[JURIST] A Massachusetts man agreed to plead guilty on charges of attempting to damage and destroy a federal building, as well as to provide material support to terrorists, authorities announced on Tuesday. The prosecution and the lawyers for Rezwan Ferdaus, a US citizen of Bangladeshi descent born and raised in Massachusetts, came to an agreement [Reuters report] for a 17-year sentence in exchange for the government dismissing remaining charges. Ferdaus was arrested [FBI press release] last September and charged with six counts in his plot to damage or destroy the Pentagon and US Capitol using large remote controlled aircraft filled with C-4 plastic explosives, as well as with attempting to provide material support to al Qaeda [JURIST news archive] during its attacks on US soldiers stationed overseas. A physics graduate from Northeastern University, Fergus obtained explosives, three grenades and six assault rifles from undercover FBI agents in the sting operation. He had initially declined to plead guilty to the charges.
Authorities have been tracking down members and supporters of the al Qaeda and other terrorists groups. Earlier this month, French authorities announced [JURIST report] that they have arrested a suspected terrorist alleged to have ties to al-Qaeda. He has been charged with planning terrorist acts and financing a terrorist enterprise. In June a New York native and terrorism suspect pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to charges that he provided the al Qaeda with money and computer assistance. In February Egyptian authorities reportedly arrested [JURIST report] a former al Qaeda military commander at an airport in Cairo. Saif al-Adel [Telegraph profile] was detained upon his arrival after noticing that his name appeared on the passenger list on a flight from Pakistan. During the same month, a judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Kentucky [official website] allowed [JURIST report] certain secret evidence to be used against a suspect who was charged with attempting to provide material support to terrorists and terrorist organizations and conspiracy to transfer weapons to terrorist organizations, specifically al Qaeda.
pursuant to the Oil Pollution Act's amendments to the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) ... [i]n approving the Spill [Response] Plans, BSEE failed to meet its statutory obligations to ensure the Spill [Response] Plans are adequate to clean up a worst case oil spill in adverse weather conditions to the maximum extent practicable, and to evaluate the environmental effects of, and alternatives to, Shell's proposed oil spill response efforts prior to approval.
The lawsuit also points to the extraordinary difficulties demonstrated by the oil industry in attempting to contain and remove the Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC News backgrounder; JURIST news archive] last year, contrasting the "relatively benign environmental conditions" of the Gulf of Mexico with "efforts to clean up a spill in the Arctic [that] could occur more than a thousand miles from Coast Guard resources, with the threat of sea ice and icebergs, subzero temperatures, and darkness up to 20 hours a day." The complaint requests the Spill Response Plans be thrown out and offshore oil and gas activity blocked until BSEE complies with applicable environmental law.
In March, 35 Nigerian villages brought a suit against Shell in a London court alleging the company's slow response in cleaning up two oil spills in a neighboring river ruined their livelihoods. The plaintiffs claimed Shell is responsible for unspecified damages suffered by the villages which rely on the river for drinking water and farming. A similar lawsuit over water contamination was filed in the US [JURIST report] in October. The US Supreme Court [official website] granted certiorari in two cases last October to determine whether political organizations and oil companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, are immune from US lawsuits [JURIST report] under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). In February the Court heard arguments [JURIST report] in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] about whether three oil companies are immune from US lawsuits under the Alien Tort Statute of 1789 (ATS) [text] for alleged torture and international law violations that took place overseas. The court is slated to hear rearguments next term in Kiobel to determine whether the ATS allows US courts to hear lawsuits for overseas violations of international law.
[JURIST] Former Interior Minister of Iraq Mahmoud Thiab al-Ahmed, who served under former dictator Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive], was released from prison on Tuesday after serving an eight-year sentence for his part in draining the marshes in Southern Iraq. Saddam had accused people living in the marsh areas [Reuters report] of being disloyal to the government in the 1980s. The regime allegedly took steps to deliberately drain the ancient marshes in order to drive out the inhabitants. The former marsh areas are now a source of dangerous sand storms in the country. The Iraqi government has struggled in recent years to restore the marshes.
