[JURIST] European Union (EU) leaders reached agreement on the text of a proposed EU Reform Treaty [PDF text; EU materials] at a summit [EU materials] in Lisbon early Friday local time, working through last minute objections by Poland and Italy. Much of the summit focused on reservations by those countries; observers said that the treaty could have been defeated if they had refused to sign on. Polish President Lech Kaczynski had demanded that Poland receive more voting rights in the pact, and Prime Minister Romano Prodi [official profiles] had demanded that Italy get additional seats in the reformed European Parliament. Diplomats say the treaty will give the EU more clout by speeding up the decision-making process and thus allowing members to take a more active role in global issues.
The treaty text was preliminarily approved [JURIST report] by EU legal experts earlier this month. EU leaders reached basic agreement [JURIST report] on the treaty itself in June; it is, in effect, a cut-down version of the abortive European constitution [JURIST news archive]. The original draft constitution failed as it did not receive unanimous approval among all EU states. Voters in France and the Netherlands [JURIST reports] rejected the proposal in national referenda in 2005. Netherlands Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende [official profile] said last month, however, that Holland did not need to hold a referendum on the new treaty because it had "no constitutional aspirations." British leaders have also resisted calls for a national referendum on the new document, insisting that the treaty would not infringe on British independence. In June, then-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the EU did not need a real or de facto constitutional treaty, and insisted that the reform treaty did not amount to an EU constitution [JURIST report]. The Guardian has more.
[JURIST] US lawmakers apologized Thursday to Maher Arar [advocacy website; CBC timeline], a Canadian engineer who was detained in the US in 2002 after flying to New York from Tunisia on his way home to Ottawa after a holiday and later deported to Syria, where he was tortured. Appearing by video before a joint hearing of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees, Arar accepted apologies from Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass) [press release; opening statement, recorded video] and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif) [official website], and reiterated his hope that he would one day receive an official apology from the US government. Rohrabacher expressed his sympathies for Arar, but bluntly said he would oppose any efforts to do away with extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive], which he credited for saving the lives of thousands of US citizens. AP has more.
Canadian intelligence officials suspected that the United States would deport Arar to a country where he could be subject to torture, according to previously censored information released in August by Canada's official Arar Commission [official website], established [JURIST report] in 2004 to trace the events leading to Arar's deportation. The commission later concluded that Canadian officials did not play a role [JURIST report] in the US decision to detain and remove Arar, but said that the US decision was "very likely" based on inaccurate, unfair and overstated information about Arar passed on by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli later publicly apologized to Arar [JURIST report] "for whatever part the actions of the RCMP may have contributed to the terrible injustices that you experienced"; in January this year Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper similarly apologized to Arar [JURIST report] on behalf of the Canadian government.
[JURIST] US Attorney General-nominee Michael Mukasey [WH fact sheet; PBWT profile] refused on the second day of his confirmation hearings [witness list] before the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Thursday to say whether he considers "waterboarding" a technique that induces the effects of being drowned to be a form of torture. Mukasey [JURIST news archive], a retired federal judge who has presided over some of the nation's highest-profile terror trials, avoided questions about the legality of specific interrogation techniques, which also included forced nudity and mock executions, because he considered such comments to be irresponsible "when there are people who are using coercive techniques and who are being authorized to use coercive techniques."
Congress prohibited cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of persons under the custody or control of the United States government in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 [JURIST text]. In April 2006, more than 100 US law professors insisted in an open letter [text] to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that waterboarding is torture, punishable as a felony offense. President George W. Bush nominated Mukasey [JURIST report] in September to replace Gonzales, who submitted his resignation [JURIST report] in August. AP has more.
[JURIST] An employment non-discrimination bill protecting gays, lesbians, and bisexuals but not transgendered individuals has been sent to the full US House of Representatives for consideration after being approved [press release] by the House Education and Labor Committee Thursday. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act [PDF text; HR 3685 materials] covers hiring and firing practices, the setting of compensation levels, and promotion determinations, and makes it illegal for employers to consider an employee's sexual orientation when making decisions in the workplace.
