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Legal news from Monday, February 16, 2009




Counterterrorism practices threaten global human rights: international panel
Devin Montgomery on February 16, 2009 5:25 PM ET

[JURIST] Counterterrorism policies adopted by countries around the world since 2001 pose a "serious threat to the integrity of the international human rights legal framework," according to a report [text, PDF; executive summary, PDF] issued Monday by a special panel of human rights experts convened by the International Commission of Jurists [organization website]. The panel, Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights [official website], said that the policies have resulted in torture, abductions, arbitrary and secret detentions, unfair trials, and other limitations on human rights, and that many such policies, originally designed to be temporary, have effectively become permanent. The panel concluded that legal frameworks that existed before 2001 were sufficient to address the risks posed by terrorism, and that any future attempts at combating the threat should be long-term and should not discount fundamental rights:

The Panel concludes that terrorism sows terror, and many States have fallen into a trap set by the terrorists. Ignoring lessons from the past, some States have allowed themselves to be rushed into hasty responses, introducing an array of measures which are undermining cherished values as well as the international legal framework carefully developed since the World War II. Seven years after 9/11, and sixty years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is time for the international community to re-group, take remedial action, and reassert core values and principles of international law. Those values and principles were intended to withstand crises, and they provide a robust and effective framework from within which to tackle terrorism. It is clear that the threat from terrorism is likely to be a long-term one, and solid long-term responses are needed.

Moreover, the Panel concludes that counter-terrorist policies can only be successful over the longer term with the active support of an informed public. Yet, many of the measures we observed tend instead to encourage an “us and them” approach, often alienating communities whose support is essential for successful counter-terrorism action. We need to strengthen, not weaken, civil society if terrorism is to be effectively countered.

Last but not least, political leadership is needed urgently at a national and international level to develop a comprehensive strategy committed to combating terrorism, that will inter alia – repudiate torture and all other serious human rights violations, restore respect for well-established principles of international human rights and international humanitarian law, and insist on the effective integration of human rights law into counter-terrorist initiatives.
The panel went on to make a series of recommendations on how countries could remedy past damage done by the policies and how better to address terrorist threats in the future. It specifically called for a rejection of the "War on Terror" concept, called for terrorism prosecutions to be brought back within the normal criminal justice system, and called for intelligence gathering efforts to respect privacy rights. It also called for the repudiation of the rights violations, and for those guilty of the violations to be held accountable.

Many of the panel's recommendations were targeted specifically at the new Barack Obama [JURIST news archive] administration in the US. In November, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] made a similar plea [HRW press release; JURIST report] calling on Obama immediately to change what it said were the "abusive" policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush [JURIST news archive].





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France court rules government responsible for deporting Jews in WWII
Jaclyn Belczyk on February 16, 2009 4:06 PM ET

[JURIST] The French Council of State [official website, in French], France's highest court, ruled [opinion, in French; press release, in French] Monday that the French government bore responsibility for deporting Jews during World War II, while denying further reparations for individuals. The council was asked by the Paris administrative court to issue an advisory opinion in the case of a Holocaust victim's daughter who was seeking reparations. In its ruling, the council indicated that the government had already "taken a series of measures, such as pensions, allowances, aids or remedies" to provide compensation and characterized the measures as comparable to those taken by other European states. The council also called for "the solemn recognition of the collective losses suffered by these individuals and the role played by the state in their deportation." This is the most formal recognition by the French government of its role in the Holocaust [JURIST news archive], although former President Jacques Chirac acknowledged in 1995 that the French government bore some responsibility.

In 2006, a French trial court ordered the French government and the state-controlled railway SNCF [corporate website] to pay 60,000 euros, or about $80,000 US, in compensation [JURIST report] to a Jewish family for complicity in crimes against humanity for deporting them during World War II. Monday's ruling will estop similar claims in the future.






