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Legal news from Friday, April 6, 2007




Federal appeals court denies jurisdiction over US citizen facing Iraqi death penalty
Gabriel Haboubi on April 6, 2007 5:27 PM ET

[JURIST] A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] ruled Friday that it lacks authority to interfere [opinion text, PDF] with an Iraqi court conviction and pending death sentence for US citizen Mohammad Munaf [JURIST news archive], and could not grant a writ of habeas corpus. The court recognized that Munaf, convicted of kidnapping three Romanian journalists in Baghdad [Guardian report] and subsequently sentenced to death, was at the mercy of the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, and outside of US jurisdiction. It rejected Munaf's argument of rights granted by virtue of his US citizenship, and emphasized that although he is currently in the custody of US forces, those forces are part of the Multi-National Force-Iraq [official website], and cannot be seen in a light that grants jurisdiction by US courts.

Munaf previously sought protection from the US Supreme Court [JURIST report], but the court declined to hear his case [JURIST report]. Munaf says there were errors in his Iraqi trial, and that his confession to the charges was coerced. AP has more.






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UN lawyer to discuss Hariri tribunal delay with Lebanon parliament speaker
Gabriel Haboubi on April 6, 2007 4:54 PM ET

[JURIST] UN Legal Counsel Nicolas Michel [official profile] will meet with Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri [Wikipedia profile] about the latter's efforts at stalling the establishment of an international tribunal to probe the 2005 assassination [JURIST news archive] of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri [official website], UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters [press release] Thursday. Earlier this week the anti-Syrian majority in the Lebanese parliament approved a petition [JURIST report] asking Ki-moon to mandate a tribunal. The UN signed a tribunal agreement [JURIST report] with Lebanon in February, but Berri, a Syrian ally, has refused to allow a vote to ratify the tribunal agreement until the idea is approved by President Emile Lahoud [official website], another pro-Syria politician. Both the President and the speaker cite concerns that some might use the investigation for "political ends." Berri has asked to meet with Michel in conferences hosted by Saudi Arabia as a way of working around the deadlock.

Ki-moon has expressed hope for building a consensus in the Lebanese government, and said he would prefer to not mandate a tribunal. Hariri and 22 others were killed in a massive explosion on the Beirut waterfront. Syria is widely believed to have been involved. UPI has more.






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Europe rights court orders Russia to compensate Chechen woman
Gabriel Haboubi on April 6, 2007 3:43 PM ET

[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] Friday ordered Russia to compensate a Chechen woman [opinion text; press release] for the disappearance and alleged killing of her husband in 2000. Applicant Asmart Magomedovna Baysayeva's husband disappeared on his way to work, a trip that took him through a checkpoint manned by the Russian military [official website, in Russian]. Despite Russian claims that her husband was not one of a number of checkpoint detainees, numerous witnesses told Baysayeva that they saw Russian soldiers taking him away. A masked man in a soldier uniform later contacted her and sold her an amateur video of Russian soldiers beating her husband and taking him to some abandoned buildings. It was later revealed that the prosecutor's office knew of this tape, but all investigations into the matter failed to identify those responsible and no charges were ever brought. The Russian government maintains that the investigation is ongoing, despite having been adjourned and reopened more than 12 times. In finding that Russia failed in its duty to protect Baysayeva's husband and to properly investigate his disappearance, ECHR awarded her approximately 52,000 Euros, as well as court costs.

Last month, following the release of a report [JURIST report] from the Council of Europe's European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) [official website] calling on Russia to investigate such allegations [JURIST report], the president-elect of Russia's Chechen Republic [official website, in Russian] accused Russian authorities of torturing Chechen detainees [JURIST report]. MosNews has more. Reuters has additional coverage.






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New Mexico first state to grant legal immunity for drug overdose reporting
Stefanie Presley on April 6, 2007 2:28 PM ET

[JURIST] New Mexico [JURIST news archive] Gov. Bill Richardson (D) [official website] has signed into law a groundbreaking bill [PDF text] designed to promote drug overdose reporting by granting limited immunity from drug possession charges for those drug users, family members and acquaintances who make the 911 call. The measure is the first such legislation to be adopted by any US state. Richardson, who is currently seeking the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, said in statement earlier this week:

If we can encourage people to save themselves or others from a drug-related death or trauma, then we should do that. This bill will encourage families and friends of addicts to seek medical care and prevent their loved one from dying.
In 2005, New Mexico reported more than 300 unintentional deaths from overdoses of illicit or prescription drugs, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services [official website; JURIST news archive].

