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Legal news from Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ivory Coast ex-president's son, 12 others charged with post-election violence
Julia Zebley on August 10, 2011 2:55 PM ET

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[JURIST] The son of former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo [BBC profile], Michel Gbagbo, and 12 other Gbagbo allies were charged Wednesday with committing acts of post-election violence [JURIST news archive]. The 13 men are charged with armed insurrection and undermining the nation. Although Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara [BBC profile; political website, in French] has insisted that all those responsible for war crimes will be prosecuted [JURIST report], none of his supporters has been charged or arrested. However, reports have alleged that violence is still being committed by Ouattara supporters [JURIST report]. With the arrest of his son and the 12 others, all Gbagbo's political allies have been charged except for him and his wife.

Earlier this month, Ouattara set up a commission of inquiry [JURIST report] to investigate crimes and human rights violations that took place during post-election violence. Last month, he granted permission [JURIST report] to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to investigate the violence following the presidential elections in which former president Gbagbo refused to leave office after losing the election. The Ivory Coast has already issued international arrest warrants [JURIST report] for Gbagbo aides, most notably for Charles Ble Goude, the leader of Gbagbo's youth militia, accusing him of inciting ethnic violence and attacks against UN workers. Other members of Gbagbo's government also had warrants issued including government spokesman Ahoua Don Mello, industry minister Phillipe Attey, and the ambassador to Israel Raymond Koudou Kessie. Twenty-one others already in detention were charged for violence and inciting tribalism and xenophobia. In April, Gbagbo was captured and forced from office [JURIST report] after refusing to leave despite losing last November's election to Ouattara, which resulted in months of fighting between Ouattara's and Gbagbo's forces.

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Bangladesh court begins first war crimes trial
Maureen Cosgrove on August 10, 2011 2:16 PM ET

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[JURIST] The International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh (ICTB) [Facebook page] on Wednesday began the country's first trial against a suspect accused of war crimes related to the 1971 War of Independence [Global Security backgrounder]. Delwar Hossain Sayedee, 71, is a senior leader of the Islamist group Jamaat e Islami (JI) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] accused of genocide, killing more than 50 people, torching villages, rape, looting and forcibly converting Hindus to Islam. Shortly after the court opened for trial, the proceedings were adjourned [AFP report] until August 18 by Judge Nizamul Huq, who granted the defendant's request for more time to review documents provided by the prosecution.

Prosecutors filed charges [JURIST report] against Sayedee in July after completing an investigation into crimes allegedly committed 40 years ago. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] praised recent reforms [press release] to the ICTB but urged it to do more to ensure fair trials. In July 2010, the ICTB issued four arrest warrants [JURIST report] for the leaders of JI, including Sayedee, for alleged crimes committed during the Liberation War. The ICTB was established in March 2010 [JURIST report] to try those accused of committing war crimes during the 1971 war, in which Bangladeshi forces succeeded in gaining independence from Pakistan. In March 2008, hundreds of Bangladesh veterans who took part in the war called for war crimes trials [JURIST report] against those Bangladeshis who assisted Pakistani forces in the war during which around three million people were killed, according to government records. Bangladesh has never held trials for war crimes as earlier governments have said that trials would harm national unity.

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UN rights body urged to condemn Syria violence
Julia Zebley on August 10, 2011 2:05 PM ET

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[JURIST] Twenty-seven rights groups called Tuesday for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] to convene a special session on Syria [press release]. The organizations asked the council to end its silence on Syria, especially in light of the ongoing recent killings [Huffington Post report] since the start of Ramadan. The letter demands that the council convene an emergency session, strongly condemn Syria, conduct public hearings on purported acts of violence, appoint a Special Rapporteur, and hold the Syrian government and military account for crimes against humanity:
In the past week alone, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has taken the lives of 200 innocent men, women and children in Hama, and dozens more in Deir al-Zour. We are deeply concerned that the council has failed to take prompt or effective action to protect the victims of Syrian mass killings. We regret that the council waited during months of bloodshed, while more than 400 were killed, before it held a single meeting in April. Although Syria was eventually condemned at that meeting, there has been no meaningful follow-up action for the victims.
The organizations are led by UN Watch [advocacy website], a UN watchdog group. None of the nations on the council has commented on the letter, but several have supported Syria in the UN. China, Russia and Cuba defended Syria at the last council meeting, and the recent condemnation [JURIST report] by the UN Security Council [official website] was only a reprimand because of Brazil, India and South Africa blocking a stronger measure. Also on Tuesday, it was reported that an unknown Western country is funding [JURIST report] an International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] investigation into Syria's recent human rights abuses.

