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Legal news from Tuesday, April 13, 2010




Karadzic war crimes trial resumes with first prosecution witness
Sarah Miley on April 13, 2010 1:24 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Tuesday resumed the war crimes trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [case materials; JURIST news archive]. The proceedings commenced with the prosecution calling its first witness, Bosnian Muslim Ahmet Zulic [witness list, PDF]. Zulic provided testimony concerning the 1992 attack on his village of Sanski Most at the beginning of the Bosnian war [PPU backgrounder]. Zulic testified that his father was burned alive by Serb insurgents and that he witnessed Serbs force 20 Muslim men to dig their own graves before executing them. The prosecution alleges that Karadzic was responsible for coordinating the invasion. Zulic has previously testified about the general political situation in Sanski Most and about the brutal conditions, beatings, and killings in the detention facilities in which he was held, including in the trial of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic [Biography profile; JURIST news archive]. Zulic will be cross-examined by Karadzic, who is serving as his own defense counsel. The prosecution's 11 remaining witness will take the stand in the coming weeks.

Last week, the ICTY dismissed [JURIST report] Kardzic's latest motion to delay court proceedings, in which he argued that there had been a violation of his right to a fair hearing because the court had rejected previous evidentiary challenges. In March, Karadzic lost another motion [JURIST report] to postpone his war crimes trial on charges related to crimes committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict. Karadzic claimed that a February ruling increasing the remuneration for his defense lawyers should also give him extra time to prepare for his case. Karadzic is defending himself against 11 counts [amended indictment, PDF], including genocide and murder.






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Rights groups concerned over Fiji draft media law
Sarah Paulsworth on April 13, 2010 12:08 PM ET

[JURIST] International rights organizations voiced concern Tuesday about a draft media law [text, PDF] the Fijian government is slated to approve in the near future. The Media Industry Development Decree 2010 includes several provisions that could result in the imprisonment of journalists for up to five years and stiff fines. Pacific Researcher for Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] Apolosi Bose criticized the legislation [press release], saying, "[t]he Fijian government is giving itself a license to imprison or bankrupt its critics. The decree will further restrain the media from reporting government and military abuses, for fear of reprisals through a kangaroo court." International Federation of Journalists [advocacy website] General Secretary Aidan White said [press release] last week:


It is not surprising that Fiji's regime says it will drop its emergency regulations once the media decree is adopted. The decree is clearly focused on the regime retaining control and entrenching its highly oppressive restrictions, not only on the media but on members of the public who might wish to express dissenting views.

Of particular concern is provision 21, which bars content that "(a) is against the public interest or order; (b) is against national interest; (c) offends against good taste or decency; or (d) creates communal discord," and provisions 25 and 26, which penalize media representatives who fail to provide documentation or information requested or refuse searches and seizures for which law enforcement authorities have obtained a warrant. Failure to adhere to provisions could result in fines of up $500,000 for a mass media institutions, and fines of up to $100,000 for editors, publishers, and journalists and up to fives years imprisonment. The tribunal overseeing implementation of the Media Industry Development Decree will be led by a presidential appointee, casting doubt on that entity's independence. The law is expected to be approved during a Cabinet meeting in the near future.

Fiji has been in turmoil since former president Ratu Josefa Iloilo suspended the constitution last April and revoked the appointment of all judicial officers after an appeals court ruling [JURIST reports] declaring the appointment of the military government following the 2006 coup unconstitutional. Bainimarama took control in the wake of the coup, which ousted former Fijian prime minister Laisenia Qarase [BBC profile]. More recently, the Commonwealth of Nations [official website] suspended [JURIST report] Fiji from its organization in September because it failed to meet the September 1 deadline for reinstating a constitutional democracy and opening a national dialogue. The Pacific Islands Forum [official website] suspended [JURIST report] Fiji's membership in the 16-nation bloc in May after Fiji's current military government failed to meet a May 1 deadline to schedule elections. Bainimarama announced plans [JURIST report] in July to establish a new constitution by September 2013. In its 2009 Human Rights Report on Fiji [text], the US State Department [official website] noted deteriorating conditions in the areas of judicial independence and media freedom.





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Spain high court upholds suspension of investigation into 2002 Gaza bombing
Tara Tighe on April 13, 2010 11:20 AM ET

[JURIST] The Spanish Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] on Tuesday upheld a National Court decision suspending an investigation into a 2002 Israeli air force bombing in the Gaza Strip. The attack killed 15 people, including 14 civilians. The investigation was ordered in January 2009 after a National Court judge determined that the alleged bombing merited judicial investigation, but was suspended [JURIST reports] by the National Court in June. The Supreme Court's decision puts a definitive end [El Pais report, in Spanish] to the controversial investigation.

The decision to suspend the investigation overruled a May 2009 order [text, PDF, in Spanish; JURIST report] by National Court judge Fernando Andreu [JURIST news archive] to continue the investigation despite legal challenges. The court's decision to suspend the investigation was based on a determination that the court lacked jurisdiction because Israel was already investigating the incident. Spain's use of universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in similar investigations has been criticized in the past, leading to the passage of legislation [JURIST reports] to limit the scope of universal jurisdiction to cases in which the victims of a crime include Spaniards or the alleged perpetrators were in Spain.






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Dutch PM proposes international nuclear tribunal
Ann Riley on April 13, 2010 10:40 AM ET

[JURIST] Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende [official profile] on Monday proposed the establishment of an international tribunal in the Netherlands to try countries suspected of supplying nuclear materials to terrorists. The tribunal would be set in The Hague, already home to several international judicial institutions, and would hold accountable nations that break international nuclear security treaties [Telegraaf report, in Dutch]. A "nuclear court" would have to be established by a special treaty. According to Balkenende, US President Barack Obama [official profile] reacted positively to the proposal during the Nuclear Security Summit [WH blog] currently being held in Washington, DC. The two-day, 47-nation [press release] international summit is intended to pursue a comprehensive nuclear security agenda while addressing concerns that terrorist organizations could obtain nuclear material [BBC report].

