December 2011 Archives


US State Department: Egypt to halt raids on pro-democracy groups
Max Slater on December 31, 2011 3:05 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Egyptian government agreed on Friday to cease its crackdowns on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that advocate for democracy in Egypt, according to the US Department of State (DOS) [official website]. Egyptian officials assured the US [BBC report] that it would return all property and assets seized in the raids to the NGOs. Despite Egypt's assurances, however, the US said that the raids on NGOs did not positively reflect the Egyptian government's commitment to democracy. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland expressed her concern [press briefing] over Egypt's approach toward the NGOs:
We believe that these NGOs are there to support the democratic process. Some of these are institutions that are supported by the United States Government, that work around the world in the interests of helping citizens realize their goals of democratic processes taking root in their country ... So we are very concerned, because [raids are] not appropriate in the current environment.
The raids resulted from concerns by the Egyptian government over how the pro-democracy NGOs were funded. Egypt's military proclaimed that it would not tolerate foreign interference [Reuters report] in the nation's affairs. The US hinted that the raids may induce increased scrutiny over the $1.3 billion in military aid that the US sends to Egypt annually.

Egyptian crackdowns against protesters have drawn significant criticism recently. On Thursday, Egyptian prosecutors and police raided the offices of 17 pro-democracy groups. Two weeks ago, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] Navi Pillay [official profile] condemned [JURIST report] a brutal suppression of protesters that led to 11 deaths and over 500 injuries. In late November, Pillay called for an independent probe [JURIST report] into violent skirmishes between protesters and government forces. Earlier in November, Amnesty International (AI) [official website] issued a report [JURIST report] chastising the Egyptian government for using unwarranted violence in discouraging political dissent. Shortly before AI released its report, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] and a group of UN human rights experts urged [JURIST report] the Egyptian government to protect human rights and civil liberties following a bloody clash between police forces and approximately 50,000 protesters in Tahrir Square in Egypt.




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Montana high court upholds ban on corporate campaign spending
Max Slater on December 31, 2011 1:41 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Montana Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] on Friday to uphold a restriction on corporate independent expenditures related to state political campaigns and candidates. In the case, Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Montana, the high court affirmed a century-old ban on corporate spending, implemented by the 1912 Corrupt Practices Act [PPL backgrounder]. The high court concluded that corporations have numerous avenues for voicing their political views, despite the ban on independent expenditures. Specifically, the law allows corporations to set up Political Action Committees (PACs) fund political speech:
Corporations, through their political committees organized under Montana law, are and have been a substantial presence and active participants in Montana politics ... The many lobbyists and political committees who participate in each session of the Montana Legislature bear witness. Under the undisputed facts here, the political committee is an easily implemented and effective alternative to direct corporate spending for engaging in political speech.
A main difference between corporate independent expenditures and PACs is that, under Montana state law, PACs are subject to special disclosure and reporting laws. Two judges dissented from the majority, arguing [AP report] that the US Supreme Court [official website] ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] declares that a state cannot impose a complete ban on corporate spending. The dissent predicts that if the Supreme Court hears this case, it will overturn the Montana high court's decision.

Campaign finance [JURIST news archive] has been a hotly contested issue recently. Two weeks ago, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] struck down [JURIST report] a Wisconsin law that prohibited people from donating more than $10,000 per year to political action committees. In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that an Arizona campaign finance regulation violated the First Amendment [JURIST report]. In May, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] upheld [JURIST report] a Minnesota law that prohibited direct contributions to candidates and affiliated entities. The US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] ruled in 2009 that a Connecticut campaign finance law discriminated against minor party candidates [JURIST report] in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Correction: Prior versions of this article referred to direct corporate campaign contributions opposed to corporate "independent expenditures." Updated February 16, 2012.




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US appeals court strikes down state law restricting election donations
Jaimie Cremeans on December 31, 2011 12:00 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Thursday ruled [opinion, PDF] that a Washington law banning political action committees from taking donations of $5,000 or more in the last three weeks before an election is unconstitutional. The law was challenged by Family PAC [official website] on three grounds, including two that require political action committees to report on the identities and occupations of contributors. Only the three-week time limitation was found to be an unconstitutional violation of the right to free speech under the First Amendment [text]. Washington Attorney General Robert McKenna [official website] argued the law was designed to protect citizens who take advantage of a widely used vote-by-mail system, in which voters mail in their ballots 18 days before the election. The court, however, said a 21-day ban on accepting donations is not "narrowly tailored" to suit the governmental interest in "informing the electorate." The court also concluded that, "The fact that voters have access to ballots earlier than before, and that they may choose to vote before all the election debate is in fact over, is not a sufficient reason to save this statute."

Washington has been involved in multiple lawsuits involving elections this year. In November, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the names of signers of a petition to abolish a domestic partnership law could be released [JURIST report] because it was not a violation of the First Amendment or unreasonably dangerous to do so. A US district court also ruled in January on the constitutionality of Washington's primary election system [JURIST report]. The court held that the system was constitutional because it would not confuse a reasonable voter, as plaintiffs said it would.




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US appeals court upholds telecom company immunity law
Jaimie Cremeans on December 31, 2011 11:20 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Thursday unanimously ruled [opinion, PDF] that a law granting immunity from civil suits for telecommunications companies that assist government intelligence agencies is constitutional. The Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act of 2008 (FISA) [text] provides in Section 802 that "a civil action may not lie or be maintained . . . against any person for providing assistance to an element of the intelligence community" as long as the Attorney General certifies this fact while it is still in district court. In an appeal of a dismissal under this section challenging the provision as unconstitutional, a three-judge panel of appeals judges affirmed the dismissal, saying the section "does not violate Articles I or II of the Constitution or the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment." The same court also reinstated two other lawsuits [Washington Post report] brought by telecommunications customers seeking redress for alleged violations of privacy by the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website].

The appeal consolidated 33 cases brought since 2006 challenging immunity for the companies as unconstitutional. The US House of Representatives passed amendments to FISA [JURIST report] in 2008 that included a controversial provision granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in the NSA warrantless surveillance program [JURIST news archive]. The original suits were brought in response to reports that the NSA was using data gathered from warrantless searches [JURIST report] by American telecommunications companies to identify people with connections to terrorism. The US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review ruled [opinion, PDF] in 2002 that warrantless wiretapping surveillance was constitutional after an order by former US President George W. Bush authorized the NSA to secretly monitor international calls [JURIST report].




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Poland announces new amnesty policy
Jaimie Cremeans on December 30, 2011 5:26 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Poland Ministry of Interior [official website] announced Thursday a new amnesty program [Ministry of Interior information] that will allow thousands of illegal immigrants to stay and work in Poland. The new policy will give illegal immigrants who have resided in Poland since December 2007 or longer to apply for residence. Residents who have been denied legal status in the past and ordered deported will have to show they have been in the country without leaving since at least January 1, 2010. Those who are approved will be granted amnesty for two years, during which time they can enter into employment contracts and work to legitimize their stay for longer. The law was passed by the Polish Sejm in July and signed [EUBusiness report] by President Bronislaw Komorowski in August. This is the third amnesty law [DW-World report] of its kind Poland has passed, including one in 2003 and one in 2007. Officials believe this law will be more successful because there are fewer restrictions than in the previous laws.

Amnesty for illegal immigrants continues to be a controversial international issues. In August, US President Barack Obama announced major reforms [JURIST report] to the US's current immigration system, putting 300,000 illegal immigrants' cases up for review and temporarily halting their deportation. Many of the criteria allowing immigrants to stay in this country mirror portions of the US Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act [materials], which has languished in Congress for a decade, and attempts to provide amnesty for illegal immigrants who serve in the military or achieve a college education. Both France and Spain [JURIST reports] have granted amnesty at times, to varying results. Spain was criticized, as EU commissioner complained that its amnesty program contributed to an uptick in illegal immigration between Africa and Europe. The UK rejected an amnesty program [JURIST report] in 2006, and instead focused on a "fair but tough" enforcement of immigration law.




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Pakistan Supreme Court to investigate memo alleging army coup
Jaimie Cremeans on December 30, 2011 4:07 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] formed a judicial committee Friday to investigate a secret memo sent from an unknown Pakistani source to US Admiral Mike Mullen in May asking for help in preventing a suspected army coup. Former Pakistan ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile] have been accused of writing or having knowledge of the memo, and both have denied these allegations. Haqqani's lawyer expressed disappointment [Al Jazeera video report] with the court's decision to investigate the memo, saying that if her client is found guilty by the commission, he will have nowhere to go for a fair trial, violating his due process rights. The army denies planning a coup and supports the court's involvement to sort out what happened and where the memo came from.

Since controversy arose over the killing of Osama Bin Laden [JURIST report] by US forces in Pakistan in May, Pakistan's alliance with the US has been questioned. The growing conflict between the US and Pakistan was analyzed by JURIST guest columnist Sikander Ahmed Shah [official profile] in Drone Strikes in Pakistan: Examining Consent in International Law [JURIST op-ed]. Pakistan has also faced an ongoing struggle with corruption that the courts have attempted to battle. The Pakistan Supreme Court in October issued a judgment urging political parties to stop financing criminal groups [JURIST report] responsible for increased violence in the city of Karachi. The decision stated that militant groups have gained strength because of support from local political groups and ordered the Pakistani government to help address the corruption.




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India upper parliament house fails to pass anti-corruption bill
John Paul Putney on December 30, 2011 12:52 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Indian upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha [official website], on Thursday failed to pass an anti-corruption bill [text, PDF] that proposed the creation of an official anti-corruption agency known as Lokpal. The upper house met in an extended session of parliament intended to allow for passage of the Lokpal bill, but adjourned at midnight after 14 hours of acrimonious debate [AFP report]. The bill was torpedoed by a ruling-coalition party member, the Trinamool Congress, in an abrupt reversal. Opposition parties have accused the government of deliberately avoiding a vote [VOA report] because it lacked the votes. The future of the bill is unsure. Parliament is scheduled to reconvene early next year [AP report], but the date is unclear. Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare has criticized the Lokpal bill, demanding a more powerful ombudsman while the opposition demanded independent investigatory powers.

Corruption has been a major issue recently in Indian politics. Earlier this week, the Lok Sabha [official website], the Indian lower house of parliament, passed the Lokpal bill [JURIST report]. The bill was proposed in response to many corruption scandals that have occurred in India recently including a high court judge embezzling funds [JURIST report]. Also, Indian activist Anna Hazare's twelve day fast in August prompted the Indian government to address the issue of corruption. Earlier this month, the Transparency Index (TI) released its Corruptions Perceptions Index in which it named India as one of the countries whose corruption perception had deteriorated [JURIST report] since last year. In August, addressing both houses of parliament, Indian president Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil indicated that the Indian government would work to eradicate corruption [JURIST report] and take measures to ratify the UN Convention Against Corruption and that it will take other legislative and administrative measures necessary to improve transparency.




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Iran court sentences opposition leader to 8 years in prison
John Paul Putney on December 30, 2011 12:03 PM ET

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[JURIST] Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Court on Wednesday sentenced opposition figure and former Iranian foreign minister Ebrahim Yazdi to eight years in prison for attempting to act against national security. Yazdi was also banned from civic activities for five years [AFP report] in the closed-door trial reportedly held in early November. Yazdi, now 80 and suffering from cancer and a heart ailment, is head of the Freedom Movement of Iran [Princeton University backgrounder], which was instrumental in the 1979 Islamic revolution but was subsequently banned after it turned against clerics and advocated democratic reform [AP report]. According to his lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, Yazdi refused to defend himself [DPA report] after questioning the legitimacy and jurisdiction of the court. Yazdi's lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, in July was sentenced to nine years in prison and banned from working as a lawyer [JURIST report] and a teacher for ten years after being convicted of seeking to overthrow the government. Yazdi plans to appeal and hopes for an appeals court that will allow a public trial with a jury.

Yazdi is one of several opposition figures that have been detained and charged in connection with a wave of civil unrest following the disputed re-election [JURIST news archive] of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [BBC profile, official website]. In March, Iranian opposition leaders Mir-Hossein Mousavi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and Mehdi Karroubi [NYT profile; JURIST news archive] and their wives were arrested and jailed [JURIST report]. In February, Karroubi called for his own trial to be set up in a public court in an open letter to the head of the Supreme Judicial System of Iran [GlobaLex backgrounder], Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani [official website, in Farsi]. Also in February, Iranian lawmakers called for Karroubi and two other opposition leaders, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and former reformist president Mohammad Khatami [BBC profile] to face trial and death [JURIST report].




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China activist on trial for inciting disturbance, fraud
John Paul Putney on December 29, 2011 9:48 PM ET

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[JURIST] Chinese housing activist and lawyer, Ni Yulan, and her husband, Dong Jiqin, went on trial Thursday on charges of fraud and "inciting a disturbance" in Beijing. Lying on a stretcher and relying on an oxygen machine [AP report], Ni pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud for falsifying facts to steal property and inciting a disturbance when they were detained by police in April. Although a court spokesperson indicated the trial was open to the public, foreign journalists and diplomats were barred from the proceedings [International Business Times report]. Ni, a trained lawyer, and her husband have assisted victims of government land seizures [Guardian report] including those displaced by the Beijing Olympics project. Ni's lawyer, Cheng Hai, indicated the hearing was interrupted for unclear reasons [Telegraph report] after only four hours and without producing a verdict as expected. It is unclear when a verdict will be announced.

Ni Yulan is the third high-profile dissident to be put on trial in recent weeks as part of a larger crackdown timed around Christmas in order to avoid international scrutiny [Guardian report]. Earlier this week, a Chinese court sentenced political activist Chen Xi [JURIST report] to 10 years in prison for inciting subversion.The charges against Chen, 57, stemmed from more than 30 political essays that he had published online. Last week, a Chinese court sentenced human rights advocate Chen Wei [JURIST report], who is unrelated to Chen Xi, to nine years in prison. Chen Wei, 42, was sentenced after a two-hour hearing in which he pleaded not guilty to inciting subversion of state power. He was charged for having written essays critical of the Communist Party, which he published on overseas Chinese websites, avoiding the national Internet censorship firewalls. Chen was one of more than 130 activists detained after the US-based news site Boxun [website, in Chinese] reported an anonymous appeal for people to stage protests across China last February.




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Puerto Rico governor approves political status referendum
Jerry Votava on December 29, 2011 5:59 PM ET

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[JURIST] Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuno (R) [official website, in Spanish], a supporter of statehood, signed legislation establishing a two-part referendum [press release, in Spanish] on Wednesday that would allow Puerto Ricans to voice their opinions regarding Puerto Rico's political status and connection to the US. The referendum would be held on November 6, 2012. The first part of the referendum asks whether Puerto Rico [BBC backgrounder] should change its status at all. The second part of the referendum asks which type of status change is preferred, including statehood, independence or "sovereign commonwealth" outside the Territorial Clause of the US Constitution. Fortuno praised the two-part referendum:
[I]n a single event, we know with clarity, first, if our people want to maintain the current territorial political status and second, we know which of the alternatives of Puerto Rico's territorial status has more support from Puerto Ricans to provide the people.
The results of the referendum would not be binding to the US because congressional action would be required to enact any status change.

The Puerto Rican House of Representatives voted to pass the legislation [JURIST report] to permit the referendum earlier this month. The US House of Representatives approved a bill to establish the referendum [JURIST report] in April 2010, but it was never approved by the Senate. In 2007, the UN Special Committee on Decolonization [official website] called on the US [press release] to quickly resolve the island's political status and release political prisoners. Puerto Ricans last voted on the status of the island in 1998 [results], with the "None of the Above" option winning 50.3 percent, statehood garnering 46.5 percent of the vote and independence only 2.5 percent. The island was established as a US commonwealth in 1952 after Congress adopted the Puerto Rican Constitution. Puerto Ricans have been US citizens since 1917, and the island has been under US control since 1898. JURIST Managing Editor Dwyer Arce recently argued that, as US citizens, Puerto Ricans should be entitled to vote [JURIST op-ed] in US presidential elections.




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Russia criticizes US human rights record
Jerry Votava on December 29, 2011 5:07 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) [official website] issued a report on Wednesday strongly criticizing the human rights record of a number of countries including the United States. Twenty pages of the 90-page report focus on the United States [AP report], and list a number of practices and conditions that the MFA views as violations of basic human rights. Among the concerns raised were alleged invasions of personal privacy, purported mistreatment of Muslim Americans since the 9/11 terror attacks [JURIST Feature] and judicial errors which have permitted innocent people to be convicted of capital crimes. The MFA report also highlights the "notorious" military prison at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] and rebukes US President Barack Obama [official profile] for "legalizing indefinite and extrajudicial custody" of those prisoners. The report also criticizes Canada, European Union nations, and some former Soviet states. It excludes the Middle East and Asia. Some of the MFA report's concerns surrounding capital punishment and the Guantanamo Bay prison [JURIST op-eds] have been voiced by JURIST contributors.

This report marks the first time that the MFA has issued a statement regarding the state of affairs of human rights in other countries, although Russia has been criticized internationally and by its own citizens for its human rights record. Earlier this month, the Russia Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights called for the annulment [JURIST report] of the conviction of ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive]. Also this month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive] ordered an investigation into allegations of fraud [JURIST report] in recent parliamentary elections. Earlier, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) [official website] issued preliminary findings [JURIST report] that the Russian election was "characterized by frequent procedural violations and instances of apparent manipulation." The US State Department [official website] and other world leaders have also called for an investigation into the allegations of election fraud and expressed concern over "harassment" of election monitoring groups.




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Philippines ex-president faces new charges
Sung Un Kim on December 29, 2011 2:26 PM ET

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[JURIST] Philippine authorities filed a second criminal complaint against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [BBC backgrounder, JURIST news archive], the former Philippine president who has been under hospital arrest [JURIST report] for previous charges of corruption and electoral fraud. The second complaint alleges that Arroyo approved a $329-million national broadband network deal with the Chinese company ZTE Corporation [corporate website] in return for millions of dollars in kickbacks in 2008. Arroyo abandoned the deal in 2008 as a result of public pressure. Prosecutors also charged Arroyo's husband Jose Miguel Arroyo, the former Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza and former Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. on related charges. The former president is accused of violating sections 3 (g) and (i) of the Republic Act 3019 [text], as well as the Republic Act 6713 [text], also known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. Arroyo and her husband reject the accusations.

Arroyo was formally charged last month with corruption and election fraud during her presidency and was arrested the next day on a warrant issued for the charges. Earlier that same week, Arroyo and her husband tried to leave the country after the Philippine Supreme Court allowed them to travel [JURIST report] despite the pending charges, but were denied transit until they received an official copy of the court order. The arrest warrant effectively overrides the court's travel permit. In July 2010, current Philippine president Benigno Aquino [BBC profile] signed an executive order [JURIST report] to set up a "truth commission" to investigate allegations that the outgoing administration engaged in corruption and rights violations.




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Obama administration urges Supreme Court to reject Texas legislature redistricting maps
John Paul Putney on December 29, 2011 11:07 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Obama administration, arguing as amicus curiae in Perry, et al. v. Perez, et al., pressed [brief, PDF] the US Supreme Court [official website] on Wednesday to reject a redistricting map drawn by the Texas legislature which was not cleared pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) [Cornell LII backgrounder]. In its stead, the administration argued, the interim map drawn up by a three-judge panel from the US District Court for the Western District of Texas [official website] should be used:
[Texas] argues that there is no time for a remand and this Court therefore should designate the unprecleared maps as the interim maps [for the 2012 election]. Insofar as this Court is required to choose between either the State's unprecleared plans or the interim plans drawn below, it should select the latter. Even if the court-drawn plans may—pending further explanation—insufficiently adhere to state redistricting principles in certain respects, those plans are preferable to ones whose very use would contravene Section 5's preclearance regime and whose content violates Section 5 in purpose and effect.
The Obama administration opposes the state's map for the state house and for the state's congressional delegation in the US House of Representatives, but not the state senate map, even though minority groups are opposing all three maps. Oral argument for all three redistricting plans is set for January 9.

Earlier this month, the US Supreme Court agreed to rule [JURIST report] on the three Texas redistricting plans as part of an emergency appeal by Texas. According to the 2010 census, Texas' population grew by 4.3 million, which gave it four more seats in the US House of Representatives. The Republican-controlled state legislature redrew the congressional districts in a way that challengers claim would make it more likely for Republicans to win those new seats. The plan must be approved by either the Justice Department or a federal court under the VRA, and the Obama administration has objected to the plan. In the meantime, the federal court in Texas drew an "interim map" for use in the 2012 election. The interim map is the map currently being challenged before the Supreme Court.




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Guantanamo rule change to require review of attorney letters in 9/11 case
Jamie Davis on December 28, 2011 3:11 PM ET

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[JURIST] Navy rear Adm. David Woods [official website], commander of the Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] prison facility, has proposed a new rule that would require military officials to review all legal correspondence between lawyers and the detainees accused of involvement in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks [JURIST Feature], the AP reported [text] Tuesday. The new rules would require all correspondence to the five detainees to undergo a security review by officials from law enforcement and the Department of Defense (DOD) [official website]. Woods has not yet signed the proposed rule change, but it was sent to lawyers for the prisoners with an order for them to sign and agree to the change. Lawyers for the prisoners responded to the proposed rule with a written memo stating that they did not agree to the rule because it violates attorney-client privilege and would erode their clients' right to counsel that is afforded by the US Constitution [text] and asked for more time to review the rule. The detainees, whose arraignment is anticipated to occur in 2012, include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive].

Lawyers for detainees at Guantanamo have raised concerns previously with practices used at the prison. In November, lawyers complained specifically about the infringement on attorney-client privilege [JURIST report] in a letter directed to the attention of the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs. The attorneys alleged that those working with the Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) seize, open, interpret, read and review attorney-client privileged communications, actions which the attorneys argued are unlawful. The five detainees have been held at Guantanamo since 2006 when they were transferred there from the custody of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In April, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the trials [JURIST report] for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other detainees are set to be held before a military commission. This was a change from Holder's previous position to conduct the trials in federal civilian court [JURIST report].




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Egypt court resumes Mubarak trial
Jamie Davis on December 28, 2011 2:31 PM ET

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[JURIST] An Egyptian court on Wednesday resumed the trial of ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile; JURIST news archive] after a month-long adjournment. The trial was adjourned [JURIST report] in October in order to allow the court time to rule on a motion made by lawyers representing the victims' families to have the three judge panel in the case removed. Lawyers for the victims argued that they were not given enough time [Al Jazeera report] to question Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi [GlobalSecurity profile], head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) [NYT backgrounder] currently ruling Egypt. In December, the court rejected the motion and fined the prosecution for making the request. Mubarak is facing charges of complicity in the deaths of more than 800 protesters [JURIST report] during the pro-democracy demonstrations in Egypt [JURIST news archive] that resulted in Mubarak stepping down in February [JURIST report]. The trial lasted a few hours on Wednesday and is due to resume again on January 2.

The trial for ex-president Mubarak has been tumultuous. In September, violence broke out in the courtroom when plaintiffs and their lawyers clashed with Mubarak supporters. In August, presiding Judge Ahmed Rifaat decided to end live TV broadcasts [JURIST report] of subsequent proceedings amid protests from the families of victims and praise from several courtroom lawyers who opposed the broadcasts. 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. 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. If convicted, Murabak could face the death penalty.




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UN rights groups urge probe of torture and killings by Haiti police
Jerry Votava on December 28, 2011 12:48 PM ET

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[JURIST] The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Human Rights Section of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) [official websites] issued two reports [text; press release] on Tuesday detailing activities such as torture and unlawful killings allegedly carried out by Haitian National Police (HNP) [official website, in French], and urged Haitian leaders in investigate and prosecute those responsible. The first report [text, PDF] illustrates the context of the state of affairs in which the HNP have been operating, and then focuses on the death of eight people over five cases to detail their mistreatment and alleged unlawful deaths between October 2010 and May 2011. The report goes on to present what it sees as patterns of behavior found in the cases including police justifications of crossfire, lack of investigation by prosecutors, and procedural delays of investigations by judges. The report also notes that to date, no police officers have been held responsible for the deaths detailed by the report. The report recommends:
actions to ensure that justice is rendered in each of these five cases and also recommends that the authorities as well as the international community take additional steps to support the many officers of the HNP who are trying to fulfill their duties to ensure that the police is a respected institution, having the trust of the Haitian people; an institution that is fully capable of fulfilling its responsibilities that are essential for the country's future.
The second report [text, PDF, in French] details the specific case of the alleged torture and murder of Serge Demosthene in June 2011. The report questioned "the Haitian authorities, compliance with the right to life, the right to be free from torture, and norms governing arrest, as well as respect for judicial independence."

In July, the OHCHR spoke on the importance of Haiti improving its human rights record [JURIST report], including trying ex-president Jean-Claude Duvalier [BBC backgrounder]. In May of 2010, a spokesperson for the MINUSTAH announced that the mission had launched an investigation [JURIST report] into the shootings of dozens of prisoners in a jail riot following the January 12, 2010 earthquake [JURIST news archive].




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US extradites woman suspected of war crimes to Bosnia
Alexandra Malatesta on December 28, 2011 11:39 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US has extradited Rasema Handanovic, a woman accused of killing Bosnian Croat civilians during the 1992-1995 Bosnian Civil War [JURIST news archive], according to US officials Tuesday. Handanovic, along with Edin Dzeko who was extradited last week, served in a unit of the Bosnian Army that attacked a village [AP report] in Trusina on April 16, 1993, resulting in the death of 18 civilians. Fellow combatants testified to having witnessed Handanovic personally shoot wounded victims in the head [Reuters report], some multiple times. Handanovic, who immigrated to the US and became a citizen in 2006, lived with her family in Oregon. She faces a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

A number of cases have been opened in relation to the Bosnian Civil War. The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina [official website] confirmed the indictment [JURIST report] of former police officer Bozidar Kuvelja in March for his role in a 1995 massacre. In February, French authorities arrested Milorad Momic [JURIST report] under an international arrest warrant for his suspected involvement in war crimes. Last August, Spanish officials extradited accused Montenegrin war criminal [JURIST report] Veselin Vlahovic, known as the "monster of Grbavica," to Sarajevo. He was wanted on three international arrest warrants, including one for the rape, torture and murder of more than 100 women and children and is expected to face genocide charges before the country's war crimes court.




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Federal judge rules BP not negligent in Alaska oil spill
Alexandra Malatesta on December 28, 2011 9:28 AM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Alaska [official website] on Tuesday dismissed the petition of federal prosecutors, finding that British Petroleum (BP) [corporate website; JURIST news archive] was not negligent in a 2009 oil spill. Because the spill, which released 13,500 gallons of oil onto the North Slope of Alaska, was not a result of BP's negligence, BP did not violate the terms of its probation. BP's probation began as a result of a 2007 conviction [AP report] when the company was found negligent for spilling 200,000 gallons of oil on the North Slope in 2006. Prosecutors linked the two spills as evidence of BP's negligence by arguing that in both instances the pipes had frozen and BP ignored the signs of rupturing and leaking in order to cut costs. The pipe had been partially or fully frozen for at least six months before the expanding ice caused it to rupture [Alaska Dispatch report]. Judge Ralph Beistline dismissed this argument stating that the 2009 spill was a result of a unique alignment of circumstances and that BP adhered to accepted industry practices [WP report] and reasonably addressed the situation. Beistline also dismissed prosecutors' claim that the migration of the oil into US waters was a violation of the Clean Water Act [33 USC § 1251 et seq. text]. The decision is a victory for the oil company [Reuters report] struggling to recover its image after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive].

Calls for criminal and civil actions have been mounting against BP, as evidence of the oil giant's lack of proper compliance with regulations has come to light. In November, a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi remanded a lawsuit [JURIST report] by the Mississippi attorney general against the administrator of the BP $20 billion Deepwater Horizons reparations fund. In July, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana dismissed consolidated racketeering claims against BP [JURIST report] in connection with the spill brought under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) [18 USC § 1961 et seq. text]. Former Alabama Attorney General Troy King filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in August 2010 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 announced that the DOJ would review whether any criminal or civil laws were violated [JURIST report] by BP.




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India lower house of parliament passes controversial anti-corruption bill
Jamie Davis on December 27, 2011 3:01 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Indian lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha [official website], on Tuesday passed an anti-corruption bill [text, PDF] which proposes the creation of an official anti-corruption agency known as Lokpal. The bill was proposed in response to many corruption scandals that have occurred in India recently including a high court judge embezzling funds [JURIST report]. Also, Indian activist Anna Hazare's twelve day fast in August prompted the the Indian government to address the issue of corruption. But Hazare is now on another hunger strike [BBC report] against the Lokpal bill arguing it is not strict enough because it keeps one of the top Indian investigating agencies, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) [official website] out of the jurisdiction of the new proposed agency. The Indian government has been criticized for its weak response to ending the corruption and more than 130,000 Hazare supports have volunteered to participate civil disobedience protests to force mass jailing [NYT report] if the parliament does not pass a stricter Lokpal bill. Hazare and his supporters want the proposed agency to have its own investigative arm, apart from that of CBI, and a charter within the agency that provides for a quick investigation of complaints filed against the government. The current Lokpal bill will be voted on in parliament's upper house, Rajya Sabha [official website], for final approval on Wednesday.

Corruption has been a major issue recently in Indian politics. Earlier this month, the Transparency Index (TI) released its Corruptions Perceptions Index in which it named India as one of the countries whose corruption perception had deteriorated since last year. In August, Indian president Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil addressed both houses of parliament [JURIST report] and stated that the Indian government would take measures to ratify the UN Convention Against Corruption and that it will take other legislative and administrative measures necessary to improve transparency. In 2008, Indian PM 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."




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Egypt court orders stop to forced virginity tests
Jamie Davis on December 27, 2011 2:12 PM ET

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[JURIST] Cairo Administrative Court on Tuesday ordered the Egyptian Army to end its practice of performing forced virginity tests on female detainees. Samira Ibrahim brought the case against the Egyptian Army after she was arrested during a protest and was forced to submit to a virginity test [Al Jazeera report]. Judge Aly Fekry, head of the Court, delivered the order to stop the procedure of virginity tests on woman inside military prisons. However, the head of military intelligence, Adel Mursi, said that the ruling is essentially meaningless because there are no orders in the military to conduct such tests. Yet, there are reports to the contrary that Egyptian Army Generals have acknowledged the practice and have presented it as a means to avoid rape allegations from the women who are being detained. The forced virginity tests have been condemned by human rights organizations including Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website]. AI called upon the Egyptian government [AI report] to investigate the practice after other women protesters had come forward with allegations about forced virginity tests.

Forced virginity testing is not the only act that has been controversial in Egypt concerning protests. Egyptian authorities have also been accused of using excessive violence. In November, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the violent clashes [JURIST report] between Egyptian security forces and protesters and called for an independent investigation into the situation. Pillay "urge[d] the Egyptian authorities to end the clearly excessive use of force against protestors in Tahrir square and elsewhere in the country, including the apparent improper use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition." AI has also accused Egyptian officials of violating human rights [JURIST report] including abuse of protesters and journalists who voice their dissatisfaction with the government. All of these acts stem from a protest [JURIST report] that took place in November in which over 50,000 people gathered to decry the military's contented rule over the nation.




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Ethiopia sentences Sweden journalists to 11 years for breaking terrorism law
Alexandra Malatesta on December 27, 2011 11:22 AM ET

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[JURIST] Two Swedish journalists found guilty [Bloomberg report] last week in an Ethiopian court of supporting terrorism and entering the country illegally [Al Jazeera, video report] were sentenced Tuesday to 11 years in prison. The journalists contended that they traveled into the country with the designated terrorist group Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) [official website] in order to gain access to an area restricted to journalists [BBC report] and that their mission was to investigate a Swedish oil company, Lundin Petroleum [official website]. The judge did not find the journalists' explanation [Voice of America report] of why they illegally entered the country with the rebel group to be credible. ONLF condemned the sentencing [ONLF press release] as a "heinous" and "unjust" act conducted to "frighten and terrorize the international correspondents for investigating the blatant violation of the Human Rights of the people of Ogaden." The journalists faced a maximum sentence of 18 years in prison under Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009 [text]. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] condemned the journalists' trial as unfair and called on Ethiopia to immediately release the journalists and drop all charges. Amnesty International [advocacy website] also called for their release [press release]. The journalists are faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to appeal or to ask for a pardon that requires admitting guilt [CNN report].

Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law has faced ongoing criticism since it was passed [JURIST report] in 2009. HRW has said [press release] that Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law is "fundamentally flawed and being used to repress legitimate reporting." In August, JURIST guest columnist and former executive director Abigail Salisbury argued that the government is using the law to suppress journalists and opposition groups in order to maintain its hold on power [JURIST op-ed]. In July, HRW called on the Ethiopian government to stop using the law to repress free speech [JURIST report].




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Trial begins in Iran for alleged CIA spy
Alexandra Malatesta on December 27, 2011 10:33 AM ET

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[JURIST] Preliminary hearings for the trial of alleged United State Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] spy, Iranian-American Amir Mirzaei Hekmati began in an Iranian Court Tuesday. Leading evidence against Hekmati includes a confession made on Iranian state television [Naharnet report] where he admits his mission was to infiltrate Iran's intelligence systems by initially offering information to gain their trust and in order to find evidence that Iran was involved in terrorist activity [CNN report]. Herkmati, a former US marine, told the court that he was fooled by the CIA and did not want to hurt Iran, according to a Fars News report [Fars News report]. The United States contends that the allegations against Hekmati are false and that his confessions were forced [National Post report]. Hekmati's family living in the United States, said that he was visiting his grandmothers [NYT report] in Iran at the time of his arrest. The US has been repeatedly accused [BBC report] by Iran of carrying out secret missions to subvert its global reputation.

Last week, Iran denied involvement [JURIST report] in the 9/11 attacks [JURIST backgrounder] after allegations in a default judgment in Havlish v. Bin Laden [materials]. A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] granted the plaintiffs' motion for judgment against Iran, its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Kharmenei, former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani [BBC profiles] and several other sovereign defendants holding that they are liable under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA) [text] for knowingly aiding al Qaeda [JURIST news archive] through Hezbollah [BBC profile] in the 9/11 attack. Also last week, Alan Gross, a US citizen serving a 15-year prison sentence [JURIST report] in Cuba, was not included Cuba's announced release of 2,900 political prisoners. Gross was sentenced in Cuba for installing internet equipment as part of a secretive US program.




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Iraq VP refuses to return to Baghdad to stand trial
Rebecca DiLeonardo on December 26, 2011 4:31 PM ET

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[JURIST] Vice president of Iraq Tareq al-Hashemi [JURIST news archive] said Sunday that he will not return to Baghdad to stand trial on charges of inciting violence in the country. Al-Hashemi denies the charges [Al Jazeera video] and has moved to the Kurdish region of northern Iraq to avoid appearing at trial, which he claims will be biased against him. Al-Hashemi's statement comes in response to a warrant issued last week for his arrest [Reuters report] by Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki [official website, in Arabic]. Al-Maliki alleges that Al-Hashemi and his security forces carried out secret assassinations of political enemies. On Friday, protesters took to the streets in support of Hashemi [Al Arabiya report], many alleging that the charges against him are politically motivated. The sectarian violence was ignited just days after the last US troops left Iraq, and threatens to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.

On Sunday US Vice President Joe Biden [official website] spoke with Maliki [AP report], expressing his condolences for last week's violence and discussing the political climate. The US ended it's 9-year Iraq War [JURIST feature] earlier this month when the government officially declared the war at an end and withdrew its remaining troops from the country. The US also handed over the last detainee [JURIST report] in Iraq, Ali Mussa Daqduq, to Iraqi authorities as part of the end of the war. US President Barack Obama [official website] had considered trying Daqduq on US soil [JURIST report], but was unable to come to an agreement with Iraqi officials and so transferred Daqduq to Iraq officials. Sectarian conflict arose almost immediately following the withdrawal of US troops, culminating in the last week's violence.




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Dutch appeals court upholds fine on oil trading company
Ashley Hileman on December 26, 2011 3:47 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Amsterdam Appeals Court on Friday upheld a 1 million euro (USD $1.3 million) fine against oil trading company Trafigura [corporate website] for shipping hazardous waste to the Netherlands and illegally exporting the waste to the Ivory Coast in 2006. The company chartered a ship, the Probo Koala, to deliver and unload acidic and corrosive fuel refining waste in the Netherlands, but had it pumped back onto the ship due to processing costs. The court acquitted Trafigura of one count of forgery related to the events in 2006, but refused to overturn the company's convictions for illegally exporting waste [WSJ report]. The court also rejected an appeal by Dutch prosecutors to increase the amount of the fine. It was alleged that the waste caused 15 deaths and thousands of individuals to become ill near the Ivory Coast. Human rights group Amnesty International [advocacy website], praised [press release] the court's decision, calling it "an important step towards justice" for those affected.

Trafigura was appealing the July 2010 decision [JURIST report] of the Amsterdam District Court, which originally handed down the fine after finding the company guilty of the charges against it. Lawyers for the company believed Judge Frans Bauduin applied the incorrect treaty [AP report] in finding that exporting the waste to Ivory Coast was illegal, arguing that the Marine Pollution Treaty [MARPOL 73/78 text] applied, under which such exportation was legal. Trafigura paid 152 million euros (USD $196.4 million) to Ivory Coast in 2007 to assist with clean-up efforts and settled a civil suit filed in the UK in 2009 by agreeing to compensate 30,000 Abidjan residents made ill by the waste a total of $1,500 each. The Amsterdam court also found the captain of the Probo Koala guilty of co-delivering the hazardous waste and forgery related to concealing its nature. He was sentenced to a five-month suspended prison term. Trafigura employee Naeem Ahmed was also found guilty of leading the harmful delivery and was sentenced to a 6-month suspended sentence and a fine of 25,000 euros (USD $32,300).




