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Legal news from Monday, December 19, 2005




UN torture expert urges prosecution of Uzbek minister in Andijan uprising
Jeannie Shawl on December 19, 2005 3:58 PM ET

[JURIST] Manfred Nowak, the UN's Special Rapporteur on Torture [official website], has called for Germany to prosecute the Uzbek Minister of Internal Affairs, Zokirjon Almatov, for his handling of the May 2005 Andijan uprising [HRW backgrounder]. A group of survivors and the New York-based Human Rights Watch have filed a lawsuit [press release; JURIST report] in Germany under that country's universal jurisdiction laws [Amnesty backgrounder] alleging that Almatov, as commander of Uzbek special security forces, should face charges for torture and crimes against humanity. Troops under Almatov's command fired on the thousands of protesters gathered after rebels stormed a prison [JURIST report] and freed a group of businessmen on trial for alleged Islamic extremism. Rights groups have alleged that over 500 protestors were killed [JURIST report] as the government struggled to end the demonstrations, though Uzbek officials say there only 187 who died. The suit has been filed with German federal prosecutors, who have not yet decided whether to take up the case, and Nowak has issued a statement urging prosecutors to pursue the charges:

The previous Special Rapporteur carried out a visit to the country in late 2002 and concluded that torture is systematic in Uzbekistan. He also said that torture appears to be used indiscriminately against persons charged with serious crimes such as acts against State interests, as well as petty criminals and others. These concerns are exacerbated by the findings of a report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of July 2005, which, on the basis of consistent, credible eyewitness testimony, found that during events in Andijan in May 2005 the military and security forces committed grave human rights violations while curbing demonstrations.

The Special Rapporteur recalls that victims of torture have a right to legal redress crimes of torture, that torture is subject to universal jurisdiction and that States are under the obligation to investigate allegations of torture, independently of where such acts have occurred.
BBC News has more. The UN News Centre has additional coverage.





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Uganda opposition leader pleads not guilty to treason, rape charges
Jeannie Shawl on December 19, 2005 3:45 PM ET

[JURIST] Kizza Besigye [BBC profile], Uganda's jailed opposition leader, and 22 co-defendants pleaded not guilty Monday to treason charges [JURIST report] for which they face the death penalty. Besigye has also been accused of rape and he pleaded not guilty to that charge as well. Also Monday, proceedings were suspended indefinitely by a military court which is considering a separate terrorism case [JURIST report] against Besigye. The civilian High Court had ordered the military proceedings be suspended and the military tribunal complied in order "to maintain good relations" with the High Court. Besigye has called the charges politically motivated and said Monday that Uganda is "a country which has no rule of law." AP has more.

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Mubarak promises continued democratic reforms in Egypt
Jeannie Shawl on December 19, 2005 3:29 PM ET

[JURIST] Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak [official profile; BBC profile] said Monday that he will continue with democratic reforms in Egypt and pledged to work with opposition to move "forward on the path of democracy." Mubarak's address to parliament follows several weeks of parliamentary elections, which were marred by violence and allegations of bribery, coercion, and forgery [JURIST report]. Mubarak admitted the election process was flawed [JURIST report] last week and called for an official review of polling procedures. Mubarak told the newly-elected members of parliament Monday that despite the problems, they had a duty to fulfill the wishes of voters. AP has more.

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Bush calls Senate failure to renew Patriot Act 'inexcusable'
Jeannie Shawl on December 19, 2005 2:37 PM ET

[JURIST] President Bush on Monday slammed the Senate's failure to renew [JURIST report] the USA Patriot Act [PDF text; JURIST news archive] as "inexcusable," saying the legislation is a crucial part of the government's efforts to prevent future terror attacks. Several sections of the anti-terror law are set to expire [CRS backgrounder; PDF] at the end of the year; the US House last week passed [JURIST report] legislation to reauthorize the Patriot Act [bill summary; conference report, PDF], but the bill stalled in the Senate. At a press conference Monday morning, where he also defended the legality of secret NSA domestic surveillance [JURIST report], Bush said:

...key provisions of this law are set to expire in 12 days. The House of Representatives voted for reauthorization, but last week, a minority of senators filibustered the Patriot Act, blocking the Senate from voting to reauthorize key provisions of this vital law. In fact, the Senate Democratic leader boasted to a group of political supporters that the Senate Democrats had "killed the Patriot Act." Most of the senators now filibustering the Patriot Act actually voted for it in 2001. These senators need to explain why they thought the Patriot Act was a vital tool after the September the 11th attacks, but now think it's no longer necessary.

