[JURIST] The US Army has dropped one of 17 murder charges and added others, including steroid and alcohol use, in its case against Army Sgt. Robert Bales, his lawyer told reporters on Friday. Bales was charged with 17 counts of murder [JURIST report] in March for the alleged shooting of Afghan civilians, including women and children, in a Kandahar village. Bales allegedly went on a shooting rampage [JURIST report] in the village and, afterward, returned to his base and turned himself in. After the shooting, the Afghanistan parliament [official website] demanded that the soldier be given a trial in Afghanistan. The US Department of Defense, however, said that the US military would investigate [press release] and hold the responsible soldier accountable. Bales now faces 16 counts of premeditated murder; he is also charged with six counts of attempted murder, six counts of aggravated assault and a number of other offenses.
Bales will not be the first US soldier prosecuted in relation to deaths of civilians in Afghanistan. In February, the US Army dropped charges [JURIST report] against Army Specialist Michael Wagnon, the last of five soldiers to be charged in connection with the killing of three Afghan civilians. In November, US Sgt. Calvin Gibbs was convicted on 15 charges [JURIST report] of murder, assault and conspiracy in the same case. Before Gibbs was convicted, in March of last year, Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock admitted to three counts of murder [JURIST report] as part of a plot with him and other soldiers to kill Afghan civilians.
[JURIST] Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic told a Montenegrin state television station Friday that he does not think that the 1995 Srebrenica Masscre [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] was genocide. The Srebrenica massacre took place during the Bosnian Civil War [JURIST news archive] and resulted in the death of more than 7,000 Muslim men. The president acknowledged that the incident involved "serious war crimes" [AFP report] and said that any Serbs responsible should be brought to justice. His statements were condemned by the Muslim member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency as a step back in the road to trust and cooperation between Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Serbia.
BiH continues to try individuals associated with the Srebrenica massacre. Last week, US resident Dejan Radojkovic was deported to BiH [JURIST report] to face charges related to his actions as a police commander in Srebrenica in 1995. Earlier this month two Bosnian Serbs were sentenced to prison [JURIST reports] for their roles in Srebenica massacre. The trial of former Bosnian Serb Army commander Ratko Mladic [ICTY case materials; JURIST news archive] began earlier this month but was postponed due to evidence disclosures [JURIST report]. In April a Bosnian-Muslim woman pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to war crimes after being extradited from the US. The trial of eight Bosnian-Muslims [JURIST report] who were charged with abuse and torture of Serbian prisoners began that same month. In February, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) sentenced Milan Tupajic [JURIST report] to two months in prison on two counts of contempt for refusing to testify against accused war criminal Radovan Karadzic.
[JURIST] Upwards of 20.9 million people worldwide work in forced labor, the International Labour Organization (ILO) [official website], a UN agency focusing on labor rights, redported [text, PDF] Friday. The ILO's estimate of about 21 million people in forced labor is a revision from its 2005 "minimum estimate" that 12.3 million people were victims of forced labor. The ILO describes people in forced labor as being "trapped in jobs into which they were coerced or deceived and which they cannot leave." The ILO's report indicates that women represent 55 percent of forced laborers worldwide and that 90 percent of forced laborers are in the private sector. Forced labor is most prevalent in East Asia, which represents 56 percent of the global population of forced laborers. While East Asia accounts for the largest number of forced laborers, the prevalence rate of forced labor is highest in Africa and southeastern Europe. The ILO estimates that three in every 1,000 people worldwide are in some form of forced labor.
Forced labor has been at the center of human rights controversies recently. In November, the human rights group Partners Relief and Development [advocacy website] declared [JURIST report] that soldiers in Myanmar may be committing war crimes, including forced labor, against ethnic communities. Earlier that month, the UN criticized North Korea for allegedly abusing political prisoners in forced labor camps [JURIST report]. In August, the UN urged Thailand to combat forced labor [JURIST report], especially with regard to human trafficking. During the same month, BBC reported [JURIST report] that the government of Zimbabwe are running illegal mining camps using forced labor.