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China court sentences dissident to 10 years in prison
Ashley Hileman on December 26, 2011 3:16 PM ET

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[JURIST] A Chinese court on Sunday sentenced political activist Chen Xi to 10 years in prison for inciting subversion. The charges against Chen, 57, stemmed from more than 30 political essays [Guardian report] that he had published online. He was detained late last month after he helped to campaign for independent candidates running in the upcoming elections. Chen has been politically active for decades and has been jailed numerous times as a result. In 1989, he was jailed for supporting student protests, and in 1995, he received another prison sentence of 10 years. The judge who ruled on Chen's case after a short trial cited Chen's repeated offenses as one reason behind the most recent lengthy jail sentence. Chen maintains his innocence but has no plans to appeal the ruling. His sentence is one of the longest terms ever handed down for inciting subversion in China. Two longer sentences for subversion convictions belong to Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], who has been serving an 11-year sentence [JURIST report] since 2009, and Liu Xianbin, who was jailed for 10 years in March.

Chen is the second dissident in four days to be sentenced in the ongoing government crackdown on dissidents, rights activists and protest organizers. Last week, a Chinese court sentenced [JURIST report] human rights advocate Chen Wei, who is unrelated to Chen Xi, to nine years in prison. Chen Wei, 42, was sentenced after a two-hour hearing in which he pleaded not guilty to inciting subversion of state power. He was charged for having written essays critical of the Communist Party, which he published on overseas Chinese websites, avoiding the national Internet censorship firewalls. Chen was one of more than 130 activists detained after the US-based news site Boxun [website, in Chinese] reported an anonymous appeal for people to stage protests across China last February. The vast majority of those detained have been released without charges or on bail, but officials apparently wanted to make an example of Chen, and China's party-run courts rarely find in favor of defendants in trials for political charges. Amnesty International [advocacy website] called the sentence unacceptable and urged Chinese authorities to release Chen immediately [press release].




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DOJ finds online non-sports gambling lawful
Matthew Pomy on December 26, 2011 10:47 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] clarified its stance on online gambling in a memorandum opinion [text, PDF] released Friday holding online non-sports related gambling that crosses state or international borders is not covered by the Wire Act of 1961 [text]. The opinion dealt with the online, out-of-state sale of lottery tickets in Illinois and New York, but could open the door for online gambling as a whole. Specifically, the opinion suggests that the Wire Act was only meant to regulate sporting events instead of all online gambling. The opinion centers around the interpretation of one section of the Wire Act which states: "Whoever being engaged in the business of betting or wagering knowingly uses a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest...shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both." The DOJ limited its interpretation of the law:
Given that the Wire Act does not reach interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a 'sporting event or contest' and that the state-run lotteries proposed by New York and Illinois do not involve sporting events or contests, we conclude that the Wire Act does not prohibit the lotteries described in these proposals.
The opinion shifts the administration's stance in a way that could allow non-sports related interstate online gambling under federal law. The DOJ's opinion ends by saying its stance needs to be reconciled with existing federal legislation.

The Wire Act is not the only law affecting online gambling. In November, New Jersey passed Public Question 1 [JURIST report] by a 65 percent margin, amending the New Jersey constitution [text] to legalize sports gambling. The Washington Supreme Court [official website] ruled last year that a state ban on online gambling [JURIST report] is constitutional. That month, the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] delivered three judgments striking down gambling restrictions [JURIST report] in Germany because the regulations were not designed to protect public interest. The ECJ upheld a Swedish law restricting Internet gambling [JURIST report]. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) [HR 4411 summary] bans banks and financial institutions from intentionally accepting payments from credit cards, checks, or electronic fund transfers related to unlawful Internet bets. This act was passed by George W. Bush in 2006, but enforcement of the bill was delayed [JURIST reports] by the Obama Administration in 2009.




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Bulgaria to ratify UN disabilities treaty
Sung Un Kim on December 25, 2011 4:21 PM ET

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[JURIST] Bulgaria will ratify [Novinite report] the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities [text] at the beginning of 2012, a member of the Bulgarian parliament [official website] announced on Sunday. According to Svetlana Angelova [official profile] this ratification will result in several legislation amendments that will ensure that Bulgarian citizens with disabilities are treated as equal citizens and minimize discrimination against them in the area of education, healthcare and environment. Bulgaria was one of the few states that has failed to ratify the UN document and has been criticized for its treatment of disabled people, especially those with mental disabilities. The nation has a pending case in the European Courts of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website], Stanev v. Bulgaria [press release, PDF], contesting the living conditions of state-run facilities for disabled people, as well as a lack of rights for challenging diagnoses and placement. The plaintiff, Roussi Stanev, was interred in a social care home after members of his family requested he be put under state care. Stanev argued before the ECHR that, under current Bulgarian law, it was impossible for him to have his legal capacity restored or rexamined. Angelova guaranteed that after signing the treaty, all laws in Bulgaria will be amended to come into compliance, including the penal code.

The United States signed [press release; JURIST report] the treaty in July of 2009 after US President Barack Obama announced [JURIST report] during a celebration commemorating the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 [DOJ materials] that the US would sign the convention. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities entered into force [JURIST report] in May of 2008 for the purpose of protecting the 650 million persons living with disabilities worldwide [UN fact sheet] from being discriminated due to their disabilities. The treaty has been signed by 142 members and ratified by 62 after it was opened for signature [JURIST report] in March of 2007. The convention was adopted [JURIST report] by the UN General Assembly in December of 2006 and was hailed as the "first human rights treaty to be adopted in the twenty-first century; the most rapidly negotiated human rights treaty in the history of international law; and the first to emerge from lobbying conducted extensively through the Internet" by then, Secretary-General Kofi Annan.




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Iran rejects allegations of 9/11 involvement after US judgment implicates them
Sung Un Kim on December 25, 2011 3:34 PM ET

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[JURIST] Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast [official profile] denied [IRNA report, in Persian] that Iran was actively involved [press release] in the 9/11 [JURIST news archive] attacks after allegations in Thursday's default judgment [text, PDF; findings of facts and conclusions, PDF] in Havlish v. Bin Laden [materials]. A Southern District of New York [official website] judge granted the plaintiffs' motion for judgment against Iran, its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Kharmenei, former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani [BBC profiles] and several other sovereign defendants holding that they are liable under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA) [text] for knowingly aiding al Qaeda [JURIST news archive] through Hezbollah [BBC profile] in the 9/11 attack. The findings of facts concluded that Iran "provid[ed] safe haven to al Qaeda leaders and operatives, keeping them safe from retaliation by US forces" and "facilitat[ed] the travel of eight to ten of the 9/11 hijackers to Iran or Beirut immediately after their acquisition of their US visas." Mehmanparast stated that the allegations were unfounded and without merit: "The United States has made repeated false claims about its illegitimate political goals to endanger international peace and security."

The affidavits that were the foundation of the recent judgment filed [JURIST report] in May by relatives of 9/11 victims. The initial suit, Havlish v. Bin Laden was filed in 2002 after previous unsuccessful attempts to indict other nations in the 9/11 attacks through litigation. Two years ago, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] dismissed [JURIST report] a lawsuit initiated by survivors of the 9/11 attacks against Saudi Arabia and its four princes holding that there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the princes intended the money they donated to be used for al Qaeda attacks. In addition, the court held that they were protected from prosecution under the FSIA. A similar ruling took place in 2005, when the US District Judge Richard Casey dismissed [JURIST report] Saudi Arabia, its defense minister and its ambassador to the UK as defendants in a 9/11 litigation due to their immunity from prosecution under the same act.




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24 AGs file brief supporting FDA in tobacco label suit
Max Slater on December 25, 2011 1:24 PM ET

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[JURIST] A group of Attorneys General representing 24 US states and territories filed an amicus brief with the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday arguing that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] can require cigarette packages to display graphic images of the dangers of smoking. The AGs believe that the government's duty to inform the public of the risks that tobacco poses should trump tobacco companies' free speech rights, saying that the government could require graphic labels for lethal and addictive products. The brief also claimed that current warnings on cigarette packages were inadequate in curbing tobacco use and more explicit labels, which include depictions [AP report] of a sewn-up corpse of a smoker and a picture of diseased lungs, would better protect the public. The brief is in support of the FDA appeal [JURIST report] of a district court decision banning the labels. In November, the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] blocked [JURIST report] the implementation of new requirements [FDA backgrounder], which mandated that all cigarettes would have graphic warnings detailing the dangers of tobacco use. The brief was filed by Attorneys General from Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, the Virgin Islands, Washington and West Virginia. No date has been set for the appeal trial.

Tobacco warning labels have garnered a great deal of controversy recently, both in the US and abroad. Three weeks ago, JURIST guest columnist Allyn Taylor warned [JURIST comment] that nations' recent efforts to regulate cigarette labeling could trigger a series of successful tobacco industry lawsuits. Earlier this month, two tobacco companies challenged [JURIST report] Australia's Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill [text], which requires depictions on cigarette boxes of the negative effects of smoking. In late November, Philip Morris Asia Ltd. [corporate website] filed suit on behalf of its Australian affiliate [JURIST report], seeking compensation for its loss of Australian investments. In 2009, President Barack Obama [official website] signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA) [HR 1256 text; JURIST report] into law, granting the FDA certain authority to regulate manufactured tobacco products. The legislation heightened warning-label requirements, prohibited marketing "light cigarettes" as a healthier alternative and allowed for the regulation of cigarette ingredients.




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UN condemns escalating Syria violence
Max Slater on December 25, 2011 11:47 AM ET

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[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website; JURIST news archive] issued a statement [press release] on Friday, chastising both the government of President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile] and violent protesters regarding the continuous bloodshed in Syria. Approximately 44 people [Al Jazeera report] were killed Friday in two suicide car bomb attacks in Damascus. The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) [official website] has since linked the attacks to anti-government protests, while protesters and their supporters have suggested that the state planted attacks to coincide with an Arab League [official website, in Arabic] visit. Ban's press release pleaded that both groups resist violence: "The Secretary-General is gravely concerned at the escalating violence in Syria. Today's explosions in Damascus, which resulted in more deaths and injuries, underscore his growing concerns. He emphasizes that all violence is unacceptable and must stop immediately." The UN Security Council [official website] echoed the Ban's sentiments the same day, declaring [UN News Centre report] that the recent car bombings were acts of terrorism. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] reports that over 5,000 people have died since anti-government protests began in March.

The growing violence in Syria has drawn copious international attention recently. In his annual Christmas message on Sunday, the Pope called for an end to bloodshed in Syria [BBC report]. Last week, the UN Security Council extended [resolution] the term of its observer force monitoring a ceasefire between Syria and Israel until the end of June 2012. Two weeks ago, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] accused [JURIST report] Syrian army commanders of ordering troops to attack unarmed protesters in an effort to quash public demonstrations entirely. Both HRW and the UN OHCHR urged [JURIST report] the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. Earlier this month, The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] adopted a resolution [JURIST report] condemning the recent uptick in Syrian bloodshed.




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Cuba government announces release of 2,900 political prisoners
Sarah Posner on December 24, 2011 2:51 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Cuban government announced Friday that the country will grant amnesty to and free 2,900 prisoners including those convicted of political crimes. The announcement was motivated by humanitarian concerns [AP report], in an effort by President Raul Castro to establish good will in anticipation of a visit by Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba scheduled for next spring. Alan Gross, a US citizen who is serving a 15-year prison sentence [JURIST report] for installing internet equipment as part of a US program, will not be pardoned [Reuters report] along with the thousands of other prisoners. The ruling Council of State took into account appeals for amnesty from both Roman Catholic Church officials in Cuba and family members of the prisoners. However, the head of the independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights criticized the amnesty as merely meant to protect Cuba's image rather than a signal of real reform. Cuba has had a history of allegedly rooting out political dissent [HRW backgrounder] through criminal prosecutions.

In March, a court in Cuba sentenced Gross to 15 years in prison for attempting to undermine the communist government of Cuba. US National Security spokesman Tommy Vietor immediately denounced the ruling, calling the 15-year sentence an "injustice." Before this incident, the historically strained relations between the US and Cuba had shown signs of improvement. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama [official profile] ordered [JURIST report] the Departments of State, Treasury, and Homeland Security [official websites] to take steps to ease restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba.




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EU policy chief criticizes trial of Ukraine ex-PM Tymoshenko
Sarah Posner on December 24, 2011 2:15 PM ET

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[JURIST] The European Union (EU) [official website] foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton [official website] on Saturday criticized [press release,PDF] the outcome of the appeals case for former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; JURIST news archive], announced December 23. Ashton voiced concern over Tymoshenko's prior trial, alleging that the appeals process did not address the failures of the original trial to provide a fair and independent process by international standards. Ashton further voiced regret that Tymoshenko will be prevented from participating in the parliamentary elections next year. She said that the EU stresses the need for an impartial and transparent appeals process. The EU delayed signing an agreement [Kyiv Post report] with the Ukraine on political association and free trade in order to address this issue.

On Thursday, Tymoshenko announced [JURIST report] that she will discontinue all appeals [JURIST report] and that she will solely rely on the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] to intervene [ECHR case materials] in her conviction. Tymoshenko is under indefinite detention after being denied release [JURIST reports] last week. Tymoshenko's prosecution has been highly controversial [JURIST comment] and has drawn harsh criticism internationally. Last week, the European Commission [official website] expressed its concern regarding a lack of transparency of Ukrainian hearings in prison, and declared that such a process does not correspond to the jurisprudence of the ECHR. In November, the Ukrainian Parliament voted against [agenda text] hearing amendments that may have freed [JURIST report] Tymoshenko by fining her rather than sentencing her for her criminal convictions.




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DOJ rejects new South Carolina voter ID law
Sung Un Kim on December 24, 2011 12:10 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Department of Justice [official website] (DOJ) Friday rejected [decision text, PDF] a controversial South Carolina voter identification law [R54 materials]. The DOJ has authority under the Voting Rights Act [Cornell LII backgrounder] to screen new voter laws in states with a history of discriminatory voter practices. The South Carolina law, enacted to prevent voter fraud, would have required residents to present a current government-issued ID to cast a ballot. However, Assistant US Attorney General Thomas Perez said the voter-ID requirement resulted in significant racial disparities and that South Carolina had not met its burden to show that these disparities would not have a discriminatory effect on minority voters.
In sum, however analyzed, the state's data demonstrate that non-white voters are both significantly burdened by section 5 of Act R54 in absolute terms, and also disproportionately unlikely to possess the most common types of photo identification among the forms of identification that would be necessary for in-person voting under the proposed law ... Until South Carolina succeeds in substantially addressing the racial disparities described above, however, the state cannot meet its burden of proving that, when compared to the benchmark standard, the voter identification requirements proposed in section 5 of Act R54 will not have a retrogressive effect.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley [official website] and the state Attorney General Alan Wilson [official website] said [McClatchy report] that they are going to appeal the DOJ ruling of the DOJ. Wilson pointed to the US Supreme Court upheld [JURIST report] a similar law in Indiana.

In August, the South Carolina's Senate Minority Caucus filed an objection [JURIST report] with the DOJ asking for rejection of the new voter ID law. They argued that the new law is too restrictive because it required voters to have both a valid and current identification which would have the result of excluding persons whose licenses are revoked or suspended. This objection followed a previous attempt by several South Carolina civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] (ACLU) and the League of Women Voters of South Carolina [advocacy website] who argued [JURIST report] in their letter [text, PDF] to the DOJ that the new voter ID law would have discriminatory 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 Wisconsin, several civil rights groups filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] this month challenging the new voter identification law [2011 Wisconsin Act 23]. In June, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon [official website] vetoed [JURIST report] a law requiring persons to present photo identification at voting booth. In March, the Georgia Supreme Court [official website] upheld [JURIST report] a law requiring 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 Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration in October last year.




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Michigan governor signs law banning benefits for public employees' domestic partners
Sung Un Kim on December 24, 2011 11:10 AM ET

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[JURIST] Michigan Governor Rick Snyder [official website] Thursday signed into law a bill [HB 4770 text, PDF] prohibiting public employers from providing medical or other fringe benefits to their employees' domestic partners. Snyder provided a signing statement [text, PDF] noting that a new definition of public employer in the bill excludes university employees. He said this is necessary based on various Michigan Supreme Court cases and the several sections of the Michigan Constitution, including Article VIII, Section 5 [text, html], Section 6 [text, html] and Article XI, Section 5 [text, html], that give institutions of higher education authority over the control and direction of all expenditures of the institutions' funds. HB 4770 passed in the state Senate earlier this month passed the House in September. The Michigan American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] (ACLU) criticized the bill with Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director, saying [press release] that its approval during the holiday season is merely "mean-spirited and cruel." Moss said the organization will prepare to challenge the law during the next few weeks.

Many states, like Michigan, are facing issues pertaining to benefits for same-sex partners. Last month, the ACLU filed a brief [JURIST report] against a similar bill in Montana where the State approved a law that denied partnership benefits to same-sex couples. They argued that the new law violates of the Montana Constitution. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [JURIST report] in September that a bill [text, PDF] rescinding health benefits for same-sex couples in the public sector is against the equal protection clause of the Arizona Constitution.




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Military court hears closing arguments in intelligence leak case
Dan Taglioli on December 23, 2011 3:55 PM ET

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[JURIST] A US military court heard closing arguments Thursday at the pre-trial hearing for Pfc. Bradley Manning [advocacy website; JURIST news archive], which will determine whether he will face a court martial for his alleged role in the largest intelligence leak in US history. Manning, who served as an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq, faces 22 criminal charges and possible life imprisonment [CNN report] for leaking a controversial classified video [YouTube video] of a 2007 US helicopter strike in Iraq and nearly 750,000 classified US military and State Department [official website] documents, much of which landed on Wikileaks [website] last year. The Article 32 hearing, the military justice system's rough equivalent of a grand jury hearing, is conducted publicly and the defense is allowed to cross-examine witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. At the hearing, Manning's lawyers accused prosecutors of overreaching [Reuters report], saying the massive release of documents caused no harm to national security, and asking the court to throw out charges of aiding and giving intelligence to the enemy. They also urged the court to dismiss several other counts, saying overall security within Manning's unit was lax. Aiding the enemy is a capital offense that could bring the death penalty, but the prosecution has said it intends to seek life in prison for the soldier. Manning's attorney focused his closing remarks on urging the prosecution to seek a prison term of no more than 30 years. Manning will not know for several weeks whether he will face a court martial.

A US Army [official website] panel of experts declared Manning competent to stand trial [JURIST report] in April. Manning's prosecution has sparked heated debate between defenders and critics. Those who support Manning's actions refer to him as courageous for acting as a whistleblower [advocacy petition] against government crime and corruption. He has been compared to famous US whistleblowers such as Frank Serpico and Daniel Ellsberg [personal websites], who leaked information regarding corruption in the New York Police Department and the Pentagon, respectively. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates [WP profile] has criticized the video [WSJ report], claiming it provides the public a view of warfare "as seen through a soda straw." He noted that public attention was not drawn to what was discovered by US ground forces following the helicopter gunfire, including AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. He also said that terrorist organizations are made up of combatants who do not wear enemy uniforms. In August, lawyer Charles Lugosi [profile] wrote that Patriot Act provisions and criminal sanctions placed on whistleblowers like Manning violate the Constitution [JURIST commentary] and fundamentally challenge the legitimacy of the rule of law and American democracy. Lugosi noted that individuals, through websites and social networking, can expose modern injustice and raise the conscious awareness of the public to worthy causes and crusades.




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China court sentences dissident to nine years in prison
Dan Taglioli on December 23, 2011 2:58 PM ET

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[JURIST] A Chinese court Friday sentenced human rights advocate Chen Wei to nine years in prison, the toughest ruling issued this year in the ongoing government crackdown on dissidents, rights activists and protest organizers. Chen, 42, was sentenced after a two hour hearing in which he pleaded not guilty to inciting subversion [Reuters report] of state power. He was charged for having written essays critical of the Communist Party, which Chen published on overseas Chinese websites, avoiding the national Internet censorship firewalls. He was one of more than 130 activists detained after the US-based news site Boxun [website, in Chinese] reported an anonymous appeal for people to stage protests across China last February. The vast majority of those detained have been released without charges or on bail, but officials apparently wanted to make an example of Chen, and China's party-run courts rarely find in favor of defendants in trials for political charges. Amnesty International [advocacy website] called the sentence unacceptable and urged Chinese authorities to release Chen immediately [press release]. His sentence is the third-longest term ever handed down for inciting subversion in China.

The two longer sentences for subversion convictions belong to Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], who has been serving an 11-year sentence [JURIST report] since 2009, and Liu Xianbin, who was jailed for 10 years in March. In May the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention [official website] called for the immediate release of Liu Xiaobo, who was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize in absentia [JURIST report] after being jailed for a subversion conviction in a trial that lasted only two hours and was closed to foreign diplomats. Earlier this week prominent civil rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] was sent to prison for three years for violating his probation, the first sign that he is still alive [JURIST report] since having disappeared 20 months ago, presumably at the hands of the authorities. 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.




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Federal judge rules financier Stanford competent to stand trial
Sarah Posner on December 23, 2011 10:43 AM ET

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[JURIST] A federal judge ruled Thursday that financier Allen Stanford [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] is mentally competent to stand trial for orchestrating a $7 billion Ponzi scheme affecting investors in both the US and Latin America. The decision came after a three-day hearing [Reuters report] in which U.S. District Judge David Hittner decided that Stanford was able to assist his lawyers in preparing for trial. Stanford has been in federal custody since his arrest in June 2009. His lawyers were unsuccessful in arguing that he suffered from retrograde amnesia and diminished mental capacity [Bloomberg report] as a result of head injuries sustained during a 2009 assault while in prison. Doctors and psychologists at the prison hospital have accused Stanford of faking symptoms of amnesia. The trial is scheduled to begin on January 23.

In February, Stanford filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] accusing federal agents of violating his constitutional rights. The suit, filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas, named 12 defendants, including members of the FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official websites]. Stanford alleged that the defendants used "abusive law-enforcement methods" to pursue a frivolous civil suit [JURIST report] against him in order to gather evidence for his criminal prosecution. In January, a federal judge indefinitely postponed [JURIST report] Stanford's trial, citing a chemical dependency that prevented Stanford from standing trial. In June 2009, Stanford pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to 21 charges of fraud, conspiracy, and obstruction.




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Thai flood victims file complaint against government
Sarah Posner on December 23, 2011 10:09 AM ET

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[JURIST] Victims of Thailand's flood crisis filed a complaint Thursday with Thailand's Central Administrative Court [official website] alleging that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra [BBC profile] and state agencies caused further damage during one of the countries worst floods. The complaint was issued on behalf of 352 victims [Bangkok Post report] against the prime minister, Bangkok governor and five state agencies for mishandling the response to the flood, which lasted from July through November 2011. The complaint called for individual compensation for property damage and for the government to establish a victims' fund. In total, the flooding killed approximately 600 people and affected about 2.4 million others in the country. Hundreds of thousands of people were put out of work [AFP report] as a result of the flooding and Thailand's economy took a major hit, with a reduction in tourism and production.

The Thai government has also faced international criticism for its strict laws and its human rights record. Earlier this month, Thai-born American citizen Joe Gordon was sentenced [JURIST report] to two-and-a-half years in prison after pleading guilty to violating Section 112 of the Thai Penal Code [text], which criminalizes insulting the country's royal family. The UN has condemned [JURIST report] the law, saying that the law prohibits freedom of speech. In August, the UN urged the Thai government to improve measures to combat human trafficking [JURIST report], 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.




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Ukraine ex-PM Tymoshenko ends appeals to focus on ECHR
Julia Zebley on December 22, 2011 4:51 PM ET

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[JURIST] On Thursday, former Ukraine prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; JURIST news archive] announced [press release] that she will discontinue all appeals [JURIST report] and that she will solely rely on the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] to intervene [ECHR case materials] in her conviction. Tymoshenko is under indefinite detention after being denied release [JURIST reports] last week. In her statement, Tymoshenko lambasted the Ukrainian judiciary, and stated that nothing will change while current Ukrainian president and long-time political rival Viktor Yanukovych [official website] is in charge.
This is not 1937. This is their second year in power, and they have pushed our country beyond the boundaries of our era, an era of basic humanity and decency. This is the age of cave dwellers in its worst forms. In this situation, I see no reason or necessity to continue to support the farce in the Ukrainian courts. I will not seek the truth in them, because it's not there. Let them play their games of crooked justice, if they want, demonstrating to the world their immorality and insidiousness. I believe the European Court of Human Rights will assess the absurdity and crime that the Ukrainian government calls court. At the same time I would like to note that despite all the torture and humiliation, they haven’t broken me and never will. I continue my fight, because even here behind bars, I feel freer than all the Yanukovychs behind the government fences.
Yanukovych said on Thursday that he is not opposed to Tymoshenko's release [Interfax report] under certain conditions. This is likely in reaction to the ECHR "fast tracking" [press release, PDF] Tymoshenko's case, which it announced earlier this week.

Tymoshenko's prosecution has been highly controversial [JURIST comment] and has drawn harsh criticism internationally. Last week, the European Commission [official website] expressed its concern [Kyiv Post report] regarding a lack of transparency of Ukrainian hearings in prison, and declared that such a process does not correspond to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website]. In November, the Ukrainian Parliament voted against [agenda text] hearing amendments that may have freed [JURIST report] Tymoshenko by fining her rather than sentencing her for her criminal convictions. The EU has consistently condemned [JURIST report] the former prime minister's conviction as politically-motivated, and has indicated that the prosecution could harm Ukraine's bid for EU accession. Tymoshenko herself has also made efforts to demonstrate that the charges are motivated by her adversaries, but to no avail. In August, the Kiev Appeals Court refused an appeal of her detention for contempt charges for a lack of legal grounds to contest the arrest [JURIST reports]. Also, in June, Tymoshenko filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the ECHR alleging various violations of the European Convention of Human Rights [text, PDF] and arguing that her charges were politically engineered by Yanukovych. Yanukovych narrowly defeated Tymoshenko in the presidential election in March 2010, but Tymoshenko has claimed that widespread voter fraud contributed to the outcome.




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Federal judge blocks portions of South Carolina immigration law
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 22, 2011 3:23 PM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of South Carolina [official website] on Thursday blocked [order, PDF] portions of South Carolina's controversial immigration law [SB 20]. The legislation requires police officers to check a suspect's immigration status during a lawful stop, seizure, detention or arrest if they believe the person may be in the country illegally and requires businesses to participate in the E-Verify [official website] system. It was challenged by a coalition of civil rights groups and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [JURIST reports], which both argued that it is unconstitutional, invites racial profiling and interferes with federal law. Judge Richard Gergel blocked the provision that requires police to check immigration status, finding, "[t]his state-mandated scrutiny is without consideration of federal enforcement priorities and unquestionably vastly expands the persons targeted for immigration enforcement action. He also blocked the provision that outlaws harboring or transporting an illegal immigrant, finding a likelihood of irreparable harm. The law was set to take effect January 1.

Similar immigration laws are being challenged throughout the US. Last week Alabama and Georgia filed motions in the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] seeking to stay proceedings [JURIST report] on challenges to their immigration laws pending a ruling by the US Supreme Court [official website] in Arizona v. United States [docket]. The Supreme Court agreed [JURIST report] earlier this month to rule on a challenge to Arizona's controversial immigration law [SB 1070 materials], 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. A challenge is also pending to an immigration law in Utah, and an Indiana law has been blocked [JURIST reports] by a federal judge.




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Federal judge dismisses lawsuit by former Guantanamo detainee
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 22, 2011 3:00 PM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit [order, PDF; opinion, PDF] by a former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee alleging that he was subjected to torture. Abdul Rahim Abdul Razak Al Ginco, a Syrian national who prefers the surname Janko, filed the lawsuit [JURIST report] in October 2010, claiming that US military officials repeatedly tortured him during his nearly seven-and-a-half years at Guantanamo. The suit named 26 current or former members of the military who were allegedly responsible for the tortuous acts, such as urinating on Janko, slapping him, threatening him with loss of fingernails, sleep deprivation, extreme cold and stress positions. Judge Richard Leon dismissed the suit Thursday, concluding:
War, by its very nature, victimizes many of those caught in its wake. Innocent civilians are invariably killed, and sometimes even mistakenly imprisoned. Our legal system was never designed to provide a remedy in our Courts for these inevitable tragedies, especially in a conflict like this where terrorists cunningly morph into their surroundings. Indeed, the Congress has specifically barred the Judicial Branch from reviewing "any aspect of the detention ... treatment ... or conditions of confinement of an alien who is or was detained by the United States and has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination." For this Court to circumvent such a clear directive from our Legislative Branch would be an utter disregard of the limitations of our judicial power.
Janko was released [JURIST report] from Guantanamo in June 2009 when Leon found that he could no longer be classified as an "enemy combatant" and that the government's argument against him defied common sense. Prior to being detained by the US military, Janko was imprisoned and tortured by al Qaeda [JURIST news archive] for 18 months over suspicions that he was an American spy.

Several other Guantanamo detainees have also filed lawsuits alleging torture. In July 2010, the UK High court allowed [JURIST report] a lawsuit filed by former Guantanamo Bay detainees alleging that the UK government was complicit in their torture to proceed. In April of last year, former Guantanamo detainee Adel Hassan Hamad [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the Western District of Washington [official website] against the US government and more than a dozen government officials, claiming he was tortured.




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UN rights chief: Bahrain government should release protestors, rebuild trust
Rebecca DiLeonardo on December 22, 2011 2:58 PM ET

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[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Wednesday said that the Bahrain government should release prisoners detained during peaceful protests [news release] and focus on rebuilding national trust in the government. Pillay's statement follows a visit by a team of human rights officials to Bahrain last week at the invitation of the Bahrain government. Pillay expressed concern that members of her team observed that the people of Bahrain harbored a "deepening mistrust" of their government. She stated that the harsh crackdown on protesters combined with the continued impunity of officials suspected in the abuse and death of protesters has contributed greatly to the environment of mistrust. She called on the government to work to improve human rights conditions in order to rebuild national trust:
The Bahraini authorities need to urgently take confidence-building measures including unconditionally releasing those who were convicted in military tribunals or are still awaiting trial for merely exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Thousands of individuals have lost their jobs for participating in demonstrations, many students have had their education derailed—these serious violations of their economic and social rights must be immediately addressed. Those who have been unfairly dismissed should be reinstated to their original functions. ... My team has come back with the message that there is a profound lack of trust in the Government, and this mistrust has deepened as a result of the violent crackdown on protestors, destruction of mosques, the lack of fair trials and the lack of progress in providing redress for violations.
Pillay said it was important that the government take positive measures to regain the nation's trust, including consulting with the public. She urged that any protesters in the country remain nonviolent.

Last Month Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa [official website] ordered a special commission [JURIST report] to look into government recommendations made in a report by an independent Bahraini government commission. The report stated that Bahrain authorities used excessive force [JURIST report] and tortured detainees involved in the pro-democracy demonstrations earlier this year. Also last month the Bahrain government admitted the use of excessive force [JURIST report] in anticipation of the independent report. This was a reversal of the government's previous defense of its actions [CNN report]. In June Khalifa announced that an independent commission would investigate human rights violations [JURIST report] related to the country's pro-democracy protests. Earlier that month UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official websites] 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.




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France lower house approves genocide denial ban
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 22, 2011 2:22 PM ET

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[JURIST] The French National Assembly [official website, in French] approved a draft law Thursday that would outlaw genocide denial, including the World War I-era killings of more than one million Armenians by Turkish soldiers. The measure would ban genocide denial generally, but it has sparked a diplomatic row with Turkey [Reuters report], which does not classify the killings as a genocide. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has strongly criticized the legislation, canceling all economic, political and military meetings with France and recalling its ambassador. France passed a law in 2001 recognizing the killings as genocide. The National Assembly approved legislation criminalizing denial of the Armenian genocide in 2006, but that measure was rejected by the Senate. The Senate must still approve the new legislation, which it will begin debating next year.

The Armenian genocide is also a contentious issue in US law and politics. Last month the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] decided to revisit a case [JURIST report] to determine whether a California law declaring Armenian genocide in Turkey conflicts with US foreign policy. In August 2010 a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] unanimously dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging the exclusion of materials questioning the Armenian genocide from a school curriculum. In March 2010 the Obama administration announced its opposition to a resolution [JURIST report] labeling the World War I-era killings as genocide. The announcement came after the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs passed the resolution [JURIST report] by a vote of 23-22. Erdogan condemned the resolution, and the Turkish government recalled its ambassador to the US.




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Puerto Rico to hold status referendum
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 22, 2011 1:40 PM ET

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[JURIST] Puerto Rican lawmakers on Wednesday approved legislation to hold a referendum on the island's status with the US. The House of Representatives [official website, in Spanish] passed the measure by a vote of 31-13 [press release, in Spanish], and a plebiscite will be held on November 6, 2012, coinciding with next year's general elections and the island's gubernatorial election. Puerto Ricans will be asked to choose whether they want to change the island's status. If yes, they will be asked whether they prefer statehood, independence or a "sovereign commonwealth" free from the Territorial Clause of the US Constitution. Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuno (R) [official website, in Spanish], a supporter of statehood, introduced the legislation [AP report] in October, and it has now been approved by both the Puerto Rican House and the Senate. The legislation now awaits Fortuno's signature. Any change in Puerto Rico's status would still need to be approved by the US Congress and president.

The US House of Representatives approved a bill to establish the referendum [JURIST report] in April 2010, but it was never approved by the Senate. In 2007, the UN Special Committee on Decolonization [official website] called on the US [press release] to quickly resolve the island's political status and release political prisoners. Puerto Ricans last voted on the status of the island in 1998 [results], with the "None of the Above" option winning 50.3 percent, statehood garnering 46.5 percent of the vote and independence only 2.5 percent. Referendums were also held in 1993 and 1967 [results], in which maintaining the current political status won over statehood, and independence placed at a distant third. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated US territory, and its current political status was adopted in 1952 after Congress approved the Puerto Rican Constitution [text]. The constitution established the island as a US commonwealth, causing the UN General Assembly to remove the island's categorization as a "non-self governing territory." Puerto Ricans have been US citizens since 1917, and the island has been under US control since 1898. JURIST Managing Editor Dwyer Arce recently argued that, as US citizens, Puerto Ricans should be entitled to vote [JURIST comment] in US presidential elections.




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Canada high court strikes down national securities regulator proposal
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 22, 2011 11:43 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Canada [official website] on Thursday rejected a proposal [judgment; press release] to establish a single national securities regulatory body to replace the current system managed by individual provinces and territories. Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty [official website] introduced [JURIST report] the legislation [text; official backgrounder] in May 2010, and it was submitted to the Supreme Court for a ruling on its constitutionality. The court ruled unanimously that, "[t]he Securities Act as presently drafted is not valid under the general branch of the federal power to regulate trade and commerce under s. 91(2) of the Constitution Act, 1867 [text]." The court concluded:
To summarize, we accept that the economic importance and pervasive character of the securities market may, in principle, support federal intervention that is qualitatively different from what the provinces can do. However, as important as the preservation of capital markets and the maintenance of Canada’s financial stability are, they do not justify a wholesale takeover of the regulation of the securities industry which is the ultimate consequence of the proposed federal legislation. The need to prevent and respond to systemic risk may support federal legislation pertaining to the national problem raised by this phenomenon, but it does not alter the basic nature of securities regulation which, as shown, remains primarily focused on local concerns of protecting investors and ensuring the fairness of the markets through regulation of participants. Viewing the Act as a whole, as we must, these local concerns remain the main thrust of the legislation—its pith and substance.
Flaherty said the government would respect the court's decision and proceed in accordance with it [CTV report].

The legislation was based on the recommendations of a seven-member panel appointed by Flaherty, which concluded in January 2010 that the global financial crisis [FT backgrounder] increased the need for a national securities regulatory system. It came as a culmination of the efforts of successive Canadian governments to form a single securities regulator. When the legislation was proposed last year, Quebec Premier Jean Charest [official profile] sharply criticized it, saying that it would interfere with provincial jurisdiction and that his government would pursue a legal challenge in the Quebec Court of Appeal [officials website]. The governments of Alberta and Manitoba were also critical of the legislation.




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Ethiopia anti-terrorism law being used to suppress journalists: HRW
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 22, 2011 10:58 AM ET

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[JURIST] Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law is "fundamentally flawed and being used to repress legitimate reporting," Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said [press release] Wednesday. HRW made the statement after two Swedish journalists were convicted [Bloomberg report] Wednesday of supporting terrorism under Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009 [text]. The journalists, who face up to 15 years in prison, were on a "journalistic mission," according to Sweden's prime minister. HRW deputy Africa director Rona Peligal said, "[t]he vague and broad anti-terrorism law was open to abuse and it is being abused." HRW said the trial was unfair and called on Ethiopia to immediately release the journalists and drop all charges. Amnesty International [advocacy website] also called for their release [press release].

Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law has faced ongoing criticism since it was passed [JURIST report] in 2009. In August, JURIST guest columnist and former executive director Abigail Salisbury argued that the government is using the law to suppress journalists and opposition groups in order to maintain its hold on power [JURIST op-ed]. In July, HRW called on the Ethiopian government to stop using the law to repress free speech [JURIST report].




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Rights group criticizes Kyrgyzstan justice system
Jennie Ryan on December 22, 2011 10:45 AM ET

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[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Thursday criticized [press release] the Kyrgyz Supreme Court for upholding a guilty verdict in a trial it claims was marred by allegations of torture, violence and threats. In its ruling on December 20, the Kyrgyz Supreme Court upheld a verdict against eight ethnic Uzbeks who were found guilty of killing a policeman and injuring several other officers during mass disturbances in the city of Bazar-Kurgan in June 2010 [Guardian backgrounder]. The eight Uzbek nationals were convicted in September 2010 [JURIST report] on charges including inciting ethnic hatred and complicity in murder. Seven of the defendants were sentenced to life and their sentences remain unchanged. The Kyrgyz Supreme Court reduced the 20-year sentence of the eighth defendant to 11 years. The defendants allege they were tortured while in custody and that their families were threatened. HRW criticized the ruling, arguing that the court should have sent the "case back for re-trial and instructed the prosecutorial authorities to investigate all allegations of torture, ill-treatment, and other violations of Kyrgyz and international law in this case."

The Kyrgyz judicial system has been criticized by rights groups, including HRW, related to the treatment of detainees following the violence of June 2010. In June 2011 HRW and Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] criticized [HRW report; AI report] Kyrgyzstan's lack of judicial progress, marking the one-year anniversary of the June 2010 ethnic violence that resulted in more than 300 deaths and 2,000 injuries. Both reports alleged [HRW press release] that investigations have been conducted through torture and that typically, only confessions given through torture have been recognized as evidence while other, legitimate evidence has been ignored. Earlier this year, the US Department of State (DOS) [official website] also criticized Kyrgyzstan [JURIST report] in its 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [materials], stating Kyrgyzstan [materials] still faced significant rights issues and ethnic violence despite the overthrow of an authoritarian government and the passage of a new constitution [JURIST reports]. In November 2010 a court in Kyrgyzstan sentenced 19 ethnic Uzbeks [JURIST report] for their involvement in the June 2010 ethnic violence. In July of last year the Kyrgyz government announced that it had opened more than 1,000 criminal cases [JURIST report] stemming from the violence, and that 106 individuals had been detained, with 97 in custody.




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New York Times suing DOJ for information on targeted killings
Jennie Ryan on December 22, 2011 9:57 AM ET

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[JURIST] The New York Times (NYT) [media website] filed a lawsuit [text] against the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Tuesday alleging the government violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] in refusing to release legal memoranda related to targeted killings of terror suspects. The suit relates to the death of the US-born radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] who was killed in a US drone strike [JURIST report] in Yemen in September. The strike that killed al-Awlaqi raised questions about the legality of the US ordering the targeted killing of American citizens. The lawsuit contends that the questions surrounding the legality of the US government's actions in al-Awlaqi's death have led "legal scholars, human rights activists, and current and former government officials ... [to call] for the government to disclose its legal analysis justifying the use of targeted lethal force, especially as it applies to American Citizens." The NYT states that it filed FOIA requests in 2010 but the DOJ refused to release any memoranda or even confirm existence of any such documents related to the legal analysis justifying the killing.

Some information related to the death of al-Awlaqi has already leaked to the media. In October an Obama administration legal memorandum from last year [JURIST report] found that the killing of US citizen and senior al Qaeda [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] leader al-Awlaqi would only be legal if it were not feasible to take al-Awlaqi alive. The secret document written by the DOJ justified the decision [NYT report] to kill al-Awlaqi despite an executive order banning assassinations and a federal law against murder. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] criticized the targeted killing as a violation of both US and international law. The US has increased drone strikes in Yemen to try and reduce al Qaeda's power in the region and minimize the chaos spilling over the border into Saudi Arabia. The strike that killed al-Awlaqi marks the US government's most successful attack against al Qaeda since the raid leading to the death of Osama bin Laden [JURIST report] in Pakistan last May.




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Bank of America to pay $335 million to settle discriminatory lending claims
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 22, 2011 9:20 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced Wednesday that Bank of America (BOA) [corporate website] has agreed to pay a record $335 million [press release] to settle claims that its subsidiary, Countrywide Financial, discriminated against Hispanic and African-American home buyers. According to the DOJ complaint [text, PDF], Countrywide engaged in a pattern of discriminatory conduct, charging minority borrowers higher fees and interest rates and steering them into sub-prime mortgages based not on their creditworthiness, but rather on their race or national origin. The proposed settlement [text, PDF], filed in the US District Court for the Central District of California and subject to court approval, will provide compensation to more than 200,000 minority borrowers. It will also require Countrywide to implement policies to prevent such discrimination in the future. The discrimination allegedly occurred between 2004 and 2008, before BOA acquired Countrywide in 2008. A BOA spokesperson pledged a commitment to "fair and equal treatment of all our customers."

This is the latest in a series of legal problems for BOA. Earlier this month BOA agreed to pay $315 million [JURIST report] in a settlement of claims brought by investors alleging they were misled with respect to mortgage-backed investments. Last month a senior judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida [official website] gave final approval to a $410 million settlement [JURIST report] in a class action suit against BOA for overdraft fees that affected more than 13 million people. The settlement with BOA, which was reached in February, was given preliminary approval [JURIST reports] in May. In June, BOA agreed to pay $8.5 billion [JURIST report] to settle claims that it sold bad securities contributing to the housing market collapse.




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US lawmakers vote to sanction Belarus for protest crackdowns
Julia Zebley on December 22, 2011 7:31 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the Belarus Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2011 [text, PDF], imposing new sanctions on Belarus [JURIST news archive] in reaction [press release] to what the bill's author calls "the worst political crackdown in Europe in well over a decade." If signed, the law would label President Alexander Lukashenko [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] a dictator and state that he "established himself in power by orchestrating an illegal and unconstitutional referendum that enabled him to impose a new constitution, abolishing the duly elected parliament." The new sanctions require the US to investigate Belarus' arms deals and its possible censorship of the Internet, as well as denying visas to a list of Belarusian officials. The bill also calls on the International Ice Hockey Federation [official website] to change the location of the 2014 International World Ice Hockey Championship, currently scheduled in Minsk, which the US believes will "legitimize" the Belarusian government. Forcing Belarus to respect peaceful protesters is one of the primary goals [floor remarks text, PDF] of the new US sanctions:
HR 515 states a US Government policy of strong support for the Belarusan people in their struggle against Lukashenko to live in a free, independent country where their human rights are respected. The bill encourages those struggling despite overwhelming pressures from an antidemocratic regime. It calls for a full accounting of the 1999 to 2000 disappearances. ... It calls for a release of all of the political prisoners. We can't say that enough. We can't say it one day and forget it the next. We need to redouble our efforts, beginning today, to promote a free Belarus where all can live in peace, freedom and prosperity without that knock in the middle of the night by the KGB.
On Thursday, three Ukrainian activists from the group Femen [official Facebook profile] were released [RFE/RL report] from Belarus custody after protesting Lukashenko's regime. The women allege that they were kidnapped by Belarus KGB [RFE/RL report], stripped and beaten. US Sanctions will not be lifted until there is an unconditional release of all political prisoners and new elections are held. The bill is expected to be signed by US President Barack Obama [official website], who last sanctioned Belarus in June [UPI report].

Belarus has been under increasing criticism for what many see as a rapid decline of human rights in the Eastern European nation. Last month, a Belarus court convicted [JURIST report] human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, the president of Viasana and vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) [advocacy websites], of tax evasion, sentencing him to a four-and-a-half-year prison term amid international criticism. In September, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] suggested a need for UN intervention in Belarus [JURIST report] and demanded the nation free non-violent political prisoners. Her report also cited Belarus as the only European nation to still enforce the death penalty. Ambassador Mikhail Khvostov said his country disagrees with the UN on what constitutes a peaceful demonstration and that Belarus is committed to human rights. The month before, members of the Belarus Parliament introduced a bill that would ban so-called "silent protests" [JURIST report], including those involving large groups of people basically doing nothing. Nonetheless, silent protests continue [RT report], largely in defiance of Lukashenko. Earlier this year, Belarus' Minsk City Court delivered suspended sentences for 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 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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HRW urges Libya to ensure access to lawyer for Gaddafi's son
Ashley Hileman on December 21, 2011 2:30 PM ET

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[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Wednesday urged the Libyan government to find a way, amid security concerns, to grant access to a lawyer [press release] to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of deceased former dictator Muammar Gaddafi [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive]. Fred Abrahams, a special adviser at HRW, visited with Saif al-Islam in Zintan, Libya, where he is currently being detained and reported that while he has no complaints regarding the physical conditions at his place of detention, he is concerned at being unable to access a lawyer to help with his case. He was arrested [JURIST report] in November on charges of committing crimes against humanity. While Abdelaziz al-Hasadi, Libya's general prosecutor, has assured HRW that Saif al-Islam will have the opportunity to meet with a lawyer, that assurance is conditioned upon the government first providing a secure detention center where he will be safe from attack. According to HRW, in spite of the validity of the security concerns, the new government should make every effort to provide him with access to a lawyer in order to preserve its goal of respecting detainee rights. In addition to denial of a lawyer, Saif al-Islam has also not been able to visit with any friends or family during his detention.

Last month, International Criminal Court [official website] Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] said that the ICC would allow Libya to conduct the trial [JURIST report] of Saif al-Islam. Despite concern from human rights groups, including HRW about whether he can receive a fair trial [HRW report] in Libya, Ocampo said he trusts the new Libyan government will be able to try him fairly [AP report] and maintained that the ICC will not intervene as long as it does not stray from ICC standards. The ICC issued a statement [text] clarifying that, "[s]hould the Libyan authorities wish to conduct national prosecutions against the suspect, they shall submit a challenge to the admissibility of the case before Pre-Trial Chamber I. ... Any decision on the admissibility of a case is under the sole competence of the Judges of the ICC." Ocampo's statement regarding the location of the trial came after his visit to Libya [JURIST report], during which he discussed the country's plans for the trial. Earlier in the month, Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim al-Keib pledged [JURIST report] that Saif al-Islam would receive a fair trial there.




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Top EU court prohibits asylum transfers that risk rights violations
Ashley Hileman on December 21, 2011 2:11 PM ET

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[JURIST] The European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] ruled [judgment text; press release, PDF] Wednesday that an asylum seeker may not be transferred to a member state if there is a risk he will be subjected to inhumane treatment. In so ruling, the ECJ rebutted the presumption that member states observe the fundamental rights of asylum seekers. The ruling was the result of multiple cases brought before the court from individuals that were arrested in Greece for illegal entry without applying for asylum. Upon release, one traveled to the UK, while five others traveled to Ireland, where they were informed that they would be returned to Greece. However, fearing that their fundamental rights would be not be respected in Greece, they all resisted their return. The courts in the UK and Ireland then asked the ECJ to determine whether member states must first make sure that the state where those seeking asylum will be transferred actually observes fundamental rights. The ECJ ruled that they must, holding that:
The Member States, including the national courts, may not transfer an asylum seeker to the Member State indicated as responsible where they cannot be unaware that systemic deficiencies in the asylum procedure and in the reception conditions of asylum seekers amount to substantial grounds for believing that the asylum seeker would face a real risk of being subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment within the meaning of Article 4 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
The court also stated that a member state that is not able to transfer an asylum seeker due to the possibility of infringement of their rights, may, in certain circumstances, be required to examine the application for asylum, which would normally be the responsibility of the state to which individuals are transferred. All of the transfers at issue would normally be allowed under an agreement called Dublin II [text], which allows countries to deport an asylum seeker back to the country where they first set foot.

Greece is not the only country whose asylum policies have been questioned. In May, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] rebuked [JURIST report] Australia for its political, rather than human rights based approach to indigenous people and asylum-seekers. Although she criticized some of the nation's practices, she had considerable praise for "a strong history of commitment to human rights at the international level, and also of course a robust system of democratic institutions." Nonetheless, she believes improvements are necessary in the realm of treatment of Aborigines and immigrants. On the topic of asylum-seekers, Pillay described situations where refugees wait in immigration centers for months or years. She recommended greater communication with both groups, a revamp of how the Aborigine Northern Territory is handled, and for political leaders to quit "demonizing" refugees and immigrants.




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Russia rights council condemns Khodorkovsky conviction
John Paul Putney on December 21, 2011 12:40 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Russia Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights under President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile; JURIST news archive] called for the prosecutor general to petition to annul the conviction of ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] in a report released Wednesday. The council found fundamental violations in the investigation [RIA Novosti report] leading to Khodorkovsky's second trial on embezzlement charges. In addition, the council indicated the second conviction was for the same crime [Bloomberg report] of which he was found guilty of in 2005. Describing the verdict as fictitious, council member and former Constitutional Court judge, Tamara Morshchakova, noted the council found neither evidence nor substance to the charges [AP report] brought against Khodorkovsky in the second trial. The council's decisions are non-binding [BBC report] and have seldom elicited action from Russian authorities.

The council has spoken out about Khodorkovsky before. In July the council urged amnesty for economic crimes [JURIST report] in a meeting with Medvedev that would include amnesty for the crimes of Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky and his former business partner Platon Lebedev were convicted in December 2010 and sentenced [JURIST reports] on charges connected with embezzling more than $27 billion from Yukos oil. International human rights organizations and numerous governments criticized Russia's justice system [JURIST report] following the guilty verdict. Last year former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov [BBC profile] testified [JURIST report] that former president and current prime minister Vladimir Putin [official website; JURIST news archive] ordered Khodorkovsky's arrest for political reasons, indicating that Khodorkovsky had funded the Communist Party [party website, in Russian] without first getting approval to do so from the president. Some critics of the Russian government have argued that the charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are politically motivated [JURIST op-ed] due to Khodorkovsky's opposition to Putin. In March 2010 Khodorkovsky criticized Russia's justice system [JURIST report] as an "assembly line" that inevitably finds the government's political enemies to be guilty. The statement echoed concerns Khodorkovsky had previously expressed about the fairness of Russian trials and the need for widespread reform of the Russian court system [JURIST reports].




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Rwanda genocide tribunal sentences former political leaders to life in prison
John Paul Putney on December 21, 2011 11:50 AM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] on Wednesday sentenced former Rwandan political party leaders, Matthieu Ngirumpatse and Edouard Karemera, to life in prison for their role in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The court was unanimous in condemning Ngirumpatse [BBC report], who was the chairman of Rwanda's then-ruling National Revolutionary Movement for Development (NRMD) party. In confirming the life sentence handed down to Karemera, the former deputy leader of Ngirumpatse's NRMD, the court found the two were in a "joint criminal enterprise" intent on exterminating Tutsis [AFP report] and bore "superior responsibility" for the NRMD's youth wing [Reuters report]—the Interahamwe—that conducted most of the crimes. The court also found the pair bore extended liability for the widespread sexual assaults and rapes of Tutsi women and girls.

The ICTR continues to try suspects for crimes occurring during the massacre in which approximately 800,000 people were killed. Last month the ICTR convicted former Rwandan mayor Gregoire Ndahimana [JURIST report] of genocide and crimes against humanity by virtue of his "command responsibility" and sentenced him to 15 years in prison in connection with the killings at Nyange parish between April 6 and April 20, 1994, In September, the court acquitted [JURIST report] two former Rwandan ministers, Casimir Bizimungu and Jerome Bicamumpaka, of genocide charges due to a lack of sufficient evidence. In June, the court convicted [JURIST report] former Rwandan army chief Augustin Bizimungu and three others. Bizimungu was sentenced to 30 years in prison while two others, Francois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye and Innocent Sagahutu, to 20 years in prison and Augustin Ndindiliyimana to time served since his arrest in 2000. Last December the ICTR sentenced [JURIST report] former Rwandan Armed Forces lieutenant Ildephonse Hategekimana to life imprisonment after convicting him on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. The court found Hategekimana guilty of three counts of genocide stemming from his involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, specifically in the massacre of civilian Tutsis in the Rwandan town of Butare.




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Illinois ex-governor Blagojevich to appeal conviction
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 21, 2011 11:10 AM ET

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[JURIST] Lawyers for former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich [personal website; JURIST news archive] filed notice Tuesday that they will appeal his conviction and 14-year sentence on corruption charges. Judge James Zagel of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois [official website] handed down the sentence [JURIST report] earlier this month after Blagojevich made a public apology in court. Blagojevich was scheduled to be sentenced on October 6 after he was convicted in June on 18 counts of corruption, but the sentencing hearing was delayed [JURIST reports] until this week. Blagojevich is currently scheduled to report to prison March 15.

Blagojevich was previously found guilty [JURIST report] last year of making false statements to the FBI, but the jury remained deadlocked on 23 additional charges. The prosecutors dropped some of the charges [JURIST report] to simplify the case for retrial, including charges for racketeering. In January 2009, the Illinois State Senate voted unanimously [JURIST report] to convict Blagojevich of abuse of power and remove him from office. Blagojevich and his former chief of staff John Harris were initially arrested [JURIST report] in December 2008 on corruption charges, including allegations that they conspired to sell the Senate seat left vacant by US President Barack Obama.




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Top EU court upholds airline pollution fines
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 21, 2011 9:22 AM ET

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[JURIST] The European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] on Wednesday upheld [judgment text; press release, PDF] an EU law forcing foreign airlines using EU airports to pay fees for greenhouse gas emissions [JURIST news archive]. The finding that the carbon emission fees do not violate international law, as several US and Canadian airlines had argued, was expected after ECJ Advocate General Juliane Kokott issued an opinion to that effect [JURIST report] in October. The foreign airlines had filed for judicial review of EU Directive 2008/101/EC [text, PDF], which announced that airlines would have to comply with heightened emissions regulations while using EU airports beginning on January 1, 2012. The airlines argued that the directive violated the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, the Kyoto Protocol and the Open Skies Agreement [text, PDF]. However, the ECJ ruled that the directive does not violate the international agreements, noting that the EU is not a party to the Chicago Convention.

The EU insisted that it will enforce its new cap-and-trade law despite strong opposition from the US [JURIST report]. The new legislation will eventually require all airlines, including those of non-EU countries, to pay for their carbon dioxide emissions in an effort to encourage airlines to use cleaner fuels and to economize fuel use. Those who do not comply would face steep fines. In October, the US House of Representatives [official website] voted to shield [press release] US passenger and cargo planes from compliance with the EU law. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica [official profile] has criticized the law, calling it "an arbitrary and unjust violation of international law that disadvantages US air carriers, threatens US aviation jobs, and could close down direct travel from many central and western US airports to Europe" and a violation of international law and trade agreements. The change in the emissions law would greatly impact large US carriers, costing them an estimated $3 billion by 2020.




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US trade commission rules narrowly for Apple in HTC patent case
Michael Haggerson on December 20, 2011 3:46 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US International Trade Commission (USITC) [official website] ruled [text, PDF] on Monday for Apple [corporate website; Bloomberg backgrounder] on a patent complaint against HTC [corporate website; Bloomberg backgrounder] for infringing its "data tapping" patents. The USITC found that HTC had violated section 337 of the Tarriff Act of 1930 [text, PDF] by infringing on some of the claims of patent nos. 5,946,647, 6,343,263, 5,481,721 and 6,275,983 [texts], all relating to signal processing and the transfer of data across data networks. Despite the victory for Apple, analysts state that this is not a wholesale ban on the importation of HTC Android products [FOSS Patents post]:
[T]his ruling falls far short of anything that would force HTC out of the U.S. market in the near term. Also, out of ten patents originally asserted, Apple finally prevailed on only one. Apple will need a higher "hit rate" in the future, and it will have to enforce patents that are greatly more impactful than this one. Out of ten patents originally asserted, Apple finally managed to enforce one, and it's one of medium value.
To avoid the import ban Google [corporate website; Bloomberg backgrounder], maker of the Android operating system, needs to either remove the feature, which would puts its phones at a competitive disadvantage, or find an alternate way of implementing it. Any HTC Android devices that avoid infringing on Apple's patents will not be subject to the importation ban, which is scheduled to begin April 19, 2012.

In November the USITC found that Apple did not violate [JURIST report] four of HTC's patents. In July USITC ruled that HTC infringed two Apple patents [JURIST report] relating to the Android operating system. This ruling came days after Apple filed a complaint against Samsung [JURIST report] in an effort to bar importation of Samsung's smartphones and tablets. Apple claimed Samsung's "Galaxy" line copies its iPhone and iPad technology. This complaint came just weeks after Samsung filed a similar complaint [JURIST report] seeking to prevent Apple from importing iPads and iPhones. Samsung claimed Apple violated five patents also related to smartphones and tablets. In March 2010, Apple also filed suit against HTC [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the District of Delaware [official website] for 10 patents involving various areas of technology.




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Hungary court strikes down provisions of media law
Michael Haggerson on December 20, 2011 1:47 PM ET

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[JURIST] Hungary's Constitutional Court [official website, in Hungarian] on Monday struck down [press release, in Hungarian] certain provisions of the country's recently passed media law as an unconstitutional restraint on press freedom. Rights groups had urged Hungary to amend [JURIST report] the media law. The media law created the National Media and 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 impose costly fines on broadcasters, newspapers and news websites if their coverage is deemed unbalanced or immoral by the media authority. The Constitutional Court struck down provisions allowing the NMHH to regulate content in print and online media and limiting the rights of reporters to protect confidential sources. The Constitutional Court, in a separate decision, also struck down [press release, in Hungarian] a law regulating religious organizations [JURIST report]. Critics of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban [official website, in Hungarian] have expressed concern over his apparent attempts to limit check and balances on his power [Reuters report].

In April Hungarian President Pal Schmitt signed into law a controversial new constitution [JURIST report] amid concern from civil society leaders and opposition politicians that the document contravenes European human rights principles. According to Human Rights Watch [advocacy website], the new constitution "enshrines discrimination," and jeopardizes the rights of people with disabilities, women and LGBT people. Changes in the new constitution included a debt ceiling, allowing the Fiscal Council to veto the budget and dissolve parliament for failure to pass an annual budget by the end of March, defining marriage as a union between men and women and stating that the life of a fetus begins at and should be protected from conception. Hungary's parliament passed the new media law last December amid protests and criticism. The law took effect on January 1, 2011, the same day the Hungarian government assumed the presidency of the EU. Despite criticism, the Hungarian government initially defended [JURIST report] the law. Under the new law, the NMHH can 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 media authority, whose members are all loyal to the ruling Fidesz party [party website, in Hungarian]. The law has been harshly criticized [Daily Mail report] by members of the media, as well as other European governments, as being too restrictive of free expression.




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UN rights chief condemns Egypt military crackdown
Katherine Getty on December 20, 2011 10:32 AM ET

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[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] Navi Pillay [official profile] on Monday condemned the brutal crackdown [press release] on protesters by military and security forces in Cairo. Since Friday the brutal suppression of demonstrations has led to 11 deaths and more than 500 injuries. This is the second time since November that Pillay has condemned the use of excessive violence in Egypt. In November she issued a statement denouncing the deaths of 30 protesters [JURIST report] at the hands of security and military forces. She expressed particularly strong concern over what seems to be a deliberate targeting of peaceful women protesters.
The graphic images of protesters, including women, being brutally clubbed and assaulted, long after the point when they are showing any resistance, are utterly shocking. People lying motionless on the ground are shown on film being smashed on the head and body with sticks. These are life-threatening and inhuman acts that cannot possibly be justified under the guise of restoration of security or crowd control.
Pillay called for an independent and impartial investigation into the violence, citing that whoever has perpetrated these attacks must be brought to justice, no matter their rank or power. She also called for the release of all of the prisoners who have been jailed for exercising their rights. Pillay also had a message for protesters, urging them to continue to preserve the peaceful nature of their protests.

Pillay's November declaration came after Amnesty International [advocacy website] released a report highlighting the human rights violations [JURIST report] committed by Egyptian authorities against protesters. That report expressed the concern that the rights violations under this new government maybe equal to those perpetrated under the Mubarak regime. In late November UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] and a group of independent human rights experts [JURIST report] called on Egyptian authorities to guarantee the protection of human rights and civil liberties. The November clashes with armed forces were a result of more than 50,000 protesters taking the streets to criticize the military's continued control over the country since the February overthrow [JURIST reports] of Hosni Mubarak.




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China again jails prominent rights lawyer after 20-month disappearance
Dan Taglioli on December 19, 2011 3:51 PM ET

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[JURIST] China's government Friday announced that prominent civil rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] would be sent to prison for three years for violating his probation. Gao's sentence is the first sign that he is still alive [AP report] since having disappeared 20 months ago, presumably at the hands of the authorities. The announcement was made in a brief report by the state-run Xinhua News Agency, but did not give information about his health and whereabouts, either now or in the passed 20 months, and did not explain what violations Gao had committed in violation of his five-year probation, which was scheduled to expire this Thursday. Gao was convicted of subversion in 2006 and sentenced to three years in prison, but he was quickly released on probation before he was taken away in 2009 in the first of his forced disappearances. He has been a prominent figure for the civil rights movement in China, advocating constitutional reform and arguing landmark cases to defend property rights and political and religious dissenters. Gao's wife and two children fled China around the time he first disappeared and now live in the US. She has said that Gao's family has yet to receive any notice about his case from the police or courts and have no knowledge of his current whereabouts.

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.




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Rights groups criticize European countries over silence on CIA rendition program
Dan Taglioli on December 19, 2011 3:14 PM ET

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[JURIST] Two international human rights organizations on Monday accused European countries of suppressing evidence of their roles in the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] rendition program of forced transfer and secret detention. Legal action charity Reprieve, in cooperation with the human rights organization Access Info Europe [advocacy websites], released their interim findings [report; press release] in a report documenting right of access requests made in 28 countries to investigate flights associated with "extraordinary rendition"—the covert transfer of prisoners by the US from locations in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia. The report shows that only seven countries have provided information following right of access requests, with five other countries responding with claims that they do not hold the information requested, three countries and Eurocontrol [official website] denying the requests outright and almost half of the total countries polled responding with administrative silence. The groups admonished the European countries that lagged in terms of transparency:
The right of information is a fundamental right in itself, as has been recognised by the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Committee. It is also an instrumental right, essential for the protection of other human rights. Information concerning grave infringements of human rights should never be withheld from the public.
The report found the US provided the most comprehensive response to the requests, having handed over Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) [official website] records with data on more than 27,000 flight segments. Canada, one of the countries to refuse the information requests, responded that its civil air navigation services provider is a private body that does not fall under the scope of Canada's access to information law and so is not required to provide information. The report claims that the 13 countries responding with administrative silence have violated the right of access to information and are "covering up the serious violations of the human rights of those who were the victims of extraordinary rendition."

Many of the flights that are being investigated passed through Europe and in some cases the involuntary passengers they carried were allegedly held and tortured in detention centers in Europe. Earlier this month a joint investigation between the Associated Press (AP) [media website] and a German public television company reportedly uncovered a CIA-operated secret prison [JURIST report] outside the capital of Romania. The investigation found that once detainees were placed in the prisons, they endured sleep deprivation and other harsh interrogation techniques, but waterboarding was not allowed in Romania. Investigations have previously uncovered similar "black site" locations in Lithuania and Poland. The Lithuanian National Security Committee concluded that the Lithuanian State Security Department provided the CIA with two secret facilities [JURIST report] in December 2009. In 2007 it was discovered that the CIA had prisons in Romania and Poland [JURIST report], but the governments would never confirm or deny the allegations. In 2010 Poland requested US assistance in their investigation of the alleged prison, but the US government refused to cooperate. The European Parliament [official website] approved a report condemning member states for cooperating with the (CIA) in operating illegal secret prisons and extraordinary rendition flights in Europe in 2007. This action came in the wake of a 2006 report by the Legal Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe [official website] report that alleged that 14 European countries [JURIST report] collaborated with the CIA by taking an active or passive role in secret prisons and rendition flights.




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FBI reports decrease in violent crime for first half of 2011
Jamie Reese on December 19, 2011 2:55 PM ET

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[JURIST] The FBI [official website] announced Monday that violent crime in the US has dropped [press release], continuing a trend lasting for the past four-and-a-half years. The 2011 figures for January through June were compiled by the Bureau's Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) [official website] in a preliminary semiannual report [text]. Violent crimes, which include murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault, dropped 6.4 percent in the first months of 2011 compared to the same time in 2010. Property crimes, including burglary, larceny theft and motor vehicle theft, dropped 3.7 percent and arson decreased 8.6 percent. The FBI report did not give any reason for the decrease in crimes nationwide, but the latest numbers provide further evidence of no crime spike coinciding with tough economic conditions [Reuters report] and high unemployment.

The FBI data is a compilation of more than 18,000 jurisdictions that voluntarily participate in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. The report for 2010 showed a decrease of 6.0 percent in violent crime and a decrease of 2.7 percent in property crime compared to 2009 statistics [JURIST reports]. The decrease in violent crime began after 2006 and 2005 statistics [JURIST reports] showed an increase of 1.3 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively. Property crime has decreased for its eighth consecutive year.




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North Korea urged to focus on human rights after Kim Jong-il death
Julia Zebley on December 19, 2011 1:01 PM ET

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[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) responded Monday to the death of North Korean [JURIST news archive] leader Kim Jong-il [BBC profile] by urging [statement] his son and likely successor Kim Jong-un [BBC profile] to improve the nation's human rights record. AI warned that reports indicate the exchange in power could forecast new repressions to "crush any possibility of dissent." Indeed, there are allegations that the government has "purged" any official opposed to Kim Jong-un's succession, by execution or labor camp internment. Not much is known about Kim Jong-un, who is 27 or 28 and Kim Jong-il's youngest son, except that he was recently appointed head of the National Defence Commission and will head his father's funeral committee. North Korean state media reported that Kim Jong-il died early Saturday morning:

Although images from the country center around a grief-stricken populace, AI and others have criticized Kim Jong-il's regime as damaging to the nation, citing that nearly a million people have died of food shortages since he took power in 1994. Kim Jong-il reportedly died of "great physical and mental strain" while "dedicating his life to his people." An autopsy revealed more specifically that the 69-year-old died of heart failure [KCNA report, in Korean]. There has been speculation that Kim Jong-il suffered a stroke several years ago, as well as a continuing struggle with diabetes, which it is alleged Kim Jong-un shares. A national mourning period has been declared until December 29. Reactions to Kim Jong-il's death have been varied [BBC report]. South Korea and Japan are on high alert for the possibility of a strike by North Korea in the wake of his passing, and Asian stock markets have fallen since the death of North Korea's "Dear Leader."

North Korea under Kim Jong-il was alleged to be one of the most notorious violators of human rights in the world [HRW report]. The UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights Marzuki Darusman criticized North Korea's human rights record last month, especially concerning treatment of prisoners [JURIST report], echoing a UN General Assembly [official website] resolution [text] earlier that week. North Korea has refused to admit agents of the UN to gather information and denies that labor camps exist. Last year, the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] confirmed that the prosecutor's office has opened preliminary examinations to evaluate possible war crimes committed by North Korea [JURIST report]. ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] verified that evaluations will determine if some of the incidents by North Korean forces in South Korea constitute war crimes, giving the ICC jurisdiction over the matter. Earlier in 2010, a UN committee condemned [JURIST report] what it called persistent, "grave violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights" of its own people. In March 2010, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] adopted a resolution condemning [JURIST report] North Korea for human rights abuses.




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ICTR upholds decision to transfer case of former pastor to Rwanda court
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 19, 2011 12:27 PM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] on Friday rejected an appeal by former Rwandan pastor Jean-Bosco Uwinkindi [case materials], upholding a decision to transfer his case to the Republic of Rwanda to be tried in the Rwandan national court system. The ICTR ordered the transfer [JURIST report] in June under Rule 11 bis, which authorizes the transfer of cases to appropriate national jurisdictions. This marked the first time the ICTR had transferred a case to the Rwandan court system. As a precautionary measure, the Referral Chamber requested that the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) [official website] be appointed to oversee the trial [UN News Centre report] and present any issues to the ICTR President as they arise.

Uwinkindi pleaded not guilty [press release] in July 2010 to charges of genocide and crimes against humanity relating to the 1994 Rwandan genocide [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Uwinkindi was indicted [indictment, PDF] by the ICTR in 2001 and has been charged with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity. The indictment alleges that Uwinkindi collaborated with the extremist National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND) party in order to kill Tutsis. He allegedly led a group of Hutus to look for and kill a group of Tutsi settlers and conspired with members of the militia to kill Tutsis who sought protection in the church where he was the pastor. According to the indictment, approximately 2,000 bodies were found near the church where the violence occurred. Uwinkindi had been one of the ICTR's most wanted suspects, with a $5 million reward being offered [BBC report] for information leading to his capture. He was apprehended [JURIST report] by Ugandan authorities and transferred to the ICTR in Arusha, Tanzania.




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ICC rejects prosecution request to block Rwanda rebel leader's release
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 19, 2011 10:00 AM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Monday rejected the prosecution's request that it suspend its order to release accused Rwandan rebel leader Callixte Mbarushimana [ICC materials]. Pre-Trial Chamber I on Friday declined to confirm charges [JURIST report], finding that there was insufficient evidence [decision, PDF], and ordered Mbarushimana's release. The prosecution immediately requested a stay of the release order [petition, PDF], arguing that Mbarushimana could continue committing crimes and that it might be difficult to rearrest him if the Pre-Trial Chamber's decision were reversed by the Appeals Chamber. The Pre-Trial Chamber rejected the prosecution's request Monday saying that only the Appeals Chamber could order Mbarushimana's continued detention.

Mbarushimana was ordered to stand trial [JURIST report] at The Hague by a French court in 2010. In 2008 he was arrested [JURIST report] in Germany trying flee to Russia. In 2005, the UN asked France [JURIST report] to bring charges against Mbarushimana, who was living with refugee status in the country. At the time the former prosecutor for the ICC said that it did not file charges because there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.




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US transfers final detainee to Iraq government
Michael Haggerson on December 18, 2011 2:53 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US handed over the last detainee in Iraq, Ali Mussa Daqduq, to Iraqi authorities on Friday as part of the end of the Iraq War [JURIST backgrounder]. Daqduq allegedly has links to Hezbollah [JURIST news archive] and is accused of planning a raid in 2007 which resulted in the deaths of five US soldiers [NYT report]. US President Barack Obama [official website] considered trying Daqduq on US soil [JURIST report] but was unable to come to an agreement with Iraqi officials. Since no decision could be reached, Duqdaq had to be transferred to Iraq officials pursuant to the 2008 status-of-forces agreement between the US and Baghdad. The decision to turn over Duqdaq will likely spark political controversy, because many politicians were concerned with releasing Duqdaq [letter, PDF] to Iraqi authorities:
If [Duqdaq] is released from custody, we firmly believe that he will seek to harm or kill more American servicemen and women. Our concern is that Iraq's current legal regime could allow for Daqduq to to return to the fight either as a result of an inability to detain and prosecute him under Iraqi criminal laws, ineffective incarceration, or other challenges. We know that matters such as these remain the subject of ongoing discussions with our Iraqi partners, but we believe that the potential transfer of Daqduq to Iraqi authority could pose an unacceptable risk to US national security interests.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki stated that Iraq could not allow the Daqduq to be transferred to the US because current Iraqi law did not permit it. It is currently unclear whether the administration will still seek to have Daqduq extradited eventually to be tried on US soil or to be tried under a military commission [JURIST news archive] at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive].

The location of the trials of foreign terror suspects detained by the US has been a controversial issue. In July the US brought Somali terror suspect Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame to the US to face a civil trial in New York [JURIST report], a decision that has sparked harsh criticism from members of Congress who argued that terror suspects should be held at Guantanamo Bay. Obama ordered military commissions of detainees to resume [JURIST report] in March after he initially suspended new charges at Guantanamo Bay shortly after taking office in 2009. US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] has consistently advocated [JURIST report] that terror suspects should be tried in civilian courts despite finding little support from Congress. In April, Holder announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and four other co-conspirators will be tried before a military commission [JURIST report] for their roles in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Holder, who wanted the accused be tried before a federal civilian court [JURIST report], referred the cases to the Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] after Congress imposed a series of restrictions [JURIST report] barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the US.




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Indonesia parliament approves eminent domain bill
Michael Haggerson on December 18, 2011 2:12 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Indonesian parliament approved a bill on Friday that gives the government eminent domain [JURIST news archive] powers to seize land from individuals without their consent, as long as compensation is provided. Proponents of the bill argue that it will allow the government to increase infrastructure [Reuters report], leading to improvements in the economy. A day after the bill passed, Fitch Ratings [official website] upgraded Indonesia to an investment grade rating. Human rights groups argue that the land acquisition bill threatens notions of traditional lands rights and will lead to conflict between land owners and the government.

Eminent domain has become an issue in many members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations [official website] recently due to their improving economies [Jakarta Post report]. However, controversy surrounds the governments' expanding use of their powers to seize land from indigenous people. In September Malaysia's Federal Court ruled unanimously against [JURIST report] indigenous people fighting against the Sarawak government's seizure of land to build a USD $2.3 billion dam project. In December, the US government pledged to support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [JURIST report], a non-binding UN treaty expressing support for the rights of indigenous peoples. The US was the last member to lend its support to the treaty. In August 2010, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official website] called on governments to improve the living conditions of indigenous peoples [JURIST report] and support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.




