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Legal news from Sunday, March 21, 2010

Iraq election officials reject calls for recount on fraud allegations
Dwyer Arce on March 21, 2010 3:08 PM ET

[JURIST] Iraqi election officials on Sunday rejected allegations of fraud and calls for a recount of the ballots from the March 7 parliamentary election [CEIP backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Despite the demands for a recount [statement, in Arabic] Saturday by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [official website, in Arabic; BBC profile], which described the recount as necessary "to preserve political stability and stave off ... the resurgence of violence," an Independent High Election Commission (IHEC) [official website] official stated [BBC report] that a total recount of the ballots would not be feasible, and is not necessary, due to checks against fraud. Calls for a recount come amid a close election result between Maliki's Shi'ite dominated State of Law [official website] coalition, and their primary rival, former prime minister Iyad Allawi [official website, in Arabic; Al Jazeera profile] and his cross-sectarian Iraqiya coalition. With 95 percent of the vote counted on Sunday, Allawi maintained a lead [Reuters report] of around 11,000 votes over Maliki, with the full vote count to be announced Friday. In response to the recount demands, an Iraqiya spokesperson stated [Al Jazeera report] that a recount would delay the election results for months, negatively affecting the security situation. The close election result has prompted observers to predict that neither party will gain a majority of the 325-seat parliament, leading to possibly months of negotiations to form a government. Also on Sunday, a protest broke out in support of Maliki's recount demands in the city of Najaf, where 300 demonstrators gathered near the provincial government building.

The IHEC on Friday dismissed allegations of election fraud [JURIST report] from a member of the European Parliament [official website]. On Wednesday, The State of Law coalition first asked the IHEC for a recount [JURIST report], alleging fraud. State of Law spokesperson Ali Al Adib claimed that the ballots were manipulated [AP report] by the manager of an electronic counting center who is allegedly linked to Iraqiya. The allegations came after Iraqiya began to take a slight lead [Al Jazeera report] in a partial vote count released earlier this week. The IHEC said that there was no evidence [AP report] to back up the allegations. The fraud allegations are the latest in a series of problems plaguing the elections. Last month, an Iraqi appeals panel ruled [JURIST report] that 28 of the 500 candidates previously banned due to allegations of ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party [BBC backgrounder] could stand in the election. The initial ban was characterized by the Iraqi government as illegal, and was reversed [JURIST reports] when the panel acknowledged that it did not have to rule on all 500 candidates at once.

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UN SG calls for end to 'illegal' West Bank settlements
Dwyer Arce on March 21, 2010 12:19 PM ET

[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank "illegal," during a press conference [BBC report] Saturday. The statement comes two weeks after Israel announced [Haaretz report] the construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], where Palestinians hope to establish the capital of their future state. Ban said:

The world has condemned Israel's settlement expansion plans in East Jerusalem. Let us be clear, all settlement activities [are] illegal anywhere in Occupied Territory, the Quartet has reaffirmed that position. I'm also concerned about actions in Hebron, Jerusalem, and Israel. I urge all parties to respect sensitives and promote calm. We can and must find a way for Jerusalem to emerge from negotiations as the capital of two states with arrangements for holy sites acceptable to all.

During the press conference, in which Ban was joined by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad [BBC profile], Ban voiced his support [NYT report] for Fayyad's plans to build the institutions of an independent state by 2011, and called for the immediate resumption of peace talks to result in an independent Palestinian state within two years, echoing a statement [text] released by the Quartet on the Middle East Friday. The Quartet, a group comprising the US, European Union, UN, and Russia, dedicated to mediating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, urged the Israeli government to "freeze all settlement activity ... and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem." On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [official website; BBC profile] stated [WP report] that construction in East Jerusalem would not be restricted despite international criticism and pressure from the US.

Two weeks ago, indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians were postponed [Al Jazeera report] after the Israeli Interior Ministry [official website, in Hebrew] announced the construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem. The announcement coincided with a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden [official profile] to promote the talks, touching off a diplomatic row between the two nations. Israeli activity in the West Bank has remained a controversial issue, and has been deemed to violate international law on several occasions. In June 2008, Ban asserted that Israeli plans to expand settlements [Haaretz report] in the West Bank violated international law [JURIST report]. Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories were held to be illegal [opinion text, PDF] under international law by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] in 2004. Shortly after construction of the border wall [JURIST news archive] began in the West Bank in 2002, the ICJ held that it also violated international law [opinion text; JURIST report], amounting to a "de facto annexation."

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New York appeals court rules state can annul same-sex civil unions
Daniel Makosky on March 21, 2010 10:22 AM ET

[JURIST] A New York state appeals court ruled [text, PDF] Thursday that the state's courts have jurisdiction to hear requests to annul civil unions performed in other states. The Third Judicial Department Appellate Division [official website] reversed a 2008 Schenectady County Supreme Court [official website] decision, citing multiple protections New York affords to same-sex partnerships as sufficient to establish competency despite the state lacking its own civil union law:

Here, while New York has not created a specific mechanism for dissolution of a civil union validly entered into in another state, neither has it exercised its power, by statute or other legislative enactment, to prohibit an action for dissolution of a civil union. Since Supreme Court's jurisdiction over the subject matter of this action has not been proscribed, and this matter involves a dispute for which "adequate relief by means of an existing form of action is [un]available to the plaintiff," Supreme Court is competent to adjudicate the case.
The case involved a same-sex New York couple that that entered into a civil union in Vermont. Vermont, however, was unable to provide relief since it requires at least one party to be a resident of the state for at least one year.

The New York Senate [official website] rejected [JURIST report] legislation [text; materials] in December that would have legalized same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive]. The bill, introduced to the state legislature in April, passed [JURIST reports] in the General Assembly [official website] by a margin of 89-52 in May. The bill was again passed by the lower body in anticipation of the senate vote, as required by state law. New York, however, is currently one of the few US jurisdictions to recognize [JURIST report] same-sex marriages performed in other states.

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