[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Thursday urged [HRW news release] the Sudanese government to reform its discriminatory laws and abolish both the death penalty and all corporal punishment after a young Sudanese woman was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. Intisar Sharif Abdallah, who is believed to be under the age of 18, was sentenced in April under article 146 of Sudan's Criminal Act of 1991. The provision requires that a married person who commits adultery be sentenced to death by stoning, while an unmarried person receives 100 lashes. Abdallah is currently detained in Omdurman prison with her five-month-old baby. Although Sudanese law prohibits death sentences for juveniles, the court in this case did not inquire about Abdallah's age. HRW expressed concern that the court did not provide her legal counsel or an interpreter, despite the fact that Arabic is not her first language. Bekele pointed out that the death sentence by stoning is in violation of domestic as well as international law and called for Abdallah to be released immediately.
Discrimination and violence against women is a global issue. In March, HRW urged [JURIST report] the Afghan government to release around 400 women and girls who were imprisoned for "moral crimes" including flight from unlawful forced marriage or domestic violence and "zina," sexual relationship outside of marriage due to rape or forced prostitution. In July of last year the UN Women [official website] released [JURIST report] a report detailing the persisting discrimination against women around the world. The report also examined how the rule of law discriminates women and found that rule of law does not provide adequate protection for women in practice. A month earlier UN Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo [official profile, DOC] stated [JURIST report] that even the US is facing continued violence against women, especially poor, minority and immigrant women. In May 2011 the Council of Europe (COE) [official website] introduced [JURIST report] the first international convention to combat violence against women [text] to create a legal framework that would better protect women against violence. The same month UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged [JURIST report] Tunisia and Egypt to ensure that women's rights receive constitutional protection.
[JURIST] The Chinese government has detained a former aide to a vice minister in China's security ministry who is suspected of spying for the US [Reuters report], anonymous sources told Reuters. The former aide, whose identity is unknown, allegedly passed information to the US government over a period of years and was detained earlier this year. Neither the Chinese nor the US government has commented on the allegations. The incident may put further strain on the US relationship with China after the recent resolution of a US-China struggle over the fate of blind Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng [BBC profile; JURIST news archive].
[JURIST] Voters in Ireland have approved the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance [text, PDF] aimed at improving fiscal discipline and promoting greater financial information disclosure between EU member states, according to official results Friday. In a national referendum that took place on Thursday and had a turnout of around 50 percent, 60.3 percent voted in favor [AP report] of the fiscal treaty while 39.7 voted against it. Supporters of the treaty argued that it would ensure the stability of the country's current financial situation, while opponents criticized the treaty because it may result in more public cuts lowering further the quality of citizens' lives. Ireland currently has an unemployment rate of 14.3 percent while the Irish banking debts would cost the nation's taxpayers an estimated €68 billion (USD $85 billion).
The fiscal treaty was signed [JURIST report] by leaders from 25 EU member states in March. Only two countries, the UK and the Czech Republic, did not sign the measure. The EU has continuously sought methods to deal with financial instability. In February Germany's Federal Constitutional Court [official website, in German] held [JURIST report] that use of a parliamentary subcommittee to fast-track decisions related to eurozone bailouts is unconstitutional. In September the same court rejected [JURIST report] as unfounded that three constitutional complaints against German and European legal instruments and other measures in connection with both the European Monetary Union rescue package and the financial aid package for Greece. In 2010, the court also rejected [JURIST report] a temporary injunction against the German government's €22.4 billion (USD $28.5 billion) contribution to a bailout package for Greece, which had approved [JURIST report] austerity measures to avoid bankruptcy few months earlier.
