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Legal news from Wednesday, June 24, 2009




Kosovo ex-PM arrested on Serbian genocide charges
Christian Ehret on June 24, 2009 2:11 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Kosovo prime minister Agim Ceku was arrested [press release] in Bulgaria Tuesday at the Macedonian border on Serbian war crimes charges. Ceku is specifically charged by the Serbian Nis District Court with genocide in relation to the murder of 669 Serbs and 18 others during the Kosovo war [JURIST news archive]. Serbian Minister of Justice Snezana Malovic [official profile] has requested the extradition of Ceku from Bulgaria and expects authorities to respond "promptly and positively." At the time of the killings, Ceku was commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army. He has dismissed the charges [BBC report] as being politically motivated, maintaining that the arrest warrant had no legal basis.

Prior to Kosovo's independence, Ceku urged the international community to quickly adopt a UN-supervised independence plan [JURIST report], saying that the Kosovar people's desire for an identity should not be held "hostage" to the opposition. An ethnic-Albanian, Ceku was elected as prime minister in 2006 on a platform of seeking complete independence [BBC report] from Serbia.






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Russia judicial reform urged by Council of Europe
Andrew Morgan on June 24, 2009 2:02 PM ET

[JURIST] The Council of Europe (COE) [official website] on Tuesday urged substantial reforms to correct systemic problems in the Russian legal system, including the prevalence of political prosecutions and a lack of judicial independence. A report [text, PDF] presented by COE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights member Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger [official profile] addressed politically-motivated legal abuses in the dominant European legal systems, focusing largely on Russia's shortcomings in combating "structural defects that lead to the accusation and conviction of many innocent persons" within the country. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said that the cases against former Yukos Oil [JURIST news archive] executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] and international investment firm Hermitage Capital [corporate website], as well as the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive], were "emblematic" of the "legal nihilism" of the Russian system, including pressure on judges to convict, intimidation of defense lawyers and restrictions on jury trials. The report urges Russia to increase judicial independence by ensuring that judges are not evaluated on the basis of their judicial decisions and altering the system for allocating cases to particular judges, and "to effectively protect defence lawyers from searches and seizures of documents pertaining to the privileged lawyer-client relationship" and other forms of harassment.

Earlier this month, Khodorkovsky called [JURIST report] for "preventative judicial reforms," saying that putting an end to corruption and political pressure should be a governmental priority. In March, Khodorkovsky criticized [JURIST report] amendments signed into law in January by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile], allowing trials for treason and terrorism to be adjudicated without juries [JURIST report]. Medvedev himself acknowledged the need for judicial reform [JURIST report] in December, saying that transparent courts would restore faith in the justice system and prevent people from seeking redress in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website].






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Cambodia genocide court co-prosecutor resigns
Andrew Morgan on June 24, 2009 12:43 PM ET

[JURIST] A co-prosecutor at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] announced on Tuesday that he was stepping down [statement, PDF; oral statement, PDF] in September for personal and family reasons. Canadian Robert Petit [official profile], charged with trying those responsible for atrocities committed during the rule of the Khmer Rouge [BBC backgrounder], called his work at the court the "greatest privilege of [his] career." Petit became International Co-Prosecutor at ECCC in 2006, after working as a prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the UN Mission of Assistance in East Timor, and in the War Crimes Section of the Canadian Department of Justice [official websites]. Petit said that his departure would not affect that work of the court, and that he was confident that the UN would name a successor soon. The Cambodian national co-prosecutor Chea Leang will continue on in her role.

The ECCC is in the midst of the first trial of a former Khmer Rouge leader, Kaing Guek Eav [TrialWatch backgrounder, JURIST news archive], also known as "Duch." Last week, the court found that Kaing has been detained unlawfully [JURIST report] by a Cambodian military court for the past 10 years, but denied a defense request for his release. In late April, Kaing admitted to training prison staff to use torture [JURIST report] to obtain confessions from prisoners, after he accepted responsibility [JURIST report] for the deaths of 12,000 Cambodians in the S-21 prison camp [backgrounder]. Kaing's trial is the first of eight [JURIST report] that the ECCC hopes to hear against former members of the Khmer Rouge, which has been accused of murdering 1.7 million Cambodians during its nearly four-year reign. The ECCC has long been plagued with accusations of corruption and inadequate funding, with greater problems in recent years. Last month, Japan agreed to donate $4 million to the tribunal after the ECCC reported in March that it would be unable to pay its Cambodian employees for that month, one year after the court had requested $114 million dollars from the UN [JURIST report]. In February, Human Rights Watch warned that the ECCC trials were in danger of being tainted for their failure to follow fair trial standards [JURIST report], and in January a Cambodian court agreed to hear a corruption case [JURIST report] involving two ECCC judges.






