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Legal news from Sunday, February 10, 2008




US Army sniper guilty of unpremeditated murder in Iraqi civilian killing
Eric Firkel on February 10, 2008 6:57 PM ET

[JURIST] US Army sniper Sgt. Evan Vela [JURIST news archive] was convicted Sunday of unpremeditated murder for the killing of an unarmed Iraqi civilian near Iskandariyah and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The military jury also found Vela guilty of making a false official statement and of conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline. He had been charged with premeditated murder, and could have faced a possible life sentence. During his court-martial [JURIST report], Vela's lawyer accused military investigators of incompetence and pointed to the mental and physical fatigue the snipers were under last spring when the shooting took place.

Vela was charged [press release; JURIST report] last year in connection with the killing of three unarmed Iraqis in three separate incidents between April and June 2007 in the vicinity of Iskandariyah [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. Another sniper, US Army Staff Sgt. Michael Hensley, was acquitted of premeditated murder [JURIST report] last year, but convicted of other charges connected to the Iskandariyah incidents and sentenced to time served. US Army Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval was sentenced to five months in prison [JURIST report] for his role in covering up the shootings, but was also acquitted of premeditated murder. AP has more. KPVI.com has additional coverage.






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Russia ex-defense minister calls for multinational arms control agreements
Benjamin Klein on February 10, 2008 4:01 PM ET

[JURIST] Bilateral arms control agreements negotiated by the US and Russia during the Cold War should be replaced by multilateral agreements, former Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov [GlobalSecurity profile] said Sunday. Ivanov, who now serves as Russian first deputy prime minister, referred to bilateral agreements, including the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Salt 1) [text], as relics of the past that failed to contemplate the rise and relevance of other nuclear powers. Speaking at the 44th annual Munich Conference on Security Policy [official website], Ivanov suggested that the reduction of strategic weapons should move to the multilateral level as more countries obtain nuclear weapons.

Late last year, Russian officials said that the country wants to replace [JURIST report] the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty [text] with a formal, binding agreement with the US that will limit the creation of new nuclear weapons. A few days later, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a measure [JURIST report] suspending Russia's responsibilities under the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) [text; backgrounder]. The Russian government first threatened to withdraw from the CFE amid tensions between the US and Russia over US plans for an anti-missile defense shield in central Europe, which Russia perceives to be a threat to Russian national security. Putin has also threatened to withdraw [JURIST report] from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty [text] unless that treaty is expanded to include neighboring countries such as China, India and Pakistan. AP has more.






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Khmer Rouge war crimes suspect back in ECCC custody after hospitalization
Devin Montgomery on February 10, 2008 3:58 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Cambodian Foreign Minister Ieng Sary [JURIST news archive], accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the Khmer Rouge [JURIST news archive] communist regime of the 1970s, has returned to ECCC custody after his hospitalization [JURIST report] last week, an official for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) said Sunday. In addition to a urinary tract problem which led to the most recent hospitalization, his second in 10 days, the 82-year-old has a history of heart problems. He appealed his detention [JURIST report] on grounds of ill health in December 2007. The ECCC's pre-trial chamber has not yet heard the appeal. Concern over the age and health of former Khmer Rouge officials has led to protests [JURIST report] by those that fear the genocide suspects will die before they face justice. Former head of state Khieu Samphan suffered a stroke [JURIST report] in December 2007, and dictator Pol Pot [BBC profile] died in 1998 before facing any charges. AP has more.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia [official website; JURIST news archive] was established by a 2001 law [text as amended 2004, PDF] to investigate and try surviving Khmer Rouge officials. The Khmer Rouge is generally held responsible for the genocide of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians [PPU backgrounder] who died between 1975 and 1979. To date, no top Khmer Rouge officials have faced trial. Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirith are two of five former Khmer Rouge leaders in custody of the court. Sary is suspected of perpetrating and facilitating murders as well as coordinating Khmer Rouge's policies of forcible transfer, forced labor and unlawful killings. Thirith allegedly directed and planned widespread purges and the killings of members within the Ministry of Social Affairs. Both have maintained their innocence.