The terrorists want to strike America again, and they hope to inflict even greater damage than they did on September the 11th. Congress has a responsibility to give our law enforcement and intelligence officials the tools they need to protect the American people. The senators who are filibustering the Patriot Act must stop their delaying tactics, and the Senate must vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act. In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without this law for a single moment.
Read the full transcript of Bush's remarks. AFP has more.





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FBI reports rise in US murder rate, decline in other crimes
Jeannie Shawl on December 19, 2005 2:19 PM ET

[JURIST] The Federal Bureau of Investigation [official website] reported Monday that the US murder rate rose 2.1 percent [press release] during the first six months of 2005, though rates for other significant offenses, such as rape and arson, are on the decline. In its Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report [FBI materials], the FBI said that the increase in murder rates was the most dramatic in the Midwest. Earlier this year, an FBI report [FBI materials] showed that the murder rate declined in 2004 by 5.7 percent, the first time in five years there had been a decrease in the nationwide murder rate. The January-June 2005 statistics also show a five percent decline in the nationwide rape rate, a six percent decline in arson crimes, and a 2.8 percent decline in property crimes. AP has more.






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ICJ rules Uganda violated sovereignty, rights in Congo
Jeannie Shawl on December 19, 2005 1:39 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Court of Justice [official website], ruled Monday that Uganda violated the sovereignty of the Democratic Republic of Congo during a 1998-2003 war [BBC backgrounder] and was responsible for human rights abuses and the plundering of Congolese natural resources. The UN court ordered Uganda to pay reparations for the plunder of the Congo's gold, diamonds and timber; a spokesman for the Congo said Monday that it would seek $6-10 billion in compensation. In its binding judgment [PDF text; summary], the ICJ found that Uganda violated the principles of non-use of force and non-intervention in international relations and that it violated its obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law and other obligations owed to the Congo. The Court also ruled that the Congo violated obligations owed to Uganda under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 [text]. The Congo brought Uganda before the ICJ [application, PDF] in 1999, saying that Ugandan forces were responsible for killings, torture and other rights abuses and asking for compensation for the removal of property. The ICJ has a press release on the decision and case materials. Reuters has more.






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Former Saddam officials released from jail in Iraq
Jeannie Shawl on December 19, 2005 12:38 PM ET

[JURIST] At least 24 former officials from the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] have been released from jail, an Iraqi lawyer said Monday. The former officials released include Rihab Taha [BBC report], the biological weapons expert known as "Dr. Germ", and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash [BBC profile], better known as "Mrs. Anthrax". Iraqi lawyer Badee Izzat Aref said the decision to release the officials was a US-Iraqi decision and was in line with a December 2004 Iraqi government ruling, which was not enforced until now in an effort to ease political pressures before the country's elections [JURIST news archive]. Aref said that some of the former detainees have already left Iraq due to security concerns. US military officials in Baghdad have confirmed that eight people, previously designated as high-value detainees, were released over the weekend after a board found that they no longer posed a security threat and that no charges would be filed. AP has more.






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Nazi war crimes suspect acquitted on murder charges
Jeannie Shawl on December 19, 2005 12:00 PM ET

[JURIST] A German court on Monday acquitted former Nazi commander Ladislav Niznansky [BBC report] on murder charges stemming from three World War II massacres in Slovakia. The 88-year-old former Slovak army commander faced 164 counts of murder in connection with massacres in two Slovak villages and a later uprising against the Nazi puppet regime in Slovakia. Niznansky was convicted in absentia and sentenced to death in then-communist Czechoslovakia in 1962, but was not arrested [JURIST report] until March 2004. Prosecutors in the current trial had tried to use evidence from the 1962 proceedings, but German Judge Manfred Goetzl said there was no longer any reliable evidence that Niznansky was involved in the killings. Goetzl pointed to contradictory evidence from witnesses and said that the court couldn't base a judgment on evidence from the 1962 trial because documents showed that Communist-era officials had planned it "from start to finish." AP has more. From Germany, Deutsche Welle has local coverage.