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Iran to accept election complaints from opposition
Christian Ehret on June 24, 2009 11:38 AM ET

[JURIST] Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [official profile; BBC profile] granted a request Wednesday to allow opposition candidates five additional days to submit complaints about the contested presidential election [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in Iran. The Guardian Council for the Constitution [official website, in Persian] made the request to allow complaints after recently rejecting [BBC report] protesters' requests for a re-election. Although Khamenei will hear the candidates' grievances, he told legislators Wednesday that the government will not succumb to pressure [AP report] over the election results. He called for the protests to stop and accused foreign powers of perpetuating the dispute. State media reported that conservative candidate Mohsen Rezaie withdrew his complaints of voting fraud Wednesday, maintaining that he did so for the sake of the country. After recently conducting an investigation [JURIST report] into the election results, the Guardian Council asserted that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] won the election by such an overwhelming majority that any minor inconsistencies would not have resulted in victory for reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi [IranTracker profile]. Khamenei has also maintained that the results were not manipulated or subjected to voter fraud.

Mousavi supporters protested in Tehran and elsewhere after Ahmadinejad's victory, reportedly resulting in at least 17 deaths and hundreds of arrests [JURIST report]. Authorities stated that those arrested would be dealt with [Reuters report] by the court system. Following the Guardian Council's investigation, they conceded that the number of votes exceeded the number of voters in 50 voting districts but explained that the discrepancy could be due to voters' ability to vote anywhere in the country. Human rights groups have viewed the arrests as political repression [JURIST report], saying that Iranian forces are using the protests to "engage in what appears to be a major purge of reform-oriented individuals." Amnesty International [advocacy website] called for authorities to respect and nurture debate Thursday, stressing [press release] that "healthy debate on issues of fundamental importance to peoples' lives" informs, rather than threatens, policy makers."






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Bagram ex-detainees allege abuse at US facility
Andrew Morgan on June 24, 2009 10:25 AM ET

[JURIST] Several former detainees held at the US detention facility at Bagram Air Base [JURIST news archive; GlobalSecurity backgrounder] in Afghanistan have alleged abuse [BBC report] while in custody, the BBC reported Wednesday. Interviews conducted over a two-month period with 25 people detained on suspicion of belonging to al Qaeda or the Taliban revealed allegations that prisoners were subjected to physical abuse, death threats, "stress positions," extreme temperatures, and forced nudity. Amnesty International [advocacy website] responded to the allegations [press release] by saying that they "were a timely reminder of the continuing need for accountability, transparency and for the human rights of those" detained in Afghanistan. Speaking for the US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website], Lt. Col. Mark Wright said that the conditions at Bagram were in line with international standards, and that service members who violated the rules had been held accountable.

Concern over the treatment of detainees held at US facilities, including Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and Bagram Air Base [JURIST news archives], has accelerated after the April release of four CIA interrogation memos [JURIST report]. Earlier this month, Judge John Bates of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] stayed an April ruling which would have allowed habeas corpus challenges [JURIST reports] initiated by current Bagram detainees to proceed while the government appeals the decision. In May, the DOD announced plans [JURIST report] to build a new prison in Afghanistan to replace Bagram, which became infamous in 2002 when two detainees died [JURIST news archive] after being abused by US soldiers.






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Serbia war crimes court convicts Croatian Serb in Vukovar killings
Christian Ehret on June 24, 2009 10:08 AM ET

[JURIST] The War Crimes Council of the Belgrade District Court [official website, in Serbian] convicted a Croatian Serb of war crimes Tuesday for his involvement in the death of 200 Croatian POWs [BBC backgrounder] in 1991, sentencing him to 20 years in prison. Damir Sireta [case materials, in Serbian] was originally charged [indictment, DOC, in Serbian] with violating Articles 22 and 144 of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Criminal Code [text] for his involvement in the killings that took place at a pig farm outside of the Croatian town of Vukovar [JURIST news archive]. At the time of the killings, Sireta was a member of the Vukovar Territorial Defense division of the former Yugoslav People's Army.

In March, 13 Serbs were convicted [JURIST report] for their involvement in the massacre and sentenced to terms ranging from five to 20 years. Originally, 18 Serbs were charged for the incident but charges against two of them were dropped. Fourteen of the men were eventually found guilty in 2005, but the Serbian Supreme Court vacated that verdict in 2006 and ordered a retrial [JURIST reports].






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India court issues arrest warrants for Mumbai attack suspects
Andrew Morgan on June 24, 2009 8:51 AM ET

[JURIST] An Indian court on Tuesday issued arrest warrants for 22 Pakistanis suspected of involvement in the Mumbai terror attacks [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], including a founding member of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) [CFR backgrounder], the Pakistani militant group suspected of carrying out the violence. Special Sessions Court judge M. L. Tahaliyani granted special prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam's request to issue warrants for LeT founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, as well as current leaders Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi and Zarar Shah [Global Jihad profiles], on suspicion that they planned and executed the November 2008 attacks which claimed at least 170 lives across Mumbai, including at the landmark Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and the central train station. Tahaliyani urged the Mumbai Police and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to issue the warrants through Interpol [official websites], which Nikam said [Times of India report] would require Pakistan to extradite the suspects for trial in India. Pakistani Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Malik Amad Ahmed Khan said during parliamentary debate [IANS report] that Pakistan would try the suspects rather than turn them over to India for trial.

