[JURIST] The Illinois Senate [official website] passed a bill [text] on Friday that would allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes in the state, subject to strict regulations. The bill indicates that marijuana may only be used for specified medical conditions, and is intended to be regulated through dosage limits and background checks. The state would license 22 growers and 60 dispensers across the state to provide the drug. Those who qualify will be prohibited from smoking marijuana in public or around minors. This bill has already been approved the the Illinois House [official website]. The bill will now proceed to the governor, who has not indicated [Chicago Tribune report] whether he will sign the legislation.
[JURIST] Portugal's Parliament [official website] voted Friday to approve a law allowing same-sex married couples to adopt their partners' children. The Parliament also voted on Friday to reject the Left Bloc and Green Party's [official websites, Portuguese] proposal to grant gay couples the same adoption rights as heterosexuals. The bill approved by Parliament is intended to primarily serve the children in the event that their biological parent dies or falls ill. It was passed by only five votes, while 9 Parliament members declined a vote and 28 did not appear. The bill must still be signed into law by President Anibal Cavaco Silva, who in 2010 legalized [JURIST report] same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] but has expressed disapproval of same-sex adoption.
Adoption rights of same-sex couples [JURIST news archive] have created controversy in several courts worldwide. In February, Puerto Rico's Supreme Court upheld a law banning same-sex couples from adopting children. Earlier that week, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a woman in a same-sex relationship could adopt her partner's biological child [JURIST report]. Also in February, the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany ruled that same-sex couples in a civil union can legally adopt [JURIST report] the non-biological children of their partners. Similarly, the Northern Ireland High Court [official website] held [JURIST report] in October that a law permitting adoption only by heterosexual married couples or single individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation, is unlawful. Also in October, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals [official website] upheld a law limiting marriage as a union between and one man and one woman. That ruling effectively barred a woman from adopting her female partner's child [JURIST report].
[JURIST] A group of Colorado Country Sheriffs filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] in the US District Court for the District of Colorado [official website] on Saturday challenging two new gun control laws [HB 1224, PDF; HB 1229, PDF] passed earlier this year. The challenged laws, signed by Governor John Hickenlooper [JURIST report] in March, ban high capacity magazines, limiting them to a maximum capacity of 15, and establish a required universal background check for all sales and transfers of guns in the state. The sheriffs argue in their complaint that the laws violate their second amendment right to keep and bear arms, relying on the US Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller [opinion, PDF]. The complaint argues:
Under Heller, the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right of individual citizens to keep and bear commonly used firearms for all lawful purposes. The individual right to employ commonly-used firearms for selfdefense is "the central component" of the Second Amendment guarantee."
The sheriffs asked the court to declare the two laws unconstitutional and to issue a permanent injunction barring enforcement of the laws. The state has 30 days to answer the complaint.
This is the latest development in the controversial topic of gun control [JURIST news archive] in the US. The challenged laws were passed [JURIST report] in March following the shooting [WSJ backgrounder] at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Last month, Maryland and Connecticut [JURIST reports] approved new gun control laws. In March, President Barack Obama urged [JURIST report] Congress to pass three bills which would require background checks for all private gun sales, renew a grant to improve schools security programs and make the act of buying a weapon for someone barred from owning one a federal crime. Also in March, US Attorney General Eric Holder spoke before Congress [JURIST report] urging passage of gun control measures, including universal background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines and military style assault weapons.
[JURIST] French President Francois Hollande [official website, in French] gave final approval Saturday to legislation [text, PDF, in French] legalizing same-sex marriage and establishing the right of same-sex couples to adopt. The widely controversial bill, which was part of Hollande's campaign pledges, was was approved by parliament [JURIST report] last month, but France's Union for a Popular Movement party [party website, in French] filed a legal challenge with the country's Constitutional Council. The court rejected the challenge [JURIST report] on Friday, clearing the way for final approval of the bill. Hollande signed the bill into law amid protests [Al Jazeera report] and calls for his resignation. The law will take effect within the month, allowing same-sex couples to officially marry.
