensive plans.




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DOJ files antitrust suit to block AT&T, T-Mobile merger
Dan Taglioli on August 31, 2011 1:38 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Wednesday filed a civil antitrust lawsuit to block the proposed $39 billion acquisition of cellular carrier T-Mobile USA by telecom giant AT&T [corporate websites]. The agency filed suit [press release] in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] and seeks to prevent AT&T from acquiring T-Mobile from parent company Deutsche Telekom AG [corporate website]. Citing traditional antitrust concerns, DOJ claims [complaint, PDF] that the merger of two of the top four domestic mobile carriers would result in higher prices, fewer choices and poorer quality of services for consumers:
Due to the advantages arising from their scale and scope of coverage, each of the Big Four nationwide carriers is especially well-positioned to drive competition, at both a national and local level, in this industry. T-Mobile in particular—a company with a self-described "challenger brand," that historically has been a value provider, and that even within the past few months had been developing and deploying "disruptive pricing" plans—places important competitive pressure on its three larger rivals, particularly in terms of pricing, a critically important aspect of competition. AT&T's elimination of T-Mobile as an independent, low-priced rival would remove a significant competitive force from the market.
The other "Big Four" carriers are Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest, and Sprint Nextel [corporate websites]. The largest recent example of the smaller firms' impact on the industry came in 2010 when AT&T and Verizon significantly slashed the prices of their unlimited calling plans [CNNMoney report], primarily as a result of aggressive pricing set by T-Mobile and Sprint.

The worldwide consolidation of media is an ongoing global concern. Earlier this month a class action lawsuit was filed [JURIST report] against Apple [corporate website] and five major publishers for allegedly colluding to illegally fix electronic book (e-book) prices. In a Hotline article published last month [JURIST comment] Dave Saldana, Communication Director for Free Press, used the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile deal as an example of the enormous influence giant media corporations can bring to bear through massive public relations blitzes and the acquisition of political influence through the pouring of money into lobbying efforts and campaign contributions. As a result of exactly these kinds of efforts, AT&T had remained confident to this point that its T-Mobile purchase would go through, "because it knows it has several hundred million reasons to push for the merger, and millions of means to get it." In that sense antitrust concern regarding media consolidation is doubly founded, because unlike manufacturing or other traditional industry mergers, the resultant titans of media created through already-giant media company mergers not only dominate their own marketplace, but the information market as well, giving them leverage to sway public opinion and dominate the narrative when their own practices are questioned.




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Syria protests lead to deaths of at least 88 detainees: Amnesty report
Ashley Hileman on August 31, 2011 11:24 AM ET

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[JURIST] At least 88 individuals have been killed while in custody as a result of their participation in the ongoing protests in Syria, according to an Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] report [PDF] released Wednesday. All of the victims were detained because of actual or suspected involvement in the protests for reform, most of which have been nonviolent, that began in the country last March. AI alleges that many of these deaths involved "horrific" torture, with detainees often being "slapped, beaten and kicked" by members of the security forces and at times "whipped and beaten with wooden sticks, cables or rifle butts." The report also alleges that only two of the deaths were subject to official investigations as required by international human rights law. As a result of this dramatic increase in deaths while in custody and the circumstances surrounding them, AI considers the actions of the Syrian officials to be crimes against humanity and is calling on the UN Security Council [official website] to condemn the killings and take other measures, including an arms embargo and the freezing of assets of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile].

The continuing violence against protesters in Syria has not gone unnoticed. Last week, during a special session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website], UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile], who noted that more than 2,000 people had been killed since the protests began, including hundreds during the month of Ramadan, urged the Syrian government to stop its indiscriminate attacks on peaceful protesters and to release all persons detained for participating in those protests. During this special session, the UNHRC voted 33-4 to adopt a resolution [JURIST report] ordering an investigation into crimes against humanity in Syria and urging the Syrian government once again to halt its violent crackdown against peaceful protesters. The UNHRC began last week's session to discuss the possibility of an investigation after the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] published a 22-page report concluding that Syrian government forces may be committing crimes against humanity [JURIST report]. The session was held in response to a plea [JURIST report] from Pillay earlier this month to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] for an investigation into the violent suppression of anti-government protests.




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Federal judge blocks key provisions of Texas abortion law
Ashley Hileman on August 31, 2011 10:21 AM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Texas [official website] on Tuesday blocked [decision, PDF] several provisions of a new Texas law that restricts abortion [JURIST news archive] practices and requires a doctor to perform a sonogram prior to the procedure. The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) [advocacy website] filed a challenge to the law [JURIST report] on behalf of a class of physicians that perform abortions. The law [HB 15 text] at issue created various prerequisites that a woman must meet to establish informed and voluntary consent to an abortion. For example, a physician must perform a sonogram, show the images to the woman and explain them. In addition, a physician must play the sounds of the heartbeat to the woman. The court, holding that the provisions requiring physicians to provide, and women to hear, descriptions of the sonogram violated the First Amendment [text], granted in part the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction. Addressing the First Amendment violation, Judge Sam Sparks wrote:
The net result of these provisions is: (1) a physician is required to say things and take expressive actions with which the physician may not ideologically agree, and which the physician may feel are medically unnecessary; (2) the pregnant woman must not only passively receive this potentially unwanted speech and expression, but must also actively participate;in the best case by simply signing an election form, and in the worst case by disclosing in writing extremely personal, medically irrelevant facts; and (3) the entire experience must be memorialized in records that are, at best, semi-private. In the absence of a sufficiently weighty government interest, and a sufficiently narrow statute advancing that interest, neither of which have been argued by Defendants, the Constitution does not permit such compulsion.
Additionally, the court found three sections of the law to be unconstitutionally vague and severed those from the Act for enforcement purposes. The remaining provisions of the law are set to take effect on Thursday.

Texas is only one of many states that have recently enacted, and subsequently had to defend, laws restricting abortions. With courts analyzing these cases differently, the outcomes have varied. Earlier this month, the Arizona Court of Appeals [official website] ended a two-year injunction [JURIST report] on portions of a law that restricted abortion practices. The original injunction by the Maricopa County Superior Court [official website] held the following provisions as "undue burdens" on a woman's right to an abortion: prohibitions on anyone but a licensed physician performing an abortion; a requirement that women meet with the doctor personally 24 hours before an abortion (the injunction held that a phone call would suffice); that medical professionals have a right to refuse to perform even medically necessary abortions, provide certain contraceptives or the "morning after" pill; and a mandate that parents' consent forms allowing their child to get an abortion be notarized. The appeals court reinstated all of these stipulations, suggesting that the lower judge had applied "strict scrutiny" in error rather than an "undue burden" test. Planned Parenthood of Arizona [advocacy website], a party to the original suit, said the law's enactment will have a severe impact on women in the state, many of whom have to take day-trips to have abortions. It is unknown if they will appeal.




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Bolivia high court convicts 7 officials for genocide
Julia Zebley on August 31, 2011 8:48 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Bolivian Supreme Court of Justice [official website, in Spanish] on Tuesday convicted seven officials—five military officers and two former cabinet ministers—of committing genocide. The military officials received sentences of 10–15 years while the former cabinet ministers received three-year sentences for complicity in the murders. The convicted leaders are not permitted an appeal [La Prensa report, in Spanish]. One commander of the army, Juan Veliz Herrera, pleaded innocence [La Razon report, in Spanish] and suggested he was being persecuted for having different political views than the current government and non-governmental organizations. Trials for the genocide began in 2009, when the court began the trial [JURIST report] of former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in connection with the deaths of 63 anti-government protesters in October 2003, now commonly known as "Black October." Sanchez de Lozada and 17 other former government officials face genocide charges related to incident, for which he faces 30 years in prison if convicted.

Bolivian officials requested extradition [JURIST report] of Sanchez de Lozada and two other defendants from the US to face trial under a 1995 extradition treaty. A defense lawyer for victims' families made another plea for extradition [La Razon report, in Spanish] after Tuesday's convictions. However, the US has consistently refused to extradite Sanchez de Lozada, and his lawyers reports he resides in the US legally and maintains the prosecutions are political. The 2003 riots [BBC report] occurred when military forces clashed with predominantly indigenous farmers, coca growers, students and unionists who protested Sanchez de Lozada's attempts to open up the country to free trade with the US and to export gas and other natural resources. The protests were led by his former political rival and current Bolivian President Evo Morales [BBC profile; JURIST news archive].




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Federal appeals court denies benefits for child conceived after father's death
Julia Zebley on August 31, 2011 7:27 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that an Iowa girl born two years after her father's death was not entitled to his Social Security [official website] benefits. After the death of her husband, Patti Beeler used in vitro fertilization (IVF) [Medline backgrounder] to conceive the child, known as BEB, with her late husband's preserved semen. She then applied to the Social Security Administration (SSA) for survivor's benefits but was denied when the SSA said BEB did not qualify under sections 402(d)(1) and 416(e) of the Social Security Act [texts]. The first section only distributes benefits to children who were "dependent upon such individual ... at the time of such death," while the second defines child. A lower court ruled for Beeler, but Monday's decision reversed, finding the SSA made a reasonable interpretation of the act:
The death of Bruce Beeler at a relatively young age before he and Patti Beeler could conceive children is profoundly sad. But whether the granting of child's insurance benefits to B.E.B., a posthumously conceived child, would further the purposes of the Social Security Act is debatable, given the Act's "basic aim of primarily helping those children who lost support after the unanticipated death of a parent." It is unlikely that Members of Congress contemplated this precise question when enacting the relevant provisions of the Act in the 1930s and 1960s. At a minimum, however, the Act permits the longstanding position of the SSA, if the Act does not require it. As the law now stands, it resolves the question of eligibility for child's insurance benefits by reference to state intestacy law, and Iowa law did not provide B.E.B. with intestacy rights at the time of the agency's final decision in this litigation.
The Beelers' home state of Iowa's intestacy law was written before IVF was prevalent and did not allow for IVF children to have rights of inheritance. Since this case, Iowa has enacted HF 245 [text, PDF], which guarantees estate rights to IVF children. Both the Ninth and Third Circuits [official websites] have ruled that the SSA is misinterpreting the statute and have awarded benefits to IVF children, so the issue will likely culminate in the Supreme Court.

IVF is a type of fertility treatment for couples who have had difficulty conceiving children. Through IVF, a woman's eggs are removed and fertilized outside the body. Successfully fertilized embryos are then implanted into the woman for gestation. Although it is becoming a widely accepted practice, many nations have had difficulty fitting this approach to conception into their legal structures. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) [official website] in August filed suit [JURIST report] in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights [official website, in Spanish] to challenge Costa Rica's longstanding ban on IVF. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] in Strasbourg ruled in 2007 that a British woman could not have frozen embryos conceived with a former partner implanted without his consent [JURIST report]. Natallie Evans and Howard Johnston entered an IVF program in 2001 and Johnson agreed to the implantation of the embryos, but later withdrew his consent after the breakup of the couple.




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Vietnam president releases 10,000 prisoners for National Day
Sarah Posner on August 30, 2011 2:39 PM ET

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[JURIST] The president of Vietnam on Monday ordered the release of more than 10,000 prisoners, granting amnesty to commemorate the country's National Day. Although none of the high profile government dissidents was released, the president freed five individuals [AP report] convicted of national security crimes. Eleven of the prisoners released are foreigners from countries including the US, Canada and Australia. The amnesty [AFP report] is an event celebrated annually on National Day, September 2, which marks the day that Vietnam declared its independence from France. The individuals released were arrested for a broad range of different crimes. Vietnam has been criticized by the US, the EU and various human rights groups for jailing government dissidents.

The release of prisoners comes after many controversial arrests were made by Vietnam's communist government. In April, well-known lawyer and activist Cu Huy Ha Vu was among several dissidents in Vietnam convicted [JURIST report] for anti-government activity. In January 2010, four defendants were convicted [JURIST report] of activities aimed at ending communist rule in Vietnam. In March, 2010 Vietnamese authorities released [JURIST report] a Catholic priest and leading rights activist from Hanoi prison. Also in March, Vietnamese human rights lawyer and activist Le Thi Cong Nhan was released [JURIST report] from prison after serving a three-year sentence for allegedly spreading propaganda against the state.




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ICC appeals chamber confirms admissibility of Kenya post-election violence cases
Hillary Stemple on August 30, 2011 2:08 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Tuesday rejected an appeal [press release] filed by the Kenyan government and confirmed a Pre-Trial Chamber ruling refusing to transfer two cases stemming from 2007 post-election violence to Kenyan courts. The Kenyan government appealed the previous decision in June after the ICC announced that they were denying [JURIST reports] Kenya's request to transfer the cases. The presiding judge denied the appeal stating that the Pre-Trial Chamber ruling contained no legal, factual or procedural errors. The Appeals Chamber also indicated that the Pre-Trial Chamber did not err when they found that there was insufficient evidence to support claims by the Kenyan government that they were actively prosecuting the accused defendants. The judge noted that in order for the ICC to lack jurisdiction a member nation must be conducting an investigation covering the same individuals and substantially the same issues as alleged before the ICC, and because no such investigation has been proven by the Kenyan government, the ICC's jurisdiction is valid. The men facing charges in front of the ICC are part of the "Ocampo Six," and are facing trial [JURIST report] for allegedly inciting violence during and after the December 2007 Kenyan elections [JURIST news archive]. The ICC initially claimed jurisdiction due to doubts that Kenya was willing to fully investigate the matter. The 2007 Kenyan post-election violence resulted in more than 1,100 deaths, 3,500 injuries, hundreds of rapes and up to 600,000 individuals being forcibly displaced.

The Ocampo Six include several high-ranking members of Kenya's government, the head of operations at Kass FM [official website] in Nairobi and the son of Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta [Africa Within backgrounder]. Three of the men are members of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) [party website], and the other three are members of the opposing Party for National Unity (PNU). The ODM suspects are charged with fomenting violence against PNU members following the 2007 elections because they believed the election of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki [official profile] to be rigged. In response, the PNU suspects are charged with the conspiring with the Mungiki criminal organization [Safer Access backgrounder, PDF] to attack members of the ODM party. The ICC summoned the suspects [JURIST report] after determining they would not be charged in Kenya for the alleged crimes. In April, Kenya requested that the ICC dismiss the case [JURIST report], arguing that the government is capable of prosecuting the six men domestically. Lawyers for the Ocampo Six called for the timely release of evidence [JURIST report] against their clients that month as well.




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Cambodia genocide tribunal begins fitness hearing
Sarah Posner on August 30, 2011 1:39 PM ET

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[JURIST] The UN's Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday began conducting its fitness hearing [materials; press release] to prosecute individuals for mass killings and other crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge regime [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The hearing will determine whether the defendants are well enough to stand trial. The hearing commenced with two aging defendants who are among the four surviving senior Khmer Rouge officials facing the ECCC for crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge's reign between 1975 and 1979. Charges include genocide, murder, torture, religious persecution and other crimes against humanity. According to the ECCC, at least 1.7 million people died under the Khmer Rouge's leadership due to torture, starvation and execution. The Trial Chamber's substantial hearing to examine evidence and witnesses is anticipated to begin by early next year.

Earlier this month, judges for the ECCC announced [JURIST archive] that they had "serious doubts" that the suspects being investigated by the court are those "most responsible" for the for alleged war crimes. The tribunal is responsible for investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Cambodia's communist Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s. In June, the ECCC began the initial hearings in the trial of four former Khmer Rouge leaders [JURIST report] constituting Case 002 [materials]. The four leaders include Nuon Chea, who was Pol Pot's second-in-command and the group's chief ideologist, former head of state Khieu Samphan, ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary, and his wife, Ieng Thirith [case profiles, PDF], who served as minister for social affairs. All four pleaded not guilty to charges including crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture.




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UN calls for end to enforced disappearances
Jennie Ryan on August 30, 2011 11:18 AM ET

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[JURIST] The UN called Tuesday for all states to end the "heinous crime" of enforced or involuntary disappearances [press release]. Enforced disappearances refers to the practice of placing people in secret detentions for weeks or months without ever being brought before a judge. Some victims of the practice say they were tortured during their detainment. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances [official website] called the practice "very worrisome," and stated that "whether it is used to counter terrorism, to fight organized crime or suppress legitimate civil strife demanding democracy, freedom of expression or religion, should be considered as an enforced disappearance and as such adequately investigated, prosecuted and punished." The release of the statement marks the first UN International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances [press release], a day devoted to awareness of the crime of enforced disappearances and dedicated to the victims and their families. The UN urged all states to translate and disseminate the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance [text] which was adopted by the UN General Assembly [official website] two decades ago.

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has called on other nations to end the practice of enforced disappearances. In June, they demanded [JURIST report] China address its practice of "enforced disappearances" [press release] and reveal the location of 355 detained Tibetan monks. That same month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [official website] expressed concern [JURIST report] over the arrest and arbitrary detention of dozens of civilians by Libyan opposition authorities. A three-person commission for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] appointed to investigate violence in Libya published a report [PDF] saying that government forces have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes [JURIST report] under orders from Libyan leader Mummar Gaddafi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], including imprisonment, and other severe deprivations of physical liberties.




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Sudan accused of war crimes in South Kordofan region
Jennie Ryan on August 30, 2011 10:28 AM ET

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[JURIST] Human rights groups Amnesty International (AI) [official website] and Human Rights Watch (HRW) [official website] on Tuesday said they have evidence that the Sudanese army has committed war crimes [press release] in the country's South Kordofan region. Researchers from the two advocacy groups visited the Nuba Mountain region of South Kordofan where they "documented 13 separate bombing incidents in Kauda, Delami and Kurchi towns alone, in which at least 26 civilians were killed and more than 45 others injured since mid-June." The researchers claim bombings occurred on a continuous basis during their time in the region. They argue that the use of unguided bombs dropped from high altitude on nonmilitary targets is a violation of international human rights law. Amnesty International's Erwin van der Borght called for the UN Security Council [official website] to "condemn in the strongest possible terms the ongoing human rights violations in the Nuba Mountains, and mandate an independent inquiry to investigate abuses committed by parties to the conflict in Southern Kordofan since 5 June."

The UN Security Council last month called for an end to fighting [JURIST report] in South Kordofan. South Kordofan, which has been held by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) since the 2005 peace deal that stifled Sudan's civil war, is a state in the center of Sudan, and has been a disputed territory between Sudan and South Sudan due to its oil reserves. Sudan's army, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), took over Abyei, a district in the state, in May, causing a rebuke and demand for withdrawal [JURIST report] by the UN. The UN 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; JURIST news archive] has stated he will not withdraw troops from the region and insisted that the area belongs to the north. An International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] case is open against al-Bashir and several nations have been urged to arrest him on sight including: China, Malaysia, Djibouti, Kenya and Chad [JURIST reports].




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Libya troops using children as human shields: report
Alexandra Malatesta on August 30, 2011 9:52 AM ET

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[JURIST] Libyan troops used children as human shields to deter attacks by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) [official website], Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) [advocacy website] reported [text, PDF] Tuesday. A team of PHR investigators conducted several weeks of interviews in Libya, shortly after Muammar Gaddafi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and his loyalists were expelled from Misrata [Bloomberg report]. The report also reflects troops' pattern of torturing, forcibly disappearing, hostage-taking, detaining, beating and slaying Libyan civilians. PHR made several recommendations for Libya's future:
It is critical that civilian authorities led by the TNC [Transitional National Council] assert full control over Libya and establish the rule of law to prevent further bloodshed, vigilante justice, looting, and violence. The international community must assist the newly emerging civilian authorities in providing basic services to the Libyan people as Libya develops a constitutional framework and mechanisms and builds civil society and institutions. ... This effort must also examine reports of human rights violations committed by rebel forces and NATO. In the current absence of developed legal institutions, it is crucial that Libyan transitional authorities fully collaborate with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has already issued arrest warrants for [Gaddafi] and others. ... Prosecutions, vetting, and other necessary methods of accountability will guide the Libyan people as they choose how best to forge a secure and just social and political order in the aftermath of conflict.
PHR specifically stated that the report does not "present evidence that either confirms or denies whether rebel and NATO forces may have committed war crimes." An investigation into NATO's alleged human rights abuses [JURIST report] is pending.

Gaddafi continues to disregard arrest warrants [JURIST report] issued in May by Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official website] of the International Criminal Court [official website]. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official webisite] released a report in June that revealed estimates showing 10,000-15,000 people have been killed since protests began in February [JURIST reports]. In April, Ocampo's office 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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Federal judge temporarily blocks Alabama immigration law
Drew Singer on August 30, 2011 9:31 AM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama on Monday issued a temporary injunction [text, PDF] blocking an immigration law that was scheduled to take effect Thursday. "The court will issue detailed Memorandum Opinions and Orders ruling on the merits of the pending Motions for Preliminary Injunction no later than September 28, 2011," Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn wrote in the two-page order. Advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] have been pushing for the court to block [JURIST report] the law [HB 56 text], which permits police officers to detain a person stopped for a traffic violation if the officer has "reasonable suspicion" the person is in the country illegally. The officer must then try to determine the individual's identity by checking other records if the motorist is unable to provide documentation. The bill also requires businesses to use the federal E-Verify system [official website] to determine whether potential employees are legal residents. Businesses cited multiple times for hiring undocumented workers could lose their business licenses. Furthermore, undocumented immigrants are prohibited from applying for a job, and anyone transporting or harboring undocumented immigrants will be punished by a fine or jail time. The ACLU has argued that the law will cause unlawful racial profiling.

In June, the ACLU, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) [advocacy website] and a coalition of other civil rights groups filed a class action lawsuit challenging a similar Georgia immigration law, which has also been blocked by a judge [JURIST reports]. In May, the US Supreme Court upheld an Arizona employment law [JURIST report] that imposes penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants, ruling that the law is not preempted by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) [text]. The ruling opens the door for states to enact similar restraints on immigration. Several other states have also enacted or proposed [JURIST reports] tough new immigration laws.




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Pakistan court orders seizure of Musharraf's property, freeze of bank account
Drew Singer on August 30, 2011 12:03 AM ET

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[JURIST] Pakistani Judge Shahid Raffique on Saturday ordered that the property of former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] be seized and his bank account frozen in connection with his alleged involvement in the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive]. The judge ordered the nation's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) [official website] to conduct the seizure because Musharraf had failed to respond to multiple subpoenas [Al Jazeera report].

Musharraf was arrested in February [JURIST report] because he had not cooperated during the investigation of Bhutto's death, and investigators alleged that Musharraf did not provide adequate security [DAWN report] for Bhutto when she was assassinated during a campaign rally in Pakistan in 2007. According to an interim criminal charge sheet [JURIST report] by the FIA, Musharraf appointed and allegedly gave orders to the police officers accused of failing to protect Bhutto on the day she was assassinated. Specifically, the prosecution document alleges that Musharraf ordered the officers to remove a security detail for Bhutto prior to her departure and that he later ordered the same officers to hose down the scene of the assassination.




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Michigan appeals court rules state worker pay cut unconstitutional
John Paul Putney on August 29, 2011 11:50 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Michigan Court of Appeals [official website] has ruled unanimously [opinion, PDF] that a 3 percent cut to state workers' pay to fund the retiree health care benefits violates the Michigan Constitution [text]. Specifically, the court ruled last Thursday that the legislature and former governor Jennifer Granholm lacked the authority to side-step the Civil Service Commission. Explaining the balance of power between the commission and the legislature, the court noted:
Although the commission has plenary authority over the rates of compensation, a system of checks and balances was established with the Legislature in the Michigan Constitution of 1963. Specifically, an increase in the rate of compensation authorized by the commission may be rejected or reduced by the Legislature "by a two-thirds vote of the members elected to and serving in each house" provided the vote occurs within 60 calendar days of the transmitted increase."The [L]egislature may not reduce rates of compensation below those in effect at the time of the transmission of increases authorized by the commission." The Civil Service Commission has the sole authority to fix rates of compensation. By enacting 2010 PA 185 ... the Legislature acted to reduce the compensation of classified civil servants by three percent without an accompanying agreement with the unions or the CSC. The sole authority to fix rates of compensation of classified civil servants is vested with the CSC.
The state employees' triumph at the court of appeals may be short-lived as the Michigan Supreme Court may not follow the appeals court's reasoning and, ultimately, the retirement health care system remains fiscally unsustainable [Detroit Free Press report]. Current Governor Rick Snyder has not indicated whether it will appeal the ruling.

States facing monumental budget deficits have struggled to find the political consensus to reduce spending. In June, the Wisconsin Supreme Court [official website] upheld the Budget Repair Bill [JURIST report] overruling the Dane County Circuit Court finding [JURIST report] that legislators had violated the "open meetings" rule. Ruling 4-3, the court stated that the lower court Judge had "invaded the legislature's constitutional powers." The more controversial legislation in Wisconsin requires state employees to contribute a percentage of their salaries to their pension and health care premiums, and eliminates the ability of public employee union members to collectively negotiate anything but wage increase, which will be capped by the Consumer Price Index.




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Syria president issues new law on media
John Paul Putney on August 29, 2011 5:44 PM ET

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[JURIST] Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile] issued a legislative decree on Sunday repealing earlier more restrictive laws on media. Legislative Decree No. 108 for 2011 [Syria Online backgrounder] lifts oppressive legislation which allowed for imprisoning journalists [DP-News report] for "attacking the prestige and dignity of the state, national unity and the morale of the army." Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud indicated the law will "cancel penalties against journalists and ... [facilitate] their access to information." The law also calls for the establishment of a "National Council of Information" linked to the cabinet which will regulate the information sector under the new media law. The law, however, bans publications on a swath of topics [CNN report] including content that "affects national unity and national security, incites sectarian strife, incites crimes or hatred, or harms state symbols" as well as news related to the armed forces. Journalists may still be fined up to $21,000 for defamation, and the law would extend accountability for violations to editors, journalists and even media spokespersons. Opposition activists have also dismissed the once highly-sought reforms as "too little too late" in the face of continuing accounts of regime brutality and protester fatalities.

In June, the director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) [official website] Irina Bokova [official website] condemned Syria [JURIST report] for its human rights violations and repression of journalism and free speech. Bokova called for the government to restore citizens' access to cell phones and the Internet and to stop "acts of aggression" against journalists. Last week, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] adopted a resolution [draft text, PDF] ordering an investigation into crimes against humanity in Syria and urging the Syrian government once again to halt its violent crackdown against peaceful protesters. The UNHRC convened a special session to discuss the possibility of an investigation after a Fact-finding Mission in Syria published a 22-page report concluding that Syrian government forces cracking down on the opposition may be committing crimes against humanity [JURIST report].




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Kenya swears in first Supreme Court justices
Jennie Ryan on August 29, 2011 11:34 AM ET

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[JURIST] Kenyan Registrar of the High Court Gladys Boss Shollei swore in the nation's first Supreme Court [official website] justices on Friday at a ceremony in the capital city Nairobi. The ceremony was attended by President Mwai Kibaki [official profile] who emphasized the importance [KBC report] of the appointments to the country's ongoing institutional reform. "With all these reforms that we are implementing now, I am quite sure that the country will make good progress," Kibaki told those in attendance. The newly appointed Supreme Court judges are Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, Deputy Chief Nancy Baraza, Phillip Tunoi, Jackton Ojwang, Mohamed Ibrahim, Charles Wanjala and Njoki Ndung'u. The appointments come just one day after the High Court of Nairobi [official website] dismissed a claim that the nomination of only one female judge to the Supreme Court violates the Kenyan Constitution [text, PDF]. The claim was brought by the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Kenya [official website] and other advocacy groups which argued that the appointments would violate Article 27, which requires that no more than two-thirds of a public body be comprised of one gender. The court refused to grant a temporary injunction that would bar the appointment of the justices pending an appeal by FIDA, paving the way for Friday's ceremony.

In June, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) [official website] selected five appointees [JURIST report], one woman and four men, to serve on the nation's first Supreme Court. The list of nominations was submitted to Kibaki for direct appointment because Article 166(1)(b) of Kenya's Constitution exempts the appointees from questioning by the Parliament of the Republic of Kenya [official website]. Kibaki signed a new constitution [JURIST report] into law in August 2010 as part of a reform movement aimed at curbing vast presidential powers. Kenya's new constitution includes numerous checks on presidential authority, among which are the creation of a supreme court and senate. The new constitution was approved [JURIST report] by popular referendum earlier that same month. The creation of a new constitution was part of a power-sharing agreement [JURIST report] reached in 2009 between Kibaki and opposition leader Prime Minister Raila Odinga [official website] that brought to an end the civil unrest that followed the contested election.




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Iran election protesters released from prisons
Alexandra Malatesta on August 29, 2011 10:40 AM ET

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[JURIST] Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi said Saturday that approximately 100 people imprisoned for their participation in the massive 2009 presidential election protests [JURIST news archive] have been pardoned and released by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [official profile; BBC profile]. Though the pardoning of "repentant" prisoners traditionally coincides with the conclusion of Ramadan, analysts have viewed their release as a political, conciliatory gesture [LAT report] in preparation for next year's elections. Because the names of the prisoners have not been released, it is unclear whether two Americans captured while hiking across the border of Iraq [CNN report] are among those who have been freed.

The Iranian government has faced significant international scrutiny for its handling of the post-election protests and treatment of thousands arrested as a result. Aside from the repeated pleas form the US, Amnesty International labeled human rights violations committed by the Iranian government following the election among the worst of the past 20 years [JURIST report]. Human rights groups have also called on the UN General Assembly [official website] to appoint a special envoy [JURIST report] to investigate allegations of rights violations. Alleged human rights abuses of detainees include sexual assault, beatings and forced confessions [JURIST reports]. Many of those detained after the protests have been freed, but more than 80 have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms and five have been sentenced to death.




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Bahrain king dismisses charges against some protesters
Jennie Ryan on August 29, 2011 9:58 AM ET

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[JURIST] Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa [official profile] announced on Sunday that he will dismiss charges against some of the protesters detained for their participation in pro-democracy demonstrations in the country. In a nationally televised speech [video], Khalifa conceded that some of the protesters had been subjected to violence during the demonstrations which began in February [JURIST news archive]. Khalifa said:
There are those who were arrested, and investigations proved that they were the victims of individual behavior and were ill-treated in custody. This is not tolerated by God and we do not condone it. ... The last few months were painful for all of us, and even though we all live in the same country, some have forgotten about the inevitability of coexistence.
Khalifa also announced that victims of abuse or the families of those killed during the protests will be eligible to receive compensation payments [AP report]. The Bahraini Supreme Court will oversee the disbursement of compensation payments to victims.

In June, Khalifa announced that an independent commission will investigate human rights violations [JURIST report] related to the country's pro-democracy protests. Earlier that month, the OHCHR announced that Bahrain agreed to permit a UN commission [JURIST report] to investigate human rights violations related to protests. 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. 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. Days earlier, Khalifa 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]. In February, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called for an end to violence against protesters [JURIST report] in the country, referencing attempts to quell protests sweeping across the region.




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US prosecutor to investigate Kosovo PM for organ trafficking
Alexandra Malatesta on August 29, 2011 9:42 AM ET

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[JURIST] The European Union Rule of Law Mission to Kosovo [official website] announced Monday that US prosecutor John Clint Williamson will lead an investigation into allegations that Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci [official profile] participated in an organ trafficking scheme during the 1998-1999 Kosovo War [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Claims made in a report [text] authored by Council of Europe (COE) [official website] member Dick Marty [BBC profile] indicate that Thaci served as the "boss" of an illegal criminal enterprise [JURIST report] that trafficked human organs and drugs during the war. Though Thaci strongly denies the allegations and has pledged to cooperate with the investigation, the report was based on a two-year investigation that concluded that Kosovo Liberation Arm (ALK) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] soldiers, lead by Thaci, ran detention centers where civilians were killed and their organs sold on the black market [BBC report].

The COE report alleges that Thaci was the leader of the KLA Drenica Group, a criminal network that controlled the heroin trade and the black market trafficking of kidneys of executed Serbian and Albanian war prisoners. News of the report's accusations prompted the government to respond [press release], denying the allegations and calling them an attempt to harm Thaci's reputation following his party's victory in the nation's parliamentary elections last year. Claims of Kosovo's involvement in human organ trafficking originated in 2008 when former prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] Carla Del Ponte [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] alleged in a book [JURIST report] about her time at the tribunal that roughly 300 Serbian and other non-Albanian prisoners were victims of organ trafficking during the war. That year, Serbian prosecutors condemned Albania's refusal to initiate [JURIST report] an investigation into allegations of organ trafficking in Kosovo. Albanian Prosecutor General Ina Rama refused to cooperate with Serbian war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic [official website] and said that her country would only pursue the allegations if the ICTY decided to reopen its investigation.




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Missouri judge blocks law banning teachers from using social media with students
Aman Kakar on August 28, 2011 3:58 PM ET

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[JURIST] Cole County Circuit Court of Missouri [official website] issued a preliminary injunction [order, PDF] on Wednesday enjoining the State of Missouri [official website] from implementing Missouri Revised Statutes § 162.069.4 [text, PDF], which prevents students and teachers from communicating through social networking sites that cannot be accessed by school administrators or parents. Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ruled that the statute implicated the First Amendment rights of teachers and described the breadth of prohibition as "staggering." The Court found that social networking is used extensively by teachers, and often is the primary if not the sole medium of communication between teachers and students or parents. The Court concluded that the chilling effect the statute would have on speech and that public interest is best served by allowing a trial and ruling on the merits before the statute is implemented. The Missouri State Teachers Association (MTSA) [official website] expressed their approval of the injunction citing that the injunction "gives everyone time to debate and discuss the issue to come to a proper resolution rather than rushing to piece together language that doesn't resolve the concerns of educators or allow time for teacher input." Meanwhile, Governor Jay Nixon [official website] announced [press release] plans on Friday to ask the General Assembly to repeal statute 162.069, sections 1 through 4, due to substantial confusion among teachers, students and families. The injunction is set to expire on February 20, 2012.

The social media law is a part of Senate Bill 54, also known as Amy Hestir Student Protection Act [materials]. The bill passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate during the regular legislative session. MTSA filed an action on August 19 opposing the prohibition of social media because it would inhibit the ability of the teachers to communicate with students through social media sites such as Facebook and through text messaging.




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China grants immunity to foreign nations in Hong Kong courts
Dan Taglioli on August 28, 2011 3:00 PM ET

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[JURIST] China's National People's Congress (NPC) [official website] on Friday adopted an interpretation of certain articles of the Basic Law [text] of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region [official website], removing lawsuits against sovereign nations from the jurisdiction of Hong Kong courts. The Standing Committee [official website] of the NPC adopted an interpretation that "stipulates that Hong's Kong's laws concerning rules on state immunity must be 'consistent with the rules or policies on state immunity that the central government has adopted.'" Unlike much of the world's nations, China recognizes absolute sovereign immunity [Xinhua report] in its courts, even in cases purely involved with business dealings. The official interpretation passed on the last day of the three-day bi-monthly session of the NPC Standing Committee, and was derived from a 2008 lawsuit filed in a Hong Kong high court. US-registered FG Hemisphere Associates LLC had named the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a defendant in its legal proceedings in the court, and the country claimed that Hong Kong courts do not have jurisdiction over Congo as a sovereign nation. In June 2011, the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeals [official website] made a provisional judgment, stating that Hong Kong should follow the rules on state immunity that the central government has adopted, granting Congo its claimed immunity from jurisdiction. However, because the central government has the final say on Hong Kong issues relating to foreign affairs, the Court of Final Appeals believed it needed to seek an interpretation from the legislature [WP report] before issuing its final judgment. The NPC Standing Committee Legislative Affairs Commission largely adopted the court's ruling, and the court will now make its final judgment on the basis of its decision.

FG Hemisphere Associates has sued Congo and certain corporations in courts in several nations around the world. The company is attempting to recover over $100 million owed for a series of power stations built in the 1980s. The US does not recognize sovereign immunity for foreign nations in all cases involving business transactions. In March, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] on Congo's appeal from a district court decision in FG Hemisphere Associates' favor, which the appellate court affirmed. US courts often deny sovereign immunity. In February, a federal judge ruled that former Somali prime minister and defense minister Mohamed Ali Samantar was not entitled to immunity from civil lawsuits [JURIST report]. Samantar, who had lived in the greater Washington, DC, area for more than 15 years, was sued in 2004 by two Somali men who alleged he spearheaded a campaign of ethnic repression against the northern Somali Isaaq clan during his tenure in office. Immunity was also denied in a clergy abuse case against the Vatican [JURIST report] in January.




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First Circuit upholds right to record public police action
Aman Kakar on August 28, 2011 2:55 PM ET

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[JURIST] The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] Friday ruled [opinion, PDF] that there is a clearly-established First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] right to film police officers performing their duties in a public space. The case stems from a 2007 incident, when police officers arrested Simon Gilk after he openly recorded three police officers arresting a suspect on the Boston Common. Circuit Judge Kermit Lipez, speaking for the unanimous three-judge panel, rejected the officers claim that they had qualified immunity since the law regarding recordings of police action is not well-settled. The opinion recognized that the undoubted right to gather news from any source, by means within the law, is an important corollary to the First Amendment saying:
The First Amendment issue here is, as the parties frame it, fairly narrow: is there a constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public? Basic First Amendment principles, along with case law from this and other circuits, answer that question unambiguously in the affirmative. It is firmly established that the First Amendment's aegis extends further than the text's proscription on laws "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press," and encompasses a range of conduct related to the gathering and dissemination of information. ... The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles. Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting "the free discussion of governmental affairs.
Lipez cited well established case law and stressed that the right to gather news is not one that inures solely to the benefit of the news media but also extends to a private individual. The Court recognized that the right to record is not without limitations and is subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. The Center for Constitutional Rights [advocacy website] filed an amicus brief [PDF] arguing that concerned individuals and Copwatch groups have a right to record the activity of police in the public.

