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Legal news from Tuesday, October 27, 2009




Former Bosnian Serb president released early from prison
Sarah Miley on October 27, 2009 2:01 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Bosnian Serb president Biljana Plavsic [ICTY profile, PDF] was released [press release] from a Swedish prison on Tuesday after serving two-thirds of her sentence for war crimes committed between July 1991 and December 1992. Plavsic voluntarily surrendered herself to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] in 2001 and was indicted [text, PDF] on 8 counts of war crimes. In 2002, she pleaded guilty to one count of crimes against humanity in a plea agreement [text, PDF] and was sentenced to 11 years in a Swedish prison. The Swedish prison alerted the ICTY in May that Plavsic would have served two-thirds of her sentence in October, and under the the agreement between the UN and the Swedish government on the enforcement of sentences of the ICTY, she was eligible for conditional release under Swedish law. The ICTY agreed last month to grant her release [JURIST report], citing good behavior and "substantial evidence of rehabilitation". Plavsic, known as the "Iron Lady," was the highest-ranking official from the former Yugoslavia to have pleaded guilty for her part in the Bosnian War.

Plavsic was originally indicted along with former Bosnian Serb leader Momcilo Krajisnik [ICTY materials; JURIST news archive], against whom she agreed to testify as part of her plea deal. At Krajisnik's 2006 trial, the ICTY found him not guilty on a charge of genocide for which prosecutors had requested a life sentence [JURIST report], instead sentencing him to 27 years imprisonment. His sentence was reduced to 20 years [JURIST reports] in March after the charges of murder, extermination, and persecution were overturned on appeal. Krajisnik was transferred [JURIST report] to the UK in September to serve the remainder of his sentence, making him the third ICTY prisoner to begin serving his sentence in the UK [BBC report] under the rules of the ICTY.






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UN official cites obstacles to climate change agreement
Daniel Makosky on October 27, 2009 1:09 PM ET

[JURIST] Director of the UN secretary-general’s Climate Change Support Team Janos Pasztor said [recorded video] Monday that a December UN Climate Change Conference [official website] in Copenhagen, Denmark may not produce a treaty. Pasztor suggested that the success of the conference would be difficult to judge without the US Congress passing a climate bill and industrialized nations determining acceptable carbon dioxide emission levels and sources of funding to aid the reduction efforts of developing nations. Pasztor said:


The secretary-general believes that we must maintain the political momentum established by the 101 heads of state and government who attended the climate change summit and continue to aim for an ambitious, politically binding agreement in Copenhagen that would chart the way for future post-Copenhagen negotiations that lead to a legally binding global agreement.

Despite these concerns, Pasztor encouraged participating representatives to work toward defining the content of an eventual, legally-binding agreement [press release], noting that recent findings indicate the climate situation is worse than previously believed.

Some 1500 climate change negotiators from around the world met under UN auspices in Bangkok [official website] last week as a precursor to the major climate change meeting slated for Copenhagen in December. Thusfar, Western countries have been unable to convince developing nations to commit to reductions in emissions when the Western world has not done so either. In March, the US Special Envoy on Climate Change announced [JURIST report] at a UN Convention on climate change that the US is committed [video] to the creation of an international treaty designed to combat global warming, but that such efforts would only succeed if they were economically feasible. The Copenhagen meeting is supposed to establish a replacement for the controversial Kyoto Protocol [JURIST news archive], which the US did not sign. Negotiations on a new treaty began [JURIST report] last year.





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US religious freedom report criticizes Islamic nations
Jay Carmella on October 27, 2009 1:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of State (DOS) [official website] released its annual Report on International Religious Freedom [materials] Monday, criticizing Islamic countries for limiting religious expression. The report found that countries such as North Korea and Iran [JURIST news archives] have attempted to prevent religious defamation as a way to limit religious expression. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile] said [transcript] that freedom of religion is essential not only in the US but in every society, and limiting an individual's right of expression reduces that freedom.

The protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faiths will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions. These differences should be met with tolerance, not with the suppression of discourse.

Based on our own experience, we are convinced that the best antidote to intolerance is not the defamation of religion's approach of banning and punishing offensive speech, but rather, a combination of robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes, proactive government outreach to minority religious groups, and the vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and expression.
In addition to North Korea and Iran, the report criticized Myanmar, China, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan. Assistant State Department Secretary Michael Posner [official profile] supported [press briefing] the views expressed by Clinton during his briefing. He added, "we are all mindful of the fact that people of deep faith throughout the world are driven by and motivated by their religious beliefs. ... And we want to discourage people who misuse that faith in a way that's going to undermine basic human rights."