France is the latest country to approve same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] in its jurisdiction. Earlier this week, Brazil effectively legalized [JURIST report] same-sex marriage in a court ruling that prevented notaries from denying to perform ceremonies for same-sex couples. Also this month, same-sex marriage legislation was approved in the US states of Minnesota, Delaware and Rhode Island [JURIST reports]. Last month Ireland announced it would hold a referendum [JURIST report] on same-sex marriage. In March, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two same-sex marriage cases regarding the Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 [JURIST reports], with decisions expected next month.
In March the Arkansas legislature voted to override [JURIST report] Governor Mike Beebe's veto of the Human Heartbeat Protection Act. In February the Arkansas legislature voted to override a veto [JURIST report] of a 20-week abortion ban. Numerous states have changed their abortion laws recently to impose more restrictions on the availability of abortions, leading to several legal challenges. In December a state judge in Georgia enjoined a law [JURIST report] banning doctors from providing abortions for women more than 20 weeks into gestation, which would have gone into effect in January. Montana voters in November passed a referendum [JURIST report] requiring facilities and doctors to inform parents of minors 16 to 48 hours before a planned abortion procedure on the minor. Also that month the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] heard oral arguments [JURIST report] on a challenge to Arizona's law which, like Arkansas and Georgia's laws, bans abortions after 20 weeks. Planned Parenthood [advocacy website] also sued Texas [JURIST report] in October claiming that its law preventing state funding from going to any clinics affiliated with providing abortions violates another state law.
France will become the latest country to join a growing trend toward legalizing same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder]. Earlier this week Brazil's National Council of Justice ruled that notaries public cannot refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in Brazil [JURIST report]. Earlier in May same-sex marriage legislation was approved in the US states of Minnesota, Delaware and Rhode Island [JURIST reports]. Last month Ireland announced it would hold a referendum [JURIST report] on same-sex marriage. In March the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two same-sex marriage cases, with decisions expected next month.
[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Friday urged [report] Syrian opposition leaders and neutral international experts to safeguard evidence of torture and arbitrary detention uncovered in government intelligence facilities in Raqqa, the first city to fall to rebel forces. HRW visited the area in April and discovered detention cells, interrogation rooms and torture devices consistent with descriptions given by former detainees since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War [JURIST backgrounder] in 2011. In addition HRW reportedly uncovered documents listing the security force members who had worked in the facilities alongside catalogues of all of Raqqa's college graduates. Interviews with former detainees suggest that security forces questioned civilians about "lawful activities," including participation in peaceful demonstrations, providing relief to displaced families, and providing assistance to the injured. HRW reports that it has uncovered 27 such facilities across Syria, evidencing a systematic pattern and state policy of "ill-treatment and torture" thus constituting a crime against humanity. According to HRW, local opposition leaders must work to protect this evidence, which will likely be "vital to future domestic and international accountability processes," despite continued attack by Syrian government forces and struggles to provide basic services to the local population.
The Syrian Civil War [JURIST backgrounder] erupted in 2011 when opposition groups first began protesting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile]. The increasingly bloody nature of the conflict has put pressure on the international community to intervene. In May the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called upon the international community [JURIST report] to find a solution to the conflict in Syria and ensure that those responsible for human rights violations are held accountable. Last month Assad issued a decree reducing prison terms [JURIST report] for a number of rebel prisoners, but the move was dismissed as a "meaningless gesture" by activists. Also in April HRW accused the Syrian Air Force of deliberately targeting civilians [JURIST report] in air strikes in opposition-controlled areas. In March HRW accused Syria's military of using widely-banned cluster munitions [JURIST report] against civilians. In February the UN said that both the Syrian government and the anti-government rebels are committing war crimes [JURIST report]. Earlier that month Pillay reported that the death toll after two years [JURIST report] of armed conflict approached 70,000. In January more than 50 countries asked the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC [JURIST report].
[JURIST] The Chad public prosecutor's office announced on Wednesday that it has arrested Mahamat Djibrine, a former political police chief suspected of torture and hundreds of politically motivated killings in the 1980s. Djibrine was in charge of the Directorate of Documentation and Service (DDS) political police under then-president Hissene Habre [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], and was arrested [AFP report] after DDS victims filed a lawsuit accusing him of torture, acts of barbarism and illegal detention. He could be extradited to Senegal, as mandated by the African Union (AU) [official website] to try Habre in 2006, though Senegal has delayed Habre's prosecution for years. Until now, African leaders accused of such gross crimes have been tried only in international courts, and Habre's trial could set a historic precedent.