Saddam Hussein was executed in 2006 [JURIST report] and several of his associates have been sentenced to death. The Iraqi government carried out the execution [JURIST report] of Abid Hamid Mahmud, a former bodyguard and secretary of Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive], last month. Mahmud was sentenced to death [JURIST report] by hanging in 2010 alongside former Iraqi foreign minister and deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and one other official, after being convicted of genocide in connection with his service under Hussein. The three officials were members of Saddam's Baath Party [BBC backgrounder] and were convicted for their roles in the persecution of various Iraqi religious parties, including the Dawa Party [party website]. Aziz remains in prison [AFP report], and it is unclear if his execution will be carried out
[JURIST] A senior adviser to al Qaeda [JURIST news archive] was released over the weekend from a detention facility in Mauritania, his brother Sidi Ould Walid reported on Monday. Abu Hafs al-Mauritani [Global Security profile], whose full given name is Mahfouz Ould al-Walid, had been in custody under Iranian authority before being extradited to Mauritania [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in April. Hafs was released after renouncing his connection with the terrorist group and the 9/11 terrorist attack [JURIST backgrounder]. US officials have expressed their concern that the former al Qaeda advisor could again be involved in the terrorist network if he decides not to obey the conditions he agreed to with the Mauritanian authorities.
Authorities around the world have been tracking down members and supporters of the al Qaeda and other terrorists groups. Earlier this month, French authorities announced [JURIST report] that they arrested a suspected terrorist who was born in Tunisia in 1977 and resided in the French city of Toulon and allegedly has ties to al Qaeda. In June a New York native and terrorism suspect pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to charges that he provided the al Qaeda with money and computer assistance. In February Egyptian authorities reportedly arrested [JURIST report] a former al Qaeda military commander at an airport in Cairo. Saif al-Adel [Telegraph profile] was detained upon his arrival after noticing that his name appeared on the passenger list on a flight from Pakistan. During the same month, a judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Kentucky [official website] allowed [JURIST report] certain secret evidence to be used against a suspect who was charged with attempting to provide material support to terrorists and terrorist organizations and conspiracy to transfer weapons to terrorist organizations, specifically al Qaeda.
[JURIST] The State Duma [official website, in Russian], the lower house of the Russian parliament, on Tuesday ratified the World Trade Organization (WTO) [official website] accession package protocol [WTO materials], clearing the way for Russia's membership in the global trading system. Despite stiff opposition, the ruling United Russia [official website, in Russian] party garnered enough votes to approve the WTO membership agreement by a 30-vote majority. Opponents from the Just Russia [party website] and Communist [party website, in Russian] parties, which lost a challenge to the accession protocol [JURIST report] in Russia's Constitutional Court [official website, in Russian] on Monday, voted against the WTO agreement and staged demonstrations outside the Duma. Russia signed the accession protocol on December 16 and needs to complete the ratification process by July 23. Under the terms of the agreement Russia will gradually cut average import tariffs [Reuters report] from 9.5 percent to 6 percent by 2015, while opening up telecommunications markets and other investment sectors. The WTO has 155 member states, with Russia currently representing the largest non-member economy at USD 1.6 trillion. The country will gain WTO membership 30 days after ratification of the accession protocol.
The WTO is an organization which aims to promote the liberalization of international trade and about 95 percent of world trade takes place within the WTO framework. Last month Kambiz Behi of Mostafavi & Associates and Edsel Tupaz [corporate profile] of Tupaz & Associates argued that the admittance of the Russian Federation into the WTO will create stronger economic relations [JURIST comment] with the US, as Russian WTO membership would free the US Congress to continue pursuing efforts to promote human rights and the rule of law independent trade relations with Russia, which would be established under WTO regulations. Just last month, for example, Congress approved a bill to sanction Russian officials [JURIST report] who were linked to the death of a Russian lawyer. In April Anna Heatherington, an LLM candidate at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, analyzed the barriers to Russia's WTO membership [JURIST comment], noting that within the Russian Federation opposition to WTO membership exists primarily in the non-energy sectors, and especially from the agricultural sector, which is largely unprepared to compete in a global market. An additional point of concern has been Russia's inability to fully protect intellectual property (IP) rights, as most IP legislation is relatively new and the Russian courts lack experience and competency in IP areas.