The police officers arrested Gilk and charged him with violating of the wiretap statute, disturbing the peace, and aiding in the escape of a prisoner. The Commonwealth dropped the last charge recognizing that they did not have probable cause. The other two charges against Gilk were also dismissed by a Boston Municipal Court. In February 2010, Gilk filed a complaint under 42 USC § 1983 [text] for violation of Gilk's First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights. The officers appealed to the First Circuit court after the district court denied the officers motion to dismiss the case because the officers had qualified immunity.




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Federal judge rules punitive damages available against BP in claims over oil spill
Dan Taglioli on August 28, 2011 10:20 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website] Friday ruled on motions to dismiss made by British Petroleum (BP) [corporate website] and other defendants in litigation [materials] over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Among other issues, Judge Carl Barbier ruled [order, PDF] that all state law claims in the case are preempted by federal maritime law and should be dismissed, but that the same general maritime law makes punitive damages available. Since admiralty jurisdiction is present is the case, it requires application of substantive maritime law. BP and the other companies claimed the US Oil Pollution Act (OPA) [EPA backgrounder] intervenes, and its silence on punitive damages should prevent plaintiffs from any such collection. Judge Barbier disagreed:
OPA does not mention punitive damages; thus, while punitive damages are not available under OPA, the Court does not read OPA’s silence as meaning that punitive damages are precluded under general maritime law. Congress knows how to proscribe punitive damages when it intends to... Thus, OPA does not displace general maritime law claims for those Plaintiffs who would have been able to bring such claims prior to OPA's enactment. These Plaintiffs assert plausible claims for punitive damages against Responsible and non-Responsible parties.
Judge Barbier also ruled that owners of boats damaged during cleanup efforts may proceed under federal oil pollution law, as may corporate claims over lost revenue due to the subsequent government moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Dismissed claims for economic loss brought by individuals and businesses under state law still may be pursued under federal maritime and environmental laws.

Last month Judge Barbier dismissed [JURIST report] consolidated racketeering claims against BP in connection with the spill brought under the US Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) [text]. In February, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood [official website] asked the district court to order the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) [official website] to fulfill its legal obligations to aid victims of the spill and to remedy inadequate claims mechanisms [JURIST report]. The GCCF began processing claims in August following the completion of negotiations [JURIST reports] between BP and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website]. Former Alabama Attorney General Troy King filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in August of last year against BP for damages to the state's coast and economy, claiming that the oil giant has failed in its efforts to accept responsibility for the oil spill. In July 2010, a class action lawsuit [JURIST report] was filed against the company in a Louisiana state court alleging that its negligent actions led to the spill and that BP was further negligent in its oversight of the cleanup effort, resulting in volunteers falling ill due to inadequate protective equipment. One month prior, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] announced that the DOJ would review whether any criminal or civil laws were violated [JURIST report] by BP.




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South Carolina Democrats protest voter ID law to DOJ
LaToya Sawyer on August 27, 2011 10:00 AM ET

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[JURIST] South Carolina's Senate Minority Caucus filed an objection on Friday with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website], asking for the rejection of the state's new voter identification law. The caucus, comprised of Democrats in the state Senate, argued that the law, which will require South Carolina residents to present a current government-issued ID, is too restrictive and may disenfranchise African Americans and elderly voters [AP report]. The objection follows earlier attempts by several South Carolina civil rights groups [JURIST report] to prevent the law from being implemented. They allege that the new law is stricter than other state voter ID laws because a voter must have both a valid and current form of identification. Critics of the law believe that those with suspended or revoked licenses will potentially lose the chance to vote [Sun News report] because they do not have any other form of identification. Additionally, opponents argue that this law targets elderly and African American voters who are also without these forms of identification. The Democratic caucus suggests the law specifically targets African American voters because it was introduced after 2008 when African Americans voted in equal percentages [WP report] as whites in the South Carolina Democratic primary. Supporters of the law argue it is a measure against voter fraud. The DOJ, which must approve the law before it can take effect under the Voting Rights Act [materials], is expected to make a ruling on the law's validity within the next week.

There are now 30 US states that require voters to present some form of ID at the polls, including 14 states that require photo ID, but the issue remains controversial. In June, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon vetoed legislation [JURIST report] that would have required individuals to present government-issued photo ID at the voting booth. In May, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld a state law [JURIST report] that requires voters to present one of six government-issued photo identifications in order to vote. In contrast, a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down [JURIST report] a portion of an Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration in October.




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Spain parties agree to amend constitution to limit national deficit
LaToya Sawyer on August 27, 2011 8:00 AM ET

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[JURIST] Spain's major political parties, the Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) and the Popular Party (PP) [official sites, in Spanish], reached an agreement on Friday to modify the country's constitution with provisions [text, PDF] that will regulate the limits of the national deficit in order to avoid risks of debt crisis and a bailout. The proposed amendment, to take effect in 2020, will prohibit Spain's national deficit from surpassing more than 0.4 percent [El Pais report, in Spanish] of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP). The law requires that Spain maintain a budget that will remain within the deficit margins established by the EU. The benefits of the changes, developed as a direct attack against Spain's struggles during the last two years of the recession, were described by the parties as guaranteed fiscal responsibility, a revitalized economy and a sustained public welfare system. Although the proposed law does not specify definite limits, the government will only be able to exceed the national budget in times of natural catastrophes, national emergencies and another economic recession. Parliament is expected to vote on the amendment on September 2. The actual law is expected to be passed by July 2012.

A fear of a bailout has caused several European nations to make moves to avoid a major debt crisis. Italy and Spain succeeded in lowering its borrowing costs by taking advantage of a European bond-buying [Houston Chronicle report] program. Earlier this month, Sweden resolved to protect its banking and financial institutions [The Local report] from effects of the debt crisis by increasing funds for more financial inspections and deposit guarantees. In June, Greece, still suffering from its economic crisis [BBC backgrounder], proposed a constitutional referendum [JURIST report] aimed at eliminating the systemic governmental inefficiency and waste that led to the crisis.




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Arizona sues federal government over Voting Rights Act
Julia Zebley on August 26, 2011 3:05 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Arizona Attorney General [official website] filed a suit [complaint, PDF; press release] on Thursday asking for an injunction on portions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) [materials], arguing that it is unconstitutional for a state to clear any voting regulations with the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website]. Section 5 [DOJ backgrounder] requires states to clear changes in voting districts, polling places and other electoral processes with the DOJ or federal courts to ensure discrimination is not being effected through regulations. AG Tom Horne makes several claims in the complaint, including: there is no rational basis behind the powers given to the Federal government over the states, in violation of the 14th and 15th amendment; Arizona is penalized for archaic violations that have been corrected; and the VRA holds states to different standards based on their Hispanic populations without rational justification.
In 1974, Arizona became only the second state in the nation to popularly elect a Hispanic governor. There was no reason in 1975 to subject Arizona to the extraordinary burden of seeking approval from the Department of Justice for changes to its laws in 1975, and there certainly is no rationale to continue the practice today. As Congress recognized, despite reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act in 2006, "significant progress" has been made in addressing the concerns that originally justified the VRA. Congress noted "increased numbers of registered minority voters, minority voter turnout, and minority representation."
US Attorney General Eric Holder responded that he will defend against the challenge [press release]: "The Voting Rights Act plays a vital role in our society by ensuring that every American has the right to vote and to have that vote counted."

The VRA was enacted to put an end to the systematic disenfranchisement of minority voters that ran rampant in Southern districts in the 1960s. Although the Senate extended the act an additional 25 years by an overwhelming 98-0 vote in 2006, its basis in a legacy of discrimination evidenced more than 45 years ago has gone largely unexamined. There have been several challenges to the VRA, and it has consistently been upheld as constitutional. A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] heard arguments [JURIST report] in February on a similar challenge to the VRA. Officials representing Shelby County, Alabama, together with a corps of conservative activists, argued that it is no longer constitutionally justifiable to subject Alabama and certain other states to Section 5 pre-clearance rules under the VRA. The Supreme Court [official website] upheld [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] a controversial provision of the VRA last year in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder [Cornell LII backgrounder]. The court voted 8-1 in favor of permitting the appellant municipality to "bail out" from the Section 5 pre-clearance requirement if it can establish a history of compliance with the VRA, but declined to rule on the constitutionality of the 25-year extension of the act. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts opined that "things have changed in the South," observing that "[b]latantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare." The plaintiff was a municipal utility district in Texas that wanted to be exempted from the requirement and was challenging the most recent extension generally. At their enactment in 1965, the requirements were only supposed to be in place for five years. Section 5 has since been extended several times.




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Brazil urged to revoke amnesty law
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 26, 2011 2:20 PM ET

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[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Friday urged the Brazilian government to revoke [press release] the 1979 Amnesty Law [text, PDF, in Spanish], which shields military officials from prosecution for crimes committed during the country's 1964-1985 military dictatorship. In December, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights [official website, in Spanish] ruled that the amnesty law is invalid [JURIST report] and that Brazil is responsible for the disappearance of 61 people during military dictatorship. The court found that the law was incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights [text] and ordered the Brazilian government to conduct a criminal investigation into an anti-guerrilla military operation in the Araguaia region between 1972 and 1974. However, the law has not been revoked, and a proposal for the creation of a truth commission to investigate crimes committed during the military regime has yet to be put before Congress. AI Americas Director Susan Lee said the "law is a scandal and doing nothing but preventing justice." She called on Brazil to uphold its international human rights commitments and immediately revoke the law.

Other Latin American countries have also been working to revoke amnesty laws. In May, Uruguay's House of Representatives failed to overturn the country's amnesty law, despite it passing [JURIST reports] the Senate in April. The IACHR effectively overturned the law [JURIST report] in April when it ruled 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]. In March 2010, AI urged government officials in El Salvador to repeal a 1993 amnesty law that prevents any investigation [JURIST reports] into killings committed during the country's 12-year civil war [PBS backgrounder], including the killing of respected Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero [BBC backgrounder, JURIST news archive]. In 2005, Argentina's Supreme Court struck down similar amnesty laws [JURIST report] adopted in the 1980s to protect potential defendants, prompting the government to reopen hundreds of human rights cases.




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NLRB orders union rights posted in US businesses
Julia Zebley on August 26, 2011 1:56 PM ET

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[JURIST] The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) [official website] issued [press release] a new regulation [text, PDF] on Thursday requiring employers to post their employees' rights under the National Labor Relations Act [text] in the workplace. These rights include the right to unionize, to bargain collectively and to refuse pressures to do either. The poster also gives some examples of unfair business and union practices and information on contacting the NLRB. An official notice will be circulated that must be posted in all workplaces except very small businesses that do not affect interstate commerce and post offices. Failure to post the notice will be seen as an unfair labor practice, but the NLRB said that in general they will assume the business had not heard of the new regulation. Business rights advocacy groups have been outraged by the decision [Huffington Post report]. The National Federation of Independent Businesses [advocacy website] said in a statement [text] that the NLRB had overreached its authority. The rule will be published in the Federal Register on August 30 and will take effect around November 15 [fact sheet].

Restrictive collective bargaining laws have been advanced in several states this year. Ohio voters will decide whether to repeal a law [SB 5 text, PDF] limiting the collective bargaining rights of state workers after opponents of the bill gathered 915,456 signatures [JURIST report] in late July. The bill was passed [JURIST report] in March, but will not go into effect until it survives the public referendum in November. Also in July, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Idaho [official website] issued a preliminary injunction [JURIST report] blocking the enforcement of an Idaho anti-union law [SB 1007] that bans a union program that subsidizes employment for its members. The law, called the Fairness in Contracting Act, prohibits union programs used by construction workers unions that pool portions of union wages on a voluntary basis to subsidize union labor to enable union members to be hired at the collectively bargained salary. Ten Wisconsin unions in June filed [JURIST report] a lawsuit in federal court challenging the state's new collective bargaining law. The lawsuit alleges that the Budget Repair Bill [Senate Bill 11 text, PDF] violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments [texts]. According to the plaintiffs, the bill discriminates among groups of public employees and eliminates basic union rights, like bargaining, organizing and associating.




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Hungary chief justice asks high court to annul new law empowering prosecutors
Julia Zebley on August 26, 2011 12:40 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Chief Justice of Hungary, Andras Baka, has petitioned [text, DOC, in Hungarian] the Hungarian Supreme Court [official website, in Hungarian] to review a recently enacted law that he claims gives prosecutors too much power and violates the European Convention on Human Rights [text] and the Hungarian Constitution [text, PDF, in Hungarian]. The law, enacted in July, enables prosecutors to choose their venue, increases the detainment period from 72 to 120 hours in extreme circumstances and prevents prisoners from contacting their lawyers for 48 hours. Baka explained that the provisions put the defendant at a severe disadvantage, endangering the concept of equality in the law: "the principle of equality of arms 'requires that protection is comparable with the weight of the accusations have powers.'" It is unknown if the Supreme Court will take Baka's suggestions.

In April, the National Assembly of Hungary [official website, in Hungarian] approved [statement, in Hungarian] a new constitution [JURIST report] by a margin of 262-44 and one abstention. The constitution introduces several changes, including a debt ceiling where the country's debt cannot exceed 50 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP); a reform of the Fiscal Council, giving the group the right to veto the budget and dissolve parliament for failure to pass an annual budget by the end of March; a definition of marriage as a union between man and woman; and a statement that the life of a fetus begins at and should be protected from conception. The constitution also includes a new preamble [text, in Hungarian] that condemns the communist and socialist climate in Hungary that existed from 1944 to 1990 and solidifies democratization that began 20 years ago. Other laws passed by the FIDESZ-led parliament have garnered controversy. In February, the government agreed to change its controversial media law following negotiations between Hungarian and EU representatives [JURIST reports]. The law created the National Media Communications Authority (NMHH) [official website, in Hungarian], which controls private television and radio broadcasters, newspapers and online news sites. Under the law, the government could fine broadcasters more than 700,000 euros and newspapers and news websites roughly 90,000 euros if their coverage is deemed unbalanced or immoral by the NMHH, made up of members loyal to FIDESZ. The law was approved in December 2010 and went into effect in January amid protests from members of the media, other European governments as well as Amnesty International, which urged Hungary to amend the law [JURIST report] because it curtails freedom of expression.




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UN rights expert urges Myanmar to probe abuses
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 26, 2011 11:15 AM ET

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[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana [official profile] on Thursday urged the government of Myanmar to investigate human rights abuses and improve its rights record [press release]. Speaking at the end of his five-day mission to Myanmar, Quintana said that the government must do more to fulfill its international human rights obligations. Quintana also urged the government to release political prisoners. He said that the government has made significant progress recently, but that more must be done [statement]:
This is a key moment in Myanmar's history and there are real opportunities for positive and meaningful developments to improve the human rights situation and bring about a genuine transition to democracy. The new Government has taken a number of steps towards these ends. Yet, many serious human rights issues remain and they need to be addressed. I call on the Government to intensify its efforts to implement its own commitments and to fulfill its international human rights obligations. The international community needs to continue to remain engaged and to closely follow developments. The international community also needs to support and assist the Government during this important time. I reaffirm my willingness to work constructively and cooperatively with Myanmar to improve the human rights situation of its people.
Quintana plans to make another visit to the country before his next report to the UN Human Rights Council [official website] in March 2012.

In May, Quintana said that continued ethnic violence [JURIST report] in Myanmar presents "serious limitations" to the government's transition to democracy. He does not believe that the government is doing enough to provide a political solution to the ethnic conflicts in the border areas. Earlier that month, 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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Taiwan ex-president Chen acquitted of one charge, given additional sentence
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 26, 2011 10:37 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Taiwan High Court [official website, in Chinese] on Friday overturned the conviction [press release, in Chinese] of former president Chen Shui-bian [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on charges of embezzling state funds but sentenced him to additional jail time on charges of money-laundering and forgery. The court had previously sentenced Chen to 20 years in prison on embezzlement charges, but the Supreme Court ordered a retrial [JURIST reports] in November, citing insufficient evidence. Chen is currently serving a 17.5-year sentence on other corruption charges, and will now serve an additional two years and eight months, bringing his total sentence to over 20 years. His wife was also sentenced [BBC report] to an additional 11 years at the retrial, but is unlikely to serve any time due to poor health.

Chen Shui-bian and his wife were accused of taking more than $20 million in bribes from banks and financial institutions that sought to protect themselves during the implementation of Chen's financial reform program. The pair were sentenced to life in prison in September 2009 after being convicted of embezzlement, receiving bribes, forgery and money laundering, but that sentence was later reduced [JURIST reports]. Chen was again indicted [JURIST report] shortly after the September sentence on additional corruption charges relating to funds he received while traveling abroad as president. Chen was initially detained in November 2008 and formally indicted [JURIST report] the following month. He unsuccessfully appealed [JURIST report] his pretrial detention in January 2009. Chen served as president of Taiwan from 2000-2008.




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Federal appeals court refuses to block invasive fish from Great Lakes
Julia Zebley on August 26, 2011 9:27 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] on Wednesday ruled [text] against five states in their latest efforts to stop Asian carp [EPA backgrounder] from overrunning the Great Lakes. Officials fear that the 100-pound fish, which reproduce rapidly, could wipe out native species and destroy the $7 billion Great Lakes fishing industry. Although all parties agree the fish need to be dealt with, there is disagreement as to how. Illinois, the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers [official websites], thus far the prevailing parties, stand behind the Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework [text, PDF], a law that encourages aggressive hunting and control of the fish species before they enter the Great Lakes. However, the plaintiffs, the states of Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and several intervening organizations, believe the best strategy would be to close two waterways in Chicago that allow the carp to reach the Great Lakes. The three-judge panel, although ultimately rejecting Michigan's request for an injunction, cautioned the federal government and Illinois on letting the carp population get out of control.
We are less sanguine about the prospects of keeping the carp at bay. In our view, the plaintiffs presented enough evidence at this preliminary stage of the case to establish a good or perhaps even a substantial likelihood of harm—that is, a non-trivial chance that the carp will invade Lake Michigan in numbers great enough to constitute a public nuisance. If the invasion comes to pass, there is little doubt that the harm to the plaintiff states would be irreparable. That does not mean, however, that they are automatically entitled to injunctive relief. The defendants, in collaboration with a great number of agencies and experts from the state and federal governments, have mounted a full-scale effort to stop the carp from reaching the Great Lakes, and this group has promised that additional steps will be taken in the near future. ... In light of the active regulatory efforts that are ongoing, we conclude that an interim injunction would only get in the way. We stress, however, that if the agencies slip into somnolence or if the record reveals new information at the permanent injunction stage, this conclusion can be revisited.
Several of the attorneys general involved have made statements [AP report], including Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen [official website]. Van Hollen, in a press release [text], said: "I believe the aggressive actions taken by Wisconsin and the other plaintiff states have forced the federal government to take this issue more seriously, and the Seventh Circuit acknowledges as much by suggesting that preliminary relief may very well be granted in the future, should the federal government's efforts wane." There is no indication that the states plan to appeal to the US Supreme Court [official website].

The Supreme Court has denied certiorari [AP report] on the issue three times as of April 2010. The state of Michigan in December 2009 filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in the Supreme Court against the state of Illinois seeking to close the two waterways, as the court has original jurisdiction in disputes between the states. All three times, the court denied certiorari without comment on the dispute. Michigan reopened the longstanding controversy [backgrounder, PDF] over the diversion canal, created in the 1890s to keep Chicago's sewage from flowing into Lake Michigan. The court issued decrees over the canal in 1930, 1933, 1956, 1967 and 1980. The carp have been traveling up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers for years. Tests have showed that the carp may have gotten through an underwater electric barrier and may now be within six miles of Lake Michigan. The fish were originally imported to control algae in fisheries on the Mississippi River, but escaped during a 1990s flood.




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Mladic given 6 days to answer ICTY request to split trial
Julia Zebley on August 25, 2011 3:10 PM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Thursday gave former Serbian general and alleged war criminal Ratko Mladic [ICTY backgrounder, PDF; JURIST news archive] six days to respond to a motion to split his trial [JURIST report]. The ICTY hopes to hold one trial for his conduct during the Srebrenica massacre [JURIST news archive], where approximately 8,000 people were killed, and one for all of his other charges during the Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archive]. Mladic appeared in court and remained silent [AFP report]. Afterward, in a closed session, he discussed his health. Rumors that he has recently undergone surgery were rebutted [press briefing] by the ICTY earlier this week. In a recently released interview from 1995 [RT report], Mladic justified the Srebrenica massacre by claiming Srebrenican Bosnian Muslims were attacking Serbian citizens indiscriminately with arms provided by Iran. He also claimed that no civilians were harmed and that mass graves were a necessity until the dead could be exchanged, but that every casualty received a proper Muslim burial. Mladic also stated in 1995 that he would not recognize a trial by non-Serbians.

Serbian authorities captured Mladic [JURIST report] in May, ending a 16-year manhunt for the former general colonel and commander of the army of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mladic made his first appearance [JURIST report] at the ICTY in June, contesting the charges while simultaneously asking for more time to review them, which he was granted. At his second appearance [JURIST report] he refused to enter a plea. Before that, he had lost his final appeal in Serbia to avoid extradition, and was transported to The Hague [JURIST reports]. Mladic faces charges 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 allegedly ordering the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the massacre of Srebrenica during the Bosnian civil war, the largest European genocide since the Holocaust.




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El Salvador high court refuses to arrest soldiers accused of murdering priests
Julia Zebley on August 25, 2011 1:12 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Supreme Court of El Salvador [official website, in Spanish] on Wednesday blocked the arrests and extradition of nine former soldiers accused of committing the 1989 "Jesuit Massacre," defying Interpol [official website] red notices for the suspects. The court said that Spain had not presented a formal extradition request in its attempts to prosecute the individuals through universal jurisdiction [JURIST news archive], stating that Interpol's warrant only required the suspects to be located, not detained or extradited for trial elsewhere. However, the court did deny a claim by defendants [El Faro report, in Spanish] that their arrest was arbitrary. The "Jesuit Massacre" occurred during El Salvador's 12-year civil war [PBS backgrounder], when right-wing soldiers murdered six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter for allegedly aiding the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). Charges that the Jesuits stood with the FMLN were never proven. Although two of the soldiers who committed the massacre were tried and convicted in El Salvador, they were released after a year due to an amnesty pact. Spain indicted [JURIST report] 20 soldiers for the attack in May, as five of the slain priests were Spanish. One of the suspects, former El Salvadoran defense minister Inocente Orlando Montano, was charged earlier this week for immigration fraud [Boston Globe report] in the US District Court of Massachusetts [official website]. It is unknown if the US will extradite him to Spain under the same international indictment.

Around 70,000 people were killed during El Salvador's civil war before a 1992 UN-brokered agreement brought peace to the country. In the past decade, the US has made significant strides in prosecuting those involved in the El Salvadoran civil war. In April, the Obama administration charged [JURIST report] General Eugenio Vides Casanova, former defense minister of El Salvador, for human rights crimes committed during the civil war while he served as the country's top military officer. The US was also seeking to deport [La Pagina report, in Spanish] Vides, who retired in Florida after completing his six-year term as defense minister. In 2006, US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] upheld a $55 million verdict [JURIST report] against Vides and his co-defendant Jose Guillermo Garcia for allowing torture and other human rights violations during the war. In 2005, a US federal court reached a verdict against Nicolas Carranza, top commander of El Salvador's security forces during the civil war, for $2 million in compensatory damages [JURIST report]. The case was brought by five Salvadoran citizens who alleged torture or had family killed by Carranza's soldier during the war. In 2000, however, the US lost the battle to seek justice for the murders of four American churchwomen [NYT report] during the civil war when both Vides and Garcia were acquitted. The ruling was grounded in the doctrine that the generals, although responsible for their soldiers, may not have had complete effective power to reign in the abuses of their troops.




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Federal court hears arguments on Alabama immigration law
Erin Bock on August 25, 2011 11:22 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website], joined by several rights groups, appeared before a federal judge in the US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama [official website] on Wednesday seeking a temporary injunction of the state's new immigration law [HB 56 text]. The law requires school officials to verify the immigration status of children and parents, authorizes police to detain an individual and ask for papers if the officer has "reasonable suspicion" that the driver is in the country illegally and requires businesses to use the federal E-Verify system [official website] to determine whether potential employees are legal residents. The motion for injunction [text, PDF; JURIST report] was filed last month and alleges that HB 56 violates the First, Fourth and Sixth Amendments and the Supremacy and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution [text]. Rights groups argued [statement] that the law will cause irreparable harm if not enjoined.
Today's hearing highlighted why Alabama's law must be stopped in its tracks. The law makes it impossible for immigrant families to go to school, to make a living, to take care of routine business, and even to drive on a public road without fear of being punished under state law. This discriminatory law aims at undocumented immigrants, but catches lawful immigrants and U.S. citizens in the crossfire.
The DOJ was joined by religious groups and representatives of several rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) [advocacy websites]. The groups contend that HB 56 is "the most extreme" of the five most recent state laws influenced by Arizona SB 1070 [JURIST news archive].

Earlier this month, the Alabama Attorney General's Office [office website] requested that a certified question be answered by the Alabama Supreme Court [official website] prior to the commencement of district court proceedings. The attorney general wanted to ask the court to clarify the meaning of the provisions of HB 56 that void contracts with undocumented aliens and make transporting them a crime in light of the Alabama Constitution's religious freedom amendment [text]. Alabama lawmakers filed a response [JURIST report] to groups seeking a preliminary injunction against the controversial immigration law. Attorneys for Alabama state officials, argue that the state law is not preempted by federal immigration law and that the text reflects a "spirit of cooperation with the federal government." The legislation was signed into law [JURIST report] in June. Since that time, sixteen countries filed briefs [JURIST report] in the Alabama district court against the controversial law, arguing that it provides unfair treatment [Montgomery Advertiser report] to citizens of those countries currently residing in Alabama and sanctions discriminatory treatment based on ethnicity.




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Nigeria anti-corruption agency ineffective: HRW
Julia Zebley on August 25, 2011 10:48 AM ET

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[JURIST] Corruption in the Nigerian government has become endemic [press release], Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [materials] Thursday, criticizing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) [official website] particularly and the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] generally. Although the agency has arraigned 45 different government officials, HRW believes their trials are moving too slowly and is concerned about the small sentences for the four officials who have been convicted. Due to corrupt officials siphoning the profits from Nigeria's vast oil reserves, human rights programs receive little funding and have not advanced in the nation.
The broadest obstacle any effort to tackle corruption in Nigeria faces is this: the country's political system is built to reward corruption, not punish it. Too often, corruption is a prerequisite for success in Nigeria's warped political process. Since 1999, elections have been stolen more often than won, and many politicians owe their illicitly-obtained offices to political sponsors who demand financial "returns" that can only be raised through corruption. Put simply, the day-to-day functioning of Nigeria's political system constantly and directly undermines the EFCC's work.
HRW had a number of recommendations for the nation, including for state governments to modernize their judicial systems and for the government to embrace transparency. The report also endorsed several pieces of legislation: the Evidence Act [AllAfrica report], the Special Courts Establishment Bill [JURIST report] and amending the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act [official website].

Earlier this month, the Nigerian Ebonyi State Commissioner of Justice and Attorney General, Ben Igwenyi, called for the establishment of a special court to hear corruption cases [JURIST report]. He argued that corruption cases in the regular courts take too long to process, causing people to forget about them and perpetuating the appearance of corruption in the government. He proposed merging the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), which investigates corruption, and the EFCC to form an anti-corruption court. Corruption remains a problem in Nigeria as the EFCC arrested [JURIST report] outgoing speaker of the House of Representatives Dimeji Bankole in June on allegations of fraud. He is believed to have secured a USD $ 66 million loan on top of his normal salary. In March, HRW and the Nigerian Bar Association [association website] called for Nigeria's National Assembly to pass legislation creating a special electoral offenses commission [statement; JURIST report] tasked with investigating and prosecuting election-related abuses, including violence. In 2006, then Nigerian vice president Atiku Abubakar [official profile; official website] was charged with more than a dozen counts of corruption [JURIST report] in the Code of Conduct Tribunal, a special corruption court that has the power to strip elected officials of immunity. The charges were related to the alleged diversion of $125 million dollars of public money to private interests, as well as allegations of receiving more than $4.6 million dollars in bribes.




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New Jersey high court creates new guidelines for eyewitness evidence
Julia Zebley on August 25, 2011 9:33 AM ET

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[JURIST] The New Jersey Supreme Court [official website] on Wednesday ruled [text] that eyewitness-based evidence should be treated more cautiously by New Jersey courts, issuing new guidelines for judges. The court instructed that judges in future cases should hold pretrial hearings to determine all possible variables to the eyewitness testimony as well as administering jury instructions, sometimes mid-way through trial, that explain possible variables specific to the case that could have eroded a witness' memory of the incident. The unanimous opinion relied largely on several scientific studies that have discredited eyewitness testimony:
We find that the scientific evidence presented is both reliable and useful. Despite arguments to the contrary, we agree with the Special Master that "[t]he science abundantly demonstrates the many vagaries of memory encoding, storage, and retrieval; the malleability of memory; the contaminating effects of extrinsic information; the influence of police interview techniques and identification procedures; and the many other factors that bear on the reliability of eyewitness identifications. The research presented on remand is not only extensive, but as Dr. Monahan testified, it represents the "gold standard in terms of the applicability of social science research to the law." Experimental methods and findings have been tested and retested, subjected to scientific scrutiny through peer-reviewed journals, evaluated through the lens of meta-analyses, and replicated at times in real-world settings. As reflected above, consensus exists among the experts who testified on remand and within the broader research community.
The ruling also gave suggestions for police officers to reform how they conduct lineups. The Innocence Project [advocacy website], which filed an amicus brief, was pleased [press release] with the decision, saying it will ultimately affect every court in the nation and calling on the US Supreme Court [official website] to make similar findings.

In May, the US Supreme Court granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in a case over a suspect identification [JURIST report]. 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. In 2008, a UK study suggested that an eyewitness' ability to recall specific details of an incident decreases dramatically in high-stress situations [JURIST report]. The study, conducted by Tin Valentine and Jan Mesout of Goldsmiths [academic website], part of the University of London, measured participants' ability to recall details about an actor instructed to jump out at visitors as they moved through a "fun-house" maze. The study found that participants who reported being more stressed during the visit consistently failed to correctly identify specific details about the actor afterwards.




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DOJ announces $500 million Google settlement
Maureen Cosgrove on August 24, 2011 3:27 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Wednesday announced that the agency had reached a $500 million settlement [press release] with Google [corporate website] for permitting Canadian pharmaceutical companies to advertise to and target US consumers. The advertising led to unlawful importation of controlled and non-controlled prescription drugs into the US, which constitutes violations of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the Controlled Substances Act [texts]. The settlement amount is comparable to the combined gross revenue Google generated from the AdWords [product site] advertisements as well as the revenue earned by the Canadian pharmaceutical companies from introducing the prescription drugs to US markets. US Attorney Peter Neronha said the large settlement would act as a deterrent to drug manufacturers and online advertising companies:
This investigation is about the patently unsafe, unlawful, importation of prescription drugs by Canadian on-line pharmacies, with Google's knowledge and assistance, into the United States, directly to U.S. consumers. It is about taking a significant step forward in limiting the ability of rogue on-line pharmacies from reaching U.S. consumers, by compelling Google to change its behavior. It is about holding Google responsible for its conduct by imposing a $500 million forfeiture, the kind of forfeiture that will not only get Google's attention, but the attention of all those who contribute to America's pill problem.
Pursuant to the agreement, Google acknowledges that it unlawfully advertised for the Canadian pharmaceutical company. The DOJ also enumerated several compliance guidelines aiming to prevent similar episodes.

The lawsuit against Google was the unintended result of an investigation into a string of "rogue online pharmacies" that used Google's AdWords to unlawfully market prescription drugs. Google filed a federal lawsuit [WSJ report] against the pharmaceutical advertisers in September 2010. The DOJ discovered advertisements for the unlawful sale of drugs on Google's AdWords during that investigation. AdWords allows advertisers, for a fee, to select keywords that, when searched by a Google user, bring up a link to the advertiser's website. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] said in an advisory opinion [materials; press release, PDF] handed down in September 2009 that Google's AdWords, a system that causes advertisements to be shown alongside natural search results on Google, does not violate EU trademark law [JURIST report].




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Russia investigators arrest ex-officer for Politkovskaya murder
Maureen Cosgrove on August 24, 2011 3:02 PM ET

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[JURIST] Russian investigators on Wednesday arrested a former police officer in connection with the 2006 murder [JURIST report] of journalist Anna Politkovskaya [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive]. Authorities arrested Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov [RFE/RL report], who is suspected of arranging Politkovskaya's murder and hiring three Chechen men who have also been implicated in the case. Pavlyuchenkov purportedly organized a criminal unit to carry out the murder in exchange for money. A spokesperson for Russia's federal Investigative Committee, Vladimir Markin, also indicated that the agency had procured information about the unidentified mastermind of the murder, but has not yet made that information public.

A human rights activist and critic of the Kremlin, Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in an elevator of her apartment building in Moscow as she was returning home. Politkovskaya investigated human rights abuses in Chechnya and high-level corruption across Russia, and her death raised concerns about the safety of journalists and other critics of the government. At the time she was working for the low-circulation independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta [official website, in Russian] where she was writing reports on Chechnya. Her death was widely believed to be a contract killing. Russia's Federal Security Service charged Rustam Makhmudov for the murder [JURIST report] in June. Two of Makhmudov's brothers and a former police officer are currently awaiting trial for the murder in Moscow. A district court acquitted those three men in February 2009 due to a lack of prosecutorial evidence, but the Russian Supreme Court vacated the acquittal and ordered a reinvestigation of the case [JURIST reports].




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Michigan court rules marijuana cannot be sold at private shops
Maureen Cosgrove on August 24, 2011 1:44 PM ET

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[JURIST] A Michigan court of appeals ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that medical marijuana [JURIST news archive] cannot be sold at private dispensaries. The defendants are owners of Compassionate Apothecary (CA) [company website], a privately owned medical marijuana dispensary that facilitates patient-to-patient transfer of marijuana using a locker system for patients to store and trade excess marijuana. CA retains 20 percent of the proceeds from each transaction and has 345 members that are certified by the state to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. A county attorney general filed a complaint against the owners seeking to enjoin operations for failing to comply with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA) [text]. Judge Joel Hoekstra's opinion focused on the definition and application of terminology in the relevant statutes:
The word "use" has numerous dictionary definitions, as does the word "administer." However, each word has a definition that relates directly to controlled substances or medicines, and we find those definitions to be the most relevant. To "use" means "to drink, smoke, or ingest habitually." ... Employing these definitions, we hold that a person assists a registered qualifying patient with "using or administering" marihuana when the person assists the patient in preparing the marihuana to be consumed in any of the various ways that marihuana is commonly consumed or by physically aiding the patient in consuming the marihuana.
The three-judge panel concluded that CA was a public nuisance in violation of the Public Health Code (PHC) [text], which prohibits the possession and delivery of marijuana, holding that the owners' locker system constituted possession and delivery of marijuana.

US Courts have been forced to interpret medical marijuana statutes in recent years. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) [official website] announced in June that the state is filing a federal lawsuit [JURIST report] seeking a declaratory judgment over the legality of the state's controversial medical marijuana law passed last November. In January 2010, the California Supreme Court [official website] overturned [JURIST report] a 2003 law limiting the amount of marijuana that may be possessed under the state's Medical Marijuana Program (MMP) [materials]. Earlier that month, New Jersey became the fourteenth US state [JURIST report] to legalize medical marijuana. In November 2009, voters in Maine approved [JURIST report] an expansion of the state's existing medical marijuana laws, making Maine the fifth state to allow dispensaries, following California, Colorado, Rhode Island and New Mexico. California's Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled in 2008 that the MMP is not in conflict with the Supremacy Clause [JURIST report] and does not violate the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) [text].




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Hadzic pleads not guilty at ICTY
Maureen Cosgrove on August 24, 2011 1:03 PM ET

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[JURIST] Accused war criminal Goran Hadzic [ICTY backgrounder] on Wednesday entered a not guilty plea at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website]. Hadzic had refused to enter a plea [JURIST report] in July when he was extradited to The Hague [JURIST report], where he now awaits trial for war crimes [indictment text]. Hadzic was the last fugitive of the original 161 sought by the ICTY and was arrested [JURIST report] last month. Hadzic waived his right to appeal extradition and, after visiting with a few relatives in Serbia, was flown to The Hague. The court has not set any dates for further appearances.

Hadzic was a key player in the Bosnian Civil War [JURIST news archive] and has been at large for approximately seven years. Hadzic's official charges [case information sheet, PDF] are: persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds; extermination; murder; torture; inhumane acts; deportation and forcible transfer; cruel treatment; wanton destruction of villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity; destruction or willful damage done to institutions dedicated to education and religion; and plunder of public or private property. Hadzic's indictment contends that, in his role as president of the Serbian nationalist forces during the war, he attempted to permanently and forcibly remove a majority of the Croat and other non-Serb population from the disputed territory. He is accused of murdering or ordering the murders of hundreds of non-Serb citizens, including children and the elderly. Further, he allegedly displaced more than 20,000 non-Serb civilians. Hadzic was the final remaining war criminal at large from the Bosnian Civil War, along with Ratko Mladic [JURIST news archive], who was arrested in May [JURIST report].




