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Legal news from Saturday, June 11, 2011

Colombia president signs victims compensation law
Ashley Hileman on June 11, 2011 4:41 PM ET

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[JURIST] Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos [official website, in Spanish] on Friday signed legislation to compensate victims of the country's armed conflict. The Victims' and Land Restitution Law [Senate backgrounder, in Spanish], approved by the Senate [JURIST report] last month, seeks to compensate [BBC report] millions of individuals by providing damages to relatives of those killed during the armed conflict, which has spanned over 40 years. The law will also help to return land stolen throughout the conflict to its rightful owners. Implementing the law will be challenging due to the estimated cost involved, but the UN has pledged to lend its support to Colombia. In a speech [text, in Spanish], Santos emphasized the importance of the Victims' Law:
In short: it is a broad and comprehensive law which is a monumental effort, no doubt, the State and society to compensate our victims and heal the wounds we have suffered as a nation. ... May God give us strength, and the Colombians and the world give us their support, to make this law now sanctioned an instrument of peace and justice.
Victims of war crimes and their families often go uncompensated. However, the passage of this law, in conjunction with recent court decisions, marks a possible reversal to this trend.

The US federal court system has heard several lawsuits seeking compensation for victims of Colombian violence. In February, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] revived a wrongful death lawsuit [JURIST report] brought against Drummond Company [corporate website]. The plaintiffs alleged that, after Drummond employees in Colombia successfully unionized, the company hired the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) [CFR backgrounder], a group of paramilitaries, to break up the union and murder its leaders, plaintiff's fathers. In April 2010, victims of paramilitary violence in Colombia filed suit against Chiquita Brand International [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The plaintiffs were 242 Colombians who alleged that they had been seriously injured or had family members killed by the AUC, which received funding from Chiquita. In 2007, Chiquita was fined $25 million [JURIST report] after it admitted to making payments of around $1.7 million from 1997 to 2004 to the AUC.

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Thailand PM rejects amnesty proposal from opposition group
Ashley Hileman on June 11, 2011 4:07 PM ET

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[JURIST] Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Friday rejected a proposal by an opposition party seeking a referendum to grant amnesty to those involved in a military coup in 2006. The referendum was proposed [Bangkok Post report] by the Pheu Thai Party, supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [JURIST news archive], who was ousted in the coup. However, the current prime minister questioned both the constitutionality and wisdom of such a referendum, fearing that it may cause further social division within the country.

Thailand's political system has remained unstable following the coup and the more recent violent protests took place in Bangkok last spring. In February, seven leaders of Thailand's "red-shirt" [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] pro-democracy movement, another group that opposes the country's current leadership, were released on bail [JURIST report]. They were arrested on terrorism charges stemming from their involvement in the anti-government protests [JURIST news archive] in Bangkok. In January, members of the movement also petitioned the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to launch a preliminary investigation [JURIST report] into whether the government committed crimes against humanity during those protests.

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UN: sexual violence emerges as common war weapon in Libya, other nations
LaToya Sawyer on June 11, 2011 1:07 PM ET

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[JURIST] UN officials expressed concern on Friday that the heightened rape cases in many war-torn nations indicate that rape is being used as a war weapon to terrorize citizens and cause them to flee because of fear. Recent concerns follow International Criminal Court (ICC) claims that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] ordered mass rapes [AHN report] against his rebel opposition. Additionally, the ICC claims that they posses evidence that Gaddafi supplied his troops with contraceptives and Viagra to promote rape and help execute these orders. The Libyan government denies use of rape as a weapon [AP report], but the investigation of these alleged crimes will determine whether the ICC will charge Gaddafi for war crimes. The UN's concern also rises over the staggering numbers of women raped [Guardian report] in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] where sexual violence is popularly known to be used as a weapon of war. In response to the sexual violence occurring in many conflict nations, UN officials are in the process of creating a blacklist of nations using rape as a weapon in hopes to subject them to sanctions.

Punishment has been sought for several leaders of war-torn nations that have used sexual violence in war. Rape became a major focus for charging Gaddafi with crimes against humanity when victim Emen Al Obeidi became internationally known when she entered the Rixos Hotel on March 26 and told the international press corps that she had been stopped at a checkpoint by Gaddafi's forces and beaten and gang-raped for 2 days. Last week the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) [official website] publicly condemned her extradition back to Libya [JURIST report] because of fear for her protection. In April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] requested an investigation [JURIST report] of Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara for crimes including murder and rape, committed by opposing political forces during recent conflicts. In March, a military court in the DRC sentenced 11 army officers to prison [JURIST report] for raping more than 20 women last year. UN officials viewed this arrest as a strong sign that justice for these types of crimes is possible.

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Federal judge overturns release of Yemeni Guantanamo detainee
LaToya Sawyer on June 11, 2011 11:15 AM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday overturned [opinion, PDF] the release of Yemeni Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Hussein Salem Mohammed Almerfedi [NYT profile]. After his capture in 2001 and detention at Guantanamo Bay, Almerfedi filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus which was granted [JURIST] by a lower court. The government had argued that Almerfedi was a supporter of al Qaeda [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] because of his travels to Pakistan that indicated strong ties to the group. However, the court concluded that the government had not met its burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that Almerfedi was part of al Qaeda. On the contrary, the appeals court took a holistic approach and agreed that the government had met its burden of proof by a preponderance of evidence that Almerfedi was, in fact, part of al Qaeda:
First, Almerfedi acknowledges that he stayed for two and a half months at Jama'at Tablighi, an Islamic missionary organization that is a Terrorist Support Entity "closely aligned" with al Qaeda. ... [Second] if we add Almerfedi's travel route, which is quite at odds with his professed desire to travel to Europe (and brought him closer to the Afghan border where al Qaeda was fighting), and also that he had at least $2,000 of unexplained cash on his person when captured ... the government's case that Almerfedi is an al Qaeda facilitator is on firmer ground. ... We conclude that all three facts,when considered together, are adequate to carry the government's burden of deploying credible evidence that the habeas petitioner meets the enemy-combatant criteria.
The court relied heavily on the notion that circumstantial evidence is often sufficient enough to keep a prisoner detained.

There have been over 200 writs of habeas corpus filed on behalf of Guantanamo Bay detainees. Last month, a federal appeals court denied habeas corpus [JURIST report] to Guantanamo Bay detainee Musa'ab Omar al-Madhwani, concluding that he was lawfully detained for being part of al Qaeda. In March, an appeals court blocked the release [JURIST report] of Guantanamo detainee Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman by overturning [opinion, PDF] a district court decision that claimed the government had failed to prove prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Uthman had received and executed orders from al Qaeda. In September, Kuwaiti Guantanamo detainee Fawzi Khalid Abdullah Fahad al Odah petitioned [text, PDF; JURIST report] the US Supreme Court [official website] to reverse a federal appeals court decision that denied him habeas corpus relief. The DC appeals court denied [text, PDF; JURIST report] habeas corpus relief to al Odah in July. The court affirmed the district court's ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that there was sufficient evidence against al Odah for him to be considered "part of" al Qaeda and Taliban forces.

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Unprecedented Notice of Warrantless Wiretapping in a Closed Case
Ramzi Kassem
CUNY School of Law

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