[JURIST] The Supreme Constitutional Court [official website] of Egypt on Tuesday suspended the decree of President Mohammed Morsi calling the dissolved Egyptian parliament back into session. The decision of the court will prevent the decree from taking effect [Ahram Online report] until the court can consider its legality. Morsi issued the decree on Sunday despite a ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court in June finding that one-third of the parliament was elected illegally [JURIST reports]. In response to the decree, the Supreme Constitutional Court issued a televised statement on Monday declaring that its decision on the Parliament was final and not subject to appeal. Although the court said in its decision that the entire body was invalid, the actual dissolution of parliament was carried out by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) [NYT backgrounder], acting as the executive at the time. Morsi issued a statement [Ahram Online report] Tuesday saying that the restoration of Parliament was legal and within his power as the new executive.
Despite the success of a peaceful presidential election, Egypt has faced continued political turmoil since the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak last year. Last week, Morsi issued a decree appointing a fact-finding committee to investigate the deaths of protesters [JURIST report] in last year's demonstrations. A court in June struck down [JURIST report] a government decree that restored broad arrest powers to Egyptian military officials. Last week, a former candidate in Egypt's presidential election and several non-government organizations filed a lawsuit challenging Egypt's interim constitution [JURIST report], alleging it gives the Egyptian military unlimited power. Days before it's dissolution, the Egyptian parliament elected a new constitutional council after lawmakers finally reached an agreement [JURIST reports] on the political composition of the council. Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court in April effectively suspended [JURIST report] the work of the 100-member council responsible for drafting the country's new constitution after ruling in favor of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the formation of the panel.
[JURIST] It was reported Monday that the US will retain control of non-Afghan detainees [The Times report] at Parwan Detention Center at Bagram Air Base [official website; JURIST news archive] in Afghanistan, despite plans to transfer control of the facility to the Afghan government in two months. Under the terms of the agreement with Kabul [JURIST report], the Afghan government is to assume control of all prisons in the country, including the Bagram facility. The US, however, will retain control over about 50 non-Afghan detainees in a separate US-run section of the compound, with US officials claiming the agreement does not cover foreign nationals. The detainees apparently will be held without access to legal assistance or prospect of release. Such quarantining of prisoners and officials' attempts to distinguish between "prison" and "detention facility" have reportedly led many commentators and human rights activists to condemn the deal, questioning its legitimacy. The Bagram facility has widely become known as "the other Guantanamo" since its opening [JURIST report] in 2009.
In 2010 the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [official website] confirmed the existence of a secret US detention facility at Bagram, after nine Afghan witnesses claimed that they were at Bagram. The witnesses say that they were allegedly captured by American forces and taken to a secret US prison at Bagram where they were held, interrogated and tortured [JURIST report], then later transported to the official detention facility in Parwan. A month earlier the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed habeas corpus petitions [JURIST report] on behalf of four detainees held at Bagram, claiming that none of the men had engaged in hostile behavior directed at the US, nor were they members of groups that purport to do so. In January of that year the US Department of Defense released a list of names of 645 prisoners detained at Bagram in response to a Freedom Of Information Act lawsuit [JURIST reports] filed by the ACLU in September 2009. Prisoners at Bagram have launched previous habeas corpus challenges [JURIST report] in US courts but have been less successful than those held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST backgrounder].
[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday urged [press release] the government of Kyrgyzstan [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] to ensure the protection of human rights and the rule of law. Pillay mentioned that one of the obstacles the country has to overcome is corruption, which affects every aspect of society, undermining the "rule of law, the police, the judiciary, and trust in both local and national authorities." She added that corruption has also a negative impact on ordinary citizens related to their social and economic rights. Pillay noted that the continued torture used by authorities and the failure of the government to address the problem should be resolved immediately. Officials at every level who use torture and inhumane punishment should be brought to justice and held responsible for their actions, according to Pillay. Another area Pillay mentioned during her press conference was discrimination, especially against minority groups. She urged the nation's president to implement human rights laws and reforms and noted that diversity should and is the core element of economic development:
If the Government can demonstrate its commitment to implement a comprehensive plan of action on human rights and the rule of lawan action plan that has a real impact on the day-to-day work of key professions such as the police and the judiciaryI believe this would have great support from the whole UN system, as well as from the donor community. The goodwill of some Government authorities and the determination of civil society organizations, including the Ombudsman's office, to bring about positive change make me hopeful that - despite all the daunting challengestogether we can map out a path that will make a real difference to the people of Kyrgyzstan, and act as a positive example to other countries in the region and beyond.
