[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] on Monday vacated [order, PDF] a stay of execution for convicted mass murderer John Errol Ferguson. The stay was issued [JURIST report] last week by US District Court for the Southern District of Florida [official website], but the appeals court found the stay to be an abuse of judicial discretion because the district court did not address the factors needed for such relief under Eleventh Circuit precedent. In September Florida Governor Rick Scott [official website] signed a death warrant [text] for Ferguson, setting his execution date for last Tuesday. Ferguson has contended that he is not mentally competent to be executed, and in September Scott temporarily stayed the execution [text, PDF] and appointed three psychiatrists to examine Ferguson. The psychiatrists issued a joint report declaring Ferguson to be sane for execution and Scott subsequently lifted the stay. Ferguson was convicted of killing eight people in 1977 and two in 1978.
In June 2011 the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled [JURIST report] that Florida's procedure for imposing the death penalty was unconstitutional. Judge Jose Martinez held [opinion, PDF] that the procedure violates the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial [Cornell LII backgrounder]. An appeal of that case [text, PDF] has been filed with the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Florida had briefly banned the death penalty in December 2006 under Governor Jeb Bush, after the botched execution [JURIST reports] of Angel Diaz. However, in July 2007 Florida Governor Charlie Crist ended the state's temporary moratorium on executions. The reinstatement came before the implementation of recommended changes [JURIST report], which had been suggested by a death penalty commission convened by Bush.
[JURIST] Guantanamo Bay [JURIST backgrounder] detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri [NYT profile; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday boycotted his pretrial hearing at the facility. Al-Nashiri is accused of bombing the USS Cole [US Navy backgrounder] while it was in port in Yemen in October 2000. Al-Nashiri objected to the use of belly chains while he was brought from his cell to the courtroom for the proceedings. Navy officials have stated [AP report] that while belly chains are used when moving certain detainees within the facility, they would not have been used on al-Nashiri before Tuesday's hearing. The hearing was to determine if Yemen was at war with the US at the time of the bombing, a decision that will be used to determine al-Nashiri's status as an enemy combatant.
Conducting trials at Guantanamo Bay has stirred controversy recently, as alleged conspirators of both the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the USS Cole bombing are being tried. In September Military Judge James Pohl ruled [JURIST report] that he did not have the authority to allow media to broadcast al-Nashiri's trial. In February Pohl ruled [JURIST report] in al-Nashiri's case that attorney-client mail that was inspected at Guantanamo Bay can not be released by the Pentagon [official website]. Days before that ruling defense lawyers in the case of another Guantanamo detainee filed a suit [JURIST report] challenging the order for officials to read all legal correspondence for suspected 9/11 conspirators.
[JURIST] United Nations (UN) [official website] independent human rights experts on Monday urged Colombian authorities to reconsider proposed constitutional reforms affecting the military criminal law. Eleven experts, comprising the Special Procedures [official website] mandate-holders of the Human Rights Council [official website] of the UN, wrote an open letter [text] to the government of Colombia expressing their concern that the proposed reforms could prove harmful to administering justice for alleged violations of human rights [UN News Centre report] by allowing military or police institutions rather than independent investigators to be the first to determine the existence of elements of crimes:
We have noted with serious concern that the constitutional reform project would expand the jurisdiction of military or police tribunals, giving them the power to investigate, process and decide on cases of human rights violations which should be under the authority of the ordinary criminal justice system. For instance, although the current project stipulates that criminal military justice institutions will not have jurisdiction over crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and the crime of enforced disappearances, this detailed and specific listing of crimes - which would fall outside the ambit of the military justice system - allows other international human rights and humanitarian law crimes to fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of military justice.
The panel offered their services to the Colombian government to help develop measures that would advance "the fight against impunity and the achievement of peace in Colombia." UN independent experts are appointed by the Human Rights Council in an unpaid capacity to examine and report on human rights issues.
This is not the first time the UN has called on Colombia to make reforms affecting their government and military procedures. In August UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people James Anaya [official website] also urged [JURIST report] the government of Colombia to advance its negotiations with indigenous authorities in northern Cauca regarding the military presence in the area, as well as other pressing issues. In December 2011 the representative to Colombia for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called for a peaceful solution [JURIST report] to the country's ongoing armed conflict involving hostages held by paramilitary rebels. Also, in 2008, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned [JURIST report] that Colombia faced continuing human rights struggles, including continued hostage takings, arbitrary arrests, and extrajudicial executions by the military.
