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Legal news from Sunday, April 24, 2011

HRW requests international inquiry into killings of Syria protesters
Carrie Schimizzi on April 24, 2011 2:39 PM ET

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[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Sunday requested that the United Nations (UN) [official website] begin an international inquiry [press release] into Syria's security forces after numerous civilians were fatally shot [WP report] during peaceful anti-government protests earlier this week. HRW also called on the US and UN to issue sanctions against Syrian government officials who are responsible for the excessive use of lethal force and other rights violations against protesters. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, US President Barack Obama, and the leaders of several European nations issued strong condemnations [AFP report] of the April 22 shootings, which resulted in the deaths of at least 80 protesters. HRW Deputy Middle East Director Joe Stork said condemnations from the international community are "not enough" to stop the violence, saying "faced with the Syrian authorities' 'shoot to kill' strategy, the international community needs to impose sanctions on those ordering the shooting of protesters."

This is not the first time Syria has come under fire for its violent use of force against anti-government protesters, which so far have led to 170 deaths [JURIST report]. Earlier this month, HRW reported [text] that Syrian security forces have stopped medical personnel, sometimes violently, from attending to injured protesters. A spokesperson for the group called the practice "both inhumane and illegal." Last month, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] ordered the formation of a committee [JURIST report] that will discuss repealing the country's 48-year-old state of emergency law that bans protests and allows police to detain civilians without charges. Al-Assad announced earlier in March that the government would consider ending the state of emergency [JURIST report]. Also last month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged the Syrian government [JURIST report] to ensure protesters' rights to peaceful expression and to work toward addressing their concerns instead of responding with violence. As demonstrations continued throughout the country in March, the government freed 260 political detainees [AFP report] in an overture to the protesters.

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Federal judge dismisses Bank of America from class action securities lawsuit
Carrie Schimizzi on April 24, 2011 1:48 PM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Central District of California [official website] on Friday dismissed [order, PDF] Bank of America (BOA) [corporate website] from a $17 billion lawsuit involving securities based on mortgages issued by Countrywide Financial Corporation [NYT backgrounder], a former subsidiary of the bank. The class action suit [complaint, PDF] was filed by a number of investors who claim to have been financially harmed by Countrywide's misleading customer practices. Judge Mariana Pfaelzer dismissed BOA from the suit after the plaintiffs failed to prove a de facto merger, finding instead that two separate asset acquisition transactions in 2008 did not result in the effective merger of the businesses, thereby protecting BOA from successor liability. The plaintiffs still have claims pending against Countrywide and several other banks that served as underwriters of the securities, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. [corporate websites]. The remaining defendants have also filed motions to dismiss [Bloomberg report], but those rulings have yet to be issued.

BOA has recently been the target of several lawsuits. In February, BOA reached a $410 million settlement in a class action suit [JURIST report] accusing the bank of excessive overdraft fees. In January, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] against Countrywide in New York State Supreme Court [official website] alleging widespread fraud that resulted in substantial financial losses. Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard filed a lawsuit in mid-December against BOA for misleading customers [JURIST report] in mortgage modification and foreclosure practices. Earlier in the month, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] reached a $137 million settlement agreement [JURIST report] with BOA over fraud charges [order, PDF] in a lawsuit that claimed BOA used anti-competitive bidding processes with 20 state municipalities. In June, BOA subsidiary Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. reached [JURIST report] a $108 million settlement agreement [text, PDF] with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] in response to a lawsuit that charged it with collecting excessive fees from homeowners facing foreclosure.

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Yemen President Saleh agrees to step down, receives immunity
Drew Singer on April 24, 2011 12:10 PM ET

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[JURIST] Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh [official website, in Arabic; JURIST news archive] on Saturday agreed to step down from power, ending his 32-year reign as the nation's leader. Saleh agreed to a proposal requiring him to hand power over to his deputy in 30 days [AP report] in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Opposition groups have accepted the resignation with some reservations [Yemen Post report] — including disagreement with the proposition to form a national unity government in the next week, rather than once Saleh has formally vacated his office. Demonstrators concerned that the resignation was a political ploy continued to protest [Al Jazeera report] throughout Yemen. The Gulf Cooperation Council [official website], a group of six nations from the region, helped to broker the agreement.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] released a report [text; PDF] urging the international community to pressure Yemeni authorities to investigate the deaths of protesters [JURIST report]. The report chronicles reports of beatings and use of excessive force by security forces including shootings of peaceful protesters. AI criticizes the response of authorities to the mounting death tolls as woefully inadequate. The US Department of State [official website] earlier this month released the 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [materials; JURIST report] that, among other things, pointed out the ongoing extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, police and military abuses and restrictions on freedom of expression in Yemen. In March, the Yemeni parliament passed temporary emergency laws [JURIST report], giving the government more power to arrest and detain protesters and to censor the media.

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UN SG calls for ceasefire in Thailand-Cambodia clash
Drew Singer on April 24, 2011 11:31 AM ET

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[JURIST] UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official website; JURIST news archive] on Saturday urged [press release] Cambodia and Thailand to enter into a ceasefire agreement to resolve recent border clashes between the two countries. Saying that a military resolution is impossible [statement], Ban urged the countries to pursue a diplomatic solution and to exercise military restraint. The neighboring nations have been clashing [NYT report] for the past three days over disputed territory, marking the first time since February that the countries broke an informal cease-fire. Last month, both nations agreed to a UN-mediated meeting to discuss ways to safeguard the temple Preah Vihear [UNESCO profile], a location on the UN World Heritage List, which was damaged in previous border clashes between the South-East Asian neighbors earlier this year.

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In addition to armed clashes with Thailand, Cambodia's border with Vietnam has also been a subject of controversy. Last month, Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy [party profile; JURIST news archive] lost his final appeal to the Cambodian Supreme Court on charges of intentionally destroying posts [JURIST report] marking the border between Cambodia and Vietnam and inciting racial discrimination through that act. The ruling upheld Rainsy's September 2010 conviction [JURIST report], given in absentia due to his self-imposed exile since 2005. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] strongly criticized the ruling [JURIST report], saying that it showed the government's control over the country's judiciary.

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