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Legal news from Thursday, February 9, 2006




French PM presents bill to limit influx of poor, unskilled immigrants
Cathy J. Potter on February 9, 2006 10:01 PM ET

[JURIST] French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin [BBC profile] Thursday presented a draft bill to the French cabinet [press release, in French] introducing the concept of selective immigration [PM remarks, in French]. Under the proposed bill, immigration by highly skilled workers and educated professionals would be favored, but the poor and unskilled from outside the European Union (traditionally, the Middle East and Africa) would no longer be allowed to bring family members to France unless they can prove they are able to provide for them financially outside of welfare benefits. Newcomers would be required to sign what's been termed a "welcome and integration" contract obligating them to learn French, respect French values, and actively seek employment. The proposed bill marks a significant shift in French immigration policy, where historically the primary source of legal immigration has been the family members of immigrants already working in France.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy [BBC profile], who pleased voters with his hard-line response to the riots in immigrant neighborhoods last November [JURIST report], developed and originally announced the selective immigration bill [JURIST report] earlier this week, arguing it is the way for France to remain competitive in the era of globalization. Officials say it is partly modeled on systems already in place in the US and Canada. Human rights groups and opposition politicians have already criticized the legislation, however. Immigration will undoubtedly be a prime issue in presidential elections next year, in which both Prime Minister de Villepin and Interior Minister Sarkozy are expected to run. The International Herald Tribune has more. Le Figaro has local coverage and Le Monde has additional coverage [both in French].






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Italy may try CIA agents in absentia for Milan abduction of imam
Cathy J. Potter on February 9, 2006 7:55 PM ET

[JURIST] A senior Italian judicial source who asked not to be named has said that the 22 CIA agents accused of kidnapping Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr [Wikipedia profile] in Milan and transporting him out of the country in 2003 in an instance of extraordinary rendition may be tried in absentia in proceedings that could begin within a month. In November, the Milan prosecutor’s office filed an extradition request for the CIA agents [JURIST report] with the Italian government. In December the court issued European-wide arrest warrants [JURIST report].

The conservative Italian government, which has been critical of the prosecutorial effort, still has not responded to the extradition request, but in January it did seek judicial assistance from the US in the case, including permission for Italian prosecutors to travel to the US and gather evidence. The US has not yet responded. Frustrated by obstruction from Rome and Washington, the prosecutors may still insist on going to trial, basing their case on testimony from Mr. Hassan himself, obtained via an Italian telephone-tap, and cell-phone records of the accused CIA agents. Reuters has more.

Previously in JURIST's Paper Chase:






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US air passenger data collection program to be reviewed before any implementation
Joshua Pantesco on February 9, 2006 4:10 PM ET

[JURIST] US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) [official website] chief Kip Hawley told the Senate Commerce Committee Thursday that the controversial Secure Flight Program [official website] will be thoroughly audited before the system is considered for use. The program, which would compare the names of all domestic air passengers against national security watch lists, has been heavily criticized by civil liberties groups, who say the scope of the program has expanded since it was proposed. Read the full text of Hawley's prepared testimony [PDF] discussing Secure Flight testing and phasing-in.

In July, a Government Accountability Office report [PDF text] concluded that the TSA violated the 1974 Privacy Act [text] by collecting personal information without notification [JURIST report] and by using the data to test the program without Congressional approval [JURIST report]. Four people sued the TSA last August [JURIST report] alleging that the program illegally collected passenger information during the testing process. AP has more.






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Argentina 'dirty war' suspect arrested in Spain
Joshua Pantesco on February 9, 2006 3:43 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Argentine police and army officer Ricardo Taddei, wanted by Argentina [JURIST news archive] for allegedly kidnapping and torturing 166 detainees during Argentina's 1976-1983 "dirty war" [GlobalSecurity.org backgrounder; JURIST news archive], was arrested in Spain Thursday. He is expected to appear before Spain's High Court, where he could be extradited to Argentina, though he could alternatively be charged in Spain as part of an investigation by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon into alleged crimes against humanity in Argentina and Chile. Last January, the Spanish High Court brought another former Argentinian military officer to trial [JURIST report] on genocide charges stemming from his involvement in the "dirty war." At least 9,000 Argentinians were tortured and "disappeared" by the Argentine military government in an attempt to silence leftist criticism of the military regime. Some human rights groups say the death toll was closer to 30,000. Reuters has more.