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Bangladesh must end extrajudicial killings: AI
Maureen Cosgrove on August 24, 2011 11:33 AM ET

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[JURIST] Bangladeshi authorities must put an end to extrajudicial executions [press release] by government authorities, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] urged on Wednesday. In a report entitled "Crimes Unseen: Extrajudicial Executions in Bangladesh" [text, PDF], AI alleges that the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) [official website], a special police force, unlawfully kills Bangladeshi civilians regularly. Furthermore, the RAB justifies the killings as accidental or insists that the victims were killed during gun fights. The AI report also contains accounts of detainee torture and use of excessive force by RAB officers. RAB has been accused of killing at least 700 people since its inception in 2004. Though RAB has claimed to be investigating the abuses, the proceedings remain secretive and not one investigation has led to a judicial prosecution. AI Bangladesh Researcher Abbas Faiz said that holding the RAB accountable will continue to be a challenge:
However the authorities choose to describe such incidents, the fact remains that they are suspected unlawful killings. It is appalling that virtually all alleged instances of illegal RAB killings have gone unchallenged or unpunished. There can be no justice if the force is the chief investigator of its own wrong-doings. Such investigations cannot be impartial. There is nothing to stop the RAB from destroying the evidence and engineering the outcome.
RAB continues to deny allegations of extrajudicial killings. AI called on the government of Bangladesh to establish an impartial commission to investigate abuses purportedly committed by RAB and make those findings public.

Extrajudicial killing has been an ongoing problem in Bangladesh. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged [text, PDF; JURIST report] the new Bangladesh government [official website; JURIST news archive] in May 2009 to investigate torture, illegal detentions and extrajudicial killings allegedly conducted by the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) and the RAB. The news echoed similar findings [JURIST report] reported by the EU in June 2007. In April 2009, the Bangladesh government announced [JURIST report] that it was working with the UN to organize war crimes [JURIST news archive] prosecutions for alleged violations stemming from the country's 1971 War of Independence [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] against Pakistan [JURIST news archive] and that is considering trial in the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. Bangladesh encountered a difficult political transition with the election of its new Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina [official profile] in 2008, ending two years of military rule. After the election, Bangladeshi Law, Justice, and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shafique Ahmed [official website] declared [JURIST report] his government's desire to restore Bangladesh's 1972 constitution [text, PDF].




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Thailand court acquits ex-wife of ex-PM Thaksin
Maureen Cosgrove on August 24, 2011 10:17 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Thai court on Wednesday acquitted Pojamarn Shinawatra [JURIST news archive], the ex-wife of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], overturning a tax evasion conviction. Shinawatra was convicted of tax evasion [JURIST report] in July 2008 for transferring $16.3 million worth of stock to her step-brother and secretary, who were also convicted. Pojamarn and step-brother Bannapot Damapong were each sentenced to three years, and her secretary was sentenced to two years imprisonment for the crime. The three appealed, and all three convictions were overturned [AFP report]. The Bangkok criminal court, however, upheld a tax evasion conviction and two-year sentence for Damapong and imposed a USD $3,300 fine.

Thailand's political system has remained unstable following the coup that ousted Thaksin in 2006. In February, seven leaders of Thailand's "red-shirt" [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] pro-democracy movement, another group that opposes the country's current leadership, were released on bail [JURIST report]. They were arrested on terrorism charges stemming from their involvement in the anti-government protests [JURIST news archive] in Bangkok. In January, members of the movement also petitioned the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to launch a preliminary investigation [JURIST report] into whether the government committed crimes against humanity during those protests. The Constitutional Court of Thailand ordered that 46.4 billion baht (USD $1.4 billion) of Thaksin's fortune be seized [JURIST report] in Februrary 2010, a ruling that led to violent protests that took place in Bangkok last spring.




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ICC ends first war crimes trial
Maureen Cosgrove on August 24, 2011 9:09 AM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Wednesday concluded its first war crimes trial after two years. Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) militia leader Thomas Lubanga [ICC materials; BBC profile] was taken into ICC custody in March 2006, becoming the first DRC war crimes defendant to appear before the ICC [JURIST reports]. Lubanga is charged [JURIST report] with enlisting child soldiers in his militia, which is believed to have committed large-scale human rights abuses in Congo's violent Ituri district. His trial began in January 2009 after being delayed for evidentiary reasons and was halted soon after when one of the child witnesses recanted his testimony [JURIST reports] that Lubanga had recruited him for the militia. The prosecution concluded its case [JURIST report] last July after presenting 22 weeks of testimony. Lubanga maintains he is innocent [JURIST report] of the charges against him. The prosecution and defense lawyers will present closing arguments [Reuters report] later this week, followed by deliberation by a three-judge panel. A verdict will likely be handed down in early 2012.

The ICC has also been involved with prosecutorial aspects of the Libya conflict [JURIST backgrounder], which has been ongoing since February. ICC representatives were reportedly meeting [JURIST report] Monday with Libyan rebels to discuss turning over the son of Libyan leader Mummar Gaddafi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, to the court for prosecution. The ICC issued arrest warrants [JURIST report] for Muammar, Saif and Muammar's brother-in-law Abdullah al-Sanussi in June on charges of crimes against humanity. On the other hand, the ICC has been criticized for lack of involvement with respect to other war crimes allegations. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged the UN Security Council last week to refer Syria to the ICC to investigate the violent suppression [JURIST report] of anti-government protests.




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UN rights expert urges Thailand to combat human trafficking
Maureen Cosgrove on August 23, 2011 2:08 PM ET

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[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on human trafficking Joy Ngozi Ezeilo [official profile] on Monday urged the government of Thailand to improve measures to combat human trafficking [press release], as well as protect the rights of migrant workers. The trafficking trade in Thailand is predominantly used for sexual and labor exploitation, with child trafficking especially rampant. Individuals are forced into prostitution, pornography, domestic work and surrogacy, among other abuses. Ezeilo described Thailand as a "source, transit and destination" country, meaning citizens are recruited in Thailand and the country both receives and sends individuals through trafficking channels. The special rapporteur applauded the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2008 [text, PDF] and the multidisciplinary teams that are stationed in Thai provinces and tasked with addressing trafficking problems, but said the implementation and enforcement of anti-trafficking measures were weak. Ezeilo called for a proactive stance against human trafficking and urged Thailand to combat trafficking on an international level:
In the context of Thailand, the role of prevention is critical in ensuring that the crime of trafficking does not occur in the first place. The Government must not neglect the development and implementation of comprehensive and systematic prevention measures as it continue to intensify efforts to developing assistance programmes for survivors of trafficking and to prosecute traffickers and stop the impunity of human trafficking. Finally, I urge Thai government to show clear leadership in the ASEAN region and beyond in combating human trafficking, protecting the rights of migrant workers and their vulnerabilities to trafficking in persons.
Ezeilo made numerous recommendations for implementing effective measures to combat trafficking, including a zero-tolerance policy against corruption and trafficking, as well as the creation of shelters for victims.

Thailand is not the sole country facing human trafficking challenges. In June 2010, the US State Department (DOS) [official website] released its annual report [text, PDF] on human trafficking conditions across the globe, finding that the US adequately complies [JURIST report] with international regulations but still has a "'serious problem with human trafficking, both for labor and commercial sexual exploitation." It was the tenth annual report on human trafficking by the DOS, following reports in 2009 [JURIST report], 2008 [materials], 2007 and 2006 [JURIST reports]. That same month, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) [official website] released a report [text, PDF] detailing the ongoing problem of human trafficking [JURIST report] in Europe. According to the report, European criminal organizations make a yearly profit of around $3 billion from trafficking humans for sexual exploitation or forced labor. In January 2010, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled that sex trafficking violates conventions [JURIST report] against slavery and forced labor. The US and the EU announced in October 2009 an international criminal treaty [JURIST report] that will greatly increase cooperation between the two governments in fighting the trafficking of humans and the sale of illegal drugs.




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Federal judge rules music file-sharing site liable for infringement
Maureen Cosgrove on August 23, 2011 1:12 PM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] that a music file-sharing site could be held liable for contributory copyright infringement. EMI [corporate website], along with a number of record companies and music publishers, sued MP3tunes [official website], a music site offering "cloud" music services, for copyright infringement. Judge William Pauley, however, ruled in favor of the defendants on several key issues, holding that MP3tunes qualified for safe harbor under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) [text, PDF] with respect to certain sideloaded music and that MP3tunes complied with DMCA guidelines for responding to certain takedown notices. Michael Robertson, founder of MP3tunes, called the ruling a "99 percent victory" [press release] for his company:
Today a ruling was published in EMI v MP3tunes and it is definitely a victory for cloud music and MP3tunes' business model after a multi-year litigation battle. Consumers can have confidence that they'll be able to store, play, and enjoy music using cloud-based services like MP3tunes. Those in the industry that are building or contemplating personal music service like Amazon, Google, Grooveshark and Dropbox will surely have renewed confidence in offering similar unlicensed services.
The case will proceed to trial [NYT report] to determine damages, which could amount to tens of millions of dollars. Robertson indicated that he is currently exploring appeal options.

The US music industry has been actively litigating alleged copyright infringement in person-to-person online file sharing. In July, a federal judge reduced [order, PDF] a $1.5 million jury verdict against a Minnesota woman who was found to have willfully shared music files to $54,000. Chief Judge Michael Davis of the US District Court for the District Court of Minnesota [official website] called the award "appalling" and inconsistent with due process. 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 Recording Industry Association of America, did not support the verdict. The RIAA appealed the damages reduction Tuesday. In May, several major record companies announced that they had reached a $105 million settlement [JURIST report] with music file-sharing website LimeWire [website]. 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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Liberia constitutional referendum ballot errors rampant
Maureen Cosgrove on August 23, 2011 12:00 PM ET

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[JURIST] The National Election Commission (NEC) [official website] of Liberia distributed defective paper ballots for Liberia's constitutional referendum Tuesday. Liberians were slated to vote today [Front Page Africa report] on four constitutional amendments, including a provision to change the election date to avoid the rainy season, as well as a stipulation to alter the residency requirement for presidential and vice presidential candidates. In the midst of the first national referendum to be held in the country in 25 years, voters reportedly found an error on the ballot proposing a change to the retirement age of Supreme Court judges. The error left voters confused when casting their ballots. Deputy Coordinator of the referendum organizing team, Amos Koukou, said instructions for voting with the defective ballots had been placed at voting stations.

Despite the referendum, Liberia has been criticized for its poor human rights record in recent years. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] emphasized [UN News Centre report] in a 2010 progress report [text, PDF] that reconciliation in Liberia [JURIST report] hinges on the development of its national security and its legal institutions. Liberia struggles [JURIST report] with corruption in its criminal justice system, poor detention conditions and sexual and gender-based violence, including rape and forced marriage, according to a UN Mission in Liberia [official website] combined quarterly report [PDF text; press release] released in April 2008. In 2007, the UN independent expert on the promotion and protection of human rights in Liberia urged the country to accelerate its human rights efforts [JURIST report], and in particular called on the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) [official website] to begin operations. The TRC held its first public hearings [JURIST report] after several months delay due to lack of funding. The TRC is investigating possible war crimes that occurred during the civil war that ended in 2003, but does not have the authority to try cases. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] is currently awaiting a verdict from the Special Court for Sierra Leone [official website] for crimes against humanity. He has been charged [PDF indictment; summary] by the SCSL with 11 counts of crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva Conventions and other violations of international humanitarian law.




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UN rights expert condemns US domestic violence laws
Maureen Cosgrove on August 23, 2011 9:50 AM ET

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[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women [official website] Rashida Manjoo [official profile] called Tuesday on the US government to reevaluate its domestic violence policies [press release]. The request comes in response to a report [text, DOC; press release] published by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) [official website] last week attributing to the US government human rights violations against Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales), who was a victim of her husband's domestic abuse. Lenahan's former husband killed their three daughters, despite a restraining order and Lenahan's repeated efforts to contact law enforcement officers. In an effort to prevent similar domestic hostility, Manjoo urged the US government to reexamine laws currently in place:
Violence against women is the most pervasive human rights violation which continues to challenge every country in the world, and the US is no exception. The US Government should reassess existing mechanisms for protecting victims and punishing offenders, and establish meaningful standards for enforcement of protection orders and impose consequences for a failure to enforce them.
Manjoo also made recommendations for crafting and implementing new legislation, emphasizing that women are affected differently by domestic violence particularly with respect to their social, economic and cultural positions. Furthermore, she said, "structural and institutional discrimination perpetuate and exacerbate women's experiences of abuse."

Domestic violence laws created in response to Lenahan's circumstances have faced challenges. The California Court of Appeals [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] in November 2008 that the residency requirements associated with Proposition 83 [DAPO backgrounder] amount to additional punishment for sex offenders [JURIST report]. Proposition 83, or Jessica's Law, prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any school or park where children regularly gather. Californians voted in favor of Proposition 83 in November 2006. The law faced an immediate legal challenge [JURIST report] from unidentified registered sex offenders, and a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order [JURIST report] to prevent the enforcement of the law's residency requirements, pending a ruling on the merits. In February 2007, a federal district judge barred the law [JURIST report] from applying retroactively. By September 2007 the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation [official website] had notified [JURIST report] the 2,741 paroled sex offenders in the state that they were required to move under the Proposition 83 requirements. The US Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF] in May 2005 that Gonzales did not have a constitutional right to police enforcement of the restraining order in place against her husband and that police officers are immune [JURIST report] from suits based on how they enforce restraining orders.




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UN rights council adopts Syria probe resolution
LaToya Sawyer on August 22, 2011 9:18 PM ET

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[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] on Tuesday voted 33-4 to adopt a resolution [draft text, PDF] ordering an investigation [press release] into crimes against humanity in Syria and urging the Syrian government once again to halt its violent crackdown against peaceful protesters. The UNHRC began a special session on Monday to discuss the possibility of an investigation [press release] after the Fact-finding Mission in Syria published a 22-page report last week concluding that Syrian government forces cracking down on the opposition may be committing crimes against humanity [JURIST report]. During Monday's special session, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile], who noted that more than 2,000 people had been killed since the protests including hundreds during the month of Ramadan, also urged the Syrian government to stop its indiscriminate attacks on peaceful protesters and to release all persons detained for participating in those protests. The resolution will require the Syrian government to fully comply with a commission that will investigate alleged crimes against humanity that have taken place since March, with the commission reporting back no later than November.

The emergency meeting was held in response to a plea [JURIST report] from Pillay last week to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] for an investigation into the violent suppression of anti-government protests. Many steps have been taken to try and halt the violence in Syria this year. Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that an unknown Western country is funding an investigation [JURIST report] into Syria's recent human rights abuses. In July, two UN rights officials expressed concern over reports of violence [JURIST report] used by Syrian authorities against the country's own people. Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide Francis Deng and Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect Edward Luck said that reports of Syrian forces killing or arbitrarily arresting peaceful protesters indicate potentially grievous violations of international human rights laws, and urged officials to adhere to the government's 2005 pledge to protect its citizens. In June, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official websites] published a preliminary report [JURIST report] describing human rights violations in Syria and calling for an investigation into government-authorized abuses related to pro-democracy protests that began earlier this year. In April, Pillay urged Syria to immediately halt the killings [JURIST report] and violence against civilian protesters in response to the fatal shootings of peaceful anti-government protesters. The Fact-finding Mission was established [JURIST report] by the UNHRC in April, but was not permitted to enter the country.




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Somali pirate sentenced to life in prison
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 22, 2011 3:05 PM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] on Monday sentenced a Somali man to life in prison for his role in the hijacking of a US vessel that resulted in the deaths of four US citizens. They were the first US citizens to die in the recent wave of international maritime piracy attacks. Ali Abdi Mohamed was the first to be sentenced [AP report] of 11 men who pleaded guilty to hijacking a US yacht called Quest in February. Three others pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] last month and will face trial. Mohamed apologized to the victims' families Monday and has agreed to assist prosecutors in their cases against the other suspects.

Maritime piracy [JURIST news archive] off the coast of African continues to be a global concern. Last week, a Dutch court sentenced [JURIST report] five Somali men to prison terms ranging from four to seven years for acts of maritime piracy. In May, courts in both Spain and South Korea [JURIST reports] sentenced Somali pirates to life imprisonment. In April, a Somali pirate was sentenced [JURIST report] by the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] to 25 years in prison for attacking a Danish ship off the coast of Somalia in 2008, for which he and other pirates received a $1.7 million ransom.

4:32 PM ET ~ A second Somali, Burhan Abdirahman Yusuf, was also sentenced to life in prison Monday.




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Malaysia opposition leader denies charges at sodomy trial
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 22, 2011 12:40 PM ET

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[JURIST] Malaysian opposition leader and former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim [official profile; JURIST news archive] testified for the first time Monday in his trial on charges of sodomy, denying the charges against him. Anwar testified that the charges against him were fabricated [AFP report] by Prime Minister Najib Razak [official profile] in order to ruin his political career. Anwar's lawyers are seeking to have Najib subpoenaed to testify, but the prime minister could apparently apply to have the subpoena set aside. Anwar is accused of sodomizing a former male political aide. Under Malaysian law, sodomy is punishable by 20 years in prison regardless of consent. This is the second sodomy case launched against Anwar.

In June, Anwar failed a third time to remove the judge [JURIST report] in his sodomy case. He was arrested in July 2008 after he filed a lawsuit against his accuser [JURIST reports] in late June. 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 Mahathir 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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Finland court hears Rwandan genocide appeal
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 22, 2011 10:35 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Finnish appeals court on Monday began hearing the appeal of former Rwandan pastor Francois Bazaramba [Trial Watch profile], convicted [JURIST report] last year on charges relating to his involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Although Bazaramba had denied charges of involvement in the genocide, the court found that he ordered the killing of at least five Tutsis and sentenced him to life in prison. He was also acquitted of several charges. Bazaramba's case was the first time a genocide case had been heard in Finland. The Finnish court heard the case under the principle of universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder; JURIST news archive] after the Finnish government denied the Rwandan extradition request [press release], citing the possibility that Rwandan authorities would be unable to ensure a fair trial. Bazaramba was charged in June 2009, and his trial began that September [JURIST reports]. Both sides appealed the verdict in April.

Finland is not the only country to try suspects accused of crimes related to the genocide. In January, a German court began the trial [JURIST report] of a former Rwandan mayor on genocide charges. Onesphore Rwabukombe [Trial Watch profile], a 54-year-old ethnic Hutu, allegedly coordinated three massacres in which more than 3,700 Tutsis, who had sought refuge in a church, were killed. Canadian prosecutors announced in 2009 that a second suspect had been charged [JURIST report] under Canada's Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act [text, PDF]. The first man charged under the act was Desire Munyaneza [Trial Watch profile]. In October 2009, he was sentenced to life imprisonment [JURIST report] for war crimes committed during the Rwandan genocide. Munyaneza was convicted [JURIST report] of seven counts of genocide, crimes against humanit, and war crimes under the act.




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ICC in talks with Libya rebels to hand over Gaddafi son for prosecution
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 22, 2011 9:21 AM ET

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[JURIST] Representatives from the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] were reportedly meeting Monday with Libyan rebels to discuss turning over the son of Libyan leader Mummar Gaddafi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, to the court for prosecution. The ICC issued arrest warrants [JURIST report] for Muammar, Saif and Muammar's brother-in-law Abdullah al-Sanussi in June on charges of crimes against humanity. Saif's capture was confirmed [Telegraph report] Sunday night by ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. He was reportedly captured when rebels took control of Tripoli. The whereabouts of Muammar and al-Sanussi are unknown.

The Libya conflict [JURIST backgrounder] has been ongoing since February. On Saturday, Libyan Prime Minister Al Baghdad Ali Al-Mahmoudi requested that the UN create a "high-level commission" to investigate alleged human rights abuses [JURIST report] by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) [official website]. Though NATO was mandated by the UN to use force in order to stop Muammar from fomenting violence upon Libyan citizens, the campaign has allegedly gone beyond the scope of protecting civilians and recently led to the death of 85 civilians in one night after NATO forces bombed a residential area supposedly housing a rebel command center. In June, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] decided to extend a mandate to an investigative panel instructing it to continue its investigation of human rights abuses in Libya, after it published a 92-page report [JURIST reports]. The report claims Libyan authorities have committed crimes against humanity such as acts constituting murder, imprisonment and other severe deprivations of physical liberties, torture, forced disappearances and rape "as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population with knowledge of the attack."

8/23/11 ~ A free Saif al-Islam Gaddafi appeared before foreign media Tuesday, and an ICC spokesperson said that the court had never received official confirmation of his capture [Reuters report].




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Libya requests UN investigation into NATO abuse
Alexandra Malatesta on August 21, 2011 3:47 PM ET

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[JURIST] Libyan Prime Minister Al Baghdad Ali Al-Mahmoudi [BBC backgrounder] requested that the UN create a "high-level commission" to investigate alleged human rights abuses [Reuters report] by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) [official website]. Though NATO was mandated by the UN to use force in order to stop Muammar Gaddafi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] from fomenting violence upon Libyan citizens, the campaign has allegedly gone beyond the scope of protecting civilians and recently led to the death of 85 civilians in one night [All Africa report] after NATO forces bombed a residential area supposedly housing a rebel command center. The current Libya conflict arose [JURIST report; CNN timeline] out of a February 2011 protest to remove Gaddafi's government, which resulted in the death of over 200 peaceful protesters calling for reform.

There have been numerous allegations of war crimes and human rights violations over the Libyan revolt. In July, lawyers filed a civil suit against NATO [JURIST report] for killing 13 civilians in an airstrike bombing of a residential neighborhood in violation of the Geneva Convention [ICRC materials]. Earlier that month, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website], after an investigative panel, published a 92-page report on human righsts abuses in Libya, decided to extend its mandate [JURIST reports], instructing it to continue investigating allegations. The report claims Libyan authorities have committed varying crimes against humanity "as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population with knowledge of the attack."




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Afghanistan election commission removes 9 lawmakers
Alexandra Malatesta on August 21, 2011 3:20 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) [official website] announced on Sunday that nine lawmakers will be removed from their parliamentary positions [IEC backgrounder] for election fraud in the disputed September 2010 election [JURIST report]. The representatives are to be removed [AP report] because they allegedly did not receive a majority vote [LAT report] in 2010. Though many contest the constitutionality of the removal process, President Hamid Karzai [official profile] has said that the IEC has the final authority over election complaints [PAN report] reviewed and determined by a special court. After the special court ordered the removal of 62 lawmakers in June, a determination overturned by the IEC [JURIST report], the recent IEC announcement appears to be a compromise meant to settle the 2010 election controversy.

With the US withdrawing troops, ongoing disputes over irregularities in last September's parliamentary elections have raised doubts about the stability of the Afghan government. In January, Karzai postponed the seating [JURIST report] of Parliament following a request by the special court for more time to look into allegations of fraud surrounding the elections. Karzai had promised [JURIST report] to have the special court review the election results in time to seat the election by the original January deadline. But the IEC claimed that the special did not have legal authority to question the results that it certifies because the law says it has the final say in determining the elections results. In November, the Afghanistan Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) [official website] disqualified 21 candidates [JURST report] for electoral fraud after finding widespread voting irregularities in 12 provinces. Of the disqualified candidates, 19 had either won or were leading in their districts, seven of which were incumbents, and two were second place finishers in districts where the first place finisher was also disqualified. In October, the IEC invalidated 1.3 million votes [JURIST report], nearly a quarter of the 5.6 million votes cast nationwide, due to findings of fraud. The IEC found that the 2,543 polling stations where the votes had been cast did not follow IEC procedures.




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Australia Guantanamo detainee Hicks petitions UN over alleged rights violations
Daniel Richey on August 21, 2011 1:22 PM ET

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[JURIST] Former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee David Hicks [JURIST news archive] has filed an appeal [text, PDF] with the UN Human Rights Committee [official website] complaining of multiple violations of international law stemming from his five-year incarceration at Guantanamo from 2002 to 2007. Hicks, an Australian national, is asking the Australian government to "request the US authorities to formally overturn" his 2007 conviction on charges of aiding terrorism before a US military court and nullify the plea deal [JURIST reports] from which the conviction arose. The 107-page document, authored on his behalf by human rights lawyer and Sydney Law School [academic website] professor Ben Saul [academic profile], also asks for a federal investigation into the treatment to which Hicks alleges he was subjected while in US custody. Among the allegations are that Hicks was drugged, beaten and sexually abused while at Guantanamo, and that he was coerced into his plea deal without access to evidence. The pleading further avers that for its compliance with US authorities, the Australian government was complicit in numerous human rights violations against Hicks under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [text]. The plea concludes that:
Australia should compensate Mr. Hicks for the violation of his ... rights, and in particular for seven months of unlawful, arbitrary detention in Australia and for the restrictions imposed upon his liberty and freedom by the imposition of a control order.... Australia should provide an assurance to Mr. Hicks that its law enforcement authorities will not seek to confiscate any literary proceeds which Mr. Hicks may derive from publishing or otherwise communicating for profit the story of this trial, conviction and related conduct.
Hicks has sold approximately 30,000 copies of his book, Guantanamo, My Journey [publisher materials], which chronicles his time at Guantanamo and the subsequent seven-month sentence he served in an Australian prison under a control order imposed by the country conditional to his release from US custody. Earlier this month, the New South Wales Supreme Court [official website] froze all assets [Sydney Morning Herald report] arising out of the sale of the book.

Australian authorities removed the final restrictions against Hicks [JURIST report] in December 2008. Following his guilty plea, Hicks was transferred to Australia in May 2007 to serve the remainder of his nine-month prison sentence at a maximum security prison near his hometown of Adelaide, South Australia, and was released [JURIST reports] in December 2007. The control order was relaxed [JURIST report] in February 2008, permitting Hicks to live anywhere in the country, and requiring him to check in with police only twice a week.




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DOJ asks Supreme Court to uphold military imposter law
Daniel Richey on August 21, 2011 11:31 AM ET

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[JURIST] Attorneys for the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Thursday asked the US Supreme Court [official website] to uphold a controversial law that makes it illegal to falsely claim to be a decorated military veteran. The Stolen Valor Act [text, PDF], enacted in 2005, makes it a federal crime for an individual to "falsely represent[] himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed forces of the United States, any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration, or medal, or any colorable imitation of such item[.]" Violations are subject to fines and up to a year in jail.

The law has been challenged in federal courts in Colorado and California. The appeal to the Supreme Court comes in the case of US v. Alvarez [materials], in which the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] declared the law unconstitutional [JURIST report] last August. Although the panel conceded that Congress's intentions were "praiseworthy," it found that the law required courts to "extend inapposite case law to create an unprecedented exception to First Amendment guarantees" and was "not narrowly drawn" enough to survive First Amendment scrutiny. Alvarez was arrested after he gave a speech before the Three Valley Water District board of directors in California, to which he had recently been admitted, in which he claimed to be a retired marine and the recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. In Colorado, the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] awaits arguments in the case of US v. Strandlof [ACLU materials]. Rick Strandlof was arrested in 2009 after he founded a veterans' club in Colorado Springs and claimed to have been awarded the purple heart.




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Nebraska AG predicts state campaign finance laws to be overturned if challenged
Daniel Makosky on August 20, 2011 6:28 PM ET

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[JURIST] Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning [official website] on Wednesday issued an advisory opinion [text, PDF] drawing marked parallels between the state's campaign finance laws and portions of similar Arizona regulations that were recently overturned [JURIST report] by the US Supreme Court [official website]. Under Nebraska law, candidates for certain public offices may voluntarily accept additional oversight in exchange for public financing [Neb Rev Stat § 1604], the levels of which may vary depending on the expenditures of privately-financed opponents. Additionally, no candidates may accept contributions from certain independent entities, including corporations, unions and professional organizations, that in aggregate total more than 50 percent of defined spending limitations [Neb Rev Stat § 1608]. Bruning's opinion predicts that, in light of the recent Arizona decision, these provisions would be overturned if evaluated by the Supreme Court on a strict scrutiny basis for failing to demonstrate a sufficiently overriding state interest. The Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission [official website] is scheduled to meet next week to consider the opinion and potential remedies [AP report] that may be implemented prior to the upcoming election cycle.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF] in Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett [Cornell LII backgrounder] that an Arizona campaign finance regulation that provided publicly financed candidates with additional government subsidies, triggered by independent expenditure groups' speech against such candidates or by the candidates' privately financed opponents, violates the First Amendment [text]. The court held 5-4 that such a system substantially burdens political speech and is not sufficiently justified by a compelling state interest to satisfy the First Amendment. Counsel for the respondent argued that "public funding of elections results in more speech and more electoral competition" and furthers a governmental interest of staving off "real and apparent corruption in politics."




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Federal judge blocks North Carolina Planned Parenthood defunding law
Daniel Makosky on August 20, 2011 4:16 PM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina [official website] on Friday issued a preliminary injunction against a provision in North Carolina's budget that denies state and federal funding to Planned Parenthood [advocacy website] for family planning and teen sex education services. The order provides temporary relief until a lawsuit, filed last month by Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina (PPCNC) [advocacy website], seeking to overturn the restriction [JURIST report] can be heard. Judge James Beaty, Jr. cited the legislative history [AP report] behind the state's budget [text, PDF; materials], passed over the veto of Governor Beverly Perdue [official website], in ruling that section 10.19 was included in the bill as a politically-motivated effort to improperly penalize the organization. Janet Colm, president of PPCNC, described [press release] the decision as, "a strong ruling that Planned Parenthood is likely to prevail on all of our arguments and that an injunction is needed to ensure that uninsured and low-income women, men, and teens of North Carolina continue to have access to basic health care and education." PPCNC said that over the last fiscal year, it provided health family planning and reproductive health exams for nearly 7,000 women, as well as providing almost 8,300 tests for sexually transmitted diseases.

Several states have made efforts similar to North Carolina's attempt to cut funding for abortion [JURIST news archive] services. The state of Kansas filed [JURIST report] an appeal earlier this month seeking to overturn a federal judge's ruling that blocks a state law preventing Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri (PPKM) [advocacy website] from receiving federal funding. The same week, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) [advocacy website] filed [JURIST report] an amicus curiae brief seeking to uphold an Indiana state law that would block Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood of Indiana (PPIN) [advocacy website] and other organizations providing abortion services. In June, Perdue also vetoed [JURIST report] a North Carolina bill that would have required women seeking an abortion to wait 24 hours and to view an ultrasound of the fetus before an abortion. Perdue called the measure "a dangerous intrusion into the confidential relationship that exists between women and their doctors." The legislature later overrode her veto [JURIST report]




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Scotland defends release of Lockerbie bomber
Jennie Ryan on August 20, 2011 12:06 PM ET

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[JURIST] Scottish officials on Saturday defended the decision to release convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi [BBC profile] on compassionate grounds after he was diagnosed with cancer, even though he is still alive two years later. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond [official profile] said al Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds alone and "[w]hether people support or oppose the decision, it was made following the due process of Scots law, we stand by it, and al Megrahi is dying of terminal prostate cancer." Al Megrahi was convicted of murdering 270 people in 2001 after blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 [BBC backgrounder] over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988. The defense of al Megrahi's release drew the ire of opposition Scottish Labour Party [official website] leader Iain Gray who called for Salmond to apologize to the families of victims [Scottish Labour Party report]. Gray stated it is an "insult to the victims that he refuses still to publish all the medical evidence the release was based on. If the decision was made for humanitarian reasons, he should do the humane thing and apologise for the pain caused to the relatives."

Last August, Scottish Labour Party officials called for the publication of all medical evidence related to the release [JURIST report] of al-Megrahi. The demand came one year after al Megrahi was released [JURIST report] from prison on compassionate grounds because doctors predicted he only had three months to live. Despite the publication of a report leading to the decision, the Labour party said that all medical opinions leading to the decision and the names of the doctors who authored them should also be released [BBC report]. Responding to criticism of his decision to release al Megrahi, Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill [official website] claimed he acted in good faith when authorizing the release, denying that there was an arrangement [Telegraph report] for al Megrahi to drop his appeal in return for his release. Al Megrahi returned to his native Libya, where he is still living, and experts have suggested that he could continue living for several more years [AP report]. Al Megrahi's release was controversial, with both US officials and the Scottish Parliament [JURIST reports] condemning it. Last year, US lawmakers called for an investigation [JURIST report] into the role that oil company British Petroleum (BP) [corporate website] may have played in al Megrahi's release.




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Federal court sets deadline in Wal-Mart gender discrimination suit
Jennie Ryan on August 20, 2011 11:04 AM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] ordered [text, PDF] Friday that a group of women seeking to recover damages from Wal-Mart must file their lawsuits by October 28. The order was issued on a motion to extend tolling of the statute of limitations by former members of the class action gender discrimination suit against the corporation. In June, the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] in Wal-Mart v. Dukes [Cornell LII backgrounder] that the group who filed the original claim did not meet the requirements for class certification [JURIST report]. The order, issued by US District Court Judge Charles Breyer, applies to those women who have already received the required permission to sue from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [official website]. Those who have not already received permission from the EEOC have until next year to do so.

The original case was filed in 2001 by female Wal-Mart employees [class website] who contend that Wal-Mart's nationwide policies result in lower pay for women than men in comparable positions and longer waits for management promotions than men. Wal-Mart appealed to the Supreme Court in August 2010 after the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld class certification [JURIST reports] in April 2010. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit originally ruled against Wal-Mart's appeal of the class certification in February 2007, then issued a new opinion [text, PDF] in conjunction with its decision in December 2007. Wal-Mart appealed [JURIST report] to the Ninth Circuit in 2005, arguing that the six lead plaintiffs were not typical or common of the class. The certified class, which in 2001 was estimated to comprise more than 1.5 million women, includes all women employed by Wal-Mart nationwide at any time after December 26, 1998. It would have been the largest class action lawsuit in US history.




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Australia state to propose law requiring face veil removal
Julia Zebley on August 19, 2011 12:57 PM ET

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[JURIST] The New South Wales (NSW) [official website] government is set to propose legislation next week that will require anyone wearing face coverings, including religious veils, to remove them if requested by police for identification purposes. Refusal could result in a $220 AUD fine with the worst potential penalties at a year in jail and a fine of $5500. The proposed law will amend the 2002 Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act [text]. The state premier, Barry O'Farrell [official website] promised that face coverings would only be removed for brief identification and that those with religious objections can go to a police station to be identified in complete privacy. The Islamic Council of NSW [advocacy website] is reportedly fine with the new regulations [AAP report].

Australia is the latest in an international trend to ban the wearing of burqas, niqabs [JURIST news archives] or full face veils in some situations. Earlier this month, an Italian parliamentary commission approved a draft law [JURIST report] that bans women from wearing full-face veils, including the Islamic burqa and niqab in public. In July, Belgium implemented a law banning women from wearing the burqa [JURIST report] in public, with violators facing the possibility of fines or up to seven days in jail. A French Muslim couple living in the UK filed a challenge [JURIST report] in June in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] over the French ban [materials, in French] on full face coverings. Also in June, a Spanish court upheld a city ban on veils in municipal buildings for identification and security purposes. In October, the French Constitutional Council ruled that the ban conforms with the Constitution [JURIST report]. Also in October, Dutch politician Geert Wilders [personal website, in Dutch] said that the Netherlands will ban the burqa [JURIST report] as part of the government's plan to form a minority coalition. In August 2010, Austria's conservative Freedom Party [official website, in German] called for a special vote [JURIST report] on whether to ban face veils and the construction of minarets, two of the most visible symbols of the Islamic faith. In July 2010, Spain's lower house of parliament rejected a proposal [JURIST report] to ban the burqa and other full face veils by a vote of 183 to 162 with two abstaining.




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Lebanon tribunal to investigate bomb attacks related to Hariri case
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 19, 2011 11:59 AM ET

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[JURIST] The UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) [official website] announced Friday that it will investigate three additional bomb attacks [press release] that may be connected to the February 2005 attack that killed former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The STL has established jurisdiction over the June 2005 assassination of anti-Syria politician George Hawi, the July 2005 attempted assassination of Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Elias Murr and the October 2004 attempted assassination of lawmaker Marwan Hamadeh [orders, PDF] in October 2004. The rulings do not mean that an indictment will necessarily be issued, but they allow the prosecutor to continue investigating. The STL did not offer any details on how the attacks may be connected.

On Wednesday, the STL unsealed the indictment [JURIST report] against four alleged Hezbollah [CFR backgrounder] members accused of assassinating Hariri. Last week, the STL president made a public plea for the four men to turn themselves in [JURIST report]. Judge Antonio Cassese guaranteed a fair trial and adequate representation and pressed Lebanese citizens to allow the STL to hold the assassins accountable. In February, the appeals chamber of the STL issued a unanimous ruling [summary, PDF] on several procedural issues, including the definition of terrorism [JURIST report], in judicial proceedings. The STL began debate on the issue [JURIST report] to determine which laws to apply in the case against persons accused of involvement in the February 2005 truck bomb that killed Hariri and 22 other people. Using the Article 314 of the Lebanese Criminal Code [text, PDF], the court held that a conviction on the charge of terrorism requires proof of an act intended to spread terror and use of a means "liable to create a public danger," that the only requirement is that "the means used to carry out the terrorist attack be liable to create a common danger" and that the trial judges should be given latitude in determining whether the requirement was met after having considered the facts presented in the case. The STL was established in 2005 at the request of the Lebanese government to try those alleged to be connected to the bombing in which Hariri was killed by explosions detonated near his motorcade in Beirut.