Earlier this month Senegal and Chad signed an agreement [JURIST report] allowing Senegalese judges to carry out investigations in Chad in preparation for the prosecution of Habre. Habre fled to Senegal after being deposed in 1990 and denies charges of killing and torturing tens of thousands of his opponents after coming to power in 1982. The AU began talks with Senegal to come up with a plan for Habre's trial after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled [JURIST report] in July that Senegal must either try Habre promptly or extradite him to Belgium for trial. The court's legally binding order also noted that Senegal had failed to make serious efforts to prosecute Habre, who has been been under house arrest there since 2005. In March lawyers for the Belgian government asked [JURIST report] the ICJ to force Senegal to bring Habre to trial in Belgium. In July 2011 Senegal reversed its decision to deport Habre [JURIST report] back to Chad after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned of possible torture. That month Pillay issued the plea [JURIST report] to stay Habre's deportation to Chad after the nation's courts sentenced him to death in absentia.
[JURIST] Bolivian lawmakers on Tuesday passed a bill allowing incumbent President Evo Morales [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to seek a third term in the nation's 2014 elections. Bolivia's lower house approved the bill 84 to 33 [MercoPress report] despite the single re-election provision in the Bolivian Constitution [text, in Spanish] after the measure was approved in the Senate. The constitution was amended [JURIST report] in 2009 after Morales's first term in office began in 2005. In 2008, Morales engineered an endorsement [JURIST report] of the constitution by agreeing not to seek reelection in 2014. However, in April, Bolivia's Constitutional Tribunal ruled [JURIST report] that the two consecutive term limit does not apply retroactively, meaning next year's election would legally count as Morales's first re-election. Elections are scheduled for December 2014, but Morales has made no comments regarding his plans to run for a third term. If Morales chooses to run and succeeds, he will become Bolivia's longest-serving president [MercoPress report], serving continuously from 2006 to 2020.
Morales is the first indigenous president to be elected in Bolivia and the theme of his presidency [JURIST report] has been advancing the interest of the majority indigenous community. On June 8, 2010, the Bolivian National Congress approved [JURIST report] legislation that would create an independent justice system for indigenous communities. In March 2009, Morales began redistributing land [JURIST report] to indigenous farmers under power given to him by the country's new constitution. Bolivia's new constitution went into effect in February 2009, placing more power in the hands of the country's majority. It also created seats in Congress for minority indigenous groups. In August 2008, Morales won a referendum to continue his presidency, which he personally proposed in a bid to legitimize his campaign [JURIST reports] for the constitutional changes.
[JURIST] Hungarian laws introduced by the ruling Fidesz [party website, in Hungarian] party in 2010 are undermining human rights, according to a report [text, PDF] published Thursday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. According to HRW, the new constitution and laws are negatively affecting human rights and the rule of law. The 29-page report states that many of the major changes "weaken legal checks on its authority, interfere with media freedom, and otherwise undermine human rights protection in the country." HRW noted the Hungarian government's continuing failure to comply with EU recommendations, suggesting concrete EU action, such as suspending Hungary's voting rights. Of particular concern were legal changes that have curbed the independence of the judiciary and the administration of justice, impacted media freedom, stripped religious groups of their status as churches and discriminated against LGTB people and women.
Hungary has been criticized recently [JURIST op-ed] for changes to its constitution. Just last month an EU Commissioner spoke out against Hungary's failure to reinstate judges and prosecutors who had been forced into early retirement. More changes to the Hungarian constitution have included restrictions on the homeless [JURIST report], increased control of the media and a strict, narrow definition of family. The new laws were controversial even when they were passed [JURIST report], and have been subject to ongoing scrutiny. In February Hungary's Constitutional Court struck down [JURIST report] a law that outlines how churches are given official designation, finding that it was too political. In January the court struck down an electoral law [JURIST report] requiring voters to register to vote at least two weeks before elections in 2014.