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Federal appeals court affirms injunction against Nebraska abortion law
Jamie Reese on December 18, 2011 10:39 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] on Friday affirmed [order, PDF] an injunction against a Nebraska abortion law [LB 594 materials]. The US District Court for the District of Nebraska [official website] issued a preliminary injunction [JURIST report] in July 2010 against the law, known as the Women's Health Protection Act, which requires physicians to evaluate patients to determine that their choice to have an abortion [JURIST news archive] is voluntary and to inform the patients of all risk factors and complications [LB 594 text, PDF] that have been statistically associated with abortion and published in peer-reviewed journals 12 months prior to the pre-abortion evaluation, as well as earlier studies. The district court ruled that the law was unconstitutional. Nebraskans United for Life (NuLife) [advocacy website] asked for a motion to reconsider, which was denied, and they subsequently appealed. The Eighth Circuit refused to reconsider the motion based on its timeliness, holding, "[t]he record demonstrates the district court considered the proper factors, including the fact the litigation was terminated procedurally, NuLife failed to justify its delay in light of its prior knowledge of the case, and the parties would be prejudiced because final judgment of their settlement had already been entered." Given their holding, they did not reach a decision on the alternative bases for the appeal.

In August 2010 Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning [official website] announced that he would agree to a permanent injunction [JURIST report] against the Nebraska law because he believed there was little chance that the law would withstand a court challenge. The abortion law was supposed to go into effect in July 2010. The lawsuit was filed [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] in June 2010 by women's rights group Planned Parenthood of the Heartland [advocacy website] arguing that the law was unconstitutional.




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Sri Lanka report says military did not target civilians
Jaimie Cremeans on December 17, 2011 12:35 PM ET

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[JURIST] Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission [official website] released a report [text, PDF] Friday concluding that Sri Lanka's military did not intentionally attack civilians following the country's civil war. The LLRC was created by the Sri Lankan government in 2010 to investigate 2009 events in which civilians were killed. In compiling the report, the LLRC invited representatives of the public and got the majority of its information from the general public. It concluded that the events did not seem to be intentional attacks by Sri Lanka Security Forces against civilians who were injured or killed but still recommended possible punishment for misconduct and compensation to those injured in specific situations. It also stressed the importance of realizing the political actions that brought about the conflict in the first place:
The process of reconciliation requires a full acknowledgement of the tragedy of the conflict and a collective act of contrition by the political leaders and civil society, of both Sinhala and Tamil communities. The conflict could have been avoided had the southern political leaders of the two main political parties acted in the national interest and forged a consensus between them to offer an acceptable solution to the Tamil people. The Tamil political leaders were equally responsible for this conflict which could have been avoided had the Tamil leaders refrained from promoting an armed campaign towards secession.
It also recommended a National Day be appointed to "express solidarity and empathy with all victims of the tragic conflict."

In November, the Sri Lankan government announced it would begin investigating the number of casualties [JURIST report] from its 26-year civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [JURIST news archive]. This came after allegations of war crimes [JURIST report] by the UN and others following the conclusion of the civil war [Guardian report] in 2009.




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ICC declines to confirm charges against Rwanda rebel leader
Katherine Getty on December 17, 2011 11:44 AM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] ruled Friday that Callixte Mbarushimana [ICC materials] should be released because there is not enough evidence [decision, PDF; press release] to charge him. Mbarushimana was allegedly tied to the murder, rape and torture of Congolese villagers by Hutu militia in 2009. He was accused of being the Executive Secretary of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] since 2007. The Pre-Trial Chamber found that evidence presented during the preliminary hearing in September was not strong enough to send the case to trial. The prosecution appealed [petition, PDF] the decision Friday:
In order to prevent irreparable prejudice to the Prosecution, it is requested that the Pre-trial Chamber stays its order on release until such time as it has ruled on the Prosecution's application for leave to appeal or, if leave is granted, until the Appeals Chamber rules on the request for suspensive effect. The Prosecution reminds the Pre-Trial Chamber that according to its own findings, endorsed by the Appeals Chamber, Callixte Mbarushimana, if released, has the means to interfere with the investigation, to commit crimes, and to abscond, with the financial support of the FDLR's international network.
The ICC is expected to rule on the appeal soon.

Mbarushimana was ordered to stand trial [JURIST report] at The Hague by a French court in 2010. In 2008 he was arrested [JURIST report] in Germany trying flee to Russia. In 2005, the UN asked France [JURIST report] to bring charges against Mbarushimana, who was living with refugee status in the country. At the time the former prosecutor for the ICC said that it did not file charges because there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.




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DOJ says Arizona sheriff's office has history of violating civil rights
Dan Taglioli on December 16, 2011 3:04 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] Thursday announced the findings of its three-year civil rights investigation of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO). The investigation concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that MCSO engages in a pattern or practice of violating the Constitution [DOJ press release] and laws of the US in three areas. First, the DOJ found that the MCSO engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing, specifically in racial profiling of Latinos and in the unlawful stops, detains and arrests resulting therefrom. Next, the DOJ found that the MCSO unlawfully retaliates against people who criticize its policies and practices. Finally, the DOJ found reasonable cause to believe that the MCSO operates its jails in a manner that discriminates against Latino inmates that are limited-English-proficient, routinely punishing Latino inmates that are limited-English-proficient when they fail to understand commands given in English, and denying critical services that are provided to other inmates. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez made the findings announcement, criticizing the MCSO for failing to cooperate with requests for information, which caused the investigation to to take longer than expected. Perez concluded,
The problems identified in our letter of findings are very serious. They affect public safety, officer safety on the street and in the jail, and they implicate important constitutional protections. Effective policing and constitutional policing go hand in hand. Other departments have recognized this, and we are working collaboratively with us to address important issues. ... If collaboration again proves elusive, we will not hesitate to take prompt, appropriate legal action.
The investigation found discriminatory policing that was deeply rooted in the culture of the department, one that breeds a systemic disregard for basic constitutional protections, the problems of which are compounded by the MCSO's penchant for retaliation against people who speak out against them. The DOJ is also reviewing allegations that the MCSO has failed to investigate a large number of sex crimes.

The role of local law enforcement has garnered much focus in recent years, especially in the area of immigration control, since the passage [JURIST report] of the infamous Arizona immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive], which led to passage of similar enforcement laws in other states. Critics of these laws call them "racial profiling" laws or, more aptly, "show me your papers" laws because they require all immigrants to carry their documents with them at all times for production on demand by state law enforcement officers. In November Margaret Hu [official profile] of Duke University School of Law wrote [JURIST commentary] that the recently enacted state-level immigration laws go against long-held American ideals and cultural values. The DOJ has now challenged the constitutionality of three state immigration laws, those of Arizona, Alabama [JURIST reports] and South Carolina. In September 2010 more than 500 international, US, state and local human rights and immigration advocacy organizations sent a letter [JURIST report] to US President Barack Obama expressing concern over the use of local law enforcement agencies in the enforcement of federal immigration law, specifically pointing to the MCSO and an example of an authority with a history of racial profiling. In October 2008 an Arizona federal district court ruled that conditions in Maricopa County corrections facilities violate the constitutional rights of its prisoners [JURIST report].




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Obama announces nominees for civil liberty and privacy oversight agency
Matthew Pomy on December 16, 2011 2:05 PM ET

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[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official profile] nominated three individuals [press release] to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) Thursday, which had been vacant since 2007. He named David Medine [Findlaw profile] as his nominee for Chairman as well as Rachel Brand [NCLC profile] and Judge Patricia Wald [Inns of Court profile] as members of the board. The board serves to assist the president [WH backgrounder] in ensuring that privacy and civil liberties are adequately considered while implementing anti-terrorism policies. The board is also charged with:
"Advising on whether adequate guidelines, supervision, and oversight exist to protect these important legal rights of all Americans. In addition, the Board is specifically charged with responsibility for reviewing the terrorism information sharing practices of executive branch departments and agencies to determine whether guidelines designed to appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties are being followed."
The nominations have been sent to the Senate for confirmation hearings.

Legal experts, right groups, and Democrats criticized [CAP op-ed] the board while it was operating under George W. Bush [WH profile] for being too close to the administration when it approved [JURIST report] a controversial surveillance bill in 2007. The board was originally recommended [text, PDF] by the 9/11 Commission [text, PDF]. It was then established by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 [text, PDF]. It began functioning in March 2006 after not meeting [JURIST reports] for more than a year since it was established in December 2004.




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UN report details global violence against LGBT individuals
Dan Taglioli on December 16, 2011 1:54 PM ET

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[JURIST] The UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] Thursday released the first ever UN report [text, PDF] on the global human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The report details LGBT people around the world being killed or enduring hate-motivated violence [UN News Centre report], torture, detention, criminalization and discrimination in jobs, health care and education because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Prepared in response to a request from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] earlier this year, the report draws from information included in past UN reporting, official statistics on hate crimes where there are available, and reporting by regional organizations and some non-governmental organizations. The report finds that a more extensive study and regular reporting are required for a more comprehensive analysis, but concludes that:
on the basis of the information presented herein, a pattern of human rights violations emerges that demands a response. Governments and inter-governmental bodies have often overlooked violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The mandate of the Human Rights Council requires it to address this gap: the Council should promote "universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner."
According to the report, homophobic and transphobic violence has been recorded in every region of the world, LGBT people are often targets of organized abuse and violence against LGBT persons tends to be especially vicious compared to other bias-motivated crimes. Furthermore, violent incidents or acts of discrimination frequently go unreported because victims do not trust police, are afraid of reprisals or are unwilling to identify themselves as LGBT.

The investigation and report were requested by the UNHRC "Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity" resolution [JURIST report], passed in June. The resolution is the first to call for an end to sexuality discrimination worldwide and to recognize it as a "priority" for the UN. The UN has faced difficulty passing resolutions on gay rights issues, due to no international consensus on the morality of homosexuality. Last year, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official website] called for countries around the world to abolish laws discriminating against gay and lesbian individuals [JURIST report]. Two years ago, the UN passed a gay rights declaration [text, PDF], which the US signed and sponsored [JURIST report]. The declaration, a nonbinding measure that does not have the full force of a resolution, called on states to end criminalization and persecution of homosexuals. This declaration was recalled by the new resolution. Although 85 countries signed the declaration [US Ambassador statement], 57 countries, primarily in Africa and the Middle East, signed an opposing statement. The year before, the UN General Assembly [official website] was divided over the issue of decriminalizing homosexuality [JURIST report] as 66 nations signed a statement calling for decriminalization, and nearly 60 nations signed an opposing statement. As of the 2011 International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) [advocacy website] State-Sponsored Homophobia report [text, PDF], 76 countries still criminalize same-sex relationships, and five enforce the death penalty against homosexuals.




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Animal rights activists challenge terrorism law
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 16, 2011 1:49 PM ET

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[JURIST] A group of animal rights activists on Thursday challenged [complaint, PDF] the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act [text, PDF] which they claim violates their rights to peaceful protest. The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts [official website] by the Center for Constitutional Rights [advocacy website], claims that the law is overly broad and criminalizes activity that is protected by the First Amendment [text]. According to the complaint:
The AETA fails to define key terms, but its plain language criminalizes core political advocacy and speech that are protected by the First Amendment. For example, it punishes otherwise lawful and innocuous speech or advocacy that causes a business that uses or sells animal products to lose profit, even where that lost profit comes from a decrease in sales in reaction to public advocacy. Thus, AETA effectively criminalizes the very purpose of the First Amendment—changing people's minds. ... The law is also uncommonly broad, insofar as it defines an "animal enterprise" to include almost any business that buys or sells animal products. As such, it insulates a large number of businesses from the types of criticism that are deeply rooted in our constitutional tradition.
The plaintiffs claim that fear of prosecution has stopped them from engaging in lawful activism.

The AETA was signed into law by then-president George W. Bush in 2006, replacing the 1992 Animal Enterprise Protection Act. Supporters claim that the law contains adequate First Amendment protections. The law has rarely been used over the past five years.




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States seek to delay immigration cases pending Supreme Court ruling
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 16, 2011 1:12 PM ET

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[JURIST] Alabama and Georgia filed motions Thursday in the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] seeking to stay proceedings [press release] on challenges to their immigration laws pending a ruling by the US Supreme Court [official website] in Arizona v. United States [docket]. The Supreme Court agreed [JURIST report] Monday to rule on a challenge to Arizona's controversial immigration law [SB 1070 materials], 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. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said, "[t]he Arizona case will substantially affect many of the legal questions that are critical to Alabama's appeals pending in the 11th Circuit." Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said, "[w]e strongly believe that, as the Supreme Court has said before, immigration is a partnership between the states and the federal government, and we hope that the Court will reaffirm that partnership."

Earler this week Human Rights Watch reported that Alabama's immigration law is resulting in human rights violations. Last week Alabama Governor Robert Bentley [official website] announced that he would work with lawmakers to make the law more effective [JURIST report]. In November the US Commission on Civil Rights [official website] announced that it will examine the impact [JURIST report] that state-enacted immigration enforcement laws have on individual civil rights. Challenges are also pending to immigration laws in Utah and South Carolina [JURIST reports]




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ICC prosecutor urges international cooperation in arresting Darfur suspects
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 16, 2011 11:55 AM ET

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[JURIST] International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] on Thursday urged international cooperation in executing arrest warrants for suspects accused in the Darfur conflict [ICC materials]. Presenting his report [text, PDF] to the UN Security Council [official website], Ocampo emphasized that all states parties to the Rome Statute have an obligation to cooperate with the ICC. Following his report, Ocampo spoke to reporters [video] and indicated that individuals sought by the court, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir [ICC materials; JURIST news archive], continue to commit war crimes in the region. Also Thursday, Ocampo said that the death of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi [JURIST report] may be a war crime.

The ICC currently has four cases in Darfur, Sudan. Al-Bashir faces seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity as well as three charges of genocide [JURIST reports] and remains at large. The ICC has issued arrest warrants for Ahmad Muhammad Harun Ahmad Harun and Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman Ali Kushayb, who also remain at large. Bahar Idriss Abu Garda appeared voluntarily before the ICC in 2009, and the ICC declined to confirm charges [JURIST report]. He is not currently in custody. Finally, a trial is currently pending [JURIST report] for Abdallah Banda Abakaer Nourain and Saleh Mohammed Jerbo Jamus




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US death penalty rates continuing to drop: report
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 15, 2011 4:29 PM ET

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[JURIST] There were only 78 new death sentences handed down in the US in 2011—the first time that number has dropped below 100 since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976—according to a report [text, PDF; press release] published Thursday by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) [advocacy website]. There were 43 executions in 13 states in 2001, down from 46 executions in 2011. The report noted that Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011 and that Oregon's governor put a moratorium on executions [JURIST reports] in that state. The DPIC also pointed to the huge public outcry over the execution of Georgia inmate Troy Davis [JURIST report] as evidence of Americans' waning support of the death penalty. According to the report, the death penalty system in the US remains flawed:
In many ways the death penalty today resembles the system struck down in 1972, when the Court could find no justification for the small number of death sentences and executions chosen arbitrarily from so many eligible cases. The new system approved in 1976 was supposed to carefully guide prosecutors, juries, and judges in administering a more rational system. Today, the promise of a fair, sensible, and effective system of capital punishment has proven false. As distrust of the system has grown, the death penalty is again infrequently applied, and a host of arbitrary factors still strongly influences who lives and who dies.
The trends are similar to those observed in the DPIC's 2010 report [JURIST report].

The death penalty remains a controversial issue across the US. Earlier this week North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue [official website] vetoed legislation [JURIST report] that would have essentially repealed the state's Racial Justice Act [text, PDF]. The 2009 law, which allows death row inmates to appeal their sentences based on statistical evidence of racism, was designed to address concerns that racial bias plays a role in sentencing. Last month the Connecticut Supreme Court [official website] upheld [JURIST report] the constitutionality of the state's death penalty law. Also in November the Ohio Supreme Court [official website] announced that it was forming a committee to ensure that the death penalty is not administered arbitrarily [JURIST report]. In 2009, New Mexico repealed its death penalty [JURIST report] on similar grounds to Illinois, asserting that the state could not possibly administer the death penalty impartially.




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Malaysia opposition leader's sodomy trial concludes
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 15, 2011 3:57 PM ET

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[JURIST] The two-year sodomy trial of Malaysian opposition leader and former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim [official profile; JURIST news archive] came to a close Thursday with the prosecution delivering its closing arguments. Under Malaysian law, sodomy is punishable by 20 years in prison regardless of consent. The charges against Anwar allege that he sodomized a former male political aide. This is the second sodomy case launched against Anwar, who has consistently argued that the allegations are a politically motivated attempt to silence the opposition. He took the stand in August to deny the charges, and the defense rested its case [JURIST reports] in October. The verdict is scheduled to be delivered January 9.

A Malaysian court ruled [JURIST report] in May that prosecutors had enough evidence to continue to pursue a sodomy case against Anwar. The opposition leader was arrested in July 2008 after he filed a lawsuit against his accuser [JURIST reports] in late June. Last December, Anwar filed a complaint [JURIST report] in a Malaysian court over a WikiLeaks [website] cable published by Australian newspapers stating he had engaged in sodomy. Last year, the Federal Court of Malaysia [official website], the country's highest court, rejected Anwar's 2006 defamation suit [JURIST report] against against former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad [BBC profile] for allegedly suggesting at a human rights conference that Anwar was unfit for office because of his supposed homosexuality. Anwar was Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister under former Mahathir Mohamad until he was fired in 1998 following earlier sodomy charges of which he was initially convicted but later acquitted. He reentered Malaysian politics following the expiration of a 10-year ban [JURIST report] against him for unrelated corruption charges.




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HRW says Syria officials ordered civilian attacks, calls for ICC investigation
Brandon Gatto on December 15, 2011 2:31 PM ET

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[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said Thursday that Syrian army commanders and officials have ordered troops to attack unarmed protesters in an all-out effort to stop public demonstrations. These allegations are detailed in an 88-page report [text] based on more than 60 interviews with defectors from the Syrian military and intelligence agencies who describe, in specific detail, how numerous commanders and officials at various levels of the Syrian government ordered attacks against Syrian civilians. As a result of the alleged abuses, HRW has urged [press release] the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official websites], as well as impose sanctions against the 74 officials implicated in the attacks. According to Anna Neistat, associate director for emergencies at HRW and one of the authors of the report, "Defectors gave us names, ranks, and positions of those who gave the orders to shoot and kill, and each and every official named in this report, up to the very highest levels of the Syrian government, should answer for their crimes against the Syrian people." One former soldier, who was deployed to Daraa with the 35th Special Forces Regiment, told HRW that his commander verbally ordered him to open fire at protestors on April 25:
The commander of our regiment, Brigadier General Ramadan Ramadan, usually stayed behind the lines. But this time he stood in front of the whole brigade. He said, "Use heavy shooting. Nobody will ask you to explain." Normally we are supposed to save bullets, but this time he said, "Use as many bullets as you want." And when somebody asked what we were supposed to shoot at, he said, "At anything in front of you." About 40 protesters were killed that day.
While HRW has consistently characterized the ongoing abuses in Syria as crimes against humanity, the Syrian government has repeatedly defended its actions as a matter of necessity, arguing that armed terrorist groups have incited Syrian violence and are ultimately responsible for the uprising that began there last March.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] has previously urged [JURIST report] the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC [press release]. She has reported that more than 5,000 people, including 300 children, have been killed in Syria since the start of the protests in March, and that many of the killings, detentions, and acts of torture qualify, in her view [video], as crimes against humanity. Pillay has also called on the Syrian government to allow human rights monitors into the country and to cooperate fully with the investigations. Earlier this month, the UN Human Rights Council [official website] adopted a resolution strongly condemning the recent violence [JURIST report] in Syria. Similarly, in November, the UN General Assembly's Human Rights Committee approved [JURIST report] a draft resolution [materials] condemning Syria's human rights violations and calling for their immediate end. Pillay also called for an ICC probe [JURIST report] into the situation in Syria in August.




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North Carolina governor vetoes repeal of death penalty racial justice law
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 15, 2011 1:37 PM ET

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[JURIST] North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue [official website] on Wednesday vetoed [signature, PDF] legislation [SB 9 materials] that would have essentially repealed the state's Racial Justice Act [text, PDF]. The 2009 law, which allows death row inmates to appeal their sentences based on statistical evidence of racism, was designed to address concerns that racial bias plays a role in sentencing. In an accompanying statement [text, PDF], Perdue said that while she is a strong supporter of the death penalty, "it is essentially that it be carried out fairly and that the process not be infected with prejudice based on race, gender, poverty, or any other factor." Perdue said, "I am vetoing Senate Bill 9 for the same reason that I signed the Racial Justice Act two years ago: it is simply unacceptable for racial prejudice to play a role in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina.

The death penalty remains a controversial issue across the US. Last month Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber issued a temporary reprieve for death row inmate Gary Haugen and called for an end [JURIST report] to the state's death penalty. Earlier that month the Connecticut Supreme Court [official website] upheld [JURIST report] the constitutionality of the state's death penalty law. Also in November the Ohio Supreme Court [official website] announced that it was forming a committee to ensure that the death penalty is not administered arbitrarily [JURIST report]. In March, Illinois abolished capital punishment [JURIST report], concluding that there was no way to rid the capital punishment system of its discriminatory flaws. In 2009, New Mexico repealed its death penalty [JURIST report] on similar grounds to Illinois, asserting that the state could not possibly administer the death penalty impartially.




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Egypt court reduces sentence of jailed blogger
Jennie Ryan on December 15, 2011 10:56 AM ET

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[JURIST] An Egyptian military court on Thursday reduced the sentence of a blogger charged with criticizing the military. The court reduced the three-year sentence of blogger Maikel Nabil to two years. Nabil was convicted and sentenced [JURIST report] to prison in April for criticizing the Egyptian army and raising questions over reform in the wake of revolution. The 25-year-old blogger and activist was arrested [HRW report] at his home on March 28 and charged with "insulting the military establishment" and "spreading false information" for criticizing the army's handling of the revolution that began on January 25. He posted an article on his blog [text, in Arabic] on March 7 saying the army had beat, tortured and killed protesters, including some who were cooperating with security forces. He was sentenced without a formal hearing and without his lawyers present. Nabil has been on a hunger strike since August in protest of his conviction. His family reports that he plans to escalate his hunger strike [BBC report] despite the courts reduction of his sentence causing serious concerns for his already deteriorating health.

The blogger's conviction has raised doubts about the military's commitment to reform after Hosni Mubarak [BBC profile] stepped down. In March, the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [NYT backgrounder] 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. Last November, Egypt released blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil [advocacy website] after four years of imprisonment on charges of insulting Islam and causing sectarian strife on his blog [website, in Arabic]. Nabil, a former law student, was convicted in 2007 [JURIST report] for posting statements critical of Islamic authorities and former president Mubarak, calling him a dictator.




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White House withdraws threat to veto defense bill
Jennie Ryan on December 15, 2011 10:21 AM ET

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[JURIST] The White House on Wednesday announced that President Barack Obama [official website] no longer intends to veto the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 [SB 1867, PDF]. The about face comes after revisions by lawmakers that address the concerns of the Obama administration related to the treatment of terror suspects. The administration had threatened to veto the legislation [JURIST report] because it would require military rather than civilian detention of terror suspects. The revised version of the bill [JURIST report], released by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees [official websites] on Monday, gives the administration more discretion over the laws implementation and grants waiver authority to the president. White House press secretary Jay Carney said that because of the changes, "we have concluded that the language does not challenge or constrain the President's ability to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the American people, and the President's senior advisors will not recommend a veto." The bill passed in the House of Representatives [official website] with a vote of 283 to 136 [roll call]. The bill is expected to pass in the Senate [official website] sometime Thursday.

The news marks the end of the contentious debate surrounding passage of the annual defense spending bill. The version of the bill containing the controversial terrorism provision passed in the Senate [JURIST report] early this month. Also this month, the Senate rejected an amendment to the bill [JURIST report] that would have struck a provision authorizing the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to detain individuals suspected of terrorism and instituted a timeline to allow further study and investigation on the issue of counterterrorism by Congress. The terrorism provision was approved [JURIST report] earlier this month by the Senate Armed Services Committee in a unanimous vote after disagreements regarding the provision had blocked their passage for months [CNN report]. The passage by the Committee came shortly after an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] report [PDF] claiming that the US is diminishing its "core values" [JURIST report] with regard to various counterterrorism measures put in place during the 10 years since the 9/11 attacks [JURIST backgrounder].




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Algeria lawmakers approve controversial media law
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 15, 2011 10:00 AM ET

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[JURIST] Algerian lawmakers on Wednesday approved a controversial new media law that critics say will impede freedom of expression. The law restricts journalists [AFP report] from undermining Algeria's sovereignty, national identity, economy and security, providing for fines up to USD $3,900 and jail time. The law has been criticized for being vague and overbroad by groups such as the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights [advocacy website, in French]. Algerian Minister of Communication Nacer Mehal [official website, in French] defended the measure [Radio Algerienne report, in Arabic], saying it would not restrict free expression.

In April, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression Frank LaRue [official website] on Tuesday called on Algeria [JURIST report] to "guarantee the right to freedom of opinion and expression" including decriminalizing defamation. LaRue noted that, despite significant progress since the 1990s, which saw more than100 journalists killed, a number of challenges remain. LaRue highlighted that the television and radio sectors remain under government control and do not provide unbiased coverage. He also cautioned that the restrictive legal framework continues to impair important rights including peaceful assembly. Earlier that month, Last week, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika [official profile, in French] declared an initiative for sweeping constitutional and political reforms [JURIST report] in order to increase the role of democracy in the African nation.




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France ex-president Chirac convicted of corruption
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 15, 2011 8:59 AM ET

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[JURIST] A French court on Thursday convicted former president Jacques Chirac [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on corruption charges, handing him a two-year suspended sentence. The charges stem from his time as mayor of the city of Paris and accused him of using public funds to support his political ambitions. In September, the prosecution asked the court to drop all charges against Chirac [JURIST report] and his nine co-defendants. Two of the nine were acquitted, but the other seven were also found guilty [BBC report]. Chirac, who was absent from much of his trial due to failing health, was not present [Le Monde report, in French] for Thursday's verdict. The first former French president to face prosecution, Chirac could have faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. It is unclear whether he plans to appeal.

While the verdict brings an end to this particular trial, Chirac still faces other legal woes. In September the prosecutor's office began an inquiry into allegations [JURIST report] against Chirac and his prime minister Dominique de Villepin over the receipt of millions of dollars from African leaders. The accusations against the two former French officials were made by a lawyer who worked as an aide to Chirac and claims to have participated in the passage of over $20 million in cash from African leaders to be used as political donations. All of the alleged donations came from leaders of former French colonies. An investigation has also been launched by the Paris Bar into the actions taken by the accuser as his involvement with the passage of these funds is unethical within the legal profession. Villepin, like Chirac, had also been the subject of another trial, which involved accusations that he participated in a smear campaign against current President Nicolas Sarkozy [official website, in French], but was recently acquitted [JURIST report].




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Rwanda genocide tribunal reduces life sentence of ex-army colonel
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 14, 2011 3:19 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] on Wednesday reduced the sentence [press release] of Theoneste Bagosora [ICTR materials], called the "kingpin" of the 1994 Rwandan genocide [JURIST news archive], from life to 35 years in prison. The court overturned several of his convictions but affirmed his convictions for genocide and crimes against humanity. The ICTR also reduced the life sentence of Anatole Nsengiyumva [ICTR materials] to 15 years, reversing several of his convictions. He was released for time served. Bagosora served a senior official in the Rwandan Ministry of Defence, and Nsengiyumya was the Commander of the Gisenyi Operational Sector.

Last week, top officials of the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] told the UN Security Council [official website] that international cooperation [JURIST report] in tracking and arresting fugitives is vital to completion of the tribunals' mandates. This year saw the arrests of the last two remaining fugitives wanted by the ICTY, but nine fugitives sought by ICTR have continued to escape capture, three of whom are among the most high-ranking of the accused. ICTR Prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow called on the Member States of the Great Lakes Conference to provide information and aid in the apprehension of the remaining fugitives, as the trial work of the ICTR is due to be finished by the end of the second quarter of 2012, with appeals work finished by early 2014. Last month the two presidents told the UN General Assembly [official website] that the tribunals are in need of experienced staff to complete their work [JURIST report], warning of the difficulties in retaining staff at the ICTY and the ICTR because both tribunals are nearing the end of their work and employees are leaving for more permanent jobs.




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Federal judge revives lawsuit over Plan B contraception
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 14, 2011 2:44 PM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York [official website] on Tuesday revived a six-year-old lawsuit over the Plan B emergency contraceptive [product website], but declined to hold the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] in contempt. The suit was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights [advocacy website] in 2005 after the FDA failed to respond to a 2001 petition to make Plan B available over the counter (OTC) to women under 18, which it eventually denied in 2006. Judge Edward Korman ruled [JURIST report] in 2009 that the FDA must make Plan B available to 17-year-olds without a prescription and reconsider whether the contraceptive should be available over the counter (OTC) to women under the age of 17. When the FDA did not take action, the CRR asked the court to hold the agency in contempt. On Monday, the FDA issued a decision not to make Plan B available OTC to women under 17. At a hearing that had already been scheduled for Tuesday, Korman decided not to hold the FDA in contempt but did allow the CRR to reopen its lawsuit [Reuters report]. The CRR announced Tuesday that it plans to move forward [press release] with its challenge.

Tuesday's ruling comes just days after Department of Health and Human Services [official website] Director Kathleen Sebelius blocked an FDA recommendation [press release] to make Plan B available OTC to women under 17. Sebelius' decision, based on concerns for the lack of data on the effects for young women, was backed by US President Barack Obama. Also Tuesday, a group of 15 US Senators wrote to Sebelius [text] expressing disappointment and seeking the specific rationale and data that went into the decision.




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Holder vows to enforce civil rights in upcoming elections
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 14, 2011 1:47 PM ET

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[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] pledged Tuesday to enforce civil rights [speech] during next year's elections. Speaking at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum [website] in Austin, Texas, Holder stressed the importance of the right to vote, calling it the "cornerstone of our system of government." He expressed concern over several recently enacted state laws currently under review by the Justice Department that could infringe on this fundamental right. Holder said:
Since January, more than a dozen states have advanced new voting measures. Some of these new laws are currently under review by the Justice Department, based on our obligations under the Voting Rights Act. Texas and South Carolina, for example, have enacted laws establishing new photo identification requirements that we’re reviewing. We're also examining a number of changes that Florida has made to its electoral process, including changes to the procedures governing third-party voter registration organizations, as well as changes to early voting procedures, including the number of days in the early voting period.

Although I cannot go into detail about the ongoing review of these and other state-law changes, I can assure you that it will be thorough—and fair. We will examine the facts, and we will apply the law. If a state passes a new voting law and meets its burden of showing that the law is not discriminatory, we will follow the law and approve the change. And where a state can't meet this burden, we will object as part of our obligation under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Holder also highlighted three areas in need of reform: deceptive election practices, neutrality in redistricting efforts and modernizing voter registration.

In October, the Brennan Center for Justice [advocacy website] reported that several new US state election laws that become effective in 2012 may make it harder for some qualified voters to cast their ballots [JURIST report]. The report indicates that as many as five million voters may be affected by the changes and may find it significantly harder to vote in 2012. The study examined the five broad categories of new election laws: those that require voters show photo identification to vote, those that require proof of citizenship to register to vote, those that make it harder to register to vote by eliminating same day voter registration, those that reduce early and absentee voting and those that make it harder for convicted felons to restore their voting rights. Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a challenge [JURIST report] to Wisconsin's new voter identification requirement. Last week, the US Supreme Court agreed to rule on the Texas redistricting dispute [JURIST report].




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Philippines ex-official arrested election fraud charges
Ashley Hileman on December 14, 2011 10:31 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Philippines senior official was arrested on Tuesday amidst allegations that he was involved in illegal activities in connection with the 2007 congressional elections on the island of Mindanao. Former chief election official, Benjamin Abalos, surrendered and was taken into custody [NYT report] at a courthouse in the city of Manila, but maintains his innocence. It is alleged that Abalos assisted former president Gloria MacapagalArroyo [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] in rigging the Mindanao congressional elections. Arroyo was officially charged with electoral sabotage [JURIST report] in November. However, she continues to deny wrongdoing [AP report] and contends that the charges reflect political persecution by the government. As Abalos is only one of several officials accused of illegal activities in connection with this election, more arrests are expected. Abalos is expected to be assigned to a detention center in the upcoming days.

The country has experienced widespread political corruption in recent years, but current President Benigno Aquino III [BBC profile] has pledged to continue the anti-corruption efforts, which have been specifically focused on Arroyo and those connected to her. Earlier this week, the Philippine Congress voted to impeach [JURIST report] Chief Justice Renato Corona [official profile] for violating the constitution and the public trust in connection with the trial of Arroyo, who originally appointed Corona to the Supreme Court. The impeachment proceedings required at least 95 signatures to move forward, and, ultimately, 188 of the 284 members of congress voted to impeach Corona. There are eight charges [text] brought against Corona, including failure to disclose his personal finances and several allegations of partiality. The most high profile of the allegations includes a charge of partiality regarding the trial of Arroyo. It is alleged Corona granted the temporary restraining order [JURIST report] on the travel restriction of Arroyo without legal grounds in order to give her a chance to escape. The charges will now be brought to trial. If found guilty, Corona will likely be forced out of office. Corona is the first Chief Justice and Justice of the Supreme Court to be impeached, and because impeachment is a constitutional tool that is to be used only in instances involving "criminality or substantial abuse of power," a clear cut conviction is required [JURIST op-ed] in order to preserve the integrity of both the country's Congress and Supreme Court.




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HRW: Alabama immigration law violating basic human rights
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 14, 2011 10:24 AM ET

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[JURIST] Alabama's controversial new immigration law [HB 56; JURIST news archive] is resulting in human rights violations [press release], Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported Wednesday. In the 52-page report [materials], "No Way to Live: Alabama's Immigrant Law," HRW claims that the law is denying immigrants equal protection under the law as well as access to basic necessities such as water, electricity and housing. HRW argues that children have been particularly affected. According to the report:
The initial human impact has been devastating, though the full consequences remain unclear. A group of people have found themselves unable to live the lives they had lived for many years. Some were barred from access to basic services like water, and many more were told they could not live in homes they own. The interpretation of some provisions continues to be modified by state officials or enjoined by the courts, but other provisions still deny unauthorized immigrants equal protection of the law. This has already discouraged some from reporting crimes and wage theft. Particularly hard hit have been the children of unauthorized immigrants, an especially vulnerable population, including the many who are US citizens. Legislators contend that these are "unintended consequences" of the legislation, but the proponents of the Alabama law made clear from the start their intention to make it impossible for unauthorized immigrants to live in the state.
HRW recommends an immediate repeal of the law and for the US Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

Last week, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley [official website] announced that he would work with lawmakers to make the law more effective [JURIST report]. Bentley assured that there were no plans to repeal the law, even with pending challenges [JURIST report] from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website]. Earlier this month Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange [official website] suggested repealing specific provisions [JURIST report] of the state's controversial immigration law which criminalize the failure of illegal immigrants to carry registration documents and require public schools to collect information regarding the immigration status of their students. Both these provisions were temporarily blocked [JURIST report] in October by the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website]. Alabama's immigration law is only one of the immigration measures [JURIST news archive] currently being challenged by the DOJ, American Civil Liberties Union and others.




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Ukraine appeals court denies release of ex-PM Tymoshenko
Ashley Hileman on December 14, 2011 10:22 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Ukrainian court on Wednesday refused to release former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; JURIST news archive] from custody. Tymoshenko was absent from the hearing [RT report] due to continuing health issues, although there have been reports that the court may eventually order her to attend. During the hearing, her defense lawyer read a letter [AP report], in which Tymoshenko described the severe back pain that was keeping her from the proceeding. Tymoshenko was convicted of corruption and abuse of authority while negotiating a gas contract with Russia [AP report] in 2009, and was sentenced to seven years in prison. Her appeal of that sentence began earlier this month [JURIST report]. However, even if the petition for her release from custody would have been successful, she likely would have remained in custody as a result of a court order for indefinite detention [JURIST report] entered last week. That order was the result of allegations that Tymoshenko was involved in tax evasion and theft of government funds between 1996 and 2000, a time when she led the intermediary gas company United Energy Systems.

Tymoshenko's prosecution has been highly controversial [JURIST comment] and has drawn harsh criticism internationally. Last week, the European Commission [official website] expressed its concern [Kyiv Post report] regarding a lack of transparency of Ukrainian hearings in prison, and declared that such a process does not correspond to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website]. In November, the Ukrainian Parliament voted against [agenda text] hearing amendments that may have freed [JURIST report] Tymoshenko by fining her rather than sentencing her for her criminal convictions. The EU has consistently condemned [JURIST report] the former prime minister's conviction as politically-motivated, and has indicated that the prosecution could harm Ukraine's bid for EU accession. Tymoshenko herself has also made efforts to demonstrate that the charges are motivated by her adversaries, but to no avail. In August, the Kiev Appeals Court refused an appeal of her detention for contempt charges for a lack of legal grounds to contest the arrest [JURIST reports]. Also, in June, Tymoshenko filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the ECHR alleging various violations of the European Convention of Human Rights [text, PDF] and arguing that her charges were politically engineered by current Ukrainian president and long-time political rival Viktor Yanukovych [official website]. Yanukovych narrowly defeated Tymoshenko in the presidential election in March 2010, but Tymoshenko has claimed that widespread voter fraud contributed to the outcome.




