[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned Tuesday that hate crimes against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people are on the rise worldwide, marking the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Pillay said that statistics show that homophobic-based crimes are on the rise [UN News Centre report] around the world, urging that states act to stop this trend. Homosexuality remains a criminal offense in more than 70 countries, and Pillay argues that states have an obligation to decriminalize the behavior under international law. In a video message, Pillay said homophobia and transphobia are the same as other condemned forms of prejudice:
Homophobia and transphobia are no different to sexism, misogyny, racism, or xenophobia, but whereas these last forms of prejudice are universally condemned by governments, homophobia and transphobia are two often overlooked. Each and everyone of us is entitled to the same rights, to the same respect, and ethical treatment regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity.
In the US, some measures have been taken to stop hate crimes against LGBT individuals. In March, US Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) and Senator Al Franken (D-MN) [official websites] introduced legislation to protect LGBT students [JURIST report] in federally funded public elementary and high schools from bullying. In 2009, US President Barack Obama signed into law [JURIST report] a bill that contained a measure extending the definition of federal hate crimes to include crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. Homosexuality remains a crime in many countries including Uganda, which has been harshly criticized throughout the international community since the introduction [BBC report] in October 2009 of its Anti-Homosexuality Bill [text, PDF], which has since been stalled in the Parliament. The bill would impose harsh penalties for homosexuality, including death in some circumstances, and imposes punishments of up to three years in prison for individuals, including family members, who fail to report offenders. Uganda currently criminalizes homosexual behavior [BBC report] with up to 14 years in prison. Last year, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official website] called for countries around the world to abolish laws discriminating against gay and lesbian individuals [JURIST report].
[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday upheld [opinion, PDF] a Minnesota campaign financing [JURIST news archive] law prohibiting direct contributions to candidates and affiliated entities. The Minnesota law was being challenged by two non-profit advocacy organizations and a for-profit business which argued the law was in violation of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] making it unconstitutional to ban corporations from making independent expenditures, meaning political speech not coordinated with a particular candidate. The Minnesota law [text] forces corporations to contribute to a registered political fund subject to a various statutory requirements including the filing of disclosure reports. The Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the Taxpayer League of Minnesota [advocacy websites] and the for-profit Coastal Travel Enterprises [official website] argued that such requirements violate Citizens United's proscription on banning corporate independent expenditures and its ban on forcing corporations to make donations through Political Action Committees. However, the court held that:
Minnesota did not ban corporate independent expenditures. Instead, based upon the lower court's findings, as strongly supported by the record, we find that Minnesota created a statutory scheme designed to require corporations to disclose certain information when making independent expenditures. ... Based upon the record before the district court, Minnesota appears to have adequately tailored its laws because, as we found in the previous section, Minnesota's provisions collectively impose no materially greater burden on corporations than the disclosure laws at issue in Citizens United.
The Minnesota finance law was at the center of controversy when one of the disclosure reports showed that Target, Best Buy [corporate websites] and other corporations had donated money [Minneapolis Star Tribune report] to a group supporting Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. His stance against same-sex marriage caused protests against the companies.
Campaign finance regulation has been in a state of flux since Citizens United was decided in January of last year. Last month, a judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin [official website] dismissed two challenges [JURIST report] to campaign financing schemes for Wisconsin Supreme Court elections. Last March, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in two consolidated campaign finance cases. In Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether the First Amendment [text] forbids states from providing publicly financed candidates with additional government subsidies, which are triggered by independent expenditure groups' speech against such candidates or by the candidates' privately financed opponents. In McComish v. Bennett, the court will determine whether Arizona's matching funds and the law regulating campaign financing to equalize resources among candidates and interest groups, rather than advancing a compelling state interest in the least restrictive manner, violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments [text].
[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] on Tuesday convicted former Rwandan army chief Augustin Bizimungu and three others involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Bizimungu was sentenced to 30 years in prison while two others, Francois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye and Innocent Sagahutu, to 20 years in prison and Augustin Ndindiliyimana to time served since his arrest in 2000. Bizimungu was found guilty on six counts of genocide and crimes against humanity for murder, extermination and rape in addition of violations of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions [text]. However, all four were acquitted on the charge of conspiracy to commit genocide with the court saying that it did not believe the prosecution had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the all four were involved in such a conspiracy. Bizimungu was arrested in August of 2002 in Angola and transferred to the tribunal in in 2004. During the genocide, Bizimungu ordered soldiers and policeman to exterminate [HRW report] tens of thousands of Tutsi civilians who had taken refuge in churches, hospitals and schools. The soldiers and police also forced ordinary civilians to join in the hunting down and killing of Tutsis under the threat of punishment.