[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas [official website] on Wednesday rejected [order, PDF] Arkansas' attempt to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the state's law banning abortions 12 weeks into a pregnancy. US District Judge Susan Webber Wright denied the motion to dismiss, ruling that the lawsuit made a strong enough case to warrant allowing it to go forward. The court also found that the abortion providers bringing the suit have standing. The case, challenging Act 301 [text, PDF] amending Arkansas law governing abortions, was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Center for Reproductive Rights [advocacy websites] on behalf of two Little Rock abortion providers. Known as the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, Act 301 redefines "viability" as "a medical condition that begins with a detectible heartbeat." Currently, Arkansas law defines [text] a "viable fetus" as "a fetus which can live outside of the womb." The court found that there are sufficient facts alleged to state a claim that Act 301 impermissibly infringes a woman's Fourteenth Amendment right to chose to terminate a pregnancy before viability.
In March the Arkansas legislature voted to override [JURIST report] Governor Mike Beebe's veto of the Human Heartbeat Protection Act. In February the Arkansas Senate also voted to override a veto [JURIST report]. Numerous states have changed their abortion laws recently to impose more restrictions on the availability of abortions, leading to several legal challenges. In December a state judge in Georgia enjoined a law [JURIST report] banning doctors from providing abortions for women more than 20 weeks into gestation, which would have gone into effect in January. Montana voters in November passed a referendum [JURIST report] requiring facilities and doctors to inform parents of minors 16 to 48 hours before a planned abortion procedure on the minor. Also that month the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] heard oral arguments [JURIST report] on a challenge to Arizona's law which, like Arkansas and Georgia's laws, bans abortions after 20 weeks. Planned Parenthood [advocacy website] also sued Texas [JURIST report] in October claiming that its law preventing state funding from going to any clinics affiliated with providing abortions violates another state law.
[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday denied an appeal [opinion, PDF] by a German family seeking asylum in the US in order to homeschool their children for religious reasons. The Romeike family alleged that Germany's ban against homeschooling caused them a well-founded fear of persecution based on their membership in a "particular social group"homeschoolers. In the opinion, Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote that US immigration law [text] for asylum-seekers only applies for those who have a "well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." Because the Romeike family was not persecuted in particular, nor was any homeschooling family persecuted more severely than other families breaking the law, their applications for asylum were denied. For example, families that allowed their children to skip school are punished in the same way. Because the law is applied equally to everyone, the court found that the neutral law could is not compatible with persecution. Moreover, the court found that faith-based homeschoolers are not a cognizable social group.
In January 2010 an immigration judge granted [JURIST report] the Romeikes asylum, ruling that German laws against homeschooling [HSLDA backgrounder] gave the family a well-founded fear of persecution. In the opinion, Judge Lawrence Burman described homeschoolers as a distinct group of people who have a "principled opposition to government policy" that would face persecution both because of their religious beliefs and because they were "members of a particular social group." The Romeike family fled Germany [TIME report] in 2008. Burman's opinion was critical of German policy regarding educational freedom, calling the country's laws against homeschooling a violation of basic human rights.
[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Wednesday denied a motion to certify a putative class action against Google's YouTube [corporate website] involving copyright owners from around the world. Named plaintiffs included the English Premier League, the French Tennis Federation, the National Music Publishers' Association [corporate websites] and several other music publishers. The plaintiffs asserted that YouTube infringed on copyrighted materials [Reuters report] by allowing unauthorized hosting of certain protected video and sound clips. Unnamed class members included copyright owners who issued "take-down notices" to Youtube after its unauthorized hosting, and any music publisher whose copyrighted materials were posted on the site without permission. District Judge Louis stanton held Wednesday that the nature of the specific claims would require each class member to demonstrate a high degree of individualized factual evidence regarding their specific injury, thus complicating the requirement of representative typicality found in Rule 23 [text] of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure [text]. According to media sources, the plaintiffs are considering appealing the decision, as denial of class action certification is immediately appealable as a matter of course.
The plaintiffs filed suit for copyright infringement against Google in 2007 concurrently with Viacom [corporate website], which owns Comedy Central, MTV and VH1. Viacom sought $1 billion in damages as well as an injunction against YouTube for clips that were posted on the website without authorization. However, in April the US District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed [JURIST report] Viacom's suit. The court held that YouTube was protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's (DMCA) "safe harbor" provisions, which shelter service providers from the infringing activities of their customers by shifting liability to individual infringing customers. Viacom previously brought a similar suit [JURIST report] against YouTube in 2007, but was unsuccessful.