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Uzbek courts jail journalist, suspend rights group
Joshua Pantesco on February 9, 2006 3:18 PM ET

[JURIST] An Uzbek court Thursday sentenced journalist Saidzhakhon Zainabitdinov [Amnesty profile] to seven years in prison on charges of conspiring with "terrorists," defaming the state, and religious extremism for providing information to foreign media regarding last year's violent uprising in Andijan [HRW backgrounder] where as many as 500 protesters were killed by state troops [JURIST report]. Previous trials against protesters [JURIST report] have led to 115 reported convictions, with prison sentences ranging from 12-20 years. The Uzbekistan [JURIST news archive] government's handling of the May protests and subsequent criminal prosecutions has been widely criticized by many human rights groups and the international community at large. Reuters has more.

Meanwhile, a Uzbek civil court on Wednesday denied the appeal of the US-based human rights group Freedom House [advocacy website] challenging a ruling by the Uzbek Ministry of Justice that would force the group to cease activities in Uzbekistan for six months. While Freedom House officials believe the decision was motivated by the government's desire to silence criticism of its human rights record, the group was officially charged with offering free internet access to citizens, sheltering unregistered domestic groups, and violating a classified order. Read the Freedom House press release and previous Freedom House materials on Ubezikistan's human rights record. UPI has more.






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Aide to war crimes fugitive Mladic arrested in Serbia
James M Yoch Jr on February 9, 2006 2:51 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Serbian army officer Sasa Badnjar, a suspected accomplice of fugitive war criminal Ratko Mladic [ICTY case backgrounder; BBC profile] has been arrested for aiding Mladic's evasion of arrest, Serbian authorities said Thursday. Mladic has successfully avoided arrest, allegedly due to assistance from army officers formerly in his command, on an indictment [text] for the 1995 massacre [BBC timeline] of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica.

Badnjar's arrest follows increasing criticism from Carla del Ponte [BBC profile], chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website], who has demanded that the European Union suspend membership talks [JURIST report] with Serbia until Mladic is turned over to the ICTY. Reuters has more.






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BREAKING NEWS ~ Senate Republicans reach Patriot Act compromise
Jeannie Shawl on February 9, 2006 2:37 PM ET

[JURIST] AP is reporting that four holdout Senate Republicans have reached a tentative agreement with the White House on the renewal of the USA Patriot Act [PDF text; JURIST news archive], according to Congressional sources. Several provisions [DOJ report, PDF] of the anti-terror law were set to expire at the end of last year but members of Congress were unable to reach an agreement [JURIST report] on a long-term extension before Christmas, and instead passed a one-month extension [JURIST report] that would expire February 3.

A second extension was approved [JURIST report] last week, keeping the provisions in force until March 10. Four Senate Republicans had joined with Democratic senators in opposition to long-term renewal legislation [JURIST report] that did not incorporate greater protections for civil liberties. Further details on the agreement are expected to be announced later Thursday. AP has more.






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Australia Senate approves bill to lift abortion drug ban
James M Yoch Jr on February 9, 2006 2:23 PM ET

[JURIST] The Australian Senate [official website] on Thursday voted to remove the need for the health minister's approval for importing and prescribing the abortion pill RU-486 (also known as Mifepristone) [Wikipedia backgrounder]. The approval requirement effectively prohibits use of the drug since conservative anti-abortionist Tony Abbott [official website] holds the office of health minister and the power to veto applications for the drug.

The Senate voted 45-28 in favor of lifting the approval requirement after two days of vigorous debate in which two members openly discussed personal experiences with abortion. The Australian House of Representatives [official website] will consider the nonpartisan bill [PDF text] next week in what is expected to be a closer vote. Reuters has more.






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Russia prosecutor asks for death penalty in Beslan terror case
James M Yoch Jr on February 9, 2006 1:49 PM ET

[JURIST] Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel on Thursday requested a death sentence for Nurpashi Kulayev [Wikipedia profile], the sole surviving attacker from the September 2004 Beslan school siege [BBC backgrounder; MosNews report]. Kulayev has pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to terrorism and murder charges and denied [JURIST report] killing anyone during the attack.