[JURIST] Egyptian Prosecutor-General Abdel Maguid Mahmoud on Monday ordered an investigation into allegations of forgery during the recent presidential elections. The order came after former Egyptian prime minister Ahmed Shafiq alleged [WP report] that ballots were forged and votes were bought by current president Mohammed Morsi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Shafiq added that previous investigations into the allegations were stopped without justification by the presidential election commission. Shafiq, who left for the United Arab Emirates right after his loss in the elections, has faced corruption charges [JURIST report] of having misused public funds while in office as minister of civil aviation during the 30-year regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Shafiq has argued that the charges against him are politically motivated. He has also noted that he will remain politically active and return to Egypt soon. The call for the investigation came after Egyptian authorities seized Shafiq's assets as part of his corruption investigation.
Shafiq is one of the many former politicians under Mubarak's regime who are facing corruption charges. In August the former secretary for Mubarak's political party, Safwat El-Sherif, was referred to a criminal court [JURIST report] on corruption charges. He was accused of having abused his office by obtaining real estate at discounted prices and illegally obtaining $49.2 million. In July an Egyptian court rejected pleas to release [JURIST report] Mubarak's two sons while they await trial. Gamal and Alaa Mubarak, along with seven others, were charged [JURIST report] with stock market fraud and using unfair trading practices and illegally manipulating the market. Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life [JURIST report] after an Egyptian court found him guilty of complicity to kill protesters during the Arab Spring protests [JURIST backgrounder]. During the protests that resulted in the overturning of Mubarak's 30-year regime, Mubarak ordered government officials to use gunfire and other violent measures to subdue protesters, causing more than 850 deaths [JURIST report]. Mubarak's trial ended in February with the chief prosecutor asking the court in his closing remarks to issue a death sentence [JURIST reports] against the former ruler.
Guinea-Bissau has experienced instability, resulting in several coups, since gaining independence from Portugal in 1974. In May the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] called [JURIST report] that anyone who engaged in violent acts relating to the April 12 coup d'etat should be held accountable for their actions. Two weeks after the coup in April the Security Council called for constitutional order in Guinea-Bissau [JURIST report]. The same month UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] demanded immediate restoration [JURIST report] of constitutional order in the country. Pillay hoped to prevent another coup when she urged [JURIST report] the people of Guinea-Bissau in March to refrain from any violence during the upcoming election.
[JURIST] The Dane County Circuit Court [official website] on Monday denied [opinion and order, PDF] Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen's [official profile] request to delay invalidating certain provisions of a controversial law [text] limiting the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions. The Budget Repair Bill forces most state workers to pay more in health insurance and other benefits and compels unions to be recertified each year. Judge Juan Colas reasoned that Van Hollen failed to provide sufficient evidence demonstrating that Wisconsin would suffer fiscal consequences if the stay was denied. Balancing between the harms of the public interest and of the stay, the court favored the public interest. The court stated that public interest is harmed by the state's repeated intrusion into matters that are statutorily designated as local affairs.
The Constitutions are the fundamental expressions of the will of the people acting in their sovereign capacity. Even laws enacted by the legislature and governor, though they may manifest the popular will of their time, are subordinate to them. Even a temporary infringement of fundamental rights of speech and association protected by the Constitutions is an irreparable harm. That infringement becomes all the more substantial when multiplied by the tens of thousands of affected municipal employees (assuming defendants' initial argument that thousands of local governments are affected is correct). Granting a stay would allow that substantial harm to that fundamental public interest to continue.
As a result of this denial, the court's September 14 decision and order [JURIST report] ruling that the Budget Repair Bill violated union workers' rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association and equal protection under the US and Wisconsin constitutions will remain in effect until Van Hollen's appeal [JURIST report] is ruled on.
The Budget Repair Bill has been the subject of copious legal and political controversy since its passage in March 2011. In July the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to reopen a case challenging the Budget Repair Bill because of a justice's refusal to recuse himself [JURIST report]. The Supreme Court's upholding of the Budget Repair Bill overruled a Dane County Circuit Court's decision [JURIST report] last year that struck down the law for violations of the open meetings rule.
[JURIST] Iran hanged ten men on Monday despite requests from the United Nations (UN) [official website] and Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website; press release] to stay the executions. According to the Iranian judiciary [Reuters report] those who were killed were members of two drug smuggling gangs. One of the men, Saeed Sedeghi, was a shop worker who was convicted on drug charges and allegedly tortured and subjected to mock execution [AI report] while serving in time in Iran's notorious Evin Prison in Tehran. AI reported that Sedeghi was allowed to meet briefly with his mother before his execution and that his body was returned to his family afterward. Prior to the executions Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme Ann Harrison contended that drug-related offenses do not rise to the level of most serious crimes that would permit the use of the death penalty under international law:
Iranian authorities know full well that executing people for drugs offences is contrary to international human rights standards. Executing Saeed Sedeghi and possibly others in a few hours' time, in Tehran's Evin Prison, will do nothing to solve Iran's ever-growing drugs problem but will inflict needless suffering on Iranian families.