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Ivory Coast ex-president, wife charged with economic crimes
Julia Zebley on August 19, 2011 11:41 AM ET

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[JURIST] Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo [BBC profile] and his wife Simone were arrested and charged on Thursday for a variety of economic crimes including looting, embezzlement and armed robbery. Most of Gbagbo's remaining supporters were arrested [JURIST report] earlier this month. Although Gbagbo's supporters have been actively sought for arrest, many believe troops loyal to Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara [BBC profile; political website, in French] are similarly culpable. Although Ouattara has insisted that all those responsible for war crimes will be prosecuted [JURIST report], none of his supporters has been charged or arrested. However, reports have alleged that violence is still being committed by Ouattara supporters [JURIST report]. Last week, a representative for the UN Mission in the Ivory Coast (MINUCI) [official website] confirmed [JURIST report] that forces loyal to Ouattara are continuing to kill civilians and opposition members in his name, with 26 killings reported between July 11 and August 10.

Last month, Ouattara set up a commission of inquiry [JURIST report] to investigate crimes and human rights violations that took place during the violence following the presidential elections in which former president Gbagbo refused to leave office after losing the election. In April, Gbagbo was captured and forced from office [JURIST report] after refusing to leave despite losing last November's election to Ouattara, which resulted in months of fighting between Ouattara's and Gbagbo's forces. Also that month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] 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 FRCI killed more than 100 civilians, raped at least 20 supporters of Gbagbo and burned at least 10 villages in March. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [official website] also reported the deaths of at least 800 civilians [JURIST report] in the Ivory Coast town of Duekoue as a result of intercommunal violence.




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UN rights chief urges Syria ICC probe
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 19, 2011 10:22 AM ET

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[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Thursday urged the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official websites] to investigate the violent suppression of anti-government protests. Pillay's remarks came after the Fact-finding Mission in Syria published its 22-page report concluding that Syrian government forces cracking down on the opposition may be committing crimes against humanity [JURIST report]. Pillay said, however, that she is not optimistic [Al Jazeera report] that the Security Council will act. Also Thursday, a coalition of 50 human rights groups led by UN Watch [advocacy website] sent an open letter [text] to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) [official website] urging them to mandate a permanent special investigator on Syria and to hold televised hearings in Geneva for victims to testify:
We therefore call on the council now to use all measures at its disposal to end the bloodshed. Inter alia, we recommend that the Special Session do the following:
  1. The council should strongly condemn Syria for its gross and systematic violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the right to life.
  2. Given the inability of the High Commissioner’s fact-finding mission to enter Syria, the council should request the mission to conduct public hearings at the United Nations office in Geneva, featuring live, televised testimony by victims of the Syrian massacres, some of whom have escaped to neighboring countries. ...
  3. The Council should end the protection gap by appointing a Special Rapporteur on the grave situation of human rights in Syria. ...
  4. The council should take action to hold the Syrian military and political leadership personally accountable for crimes against humanity.
The HRC is set to hold a special session on Syria [press release] on Monday.

The Fact-finding Mission was established [JURIST report] by the HRC in April but was not permitted to enter the country. Last week, 27 rights groups called for the HRC to convene a second special session on Syria [JURIST report]. Also last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that an unknown Western country is funding an investigation [JURIST report] into Syria's recent human rights abuses. Last month, two UN rights officials expressed concern over reports of violence [JURIST report] used by Syrian authorities against the country's own people. Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide Francis Deng and Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect Edward Luck said that reports of Syrian forces killing or arbitrarily arresting peaceful protesters indicate potentially grievous violations of international human rights laws, and urged officials to adhere to the government's 2005 pledge to protect its citizens. In June, the OHCHR published a preliminary report [JURIST report] describing human rights violations in Syria and calling for an investigation into government-authorized abuses related to pro-democracy protests that began earlier this year.




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US to review deportations in 300,000 immigration cases
Julia Zebley on August 19, 2011 10:02 AM ET

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[JURIST] US President Barack Obama announced [press release] major reforms [guidelines, PDF] to America's current immigration [JURIST news archive] system on Thursday, putting 300,000 illegal immigrants' cases up for review and temporarily halting their deportation. The new guidelines direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] to target for deportation those "who have been convicted of crimes or pose a security risk," and "clear out low-priority cases." The priority of a case will be determined by prosecutorial discretion granted in a number of areas: "the person's length of presence in the United States, with particular consideration given to presence while in lawful status;" "the circumstances of the person's arrival in the United States and the manner of his or her entry,particularly if the alien came to the United States as a young child;" "the person's pursuit of education in the United States;" "whether the person, or the person's immediate relative, has served in the U.S. military;" "the person's ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships;" "whether the person is the primary caretaker of a person with a mental or physical disability, minor, or seriously ill relative;" and several other factors. Many of the criteria mirror portions of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act [House bill; Senate bill], a bill that has a languished in Congress for a decade which attempts to provide amnesty for illegal immigrants who serve in the military or achieve a college education. During Obama's three years in office, approximately one million illegal immigrants have been deported, with almost 400,000 [AP report] last year alone.

Reactions to the new policy have poured in from around the nation. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) [official website], a major sponsor of the DREAM Act, praised the decision [press release]: "The Obama Administration has made the right decision in changing the way they handle deportations of DREAM Act students. These students are the future doctors, lawyers, teachers and, maybe, Senators, who will make America stronger." However, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) [official website] called the announcement backdoor amnesty [press release, PDF]. Rights groups have also been critical of the decision, stating it does not go far enough. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website], in an emailed press release, criticized the focus on criminals for deportation: "The administration says it will focus on individuals with crimes, but many of those individuals came to the United States at a young age, have spouses and children who are U.S. citizens, and pose no danger to our country." Reform Immigration for America [advocacy website] also said the new policies don't go far enough [press release]. Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights [advocacy website] filed suit [JURIST report] challenging the practice of shackling immigration detainees in court.




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California appeals court upholds 13.8 million judgment against tobacco company
Julia Zebley on August 18, 2011 12:45 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Second District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles [official website] on Wednesday upheld [judgment, PDF] a $13.8 million judgment against Philip Morris [corporate website] in the death of 45-year-old lifelong smoker Betty Bullock. Family of the deceased won the case after accusing the company of fraud by using deceptive marketing tactics. Philip Morris argued that the punitive judgment should simply match the judgment for pain and suffering, $850,000, as Bullock's health was mitigated by her conduct. The three-judge panel voted 2-1 to uphold the judgment and all three judges rejected Philip Morris' reasoning.
Philip Morris knew that the consensus among scientific and medical professionals was that cigarette smoking caused lung cancer and other serious diseases, that its cigarettes contained many carcinogens, and that smokers suffered lung cancer and other serious diseases at rates far greater than nonsmokers. Despite that knowledge, Philip Morris and other cigarette manufacturers for many years conducted a public campaign designed to obscure and deny the truth. Philip Morris falsely asserted that there was no consensus in the scientific and medical community concerning the adverse health effects of smoking and that the relationship between smoking and health was unknown. Philip Morris assured its customers that if it learned that any cigarette ingredient caused cancer it would remove that ingredient, and falsely stated that it did not believe that smoking was hazardous. Philip Morris repeatedly asserted that more research was needed and that it was diligently pursuing that research, but avoided sponsoring any research that would reveal the hazards of smoking and went to great lengths to avoid disclosing its own toxicological data. Rather than remove nicotine from its cigarettes as it had the ability to do, Philip Morris added urea to its cigarettes to enhance the effect of nicotine so as to further exploit its customers' addiction and gain new customers. Its customers included individuals such as Bullock who first began to smoke as youths before July 1, 1969, attracted in part by an aggressive advertising campaign in television, print and other media that was particularly appealing to youths.
The dissent argued that the US Supreme Court [official website] case State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Campbell [text] limited the punitive damages ruling to nine times compensation of the other damages. The dissenting judge would have upheld a $7.65 million punitive judgment. Philip Morris plans to appeal to the Supreme Court of California [official website].

In May, the Supreme Court of California ruled [JURIST report] 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." 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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India upper house of parliament impeaches high court judge
Julia Zebley on August 18, 2011 12:27 PM ET

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[JURIST] After a day's deliberation, the Council of States [official website], India's upper house of parliament voted 189 - 17 on Thursday to impeach [daily bulletin, PDF] Justice Soumitra Sen [official profile], a justice of the Calcutta High Court [official website] accused of embezzling funds. Impeachment hearings began [JURIST report] Wednesday. Sen was charged with misappropriation of funds and misrepresentation of facts. Sen, in his capacity as justice, was assigned to sell an inventory of rejected goods from two civil suits, with the proceeds going back toward the payment of the judgment in one case, and disbursed to workers as back payments in another. Sen was to keep five percent for himself and had absolute control over all bank accounts connected to the cases. Parties to the cases requested information from Sen after not receiving their funds, which he ignored. Eventually, Sen withdrew all the money from the accounts and closed them, without explanation to the courts. Sen's case will now be sent to the House of the People [official website], India's lower house, for identical proceedings. They are expected to hear arguments next week [The Hindu report].

If impeached, Sen will be the first sitting high judge to be removed from office in Indian history, and it is only the second impeachment proceeding ever attempted. President Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil [official website] announced in February that the government will work to eradicate corruption [JURIST report]. The government recently created a group of ministers charged with streamlining the judicial system [Indian Express report], particularly working to expedite corruption cases brought against civil servants suspected of corruption and to amend current laws to facilitate bringing claims against public servants. Singh called for the establishment of special courts [JURIST report] to deal only with corruption charges, telling a convention of high-ranking justices and government ministers that, "apart from pendency and delayed justice, corruption is another challenge we face both in government and the judiciary." Singh said addressing these problems would increases both domestic and foreign confidence in the court system. India's judiciary was analyzed in the FORUM post India and Pakistan: A Tale of Judicial Appointments [JURIST op-ed] by guest columnist Shubhankar Dam [official profile] of the Singapore Management University School of Law [official website].




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Rights groups challenge practice of shackling immigration detainees
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 18, 2011 12:19 PM ET

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[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights [advocacy website] filed suit [complaint, PDF; press release] Monday challenging the practice of shackling immigration [JURIST news archive] detainees in court. The suit, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website], claims that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [advocacy website] are violating the detainees' constitutional rights by requiring that all detainees be shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles for court appearances, rather than making an individual case-by-case determination. According to the complaint:
Defendants' policy and practice of shackling all detained immigrants for immigration court proceedings causes detainees to suffer physical and emotional pain, is dehumanizing, and undermines the dignity of court proceedings. It also hinders detainees' ability to communicate with their attorneys. ... Freedom from physical restraint has always been recognized as a fundamental constitutional right, requiring due process before it can be infringed.
The suit was filed by four individuals on behalf of a class of people who are or will be detained for their immigration proceedings in San Francisco. The ACLU-NC expects the case to have national implications.

The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled in 2005 that it is unconstitutional [JURIST report] to force capital murder defendants to appear before juries in shackles. The majority said that viewing a prisoner in shackles would be too damaging to the jury's perception of the defendant. ICE and DHS have previously faced criticism for their treatment of immigration detainees. In March, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights [official website] reported that US immigration enforcement agencies are overly reliant on a flawed detention system [JURIST report]. The report expresses concern over increased use of detention by the US government, citing a doubling in detention of non-citizens by ICE. It criticized the US government for viewing detention as a necessity and not as an exception in its enforcement.




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ICTY begins retrial of former Kosovo PM Haradinaj
Julia Zebley on August 18, 2011 11:00 AM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Thursday began the retrial of Ramush Haradinaj [materials; BBC profile], a Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander and the former prime minister of Kosovo, who was acquitted [JURIST report] of all charges in 2008. The ICTY appeals chamber overturned the acquittals [JURIST report] of Haradinaj, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj in July 2010. The appeals chamber found that the integrity of the original proceedings was compromised due to the trial chamber's "[failure] to take sufficient steps to counter the witness intimidation that permeated the trial." After the acquittals, many Serbians believed that the ICTY was unfairly prosecuting Serbians and letting ethnic Albanians free. In preparation for the trial, witness and former KLA member Shefqet Kabashi was transferred to the ICTY to stand trial for contempt of court [press release] after refusing to answer questions during the initial proceeding. The ICTY says his testimony is critical to proving six counts of the indictment.

In May 2008, ICTY Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz [official profile] filed an appeal against the acquittals [JURIST report]. Brammertz asked that the case be retried before a different chamber of the tribunal, arguing that prosecution was not allowed the to present enough witnesses. Haradinaj was charged with 37 counts of war crimes, including murder, persecution and rape, but the ICTY acquitted him of all charges in April 2008, citing a lack of evidence. Haradinaj was a senior commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], the ethnic Albanian guerrilla force that opposed Slobodan Milosevic [JURIST news archive] during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive].




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Syria forces may be committing crimes against humanity: UN report
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 18, 2011 10:02 AM ET

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[JURIST] Syrian government forces cracking down on the opposition may be committing crimes against humanity, according to a report [text, PDF; press release] published Thursday by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website]. The 22-page report, prepared by the the Fact-finding Mission on Syria, contains allegations of summary executions, killing of unarmed protesters and torture of detainees. According to the report, "[t]he Mission found a pattern of human rights violations that constitutes widespread or systematic attacks against the civilian population, which may amount to crimes against humanity as provided for in article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court." The Fact-finding Mission recommended that the UN Security Council refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official websites] for further investigation. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] is set to address the Security Council later Thursday, and the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) [official website] will hold a special session on Syria [press release] on Monday.

The Fact-finding Mission was established [JURIST report] by the HRC in April. Last week, 27 rights groups called for the HRC to convene a second special session on Syria [JURIST report]. Also last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that an unknown Western country is funding an investigation [JURIST report] into Syria's recent human rights abuses. Last month, two UN rights officials expressed concern over reports of violence [JURIST report] used by Syrian authorities against the country's own people. Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide Francis Deng and Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect Edward Luck said that reports of Syrian forces killing or arbitrarily arresting peaceful protesters indicate potentially grievous violations of international human rights laws, and urged officials to adhere to the government's 2005 pledge to protect its citizens. In June, the OHCHR published a preliminary report [JURIST report] describing human rights violations in Syria and calling for an investigation into government-authorized abuses related to pro-democracy protests that began earlier this year.




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Canada court rejects right to die claim for lack of standing
Julia Zebley on August 18, 2011 9:22 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Supreme Court of British Columbia [official website] dismissed [press release] a right to die [JURIST news archive] suit by the Farewell Foundation [advocacy website] for lack of standing on Wednesday but encouraged the group to intervene in a similar suit later this year. The group reported that Judge Lynn Smith was very respectful of the questions they raised but dismissed the suit due to the organization's commitment to keeping their members anonymous. However, Smith suggested the Farewell Foundation intervene in a similar suit [press release] by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) [advocacy website], which the group is planning to do, partially because the BCCLA's suit is fighting for physician-assisted suicide, while the Farewell Foundation seeks something closer to the "Swiss model" that allows people to take their own lives without physician assistance. Both groups are challenging the constitutionality of section 241(b) of the Criminal Code of Canada [text], which criminalizes assisted suicide. The groups argue that this is contrary to sections 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text], which guarantee the rights to liberty and equal protection, respectively. The BCCLA's suit is slated to begin arguments on November 15.

The right to die has been a highly contentious issue around the world. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of India [official website] rejected a petition for mercy killing [JURIST report] but ruled that passive euthanasia was permissible under certain circumstances. The German Federal Court of Justice [official website, in German] ruled in October that removing a patient from life support is not a criminal offense [JURIST report] if the terminal individual had previously given consent. The year before, the Supreme Court of Western Australia [official website] upheld the right to die [JURIST report] in a case involving a quadriplegic who asked to be removed from food and hydration services. In July 2009, the UK Law Lords asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to clarify [JURIST report] the UK's laws regarding those who aid patients seeking assisted suicide. Many Britons have reportedly gone to the Dignitas clinic [website, in German] in Switzerland to obtain assisted suicides. The House of Lords also that month rejected a bill [JURIST report] that would would have barred prosecuting those who go abroad to help others commit assisted suicide. In May 2009, the South Korean Supreme Court [official website, in Korean] upheld a lower court ruling allowing a brain-damaged patient the right to die. The judge held that, for future cases, doctors should make efforts to confirm patients' wishes to die with dignity and that such determinations can be deduced from an analysis of different factors.




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Mexico president eliminates pocket veto
Erin Bock on August 18, 2011 8:34 AM ET

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[JURIST] Mexican President Felipe Calderon [official website, in Spanish] on Wednesday signed a reform [press release, in Spanish] to the Mexican Constitution [text, PDF, in Spanish] that eliminates the president's ability to use a pocket veto to prevent the passage of a bill. Originally, the president could kill the legislation by ignoring it for 30 days. The constitutional reform now requires the president to take action on a bill within 30 days of receipt. Otherwise, the bill will automatically become law. Calderon stated that the change reiterates his commitment [statement, in Spanish] to strengthening Mexico's democratic system.

Calderon's administration has been plagued with accusations of corruption and rights violations. Last week, Mexico's National Human Rights Commission [official website, in Spanish] released a report contending that military and law enforcement officials conduct illegal searches and engage in a "systematic pattern" of coercive, threatening and abusive behavior [JURIST report] in their efforts to combat the country's narcotics trade. Following the April resignation [JURIST report] of former Mexican attorney general Arturo Chavez, the Attorney General's Office (PGR) [official website] last month charged [JURIST report] 111 officials who served under Chavez with various corruption-related offenses, including falsifying documents, interfering with the administration of justice, abuse of power, perjury and bribery. Additionally, 140 police officers were fired and it was disclosed that 280 more are under investigation. Mexico has struggled to combat the drug cartels' influence on the government and the country as a whole. There have been more than 27,000 drug-related deaths [STRATFOR report] since 2006, and the violence has steadily escalated over the past few years. In April 2009, Mexico's Senate passed a constitutional amendment [JURIST report] permitting the seizure of suspected drug traffickers' property prior to their conviction. In 2008, a former assistant attorney general was arrested for receiving bribes, and Mexico's prosecutor's office admitted that it had been infiltrated [JURIST reports] by the drug cartels.




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South Korea iPhone customers file class action against Apple over data collection
Erin Bock on August 18, 2011 7:35 AM ET

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[JURIST] More than 26,000 iPhone users in South Korea joined in a class action lawsuit filed Wednesday against Apple's local headquarters for collecting location data without their consent. The class is composed of individuals who purchased an iPhone prior to May 1, and each plaintiff is seeking 1 million won (USD $933) in damages [AFP report]. One of the lawyers handling the case, Kim Hyung-Suk, filed suit on his own [Reuters report] regarding the privacy breach and was awarded one million won in June. The class action suit alleges that Apple's privacy breach violated article 10 and article 17 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea [text] and that the individual plaintiffs suffered emotional damages as a result. Kim anticipates that another suit will be filed in the near future with a smaller class of around 900 affected individuals.

Earlier this month, South Korean regulators fined Apple [JURIST report] USD $2,855 for collecting location information from its iPhone and iPad users. It marked the first time Apple was punished for collecting location information from users of its widely popular mobile computing products. The country has also been investigating Google over illegal data collection. In January, the South Korea National Police Agency [official website, in Korean] announced it had found evidence that Google illegally collected private data [JURIST report] in the process of producing its popular Street View [website] mapping service. The illegally captured data included hundreds of thousands of emails, instant messages, passwords and search histories through unencrypted Wi-Fi networks. The information was discovered on 79 hard disks seized from Google's Seoul office, which police raided [JURIST report] last year.




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India parliament begins impeachment proceedings against high court judge
Julia Zebley on August 17, 2011 1:10 PM ET

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[JURIST] Impeachment hearings began [schedule, PDF] Wednesday in the Council of States [official website], India's upper house of parliament, against Justice Soumitra Sen [official profile], a justice of the Calcutta High Court [official website]. Sen is charged with misappropriation of funds and misrepresentation of facts. The motions for impeachment were submitted after an official inquiry ended with Supreme Court judge B Sudershan Reddy finding Sen guilty of the charges. Chief Justice of India, KG Balakrishnan also recommended in a letter [text] to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [official website] that Sen be removed. Sen blamed the impeachment on Balakrishnan [The Hindu report] in his two-hour defense before the Council. Sen argued that the allegations are a conspiracy to have him removed to increase the image of the judiciary. Sen, in his capacity as justice, was assigned to sell an inventory of rejected goods from two civil suits, with the proceeds going back toward the payment of the judgment in one case, and disbursed to workers as back payments in another. Sen was to keep five percent for himself and had absolute control over all bank accounts connected to the cases. Parties to the cases requested information from Sen after not receiving their funds, which he ignored. Eventually, Sen withdrew all the money from the accounts and closed them, without explanation to the courts. Sen, in his defense, stated he had released funds to the workers, but did not account for the other case's missing money. If two-thirds of the Council of States find him guilty, Sen's case will be sent to the House of the People [official website], India's lower house, for identical proceedings. It is uncertain when Council members will vote.

If impeached, Sen will be the first sitting high judge to be removed from office in Indian history, and it is only the second impeachment proceeding ever attempted. President Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil [official website] announced in February that the government will work to eradicate corruption [JURIST report]. The government recently created a group of ministers charged with streamlining the judicial system [Indian Express report], particularly working to expedite corruption cases brought against civil servants suspected of corruption and to amend current laws to facilitate bringing claims against public servants. Singh called for the establishment of special courts [JURIST report] to deal only with corruption charges, telling a convention of high-ranking justices and government ministers that, "apart from pendency and delayed justice, corruption is another challenge we face both in government and the judiciary." Singh said addressing these problems would increases both domestic and foreign confidence in the court system. India's judiciary was analyzed in the FORUM post India and Pakistan: A Tale of Judicial Appointments [JURIST op-ed] by guest columnist Shubhankar Dam [official profile] of the Singapore Management University School of Law [official website].




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Lebanon tribunal unseals indictment in Hariri case
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 17, 2011 1:06 PM ET

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[JURIST] The UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) [official website] on Wednesday unsealed [press release] the indictment [text] against four individuals accused of assassinating former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The pre-trial judge issued a decision confirming the indictment, as well as an order lifting confidentiality [texts, PDF]. A sealed indictment was handed down in January, and arrest warrants were issued [JURIST reports] in June for Mustafa Badreddine, Salim al-Ayyash, Hasan Aineysseh and Asad Sabra [STL materials], who are alleged members of Hezbollah [CFR backgrounder]. STL prosecutor Daniel Bellemare welcomed the order [press release] to unseal the indictment:
This Order will finally inform the public and the victims about the facts alleged in the indictment regarding the commission of the crime that led to charging the four accused. This unsealing of the indictment answers many questions about the 14 February 2005 attack. The full story will however only unfold in the courtroom, where an open, public, fair and transparent trial will render a final verdict.
Lebanese authorities reported to the tribunal last week that they have not detained the suspects [JURIST report]. A trial in absentia is likely [Guardian report] if the suspects are not apprehended.

On Thursday, the STL president made a public plea for the four men to turn themselves in [JURIST report]. Judge Antonio Cassese guaranteed a fair trial and adequate representation and pressed Lebanese citizens to allow the STL to hold the assassins accountable. In February, the appeals chamber of the STL issued a unanimous ruling [summary, PDF] on several procedural issues, including the definition of terrorism [JURIST report], in judicial proceedings. The STL began debate on the issue [JURIST report] to determine which laws to apply in the case against persons accused of involvement in the February 2005 truck bomb that killed Hariri and 22 other people. Using the Article 314 of the Lebanese Criminal Code [text, PDF], the court held that a conviction on the charge of terrorism requires proof of an act intended to spread terror and use of a means "liable to create a public danger," that the only requirement is that "the means used to carry out the terrorist attack be liable to create a common danger" and that the trial judges should be given latitude in determining whether the requirement was met after having considered the facts presented in the case. The STL was established in 2005 at the request of the Lebanese government to try those alleged to be connected to the bombing in which Hariri was killed by explosions detonated near his motorcade in Beirut.




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ICC postpones hearing for DRC war crimes suspect
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 17, 2011 12:19 PM ET

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[JURIST] Judges for the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] have postponed [decision, PDF; press release] the opening of the confirmation of charges hearing against accused war criminal Callixte Mbarushimana [case materials], originally set for Wednesday, until September 16. Mbarushimana, former leader of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], is accused of committing war crimes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) [BBC backgrounder] in 2009. In postponing the hearing, the judges wrote, "that disclosure related issues raised just prior to the confirmation have rendered it impossible to fairly conduct the confirmation hearing on the scheduled date." No further reasons were given. Mbarushimana's lawyer, Nick Kaufman, expressed disappointment [AP report] with the decision.

Mbarushimana made his initial appearance [JURIST report] before the ICC in January and denied the charges against him. The court provided official notice of the charges against Mbarushimana, which include five counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of war crimes including murder, rape, torture, and attacks against the civilian population, and also informed him of his rights under the Rome Statute. In addition to facing allegations relating to violence in the DRC, Mbarushimana has also been linked to the 1994 Rwandan genocide [JURIST news archive]. In December, a French judge charged Mbarushimana [JURIST report] with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the genocide. In 2008, Mbarushimana was arrested by German border police [JURIST report] as he attempted to travel to Russia on charges that he killed 32 people during the Rwandan genocide. In 2005, the UN asked France to bring genocide charges [JURIST report] against Mbarushimana, who was then in the country under refugee status. Carla Del Ponte, the former chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website], refused to charge him and said the ICTR did not file an indictment against Mbarushimana because it lacked sufficient evidence against him.




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Ukraine ex-president testifies against former ally Tymoshenko
Julia Zebley on August 17, 2011 11:48 AM ET

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[JURIST] Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] testified against his former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; JURIST news archive] on Wednesday in her ongoing trial for charges of corruption. The prosecution alleges [JURIST report] that Tymoshenko orchestrated a deal where Ukraine's national gas company would pay Russia excessively high prices for gas. Although Yushchenko and Tymoshenko were allies in Ukraine's Orange Revolution, Yushchenko testified that these charges are true, and that Tymoshenko made a number of unnecessary political moves against his wishes to negotiate higher prices for Russia. Yushchenko also called on the prosecution [RIA Novosti] to question Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive] and the CEO of Russian energy company Gazprom [corporate website]. Tymoshenko refused to cross-examine [press release] Yushchenko so the Orange Revolution would not be tarnished. However, afterward, her counsel stated that Yushchenko had lied under oath [press release], specifically alleging that his testimony directly contradicted another prosecution witness' testimony.

Last week, the Kiev Appeals Court refused Tymoshenko's appeal of her detention for contempt charges [JURIST reports]. Earlier this month, Ukrainian Judge Rodion Kireyev rejected a request [JURIST report] from Tymoshenko to release her from prison. Kireyev again refused to recuse himself the week before, and Tymoshenko announced that she was allowed to call only two of her proposed witnesses [press releases]. In July, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) [official website, in Ukrainian] announced that they are launching a criminal investigation [JURIST report] into United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UESU), an energy company at one time headed by Tymoshenko. In June, Tymoshenko filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the European Court of Human Rights alleging violations of the European Convention of Human Rights [text, PDF]. The complaint argued that the charges against Tymoshenko are politically engineered by current President Viktor Yanukovych [official website, in Ukrainian]. ECHR President Jean Paul Costa refused to comment on the complaint [Korrespondent report, in Russian], but said the matter was before the court. 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 Yanukovych. Tymoshenko had alleged that widespread voter fraud allowed Yanukovych to win the election.




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ACLU challenges Kansas abortion insurance law
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 17, 2011 11:05 AM ET

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[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release] Tuesday challenging a Kansas law [HB 2075 materials] that prohibits insurance companies from including coverage for abortion [JURIST news archive] in their comprehensive plans. The law prohibits comprehensive insurance plans from covering any abortion other than to save a woman's life but allows companies to offer a separate rider to cover abortions for an additional cost. The law will also ban coverage for abortion except in very limited instances in policies sold after 2014 under the new federal health care law. According to the ACLU complaint, the legislation violates the constitution:
The Act's only purpose is to make it more difficult for women to obtain and pay for abortion care. Indeed, it is akin to imposing an additional tax on the procedure. Moreover, because the Act serves no legitimate state interest, it fails even rational basis review. And, by prohibiting women from purchasing insurance that covers all of their health care needs while placing no similar restriction on men, it impermissibly discriminates based on sex.
Kansas is one of several states [Kansas City Star report] to enact similar legislation over the past two years. The measure took effect July 1.

Kansas has also recently imposed several other abortion restrictions. Last week, the state filed an appeal seeking to overturn a federal judge's ruling [JURIST reports] that blocks a law [HB 2014 materials] preventing Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri (PPKM) [advocacy website] from receiving federal funding. Last month, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Kansas [official website] issued a preliminary injunction [JURIST report] to block a regulation [SB 36 materials] requiring clinics within the state to obtain a license to perform abortions. In April, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback (R) [official website] signed two pieces of legislation [JURIST report] restricting abortions in the state. The Abortion Reporting Accuracy and Parental Rights Act [HB 2035, PDF] requires unemancipated minors to obtain notarized parental signatures before an abortion may be performed, and the "fetal pain bill" [HB 2218, PDF] restricts abortions beyond 22 weeks of pregnancy based on the belief that a fetus can feel pain at that stage of gestation.




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ICTY may hold two trials for Mladic
Julia Zebley on August 17, 2011 10:09 AM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] announced on Wednesday that it is considering conducting two trials [daily press briefing] for former Serbian general and alleged war criminal Ratko Mladic [ICTY backgrounder, PDF; JURIST news archive]: one for his conduct during the Srebrenica massacre [JURIST news archive], where approximately 8,000 people were killed, and one for all of his other charges during the Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archive]. Several reasons were given for the motion, including the late capture of Mladic as well as efficiency in convicting him. Reports stated that Mladic's health was also an issue, and the tribunal hoped to successfully prosecute him for the Srebrenica massacre before he dies. The ICTY also announced on Wednesday that Radovan Kardzic [JURIST news archive] would begin the portion of his trial for the Srebrenica massacre in January and that an initial appearance for Goran Hadzic has not been scheduled.

Serbian authorities captured Mladic [JURIST report] in May, ending a 16-year manhunt for the former general colonel and commander of the army of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mladic made his first appearance [JURIST report] at the ICTY in June, contesting the charges while simultaneously asking for more time to review them, which he was granted. At his second appearance [JURIST report] he refused to enter a plea. Before that, he had lost his final appeal in Serbia to avoid extradition, and was transported to The Hague [JURIST reports]. Mladic faces charges 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 allegedly ordering the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the massacre of Srebrenica during the Bosnian civil war.




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Tobacco companies challenge cigarette labeling regulations
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 17, 2011 9:23 AM ET

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[JURIST] A group of four tobacco companies sued [complaint, PDF] the US government Tuesday claiming that new cigarette labeling regulations [FDA materials] violate their First Amendment [text] rights. The suit, filed against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website], seeks an injunction against the new regulations, which the companies claim unconstitutionally force them to disseminate the government's anti-smoking message. Floyd Abrams, an attorney for Lorillard [corporate website], said [press release]:
The regulations violate the First Amendment. ... The notion that the government can require those who manufacture a lawful product to emblazon half of its package with pictures and words admittedly drafted to persuade the public not to purchase that product cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny. The government can engage in as much anti-smoking advocacy as it chooses in whatever language and with whatever pictures it chooses; it cannot force those who lawfully sell tobacco to the public to carry that message, those words, and those pictures.
The other plaintiffs are RJ Reynolds, Commonwealth Brands and Liggett Group [corporate websites]. The new labeling rules are set to take effect in September 2012.

In February, Lorillard and RJ Reynolds filed suit [JURIST report] challenging an FDA advisory opinion on the use of menthol in cigarettes. In 2009, several tobacco companies filed a federal lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act [text, PDF], which attempts to safeguard the public by granting the FDA certain authority to regulate tobacco products, among other provisions. A federal judge upheld the majority of the restrictions, and an appeal [JURIST reports] is underway.




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HTC sues Apple for three new counts of patent infringement
Julia Zebley on August 17, 2011 9:18 AM ET

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[JURIST] HTC [corporate website; Bloomberg backgrounder] filed three new patent complaints [USITC notice of receipt, PDF] against Apple [corporate website; Bloomberg backgrounder] on Tuesday through the US International Trade Commission (USITC) [official website], the latest in a series of suits filed back and forth between the two companies. Patents 7,765,414; 7,672,219 and 7,417,944 [texts] are at issue, all dealing with various functions of wireless communications systems. Spokespersons for both companies suggested the other come up with original ideas [Bloomberg report] rather than stealing. HTC also expressed a willingness to settle. The investigation is expected to last 15 to 18 months and could delay the rival companies' pending civil suits. The last patent infringement battle ended in defeat for HTC [JURIST report]. No appeal has been filed yet in that case.

Apple has been battling a number of lawsuits recently. Last week, a class action lawsuit [JURIST report] filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] alleged that Apple and five major publishers colluded to illegally fix electronic book (e-book) prices. Apple filed a complaint against Samsung [JURIST report] last month in an effort to bar importation of Samsung's smartphones and tablets. Apple claimed Samsung's "Galaxy" line copies its iPhone and iPad technology. The complaint came just a week after Samsung filed a similar complaint [JURIST report] seeking to prevent Apple from importing iPads and iPhones. Samsung claimed that Apple violated five patents also related to smartphones and tablets. In addition, Samsung filed a patent infringement suit [Bloomberg report] against Apple in the High Court in London in June. Finnish telecommunications company Nokia [corporate website] announced in June that it had entered into an agreement [press release; JURIST report] with Apple, settling all patent disputes between the parties and directing Apple to pay royalties to Nokia for the term of the agreement.




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ACLU seeks to block Louisiana sex offender Internet-use law
Maureen Cosgrove on August 16, 2011 2:33 PM ET

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[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana (ACLU) [advocacy website] on Tuesday filed a complaint [text, PDF] in federal court seeking to block a new Louisiana law [HB 55, R.S. §14:91.5 text, PDF] that limits Internet use for registered sex offenders [JURIST news archive]. The ACLU contends that the law infringes on the First Amendment [text] rights of individuals convicted of certain offenses, and is overly broad and vague in violation of First and Fourteenth Amendments [text]. The law bars offenders from "using or accessing" social networking sites, chat rooms and peer-to-peer networks. The ACLU maintains that the definitions of the restricted sites could be construed as including Reuters, usajobs.gov, and amazon.com, among many others. The ACLU further argues that the plaintiff on whose behalf the complaint was filed has "worked hard to reenter society" and that "his efforts to remain a productive, contributing member of society will be severely hampered" by the new law. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal [official website] said he would fight the lawsuit [press release]:
We will not comply with this request to allow convicted sex predators to use social networking sites. I will fight this with everything I have. If these people want to search the Internet for new victims they can do it somewhere else. This lawsuit is a disturbing break from reality, even for the ACLU. As Governor and the father of three young kids, I will fight the ACLU every step of the way and do everything I can to keep our kids safe from the monsters who want to harm them.
ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman said that the law lacks procedural mechanisms [press release] for obtaining permission to use the restricted sites, and that "reasonable restrictions to prevent future crimes are appropriate in the interest of public safety." The legislation took effect on August 15.

US courts have seen numerous constitutional challenges to laws placing restrictions on sex offenders. In May 2010, the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] 7-2 in United States v. Comstock [Cornell LII backgrounder] that mentally ill sex offenders may be civilly committed beyond their prison sentences. The New Jersey Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] in May 2009 that local ordinances prohibiting convicted sex offenders from living near schools, playgrounds, and other public areas were preempted by the state's Megan's Law [text] and, therefore, invalid. Courts have invalidated similar laws in Indiana, Georgia and California [JURIST reports]. In March 2009, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that a South Carolina law [SC Code §§ 23-3-600 et seq. text] requiring convicted first degree sex offenders to submit to a DNA test and pay $250 in processing fees prior to their release does not violate the ex post facto clause [text] of the Constitution. A judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of California [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in February 2009 that the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act of 2006 (SORNA) [DOJ materials], which makes it a federal crime for a sex offender to attempt to move to another state while failing to register in a nationwide database, is unconstitutional.




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Philippines president urges lawmakers to strengthen anti-terrorism law
Maureen Cosgrove on August 16, 2011 1:40 PM ET

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[JURIST] Philippine President Benigno Aquino III [official website] on Tuesday urged lawmakers to enhance a controversial anti-terror law by removing provisions that deter authorities from using the law. The Human Security Act (HSA) [text, PDF], signed [JURIST report] in 2007 by then-president Gloria Arroyo, authorizes the 72-hour detention of suspects without charge and allows for surveillance, wiretapping and seizure of assets. On the other hand, it says that officers who perform an unauthorized wiretap or violate the rights of a detainee could face up to 12 years in prison. The Aquino administration proposed an amendment [AP report] to reduce the $11,700-per-day fine imposed on police or military forces who wrongfully detain terror suspects, as well as removal of a provision requiring suspects to be alerted when they are placed under surveillance. The law has faced criticism for including a broad definition of terrorism and has purportedly been enforced on only two occasions.