Kulayev will not likely be executed since Russia placed a moratorium on capital punishment in 1996 as part of their entry agreement to the Council of Europe [official website]. Senior members of Russia's lower house of parliament addressed [RIA-Novosti report] Shepel's request with some sympathizing with the prosecutor and victims' families but have said that the moratorium will not be lifted even if Kulayev is sentenced to death by the court. AP has more.






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Insurance giant AIG settles fraud case for $1.6 billion
James M Yoch Jr on February 9, 2006 1:24 PM ET

[JURIST] American International Group (AIG) [corporate website], one of the world's largest insurance companies, has agreed to pay $1.64 billion to settle [agreement text, PDF] fraud, bid-rigging and improper accounting charges, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer [official website] announced [press release] on Thursday. The settlement, which does not include former chairman and CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg [Wikipedia profile], ends civil litigation against the insurance company filed by the New York Attorney General's Office, the New York State Insurance Department and the US Department of Justice [official website], and will distribute money to investors, policyholders, and other injured states as well as the named plaintiffs.

As part of the pact, the US Securities and Exchange Commission [official website] also settled [press release] with AIG for $800 million. The charges alleged that AIG made multi-million dollar transactions with Gen Re [corporate website] insurance group, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway [corporate website], to improve the company's appearance of profitability. AP has more.






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US stepping up efforts to improve Iraqi criminal justice system
Holly Manges Jones on February 9, 2006 11:25 AM ET

[JURIST] US military forces are increasing efforts to establish a proper professional police force in Iraq [JURIST news archive], but it will take time to overcome issues in the current force including corruption, low morale, and incompetence, according to the US commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq [official website]. Gen. George Casey, Jr. [official profile] said he nonetheless expects to shift security responsibility from US troops to the Iraqi police by year's end. Casey stressed that the success of Iraq depends upon the civil authorities being able to "maintain domestic order and deny [Iraq] as a terrorist safe haven." AP has more.

As part of a general program to improve the Iraqi criminal justice system, the US has also helped establish an Iraqi Correctional Service [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] to operate prisons, court systems, and a training academy for prison guards and administrators. The service is currently operating nine prison facilities throughout Iraq and prison guards have received human rights training in an effort to prevent repeats of prisoner abuse uncovered in Iraqi-run prisons [JURIST report] by US inspectors last year. Reuters has more.






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EU Justice Commissioner calls for media code as Muslim cartoons controversy rages
Bernard Hibbitts on February 9, 2006 11:23 AM ET

[JURIST] EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini [official website] said in an interview published Thursday that the EU may draw up a new media code of conduct to forestall any repetition of the global controversy now raging over the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad [JURIST news archive] in European newspapers. Speaking [interview report] to the London Telegraph newspaper, he noted that Muslims felt "humiliated" by the drawings and urged European media to agree to a charter that would allow them to "self-regulate" when reporting on religion, emphasizing that "the exercising of a right is always the assumption of a responsibility". In this way, he said,

the press will give the Muslim world the message: we are aware of the consequences of exercising the right of free expression, we can and we are ready to self-regulate that right.
The contemplated code would be drawn up by press outlets themselves with the assistance of the European Commission; it would not have formal legal status and would not be legally enforceable by EU authorities against offenders, but could have a persuasive and informally mitigating effect. Frattini first sought to intervene in the cartoons controversy Tuesday, when he issued a statement [text; JURIST report] calling the publication of the Muhammad caricatures "somewhat imprudent," while acknowledging that freedom of expression was a "'founding principle' of most European nations."

In other developments in the cartoons controversy, large scale but peaceful protests took place Thursday in Lebanon and in Bangladesh. In Beirut, where a crowd attacked and burned the Danish embassy [JURIST report] Saturday, an estimated 300,000 Shiite Muslims marched in a traditional Ashura [BBC backgrounder] mourning observation that turned into a mass cartoons protest. The leader of the Hezbollah guerrilla group told the marchers that Muslims would insist on getting a full apology from Denmark and wanted the EU to pass laws against insulting the Prophet. Reuters has more. Meanwhile about 2000 Muslims rallied around the main mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh. They shouted "burn the Danish embassy" and torched Danish flags but took no further action. AFP has more.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused the governments of Iran and Syria [State Department transcript] of encouraging some of the protests and agitation, saying "they have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and to use this to their own purposes, and the world ought to call them on it." Syrian Ambassador to Washington Imad Moustapha [embassy website] immediately denied the allegations, saying "We in Syria believe anti-Western sentiments are being fueled by two major things: the situation in Iraq and the situation in the occupied territories, the West Bank and Gaza." CNN has more.