[JURIST] A group of UN experts on Wednesday encouraged Guatemalan authorities to continue to seek the establishment of internal and transitional "truth and justice" in the wake of the trial of Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt [JURIST news archive]. Last Friday, a Guatemalan court sentenced Rios Montt to 80 years in prison [JURIST report] for his role in presiding over the brutal junta responsible for the torture, rape and murder of 1,771 indigenous Ixil Mayans between 1982 and 1983. The trial marked the first time that a national court prosecuted a former head of state for genocide and crimes against humanity. UN experts advised the government [press release] that it must continue to foster an ideology of normative justice in order to ensure the non-recurrence of the "heinous crimes" that characterized the nation's civil war. According to the UN, Friday's court decision marks a "profoundly significant milestone" in the fight against impunity, and human rights violations including enforced disappearances, arbitrary executions, rape and forced displacement. In addition, the UN praised the judgment as an example for nations around the world struggling to address victims' rights after periods of mass atrocities, and as a reflection of the principle that "marginalized people" must have the same access to justice "as the most powerful."
The UN has shown continuous support for Guatemala's efforts to try Rios Mont. In March UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay lauded [JURIST report] Guatemala for beginning the trial of Rios Montt and former intelligence chief Jose Rodriguez Sanchez, both of whom stand accused of committing genocide and crimes against humanity. In April Judge Patricia Flores, who recused herself from the case in 2011, halted the trial [JURIST report] and attempted to invalidate a year-and-a-half of court proceedings once she was reinstated last month. However, Barrios continued the trial [JURIST report] against Rios Montt despite the prior ruling annulling the case. Montt was ordered to stand trial multiple times for alleged genocide and crimes against humanity, and the trial started on March 19. In January a Guatemalan judge ordered [JURIST report] Rios Montt to stand trial. Last May Flores issued a second order [JURIST report] demanding Rios Montt stand trial after ruling that a sufficient amount of evidence had been mounted against him, necessitating his testimony before a court of law. Rios Montt was protected [JURIST report] from prosecution until last January because he was serving as a member of congress, an immunity that had been lifted due to his departure from the legislature.
[JURIST] A federal judge on Tuesday reinstated a $203 million penalty against Wells Fargo [corporate website] in a class action suit alleging that the bank affirmatively misled customers and then charged excessive overdraft fees. Rather than processing purchases in a chronological order, as is the common practice, the bank processed its customers' purchases from largest to smallest. The penalty was originally ordered in August 2010, but the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] tossed [text, PDF] the order in December. The case's original judge, Judge William Alsup, reviewed the case and reinstated the penalty after concluding once again that the bank misled its customers about the posting order of charges, and then proceeded to charge the customers for overdraft fees. Wells Fargo plans to appeal the decision.
Wells Fargo [JURIST news archive] has been involved in many legal battles recently. The US government filed a lawsuit against the bank in October, alleging that Wells Fargo deliberately concealed [JURIST report] the nature of mortgages that were insured by the federal government, ultimately costing the government hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance claims. In August the company was assessed a $6.5 million fine [JURIST report] by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for improperly selling high-risk mortgage securities to investors during the housing market crash in 200. In July the Ninth Circuit dismissed a lawsuit against several banks, including Wells Fargo, that accused the banks of price-fixing [JURIST report]. In March the SEC filed a subpoena enforcement action[JURIST report] against Wells Fargo to force the company to hand over documents connected to the company's sale of nearly $60 billion in residential mortgage-backed securities to investors.
[JURIST] The UN General Assembly [official website], deeply concerned by the rising death toll in Syria, adopted a resolution [press release] Wednesday calling for rapid progress on a political transition while condemning the Syrian government's use of heavy weapons and the "widespread and systematic" violations of human rights within the region. The resolution also welcomes the 2012 establishment of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (ETILAF) [official website] as the representatives needed for a political dialogue and eventual transition. The measure also requests urgent financial support for countries hosting Syrian refugees, with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) [official website] registering more than a million displaced persons now living in camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
The Syrian Civil War [JURIST backgrounder] has been ongoing since 2011 when opposition groups first began protesting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile], and the increasingly bloody nature of the conflict has put pressure on the international community to intervene. In response to a series of massacres carried out against civilians earlier this week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] called upon the international community [JURIST report] to find a solution to the conflict in Syria and ensure that those responsible for human rights violations are held accountable. Last month Assad issued a decree reducing prison terms [JURIST report] for a number of rebel prisoners, but the move was dismissed as a "meaningless gesture" by activists. Also in April Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] accused the Syrian Air Force of deliberately targeting civilians [JURIST report] in air strikes in opposition-controlled areas. In March HRW accused Syria's military of using widely-banned cluster munitions [JURIST report] against civilians. In February the UN said that both the Syrian government and the anti-government rebels are committing war crimes [JURIST report]. Earlier that month Pillay reported that the death toll after two years [JURIST report] of armed conflict approached 70,000.