Iran serves as a narcotics smuggling route for neighboring Afghanistan, which produces 90 percent of the world's opium. According to AI there is no clear evidence that the death penalty has had any identifiable effect in deterring drug-related offenses. Iran is second only to China in executions and reportedly executed at least 368 people so far this year, including 136 executions that have yet to be formally announced.
Iran's human rights record has come under international scrutiny recently. In October a UN official on released a report indicating that the government of Iran is torturing human rights activists [JURIST report] and threatening the activists' families with rape or death. In a report to the UN General Assembly UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran Ahmed Shaheed declared that human rights activists in Iran are being subjected to beatings, mock hangings, sleep deprivation and threats that their family members will be killed or raped. Also in October the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urged Iran [JURIST report] to halt all executions because the government has failed to provide the accused with fair trials and due process of law. In June three UN Special Rapporteurs condemned [JURIST report] Iran for executing four members of the Ahwazi Arab minority without providing them fair trials.
[JURIST] A Bahrain appeals court upheld verdicts against two teachers on Sunday for organizing a teachers' strike early last year to support anti-government protests [JURIST news archive]. At their first hearing in front of a military tribunal, the pair were convicted of using their positions as vice-president and president of the Bahrain Teachers' Association (BTA) to attempt to overthrow the Bahraini government through a teachers' strike that halted the educational process and "incited hatred" against the regime. No evidence [AI backgrounder] has been presented that they used or advocated violence of any means. Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb was sentenced to five years in prison while Jalila al-Salman was given a six-month sentence. Abu Dheeb has been detained for 18 months. Al-Salman was in confinement for five months but was released on bail. However, al-Salman has alleged torture while being detained.
Bahrain has faced international criticism for its crackdown against dissidents since anti-government protests began last year. Last week Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged Bahrain's court of appeals to overturn [press release] the conviction of human right advocate Nabeel Rajab [JURIST news archive]. HRW contends that there is no evidence of Rajab participating in violence and that his conviction is a violation of his right to peaceful assembly. Earlier this month the Bahrain Court of Cassation upheld jail sentences [JURIST report] for nine medics convicted for their involvement in Bahrain's pro-democracy uprisingAccording to BNA, the medics were working at Salmaniya Medical Complex [official website], and, during the time of the uprising, "took over the complex, detained and imprisoned kidnapped persons, and transformed the hospital to a place of illegal gathering and strikes, in violation of laws." Last month government officials pledged to fulfill [JURIST report] the 158 recommendations included in the UN Universal Periodic Review [materials] regarding human rights abuses against political opposition. HRW called on Bahrain to follow through with their promises, but raised doubts as to whether the government is fully committed to reform.
[JURIST] The UK Royal Courts of Justice [official website] on Tuesday are scheduled to hear the lawsuit of a Pakistani citizen who sued the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office [official website] in order to discover the extent and lawfulness of UK government aid to US unmanned drone [JURIST news archive] strikes in Pakistan. Noor Khan, represented by Reprieve [advocacy website; press release], lives in Miranshah, North Waziristan Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) [official website] of Pakistan. Khan's father was killed in a March 2011 drone strike in North Waziristan that killed at least 44 people when it hit a community council meeting that intelligence services targeted as a meeting place for militants. Khan and his representatives are not seeking more information on that particular attack, simply the extent that the UK is aiding the US in drone efforts and for the court to evaluate if those strikes violate international war crimes laws:
As CIA and [Government Communications Headquarters] employees are civilians and not "combatants" they are not entitled to the benefit of immunity from ordinary criminal law ... GCHQ employees who assist CIA employees to direct armed attacks in Pakistan are in principle liable under domestic criminal law as secondary parties to murder and that any policy which involves passing locational intelligence to the CIA for use in drone strikes in Pakistan is unlawful. Evidence suggests that drone strikes in Pakistan are being carried out in violation of international humanitarian law, because the individuals who are being targeted are not directly participating in hostilities and/or because the force used is neither necessary nor proportionate. This suggests that there is also a significant risk that GCHQ officers may be guilty of conduct ancillary to crimes against humanity and/or war crimes, both of which are statutory offences under the International Criminal Court Act 2001.
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