[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] on Friday demanded immediate restoration of constitutional order [statement] in Guinea-Bissau [BBC backgrounder]. His demand came after a military coup on Thursday that led to seizure of power over the government and detention of various officials including interim president Raimundo Pereira and former prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior. The coup occurred just prior to the second round of the presidential election to be held on April 29 between Gomes and former president Kumba Yala, the two leaders of the first round. Ban also urged "all parties to exercise maximum restraint, refrain from violence and remain calm" while strongly emphasizing that constitutional order needs to be restored and the leaders to be released for a successful completion of the election: "The Secretary-General underscores the need for the Armed Forces and its leadership to respect civilian authority, constitutional order and the rule of law, as well as to take urgent and immediate steps to return the country to civilian rule."
The military coup was the type of incident that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] wanted to prevent by urging [JURIST report] the people of Guinea-Bissau in March to refrain from any violence during the election. Ban has also issued a statement [text] for the maintenance of order during the elections. Pillay's concern arose out of Guinea-Bissau's reputation and history of unrest and violence. In 2010, the EU declined to continue [JURIST report] its EU SSR Guinea-Bissau Mission [official website] that provided assistance to the country's security forces in developing a legal framework. The reason was the country's lack of respect for the rule of law and political instability. The US had refused [Reuters report] to participate in such efforts without removal of corrupt officials. Ban also addressed the issue of respect for the rule of law when he called [JURIST report] the leaders of the country to maintain constitutional order during the confrontation between the military and government.
[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Canada [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF] Friday that an emergency wiretap [JURIST news achieve] provision allowing warrantless interceptions is unconstitutional. The specific section [s. 184.4] authorizes a peace officer to intercept private communication when there is reasonable ground for urgency and necessity to prevent serious harm. The case involved a warrantless interception of private communication by the police when a daughter received calls from her father telling her that he was held for ransom. The court addressed the issue of whether the provision was in violation of Section 8 [text] of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protecting individuals from unreasonable search or seizure. The court came to the conclusion that although the provision ensure strict application only in extreme circumstances, its was overbroad in who could invoke the provision and it failed to include any accountability measures:
However, in our view, s. 184.4 falls down on the matter of accountability because the legislative scheme does not provide any mechanism to permit oversight of the police use of this power. Of particular concern, it does not require that notice be given to persons whose private communications have been intercepted. For this reason, we believe that s. 184.4 violates s. 8 of the Charter. We are further of the view that the breach cannot be saved under s. 1 of the Charter. Accordingly, we would declare the section to be unconstitutional.
With its decision, the court provided the Canadian parliament a 12-month period to readdress the section to bring it in compliance with the Charter.
A very similar ruling surrounding section 184.4 was announced [JURIST report] in 2008 by a British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Barry Davies. In that case, Justice Davies also struck down the section because it violated the protection from unreasonable seizure granted by the Charter and allow the parliament to revise the section within a 18-month time frame. Lack of notice requirement was also one of his main concerns.
[JURIST] Four independent UN human rights experts on Friday called for the immediate release [press release] of Bahraini human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is serving a life sentence for terrorism-related charges after being tried before the Bahrain military National Safety Court in June 2011. Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya [official profile] expressed concern that Al-Khawaja's trial and sentence are linked to his legitimate work to promote human rights. Maina Kiai [official profile], the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and association, provided skepticism about both the proportionality and proper review of Bahrain's "national security" restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly, noting such restrictions should not be used to suppress human rights activists. Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Gabriela Knaul [official profile] expressed concern that Al-Khawaja and other civilian human rights defenders have been tried before military courts, particularly since allegations of defendants' confessions being made under duress reportedly have not been investigated despite the confessions being admitted at trial, constituting a contravention of international law. Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez [official profile] condemned the Bahraini government for failing to adhere to the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners [text] regarding Al-Khawaja's physical and mental integrity. Al-Khawaja was allegedly physically mistreated and perhaps tortured [JURIST report] while in custody, displaying visible physical signs of abuse at trial. Special rapporteurs [UN News Centre report] hold unpaid honorary positions apart from UN staff, and are appointed by the Human Rights Council [official website] to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme.
Earlier this month Al-Khawaja's lawyers and members of the Bahrain opposition appealed his conviction [JURIST report] to the Bahrain Court of Cassation, which is expected to issue a verdict on April 23. Al-Khawaja is a Danish citizen, the former protection coordinator with Front Line Defenders [advocacy website] and a leading Bahraini human rights defender. The UN experts' call for his release came among international concern for his health due to repeated hunger strikes [JURIST report], the most recent of which he has been staging since February 8. Several parties, including Danish diplomats, have confirmed his deteriorating condition, and pictures and reports have surfaced documenting his poor state of health despite contrary assurances by Bahraini authorities. Last month Amnesty International [advocacy website] called for Al-Khawaja's release when his hunger strike passed 50 days [JURIST report], which came a few weeks after Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] accused Bahrain of convicting hundreds of opposition activists in unfair and politically motivated trials in a 94-page report detailing alleged due process violations [JURIST report] in both civilian and military courts.
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