This is the second drug-related bill signed into law in New Mexico this week. On Monday, Gov. Robinson signed [JURIST report] the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, which legalized the use of medical marijuana [JURIST news archive] for treatment of certain conditions and symptoms. AP has more.





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Japanese expert panel to begin reviewing pacifist constitution
Michael Sung on April 6, 2007 2:11 PM ET

[JURIST] A panel of Japanese experts will begin reviewing the Japanese constitution [text] later this month to determine whether Japan needs to revise Article 9 [text; Wikipedia backgrounder], which has been interpreted to bar Japan [JURIST news archive] from maintaining military forces and from using force in international conflicts except in self-defense, Kyodo News Service reported Friday. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe [official website; BBC profile] and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki [official profile] have reportedly said that the decision to alter the provision has not been finalized, although they reiterated the need for reviewing the restrictions due to fears that the Article 9 provision could hinder Japan's ability to respond to crises [JURIST report]. A poll released Friday by the Yomiuri Shimbun [media website, English] showed that only 46 percent of Japanese want to amend Japan's constitution, a drop of 9 percentage points since 2006. The paper reported that this was the third straight year that support for amending the pacifist provision had fallen. The poll also found that 39 percent of Japanese were opposed to the constitutional changes, a rise of 7 percentage points.

In December of last year, Abe outlined plans to reform the constitution [JURIST report] during his time in office. Abe assumed office in September after running on a campaign platform promoting changes to the constitution. Also in December, the upper house of the Japanese parliament passed a bill [JURIST report] elevating the Defense Agency [official website] to its pre-World War II status as a full ministry. UPI has more. AFP has additional coverage.






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Cambodia judges blame international colleagues for Khmer Rouge tribunal delay
James M Yoch Jr on April 6, 2007 1:59 PM ET

[JURIST] Cambodian judges on the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] fired back at their international counterparts on Friday with a statement accusing the international judges of deliberately delaying the trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders by threatening to postpone [JURIST report] the April 30 meeting to draft the ECCC's internal rules. The international judges on Tuesday announced that they would not attend the meeting if the Cambodian Bar Association (BAKC) refuses to withdraw its demand that foreign lawyers pay a $4,900 fee to join the BAKC and represent defendants in the ECCC. The Cambodian judges contend that the dispute over bar fees should not affect the internal rules meeting since they are not related to the procedures of the ECCC. Both NGOs and international ECCC judges protested the fees [JURIST report] for fear they will discourage volunteer lawyers from offering their services and will prompt complaints that defendants have not been given a free choice of counsel. The ECCC has given the Bar Association until the end of the month to reconsider its position, at which point they may proceed without the BAKC's input.

Cambodia's 1975-79 Khmer Rouge [MIPT backgrounder] regime was responsible for the deaths of over 1.7 million people from genocide, disease and malnutrition. The ECCC was created to investigate and prosecute instances of human rights violations by a 2001 agreement between Cambodia and the UN. Prosecutors are expected to indict about 10 defendants; however, trials which were scheduled to begin in mid-2007 have been delayed for several months [JURIST report] due to disagreements over procedural rules. The Bar Association has blamed delays on the ECCC [JURIST report]. DPA has more.






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North Carolina Senate passes resolution apologizing for slavery
JURIST Staff on April 6, 2007 1:38 PM ET

[JURIST] The North Carolina Senate [official website] passed a joint resolution [text] Thursday apologizing for the state government's role in the practice of slavery, detailing various legal steps in the 17th through the 20th centuries which had suppressed the freedom of black people in the state and expressing "its profound contrition for the official acts that sanctioned and perpetuated the denial of basic human rights and dignity to fellow humans." In order to take formal effect, the North Carolina House [official website] has to approve the resolution.

The North Carolina measure follows the lead of lawmakers in neighboring Virginia who passed a resolution apologizing for slavery [JURIST report] last February. Missouri [bill text] and Georgia [bill text] are also considering similar legislation. AP has more.