Pillay began [UNOG report] her mission to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] when she arrived in Kyrgyzstan last Sunday. She is expected to start her visit to Kazakhstan on Wednesday where she will stay until Thursday.
Kyrgyzstan has been criticized in the past for its failure to protect its citizens' human rights, especially the nation's judicial system. In December of last year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] criticized [JURIST report] the Kyrgyz Supreme Court for upholding 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] that resulted in more than 300 deaths and an additional 2,000 injuries. The rights group stated that the entire legal proceeding was marked with numerous flaws. The eight Uzbek nationals were convicted [JURIST report] in September 2010 on charges of murder, fomenting ethnic hatred, instigating violence and organizing public unrest. In June 2011 Amnesty International [advocacy website] joined in criticizing the nation's judicial system for its lack of judicial progress. It was reported that most of legitimate evidence related to the June 2010 ethnic violence were ignored by the court while evidence obtained through torture are acknowledged. In May 2011 the Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission that was established [JURIST report] by Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva [BBC backgrounder] discovered [JURIST report] that Kyrgyz security forces participated in the violence that killed hundreds of Uzbeks.
[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] on Tuesday struck down [opinion, PDF] a New York City Department of Health [official website] regulation [text, PDF] requiring stores to display graphic anti-tobacco ads where tobacco products are sold. The court's decision affirmed the ruling of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] finding that the regulation is preempted by the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act [text], in which Congress reserved control over the content of cigarette labeling and advertising for the federal government. The act specifically prohibits states and municipalities from imposing any requirement or prohibition based on smoking and health with respect to the advertising of cigarettes. In its decision, the court said that although "the City's desire to tilt the balance more in favor of educating consumers is understandable," they do not have the authority to "require retailers to post warning signs adjacent to cigarette displays," because that power is reserved for the federal government. The lawsuit was brought by cigarette retailers and later joined by three tobacco companies [JURIST report].
Cigarette regulations and warning labels are controversial in the US even at the federal level. In March the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that graphic cigarette label warnings [JURIST news archive] are constitutional. The court decided unanimously that the portions of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA) [HR 1256 text] designed to limit the tobacco industry's ability to advertise to children, including a ban on distributing clothing and goods with logos or brand names, as well as sponsorship of cultural, athletic and social events requiring cigarette packaging and advertisements, is a valid restriction of commercial speech. Earlier that month, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the FDA regulation recommending warning labels is unconstitutional [JURIST report], issuing a permanent injunction. US President Barack Obama signed [JURIST report] the FSPTCA into law in 2009, granting the FDA certain authority to regulate manufactured tobacco products. The legislation heightens warning-label requirements, prohibits marketing "light cigarettes" as a healthier alternative and allows for the regulation of cigarette ingredients. The proposed implementation of new tobacco warning labels has also drawn criticism abroad. In Australia, Philip Morris has filed a complaint [JURIST report] to block new graphic warning label requirements [AUS Health Dept. backgrounder] recently enacted in that country.
