[JURIST] The Budapest Chief Prosecutor [official website, in Hungarian] on Monday announced charges against a near-91-year-old former communist interior minister for war crimes in connection with the killing of more than 50 civilians demonstrating against the Hungarian regime in 1956. Tibor Ibolya [AP backgrounder], the prosecutor, alleges [AP report] that Bela Biszku helped organize the shootings, carried out by the armed forces, during the country's civilian uprising and fight for independence that played a role in the Hungarian Revolution [BBC backgrounder]. Biszku was taken into custody on Monday and could face life in prison if convicted. While Ibolya made clear that the defendant is in good physical and mental condition, lawyers for Biszku have yet to respond to the charges.
Hungary and several other nations have recently embarked on a hunt for suspected war criminals. In August the High Court of Australia denied the Hungarian government's request [JURIST report] to extradite Charles Zentai, an Australian citizen, back to his native Hungarian land based on the allegation that he had beaten a Jewish teenager to death in Hungary in 1944. Earlier in August Slovakian authorities filed charges against a 97-year-old Hungarian man arrested [JURIST reports] in Budapest in July on allegations of abusing and helping deport thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. In May, a US immigration court ordered the deportation of former SS member Anton Geiser [JURIST report] to Austria for serving as an armed guard at the Sachsenhausen and the Buchenwald concentration camps during World War II. The recent action by Hungarian officials may have been prompted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) [advocacy website], a Jewish human rights organization committed to finding and prosecuting Holocaust war criminals, which initially called on Hungary [JURIST report] in April to prosecute former Nazi Laszlo Csatary.
[JURIST] The Arizona Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that the married owners of a prospective tattoo parlor could bring suit against the City of Mesa for violating the couple's constitutionally protected rights to freedom of expression in denying their business a zoning permit. In order to open their tattoo parlor Ryan and Laetitia Coleman in 2008 applied for a Council Use Permit (CUP) under Mesa City Code [materials] § 11-6-3(B). After conflicting recommendations from Mesa's Planning and Zoning Board and a public comment hearing, the city council voted 6-1 to deny the permit. The Colemans filed a complaint in the state superior court alleging that Mesa's denial of the CUP violated their rights to free speech [Cornell LII backgrounder] under the federal and Arizona [materials] Constitutions. Using a rational basis [Cornell LII backgrounder] review the superior court granted the city's motion to dismiss, which the court of appeals then reversed under the heightened judicial standard triggered by freedom of expression protections. Sitting en banc the state Supreme Court declared tattooing to be a purely expressive activity fully protected by the First Amendment and affirmed the reversal:
Determining that tattooing is protected speech also implies that the business of tattooing is constitutionally protected ... [The Colemans] allege that the City's "planning and zoning code approval criteria, facially and as applied by the City Council," do not sufficiently guide or limit the City Council's discretion in rendering decisions ... The Colemans further allege that they have agreed to comply with all the conditions that city zoning staff identified in recommending they be issued a permit; that the Council has issued permits to other tattoo parlors; and that they will comply with all applicable laws ... If we accept these factual allegations as true, as we must for purposes of assessing a motion to dismiss on the pleadings, then the Colemans have stated a claim under the First Amendment.
Because the city was imposing unreviewable "unfettered discretion" rather than a generally applicable law, the court was "not persuaded by Mesa's characterization of the denial of a CUP to the Colemans as merely the application of a general law that incidentally affects speech-related activities." The court further found that the Colemans also had sufficiently stated claims for violations of both equal protection and due process, but did reverse the court of appeals declaration that strict scrutiny [Cornell LII backgrouder] applied to those claims.
Last month the Arizona Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that a state law requiring all public officials to be proficient in English is constitutional, holding that the English language law advanced the legitimate state interest of ensuring that public officials could perform their basic duties and communicate with constituents who only speak English. The court based its ruling on a provision of the Arizona constitution that codifies English as the official language of the state.
[JURIST] The US Department of State [official website] on Friday said that former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo [official profile] should be immune [letter, PDF] from a Connecticut lawsuit [text, PDF] filed over the 1997 killings [AI backgrounder] of 45 people in a Mexican village. The plaintiffs, 10 unidentified men and women, allege that Zedillo was responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment, and other crimes related to a massacre in Acteal, Chiapias, Mexico, and thus liable in the US under the Alien Tort Claims Act [text, PDF]. Specifically, the claim asserts that the former Mexican president planned to arm and train local militias to fight the Zapatista National Liberation Army [Britannica backgrounder] and cover up the ensuing violence in Chiapas. State Department legal adviser Harold Hongju Koh, however, contended without elaboration that Zedillo, now a professor at the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization [official website] is immune from liability [AP report] because the claim involves actions in his capacity as president rather than as a private citizen. The US District Court for the District of Connecticut [official website] will make a ruling on whether the case may proceed.