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Zimbabwe court overturns newspaper ban
David Shucosky on February 9, 2006 11:19 AM ET

[JURIST] A Zimbabwean court has set aside a decision by country's media commission not to license the Daily News newspaper. The newspaper was ordered to stop publishing in 2003 for criticizing the government. In March 2005, the country's supreme court overturned the original ban [JURIST report], but the media commission twice denied their application for a license.

Rights groups continue their complaints over the government's strict control of the media [HRW press release]. Six trustees of a privately-owned radio station are set to appear in court Friday on charges of broadcasting without a license and an independent journalist was arrested last month for practicing journalists without accreditation. Human Rights Watch has said that the "Zimbabwe government is using criminal charges to muzzle independent reporting and criticism." AFP has more; NewZimbabwe.com has local coverage.






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German court resumes trial of alleged Holocaust denier
David Shucosky on February 9, 2006 11:05 AM ET

[JURIST] The trial of Ernst Zundel [ADL profile; CBC backgrounder] on charges of incitement, libel and disparaging the dead [JURIST report] in connection with denying the Holocaust [US Holocaust Museum backgrounder] resumed on Thursday in Mannheim, Germany after being put on hold last November [JURIST report]. The judge had removed two members of Zundel's defense team at the time after one called Jews an "enemy people." On Thursday, the judge also cautioned supporters of Zundel in the gallery that anyone causing disruptions or making outbursts would be removed.

Zundel once lived in Tennessee and was deported from Canada to face the charges last year; he faces up to five years in prison if convicted. Zundel and his supporters argue that he is being denied his right to free speech and likened his advocacy to European newspapers defending their publication of controversial caricatures of Muhammad [JURIST news archive]. AP has more.






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Ukraine president calls for new constitution
Holly Manges Jones on February 9, 2006 11:03 AM ET

[JURIST] Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko [official website; JURIST news archive] recommended to the Ukrainian Parliament [official website] that a committee be formed to draft a new constitution during his state of the union address [transcript, in Ukrainian] on Thursday. Yushchenko has been in conflict with parliament after rejecting their vote to dissolve his government [JURIST report] last month, and has criticized constitutional changes that have limited his authority [JURIST report] and expanded parliament's power. Under the current Ukrainian constitution [text], the president must call for a referendum on constitutional issues, which Yushchenko has vowed to do [press release]. He expressed his optimism in the process by saying:

The completed draft would be submitted to country-wide discussion...and would then be put to a country-wide referendum. [The proposal is] optimal in terms of uniting the tasks of mass participation and the legitimacy of the entire constitutional process. I am certain we can achieve a full consensus on this matter.
Reuters has more.





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White House expresses 'serious concerns' about parts of asbestos bill
Lauren Becker on February 9, 2006 10:56 AM ET

[JURIST] The White House on Wednesday said it has serious concerns over parts of the proposed Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act [PDF text; bill summary], which is currently being debated in the US Senate [JURIST report]. The bill, if passed, would establish a $140 billion fund [JURIST report] financed by asbestos manufacturers, users, and insurers to pay claims brought by victims exposed to the disease-causing mineral, in lieu of litigation. According to a White House statement [PDF], the administration wants "to strengthen and improve this important legislation," though specific concerns were not listed. In a speech [transcript] last week, President Bush indicated that he would support a bill that would pay only those who are sick, would speed up payments and would provide "certainty in the system" to protect businesses that were not involved in creating the asbestos problem.

One of the bill's principal sponsors, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website], has acknowledged that the bill in its current form is not perfect, but has said that what is proposed is better than the current system. Other concerns about the fund include the possibility that the $140 billion will not cover the costs of all asbestos claims, with some Senate Democrats predicting that the fund could fall short by as much as $150 billion. Asbestos [EPA website; JURIST news archive] was widely used in the 1970s for insulation and fireproofing and has been found to cause cancer and other complications when inhaled, although health problems may not occur for several decades. AP has more.






