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Legal news from Sunday, May 24, 2009




UK military to again consider allowing women in combat roles
Bhargav Katikaneni on May 24, 2009 4:05 PM ET

[JURIST] UK Armed Services Minister Bob Ainsworth [official profile] said Sunday that the British military is again considering whether to change a policy that prohibits women from serving in "close combat" positions. The review, mandated every eight years by a European Union Equal Treatment Directive [text] barring discrimination in the workplace, last took place in 2002 and resulted in a policy that bars women from "close combat" but permits other military activities.  Ainsworth said that a study into the policy was also prompted [BBC report] by the military's interest in the effect having female soldiers in combat roles would have. Proponents of the restriction have argued that mixed-sex combat units could be less effective. 

The 2002 report [MOD report, PDF] maintained the existing policy, but said that gender restrictions might be repealed if there were "direct evidence" that permitting women to serve in combat would not effect morale. The European Court of Justice, in Sirdar v. The Army Board [judgment text], has held that women can be excluded from the special forces without violating the EU directive because concerns over unit safety.






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Cancer patient commits physician-assisted suicide under Washington law
Bhargav Katikaneni on May 24, 2009 3:05 PM ET

[JURIST] A Washington State woman who was diagnosed with terminal cancer has become the first person to commit physician-assisted suicide under the state's Death with Dignity Act [text, PDF]. Linda Fleming had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and on Thursday took barbiturates prescribed by a doctor, dying approximately half an hour later. In a statement [text, PDF] issued through Washington advocacy group Compassion and Choices [official website] Fleming said:

I am a very spiritual person, and it was very important to me to be conscious, clear-minded and alert at the time of my death. The powerful pain medications were making it difficult to maintain the state of mind I wanted to have at my death. And I knew I would have to increase them. I am grateful that the Death with Dignity law provides me the choice of a death that fits my own personal beliefs.
Washington voters passed the law [JURIST report] in November, and it took effect in March. Under the law, people diagnosed with a terminal illness and with less than six months to live are eligible to receive the medication. According to the Washington Department of Health, at least six other people in the state have received [Peninsula Daily News report] the required prescription for barbiturates. Washington is the second state in the country, after Oregon, to pass a right-to-die [JURIST news archive] law. A court in Montana ruled [JURIST report] in December that terminally ill patients have right to physician-assisted suicide.





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Sri Lanka president rejects full access to Tamil displacement camps
Ximena Marinero on May 24, 2009 12:07 PM ET

[JURIST] Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official website] on Sunday rejected calls for his government to provide full humanitarian access to Tamil displacement camps in the country, saying the camps still needed to be screened for rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) [SIG backgrounder] insurgents. On Saturday, Rajapaksa had issued a joint statement [text] with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] which said that aid agencies would be given access to internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the camps:

With regard to IDPs, the United Nations will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the IDPs now in Vavuniya and Jaffna. The Government will continue to provide access to humanitarian agencies. The Government will expedite the necessary basic and civil infrastructure as well as means of livelihood necessary for the IDPs to resume their normal lives at the earliest. The Secretary-General welcomed the announcement by the Government expressing its intention to dismantle the welfare villages at the earliest as outlined in the Plan to resettle the bulk of IDPs and call for its early implementation.
Rajapaksa's remarks came in response to urging by Ki-moon [UN News Centre report] and aid agencies [Oxfam press release] to grant full and immediate access to camps, which they say lack food and proper sanitation.

Last week, the Council of the European Union [official website] called for an independent inquiry [conclusions, PDF; JURIST report] into possible war crimes committed during fighting between the Sri Lankan government and LTTE. In March, the Sri Lankan Government denied allegations [JURIST report] by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile; JURIST news archive] that 2,800 civilian deaths caused by recent military action against the LTTE may constitute war crimes. In February, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] alleging that both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE are guilty of human rights violations. Earlier this year, Pillay condemned [press release; JURIST report] the deteriorating conditions of those trapped in the Vanni region, and called for investigations and prosecutions for the killings and other human rights abuses.





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Iraq PM to further restrict amnesty law
Ximena Marinero on May 24, 2009 10:21 AM ET

[JURIST] Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] said Saturday that he will seek to amend a 2008 amnesty law [JURIST report] because its application has allowed too many accused of corruption and terrorism to be released. Speaking before both Shia and Sunni leaders, al-Maliki said the law had been inappropriately changed from the version originally drafted by the government. He blamed a recent increase in violence [CSIS report] on some of those released under its current version, which he said allowed terrorists who did not directly commit a killing to receive a pardon. Al-Maliki has also said that a recent US release [AFP report] of more than 3,200 detainees has contributed to the rise in violence.

The Iraqi legislature passed the General Amnesty Law [text, HTM, in Arabic] in February 2008 as part of al-Maliki's effort to draw disaffected Sunnis into the national reconciliation and reconstruction process. In May 2008 Iraq's Council of Ministers amended the law [JURIST report] to exclude prisoners who had committed certain types of serious crimes, including terrorist activities against the state. In June 2008, a spokesman for Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council said the law had resulted in charges being dropped [JURIST report] against over 75,000 people with some 20,000 others being ordered freed from detention.






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