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ACLU challenges Wisconsin voter ID law
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 14, 2011 9:27 AM ET

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[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Wisconsin and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty [advocacy websites] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] Tuesday challenging Wisconsin's new voter identification law [2011 Wisconsin Act 23]. The controversial law states that any qualified voter must present photo identification at the polls in order to vote in Wisconsin elections for local, state, or federal offices, or referenda. The plaintiffs claim that the law unconstitutionally deprives citizens of their right to vote. In the complaint, filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin [official website], plaintiffs argue:
The photo ID law imposes a severe and undue burden on the fundamental right to vote under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution; violates the Twenty-Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution as an unconstitutional poll tax; and violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in arbitrarily refusing to accept certain identification documents.
Plaintiffs seek declaratory an injunctive relief. A similar lawsuit was filed in the Dane County Circuit Court [official website] in October by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin [advocacy website].

There are now 31 US states [NCSL backgrounder] that require voters to present some form of ID at the polls, including 15 states that require photo ID, but the issue remains controversial. In August, South Carolina's Senate Minority Caucus filed an objection [JURIST report] with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website], asking it to reject the state's new voter identification law. The caucus argued that the law, which requires South Carolina residents to present a current government-issued ID, is too restrictive and may disenfranchise African American and elderly voters. The objection followed earlier attempts by several South Carolina civil rights groups [JURIST report] to prevent the law from being implemented. In October 2010, 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. The court held that the law, Proposition 200, was inconsistent with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), which was passed with the intent of increasing voter registration and removing barriers to registration imposed by the states.




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Congress reaches agreement on controversial defense bill
Rebecca DiLeonardo on December 13, 2011 3:52 PM ET

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[JURIST] Leaders in the US House and Senate on Monday evening announced that they had reached an agreement on the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 [SB 1867, PDF] after making some modifications and adding text. The bill, which was passed by the Senate [JURIST report] in its original form earlier this month, included a controversial provision authorizing the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to detain individuals suspected of terrorism. President Barack Obama expressed concerns that some of the provisions in the bill were "legally questionable" in a Statement of Administrative Policy [text, PDF] released in November. Lawmakers said they hoped the additional text would dispel uncertainty and eliminate the threat of a presidential veto. Opponents of the bill fear it could be a threat to the constitutional liberties of US citizens. Supporters argue that the idea of an American citizen suspected of aiding al Qaeda [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive] not getting due process is simply a lie. The White House has not issue a statement addressing the modifications to the bill.

The provision in question was approved [JURIST report] earlier this month by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) [official website] in a unanimous vote after disagreements regarding the provision had blocked their passage for months [CNN report]. The passage by the SASC came shortly after an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] report [PDF] claiming that the US is diminishing its "core values" [JURIST report] with regard to various counterterrorism measures put in place during the 10 years since the 9/11 attacks [JURIST backgrounder]. To support this contention, the report cites to US policies regarding indefinite military detention for terrorism suspects, the use of torture on terrorism suspects and enemy combatants, racial and religious profiling and domestic surveillance and wiretapping. The report posits that certain US policies run deeper than what is known by the American people, civil liberties continue to be violated in secret and that future violations are imminent. The ACLU acknowledged that the government has sought to cease certain questionable practices, citing President Barack Obama's directive to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison [JURIST news archive], but stated that other questionable practices remain "core elements of [US] national security strategy today."




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Suu Kyi's party granted legal status for Myanmar elections
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 13, 2011 3:02 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Myanmar government announced Tuesday that the political party of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi [JURIST news archive] will be allowed to register for the next elections. Suu Kyi's National League of Democracy (NLD) [party website] decided last month to reenter politics after boycotting last year's elections in which Suu Kyi was not allowed to run. The move may allow Suu Kyi to run for parliament after being detained under house arrest for nearly eight years. A date for the next elections has not yet been set.

Myanmar has made a series of reforms following a transfer of power from a military regime to a civil system in March after holding its first elections in 20 years. In October US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell indicated that Myanmar's civilian-led government was planning dramatic changes including releasing hundreds of political prisoners [JURIST report] and consequential dialogue with Suu Kyi. Myanmar's government formed a national human rights commission [JURIST report] in September to promote and safeguard the country's constitutional rights. In August, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana urged the government of Myanmar to investigate human rights abuses [JURIST report] and improve its rights record. In May, Myanmar began releasing as many as 15,000 prisoners [JURIST report] as part of an amnesty program after a visit from a special envoy from the UN secretary-general, but rights groups claim the government has not gone far enough.




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Cambodia genocide tribunal blocks release of Khmer Rouge leader
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 13, 2011 2:12 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Supreme Court Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] on Tuesday ordered that former Khmer Rouge leader Ieng Thirith [ECCC profile] remain in detention [decision, PDF; press release]. The Trial Chamber found last month that Ieng Thirith is unfit to stand trial [JURIST report] for war crimes because of dementia from Alzheimer's disease and ordered her immediate release. The prosecution appealed [JURIST report]. Granting the prosecution's request, the Supreme Court Chamber found that the Trial Chamber must exhaust all measures to help Ieng Thirith become fit to stand trial. The Supreme Court Chamber ordered the Trial Chamber to arrange for treatment and reevaluate the accused after six months. Ieng Thirith, the former minister of social affairs under the Khmer Rouge regime, was the only female leader to be charged.

Ieng Thirith was declared unfit to stand trial just days before the trial of her and three other defendants was set to begin. Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologist, Khieu Samphan, a former head of state, and Ieng Sary [ECCC profiles], the former foreign minister, went on trial [JURIST report] last month on charges of crimes against humanity, breach of international law and genocide. In testimony last week, Nuon Chea denied responsibility for the deaths of around 1.7 million people during the regime's rule during the 1970s. Because of the old age of the defendants, the tribunal decided to split the case into a series of smaller trials [JURIST report]. The first trial will focus on the beginning two phases of population movement and allegations of crimes against humanity, including murder, persecution not on religious grounds and forced disappearances associated with the first phases of population movement. Subsequent trials will focus on the third phase of population movement, genocide, persecution based on religious grounds and violation of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The first segment of the trial is expected to conclude by December 16 for a recess and will resume after the break on January 9.




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Canada withdraws from Kyoto protocol on climate change
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 13, 2011 1:24 PM ET

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[JURIST] Canadian Minister of the Environment Peter Kent [official profile] announced Monday that Canada will withdraw [statement] from the Kyoto Protocol [text; JURIST news archive] on climate change, making it the first country to do so. The treaty was signed by Canada's previous Liberal government, but little had been done to implement it. Kent said that the protocol "will not work" because it does not cover the two largest emitters, the US and China. He called it an "impediment" and said:
We believe that a new agreement, with legally binding commitments for all major emitters, that allows us as a country to continue to generate jobs and economic growth, represents the path forward. ... Canada will work towards a legally binding agreement to address global emissions that allows us to continue creating jobs and economic growth in Canada. Domestically, we will continue to do our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. ... We are also helping developing countries do their part with investments that will help them reduce their emissions and deal with the effects of climate change.
The decision has been criticized [press release] by environmental groups such as the Sierra Club Canada [advocacy website]. UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres expressed disappointment and said that Canada still "has a legal obligation under the [Climate Change] Convention to reduce its emissions, and a moral obligation to itself and future generations to lead in the global effort."

Kent's announcement comes just one day after the conclusion of the Durban UN Climate Change Conference [official website] in South Africa. Delegates from 194 countries agreed to negotiate global initiatives [JURIST report] that would eventually force countries to take legally-binding action in order to slow the pace of climate change. After two weeks of debate, the delegates agreed on four major proposals. First, the countries decided to extend the Kyoto Protocol, whose first phase of emissions cuts runs from 2008 to the end of 2012. Under Sunday's proposal, the second commitment to Kyoto will extend from the beginning of 2012 until the end of 2017. Second, in light of a failure to create a new, internationally-binding treaty at a climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, the delegates agreed to form a process known as the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action [proposal text, PDF] which entails negotiations to form a legally-binding climate change agreement by 2015 to be enacted by 2020. Third, although poor nations have consistently needed help to finance the adaptations to climate change, the debt crisis has forced developed nations to also limit their contributions to the initiative. The delegates broke ground in agreeing to design a Green Climate Fund [proposal text, PDF] to pool up to $100 billion a year by 2020 for poor countries, but they did not establish how they would reach this number, nor who would contribute to it. Finally, the delegates agreed that implementing a new internationally-binding instrument would raise ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As such, they decided to launch a work plan to close the "ambition gap" between countries' current emissions reduction pledges for 2020 and the goal of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius. Other proposals that were raised but not agreed upon include mechanisms for national adaptation plans [proposal text] and an extension of emissions cut pledges made in Copenhagen in 2009 and in Cancun in 2010.




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ICC deputy prosecutor officially elected next chief prosecutor
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 13, 2011 12:35 PM ET

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[JURIST] Fatou Bensouda [official profile] of the Gambia, Deputy Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] was officially chosen Monday to succeed Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] when his nine-year term expires next year. Liechtenstein's UN Ambassador Christian Wenaweser, outgoing president of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Rome Statute that set up the ICC, announced last month that he would recommend Bensouda as the sole candidate [JURIST report] for the position. Bensouda was elected by the ASP Monday as they met for their Tenth Session [materials]. In prepared remarks to the ASP, Bensouda said:
In Rome in 1998, representatives from civil society and from States with different legal traditions debated the creation of the Rome Statute from different perspectives, but all knew that the new legal design would profoundly impact the way international relations are governed. It is impacting other institutions and indeed, as Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo said, changing international relations forever. As the next Prosecutor, I hope to contribute to solidifying this change, remaining committed to the goals of the Court and the legal mandate entrusted to the Prosecutor to end impunity for those responsible for the gravest offenses, bringing justice to their victims, and preventing future crimes.
Bensouda has been Deputy Prosecutor of the ICC since 2004, and has long been considered the favorite to succeed Ocampo, as many of the ICC's cases currently focus on Africa. Additionally, Bensouda has the backing of the African Union [official website], the support of which has been critical to the ICC. Bensouda will take office in July 2012.


In October the Search Committee for the position of the Prosecutor of the ICC [official website] submitted [JURIST report] its consensus report to the Bureau of the ASP with the shortlist of four names after interviewing eight candidates from a list of 52 potentials. There was one other African on the list, Mohamed Chande Othman of Tanzania, currently Chief Justice of the Judiciary of Tanzania [official website]. Also on the list were Andrew Cayley [official profile] of the UK, International Co-Prosecutor at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, and Robert Petit of Canada, Counsel, Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes [official website] Section of Canada's Department of Justice. As its first Prosecutor, Argentinian Ocampo has been widely praised for his promotion of the work of the ICC. During his tenure he has launched seven formal investigations, begun three trials and issued arrest warrants for Sudanese president [JURIST reports] Omar al-Bashir [case materials; JURIST news archive] and other military leaders wanted for human rights violations. However Ocampo has also been criticized [JURIST report] for the ICC's slow progress in achieving results, particularly in failing to bring a larger number of senior government officials to trial for various atrocities.




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Corruption resulting in unequal access to resources: report
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 13, 2011 11:14 AM ET

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[JURIST] Corruption is leading to unequal distribution of land and resources, resulting in human rights violations, according to a working paper [text, PDF; press release] published Monday by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) [official website] and Transparency International (TI) [advocacy website]. According to the report, corruption flourishes where land governance is efficient. "Weak land governance tends to be characterised by low levels of transparency, accountability and the rule of law." Corruption can involve public officials as well as private actors and can "undo the legal and social legitimacy of these actors if they are considered to be too corrupt." The report recommends "build[ing] transparent, effective and accountable land tenure systems," revising land policies, "provid[ing] legal recognition to tenure rights that are considered legitimate but are not correctly protected by law" and "promot[ing] more transparent and effective land certification and registration systems."

Earlier this month, TI released its 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) [report, PDF], again showing some governments failing to protect citizens from corruption [JURIST report], be it abuse of public resources, bribery or secretive decision-making. The CPI scores 183 countries and territories from 0 (highly corrupt) to 10 (very clean) based on perceived levels of public sector corruption, using data from 17 surveys collected by independent agencies concerning bribery of public officials, kickbacks in public procurement, embezzlement of public funds, access to information, conflicts of interest and the effectiveness of any anti-corruption campaign at work in a country. New Zealand tops the list with a score of 9.5, followed by Denmark and Finland with 9.4 and Sweden with 9.3. The US again scored 7.1, ranking 24th. Last on the list is Somalia, ranked as the most corrupt country for the fourth year in a row and tied at 1.0 with North Korea, which this year was included in the index for the first time. Two-thirds of all ranked countries scored less than 5.




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Federal appeals court strikes down Wisconsin campaign finance law
Katherine Getty on December 13, 2011 10:12 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] on Monday struck down [opinion, PDF] a Wisconsin law that prohibited people from donating more than $10,000 a year to political action committees (PACs). The case was brought by Wisconsin Right to Life [advocacy website] before the 2010 gubernatorial election on grounds that the law violated the First Amendment. The unanimous decision does not apply [press release] to political action committees that give contributions to candidates or political parties, only to those that act independently of candidates or political parties. All citizens of Wisconsin did not greet the decision warmly. Mike McCabe, the executive director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said that the decision would cede too much power to political action committees in deciding elections. The appeal followed a decision by the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin [official website] that dismissed the case on grounds that the law was not unduly burdensome [order, PDF] on Wisconsin Right to Life.

Several courts have recently decided issues relating to campaign finance [JURIST news archive]. In June, the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled that an Arizona campaign finance regulation violated the First Amendment [JURIST report]. In May, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] upheld [JURIST report] a Minnesota law that prohibited direct contributions to candidates and affiliated entities. The US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] ruled in 2009 that a Connecticut campaign finance law discriminated against minor party candidates [JURIST report] that violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Many of the issues pertaining to the legality of campaign finance laws arose when the Supreme Court made its decision [JURIST report] in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which limited the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act [text, PDF]. That challenge has paved the way for the other challenges to campaign financing laws.




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ICC refers Malawi to UN Security Council for failure to arrest Sudan president
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 13, 2011 10:07 AM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Monday referred the Republic of Malawi [decision, PDF; press release] to the UN Security Council and the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute [official websites] for failing to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir [case materials; JURIST news archive] when he visited the country for a trade summit in October. The court had previously asked Malawi for an explanation [JURIST report] of its actions. The ICC found "no conflict between Malawi's obligations towards the Court and its obligations under customary international law. The court concluded:
[I]t is the view of the Chamber that when cooperating with this Court and therefore acting on its behalf, States Parties are instruments for the enforcement of the jus puniendi of the international community whose exercise has been entrusted to this Court when States have failed to prosecute those responsible for the crimes within its jurisdiction. The Chamber therefore finds, in accordance with article 87(7) of the Statute that the Republic of Malawi has failed to comply with the Cooperation Requests contrary to the provisions of the Statute and has thereby prevented the Court from exercising its functions and powers under this Statute. The Chamber decides to refer the matter both to the United Nations Security Council and to the Assembly of States Parties.
The court reiterated that there is no immunity for heads of state who commit international crimes.

The ICC has previously reported Kenya and Chad [JURIST report] for failing to arrest al-Bashir when he visited those countries. Last month the Kenyan High Court ruled that al-Bashir must be arrested [JURIST report] if he ever returns to the country. In June ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo said that al-Bashir has continued to commit crimes against humanity [JURIST report] in Darfur. In May, the ICC urged Djibouti to arrest al-Bashir [JURIST report]. Al-Bashir faces seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity as well as three charges of genocide [JURIST reports] in relation to the Darfur conflict [BBC backgrounder].

1:00 PM ET ~ The ICC reported Chad [decision, PDF, in French; press release] Tuesday for failing to arrest al-Bashir when he visted the country in August of this year.




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UN rights chief again urges Security Council to refer Syria to ICC
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 13, 2011 9:12 AM ET

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[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Monday briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in Syria, reiterating her call for a referral [press release] to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. Pillay reported that more than 5,000 civilians have been killed in the ongoing conflict, including more than 300 children. She also said that there were reports of torture in detention centers. Speaking to reporters after the briefing, Pillay said [video]:
This is what I recommended to the Security Council: I indicated in some detail the evidence. And so it is based on the evidence and the widespread and systematic nature of the killings, the detentions and the acts of torture that I felt that these acts constituted crimes against humanity, and I recommended that there should be a referral to the International Criminal Court.
Pillay also called on the Syrian government to allow human rights monitors into the country and to cooperate fully with the investigations.

Earlier this month, the UN Human Rights Council [official website] adopted a resolution strongly condemning the recent violence [JURIST report] in Syria. The resolution came after the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria reported that the Syrian government has committed numerous human rights violations [JURIST report] including torture, sexual violence, use of excessive force and violations of the right to peaceful assembly. Last month the UN General Assembly's Human Rights Committee approved [JURIST report] a draft resolution [materials] condemning Syria's human rights violations and calling for their immediate end. Pillay previously called for an ICC probe [JURIST report] into the situation in Syria in August.




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Philippines chief justice impeached
Matthew Pomy on December 12, 2011 2:59 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Philippine Congress voted Monday to impeach [press release] Chief Justice Renato Corona [official profile] for violating the constitution and the public trust in connection with the trial of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], who originally appointed Corona to the Supreme Court. The impeachment proceedings required at least 95 signatures to move forward and, in the end, 188 of the 284 members of congress voted to impeach Corona. There are eight charges [text] brought against Corona, including failure to disclose his personal finances and several allegations of partiality. The most high profile of the allegations includes a charge of partiality when it comes to the trial of Arroyo. It is alleged Corona granted temporary restraining order on the travel restriction of Arroyo without legal grounds in order to give her a chance to escape. The charges will now be brought to trial. If found guilty, Corona will likely be forced out of office.

Former president Arroyo has been a target of anti-corruption efforts by President Benigno Aquino [BBC profile]. Arroyo was recently arrested [JURIST report] in the hospital before she was able to leave the country to seek medical treatment. Corona presided over the court that voted to allow Arroyo to travel [JURIST report] to receive medical care, temporarily restraining the restrictions on Arroyo's travel in connection with several pending charges against her. Arroyo was president of the Philippines from 2001-2010. She left office after the Philippine Department of Justice (PDOJ) [official website] brought allegations of corruption against her. Arroyo was elected to the House of Representatives last year after the Philippine Supreme Court ruled her eligible to run [JURIST report], despite protests that she had an unfair advantage. In July 2010, Aquino signed an executive order [JURIST report] to set up a "truth commission" to investigate allegations that the outgoing administration engaged in corruption and rights violations.




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Russia president orders probe into election fraud allegations
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 12, 2011 12:00 PM ET

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[JURIST] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive] has ordered an investigation into allegations of fraud in the recent parliamentary elections. Medvedev posted a message to his Facebook page [website, in Russian] Sunday following massive protests [RIA Novosti] across Russia on Saturday. Medvedev said:
Under the Constitution, Russian citizens enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. People have a right to express their position, and they did that yesterday. Fortunately, everything proceeded within the bounds of the law. I do not agree with any slogans or statements made at the rallies. Nevertheless, I have given instructions to check all the complaints from the polling stations for compliance with the electoral legislation.
Protests are also planned for the next two weekends [Bloomberg report].

Despite the alleged voting fraud, the ruling United Russia [party website, in Russian] party of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website; JURIST news archive] lost 77 seats in the State Duma [official website, in Russian], Russia's parliament, barely maintaining its majority. Last week, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) [official website] issued preliminary findings [JURIST report] that the Russian election was "characterized by frequent procedural violations and instances of apparent manipulation." The US State Department [official website] and other world leaders have also called for an investigation into the allegations of election fraud and expressed concern over "harassment" of election monitoring groups.




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Supreme Court strikes down deportation discretionary waiver policy
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 12, 2011 11:09 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday in Judulang v. Holder [SCOTUSblog backgrounder; JURIST report] that the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) [official website] policy for deciding when resident aliens may apply to the Attorney General for relief from deportation under a now-repealed provision of the immigration laws is arbitrary and capricious. Joel Judulang, the son of immigrants from the Philippines, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in 1989 and later claimed that he could seek a discretionary waiver of deportation under 212(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) [text]. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that Judulang's aggravated felony crime of violence was not a ground for exclusion under the statute. In an unanimous opinion authored by Justice Elena Kagan, the court concluded:
We must reverse an agency policy when we cannot discern a reason for it. That is the trouble in this case. The BIA's comparable-grounds rule is unmoored from the purposes and concerns of the immigration laws. It allows an irrelevant comparison between statutory provisions to govern a matter of the utmost importance—whether lawful resident aliens with longstanding ties to this country may stay here. And contrary to the Government's protestations, it is not supported by text or practice or cost considerations. The BIA's approach therefore cannot pass muster under ordinary principles of administrative law.
The court reversed the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

Also Monday, the court issued a per curiam opinion [text, PDF] in Hardy v. Cross [docket; cert. petition, PDF]. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) [Cornell LII backgrounder] "imposes a highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings and demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt." The court found that the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit departed from this standard when it reversed a district court's denial of Irving Cross' habeas corpus petition.




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UN climate change conference yields commitment to negotiate legally-binding initiatives
Brandon Gatto on December 12, 2011 10:35 AM ET

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[JURIST] Delegates from 194 countries at the Durban UN Climate Change Conference [official website] in South Africa agreed on Sunday to negotiate global initiatives that would eventually force countries to take legally-binding action in order to slow the pace of climate change. After two weeks of debate, the delegates agreed on four major proposals. First, the countries decided to extend the Kyoto Protocol [text, PDF; UN backgrounder], whose first phase of emissions cuts runs from 2008 to the end of 2012. Under Sunday's proposal, the second commitment to Kyoto will extend from the beginning of 2012 until the end of 2017. Second, in light of a failure to create a new, internationally-binding treaty at a climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, the delegates agreed to form a process known as the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action [proposal text, PDF] which entails negotiations to form a legally-binding climate change agreement by 2015 to be enacted by 2020. Third, although poor nations have consistently needed help to finance the adaptations to climate change, the debt crisis has forced developed nations to also limit their contributions to the initiative. The delegates broke ground in agreeing to design a Green Climate Fund [proposal text, PDF] to pool up to $100 billion a year by 2020 for poor countries, but they did not establish how they would reach this number, nor who would contribute to it. Finally, the delegates agreed that implementing a new internationally-binding instrument would raise ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As such, they decided to launch a work plan to close the "ambition gap" between countries' current emissions reduction pledges for 2020 and the goal of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius. Other proposals that were raised but not agreed upon include mechanisms for national adaptation plans [proposal text] and an extension of emissions cut pledges made in Copenhagen in 2009 and in Cancun in 2010.

The negotiations at Durban came shortly after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC [official website], a UN-led scientific panel, released [JURIST report] its summary for policymakers [text, PDF] regarding risk management for disasters related to climate change. In July, the UN Security Council [official website] made its first official statement [JURIST report] implicating climate change as a serious threat to world peace and security. At the urging of Germany, which released a Concept Note [text] to lead the discussion, the Security Council debated global warming [EPA materials; JURIST news archive] for the first time since 2007. Though Germany took the initiative, its attempt was reportedly not as strong as some of the nations wanted [BBC report], including Russia's push for "possible security implications," and other countries' urging to create a "green helmets" peacekeeping force [Guardian report] that would intervene in conflicts where environmental resources became scarce. UN delegates have met several times to discuss an extension of the Kyoto Protocol. Notably, the delegates met in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009 to negotiate the Protocol's replacement following its expiration. There, members agreed to the Copenhagen Accord [text, PDF] which was not legally-binding nor a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, but nonetheless endorsed its continuation.




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Supreme Court to hear Arizona immigration law challenge
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 12, 2011 10:04 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] granted certiorari order list, PDF] Monday in Arizona v. United States [docket; cert. petition, PDF] to determine whether Arizona's controversial immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive] is preempted by federal law. SB 1070 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. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld an injunction in April before the law ever took effect, and Arizona asked the high court to weigh in [JURIST reports]. Last month, the US Department of Justice [official website] urged the Supreme Court not to hear the appeal [JURIST report].

Also Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to rule in RadLAX Gateway Hotel, LLC v. Amalgamated Bank [docket; cert. petition, PDF] to determine whether a debtor may pursue a chapter 11 [text] plan that proposes to sell assets free of liens without allowing the secured creditor to credit bid, but instead providing it with the indubitable equivalent of its claim under § 1129(b)(2)(A)(iii) [text] of the Bankruptcy Code. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF] a bankruptcy court's ruling that denied debtors' bid procedures motions.

Finally, the court consolidated the cases of Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians v. Patchak [docket; cert. petition, PDF] and Salazar v. Patchak [docket; cert. petition, PDF], which deal with US sovereign immunity in suits involving "trust or restricted Indian lands." David Patchak filed suit to prevent the Secretary of the Interior from holding land in trust for a Michigan Indian tribe. The district court dismissed his suit for lack of standing. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that he had standing but found that the US was immune from suit.




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Noriega extradited to Panama
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 12, 2011 8:38 AM ET

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[JURIST] Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega [Al Jazeera profile; JURIST news archive] was extradited from France to Panama Sunday to face charges of human rights violations for crimes allegedly committed during his 1981-1989 rule. He was already convicted on three counts of human rights violations in absentia, and each count carries a 20-year prison sentence. Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli [official profile, in Spanish] and Panamanian authorities have been seeking Noriega's extradition [JURIST report] to face charges of human rights violations in Panama since April 2010. French authorities ordered his extradition earlier this year, and it was given final approval [JURIST reports] by a French appeals court last month. Noriega was immediately taken to El Renacer prison upon his arrival in Panama.

A French criminal court sentenced Noriega [JURIST report] to seven years in jail for money laundering in July 2010. He was convicted of laundering $3 million in drug profits by purchasing property in Paris. In April 2010, Noriega was extradited to France from the US, where he had served a 17-year sentence on drug charges, after fighting extradition [JURIST reports] since 2007. The US Supreme Court declined to reconsider [JURIST report] Noriega's petition to stop the extradition process. His lawyers filed the petition in February 2010 after the Supreme Court denied certiorari [JURIST reports] on the case a month earlier. Noriega, who has been declared a prisoner of war, sought to enforce a provision of the Geneva Convention [ICRC backgrounder] that requires repatriation at the end of confinement. Noriega and his wife were sentenced in absentia [Reuters report] to 10 years in jail by a French court in 1999, but France agreed to hold a new trial if he was extradited.




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US lawmaker proposes amendment limiting corporate campaign spending
Brandon Gatto on December 11, 2011 1:55 PM ET

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[JURIST] Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) [official website] on Thursday introduced a constitutional amendment that would exclude a corporation's First Amendment [text] rights to spend money on political campaigns. Named the Saving American Democracy Amendment [text, PDF] the proposal would make clear that corporations are not afforded the same constitutional rights as people and that the political activities of corporations can be regulated by the government. Sanders added that the law would also ban unlimited corporate campaign contributions to candidates. The amendment, he stated [transcript], was created to counteract the controversial 5-4 ruling by the US Supreme Court [official website] in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [JURIST report] that a corporation possesses the same First Amendment free speech rights as that of a person:
The Constitution of this country has served us well, but when the Supreme Court says that attempts by the federal government and states to impose reasonable restrictions on campaign ads are unconstitutional, our democracy is in grave danger. ... I strongly disagree with the ruling. In my view, a corporation is not a person. A corporation does not have First Amendment rights to spend as much money as it wants, without disclosure, on a political campaign. Corporations should not be able to go into their treasuries and spend millions and millions of dollars on a campaign in order to buy elections.
Sanders concluded that even though a number of bills have been proposed as a counteraction to the Supreme Court's ruling, the most effective way to reverse the alleged error is to send a "constitutional amendment to the states that says simply and straightforwardly what everyone, except five members of the United States Supreme Court, understands: Corporations are not people with equal constitutional rights."

The Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United has remained controversial since it was issued in January 2010. Last year, Congress failed to advance campaign finance reform [JURIST report] put forth by members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. US Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Representative Chris van Hollen (D-MD) [official websites] proposed legislation [JURIST report] as well as amended legislation [JURIST report] that would ban foreign companies, companies controlled by foreign companies or governments, government contractors and recipients of the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP) [official website] funds from contributing to US elections. The proposed legislation also called for corporate CEOs to report their political spending to the Federal Election Committee [official website]. The administration of President Barack Obama [official website] has likewise been publicly critical [JURIST report] of the Supreme Court's decision, most notably in the president's State of the Union Address [transcript] in January 2010 where he remarked that the the ruling "will open to floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections."




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Alabama governor working to revise state immigration law
Jamie Reese on December 11, 2011 10:55 AM ET

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[JURIST] Alabama Governor Robert Bentley [official website] announced [press release] Friday that he would work with House Speaker Mike Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh [official profiles] to make Alabama's new immigration law [HB 56 text] more effective. Bentley assured that the group had no plans to repeal the law, even with pending challenges [JURIST report] from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website]. According to Bailey, "the essence of the law will not change, but state leaders pledged the revisions to the law will be offered for consideration early in the next Legislative Session so that the law works, it can be enforced and it reflects the hospitable nature of Alabamians." He recognized that changes need to be made so that the law is fair and just, but the governor stood behind his campaign for an effective illegal immigration law. A bill is being developed for consideration at the start of Alabama's next legislative session. The bill's purpose is to clarify, simplify, ensure that all individuals working in Alabama are doing so legally and enable law enforcement to effectively enforce the law.

Last week Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange [official website] suggested repealing specific provisions [JURIST report] of the state's controversial immigration law which criminalize the failure of illegal immigrants to carry registration documents and require public schools to collect information regarding the immigration status of their students. Both these provisions were temporarily blocked [JURIST report] in an October ruling of the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website]. The law has faced numerous challenges since taking effect in September. The DOJ challenged the law resulting in a ruling [opinion text] at the end of September that allowed the state to enforce a provision that makes it a felony for an illegal alien to conduct business with the state, among other provisions. The DOJ argued that Alabama's immigration law was preempted by federal laws regulating immigration in the US because of the Supremacy Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder]. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a separate brief also asking the court to overturn the new law. The ACLU's brief argued that the laws are designed to make life in Alabama so difficult for illegal aliens that they will be forced to leave the state [JURIST op-ed]. Like the DOJ, the ACLU argued that Alabama's law is a direct attempt to regulate immigration, which is an area that the states have no legitimate interest in regulating and is left only to the federal government to legislate. Alabama's immigration law is only one of the immigration measures [JURIST news archive] currently being challenged by the DOJ, ACLU and others.




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Indefinite detention of Ukraine ex-PM Tymoshenko draws criticism
Brandon Gatto on December 10, 2011 11:50 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Ukrainian court on Thursday ordered the indefinite arrest of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website, JURIST news archive] despite the chance that her current seven-year sentence [JURIST report] may still be overturned, drawing international criticism. Because Tymoshenko had already begun serving time on her original abuse-of-office charges when the court issued the order, the former prime minister was re-arrested in her cell at a Kiev detention center. This time, prosecutors are alleging that Tymoshenko was involved in tax evasion and theft of government funds between 1996 and 2000, a time when she led the intermediary gas company United Energy Systems. The European Commission [official website] on Friday expressed its concern [Kyiv Post report] regarding a lack of transparency of Ukrainian hearings in prison, and declared that such a process does not correspond to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website]. In a statement sent to Interfax-Ukraine [Interfax news archive], the Commission called on Ukrainian authorities to ensure fair, impartial and transparent legal proceedings. Conversely, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) [official website] has defended the re-arrest of Tymoshenko by claiming that a hearing conducted in prison is not inconsistent with Ukrainian law. The SBU, however, did not remark on whether such procedure contradicts European Community law.

Tymoshenko was originally sentenced in October for abuse of office when, as prime minister, she signed a gas supply contract with Russia in 2009. Her prosecution has been closely followed and internationally controversial [JURIST comment], including harsh criticism from the West. In November, the Ukrainian Parliament voted against [agenda text] hearing amendments that may have freed [JURIST report] Tymoshenko by fining her rather than sentencing her for her criminal convictions. The EU has consistently condemned [JURIST report] the former prime minister's conviction as politically-motivated, and has indicated that the prosecution could harm Ukraine's bid for EU accession. Tymoshenko herself has also made efforts to demonstrate that the charges are motivated by her adversaries, but to no avail. In August, the Kiev Appeals Court refused an appeal [JURIST report] of her detention for contempt charges for a lack of legal grounds to contest the arrest [JURIST report]. Also, in June, Tymoshenko filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the ECHR alleging various violations of the European Convention of Human Rights [text, PDF] and arguing that her charges were politically engineered by current Ukrainian president and long-time political rival Viktor Yanukovych [official website]. Yanukovych narrowly defeated Tymoshenko in the presidential election in March 2010, but Tymoshenko has claimed that widespread voter fraud contributed to the outcome.




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Supreme Court to rule on Texas redistricting plan
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 10, 2011 11:07 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] agreed [order list, PDF] Friday to rule on three Texas redistricting plans. The emergency appeal challenges an interim map drawn up by the US District Court for the Western District of Texas while a separate map drawn up by the state legislature is currently being challenged in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official websites] for compliance with the Voting Rights Act [Cornell LII backgrounder]. Two of the cases are titled Perry, et al. v. Perez, et al. and will deal with the Texas state House and the US congressional delegation, respectively, and the third case, titled Perry, et al. v. Davis, et al., deals with the Texas state senate. The justices set one hour of argument for all three cases for January 9.

According to the 2010 census, Texas' population grew by 4.3 million, which gave it four more seats in the US House of Representatives. The Republican-controlled state legislature redrew the congressional districts in a way that challengers claim would make it more likely for Republicans to win those new seats. The plan must be approved by either the Justice Department or a federal court under the VRA, and the Obama administration has objected to the plan. In the meantime, the federal court in Texas drew an "interim map" for use in the 2012 election. That is the map that is currently being challenged before the Supreme Court.




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Croatia signs treaty to join EU
Jaimie Cremeans on December 10, 2011 10:22 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Croatian government signed a treaty [press release, PDF] Friday to finalize its accession into the European Union [official website]. Croatia will now officially become the twenty-eighth member of the EU in 2013. The signing ceremony consisted of speeches by leaders of the EU and Croatia, as well as signing of the treaty by the 27 other member countries. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a speech [text] delivered at the ceremony:
Croatia today is very different to the country that applied for accession a decade ago.It is ready to shoulder the substantial responsibilities of EU membership. It meets the Copenhagen political criteria, which were always a particular focus of the Commission's work. Ensuring that democratic principles, fundamental rights and the rule of law are respected and further strengthened was and is vital—for us but even more so for Croatia's own development and prosperity. This reform momentum now needs to be maintained.
Croatia will now serve as an active observer of the EU until its membership begins in 2013.

The EU gave final approval [JURIST report] to Croatian membership in June after six years of negotiations. The EU suspended accession talks [JURIST report] in 2005 when it felt Croatia was not cooperating fully with International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia [JURIST report] investigations into war crimes against its former military officers. Talks of accession were resumed later that year, when the ICTY determined Croatia was cooperating [JURIST report] with investigations.




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Japan whalers file suit against anti-whaling activists
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 9, 2011 2:31 PM ET

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[JURIST] Two Japanese whaling groups filed suit [press release, PDF] Friday against US-based anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) [advocacy website] in the US District Court for the Western District of Washington [official website]. The Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) [official website] and the Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha claim that the SSCS and its founder Paul Watson are preventing them from engaging in what they say is lawful activity under Article 8 of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling [text, PDF], which allows for the taking of whales for scientific research purposes. SSCS, which regularly sends vessels to disrupt the whaling activity, dismissed the suit [press release] as "frivolous and nothing more than the whalers attempting to use litigation as a weapon."

Japan's whaling program remains extremely controversial. In May, Australia brought a complaint [materials] against Japan in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] for its whaling practices in the Antarctic. Australia initiated proceedings [JURIST report] in May 2010, and oral arguments are scheduled to begin in May 2012. In July 2010, a Japanese court convicted New Zealand anti-whaling activist Peter Bethune on charges of assault, trespass, destruction of property, illegal possession of a weapon and obstruction of business for boarding a Japanese whaling vessel [JURIST reports] as part of an anti-whaling protest in January of that year. Berthune, who called the charges "bogus," was extradited to New Zealand, and he will not serve prison time unless he returns to Japan. Commercial whaling has been banned by the International Whaling Commission [official website] since 1986.




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ICTY convicts former Yugoslav intelligence officer of contempt for failure to testify
Katherine Getty on December 9, 2011 2:25 PM ET

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[JURIST] Former Yugoslav intelligence officer Dragomir Pecanac was convicted [judgment, PDF; press release] Friday on a charge of contempt for failing to testify before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website]. The charges [press release] were brought against Pecanac in October when he failed to comply with a subpoena to testify as a witness in the trial against Zdravko Tolimir [ICTY materials; JURIST report], his former commander. In issuing its ruling, the ICTY found that Pecanac's actions failed to comply with the interests of justice:
Contempt of the Tribunal is a serious offence, which goes to the essence of the administration of justice. By his failure to comply with the Subpoena and to appear at the seat of the Tribunal and testify, the Accused has acted against the interests of justice. His failure to testify has deprived the Chamber of relevant evidence. The Tribunal is dependent on witness testimony and the deprivation of such relevant evidence amounts to a serious interference with the administration of justice, and in fact, endangers the fulfillment of the Tribunal's functions and mandate.
Pecanac was sentenced to three months in prison, but will get credit for the 74 days he has already served.