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Rwanda ex-president freed from prison after pardon
James M Yoch Jr on April 6, 2007 1:38 PM ET

[JURIST] Rwandan President Paul Kagame [BBC profile] has pardoned former President Pasteur Bizimungu [BBC profile], freeing him Friday from a 15-year prison sentence [JURIST report] handed down in 2004 for inciting violence, embezzlement, organizing a militia, and associating with criminals. Bizimungu's release comes nearly a year after Bizimungu sent Kagame a letter in May 2006 asking for clemency [JURIST report], saying that he "never intended to commit any crime" and that his release would be "for the good of the nation."

Bizimungu had appealed his conviction [JURIST report] to the Rwandan Supreme Court, but the court rejected Bizimungu's arguments [JURIST report] that his arrest and conviction had been politically motivated and that he should not have been convicted on charges different from those on which he was arrested. Kagame, a Tutsi, served as vice-president while Bizimungu, a Hutu, was president. Their term in office was meant to unify the country following the 1994 genocide [BBC backgrounder; HRW backgrounder]. Reuters has more.






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China cabinet bans human organ sales
James M Yoch Jr on April 6, 2007 1:12 PM ET

[JURIST] China's State Council [official backgrounder] on Friday banned the sale of human organs used for transplants effective May 1. The new regulation prohibits individuals and organizations from trading organs, such as hearts, lungs, and kidneys, following allegations of involuntary donations and international criticism [JURIST report] that human organs taken from executed prisoners were sold to foreigners. The regulation only bans the sale of organs; sales of human tissue, such as marrow, cornea and cells, are still permitted.

Last month, an anonymous senior Chinese Supreme Court [official website] official told [JURIST report] the state Xinhua News Agency that China uses the same strict organ donation procedures when accepting organs from executed criminals as it does with any other organ donations, but doubt exists as to how the requirement for informed consent [JURIST report] is enforced. Last March, the Chinese Ministry of Health [official website, in Chinese] issued a general ban on the sale of human organs [JURIST report] that took effect on July 1, 2006. The Ministry also issued new regulations [JURIST report] in August 2006 to counter unauthorized international trade in organs, including rules that would restrict the number of hospitals permitted to perform transplants. Reuters has more. Xinhua has local coverage.






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Ethiopia pressed to reveal details of secret prisons
Lisl Brunner on April 6, 2007 12:55 PM ET

[JURIST] Canada, Sweden and Eritrea are pressuring Ethiopia [JURIST news archive] to reveal details regarding the foreign nationals it has allegedly detained in secret prisons in collaboration with the FBI and CIA [JURIST report]. The existence of prisons in which US government agencies have interrogated individuals suspected of having ties to al Qaeda was disclosed on Tuesday after Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] reports claimed [JURIST report] that the US, Kenya, and Ethiopia were cooperating with the transitional government of Somalia to detain refugees from the recent conflict there.

Among those believed to be imprisoned in Ethiopia are Canadian citizen Bashir Makhtal [advocacy website], three Eritrean citizens who were turned over to Somalia after their arrest by Kenyan authorities in January, and two Swedish citizens. Nationals of France, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Rwanda, Morocco and Tunisia are also thought to be detained there. Investigations of the US rendition program [JURIST news archive] have so far focused primarily on Europe, where reports revealed that sixteen EU member states [JURIST report] were involved at some level in the operation of CIA secret prisons [JURIST news archive] and rendition flights. AP has more.






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Serbia high court upholds sentence of ethnic Albanian convicted of Kosovo war crimes
Lisl Brunner on April 6, 2007 12:27 PM ET

[JURIST] The Serbian Supreme Court [official website] has upheld the sentence of Anton Lekaj [indictment text], the first ethnic Albanian to be convicted by a Serb court of war crimes in the Kosovo region. A member of the Kosovo Liberation Army [BBC backgrounder], Lekaj's trial began before a special war crimes tribunal in Serbia in 2005 [JURIST report]. In September, the tribunal sentenced him to 13 years in prison [JURIST report] for the murder of four Kosovo gypsies, as well as several instances of torture, rape and sexual molestation committed in 1999.

