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Legal news from Friday, August 11, 2006




UN Security Council unanimously adopts resolution to halt Middle East hostilities
Jeannie Shawl on August 11, 2006 8:32 PM ET

[JURIST] The UN Security Council [official website] late Friday unanimously approved [recorded video] a resolution [text] to end the current Middle East conflict [JURIST news archive], calling for Hezbollah to stop all attacks immediately and for Israel to cease “all offensive military operations.” The resolution additionally authorized the deployment of an expanded UNIFIL [official website] peacekeeping force of up to 15,000 troops mandated to monitor the ceasefire and ensure humanitarian access to the region while welcoming the deployment of 15,000 of Lebanon's own soldiers. The text also called for a "long-term solution to the conflict", the "unconditional release" of two kidnapped Israeli soldiers whose capture led to the current conflict in July, and - according to a UN summary - "full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, as well as resolutions 1559 and 1680, that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon."

Negotiations for a resolution resumed this week after an initial draft resolution [JURIST document; JURIST op-ed] sponsored by France and the US was rejected. Earlier Friday, British UN Ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry indicated [AP report] that the new peacekeeping force would be deployed under Chapter 6 of the UN Charter [text]. Israel initially called for the peacekeeping force to be mandated under the stronger Chapter 7 [text], but Lebanon rejected that. A draft of the resolution was shown to the Israeli and Lebanese governments before the Security Council vote Friday evening, and Israeli officials said that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will recommend that the ceasefire agreement be approved [AP report] by Israel.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed the resolution [address text] as providing the basis of a "sustainable and lasting ceasefire agreement," but expressed "profound disappointment" at how long it had taken the Council to act, saying that "its inability to act sooner has badly shaken the world’s faith in its authority and integrity." UN News Center has more, with coverage of SG Annan's comments here.






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Former Wal-Mart exec sentenced to 27 months house arrest for fraud, tax evasion
Joshua Pantesco on August 11, 2006 3:46 PM ET

[JURIST] A former vice chair of Wal-Mart [corporate website; JURIST news archive] was sentenced on Friday to 27 months of house arrest after he pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in January to fraud and tax charges for stealing money, merchandise and gift cards from the store and filing a false tax report. Tom Coughlin was referred to federal prosecutors [JURIST report] by Wal-Mart lawyers after they uncovered $500,000 in losses due to store vouchers that Coughlin used to purchase items and funds he embezzled to pay for the care of his hunting dogs, an upgrade to his truck, and to lease a private hunting area.

Coughlin's doctor testified during sentencing hearings that various health conditions would prevent Coughlin from being safely incarcerated in prison. Bloomberg has more.






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Italy arrests 40 in security sweep prompted by foiled UK terror plot
Joshua Pantesco on August 11, 2006 3:08 PM ET

[JURIST] The Italian Interior Ministry [official website, in Italian] said Friday that Italian police arrested 40 people on Thursday and Friday after the ministry decided to conduct security sweeps in cities across Italy following Thursday's news that UK police arrested over 20 terror suspects in a foiled terrorist plot [JURIST report] to bomb commercial airliners destined for the United States.

The 40 suspects were arrested at locations including "call centers, Internet points and money transfer" offices, according to the Interior Ministry, and have connections to Islamic organizations. Twenty-eight of those arrested are accused of having out-of-order residency papers, and 12 will be charged with minor property crimes. During the same security sweep, Italian police identified 114 illegal immigrants for expulsion from Italy. Reuters has more. ANSA has local coverage, in Italian. Italian authorities conducted a similar security sweep leading to deportations [JURIST report] in the immediate aftermath of the July 2005 London transit bombings [JURIST news archive].






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Maryland early voting plan struck down
Joshua Pantesco on August 11, 2006 2:49 PM ET

[JURIST] A Maryland intermediate appellate court on Friday ruled that the state exceeded its state constitutional authority by enacting statutes permitting early voting. In the opinion [PDF text], a judge for the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court [official website] found that the question of when Maryland residents must vote is controlled by Section 1 of the Maryland Constitution [text], which provides that voting in Maryland is to be carried out on one day.

The early voting plan would have allowed Maryland residents to cast ballots up to five days before primary and general elections. AP has more.