The tribunal issued a subpoena for Pecanac in August. When he failed to appear in September, the tribunal issued an order for contempt, in lieu of an indictment as well as an arrest warrant. In mid-October he entered a not guilty plea. Earlier this week the tribunal heard former Serbian general and alleged war criminal Ratko Mladic [JURIST news archive] enter a not guilty plea [JURIST report] to charges linked to the execution of more than 30 Muslim prisoners in the eastern town of Bisina in July 1995. He had previously refused to enter a plea in any of the charges against him. The trial [JURIST report] is scheduled to begin in March 2012. The ICTY reported to the UN Security Council on Thursday that the it is reaching a successful conclusion [JURIST report] since the last two fugitives wanted by the ICTY were captured. It is now finishing trials and appeals.




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Hawaii same-sex couple sues for right to marry
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 9, 2011 12:02 PM ET

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[JURIST] A lesbian couple filed suit [complaint, PDF] Wednesday in the US District Court for the District of Hawaii [official website] challenging the state's denial of same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive]. Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie (D) [official profile] signed [JURIST report] a same-sex civil unions bill [SB 232 text, PDF] into law in February. The legislation, set to go into effect on January 1, 2012, extends the same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to partners in a civil union, but plaintiffs Natasha Jackson and Janin Kleid claim they are still being denied a "fundamental right" to marry under Hawaii's marriage law [text], which restricts marriage to a man and a woman. Jackson and Kleid applied for a marriage license last month and were denied. They claim the state is depriving them of their Due Process and Equal Protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment [text] to the US Constitution. A spokesperson for Abercrombie declined to comment on the suit [Star Advertiser report] and said the complaint is currently being reviewed.

Same-sex marriage and civil unions remain controversial throughout the US. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is currently mulling Proposition 8 [JURIST report], California's same-sex marriage ban. Last month a New York state court judge ruled that a lawsuit challenging the state's recognition of same-sex marriage can proceed [JURIST report]. In September, the North Carolina legislature approved putting a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage [JURIST report] on a statewide ballot to be voted on in May. Same-sex marriage is currently recognized in six US states—Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York—and the District of Columbia [JURIST reports].




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Ninth Circuit hears arguments on Proposition 8 issues
Jamie Reese on December 9, 2011 9:56 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] heard oral arguments Thursday on two consolidated issues [JURIST report] regarding Proposition 8 [text, PDF; JURIST news archive], California's same-sex marriage ban. The first was an appeal from a refusal [JURIST report] by the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] to vacate former US district court judge Vaughn Walker's decision striking down Proposition 8 because he failed to disclose his own homosexuality and 10-year same-sex relationship. Proponents of Propostion 8, which include Protect Marriage [advocacy website], argued in their brief [text, PDF] that they had no problem with Walker hearing the case so long as "a reasonable person ... would not have reason to believe that the judge has a current personal interest in marrying if Plaintiffs prevail." Opponents, including the American Foundation for Equal Rights [advocacy website], countered this statement by arguing [text, PDF] that the district court properly ruled that recusal was not required, and, even if it was, vacating the judgment would be a "drastic and inappropriate remedy resulting in injustice to the Plaintiffs in this case." The second issue was whether video recordings [JURIST report] of the 2010 trial should be released to the public. Proposition 8 supporters argued [text, PDF] against the release because it could lead to harassment of their witnesses and claimed that the First Amendment right of access has no application in this instance. Proposition 8 opponents argued [text, PDF] that there is no reason not to make the recordings public, and, in fact, it is in the public interest to do so.

In November, the California Supreme Court [official website] ruled that sponsors of Proposition 8 have standing [JURIST report] to defend the measure in court. The same-sex marriage ban was initially struck down last year [JURIST report], and then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former attorney general and current Governor Jerry Brown [official website], who were originally defendants in the lawsuit, refused to continue defending the measure on appeal [JURIST report]. In March, the Ninth Circuit denied a motion to lift the stay order [JURIST reports] prohibiting gay couples from marrying while the appeal is pending. The Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments [video; JURIST report] on both the issue of standing and constitutionality last December but has not yet ruled.




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Argentina must protect rights of indigenous groups: UN expert
John Paul Putney on December 9, 2011 9:09 AM ET

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[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights [official mandate], James Anaya [academic profile], on Thursday urged Argentina to strengthen protection of human rights, rights to education and land ownership for indigenous groups as well as to establish sorely needed dialogue with government. His comments came after an 11-day visit to Argentina [press release] including meetings with both indigenous communities and government authorities [UN News Centre report] in Buenos Aires. Focusing on land disputes between indigenous groups and excavating firms, Anaya explained:
A central preoccupation expressed by indigenous leaders during my visit was the lack of judicial security over their land ownership rights and in particular the various problems and delays they face regarding their properties ... [and a] lack of dialogue and participation with the affected indigenous groups before undertaking such projects, and the lack of their role in the decision-making process, as well as of sharing the benefits of the projects resulting from use of their lands.
Anaya is scheduled to give a full report next year to the UN Human Rights Council.

The government of Argentina has ongoing issues with indigenous communities and currently has no mechanism for dialogue. In June 2007, the Supreme Court of Argentina [official website, in Spanish] ordered the government to provide basic necessities to indigenous peoples [JURIST report] of the Chaco region while it investigated claims that their land has been illegally sold to commercial farmers. The amparo action, brought by the office of the Defender of the People [official website, in Spanish], alleged that government officials have denied food and medical aid to the Toba, Wichi and Mocovi tribes, which together claim 60,000 members in the Chaco region, resulting in malnourishment illnesses such as cholera and tuberculosis and, in some cases, death. From June 2007, members of the Wichi community [Survival International profile] camped out in front of the Chaco regional government headquarters, some undergoing a hunger strike, to demand land rights, education and health care for the indigenous people of the Chaco. According to protesters, the government has permitted public lands reserved for indigenous groups in the Chaco to be sold to growers of genetically modified soy. In 2003, the Wichi won a legal battle against the government when the Supreme Court ruled that licenses to conduct commercial logging on the Wichi's traditional lands could not be granted without prior consultation with the tribe.




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Mladic pleads not guilty, trial set for March
John Paul Putney on December 9, 2011 8:00 AM ET

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[JURIST] Former Serbian general and alleged war criminal Ratko Mladic [ICTY backgrounder, PDF; JURIST news archive], after previously refusing to enter a plea in any of the charges against him, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges linked to the execution of more than 30 Muslim prisoners in the eastern town of Bisina in July 1995. The presiding judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website], Alphons Orie, scheduled the pre-trial conference for March 26 with the trial to begin March 27 [AFP report]. The Mladic case [case materials] is expected to last years, and the court is anxious to avoid a similar delay in the legal process that allowed Slobodan Milosevic, Mladic's boss, to evade justice when he died of a heart attack in 2006 before his trial concluded. The defense team indicated it cannot meet the deadlines [AP report] imposed by the judge, who conceded they were not written in stone. Claiming to have never heard of Bisina, Mladic insisted he had nothing to do with it, but indicated he was in no hurry to start his trial.

Last week, a three-judge panel for the ICTY accepted a request brought last month by prosecutors to reduce the number of crimes [JURIST reports] they intend to prove against Mladic from 196 to 106. The request came days after the ICTY ordered a medical examination [JURIST report] of Mladic's physical condition in response to his absence from court the week prior due to illness. In October, the ICTY prosecutor refused to seek further appeal [JURIST report] of the tribunal's refusal to split Mladic's trial into separate actions: 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]. 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. Before that, he had lost his final appeal in Serbia to avoid extradition, and was transported to The Hague [JURIST reports]. 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 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 committed by Bosnian Serb forces under his command during the Bosnian civil war, which saw over 100,000 casualties and hundreds of thousands more displaced.




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UK launches action plan to promote transgender equality
Michael Haggerson on December 8, 2011 3:28 PM ET

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[JURIST] The UK Home Office Government Equalities Office [official website] on Thursday announced the UK's first ever government action plan promoting transgender equality [report, PDF; official website]. The plan stated that there was a 14 percent rise in transgender-related hate crime between 2009 and 2010 and that only two EU member states explicitly address transgender hate crimes in their hate crime legislation. The report proposed amending Section 146 and Schedule 21 [text] of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 [materials] so that crimes motivated by hostility towards transgender individuals are considered hate crimes and that the minimum sentence for murders motivated by hostility towards transgender individuals be 30 years. This is double the current minimum sentence [BBC report]. The Ministry of Justice [official website] later clarified that the increased minimum sentence would also apply to murders motivated by hate of disabled people [press release]. The plan also calls for a government-wide appraisal of transgender rights and the special needs of transgender individuals, greater protection for the privacy of transgender individuals and greater protection for transgender students in schools. The plan stated that over 70 percent of children who express gender variant behaviors are subject to bullying in school. Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone [official website] stated that the transgender action plan was "just the first step on this road" [video] and that she hopes that the trans community is happy with the government's efforts.

The rise of hate crimes against LGBT individuals has been an issue throughout the world. In July the Italian Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Italian] rejected legislation [JURIST report] that would have provided greater penalties for hate crimes committed against homosexuals and transsexuals. As a member of the UN Human Rights Council [official website], Italy is a party to the "Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity" resolution [text, PDF], which was passed [JURIST report] in June. The resolution is the first to call for an end to sexuality discrimination worldwide and to recognize it as a "priority" for the UN. However, the resolution does not address any penalties for violating the act nor is it binding for members. In March, US Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) and Senator Al Franken (D-MN) [official websites] introduced legislation to protect LGBT students [JURIST report] in federally funded public elementary and high schools from bullying. In 2009, US President Barack Obama signed into law [JURIST report] a bill that contained a measure extending the definition of federal hate crimes to include crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.




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Malawi to review controversial anti-homosexuality law
Michael Haggerson on December 8, 2011 2:49 PM ET

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[JURIST] Malawian Justice Minister Ephraim Chiume said Thursday that President Bingu wa Mutharika has ordered the Malawi Law Commission [official websites] to review several controversial laws, including a law banning homosexual acts. Chiume stated that the review was in response to public criticism [Africa Review report]. Commentators suggest that the purpose of the review of the ban on homosexual acts is to attract US aid. On Tuesday US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile] announced that the US would use foreign assistance, international diplomacy and political asylum to promote LGBT rights internationally [JURIST report]. In addition to the ban on homosexual acts, laws which allow the government to shut down newspapers deemed to not be serving Malawi's interests, ban suits against government officials and allow police to search areas and make arrests without providing a reason will also be reviewed.

Gay rights have been a contentious issue [Economist backgrounder] in both developed and developing nations, with more than 80 countries criminalizing homosexuality. The issue is especially prevalent in Africa where over 70 percent of countries criminalize non-traditional sexual orientation, with some charges carrying the death penalty. Last week, the Nigerian Senate passed a bill making it illegal for same-sex couples to marry [JURIST report] or for an individual to aid in the marriage of same-sex couples. The bill explicitly states that marriages entered into by persons of the same gender are prohibited and will not be recognized as valid, even if the marriage certificate is obtained in a foreign country. Last month, the Ugandan High Court [official website] sentenced a man to 30 years in prison for beating to death prominent gay rights activist [JURIST report] David Kato. Enock Nsubuga confessed to the January 2011 killing, admitting to beating Kato [Reuters report] with a hammer at his home before he died on the way to the hospital. Nsubuga claimed that he attacked Kato in response to sexual advances he made. In 2010 Mutharika pardoned [JURIST report; video] a gay couple sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges of "indecent practices between males" and "unnatural offences." Although Mutharika pardoned the men based on international pressure, he nevertheless reiterated that homosexuality was "totally wrong" and against the culture and traditions of Malawi.




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Supreme Court hears arguments on biological patents, title to riverbeds
Andrea Bottorff on December 8, 2011 12:54 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] Wednesday in two cases. In Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on the ability to patent under 35 USC § 101 [text] the body's biological reaction to different dosages of a certain type of drug. Prometheus Labs [corporate website] patented the tests doctors use for determining the appropriate dosage of drugs for treating Crohn's disease and other autoimmune diseases. Mayo Collaborative has argued that the tests look at "natural phenomenon" and that doctors violate the patents simply by mentally recognizing the correlation, regardless of what the doctors do with this knowledge. During the oral argument, petitioner Mayo Collaborative argued that the patent attempts to protect a "law of nature" instead of the "application of a law of nature," which restricts doctors' ability to make treatment judgments based on patients' reactions to drugs. Respondent Prometheus Labs argued that the courts have permitted similar patents in the past, that the current patent involves only a narrow range of drugs and that it will not prevent future improvements in the field.

In PPL Montana v. Montana [transcript, PDF], the court heard arguments on whether the proper constitutional test for determining river navigability for title purposes requires a trial court to consider whether the river was considered navigable at the time the state joined the Union or whether the court can consider new evidence based on current use. PPL Montana (PPL) [corporate website], which owns a hydroelectric power dam on the Missouri River, brought the challenge after the Supreme Court of Montana held [opinion, PDF] that the title to the riverbeds passed to Montana when it became a state in 1889 and that the riverbeds are public trust lands under Article X, Section 11 [text] under the Montana Constitution. The Supreme Court of Montana ordered PPL to pay $41 million in back rent and more in future rent for use of the riverbeds. Petitioner PPL argued that the Montana Supreme Court "deviat[ed] from well-settled principles of Federal navigability law" by failing to focus on specific river segments and considering modern instead of historical use of the river. Respondent the state of Montana replied that, under federal precedent, the state owns title to the riverbeds of navigable rivers and that the Montana Supreme Court properly applied the test for navigability in determining that the "river served as a continuous highway of commerce" at the time of statehood.




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ACLU asks Supreme Court to rule on gene patent case
Matthew Pomy on December 8, 2011 12:51 PM ET

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[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) [advocacy websites] on Wednesday asked [cert. petition, PDF] the US Supreme Court [official website] to overturn a recent federal appeals court decision that upheld gene patents. The June decision [JURIST report] by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit [official website] partially overturned a district court ruling [JURIST report] and upheld the validity of gene patents that prevent non-patent holders from studying, testing or even looking at a particular gene. In a petition for writ of certiorari filed with the Supreme Court Wednesday, the ACLU claims:
The patenting of isolated DNA violates long-established Supreme Court precedent that prohibits the patenting of laws of nature, natural phenomena, products of nature, and abstract ideas. ... Patents on isolated DNA, whether small segments or whole genes, also violate the First Amendment because they block scientific inquiry into the patented DNA.
The particular genes in this case, BRCA1 and BRCA2 [NCI backgrounder], are two key genes related to breast and ovarian cancer research. Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation [official websites] currently hold the patents on the genes and thus hold the rights the genes and are able to set the cost of testing and prevent researchers from studying the gene without gaining permission first.

The appeals court's decision countered the position held by the Obama administration, which had submitted an amicus curie brief [text, PDF] in support of the ACLU and PUBPAT. The US Patent and Trademark Office [official website] has issued patents for genes for decades. Such patents cover nearly 2,000 human genes and genetic research companies hold patents to approximately 20 percent of the human genetic code. Supporters of the patents argue that restricting patents on human genes would decrease the amount of genetic research performed by the public sector because it would no longer be profitable for companies to study human genes. Opponents claim that these restrictions often prevent patients from receiving proper medical care and complicate the research process in a way that deters potential researchers.




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UN rights representative calls for peace in Colombia
Dan Taglioli on December 8, 2011 12:38 PM ET

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[JURIST] The representative to Colombia for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] Thursday reiterated his call for a peaceful solution to the country's ongoing armed conflict. Christian Salazar made his remarks at a press conference following an announcement by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] stating plans to move forward with the unilateral release of hostages currently being held by the paramilitary rebels. Last month a military offensive led to the deaths of four FARC hostages who were killed by their captors during the fighting, but Salazar stated he believed FARC's plan to release other hostages signaled a new phase of hostage liberation that might help lead both sides to a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict. However Salazar recognized at the press conference that at this point even talking about the armed conflict in Colombia was "extremely sensitive." To that end Salazar also praised the actions of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos [official website, in Spanish], who has maintained an open line of dialogue between FARC and the Colombian government, which Salazar held as important to preventing a longterm "spiral of violence" in the country. The rebels announced their plans [letter, PDF, in Spanish] for the upcoming hostage release in a missive to former Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba earlier this month.

In June Santos signed the Victims' and Land Restitution Law [Senate backgrounder, in Spanish], legislation that had been created to compensate victims of the country's armed conflict and had been approved by the Senate [JURIST reports] a month earlier. The law seeks to compensate millions of individuals by providing damages to relatives of those killed during the armed conflict, which has spanned over 40 years, as well as help to return land stolen throughout the conflict to its rightful owners. The US federal court system has heard several lawsuits seeking compensation for victims of Colombian violence. In February, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] revived a wrongful death lawsuit [JURIST report] brought against Drummond Company [corporate website] in which it is alleged that the company successfully hired the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) [CFR backgrounder] to break up a new Drummond union and murder its leaders. In April 2010 victims of paramilitary violence in Colombia filed suit against Chiquita Brand International [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The plaintiffs were 242 Colombians who alleged that they had been seriously injured or had family members killed by the AUC, which received funding from Chiquita. In 2007, Chiquita was fined $25 million [JURIST report] after it admitted to making payments of around $1.7 million from 1997 to 2004 to the AUC.




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CIA operated secret prison in Romania: AP report
Katherine Getty on December 8, 2011 12:11 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] operated a secret prison [AP report] outside the capital of Romania, the Associated Press (AP) [media website] alleged on Thursday. A joint investigation between the AP and a German public television company, ARD Panorama [media website, in German], reportedly uncovered the black site, whose existence has been rumored but never confirmed. The site is claimed to have been part of the CIA's secret prison [JURIST news archive] network that operated overseas and were used to house and interrogate terrorists. The investigation found that high-profile terrorists including Khalid Sheik Mohammad [JURIST news archive] were kept there until they were transported to the Guantanamo Bay prison facility in Cuba. All of the prisons were shut down in 2006, and the program was shut down in 2009. The Romanian government denied any activity in the building by the American government, while the CIA declined to discuss the detention program. The investigation found that once detainees were placed in the prisons, they endured sleep deprivation and other harsh interrogation techniques, but waterboarding was not allowed in Romania.

This is not the first discovery of CIA-run secret prisons. Investigations have previously uncovered locations in Lithuania and Poland. The Lithuanian National Security Committee concluded that the Lithuanian State Security Department provided the CIA with two secret facilities [JURIST report] in December 2009. In 2007 it was discovered that the CIA had prisons in Romania and Poland [JURIST report], but the governments would never confirm or deny the allegations. In 2010 Poland requested US assistance in their investigation of the alleged prison, but the US government refused to cooperate. The European Parliament [official website] approved a report condemning member states for cooperating with the (CIA) in operating illegal secret prisons and extraordinary rendition flights in Europe in 2007. This action came in the wake of a 2006 report by the Legal Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe [official website] report that alleged that 14 European countries [JURIST report] collaborated with the CIA by taking an active or passive role in secret prisons and rendition flights.




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UN war crimes tribunals report progress to Security Council
Dan Taglioli on December 8, 2011 11:36 AM ET

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[JURIST] Top officials of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website; JURIST news archive] and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website; JURIST news archive] told the UN Security Council [official website] Wednesday that international cooperation in tracking and arresting fugitives is vital to completion of the tribunals' mandates. This year saw the arrests of the last two remaining fugitives wanted by the ICTY, meaning none of the 161 persons indicted by the tribunal [materials] remain at large, but nine fugitives sought by ICTR have continued to escape capture, three of whom are among the most high-ranking of the accused. ICTR Prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow called on the Member States of the Great Lakes Conference to provide information and aid in the apprehension of the remaining fugitives [UN News Centre report], as the trial work of the ICTR is due to be finished by the end of the second quarter of 2012, with appeals work finished by early 2014. ICTY Prosecutor Serge Brammertz observed [ICTY press release] that the capture of the remaining ICTY fugitives means that tribunal is now fully occupied with finishing its trials and appeals in fulfillment of its completion strategy, but expressed concern over statements by high-level Croatian authorities that question the validity of the ICTY's work. On the other hand he noted that day-to-day cooperation with his office is proceeding well in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The presidents of the ICTR and ICTY, Judge Khalida Rachid Khan and Judge Theodor Meron [ICTY press release], also addressed the 15-member Security Council on the work of their respective courts.

Last month the two presidents told the UN General Assembly [official website] that the tribunals are in need of experienced staff to complete their work [JURIST report], warning of the difficulties in retaining staff at the ICTY and the ICTR because both tribunals are nearing the end of their work and employees are leaving for more permanent jobs. Currently the ICTY is preparing to try its last two fugitives, captured earlier this year. Serbian general Ratko Mladic [ICTY backgrounder, PDF; JURIST news archive] is being held pending his trial at The Hague following his May arrest [JURIST report] after 16 years on the run. He is charged with committing war crimes during the Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archive] and the Srebrenica massacre [JURIST news archive] where 8,000 people were killed. Croation Serb rebel leader Goran Hadzic [ICTY backgrounder], who was arrested [JURIST report] in June, is also being held at The Hague pending his trial also on charges of war crimes committed during the Bosnian civil war and Srebrenica massacre. Last month the ICTR convicted [JURIST report] former Rwandan mayor Gregoire Ndahimana [HJP profile] of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. In September the court acquitted [JURIST report] two former Rwandan ministers, Casimir Bizimungu and Jerome Bicamumpaka, of genocide charges due to a lack of sufficient evidence. Rwandan genocide suspect and former Hutu militia leader Bernard Munyagishari is awaiting trial at the ICTR for charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, alleged to have recruited, trained and led a militia group that killed and raped Tutsi women during the 1994 Rwandan genocide [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive].




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Rights group urges new Yemen government to raise legal marriage age
Alexandra Malatesta on December 8, 2011 10:43 AM ET

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[JURIST] Human Rights Watch [official website] called Thursday for the government of Yemen [JURIST news archive] to increase the minimum age [press release] for girls to enter into marriage. In a 54-page report [text, PDF] titled "How Come You Allow Little Girls to Get Married?" HRW claims that the current laws effectively make Yemeni girls and women second class citizens, often forcing them into pre-arranged child marriages where they will have no control over decisions such as when to bear children. More than half of Yemeni women report having entered into marriage before 18 years of age. The report claims that raising the marital age to 18 will increase girls' educational opportunities and protect their human rights [AP report]. HRW made several recommendations to the Yemeni government:
To the Government of Yemen:
  • Set the minimum age for marriage at 18 in accordance with the definition of a child in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • Raise awareness with religious leaders about the harmful health consequences of child marriage on the lives of girls and women.
  • Increase and improve access to reproductive health services and information for all girls and women, including access to emergency obstetric care and family planning.
  • Develop retention strategies to ensure that girls who enroll in school are able to remain in school, such as financial incentives for families to keep girls in school and to subsidize the costs of uniforms and textbooks.
  • Raise awareness about the obligation to register births and marriages through the media.
A majority of Yemenis, including 83.4 percent of Yemeni women, would reportedly support fixing the marital age at 18 years old [Yemen Polling Center]. Despite denying a 2009 bill that proposed fixing the minimum marital age at 17 [Equality Now report], Yemen ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 2008.

Yemen has been repeatedly criticized for various human rights abuses in the past. In September, a delegation from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] released a report [text, PDF] announcing a humanitarian crisis [JURIST report] in Yemen that requires immediate intervention. The OHCHR verified that the Yemeni government was firing on peaceful protesters as well as warring against armed rebels, and that as a tactic of war, both sides were withholding water, fuel and electricity from civilians. The report also listed a number of human rights atrocities, including the government shooting at ambulances and preventing activists from receiving medical treatment, utilizing child soldiers, and illegally detaining, torturing and killing an inestimable number of adults and children. The report ended with a plea to both the armed rebels and the government of Yemen to end the violence and called on the international community to condemn Yemen's action and provide humanitarian and financial relief to the nation. Yemen has also been criticized [AI report] for its handling of pro-democracy protests that have persisted since February.




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US citizen sentenced to prison for insulting Thailand royalty
Alexandra Malatesta on December 8, 2011 10:32 AM ET

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[JURIST] Thai-born American citizen Joe Gordon (Thai name Lerpong Wichaikhammat) was sentenced Thursday to two-and-a-half years in a Thai prison after pleading guilty to violating Section 112 of the Thai Penal Code [text] by defaming the royal family by translating excerpts of a locally banned biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and posting them online. Gordon was arrested [Huffington Post report] this past May when visiting Thailand, several years after [AP report] posting the controversial blog in Colorado. Before Gordon's sentence was announced, he reiterated his American citizenship [Reuters report] and discredited the Thai judicial system. The Thai law states "whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne or the Regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years." While Gordon's lawyer Arnon Nampa has stated he does not plan to appeal, Gordon will request royal pardon to excuse his sentence.

UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression Frank La Rue [official website] recently condemned the law [JURIST report]. La Rue also condemned the country's 2007 Computer Crimes Act [unofficial text], which imposes a prison sentence of up to five years for any views expressed on the Internet in relation to the monarchy deemed to be a threat to national security. The act is used to further enforce the country's insult law, La Rue said, "[t]he threat of a long prison sentence and vagueness of what kinds of expression constitute defamation, insult, or threat to the monarchy, encourage self-censorship and stifle important debates on matters of public interest, thus putting in jeopardy the right to freedom of opinion and expression. ... This is exacerbated by the fact that the charges can be brought by private individuals and trials are often closed to the public." In 2009, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called for a public trial [JURIST report] for a Thai political activist accused of lese majeste, or insulting the royal family. Judge Prommat Toosang ordered [Reuters report] that the trial of Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul [advocacy website] be closed for national security reasons. AI's Asia-Pacific director Sam Zarifi noted that although the closure of trials is legitimate under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Thai Constitution, the government "will have a very difficult time explaining why the trial of someone charged with making an insulting remark could compromise Thailand's national security." Zafiri said that Prommat's guarantee of a fair trial was inadequate and "simply not verifiable" unless the trial is conducted in public.




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US to use foreign aid, diplomacy to advance LGBT rights globally
John Paul Putney on December 8, 2011 8:34 AM ET

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[JURIST] US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile] announced Tuesday that the US will use foreign assistance, international diplomacy and political asylum to promote gay rights [remarks]. The secretary's remarks before the UN Human Rights Council [official website] in Geneva were in tandem with an executive memo [text] from US President Barack Obama [official website] directing federal agencies to investigate avenues to combat criminalization of homosexuality [SFC report] and to consider gay rights in aid and asylum decisions [BBC report]. In conjunction with International Human Rights Day, the secretary explained:
Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same. ... Yet in the past 60 years, we have come to recognize that members of these groups are entitled to the full measure of dignity and rights, because, like all people, they share a common humanity. ... Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.
The immediate implications are unclear as several current aid recipients have laws criminalizing homosexuality.

As Clinton noted, gay rights have not been universally acknowledged. Last week, the Nigerian Senate passed a bill making it illegal for same-sex couples to marry [JURIST report] or for an individual to aid in the marriage of same-sex couples. The bill explicitly states that marriages entered into by persons of the same gender are prohibited and will not be recognized as valid, even if the marriage certificate is obtained in a foreign country. Last month, Russian lawmakers in the city of St. Petersburg overwhelmingly approved an initial reading of a bill that would impose fines against people convicted of promoting homosexuality [JURIST report], including gays or lesbians who are open about their sexuality. The legislation, which was supported by the ruling United Russia party [AFP report], would ban gay pride parades and any activity in public which could influence children and that could be viewed as promoting a gay, lesbian, transgender or LGBT lifestyle. Also last month, the Ugandan High Court [official website] sentenced a man to 30 years in prison for beating to death prominent gay rights activist [JURIST report] David Kato. Enock Nsubuga confessed to the January 2011 killing, admitting to beating Kato [Reuters report] with a hammer at his home before he died on the way to the hospital. Nsubuga claimed that he attacked Kato in response to sexual advances he made.




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Mexico authorities disrupt Gaddafi son attempt to enter country
Jerry Votava on December 8, 2011 7:40 AM ET

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[JURIST] Saadi Gaddafi, son of deceased former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive], was implicated Wednesday in a plot to flee to Mexico by the Secretary of the Interior [official website, in Spanish]. The announcement [press release, in Spanish] described the disruption by Mexican intelligence officials of an international criminal gang that had created false documents, purchased property and made other arrangements in preparations for Gaddafi's arrival. A government spokesperson said that the action, called Operation Houseguest, was, "to prevent the realization of a plan that would permit the illegal entry of Saadi Gaddafi, son of former Libyan ruler Mummar Gaddafi, as well as his family into the national territory, this from intelligence obtained on September 6." The people arrested included citizens of Mexico, Canada and Denmark.

The Libyan government and international law enforcement agencies have been in pursuit of the Gaddafi family [BBC backgrounder]. Saadi's brother Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was captured [JURIST report] in November in Libya, and the International Criminal Court [official website] Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] said the ICC would allow Libya to conduct Seif al-Islam's trial. This report comes as the Libya conflict [JURIST backgrounder] appears to be drawing to a close after the interim Libyan prime minister declared [JURIST report] the country's liberation following Gaddafi's death.




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Prosecutors decline to continue seeking death penalty for Mumia
Jamie Reese on December 7, 2011 2:36 PM ET

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[JURIST] Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams [official website] announced Wednesday that his office will no longer seek the death penalty [press release] against Mumia Abu-Jamal [Philadelphia Inquirer backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. As a result of the decision, Abu-Jamal will remain in prison for life ending a 30-year sentencing battle after he was convicted of killing police officer Daniel Faulkner. Williams said the decision was made after consultation with Faulkner's family and rests on the premise that continuing to seek the death penalty would open the case to an "unknowable number of years" of appeals. The decision was applauded by supporters on both sides. Abu-Jamal's recent legal representative, Widener University law professor Judith Ritter [academic profile] welcomed the decision [AP report].

The conviction was upheld through years of appeals, but a new sentencing hearing was granted [JURIST report] in April on the basis of improper jury instructions. The US Supreme Court [official website] declined to opine on the decision in October, which forced prosecutors to decide whether they would pursue the death penalty through a new sentencing hearing. The Supreme Court had considered Abu-Jamal's case in several previous rulings. The court remanded the case to the Third Circuit [JURIST report] in January 2010 for further consideration in light of the ruling in Smith v. Spisak [opinion, PDF; JURIST report]. The Supreme Court declined to review [JURIST report] Abu-Jamal's conviction in April 2009. In 2008, the Third Circuit affirmed [JURIST report] a district court ruling overturning the sentence in Abu-Jamal's case, and the only issue to be determined on remand was whether the court erred in allowing the new sentencing hearing. Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing police officer Daniel Faulkner [advocacy website] after Faulkner pulled over Abu-Jamal's brother for a traffic violation. The case has become a focal point for death penalty opponents and Abu-Jamal's supporters [advocacy website] who believe he was the victim of a racially biased justice system.




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Illinois ex-governor Blagojevich sentenced to 14 years
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 7, 2011 1:47 PM ET

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[JURIST] Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich [personal website; JURIST news archive] was sentenced Wednesday to 14 years in prison on corruption charges. Judge James Zagel of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois [official website] handed down the sentence after Blagojevich made a public apology in court earlier in the day. Blagojevich was scheduled to be sentenced on October 6 after he was convicted [JURIST report] in June on 18 counts of corruption, but the sentencing hearing was delayed [JURIST reports] until this week. It is unclear when Blagojevich will report to prison.

Blagojevich was previously found guilty [JURIST report] last year of making false statements to the FBI, but the jury remained deadlocked on 23 additional charges. The prosecutors dropped some of the charges [JURIST report] to simplify the case for retrial, including charges for racketeering. In January 2009, the Illinois State Senate voted unanimously [JURIST report] to convict Blagojevich of abuse of power and remove him from office. Blagojevich and his former chief of staff John Harris were initially arrested [JURIST report] in December 2008 on corruption charges, including allegations that they conspired to sell the Senate seat left vacant by US President Barack Obama.




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France parliament backs proposal to ban prostitution
Katherine Getty on December 7, 2011 12:57 PM ET

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[JURIST] The French parliament approved a proposal [resolution, PDF, in French] on Wednesday to ban prostitution [JURIST news archive]. The non-binding resolution was backed by a show of hands and is expected to be followed by a bill. Prostitution is not currently outlawed in France although certain linked activities are. France's sex worker's trade union, STRASS [advocacy website, in French], opposes the proposed bill, claiming that it would further repress sex workers by endangering their health, livelihood and safety. However, French-led men's initiative ZeroMacho [advocacy website] approved of the attempt to criminalize prostitution. A vote on the bill is expected in the coming days.

Other countries have also attempted to outlaw portions of the prostitution trade. In September 2010 the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (OSCJ) [official website] struck down [JURIST report] several provisions of Canada's anti-prostitution laws, citing the danger they generate for sex workers. In Canada, prostitution itself is legal even though many ancillary acts are not. In March, the Supreme Court of Canada [official website] agreed to review a British Columbia Court of Appeal [official website] decision allowing a challenge [JURIST report] to the country's anti-prostitution laws. In November 2009, the Constitutional Court [official website, Taiwanese] of Taiwan ruled that a law penalizing prostitutes [JURIST report] and not their clients was unconstitutional because it undermined equality under the country's constitution.




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Brazil lawmakers approve controversial amendments to forest code
Sung Un Kim on December 7, 2011 12:47 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Brazilian Senate [official website, in Portuguese] voted 59-7 Tuesday to approve amendments [materials, in Portuguese] to the country's Forest Code. Supporters of the bill, including Brazil's National Agriculture and Livestock Federation [official website], say that this change will assist in lowering the carbon emissions while continuing to require farmers and ranchers to preserve significant amount of forest. On the other hand, critics of the new bill, such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) [advocacy website] argue [press release], that the new bill will create extended amnesty for those who cut down the forest illegally and promote the continuance of such practice. The amended legislation will now return to the lower house, which approved an earlier version [JURIST report] in May, and then to President Dilma Rousseff [BBC profile]. It remains to be seen how these changes to Brazil's Forest Code will affect deforestation and the global climate.

Currently, the UN Climate Change Conference [official website] is taking place in Durban to focus on the threat of climate change. Weeks before the conference, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) [official website] released [JURIST report] the Summary for Policymakers [text, PDF], which outlined available options to decrease risks posed by extreme disasters including effects arising out of increased greenhouse gases. In July, the UN Security Council [official website] made its first official statement [JURIST report] that the climate change is most likely to pose a serious threat to world peace and security.




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Malaysia bill will curb peaceful assembly rights: UN experts
Max Slater on December 7, 2011 12:14 PM ET

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[JURIST] A UN panel of independent human rights experts warned Wednesday that recently-passed legislation in Malaysia would severely curtail the right to peaceably assemble [UN News Centre report; press release] in that country. The Peaceful Assembly Act 2011 [bill, PDF], which passed the lower house [JURIST report] of Parliament [official website] last week, would limit free speech rights by forbidding Malaysian citizens under the age of 21 and non-citizens from assembling, enacting conditional access for media to public gatherings and outlawing street protests altogether. Those who violate the new law may be penalized with thousands of dollars in fines. The UN Special Rapporteur on free expression urged Malaysia's government not to adopt the bill, calling the right to peaceably assemble "a litmus test for the level of democracy in any country." The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants noted that prohibiting non-citizens from assembling also violates international law, under which "everyone" has the right to freedom of assembly and association, without distinction of any kind. Last week approximately 500 lawyers marched on Parliament in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur in protest of the bill's ban on street protests. Numerous rights groups reportedly plan to challenge the law in court.

In November Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak [official profile] defended the bill [JURIST report], saying it would balance citizens' right to protest with public safety concerns. However, the bill has drawn ire from both Malaysians and the international community. Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim [official website; JURIST news archive] has stated that the bill is more draconian than previous free speech crackdowns in Zimbabwe and Myanmar [JURIST reports]. In late October the Malaysian Court of Appeal [official website] ruled that a similar law prohibiting college students from taking part in political activities is unconstitutional [JURIST report]. The suit, filed by four International Islamic University of Malaysia [official website] students in 2010, challenged the constitutionality of the 1971 Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) [text, PDF] prohibiting students from political participation. Also last month, Malaysia's government released 125 prisoners [JURIST report] who were being held under a decades-old security law that has been widely criticized by human rights and opposition groups. In September, Razak announced that the government would repeal two strict security laws [JURIST report] that had allowed extended detention of suspects without trial. The government also said that it will review other laws dealing with freedom of the press.




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Bank of America to pay $315 million to settle investor claims of deception
Ashley Hileman on December 7, 2011 11:12 AM ET

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[JURIST] Bank of America (BOA) [corporate website] agreed Monday to pay $315 million in a settlement of claims brought by investors alleging they were misled with respect to mortgage-backed investments. Court papers disclosing the settlement agreement [AP report] were filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website]. The claims were a part of a class action lawsuit led by the pension fund of the Public Employees' Retirement System of Mississippi [official website], which alleged that BOA's Merrill Lynch unit provided the fund with misinformation regarding the risks of the mortgage-backed investments it made prior to the financial crisis. The settlement agreement now requires the approval of federal Judge Jed Rakoff, who recently rejected a $285 million settlement agreement [JURIST report] between the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] and Citigroup Inc [corporate website], after deciding that SEC did not put any effort into finding out what Citigroup did wrong.