The absence of transgender protections has prompted sharp opposition [ACLU press release] to the measure from civil rights groups. Democrats who introduced the bill in September were worried that the inclusion of language applying to transgender employees would cause the bill to fail and have vowed to address the issue in the future. California Representative Linda Sanchez [official profile] was one of four Democrats to vote against the bill in committee, saying that, "We could have done better." Currently less than half of US states specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation [JURIST news archive], and only half of these laws include protection for transgender individuals. AP has more.
[JURIST] The US Senate Intelligence Committee [official website] Thursday debated a draft bill that would grant immunity from prosecution to telecommunications companies [JURIST report] that assisted in government eavesdropping between 2001 and 2007. The bill, which would amend the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [text], also includes a provision requiring the attorney general to certify that probable cause exists to suspect that an American is engaged in activities against the United States before the government can initiate surveillance. President Bush has threatened to veto any surveillance bill that does not include immunity provisions for telecom companies that assisted in government eavesdropping. AP has more.
On Wednesday, House Democrats withdrew [JURIST report] the RESTORE Act of 2007 ("Responsible Electronic Surveillance That is Overseen, Reviewed and Effective Act of 2007") [HR 3773 summary; HJC summary, PDF] from the House floor for consideration after Republicans moved to attach an amendment to the bill which would have been politically awkward for Democrats to reject, providing that nothing in the measure would prevent the government from spying on Osama Bin Laden or other terrorist organizations. The RESTORE Act was intended to replace the temporary Protect America Act [S 1927 materials], signed in August, as the law governing foreign surveillance.
[JURIST] Turkey will hold a constitutional reform referendum on Sunday as scheduled, the Turkish Supreme Electoral Council [official website, in Turkish] said Wednesday. The referendum addresses a package of proposed reforms which include reducing the maximum parliamentary from five years to four; requiring a legislative voting quorum of one-third of Turkish MPs; reducing the presidential term from seven to five years and providing for the possibility of a second presidential term, and - most importantly - changing the presidential election process to a popular vote. Turkish voters will be asked to decide on the reforms as a group, as opposed to each individually. There was originally some controversy over whether the proposed presidential election reform would retroactively require parliamentarily-selected Turkish President Abdullah Gul [BBC profile] to submit himself to a popular vote or whether it would only affect future elections. On Tuesday, parliament amended the reform bill to clarify that it would not apply to Gul's presidency. In response, Electoral Council President Muammer Aydin [official profile, in Turkish] indicated that the Council might delay or cancel the referendum because 20,000 absentee ballots had already been received using the original text. The Council ultimately decided that too few votes had been cast to affect the outcome of the referendum, and so voting could continue as planned. AFP has more. NTV has additional coverage.
Gul's original candidacy in April caused controversy when he ran as the sole contender for the Turkish presidency [BBC Q&A]. The Turkish Constitutional Court voided [JURIST report] an April parliamentary vote in support of Gul because a quorum of legislators did not participate, prompting calls for constitutional reform [JURIST report]. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [official website] accused the court of hurting democracy and said he would support dissolving parliament and holding an early parliamentary election to ensure that Turkey's leaders were chosen by the people rather than the courts.
[JURIST] The military government of Myanmar [JURIST news archive] Thursday said it will form a 54-member commission to draft a new national constitution [JURIST news archive] as the next stage in its seven-step plan to move toward democratic rule. The commission reportedly will be comprised of both military and civilian officials and chaired by Chief Justice U Aung Toe. The government has not specified a timeline for the commission to complete its work. Reuters has more.
So far, Myanmar has only completed the first step of its seven-step plan with the drafting of guidelines for a new constitution [JURIST report] finished in September. Critics, however, contend that the drafting was essentially staged by the junta, and the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] largely refused to participate in the process. The country has been governed without a constitution since the military regime took power in 1988. Talks on a new national charter have been underway for 14 years.
[JURIST] Former Khmer Rouge official Nuon Chea [GenocideWatch report] on Thursday selected [press release, PDF] Dutch lawyer Michiel Pestman [firm profile] to serve as foreign counsel in his upcoming trial before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive], the ECCC said Thursday on charges [statement, PDF] of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Chea is currently represented by Cambodian lawyer Son Arun [press release, PDF], with whom Pestman will work as co-counsel. Pestman has previously represented several high-profile clients including Moinina Fofana [TrialWatch profile], a former leader of Sierra Leone's Civil Defense Forces sentenced [JURIST report] to prison by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) [official website] earlier this month.