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Federal appeals court rules random NY subway searches constitutional
Joshua Pantesco on August 11, 2006 2:19 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal appeals court Friday upheld New York City's program of random, suspicionless baggage searches on subways as constitutional. The US Second Circuit Court of Appeals [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that the search program "satisfies the special needs exception to the Fourth Amendment's usual requirement of individualized suspicion."

The New York Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] brought the lawsuit on behalf of five plaintiffs who claimed that the search program violated their Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Plaintiffs argued that the special needs doctrine does not apply where the plaintiffs had a full, rather than a diminished expectation of privacy in their bags, and that the City of New York failed to demonstrate that the program was justified by an immediate terrorist threat, or that the program was effective. The Second Circuit held:

that the special needs doctrine may apply where, as here, the subject of a search possesses a full privacy expectation. Further, we hold that preventing a terrorist attack on the subway is a "special" need within the meaning of the doctrine. Finally, we hold that the search program is reasonable because it serves a paramount government interest and, under the circumstances, is narrowly tailored and sufficiently effective.
The ruling, which upheld the December decision [JURIST report] of a federal district court judge, noted that the New York City subway system has been unsuccessfully targeted for attacks twice in the past nine years. The New York Times has more.





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UN rights council rebukes Israel for human rights violations in Lebanon
Joshua Pantesco on August 11, 2006 1:53 PM ET

[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Council [official website] in an emergency special session [materials; JURIST report] in Geneva Friday adopted by majority vote a resolution [draft, PDF text] condemning Israel for violating international human rights laws in the ongoing Middle East conflict [JURIST news archive] involving Lebanon. Twenty-seven of the 47 states with Council seats supported a slightly-amended final version of the measure, with 11 voting against, including 7 EU countries, Canada, Japan, Romania and Ukraine. Eight nations abstained, including Switzerland, although it had been critical of Israel [JURIST report] in the past. The resolution also called for the immediate end to the offensive in southern Lebanon, and for a commission to investigate alleged human rights abuses there. A last-minute amendment broadened a call on Israel to respect humanitarian law to include "all interested parties", but that was not enough to prevent the negative votes.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official profile] read a statement [text] at the session setting out its legal context:

The most basic human right is the right to life: under no circumstances can anyone be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life. I, and many others, have repeatedly reminded all parties to the conflict that in carrying out military operations, they must distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants. Civilians must never be the object of a direct intentional attack. The anticipated incidental loss of civilian life and damage to civilian property must always be proportionate to the pursuit of a concrete and direct military objective. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited and civilians must not be used to shield military objectives from attack.

While effective advance warning of attacks which may affect civilian populations must be given, compliance with this legal obligation does not relieve the parties from their other obligations under international law regarding the protection of civilians. These are some of the fundamental principles that all belligerents must adhere to.

When these legal obligations regulating the conduct of hostilities are violated, personal criminal responsibility may ensue, particularly for those in position of command and control.

Thus, I reminded all belligerents that war crimes and crimes against humanity may be committed even by those who believe, accurately or not, that their combat is a just one and their cause a worthy pursuit.
Arbour additionally reminded the Council that Hezbollah is also guilty of violating human rights standards, citing Hezbollah's use of human shields and missile attacks on densely-populated areas in northern Israel.

The session was convened by request of Tunisia on behalf of the UN Group of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference [advocacy website]. Reuters has more. The UN News Centre has additional coverage.





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France agrees to ICJ jurisdiction in dispute with Djibouti over judge's death
Joshua Pantesco on August 11, 2006 1:17 PM ET

[JURIST] France has consented to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] in a dispute with the East African country of Djibouti [CIA backgrounder] over an investigation into the alleged assassination of a French judge in 1995. The case is now on the ICJ case list [press release].

In January, Djibouti asked the ICJ to take the case [JURIST report] arguing that France has no authority to summon in its own courts witnesses who qualify for diplomatic immunity, and that when a French judge summoned such witnesses as the Djibouti Head of State, "France has violated its obligation to prevent attacks on the person, freedom or dignity of persons enjoying such protection." Djibouti also argued that because the alleged assassination took place in Djibouti, France was violating 1977 and 1986 cooperation treaties between the two countries by ignoring Djibouti's requests for the case files to be transferred to Djibouti prosecutors, who insist they have jurisdiction. Judge Bernard Borrel's death was originally ruled a suicide, before French prosecutors re-opened the case. In consenting to ICJ jurisdiction, France strictly limited its agreement to the subject matter of the application at issue. Read the ICJ press release.