[JURIST] Brazil's National Council of Justice [official website, in Portuguese] on Tuesday ruled [resolution, in Portuguese, PDF] that notaries public cannot refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in Brazil. The decision follows legislation in Argentina and Uruguay, which both legalized same-sex marriage in recent years. The ruling, entered on May 14 and effective May 16, prohibits authorities [press release, in Portuguese] from refusing to perform same-sex marriages, register same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, or convert same-sex civil unions into marriages at the couple's request. There is an opoprtunity for a judicial appeal to Brazil's highest court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal [official website, in Portuguese].
This ruling makes Brazil the fifteenth country to legalize same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder]. The issue continues to be controversial both in the US and internationally. Earlier in May, same-sex marriage legislation was approved in the US states of Minnesota, Delaware and Rhode Island [JURIST reports]. Last month France's Parliament approved a bill to legalize same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. All that remains is for the bill to be cleared by the nation's Constitutional Council and signed into law by President Francois Hollande. Also in April Ireland announced it would hold a referendum [JURIST report] on same-sex marriage. In March, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in United States v. Windsor [JURIST report], the second of two cases the court heard that week on same-sex marriage. In that argument, the court considered the validity of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive], a federal law that recognizes only opposite-sex marriages for federal benefits purposes, despite state law on the issue.
[JURIST] The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) [advocacy website] on Wednesday challenged [supplemental complaint, PDF; motion, PDF] a North Dakota law that places additional requirements on abortion clinics. SB 2305 [text PDF], passed [JURIST report] in March, restricts abortion providers to those doctors recognized by a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. Although the providers at Red River Women's Clinic [clinic website] sought such recognition, pre-existing hospital policies prevented them from complying with the statute. Without such recognition, the clinic could be shut down. As that facility is the only abortion clinic in the state, this statute could effectively ban abortion there. Lead counsel for the CRR, Autumn Katz, remarked, "No politician or hospital administrator has the authority to decide if women in North Dakota can exercise their constitutionally protected right to an abortion... We are confident that the courts will agree and ultimately strike down this harmful and unnecessary requirement." While the statute does not ban abortion, the CRR argues that it restricts access to reproductive rights and is thus effectively unconstitutional.
North Dakota has been at the recent forefront of the ongoing debate on reproductive rights [JURIST backgrounder]. Wednesday's lawsuit supplements a previous challenge against a 2011 North Dakota law [HB 1297, PDF] restricting drug-induced abortions, which a state judge recently said he would strike down [JURIST report]. In April North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple [official website] signed a measure [JURIST report] banning abortions after 20 weeks based on the controversial premise that a fetus can feel pain at that point. Dalrymple also signed two other bills into law, HB 1305 and HB 1456 [text, PDF], along with SB 2305. The CRR is also planning challenges to those provisions.
[JURIST] A UN special reporter said Tuesday that the current situation in Eritrea warrants close scrutiny [press release] from the international community. Sheila Keetharuth [official profile] made the statement based on her findings during a 10-day mission to obtain knowledge from refugees in Ethiopia and Djibouti. The total number of refugees in the past year reached 4,000increasing the total Eritrean refugee population to more than 50,000. Specifically, she expressed concern for the increasing numbers of both unaccompanied minors and those seeking religious freedom. She attributed these recent increases to a "culture of rights denial." Echoing the UN statements made in December [UN News Centre report], she urged that, "Real change would require a fundamental reform process transforming the current culture of rights denial with one anchored in the rule of law, respect for and realization of all human rights and human dignity." Keetharuth reiterated that such changes will be necessary before the refugees can return to their homeland.