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Zimbabwe terrorism case against MDC cabinet nominee postponed
Devin Montgomery on February 16, 2009 3:53 PM ET

[JURIST] Criminal proceedings against Zimbabwe Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [party website] party treasurer general and cabinet member-designate Roy Bennett were delayed [Harare Tribune report] Monday, as members of his party continued to protest his arrest [MDC press release]. According to the MDC, Bennett faces charges under Zimbabwe's Public Order and Security Act [materials] for "attempting to commit terrorism, banditry and sabotage." Bennett, who was scheduled to be sworn in last week as deputy agriculture minister in the new power-sharing coalition government [BBC report] led by MDC head Morgan Tsvangirai, is accused of funding the purchase of fire arms and explosives intended to be used as part of an insurgency. The MDC has characterized Bennett's arrest as an abduction [press release], and there has been speculation that it could pose a threat to the power-sharing agreement [JURIST report] between the MDC and the African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party of President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Bennett is now expected to appear in court on either Tuesday or Wednesday, when the MDC is expected to post his bail.

Police originally sought Bennett for questioning [JURIST report] in relation to the allegations in 2006, but he had been seeking asylum in South Africa until recently [IOL report]. Bennett had also faced treason charges, but they were dropped [Times report] in favor of the terrorism and other charges.






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ICTY rules prosecution may amend Karadzic indictment
Jaclyn Belczyk on February 16, 2009 1:31 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Monday granted in part [decision, PDF; press release] the prosecution's motion [text, PDF; JURIST report] to amend the indictment against former Bosnian Serb leader and war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic [ICTY materials; JURIST news archive]. Karadzic is now charged with two counts of genocide instead of one, with the first count referring to the crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992 and the second count referring to the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Charges of complicity in genocide and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions have been dropped. The tribunal denied the prosecution's motion to add other charges for killings, finding they were not adequately supported by evidence. The prosecution must now file an amended indictment by Wednesday at noon. Karadzic is scheduled to appear before the tribunal Friday to enter a new plea.

Last month, Karadzic responded to the prosecution's motion by filing his own motion [motion, PDF] requesting that the ICTY amend his indictment [JURIST report] in order to expedite his trial. Karadzic said that he supports the principle of amending the indictment but that the prosecution's proposed amendments would not be much better. In arguing for a shorter indictment, Karadzic drew parallels to the trial of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic [JURIST news archive], whose lengthy trial was criticized when he died of a heart attack [JURIST report] in prison after his trial had been ongoing for four years.






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UK Guantanamo detainee medically cleared for potential release
Tarah Park on February 16, 2009 12:14 PM ET

[JURIST] UK resident and Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Binyam Mohamed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] was found by British authorities on Sunday to be healthy enough to return to the UK if the US government acquiesces to the request for his release. A group sent to the prison by UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) [official website], which included a doctor, worked with Guantanamo medical staff over the weekend and determined [Guardian report] that the Ethiopian-born detainee did not have any immediate medical problems that would prevent him from traveling back overseas once he is cleared to do so. Mohamed, who ended his hunger strike [PA report] Wednesday after learning from UK human rights group Reprieve [advocacy website] that his release could come within the week, had petitioned [AP report] the British government, through his US military attorney Yvonne Bradley, to pressure the Obama administration for his release. The US government began a review [JURIST report] of all Guantanamo cases over the weekend, and Bradley is hopeful that with the review and Mohamed's medical clearance, he will be approved to return to the UK.

Mohamed was arrested and sent to Guantanamo Bay in 2004 on suspicion of war crimes in connection with his alleged involvement with al Qaeda attacks on the US. The charges against him were dismissed [JURIST report] last October. Mohamed asserts that after he was arrested in Pakistan and turned over to US officials, he was then transferred to Moroccan agents who tortured him. In December, he asked the UK government [letter, DOC; JURIST report] to ensure that photographic evidence of his alleged torture be preserved.






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Europe rights court rules Russia illegally deported US missionary
Christian Ehret on February 16, 2009 10:49 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website; JURIST news archive] on Thursday ruled [decision; press release] that the Russian government was guilty of infringing on US missionary Patrick Nolan's religious freedoms and other human rights by expelling him from the country in 2002 under national security pretenses. The court found that the government violated Article 38 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF] for failing to cooperate with the ECHR by not providing the Federal Security Service report explaining their reasons for expulsion, Article 5 § 1 for failing to protect Nolan from deprivation of liberty, Article 8 for failing to consider the welfare of Nolan's infant son, Article 9 for infringing on his freedom of religion, and Article 1 of Protocol No. 7 for failing to communicate their reasons for expulsion. The court awarded Nolan 7,000 euros in damages although 20,000 was originally sought.