There has been a major struggle to put an end to Syrian violence since the protests began earlier this year. Last week, a group of UN human rights experts condemned the Syrian government [JURIST report] and called for a cessation of the continued use of lethal violence to suppress peaceful protests. The UN expressed concern [press release; JURIST report] over violence in Syria several times before that and urged the Syrian government to stop using force against protesters. In April, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] ended [JURIST report] the country's 48-year-old state of emergency, but protests have continued. Over one thousand people have been killed and 10,000 displaced since protests erupted in February.

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Chile president introduces civil union legislation
Maureen Cosgrove on August 10, 2011 12:55 PM ET

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[JURIST] Chilean President Sebastian Pinera [official profile, in Spanish] on Tuesday proposed legislation [press release, in Spanish] that would legalize same-sex civil unions [JURIST news archive]. The bill, entitled Acuerdo de Vida en Pareja, would extend inheritance and social welfare rights to same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples. Pinera insisted that marriage is between a man and a women but acknowledged that other forms of relationships are effective and that the state is obligated to recognize, protect and respect those partnerships:
This bill tries to equalize and not discriminate against opposite sex or same-sex couples, since, in both cases, it is possible to develop love, affection, respect and solidarity that naturally inspires communal living and commitment. We must understand that there is no single type of family; there are multiple forms or expressions of families. Consequently, in addition to the traditional or nuclear family consisting of parents united by marriage and children, there are many other families, such as single parents, extended, the cohabitants of different sexes or the same sex, families of blood relatives, and every one of these forms of family deserves respect and dignity, and will have the support of the state.
Several members of the president's National Renewal Party [official website, in Spanish] did not attend the proposal introduction and signing ceremony [BBC report]. Many Chilean citizens oppose expanding the definition of marriage and Chile only recently legalized divorce in 2004.

Foreign and domestic courts and legislatures are increasingly addressing the issue of gay marriage. The Supreme Federal Court of Brazil [official website, in Portuguese] unanimously recognized legal rights [press release, in Portugese; JURIST report] for partners in same-sex civil unions in May. In April, Hungary added a prohibition against gay marriage [JURIST report] to its constitution. France upheld a same-sex marriage ban [JURIST report] in January. Uruguay remains the only Latin American country to have nationally legalized same-sex civil unions, while Argentina [JURIST report] is the only Latin American country to have legalized same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is recognized in jurisdictions in Mexico and the US and is recognized nationwide in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and South Africa [JURIST reports].

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California governor signs law awarding all of state's electoral votes to popular vote winner
Julia Zebley on August 10, 2011 12:16 PM ET

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[JURIST] California Governor Jerry Brown [official website] on Monday signed [press release] into law AB 459 [text, PDF], an interstate compact which would deliver all 55 of California's electoral college [National Archives backgrounder] votes to the winner of the national popular vote in a presidential election. However, the law will only go into effect if enough states to constitute an electoral college majority enact similar laws. Eight other jurisdictions have already done so: Maryland [JURIST report], New Jersey, Illinois, Hawaii, Washington, Massachusetts, Washington DC and Vermont. The movement thus has 132 of the 270 electoral votes needed to pass it nationwide. California's bill passed [materials] earlier this month. There are similar bills pending in Alaska, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Proponents of the compact believe it is legal under Article II of the US Constitution [text]: "[e]ach state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors," which they contend gives state legislators a "blank check" to change the electoral process. They believe this was clarified by the landmark Supreme Court [official website] decision, Bush v. Gore [text]. The court wrote that voters only have rights in elections based on how state legislators dictate the election process. Detractors have suggested that the compact could violate the Voting Rights Act [text]. There are also questions of whether the compact needs to be congressionally approved to upend the electoral college, but scholars have suggested that Virginia v. Tennessee [text] allays this concern, in which the court ruled congressional consent is not necessary when a state compact does not threaten a federal issue. If enacted, the compact would effectively destroy the electoral college. Those in favor of this argue that presidential candidates will be forced to campaign in states that aren't regarded as "swing" states. Critics worry that candidates will further ignore small-population states as well as questioning the fairness of awarding electoral votes to the popular winner of the nation, not of that state.