The Supreme Court of the Philippines [official website] unanimously upheld the constitutionality of HSA [JURIST report] in October 2010, ruling the petitioners lacked legal standing to challenge the law because it had not caused them any actual damage. In its decision, the court noted that law enforcement officers' reluctance to enforce the law [JURIST report] means it has had no real effect on the civil liberties of militant groups. Even before the controversial law went into effect [JURIST report], there was substantial opposition to the legislation. In March 2007, UN human rights expert Martin Scheinin recommended that the act be amended or repealed [JURIST report]. Also that year, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines urged the government to revisit the act [JURIST report], saying that "many voices are apprehensive" about the anti-terror legislation. In response to criticism, Filipino presidential spokesperson Ignacio Bunye said that the law had already undergone "exhaustive debates" in the legislature [JURIST report]. The government also announced plans for a "massive public information and advocacy campaign" to accompany implementation and highlight "the existence of terror cells in the region and throughout the world."




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Michigan lawmakers introduce anti-foreign law legislation
Maureen Cosgrove on August 16, 2011 11:54 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Michigan House of Representatives [official website] on Monday introduced a bill [HB 4769 text, PDF] that would ban Sharia law and other laws deemed "foreign." The bill, introduced by Representative Dave Agema (R), seeks to limit the enforcement and application of "foreign laws that would impair constitutional rights." Contractual provisions or agreements that provide for the choice of foreign law to govern disputes would be amended to ensure the constitutional rights of the parties are protected, and be considered void otherwise. Though the bill does not expressly mention Islamic Sharia law [CFR backgrounder; JURIST news archive], Muslim advocates suggest that bill was introduced to ban the Islamic legal code. Dawud Walid, head of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) [official website], said Michigan has been falsely accused [Detroit Free Press report] of having a sharia-controlled government and condemned "fear mongering" about Sharia law.

A similar Oklahoma law has recently been challenged in court. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and CAIR in May asked [JURIST report] 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]. Haroon Moghul [company profile], Executive Director of The Maydan Institute [official website], described the Oklahoma law as a "preemptive strike" [JURIST comment] against American Muslims.




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Hungary urged to revoke church law
Maureen Cosgrove on August 16, 2011 10:34 AM ET

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[JURIST] Sixteen Hungarian churches have appealed to the country's Constitutional Court [official website, in Hungarian] seeking to block a controversial church law that purportedly violates the separation of church and state. The "Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Community," passed by the Hungarian Parliament in a 254-43 vote on July 12, grants formal recognition [BosNewsLife report] to only 14 of 358 religious organizations in Hungary. The law recognizes predominant religious denominations including Reformed, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox, along with a few Jewish organizations. The excluded groups will automatically lose their registration status on January 1, 2012, thereby losing financial support and tax breaks from the government. Freedom House [advocacy website] sent an open letter [text, PDF] to the Human Rights Commissioners of the European Commission and the Council of Europe [official websites] asking the international authorities to initiate action against Hungary, claiming the law violates Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights [texts]. Freedom House said the law is inconsistent with Hungary's constitution [press release] and condemned Hungary for passing the law:
This unabashed violation of freedom and equality of religions is paired with an open about-face from the separation of religious and political institutions that was achieved in our democratic transition twenty years ago. ... Never before has a Member State of the EU so blatantly dared to go against the principles of freedom of beliefs, equality before the law, and separation of church from state. These are all established fundamental rights in our common Europe.
The churches have sent their letter [BBJ report] to various government officials, including President Pal Schmitt [EU profile] and Prime Minister Viktor Orban [official profile].

Several countries have recently enacted measures to both limit and expand religious freedom. A Russian court ruled [statement text, in Russian] in July that the main texts of Scientology, including What Is Scientology?, are "calls to extremist activity" and placed them on the Federal List of Extremist Materials [text, in Russian], effectively banning them in Russia [JURIST report]. The UN Human Rights Council [official website] in March 2010 adopted a resolution [text, PDF] condemning religious defamation [JURIST report]. In 2007, Belgian prosecutor Jean-Claude Van Espen said Scientology should be classified as a criminal organization [JURIST report] after completing a 10-year investigation into the church's activities.




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Georgia appeals immigration law ruling
Maureen Cosgrove on August 16, 2011 9:40 AM ET

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[JURIST] Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens [official website] filed an appeal [text, PDF] Monday in the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] seeking to overturn a recent injunction [JURIST report] of a controversial immigration law [HB 87 text]. A judge from the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia [official website] issued a preliminary injunction for the plaintiffs—the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) [advocacy websites] and other rights groups—in June. Olens contends that the lower court erred in granting the injunction because the appellees are not likely to prevail on the merits and failed to show irreparable injury and because the harm to the public outweighs the appellees' interest in blocking the law. Olens also maintains that the appellees do not have standing to challenge the law. The legislation, which was scheduled to take effect on July 1, 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.

Many states have been embroiled in similar legal challenges to controversial immigration bills in recent months. Last week, the state of Arizona filed a petition for writ of certiorari [text, PDF; JURIST report] with the US Supreme Court [official website] seeking to overturn a lower court decision enjoining four provisions of Arizona's controversial immigration law [SB 1070 materials]. Earlier this month, Alabama lawmakers filed a response [text, PDF; JURIST report] to groups seeking a preliminary injunction against the controversial Alabama immigration law [HB 56 text] that expands restrictions on undocumented immigrants. The ACLU filed a class action suit in May challenging an Indiana immigration law [JURIST report] that requires individuals to provide proof of their legal status at all times and calls for all public meetings, websites and documents to be in English only. Also in May, the ACLU and other groups filed a class action suit against a Utah immigration law [JURIST report] that requires police to check the immigration status of anyone arrested for an alleged felony or serious misdemeanor. Federal judges have enjoined the Indiana, Oklahoma and Utah laws [JURIST reports].




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Federal appeals court reinstates African-American firefighter discrimination suit
Maureen Cosgrove on August 15, 2011 3:34 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] on Monday reinstated [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit filed by an African American firefighter claiming the firefighter promotion exams used in the city of New Haven, Connecticut, are discriminatory. In 2003, the New Haven Civil Service Board (CSB) had refused to certify the results of the exam that made disproportionately more white applicants than minority applicants eligible for promotion. Applicants who qualified for promotions based on their test scores but were denied promotions filed a lawsuit against the city claiming disparate impact. The appeal court's Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs held that Briscoe was not precluded from suing the city because he is not bound by the Supreme Court ruling in Ricci v. DeStefano, which ordered the CSB to certify the results of the test. Jacobs concluded that the lower court's reasoning for dismissing Briscoe's claim was "inconsistent with well-settled principles of nonparty preclusion." Briscoe claims that the weighting of the written and oral sections of the test was arbitrary and unrelated to the job requirements. Briscoe is seeking to enjoin the city from using the current weight ratio, as well as eligibility for promotion.

The US Supreme Court [official website] in 2009 overturned [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] a lower court ruling dismissing racial discrimination challenges to the promotion criteria used by the New Haven fire department. The court ruled 5-4 in Ricci v. DeStefano [Cornell LII backgrounder] that a "strong basis in evidence" that an employer would be liable under a Title VII [text] disparate impact [EEOC backgrounder] analysis is necessary to justify a "race-based" action that would otherwise violate Title VII's disparate treatment standard. The court ruled that summary judgment on disparate treatment grounds in favor of firefighters who were not promoted despite high test scores was appropriate, finding that the prima facie disparate impact case demonstrated by the City did not meet the "strong basis in evidence" standard.




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Rights group urges Egypt to drop charges against blogger
Maureen Cosgrove on August 15, 2011 2:53 PM ET

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[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Monday called on Egyptian authorities to drop charges [press release] against a female blogger accused of insulting Egyptian armed forces and inciting the use of violence on Twitter [official website]. Asmaa Mahfouz, 26, voiced her concern about Egypt's justice system and the military government's conduct in messages posted on the social media site. AI Director for Middle East and North Africa Malcolm Smart condemned Egyptian authorities for seeking to try Mahfouz in a military court:
Asmaa Mahfouz is facing a military trial merely for posting comments which criticize the Egyptian military justice system and do not at all appear to represent a call to violence. The Egyptian authorities' decision to refer Asmaa Mahfouz to a military court seems intended to send a message to those critical of the authorities that dissent will not be tolerated. The charges against her must be dropped immediately.
Mahfouz, who was released on bail shortly after being detained by prosecutors on Sunday, denies the allegations.

Social media has had a significant impact in the recent revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa. AI reported [text] in May that the pro-democracy protests have demonstrated the unique opportunities [JURIST report] that social media has created for human rights activists. In April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported that an Egyptian military court convicted blogger Maikel Nabil [JURIST report] and sentenced him to three years in prison for criticizing the army and raising questions over reform in the wake of revolution in a blog post. 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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Arkansas judge rules part of execution law unconstitutional
Maureen Cosgrove on August 15, 2011 1:41 PM ET

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[JURIST] An Arkansas judge on Monday ruled that part of the state's law governing executions is unconstitutional. The provision in state law allowing "any other chemical or chemicals" to be used for lethal injections violates [AP report] the constitution's protection against cruel and unusual punishment, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox said. The Arkansas Department of Correction [official website] relinquished its supply of sodium thiopental, a drug used in the lethal injection process, after coming under fire for obtaining the drug from Dream Pharma [corporate website], a British pharmaceutical company. The state was forced to purchase sodium thiopental overseas [AP report] after the sole US manufacturer of the drug stopped production. Legal challenges followed, prompting Fox to rule that the corrections department must follow state law to obtain the drug. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel had argued last week [AP report] that the part of the lawsuit challenging the use of the drugs at issue was moot. Fox's decision is expected to be appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The shortage of sodium thiopental in the US has caused several states to modify lethal injection protocol, which has led to a number of constitutional challenges by death row inmates. In March, two Texas inmates requested stays on their executions [USA Today report] to obtain more information on the new protocol and possibly challenge the protocol as unconstitutional. Texas acknowledged that its supply of sodium thiopental had an expiration date of March 1. Arizona, Georgia and Oklahoma have faced similar challenges and are seeking to substitute the sodium thiopental used in the lethal injection "cocktail" with pentobarbital. Kentucky and Tennessee surrendered supplies of sodium thiopental [NYT report] to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) [official website] after the agency seized Georgia's supply in order to investigate whether the drug was properly imported. In September, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ordered [text, PDF] a district court judge to reconsider the stay of execution [JURIST report] in the case of Albert Brown. The court noted that the timing of Brown's execution was influenced by the expiration of the state's supply of sodium thiopental, and stated that it was "incredible to think that the deliberative process might be driven by the expiration date of the execution drug."




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HRW urges end to Somalia armed conflict
Maureen Cosgrove on August 15, 2011 12:17 PM ET

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[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Monday accused [press release] all parties to Somalia's ongoing armed conflict of engaging in rights violations and urged the parties to immediately end abuses against citizens. In a report entitled "You Don't Know Who To Blame: War Crimes in Somalia" [text, PDF], HRW describes abuses carried out by numerous parties to the conflict, including Islamic terrorism organization al-Shabaab, the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) [CFR backgrounders], the African Union peacekeeping forces (AMISOM), and Somali militias supported by Kenya and Ethiopia. The fighting, which began to increase in late 2010, has resulted in over 4,000 civilian casualties and 1,000 deaths and has displaced thousands of Somalians. HRW Africa Director David Bekele called on the parties to end the abuses:
Abuses by al-Shabaab and pro-government forces have vastly multiplied the suffering from Somalia's famine. All sides need to take urgent steps to stop these unlawful attacks, let in aid, and end this humanitarian nightmare. There is no quick fix to Somalia's tragedy, but it's clear that impunity for serious abuses perpetuates insecurity. International pressure to bring an end to abuses by all sides is more crucial than ever—a more secure and rights respecting Somalia would be less prone to violence and famine.
The report also urged Kenya to protect Somalian refugees from public beheadings and floggings, inhumane social regulations and forced participation in combat enforced by Al-Shabaab, as well as police harassment, arbitrary arrest and deportation.

Somalia has come under fire for its poor human rights record. In July, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] reported that Somali children continue to be victims of war crimes [press release; JURIST report]. The 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [materials], released in April by the US Department of State [official website], outlined rights setbacks [JURIST report] under the TFG in Mogadishu, but noted progress in Somalia [materials], particularly in the autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] said that human rights violations committed during recent Somalian conflicts, including recruitment of child soldiers, may amount to war crimes [JURIST report]. HRW reported [JURIST report] in 2008 that war crimes and other human rights violations are being committed in the ongoing Somali conflict [BBC backgrounder]. Somalia has endured a lengthy civil war and several rounds of failed peace talks [BBC timeline] since the collapse of its last civil government in 1991. In January 2007, the transitional government began imposing martial law [JURIST report] over areas under the government's control. In August 2007, HRW reported that war crimes were rampant [JURIST report] in Somalia.




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UN urges probe of Sudan Kordofan region war crimes
Maureen Cosgrove on August 15, 2011 11:28 AM ET

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[JURIST] The UN on Monday called for a thorough investigation [press release] into alleged violations of international law and war crimes in the Southern Kordofan area of Sudan [BBC backgrounder]. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the former UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) [official websites] issued a preliminary report [text, DOC] describing human rights conditions following armed combat in Kadugli in June between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People's Liberation Army North (SPLAN). Alleged violations include "extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and illegal detention, enforced disappearances, attacks against civilians, looting of civilian homes and destruction of property," as well as indiscriminate aerial attacks and mass graves. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged the Sudanese government to ensure access to areas under investigation:
It is vital that unhindered access is granted to human rights monitors to conduct investigations into allegations of continuing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and to humanitarian actors trying to bring relief to the affected populations whose access has also been severely restricted by both sides.
Pillay also called for the immediate release of UN staffers and detainees who have not committed any crimes.

South Kordofan, which has been held by the SPLA since the 2005 peace deal that stifled Sudan's civil war, is a state in the center of Sudan, and has been a disputed territory between Sudan and South Sudan due to its oil reserves. In July, UN officials called for an end to the fighting [JURIST report] that had been ongoing since early June. The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs [official website] and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos [official profile] denounced continued human rights abuses [statement] against civilians in the South Kordofan region in June, saying that the UN knows of more than 70,000 people who have been displaced by the conflict, many of whom are subject to violence due to their ethnic heritage. The SAF took over Abyei in May, causing a rebuke and demand for withdrawal [JURIST reports] by the UN. The UN 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; JURIST news archive] has stated he will not withdraw troops from the region and insisted that the area belongs to the north. An International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] case is open against al-Bashir and several nations have been urged to arrest him on sight including China, Malaysia, Djibouti, Kenya and Chad [JURIST reports].




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Serbia urges US to block execution of citizen
Maureen Cosgrove on August 15, 2011 9:44 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Serbian government filed an amicus curiae on Friday in a Nevada court seeking to block the execution of a Serbian citizen on the grounds that the country's consulate was not informed of the man's arrest in 1994. Serbia contends that Avram Nika, convicted of killing of a man who had stopped to help him on a highway in Nevada, would have been provided with better assistance [AP report] and counsel had the consulate offices been notified of his arrest pursuant to international law. District Attorney Dick Gammick said that no Serbian consulate office could be contacted when Nika was arrested because Serbia was not a country at the time. Katherine Bekesi, an investigator for prisoner human rights advocacy group Reprieve [advocacy website] called for a new trial [press release]:
If the Serbian consulate had been informed of Mr. Nika's arrest, it would have provided crucial assistance, including translation, legal advice and key mitigating evidence, which could have saved Mr. Nika's life. The state of Nevada must face up to its deplorable failings in this case and order a new trial.
The Nevada Supreme Court [official website] denied [opinion, PDF] Nika's request to overturn his conviction in December 2008, with the dissent suggesting jurors did not have enough information to evaluate Nika's guilt and the majority holding that a consulate office could have done little to change the guilty verdict.

Just last month, the government of Mexico pleaded [press release] with the US to block the execution of Mexican national Humberto Leal Garcia [advocacy website] on similar grounds. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] criticized the execution [JURIST report], saying that the US denied consular access [press release] to Leal Garcia, which was his right under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations [text, PDF]. Officials from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] had appealed unsuccessfully to Texas Governor Rick Perry [official website; JURIST report] and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles [official website] to stay the execution. The US Supreme Court refused [JURIST report] to stay the execution, with the majority in a split per curiam opinion rejecting the Obama administration's arguments that Leal Garcia's execution would be detrimental to foreign policy to the degree that they needed to introduce a stay. Texas officials executed [KTSM report] Leal Garcia an hour after the decision. Texas has already executed two Mexican nationals [JURIST report] who were denied consular access.




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Mubarak trial resumes, live TV broadcasts to end
Maureen Cosgrove on August 15, 2011 9:07 AM ET

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[JURIST] The corruption and murder trial of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile; JURIST news archive] resumed on Monday. Mubarak is on trial for murder, attempted killing of protesters and other charges related to general abuse of power [Al Jazeera report] stemming from his response to pro-democracy demonstrations in Egypt [JURIST news archive] earlier this year. Presiding Judge Ahmed Rifaat decided to end live TV broadcasts [AP report] of subsequent proceedings amid protests from the families of victims and praise from several courtroom lawyers who opposed the broadcasts. Mubarak's sons Gamal and Alaa, who are also on trial for corruption charges, were present [AP report] in the defendants' cage on Monday. Rifaat ultimately adjourned the trial until September 5 when other officials are scheduled to face charges related to killing protestors.

Mubarak's trial began on August 3 [JURIST report] with Mubarak and his sons pleading not guilty to all charges. Officials chose a new location for Mubarak's trial for security reasons after reporting [JURIST reports] that the trial would take place at a convention center in downtown Cairo. The announcement came amid speculation [Reuters report] that the trial would take place at a Red Sea resort because of Mubarak's alleged poor health. Many Egyptians contend that Mubarak is not ill and that members of the government have claimed the ex-president is sick in an effort to avoid a swift, public trial. In July, an Egyptian criminal court postponed the trial [JURIST report] of former interior minister Habib el-Adly, who also faces murder charges in relation to the pro-democracy demonstrations, so it would coincide with Mubarak's trial. In March, a commission of Arab and Egyptian human rights groups accused Mubarak [JURIST report] and the police of murdering protesters during the demonstrations in Egypt. Mubarak could face the death penalty [JURIST report] if convicted of ordering attacks on protesters. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] reported that at least 840 people were killed [JURIST report] and more than 6,000 injured during the Egyptian protests.




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Environmental groups file emergency injunction to halt wolf hunts
Alexandra Malatesta on August 14, 2011 1:27 PM ET

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[JURIST] Three environmental groups on Saturday filed an emergency motion [text, PDF] with the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] requesting that the court halt wolf hunts scheduled to begin in a few weeks in Idaho and Montana. The request calls for a cessation of the upcoming hunting season until the groups' appeal of a federal court decision is determined. Environmentalists believe that the wolf hunts should be prohibited until the population reaches between 2,000 to 5,000 wolves [AP report]. The motion states:
[B]eginning within the next 21 days, hundreds of Gray Wolves that should be protected as endangered species are about to be hunted and killed. Appellants' interests in protecting both individual Gray Wolves in Idaho and Montana and the Gray Wolf population in the Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf Distinct Population Segment outside of Wyoming are about to be irreparably injured.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies (AWR), Friends of the Clearwater and WildEarth Guardians [advocacy websites] are seeking to reverse the judgment handed down by the lower court, which ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that Congress did not violate the Constitution when it effectively overturned the court's previous ruling striking down a 2009 delisting rule issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service [official website]. The rule removed [federal registrar, PDF] the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf [Yellowstone Insider backgrounder] from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) [materials] protection list in all areas outside of Wyoming. The Ninth Circuit was notified [JURIST report] last week that the groups were planning on challenging the lower court's ruling.

The wolves were removed from the shelter of the ESA after a controversial Interior Department memo was published that several animals should be taken off the list despite their numbers not being at a sustainable level. The delisting order leaves the wolves under the purview of the Montana and Idaho state governments. Montana began selling wolf hunting licenses [state hunting regulations, PDF] on the same day as Molloy's ruling. There is no limit on the number of licenses sold, but the hunting season will be closed in hunting districts around the state as regional quotas are reached. Montana hunters will be able to shoot as many as 220 gray wolves in Montana in a hunt scheduled to begin in early September, first with an archery season and then later with a rifle season. The state expects that the hunt will reduce the predator's Montana population by about 25 percent to a minimum 425 wolves. Environmentalists say they believe the population will be reduced further than that.




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Brazil judge known for jailing corrupt officials, killed
Alexandra Malatesta on August 14, 2011 12:54 PM ET

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[JURIST] Brazilian Judge Patricia Acioli, known for taking a hard-line against corrupt officials and militia death squads, was shot and killed on Thursday outside of her home by two masked men on motorbikes. Investigators revealed that at least twelve people are suspected [O Globo report, in Portuguese] of being involved in the attack, where at least sixteen bullets were fired into the judge's car. After receiving numerous death threats, Acioli had requested but failed to receive police protection [O Globo report, in Portuguese]. Chief Justice Cezar Peluso [official profile] of the country's high court condemned the execution [press release, in Portuguese] and asked for urgent intervention by the Federal Police:
On behalf of the Supreme Court, the National Council of Justice and the Judiciary, [I] repudiate the brutal murder of Judge Patricia Lourival Acioli. Cowardly crimes against. . . magistrates are attacks on judicial independence, rule of law and democracy in Brazil. The preservation of the rule of law in our country requires the rapid determination of the facts and strict punishment of those responsible for this act of barbarism. Judge [Patricia Lourival Acioli] leaves a lesson in professionalism, technical competence and dedication to the [true cause]. This... [should] be of comfort to [her] family, whom do I forward my sympathy and sincere condolences.
Judge Acioli is one of three judges executed [O Globo report, in Portuguese] in Brazil in the past eight years for their investigations into organized crime.

Judges have also been victims of violent attacks in other countries. In June of 2010, three judges were killed in a Chinese courthouse [JURIST report] by a man allegedly upset over the division of marital assets. In April of 2010, a Moscow City Court judge known for presiding over cases involving neo-Nazi groups was killed while leaving his apartment [JURIST report]. The murder of Judge Eduard Chuvashov was suspected to be a contract killing in light of the death threats he faced after presiding over the trials of members of neo-Nazi gangs. In November of 2009, a Somali judge known for jailing suspected pirates, human traffickers, and Islamist insurgents was shot dead while leaving a mosque [JURIST report] in the Puntland city of Bossaso. Judge Mohamed Abdi Aware of the Puntland high court and the Puntland Supreme Judicial Council, had recently jailed four members of the al-Shabaab Islamist group and had sentenced 12 suspected pirates to terms ranging from three to eight years.




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Trial of former Egypt interior minister adjourned as defense counsel silenced
Daniel Richey on August 14, 2011 12:18 PM ET

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[JURIST] An Egyptian criminal court on Sunday adjourned the trial of former interior minister Habib el-Adly. Judge Ahmed Rifaat ordered four recesses in the first three hours of the morning's proceedings in response to conduct by defense counsel that he believed was disruptive and disorganized. Defense counsel was never able to present its case in the course of the session. The trial is set to resume September 5. El-Adly and Egypt's former president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile; JURIST news archive] face charges of killing pro-democracy protesters during the demonstrations in Egypt [JURIST news archive] earlier this year. Six of el-Adly's former assistants are also charged with murdering demonstrators [CNN report]. Mubarak's trial began on August 3 [JURIST report] at the Cairo Criminal Court, but was adjourned until August 15 to allow Mubarak to continue treatment for cancer.

El-Adly's trial resumed on August 3 after being delayed late last month [JURIST report]. El-Adly, who was already serving a 12-year prison sentence, was sentenced to five years [JURIST report] in July on corruption charges. Former finance minister Yousef Boutros and former prime minister Ahmed Nazif, along with el-Adly, were ordered to return USD $15 million for a no-bid contract, while Boutros and el-Adly were also fined nearly USD $17 million. In March, a commission of Arab and Egyptian human rights groups accused Mubarak [JURIST report] and the police of murdering protesters during the demonstrations in Egypt. Mubarak could face the death penalty [JURIST report] if convicted of ordering attacks on protesters, and el-Adly's testimony could help prove Mubarak was an accomplice to the killings. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] 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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Mexico human rights body alleges regular police misconduct
Daniel Makosky on August 13, 2011 4:47 PM ET

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[JURIST] Mexico's National Human Rights Commission [official website, in Spanish] on Friday released a report [text, PDF, in Spanish] contending that military and law enforcement officials routinely conduct illegal searches in their efforts to combat the country's narcotics trade. The report describes a "systematic pattern" of coercive, threatening and physically abusive behavior, often accompanied by property damage, theft and evidence tampering. Documented complaints of human rights violations allegedly committed by authorities rose from 234 in 2006 to 964 in 2008, the same year a law was enacted easing requirements for search warrants. Per the report's projections, such complaints are expected to surpass 1,000 by the close of this year.

Following the April resignation [JURIST report] of former Mexican Attorney General Arturo Chavez, the Attorney General's Office (PGR) [official website] last month charged [JURIST report] 111 officials who served under Chavez with various corruption-related offenses, including falsifying documents, interfering with the administration of justice, abuse of power, perjury and bribery. Additionally, 140 police officers were fired and it was disclosed that 280 more are under investigation. Mexico has struggled to combat the drug cartels' influence on the government and the country as a whole. There have been more than 27,000 drug-related deaths [STRATFOR report] since 2006, and the violence has steadily escalated over the past few years. In April 2009, Mexico's Senate passed a constitutional amendment [JURIST report] permitting the seizure of suspected drug traffickers' property prior to their conviction. In 2008, a former assistant attorney general was arrested for receiving bribes, and Mexico's prosecutor's office admitted that it had been infiltrated [JURIST reports] by the drug cartels.




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China begins trial against human rights activist
Daniel Makosky on August 13, 2011 3:26 PM ET

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[JURIST] Chinese authorities in Beijing on Friday began the trial against Wang Lihong, one of the dozens of human rights activists the government detained earlier this year as part of a crackdown on dissidents in the country. Wang is charged with one count of creating a disturbance [AFP report] for allegedly utilizing the Internet to attempt organizing anti-government demonstrations during the recent period of similar unrest in Middle Eastern and African countries. Her supporters contend that the offense of "creating a disturbance" is purposefully ambiguous, and that it is frequently levied against vocal government opponents. Wang was arrested in April, shortly before the anniversary of the peaceful Tiananmen Square [BBC backgrounder] protests of June 1989. In the months prior to the occasion, the government arrested at least 48 individuals in what rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) [advocacy website] described [press release] as the "most severe repression of dissent and activism since the post-Tiananmen crackdown." A contingent of several international diplomats, including representatives from the United States and European Union, sought to attend the proceedings but were denied entry. If convicted, Wang faces a maximum of five years incarceration.

China's human rights record has been widely criticized. The US Department of State [official website] in June urged [JURIST report] the Chinese government to release protesters arrested for their Tiananmen Square involvement and account for those missing or killed during the suppression. The State Department also urged China to protect universal human rights afforded to peaceful dissenters, and to release those that had been detained or placed under house arrest in the months prior. In May, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention [official website] called for the immediate release of Chinese rights activist and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Liu, awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize in absentia, is currently serving an 11-year prison term [JURIST reports] after being convicted on charges of subversion in a trial that lasted only two hours and was closed to foreign diplomats. China has also been criticized for jailing human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng [advocacy website; JURIST news archive]. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on the Chinese government [JURIST report] in March to free Gao, claiming his detention violates international law.




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Federal appeals court upholds Merrill Lynch executive conviction in Enron affair
Daniel Richey on August 13, 2011 2:39 PM ET

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[JURIST] A federal appeals court on Friday upheld [opinion, PDF] the conviction of ex-Merrill Lynch [corporate website] executive James Brown stemming from his role in the Enron fraud scandal [JUIRST news archive]. Brown was indicted on five counts in 2003 stemming from a 1999 transaction in which Merrill took a $28 million equity interest in a facility of barge-mounted power generators on the Nigerian coast along with Enron. The transaction, in which Merrill paid Enron $7 million and loaned $21 million more was ultimately exposed as a "sham sale" designed only to "allow Enron to artificially enhance its fourth-quarter earnings to meet forecasts." Brown served as the director in charge of Merrill's Strategic Asset and Lease Finance group at the time. With three of the charges dropped [JURIST report], Brown was convicted [JURIST report], along with three other former Merrill executives, in 2004 on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Brown challenged his convictions on the grounds that the government violated his right to due process by "withholding materially favorable evidence that it possessed pre-trial," specifically a set of FBI notes from an interview of Enron CFO Andrew Fastow, Senate investigators' notes from an interview with Enron Treasurer Jeff McMahon and transcripts of testimony delivered by Merrill Lynch Chief Counsel Katherine Zrike delivered to a grand jury and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website]. The court held that the evidence in question was not material and thus, under Brady v. Maryland [opinion], insufficient to overturn Brown's conviction:
Brown points to the divided panel in Brown I to argue that the case against him was relatively weak. It is true that the panel was divided on Brown's guilt, but that division was over whether a legally unenforceable oral promise could establish Brown's guilt, not whether there was an oral promise at all [as documented in the undisclosed FBI evidence]. . . . The alleged Brady evidence in this appeal only addresses the latter issue . . . It thus does not call the majority's holding in Brown I into question, and we have no authority to relitigate the issue that divided the panel. In short, the district court did not commit reversible error in holding that the Brady items, taken together, did not create a reasonable probability of a different outcome.
The Fifth Circuit overturned fraud and conspiracy convictions [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] against Brown in 2006 "on the legal ground that the government's theory of fraud relating to the deprivation of honest services — one of three theories of fraud charged in the Indictment — is flawed." Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling [JURIST news archive] was also absolved of fraud charges when the Supreme Court's interpreted the "honest service" doctrine [18 USC § 1346] narrowly in Skilling v. United States [Cornell II backgrounder; JURIST report]. Although the Court's ruling [text, PDF] did not overturn the rule as unconstitutionally vague, it limited its application only to instances of bribery and kickbacks.



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Wyoming federal court strikes down Obama alterations to Energy Policy Act
Daniel Richey on August 13, 2011 1:31 PM ET

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[JURIST] A federal judge for the US District Court for the District of Wyoming [official website] on Friday struck down a set of administrative rules advanced by the Obama administration last year that placed stricter limits on environmental impact requirements of oil and gas drilling operations. Judge Nancy Freudenthal ruled that administrative memos restricting categorical exemptions [US DOT backgrounder] to environmental impact restrictions under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 [text, PDF] represented an undue burden on energy companies by delaying drilling operations and adding to their cost. The Western Energy Alliance (WEA) [advocacy website] filed suit [complaint, PDF] against the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) [official website], the National Forest Service (NFS) [official website] and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar [official biography] last October. The government argued unsuccessfully that the harms complained of were merely speculative, and Judge Freudenthal agreed with WEA's arguments that the rules were promulgated in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act [materials] and inconsistent with the plain language mandate of the 2005 Act.

The BLM issued an administrative memorandum [text] in March 2010 restricting the scope of those exceptions, allowing exceptions under § 390 of the 2005 Act only where a site or operation is within close physical proximity to a previous one, where a site is subject to a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) [materials]-sanctioned land plan, and where the operator completes additional reporting requirements. The NFS followed suit with its own memo [text, PDF] to the same effect in June. The ruling removes the 2010 restrictions, reinstating the Bush administration-era regime of expedited oil and gas drilling provisions under which provides categorical exceptions for all oil and gas drilling operations on federal land where a minimal degree of environmental disturbance is expected or where wells are subsequently tapped after an impact survey was performed at the first drilling.




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Eleventh Circuit rules individual health care mandate unconstitutional
Julia Zebley on August 12, 2011 2:31 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 2-1 Friday that the individual mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) [HR 3590; JURIST news archive] is unconstitutional. Although the decision [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida [official website] rejected the entirety of the law, the Eleventh Circuit judges upheld the law without the mandate. The opinion stated that Congress had exceeded its authority under the Commerce Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder], calling it a "wholly novel and potentially unbounded assertion of congressional authority." They also agreed with the defendants that the Tenth Amendment [text] powers reserved to the states were usurped by Congress: "Congress cannot directly compel a state to act, nor can Congress hinge the state's right to regulate in an area that the state has a constitutional right to regulate on the state's participation in a federal program. Either act is clearly unconstitutionally coercive." The dissent, by Judge Stanley Marcus, disagreed:
Setting aside the lack of any precedent on point, a Tenth Amendment challenge to the individual mandate fails for an additional, and critical, reason: when a federal law is properly within Congress' delegated power to enact, the Tenth Amendment poses no limit on the exercise of that power. Since the individual mandate falls within Congress' commerce power, its enactment is a proper exercise of a power "delegated to the United States by the Constitution." The Tenth Amendment, therefore, has no individual role to play. In short, the plaintiffs' individual liberty claims find little support in the Constitution—whether pegged to the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause or the Tenth Amendment's reservation of power to the people. At bottom, Congress rationally concluded that the uninsured's consumption of health care services, in the aggregate, shifts enormous costs on to others and thus substantially affects interstate commerce.
A spokesperson for President Barack Obama said [press release] the administration "strongly disagree[s] with this decision and we are confident it will not stand." Also on Friday, the Ohio Supreme Court [official website] ruled that Ohioans are entitled to a petition-driven ballot initiative that could potentially block the PPACA in the state [Toledo Blade report].

Oral arguments [JURIST report] in the Eleventh Circuit's review of the PPACA were heard in June. Former solicitor general Paul Clement, representing Florida and 26 other states backing the lawsuit, argued that Congress has never before used the Commerce Clause power to force citizens to purchase something. The Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] argued that the choice not to purchase insurance affects everyone. Also in June, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] found the individual mandate provision constitutional [JURIST report]. The court determined that the penalty is not a tax for purposes of the Internal Revenue Code [text] and went on to state that the health care market "is large and is inextricably linked to interstate commerce" and that those who choose to not purchase health insurance substantially affect interstate commerce through cost-shifting that drives up insurance premiums. As a result, the Court determined that Congress did not violate the Commerce Clause, finding it had a rational basis for the individual mandate because "the provision regulates active participation in the health care market, and in any case, the Constitution imposes no categorical bar on regulating inactivity." The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] heard arguments [JURIST report] over PPACA in May but has not yet issued a ruling.




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Arizona appeals court lifts injunction on 2009 abortion law
Julia Zebley on August 12, 2011 1:42 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Arizona Court of Appeals [official website] on Thursday ended a two-year injunction [ruling, PDF] on portions of a law [HB 2564 text, PDF] that restricted abortion [JURIST news archive] practices. The original injunction by the Maricopa County Superior Court [official website] held the following provisions as "undue burdens" on a woman's right to an abortion: prohibitions on anyone but a licensed physician performing an abortion; a requirement that women meet with the doctor personally 24 hours before an abortion (the injunction held that a phone call would suffice); that medical professionals have a right to refuse to perform even medically necessary abortions, provide certain contraceptives or the "morning after" pill; and a mandate that parents' consent forms allowing their child to get an abortion be notarized. The appeals court reinstated all of these stipulations, suggesting that the lower judge had applied "strict scrutiny" in error rather than an "undue burden" test.
To be sure, the drafters of the Arizona Constitution deliberately created an individual right of privacy that is not expressly set forth in the federal Bill of Rights. But the specific and limited regulations here, substantial equivalent of which have already been held not to offend the penumbral right of privacy that gave rise to federal abortion rights, do not implicate fundamental rights that are in any way unique to Arizona, its history or the intent of the framers of its Constitution. The fundamental rule of judicial restraint is to avoid constitutional questions unless "absolutely necessary" to decide the case. Therefore, because Arizona’s citizens may "assert the right to choose as defined and articulated by the United States Supreme Court," we too "reach no conclusion about whether the Arizona Constitution provides a right of choice."
Planned Parenthood of Arizona [advocacy website], a party to the original suit, said the law's enactment will have a severe impact [Arizona Daily Star report] on women in the state, many of whom have to take day-trips to have abortions. It is unknown if they will appeal.

Earlier this year, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer [official website] signed into law a bill outlawing abortions performed based on the sex or race of the fetus [JURIST report]. Representative Steve Montenegro sponsored HB 2442 and HB 2443 [legislative materials], which separately outlaw abortions based on the child's sex or race. Under the new abortion law, a physician or health professional who does not report known or suspected violations will face felony charges and civil fines and may be liable for damages. In May, a judge for the US District Court for the District of South Dakota [official website] issued a preliminary injunction [order, PDF] blocking a South Dakota abortion regulation [HB 1217] requiring a 72-hour waiting period [JURIST report].




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Dutch court sentences 5 Somali pirates
Julia Zebley on August 12, 2011 12:30 PM ET

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[JURIST] The District Court of Rotterdam [official website, in Dutch] sentenced [press release, DOC] five Somali men on Friday to prison terms ranging from four to seven years for acts of maritime piracy [JURIST news archive]. All five of the sentenced pirates were discovered in a navy supply ship off the coast of Somalia earlier this year, and while all five were convicted of piracy, two were also convicted of hijacking. Judge Jacco Janssen rejected the suspects' arguments that the poverty and famine in Somalia is a justification for piracy. The ruling also denounced piracy as an attack on the global economy:
In its judgement the court has noted that pirates often use extreme violence, leading to tremendous suffering among the crew members whom they take hostage in order to collect ransom moneys. The court has emphasized that piracy in the Gulf of Aden has turned into a significant threat for all ships that frequent that region. The free and unfettered transport of cargo, resources and fuels can no longer be guaranteed. Global economic consequences can no longer be ruled out.
Two of the accused were proven to be involved in an attack on a South African yacht, the Choizil. In the attack, several pirates got away with two hostages, Bruno Pelizzari and Debbie Calitz, who are still being held for USD $10 million ransom. Reportedly, the two pirates involved in the attack on the Choizil, utilized automatic weapons and a rocket launcher [AFP report].