This settlement agreement by BOA is the latest attempt by the corporation to move past legal issues that have plagued it in recent years. Last month, a senior judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida [official website] gave final approval [JURIST report] to a $410 million settlement in the class action suit against BOA for overdraft fees that affected more than 13 million people. Judge James Lawrence King found this agreement to be fair and reasonable [AP report] even though customers will not be fully compensated for overdraft fees which averaged approximately $35 per transaction. Approximately 13.2 million customers who had a debit card with BOA between January 2001 and May 2011 will have money credited to their account or will receive checks from BOA as a result of this settlement. The settlement with BOA, which was reached in February, was given preliminary approval [JURIST reports] in May. BOA is among more than two dozen US, Canadian and European lenders named as defendants in the class action lawsuit, which consolidated claims across the country in 2009. In their amended complaint [text, PDF], the plaintiffs claimed that BOA's practices were deceptive in that they did not reasonably notify customers that they had the option of opting out of the overdraft scheme and declining transactions. The complaint also alleged that BOA's excessive fees disproportionately effect low-income customers.




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Alabama AG recommends changes to state immigration law
Ashley Hileman on December 7, 2011 10:06 AM ET

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[JURIST] Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange [official website] has suggested repealing specific provisions of the state's controversial immigration law [HB 56 text]. Strange sent a letter to leaders of the Alabama legislature [AP report] suggesting the removal of at least two of the sections that are currently on hold as a result of a federal court order. The sections Strange recommended for removal are one which criminalizes the failure of illegal immigrants to carry registration documents and another that requires public schools to collect information regarding the immigration status of their students. Both of these provisions were temporarily blocked [JURIST report] in an October ruling of the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website]. Strange's letter was in response to a request [CNN report] by Alabama Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh [official website], who had stated earlier that the legislature would only consider changes that were recommended by the attorney general. According to Strange, the proposed changes would allow the law to be more easily defended in court, make implementation easier for law enforcement, and remove certain burdens of compliance on law abiding citizens.

The immigration law has faced numerous challenges in court since it took effect in September. Last month, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] filed a brief [JURIST report] in the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit urging the court to strike down the law. The DOJ filed its brief in response to a federal judge's September 28 ruling [opinion text] that allowed the state to enforce a provision that makes it a felony for an illegal alien to conduct business with the state, among other provisions. The DOJ argued in its brief that the Alabama immigration laws are preempted by federal laws regulating immigration in the US because of the Supremacy Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder] in the US Constitution. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a separate brief also asking the court to overturn the new law. The ACLU's brief argued that the laws are designed to make life in Alabama so difficult for illegal aliens that they will be forced to leave the state [JURIST op-ed]. Like the DOJ, the ACLU argued that Alabama's law is a direct attempt to regulate immigration, which is an area that the states have no legitimate interest in regulating and is left only to the federal government to legislate.




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Egypt court rejects motion for new judge in Mubarak trial
Jamie Davis on December 7, 2011 10:02 AM ET

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[JURIST] An Egyptian court on Wednesday rejected the prosecution's motion for a new judge in the trial of former president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile; JURIST news archive] and fined the prosecution for making the request. Lawyers representing Mubarak's alleged victims filed the petition, claiming that presiding Judge Ahmed Refaat showed bias in favor of Mubarak [AFP report] and overlooked proper courtroom procedure. Due to the closed-session, nothing has been revealed about the testimony [AP report], nor how the lawyers' actions stem from it. Mubarak faces several charges [JURIST report], including murder, attempted killing of protesters and general abuse of power. Mubarak is facing charges of complicity in the deaths of more than 800 protesters [JURIST report] during the pro-democracy demonstrations in Egypt [JURIST news archive] that resulted in him stepping down in February [JURIST report].

Mubarak's trial is scheduled to resume on December 28, after being postponed [JURIST report] in October to allow the court to rule on the prosecution's motion to removed the three-judge panel. The victims' families argued they were not given enough time [Al Jazeera report] to question Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi [GlobalSecurity profile], head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) [NYT backgrounder] ruling Egypt. Tantawi, who served as Mubarak's defense minister for over 20 years, testified against Mubarak in a closed-session but left early and refused to be cross-examined by counsel for the victims. The trial was also suspended [JURIST report] from September until October on judicial bias claims. Mubarak pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to all charges when the trial began in August. Mubarak could face the death penalty [JURIST report] if convicted of ordering attacks on protesters.




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US Senate debates requiring televised broadcasts of Supreme Court proceedings
Julia Zebley on December 7, 2011 8:15 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] returned Tuesday to the longstanding debate [hearing materials] over whether to televise the proceedings of the US Supreme Court [official website], including whether Congress, as an equal branch of government, has the authority to require the court to admit cameras. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) [official websites] submitted the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011 [S 1945 materials] bill on Monday, which would "permit television coverage of all open sessions of the Court unless the Court decides, by a vote of the majority of justices, that allowing such coverage in a particular case would constitute a violation of the due process rights of 1 or more of the parties before the Court." Several witnesses opined on the validity of this idea, including former judiciary committee member Arlen Specter [JURIST news archive], a longtime proponent for the admittance of cameras. In his pre-hearing, published testimony [text, PDF], he argued the educational necessity of televising proceedings:
The average man on the street does not understand the intricacies of Supreme Court opinions, but does have the sense that something is amiss when there are so many 5-4 decisions. People think the law is objectively determinable and does not depend upon the individual judges' personal predilections. So the common sense question arises as to whether the Court is really stating the law when there are so many split decisions. When people are told that there are ideological splits, it is even more distressing. Frequent opinion polls show the public has little understanding of the Constitution or how government works. As we strive for an educated citizenry, especially among the younger generation, television should cover the government as well as sports and soaps. The authority and legitimacy of the Supreme Court depends upon its acceptance by the public. Television would give the public the opportunity to understand and evaluate the Court's performance and the Court and opportunity to establish its legitimacy.
Attorney Thomas Goldstein, in his remarks [text, PDF] argued that it is constitutionally valid to require the Supreme Court to televise proceedings, stating that although there is no explicit First Amendment [text] right to televising the proceedings, there is an implicit right to access to government materials. Goldstein also insisted the greatest issue with the idea lies in media exposure: "Here as in so many contexts, the fault lies with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The Justices would be right to predict that excerpts of questions or opinion announcements will be taken out of context and mocked in some instances." Attorney Maureen Mahoney argued against this understanding [text, PDF] of the Constitution, stating that separation of powers and historical treatment of the Supreme Court by the legislature forbids mandating them to change their practices.

The current Supreme Court roster has varying opinions on allowing cameras into their proceedings. In September, Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer testified [hearing materials] before the Judiciary Committee on a variety of issues, including televising their arguments and opinion announcements. Both were against the idea, arguing that it would not be used by the populace for anything worthwhile. Scalia was concerned with the ability of the media to misrepresent the court: "I was initially in favor of televising, but the longer I've been there, the less good idea I think it is. [F]or every 10 people who sat through our proceedings gavel to gavel, there would be 10,000 people who would see nothing but a 30-second takeout from one of the proceedings, which I guarantee you would not be representative of what we do." In contrast, Justice Elena Kagan has spoken out for the introduction of cameras [CSPAN interview video]: "[I]f everybody could see this, it would make people feel so good about this branch of government and how it's operating and I thought, it's such a shame actually that only 200 people a day can get to see it and then a bunch of other people can read about it. Because reading about it is not the same experience as actually seeing." Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Samuel Alito were both for televising proceedings in their tenure as lower court judges. Sotomayor continues to warm to the idea, while Alito, in his confirmation hearings, urged that the Supreme Court faces different considerations than lower courts. The other justices, to varying degrees, have seemed wary of the idea [ABC News report], Chief Justice John Roberts speculating that it would encourage grandstanding and reduce substantive discussion. Former justice David Souter was against cameras [NYT report], saying in 1996, "I think the case is so strong that I can tell you the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it's going to roll over my dead body."




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Supreme Court hears arguments on confrontation clause, right to counsel
Julia Zebley on December 7, 2011 7:28 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] in two cases on Tuesday. In Williams v. Illinois [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the justices heard the latest in a series of arguments over the Confrontation Clause [text] and will decide if a defendant's rights are violated if the state permits an expert witness to testify about the results of a DNA test performed at a private laboratory, when the analysts who performed the tests do not testify, and the expert witness has not had an opportunity to confront the actual analysts. The attorney for Sandra Williams, whose conviction was upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court, argued that without anyone from the lab present to testify about the DNA results, his rights were violated, especially since the lab tests themselves were not entered into evidence. Williams' counsel further argued that there is not an exception in the held understanding that experts may testify using whatever background material that furthers their expert opinion, and claimed that the DNA test was testified to for its ultimate truthfulness, not to aid the expert's knowledge.
Now this—I can give an example or an analogy. Suppose a police officer were to testify: A witness gave me this photograph and told me: This is a photograph of the offender. I compared this photograph to a photograph of the defendant. I found that they match. Now, the police officer, he compared the photographs. You know, we are not contesting [the testifying analyst's] match. But the statement that this is the photo of the offender, that's not the officer's statement. That's a statement of the witness who gave him that photograph.
Counsel for the state of Illinois argued that the Confrontation Clause does not apply in this scenario: "an expert can always testify about the material that they relied on, whether that material is ever admitted into evidence and sometimes that material could never be admitted into evidence." In support of Illinois' position, the US government argued that there can be no Confrontation Clause-issue, because the analyst who testified had to explain her lack of hands-on experience with the test. Although an analyst from the lab would make the state's case stronger, as the witness they presented does not have firsthand experience with the lab or its procedures, the Confrontation Clause does not obligate the state to present the strongest case possible.

In Martel v. Clair [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court will determine whether a condemned state prisoner in federal habeas corpus proceedings is entitled to replace his court-appointed counsel with another court-appointed lawyer because he expresses dissatisfaction and alleges that his counsel was failing to pursue potentially important evidence. The attorney the state of California, argued that due to numerous safeguards and procedural rulings on the effectiveness of Clair's counsel, the state had done due diligence in protecting his rights and did not have an obligation to grant him new counsel after 12 years of proceedings. The attorney for Clair disagreed and argued that Clair did not have a right to new counsel, merely a right to a thorough investigation of his current counsel, which he was denied.




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HRW report: lesbians and transgender men face discrimination in South Africa
Michael Haggerson on December 6, 2011 3:26 PM ET

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[JURIST] Lesbians and transgender men in South Africa face discrimination and fear violence on a daily basis from both private individuals and government officials, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [text, PDF; press release] on Monday. The report argues that the government has failed to protect lesbians and transgender men under the "equality clause" [text] of the South African Bill of Rights. The report recommends that government publicly denounce gender-based violence, increase awareness of the Bill of Rights' equality clause and policies of nondiscrimination and decrease barriers to prosecuting cases of sexual and physical violence based on gender orientation:
South Africa already has in place many laws and policies to address sexual violence and discrimination; what is sorely lacking is effective implementation of those provisions. It is incumbent upon the South African government to take immediate steps to honor its promise of equality, non-discrimination, and a life of dignity for lesbians, gay men, and bisexual and transgender people; failing to do so betrays the constitution, imperiling the rights of all South Africans.
HRW also urged the UN and African Union to support South Africa's efforts and to ensure the country meets its obligations under international law.

In June South Africa introduced the "Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity" resolution [JURIST report] which was passed by the UN Human Rights Council [official website]. South Africa was the only African nation to vote for the passage of the resolution. The UN has faced difficulty passing resolutions on gay rights issues, due to no international consensus on the morality of homosexuality. Last year, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official website] called for countries around the world to abolish laws discriminating against gay and lesbian individuals [JURIST report]. Two years ago, the UN passed a gay rights declaration [text, PDF], which the US signed and sponsored [JURIST report]. The declaration, a nonbinding measure that does not have the full force of a resolution, called on states to end criminalization and persecution of homosexuals. This declaration was recalled by the new resolution. Although 85 countries signed the declaration [US Ambassador statement], 57 countries, primarily in Africa and the Middle East, signed an opposing statement. The year before, the UN General Assembly [official website] was divided over the issue of decriminalizing homosexuality [JURIST report] as 66 nations signed a statement calling for decriminalization, and nearly 60 nations signed an opposing statement. As of the 2011 International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) [advocacy website] State-Sponsored Homophobia report [text, PDF], 76 countries still criminalize same-sex relationships, and five enforce the death penalty against homosexuals.




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International election fraud monitor concerned about Russia election process
Michael Haggerson on December 6, 2011 2:01 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) [official website] issued preliminary findings [text, PDF; press release] on Sunday stating that the Russian election was "characterized by frequent procedural violations and instances of apparent manipulation." The report noted that the vote count was assessed was "bad or very bad" in 34 of 115 observed polling stations, voting counts were interrupted and taken out of the view of monitors, there were indications of ballot stuffing in 17 polling stations, vote counting errors were noted in 35 polling stations and in several instances election observers were not shown marked ballots of expelled from the polling station during the counting process. The US State Department [official website] called for an investigation [press conference, video; transcript] into the allegations of election fraud and expressed concern over "harassment" [NYT report] of election monitoring groups, such as Golos [advocacy website]. In addition to evidence of ballot stuffing found by OSCE, there have also been indications of other voting fraud [The Observers report] including erasable ink pens being given to voters, ballots being falsified, "carousel" voting where one individual votes at multiple polling centers and unsealed ballot boxes. Despite the alleged voting fraud, the ruling United Russia [party website, in Russian] party of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website; JURIST news archive] lost 77 seats in the State Duma [official website, in Russian], Russia's parliament, barely maintaining its majority.

There were allegations of voting fraud in both the 2007 and 2008 Russia elections as well. In 2008 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) [official website] expressed concerns [JURIST report] about Russia's presidential elections due to alleged media restrictions and polling irregularities. In 2007 election monitoring groups Transparency International [advocacy website] and Golos stated that Russia's parliamentary elections were rife with fraud and corruption [JURIST report]. Election observers from PACE and OSCE said the parliamentary elections were "not held on a level playing field" [JURIST report] due to strong media bias towards Putin and the United Russia party leading up to the election, widespread reports of harassment of opposition parties and a new election code that made it more difficult for smaller political parties go gain the seven percent of the vote necessary to serve on the State Duma. They also called Putin's merging of the state with the United Russia party an abuse of power.




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EU antitrust commission to investigate Apple e-book dealings
Matthew Pomy on December 6, 2011 12:06 PM ET

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[JURIST] The European Commission for Competition [official website] announced Tuesday that it will investigate Apple [corporate website] for anti-competitive practices in connection with its dealings with several publishers. The investigation is allowed by Article 11(6) of the Antitrust Regulation [text]. The Commission will probe whether Apple colluded with publishing companies, Hachette Livre, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holzbrinck, to increase e-book prices. The Commission outlined the focus of the investigation:
Whether these publishing groups and Apple have engaged in illegal agreements or practices that would have the object or the effect of restricting competition in the EU or in the EEA. The Commission is also examining the character and terms of the agency agreements entered into by the above named five publishers and retailers for the sale of e-books. The Commission has concerns, that these practices may breach EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices (Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union - TFEU) [text].
The Commission assured that the investigation is not a prejudgement of the outcome.

Apple has recently been involved with a number of legal disputes, including a class action lawsuit [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] dealing with the same matter. The class action lawsuit claims that Apple's conduct constitutes violations of federal and state antitrust laws, including the Sherman Act, the Cartwright Act and the Unfair Competition Act [texts]. 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. Apple is also involved in two other suits with Samsung dealing with patent infringements, one in the U.S. {JURIST report] and one in London [Bloomberg report]. In June, Nokia announced that it had reached an agreement with apple [press release; JURIST report] 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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ICC prosecutor: DRC election violence will not be tolerated
Rebecca DiLeonardo on December 6, 2011 11:08 AM ET

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[JURIST] International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] said Tuesday that he will continue to monitor post-election violence [statement] in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Moreno-Ocampo said that he is in the process of requesting information from DRC authorities and that he would investigate allegations of violence by government security forces as well as armed political groups. He emphasized that he will not depart from his November commitment to prosecute election violence [JURIST report]. Moreno-Ocampo warned political leaders of the consequences of continued violence:
Leaders from all sides must understand this: my Office is watching the situation in the DRC very closely. As we have shown in both Kenya and Cote d'Ivoire, planning and executing attacks on civilians for electoral gain will not be tolerated. This Court can investigate and prosecute you if you are responsible for committing ICC crimes, irrespective of position, and irrespective of political affiliation. I urge leaders, commanders, and politicians on all sides to calm your supporters. Electoral violence is no longer a ticket to power, I assure you. It is a ticket to The Hague.
Moreno-Ocampo noted that he welcomed the investigation of violence by national authorities in the DRC and that his office would continue to monitor these efforts.

The DRC has faced significant international pressure to ensure fair elections and prevent election violence. Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged the DRC government to prevent violence [JURIST report] after a report found that 18 civilians had been killed and about 100 seriously wounded during unrest following the presidential elections on November 28. Also last week, top UN officials with the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) [official website] decried [JURIST report] post-election violence in the DRC and called for restraint. MONUSCO urged all parties to remain calm and await the decision of the seven-member Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) on the preliminary results of the elections. Last month, Moreno-Ocampo said his office would prosecute individuals involved election violence in the DRC. The chief prosecutor's warning came just days after the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) [official website] on urged the DRC government to take action to abolish election-related violence [JURIST report] before the presidential election on November 28.




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Asia-Pacific region executes more people than rest of world: report
Jaimie Cremeans on December 6, 2011 11:04 AM ET

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[JURIST] A group of 14 Asian countries in the Asia-Pacific region execute more people than the rest of the world combined, the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network [advocacy website] said Monday. The report, When Justice Fails: Thousands Executed in Asia After Unfair Trials [text, PDF], argues that these countries' legal systems fail to meet international standards, such as torture, mandatory death sentences, presumed guilt, right to counsel and other factors that contribute to unjust trials and convictions. The report also examines case studies from individuals facing trials in China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Pakistan. It states:
In compiling this report, a number of cases have been reviewed which clearly demonstrate that who will be executed and who will be spared is often determined not only by the nature of the crimes but also the defendants' ethnic or other identity, their economic or social status, or their ability to understand and navigate through the trial process, the availability or adequacy of legal aid and defence counsel, and other factors that determine whether they are able to challenge unfairness in a criminal justice system that propels them towards death.
ADPAN's goal is abolition of the death penalty, as it says "only abolition ... can guarantee that no innocent person will be executed." For countries that refuse to abolish it, the group advocates that they at least comply with international standards for fair trials that do not violate human rights.

Last year, Amnesty International [advocacy website] released a report saying the number of countries using the death penalty is decreasing [JURIST report]. At that time, though, Asia still had the highest number of executions, executing more people than the rest of the world combined. ADPAN has been working since 2006 to achieve abolition of the death penalty in all Asia-Pacific countries.




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UN rights chief condemns Yemen violence, urges investigation
Brandon Gatto on December 6, 2011 10:45 AM ET

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[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Tuesday urged all sides in Yemen to cease ongoing deadly attacks [press release] and live up to previous commitments to investigate the serious human rights violations of its former government, calling for an immediate and impartial investigation. Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website], condemned all Yemeni factions [press release] after claiming that as many as 22 people have been killed in the city of Taiz by shootings and shellings [Al Jazeera report] since December 1, including two children. Despite tanks withdrawing from the city under a ceasefire pact to end violence that has consumed the country for nearly 10 months, witnesses and activists have claimed that forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh [official website, in Arabic; JURIST news archive] shot and killed a woman protester in Taiz just this week. Shamdasani added that the ongoing severity of the clashes between armed rebels and the Yemeni army warrant an immediate intervention by the OHCHR, and she called on Yemeni government officials to allow a UN investigation as soon as possible. The Yemeni government has yet to issue a response.

Yemen has been faced with calls for human rights investigations consistently throughout its government's transition. Last week, Nobel peace laureate Tawakkul Karman [BBC profile; Nobel profile] urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to investigate [JURIST report] Saleh's violent crackdown on dissent and alleged human rights violations while in power. In September, the UN Security Council [official website] called on Yemen to comply with international law [JURIST report] and end ongoing violence against protesters that resulted in the deaths of at least 49 people [Al Jazeera report] shortly following Saleh's return as president after a three-month absence. The OHCHR has also previously urged a UN intervention [JURIST report] in Yemen after verifying that the Yemeni government was indeed firing on peaceful protesters. Saleh clung to the presidency throughout nearly 10 months of protests and violence despite agreeing to step down [JURIST report] in April, shortly following his attempt to remove presidential term limits [JURIST report] and expand his political authority.




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Mali gold mining industry violating child labor laws: HRW
Sarah Posner on December 6, 2011 10:38 AM ET

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[JURIST] More than 20,000 children are subjected to harsh and unsafe conditions [press release] while working in Malian gold mines, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [text, PDF] Tuesday. Children reportedly carry heavy ore from the mining shafts and are exposed to mercury inhalation, which causes severe health problems. The gold mined by Malian children as young as six years old is then exported through the international stream of commerce with Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates as the industry's two major purchasers. Although Mali's government adopted a National Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labor in June 2011, HRW says the plan has not been adequately enforced. HRW reports that there is no regulation or inspection of the mines, even though under both Malian and international law hazardous labor is prohibited for children under the age of 18. Furthermore, the Mali government has allegedly failed to provide education for the children working in mines, and those who do attend school struggle academically. Most of the children work in the mines with their parents to supplement the family income. However, children who work alone in the mines are sometimes exploited and abused by relatives or other people who take their pay and some girls are sexually abused. The report calls on all governments to:
support a strong international legally binding instrument on mercury that requires governments to implement mandatory action plans for mercury reduction in artisanal gold mining. The action plans should include strategies to end the use of mercury by children and pregnant women working in mining, and public health strategies to address the health effects of mercury poisoning.
HRW urged the Mali government and international donors to take actions to end the dangerous practice of child labor in Mali's gold mines.

In November, HRW reported that Chinese copper mining companies in Zambia routinely violate national and international labor standards [JURIST report]. The report described poor health and safety standards, regular 12-hour and 18-hour work shifts and anti-union activity. Workers also reportedly face the threat of being fired if they refuse to work under unsafe conditions. Although not reported to the government, injuries and health standards are in violation of Zambian and international labor law. In October, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] reinstated [JURIST report] a lawsuit by Papua New Guinea [BBC backgrounder] citizens against mining company Rio Tinto [corporate website] on claims of genocide and war crimes. Allowing the suit under the Alien Tort Statute [text], the court ruled that it may proceed due to the Australian mining company's substantial operations in the US.




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Second tobacco company challenges new Australia packaging law
Hillary Stemple on December 6, 2011 9:21 AM ET

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[JURIST] A second major tobacco company, Imperial Tobacco, Ltd. [corporate website], on Tuesday filed an action in Australia's High Court [official website] challenging the country's new tobacco packaging laws. Last month, Parliament [official website] approved [JURIST report] the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill [text], which removes descriptive colors and logos from cigarette boxes and requires a depiction of the negative effects of smoking. Imperial argues that the law violates the Australian Constitution [materials] because it allows the government to take the intellectual property of private companies [Reuters report] without compensation. Tobacco companies challenging the law also maintain that the law will dramatically decrease the value of their brands [AP report]. The Australian government has indicated that they expected challenges to the law, but ultimately believe the law will be allowed to go into effect. The law is currently scheduled to go into effect on December 1, 2012.

Last week, a similar lawsuit was filed [JURIST report] with the High Court by British American Tobacco (BAT) [corporate website]. BAT argued that the new law would flood the black market with fake cigarettes and that the taxpayers would lose out on billions of dollars as a result of lost excise taxes. The High Court could decide to hear the BAT and Imperial cases together. In November, Philip Morris Asia Ltd. (PMA) [corporate website] initiated legal proceedings [JURIST report] on behalf of its Australian subsidiary Philip Morris Ltd. [corporate website]. One hour after the legislation passed, PMA, a Hong Kong based company, filed a Notice of Arbitration under Australia's Bilateral Investment Treaty with Hong Kong [text, PDF], arguing that the law violates the trade deal between Australia and Hong Kong. PMA has also threatened further litigation [AP report] related to the law. Tobacco export countries including Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Ukraine have also indicated that they may challenge the law as a violation of global trade rules.




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US hedge fund founder begins 11-year sentence
Drew Singer on December 6, 2011 7:56 AM ET

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[JURIST] Former Galleon Group hedge fund executive Raj Rajaratnam [JURIST news archive] on Monday began serving his prison sentence at a Massachusetts military base. A judge in October sentenced [JURIST report] Rajaratnam to 11 years in prison, fined him $10 million and ordered he forfeit an additional $53.8 million. The 11-year sentence was significantly lower than the 24 1/2-year sentence requested by prosecutors and less than the 19 1/2-year minimum indicated by the non-obligatory federal sentencing guidelines. Even so, Rajaratnam's sentence is the longest term ever imposed for insider trading and is part of a trend of tougher sentences for white-collar criminals precipitated in part by the federal sentencing guidelines which Congress passed in 1987. Calling his crime an assault on free markets and a virus in business culture in need of eradication, Judge Richard Holwell cited Rajaratnam's charitable financial help for victims of the tsunami in Sri Lanka, the earthquakes in Pakistan and the 9/11 attacks, as well as his impeding kidney failure due to advanced Type II diabetes as reasons for the comparatively lenient sentence.

Rajaratnam was convicted of 14 counts of insider trading [JURIST report] in May in the largest hedge fund insider trading case in US history. Several other defendants have pleaded guilty in connection with the case. Danielle Chiesi pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in January. Former IBM senior vice president Robert Moffat was sentenced to six months in prison in September and ordered him to pay a $50,000 fine for his role in the scheme after pleading guilty [JURIST reports] in March 2010. Former Intel Capital executive Rajiv Goel pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to insider trading charges in February 2010. Rajaratnam, Chiesi, Goel and Moffat were arrested in October 2009 and charged [complaint, PDF] along with two other individuals and two business entities with insider trading. The complaint alleged that the individuals provided Galleon Group and another hedge fund with material nonpublic information about several corporations upon which the funds traded, generating $25 million in illicit gain. Rajaratnam and Chiesi originally pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] in December 2009 after being indicted for insider trading.




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Former Ivory Coast president Gbagbo appears before ICC
Sung Un Kim on December 5, 2011 2:26 PM ET

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[JURIST] Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo [BBC profile] appeared before the Pre-Trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Monday for an initial hearing [ICC press release]. During the hearing the court verified Gbagbo's identity and ensured that he was informed of the four charges against him, including murder, persecution, inhumane acts, and rape and other forms of sexual violence allegedly committed during last year's post-election violence [JURIST news archive] in the Ivory Coast. He was also advised of his rights under the Rome Statute [text, PDF] of the ICC. Another hearing is to be held to confirm whether there is sufficient evidence to establish a reasonable belief that the allegations may in fact be true and that Gbagbo committed these crimes. If the court determines that evidence presented is satisfactory to confirm the charges, then the matter will proceed to trial.

Gbagbo was taken into ICC custody [JURIST report] last week. National authorities arrested Gbagbo the day before, and he was brought to the Netherlands in response to a warrant of arrest [text, PDF] that was issued by the ICC judges the week before. Gbagbo is accused as an indirect co-perpetrator during the last year's post-election violence that arose when he refused to step down from office despite his defeat by the current president Alassane Ouattara [BBC profile]. Gbagbo was captured [JURIST report] in April but only after a six-month conflict that reportedly resulted in the death of at least 3,000 civilians [HRW report, PDF] and rape of more than 150 women. The investigation was set in motion after the ICC granted [JURIST report] the prosecution's request to look into the crimes in October.




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Supreme Court hears arguments on drug patents, search warrants
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 5, 2011 1:38 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] Monday in two cases. In Caraco Pharmaceutical Laboratories, Ltd v. Novo Nordisk A/S [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on drug patents. When the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] approves a drug for multiple uses, the Hatch-Waxman Act [text, PDF] allows generic drug makers to avoid contested patent litigation by marketing generic versions of the drug solely for non-patented uses. The FDA lacks the authority and expertise needed to verify the patent information submitted by name-brand drug companies, however, so it defers to their descriptions of the scope of their patents. Such companies can therefore block the approval of generic drugs by submitting overbroad patent descriptions to the FDA, effectively extending their patents to cover non-infringing uses. To combat this problem, the Act allows [21 USC § 355(j)(5)(C)(ii)(I) text] a "counterclaim seeking an order requiring the [patent] holder to correct or delete the patent information submitted by the holder on the ground that the patent does not claim an approved method of using the drug." The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the counterclaim provision effectively authorizes only "delet[ing]" improperly listed patents, but not "correct[ing]" information that misrepresents the scope of the approved uses claimed by a patent. Petitioners claim that ruling expressly invalidates longstanding FDA regulations defining "patent information," which the FDA deems "essential" to administering the Act, without seeking the agency’s views. The question before the court is whether the counterclaim provision applies when (1) there is "an approved method of using the drug" that "the patent does not claim," and (2) the brand submits "patent information" to the FDA that misstates the patent’s scope, requiring "correct[ion]."

In Messerschmidt v. Millender [transcript, PDF], the court heard arguments on whether police officers are entitled to qualified immunity [Cornell LII backgrounder] where they execute search warrants later determined invalid. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the officers in this case were not entitled to qualified immunity. The Supreme Court has held in United States v. Leon and Malley v. Briggs [opinions] that officers are entitled to qualified immunity, and evidence obtained should not be suppressed, so long as the warrant is not "so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable." The questions before the court are (1) Under these standards, are officers entitled to qualified immunity where they obtained a facially valid warrant to search for firearms, firearm-related materials, and gang-related items in the residence of a gang member and felon who had threatened to kill his girlfriend and fired a sawed-off shotgun at her, and a district attorney approved the application, no factually on-point case law prohibited the search, and the alleged overbreadth in the warrant did not expand the scope of the search; and (2) Should the Malley/Leon standards be reconsidered or clarified in light of lower courts' inability to apply them in accordance with their purpose of deterring police misconduct, resulting in imposition of liability on officers for good faith conduct and improper exclusion of evidence in criminal cases?




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UN SG calls on leaders to answer demands for development rights
Jerry Votava on December 5, 2011 1:15 PM ET

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[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] on Friday urged [statement] global leaders to answer calls for the right to development [press release]. Ban's comments mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development [text], which declared that development was an inalienable right. Ban reminded leaders to create development opportunities and noted his plans to address development at an upcoming conference:
Today we are at a decisive moment in history. As calls for change echo across the world, we cannot take refuge in silence. Leaders must respond to the demands of people who seek to build their own future. They should especially work to help women and youth enjoy lives of dignity, equality and opportunity. Global challenges and crises are interconnected. Economic, social and environmental concerns are inseparable. And human rights are integral to them all. That is why we are placing sustainable development at the top of the international agenda. Next year's United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, will offer a critical opportunity to chart a course to the future we want.
The Declaration states that everyone is "entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized."

The UN has taken action to highlight areas of what it sees as fundamental human rights of the broader global community. In November, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter [official website] urged the World Trade Organization (WTO) [official website] to make food security a top priority [JURIST report] at future meetings. In October, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women [official website] Rashida Manjoo [official profile] urged states to fulfill their obligations [JURIST report] to prevent violence, inequality, and oppression against women. The UN General Assembly [official website] in 2010 adopted a resolution [JURIST report] declaring that access to clean and sanitized drinking water is a basic human right.




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Former Khmer Rouge leader denies guilt at Cambodia genocide tribunal
Jamie Davis on December 5, 2011 10:54 AM ET

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[JURIST] Former second-in-command of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge [BBC backgrounder] regime on Monday denied responsibility for the deaths of around 1.7 million people during the regime's rule during the 1970s at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website]. The trial against three former leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime, all charged with crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 [text] and genocide, began in November [JURIST report] with opening statements. Nuon Chea [UN backgrounder], known as Brother No. 2 of the Khmer Rouge regime, proclaimed his and his fellow defendants' innocence while blaming Vietnam for the deaths with which his own regime is charged. Nuon Chea was the only one of the three defendants, including Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan [UN backgrounders], to address the tribunal on Monday, while only one of the other three defendants is expected to testify during the trial. Four defendants were originally charged in the case, but the fourth defendant, Ieng Thirith, was found to be unfit to stand trial and ordered to be released [JURIST report].

In October, defense lawyers for Nuon Chea filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] against Prime Minister Hun Sen [BBC profile] for interfering with the UN-backed war crimes tribunal. Nuon Chea's lawyers accused the prime minister of criminally conspiring to block some of the defense witnesses from testifying [Reuters report] and consequently interfering with Nuon Chea's right to a fair trial. Because of the old age of the defendants, the tribunal decided to split the case into a series of smaller trials [JURIST report]. The first trial will focus on the beginning two phases of population movement and allegations of crimes against humanity, including murder, persecution not on religious grounds and forced disappearances associated with the first phases of population movement. Subsequent trials will focus on the third phase of population movement, genocide, persecution based on religious grounds and violation of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The first segment of the trial is expected to conclude by December 16 for a recess and will resume after the break on January 9.




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ICJ rules Greece wrongfully blocked FYROM bid to join NATO over name
Jennie Ryan on December 5, 2011 10:48 AM ET

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[JURIST] The International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] ruled [text, PDF] on Monday that Greece wrongly blocked the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) [official website] in a dispute over the use of the name "Macedonia." Greece objects to FYROM's use of "Macedonia" out of concern that the country will use the moniker to make claims to regions of Northern Greece [JURIST comment] that also are known by the name Macedonia. Greece vetoed FYROM's attempt to join NATO in 2008. The ICJ ruled 15-1 that Greece violated the Interim Accord of September 13, 1995, in which they agreed not to veto the FYROM's bid to join NATO while the issue over the FYROM's name was being negotiated. The ICJ found that Greece breached its "obligation not to object to the [FYROM]'s admission to or membership in NATO" under Article 11, paragraph 1, of the Interim Accord. The ICJ order may be a largely symbolic victory for FYROM because the court did not sanction Greece, nor did it order the country to refrain from taking similar action in the future.

Greece's Ministry of Foreign Affairs [official website, in Greek] released a statement [text] calling for the FYROM to continue negotiations in cooperation with the UN to resolve the longstanding naming conflict. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Greece "will continue to negotiate in good faith [and w]e hope that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will come in these negotiations in good faith, as the issue of the name can be resolved only through negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations." In a brief statement [text] following the ruling, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen [official profile] took note of the decision, but declared that the order "does not affect the decision taken by NATO Allies at the Bucharest summit in 2008 ... an invitation will be extended to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as soon as a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue has been reached."




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Supreme Court to hear qualified immunity case
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 5, 2011 10:08 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] granted certiorari [order list, PDF] Monday in Reichle v. Howards [docket; cert. petition, PDF], a case dealing with qualified immunity [Cornell LII backgrounder]. The petitioners are two Secret Service agents who arrested the respondent, Steven Howards, following an encounter with then-US vice president Dick Cheney. Petitioners had probable cause to arrest Howards, who in violation of 18 USC § 1001 [text] falsely denied making unsolicited physical contact with the vice president. Howards later brought a First Amendment [text] retaliatory arrest claim against petitioners. The issues before the court are (1) whether the existence of probable cause to make an arrest bars a First Amendment retaliatory arrest claim; and (2) whether arresting officers are entitled to qualified and absolute immunity where probable cause existed for respondent's arrest, the arrest comported with the Fourth Amendment [text], it was not (and is not) clearly established that Hartman v. Moore [opinion] does not apply to First Amendment retaliatory arrest claims, and the denial of immunity threatens to interfere with the decisions of Secret Service agents protecting the president and vice president. The US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that the First Amendment claim is not barred and that petitioners are not entitled to qualified immunity on the First Amendment claim.

In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] in Hartman v. Moore that "a plaintiff in a retaliatory-prosecution action must plead and show the absence of probable cause for pressing the underlying criminal charges." William Moore was tried and acquitted on charges that he and his company improperly influenced the search for a new Postmaster General, and he subsequently sued a group of postal inspectors, arguing that they had encouraged his prosecution in retaliation for his earlier lobbying efforts to win US Postal Service contracts. In the 5-2 ruling, the court reversed a US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decision [text, PDF] rejecting the inspectors' motion for summary judgment because the criminal charges against Moore were supported by probable cause.




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Seychelles president urges greater anti-piracy measures
Jennie Ryan on December 5, 2011 9:49 AM ET

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[JURIST] Seychelles President James Michel [official profile] on Monday asked world leaders to address security problems in Somalia with greater urgency on Monday in order to lower the rate of Somali pirate [JURIST news archive] attacks in the southern Indian Ocean. In letters to a number of leaders, including US President Barack Obama [official website], Michel asked for raids [AP report] on terror groups operating in Somalia and for greater support for the African Union's peacekeeping effort in the country. Michel noted that although most pirate attacks are unsuccessful, Seychelles [BBC backgrounder] yacht tourism has taken a hit, and prices for shipping from the small island nation have skyrocketed because of concern over pirate activity.

