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Legal news from Sunday, April 4, 2010

Rwanda high court sends Congo militia leader case to military court
Dwyer Arce on April 4, 2010 3:48 PM ET

[JURIST] The Rwandan Supreme Court [official website] ruled on Saturday that the plea for release by Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) rebel leader Laurent Nkunda [BBC profile] can only be heard by a military court. According to Nkunda's counsel, Aime Bokanga, the court held that since the military was responsible for Nkunda's detention, a military court must hear his case [Reuters report] for release. Bokanga expressed disappointment at the ruling, saying that the Supreme Court should have declared Nkunda's detention illegal. The case is expected to be transferred next week. Nkunda is the leader of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), a rebel group operating in the eastern DRC province of Nord-Kivu. According to Nkunda's counsel, he is being held illegally [Reuters report] without charge, and has promised [BBC report] to bring the case to the African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights [official website] if redress cannot be found in a Rwandan court.

Last April, a Rwandan court rejected [JURIST report] a similar lawsuit seeking Nkunda's release from custody. Nkunda was apprehended by Rwandan authorities in last January near the DRC border after a joint DRC-Rwandan military operation to capture him and root out Rwandan Hutu rebels operating in the DRC. Nkunda faces an uncertain legal future [JURIST report], with the DRC government having called on Rwanda to extradite Nkunda to DRC [BBC report] where he would face charges for atrocities allegedly committed by forces under his command. Another possibility for Nkunda is extradition to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] in The Hague. The ICC has issued an arrest warrant [JURIST report] and prepared a case against his deputy in the CNDP, Bosco Ntaganda [ICC materials], for war crimes committed in the DRC, including the recruitment and use of child soldiers [JURIST news archive]. Nkunda has repeatedly denied allegations of war crimes [JURIST report] against him and the CNDP.

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Afghanistan parliament backs presidential appointment of election commission
Dwyer Arce on April 4, 2010 1:54 PM ET

[JURIST] The upper house of the Afghan parliament, the Meshrano Jirga, on Saturday backed a decree allowing the president to appoint all of the members of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) [official websites]. The decree was issued in February by President Hamid Karzai [official profile; JURIST news archive] following the disputed 2009 presidential election [JURIST news archive]. Previously, the ECC was comprised of three foreign members appointed by the UN and two Afghan citizens - one appointed by the Supreme Court and another by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission [official websites]. The decree requires that all members be Afghan citizens and gives the president the power to appoint all five members. On Wednesday, the Wolesi Jirga [official website], the lower house of the Afghan parliament, voted overwhelmingly [press release] to veto Karzai's decree. The upper house refused to vote [Reuters report] on the issue, however, touching off a debate [WSJ report] as to what is now required to prevent the decree from being enforced under the Afghan Constitution [text]. Western diplomats claim that it must be vetoed by the Meshrano Jirga as well, and others add that the veto must be signed by the president. Additionally, some lawmakers have argued that electoral law cannot be changed within a year of an election. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for September.

The rejection of Karzai's decree has been seen as further evidence that he is facing a much more assertive parliament in his second term. The Wolesi Jirga rejected more than a dozen of Karzai's cabinet nominees in January before finally accepting [JURIST reports] his nominee for the justice ministry. On Thursday, Karzai blamed foreign officials [JURIST report] for the extensive irregularities that occurred during the presidential election. Though admitting that fraud was widespread, Karzai accused [Al Jazeera report] UN and EU representatives of attempting to influence vote counts. In November, Karzai was declared the winner [JURIST report] of the election after challenger Abdullah Abdullah [BBC profile] withdrew from the runoff election due to his belief that a free and fair vote was impossible.

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UN SG urges Kyrgyzstan to protect human rights
Steve Czajkowski on April 4, 2010 10:04 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] on Saturday called on Kyrgyzstan [JURIST news archive] to protect all forms of human rights [speech text], including "free speech and freedom of the media." In a statement to the to the Jogorku Kenesh [official website, in Russian], the parliament of Kyrgyzstan, Ban stressed the importance of respecting human rights of all people:

Robust civil society, tolerance for diversity and media freedom - all are fundamental to modernization. They are essential to civil harmony and growth, prosperity, opportunity. ... All of us who believe in the United Nations understand that security has many dimensions. It starts with people. Respect for the rights of all people. For the UN, the protection of human rights is a bedrock principle if a country is to prosper.

The statements follow recent events [RIA Novosti report] in the country that include the shutdown of an opposition newspaper, a police raid on a local television station that resulted in the station being taken off the air, and the confiscation of computers from a video web portal based on allegations of pirated software use. Ban called those events "troubling." His comments also drew a small crowd of protesters [RFE/RL report] that rallied against human rights offenses in the country.

Kyrgyzstan was once hailed as a model for democracy in the Central Asian countries that made up the former Soviet Union. It is believed that much of the media pressure [AP report] is the result of the election of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev following the Tulip revolution that removed Askar Akayev from power in 2005. Last year, the US State Department (DOS) [official website] criticized Kyrgyzstan over its treatment of journalists in its 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [DOS materials; JURIST report].

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