Last month, three accused Somali pirates pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to hijacking a US vessel that resulted in the deaths of four US citizens. In March, a grand jury in the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia indicted 14 suspects, 13 Somali and one Yemeni, for hijacking the Quest. The Yemeni suspect pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in July and awaits sentencing scheduled for October. Several other suspects pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in May. Earlier this month, five Somali pirates went on trial [JURIST report] in a Dutch court for hijacking a South African yacht and kidnapping its crew. In April, a Somali pirate was sentenced [JURIST report] by the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] to 25 years in prison for attacking a Danish ship off the coast of Somalia in 2008, for which he and other pirates received a $1.7 million ransom. In May, courts in both Spain and South Korea [JURIST reports] sentenced Somali pirates to life imprisonment.




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Tunisia ex-president's relatives sentenced, security chief acquitted
Julia Zebley on August 12, 2011 11:38 AM ET

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[JURIST] Relatives of former Tunisian president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] were sentenced [TAP News Agency report] on Friday, while one notable ally, his security chief Ali al-Seriati, was acquitted on charges of forgery. All were sentenced on varying charges related to aiding Ben Ali and his wife Leila's escape from the nation in January. Seriati still awaits hearings on charges that he "sowed strife" after the recent uprisings across the Middle East. Prison terms for the convicted ranged between four months and six years. The convicted plan to appeal. Last month, Ben Ali and his wife were sentenced to an additional 15 years in prison [JURIST report] by the Tunisian Court of Criminal Appeal after being found guilty in absentia on charges of illegal possession of drugs, weapons and stolen archaeological artifacts [La Presse de Tunis report, in French]. That followed the previous month's verdict [JURIST report] by the Tunisian Court of First Instance against the pair on charges of theft and unlawful possession of money and jewelry.

Ben Ali fled Tunisia to Saudi Arabia in January during protests against his 23-year autocratic rule in which his family amassed substantial wealth [Reuters report] that many Tunisians say was at their expense. But Ben Ali said that he was "duped" into leaving [AFP report] the capital Tunis, according to a statement released through his lawyer. He said that he was trying to get his family out of the country after assassination threats and that the plane left him in Saudi Arabia despite orders to wait for him. Ben Ali has denied the charges against him [JURIST report] which stem mostly from allegations that he authorized the use of force against protesters during the Tunisian revolution, resulting in more than 200 deaths. Justice Minister Lazhar Karoui Chebbi [profile, in French] announced the issuance of an arrest warrant for Ben Ali in January, though the country has not received a response to its request to extradite [JURIST reports] the former leader from Saudi Arabia, where he remains in exile. Chebbi announced that Ben Ali had been charged with 18 offenses [JURIST report] in April.




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Lebanon tribunal urges suspects to turn themselves in
Julia Zebley on August 12, 2011 10:26 AM ET

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[JURIST] The president of the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) [official website] made a public plea [press release] on Thursday for the four men wanted for killing former prime minister Rafik Hariri [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to turn themselves in. Judge Antonio Cassese guaranteed a fair trial and adequate representation and pressed Lebanese citizens to allow the STL to hold the assassins accountable. Cassese also guaranteed that the STL will find a way to carry out its missions even if no one complies with its orders.
Let me also remind all those allegedly involved in those terrorist crimes in Lebanon that nothing, I repeat, nothing will deflect or prevent the Tribunal from fulfilling its mission. The lofty ideals on which the Tribunal is grounded (accountability, dispensation of justice to contribute to long-term peace and reconciliation, safeguarding the rights of the victims) are solidly ingrained in our Statute and our Rules and jealously protected by the Judges. They cannot be set aside by a stroke of the pen, by mere rhetoric or even by violence. The march to justice is inexorable, and one way or another we will end up with a trial. I therefore strongly appeal to the accused to take advantage of the broad legal possibilities offered by our Rules of Procedure and Evidence, thereby contributing to the establishment of truth and the conduct of fair proceedings.
Arrest warrants were issued [JURIST report] in June for Mustafa Badreddine, Salim al-Ayyash, Hasan Aineysseh and Asad Sabra, who are alleged members [Lebanon Daily Star report] of Hezbollah [CFR backgrounder]. Lebanese authorities reported back earlier this week that they have not detained the suspects [JURIST report].

In February, the appeals chamber of the STL issued a unanimous ruling [summary, PDF] on several procedural issues, including the definition of terrorism [JURIST report], in judicial proceedings. The STL began debate on the issue [JURIST report] to determine which laws to apply in the case against persons accused of involvement in the February 2005 truck bomb that killed Hariri and 22 other people. Using the Article 314 of the Lebanese Criminal Code [text, PDF], the court held that a conviction on the charge of terrorism requires proof of an act intended to spread terror and use of a means "liable to create a public danger," that the only requirement is that "the means used to carry out the terrorist attack be liable to create a common danger" and that the trial judges should be given latitude in determining whether the requirement was met after having considered the facts presented in the case. Last August, Hezbollah submitted evidence to the STL [JURIST report] linking Israel with the bombing. The STL asked for the evidence [JURIST report] a week earlier after Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah [BBC profile] claimed to have proof that Israel was behind the bombing. The STL was established in 2005 at the request of the Lebanese government to try those alleged to be connected to the bombing in which Hariri was killed by explosions detonated near his motorcade in Beirut.




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Ukraine appeals court refuses to release ex-PM Tymoshenko
Julia Zebley on August 12, 2011 9:54 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Kiev Appeals Court on Friday refused [press release] the appeal by former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; JURIST news archive] of her detention for contempt charges [JURIST report]. The judge stated Tymoshenko had no legal grounds to contest her recent arrest. Tymoshenko plans on appealing [press release] to both the Ukraine Supreme Court [official website, in Ukrainian] and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website]. Defense lawyer Yuriy Sukhov stressed the unfairness of recent rulings against Tymoshenko:
There is no justice in Ukraine. This is judicial lawlessness, when a person is arrested and she can't appeal this decision. It's absurd. In its decision the court referred to the fact that we based our appeal on the Constitution and Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which says that national legislation must provide the opportunity to appeal an order of arrest. And even if the laws don't, then the institution of appeal must make a decision based on the Convention. The judges provided no justification for her decision. She said that Ukrainian law does not provide for appeal. She doesn't refer to international law or the Constitution, and just says that national law, meaning the Criminal Procedure Code, doesn't provide for appeal. It's absurd.
Tymoshenko's trial will continue on Monday.

Last week, Ukrainian Judge Rodion Kireyev rejected a request [JURIST report] from Tymoshenko to release her from prison. Kireyev again refused to recuse himself the week before, and Tymoshenko announced that she was allowed to call only two of her proposed witnesses [press releases]. In July, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) [official website, in Ukrainian] announced that they are launching a criminal investigation [JURIST report] into United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UESU), an energy company at one time headed by Tymoshenko. Last month, Tymoshenko filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the ECHR alleging violations of the European Convention of Human Rights [text, PDF]. The complaint argued that the charges against Tymoshenko are politically engineered by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych [official website, in Ukrainian], Tymoshenko's political rival. ECHR President Jean Paul Costa refused to comment on the complaint [Korrespondent report, in Russian], but said the matter was before the court. 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 Yanukovych. Tymoshenko had alleged that widespread voter fraud allowed Yanukovych to win the election.




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Convicted Nazi unlikely to serve sentence due to ill health
Julia Zebley on August 12, 2011 8:58 AM ET

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[JURIST] Convicted Nazi commander Josef Scheungraber, 93, will likely not serve his life sentence [JURIST report] due to mental health issues [Sueddeutsche Zeitung report, in German]. Scheungraber has consistently claimed innocence, and his lawyer, Gunter Widmaier, has been appealing his conviction since 2009. It was only recently that claims of mental inability to grasp the penal system surfaced, with the prosecutor ordering an independent medical review, which has convinced many in the office that Scheungraber is unfit to serve his sentence in Germany. Scheungraber is reportedly suffering from calcification of the brain, and his health will deteriorate drastically in prison. Italian judicial counterparts, who also sentenced him to life in prison, have not weighed in on the case. Scheungraber was sentenced to life in prison for the 1944 reprisal killing of 10 Italian civilians. Scheungraber was convicted of 10 counts of murder and one count of attempted murder for ordering soldiers to blow up a barn in Falzano di Cortona, Tuscany [memorial website, in Italian] after forcing 11 civilians inside.

Despite the ages of the accused, prosecutions of Nazis continue around the world. Earlier this month, both the prosecution and the defense in the case of alleged Nazi Sandor Kepiro have announced they will be appealing a Hungarian court's decision to acquit [JURIST reports]. Kepiro was acquitted of participating in the 1942 Novi Sad massacre in Serbia. In May, 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. An appeal [JURIST report] of his release 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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New York court declines to force probe of Guantanamo prison psychologist
Dan Taglioli on August 12, 2011 8:56 AM ET

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[JURIST] A New York judge on Thursday dismissed a suit seeking to force an investigation of New York-licensed Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] psychologist Dr. John Leso for his development of interrogation techniques. The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) [advocacy websites] sued [JURIST report] the New York State Department of Education Office of Professional Discipline (OPD) [official website] last year to force a professional misconduct investigation. The OPD filed a motion to dismiss [motion, PDF] the case for lack of standing:
Petitioner's only claimed injury is that the OPD refused to investigate Dr. Leso based on [a previously filed] complaint. This is patently insufficient to constitute an "injury in fact," as petitioner fails to allege that he suffered an actual harm, much less one "different in kind or degree from that suffered by the public at large." ... Petitioner nowhere alleges that the OPD's decision personally impacted him or his practice.
Manhattan Civil Court Judge Saliann Scarpulla agreed, ruling the case does not meet state legal requirements for standing in challenging state government actions.

The lawsuit stemmed from the CJA's previously filed licensing complaint [text, PDF] against Leso. The OPD denied jurisdiction [ruling, PDF] over the complaint on the grounds that Leso's conduct was not consistent with the practice of psychology as defined under New York law, and therefore was not governed by New York rules of professional ethics. The complaint has been one of many condemnations of Guantanamo Bay medical professionals. One year before this complaint was filed, the International Committee of the Red Cross [official website] reported that medical professionals violated codes of medical ethics [JURIST report] by participating in and assisting in ill-treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees.




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Egypt moves to end state of emergency
Julia Zebley on August 11, 2011 3:14 PM ET

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[JURIST] Egypt's interim government, the Cabinet of Ministers [official website] decided at Thursday's meeting [meeting notes, in Arabic] to begin measures to end Egypt's state of emergency [JURIST news archives] that has been in effect for nearly 30 years. The Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [NYT backgrounder] announced in March that it would lift the state of emergency, but until now, nothing else had been discussed on the matter. Due to what many perceive as the government's inactivity, if not abuse of power, protests have continued. The government commented on this in a separate statement [text, in Arabic]:
The Council of Ministers, since recording its appreciation [of the revolution's martyrs], have achieved on the ground security, stability and the return of discipline to the Egyptian streets after the success of the Council of Ministers to persuade the powers of different national protest groups to end the sit-in Tahrir Square, which lasted for long days since the 8th of July, but emphasized the importance of upholding national unity and rallying together to achieve the economic and democratic development to achieve the goals of the glorious revolution. The Council of Ministers see that the time has come to leave all Egyptians to work freely in order to compensate for the lost country of production and rise to the aspirations of the people in the levels of quality of life.
The government also alleged that they have not utilized any of the powers [Reuters report] granted by the state of emergency.

Protests continue in Egypt as many believe the interim government is not progressing toward change quickly enough. In April, an Egyptian military court convicted blogger Maikel Nabil [JURIST report] and sentenced him to three years in prison for criticizing the army and raising questions over reform in the wake of revolution. He posted an article on his blog [text, in Arabic] on March 7 saying the army had beaten, tortured and killed protesters, including some who were cooperating with security forces. He was then sentenced without a formal hearing and without his lawyers present. In March, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces unveiled an interim constitution that allows the council to retain control over the country until an elected government is installed. The document vests the military council with presidential powers [Al-Ahram report], including the abilities to introduce legislation, veto existing laws and act as Egypt's representative to the international community.




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Alabama AG asks state high court to weigh in on immigration law
Julia Zebley on August 11, 2011 2:01 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Alabama Attorney General's Office [official website] on Wednesday requested that a certified question be answered by the Alabama Supreme Court [official website] before the legal battle over the state's controversial immigration law [HB 56 text] commences in the US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama [official website]. The plaintiffs filed a motion with District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn asking to certify to the state court what the provisions of HB 56 that void contracts with undocumented aliens and make transporting them a crime mean in light of the Alabama's Constitution's religious freedom amendment [text]. The Methodist, Episcopalian and Roman Catholic churches joined the US government in fighting the law [JURIST report] previously, arguing that the law criminalizes their missions as church leaders to provide mercy without having to verify immigration documentation. The Alabama attorney general is hoping the state court's answer will moot the litigation [Prattville Progress report].

Alabama lawmakers earlier this week filed a response [JURIST report] to groups seeking a preliminary injunction against the controversial immigration law. Attorneys for Alabama state officials, including Governor Robert Bentley [official website], argue that the state law is not preempted by federal immigration law and that the text reflects a "spirit of cooperation with the federal government." Lawsuits filed by the US Department of Justice [JURIST report], the Methodist, Episcopalian and Roman Catholic churches and three dozen plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and National Immigration Law Center (NILC) [advocacy websites], were consolidated last week. The Alabama immigration legislation, which was signed into law [JURIST report] by Governor Bentley in June, is one of the most rigid immigration reform laws passed recently. In addition to authorizing detention of individuals on reasonable suspicion they are illegal immigrants, the law provides harsh restrictions on employment for illegal immigrants. Businesses cited multiple times for hiring undocumented workers could lose their business licenses. Furthermore, undocumented immigrants are prohibited from applying for a job, and anyone transporting or harboring undocumented immigrants will be punished by a fine or jail time. Sixteen countries filed briefs [JURIST report] in the Alabama district court against the controversial Alabama immigration law last week, arguing that the recently enacted law unfairly treats citizens [Montgomery Advertiser report] of those countries currently residing in Alabama and sanctions discriminatory treatment based on ethnicity.




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Ivory Coast president's forces continuing extrajudicial killings: UN
Julia Zebley on August 11, 2011 1:12 PM ET

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[JURIST] A representative for the UN Mission in the Ivory Coast (MINUCI) [official website] confirmed that forces loyal to President Alassane Ouattara [BBC profile; political website, in French] are continuing to kill civilians and opposition members in his name, with 26 killings reported between July 11 and August 10. There were also 85 arbitrary detentions by members of the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast (FRCI) reported. Both the UN and rights groups [JURIST reports] have alleged that Outtara's forces have continued the violence of the post-election civil war [JURIST news archive], even after Ouattara took power. Although Ouattara has insisted that all those responsible for war crimes will be prosecuted [JURIST report], none of his supporters has been charged or arrested. On Wednesday, the son of former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo [BBC profile], Michel Gbagbo, and 12 other Gbagbo allies were charged with committing acts of post-election violence [JURIST report]. With the arrest of his son and the 12 others, all Gbagbo's political allies have been charged except for him and his wife.

Earlier this month, Ouattara set up a commission of inquiry [JURIST report] to investigate crimes and human rights violations that took place during the violence following the presidential elections in which former president Gbagbo refused to leave office after losing the election. In April, Gbagbo was captured and forced from office [JURIST report] after refusing to leave despite losing last November's election to Ouattara, which resulted in months of fighting between Ouattara's and Gbagbo's forces. Also that month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] 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 FRCI killed more than 100 civilians, raped at least 20 supporters of Gbagbo and burned at least 10 villages in March. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [official website] also reported the deaths of at least 800 civilians [JURIST report] in the Ivory Coast town of Duekoue as a result of intercommunal violence.




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Rights group calls for justice system reform in DRC
Erin Bock on August 11, 2011 11:43 AM ET

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[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called Wednesday for justice system reform in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) [BBC backgrounder]. The report [text, PDF] states that the justice system has allowed the Congolese army and other armed groups to engage in a "cycle of violence and human rights violations for decades," alleging that the groups have engaged in torture, sexual violence and murder against citizens and that very few perpetrators have been brought to justice. AI called upon the DRC to prosecute all suspects under "international fair trial standards." AI cited to a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] issued by the UN last year, which documented the most serious violations of human rights, including violence against children, genocide and mass rape, committed in the DRC between 1993 and 2003. In response to the UN report, the DRC government proposed the creation of a special court to handle cases involving such serious rights violations. In addition to this specialized court, the AI report laid out several recommendations to further assist in strengthening the country's justice system. These recommendations include holding an international conference to develop a reform strategy, increasing the justice system budget, developing a legal aid program, abolishing the death penalty, providing greater protection to victims and witnesses, and adopting and enacting the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court [text]. The AI also called on the UN, EU and other donors to provide financial and technical support to the DRC to ensure successful reform. AI said that the issue of reform must be a priority [statement] in the wake of the upcoming DRC presidential and legislative elections:
In the run up to Presidential and Legislative elections in DRC due to take place in November 2011, bringing perpetrators of crimes under international law to justice and ensuring reparations for victims must not just be an electoral priority; it must be translated into concrete measures...The neglected victims of these terrible crimes need justice - they must be able to contribute to the reform process in a meaningful way and have their voices heard by the government.
The report also points to poor conditions in the country's prison system. AI visited two local prisons and found that they were filled beyond capacity. The report calls for reform to prison conditions and also greater protections against escape.

Last month, the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO) in conjunction with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official websites] released a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] accusing soldiers in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) of committing mass rape. The report is the first to officially provide evidence that national forces perpetrated mass rape, as opposed to reports of opposition forces using it as a weapon [JURIST report]. In May, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and the UN Security Council [official websites] called for continued reforms [JURIST report] in the DRC in order to strengthen the country's rule of law. DRC has been struggling with a number of human rights issues. In June, a military court sentenced four policemen to death [JURIST report] for killing prominent human rights activist Floribert Chebeya last year. In early October, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called for the DRC government [JURIST report] to arrest general Bosco Ntaganda pursuant to an outstanding warrant for war crimes issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. Earlier that same week French authorities arrested a leader [JURIST report] of the FDLR for crimes committed by that group in the DRC. In October, UN peacekeeping forces and the DRC government arrested Mai Mai Cheka [JURIST report] for allegedly leading a rebel group responsible for mass rapes in the country. In December 2009, HRW 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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Class action lawsuit accuses Apple, major publishers of collusion
Maureen Cosgrove on August 11, 2011 11:34 AM ET

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[JURIST] A class action lawsuit [text, PDF] filed Tuesday in the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] alleges that Apple [corporate website] and five major publishers colluded to illegally fix electronic book (e-book) prices. The complaint alleges that Apple and publishing companies, including HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster, conspired to increase e-book prices in an effort to compete with e-books and the economically-priced Kindle [product page] sold by Amazon [corporate website]. Apple's incentive to collude, the complaint contends, was to increase its distribution of digital media using the Kindle as a platform. The complaint alleges that the agreement occurred sometime before January 2010 when a majority of the publishers announced a shift in their pricing models and Apple simultaneously released the iPad. As a result of the unlawful agreement, Amazon was forced to abandon its discount pricing and adhere to a new agency model, thereby causing e-book prices to increase by 30 to 50 percent. The lawsuit claims that the defendants' conduct constitutes violations of federal and state antitrust laws, the Sherman Act, the Cartwright Act and the Unfair Competition Act [texts].

Apple has been battling a number of lawsuits recently. In July, Apple prevailed in a complaint [JURIST report] against HTC [corporate website] when the US International Trade Commission (USITC) [official website] ruled against HTC [JURIST report] for infringement of patents related to cell phones that run the Android operating system (OS). Apple filed a complaint against Samsung [JURIST report] earlier that month in an effort to bar importation of Samsung's smartphones and tablets. Apple claimed Samsung's "Galaxy" line copies its iPhone and iPad technology. The complaint came just a week after Samsung filed a similar complaint [JURIST report] seeking to prevent Apple from importing iPads and iPhones. Samsung claimed that Apple violated five patents also related to smartphones and tablets. In addition, Samsung filed a patent infringement suit [Bloomberg report] against Apple in the High Court in London in June. Finnish telecommunications company Nokia [corporate website] announced in June that it had entered into an agreement [press release; JURIST report] with Apple, settling all patent disputes between the parties and directing Apple to pay royalties to Nokia for the term of the agreement.




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Bali nightclub bombing suspect extradited to Indonesia
Julia Zebley on August 11, 2011 11:05 AM ET

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[JURIST] Pakistan extradited Umar Patek, the confessed bomb maker in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing [BBC backgrounder], to Indonesia on Thursday. Patek will be charged [Jakarta Post report] under the Indonesian criminal code rather than its terrorism laws. Reportedly, he will be charged with premeditated murder under the Emergency Law on Explosives. It is also alleged that Patek is in poor psychological health [Jakarta Globe report]. Patek was the last suspect at-large from the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing, and was captured in Abbottabad, Pakistan earlier this year. It is suspected he associated with Osama Bin Laden [JURIST news archive] while in Pakistan. It was not revealed whether Patek is a member of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) [CFR backgrounder; JURIST news archive], the terrorist organization that conducted the bombing.

JI claimed responsibility in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, which killed 202 people and injured 240 others. They were also implicated in the 2004 bombing of the US embassy in Jakarta and a series of further bombings in Bali during 2005. Last year, the Obama administration was considering bringing charges in a Washington, DC, federal court against Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Riduan Isamuddin [BBC profile], the suspected planner [JURIST report] of the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing. Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, is the former military commander of JI and was allegedly the main link between JI and al Qaeda [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] before his capture in 2003. A decision on how to try him has not been announced, although Indonesian police requested access to Hambali in 2009 [JURIST report]. In 2008, three JI members were executed [JURIST report] following convictions for their involvement in those bombings. Before their executions, the three men had called on Islamic militant groups to carry out retribution attacks, which resulted in stepped-up security in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta and a warning [text] issued by the US embassy in Indonesia.




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Pennsylvania judge sentenced to 28 years in juvenile sentencing scandal
Maureen Cosgrove on August 11, 2011 10:53 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Pennsylvania judge was sentenced Wednesday to 28 years in prison for his participation in a juvenile sentencing scandal [JURIST news archive]. Mark Ciavarella Jr., a former judge in Pennsylvania's Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas [official website], was accused of receiving nearly $1 million in kickbacks for sentencing teenagers to two private juvenile detention facilities in which he had a financial interest. A jury in the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania [official website] reached a split decision [JURIST report] in April in Ciavarella's corruption trial, convicting him of 12 counts, including racketeering, money laundering and conspiracy, and acquitting him of 27 counts, including extortion. In a sentencing memorandum [text, PDF] filed Monday, Ciavarella's attorneys urged the court to be lenient, pointing to, among other factors, the jury acquittals, Ciavarella's lack of criminal history and the original plea offer containing an 87-month sentence. The attorneys also argued that a long sentence would not be appropriate in Ciavarella's case:
Mark can never again be a judge or lawyer. His life as a public office holder is over. A lengthy prison sentence does no more for the public's protection than a shorter sentence, or no sentence at all. The offense for which Ciavarella stands convicted is unique in that as a practical matter the perpetrator must never be involved in public affairs.
The US Probation Office pre-sentence report indicated that Ciavarella was eligible for life in prison [WSJ report] pursuant to federal sentencing guidelines.

Ciavarella's trial began [JURIST report] in early February. In July 2010, Judge Edwin Kosik accepted [JURIST report] a plea agreement [text, PDF] from former Pennsylvania judge Michael Conahan for his involvement in the juvenile sentencing scandal. Conahan now faces a 20-year prison sentence, a fine of up to $250,000 and disbarment. Kosik had previously rejected [JURIST report] joint plea agreements [text, PDF] from Conahan and Ciavarella, finding that plea bargaining to honest services fraud and tax evasion charges demonstrated that the men did not accept responsibility and that the disbarment and 87-month prison sentences were too lenient [JURIST op-ed]. In October 2009, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania [official website] overturned [opinion, PDF] 6,500 juvenile-offender convictions issued by Ciavarella [JURIST report]. Conahan and Ciavarella were indicted in September 2009, following a withdrawal of the guilty pleas they entered [JURIST reports] in February 2009.




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Arizona appeals immigration law ruling to Supreme Court
Maureen Cosgrove on August 11, 2011 9:32 AM ET

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[JURIST] The state of Arizona on Wednesday filed a petition for writ of certiorari [text, PDF] with the US Supreme Court [official website] seeking to overturn a lower court decision enjoining four provisions of Arizona's controversial immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive]. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] upheld [opinion, PDF] an injunction in April before the law ever took effect, and Arizona is now asking the high court to address whether the state law is preempted by federal immigration legislation. The state maintains that the Ninth Circuit incorrectly concluded that the state law was facially preempted and "declined to determine whether there were constitutional applications" of the Arizona immigration legislation. The state and federal laws are compatible, Arizona argues:
The baseline assumptions of our federal system are that States have inherent, plenary police power and that cooperative law enforcement is the norm. States, unlike federal agencies, are not creatures of the federal Congress and do not depend on federal statutes for authorization. It is, moreover, commonplace for state and federal law to prohibit the same conduct, and this Court has repeatedly emphasized that state officials are primarily governed by state law even when they cooperate with federal law enforcement officials. Thus, a conclusion that States are completely foreclosed from enforcing federal law or from enacting state laws that prohibit conduct made unlawful by Congress could be supported only by the clearest of congressional statements. Here, far from foreclosing such cooperative law enforcement efforts, the federal immigration laws expressly contemplate such cooperation and go so far as to compel federal cooperation with state efforts.
Arizona urged the Supreme Court to grant certiorari because the question at issue is of "extraordinary importance," the decision below created a circuit split and the lower court decision is inconsistent with established precedent. The Supreme Court will likely decide whether to hear the case [SCOTUS blog report] when its term opens in October.

In a preview of how it might rule should it decide to hear the case, the Supreme Court in May ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that Arizona's controversial employment related immigration law [materials] is not preempted by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) [text]. Last year, the DOJ sued [JURIST report] the state of Arizona and Governor Jan Brewer [official website] over SB 1070, 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. SB 1070, which criminalizes illegal immigration and requires police officers to question an individual's immigration status if the officer has a "reasonable suspicion" to believe an individual is in the country illegally, was signed into law [JURIST report] in April of last year. The law faces several additional legal challenges including a class-action law suit [JURIST report] filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [official website] on behalf of a number of advocacy groups and several private individuals. A challenge brought by several Tucson police officers claiming the law could not be properly implemented without racially profiling was dismissed [JURIST reports] late last year.




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Vietnam court sentences blogger to 3 years for subversion
Julia Zebley on August 11, 2011 9:30 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Vietnam court sentenced blogger and professor Pham Minh Hoang [blog, in Vietnamese], alias Phan Kien Quoc, to three years in prison Wednesday for anti-government articles, accusing him of "attempted subversion." Hoang reportedly joined the pro-democracy group Viet Tan [political website, in Vietnamese], which is banned in Vietnam as a terrorist organization, and began to write anti-communist articles [Vietnam.net report] on the Internet under his pen name. The government also accused him of teaching his students pro-democracy ideals. Some reports have suggested that Hoang was remorseful and confessed to all charges, but his wife insists he is innocent [BBC report] and was merely exercising his right to free speech when he criticized the government. Viet Tan released a statement [text, in Vietnamese] in support of Hoang later that day.
[The] activities of Pham Minh Hoang were entirely the right thing to do. From signing petitions against China's bauxite mining in the Highlands and participating in seminars on national sovereignty in the South China Sea, to voicing criticism of the regime's mistakes and fighting for democracy, Pham Minh Hoang has the right to the conscience and duty of the people of Vietnam for the country. Even participation in a political party such as the Vietnam Reform Party (Viet Tan), peaceful activities to fight for his views is normal in any society that is truly free and includes democratic and human rights. Only in Vietnam, that did not stop them from conviction. The Communist Party wants to maintain a one-party dictatorship, not democracy and accept any difference any ideas.
Viet Tan is California-based and generally considered a peaceful organization by most of the world. Hoang is a Vietnamese-French citizen after being naturalized in France when he studied there. Some attribute the leniency of his sentence to this factor. European Union (EU) [official website] High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton commented [press release, PDF] on the sentence and called for Hoang's release. Reporters Without Borders [advocacy website] also criticized [press release] the sentence. Hoang will also be on probation for three years after his release. Hoang's family said he plans to appeal.

Vietnam has acquired a troubling record of jailing peaceful opposition forces. Earlier this month, a Vietnamese appeals court upheld the seven-year sentence of prominent rights lawyer and dissident Cu Huy Ha Vu, convicted in April [JURIST report] of carrying out anti-state propaganda. The court dismissed the appeal [AP report] despite Vu's arguments that his advocating for a multi-party system did not mean he was against the Communist party. In January 2010, a Vietnamese court sentenced [JURIST report] writer and democracy activist Pham Thanh Nghien to four years in prison on charges of spreading anti-state propaganda. That same month, a Vietnamese court convicted four democracy activists [JURIST report] of subversion. Following the one-day trial, human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh [JURIST news archive] was sentenced to five years in prison. The four defendants were accused of activities aimed at ending communist rule in Vietnam. Dinh admitted to advocating multi-party democracy in Vietnam and joining the banned Democracy Party. Prior to Dinh's conviction, a Vietnamese court sentenced [JURIST report] pro-democracy dissident Tran Anh Kim in December 2009 to five-and-a-half years in prison for subversion.




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Ivory Coast ex-president's son, 12 others charged with post-election violence
Julia Zebley on August 10, 2011 2:55 PM ET

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[JURIST] The son of former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo [BBC profile], Michel Gbagbo, and 12 other Gbagbo allies were charged Wednesday with committing acts of post-election violence [JURIST news archive]. The 13 men are charged with armed insurrection and undermining the nation. Although Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara [BBC profile; political website, in French] has insisted that all those responsible for war crimes will be prosecuted [JURIST report], none of his supporters has been charged or arrested. However, reports have alleged that violence is still being committed by Ouattara supporters [JURIST report]. With the arrest of his son and the 12 others, all Gbagbo's political allies have been charged except for him and his wife.

Earlier this month, Ouattara set up a commission of inquiry [JURIST report] to investigate crimes and human rights violations that took place during post-election violence. Last month, he granted permission [JURIST report] to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to investigate the violence following the presidential elections in which former president Gbagbo refused to leave office after losing the election. The Ivory Coast has already issued international arrest warrants [JURIST report] for Gbagbo aides, most notably for Charles Ble Goude, the leader of Gbagbo's youth militia, accusing him of inciting ethnic violence and attacks against UN workers. Other members of Gbagbo's government also had warrants issued including government spokesman Ahoua Don Mello, industry minister Phillipe Attey, and the ambassador to Israel Raymond Koudou Kessie. Twenty-one others already in detention were charged for violence and inciting tribalism and xenophobia. In April, Gbagbo was captured and forced from office [JURIST report] after refusing to leave despite losing last November's election to Ouattara, which resulted in months of fighting between Ouattara's and Gbagbo's forces.




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Bangladesh court begins first war crimes trial
Maureen Cosgrove on August 10, 2011 2:16 PM ET

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[JURIST] The International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh (ICTB) [Facebook page] on Wednesday began the country's first trial against a suspect accused of war crimes related to the 1971 War of Independence [Global Security backgrounder]. Delwar Hossain Sayedee, 71, is a senior leader of the Islamist group Jamaat e Islami (JI) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] accused of genocide, killing more than 50 people, torching villages, rape, looting and forcibly converting Hindus to Islam. Shortly after the court opened for trial, the proceedings were adjourned [AFP report] until August 18 by Judge Nizamul Huq, who granted the defendant's request for more time to review documents provided by the prosecution.

Prosecutors filed charges [JURIST report] against Sayedee in July after completing an investigation into crimes allegedly committed 40 years ago. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] praised recent reforms [press release] to the ICTB but urged it to do more to ensure fair trials. In July 2010, the ICTB issued four arrest warrants [JURIST report] for the leaders of JI, including Sayedee, for alleged crimes committed during the Liberation War. The ICTB was established in March 2010 [JURIST report] to try those accused of committing war crimes during the 1971 war, in which Bangladeshi forces succeeded in gaining independence from Pakistan. In March 2008, hundreds of Bangladesh veterans who took part in the war called for war crimes trials [JURIST report] against those Bangladeshis who assisted Pakistani forces in the war during which around three million people were killed, according to government records. Bangladesh has never held trials for war crimes as earlier governments have said that trials would harm national unity.




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UN rights body urged to condemn Syria violence
Julia Zebley on August 10, 2011 2:05 PM ET

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[JURIST] Twenty-seven rights groups called Tuesday for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] to convene a special session on Syria [press release]. The organizations asked the council to end its silence on Syria, especially in light of the ongoing recent killings [Huffington Post report] since the start of Ramadan. The letter demands that the council convene an emergency session, strongly condemn Syria, conduct public hearings on purported acts of violence, appoint a Special Rapporteur, and hold the Syrian government and military account for crimes against humanity:
In the past week alone, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has taken the lives of 200 innocent men, women and children in Hama, and dozens more in Deir al-Zour. We are deeply concerned that the council has failed to take prompt or effective action to protect the victims of Syrian mass killings. We regret that the council waited during months of bloodshed, while more than 400 were killed, before it held a single meeting in April. Although Syria was eventually condemned at that meeting, there has been no meaningful follow-up action for the victims.
The organizations are led by UN Watch [advocacy website], a UN watchdog group. None of the nations on the council has commented on the letter, but several have supported Syria in the UN. China, Russia and Cuba defended Syria at the last council meeting, and the recent condemnation [JURIST report] by the UN Security Council [official website] was only a reprimand because of Brazil, India and South Africa blocking a stronger measure. Also on Tuesday, it was reported that an unknown Western country is funding [JURIST report] an International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] investigation into Syria's recent human rights abuses.

There has been a major struggle to put an end to Syrian violence since the protests began earlier this year. Last week, a group of UN human rights experts condemned the Syrian government [JURIST report] and called for a cessation of the continued use of lethal violence to suppress peaceful protests. The UN expressed concern [press release; JURIST report] over violence in Syria several times before that and urged the Syrian government to stop using force against protesters. In April, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] ended [JURIST report] the country's 48-year-old state of emergency, but protests have continued. Over one thousand people have been killed and 10,000 displaced since protests erupted in February.




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Chile president introduces civil union legislation
Maureen Cosgrove on August 10, 2011 12:55 PM ET

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[JURIST] Chilean President Sebastian Pinera [official profile, in Spanish] on Tuesday proposed legislation [press release, in Spanish] that would legalize same-sex civil unions [JURIST news archive]. The bill, entitled Acuerdo de Vida en Pareja, would extend inheritance and social welfare rights to same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples. Pinera insisted that marriage is between a man and a women but acknowledged that other forms of relationships are effective and that the state is obligated to recognize, protect and respect those partnerships:
This bill tries to equalize and not discriminate against opposite sex or same-sex couples, since, in both cases, it is possible to develop love, affection, respect and solidarity that naturally inspires communal living and commitment. We must understand that there is no single type of family; there are multiple forms or expressions of families. Consequently, in addition to the traditional or nuclear family consisting of parents united by marriage and children, there are many other families, such as single parents, extended, the cohabitants of different sexes or the same sex, families of blood relatives, and every one of these forms of family deserves respect and dignity, and will have the support of the state.
Several members of the president's National Renewal Party [official website, in Spanish] did not attend the proposal introduction and signing ceremony [BBC report]. Many Chilean citizens oppose expanding the definition of marriage and Chile only recently legalized divorce in 2004.

Foreign and domestic courts and legislatures are increasingly addressing the issue of gay marriage. The Supreme Federal Court of Brazil [official website, in Portuguese] unanimously recognized legal rights [press release, in Portugese; JURIST report] for partners in same-sex civil unions in May. In April, Hungary added a prohibition against gay marriage [JURIST report] to its constitution. France upheld a same-sex marriage ban [JURIST report] in January. Uruguay remains the only Latin American country to have nationally legalized same-sex civil unions, while Argentina [JURIST report] is the only Latin American country to have legalized same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is recognized in jurisdictions in Mexico and the US and is recognized nationwide in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and South Africa [JURIST reports].