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Rwanda parliament votes to ban 'promotion of genocide'
Devin Montgomery on February 10, 2008 2:42 PM ET

[JURIST] The Rwandan Chamber of Deputies [official website] has passed legislation that would make promoting "genocide ideology" a crime, punishable by life in prison for the worse offenders. The bill was passed unanimously by the country's lower house Friday, and now must be approved by the Rwandan Senate [official website] and signed by President Paul Kagame [official website; BBC profile] before becoming law. Some of the impetus behind the bill comes from a December 2007 government report which revealed that ethnic tensions between Hutu and Tutsi children in the nation's schools were widespread, and evidence that the divisions had been promoted by numerous teachers and school administrators. Lawmakers hope the bill will serve as a strong deterrent for future violence. The bill includes penalties for offenders of all degrees: children under the age of 12 could receive up to 12 months in a custodial rehabilitation center; political, administrative, or religious officials found guilty could face up to 25 years in prison and fines ranging from $360 to $1900; and both repeat offenders and those who commit or are complicit to an ethnically motivated murder would face life in prison - the country's maximum criminal penalty. AFP has more. The Rwanda News Agency has local coverage.

The bill is the most recent in a number of initiatives lead by the Rwandan government to extinguish the factional strife that lead to the country's 1994 genocide[BBC backgrounder, JURIST news archive]. In addition to a nationwide anti-genocide propaganda campaign, the government has also abolished the death penalty in order to secure the extradition of suspects [JURIST reports] in the killings.






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China ex-newspaper editor released from prison early
Eric Firkel on February 10, 2008 11:27 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Chinese newspaper editor Yu Huafeng [RSF profile] has been released early from prison after serving four years on corruption charges [JURIST report], Reporters without Borders said Saturday. Yu and his colleague Li Minying [ICPC profile] were both convicted [CPJ press release] in 2004 for embezzlement, bribery and corruption. Both men claimed the money in question was obtained legally and used for routine business transactions. Critics have said the editors' arrests appeared to be part of a campaign to silence the newspaper's criticism of the government and more than 2,000 Chinese journalists petitioned for their release in 2005. Yu's original eight-year sentence was reduced by one-year [JURSIT report] last year.

Yu is the third prominent journalist released early from prison this month. Reporters Without Borders [official website] has said the releases are China's response to intense international pressure ahead of the 2008 Olympics to be held in Beijing. Despite the pressure, China continues to arrest writers. On Tuesday, a Chinese court convicted dissident writer Lu Gengsong on subversion charges [JURIST report], sentencing him to four years in prison for writing essays exposing corruption within the Communist Party of China (CPC) [official backgrounder]. AP has more.






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Argentina police arrest 2 ex-military officers in 1972 massacre
Eric Firkel on February 10, 2008 10:09 AM ET

[JURIST] Retired Argentinean military officers Paccagnini Ruben and Emilio Del Real were arrested by Argentina's Federal Police [official website, in Spanish] Saturday in connection with the August 1972 massacre of 16 leftist guerillas on a military base in the southern city of Trelew [government website]. Ruben and Del Real face charges of torture, homicide, attempted homicide and illegal detentions for their role in the shooting of the 16 guerillas in their cells. Nineteen guerillas were captured after escaping from prison and seizing the Trelew airport, three survived only to "disappear" in the late 1970s during the military dictatorship. The arrests are part of a larger investigation; federal police are still searching for former Marine Capt. Luis Emilio Sosa, Lt. Roberto Guillermo Bravo and Carlos Marandino to charge them in connection with the massacre.

Last Tuesday, the trial [JURIST report] of retired Argentinean General Cristino Nicolaides and five other former officers began for their alleged role in the abduction and torture of five political dissidents during the country's military dictatorship of the late 1970s and 80s. It is estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 people were forcibly kidnapped or "disappeared" during the so-called "Dirty War" [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive], a 1976-1983 Argentinean government campaign against suspected dissidents. In 2005, Argentina's Supreme Court struck down amnesty laws [JURIST report] adopted in the 1980s, prompting the government to reopen hundreds of human rights cases. AP has more.






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