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Unknown western nation funding investigation of Syria: report
Julia Zebley on August 10, 2011 11:24 AM ET

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[JURIST] An unknown Western country is funding [LAT report] an investigation into Syria's recent human rights abuses, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday. A diplomat acknowledged that an anonymous Western nation is working to collect enough testimony to potentially try President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] for war crimes in the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. The anonymous official also stated his nation is not pressuring the UN Security Council [official website] to act against Syria, although they recently condemned and urged the Syrian government to address the requests of its people [JURIST report] through a political process that guarantees fundamental freedoms. Syrian and international human rights groups have demanded [JURIST report] that the ICC investigate the hundreds of civilian deaths during protests against al-Assad. The ICC has yet to comment on the situation in Syria. Syria is not a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, has not accepted the court's jurisdiction and has not yet been referred to the court by the Security Council.

There has been a major struggle to put an end to Syrian violence [JURIST report] since the protests began earlier this year. Last week, a group of UN human rights experts condemned the Syrian government [JURIST report] and called for a cessation of the continued use of lethal violence to suppress peaceful protests. The UN expressed concern [press release; JURIST report] over violence in Syria several times before that and urged the Syrian government to stop using force against protesters. UN HIgh Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has called for Syria to immediately halt the killings [JURIST report] and violence against civilian protesters in response to the fatal shootings of peaceful anti-government protesters. In April, al-Assad ended [JURIST report] the country's 48-year-old state of emergency, but protests have continued.

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Afghanistan president dissolves special elections court
Maureen Cosgrove on August 10, 2011 11:11 AM ET

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[JURIST] Afghan President Hamid Karzai [official website; JURIST news archive] on Wednesday announced the dissolution of a special court [order, text, in Persian] he had established to investigate poll fraud in last September's parliamentary elections [IEC backgrounder]. The special court overturned the election results [JURIST report] of nearly 25 percent of the assembly seats in June amidst criticism that the court was established to invalidate election gains made by Karzai's political opponents. In his decree, Karzai acknowledged that the Independent Election Commission (IEC) [official website] has ultimate authority on determining election results in the country. UK Ambassador to Afghanistan Sir William Patey [official website] welcomed the decision [tweet]. The IEC plans to review the documents [AP report] and materials obtained by the special court in order to make a final judgement on whether any lawmakers should be removed.

With the US withdrawing troops, ongoing disputes over irregularities in last September's parliamentary elections have raised doubts about the stability of the Afghan government. In January, Karzai postponed the seating [JURIST report] of Parliament following a request by the special court for more time to look into allegations of fraud surrounding the elections. Karzai had promised [JURIST report] to have the special court review the election results in time to seat the election by the original January deadline. But the IEC claims that the special does not have legal authority to question the results that it certifies because the law says it has the final say in determining the elections results. In November, the Afghanistan Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) [official website] disqualified 21 candidates [JURST report] for electoral fraud after finding widespread voting irregularities in 12 provinces. Of the disqualified candidates, 19 had either won or were leading in their districts, seven of which were incumbents, and two were second place finishers in districts where the first place finisher was also disqualified. In October, the IEC invalidated 1.3 million votes [JURIST report], nearly a quarter of the 5.6 million votes cast nationwide, due to findings of fraud. The IEC found that the 2,543 polling stations where the votes had been cast did not follow IEC procedures.