[JURIST] A pre-trial chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Friday granted a request [decision, PDF; press release] by the Libyan government to postpone an order to transfer Saif al-Islam Gaddafi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], the son of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive], to ICC custody. The order will be postponed until the court decides Libya's challenge to the admissibility of the case in the ICC. The court noted that Libya must be prepared to turn over Saif al-Islam if the court finds that the case is admissible. The Libyan government formally challenged [JURIST report] the right of the ICC to try Saif al-Islam last month. Libya argued that under Article 17 of the Rome Statute [text], the ICC does not have jurisdiction when "[t]he case is being investigated or prosecuted by a State which has jurisdiction over it, unless the State is unwilling or unable genuinely to carry out the investigation or prosecution." Since the Libyan national judiciary is actively investigating Saif al-Islam, Libya asserted that the ICC does not have jurisdiction.
The issue of which court is going to try Saif al-Islam has been in dispute since he was captured [JURIST report] by Libyan rebel forces in November. Prosecutor-General Abdul Azizi al-Hassadi told reporters on Thursday that Libya will begin the prosecution of senior officials [JURIST report] who served under former Gaddafi in June, in a series of trials that will likely be considered test cases for Libya's ability to fairly try high-profile Gaddafi officials. In April, ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] stated that the maximum penalty for Saif al-Islam in the ICC would be life in prison, but if convicted in a national court he could face the death penalty [JURIST report]. Earlier that month, Ocampo asked the ICC to report Libya to the UN Security Council [official website] for failing to turn over Saif al-Islam. Libya expressly denied [JURIST report] the ICC's request for such action and stated that Saif al-Islam will face trial within the country. In February 2011, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to refer the matter in Libya to the ICC prosecutor [JURIST report]. The ICC claimed jurisdiction over Saif al-Islam despite its announcement in November that it may allow Libya to conduct the trial [JURIST report].
[JURIST] The Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) [official website], Irina Bokova [official profile], on Friday condemned the increasing number of murders of journalists [press release] in Pakistan and urged the government to investigate the crimes. Pakistani journalists Abdul Razaq Gul and Aurengzeb Tunio were recently murdered only a few days apart. Gul's body reportedly showed signs of torture. Tunio and some of his family were attacked in his office by multiple gunmen. Bokova expressed her concern about the violence against journalists in Pakistan. A total of 27 journalists and media workers have been killed since 2008.
Only two days ago, Bokova expressed her concern [JURIST report] over a Somali journalist's death who was shot in Mogadishu, Somalia. Earlier in May Amnesty International [advocacy website] urged [JURIST report] the Sudanese government to cease its press censorship which significantly interfered with journalists' right of expression. In early May UNESCO condemned the murder of a Mexican journalist who was found in Veracruz despite the legislative effort by the Mexican government to protect [JURIST reports] them. Syria was also criticized [JURIST report] for its continued practice of torturing and detaining journalists in an effort to undermine the freedom of expression.
[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] on Friday told officials at the Istanbul II Conference on Somalia [materials] that the Somali government must continue to work [statement; press release] to ensure a smooth transition into permanent government and a new constitution in order to begin its next "political phase." Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) [CFR backgrounder] has been working toward establishment of a legitimate government since the 1991 end of the Muhammad Siad Barre [Britannica profile] dictatorship. Ban commended the conference for its affirmance that the transition would be completed by August. He asked that the Somali government continue to work closely with the international community during the transitional period and encouraged other nations to provide support to the country.
UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General Dr. Augustine Mahiga told the press [JURIST report] last week that the Elders of Somalia will select delegates for the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) by June 20, which will convene on July 2 to approve Somalia's new constitution. The NCA will have until July 10 to adopt the constitution, and the new Somali Parliament will be chosen by July 15. Mahiga announced this after returning from a three-day trip to Somalia for meetings with the signatories of the Roadmap for the End of Transition in Somalia [text, PDF]. Earlier this month, a UN expert urged Somalia to establish a new judicial system [JURIST report] that conforms to international human rights standards. In February, the TFG was criticized [JURIST report] by Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] for failing to stop recruitment of child soldiers. Earlier that month, parties to the TFG were commended by the UN for coming to an agreement at the Garowe II Constitutional Conference [JURIST report] that set guidelines for establishment of a new parliament.