[JURIST] Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador [campaign website, in Spanish] of the left wing party Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD) [party website, in Spanish] announced Monday that he will challenge recent election results in court [press release, in Spanish]. He claimed to have evidence showing that Enrique Pena Nieto [campaign website, in Spanish] of Mexico's ruling party, Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) [party website, in Spanish], bought votes by distributing 1.8 million gift cards that amounted to billions of pesos. Obrador's supporters also alleged that some government officials passed funds to Nieto's campaign efforts. Even current President Felipe Calderon [BBC profile] called for an investigation into the allegations of vote buying. His National Action Party [party website, in Spanish] announced that it will file legal challenges related to the election, unlike Obrador, he is not seeking to annul the electoral result. Obrador came in second, 6.62 percent behind Nieto, who won the election with 38.21 percent of the vote. Nieto's electoral victory was confirmed [JURIST report] by a final vote count last Friday. The Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) [official website, in Spanish] recounted around half of results from the election's 143,132 polling stations after finding evidence of inconsistencies [JURIST report]. Obrador had requested a total recount [Telegraph report] after he finished second behind Nieto in the July 1 election. Nieto is expected to assume office in December.
A similar tension between presidential candidates occurred in 2006 when the incumbent Mexican president Vicente Fox [Britannica profile] was blocked [JURIST report] from delivering the traditional state of the nation address before the country's Congress [official website, in Spanish] by protesting leftist lawmakers supporting presidential candidate Obrador. In August the country's Federal Electoral Tribunal (FET) [official website, in Spanish] rejected most challenges dismissing fraud allegations brought by Obrador who filed over 200 separate complaints challenging the preliminary vote count [JURIST reports]. During the same month supporters of Obrador had gathered outside of the FET to protest the court's decision not to hold a full recount [JURIST reports] of July's election.
[JURIST] A Ukrainian court in the city of Kharkiv on Tuesday ruled that the tax evasion trial of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; JURIST news archive] would be delayed until July 23 due to Tymoshenko's inability to attend for health reasons. Tymoshenko, 51, has denied any wrongdoing in the tax evasion case but has stated she is not well enough to attend trial [Reuters report]. She is currently being treated at a state-run hospital for back problems, reportedly a debilitating spinal condition. Judge Kostyantyn Sadovsky adjourned further hearings in the case until court-appointed doctors could complete an examination of Tymoshenko to determine whether she is fit to attend the proceedings. The court had postponed a hearing [JURIST report] in the tax trial in June, ordering Tymoshenko to be seen by the court-appointed doctor after she again failed to appear in court due to health concerns.
Last month the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ended an investigation [JURIST report] into the health care conditions of Tymoshenko, finding that the Ukrainian government provided her with adequate care. 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. Tymoshenko has already been sentenced to seven years [JURIST report] in prison on corruption charges. Last month a Ukrainian appeals court delayed the appeal hearing for that conviction and sentence, delaying Tymoshenko's ultimate appeal to the ECHR. Ukrainian prosecutors have also indicated that she will face charges [JURIST report] in a 1996 contract killing.
[JURIST] The online encyclopedia Wikipedia [website] on Tuesday closed its Russian version [website, in Russian] of the site in protest of a controversial Internet regulation bill [materials, in Russian] to be considered by the State Duma [official website, in Russian] this week. The bill, which gives the Russian government the ability to completely block access to certain websites, is described by its authors as a means of protecting children from harmful content. Opponents fear, however, that the government will use the law to silence opposition speech [Reuters report]. The closed version of Wikipedia redirects users to a page that reads, "imagine a world without free knowledge." The page also contains a link to the site's article on the Russian bill, which it says "may become the basis for real censorship on the internet." The bill passed its first reading at the end of June and will be considered on its second reading this Wednesday.
Internet freedom remains a controversial issue around the world. The UN Human Rights Council last week passed its first-ever resolution to protect the free speech [JURIST report] of individuals online. The resolution was approved by all 47 members of the council, including China and Cuba, which have been criticized for limiting Internet freedom. Last month the Chinese Ministry of Information and Technology revealed its proposed changes to Chinese Internet law [JURIST report] that seek to limit the ability of users to post anonymous comments on micro-blogs and forums. A Bangkok criminal court in May sentenced [JURIST report] Chiranuch Premchaiporn, webmaster of independent Internet news site Prachatai, to an eight-month suspended sentence for failing to delete defamatory comments against Thailand's royal family. Earlier that month, a Dutch court ordered [JURIST report] Internet service providers in the Netherlands to block the file-sharing website The Pirate Bay or else pay a fine of USD $12,750 per day.