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Lebanon tribunal says authorities have reported back on Hariri probe
Maureen Cosgrove on August 10, 2011 10:34 AM ET

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[JURIST] The UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) [official website] announced on Tuesday that Lebanese authorities reported to the tribunal [press release] on their efforts to search for and arrest four men wanted for killing former prime minister Rafik Hariri [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Arrest warrants were issued [JURIST report] in June for Mustafa Badreddine, Salim al-Ayyash, Hasan Aineysseh and Asad Sabra, who are alleged members [Lebanon Daily Star report] of Hezbollah [CFR backgrounder]. In his report, the Lebanese Prosecutor General told the tribunal that authorities have not yet detained any of the suspects. Judge Antonio Cassese, president of the STL, is expected to review the report and determine how to proceed with the warrants. Lebanon is obligated under the UN Security Council Resolution 1757 [text, PDF; JURIST report] to arrest, detain and transfer the suspects to STL custody.

In February, the appeals chamber of the STL issued a unanimous ruling [summary, PDF; press release] on several procedural issues, including the definition of terrorism [JURIST report], in judicial proceedings. The STL began debate on the issue [JURIST report] to determine which laws to apply in the case against persons accused of involvement in the February 2005 truck bomb that killed Hariri and 22 other people. Using the Article 314 of the Lebanese Criminal Code [text, PDF], the court held that a conviction on the charge of terrorism requires proof of an act intended to spread terror and use of a means "liable to create a public danger," that the only requirement is that "the means used to carry out the terrorist attack be liable to create a common danger" and that the trial judges should be given latitude in determining whether the requirement was met after having considered the facts presented in the case. Last August, Hezbollah submitted evidence to the STL [JURIST report] linking Israel with the bombing. The STL asked for the evidence [JURIST report] a week earlier after Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah [BBC profile] claimed to have proof that Israel was behind the bombing. The STL was established in 2005 at the request of the Lebanese government to try those alleged to be connected to the bombing in which Hariri was killed by explosions detonated near his motorcade in Beirut.

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Kansas appeals order to block law defunding Planned Parenthood
Maureen Cosgrove on August 10, 2011 9:13 AM ET

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[JURIST] The state of Kansas on Wednesday filed an appeal seeking to overturn a federal judge's ruling [text, PDF] that blocks a Kansas law [HB 2014, PDF; materials] that would prevent Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri (PPKM) [advocacy website] from receiving federal funding. On August 1, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Kansas [official website] issued a temporary injunction [JURIST report] preventing the health centers from losing funding. Judge Thomas Marten ruled the statute barring funding for Planned Parenthood was in direct conflict with federal law and that PPKM demonstrated the requisite elements for injunctive relief, as well as likelihood of success on the merits of its claim. The appeal seeks to suspend the injunction [AP report] until the court rules on the merits of PPKM's case.

Several states have made similar efforts to cut funding for abortion services. This week, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) [advocacy website] filed [JURIST report] an amicus curiae brief [text, PDF] seeking to uphold an Indiana state law [HEA 1210 text] that would block Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood of Indiana (PPIN) [advocacy website] and other organizations providing abortion services. In July, Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina (PPCNC) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [press release] to block the enforcement [JURIST report] of North Carolina's budget that denies state and federal funds used to subsidize Planned Parenthood family planning services and teen sex education. Kansas currently has multiple suits challenging new abortion restrictions. In July, another judge for the US District Court for the District of Kansas issued a preliminary injunction [JURIST report] in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CCR) [advocacy website], to block another Kansas regulation requiring clinics within the state to obtain a license to perform abortions. Without the injunction, two of Kansas' three abortion clinics would have been forced to close for failure to meet the new requirements for a license. Kansas is also among multiple states that have acted to ban abortions after 20 weeks, when some studies suggest a fetus can begin feeling pain, including Missouri, Indiana, Alabama, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Idaho [JURIST reports].

