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Legal news from Saturday, May 21, 2011

ICC prosecutor to begin investigation into Ivory Coast violence
Maureen Cosgrove on May 21, 2011 10:29 AM ET

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[JURIST] Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official websites] on Thursday submitted a request [text, PDF] to the court to begin an investigation into the Ivory Coast political conflict [JURIST news archive] during which thousands of people have been killed and displaced. ICC President Judge Sang-Hyun Song assigned [order, PDF; press release] the investigation to Pre-Trial Chamber II following Moreno-Ocampo's letter of intent. Moreno-Ocampo, who told reporters in early April that he was willing to investigate the alleged war crimes [JURIST report], indicated that he had a reasonable basis to believe crimes within the jurisdiction of the court had been committed on the Ivory Coast since November 2010. Despite the Ivory Coast not being a party to the Rome Statute [text], the ICC press release stated that the country had affirmed the jurisdiction of the court on several occasions. The formal investigation will likely focus [Reuters report] on former president Laurent Gbagbo [BBC profile], who refused to cede power following the November 28 election, as well as current, democratically elected President Alassane Ouattara [BBC profile].

In April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged [JURIST report] Ouattara to investigate "atrocities," including murder and rape, committed by opposing political forces during the recent conflicts. Earlier in April, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [official website] reported the deaths of at least 800 civilians [JURIST report] in the Ivory Coast town of Duekoue as a result of intercommunal violence that took place. Last month, the OHCHR called for an independent investigation into post-election violence [JURIST report]. The violence stemmed from Gbagbo's refusal to cede power to Ouattara, who won the November 2010 runoff election according to international observers. Gbagbo was elected president in 2000 to serve a five-year term, but he has maintained his office, delaying six successive elections.

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DC Circuit upholds default damages judgment against Syria
Maureen Cosgrove on May 21, 2011 9:47 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday unanimously ruled [opinion, PDF] to uphold a $413 million judgment against Syria for assisting in the the murders of two US contractors. In 2004, two military contractors assisting the US in Iraq, Olin Armstrong and Jack Hensley, were kidnapped, held hostage, and ultimately decapitated by al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi [JURIST news archive], videos of which were circulated on the internet. The contractors' estates filed suit under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA) [28 USC §§ 1330, 1602 et seq.], claiming Syrian officials provided material support [CNN report] for the murders in the form of "advice or assistance." The appeals court decided two procedural issues in favor of the estates of the two contractors, holding that the court had jurisdiction and that the families adequately effected service of process against Syria when they first filed suit. Syria made a number of other challenges to the district court's default judgment order rendered against the country, but the court upheld the ruling, finding that none of Syria's constitutional, procedural, or jurisdictional challenges to the default judgment had merit.

US citizens have brought similar suits against foreign nations under the FSIA. On Thursday, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia granted $300 million in punitive damages [JURIST report] in each of two cases against Iran for deaths resulting from suicide bombings by Iranian-backed terrorist groups. The court found that the plaintiffs could be awarded damages based on the exception to the FSIA for "state-sponsored terrorism." Other attempts to litigate pursuant to FSIA have failed, however. In 2009, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST report] brought by survivors of the 9/11 attacks [JURIST news archive] against the nation of Saudi Arabia and four of its princes, ruling that the defendants were protected from prosecution under the FSIA. The ruling upheld a 2005 ruling [JURIST report] by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

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