[JURIST] Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert [official profile; JURIST news archive] was acquitted of two major counts of corruption but found guilty of a third lesser charge on Tuesday in the culmination of a three-year trial. In a 700-page ruling three senior judges of a Jerusalem court rejected the prosecution's key accusations [Reuters report] that as a cabinet minister and Jerusalem's mayor before becoming prime minister Olmert received USD $150,000 in bribes from US businessman Moshe Talansky, and that Olmert defrauded Israeli charities by double-billing them for overseas fundraising trips, a charge popularly referred to as the Rishon Tours double-billing affair. Olmert was convicted of breach of trust for granting illegal favors to a long-time friend and business partner while serving as minister of industry, trade and labor between 2002 and 2007. Shula Zaken, Olmert's former bureau chief and co-defendant, was cleared of charges [Guardian report] that she illegally recorded Olmert's conversations but was convicted of acquisition through fraudulent means and breach of trust in the Rishon Tours case. Olmert's acquittals were a surprise for many Israeli legal figures, and the verdict is largely viewed as a substantial victory for the former prime minister, who was impeached in 2008 based on the charges, including those of fraud, breach of trust, false entries in corporate documents and acquisition through fraudulent means. Olmert was found not guilty based on reasonable doubt. Sentencing for his conviction will be determined in the next few months.
Olmert has maintained his innocence through a series of scandals and allegations. He pleaded not guilty to the three corruption charges in December 2009, including the Talansky scandal and the Rishon Tours affair [JURIST reports], despite having resigned due to the charges in September 2008. Before he resigned the Israeli police raided Olmert's offices as part of the corruption investigation [JURIST reports] launched by the Israeli Ministry of Justice. Despite his acquittals Olmert is still standing trial for bribery charges [JURIST report] relating to the construction of a luxury apartment complex during Olmert's ten-year tenure as mayor of Jerusalem. The specific allegations are that the project's developers, who also have been charged in the case, received zoning and tax breaks in return for the bribes to Olmert and other city officials. Olmert was indicted on the bribery charges in the case in January of this year after having been officially named as a suspect [JURIST report] in the investigation in April 2010.
[JURIST] The Russian Duma [official website, in Russian] on Tuesday ratified an agreement with the US related to adoption of Russian children by Americans. In a 244-96-2 vote, the nation's legislature agreed to ratify [WP report] the agreement [materials, in Russian] a year after the two countries agreed to sign. Russian officials have reported the abuse and killings of Russian children by adoptive US parents, deepening tension between the two countries. The incident in which a Tennessee woman placed her adopted seven-year-old Russian boy on a plane back to Russia with a note stating that she could not parent him anymore led [NYT report] the Russian government to ban all child adoptions by US citizens. After discussions between officials from both countries, they were able to come to an agreement. With the ratification, it is expected that the ban will be lifted and adoption will again be made available to US citizens. Adoptions will be processed through agencies that are registered in Russia, and the agencies are required to monitor the adoption process as well as conduct scheduled visits. Russia has been the third leading source of adoptive children in the US following China and Ethiopia.
In February, the country's Foreign Ministry [official website] had announced [USA Today report] that it will ask the government to suspend adoptions of Russian children by US citizens following discoveries that at least 17 children have died due to violence by their American families. It stated that the ban should be only lifted if an effective reporting mechanism is in place. In 2011, a couple in Pennsylvania were sentenced [NYT report] to four years in prison for involuntary manslaughter after the jury acquitted the murder charges against them but held them negligent and responsible for the death of their adopted seven-year-old Russian son. The Russian government heavily criticized the sentence for being too lenient and unjust. In August 2011, an Alaskan woman was convicted [Huffington Post report] of child abuse for pouring hot sauce into the mouth of her adopted Russian son.