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US House passes detainee torture ban
Jeannie Shawl on December 19, 2005 11:01 AM ET

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] early Monday morning passed legislation that would ban the torture of terror detainees and would require that detainees in US custody be treated humanely. The military spending bills also contain provisions that would limit the ability of Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees to challenge their detention in federal court and would allow information obtained through coercion to be used against Gitmo detainees. The appropriations bills now go before the Senate for final approval on Monday, and if passed by the Senate will go to President Bush for his signature. The torture ban was first proposed by Sen. John McCain [JURIST report] and was added to the Senate version of the spending bill [JURIST report] in October. The White House had resisted the amendment [policy statement, PDF], but last week finally endorsed [JURIST report] the torture ban. Reuters has more.

Previously in JURIST's Paper Chase...

ALSO ON JURIST

 Topic: Torture | Text: McCain detainee treatment amendment | Text: Graham-Levin detainee judicial review amendment





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Bush defends NSA domestic spying program
Jeannie Shawl on December 19, 2005 10:34 AM ET

[JURIST] During a press conference Monday morning, US President George W. Bush [official profile] defended his authorization [JURIST report] of the National Security Agency's eavesdropping on US residents [JURIST report], saying he has the constitutional responsibility and constitutional authority as commander-in-chief to protect Americans from the ongoing terror threat. Bush also referred to a 2001 Congressional resolution authorizing the use of military force against al Qaeda, a resolution cited by US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [official profile] earlier Monday as providing the legal basis for the NSA program [Washington Post report]. Gonzales said that domestic eavesdropping is generally prohibited under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [text; FAS backgrounder], but said that FISA contains an exception when eavesdropping is "otherwise authorized" by statute and that the 2001 resolution provides the necessary authorization. Bush also said Monday that the NSA domestic surveillance program, which monitors international communications of people in the US with known links to al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations, has been effective in disrupting the enemy while protecting civil liberties and that he intends to reauthorize the program so long as the nation faces a terror threat. AP has more.

12:56 PM ET - The White House has now released a transcript of the press conference. In defending his administration's authorization of domestic spying, Bush said:

As President and Commander-in-Chief, I have the constitutional responsibility and the constitutional authority to protect our country. Article II of the Constitution gives me that responsibility and the authority necessary to fulfill it. And after September the 11th, the United States Congress also granted me additional authority to use military force against al Qaeda.

After September the 11th, one question my administration had to answer was how, using the authorities I have, how do we effectively detect enemies hiding in our midst and prevent them from striking us again? We know that a two-minute phone conversation between somebody linked to al Qaeda here and an operative overseas could lead directly to the loss of thousands of lives. To save American lives, we must be able to act fast and to detect these conversations so we can prevent new attacks.

So, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, I authorized the interception of international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. This program is carefully reviewed approximately every 45 days to ensure it is being used properly. Leaders in the United States Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this program. And it has been effective in disrupting the enemy, while safeguarding our civil liberties.

This program has targeted those with known links to al Qaeda. I've reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the September the 11th attacks, and I intend to do so for so long as our nation is -- for so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens.
Recorded video of Bush's remarks is also available.





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Gitmo detainees allege torture in Afghan prison
Jeannie Shawl on December 19, 2005 9:50 AM ET

[JURIST] Eight detainees held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] have told their lawyers that they were tortured at a secret prison in Afghanistan, according to report released Sunday by the New York-based Human Rights Watch [advocacy website]. The detainees separately provided "consistent accounts" of being flown to Afghanistan in 2002-2004 following arrests in Asian and Middle Eastern countries and being held in a facility where they were chained to walls and deprived of food and water. Prison guards included Afghans and Americans in civilian clothes, and HRW has suggested that the facility "may have been operated" by Central Intelligence Agency [official website] personnel. US military officials have refused to comment, saying they had no details of the report and Afghan officials have denied any knowledge of a secret prison in Afghanistan. Last month, the CIA was accused of operating secret prisons in Eastern Europe [JURIST report] and several European countries are investigating those allegations as well as reports that the CIA has transported detainees using European airports. The EU's justice commissioner has said that there is no evidence of covert CIA prisons in Europe [JURIST report], though the continent's top human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe has said that it has gathered information that reinforces the credibility [JURIST report] of the allegations. The New York Times has more.
ALSO ON JURIST

 Topic: Rendition | Op-ed: Exporting Torture: US Rendition and European Outrage






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