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Legal news from Monday, May 5, 2008




Abu Ghraib ex-detainee files 'torture' lawsuit against US military contractors
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 5, 2008 4:27 PM ET

[JURIST] A former Iraqi detainee filed a lawsuit against two private US military contractors Monday alleging that he was tortured tortured while held at the Abu Ghraib prison [JURIST news archive] in Iraq in 2003, according to AP. Emad al-Janabi said that employees of CACI International and L-3 Communications [corporate websites], who work as interrogators for the US military, physically abused him and often left him chained naked in his cell over the course of his 10-month stay at the prison. He also alleges that the contractors conspired to hide evidence of torture from International Red Cross inspectors and military and government officials. AP has more.

Last year, US District Judge James Robertson refused to dismiss [order, PDF; JURIST report] a class action lawsuit [CCR materials] against CACI alleging torture. Robertson dismissed a similar lawsuit against military contractor Titan, saying that Titan's translators worked under the military's exclusive supervision and control. Robertson concluded, however, that "a reasonable trier of fact could conclude that CACI retained significant authority to manage its employees." An amended complaint [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] alleged that CACI International was allegedly responsible for the torture of more than 250 former detainees held in Iraqi prisons.






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HRW urges probe of Kosovo organ trafficking claims
Brett Murphy on May 5, 2008 2:39 PM ET

[JURIST] New information concerning charges that separatist Kosovo Liberation Army [BBC backgrounder] leaders were involved in trafficking organs taken from Serb prisoners during the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo justifies a probe into the allegations, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] said Monday. HRW urged [press release] Kosovo and Albania to launch an investigation into the allegations, and said that it had sent letters to both Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha [letters, text] in April but had heard no reply as of May 2.

In April, Serbia announced that it plans to officially request [JURIST report] that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] resume a probe into the organ trafficking allegations. Former ICTY Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte [JURIST news archive] has alleged in her new book [JURIST report] that approximately 300 Serbian and other non-Albanian prisoners were victims of organ trafficking, but that a 2003 probe by her ICTY team failed to obtain sufficient evidence to prosecute. Kosovo Justice Minister Nekibe Kelmendi has dismissed the allegations as "fabrications." In March, the office of Serbia's war crimes prosecutor [official website] said that it was investigating "informal statements" [JURIST report] received from ICTY investigators alleging illegal organ harvesting. The ICTY has not commented officially on the alleged organ trafficking. AP has more.






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Pakistan jurist quits committee drafting resolution to restore ousted judges
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 5, 2008 2:25 PM ET

[JURIST] A key member of a five-person panel convened last week by Pakistan's coalition government to draft a parliamentary resolution to reinstate judges ousted by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has quit, according to local media reports Monday. Retired Justice Fakhruddin Ibrahim sent a letter to Pakistani Law Minister Farooq Naek announcing that he was quitting because of the "non-serious attitude" of fellow panel members. Ibrahim also reportedly objected to "unconstitutional" efforts by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) [party website] to retain judges who had endorsed Musharraf's declaration of emergency [JURIST report] last year. Naek has said that the draft resolution must be unanimously approved by the panel; in the event of a disagreement, the resolution will pass to the top leadership of the PPP and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website] for consideration. On Friday, former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that the judges would be restored May 12 [JURIST report], but Pakistani legal experts are skeptical that the parties can reach agreement by that time. PTI has more.

In April, Sharif had asked Ibrahim to draft a resolution for reinstating the ousted judges. JURIST's Pakistan correspondent speculates that Ibrahim might have felt insulted that the coalition government rejected his original draft in favor of something to be drafted by committee.






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Indonesia police arrest alleged 2005 Bali bomb plotter
Brett Murphy on May 5, 2008 2:24 PM ET

[JURIST] Indonesian authorities have arrested an alleged member of the Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) [CFR backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in connection with the 2005 Bali bombings [BBC report] that killed 20 people and injured over a hundred, a police spokesman told AFP Monday. Faiz Fauzan is accused of helping to plan a second suicide bombing on the island and is reported to have close connections with JI leader Noordin Muhammad Top.

Last month, an Indonesian judge handed down 15-year sentences [JURIST report] to two JI leaders, Zarkasih and Abu Dujana [BBC profiles], after convicting them on terrorism charges. The two went on trial in December on charges of training and equipping JI members as well as conspiracy to commit terrorism. JI has claimed responsibility for the Bali bombings as well as the 2004 bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta [BBC report]. AFP has more.






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Texas judge sets execution date for Mexican national at center of ICJ case
Brett Murphy on May 5, 2008 2:04 PM ET

[JURIST] A Texas court Monday set the execution date for Mexican national and Texas prisoner Jose Ernesto Medellin [ASIL backgrounder; JURIST news archive] for August 5, after the US Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] in March that President George W. Bush did not have the authority to direct state courts to comply with a ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] granting new court hearings. The government of Mexico and Medellin's lawyers had requested that the judge hold off on setting an execution date, but Judge Caprice Cosper scheduled the lethal injection after refusing to allow a legal adviser to the Mexican Foreign Secretary speak before the court.

Medellin, a Mexican national sentenced to death for raping and murdering two teenage girls, had appealed a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals November 2006 ruling [text; JURIST report] that Bush had "exceeded his constitutional authority" by ordering state court rehearings [JURIST report] for 51 Mexican nationals, including Medellin, convicted in US courts. The president's February 2005 memorandum [text] instructed the Texas courts to follow a March 2004 ICJ decision [materials] that held that Medellin and the other Mexican nationals tried in US courts had been denied their right under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations [PDF text] to contact the Mexican consulate for legal assistance and that the US was obligated to grant review and reconsideration of their convictions and sentences. AP has more.