Chea was known as Brother Number Two in the Khmer Rouge, indicative of his high position in the communist movement led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998 having never been prosecuted for alleged war crimes. Chea has disputed [JURIST report] the war crimes charges he faces since his arrest [detention order, PDF; JURIST report] in September. Earlier this week, Chea urged [JURIST report] the ECCC to release him on bail. Reuters has more.
[JURIST] Rwandan genocide suspect Dominique Ntawukuriryayo [ICTR website] has been arrested in France, a UN spokesperson said Thursday. Ntawukuriryayo, a former public official, had been on the run from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website], where he has been charged [indictment, PDF] with genocide, complicity in genocide and direct and public incitement to genocide. UN spokesperson Michelle Montas said Ntawukuriryayo will be transferred to Paris and then to the custody of the ICTR.
The charges against Ntawukuriryayo stem principally from his alleged involvement in the Kabuye Hill massacre that occurred over five days in late April 1994, during which as many as 25,000 people were killed. Then sub-prefect for Gisagara, he is charged with ordering Tutsis to move to Kabuye Hill, where he promised protection, but when they arrived, they were surrounded by and shot by gendarmes and communal policemen. Ntawukuriryayo's arrest follows a three-day hunger strike [JURIST report; HNA report] last week by 40 inmates awaiting trial at the ICTR. The UN News Centre has more.
[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] Wednesday dismissed concerns that President Pervez Musharraf [official website] would declare martial law [JURIST report] if the court invalidates his disputed election victory, with the top presiding judge telling the court that such fears will not influence the court's decision making. The court is hearing arguments [JURIST report] against Musharraf's re-election campaign by two of Musharraf's opponents, who say that he was ineligible to participate in the election while he was the army chief. According to unofficial tallies, Musharraf won by a large margin [JURIST report] in the election earlier this month. He has promised to step down from his military role and lead the country as a civilian if the court validates his victory. AFP has more.
Also Wednesday, Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry [official website; JURIST news archive] rejected requests that the full 17-member court hear the election challenges. Chaudhry said that two justices should not participate in the hearings because they had already expressed opinions on the merits of the case, and that several other justices had scheduling conflicts. Chaudhry himself has refused to participate in the hearings after a debacle earlier this year, when Musharraf suspended Chaudhry [JURIST report] in March on allegations of corruption [JURIST report]. The Supreme Court reinstated Chaudhry [JURIST report] in July. Many believed that the suspension was meant to prevent Chaudhry from interfering with any attempt by Musharraf to extend his eight-year rule in the elections. ANI has more.
[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website; JURIST news archive] said Thursday that former Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) warlord Germain Katanga [Trial Watch profile; ICC materials] has been transferred [press release] to the court's detention center [PDF backgrounder] at The Hague. The ICC Office of the Prosecutor alleges that Katanga, the former senior commander of the Force de Resistance Patriotique en Ituri ("FRPI") militia in the DRC, ordered fighters under his command to "wipe out" [OTP press release] the village of Bogoro, where hundreds of civilians were killed and several women were forced into sexual slavery. Katanga is charged with three counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of war crimes. His first appearance before the court has not yet been announced.
[JURIST] House Democrats withdrew the RESTORE Act of 2007 ("Responsible Electronic Surveillance That is Overseen, Reviewed and Effective Act of 2007") [HR 3773 summary; HJC summary, PDF] from the House floor for consideration Wednesday after Republicans moved to attach an amendment to the bill which would have been politically awkward for Democrats to reject. The RESTORE Act is intended to replace the temporary Protect America Act [S 1927 materials], signed in August, as the law governing foreign surveillance. At the earliest, House Democrats will re-introduce the bill as currently drafted next week. The amendment proposed by House Republicans would have said that nothing in the bill would prevent the government from spying on Osama Bin Laden or other terrorist organizations; Democrats say their bill allows for surveillance of terrorist organizations, so they would vote down the amendment, which would provide fodder for Republican claims that Democrats are soft on terrorism.