[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Council [official website] voted to condemn Syria [press release] on Friday for killing more than 100 civilians in the Houla region of the country last week. The 47-member body voted 41-3 [AP report] to approve a resolution blaming "pro-regime elements" and government troops for the massacre in Houla. Russia, China and Cuba voted against the resolution. Two nations abstained and one did not vote. The US, which sponsored the resolution, strongly condemned the Assad regime for attacking civilians, especially small children. In the press release, the US praised Syrians for bravely risking their lives to broadcast to the world the horrors that the brutal campaign that the Syrian government is waging against its own people. The resolution called for an independent international probe into what happened in Houla last week.
The recent massacre in Houla diminished the hope for the success of the peace plan [text, PDF] that was laid out by Kofi Annan [official profile], Joint Special Envoy of the UN and the League of Arab States. Last Thursday the UN's three-member Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria released [JURIST report] a report [text, PDF] that alleged Syrian security forces as well as anti-government groups are responsible for the continuing violence in Syria including torture of children. Syria has been urged to end the escalating violence against civilians that started in March of last year. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released numerous reports alleging that Syrian government forces committed war crimes against civilians and thereby violated human rights within the last few months. In early May, HRW reported [JURIST report] such violation when government forces killed at least 95 civilians in the province of Idlib during ceasefire negotiations. In April, HRW released [JURIST report] a report showing that Syrian security forces have executed more than 100 civilians and opposition fighters.
[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Thursday urged [press release] the government of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] to ensure justice for the victims of the recently increasing violence. It has been reported that more than 100,000 people have been affected by the recent violence in the province of North Kivu in the eastern DRC, including killings, rape and the looting and burning of entire villages. One of the main perpetrators of such violence has been identified as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], and Pillay has called for an immediate investigation into the incidents to bring criminal sanctions against the responsible parties. The Deputy Special Representative for the DRC Fidele Sarassoro also added [UN News Centre report]: "The chaotic situation families are facing is disastrousmany of them have been displaced many times before. We call on all parties to the conflict to respect human rights and international law and to spare civilians from the violence."
[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] on Thursday ended its investigation [press release, PDF] into the health care conditions of incarcerated former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; JURIST news archive], finding that the Ukrainian government provided her with adequate care. Tymoshenko is currently facing trial on tax evasion charges but has been unable to attend recently due to health concerns. She previously alleged that prison guards were beating her [press release, in Ukrainian], and refused to be treated [JURIST report] by prison doctors for back problems, believing they were under the direction of political rival President Viktor Yanukovych. The court said that it remained interested in the matter of Tymoshenko's health and that she may file additional complaints if necessary.
On Wednesday, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General told reporters that Tymoshenko may face additional criminal charges [JURIST report], including charges relating to the 1996 shooting of lawmaker Yevhen Shcherban and his family. Earlier this month her trial was postponed for the second time [BBC report] at the request of the prosecution after she was again unable to attend due to health issues. The trial was first postponed in April [JURIST report] due to concerns about Tymoshenko's health. Earlier that month Tymoshenko was returned to prison after being sent to a clinic for medical treatment. She is currently appealing a conviction and seven-year prison sentence [JURIST reports] to the ECHR and has discontinued all appeals [JURIST report] in the Ukraine on that issue. Although her previous conviction was on charges of corruption and abuse of power during her time as prime minister, Tymoshenko is now accused of hiding $165 million of corporate revenue and accumulating $5.8 million through tax fraud while the head of the UESU.