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California governor signs law awarding all of state's electoral votes to popular vote winner
Julia Zebley on August 10, 2011 12:16 PM ET

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[JURIST] California Governor Jerry Brown [official website] on Monday signed [press release] into law AB 459 [text, PDF], an interstate compact which would deliver all 55 of California's electoral college [National Archives backgrounder] votes to the winner of the national popular vote in a presidential election. However, the law will only go into effect if enough states to constitute an electoral college majority enact similar laws. Eight other jurisdictions have already done so: Maryland [JURIST report], New Jersey, Illinois, Hawaii, Washington, Massachusetts, Washington DC and Vermont. The movement thus has 132 of the 270 electoral votes needed to pass it nationwide. California's bill passed [materials] earlier this month. There are similar bills pending in Alaska, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Proponents of the compact believe it is legal under Article II of the US Constitution [text]: "[e]ach state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors," which they contend gives state legislators a "blank check" to change the electoral process. They believe this was clarified by the landmark Supreme Court [official website] decision, Bush v. Gore [text]. The court wrote that voters only have rights in elections based on how state legislators dictate the election process. Detractors have suggested that the compact could violate the Voting Rights Act [text]. There are also questions of whether the compact needs to be congressionally approved to upend the electoral college, but scholars have suggested that Virginia v. Tennessee [text] allays this concern, in which the court ruled congressional consent is not necessary when a state compact does not threaten a federal issue. If enacted, the compact would effectively destroy the electoral college. Those in favor of this argue that presidential candidates will be forced to campaign in states that aren't regarded as "swing" states. Critics worry that candidates will further ignore small-population states as well as questioning the fairness of awarding electoral votes to the popular winner of the nation, not of that state.




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Unknown western nation funding investigation of Syria: report
Julia Zebley on August 10, 2011 11:24 AM ET

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[JURIST] An unknown Western country is funding [LAT report] an investigation into Syria's recent human rights abuses, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday. A diplomat acknowledged that an anonymous Western nation is working to collect enough testimony to potentially try President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] for war crimes in the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. The anonymous official also stated his nation is not pressuring the UN Security Council [official website] to act against Syria, although they recently condemned and urged the Syrian government to address the requests of its people [JURIST report] through a political process that guarantees fundamental freedoms. Syrian and international human rights groups have demanded [JURIST report] that the ICC investigate the hundreds of civilian deaths during protests against al-Assad. The ICC has yet to comment on the situation in Syria. Syria is not a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, has not accepted the court's jurisdiction and has not yet been referred to the court by the Security Council.

There has been a major struggle to put an end to Syrian violence [JURIST report] since the protests began earlier this year. Last week, a group of UN human rights experts condemned the Syrian government [JURIST report] and called for a cessation of the continued use of lethal violence to suppress peaceful protests. The UN expressed concern [press release; JURIST report] over violence in Syria several times before that and urged the Syrian government to stop using force against protesters. UN HIgh Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has 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. In April, al-Assad ended [JURIST report] the country's 48-year-old state of emergency, but protests have continued.




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Afghanistan president dissolves special elections court
Maureen Cosgrove on August 10, 2011 11:11 AM ET

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[JURIST] Afghan President Hamid Karzai [official website; JURIST news archive] on Wednesday announced the dissolution of a special court [order, text, in Persian] he had established to investigate poll fraud in last September's parliamentary elections [IEC backgrounder]. The special court overturned the election results [JURIST report] of nearly 25 percent of the assembly seats in June amidst criticism that the court was established to invalidate election gains made by Karzai's political opponents. In his decree, Karzai acknowledged that the Independent Election Commission (IEC) [official website] has ultimate authority on determining election results in the country. UK Ambassador to Afghanistan Sir William Patey [official website] welcomed the decision [tweet]. The IEC plans to review the documents [AP report] and materials obtained by the special court in order to make a final judgement on whether any lawmakers should be removed.

With the US withdrawing troops, ongoing disputes over irregularities in last September's parliamentary elections have raised doubts about the stability of the Afghan government. In January, Karzai postponed the seating [JURIST report] of Parliament following a request by the special court for more time to look into allegations of fraud surrounding the elections. Karzai had promised [JURIST report] to have the special court review the election results in time to seat the election by the original January deadline. But the IEC claims that the special does not have legal authority to question the results that it certifies because the law says it has the final say in determining the elections results. In November, the Afghanistan Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) [official website] disqualified 21 candidates [JURST report] for electoral fraud after finding widespread voting irregularities in 12 provinces. Of the disqualified candidates, 19 had either won or were leading in their districts, seven of which were incumbents, and two were second place finishers in districts where the first place finisher was also disqualified. In October, the IEC invalidated 1.3 million votes [JURIST report], nearly a quarter of the 5.6 million votes cast nationwide, due to findings of fraud. The IEC found that the 2,543 polling stations where the votes had been cast did not follow IEC procedures.




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Lebanon tribunal says authorities have reported back on Hariri probe
Maureen Cosgrove on August 10, 2011 10:34 AM ET

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[JURIST] The UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) [official website] announced on Tuesday that Lebanese authorities reported to the tribunal [press release] on their efforts to search for and arrest four men wanted for killing former prime minister Rafik Hariri [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Arrest warrants were issued [JURIST report] in June for Mustafa Badreddine, Salim al-Ayyash, Hasan Aineysseh and Asad Sabra, who are alleged members [Lebanon Daily Star report] of Hezbollah [CFR backgrounder]. In his report, the Lebanese Prosecutor General told the tribunal that authorities have not yet detained any of the suspects. Judge Antonio Cassese, president of the STL, is expected to review the report and determine how to proceed with the warrants. Lebanon is obligated under the UN Security Council Resolution 1757 [text, PDF; JURIST report] to arrest, detain and transfer the suspects to STL custody.

In February, the appeals chamber of the STL issued a unanimous ruling [summary, PDF; press release] on several procedural issues, including the definition of terrorism [JURIST report], in judicial proceedings. The STL began debate on the issue [JURIST report] to determine which laws to apply in the case against persons accused of involvement in the February 2005 truck bomb that killed Hariri and 22 other people. Using the Article 314 of the Lebanese Criminal Code [text, PDF], the court held that a conviction on the charge of terrorism requires proof of an act intended to spread terror and use of a means "liable to create a public danger," that the only requirement is that "the means used to carry out the terrorist attack be liable to create a common danger" and that the trial judges should be given latitude in determining whether the requirement was met after having considered the facts presented in the case. Last August, Hezbollah submitted evidence to the STL [JURIST report] linking Israel with the bombing. The STL asked for the evidence [JURIST report] a week earlier after Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah [BBC profile] claimed to have proof that Israel was behind the bombing. The STL was established in 2005 at the request of the Lebanese government to try those alleged to be connected to the bombing in which Hariri was killed by explosions detonated near his motorcade in Beirut.




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Kansas appeals order to block law defunding Planned Parenthood
Maureen Cosgrove on August 10, 2011 9:13 AM ET

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[JURIST] The state of Kansas on Wednesday filed an appeal seeking to overturn a federal judge's ruling [text, PDF] that blocks a Kansas law [HB 2014, PDF; materials] that would prevent Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri (PPKM) [advocacy website] from receiving federal funding. On August 1, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Kansas [official website] issued a temporary injunction [JURIST report] preventing the health centers from losing funding. Judge Thomas Marten ruled the statute barring funding for Planned Parenthood was in direct conflict with federal law and that PPKM demonstrated the requisite elements for injunctive relief, as well as likelihood of success on the merits of its claim. The appeal seeks to suspend the injunction [AP report] until the court rules on the merits of PPKM's case.

Several states have made similar efforts to cut funding for abortion services. This week, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) [advocacy website] filed [JURIST report] an amicus curiae brief [text, PDF] seeking to uphold an Indiana state law [HEA 1210 text] that would block Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood of Indiana (PPIN) [advocacy website] and other organizations providing abortion services. In July, Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina (PPCNC) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [press release] to block the enforcement [JURIST report] of North Carolina's budget that denies state and federal funds used to subsidize Planned Parenthood family planning services and teen sex education. Kansas currently has multiple suits challenging new abortion restrictions. In July, another judge for the US District Court for the District of Kansas issued a preliminary injunction [JURIST report] in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CCR) [advocacy website], to block another Kansas regulation requiring clinics within the state to obtain a license to perform abortions. Without the injunction, two of Kansas' three abortion clinics would have been forced to close for failure to meet the new requirements for a license. Kansas is also among multiple states that have acted to ban abortions after 20 weeks, when some studies suggest a fetus can begin feeling pain, including Missouri, Indiana, Alabama, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Idaho [JURIST reports].




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Environmental groups to appeal ruling allowing wolf hunting
Dan Taglioli on August 10, 2011 8:56 AM ET

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[JURIST] Three environmental groups filed a notice of appeal [text, PDF] Monday signaling their collective intention to challenge a lower court ruling [JURIST report] upholding Congressional action removing federal protections for gray wolves in Montana and Idaho. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies (AWR), Friends of the Clearwater and WildEarth Guardians [advocacy websites] are seeking to reverse the judgment handed down by Judge Donald Molloy of the US District Court for the District of Montana [official website], who last week ruled [order, PDF] that Congress did not violate the Constitution when it effectively overturned his previous ruling striking down a 2009 delisting rule issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service [official website]. The rule removed [federal registrar notice, PDF] the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf [Yellowstone Insider backgrounder] from Endangered Species Act (ESA) [materials] protection list in all areas outside of Wyoming. AWR Executive Director Michael Garritiy said that Congress acted unlawfully [AWR press release]:
While Congress absolutely has the right to make and amend laws, the wolf delisting rider (Section 1713 of the budget law, PL 112-10) does not amend the Endangered Species Act—it circumvents the judicial process by ordering the reinstatement of the 2009 rule that delisted wolves. Moreover, by exempting it from judicial review it basically nullifies the Constitutional checks and balances between Congress and the Judicial Branch of government.
Garrity pledged to pursue the matter to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The wolves were removed from the shelter of the ESA after a controversial Interior Department memo was published that several animals should be taken off the list despite their numbers not being at a sustainable level. The delisting order leaves the wolves under the purview of the Montana and Idaho state governments. Montana began selling wolf hunting licenses [state hunting regulations, PDF] on the same day as Molloy's ruling. There is no limit on the number of licenses sold, but the hunting season will be closed in hunting districts around the state as regional quotas are reached. Montana hunters will be able to shoot as many as 220 gray wolves in Montana in a hunt scheduled to begin in early September, first with an archery season and then later with a rifle season. The state expects that the hunt will reduce the predator's Montana population by about 25 percent to a minimum 425 wolves. Environmentalists say they believe the population will be reduced further than that.




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Iraq passes controversial journalism protection law
Julia Zebley on August 10, 2011 8:55 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Iraqi Parliament [official website, in Arabic] passed a bill [press release, in Arabic] Tuesday proclaiming to guarantee more protections and rights for journalists, although several journalist rights groups have opposed the law's passage. The Journalists Protection Law, originally proposed in August of 2009 [JURIST report] protects journalists from questioning or investigations unless a judge mandates that action. The original bill only protected Iraqi journalists, but the passed law has provisions for foreign media [Aswat al-Iraq report] if they contract with the Iraqi Union of Journalists. Although the law has been long-sought after, several rights organizations have criticized it. Reporters without Borders (RWB) [advocacy website] in March sent a letter [text, PDF] to the Iraqi parliament with recommendations for the bill, including criticizing its overall vagueness, which could result in possible arbitrary enforcement. The group was also troubled by membership in the Iraqi Union of Journalists being a requirement for protection, "given that many journalists in Iraq dispute this union's legitimacy." It also denounced the lack of protections for bloggers and media contributors. The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory [advocacy website, in Arabic], an Iraqi journalism rights group, commented simply that the government will be responsible [Aswat al-Iraq report] if abuses continue. A Movement for Change party member and parliamentarian, Sardar Abdullah, said the law does not represent the people or journalists [Aswat al-Iraq report] and that it was passed with a bare majority while many legislators were absent.

RWB ranked Iraq 130 in their 2010 Press Freedom Index [text]. In September, RWB released a report detailing the 230 murders of journalists [materials] that have occurred since 2003. Their profile of Iraq lists several journalists who have faced lawsuits and have been victimized by violence [materials]. Earlier this week, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official websites] both reported that human rights abuses continue to plague various regions of Iraq [JURIST report]. The study found that over 3,000 civilians were killed by insurgents and terrorist groups, with public officials, community and religious leaders, journalists, and medical and education professionals constituting the majority of targeted civilians. In October, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported that journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan who criticize the government are facing increased intimidation, violence and lawsuits [JURIST report].




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Sri Lanka to end emergency laws
Maureen Cosgrove on August 9, 2011 2:45 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Sri Lankan government on Tuesday announced it would lift emergency laws that have been in place for 30 years, though Parliament [official website] would renew [text] some provisions temporarily. The emergency laws were established [Hindustan Times report] during the nearly 30-year civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [JURIST news archive]. Most clauses of the Public Security Ordinance, which permits suspects to be detained indefinitely and without charge, have already been abolished. Sri Lankan Prime Minister DM Jayaratne [official website] told Parliament that some clauses would remain necessary, even though the civil war ended in 2009.

The Sri Lankan emergency laws have been in a state of flux in recent years. Sri Lankan lawmakers voted in May 2010 to extend the state of emergency [JURIST report] for another month, but reduced some of the toughest provisions. Parliament lifted certain restrictions [BBC report] on assembly and distributing literature and reduced the power of soldiers to conduct searches. In March of the same year, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official website] announced [JURIST report] that the then-dissolved Sri Lankan Parliament would reconvene to ratify a one-month extension to the current state of emergency. Variations of the security measures have been reintroduced since 2005 when foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was allegedly assassinated by LTTE rebels.




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Uganda court acquits opposition leader of charges in 'Walk to Work' protests
Chris Morris on August 9, 2011 2:32 PM ET

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[JURIST] A Ugandan court Tuesday acquitted opposition leader Kizza Besigye [JURIST news archive] of charges of rioting and inciting violence. Besigye was arrested earlier this year [JURIST report] in connection with protests against rising food and fuel costs. The protests were known as the "Walk to Work" protests [VOA report] because participants refrained from taking motor vehicles to show their discontent over high fuel prices. The demonstrations turned violent and led to large numbers of arrests and injuries as well as several deaths [TIME report]. While being arrested, Besigye himself was shot in the hand and abused by police. On his release, Besigye said that the government should "become serious" and avoid unjustly prosecuting political opponents [AP report].

Besigye's prosecution garnered international attention. Earlier this year, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged [JURIST report] Uganda's government to stop using what she called excessive force against Besigye and other protesters. Pillay also criticized [Reuters report] the government's treatment of Bezigye during one of his arrests, where a video showed government forces breaking into his SUV [BBC report], shooting pepper spray directly into his face and forcing him into the back of a pickup truck. Besigye is the leader of Uganda's most prominent opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change [part website]. He lost to incumbent President Yoweri Museveni [BBC profile] in elections held this past February. The elections were criticized by the opposition as fraudulent [Guardian report]. Besigye also ran for president [BBC report] in 2002 and 2006, and, prior to that, he was Museveni's personal doctor. In October 2010, Uganda's Constitutional Court unanimously dismissed treason charges [JURIST report] against Besigye and 10 co-defendants, ruling that there was insufficient evidence and that the state had violated the defendants' rights. Besigye had been charged [JURIST report] with plotting to forcefully overthrow the Ugandan government between 2001 and 2004 but had always maintained his innocence, calling the charges against him politically motivated.




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Zambia court permits president to run for re-election
Maureen Cosgrove on August 9, 2011 1:30 PM ET

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[JURIST] A Zambian court on Tuesday ruled that President Rupiah Banda can run for re-election. The country's opposition party, the Patriotic Front (PF) [party website], had alleged that Banda's father was born in Malawi [BBC report], a factor that would prohibit Banda from running for office pursuant to the Zambian Constitution [materials]. A presidential candidate's parents must both be citizens on Zambia by birth. The court dismissed the PF's challenge. Former president and head of the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) [party website] party, Frederick Chiluba [BBC profile], introduced the provision prior to his 1996 election.

Banda is not the only Zambian leader to face legal troubles. Chiluba was acquitted [JURIST report] in August 2009 of charges of stealing money from the country's treasury while in office from 1991-2001. In a separate case, Chiluba was ordered by a London court in July 2007 to pay $58 million in fines [JURIST report] to Zambia to compensate for other funds stolen during Chiluba's decade in power. The suit was brought in Britain [BBC report] by Zambian officials because Chiluba and his associates held the assets in the UK and other European countries.




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US trade commission to probe Apple infringement claim against HTC
Chris Morris on August 9, 2011 12:37 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US International Trade Commission (USITC) [official website] announced Monday that it will investigate a claim [press release] made last month [JURIST report] by Apple [corporate website; Bloomberg backgrounder] that HTC [corporate website; Bloomberg backgrounder] committed patent infringement related to touchscreen and scrolling features. Alleging that HTC violated section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 [text] by importing copyrighted products, Apple is seeking an exclusion order as well as a cease and desist order. The USITC will establish a completion date for the investigation in 45 days.

This latest investigation is the most recent installment in Apple's patent dispute with HTC. Last month, the USITC ruled against HTC [JURIST report] for patent infringement on patents 5,946,647 and 6,343,263 [texts], both of which relate to cell phones that run the Android operating system. That was the second suit against HTC by Apple. Last year, Apple filed suits [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the District of Delaware and with the USITC alleging patent infringements. HTC later also filed a suit [JURIST report] against Apple for infringement related to portable electronic devices. In addition, the USITC announcement comes days after South Korean regulators fined [JURIST report] Apple USD $2,855 for collecting location information from its iPhone and iPad users. It is the first time Apple has been punished for collecting location information [Reuters report] from users of its widely popular mobile computing products.




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DC Circuit upholds ban on foreign campaign contributions
Maureen Cosgrove on August 9, 2011 11:43 AM ET

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[JURIST] A three-judge panel from the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Monday upheld a law banning campaign finance contributions from foreigners. Two Canadian citizens filed suit against the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) [official website], arguing that they should be permitted to contribute to US political candidates and committees. Though the plaintiffs have visas to legally live and work in the US, the panel unanimously ruled [WP report] that foreign citizens do not have a constitutional right to participate in democratic elections in the US. The Canadian citizens plan on appealing to the US Supreme Court [official website].

Campaign finance regulation has been in a state of flux since Citizens United was decided [JURIST report] in January of last year, easing restrictions on political campaign spending by corporations. In June, the US Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett [Cornell LII backgrounder] that an Arizona campaign finance regulation that provided 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, violates the First Amendment [text]. The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] upheld [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] a Minnesota campaign financing law prohibiting direct contributions to candidates and affiliated entities in May. In April, 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. In June 2010, the US Senate [official website] failed to pass campaign finance reform legislation [S 3628 materials] that would prohibit corporations receiving federal contracts worth more than $7 million from spending money on "electioneering communications" and would also prohibit foreign-controlled domestic corporations from financing campaigns [JURIST report].




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Torture, rights violations occurring in Zimbabwe diamond mines: BBC
Chris Morris on August 9, 2011 11:33 AM ET

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[JURIST] Zimbabwe security forces are running illegal mining camps [BBC report] in the country's Marange area where recruited civilian workers are regularly tortured and forced into labor, the BBC reported Monday. According to the report, workers are subject to mauling by dogs, multiple beatings and rape. The camps, one of which allegedly has ties to a personal friend of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], are reported to have been operating for three years. The news comes just as the EU announced intentions to lift a ban on diamonds from other areas in Zimbabwe that were mined in compliance with the international diamond market regulator Kimberley Process (KP) [official website, French]. UK Minister for Africa Henry Bellingham [official profile] addressed allegations of torture [press release] in some of the camps:
The UK is absolutely committed to eradicating the trade of conflict diamonds. We played a leading role in creating the [KP], which has helped reduce the proportion of conflict diamonds to a tiny fraction of world trade. We pressed for Zimbabwe to adhere to the principles of the KP. Two Marange mines currently meet these standards; it is only from these locations that we support exports, subject to ongoing monitoring. From all other Marange mines, the UK and the EU continue to strongly oppose the resumption of exports until independent, international experts deem them to comply with the KP.
Earlier in the year, the KP had called for police monitoring of the camps, but torture victims claim that the police, as well as military officials, are responsible for the treatment in the camps.

The diamond trade in Zimbabwe has been the subject of much criticism. Last year, the US-based Rapaport Diamond Trading Network [corporate website] took a stance against the sale of Zimbabwe diamonds [press release; JURIST report] associated with human rights violations. In a letter to their members, Rapaport stated they would expel members who knowingly traded the tainted diamonds and that they would publish the names of members who traded the stones. Rapaport noted that KP certification may have allowed the stones to be sold in certain jurisdictions, but warned that it was illegal for citizens from the US, EU and UK to knowingly trade diamonds from the Marange diamond fields. They also cautioned that KP certification did not guarantee that the diamonds were not associated with human rights violations and that KP did not have a mandate to deny certification for diamonds involved in human rights violations. In June 2010, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called for the removal of Zimbabwe [report materials; JURIST report] from KP, echoing similar sentiments from rights groups who urged KP to suspend Zimbabwe's international diamond trade [JURIST report] in November 2009 due to the human rights violations [Telegraph report] allegedly committed by the Zimbabwean army against civilians and illegal workers in the Marange diamond fields.




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Federal appeals court urged to uphold Indiana abortion funding restrictions
Maureen Cosgrove on August 9, 2011 10:25 AM ET

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[JURIST] The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) [advocacy website] on Monday filed an amicus curiae brief [text, PDF] seeking to uphold an Indiana state law [HEA 1210 text] that would block Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood of Indiana (PPIN) [advocacy website] and other organizations providing abortion services. The brief, filed in the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website], urges the court to reverse a lower court ruling that granted a preliminary injunction [JURIST report] against the bill, which was signed into law in May. The ACLJ contends that the law is not preempted by federal Medicaid law:
Federal Medicaid statutes and regulations give States broad discretion to craft the rules applicable to their Medicaid programs. Congress left intact the States' authority to determine what makes an entity qualified to provide Medicaid services, while ensuring that Medicaid recipients may utilize any practitioner deemed to be qualified under State law. Since HEA 1210 does not limit a beneficiary's ability to choose among providers that are deemed to be qualified, it is consistent with federal Medicaid law.
The advocacy group also maintains that the law does not impose an undue burden on women seeking abortions and does not violate doctors' rights. The brief was filed on behalf of 41 members of Congress and over 25,000 Americans.

In May, a federal judge refused to block the law [JURIST report] upon passage. But the June ruling from the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana [official website] granting the injunction is in line with a recent US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] brief that urged the court to grant an injunction [brief, PDF] to stop the enforcement of the Indiana law [JURIST report]. The brief echoed arguments made earlier this month by the Obama administration, which argued against the law [JURIST report] in a letter to the state—one of several to have acted recently to tighten restrictions on abortions. In May, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging a South Dakota law requiring women to seek counseling at a pregnancy center and wait three days before obtaining an abortion. Earlier that week, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton vetoed a pair of bills [JURIST report] that would have restricted state funding for abortions and banned them altogether after 20 weeks. Also in May, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed 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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Federal appeals court allows Rumsfeld torture suit to proceed
Chris Morris on August 9, 2011 10:12 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that a torture suit against former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld [JURIST news archive] can proceed. Two American citizens brought a cause of action recognized in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics [opinion text] against Rumsfeld, claiming that he was personally responsible for the alleged unconstitutional treatment they faced while in detention in Iraq. Last year, a federal judge denied [JURIST report] Rumsfeld's motion by to dismiss the suit. Rumsfeld appealed the decision, but the appeals court sided with the district court's ruling:
[T]his case is not about constitutional rights, against torture or otherwise—the defendants readily acknowledge that the type of abuse alleged by the plaintiffs would raise serious constitutional issues. Rather, this case centers on the appropriate remedies for that abuse and who must decide what those remedies will be. ... [B]oth circuits confronted with allegations of constitutional violations in war zones have refused to recognize a Bivens remedy. ... The court vaults over this consensus and, for the first time ever, recognizes a Bivens cause of action for suits alleging constitutional violations by military personnel in an active war zone.
Sleep deprivation and physical abuse are among the tactics allegedly used by the military. On Rumsfeld's role in the case, the court added that, "plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that Secretary Rumsfeld acted deliberately in authorizing interrogation techniques that amount to torture. (Whether he actually did so remains to be seen.)"

The appeals court ruling comes days after a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled that Rumsfeld can be sued [JURIST report] by a former US military contractor who claims he was tortured while imprisoned in Iraq. The last several years have seen a rise in the number of suits brought against Bush administration officials. Earlier this year, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] upheld the dismissal [JURIST report] of a torture suit against Rumsfeld brought by four Afghan and five Iraqi citizens alleging they were illegally detained and tortured. Also this year, the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] in Ashcroft v. al-Kidd [Cornell LII backgrounder] that former US attorney general John Ashcroft [JURIST news archive] is immune from suit [JURIST report] by a witness detained in a terror investigation.




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Guatemala high court bars ex-first lady from running for president
Maureen Cosgrove on August 9, 2011 9:39 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Guatemalan Constitutional Court [official website, in Spanish] on Monday ruled that former first lady Sandra Torres is ineligible to run for the office of president because of her relationship to current President Alvaro Colom [official website], her ex-husband. Torres and Colom divorced earlier this year [BBC report] after Torres announced her plans to represent the ruling National Unity for Hope party in elections that will be held in September. The Guatemalan Constitution [text, PDF] bans relatives of the president from running for the office. Court President Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre held that because Torres was Colom's wife for most of the term, Torres would be in violation of the Constitution if she were to run for office. The court did not rule on whether Torres and Colom's divorce constituted fraud.

Otto Perez Molina, Torres' main opposition and leader of the Patriot Party, accused the two of fraud [BBC report] for divorcing in an effort to circumvent the constitutional ban. Torres and Colom are not the only Guatemalan leaders to face legal trouble. A Guatemalan judge ruled [JURISt report] last August that former president Alfonso Portillo [CIDOB profile, in Spanish] and two of his former ministers would stand trial on charges of embezzlement. Portillo, president of Guatemala from 2000-2004, is accused of diverting approximately USD $15 million in funds from the Ministry of Defense.




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Cambodia genocide tribunal judges have 'doubts' about suspects' responsibility
Maureen Cosgrove on August 8, 2011 3:23 PM ET

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[JURIST] Judges for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive] announced [press release] on Monday that they have "serious doubts" that the suspects being investigated by the court are those "most responsible" for the for alleged war crimes. The tribunal is responsible for investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Cambodia's communist Khmer Rouge regime [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] of the 1970s. The five suspects under investigation in Case 004 [materials], the judges contend, may not meet the "most responsible" standard, which is a jurisdictional requirement of Article 2 of ECCC law [ECCC backgrounder]. The judges also revealed details about the extent of the investigation, including the crime sites and criminal episodes under scrutiny. The cases currently under investigation by the ECCC are opposed by the Cambodian government [AFP report] and a dismissal of this case would likely discredit the court.

The Khmer Rouge have been blamed for the deaths of some 1.7 million people [PPU backgrounder] from starvation, disease, overwork and execution between 1975 and 1979. The UN-backed ECCC was established in 2001 to investigate and try those responsible for the Cambodian genocide that resulted in the deaths of approximately one-third of the Cambodian population. In June, the ECCC began the initial hearings [materials; agenda, PDF] in the trial of four former Khmer Rouge leaders [JURIST report] constituting Case 002 [materials]. The four leaders include Nuon Chea, who was Pol Pot's second-in-command and the group's chief ideologist, former head of state Khieu Samphan, ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary, and his wife, Ieng Thirith [case profiles, PDF], who served as minister for social affairs. All four have pleaded not guilty to charges including crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture. The ECCC handed down its first and only conviction [JURIST report] last year against Kaing Guek Eav [TrialWatch profile], better known as "Duch", who was in charge of the notorious S-21 prison in Phnom Penh. That case is currently on appeal.




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Bangladesh ex-PM and opposition leader charged with corruption
Zach Zagger on August 8, 2011 2:14 PM ET

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[JURIST] Former Bangladeshi prime minister Khaleda Zia [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and her son, Tarique Rahman [BBC profile], were charged with corruption Monday over alleged inappropriate donations. The Bangladesh Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) [governing statute] brought the charges [AFP report] in connection with USD $1.05 million in donations to a charity named after her late husband Zia Rahman. The charges allege that Zia used her position as prime minister to force people to make donations to the charity. Zia and her son have faced multiple sets of corruption charges under the current government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina [BBC profile]. In July 2010, the ACC charged ZIa and her son with corruption for allegedly laundering three million dollars [JURIST report] through bank accounts in Singapore. Also in 2009, Zia, her son and the Bangladesh Awami League [party website] faced a trial on accusations of embezzling over $305,000 in the Zia Orphanage Trust, which is said to be nonexistent.

The multiple sets of charges against Zia and her son are part of a political joust between the opposition leader and Hasina. In May 2010, a court dropped corruption charges [JURIST report] against Hasina holding that she had not committed a criminal offense when she used government funds to to appoint US lobbyists to represent the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority [official website] during her 1996-2001 administration. All the cases were brought against Hasina between 2001 and 2008 when she was out of power. Since being sworn into office after her reelection [JURIST report] in December 2008 each charge has either been redacted by the accuser or quashed by the court. Supporters of Hasina claim that the charges filed against her were politically motivated by Zia, the leader of the military-backed regime displaced by Hasina. In April 2009, Bangladeshi judges explicitly dismissed two cases against Hasina on grounds that they were filed to harass her [JURIST report].




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Turkish court issues arrest warrants for seven military officers
Maureen Cosgrove on August 8, 2011 1:46 PM ET

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[JURIST] A Turkish court on Monday issued arrest warrants for seven generals and admirals accused of creating anti-government websites in 2009. Among those wanted are General Nusret Tasdeler, head of the army's educational command, and General Ismail Pekin, the general staff's intelligence chief. The men are expected to voluntarily turn themselves in [BBC report] to authorities. A number of other senior military officials are currently in detention for a separate investigation of the Balyoz Security Operation Plan (also known as "Operation Sledgehammer") [Taraf report, in Turkish; JURIST news archive], a military plot to overthrow the Islamic-rooted government. Four top military officers resigned last week in protest of the detentions.

The alleged coup plot highlights the continuing power struggle between Turkey's ruling Justice Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish] and the country's secular nationalist establishment, the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) [official website, in Turkish]. Turkish police detained more than 40 people in connection with the plot in February 2010 and continued to bring charges against alleged perpetrators, but released three high ranking military officials [JURIST reports] just days later. The "Sledgehammer" plot is similar to the Ergenekon [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] conspiracy, in which the secular group is suspected of planning to overthrow [JURIST report] the AKP. The Ergenekon group is also alleged to be involved in bombings, political assassination plots and the death of journalist Hrant Dink [BBC obituary]. The probe into the Ergenekon conspiracy has been criticized as an attempt by the AKP to silence opposition and further its imposition of Islamic principles [DPA report; JURIST report] in violation of Turkey's secular constitution [text]. Trials against the Ergenekon group [JURIST report] opened over two years ago with more than 200 suspects in custody. The suspects include journalists, academics, army officers, policemen and Turkish Workers' Party [party website, in Turkish] leader Dogu Perincek [JURIST report].




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Iraq human rights abuses continue: UN report
Maureen Cosgrove on August 8, 2011 12:19 PM ET

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[JURIST] Human rights abuses continue to plague various regions of Iraq, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official websites] concluded in a report [text, PDF] released Monday. The report, which analyzes the human rights situation in Iraq [press release] throughout the year 2010, is based on information from UN and government agencies and civil society, as well as research gathered through direct monitoring. The report notes that "silent" rights abuses, like widespread poverty, economic stagnation, environmental degradation, and lack of opportunities and basic services, are some of the country's greatest developmental challenges. The study found that over 3,000 civilians were killed by insurgents and terrorist groups, with public officials, community and religious leaders, journalists, and medical and education professionals constituting the majority of targeted civilians. Law enforcement and the administration of justice remain problematic, detainees are regularly denied access to council, and torture and abuse at detention facilities and prisons remains despite some modest improvements. Women's rights continued to be a concern in Iraq throughout 2010 where domestic violence, trafficking, genital mutilation and honor crimes against women continue to be reported. Though large numbers of citizens voted in the general elections, violent acts were committed against civilians and politicians, particularly those from minority groups. Despite the reported abuses, regional governments continue to take "meaningful steps" to improve the human rights situation in Iraq, the report said. UNAMI and the OHCHR called on Iraq to implement the report's recommendations and respect the country's international obligations.

Iraq has been closely scrutinized for human rights violations. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] reported in May that Iraqi authorities must end attacks on peaceful protesters [press release; JURIST report]. AI also issued a report in September alleging that the Iraqi government is unlawfully detaining and torturing [press release; JURIST report] thousands of detainees. In June, UN Special Representative to Iraq Ad Melkert urged the Iraqi government [JURIST report] to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment [text]. Melkert stated that Iraq had made several advances in recognizing human rights violations, but the government's policy implementation still faces several obstacles. The convention was adopted by the UN in 1984 and has been ratified by 147 countries. Iraq remains one of 45 member-countries that have yet to ratify the treaty. Last April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported on the repeated torture [JURIST report] of Iraqi detainees in a secret prison in Baghdad. HRW reported that detainees held at the secret Muthanna facility, run by Iraqi authorities, were hung upside-down, deprived of air, kicked, whipped, beaten, given electric shocks and sodomized during torture sessions that detainees faced every three to four days.




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Ukraine judge refuses to release ex-PM Tymoshenko
Maureen Cosgrove on August 8, 2011 11:18 AM ET

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[JURIST] Ukrainian Judge Rodion Kireyev on Monday rejected a request from former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; JURIST news archive] to release her from prison during her trial on charges of abuse of power. The announcement was made as thousands of supporters called for her release [Reuters report] outside the court in Kiev. Kireyev ordered Tymoshenko's arrest [JURIST report] last week on contempt charges. The US government on Saturday expressed its discontent [press release] with Tymoshenko's arrest, questioned the application of the rule of law in Ukraine and said the arrest appears to have been politically motivated.

Kireyev again refused to recuse himself last week, and Tymoshenko announced that she was allowed to call only two of her proposed witnesses [press releases]. In July, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) [official website, in Ukrainian] announced that they are launching a criminal investigation [JURIST report] into United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UESU), an energy company at one time headed by Tymoshenko. Last month, Tymoshenko filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website], alleging violations of the European Convention of Human Rights [text, PDF]. The complaint argued that the charges against Tymoshenko are politically engineered by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych [official website, in Ukrainian], Tymoshenko's political rival. ECHR President Jean Paul Costa refused to comment on the complaint [Korrespondent report, in Russian], but said the matter was before the court. 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 Yanukovych. Tymoshenko had alleged that widespread voter fraud allowed Yanukovych to win the election.




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South Carolina voter ID law challenged
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 8, 2011 10:44 AM ET

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[JURIST] Six South Carolina civil rights groups on Friday urged the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] to block the state from implementing a new law [R54 materials] that would require voters to present photo ID in order to cast their ballots. The coalition, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the League of Women Voters of South Carolina [advocacy websites], argued in a letter [text, PDF] to the DOJ that the new law would suppress the minority vote. According to the groups, there are more than 178,000 registered voters in South Carolina who lack a valid photo ID [table, PDF], and African-Americans are disproportionately affected. The groups also argued that African Americans face social and economic barriers to obtaining valid photo ID and that the law is in violation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 [DOJ backgrounders]:
The voter ID provision of Act R54 is racially discriminatory and will have a retrogressive impact on the voting rights of minorities in South Carolina. Because there is ample evidence of its retrogressive impact, and given the dearth of evidence for its need, South Carolina has failed to meet its burden under Section 5. For these reasons, we strongly urge the Department to deny the State's request for preclearance or, in the alternative, request more information regarding the law's application and impact on minority voting rights.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, requires states such as South Carolina, with a history of voter suppression, to get approval for changes in their voting laws, so the DOJ has the power to block the law from taking effect.

There are now 30 US states that require voters to present some form of ID at the polls, including 14 states that require photo ID, but the issue remains controversial. In June, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon [official website] vetoed legislation [JURIST report] that would have required individuals to present government-issued photo ID at the voting booth. In May, the Georgia Supreme Court [official website] upheld a state law [JURIST report] that requires voters to present one of six government-issued photo identifications in order to vote. In contrast, a three-judge panel for 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.




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Alabama lawmakers defend immigration law
Maureen Cosgrove on August 8, 2011 10:11 AM ET

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[JURIST] Alabama lawmakers on Friday filed a response [text, PDF] to groups seeking a preliminary injunction against the controversial Alabama immigration law [HB 56 text] that expands restrictions on undocumented immigrants. Attorneys for Alabama state officials, including Governor Robert Bentley [official website], argue that the state law is not preempted by federal immigration law and that the text reflects a "spirit of cooperation with the federal government." The law contains mechanisms safeguarding against unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin, the attorneys contend, and allegations suggesting provisions of the law would deter students from enrolling in school are speculative. The three lawsuits challenging the Alabama immigration law, brought by the US Department of Justice, the Methodist, Episcopalian and Roman Catholic churches and three dozen plaintiffs [JURIST reports] represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and National Immigration Law Center (NILC) [advocacy websites], were consolidated last week. The law is currently slated to go into effect on September 1, though a hearing has been schedule for August 24 in the US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama [official website].

The Alabama immigration legislation, which was signed into law [JURIST report] by Governor Bentley in June, is one of the most rigid immigration reform laws passed recently. In addition to authorizing detention of individuals on reasonable suspicion they are illegal immigrants, the law provides harsh restrictions on employment for illegal immigrants. Businesses cited multiple times for hiring undocumented workers could lose their business licenses. Furthermore, undocumented immigrants are prohibited from applying for a job, and anyone transporting or harboring undocumented immigrants will be punished by a fine or jail time. Sixteen countries filed briefs [JURIST report] in the Alabama district court against the controversial Alabama immigration law last week, arguing that the recently enacted law unfairly treats citizens [Montgomery Advertiser report] of those countries currently residing in Alabama and sanctions discriminatory treatment based on ethnicity. A group of immigrants filed a lawsuit in an Alabama state court [JURIST report] in late July arguing that the Alabama immigration law conflicts with the Alabama Constitution [text], which expressly encourages immigration. Similar laws have been passed in Indiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Oklahoma and Utah [JURIST reports]. Federal courts have enjoined the laws in Arizona, Indiana, Georgia, Oklahoma and Utah [JURIST reports].




