[JURIST] At least five people were shot by police Saturday as violence again erupted in Kenya's Western Province over the country's highly controversial draft constitution [PDF text]. Security forces fired upon a crowd in the city of Kisumu while dispersing a riot during a pro-constitution rally held by four cabinet ministers. Police said mobs set fire to blockades they had erected across major highways, looted businesses and vehicles, and had attacked constitution supporters, injuring dozens. Saturday's violence follows riots last Thursday [JURIST report] in the city of Kakamega, where rioters injured dozens of constitution opponents. Critics of the draft constitution say it vests too much authority in the president, and fails to properly separate church and state. AFP has more.
[JURIST] Syrian President Bashar Assad [Wikipedia profile] on Saturday formed a special judicial committee to conduct a state investigation into Syrian involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri [JURIST news archive]. The committee will be led by Syria's prosecutor-general, and will also include the military prosecutor and a judge yet to be named by the justice minister. Syria vigorously disputes the findings of the UN report [text, PDF] that connects the Syrian government with the killings [JURIST report], but has agreed to cooperate with the ongoing UN investigation. Earlier in the week, UN investigator Detlev Mehlis called for Syria to conduct such an investigation to assist with the UN effort; on Wednesday, the US and France proposed a UN resolution [JURIST report] calling for ecomomic sanctions against Syria if they did not fully cooperate with the UN inquiry. AP has more.
[JURIST] Australian state and territorial leaders were given a new draft of a proposed federal anti-terrorism bill Friday and are meeting this weekend to discuss it. The previous draft [text] drew heavy criticism [JURIST report] from ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope [official website] last week for its provisions concerning control orders and preventative detentions; Stanhope cautiously supported the new draft Saturday, citing an improvement in the control orders section, though he is still concerned with the limited role of judiciary in overseeing the detentions. New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma [official profile] said the new draft authorizes retired civilian judges acting in an executive or administrative capacity to issue the detention orders, thus taking the orders out of the domain of the courts. "We want an individual who is subjected to one of these orders to be able to appeal on the merits of the application, not just on technicalities of law," he said, calling the detention proposal "a clear breach of the COAG [Council of Australian Governments [official website]] agreement in relation to the checks and balances that would apply." ABC News has more.
[JURIST] The New Orleans Police Department fired 45 police officers and 6 other employees Friday after investigators concluded they had improperly abandoned their duties during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive] without giving 14 days notice as required by regulations. A total of of 240 officers out of the 1450-member force are under investigation [JURIST report] after being listed as missing during Katrina's fallout; the investigations will culminate in hearings beginning on November 8 that are expected to take 4-6 months to complete. The fired officers have no chance at appeal. Fifteen other officers under investigation have already resigned, and another 45 not under investigation resigned for personal reasons. The president of the New Orleans police union did not defend those accused of abandoning their duties, saying, "the worst thing you can call a police officer is a deserter." AP has more.
[JURIST] Democrats on the US Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations [official website] claimed in a minority staff report [PDF] on the UN Oil-for-Food scandal released Friday that the US Treasury Department failed to respond to UN requests for help in investigating business improprieties and missed an opportunity to stop at least one US corporation from contributing to Saddam Hussein's efforts to corrupt the UN humanitarian program. The minority report focused on Bayoil USA, the first US firm to be indicted in the oil-for-food scandal [JURIST news archive]. Bayoil is among the 2,200 companies that have been accused of diverting $1.8 billion of illegal kickbacks [JURIST report] to Saddam Hussein's government between 1996 and 2003. Bayoil itself accused of paying $37 million in illegal surcharges. The Subcommittee on Investigations is slated to hold a hearing Monday [hearing announcement] on the latest oil-for-food findings. Reuters has more.
[JURIST] A lawyer for former Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby [JURIST news archive], who resigned Friday after a grand jury indictment [JURIST report], has outlined a possible defense for his client's alleged false statements before a grand jury. Joseph Tate [firm profile] suggested that Libby's inconsistent "recollections" to the grand jury and FBI investigators were the result of his hectic schedule and the near impossibility of recalling the details of conversations had years earlier. Libby reportedly testified before a grand jury that he learned the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame from reporters, though evidence indicates that he may have learned her identity from Cheney and others a month earlier. AP has more.
[JURIST] In a statement [text] released Friday, the US State Department announced that it has extended an invitation to Guantanamo Bay prison [JURIST news archive] to three UN human rights rapporteurs. State Department officials say "the invitation was extended in an effort to broaden understanding of US detention operations" and counter reports that detainees at the prison camp are treated inhumanely. The three rapporteurs invited to visit are experts in various areas, including torture and cruel and inhumane, and freedom of religion and faith. The invitation follows a June call to the US by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to open Gitmo to UN human rights experts after the US had ignored or rejected several previous requests [UN press release] by UN officials for visits. AFP has more.
[JURIST] Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein accepted a last minute offer of exile from Arab leaders in 2003 just before the US-led invasion of Iraq, according to an Al Arabiya television [media website] documentary. According to the report, the deal could have averted war, but was thwarted when members of the League of Arab States [official website] refused to assent to the plan at an emergency summit. Saddam reportedly accepted the offer from United Arab Emirates (UAE) President Sheikh Zayed [official profile], and it would have made him immune from legal process. Saddam's current trial before the Iraqi High Criminal Court [JURIST news archive] is scheduled to reconvene on November 28. Reuters has more.
[JURIST] Portugal's constitutional court [official website] has blocked a national referendum designed to relax the country's abortion laws. Prime Minister Jose Socrates [official profile, in Portuguese] and the ruling Socialist party had intended to hold the referendum on November 27 to decide whether abortions during the first ten weeks of pregnancy should become legal. Currently, Portugal has one of Europe's strictest laws on the matter, only permitting abortion before the 12th week and under strict circumstances - such as incest or fetal impairment. In May, President Jorge Sampio [official profile, in Portuguese], who supports legalized abortion, rejected a referendum because voter turnout was expected to be too low. The court ruled Friday that allowing the vote before September 2006 would be unconstitutional because the same referendum was rejected in the current legislature. BBC News has more.
[JURIST] The Alaska Supreme Court issued an opinion [PDF text] Friday ending the state practice of denying benefits to same-sex partners of public employees. While the high court determined that the policy violated the equal protection clause of the Alaska Constitution [text] because it treated unmarried heterosexual and homosexual couples differently, the benefits plans will remain in effect until the court determines a remedy. The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska [advocacy website] deemed the ruling a victory, and predicted it could influence courts in other states. In contrast, Governor Frank H. Murkowski [official website] expressed outrage over the ruling and directed the office of Alaska Attorney General David W. Marquez [official profile] to work to overturn it. Alaska was one of the first states to impose a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] in 1996. AP has more.
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