[JURIST] A New York state court ruled [decision] Wednesday that the family of a Holocaust survivor must return a gold tablet to a museum in Germany. The Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division Second Judicial Department [official website] ordered the family of Holocaust survivor Riven Flamenbaum, who died in 2003, to return the 3,200 year-old gold tablet to the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin, where the tablet was held until the end of World War II when it mysteriously disappeared. The Appellate Division explained that Flamenbaum's daughter Hannah, his executor, could not maintain possession of the tablet because she did not establish that the Museum failed to make an effort to locate it:
For the executor to establish, on behalf of the estate, an affirmative defense on the basis of the doctrine of laches, she must demonstrate that the museum failed to exercise reasonable diligence to locate the tablet and that such failure prejudiced the estate. ... The executor did not establish that the museum failed to exercise reasonable diligence to locate the tablet. ... The executor's contention that the museum failed to exercise reasonable diligence by not reporting the tablet stolen to law enforcement authorities or listing it on an international stolen art registry is not, under the circumstances of this case, dispositive. The executor's argument that, had the museum taken such steps, the tablet would have surfaced earlier, is mere conjecture and, moreover, is not supported by expert or other evidence.
[JURIST] The Center for Constitutional Rights [advocacy website] filed [complaint, PDF] a lawsuit Thursday on behalf of several inmates over solitary confinement policies at a California prison Security Housing Unit (SHU). The defendants are California Governor Jerry Brown, the Secretary of the California Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the Chief for the Office of Correctional Safety and a warden at the Pelican Bay State Prison [official websites]. The complaint alleges that the SHU violates prisoners' Eighth Amendment rights and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by placing the plaintiffs, prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison, in solitary confinement for 10 to 28 years, which amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Such confinement allegedly denies basic human rights, resulting in detrimental physical and psychological effects on prisoners. The plaintiffs argue that California engages in such practices solely based on prisoners' alleged association with a prison gang. They are seeking class action status as well as injunctive relief requiring the prison to amend its current policies.
California's prison system has been criticized for overcrowding. In January the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] ruled that California prison officials have failed to comply with its ruling in a 1994 suit requiring prisons to provide reasonable accommodations for inmates w by not providing them with wheelchairs and other mobility assistance devices. In August, California's Legislative Analyst's Office [official website] reported that California is most unlikely to reduce the state's prison population by 34,000 inmates within the Supreme Court's two-year deadline [JURIST reports]. The ruling issued in May 2011 in Brown v. Plata [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] was to remedy the problem of the state's overcrowded prisons.
[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] on Thursday in favor of Google [corporate website] in the case of Oracle America, Inc. v. Google Inc. [case materials]. Judge William Alsup held that Google did not infringe patents and copyrights held by Oracle [corporate website] when it used Oracle's 37 Java application programming interface (API) packages for its Android operating system. The court engaged in a lengthy discussion of Java's structure, copyright laws and their development in light of the computer age. Alsup stated:
So long as the specific code used to implement a method is different, anyone is free under the Copyright Act to write his or her own code to carry out exactly the same function or specification of any methods used in the Java API. It does not matter that the declaration or method header lines are identical. Under the rules of Java, they must be identical to declare a method specifying the same functionality - even when the implementation is different. When there is only one way to express an idea or function, then everyone is free to do so and no one can monopolize that expression. And, while the Android method and class names could have been different from the names of their counterparts in Java and still have worked, copyright protection never extends to names or short phrases as a matter of law.
Thursday's ruling expressly stated that APIs are not copyrightable because they are so basic and fundamental for computer codes that allowing Oracle to create a monopoly in this area would hinder others from creating their own codes performing the same commands.
The ruling came a week after a federal jury found [JURIST report] that Google's use of the APIs was not an infringement of Oracle's patents. Earlier in May, the jury found itself deadlocked [JURIST report] on the issue of whether Google's use could be considered "fair use," making it difficult for Oracle to win a large damage award. Oracle had claimed damages in the amount of $1 billion after the case went to trial [JURIST report] in April following a break-down of settlement negotiations.
