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Legal news from Saturday, October 13, 2007




Sri Lanka rejects Arbour call for UN rights monitoring mission
Patrick Porter on October 13, 2007 4:12 PM ET

[JURIST] Sri Lankan and visiting UN officials disagreed publicly Saturday on how to approach the country's worsening human rights situation in the midst of ongoing civil conflict. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official website] said at a news conference she would support a possible UNOHCHR monitoring mission as urged by activists. Sri Lankan Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, however, immediately rejected that option. saying the government would not allow such a presence but would work with the UN on the problem. Arbour emphasized the need for unbiased monitoring of possible rights violations, saying:

there has yet to be an adequate and credible public accounting for the vast majority of these incidents...In the absence of more vigorous investigations, prosecution and convictions, it is hard to see how this will come to an end.
Arbour also pointed to the need for investigation of broader human rights concerns, not just those centered around the military conflict.

Sri Lanka has been in a drawn-out conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [CFR backgrounder] rebel group for two decades, with fighting escalating in 2006. Human rights groups have pointed to abuses by both sides in the conflict, but have lately accused the government of an increased number of abuses [JURIST report]. AP has more. News.lk has official government coverage.





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Chile high court investigating judge who indicted Pinochet
Howard Kline on October 13, 2007 3:58 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Chile [official website, in Spanish] began an investigation Friday into whether Carlos Cerda, the judge who last week indicted the relatives of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archive; BBC profile], violated a judiciary rule that "forbids judges from criticizing other judges." Cerda order the arrests of a total of 23 suspects [list, in Spanish] including five of Pinochet's children, his widow, his longtime secretary, and three retired army generals for allegedly aiding Pinochet in "the misuse of fiscal funds" during his 1973-1990 military regime. While visiting the United States this week to accept a human rights award at Georgetown University, Cerda told reporters [Santiago Times report] that Chilean courts violated human rights during Pinochet's dictatorship, and that many judges still do not abide by international standards. Defense lawyers for Pinochet's relatives are seeking Cerda's removal from the case.

Pinochet died of a heart attack [JURIST report] in December 2006 without ever facing trial on multiple charges of tax evasion and human rights violations. The Miami Herald has more.






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Rice flags rights concerns after meeting with Russian activists
Howard Kline on October 13, 2007 3:13 PM ET

[JURIST] US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Russian human rights activists at the US ambassador's residence in Moscow Saturday to address growing concerns regarding freedom of speech, independence of the judiciary and conditions in the Caucasus region. Alexander Brod, head of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, [advocacy website] said that the discussions heavily focused on what he called "authoritarianism". In comments to reporters afterwards, Rice ventured that key Russian institutions have become too weak to balance the growing power of Russian President Vladimir Putin:

I think there is too much concentration of power in the Kremlin. I have told the Russians that. Everybody has doubts about the full independence of the judiciary. There are clearly questions about the independence of the electronic media and there are, I think, questions about the strength of the Duma [the Russian lower house of parliament].
Rice's comments Saturday at Spaso House [official website] came a day after Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates received a cold welcome [Los Angeles Times report] from Putin in the midst of Russian concern over US proposals for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Russian-US relations have been strained of late. Russia distrusts what it sees as overreaching US foreign policy, and the US is wary of what it regards as Russia's deteriorating human rights record [JURIST reports]. AP has more and provides additional coverage.





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US refused to hand over Saddam defense minister for execution: report
Devin Montgomery on October 13, 2007 2:57 PM ET

[JURIST] The US military refused to hand over Saddam Hussein's defense minister for execution in September despite Iraqi government demands, TIME magazine reported Friday. An adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told TIME that US officials refused to deliver Sultan Hashem Ahmed al-Jubouri al-Tai [TrialWatch profile] from detention at US Camp Cropper [JURIST news archive] to an anticipated September 10 hanging because the request had not been approved [JURIST report] by Iraqi President Jalal Talibani [BBC profile]. The necessity of Talibani's approval is under dispute, but a judge with the Iraqi High Tribunal [official website] has said his approval is not required for executions to proceed [JURIST report]. Iraqi officials also suspected, however, that the US was trying to shield al-Tai because of information he provided in the planning of the US invasion of Iraq and facilitating the quick collapse of the Iraqi army. A spokesman for US Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus has said that given the death sentence against him, al-Tai will still be handed over whenever a proper request is made. TIME has more.

Al-Tai and two other former officials from Saddam Hussein's regime, including Hussein's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid - known in the Western media as "Chemical Ali" [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] - were all convicted in June of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their role in the slaughter of tens of thousands of Kurds during the 1988 Anfal Campaign [HRW backgrounder]. AP has more.






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Myanmar arrests more democracy activists despite UN denunciation
Patrick Porter on October 13, 2007 2:50 PM ET

[JURIST] Myanmar [JURIST news archive] detained four more pro-democracy activists Saturday as part of its ongoing crackdown [JURIST report] on opponents of the ruling military junta. The latest detainees include Htay Kywe, Mie Mie (also known as Thin Thin Aye), and Aung Thu, all members of the 1988 Generation Students group [BBC backgrounder]. The fourth was activist Ko Ko. Htae Kywe organized some of the early peaceful protests and had gone into hiding in an effort to avoid arrest. Amnesty International is concerned for the activists' safety [press release].

The military government made the arrests after rejecting [JURIST report] a UN Security Council denunciation [statement text; press release] of its use of violence against peaceful demonstrators and its accompanying call for Myanmar to release political prisoners and negotiate with the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD). AP has more.






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Federal appeals court allows apartheid claims against companies to proceed
Devin Montgomery on October 13, 2007 2:46 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled [court opinion; PDF] Friday that US courts have jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) [text] to hear certain tort claims brought by apartheid victims [advocacy website] against companies that allegedly collaborated with the South African government in the maintenance of the regime. A number of large corporations - from BP and Exxon to CitiBank and IBM - have been named as defendants in the case. Judge Peter W. Hall [official profile] wrote:

...plaintiffs have alleged, albeit in insufficiently specific terms, that the defendant corporations (a) knowingly and substantially assisted a principal tortfeasor to commit acts that violate clearly established international law norms, and (b) facilitated the commission of international law violations by providing the principal tortfeasors with the tools, instrumentalities, or services to commit those violations with actual or constructive knowledge that those tools, instrumentalities, or services would be (or only could be) used in connection with that purpose. Such allegations, if proven, clearly satisfy the standard for asserting ATCA liability under an aiding and abetting theory.
A suit under the same collaborative liability theory was brought [JURIST report] against Yahoo! [corporate website] in April by the World Organization for Human Rights USA [advocacy website] on behalf of imprisoned Internet activist Wang Xiaoning [advocacy profile]. Reuters has more.





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