This recent lawsuit in Connecticut raises the first Chiapas massacre issue of its kind in the US, and has revived a brutal history that the international legal community has left unconsidered for the last three years. In 2009 the Mexico Supreme Court of Justice [official website, in Spanish] ordered the release [JURIST report] of 20 men and a retrial of six others convicted in connection with the 1997 killings. Those 26 were part of 45 rebel sympathizers originally convicted on charges of assault, aggravated homicide, and carrying military firearms. However, the Mexican court found that the evidence of such charges was obtained illegally, and therefore in violation of the Constitution of Mexico [text, PDF]. Prior to the massacre, tensions had long-existed between the federal government and the Chiapas people over the widespread poverty and ethnic inequality in the state.
[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Southern of Florida [official website] ruled [order, PDF] Friday that a suit against the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] over the agency's failure to report Allen Stanford [JURIST news archive] and his Ponzi scheme may proceed. The suit alleges that the SEC had identified that Stanford was running a Ponzi scheme four times [Bloomberg report] prior to his indictment in 2009 and that the SEC had a "nondiscretionary duty" to report Stanford to the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) [official website]. The SIPC compensates victims of securities fraud. SEC investigators had concluded that Stanford was probably running a Ponzi scheme as early as 1997. The SEC argued that under the 1934 Securities Exchange Act [text, PDF] it had the discretion to decide what action to take against Stanford and thus had sovereign immunity from claims brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act [DOJ backgrounder]. The suit alleges that SEC investigators declined to pursue action against Stanford due to the complexity of his Ponzi scheme and instead chose to pursue easier cases, ignoring several warnings. This is the first judge to rule that the SEC's sovereign immunity does not apply in cases such as this.
[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] on Monday addressed the world's most significant human rights issues [press release] as she opened the 21st session of the UN Human Rights Council [official website]. Pillay criticized Bahrain for its treatment of opposition figures [JURIST report] and its failure to use fair trial practices. She expressed concern over the use of blasphemy laws [JURIST report] to suppress religious minorities in Pakistan. Pillay also addressed issues in western countries as well. She criticized France's expulsion of the Roma from their camps and Greece's recent xenophobic attacks against migrants [JURIST reports]. Furthermore, Pillay demanded that countries abolish the death penalty [JURIST news archive] and stated that the death penalty "undermines human dignity." Pillay's harshest criticism was perhaps for Syria [JURIST news archive]:
The use of heavy weapons by the Government and the shelling of populated areas have resulted in high numbers of civilian casualties, mass displacement of civilians inside and outside the country and a devastating humanitarian crisis. I am concerned that they may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. I am equally concerned about violations by anti-government forces, including murder, extrajudicial execution and torture as well as the recently increased use of improvised explosive devices. Last month, the Security Council concluded that the conditions to extend the mandate of the UN Observer Mission have not been fulfilled resulting in the ending of operations on 19 August. I am deeply shocked by the reports of the massacre in Daraya and I urge an immediate and thorough investigation into this incident...
The UN has called for an improvement in human rights situations throughout the world. In August an independent UN human rights expert condemned [JURIST report] Israel's dismissal of a civil suit brought by the family of an American peace activist. Also that month a UN human rights expert condemned [JURIST report] Iraq for the executions of 26 people and urged the government of Iraq to halt all executions and ensure that all criminal defendants have fair trials. Ban expressed concern [JURIST report] about Iran's human rights conditions and nuclear program during a visit to Tehran in August and also stressed the importance of international cooperation. In May the UN Human Rights Council [official website] announced that it would hold a special session [JURIST report] to discuss the situation in Syria after the massacre in Houla [JURIST report].
[JURIST] The head of the Council of Europe [official website; press release] on Monday advocated for free and fair parliamentary elections in Ukraine as he condemned the imprisonment of former prime minister and opposition party leader Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; JURIST news archive]. Council Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland [official profile] had visited Ukraine to give a speech on the implementation of the Council's three-year €22 million action plan that includes 51 projects aimed at supporting Ukraine in bringing legislation, institutions and practice in line with European standards. During his trip Jagland met with President Viktor Yanukovych and Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko [official profiles] and urged Ukrainian authorities to conduct honest and lawful elections for Parliament next month. Jagland also met with opposition head Arsenyi Yatcinuk and denounced the jailing of Tymoshenko, 51, who has maintained that her abuse of office charges and seven-year prison sentence are politically motivated. Yanukovych will likely struggle to retain his majority in Parliament [AP report] since opposition forces have rallied around Tymoshenko's imprisonment. Both Spain and Switzerland have agreed to send election observers to Ukraine [Interfax-Ukraine report] next month to aid in assuring fairness and transparency. The elections are scheduled for October 28.