[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida on Thursday [official website] blocked [opinion, PDF] part of a new Florida election law that plaintiffs claim restrict voter registration efforts. Judge Robert Hinkle struck down a provision of Florida's election law that required any group that conducts a voter registration drive to turn in registration forms within 48 hours of collecting them or else face a $1,000 per day fine, saying that this requirement was "harsh and impractical." Hinkle declared that enjoining parts of the Florida election law was necessary to protect the voting rights of the plaintiffs in the case, which included the League of Women Voters of Florida [advocacy website]:
The plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm if an injunction is not issued, first because the denial of a right of this magnitude under circumstances like these almost always inflicts irreparable harm, and second because when a plaintiff loses an opportunity to register a voter, the opportunity is gone forever. If an injunction does not issue now, there will be no way to remedy the plaintiffs' continuing loss through relief granted later in this litigation.
In his ruling, Hinkle indicated that the plaintiffs will likely be able to argue successfully that the Florida election law unconstitutionally violates their voting rights.
The US Supreme Court ruled in January in the government's attachment of a GPS device to a vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle's movements, constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment. The federal government sought Supreme Court review after the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled [JURIST reports] in 2010 that prolonged use of GPS to monitor suspects' vehicles violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Affirming the decision below, Justice Antonin Scalia delivered the opinion of the court, which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor, stating, "We have no doubt that such a physical intrusion would have been considered a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when it was adopted." Justice Sonia Sotomayor also filed a concurring opinion. Justice Samuel Alito filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. Alito "would analyze the question presented in this case by asking whether respondent's reasonable expectations of privacy were violated by the long-term monitoring of the movements of the vehicle he drove."
[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Thursday granted [opinion, PDF] class action status to numerous authors suing Google [corporate website] over its book-scanning initiative [Google Book Search website]. Judge Denny Chin reasoned that the numerosity, commonality and typicality elements for Rule 23(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure [texts] is satisfied. Google had scanned millions of books without consent of the authors, leading the number of the infringed class to be in the thousands, all class members' injuries stems from Google's "unitary course of conduct" and each members' claim arises out of the same conduct by Google. Thursday's decision also rejected Google's petition to dismiss claims by the Authors Guild [advocacy website] and other plaintiffs including the Association of American Publishers (AAP) [association website], McGraw-Hill, Penguin Group and Simon & Schuster [corporate websites] that would have forced members to sue Google individually. The court reasoned that although "different classes of works may require different treatment for the purposes of 'fair use,' the fair use analysis does not require individual participation of association members." Additionally, the court pointed out that Google cannot ask the infringed parties to seek a remedy individually because it did not seek information about each work before it engaged in unauthorized scanning.
In March of last year Chin rejected an amended class action settlement agreement that was reached in 2008 between Google and the plaintiffs, who brought the copyright suit [JURIST reports] in 2005. The settlement agreement stated that Google would pay $125 million to the authors and publishers of copyrighted works in exchange for the permission to display up to 20 percent of the work online. The court reasoned that the settlement agreement would allow Google too much rights to exploit copyrighted works in the future. This ruling came a month after Chin delayed [JURIST report] it because he was not ready.
[JURIST] Laws legalizing marriage and adoption for same-sex couples will soon be introduced in France, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told a French television station on Friday. Same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] is currently banned by law in France. The prime minister's announcement comes nearly a year after the French National Assembly [official website, in French] voted to reject a bill [JURIST report] seeking to legalize same-sex marriage in France. Ayrault, who was appointed as prime minister on May 15, is a member of the Socialist Party (PS) [party website, in French], which backed the same-sex marriage bill last year. Ayrault did not indicate when the bills would be introduced.
France's same-sex marriage ban has been a subject of controversy in the country. Last year the Constitutional Council [official website, in French] ruled that the country's same-sex marriage ban does not violate the constitution [JURIST report]. The council emphasized it may only interpret existing laws under the constitution, but that the legislature has the power to make new laws allowing gay marriage. The Court of Cassation [official website, in French], the country's highest court of appeals, ordered the Constitutional Council in November 2010 to rule on the constitutionality [JURIST report] of the law. The order was made after a gay French couple challenged the ban in a Reims court, saying it limited their personal freedoms.