Piracy remains an issue of international concern. The Seychelles is one of the few countries that have been willing to prosecute suspected pirates. In July 2010, the Supreme Court of Seychelles convicted a group of Somali pirates [JURIST report], sentencing them to 10 years in prison. The 11 men were apprehended in the Indian Ocean following the attempted hijacking [BBC report] of a Seychelles coastguard ship in December 2009. Other countries that have attempted to prosecute pirates include the US, Germany, the Netherlands, Mauritius, Yemen, Somalia and Spain [JURIST reports].




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Afghanistan civilians struggle to exercise human rights: HRW
Maureen Cosgrove on December 4, 2011 3:19 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Afghan government has failed to ensure and protect human rights [press release] since the Taliban government ended ten years ago, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported Sunday. Afghanistan created a transitional government and announced intentions to hold elections and create a new constitution when the Bonn Agreement [text] was signed on December 5, 2001. HRW reports that in the last ten years, the Afghanistan justice system "remains weak" and that human rights abuses are rampant in the alternative traditional justice system, where civilians are often forced to resolve disputes in Taliban courts. HRW also reported that Afghan leaders have not done enough to encourage increased political representation by women. HRW Asia director Brad Adams enumerated some of the failed reforms:
Human rights, and in particular women's rights, were cited as a key benefit of the defeat of Taliban rule in 2001. But ten years later, many basic rights are still ignored or downplayed. While there have been improvements, the rights situation is still dominated by poor governance, lack of rule of law, impunity for militias and police, laws and policies that harm women, and conflict-related abuses.
HRW has called on leaders who will attend the upcoming Bonn Conference to support Afghanistan in the ongoing reform of justice, women's rights, health and education.

Afghanistan's human rights record has been scrutinized in recent years. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) [official website] reported in October that prisoners in some Afghan-run detention facilities have been beaten and tortured [JURIST report]. HRW reported in September that the Afghan Local Police (ALP) force is committing serious abuses [JURIST report], and the Afghan government is doing little to hold the officials accountable. Corruption, abuse of power and a focus on short-term security goals in Afghanistan have intensified the issue of poverty [JURIST report] affecting more than two-thirds of the population, according to a March 2010 report [text, DOC] from the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website]. A year earlier, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] delivered a report [JURIST report] to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] that said Afghanistan's human rights progress has been thwarted by armed conflict, censorship, abuse of power and violence against women.




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Wall Street groups sue CFTC over trade regulation
Maureen Cosgrove on December 4, 2011 2:05 PM ET

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[JURIST] Wall Street organizations International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) and Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) [official websites] on Friday filed a lawsuit challenging a regulation [complaint, text] implemented by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) [official website] that limits speculative trading. The CFTC adopted a Position Limits Rule on October 18 on the grounds that the rule was authorized by the Commodities Exchange Act [CFTC backgrounder], and published the rule in the Federal Register. The regulation restricts the maximum number of derivatives contracts to purchase or sell a commodity a trader or group of traders may hold during a specified period of time. The trade groups argue that, in contravention of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) [text], the Commission acted "arbitrarily, capriciously, and contrary to law" by failing to support the regulation with sufficient evidence and that the Commission was not obligated by statute to implement the position limits:
Congress did not require the Commission to establish position limits without regard to whether they would harm the US economy by increasing the cost of food, energy, and other necessities. Rather, Congress authorized the Commission to establish position limits only if it first finds that they "are necessary to diminish, eliminate, or prevent" "an undue and unnecessary burden on interstate commerce" caused by "[e]xcessive speculation," and are otherwise "appropriate." The Commission did not make those findings here.
The trade groups further argue that the Commission's cost/benefit analysis of the rule was inadequate, and are seeking injunctive relief.

The CFTC has been tasked with regulating the derivatives market as a result of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act [text, PDF]. The Act was signed into law [JURIST report] by President Barack Obama in July 2010 and created the new regulatory council to monitor financial institutions in order to prevent companies from becoming "too big to fail." In addition to creating the US Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) [official website], the legislation also gives the Federal Reserve [official website] new oversight over the largest financial institutions, creates a bureau of consumer protection, introduces multitudes of new regulations on derivatives and other financial instruments and limits the amount of capital banks can invest in hedge funds. JURIST contributor Andrew Cali-Vasquez argues that position limit regulations may carry unexpected consequences [JURIST op-ed] that "could impinge upon the operations of domestic businesses by reducing the availability of financing."




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Myanmar president approves peaceful protest bill
Ashley Hileman on December 4, 2011 11:41 AM ET

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[JURIST] Myanmar President Thein Sein [BBC backgrounder] on Friday gave his official approval to a bill allowing the country's citizens to conduct peaceful protests, if the protests are approved in advance. The bill includes requirements [AFP report] that demonstrators must comply with in order to hold a peaceful protest, one of which involves notifying the authorities five days in advance of when, where and for what purpose they will be protesting. If notice is not given, protesters face up to one year in jail. The law, which overturns previous restrictions banning all protests [Sydney Morning Herald report], was passed by the parliament in November but will now become effective, having received the president's approval. The passage of the bill is the latest measure the new government has taken in an attempt to improve its international reputation following a transfer of power from a military regime to a civil system in March after holding its first elections in 20 years.

While Myanmar continues to take steps forward in its reformation efforts, it has recently faced struggles with regards to the status of human rights within the country. Last month, human rights group Partners Relief and Development [advocacy website] said that Myanmar soldiers may be committing war crimes [JURIST report] in the form of torture and forced labor against ethnic communities in Kachin State. The group issued a report [text, PDF, graphic content] documenting the war crimes which allegedly began on June 9 after a 17-year ceasefire agreement was broken to begin a war between the Myanmar army and the Kachin Independence Army [BBC backgrounder]. Evidence for the alleged war crimes was gathered from first-hand interviews of witnesses in Myanmar. The report calls attention to Myanmar's legal obligations and highlights that it has failed to honor its obligations under human rights law and the Geneva Convention [ICRC backgrounder] and that it may also be subject to charges from the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. The report calls on the UN to conduct an investigation into the war crimes in Myanmar. Earlier in November, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) urged Sein to release political prisoners [JURIST report]. In an open letter to Sein published in three state-owned newspapers, the MNHRC indicated that domestic and international support would follow the prisoners' release. Sein had granted amnesty to 6,359 prisoners in October following a similar open letter issued by the MNHRC.




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Federal judge denies injunction request by Apple in Samsung patent case
Ashley Hileman on December 4, 2011 10:56 AM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] on Friday declined to issue a preliminary injunction against Samsung Electronics [corporate website; Bloomberg backgrounder], as requested by Apple [corporate website; Bloomberg backgrounder]. District Judge Lucy Koh's ruling against Apple [Reuters report] is the latest decision in a legal battle, which began in April when Apple filed a complaint [JURIST report] against Samsung alleging that its "Galaxy" line of products copies Apple's iPhone and iPad technology. As a result, Apple had requested that the court prevent Samsung from selling three of its smartphone models as well as its tablet, the Samsung Tab 10.1 in the US market. However, in deciding to deny the preliminary injunction, the judge held that it was not yet clear that the requested remedy would prevent Apple from being irreparably harmed. Apple may still prevail on its claims, but needs to prove both infringement and validity. Apple has attempted to ban sales of Samsung products in other countries as well. On Friday, an Australian court extended a ban on the sale of the products [Reuters report], which was set to expire at 4 p.m., by at least a week, giving Apple an opportunity to appeal a high court decision that overturned a temporary ban that had been in effect since July.

As smartphones and tablets continue to increase in popularity, companies increasingly seek to protect the technology involved in their creation. Last month, the US International Trade Commission (USITC) [official website] ruled [JURIST report] for Apple on a patent complaint [JURIST report] brought by HTC [corporate website; Bloomberg backgrounder]. The USITC found that Apple had not violated Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 [PDF] by reasons of infringement of Patent Nos. 6,658,146, 6,683,978, 6,775,417 and 7,043,087 [texts]. These patents relate to HTC's recently acquired subsidiary S3 Graphics Co. The USITC ruling rejects the request to limit imports of MAC computers, the iPhone and the iPad. The decision also calls into question the rationale of the S3 acquisition [Bloomberg report] and could put pressure on HTC stock shares. HTC said it may challenge the ruling in the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit [official website], which specializes in patent law. This USITC ruling followed an earlier one in July which held that HTC infringed two Apple patents [JURIST report] relating to the Android operating system.




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ICTY judges allow reduced indictment against Mladic
Max Slater on December 3, 2011 3:32 PM ET

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[JURIST] A three-judge panel for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] accepted a request [decision, PDF] by prosecutors on Friday to reduce the number of crimes they intend to prove against former Serbian general and alleged war criminal Ratko Mladic [ICTY backgrounder, PDF; JURIST news archive] from 196 to 106. The panel declared that the prosecution's request for a reduction in the indictment was permissible under applicable law:
Under Rule 73 his (D) of the Rules, having heard the Prosecution, a Chamber may, in the interest of a fair and expeditious trial, invite the Prosecution to reduce the number of counts charged in the indictment and may fix a number of crime sites or incidents comprised in one or more of the charges in respect of which evidence may be presented by the Prosecution which, having regard to all the relevant circumstances, are reasonably representative of the crimes charged. The relevant circumstances include the crimes charged in the indictment, their classification and nature, the places where they are alleged to have been committed, their scale, and the victims of the crimes.
The panel stated [press release] that the prosecution in two weeks will file both an amended indictment and an updated list of victims. Two weeks ago, ICTY prosecutors sought to lower the number of crimes in their indictment of Mladic [JURIST report] in order to speed up his trial. The request came one day after a panel of ICTY judges ordered [text, PDF] the appointment of a medical expert to conduct a medical examination and issue a report on Mladic's health. Mladic will still face trial on two counts of genocide along with nine other charges.

In October, the ICTY prosecutors refused to seek further appeal [JURIST report] of the tribunal's refusal to split Mladic's trial into separate actions: 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]. 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]. 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 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.




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Australia ruling party amends platform to support same-sex marriage
Dan Taglioli on December 3, 2011 1:13 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Australian Labor Party [party website] Saturday officially amended its platform to support same-sex marriage. The ruling party's decision to support same-sex marriage [BBC report] followed emotional debate and speeches from both sides of the issue at its national conference in Sydney, where 400 delegates voted to amend the party's platform while accepting Prime Minister Julia Gillard's call for the party to accept a conscience vote on the issue. Gillard, who is personally opposed to same-sex marriage, has said her government will not seek to change Australia's Marriage Act 1961 [text], which defines the union as between a man and and a woman, and has called on Australia's Parliament [JURIST report] to vote on whether or not to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. Such a measure will likely fail in parliament, given that the Labor Party has a thin majority and the conservative opposition party does not support same-sex marriage. The platform amendment came days after the Queensland Parliament [official website] passed legislation to legally recognize civil unions between same-sex couples, joining its fellow states of Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) [JURIST reports] in recognizing civil unions. Gillard's proposal was accepted by a vote of 208 to 184, and the vote to amend the party platform was accepted on voices.

Australia historically has had a tumultuous past regarding the legal rights of same-sex couples. In May 2008, the Australian government abandoned a proposal [JURIST report] to legally recognize same-sex civil union ceremonies after the Australian federal government threatened to veto Civil Partnerships Bill 2006 [legislative materials] if it passed the Legislative Assembly [official website]. The Civil Partnerships Bill was introduced after an earlier civil unions law [legislative materials] was actually overturned by the federal government [JURIST report] because that law's attempt to equate civil unions with marriage was determined to be unacceptable. In April of 2008, the Australian government introduced legislation to amend over 100 federal laws [JURIST report] to remove discrimination against same-sex couples but continued to bar same-sex marriage. While mandated by federal legislation as unrecognized, currently same-sex couples do have equal rights with heterosexual couples in areas such as pension schemes and medical benefits.




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UN Human Rights Council condemns violence in Syria
Dan Taglioli on December 3, 2011 12:09 PM ET

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[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] voted in an emergency session Friday to adopt a resolution strongly condemning the recent violence in Syria. The UNHRC resolution sets the stage for action by other UN bodies [CNN report] and international institutions, calling for the appointment of a special human rights investigator on Syria, the suspension of Syrian security forces suspected of human rights violations and the release of prisoners of conscience held by Syrian authorities. The eight-month uprising [JURIST news archive] challenging the autocratic rule of President Bashar Assad has resulted in a bloody government crackdown that has seen over 4,000 people killed [JURIST report], with tens of thousands arrested and over 14,000 detained. The UNHRC resolution came after the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria reported earlier this week that the Syrian government has committed numerous human rights violations [JURIST report] including torture, sexual violence, use of excessive force and violations of the right to peaceful assembly. The measure passed with 37 votes against four, with six nations abstaining. China and Russia were among the four nations voting against the resolution, citing fear of a military intervention like this year's international intercession in Libya. The Syrian ambassador told the council that the situation would be worsened by UN intervention [BBC report] and that the international community could not provide a solution to Syria's problems. Nevertheless upon passage of the resolution the UNHRC decided to send the Commission of Inquiry report to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] for action and transmission to all relevant UN bodies. The UNHRC measure has been reported as the toughest resolution ever passed by the Geneva-based council.

The Syrian government has faced numerous allegations of human rights violations since March when the first anti-government protests started. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] Friday urged [JURIST report] the UN Security Council [official website] to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] for investigation into crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian government. On Wednesday the Syrian National Council [official website], a civilian opposition group, agreed to coordinate resistance efforts with the Free Syrian Army, the main military opposition group composed of Syrian military defectors. Last week the UN General Assembly's Human Rights Committee approved [JURIST report] a draft resolution [text, PDF] condemning Syria's human rights violations and calling for their immediate end. Pillay previously called for an ICC probe [JURIST report] into the situation in Syria in August.




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Canada citizen removed from UN terrorist list
Michael Haggerson on December 2, 2011 1:56 PM ET

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[JURIST] Sudanese-born Canadian citizen Abousfian Abdelrazik [backgrounder] was removed [press release] from the UN Security Council [official website] Al Qaeda Sanctions List (1267 List) [text, PDF; materials] on Thursday. Abdelrazik was added to the list while being held in Sudan in 2006 based on suspected ties to al Qaeda [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. He was seized while visiting Sudan in 2003 on a request from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service [official website], and he alleges that he was tortured [Montreal Gazette report] until he was released in 2004. Abdelrazik was denied the ability to fly home from Sudan because he had been placed on the US no fly list. In July 2006 the US officially designated Abdelrazik as a terrorist [press release, PDF] because he allegedly "provided administrative and logistical support to al Qaeda, and has been identified as being close to Abu Zubayda, a former lieutenant of Osama bin Laden, involved in al Qaeda recruitment and training," and the UN officially added him to the 1267 List. The 1267 List was initially established pursuant to UN resolution 1267 [text, PDF; official website] to control members of the Taliban and their suspected associates. The 1267 List was expanded [resolution 1390 text, PDF] in 2002 to include suspected members of al Qaeda and its associates. Individuals on the 1267 List [1267 fact sheet] are subject to an international ban on a travel, arms embargo and have all of their assets frozen. According to the 1267 guidelines [text, PDF] a criminal conviction or charge is not required for an individual to be placed on the list. Individuals are not informed when they are placed on the list and, prior to 2008, an individual placed on the list was not provided with any information as to why they were placed on the list. Abdelrazik had been the subject of a campaign to be returned to Canada and to be removed from the UN no fly list from several groups, including the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLM), Project Fly Home and End Torture Now [advocacy websites]. In Jun 2009 a judge for the Federal Court of Canada [official website] ordered [text] the Canadian government to fly Abdelrazik back home, but upon returning he learned that he had been placed on the 1267 and had not been removed despite being cleared of all wrongdoing. Being on the 1267 List made it impossible for Abdelrazik to get a job because he could not be paid since his bank accounts were frozen and it exposed his family members and friends to potential criminal sanctions if they gave gifts to him. Abdelrazik, along with ICLM and the BC Civil Liberties Association [advocacy website], is currently challenging [complaint, PDF] the Canadian legislation which implemented the 1267 List as a violation of section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom [materials] and sections 1(a) and 1(e) of the Canadian Bill of Rights [text].

No fly lists and other blacklists have been an issue of international concern in the wake of growing worry over terrorism. In July 2010 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed suit on behalf of 10 US citizens and legal residents against the US government challenging their inclusion on the US no fly list [JURIST report]. Just like Abdelrazik, the ACLU argues that their inclusion on the US no fly list, without ever being informed as to why they were included, has left these individuals stranded abroad. In 2006, the FBI and the Transportation Security Administration [official website] agreed to pay the ACLU $200,000 in attorney's fees to settle a case brought by the civil rights organization in 2003 challenging the government's no-fly list [JURIST report] and requesting the disclosure of records. The documents noted that construction of the list was based on "two primary principles," but that there were "no hard and fast" rules governing decisions of who was put on the list. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled in 2008 that those placed on the government's "no-fly list" can challenge their inclusion on the list [JURIST report] in federal district courts. The court held that the Terrorist Screening Center, which actually maintains the list, is a subsection of the FBI and is therefore subject to review by the district courts. Also in 2008, the DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) [official website] issued a report [text, PDF] saying that the FBI had submitted inaccurate information to the list [JURIST report], that the information was rarely reviewed before its submission and even if discrepancies become apparent they were often left unchanged.




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UN rights chief: refer Syria conflict to ICC for investigation
Sarah Posner on December 2, 2011 1:33 PM ET

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[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Friday urged [statement] the UN Security Council [official website] to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] for investigation into crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian government. Pillay said that during the eight-month uprising [JURIST news archive] the death toll in Syria has surpassed 4,000 [JURIST report] with tens of thousands arrested and over 14,000 detained as a result of the crackdown. The Human Rights Council established an Independent International Commission of Inquiry to investigate the human rights violations in Syria during the eight-month uprising. Pillay stated:
The Commission's report documents widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by Syrian authorities by acts such as: killing of children by beating or shooting during demonstrations, arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment. It records at least 256 deaths of children—I understand since increased to 307 children—and instances of schools being used as detention facilities, demonstrating the State's disregard for children's right to education and personal safety. The Commission collected evidence of sexual violence against civilians, especially sexual torture of male detainees and children and sexual assaults upon women in places of detention.
Pillay expressed that if the actions of the Syrian government are not stopped now, the country faces the threat of a civil war.

The Syrian government has faced numerous allegations of human rights violations since March when the first anti-government protests started. On Wednesday the Syrian National Council [official website], a civilian opposition group, agreed to coordinate resistance efforts with the Free Syrian Army, the main military opposition group composed of Syrian military defectors. On Monday the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria reported that the Syrian Arab Republic has committed numerous human rights violations [JURIST report] including torture, sexual violence, use of excessive force and violations of the right to peaceful assembly. Last week, the UN General Assembly's Human Rights Committee approved [JURIST report] a draft resolution [text, PDF] condemning the Syria's human rights violations calling for an immediate end to them. Pillay previously called for an ICC probe [JURIST report] into the situation in Syria in August.




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Madoff trustee wins right to appeal after dismissal of JP Morgan suit
Rebecca DiLeonardo on December 2, 2011 12:59 PM ET

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[JURIST] An order made public Thursday awarded Madoff trustee Irving Picard the right to appeal the dismissal of his $19 billion suit against JPMorgan Chase & Co. [corporate website]. >Judge Colleen McMahon of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] indicated in her order that, in the interest of an expedited decision, both parties had agreed to move forward with the appeal [Reuters report]. Last month, McMahon dismissed [JURIST report] Picard's suit seeking damages from banks and third parties for the victims of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme. In her decision, Mcmahon concluded that Picard did not have standing to sue on behalf of the victims. Picard was designated by the court in 2008 as trustee [official website] of the assets seized from the Ponzi scheme.

Lawsuits against JPMorgan continue to be brought to court. Last month, two former Bernard Madoff [JURIST news archive] investors filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against JP Morgan seeking recovery of $19 billion for allegedly aiding Madoff in orchestrating his Ponzi scheme. Another case from earlier this year was dismissed [opinion] against HSBC Holdings [corporate website] because the trustee had "no personal stake in the outcome of the controversy." Picard plans to appeal this decision. The first payouts to Madoff's victims were approved [JURIST report] by the court in July. Picard filed almost 60 lawsuits [JURIST report] for victims of Madoff's fraud in December 2010 after being appointed trustee [order] in 2008. Madoff pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to 11 counts of securities fraud stemming from his Ponzi scheme in March 2009, and was sentenced [JURIST report] in June 2009 to 150 years in prison.




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HRW urges DRC government to end post-election violence
Sarah Posner on December 2, 2011 12:15 PM ET

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[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Friday urged [press release] the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) government to control the country's security forces and prevent violence against the political opposition following the country's presidential election. HRW reported that 18 civilians have been killed and about 100 seriously wounded during unrest following the presidential elections in the DRC on November 28. HRW reported that the Republican Guard soldiers were responsible for most of the deaths. The report was based on HRW staff who worked alongside Congolese human rights activists, serving as election observers during the presidential election. HRW's statement says:
The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials state that security forces shall apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. They may use lethal force only when it is strictly necessary to protect life. The Basic Principles state that, "Governments shall ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offence under their law."
HRW also urged the government to take steps to hold the individuals accountable who either participated in the post-election violence or attempted to commit election fraud.

The DRC has faced significant international pressure to ensure fair elections and prevent election violence. On Thursday, top UN officials with the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) [official website] decried [JURIST report] post-election violence in the DRC and called for restraint. MONUSCO urged all parties to remain calm and await the decision of the seven-member Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) on the preliminary results of the elections. Last month, International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] said his office would prosecute individuals involved election violence [JURIST report] in the DRC. The chief prosecutor's warning came just days after the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) [official website] on urged the DRC government to take action to abolish election-related violence [JURIST report] before the presidential election on November 28.




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ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrant for Sudan defense minister
Matthew Pomy on December 2, 2011 11:26 AM ET

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[JURIST] Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] began seeking an arrest warrant [official release] on Friday for Sundanese Defense Minister Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur [JURIST news archive] between August 2003 and March 2004. Ocampo began the process by asking Pre-Trial Chamber I to review the evidence against Hussein and decide whether an arrest warrant should be issued. Ocampo believes that there is enough evidence to link Hussein to these crimes and that the ICC should arrest Hussein to prevent him from further actions and continue to investigate the Sudanese government's actions during that time. Ocampo said:
The evidence shows that directly and through Mr. Harun, Mr. Hussein played a central role in coordinating the crimes, including in recruiting, mobilizing, funding, arming, training and the deployment of the Militia/Janjaweed as part of the Government of the Sudan forces, with the knowledge that these forces would commit the crimes.
Ocampo said Hussein is still presumed innocent and will be given an opportunity to defend himself. Ocampo is scheduled to brief the UN Security Council on this issue on December 15.

This will be the fourth case the ICC will be hearing in relation to crimes committed in Darfur. The ICC has already issued warrants for Ahmad Muhammad Harun [arrest warrant, PDF], former Sudanese interior minister and current humanitarian affairs minister, President Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir [case materials, PDF], and Ali Kushayb [arrest warrant, PDF], former senior Janjaweed commander. Sudan continues to be uncooperative [JURIST report] in executing these warrants which prompted Ocampo to file for a non-cooperation ruling under article 87 of the Rome Statute [text] in April, 2010. Sudan has repeatedly rejected the ICC's jurisdiction [JURIST report] over the Darfur situation.




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US appeals court dismisses police officer's suit against AZ immigration law
Jaimie Cremeans on December 2, 2011 11:13 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that a police officer does not have standing to challenge Arizona's controversial immigration law [SB 1070, PDF; JURIST news archive]. Tucson patrol officer Martin Escobar challenged the law [JURIST report] last year, claiming standing as an officer "mandated to enforce SB 1070." He argued that he has standing because, "if he refuses to enforce the Act, he can be disciplined by his employer," and if he does enforce it, he "can be subject to costly civil actions" for "deprivation of civil rights of the individual against whom he enforces the Act." The appeals court rejected these arguments and upheld a decision by the US District Court for the District of Arizona [official website] to dismiss the suit [JURIST report]. The appeals court also rejected Escobar's claim that he has standing as a Hispanic living in Arizona because he "alleged insufficient facts" to show injury based on this claim and that "mere conclusory allegations" are not enough to show injury. Arizona Gover Jan Brewer said in a press release [text, PDF] that she is "pleased" with the appeals court's decision and she will "continue to defend" the law.

Last month, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) urged [brief, PDF] the US Supreme Court [official websites] not to hear Arizona's appeal of a decision [opinion, PDF] enjoining four provisions of SB 1070. The Ninth Circuit upheld an injunction in April before the law ever took effect, and Arizona is now asking the high court [JURIST reports] to address whether the state law is preempted by federal immigration legislation. In a preview of how it might rule should it decide to hear the case, the Supreme Court in May ruled [JURIST report] in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting [opinion, PDF] that Arizona's controversial employment related immigration law [materials] is not preempted by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) [text]. The DOJ sued [JURIST report] the state of Arizona and Brewer over SB 1070 last year, arguing that both the Constitution and federal law "do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country."




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Kashmir lawyers call strike for revocation of security laws
Brandon Gatto on December 2, 2011 9:33 AM ET

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[JURIST] Lawyers in Indian-administered Kashmir on Thursday called a one-day strike [AP report] to demand the revocation of what they consider to be harsh emergency laws within their revolt-ridden region. The laws, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) [text] and the Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) [text], were introduced in India in 1990, and both grant significant authority to the country's army and paramilitary forces to detain people, destroy property, enter, search, and seize without warrant, arrest without warrant, and even use deadly force. The demonstration was led by the Kashmir Bar Association (KBA), [website] whose members met on November 29 and unanimously agreed that they would refrain from entering Kashmir courthouses on Thursday in protest of a government proposal for amending the Jammu and Kashmir criminal procedure rules to incorporate provisions of the AFSPA, which would afford the Armed Forces greater protection from prosecution. The KBA issued its perspective [press release] following the meeting:
[T]he amendment in the Cr.P.C. and RPC to create a protective cover for the armed forces in Jammu and Kashmir is virtually incorporation of the provisions of AFSPA and create permanent protection to the Armed Forces for their anti-human actions and Bar Association should resist such a move and educate the public at large and political parties should mobilize public opinion against this state adventure.
Although Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah [personal website] has publicly stated that the revocation of the AFSPA is inevitable, the KBA believes these revisions to the criminal code may be the government's way of preserving AFSPA protections. Abdullah, on the other hand, has asserted that state government could consider restoring these criminal procedure rules to ensure that the region's security forces are simply given the same protections afforded to those in other parts of the country.

Kashmir has consistently faced criticism of its laws over the course of the year, particularly in light of the uneasy circumstances throughout the region. In October, Abdullah's government amended [JURIST report] its highly-criticized Public Safety Act (PSA) [text], which formerly treated those persons 16 years and older as adults, allowing them to be arrested. Jammu and Kashmir has been plagued with unrest [JURIST report] since it became part of India in the middle of the twentieth century. Although the state is officially part of India, the territory has been disputed by Pakistan and India since 1947. This friction within the region has led to several conflicts, including the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1947-1948 and 1965. There was also a large show of military force by both nations in the region in 2002 which caused international alarm in light of both nations possessing nuclear weapons. India has long-attempted to parry the unrest and a burgeoning separatist movement in the region by detaining human rights political activists.




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Federal appeals court allows payment for some bone marrow donations
Hillary Stemple on December 2, 2011 9:11 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that a federal law prohibiting payment for vital organs does not apply to all types of bone marrow transplants, opening the door for compensation to be paid to a specific type of bone marrow donors. The court held that the 1984 National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA) [42 USC § 273, PDF], which criminalizes the compensation for the transfer of human organs, does not apply to a type of bone marrow donation known as "apheresis." Apheresis is a procedure developed within the last 20 years whereby the donor undergoes a series of injections over five days in order to stimulate production of hematopoietic blood cells in the blood flowing through the donor's veins. The donor then sits for a period of hours while the donor's blood is filtered through a machine designed to remove the hematopoietic cells. The court analogized the apheresis procedure with the normal procedure of donating blood, and noted that the NOTA does not prohibit compensation for the donation of blood. The NOTA explicitly prohibits compensation for providing bone marrow, but the court rejected the government's argument that the hematopoietic cells should be considered "bone marrow" simply because they were produced by the marrow of the bone. The court stated that if definition of the term "bone marrow" were to include any blood product produced by the marrow, then compensation for blood donors would also have to be prohibited because red and white blood cells are also produced by the marrow. The court noted that they construe the term "bone marrow" to mean the "soft, fatty substance in bone cavities, as opposed to blood, which means the red liquid that flows through the blood vessels." The court also determined that because the apheresis procedure had not been developed when the NOTA was enacted, Congress could not have intended for the Act to prohibit the procedure. They further held that the apheresis method of bone marrow transplantation "is not a transfer of a 'human organ' or a 'subpart thereof' as defined by the statute and regulation" so therefore, the statute does not criminalize the compensation of apheresis bone marrow donors.

The lawsuit challenging the application of the law to bone marrow donation was brought by a non-profit organization called MoreMarrowDonors.org [advocacy website], as well as plaintiffs who claimed they were unable to find bone marrow donors because it is more difficult for ethnic minorities and people of mixed race to find genetic donors for bone marrow. MoreMarrowDonors.org plans to begin a pilot program that would offer $3,000 in compensation [AP report] in the form of scholarships, housing allowances or gifts to charity, to bone marrow donors who undergo the apheresis procedure, in the hopes they will attract more minority donors, thereby increasing the number of potential genetic matches. According to the plaintiffs, nearly 3,000 Americans die each year [San Francisco Chronicle report] while attempting to find a genetically appropriate bone marrow donor. Use of the traditional "aspiration" method of bone marrow extraction, contributed to the lack of appropriate donors due to the invasive, painful method of the procedure which required extraction of the marrow from the donors' bones using a long needle. Under the court's ruling, compensation for aspiration bone marrow transplants remains illegal because it was specifically prohibited by Congress under the statute. Aspiration bone marrow transplants currently account for approximately 30-percent of bone marrow transplants, while the remainder of bone marrow transplants are performed using the less invasive apheresis method.




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Senate approves defense spending bill with controversial detainee provision
Hillary Stemple on December 2, 2011 8:41 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] on Thursday voted 93-7 [roll call materials] to pass the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 [SB 1867, PDF], including a controversial provision authorizing the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to detain individuals suspected of terrorism. The Senate on Tuesday rejected an amendment to the bill [JURIST report] that would have struck the provision and instituted a timeline to allow further study and investigation on the issue of counterterrorism by Congress. The provision grants the military complete custody and control over terror suspects and grants authority to Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] over whether suspects should be tried in military or civilian courts. Opponents of the provision fear it could be applied to US citizens threatening their constitutional liberties. Supporters argue that the idea of an American citizen suspected of aiding al Qaeda [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive] not getting due process is simply a lie. The bill could still face a presidential veto, in accordance with a statement of administration policy [text, PDF] the White House released in November which warned that President Barack Obama [official website] could veto legislation [JURIST report] if it "challenges or constrains the President's critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, [or] protect the Nation." The White House maintains the position that the FBI should have unrestricted access and interrogation rights over domestically detained al Qaeda suspects, rather than the military.

The provision was approved [JURIST report] earlier this month by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) [official website] in a unanimous vote after disagreements regarding the provision had blocked their passage for months [CNN report]. The passage by the SASC came shortly after an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] report [PDF] claiming that the US is diminishing its "core values" [JURIST report] with regard to various counterterrorism measures put in place during the 10 years since the 9/11 attacks [JURIST backgrounder]. To support this contention, the report cites to US policies regarding indefinite military detention for terrorism suspects, the use of torture on terrorism suspects and enemy combatants, racial and religious profiling and domestic surveillance and wiretapping. The report posits that certain US policies run deeper than what is known by the American people, civil liberties continue to be violated in secret and that future violations are imminent. The ACLU acknowledged that the government has sought to cease certain questionable practices, citing President Barack Obama's directive to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison [JURIST news archive], but stated that other questionable practices remain "core elements of [US] national security strategy today."




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UN officials deplore post-election violence in DRC, call for restraint
John Paul Putney on December 2, 2011 8:10 AM ET

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[JURIST] Top UN officials with the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) [official website] decried [press release] post-election violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Thursday and called for restraint. Acknowledging reports from international observers, MONUSCO indicated Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Roger Meece,
shares the concerns expressed by the observer missions, in particular with regard to the reported irregularities and the need to assess their impact on the electoral process. He also deplores the violence that marred the elections in certain areas throughout the country and calls on all political leaders to urge their partisans to refrain from any violence or other acts that may disrupt the electoral process.
MONUSCO urged all parties to remain calm and await the decision of the seven-member Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) on the preliminary results of the elections. MONUSCO also anticipatorily urged parties to address any grievances they may have through peaceful means, "including the established dispute mechanisms."

The DRC has faced significant international pressure to ensure fair elections and prevent election violence. Last month, International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] said his office would prosecute individuals involved election violence [JURIST report] in the DRC. The chief prosecutor's warning came just days after the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) [official website] on urged the DRC government to take action to abolish election-related violence [JURIST report] before the presidential election on November 28. UNJHRO reported 188 cases of human rights violations related to the electoral process during the period between November 2010 and September 2011. a href="http://www.voanews.com/english/news/africa/New-Congolese-Electoral-Body-to-Organize-Next-Years-Election--99733769.html">Established in 2010 to organize the presidential elections [VOA report], CENI replaced the previous election commission that was widely discredited when six officials were arrested for electoral fraud [JURIST report].




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UN rights chief: more than 4,000 dead in Syria conflict
Michael Haggerson on December 1, 2011 3:03 PM ET

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[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] stated on Thursday that the death toll in Syria during the eight-month uprising [JURIST news archive] has surpassed 4,000 [video and transcript]. Pillay recommended that the UN Security Council [official website] take action and refer Syria to the International Criminal Court [official website] for an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian government. On Wednesday the Syrian National Council [official website], a civilian opposition group, agreed to coordinate resistance efforts [Hurriyet Daily News report] with the Free Syrian Army [BBC report], the main military opposition group composed of Syrian military defectors. Pillay stated that Syria has "slipped into a state of Civil War."

The Syrian government has faced numerous allegations of human rights violations since March when the first anti-government protests started. On Monday the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria reported that the Syrian Arab Republic has committed numerous human rights violations [JURIST report] including torture, sexual violence, use of excessive force and violations of the right to peaceful assembly. Last week, the UN General Assembly's Human Rights Committee approved [JURIST report] a draft resolution [text, PDF] condemning the Syria's human rights violations calling for an immediate end to them. The death toll of Syrian protesters steadily increased since the beginning of the first outbreak of anti-government protests and earlier this month, the number exceeded 3,500 [JURIST report], an increase of 900 from September's number [JURIST report]. The allegations of human rights violations continued to increase as well and last month, Syria was urged [JURIST report] to allow UN human rights experts to conduct investigations into these allegations. In August, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] recommended [JURIST report] the UN Security Council [official website] to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] for the violence against anti-government protests after her demand [JURIST report] to the Syrian government to stop the killings of protesters in March.




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183 countries ranked in annual corruption index
Dan Taglioli on December 1, 2011 1:45 PM ET

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[JURIST] Transparency International (TI) [advocacy website] Thursday released its 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) [report, PDF; press release], again showing some governments failing to protect citizens from corruption, be it abuse of public resources, bribery or secretive decision-making. The CPI scores 183 countries and territories from 0 (highly corrupt) to 10 (very clean) based on perceived levels of public sector corruption, using data from 17 surveys collected by independent agencies concerning bribery of public officials, kickbacks in public procurement, embezzlement of public funds, access to information, conflicts of interest and the effectiveness of any anti-corruption campaign at work in a country. New Zealand tops the list with a score of 9.5, followed by Denmark and Finland with 9.4 and Sweden with 9.3. The US again scored 7.1, ranking 24th, behind Qatar and Chile, tied for 22nd place, and ahead of France at 25th place. Greece came in 80th, tying Colombia, El Salvador, Peru, Morocco and Thailand. Most Arab Spring countries rank in the lower half of the index, scoring below 4. Transparency International Managing Director, Cobus de Swardt provided commentary:
2011 saw the movement for greater transparency take on irresistible momentum, as citizens around the world demand accountability from their governments. High-scoring countries show that over time efforts to improve transparency can, if sustained, be successful and benefit their people.
Before the Arab Spring a TI report on the region warned that nepotism, bribery and patronage were so deeply engrained in daily life that even existing anti-corruption laws had little impact. Last on the list is Somalia, ranked as the most corrupt country for the fourth year in a row and tied at 1.0 with North Korea, which this year was included in the index for the first time. Two-thirds of all ranked countries scored less than 5.

In July Dimitrios Ioannidis of Roach, Ioannidis & Megaloudis, LLC, noted TI's corruption quantification, writing that several recent cases of corrupt practices by US companies operating overseas highlights the need for greater domestic and international enforcement mechanisms [JURIST comment] to prevent such practices. Last year's CPI report noted improvements [JURIST report] over 2009's report in corruption perception in Bhutan, Chile, Ecuador, FYR Macedonia, Gambia, Haiti, Jamaica, Kuwait and Qatar, while that year Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Madagascar and Niger dropped in the rankings. This year TI identified Russia, Iran, France, the United Arab Emirates, Poland and Cuba as nations where improvement had been made. Conversely, Haiti, Zimbabwe, India, Saudi Arabia, Czech Republic, Ireland, Qatar and Costa Rica are nations where perceptions have deteriorated since last year. Along with Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan have continued to bottom the list consistently, going back to CPI reports from 2008, 2007 and 2006 [JURIST reports].




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