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Legal news from Saturday, May 15, 2010




Rights group urges UK to set up judicial inquiry on torture
Erin Bock on May 15, 2010 2:16 PM ET

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[JURIST] Human Rights Watch [official website] on Friday urged the new UK government to set up a judicial inquiry [press release] on torture [JURIST news archive] allegations and reaffirm its support for human rights. The rights group claimed that allegations of complicity in the torture of terrorism suspects have badly damaged the nation's reputation and that steps need to be taken to restore the nation's reputation as "a nation that respects human rights." The group cited reports from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee [materials], which point out specific instances of torture and kidnapping in counterterrorism efforts. Among the many issues the group wants the government to reconsider include the power of the government to detain terrorism suspects for 28 days without a trial and the government's ability to deport detainees to countries where they may be tortured. The organization's London director, Tom Porteous, expressed his desire for the British government to make civil liberties more of a priority.
The two parties in government have indicated they are in substantial agreement on civil liberties. They should translate that into practice by making a clean break with the previous government's abusive approach to counterterrorism and by strengthening the UK's role in bringing to justice those responsible for international crimes at home and abroad.
The organization also urged the government to continue its support of the International Criminal Court [official website] and the Human Rights Act [text], which the government adopted in 1998.

Earlier this month, the England and Wales Court of Appeals [official website] ruled that security organizations MI5 and MI6 [official websites] could not use secret evidence in their defense against abuse allegations by Binyam Mohamed and other UK residents who were held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. The security organizations wanted to use a "closed material procedure" that would allow them to rely on certain evidence without disclosing it to opposing counsel or committing it to the public record out of fear that disclosure would harm the public interest and the agencies themselves. The court ruled in February that the government must disclose several paragraphs [JURIST report] detailing the allegations of Mohamed's mistreatment that were previously omitted from an earlier ruling. The Human Rights Act, passed to comply with the European Convention of Human Rights, has been a source of debate in the British government since is was adopted in 1998. In 2006, then-prime minister Tony Blair called for an amendment to the act to allow the government greater discretion to protect public safety, while conservative leaders called for the act to be repealed [JURIST reports].




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UN expert urges legal reforms to fight global hunger crisis
Ann Riley on May 15, 2010 1:34 PM ET

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[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food [official website] Olivier De Schutter [official profile] on Friday urged reforms [UN News Centre report] to legal systems to fight hunger and promote the right to food. The UN High-Level Task Force for the Global Food Crisis [official website] is meeting next week in Dublin to update the 2008 Comprehensive Framework of Action on Food [text, PDF]. In response to the global food price crisis, De Schutter has been reviewing the progress of countries' national adoption of the right to food, submitting reports on Benin, Brazil, Guatemala, and Nicaragua [texts, PDF] to the UN Human Rights Council [official website]. De Schutter emphasized the need for adequate legal mechanisms in remedying the global hunger crisis:
We tend to forget that in the fight against hunger, processes and institutions are as vital as new seeds; legal frameworks as necessary as agricultural investments; and participatory institutions as impactful in the long term as bags of fertilizers.
De Schutter's review cites successful legal measures that have upheld the right to food. In 2007, the South African Equity Court urged parties in a fishing dispute to develop new legislative policies to recognize fishermen's rights to equitable marine resources. In 2003, Brazil launched a "Zero Hunger" strategy with legal reforms that require 30 percent of school food to be purchased from family farms. Additionally, a 2001 India Supreme Court case has resulted in universal mid-day meals benefiting more than 118 million Indian children.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] has historically called for an increased effort to uphold the "fundamental human right" to food [JURIST report] for people around the world who suffer from chronic hunger. The right to adequate food is recognized in Articles 24(2)(c) and 27(3) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 12(2) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and Articles 25(f) and 28(1) of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights [texts] adopted by the UN in 1948 states that "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food."




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Iraq recount shows no signs of fraud in March elections
Ann Riley on May 15, 2010 12:13 PM ET

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[JURIST] Spokesman for Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) [official website] Qassim al-Aboudi announced Friday that the completed recount of votes cast in the March 7 parliamentary elections [CEIP backgrounder; JURIST news archive] showed no signs of fraud or major irregularities. The official tally [Reuters report] after the 11-day recount of 2.5 million ballots will be announced Monday. After the original count, the Iraqiya coalition of Iyad Allawi [personal website, in Arabic; Al Jazeera profile] garnered a slim two-seat lead over the State of Law [official website] coalition of incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [official website, in Arabic]. After alleging fraud [JURIST report], Al-Maliki said that the recount challenge was meant to show the credibility of the Iraq's election system and strengthen the confidence of voters.

Last month, the IHEC ordered a manual recount of the ballots in Baghdad, where 68 seats of the 325-seat parliament were up for election, but did not begin the recount [JURIST reports] until the review panel defined more precisely what a recount entailed. Earlier in April, an IHEC review panel nullified the votes of 52 candidates for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party [BBC backgrounder], including two candidates that had won seats in the Iraqi Council of Representatives [official website], at least one of which coming from Iraqiya. In February, an Iraqi appeals panel ruled [JURIST report] that 28 of the 500 candidates previously banned due to allegations of ties to the Baath Party 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. This came as a reversal of a previous decision, where it held that the candidates could stand in the coming elections, but would have to be cleared of the allegations against them before taking office.




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Small business lobby group joins health care lawsuit
Patrice Collins on May 15, 2010 10:48 AM ET

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[JURIST] The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) [association website], a small business lobby group, joined a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] on Friday challenging the constitutionality of the recently enacted health care reform law [text; JURIST news archive]. The NFIB joins 20 states in a legal battle that began in March when a complaint seeking injunction and declaratory relief was filed [JURIST reports] in a Florida federal court. The president and CEO of the NFIB commented [press release] on the association's decision to join the lawsuit:
Small business owners everywhere are rightfully concerned that the unconstitutional new mandates, countless rules and new taxes in the healthcare law will devastate their business and their ability to create jobs. They are also concerned about their personal freedoms. This law is the first time the federal government has required individuals to purchase something simply because they are alive. If Congress can regulate this type of inactivity, then there are essentially no limits to what they can mandate individuals to do.
Also Friday, Nevada joined the lawsuit [AP report] challenging the constitutionality of the new law.

Among the allegations in the suit are violations of Article I and the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution, committed by levying a tax without regard to census data, property, or profession, and for invading the the sovereignty of the states. The plaintiffs also assert that the law should not be upheld under the commerce clause. Earlier this week, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] filed [JURIST report] its first response [brief text] to one of several lawsuits challenging the controversial new health care law. In a brief filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan [official website], the DOJ defended the law, asserting that Congress acted within its powers to regulate interstate commerce. The suit [complaint, PDF], filed in March by conservative public interest group the Thomas More Law Center [advocacy website] on the same day President Barack Obama signed the bill into law [JURIST report], argues that the mandate that all individuals carry health insurance is unconstitutional.




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