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CIA turns over secret presidential briefing summaries to Libby defense team
Joshua Pantesco on August 11, 2006 12:39 PM ET

[JURIST] The CIA reported in documents filed Thursday in the leak case [JURIST news archive] involving former vice-presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby [defense profile; JURIST news archive] that it has turned over to Libby's defense team redacted summaries of originally-classified daily presidential briefings. The defense sought the summaries to support Libby's contention that he was so busy with security matters around the time of the leak that he simply forget his conversation with reporters about the identity of former CIA operative Valerie Plame. The CIA turned over briefing summaries spanning the summer of 2003, when Libby allegedly told reporters of Plame's CIA affiliation, as well as fall 2003 and March 2004, when Libby was questioned by the FBI and when he testified before a federal grand jury, respectively.

In March, US DC District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton granted Libby limited access to the briefings [JURIST report] over the protests of the FBI, which voiced concern that releasing the secret briefings could compromise national security [JURIST report]. Libby faces perjury charges [PDF indictment] for lying to federal investigators and a federal grand jury about what he told reporters regarding the identity of then-CIA-operative Valerie Plame. AP has more.






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Congo arrests six election officials for ballot fraud
Jaime Jansen on August 11, 2006 12:29 PM ET

[JURIST] Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) [JURIST news archive] have arrested six election officials in Kinshasa for electoral fraud after an opposition group alleged widespread irregularities [JURIST report] in July's presidential election [AP report; tallied results]. Authorities allege that the officials were "caught red handed" tampering with ballots. Apollinaire Malu Malu, president of the Independent Electoral Commission [official website, in French], has launched full investigation into the Kinshasa election officials. In a related development, 15 minor presidential candidates have complained that the international community has failed to react to "massive irregularities" during the election.

Earlier this month the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) [party website, in French; Wikipedia backgrounder], an opposition party and former rebel group, threatened to challenge the election in court if the alleged fraudulent results are not fixed. The RCD noted cases of ballot stuffing and biased election officials during the poll - the first democratic presidential election in the country 40 years - saying that Rwandan Hutu rebels [BBC backgrounder] interfered with the election to garner more votes for Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila [BBC profile]. Azarias Ruberwa [campaign website], the RCD presidential candidate, also accused Kabila's party of bribing voters and threatened to bring his case to the Supreme Court. Though official results have not been released yet, unofficial reports show Kabila leading with 46.9 percent of the vote, trailed by Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba [Wikipedia profile] with 25.4 percent. AFP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.






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Turkish lawyer charged with shooting judge disrupts trial as proceedings begin
Joshua Pantesco on August 11, 2006 12:17 PM ET

[JURIST] Turkish lawyer Alpaslan Aslan, on trial for the murder of a Turkish judge [JURIST report], caused a courtroom commotion Friday when, during the opening of his trial, his request to leave court to pray was denied, and he was forcibly restrained by courtroom guards when he attempted to leave. The prosecution has requested four consecutive life sentences for Aslan, who is accused, along with eight co-defendants, of shooting five judges in May, leaving one dead.

Aslan allegedly disagreed with a February ruling [JURIST report], made by the court where the five judges presided, to permit a school to deny a teacher a promotion because she wore a religious headscarf. The shootings immediately prompted widespread protests in Turkey [JURIST report] showing public dismay over the violence. Religious dress [JURIST news archive] has been a controversial issue in Turkey, with the Islamic-oriented ruling Justice and Development Party [party website in Turkish] demanding that the ban on women wearing headscarves in schools and other public accommodations be lifted while the courts and the military, harking back to secularist policies [backgrounder] set in the era of state founder Kemal Ataturk [profile], continue to restrict Islamic influence on the nation. BBC News has more.