[JURIST] Incidents of hate-based murders against LGBT individuals in the US increased in 2011, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) [advocacy website] reported [text, PDF] Thursday. The annual report, entitled "Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-affected Communities in the U.S. in 2011," found that 30 LGBT individuals were killed in 2011 in hate-based murders, the highest number that the NCAVP has recorded. The number of murders against LGBT people has increased in each of the past three years. The NCAVP attributes this increase in murders to "a continuing increase in the severity of violence facing [LGBT] communities." Despite these troubling findings, however, the report also indicated that incidents of hate-based violence against LGBT individuals have decreased by 16 percent over the past year, from 2,503 in 2010 to 2,092 in 2011.
Last year UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned that hate crimes against LGBT people are on the rise worldwide [JURIST report]. In the US, some measures have been taken to stop hate crimes against LGBT individuals. Last spring US lawmakers 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.
[JURIST] Ecuadorian plaintiffs seeking to collect on a judgment against Chevron Corp [corporate website; JURIST news archive] over Amazon pollution on Wednesday filed a collection action [complaint, PDF] in Ontario's Superior Court of Justice [official website]. The pollution was originally caused by Texaco in the 1980s. Chevron acquired the company with its liabilities in 2001. With this new lawsuit, the plaintiffs seek to enforce a judgment against the corporation for $18.2 billion that was issued in January [JURIST report] by the Provincial Court of Justice of Sucumbios in Lago Agrio, Ecuador. The plaintiffs are targeting the various subsidiaries including Chevron Canada Limited and Chevron Canada Financial Limited because Chevron no longer has assets in Ecuador. Chevron has refused the accusations and claims that the plaintiffs' lawyers engaged in fraud and misconduct [statement, PDF] and that the Ecuadorian court proceedings were fraudulent in that they did not observe the rule of law.
In February, the Provincial Court of Justice of Sucumbios rejected [JURIST report] an arbitration decision by The Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) [official website] which had the effect of temporarily enjoining the $18.2 billion judgment that was upheld in January after an appeal [JURIST report] until a final judgment was made by the PCA. The Ecuadorian court reasoned that citizens' human rights supersede international trade law and allowed the proceeding to go before the Supreme Court of Ecuador. A month earlier, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] reversed [JURIST report] the injunction against enforcement of the multi-billion judgment granted to Chevron by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] reasoning that judgment-debtors like Chevron can challenge a foreign judgment's validity under the Uniform Foreign Money-Judgments Recognition Act [text, PDF] only defensively and in response to an attempted enforcement which was not initiated by the plaintiffs. The original judgment was set for $8.6 billion [JURIST report] but was more than doubled for Chevron's refusal to pay "moral reparations" to the Ecuadorian government, as required by the original ruling. Plaintiffs initially filed suit in the Southern District of New York in 1993 against Texaco that caused the pollution in the Amazon in the 1980s.
[JURIST] The Syrian government has released more than 500 prisoners [SANA report] detained during pro-democracy demonstrations in the last month, Syria's official news agency reported Thursday. The report indicated that the government released 265 prisoners on May 5 and another 250 on May 17, adding that only those prisoners who "did not commit murders" were freed. The announcement was made days after the massacre in Houla [JURIST report] threatened to halt peace negotiations between the Syrian government and anti-government forces. The release of "arbitrarily detained persons" was a key point in the Syrian peace plan [text, PDF], laid out by Kofi Annan [official profile], Joint Special Envoy of the UN and the League of Arab States. The plan was supposed to begin on April 12 but has not yet been successfully executed despite a resolution approved [JURIST report] by the UN Security Council [official website] to send 300 unarmed soldiers and other civilian aid for 90 days to supervise the implementation of the plan. The resolution which calls for an end of violence [JURIST report] was also the first legally binding resolution passed by the Security Council since the beginning of turmoil in Syria. The UN Human Rights Council [official website] is holding a special session [JURIST report] Friday to discuss the situation in Syria.