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Khmer Rouge genocide trials to begin in 2007, officials predict
Lauren Becker on February 9, 2006 10:06 AM ET

[JURIST] Officials from the joint UN-Cambodia Khmer Rouge Genocide Tribunal [draft tribunal agreement, DOC; Yale CGP materials] being set up to try former Khmer Rouge [Wikipedia backgrounder] leaders said Thursday that the first trials should begin in 2007. Though no specific trial dates have been set and the tribunal still has not secured all of its $56.3 million budget [JURIST report], UN trial coordinator Michelle Lee said that recent progress [JURIST report] has made her optimistic that the court's Cambodian and international judges and prosecutors will be appointed early this year and that investigations will begin soon after.

Several former top Khmer Rouge officials are still living and are expected to the first prosecuted for their roles in the deaths of nearly one-third of the nation's population from 1975 to 1979 from starvation, forced labor, disease, and execution during the Khmer Rouge's "killing fields" regime [Yale CGP materials]. Two top officials, who are currently jailed and charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, are Ta Mok [Trial Watch profile], the 78-year-old military chief known as "the Butcher" for his alleged role in mass killings, and Duch [Trial Watch profile], age 59, who ran the interrogation and torture center. Time is a concern for prosecuting officials as the accused are aging and officials want to try them before they die. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot [Wikipedia backgrounder] died in 1998. Reuters has more.
ALSO ON JURIST

 Topic: Cambodia | Op-ed: High Time for Justice: The US and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal






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Fresh round of race riots breaks out in Los Angeles jail
Cathy J. Potter on February 9, 2006 8:51 AM ET

[JURIST] Racially-motivated riots again erupted at a Los Angeles County jail on Wednesday, leaving 22 inmates injured. The fighting at Pitchess Detention Center [official website] began when inmates at a group dorm were separated along racial lines. The violence was quickly brought under control, but then fights spread to other dorms. All seven Los Angeles County jails were placed on lockdown after the brawls.

These most recent fights follow a spate of similar incidents that began with rioting Saturday [JURIST report] that left one man dead and more than 100 others injured. A second brawl [JURIST report] occurred on Monday, but only one inmate was injured. It has been alleged that gang leaders outside the jail contacted Hispanic members inside the jail, and directed them to attack blacks in retaliation for a recent assault in South Los Angeles. AP has more. The Los Angeles Times has local coverage.






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Fresh round of race riots breaks out in Los Angeles jail
Cathy J. Potter on February 9, 2006 8:51 AM ET

[JURIST] Racially-motivated riots again erupted at a Los Angeles County jail on Wednesday, leaving 22 inmates injured. The fighting at Pitchess Detention Center [official website] began when inmates at a group dorm were separated along racial lines. The violence was quickly brought under control, but then fights spread to other dorms. All seven Los Angeles County jails were placed on lockdown after the brawls.

These most recent fights follow a spate of similar incidents that began with rioting Saturday [JURIST report] that left one man dead and more than 100 others injured. A second brawl [JURIST report] occurred on Monday, but only one inmate was injured. It has been alleged that gang leaders outside the jail contacted Hispanic members inside the jail, and directed them to attack blacks in retaliation for a recent assault in South Los Angeles. AP has more. The Los Angeles Times has local coverage.






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Fresh round of race riots breaks out in Los Angeles jail
Cathy J. Potter on February 9, 2006 8:51 AM ET

[JURIST] Racially-motivated riots again erupted at a Los Angeles County jail on Wednesday, leaving 22 inmates injured. The fighting at Pitchess Detention Center [official website] began when inmates at a group dorm were separated along racial lines. The violence was quickly brought under control, but then fights spread to other dorms. All seven Los Angeles County jails were placed on lockdown after the brawls.

These most recent fights follow a spate of similar incidents that began with rioting Saturday [JURIST report] that left one man dead and more than 100 others injured. A second brawl [JURIST report] occurred on Monday, but only one inmate was injured. It has been alleged that gang leaders outside the jail contacted Hispanic members inside the jail, and directed them to attack blacks in retaliation for a recent assault in South Los Angeles. AP has more. The Los Angeles Times has local coverage.






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International brief ~ Nepal protesters call for overthrow of king
D. Wes Rist on February 9, 2006 8:44 AM ET

[JURIST] Leading Thursday's international brief, in one of the first directly anti-monarchial protests recorded in Nepal [government website], over one thousand Nepalese citizens gathered to protest the death of a Nepalese protestor [JURIST report] on Wednesday at the hands of the Royal Nepal Army [official website] as the government released the body to the protester's family. Earlier on Thursday, over four thousand protesters were attacked by police using batons and tear gas after they had gathered outside the palace of King Gyanendra [official profile; BBC profile], chanting slogans calling for the King's removal and even his death. Domestic political analysts in Nepal have said that direct opposition to the monarchy is unusual, but once released, the "king's days could be numbered." JURIST's Paper Chase has continuing coverage of Nepal [JURIST news archive]. Reuters has more. The India Daily has local coverage.