The RESTORE Act [CRS summary] permits eavesdropping on foreign targets operating outside the US, but if the surveillance targets are thought to be communicating with Americans, the government must apply for an "umbrella" court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [official backgrounder] to conduct surveillance for up to one year. In an emergency, the government may begin surveillance immediately, but must apply for a FISC court order within seven days and receive FISC approval within 45 days. House Republicans oppose the RESTORE Act as unwieldy and an impediment to effective counter-terrorism surveillance. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it does not provide legal immunity to telecommunications companies [JURIST report] for participating in the NSA domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive]. House Democrats have not adopted such an amendment and want the president to reveal what the telecommunications companies did that requires legal immunity. Bush instead favors a renewal of the temporary Protect America Act, which, in part, amends FISA to state that nothing under its definition of "electronic surveillance" shall be construed to encompass surveillance directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States. AP has more.
[JURIST] FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin [official profile] has circulated a schedule that calls for a final FCC vote in December on a proposal to relax media ownership rules [FCC backgrounder]. Under the current rules, a company may not own a television station and a newspaper in the same market, which is blocking Chicago investor Sam Zell from buying the Tribune Company newspaper conglomerate. Another rule under scrutiny prevents one company from owning two television stations unless one is not in the top four and there are at least eight stations in the market. Under Martin's proposed schedule, the FCC will hold public hearings in Washington on October 31 and on November 2 in Seattle, will publish the proposed rule on November 13, and will hold a final vote on the rule on December 18. Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said Wednesday that the schedule does not allow enough time for public debate.
Three years ago, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned [opinion, PDF] a previous FCC effort to relax the media ownership rules. The appeals court found the commission did not sufficiently justify or use reasoned analysis to arrive at some of the proposed rule changes. The US Supreme Court let the decision stand without comment [JURIST report]. Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps [FCC profile], who has been steadfast in his opposition to relaxing the media rules, said Martin's plan to change the rules by December risks another reversal by the Third Circuit. The New York Times has more.
[JURIST] US authorities have delivered Ali Hassan al-Majid [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], better known in Western media as "Chemical Ali," to a location near a prison gallows in Baghdad where he is expected to be transferred into Iraqi custody to be executed, an Iraqi police official said Wednesday. Al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam Hussein, was sentenced to death [JURIST report] by the Iraqi High Tribunal in June on genocide and war crimes charges, and the Tribunal's Appeals Chamber upheld the death sentence [JURIST report] in September. Iraqi law requires executions to take place within 30 days, but the execution was delayed [JURIST report] so that it would not occur during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The New York Times has more.
Al-Majid's planned execution has prompted several other legal issues. It was reported Wednesday that several members of Iraq's Presidency Council, which includes Kurdish President Jalal Talibani, Shi'ite Vice-President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, and Sunni Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, have refused to sign the execution order [JURIST report]. Although an Iraqi judge said last month that presidential approval is not required [JURIST report] to carry out an execution, it is unknown whether al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government can establish a new execution date without the approval of the Presidency Council. In addition, it is unclear whether anyone has legal authority to pardon him. Al-Majid lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano [legal website] told JURIST Tuesday that since the initial 30-day execution window had expired, Iraqi officials were required to respond to an application for a pardon filed with Talabani and the Iraqi High Tribunal or else the execution would amount to what he called premeditated murder [JURIST comment].
1:51 PM ET - In a statement to JURIST, al-Majid defense lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano has said that as of Thursday morning (ET), al-Majid was still being held in Camp Cropper.
3:13 PM ET - An Iraqi government spokesperson said Thursday that he expects al-Majid's execution to be carried out "in the coming days." AFP has more.
Musharraf won an overwhelming victory in presidential elections [JURIST report] on October 6, according to unofficial results. Many believe his re-election bid violated a constitutional ban on holding dual roles as president and army chief, and 85 opposition members of parliament resigned in protest prior to the election. The Supreme Court barred the Election Commission of Pakistan [official website] from officially declaring a winner until the high court issues a ruling on whether Musharraf was in fact eligible as a presidential candidate. The court began hearing legal arguments [JURIST report] Wednesday in the case filed by opposition party members challenging Musharraf's re-election bid.
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