The international community has become increasingly concerned with forced labor issues and human rights abuses that have led to the increase of refugees leaving Eritrea [JURIST news archive]. In January Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] alleged that the Eritrean government's national service program requires all able-bodied men and women serve indefinitely as conscripts for the government, and it assigns some of these conscripts to state-owned construction companies as forced laborers [JURIST report]. In June UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned Eritrea [JURIST report] for its failure to address the human rights violations in the country. These sentiments came on the heels of the US State Department [official website] Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 [text], which added Eritrea and five other countries to its list of countries with the worst human trafficking records.
[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] said on Tuesday that the mutilation of a Syrian soldier seen in an Internet video should be investigated as a potential war crime. Pillay urged [press release] Syrian rebels to stop the "truly atrocious" acts. Although the video cannot be fully authenticated, it appears to show a Syrian rebel leader cutting out and biting the heart of a dead soldier. As Pillay stressed, "mutilating or desecrating corpses during a conflict is a war crime." Opposition fighters have also been accused of acts of torture, summary executions and extra-judicial killings.
The Syrian Civil War [JURIST backgrounder] has been going on since 2011 when opposition groups first began protesting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile], and the increasingly bloody nature of the conflict has put pressure on the international community to intervene. Last month Assad issued a decree reducing prison terms [JURIST report] for a number of rebel prisoners, but the move was dismissed as a "meaningless gesture" by activists. Also in April Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] accused the Syrian Air Force of deliberately targeting civilians [JURIST report] in air strikes in opposition-controlled areas. In March HRW accused Syria's military of using widely-banned cluster munitions [JURIST report] against civilians. In February the UN said that both the Syrian government and the anti-government rebels are committing war crimes [JURIST report]. Earlier that month Pillay reported that the death toll after two years [JURIST report] of armed conflict approached 70,000. In January more than 50 countries asked the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC.
[JURIST] Three UN independent experts on Tuesday urged authorities in Russia to revise a law [press release] that is having "obstructive, intimidating and stigmatizing effects" on the country's non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and non-commercial organizations (NCOs) [JURIST op-ed]. The law, adopted in November, requires NGOs and NCOs to register as "organizations performing the functions of foreign agents" if they want to engage in any sort of political activity and receive foreign funding. Under this registration, the government can closely monitor them and impose severe penalties. Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai noted that according to international human rights law, this close monitoring by the government lacks any appropriate legal basis. Moreover, human rights defenders could be considered to engage in "political activity," and the law could infringe on their ability to advocate and raise human rights issues. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya stressed:
We already warned against the extensive requirements contained in this law for NCOs allegedly "engaging in political activities," which could infringe on the right of human rights defenders to publically raise human rights issues and conduct advocacy work. Defenders should be able to participate in public affairs by raising issues of public interest in a critical way, irrespective of where their funding comes from. This type of work should not been seen as a political activity but as an essential component of an open and democratic society.
The Special Rapporteurs urged Russia to amend the law to comply with international law standards, ending the adverse effects on hundreds of organizations and human rights defenders.
The Russian Parliament approved the law [JURIST report] last July, with many critics arguing that President Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian] is taking steps backwards toward a more restrictive government. Putin signed the bill into law a week later amongst opponents' claims its purpose is to curb free speech. The government has enforced the law [JURIST report] despite criticism, raiding the Moscow headquarters of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Transparency International and Amnesty International [advocacy websites] in March. Last month, HRW and AI released reports criticizing the limiting of free speech since Putin's return to the presidency.
[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday that the Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into allegations that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) [official websites] unfairly scrutinized tax-exemptions for conservative groups. The agency initially singled out groups with applications containing the names "Tea Party" or "Patriots," but expanded to target groups that promoted Constitutionalism. The practice of subjecting conservative groups to extra scrutiny went on for 18 months. The Treasury Inspector General's report [text, PDF] suggests that poor management led to "insufficient oversight" in the review of hundreds of advocacy groups. The report states that "the criteria developed by the Determinations Unit gives the appearance that the IRS is not impartial in conducting its mission."
The IRS apologized [Reuters report] last Friday for what they called "inappropriate" scrutiny. At a White House news conference the following Monday, US President Barack Obama [official website] called [press brief] the IRS actions "outrageous," stating that the agency must operate with "absolute integrity."