In a related story, the US Department of State [official website] has issued a statement criticizing Wednesday's municipal elections in Nepal [government website] as a "hollow attempt to legitimize [King Gyanendra's] power." The US pointed to the very low voter turnout, which early estimates put at less than 20 percent, as proof that the election was simply a show put on for external observers. The US also criticized the Maoist party for using violence in the name of political ideals and said that the only way to solve the issues concerning both the Maoists and Gyanendra was to restore true democracy to the country. Read the US State Department press release. eKantipur.com has more.

In other international legal news ...

  • Indonesia's Ministry of Home Affairs has announced its intent to review all municipal bylaws that contain provisions relating to Sharia law [CFR backgrounder] to ensure their compliance with Indonesian constitutional provisions. Human rights activists in Indonesia have been highly critical of municipal laws based on Sharia law developed since 2001, when regions were given autonomy to propagate new laws and regulations specific to their location, as discriminatory towards minorities. The Ministry of Home Affairs confirmed that any laws found to be in violation of the constitution during the review would be rescinded. JURIST's Paper Chase has continuing coverage of Indonesia [JURIST news archive]. The Jakarta Post has local coverage.

  • The head of Zimbabwe's National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) [advocacy website], which lobbies for a complete redrafting of the Zimbabwean Constitution, has issued a report arguing that external sanctions against Zimbabwe are making the situation in the country worse, rather than better. Dr. Lovemore Madhuku argued that sanctions put into place by the US, EU, Switzerland, Australia, and New Zealand are insufficient in scope to affect Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile], and have only entrenched anti-western attitudes more deeply in the Zimbabwean government. Madhuku argued that unless mandatory sanctions are implemented under the supervision of the UN Security Council [official website], Mugabe will continue to ignore world opinion. JURIST's Paper Chase has continuing coverage of Zimbabwe [JURIST news archive]. ZimOnline has more.





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Drastic force-feeding measures push Gitmo hunger strike to lowest point
Cathy J. Potter on February 9, 2006 8:24 AM ET

[JURIST] The number of detainees still on hunger strike [JURIST report] at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] has dropped to four, military officials said Wednesday. The head military spokesman at Guantanamo also said that prison officials have been using tougher force-feeding measures, including strapping prisoners into "restraint chairs" for extended periods of time to enable them to be fed through tubes and to prevent them from deliberately vomiting afterward. Some hunger strikers have been placed in extended and uncomfortable isolation to deprive them of the support of other hunger strikers. Defense lawyers who have recently visited their clients at Guantanamo have criticized the new force-feeding measures as "brutal" and "inhumane." US military authorities refuted such criticism, saying they adopted the new methods after concluding that some of the hunger strikers were determined to commit suicide to protest their confinement. They emphatically denied that these were punitive measures designed to break the strike. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. William Winkenwerder, Jr. [official profile] has said that the Guantanamo hunger strikes present a moral question: whether officials should allow a person to commit suicide or take steps to protect their health and preserve their life. The World Medical Association [group website] opposes the forced feeding of hunger strikers [policy statement] as coercive.

Defense lawyers also say that the number of detainees protesting their confinement by skipping meals is much larger than those included in military numbers [AP report]. Detainees who skip less than nine consecutive meals to avoid being force-fed are not included in the military hunger strike count. The New York Times has more.

Previously in JURIST's Paper Chase...






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Specter bill would require court oversight of NSA domestic spying
Jeannie Shawl on February 9, 2006 8:24 AM ET

[JURIST] US Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website], chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday that he is working on legislation that would require court supervision of President Bush's domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive; White House position paper]. The bill would allow the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [FJC backgrounder], established under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [text], to conduct a reviews of the NSA program every 45 days to ensure that the anti-terrorist surveillance is being conducted properly. The program is currently reviewed regularly, but by the administration, not a court. Specter said that the proposal would "assert Congress' constitutional authority" under Section 8 [text] of Article 1 of the US Constitution, which grants Congress the power "To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces." USA Today has more.