Violent clashes of government forces and rebel groups since last March have raised international concern. Last Thursday the UN's three-member Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria released a report [JURIST report] alleging Syrian security forces as well as anti-government groups are responsible for the continuing violence in Syria including torture of children. Syria has been urged to end the escalating conflict that has led to violence against civilians. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released numerous reports alleging that Syrian government forces committed war crimes against civilians and thereby violated human rights within the last few months. In early May, HRW reported [JURIST report] such violation when government forces killed at least 95 civilians in the province of Idlib during ceasefire negotiations. In April, HRW released [JURIST report] a report showing that Syrian security forces have executed more than 100 civilians and opposition fighters.
[JURIST] Libya will begin the prosecution of senior officials who served under former leader Muammar Gaddafi [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive] in June, Prosecutor-General Abdul Azizi al-Hassadi told reporters on Thursday. The trials will begin with the prosecution of former spy chief Buzeid Dorda. The Prosecutor-General's announcement comes after the Libyan government formally challenged [JURIST report] the right of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to try Saif al-Islam Gaddafi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], Muammar Gaddafi's son. Libya argued that under Article 17 of the Rome Statute [text], the ICC does not have jurisdiction when "[t]he case is being investigated or prosecuted by a State which has jurisdiction over it, unless the State is unwilling or unable genuinely to carry out the investigation or prosecution." Since the Libyan national judiciary is actively investigating Saif al-Islam, Libya asserted that the ICC does not have jurisdiction. The trials of officials like Dorda are being considered by some as test cases [Reuters report] of Libya's ability to try high-profile Gaddafi associates.
The issue of which court is going to try Saif al-Islam has been in dispute since he was captured [JURIST report] by Libyan rebel forces in November. In April ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] stated that the maximum penalty for Saif al-Islam in the ICC would be life in prison, but if convicted in a national court he could face the death penalty [JURIST report]. Earlier that month Ocampo asked the ICC to report Libya to the UN Security Council [official website] for failing to turn over Saif al-Islam. Libya expressly denied [JURIST report] the ICC's request for such action and stated that Saif al-Islam will face trial within the country. In February 2011 the UN Security Council voted unanimously to refer the matter in Libya to the ICC prosecutor [JURIST report]. The ICC claimed jurisdiction over Saif al-Islam despite its announcement in November that it may allow Libya to conduct the trial [JURIST report]
[JURIST] SunTrust Mortgage, Inc. [corporate website] agreed [press release] on Thursday to a $21 million settlement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] for discrimination in the pricing of mortgage loans. DOJ had filed a suit against the company for discriminating against borrowers based on race and national origin rather than on risk. The company allegedly engaged in the unlawful practice between 2005 and 2009 through SunTrust Mortgage's regional retail offices and national network of mortgage brokers. In addition to the settlement amount, the company is required to adopt policies that would prevent discrimination in the future. The agreement came after a two-and-a-half year investigation by the DOJ that reviewed more than 800,000 residential mortgage loans given out during the four-year period. Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez [official profile] noted that Thursday's settlement is the second largest fair lending settlement [press release] in the department's history. He added that discrimination should be abolished by the private entities rather than the government compelling them to do so:
While the federal government must be a credible deterrent to those who would chose to violate our fair lending laws, the best policing is often policing that comes from within. That work is vital to ensuring fair and equal treatment for borrowers. And the success of thoughtful and comprehensive compliance work and attention to fair lending is reflected in the fact that the vast majority of lenders are not violating the law. That is why I believe that SunTrust should be commended for implementing strong fair lending policies.
The settlement agreement was filed in federal court in Richmond, Virginia and is subject to court approval.
In December Bank of America (BOA) [corporate website] agreed to a $335 million settlement [JURIST report] for discrimination by its subsidiary, Countrywide Financial, against Hispanic and African-American home buyers. The DOJ filed a complaint against BOA alleging that Countrywide engaged in discriminatory practices, 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.
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