Nolan, a missionary with Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church [church website], was initially denied re-entry into Russia in 2002 after a trip to Cyprus and was "locked in a small room with no phone, ventilation or windows" at the airport overnight before being deported. Over a month later, Nolan obtained a new visa but was again denied entry into the country, resulting in him being separated from his infant son for ten months. Nolan initially filed complaints against the Moscow Border Control of the Federal Border Service in June 2002. The Russian government addressed Nolan's complaints without clarity by claiming that his activities were a threat to national security but failed to explain what the activities were. In 2003, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation [official website, in Russian] denied Nolan's appeal by holding that Russia retained sovereignty over issues of national security.






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Venezuela voters approve amendment abolishing presidential term limits
Tere Miller-Sporrer on February 16, 2009 8:11 AM ET

[JURIST] Venezuelan voters approved [press release, in Spanish] a constitutional amendment [text and results, in Spanish] abolishing presidential term limits in a national referendum [JURIST report] Sunday. President of the National Electoral Council (CNE) [official website, in Spanish] Tibisay Lucena reported that the amendment passed with 54.36 percent of the vote [El Universal report, in Spanish] and went on to congratulate Venezuelans on the high voter turnout and orderliness of the voting. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez [official profile, in Spanish; JURIST news archive] declared victory and announced that he will run again in 2012. Chavez said that he is primarily happy with the result because it will allow the government to focus on the three R's - revision, rectification and revolutionary reinvigoration - by combating insecurity, corruption, wastefulness, and bureaucracy [El Nacional report, in Spanish].

Venezuelans rejected a similar measure in 2007 [JURIST report] when it was included in a package of sweeping constitutional reforms. The constitutional amendment was passed [JURIST report] by the Venezuelan National Assembly [official website, in Spanish] last month but had to pass the referendum before taking effect. The vote has divided the country with thousands gathering in Caracas to protest [JURIST report] the amendment earlier this month and supporters submitting a petition signed by almost five million people [JURIST report] endorsing the amendment late last year.






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Afghanistan appeals court upholds prison sentence for Koran translators
Jay Carmella on February 16, 2009 8:03 AM ET

[JURIST] An appeals court in Afghanistan on Sunday upheld a lower court's decision to sentence two men convicted of translating the Koran to 20 years in prison. The three-judge panel ruled [AP report] that the men were guilty of modifying the Koran, but did not issue the maximum punishment of death. Muslim clerics [JURIST news archive] viewed the free distribution of the translated Koran as blasphemous, and have been calling for the execution of Ahmad Ghaws Zalmai, a former spokesman for the attorney general, and Mushtaq Ahmad, a Muslim cleric who signed a letter endorsing the translation, since their arrest in 2007. The court based its decision on Islamic Shariah law, highlighting the lack of secular statutes for the court to consider, and providing another example of the influence clerics have in the Afghan legal system. Zalmai's attorney indicated that both men plan to appeal to the Supreme Court of Afghanistan [official website].

The Afghan justice system continues to be viewed as a target for the country's rebel leaders, putting pressure on judges to act in their favor. Last week, Taliban [JURIST news archive] insurgents targeted [JURIST report] the Afghan Ministry of Justice [official website], the Prisons Directorate, and other government buildings in Kabul. In October, an Afghan appeals court sentenced [AP report] a journalism student to 20 years for asking questions about women's rights under Islam. Muslim clerics considered the acts blasphemous, and conducted public demonstrates because the student violated the tenets of Islam. In September, Central Narcotics Tribunal Appeals Court Judge Alim Hanif was killed in Kabul [UPI report]. In early August, a judge in southern Helmand province [AFP report] and the chief judge of Khost province [VOA report] were shot and killed by unidentified gunmen said to be connected to the Taliban.






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