The White House, meanwhile, has agreed to hold briefings for the full House and Senate intelligence committees [AP report] on the NSA program. Only the so-called "Gang of Eight" [Wikipedia backgrounder], consisting of current leaders of the House, Senate, and its intelligence committees, had previously been briefed, but US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Michael Hayden, Principal Deputy Director for National Intelligence, briefed the full House Intelligence Committee Wednesday, and a similar briefing for the Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled for Thursday. The full briefings come after Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) [official website], chairwoman of the House intelligence subcommittee that oversees the NSA, called for a full review of the NSA program [JURIST report]. Last month, the Congressional Research Service, Congress' public policy research arm, released a report [PDF text; JURIST report] concluding that the limited briefings were "inconsistent with the law."

In related news, the Washington Post reported Thursday that a top Justice Department lawyer warned FISC judges at least twice that information gathered through the domestic spying program may have been used to obtain wiretapping warrants from the FISC, despite judges' insistence that it not be used to form the basis of a warrant request. US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly [official profile], who presides over the FISC, has expressed doubt over the legality of the NSA program and had been assured by administration officials that no evidence obtained through the domestic wiretaps would be used to secure FISC warrants. In 2004 and again in 2005, however, Kollar-Kotelly was told by James Baker, the top intelligence expert at the DOJ, that the information had made its way into warrant requests. After the 2004 incident, an infuriated Kollar-Kotelly complained to the Justice Department, prompting a temporary suspension of the program. Kollar-Kotelly, and her predecessor Judge Royce C. Lamberth [official profile] told top administration officials that if the program were to be made public, as it was in December 2005 [JURIST report], there was a significant chance that it would be declared unconstitutional. Kollar-Kotelly and Lamberth also believed, however, that the FISC did not have the authority to rule on President Bush's power to authorize the program. Reuters has more.






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Italian marijuana recriminalization law faces opposition
Angela Onikepe on February 9, 2006 7:18 AM ET

[JURIST Europe] The conservative Italian government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has pushed through new legislation putting marijuana (cannabis) on par with cocaine and heroine and ending the legal distinction between 'soft' and 'hard' drugs, effectively recriminalizing marijuana use in the country. The law, approved in the Italian Parliament [official website] in a confidence vote, provides for strict sanctions against marijuana users including mandatory detention at home during the night and suspension of driver's license and passport. Those found to be dealing or trafficking in drugs face between six and twenty years in jail along with 260,000 euros (around $311,500) in fines. Critics argue the law amounts to the wholesale criminalization of drug users [Statewatch backgrounder on draft law], side-steps the root causes of drug use and gives incarceration more emphasis than treatment; they also accuse the government of trying to use the law to gain votes in the upcoming April 9 elections [Reuters report].

Under previous Italian law, individuals possessing marijuana for personal use were subject only to a summons and a warning. The new Italian legislation goes against a recent trend towards liberalization in other European states; in 2004, for instance, the British government downgraded marijuana [UK Home Office backgrounder], making possession a non-arrestable offence in most cases, although technically a conviction could lead to a two-year jail term, down from the previous five. Recent statistics have shown that 10% of Italian adults have reported smoking marijuana on a regular basis, with 33% of Italian teenagers having smoked it at least once. ANSA has local coverage. BBC News has more.






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Belgium euthanasia cases double since legalization
Angela Onikepe on February 9, 2006 7:17 AM ET

[JURIST Europe] Statistics published this week show that almost 400 euthanasia cases were reported in Belgium in 2005, almost double the level when the Belgian parliament adopted controversial legislation [PDF document in English; COE backgrounder] authorizing the practice in 2002. Wim Distelmans, chairman of the Federal Evaluation and Control Commission responsible for receiving reports from doctors and for compiling annual statistics, says that the actual numbers are higher than the officially reported figures. About 80% of the cases occur in the northern region of Flanders, a fact which Distelmans attributes to the support of the Life Ending Information Forum [official website in Dutch].

Belgian law defines euthanasia "as intentionally terminating life by someone other than the person concerned, at the latter's request." Those requesting euthanasia have to be conscious when making the request. They also have to be in "constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain" stemming from an accident or incurable disease. Belgium was the second European country, after the Netherlands, to legalize euthanasia [BBC report]. Expatica has more.






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