Continuing to make progress to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile] signed [JURIST report] the so-called New START treaty [text, PDF; BBC backgrounder] last week, pledging to reduce their countries' nuclear warheads by about 30 percent. Reaction to the new treaty has been mixed. US Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) [official website] on Sunday said that Senate approval of the treaty [JURIST report] is unlikely to happen this year. Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) [official website] also expressed reservations, while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] called [press release] it a "significant achievement." The US State Department began negotiating [JURIST report] the treaty with Russia in 2009. The treaty agreement, reached [JURIST report] in February, is the first nuclear agreement between the two nations in nearly 20 years.






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Kyrgyzstan interim government suspends constitutional court
Andrea Bottorff on April 13, 2010 9:34 AM ET

[JURIST] Kyrgyz interim prime minister Azimbek Beknazarov announced Tuesday that the temporary government has suspended the country's highest court until the country creates a permanent government. Beknazarov said that the Constitutional Court will remain temporarily dissolved [RIA Novosti report] because it allegedly supports ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev [BBC profile]. Beknazarov also warned Bakiyev on Tuesday that he no longer has presidential protection [AFP report] from legal proceedings and that he would be arrested and face criminal investigation if he did not step down as president. A Kyrgyz court also issued arrest warrants [Interfax report] for Bakiyev's brother and son and the country's former prime minister. In response, Bakiyev said Tuesday that he would admit defeat [BBC report] if the interim government assured the safety of his family. Bakiyev offered to meet with interim leader Roza Otunbayeva [Telegraph profile] and called on the international community to investigate last week's coup [JURIST report].

Last week, former Kyrgyz foreign minister Otunbayeva announced that she will lead an interim government in Kyrgyzstan after violent protests [JURIST report] apparently ousted Bakiyev and his administration. Otunbayeva, leader of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan [party website, in Russian], said that her temporary government will rule for six months [Guardian report] until the country holds democratic elections. Reports vary as to the number of citizens killed during the protests, with Kyrgyz opposition officials reporting more than 80 deaths and more than 1600 injuries [Bangkok Times report]. Also last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] announced that he will send an envoy to Kyrgyzstan and encouraged calm [UN News Centre report] in the unstable country. Rights groups have also urged leaders to respect human rights [HRW press release].






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Rights group urges Angola to fight corruption
Megan McKee on April 13, 2010 8:34 AM ET

[JURIST] The government of Angola [BBC backgrounder] should take a stronger stand against corruption [press release], according to a report [materials] released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. Despite the nation's large economic growth and increased stability following the end of the nation-wide civil war in 2002, the majority of its citizens' lives fail to reflect the improvements, according to the report. HRW suggests that while some limited measures to fight pervasive corruption have been taken since the release of their 2004 report [text], which documented the disappearance of billions of dollars of oil revenue from the central bank, little headway has been made. Following the economic downturn and the subsequent drop in oil prices, Angola entered a financial agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) [official website]. HRW has called on the IMF and its board members, namely the US and China, to ensure that Angola adhere to the provisions set forth by the IMF, and more specifically that it comply with the call to publicly audit the state oil company Sonangol [official website, Portuguese] and provide frequent updates on the nation's expenditures.

In January, Angola approved a new constitution [JURIST report] that will end the popular election of the president. The new constitution replaces an interim constitution [text, PDF] that had been in place since 1975. It provides for the appointment of the country's president by parliament's majority party, ending the direct election of the country's president. It also replaces the position of prime minister with a vice president appointed by the president, and limits the president to two five-year terms. Opponents of the constitution argue that it is merely a way to expand the power of current President Jose Eduardo dos Santos [BBC profile], who has been in power since 1979. Members of the ruling party say that it will allow him to rule the country more effectively [ANGOP report].






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Nebraska legislature approves bill tightening abortion restrictions
Hillary Stemple on April 13, 2010 7:20 AM ET

[JURIST] The Nebraska Legislature [official website] voted 40-9 Monday to approve a bill requiring a heightened level of informed consent and physician assessment of women seeking abortions [JURIST news archive]. The bill [LB 594 text, PDF] would require health care professionals to determine if the woman seeking the abortion had been pressured into the procedure and would also require them to assess the woman for additional risk factors that could lead to mental or physical complications. Physicians would be responsible for assessing any risk factor mentioned in any research article appearing in peer-reviewed journals one year prior to the procedure, and failure to adequately assess a patient would expose the physician to civil charges. According to the bill, factors to be assessed include "physical, psychological, emotional, demographic, or situational" factors. Critics of the bill claim it is too vague [AP report] and that it would be difficult for physicians to know all the risk factors for which they are responsible. Proponents of the bill state that the type of patient assessment required by the bill for abortions is in line with the assessments required for other medical procedures. Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman [official website] is expected to sign the bill into law Tuesday. Also Tuesday, the Nebraska legislature is expected to vote on a second bill [LB 1103 text, PDF] that would ban abortions after the twentieth week and would narrow the circumstances under which exceptions to the law would be allowed.

If the Nebraska bills become law, they would join recent anti-abortion laws in Oklahoma [JURIST report], which advocacy groups have criticized [JURIST comment] and promised to challenge in court. The possibility of the Supreme Court hearing a case challenging these laws could have an impact on the confirmation hearings of President Obama's nominee to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens [JURIST report].






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