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Bahrain releases two jailed Shiite lawmakers
Maureen Cosgrove on August 8, 2011 9:07 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Bahraini government on Sunday released two Shiite lawmakers from prison in an effort to comply with political reforms recently drawn up by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa [official website]. Jawad Fairooz and Matar Matar, who had been held in custody for two months [AP report], were arrested in May following their participation in a series of Shiite-led, pro-democracy protests against the Sunni government. Both men are members of the Al Wefaq party [party website, in Arabic], the country's largest Shiite political group. They still face trial on anti-state security charges. The government also released human rights lawyer Mohammed al-Tajir, along with a number of other unidentified detainees, contending that the prisoners had already served the sentences they would likely receive at trial.

An independent commission is currently investigating human rights violations [JURIST report] related to the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Bahrain [BBC backgrounder]. Bahrain's Lower National Safety Court sentenced 21 activists [JURIST report] to eight years to life in prison in June for anti-government protests conducted earlier this year. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] condemned [JURIST report] the court for sentencing the human rights advocates, political activists and opposition leaders to harsh punishments. The National Safety Courts, special military tribunals, were instituted in mid-March under al-Khalifa's three-month state of emergency and have been internationally criticized [JURIST reports] by rights group including Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. The court sentenced nine citizens [JURIST report] to 20 years in prison for kidnapping a police officer in May. In April, the court sentenced four protestors to death, a rarity in Bahrain, and upheld the sentences [JURIST reports] for two of the men, who were accused of murdering police officers. All of the charges levied in the National Safety Court have been disputed by Bahraini citizens and international rights organizations.




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Whistleblower soldier pleads guilty in Afghan civilian death
Aman Kakar on August 7, 2011 4:06 PM ET

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[JURIST] Military judge Colonel David Conn sentenced Specialist Adam Winfield to three years in prison, demotion to private and a bad-conduct discharge on Friday for involuntary manslaughter in the death of an Afghan civilian. Winfield pleaded guilty [AP report] to involuntary manslaughter and to smoking hashish. Winfield, who has already spent a year in custody, was originally charged with premeditated murder and could have faced life in prison. He is one of five 5th Stryker Brigade soldiers accused in three civilian deaths during patrols in Afghanistan in January, February and May of last year. Winfield's charges stem from his failure to intervene and prevent the other soldiers from attacking Afghan civilians. Winfield notified his family about the killings who then informed the authorities. The Army took no action until they learned of the killings from a second source. Winfield will testify as a witness against the remaining defendants.

Winfield is the latest soldier to be sentenced in the probe into 12 members of the 5th Stryker Brigade regarding the civilian deaths began in May 2010 [JURIST report]. In May, US army prosecutors charged Staff Sgt. David Bram [JURIST report] of Joint Base Lewis-McChord [official website] 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 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. 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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Federal appeals court strikes down Wisconsin ban on hormone therapy for inmates
Aman Kakar on August 7, 2011 2:53 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] on Friday upheld [opinion, PDF] a lower court's ruling invalidating the Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act [Act 105 text], which prohibited the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) [official website] from providing transgender inmates with hormone treatment. The district court invalidated the act because it violated the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment and the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. The appeals court rejected the defendants' contention that the state legislature has the power to prohibit certain medical treatments when other medical treatments are available and that the act is justified by a legitimate need to ensure security in state prisons. The appeals court first found that Gender Identity Disorder (GID) is a psychiatric disorder often treated with hormones to relieve psychological distress and that when hormones are withdrawn, severe complications may arise. The court found that the defendants failed to produce evidence to show that other treatment existed to effectively treat GID without hormones. By not providing the inmates with effective treatment, the court found that the DOC violated the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, articulated in Estelle v. Gamble [opinion text] by denying effective treatment for a serious medical need. To advance their second argument, the defendants argued that the more feminine male inmates become targets for sexual assault in prisons and therefore hormone therapy incites prison violence. The appeals court rejected this argument on evidence that showed transgender inmates may be targets for violence even without hormones and therefore the act had no legitimate purpose. The appeals court did not consider the Equal Protection challenge since it had concluded that the district court properly held the act violated the Eighth Amendment, both on its face and as it applied to the plaintiffs.

State lawmakers passed the hormone therapy ban when an inmate who had been receiving hormone therapy sued the DOC when it refused to pay [Journal Sentinel report] for a sex-change operation. That inmate is not a part of this suit. The three plaintiffs in the suit are male to female transsexuals who have been diagnosed with GID. US District Judge Charles Clevert issued an injunction last year enjoining DOC officials from stopping the treatment.




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Israel ex-president begins appeal before high court
Daniel Makosky on August 7, 2011 2:17 PM ET

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[JURIST] Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Sunday appeared before the Supreme Court of Israel [official website, in Hebrew] to begin the appeal of his conviction and seven-year sentence for rape and sexual assault [JURIST reports]. The proceedings, which are being held in open court, are expected to conclude following two weeks of arguments [JTA report]. Katsav's sentence was postponed in May, shortly after he filed the 300-page appeal [JURIST reports]. Following a request from Katsav's defense team made at the time of the appeal's filing, the court ruled earlier that its contents will be conditionally released to the public in the future. The Tel Aviv District Court [official website, in Hebrew] convicted Katsav 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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Saudi Arabia amends highly criticized anti-terrorism law
Ashley Hileman on August 7, 2011 11:21 AM ET

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[JURIST] Saudi Arabian officials on Saturday proposed amendments to the draft anti-terrorism law that received much criticism from human rights groups. A spokesperson for the Shura Council confirmed [Reuters report] that the draft of the Penal Law for Terrorism Crimes and Financing of Terrorism [text, in Arabic] was discussed during a session of the council in which changes to make the law less severe were proposed. The amended version of the law would criminalize taking up arms against the king or crown prince as opposed to the original version, which made questioning the king or crown prince a crime, carrying a minimum prison sentence of 10 years. The council seeks to amend the draft further before sending it to the king for approval. However, the changes may be overridden, given the council's limited powers. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] revealed [JURIST report] the draft law and criticized it in a press release, contending that the legislation's definition of "terrorist crimes" is overly broad and would allow authorities to prosecute protestors for a wide range of conduct. AI also claimed that the draft law conflicts with international human rights treatises such as the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) [text].

The proposed law comes in response to recent civil unrest in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern and North African nations, but this is not the first time Saudi Arabia has been criticized for rigid counterterrorism practices. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [text, PDF] in 2009 that Saudi Arabia was illegally detaining thousands [press release] under the auspices of combating terrorism. The report echoed another AI report [text; JURIST report] which claimed that Saudi Arabian officials were allegedly using anti-terrorism measures as an excuse to secretly detain, imprison, torture and even kill thousands of people. In February 2009, the US Department of State released its 2008 Report on Human Rights Practices for Saudi Arabia [text; JURIST report], in which it identified several significant human rights issues, including denial of public trials and lack of due process in the judicial system, detention of political prisoners, incommunicado detention and lack of government transparency. Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz [official website, in Arabic] announced in October 2008 that the kingdom had indicted 991 [Reuters report] suspected al Qaeda members. HRW sought access [HRW request] to the trials in an attempt to ensure compliance with international standards, but was denied.




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Convicted Abu Ghraib ringleader released early
Ashley Hileman on August 7, 2011 10:37 AM ET

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[JURIST] The convicted ringleader of abuses committed at Abu Ghraib prison [JURIST news archive] in Baghdad was released Saturday after serving more than six-and-a-half years of his 10-year sentence. Army Spc. Charles Graner [JURIST news archive], who was being held at the US Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, was released early [AP report] as a result of earning days off for good behavior. Graner was convicted [JURIST report] in 2005 of conspiracy, assault, maltreating prisoners, dereliction of duty, and committing indecent acts and received the longest sentence of the six others involved in the abuses. In May 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces [official website] heard arguments [JURIST report] in the appeal of his 10-year sentence and affirmed his conviction [AP report] the following month. Graner will remain under military supervision until 2014.

In June, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] initiated a grand jury investigation [JURIST report] into the torture and death of a detainee at Abu Ghraib. Manadel Al-Jamadi was captured [JURIST report] by US Navy SEALs on November 4, 2003, and held in Abu Ghraib prison as a "ghost detainee," or unregistered prisoner, for his suspected involvement in the bombing of a Red Cross center in Baghdad that killed 12 people. Ninety minutes after entering Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] custody he was dead and his body was preserved in ice, allegedly to cover up the circumstances of his death. Al-Jamadi's death at the detention center was ruled a homicide [JURIST report] and the US military never revealed the exact circumstances, though reports show he died while suspended by his wrists, which were handcuffed behind his back. Federal prosecutor John Durham is leading [AP report] the torture and war crimes investigation.




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UN rights experts urge Syria government to cease violence against protesters
Alexandra Malatesta on August 6, 2011 1:57 PM ET

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[JURIST] A group of UN human rights experts on Friday condemn the Syrian government [press release] and called for a cessation of the continued use of lethal violence to suppress peaceful protests. A UN expert stated, "[w]e continue to receive reports on systematic use of excessive force resulting in killings and injuries; allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention of protesters; targeting of human rights defenders; and unjustified limitations on freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression." The UN Security Council [official website] also recently condemned and urged the Syrian government to address the requests of its people [JURIST report] through a political process that guarantees fundamental freedoms. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] to cease all violence, to fully respect human rights and to implement the reforms the government had announced. Ban further urged Syria's compliance with international humanitarian agencies and warned that all killings will be investigated and people will be held responsible. Reports allege that at least 120 people have been killed by security forces during civilian demonstrations [PTI report], since Friday.

There has been a major struggle to put an end to Syrian violence [JURIST report] since the protests began earlier this year. Most recently, the UN expressed concern [press release; JURIST report] over violence in Syria and urged the Syrian government to stop using force against protesters. In June, Syrian and international human rights groups urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to investigate the hundreds of civilian deaths during protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The UNHRC, in an emergency special session in April, publicly condemned [text, PDF; JURIST report] the violence used by Syrian authorities against peaceful protesters. Pillay 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 in April, al-Assad ended [JURIST report] the country's 48-year-old state of emergency, but protests have continued. Earlier in the same month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [text] that Syrian security forces have stopped medical personnel [JURIST report], sometimes violently, from attending to injured protesters. A spokesperson for the group called the practice "both inhumane and illegal." Pillay urged the Syrian government [JURIST report] in March to ensure protesters' rights to peaceful expression and to work toward addressing their concerns instead of responding with violence. As demonstrations continued throughout the country in March, the government freed 260 political detainees [AFP report] in an overture to the protesters.




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California unlikely to meet meet deadline to reduce prison population: report
Alexandra Malatesta on August 6, 2011 11:11 AM ET

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[JURIST] California's Legislative Analyst's Office [official website] released a status report [text, PDF] on Friday concluding that California is unlikely to meet the Supreme Court's two-year deadline [JURIST report] to reduce the state's prison population by 34,000 inmates. California's prisoner realignment plan, which entails shifting thousands of low-level offenders to county jails [LAT report], could reduce the prison population by 32,000 inmates—still a few thousand inmates short of decreasing the 180 percent prison capacity to the mandated 137.5 percent capacity, by June 27, 2013. The report states that despite statutory sentencing changes, out-of-state transfers, the construction of new prisons, and the realignment of certain adult offenders and parolees, California is urged to request additional time to comply with the order. The number of inmates currently in California prisons is approximately 143,500, about a 19,000 inmate reduction from 2006

In June, California Governor Jerry Brown [official website] submitted a plan [press release] to reduce the state's prison population to reduce prison overcrowding [JURIST news archive]. The plan [JURIST report] is a response to the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Plata [Cornell LII backgrounder to uphold a federal three-judge panel order that concluded that the extreme overcrowding of the California prison system violated the Eighth Amendment [text] because it prevented the system from providing adequate medical and mental health care to the inmates.




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Israel Supreme Court orders watershed removal of West Bank settlement
Dan Taglioli on August 5, 2011 2:18 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Israel [official website, in Hebrew] on Tuesday issued for the first time an order for the Israeli government to dismantle an illegal outpost in the West Bank. The order calls for Migron, the largest outpost in the West Bank, to be razed by the end of March 2012 [Haaretz report]. The action came as the result of a petition [materials] filed by Peace Now [advocacy website] in 2006 calling for the court to order Migron to be dismantled. In response the government had decided to remove the flagship settlement by August 2008, but later reached a compromise with settlers [Sydney Morning Herald report] that delayed the razing until the state could build them a new neighborhood in a nearby settlement. However, the delay only allowed more houses to be built, and the Court noted during deliberations that the intended two-year postponement had actually turned into an indefinite delay. Approximately 50 families, about 300 residents, currently live on the hilltop settlement, which is about five kilometers from Jerusalem. Few of the scores of settlements that have spread across the West Bank in recent decades have been built with official government approval, but many have goverment-funded access to roads and electricity and water hookups. Migron in particular is an unauthorized settlement setting atop privately owned Palestinian land.

Israeli outposts in the West Bank are illegal under Israeli and international law. Last year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank "illegal" [JURIST report]. The statement came two weeks after Israel announced the construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], where Palestinians hope to establish the capital of their future state. Ban said, "the world has condemned Israel's settlement expansion plans in East Jerusalem. Let us be clear, all settlement activities [are] illegal anywhere in Occupied Territory... I urge all parties to respect sensitives and promote calm. We can and must find a way for Jerusalem to emerge from negotiations as the capital of two states with arrangements for holy sites acceptable to all." Also last year, Israel began rerouting a segment of its West Bank security barrier [official website; JURIST news archive] shifting the controversial barrier's path several hundred yards west [JURIST report] of its current location to return more than 800,000 square yards of land to Palestinian farmers. The move comes more than two years after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that the government must change the route because it excessively encroached on Palestinian territory and infringed on residents' rights to access fields and orchards blocked by the barrier.




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UK secret interrogation policy revealed
Maureen Cosgrove on August 5, 2011 1:45 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Guardian [media website] released a top secret document [text] Thursday revealing details [Guardian report] about the interrogation policies of UK intelligence officials. The document indicates that officers from the UK security and secret intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6 [official websites], respectively, were instructed to weigh the severity of the mistreatment of a detainee with the benefits of possibly obtaining information from the prisoner. The agencies "do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment," the document said, though the agencies would "consider applying caveats or seeking prior assurances" if they foresee a risk of possibly mistreating or torturing a detainee. Agency officials were also directed not to publicly reveal the secret interrogation policies for fear that disclosure would lead to increased extremism:
If the possibility exists that information will be or has been obtained through the mistreatment of detainees, the negative consequences may include any potential adverse effects on national security if the fact of the agency seeking or accepting information in those circumstances were to be publicly revealed. For instance, it is possible that in some circumstances such a revelation could result in further radicalisation, leading to an increase in the threat from terrorism.
The interrogation policy was first issued to officers in Afghanistan in 2002 and was subsequently amended on two occasions.

The UK Supreme Court [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF] in July that secret service organizations cannot withhold evidence [JURIST report] from opposing parties nor conduct closed trials. The British government, on orders from UK Prime Minister David Cameron [official website], is engaged in an ongoing investigation [JURIST report] into claims that government agents were complicit in the torture of terrorism suspects held overseas. The British government issued a new set of regulations [text, PDF] regarding the use of information obtained via torture in July 2010 shortly after the human rights group Reprieve [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] seeking a review of the country's torture policy. UK Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) [official website] expressed concern [press release], however, that the country's new regulations may still leave intelligence agents vulnerable [JURIST report] to legal action for human rights crimes committed by others. In March 2009, UK Attorney General Janet Scotland [official profile] said that police would conduct an investigation [statement, PDF; JURIST report] into claims that an agent of the MI5 took part in the allegedly abusive interrogation of former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Binyam Mohamed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], an appellee in the aforementioned UK Supreme Court case.




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ACLU appeals same-sex domestic partnership case to Montana high court
Zach Zagger on August 5, 2011 1:17 PM ET

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[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] appealed [press release] a case over same-sex domestic partnerships Thursday to the the Montana Supreme Court [official website], arguing that denying partnership rights to same-sex couples violates the state constitution [text, PDF]. The ACLU filed a notice of appeal [text, PDF] in Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana [ACLU backgrounder] with the court on behalf of six same-sex couples. The ACLU argues that Montana's failure to provide any legal recognition of same-sex couples violates the state constitution's protection of privacy, dignity, the pursuit of life's basic necessities and its guarantees of equal protection and due process. The ACLU says on its case page, "[t]he goal of this lawsuit is to see that same-sex couples are able to protect their families with the same kind of legal protections that the State offers to different-sex couples through marriage." Yet, the ACLU said it is not arguing for marriage equality in this lawsuit since Montana has a constitutional amendment banning it. A Montana judge dismissed the lawsuit [JURIST report] last April. The ACLU argued that the state has limited the couples' decision-making powers regarding their health care and finances and had sought for the state to provide a legal status to same-sex couples [case materials] that would confer the same rights and obligations as marriage. Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock [official profile] in November moved to dismiss [JURIST report] the lawsuit, arguing that the plaintiffs were not failing to receive protections because they were gay, but because they were not legally married, and that they received the same rights as all other non-married Montanans.

There is growing support for full marriage equality for same-sex couples as New York [JURIST report] became the most recent state to legalize same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] in June, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia, as well as the Suquamish and Coquille American Indian tribes [JURIST reports]. However, same-sex marriage continues to be a controversial and divisive issue through the US, despite a recent poll [materials] suggesting support for legalization is growing. In May, Minnesota approved [JURIST report] a referendum amending the state's constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Also, in April, the Indiana Senate [official website] overwhelmingly approved [JURIST report] a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage or any "substantially similar" status, while the Wyoming Senate [official website] in February approved a bill that would void in Wyoming any same-sex marriages or civil unions [JURIST report] performed in other jurisdictions.




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Cuba high court upholds US contractor's 15-year sentence
Julia Zebley on August 5, 2011 12:29 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Cuba [official website, in Spanish] on Friday upheld [Cubadebate report, in Spanish] a 15-year sentence [JURIST report] for Alan Gross, a US citizen accused of "acts against the independence or integrity of the state." Gross was arrested in 2009 and has served 20 months of his sentence for his work as a Development Alternatives Incorporated (DAI) [corporate website] consultant, a business that contracts with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) [official website]. Gross claims that he was aiding the Cuban Jewish community to achieve unfiltered Internet access by distributing various communications devices, while the Cuban government alleges that he was creating internal networks to foment democracy on behalf of the US government. Gross, a 62-year-old Jewish social worker and international development professional from Maryland, was arrested in Havana as he attempted to leave Cuba. Gross maintains that he was operating under good intentions [WP report] and for the Jewish community at-large. No Cuban Jewish groups testified at his trial [JTA report] and disavowed knowledge of Gross, although it is a crime in Cuba to associate with those encouraging democracy. The US State Department [official website] has demanded Gross' unequivocal release [press briefing] and former US president Jimmy Carter visited Cuba [ABC News report] in an attempt to negotiate Gross' freedom.

Until recently, the historically strained relations between the US and Cuba had shown signs of improvement. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama ordered [JURIST report] the Departments of State, Treasury, and Homeland Security [official websites] to take steps to ease restrictions on travel and remittances [press release] to Cuba. The new regulations, to be promulgated as modifications of the Cuban Assets Control [31 CFR § 515.101 et seq.] and Customs and Border Protection [19 CFR § 122.151 et seq.] regulations, will allow greater travel from the US to Cuba for religious and educational purposes, the transfer of up to $2,000 per year to non-family members in Cuba so long as they are not senior government or Communist Party leaders, and will allow all US international airports to service charter flights between the two countries.




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Ukraine ex-PM Tymoshenko arrested
Julia Zebley on August 5, 2011 10:39 AM ET

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[JURIST] Ukrainian Judge Rodion Kireyev on Friday ordered the arrest of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; JURIST news archive], also imposing a travel ban. Reversing a decision he made last week [JURIST report], Kireyev arrested Tymoshenko [press release] on contempt charges. A blockade of supporters started a brawl [Interfax-Ukraine report] outside the courtroom attempting to force officers to release Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko's former defense lawyer released a statement [press release] shortly after the arrest, which the former prime minister had prepared a week ago under the possibility of arrest:
I want to make a statement regarding the plan to arrest me. Clearly this is an act of revenge against a political opponent, but that's not my point. I want to state that I have no intention of committing suicide. They don't need to repeat the tricks they did with Kirpa and Kravchenko. I will never end my life with suicide. Everything I do is my battle against this criminal regime for Ukraine' rightful place in the world. Glory to Ukraine.
Prosecutors filed a petition for remand after Tymoshenko questioned [press releases] Prime Minister Mykola Azarov [official website, in Ukrainian]. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych [official website, in Ukrainian] denied [Interfax-Ukraine report] any complicity in the arrest. The trial will resume on August 8 [press release]. Tymoshenko's legal team will appeal [press release, in Ukrainian] her arrest.

There have been several minor developments in Tymoshenko's trial in the past week. Kireyev again refused to recuse himself and Tymoshenko announced that she was allowed to call only two of her proposed witnesses [press releases]. Last month, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) [official website, in Ukrainian] announced that they are launching a criminal investigation [JURIST report] into United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UESU), an energy company at one time headed by Tymoshenko. Last month, Tymoshenko filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website], alleging violations of the European Convention of Human Rights [text, PDF]. The complaint argued that the charges against Tymoshenko are politically engineered by Yanukovych, Tymoshenko's political rival. ECHR President Jean Paul Costa refused to comment on the complaint [Korrespondent report, in Russian], but said the matter was before the court. 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 Yanukovych. Tymoshenko had alleged that widespread voter fraud allowed Yanukovych to win the election.




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European rights agency condemns Belarus 'persecution' of dissidents
Zach Zagger on August 5, 2011 10:34 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) [official website] expressed concern [press release] Friday over Belarus' handling of human rights activists and its efforts to silence opposition. OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis, said that the situation in Belarus is amounting to persecution of dissenters, citing the arrest of Aliaksandr Bialiatski, president of the Belarus Human Rights Centre [advocacy website], and the mass arrests of protestors [Guardian report] after President Alexander Lukashenko [BBC profile, JURIST news archive] won last December's election. Azubalis said:
Trials of the participants in the December 19 demonstrations, systematic stifling of the media and freedom of assembly, and the continued persecution of opposition figures, non-governmental organizations and civil society, attest to the serious deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus. ... I call on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and civil society activists. Belarus must comply with its OSCE commitments on human rights and fundamental freedoms, which were reaffirmed at the highest level in December 2010, at the OSCE Summit in Astana.
Earlier this week, Belarusian lawmakers moved to outlaw silent protests [JURIST report] introducing a bill that would ban the mere assembling of people.

The move to ban assembling seems targeted at silent protests across the country against Lukashenko. Taking part in unsanctioned protests is illegal in Belarus so protests are being organized largely through social media sites where the protestors meet at a previously agreed upon location and, for instance, clap hands. Lukashenko, who has been in power for 17 years since his 1994 election, cracked down on opposition presidential candidates and detained protestors during his bid for a third term in the last election. Earlier this year, Belarus' Minsk City Court delivered suspended sentences [JURIST report] to two former presidential candidates, Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu and Vital Rymasheuski, convicted of organizing protests following the re-election [JURIST reports] of Lukashenko. 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]. 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.




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Psychological association advocates legalization of same-sex marriage
Maureen Cosgrove on August 5, 2011 9:57 AM ET

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[JURIST] The American Psychological Association (APA) [official website] voted unanimously Thursday to adopt a resolution [text] supporting full marriage equality for same-sex couples. Just before the opening day of the APA's annual convention [official website], a 157-member policymaking body adopted the position that the federal government and state legislatures should repeal measures denying marriage rights to same-sex couples in an effort to move toward marriage equality. After reviewing and conducting research on same-sex couples married in states where gay marriage is legal, the professional organization found that marriage "does confer the same sense of security, support, and validation" to same-sex couples as it does to heterosexual couples. Furthermore, the group contends, state measures prohibiting same-sex marriage cause considerable stress for the lesbian, gay and bisexual population, stigmatize same-sex relationships and reinforce prejudice against homosexuals. The APA also urged professional groups to continue conducting research with the goal of better understanding the lesbian, gay and bisexual population, particularly with respect to relationships and family formation.

Support for same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] is increasing in the US. New York began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples last week, just one month after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) [official website] signed the same-sex marriage legislation [JURIST report] into law. In July, a spokesperson for US President Barack Obama announced that the president espouses repeal [JURIST report] of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive], and advocates the ratification of the Respect for Marriage Act [text], which was introduced by Congressional Democrats [JURIST report] in February to repeal DOMA, the 1996 federal law that defines marriage as a "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife." In addition to New York, same-sex marriage is currently legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia, as well as in the Suquamish and Coquille American Indian tribes [JURIST reports].




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16 countries file briefs against Alabama immigration law
Maureen Cosgrove on August 5, 2011 9:12 AM ET

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[JURIST] Sixteen countries on Wednesday filed briefs in the US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama [official website] against the controversial Alabama immigration law [HB 56 text] that expands restrictions on undocumented immigrants. Central and South American countries, including Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Colombia, argue that the recently enacted law unfairly treats citizens [Montgomery Advertiser report] of those countries currently residing in Alabama. The law, they argue, sanctions discriminatory treatment based on ethnicity. The countries, who want one immigration law instead of 50, contend that the law raises "substantial challenges" to their relationship with the US. Also on Wednesday, Judge Sharon Blackburn of the Alabama district court consolidated lawsuits challenging the Alabama immigration law brought by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website], the Methodist, Episcopalian and Roman Catholic churches and three dozen plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and National Immigration Law Center (NILC) [advocacy websites].

The Alabama immigration legislation, which was signed into law [JURIST report] by Governor Robert Bentley [official website] in June, is one of the most rigid immigration reform laws passed recently. In addition to authorizing detention of individuals on reasonable suspicion they are illegal immigrants, the law provides harsh restrictions on employment for illegal immigrants. Businesses cited multiple times for hiring undocumented workers could lose their business licenses. Furthermore, undocumented immigrants are prohibited from applying for a job, and anyone transporting or harboring undocumented immigrants will be punished by a fine or jail time. Earlier this week, the DOJ filed [JURIST report] a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] in the Alabama district court. A group of immigrants filed a lawsuit in an Alabama state court [JURIST report] in late July arguing that the Alabama immigration law conflicts with the Alabama Constitution [text], which expressly encourages immigration. The ACLU, the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA) [advocacy websites] and several other civil rights groups jointly filed [JURIST report] a motion for preliminary injunction [text, PDF] earlier in July in an effort to prevent the Alabama immigration law from taking effect. Similar laws have been passed in Indiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Oklahoma and Utah [JURIST reports]. Federal courts have enjoined the laws in Arizona, Indiana, Georgia, Oklahoma and Utah [JURIST reports].




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California appeals courts strikes down law requiring DNA sample from arrestees
Julia Zebley on August 5, 2011 9:02 AM ET

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[JURIST] A three-judge panel for the California First District Court of Appeals [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously on Thursday that DNA samples cannot be taken broadly from any adult arrested or charged with a felony. Striking down a 2004 voter-enacted provision [Propostition 69 materials] of the DNA and Forensic Identification Data Base and Data Bank Act of 1998 [text], the court ruled that such mandates violate the Fourth Amendment [text] provisions against unreasonable search and seizure and overturned the lower court's ruling for the state. The law made it a misdemeanor for felons or suspected felons to refuse to provide a DNA sample for the state's "DNA bank." The state argued that DNA samples are akin to fingerprints and thus should be collected in the same manner. Justice Anthony Kline, writing for the unanimous court, disagreed:
Even focusing on the DNA profile alone, the analogy to fingerprints is blind to the nature of DNA. Courts are well aware that—[r]ecent studies have begun to question the notion that junk DNA does not contain useful genetic programming material and that an intense debate on this subject is now taking place in scientific and legal communities. ... Like the DNA laws of almost every other state and federal law, the DNA Act is silent as to how long these specimens and samples may be kept, and it is reasonable to expect they will be preserved long into the future, when it may be possible to extract even more personal and private information than is now the case. ... [T]he Act places few restrictions on the law enforcement uses to which such information may be put. This raises questions both about the kind of personal and private information that may be derived from the DNA samples in the DOJ's possession, and the uses of that biometric data as scientific developments increase the type and amount of information that can be extracted from it. For example, commentators have discussed the potential for research to identify genetic causes of antisocial behavior that might be used to justify various crime control measures. Fingerprinting presents no comparable threat to privacy.
The decision overturned plaintiff Mark Buza's misdemeanor conviction for not providing DNA evidence after confessing to committing arson. It is unknown [San Francisco Chronicle report] if state Attorney General Kamala Harris [official website] will appeal to the California Supreme Court [official website], but it is speculated that, if she does, Kline's decision will be overturned and the law reinstated.

Last month, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 8-6 that law enforcement officers are permitted to obtain DNA samples [JURIST report] from arrestees. The appeals court overruled a lower court's decision, concluding that because arrestees have a diminished expectation of privacy, the government's interest in collecting and testing the DNA sample outweighed the intrusion on defendant's privacy. The court pointed to the government's compelling interest in identifying suspects and the unique attributes of DNA evidence to reach its conclusion. US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] instructed federal prosecutors in 2010 to use DNA evidence as much as possible and collect DNA evidence from all federal arrestees [JURIST report], in a reversal of Bush administration policy. In 2009, the US District Court for the Eastern District of California [official website] upheld the constitutionality [opinion, PDF] of mandatory DNA collection for all persons arrested or detained under federal authority, holding that although the collection of DNA from those arrested on federal felony, sexual abuse, or violent crime charges does constitute a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, a person arrested based on probable cause "has a diminished expectation of privacy in his own identity." Federal agencies began collecting DNA samples [JURIST report] in April 2009, although they had been authorized to do so since 2006. About 1.2 million additional people could be added to the FBI's Combined DNA Indexing System (CODIS) [official website; FBI backgrounder] every year under the expansion, although people who are not convicted can request the destruction [WP report] of their DNA samples. In November 2007, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that all convicted federal felons must provide DNA samples to a federal database available to police departments throughout the country. In 2005, the Third Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that a convicted bank robber had to submit DNA samples to CODIS.




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Khadr fires lawyers before repatriation to Canada
Zach Zagger on August 5, 2011 9:01 AM ET

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[JURIST] Canadian Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee and convict Omar Khadr [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] fired his defense lawyers Wednesday with no explanation, according to a directive [text, PDF] obtained by Miami Herald Thursday. Khadr released his two Edmonton-based lawyers, Dennis Edney and Nathan Whitling, with Toronto-based attorneys John Norris and Brydie Bethell. The move comes just months before Khadr is supposed to be expatriated to Canada [Miami Herald report] to serve the remainder of his eight-year sentence, a deal worked out by his former lawyers as part of an agreement to plead guilty. The directive, signed by Khadr, only said, "I wholeheartedly recognize the commitment you have shown in everything that you have done for me. I have the highest praise and respect for you both. Although I feel deeply indebted to you for your dedication, changing counsel at this time is in my best interests." Last October, Kkadr pleaded guilty to all five charges against him, including conspiracy, murder and aiding the enemy, under the conditions that he would serve an additional eight years in prison on top of the eight he has already served and that he be sent back to Canada. He is Guantanamo's youngest detainee and first juvenile to be convicted.

Khadr was charged after he was captured following a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002 in which he threw a hand grenade that killed one US soldier and wounded another. In August 2010, the military judge rejected Khadr's claim that his confession was a byproduct of torture [JURIST report]. Earlier that August, the same judge ruled that Khadr's confession was admissible at trial [JURIST report]. Canada had previously declined to seek Khadr's repatriation [JURIST report] after his former lawyers obtained a ruling in the Supreme Court of Canada [official website] that the interrogation of Khadr by Canadian officials while in detention violated section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text]. According to the ruling, Canadian officials questioned Khadr, who was captured at age 15, even though they knew he was being indefinitely detained, and, in March 2004, he was questioned with knowledge that he was subjected to three weeks sleep deprivation by US authorities. Still, that ruling did not force the government to seek his repatriation.




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Mississippi high court hears attorneys fee challenge
Dan Taglioli on August 4, 2011 10:38 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Mississippi Supreme Court [official website] heard arguments Wednesday in a challenge by the State Auditor to the state Attorney General [official websites] practice of paying fees to hired private counsel directly out of litigation awards. State Auditor Stacey Pickering is appealing [AP report] a lower court ruling last April upholding $10 million in fees paid to private lawyers hired by the attorney general's office to handle a state lawsuit against Microsoft. The software giant settled with the state for $100 million and agreed to pay $10 million to the outside attorneys, as was directed by the trial judge at the time. The lower court decision against Pickering upheld the payments by ruling that the fees were separate from the state settlement, paid under a legal contract with the attorney general, and that in this case outside counsel actually received no state funds. Pickering argues that such monies are public and should be collected by the state, after which the attorney general can request appropriation from the State Legislature [official website].

The court heard a similar case in June over $14 million collected by a group of private attorneys who worked on a tax related claim against MCI/WorldCom. The original case ultimately resulted in the state collecting $100 million in cash and $7 million in downtown property from the telecommunications giant. Here also the attorney general maintains that the attorney's fees were separate from the state's settlement, negotiated and paid directly by MCI to the private law firm. Again Pickering argues that relevant state law should be interpreted such that outside counsel must be paid from funds appropriated to the attorney general and not directly out of litigation awards. In February a lower court granted summary judgment [order, PDF] against Pickering, holding that his arguments had no merit and thus there was no genuine issue of material fact in the case. A decision on the appeal has yet to be issued by the state Supreme Court.




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Obama bars war criminals, rights violators from entering US
Chris Morris on August 4, 2011 2:50 PM ET

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[JURIST] US President Barack Obama issued a directive Thursday barring war criminals and human rights violators [press release] from entering the country. Under the new proclamation, which took effect immediately, the Secretary of State determines which criminals or violators will be allowed into the US. Additionally, Obama commissioned the Atrocities Prevention Board, a panel assisting in deterring genocidal violence, which will begin work within six months. Obama explained the purposes and goals of the proclamation:
By institutionalizing the coordination of atrocity prevention, we can ensure: (1) that our national security apparatus recognizes and is responsive to early indicators of potential atrocities; (2) that departments and agencies develop and implement comprehensive atrocity prevention and response strategies in a manner that allows "red flags" and dissent to be raised to decision makers; (3) that we increase the capacity and develop doctrine for our foreign service, armed services, development professionals, and other actors to engage in the full spectrum of smart prevention activities; and (4) that we are optimally positioned to work with our allies in order to ensure that the burdens of atrocity prevention and response are appropriately shared.
The president also called for administration officials to present within 100 days a comprehensive, National Security Advisor-led interagency evaluation of the measures available for the prevention of mass atrocities.

Barring war criminals and rights violators may signal the Obama administration's commitment to international justice. In July, the administration issued [JURIST report] an executive order [text] imposing economic sanctions to combat international organized crime [JURIST news archive] operations, freezing their US assets, preventing the transfer of property to the organizations and criminalizing providing aid to the organizations. Earlier in July, Obama brought [JURIST report] Somali terror suspect Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame to the US to face a civil trial in New York. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] lauded the decision but questioned the long detainment overseas. Conversely, Obama was urged to stop deportations [JURIST report] to Haiti on humanitarian grounds by 3,000 Americans who signed a petition in June. And last year, US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp [official profile] said Thursday that no US president is likely [JURIST report] to present the Rome Statute [text] of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to the US Senate for ratification in the "foreseeable future."




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Federal appeals court vacates ruling on Pennsylvania city immigration laws
Chris Morris on August 4, 2011 12:07 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] has vacated a previous ruling [text] declaring Hazelton, Pennsylvania's immigration laws unconstitutional. Hazleton's Illegal Immigration Relief Act and Landlord Tenant Ordinance [texts, PDF] deny permits to businesses that employ illegal immigrants and fine landlords who extend housing to them. Last year, the Third Circuit rejected the laws [JURIST report] as unconstitutional, but May's Supreme Court [official website] ruling [JURIST report] on a similar Arizona law has caused a reconsideration of the laws. In June, the Supreme Court ordered the Third Circuit to reexamine the case [JURIST report]. The city cannot immediately implement the laws, as they were originally struck down [JURIST report] in 2007 by the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania [official website].

Illegal immigration has become the focus of much legislative and judicial activity recently. Earlier this week, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] filed a complaint [text, PDF] in the US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama [official website] challenging [JURIST report] an Alabama law [HB 56 text] designed to restrict the actions of illegal immigrants. In addition to authorizing detention of individuals on reasonable suspicion they are illegal immigrants, the law provides harsh restrictions on employment for illegal immigrants. Businesses cited multiple times for hiring undocumented workers could lose their business licenses. Furthermore, undocumented immigrants are prohibited from applying for a job, and anyone transporting or harboring undocumented immigrants will be punished by a fine or jail time. The DOJ contended that various provisions of the Alabama immigration legislation are preempted by federal law and violate the Supremacy Clause [text] of the Constitution.




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