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Legal news from Saturday, November 22, 2008




Burundi abolishes death penalty, criminalizes homosexuality
Andrew Gilmore on November 22, 2008 6:21 PM ET

[JURIST] The parliament of Burundi [government website, in French; JURIST news archive] voted Saturday in favor of laws abolishing the death penalty and criminalizing homosexuality [JURIST news archive] in the country. The elimination of the death penalty in Burundi was a requirement for establishing a UN-led truth and reconciliation committee and tribunal [JURIST report] in the country. Gay rights groups in the country condemned the criminalization of homosexuality [AFP report], and stressed the implications of the parliamentary vote for the country's struggle with HIV/AIDS [JURIST news archive].

Burundi is still recovering from a 12-year civil war [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] between the Hutu majority and the dominant Tutsi minority which began in 1993 and claimed more than 300,000 victims. Current Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza BBC profile], an ex-Hutu rebel leader, born-again Christian, and member of the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (NCDD-FDD) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], was elected in 2005 after the implementation of a UN-created peace plan, but his presidency has been marred by accusations of assassinations and torture [JURIST report]. Last month a Burundi military court sentenced a colonel to death [JURIST report] for his role in the killings of 31 civilians in the country's Muyinga province in 2006.






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Germany government drops Scientology investigation
Andrew Gilmore on November 22, 2008 4:12 PM ET

[JURIST] The German government announced Friday that it has ended its investigation into the practices of the Church of Scientology [church website]. The German Interior Ministry [official website] began a probe into Scientology [JURIST report] in 2007, calling it an "organization that is not compatible with the constitution," seeking to ban the organization. The German announcement came during a meeting of ministers in Potsdam. While the government's investigation into Scientology has ceased, the organization will continue to be under surveillance by domestic intelligence services [AP report]. Additionally, the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC) [official website] has said that it will continue to monitor Scientology [OPC backgrounder].

Scientology, founded by American science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard in 1954, has come under increasing scrutiny in Europe in recent years. Last September, a Scientology center in France faced criminal charges [JURIST report] in connection with allegations of fraud and the illegal practice of pharmacy. In September 2007, Belgian prosecutor Jean-Claude Van Espen said Scientology should be classified as a criminal organization [JURIST report] after completing a 10-year investigation into the church's activities.






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North Korea protests proposed UN General Assembly rights resolution
Michael Sung on November 22, 2008 10:54 AM ET

[JURIST] North Korea has strongly protested a proposed UN General Assembly resolution [text] calling on North Korea to "respect fully all human rights and fundamental freedoms" and put an end to its violations of human rights. The resolution, which was co-sponsored by South Korea [JURIST report], Japan, and members of the European Union, was approved [press release] Friday by the General Assembly's Social, Humanitarian, & Cultural Committee by a vote of 95 to 24, with 62 members abstaining. The North Korean delegation to the UN criticized the nonbinding resolution, characterizing it as a politicization and double standards in dealing with human rights. North Korea specifically criticized South Korea's support as a "reckless anti-national and anti-reunification move," noting that it was a reversal of prior joint declarations by the two Koreas. The UN General Assembly is expected to vote on the proposed resolution in December. Yonhap News Agency has more.

South Korea has alternated between supporting and abstaining from non-binding resolutions condemning North Korea. South Korea had previously abstained from voting on issues concerning North Korea since 2003, but joined a resolution [PDF text] in 2006, then subsequently abstained on the 2007 resolution [PDF text]. In March, the South Korean National Human Rights Commission [official website, in English] announced it was initiating an investigation [JURIST report] into alleged human rights violations by North Korea, and earlier this month it established a special committee [JURIST report] to look into alleged North Korean rights abuses.






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UK government delays telecommunications database bill: reports
Bernard Hibbitts on November 22, 2008 10:20 AM ET

[JURIST] The British government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown has decided to drop from its immediate legislative agenda a controversial security database bill that would have required telecoms to keep records of all domestic phone calls, e-mails and Internet activity, according to British press reports Friday. The Communications Database Bill [draft materials] will not be part of the Queen's Speech to be delivered to parliament at the opening of its next session next month, but instead it or some variation will be brought forward for public consultation in January [Telegraph report] with a view to introducing it to Parliament later next year. This timetable may, however, make its future uncertain [Independent report] as Brown has to call an election no later than May 2010.

Critics - including some inside the government - have already assailed the proposed measure as an Orwellian infringement [Independent report] on privacy and civil liberties. Last month, the office of Lord Carlile, the Information Commissioner, took the extraordinary step [press release, PDF] of calling the bill a "step too far for the British way of life." Also in October, outgoing UK Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald warned against the expansion of government power in gathering intelligence [JURIST report] and prosecuting suspected terrorists, saying that present decisions about how the government should use technology to protect security are likely to be permanent. Recent high-profile news stories about losses of data by British government official and agencies [Independent report] have heightened concerns over the legislation.






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UN torture panel criticizes China human rights record
Michael Sung on November 22, 2008 10:01 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN Committee Against Torture [official website] on Friday expressed deep concern over continued allegations that China authorities continued the routine and widespread practice of torture and ill-treatment of suspects to extract confessions. In its Observations [text] at the conclusion of its 41st Session [materials], the Committee identified three "over-arching problems," including the 1988 Law on the Preservation of State Secrets [text], which the Committee says has prevented a "full and impartial investigation in the suppression of the Democracy movement in Beijing in June 1989." The Committee also urged China to ensure that all individuals detained in the aftermath of the March 2008 unrest in the Tibetan Autonomous Region [government website] had prompt access to an independent counsel and medical care, and to establish a mechanism that allows detainees to lodge confidential complaints. The Committee also welcomed positive developments, noting that Chinese authorities had adopted legislative and administrative reforms explicitly prohibiting domestic abuse, guaranteeing lawyers' right to meet with criminal suspects, and prohibiting the use of torture to extract confessions. AFP has more.

Meeting with the Committee earlier this month, members of the Chinese delegation said that the Chinese government had provided training and enacted judicial reforms [UN press release and transcript summary; JURIST report] and urged the Committee to consider policy differences based on China's size, population, and culture. The UN Committee Against Torture performs periodic reviews of how state members are implementing the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.






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