In May, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) [official website] released [JURIST report] its annual report on worldwide religious freedoms. The USCIRF moved several countries criticized in this week's DOS report from its "watch list" to its list of "countries of particular concern" (CPC). In 2007, Iraq was added to the "watch list" [JURIST report] for the first time since the ouster of Saddam Hussein. That same year, the Chinese government rejected the report [JURIST report] as prejudiced.





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EU lifts final sanctions against Uzbekistan despite rights concerns
Sarah Paulsworth on October 27, 2009 12:45 PM ET

[JURIST] The European Union (EU) [official website] announced [press release, PDF] Tuesday that it is lifting the final sanctions [text, PDF] still in place against Uzbekistan in connection with the May 2005 clashes in Andijan [JURIST news archive]. The decision was made in the face of resolute opposition due to Uzbekistan's poor human rights record. The EU statement says:


With a view to encourage the Uzbek authorities to take further substantive steps to improve the rule of law and the human rights situation on the ground, and taking into account their commitments, the Council decides not to renew the remaining restrictive measures set out in the Common Position 2008/843/CFSP.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] was among the organizations opposed to removal of the sanctions. In an October 14 letter [text] to EU foreign ministers, the organization noted that although the EU visa ban for Uzbek officials was lifted last October, the human rights situation in Uzbekistan has not improved. HRW said, "[t]his profoundly negative trend speaks volumes about the Uzbek government's lack of political will to improve its rights record, but also about failed EU policy toward Tashkent."

The European Union originally imposed sanctions [text, PDF] on Uzbekistan in November 2005 because the country refused to investigate the violent suppression of a protest of economic conditions in Andijan. The sanctions included suspending a cooperation accord, imposing an arms embargo, cutting aid to the country, and banning some Uzbek officials from traveling to Western Europe. Human rights groups claimed as many as 500 people were killed [JURIST report] in the Andijan clash between protesters and Uzbek soldiers and police, while Uzbek officials put the number at 173.





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China official confirms execution of Tibetan demonstrators
David Manes on October 27, 2009 12:13 PM ET

[JURIST] A Chinese Foreign Ministry [official website, in Chinese] spokesperson announced Tuesday that the two Tibetan prisoners sentenced to death [JURIST report] for their role in the March 2008 Lhasa riots [advocacy backgrounder; JURIST news archive] have been executed. The Chinese government confirmed the executions [AP report] after Tibetan rights groups first broke the news, but did not release any additional details. The two Tibetans were sentenced to death in April after being convicted of starting separate fires that resulted in deaths. Tibetan courts convicted 76 others [JURIST reports] of demonstration-related crimes in February. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in March that hundreds of other protesters who were detained during the Lhasa demonstrations had not been accounted for one year later [JURIST report].

China also recently sentenced nine people to death for alleged crimes that occurred during the July Xinjiang riots [JURIST news archive] in trials that were criticized by HRW [JURIST report]. HRW alleged that China violated national and international law in those trials by intimidating lawyers, employing biased judges, and closing proceedings to the press. The Xinjiang riots resulted in at least 12 deaths caused by police [JURIST report] and several other deaths.






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UN rights rapporteur: Guantanamo detainees should be tried or released
Safiya Boucaud on October 27, 2009 9:18 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Martin Scheinin [official website] said Monday that all Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees should be brought before US federal courts for trial [recorded video] by the January 22 deadline for closure set by US President Barack Obama [official profile]. Scheinin said that the detainees should not be held indefinitely and that if they cannot be brought to the US for trial then they should be released. In response to a question about the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison, Scheinin said:


My position on the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center is that it should be closed along the timeline announced by President Obama when he took office and that it should not be closed through trying and sentencing people through the military commissions because my assessment of the Military Commissions Act is very negative, and I don't think small fixes will help in making it compatible with the international standards of human rights or to that matter United States constitutional law. So what results from this is that there should be a division between persons who can be tried and they should be tried before proper courts - United States Federal courts within the territory of United States proper, and those who will not be tried, they should be released one way or the other.

Also Monday, Obama reiterated his plans to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay during his address at a congressional fundraiser in Miami, although he did not include his original January 2010 deadline as the proposed closure time.

Last week, the US Senate voted [JURIST report] 79-19 in favor of a bill permitting Guantanamo Bay detainees to be brought to the US for trial after members of the Homeland Security Appropriations Conference Committee [list, PDF] reached an agreement [JURIST report] earlier this month. The agreement came shortly after US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] told reporters that Congressional opposition may cause the Obama administration to miss its January deadline for closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, echoing prior statements [JURIST reports] by top administration officials. Also this month, Congress passed a bill amending [JURIST report] the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [text, PDF] to provide suspected terrorists with greater due process rights.