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Kentucky judge rules governor immune from corrupt hiring practices trial while in office
Jaime Jansen on August 11, 2006 11:45 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge in Kentucky [JURIST news archive] ruled Friday that executive immunity protects Gov. Ernie Fletcher [official website] from prosecution for alleged corrupt hiring practices while he is in office. Fletcher pleaded not guilty [JURIST] in June to charges [indictment, PDF; JURIST report] of criminal conspiracy, official misconduct and political discrimination stemming from an investigation into the governor's hiring practices [timeline]. Special Judge David Melcher on Friday stayed the case until Fletcher leaves office, either when his term expires or the legislature impeaches him. Fletcher plans to seek a second term and will remain under indictment throughout his campaign.

The indictment alleges that Fletcher and other members of his administration delved into past political affiliations and contributions of government job candidates, rather than basing hiring practices on merit as the law requires. Possible penalties for Fletcher range from six months to a year in jail and a $500 fine. AP has more. From Louisville, Courier-Journal has local coverage.






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Top Massachusetts court limits misconduct panel's power to discipline judges
Jaime Jansen on August 11, 2006 10:46 AM ET

[JURIST] The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court [official website] has restricted the authority of the state Commission on Judicial Conduct [official website] by limiting the penalties that the commission can impose to discipline judges without the court's approval. Under state law [PDF], the Commission is made up of nine members: three judges appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court, three members of the bar, and three non-lawyers appointed by the governor. The memorandum and order [PDF] issued Wednesday follows a long power struggle between the court and the commission after the commission suspended a county judge for a year without pay and fined him $50,000 for sexual harassment. The court only learned of the harsh punishment imposed on the Plymouth County Juvenile Court [official website] judge after members of the court read about the discipline in a press release [PDF], and soon after ordered the commission to explain why it believed it had the authority to suspend and fine Judge Robert Murray without the court's approval. The court ruled that the commission only had the authority to make recommendations to the court regarding allegations of judicial misconduct, but lacked the authority to unilaterally discipline the judge. The Boston Globe has more.

Allegations of judicial misconduct on the federal level have prompted Republicans in the US House of Representatives to introduce the Judicial Transparency and Ethics Enhancement Act of 2006 [press release; HR 5219 summary]. The bill would create an inspector general for the federal judiciary to investigate possible ethical violations in response to claims that members of the federal bench inappropriately attend all-expense paid seminars hosted by special interests [JURIST report]. The federal courts say such a move is unnecessary [JURIST report], a position supported by the American Bar Association [press release] earlier this month.






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ACLU calls for full investigation into New Orleans prison conditions after Katrina
Jaime Jansen on August 11, 2006 9:01 AM ET

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] and other rights organizations have called [letter, DOC] for a "full and immediate investigation into abuses at Louisiana correctional facilities" during and after Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive] last year. In a scathing report [ACLU materials; press release] released Wednesday, the ACLU described foul conditions for prisoners held at Orleans Parish prisons. The ACLU found that prisoners were deprived of food, water and ventilation for several days, and authorities made no effort to rescue the prisoners until the state ordered their evacuation three days after the storm, when the prisoners were dispersed to prisons throughout Louisiana. Reports surfaced last September that New Orleans jail guards had fled their posts and rights groups accused prison officials of leaving hundreds of inmates to fend for themselves [JURIST reports]. The ACLU sued for information [JURIST report] in October seeking to gain access to evidence connected to mistreatment allegations.

The ACLU report condemned Louisiana and the prison system for its poor prison management, where prison guards said they were "unaware" of any emergency evacuation plan. In conjunction with the National Prison Project [ACLU materials], the ACLU called on the Department of Justice and Congress to audit the OPP's emergency preparedness plans [letter text, DOC]. AP has more.






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UK freezes assets of suspects in transatlantic plane bombings plot
Jeannie Shawl on August 11, 2006 8:48 AM ET

[JURIST] British banking officials froze the assets [notice, PDF; press release] Friday of 19 suspects believed to be involved in a terrorist plot to blow up multiple planes traveling from UK airports to various destinations in the United States, while also making those suspects' identities publicly available. UK police officials initially announced the arrests [JURIST report; Met press release] of 21 suspects Thursday, though it was later reported that 24 people have been detained [BBC report] under UK anti-terrorism laws [Home Office materials]. Metropolitan Police Service Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke said that the "arrests were made on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of Acts of terrorism under the Terrorism Act 2000." Assets of 19 of those suspects, ranging in age from 17 to 35, were subsequently frozen by the Bank of England [official website] in accordance with a 2001 Order [text] giving effect to Security Council Resolution 1373 [PDF text] on combating terrorist activities. Meanwhile, local officials said Friday that police have arrested at least seven people in Pakistan [AP report] in connection with the alleged plot, including two British nationals. Those two men were arrested last week, and a senior Pakistani official said that interrogations subsequent to their arrest revealed information about the plot. Reuters has more.