[JURIST] The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court [official website] said Tuesday that her office will conduct a preliminary examination into the 2010 Israeli raid [JURIST news archive] on an aid flotilla bound for the blockaded Gaza strip in which nine civilians on a Turkish ship were killed. The examination is in response to authorities from the Union of Comoros, who requested [referral, PDF] that ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda initiate an investigation into the alleged crimes which arose from the raid, pursuant to Articles 12, 13 and 14 of the Rome Statute [text]. The referral states that Comoros has an interest in the matter because the majority of the crimes took place on board a vessel registered to the nation and within its territorial jurisdiction. The referral claims that two issues require attention, including "the nexus between the attack on the flotilla and the Palestinian/Israeli conflict" and "the unlawfulness of the blockade of Gaza." Bensouda said that the preliminary examination will determine whether the criteria for opening an investigation are met.
In November, a Turkish court opened a trial in absentia [JURIST report] for former Israeli military commanders accused of killing nine Turkish citizens during the 2010 raid. The Turkish judge began the proceedings with testimony from people who were on board the flotilla, as well as from relatives of the deceased. Prosecutors have demanded life in prison for the Israeli commanders involved in the May 2010 raid to enforce a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. The case illustrates tension between Turkey and Israel, which have previously maintained close diplomatic ties. Israel has criticized the trial of the four Israeli commanders, dismissing the proceedings as politically motivated. Hundreds of protestors showed up outside the courthouse to voice their opposition to the actions of these commanders. Turkey has demanded an end to the Gaza blockade, a formal apology and compensation for the victims and their family.
[JURIST] A court in Bahrain [BBC country profile] sentenced six individuals to a year in prison on Wednesday for insulting King Hamad via Twitter [official website]. Since the nation's pro-democracy protests in Manama that began in February 2011, activists have used the social media site to report perceived violations. The court found [BNA report] the tweets to be an overuse of the freedom of expression, and a contradiction to the fundamental norms of society.
Bahrain has imprisoned numerous activists in the wake of the 2011 protests and banned all protests [JURIST report] effective October 2012. In March 13 pro-democracy activists were sentenced [JURIST report] to 10 years in jail. Also in March the Bahrain Higher Criminal Court acquitted two police officers [JURIST report] in the shooting death of a Shiite protester during the nation's uprising. In February a Bahrain police officer was sentenced to seven years [JURIST report] in prison for fatally shooting a protester. In January a court in Bahrain released [JURIST report] human rights activist Sayed Yousif Al-Muhafda on bail pending trial for charges of spreading false news to harm security. Also in January the highest Bahraini appellate court upheld the convictions [JURIST report] of 13 prominent pro-democracy protestors convicted by military tribunal in 2011 on charges of plotting to overthrow the monarchy.
[JURIST] A Guatemalan court on Monday ordered the government to apologize to the Ixil Maya, an indigenous people, for acts of genocide that were committed against them when former dictator Efrain Rios Montt [BBC profile; JURIST news archives] was in power. Montt was found guilty [JURIST report] on Friday of the genocide, torture and rape of 1,771 Ixil Mayans during his 1982-83 rule for ordering the country's military to commit the acts. The court also ordered [AFP report] that the government declare March 23 to be National Day Against Genocide because that is the date on which Montt took power in 1982. Montt was absent from the hearing, which was held to address reparations for the victims, because he fainted due to high blood pressure earlier that day. His transfer from a military facility to a hospital had been approved over the weekend, but Montt had opted to wait until after Monday's hearing to be transferred. Doctors said his health condition was exacerbated when he was not allowed to take his medications to jail with him after his conviction on Friday. He is expected to appeal [PressTV report] the verdict and his sentence of 80 years in prison.
The time period during Montt's rule was one of the bloodiest parts of the Guatemala Civil War [PBS timeline; JURIST news archives], in which more than 200,000 people were killed over 36 years. Montt's trial was delayed last month [JURIST report] when an annulment was ordered by the Constitutional Court and the case was transferred to another judge to determine whether defense evidence had been incorporated properly. This ruling came days after the original judge on the case had ignored a prior ruling [JURIST report] annulling the case and began the trial anyway. The UN in March had commended Guatemala [JURIST report] for beginning his long-awaited trial, as it marked the first time ever that a former head of state was tried for genocide by a national tribunal. The former dictator was ordered to stand trial [JURIST report] in January for genocide and crimes against humanity.
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