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Iraq renews call for UN inquiry after recent bombings
Steve Czajkowski on October 27, 2009 9:14 AM ET

[JURIST] Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari [official profile] on Monday renewed calls for a formal UN inquiry to investigate those responsible for bombings in the country following twin suicide bombings [JURIST report] in Baghdad Sunday, which are believed to have killed more than 150. Zebari asked the UN General Assembly and the Security Council [official websites] to appoint a special envoy to probe possible sources that are targeting the country's stability. Zebari's appeal echoes similar requests made by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [JURIST reports] following the August 19 bombing of the foreign and finance ministries [BBC report] that left close to 100 dead. The Iraqi government is blaming both attacks on al Qaeda and former members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party. The government has accused [Reuters report] Syria of providing support to those behind the bombings, based on that country's refusal to hand over individuals suspected of planning the August attack.

The bombings targeted the ministry of justice and the headquarters of the local provincial government ahead of an attempt by the Iraqi parliament [official website, in Arabic] to resolve a political stalemate that would permit changes to the country's election law. The elections, which are planned for January, cannot be held until a new election law is passed, and parliament continues to disagree about the exact changes to be made to the law, which was originally passed in September 2008. The Iraqi parliament's last attempt to change the election law [JURIST report] failed earlier last week. Iraqi political leaders reached an agreement on a compromise version Monday and sent it to parliament for debate on Tuesday.






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Sierra Leone war crimes court upholds sentences of former guerilla leaders
Steve Czajkowski on October 27, 2009 8:08 AM ET

[JURIST] The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday upheld [press release, PDF] the convictions of three former rebel leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], in what is to be the final proceedings of the Freetown-based court. The SCSL upheld the convictions of former RUF Interim Leader Issa Hassan Sesay and Senior RUF Commander Morris Kallon [Trial Watch profiles] on each of 16 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for violations committed during Sierra Leone's 11 year civil war [BBC backgrounder]. The conviction of former RUF Security Chief Augustine Gbao [Trial Watch profile] was also upheld on 14 counts. The court affirmed convictions for forced marriages and attacks on UN peacekeepers, which were a first for an international tribunal, as well as employing child soldiers in the war. With the decision, the SCSL confirmed the prior prison sentences [JURIST report] of Sessay, Kallon, and Gbao. They had been given terms of 52, 40, and 25 years respectively.

The only remaining indictee of the SCSL is Former Liberian president Charles Taylor [case materials; JURIST news archive], who is currently facing war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. In July, Taylor denied war crimes allegations [JURIST report] while testifying in for the first time at his trial. Taylor faces 11 counts [indictment, PDF] of crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva Conventions [materials], and other violations of international humanitarian law stemming from a "campaign to terrorize the civilian population" of Sierra Leone. Taylor also denied receiving jars full of diamonds by Liberian rebel forces. His defense claims that he could not have commanded rebel forces in Sierra Leone while acting as the president of Liberia. Taylor's trial began in Sierra Leone, but had been moved to The Hague [JURIST report] for security reasons.






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Federal judge dismisses Guantanamo habeas petition
Matt Glenn on October 27, 2009 7:38 AM ET

[JURIST] Judge John Bates of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Friday dismissed without prejudice [memorandum and order, PDF] a petition for habeas corpus filed on behalf of a Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee after the detainee refused to meet with his appointed counsel to authorize the petition. The court dismissed the petition, which was filed in 2006 on behalf of Muieen Adeen Jamal Adeen Abd Al Fusal Abd Al Sattar by Sami al Hajj as "next friend," based on a 2008 order requiring "next friend" habeas petitions to be authorized and signed by the the detainee on whose behalf the petition was filed. The order gave lawyers 10 days from their second meeting with a detainee to obtain such an authorization. According to the opinion, Al Sattar refused to meet with his appointed lawyer all five times the lawyer attempted to meet with him, tore up a letter from the lawyer asking for a meeting, and threatened Guantanamo personnel when they attempted to arrange a meeting. Bates ruled that Al Sattar was unwilling, rather than unable, to authorize the petition on his behalf, and therefore dismissed the petition.

Earlier this month, a judge in the same court dismissed [JURIST report] a detainee's habeas petition for similar reasons. Last month, a judge denied [JURIST report] the habeas petition of Algerian Guantanamo Bay detainee Sufiyan Barhoumi, bringing the total number of government victories to eight, while 30 detainees' habeas petitions have been granted. Also in September, a judge granted [JURIST report] the habeas petition of detainee Fouad Al Rabiah, ordering his release.






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