[JURIST] German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble [official profile, in German] on Tuesday defended the 500 billion euro (USD $632 billion) European Stability Mechanism (ESM) [text, PDF] and the fiscal pact before the nation's Constitutional Court [official website, in German]. He warned [NPR report] the court not to delay the country's signing of the two fiscal pacts which could lead to market turmoil. A postponement in signing the pacts could lead to significant loss of confidence in the eurozone and financial instability beyond the country's market, according to the Finance Minister. He noted that even if the court approves the pacts, the implementation should proceed immediately to avoid further harm created by any delay. Although Germany is not alone in not ratifying the pacts, they do have to be accepted by all member states. The funds of the two pacts will be available as soon as member states supplying 90 percent of the funds have ratified them. The main opponent of the agreements is the leftist party Die Linke [party website, in German] which asked the court to consider whether the ESM and the fiscal pact are in compliance with German law. The court had announced [JURIST report] last week that it would hear the challenge to the two fiscal pacts. The court had also advised German President Joachim Gauck [BBC profile] to hold off on signing the legislation until the claim is reviewed and decided.
In June, the same court ruled [JURIST report] that the Bundestag has the right to be heard on the European financial crisis. In the case initiated by the Green party, the court held that Chancellor Angela Merkel failed to notify the parliament early enough about plans for the ESM from its sister party in Austria. Although that decision did not have any effect on the 500 billion euro ESM, it increased the parliament's rights by requiring the chancellor's government to provide notice to the parliament as early as possible in the future. A previous ruling that gave the parliament similar rights over matter concerning the EU was issued in February. The country's constitutional court held [JURIST report] that the use of a parliamentary subcommittee to fast-track decisions related to eurozone bailouts is unconstitutional. Rather, it required the entire Bundestag to overview such decisions. In September, the same court ruled [JURIST report] that the parliament did not unconstitutionally impair its own ability to adopt and control the nation's budget, nor did it infringe on the budget autonomy of future parliaments.
[JURIST] A federal hearing officer has recommended that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) [official website] in Chicago uphold its initial decision rejecting an Indiana state law [HEA 1210 text] that denies Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood of Indiana (PPIN) [advocacy website] and other organizations providing abortion services. A CMS officer found last June that the denial of funds violated federal law [AP report], but the state has asked the agency to reconsider its decision. In a statement, PPIN praised the decision of the CMS officer to maintain its medicaid funding:
We are gratified by the federal government's decision and thrilled that PPIN continues to be able to provide preventive health care to our patients. Through its appeal, the State was continuing its attack on women's rights and attempting to restrict access to basic, lifesaving services such as Pap tests, breast exams, STD testing and treatment, and birth control.
Because the decision of the CMS officer is just a recommendation, the Indiana Attorney General will have an opportunity to respond before the agency makes its final decision.
[JURIST] The Egyptian parliament convened Tuesday in a brief session despite a court order dissolving the entire parliament. The session only lasted for five minutes [NPR report] but was still enough to deepen the tension between the newly elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi [BBC backgrounder] and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) [NYT backgrounder]. Tuesday's session was initiated by Morsi when he issued [JURIST report] a decree [text] on Sunday calling the dissolved parliament back into session. He also called for a new parliamentary election once a new constitution is adopted, meaning that the election could take place sometime later this year. The nation's Supreme Constitutional Court [official website] dissolved [JURIST report] the entire parliament in June after finding that one-third of its members were elected illegally. The court is also expected to rule on three cases challenging the legality of the president's order later Tuesday, while a lower court has postponed its decision in cases against the presidential order to July 17. In response to the decree, the Constitutional Court had issued a public statement declaring its decision to be final [AP report]. Parliament Speaker Saad el-Katatni announced a plan seeking a second opinion from an appeals court on the decision of invalidating the parliament, but it is not clear whether such request will be accepted.
Even after a successful peaceful presidential election, the country is still facing continued political turmoil since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile; JURIST news archive]. A week after Morsi was sworn in [JURIST report] as the new elected president, he issued a decree appointing a fact-finding committee to investigate the deaths of nearly 1,000 protesters in last year's demonstrations [JURIST news archive]. Last month, Amnesty International [advocacy website] urged Morsi to end the pattern of human rights abuses [JURIST report] committed by Mubarak and the SCAF. A week earlier Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] expressed concern [JURIST report] about the SCAF's moves to expand its power, stating that the military's expansive power without oversight puts citizens at risk. Also in June, the SCAF stated [JURIST report] that the new president will have the power to appoint and dismiss the government. With the announcement, SCAF also issued an interim constitution [Egypt State Information Service report, in Arabic] that retains most of its power. However, the plan was criticized by observers who claim it gives far more power to the council than expected while the president is given only little authority over the state's affairs.