In the United States, Muslim civil rights groups have urged [CAIR news brief] President Bush and other government officials to use restraint in using terminology describing the plot that "contributes to a rising level of hostility to Islam and the American-Muslim community." In a statement [text] on the terror plot Thursday, Bush said "The recent arrests that our fellow citizens are now learning about are a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation." The Council on American-Islamic Relations [advocacy website] called the fascism reference "ill-advised" and "counterproductive." Reuters has more.






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UN rights chief condemns Kyrgyzstan extradition of Uzbek refugees
Jaime Jansen on August 11, 2006 8:01 AM ET

[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official profile] on Thursday said that the Kyrgyzstan decision to extradite four Uzbekistan [JURIST news archive] refugees and one asylum seeker back to Uzbekistan earlier this week was a breach of Kyrgyzstan's obligations under the Convention Against Torture [text] and warned that the five face a grave risk of torture [press release]. Arbour said that the extradition violates the convention's non-refoulement principle because the five Uzbeks face possible torture and inhumane treatment when they arrive back in Uzbekistan. Arbour urged Kyrgyz authorities to refrain from extraditing any other Uzbeks that the Uzbekistan government suspects of involvement in last year's uprising in Andijan that resulted in the massacre of unarmed Uzbek citizens [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Arbour also called on Uzbekistan to treat the prisoners humanely, to grant international observers immediate access to the detainees and to swiftly try the five Uzbeks. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres [official profile] has also said that the extradition was an "extremely serious" violation [press release] of the 1951 Refugee Convention [PDF text].

In May 2005, thousands of demonstrators protesting the trial of 23 businessmen on religious extremism charges stormed a prison [JURIST report], allowing about 2,000 inmates including the businessmen to escape. In response, the government troops killed as many as 500 demonstrators [JURIST report]. Last year, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan underwent several negotiations to have Kyrgyz authorities deport up to 29 Uzbek refugees, but Kyrgyzstan remained indecisive [JURIST reports] because of the potential for torture in Uzbekistan. The UN News Centre has more.






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UN rights chief condemns Kyrgyzstan extradition of Uzbek refugees
Jaime Jansen on August 11, 2006 8:01 AM ET

[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official profile] on Thursday said that the Kyrgyzstan decision to extradite four Uzbekistan [JURIST news archive] refugees and one asylum seeker back to Uzbekistan earlier this week was a breach of Kyrgyzstan's obligations under the Convention Against Torture [text] and warned that the five face a grave risk of torture [press release]. Arbour said that the extradition violates the convention's non-refoulement principle because the five Uzbeks face possible torture and inhumane treatment when they arrive back in Uzbekistan. Arbour urged Kyrgyz authorities to refrain from extraditing any other Uzbeks that the Uzbekistan government suspects of involvement in last year's uprising in Andijan that resulted in the massacre of unarmed Uzbek citizens [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Arbour also called on Uzbekistan to treat the prisoners humanely, to grant international observers immediate access to the detainees and to swiftly try the five Uzbeks. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres [official profile] has also said that the extradition was an "extremely serious" violation [press release] of the 1951 Refugee Convention [PDF text].

In May 2005, thousands of demonstrators protesting the trial of 23 businessmen on religious extremism charges stormed a prison [JURIST report], allowing about 2,000 inmates including the businessmen to escape. In response, the government troops killed as many as 500 demonstrators [JURIST report]. Last year, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan underwent several negotiations to have Kyrgyz authorities deport up to 29 Uzbek refugees, but Kyrgyzstan remained indecisive [JURIST reports] because of the potential for torture in Uzbekistan. The UN News Centre has more.






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