Last month the Ukrainian Supreme Court [official website, in Ukrainian] upheld Tymoshenko's abuse of office conviction [JURIST report], reasoning that there would be no basis to rule in favor of the former prime minister and that the prison sentence is appropriate considering the charges against her. During the appeal the government denied allegations that the criminal proceedings against Tymoshenko were a measure initiated by Yanukovych to prevent her from participating in the October elections. The decision came only a day after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] held a hearing [JURIST report] on Tymoshenko's appeal. Last week Ukrainian prosecutors urged the Supreme Court not to hear her appeal [JURIST report]. Prosecutors told the court that Tymoshenko's trial had already established her guilt in the case, and asked the judges to let stand a seven-year prison sentence [JURIST report] in the case. Tymoshenko was not present at the hearing due to health concerns. The hearing has been delayed [JURIST report] in the past due to Tymoshenko's absence. Yanukovych was narrowly elected [JURIST report] over Tymoshenko in 2010.
[JURIST] Oil workers in Kazakhstan face mistreatment and repression [report] at the hands of the government and oil companies, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said in a report released [press release] on Monday. According to HRW, Kazakh authorities and three companies operating in the oil and gas sector in western Kazakhstan restrict workers' rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression. According to HRW, this was the likely impetus for labor strikes that started in May 2011 and culminated in violent clashes [RFE/RL report, in Kazakh] last December between police and workers that left at least 15 people dead. In a widely circulated video of the clashes police can be seen shooting retreating protesters and beating incapacitated protesters with batons. HRW Central Asia research Mihra Rittmann said:
Oil is fueling Kazakhstan's growing economy, but the government and companies ignore the basic rights of workers who do the difficult and often dangerous work of bringing Kazakhstan's oil to market. Workers' rights are being trampled and they have nowhere to turn to resolve labor disputes.
HRW listed the following companies as being complicit in labor violations: Kazakhstan's state oil and gas company, KazMunaiGas Exploration and Production (KMG EP), and China's state-owned CITIC group; Ersai Caspian Contractor LLC, an oil service company that is a partially-owned subsidiary of Italy's Saipem SpA, part of the Eni group; and OzenMunaiGas, a fully-owned subsidiary of KMG EP. HRW also noted the treatment of Natalia Sokolova, a union lawyer at KarazhanbasMunai, who in August 2011 was sentenced to six years of imprisonment [RFE/RL report, in Kazakh] for speaking to oil workers about wage disparities. Despite her lengthy prison sentence, she was released in March [Lada report, in Russian].
Kazakhstan has drawn criticism recently from the international community for its human rights record. In August HRW urged the government of Kazakhstan on to ensure that the upcoming trials of two political activists and an oil worker comport with international legal standards [JURIST report] for fair trials. In July UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for an independent probe [JURIST report] into the December unrest between oil workers and an oil company. In June HRW demanded [JURIST report] that the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan publicly disclose the reason for bringing new charges against a group of labor activists and an oil worker who participated in the December unrest. The committee charged them with "calling for the forcible overthrow of the constitutional order." Earlier that month a court in Kazakhstan sentenced [JURIST report] 13 out of 37 defendants to between three and seven years of imprisonment for their participation in unrest that occurred last December. Sixteen of the remaining defendants faced conditional sentences [BBC report] while five defendants were given amnesty and three were acquitted. During the trial, relatives of defendants threw bottles at the judge, claiming that the defendants were subject to torture during the investigation. In April 47 individuals were sentenced [JURIST report] to 15 years imprisonment for their involvement in terrorist attacks and financing extremist activities. However, the trial and information pertaining to it were not entirely accessible to the public, and the lack of transparency has raised concerns of possible human rights violations.
[JURIST] The trial for Saif al-Islam [JURIST news archives], one of Muammar Gaddafi's sons, will be postponed for five months so the prosecution can obtain evidence from Libya's former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi [BBC profile], government officials announced on Sunday. Al-Senussi was extradited to Libya [JURIST report] from Mauritania last Wednesday on charges of murder and persecution for planning attacks on civilians during the Libya conflict [JURIST backgrounder]. Saif al-Islam's trial was originally scheduled to start [JURIST report] this month. Although the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] issued a warrant for Saif al-Islam for crimes against humanity, the militiamen who captured him insist [BBC report] that he be tried in Zintan, Libya, where he has been held since last year. Saif al-Islam was considered a likely successor to his father before an uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi's regime. If convicted, Saif al-Islam could face the death penalty.
The dispute over who will try Saif al-Islam has soured relations between Libya and the ICC. In August Saif al-Islam said that he would prefer a trial in the ICC [JURIST report] because he felt he could not get a fair trial in Libya. In June four ICC staff members who traveled to Libya to speak with Saif al-Islam were detained [JURIST report] by Libyan security forces. They were in custody for nearly four weeks. Upon her release [JURIST report], ICC lawyer Melinda Taylor said she did not believe Saif al-Islam would receive a fair trial in the country. Three officials from the ICC and the Australian ambassador to Libya were able to visit [JURIST report] and assess the condition of the four detained ICC staff members after their detention. A judicial source in Libya told reporters shortly after their detention that the four could remain in "preventative" detention [JURIST report] for 45 days while an investigation is conducted. The four staff members were detained after Taylor was accused of attempting to give documents to Saif al-Islam that were from his former aid, Mohammed Ismail, who has been in hiding since the Libyan conflict began.
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