[JURIST] The International Criminal Court [official website] sentenced [judgment, PDF; press release] convicted Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo [case materials] to 14 years in prison on Tuesday for his role in recruiting child soldiers. In summarizing the decision of the three-judge panel, Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford said that the "vulnerability of children mean that they need to be afforded particular protection that does not apply to the general population." The court noted that Lubanga cooperated with the court and authorities throughout the trial and indicated that this was considered during sentencing. Judge Elizabeth Odio Benito wrote a separate opinion [text, PDF] dissenting from this view, which she believes disregarded the suffering of Lubanga's victims. Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo had asked the court last month to hand down a 30-year sentence for the former militia leader. The Chief Prosecutor had announced that he would seek the maximum sentence for the Congolese military leader in March, a day after he was found guilty [JURIST reports] of the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities. Lubanga has maintained his innocence [JURIST report] throughout the trial.
[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of Romania [official website, in Romanian] on Monday approved the Parliamentary vote to suspend President Traian Basescu [official website, in Romania] and replace him with a member of the centre-left coalition. Last Friday the Romanian Parliament [official website] voted [JURIST report] 356-114 for impeachment on the grounds that Basescu overstepped his authority by interfering in judicial and legislative affairs. Controversy has been brewing since Prime Minister Victor Ponta [BBC profile], a member of the centre-left coalition, came to power. The suspension of Basescu and firing of other lawmakers has led to growing international concern. The US State Department [official website] said the recent events may pose a threat to democracy [Reuters report] by interfering with checks and balances as well as the legitimacy of the courts. The upheld vote means Basescu will be suspended [AFP report] until the public votes in a referendum currently scheduled for July 29.
Last week, the Constitutional Court also accused Ponta of overstepping his authority [JURIST report] by attempting to seize control over the judiciary system. The court announced that it has alerted the European authorities [Reuters report] of the situation. Also last week Ponta ignored a decision by the court finding Basescu should be the representative of the country at the European Council [official website] meeting in Brussels. In 2009 the Constitutional Court declared incumbent president Basescu winner of the country's disputed presidential election [JURIST report]. Basescu, who has been president of Romania since 2004, has survived impeachment once before. In 2007 Basescu was reinstated after the high court certified the results of a referendum in which 74 percent of voters rejected Basescu's impeachment [JURIST report].
[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Monday set the trial dates for two Kenyan post-election violence cases for next April. The trial of former Kenyan minister William Ruto and journalist Joshua Arap Sang [case materials] will begin [decision, PDF] on April 10, 2013, while the trial of Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former civil service chief Francis Muthaura [case materials] is to begin [decision, PDF] on April 11, 2013. With the scheduling order, the ICC established a time table for procedural steps, such as lists of witnesses and evidence, pre-trial briefs, expert reports and completion of all disclosures by the prosecution. The trial date was set a month later than initially announced [JURIST report] by the court in June.
Last month the ICC expressed its desire to start the two Kenyan trials simultaneously [JURIST report] to avoid any appearance of bias in the March 2013 presidential election. Ruto is considered a leading candidate in the election which will take place March 4, 2013. The four men have been accused and charged with involvement in the 2007 Kenyan post-election violence [JURIST news archive]. Ruto and Sang are facing three counts of murder, forcible transfer and persecution while Kenyatta and Muthaura are facing five counts of orchestrating murder, rape, forcible transfer and persecution in the polls' aftermath. In May, the appeals chamber of the ICC rejected [JURIST report] the jurisdiction challenges in the two cases presented by the defense, clearing the way for trial. The defense lawyers had argued that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the cases. The appeal stemmed from the pre-trial chamber's decision to confirm the charges [JURIST report] against the four men in January. The ICC claimed jurisdiction over the case despite Kenya's calls for dismissal [JURIST report]. The Kenyan government argued that it was capable of prosecuting the accused men domestically.
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