Lekaj, 26, has maintained his innocence and has refused to recognize the court's jurisdiction. Because Kosovo has been under the control of the UN and NATO, most ethnic Albanians there have escaped the jurisdiction of Serbian courts. Lekaj was extradited to Serbia in 2004 from Montenegro after his arrest in connection with a car theft. AP has more.






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UN rights chief details Darfur rapes, disappearances in new reports
Lisl Brunner on April 6, 2007 11:41 AM ET

[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official profile] released [press release] two reports Friday detailing alleged rapes and disappearances carried out by militia soldiers in the Darfur region of Sudan [JURIST news archives] at the end of 2006. According to the first report released by Arbour, at least 15 rapes and sexual assaults were committed by men who appeared to be Sudanese soldiers in December in the Jebel Marra region. Noting that some victims were as young as 13 years old, the report said that sexual violence was used "as a weapon of war to cause humiliation and instill fear into the local population." The second report [statement] said 19 men of the Massalit tribe disappeared after they were arrested in September by Minni Minnawi [BBC profile] and his Sudanese Liberation Army [FAS backgrounder] troops. Minnawi is a former rebel leader who signed the Darfur Peace Agreement [US embassy backgrounder] in May and currently serves as chairman of the Transitional Darfur Regional Authority. Bodies of 8 of the 19 men were discovered in January, and Arbour has called on Minnawi to reveal the fate of the remaining men. Arbour called for Sudan to fully and immediately investigate the reported human rights violations.

Since civil war broke out in the Darfur region in 2003, over 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced. Reports by the UN Human Rights Council and the International Committee for the Red Cross [official websites] have documented numerous violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law [JURIST reports] based on interviews with refugees, rebel groups, and agencies and authorities working in the region. The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] is also conducting an investigation into war crimes [ICC materials, JURIST news archive] in Sudan; however, Sudan has repeatedly rejected the ICC's jurisdiction [JURIST report]. AP has more.






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Senate panel wants Gonzales statement on US Attorney firings before hearing
Michael Sung on April 6, 2007 11:25 AM ET

[JURIST] Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website], chair of the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website], asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [official profile; JURIST news archive] in a letter [text] Thursday to provide more details and respond to outstanding questions concerning his role in the firings of eight US Attorneys [JURIST news archive]. Leahy asked Gonzales to submit a written statement at least 48 hours before his pending committee testimony slated for April 17. Gonzales has not yet filed a response to written questions presented to him by the Judiciary Committee at a January 18 hearing.

On Monday, Leahy rejected attempts [JURIST report] by the Bush administration to move up the date that Gonzales is scheduled to testify. Gonzales defended his role [JURIST report] in the firings last Friday, admitting that there has been some confusion, but characterizing his involvement in the matter as being limited to signing off on recommendations made by his former chief of state Kyle Sampson [official profile]. Sampson, who resigned last month [DOJ press release], told the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday that the prosecutors were fired for political reasons [JURIST report] rather than for poor performance as the Justice Department has claimed [JURIST report]. AP has more.






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California appeals ruling against prisoner transfer plan as governor seeks stay
Michael Sung on April 6, 2007 10:42 AM ET

[JURIST] California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger [official website; JURIST news archive] Thursday filed a stay order [case summary] in California's 3rd District Court of Appeal [official backgrounder] to block a ruling unfavorable to his plan to transfer excess prisoners to out-of-state facilities [JURIST news archive]. California had filed its own appeal Tuesday. The Sacramento County Superior Court ruled [JURIST report] in February that Schwarzenegger's emergency declaration [JURIST report] plans to transfer prisoners to private out-of-state facilities violated state law and the state's constitution because the plan involved contracting private companies to perform jobs usually held by state workers. Two unions, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association and the Service Employees International Union Local 1000 [labor websites] have argued that the transfers violate the state's civil service protection laws.

In February, Schwarzenegger announced a plan to release some prisoners convicted of non-violent crimes [JURIST report] as part of an effort to alleviate California's overcrowded prisons. Last year, a federal judge ordered California [JURIST report] to solve its prison overcrowding problem and vowed to release prisoners early if an adequate solution was not reached. In response, Schwarzenegger issued the emergency proclamation and the California Department of Corrections [official website] began out-of-state transfers [JURIST report] in November 2006. The Sacramento Bee has more.






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