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Environmental groups to appeal ruling allowing wolf hunting
Dan Taglioli on August 10, 2011 8:56 AM ET

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[JURIST] Three environmental groups filed a notice of appeal [text, PDF] Monday signaling their collective intention to challenge a lower court ruling [JURIST report] upholding Congressional action removing federal protections for gray wolves in Montana and Idaho. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies (AWR), Friends of the Clearwater and WildEarth Guardians [advocacy websites] are seeking to reverse the judgment handed down by Judge Donald Molloy of the US District Court for the District of Montana [official website], who last week ruled [order, PDF] that Congress did not violate the Constitution when it effectively overturned his previous ruling striking down a 2009 delisting rule issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service [official website]. The rule removed [federal registrar notice, PDF] the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf [Yellowstone Insider backgrounder] from Endangered Species Act (ESA) [materials] protection list in all areas outside of Wyoming. AWR Executive Director Michael Garritiy said that Congress acted unlawfully [AWR press release]:
While Congress absolutely has the right to make and amend laws, the wolf delisting rider (Section 1713 of the budget law, PL 112-10) does not amend the Endangered Species Act—it circumvents the judicial process by ordering the reinstatement of the 2009 rule that delisted wolves. Moreover, by exempting it from judicial review it basically nullifies the Constitutional checks and balances between Congress and the Judicial Branch of government.
Garrity pledged to pursue the matter to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The wolves were removed from the shelter of the ESA after a controversial Interior Department memo was published that several animals should be taken off the list despite their numbers not being at a sustainable level. The delisting order leaves the wolves under the purview of the Montana and Idaho state governments. Montana began selling wolf hunting licenses [state hunting regulations, PDF] on the same day as Molloy's ruling. There is no limit on the number of licenses sold, but the hunting season will be closed in hunting districts around the state as regional quotas are reached. Montana hunters will be able to shoot as many as 220 gray wolves in Montana in a hunt scheduled to begin in early September, first with an archery season and then later with a rifle season. The state expects that the hunt will reduce the predator's Montana population by about 25 percent to a minimum 425 wolves. Environmentalists say they believe the population will be reduced further than that.

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Iraq passes controversial journalism protection law
Julia Zebley on August 10, 2011 8:55 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Iraqi Parliament [official website, in Arabic] passed a bill [press release, in Arabic] Tuesday proclaiming to guarantee more protections and rights for journalists, although several journalist rights groups have opposed the law's passage. The Journalists Protection Law, originally proposed in August of 2009 [JURIST report] protects journalists from questioning or investigations unless a judge mandates that action. The original bill only protected Iraqi journalists, but the passed law has provisions for foreign media [Aswat al-Iraq report] if they contract with the Iraqi Union of Journalists. Although the law has been long-sought after, several rights organizations have criticized it. Reporters without Borders (RWB) [advocacy website] in March sent a letter [text, PDF] to the Iraqi parliament with recommendations for the bill, including criticizing its overall vagueness, which could result in possible arbitrary enforcement. The group was also troubled by membership in the Iraqi Union of Journalists being a requirement for protection, "given that many journalists in Iraq dispute this union's legitimacy." It also denounced the lack of protections for bloggers and media contributors. The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory [advocacy website, in Arabic], an Iraqi journalism rights group, commented simply that the government will be responsible [Aswat al-Iraq report] if abuses continue. A Movement for Change party member and parliamentarian, Sardar Abdullah, said the law does not represent the people or journalists [Aswat al-Iraq report] and that it was passed with a bare majority while many legislators were absent.

RWB ranked Iraq 130 in their 2010 Press Freedom Index [text]. In September, RWB released a report detailing the 230 murders of journalists [materials] that have occurred since 2003. Their profile of Iraq lists several journalists who have faced lawsuits and have been victimized by violence [materials]. Earlier this week, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official websites] both reported that human rights abuses continue to plague various regions of Iraq [JURIST report]. The study found that over 3,000 civilians were killed by insurgents and terrorist groups, with public officials, community and religious leaders, journalists, and medical and education professionals constituting the majority of targeted civilians. In October, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported that journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan who criticize the government are facing increased intimidation, violence and lawsuits [JURIST report].

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