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Myanmar constitutional referendum to proceed despite cyclone deaths
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 5, 2008 1:44 PM ET

[JURIST] A scheduled May 10 referendum [JURIST report] on a draft constitution [JURIST news archives] proposed by Myanmar's ruling junta will proceed as planned despite a devastating weekend storm that left an estimated 4000 people dead and thousands more homeless, state media reported Monday. The New Light of Myanmar [media website] also reported Monday that the country's ruling junta had "expressed surprise" at a recent UN Security Council statement [text] urging that government ensure that the referendum is open and fair. AFP has more.

Opposition groups like the National League for Democracy (NLD) have expressed skepticism at the referendum and urged citizens to reject [JURIST report] the proposed constitution, labeling the referendum a "sham" to legalize military rule. The draft constitution reportedly reserves 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military [AP report; JURIST report] and would also block pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] from seeking office. Myanmar [JURIST news archive] has been governed without a constitution since the military regime took power in 1988 and talks on a new national charter [JURIST report] have been underway for 14 years. The last general elections in Myanmar were held in 1990. The NLD, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won that election easily, but the ruling military government did not recognize the result and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest.






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Malaysia court accepts Catholic newspaper challenge to 'Allah' translation ban
Michael Sung on May 5, 2008 10:18 AM ET

[JURIST] The Malaysian High Court Monday accepted a challenge by Malay-Roman Catholic Herald [media website] newspaper to a government ban on using the word "Allah" as a synonym for "God," rejecting the government's argument that the lawsuit by the Kuala Lumpur-based weekly was without merit. The Malaysian government imposed the ban in January after saying last year that only Muslims could use the word. It also threatened to revoke the Herald's publication license.

Approximately 60 percent of Malaysians are Muslim, while Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus comprise about 35 percent of the population. "Allah", the Arabic word for "God," is used by Arabic speakers of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths. AFP has more. AKI has additional coverage.






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Suspected pipe bomb explodes outside San Diego federal courthouse
Bernard Hibbitts on May 5, 2008 9:42 AM ET

[JURIST] One or more suspected pipe bombs exploded early Sunday morning outside the federal courthouse in San Diego, California. No warning was given of the blast but no one was hurt. The front entrance of the Edward J. Schwartz US Courthouse [official website] was damaged. No arrests have been made in connection with the explosion but an investigation is continuing. The court will be closed Monday. AP has more.

Although courthouse bombings are relatively rare in the United States, judges and court administrators have been increasingly focused on security issues [NCSC materials] since a spate of attacks on judges in and out of court in 2005, with incidents in Chicago and Atlanta receiving nationwide attention. A 2006 report on courthouse security by the National Center for State Courts nonetheless concluded that security improvements to that point had been "spotty" [CSM report]. In April 2008 Ohio resident David Tuason was indicted for allegedly threatening to blow up the US Supreme Court building [JURIST report] and attack black men, including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Other death threats [JURIST report] have been reported against Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and now-retired Justice Sandra Day O'Conner.






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Australia capital region abandons plan to recognize same-sex civil union ceremonies
Michael Sung on May 5, 2008 9:42 AM ET

[JURIST] The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) [official website] Sunday abandoned a proposal to legally recognize same-sex civil union ceremonies after the Australian federal government threatened to veto Civil Partnerships Bill 2006 [legislative materials; PDF text] if it passed the ACT Legislative Assembly [official websites]. ACT Attorney General Simon Corbell said that the self-governing territory will now move to legalize civil partnerships without ceremony [press release] so that same-sex couples can have access to Commonwealth pensions, tax and social security benefits. Corbell criticized the federal government for resorting "to the use of an undemocratic nineteenth century colonial style power to override" the proposal. The Civil Partnerships Bill was introduced after an earlier civil unions law [legislative materials] was actually overturned by the federal government [JURIST report] because that law's attempt to equate civil unions with marriage was determined to be unacceptable.

In April, the Australian federal government now led by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced plans to amend over 100 federal laws [press release; JURIST report] to remove discrimination against same-sex couples [JURIST news archive]. The proposed legislation, which is expected to be implemented by mid-2009, will not recognize same-sex marriages. The Daily Telegraph as more.






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Bolivia president rejects regional autonomy referendum
Michael Sung on May 5, 2008 9:09 AM ET

[JURIST] Bolivians in the state of Santa Cruz [official website, in Spanish] participated in a regional referendum Sunday on greater autonomy from the Bolivian national government despite opposition from Bolivian President Evo Morales [official website; BBC profile], who characterized the referendum as illegal and unconstitutional. The poll was backed by Santa Cruz leaders as a way for the state to protect its natural gas and agriculture from Morales' efforts to redistribute land and natural resource revenues. Local media reported 85 percent of voters supporting the referendum, although Morales said that the referendum was a failure because more than half the ballots cast were invalid.

In 2006, governors from six of Bolivia's nine states vowed to break off relations [JURIST report] with Morales following a bid to give his leftist party more power [JURIST report] to rewrite the Bolivian constitution [JURIST news archive]. In March, Bolivia's National Electoral Court blocked a national referendum on the new draft constitution originally slated for May 4, finding that the proposed referendum [JURIST reports] failed to satisfy a constitutional provision requiring the national vote to be held within 90 days of congressional approval. The proposed national referendum was narrowly approved in February by the Bolivian Constitutional Assembly [official website, in Spanish], amid reports that Morales supporters prevented many draft opponents from entering the constitutional building and participating in the vote. AP has more. Xinhua has additional coverage.






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