The Indian arrest warrant for Saeed comes three weeks after a Pakistani court released him from house arrest [JURIST report] after finding that there was insufficient evidence to continue detention. Tahaliyani is currently presiding over the trial of suspected gunman and Pakistani citizen Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, who has pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to charges including [Times of India report] "waging war against India," which is punishable by death, "causing terror," destabilization of the government, murder, kidnapping, robbery, and the smuggling of illegal weapons and explosives. In February, Pakistan officials conceded [JURIST report] that the attacks were partially planned in their country. One scholar suggested that an international tribunal be formed [JURIST op-ed] to prosecute persons involved in Mumbai attacks in order to avoid further complications to the already unstable relationship between Pakistan and India.






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US commission proposes prison rape elimination guidelines
Christian Ehret on June 24, 2009 8:46 AM ET

[JURIST] Prison rape continues to be a widespread problem in the US, according to a report [text] released Tuesday by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) [official website]. Among other suggestions, the report calls for officials to identify those prisoners who are vulnerable and to protect them, to develop reporting and investigatory procedures for sexual abuse that keep victims safe, and to ensure immediate access to medical and mental health care for those abused. Additionally, the commission found that juveniles are more likely to be subjected to such abuse, especially when confined with adults, and that procedures must be specifically tailored to address those individuals. The commission also called for monitoring technologies in aiding staff supervision, limits on cross-gender supervision, and zero-tolerance policies for correctional labor unions. The report addresses the consequences of sexual abuse in prison facilities:


The sexual abuse of prisoners undermines the very purpose of corrections in America. It is an offense against the victim, an affront to the interests and values of civil society, and a violation of the highest order of American legal jurisprudence, which forbids the “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain” upon prisoners by corrections officials or by other prisoners.

A 2007 study highlighted in the report found that 4.5 percent of prisoners experienced sexual abuse in the 12 months preceding the study, estimating that 60,500 state and federal prisoners were subjected to sexual abuse during that period. The study found that 2 percent of prisoners were abused by other prisoners and 2.9 percent were abused by correctional staff. Aside from rape and abuse occurring in prison, the report also identifies sexual abuse in correctional supervision facilities including halfway houses, treatment centers, and court diversionary programs.

Rape and other forms of sexual abuse have been a recurring issue in the US prison system. Earlier this month, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion text; JURIST report] that a Massachusetts regulation prohibiting prisoners from receiving sexually explicit mail is constitutional. The Massachusetts prison commissioner defended the regulation on the grounds that it was designed to promote prison safety and security. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] reported [text, PDF] in 2006 that sexual violence in US prisons often goes unreported [JURIST report] because victims fear further abuse or do not trust prison staff. In 2005, the DOJ released its first report [text, PDF; JURIST report] on prison rape in accordance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 [DOJ backgrounder], but admitted that most incidents were probably never reported and that their numbers could not be reliably estimated. The NPREC was created pursuant to the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which called for the development of national standards for correctional facilities to eliminate prison rape.





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Bosnia court refuses to extradite former Croatia lawmaker convicted of war crimes
Eszter Bardi on June 24, 2009 7:14 AM ET

[JURIST] A Bosnian state court on Tuesday refused to extradite [press release] former Croatian parliament deputy Branimir Glavas [Trial Watch backgrounder; JURIST news archive] to Croatia to serve a sentence for war crimes. Glavas, who holds dual Bosnian and Croatian citizenship, fled to Bosnia to avoid serving his sentence for killing Serbs during the Croatian conflict [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] from 1991-1994. Glavas was convicted [JURIST report] in May in the Zagreb County court [official website, in Croatian] and sentenced to 10 years in prison for ordering the torture and death of Croatian Serbs in the town of Osijek in 1991, a charge he denied. Shortly after fleeing Croatia in an effort to avoid the sentence, Glavas was arrested on an Interpol warrant [BIRN report] in Bosnia. Bosnia and Herzegovnia is not a party to any international extradition agreement [Reuters report], and, since Glavas is a Bosnian citizen, the court did not find it within its jurisdiction to release him.

In January 2008, Glavas was stripped of his parliamentary immunity [JURIST report] so that lawyers could proceed with his prosecution in Croatia. Glavas is a former prominent member of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union [party website], and was re-elected [JURIST report] to office under the new parliament during the Croatia's November 2007 elections. Glavas has maintained his innocence and even staged a 40-day hunger strike in 2006 when he was detained [JURIST report] after the criminal investigation against him initially opened. He also faces another war crimes investigation in Zagreb for the murder of two Serbs in a separate incident in Osijek.






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