Last December, the ICTR sentenced [JURIST report] former Rwandan Armed Forces lieutenant Ildephonse Hategekimana to life imprisonment after convicting him on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. The court found Hategekimana guilty of three counts of genocide stemming from his involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, specifically in the massacre of civilian Tutsis in the Rwandan town of Butare. Last month, the ICTR removed US lawyer and JURIST Forum [website] contributor Peter Erlinder [professional profile; JURIST news archive] from his position as an ICTR defense lawyer. The appeals chamber said the dismissal was due to Erlinder's failure to appear at a tribunal and cited Rule 46 of the ICTR Rules of Procedure and Evidence [text] which allows the court impose sanctions for lawyer's misconduct. Erlinder argues [JURIST op-ed] the dismissal was part of a wider history of institutional bias that has helped the Rwandan government label him and other defense counsel "genocide deniers" subject to official threats of arrest and even death.
The individual mandate is unconstitutional because it exceeds even the outermost bounds of Congress's Article I authority and is inconsistent with the constitutional system of dual sovereignty that divides power between the federal and State governments. ... Congress cannot 'regulate' inactivity by requiring individuals to buy a good or service as a condition of their lawful residence in the United States, and Congress does not have carte blanche to include unconstitutional provisions within a larger scheme of commercial regulation.
The brief further argues that the PPACA violates the two of the plaintiff's rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) [42 USC § 2000bb text] because they believe the individual mandate "would violate their religious belief that God will protect them from illness or injury" or force them to have to pay penalties for refusing to violate their faith. The ACLJ also filed amicus briefs in challenges to the health care reform law by the states of Florida and Virginia.
Last February, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] dismissed the ACLJ's lawsuit, ruling that Congress acted within its constitutional powers in passing the health care reform law. The court also found that the RFRA was not violated since the PPACA allows individuals to make a payment in lieu of coverage and the individual mandate is essential to the PPACA. The court concluded that the individual mandate was not a substantial burden on the plaintiffs' Christian faith and it is the "least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest." Also last February, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) asked federal judge Roger Vinson to clarify that states must continue to enact the PPACA as the government appeals from Vinson's January ruling finding the law unconstitutional [JURIST reports]. There is also an ongoing challenge in Virginia over a split decision in the US district courts with the Eastern District of Virginia ruling against individual mandate provision and the Western District of Virginia dismissing a challenge [JURIST reports]. In October, a federal judge in Michigan ruled [JURIST report] that the law is constitutional under the Commerce Clause.
[JURIST] German prosecutors said Monday they are appealing a German court's decision to release Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk [NNDB profile; JURIST news archive] after he was convicted [JURIST report] of helping murder thousands during the Holocaust. Last Thursday, a German court in Munich found the 91-year-old Demjanjuk guilty of assisting in the murder of nearly 28,000 Jews while serving as a guard at the Sobibor death camp. He was sentenced to five years in prison, less than the six years sought by the prosecution [JURIST report]. But Judge Ralph Alt ordered his release [DW report] because of his advanced age and because the verdict is not final. Appeals could take another year or more. With no surviving witnesses, Demjanjuk was convicted based on wartime documents as prosecutors proved he was guilty because he worked at the death camp. Germany's chief Nazi war crimes investigator also stated that there are two investigations underway [Reuters report] that are similar to the Demjanuk case.
Demjanjuk's trial began [JURIST report] in November 2009 but was marked by extensive delay. Last May, the court denied a motion to dismiss the charges [JURIST report] filed by the defense, which argued there was a lack of credible evidence. The court rejected the argument, saying they found the evidence against Demjanjuk to be strong. In October 2009, Demjanjuk was found fit to stand trial after the court rejected appeals relating to his health [JURIST reports], although the court limited hearings to no more than two 90-minute sessions per day. Demjanjuk fought a lengthy legal battle over his alleged involvement with Nazi death camps during World War II. He was living in the United States deported to Germany after the US Supreme Court [official website] denied his stay of deportation [JURIST report].
[We] STRESS the urgent need to locate, arrest and transfer fugitives to the international criminal courts and tribunals whose closures are fast approaching [and] URGE national authorities to ensure full commitment to the end of impunity and to eliminating safe havens for those suspected or indicted for international crimes [and] RECOGNISE the essential support and cooperation of States in enabling international criminal courts and tribunals to pursue their respective mandates.
This is not the first time a delegation of international criminal prosecutors has come together to urge the support of the international community. In September, current and former international prosecutors signed the fourth Chautauqua Declaration [text, PDF] praising recent advances in international law and urging countries to continue supporting the international courts [JURIST report] in order to maintain the spirit of the Nuremburg Principles [text]. At that time, prosecutors also urged countries to fulfill their obligations under international law by investigating and prosecuting, or transferring to the appropriate international court, suspects who violate international criminal law, including sitting heads of state.
Feedroll provides free Paper Chase news boxes with headlines or digests precisely tailored to your website's look and feel, with content updated every 15 minutes. Customize and get the code.
Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible, ad-free format.