[JURIST] The UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries [official website] on Friday proposed international legislation [UN News Centre report] to create mechanisms for prosecuting contractors and mercenaries when they violate the law. The Chairman of the UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries, Jose Luis Gomez del Prado, said in a press conference that there is currently a gap in the jurisdictional rights of countries when non-governmental forces exceed their authority in another nation.
Gomez specifically pointed to the use of contractors by the US in Iraq, and cited that as a reason for the urgent regulation of these agencies: "While US troops are scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of the year, security contractors are there to stay."
A former contractor for Blackwater [JURIST news archive], now known as Xe Services [corporate website], was sentenced [JURIST report] last month to two-and-a-half years in prison for the 2009 shooting of an unarmed Afghan civilian in Kabul. Earlier that month, four former Blackwater contractors appealed the April decision to reinstate manslaughter charges against them in connection with their alleged roles in a 2007 shooting incident [JURIST reports] in Baghdad, Iraq. In April 2010, a federal grand jury indicted five former Blackwater executives [JURIST report] on charges of weapons violations and lying to investigators. In February 2010, the Iraqi government ordered 250 former Blackwater employees to leave Iraq [JURIST report] in reaction to the dismissal of charges against former Blackwater employees accused in the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians [JURIST report] in 2007. That month, the Department of Justice [official website] also opened an investigation [JURIST report] into whether Blackwater bribed the Iraqi government to be permitted to continue operating in Iraq following the 2007 shootings. Blackwater ceased operations in Baghdad [JURIST report] in May 2009 when its security contracts expired and were not renewed.
[JURIST] The Senegalese government announced on Friday that they will be deporting [meeting summary, in French] former Chad president Hissene Habre [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to Chad, where he is likely to be tried for war crimes [AP-Senegal report, in French]. The Senegalese government had refused to extradite [JURIST report] Habre, despite ongoing international pressure to prosecute him for crimes against humanity. The Senegalese Minister of Communication and Spokesperson of the Government, Moustapha Guirassy, in confirming the announcement, stated their decision was based on a desire to be in compliance with the African Union [official website]. Habre will be returned on July 11, although Senegal has not confirmed that he is in custody [AFP report].
Last year, an Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] report [JURIST report] cited the case of Habre as a prime example of Senegal's "contempt" for the rule of law. In 2009, the African Court on Human and People's Rights (AfCHPR) [official website] found that it lacked jurisdiction [JURIST report] to hear a case against Senegal on whether charges against Habre should be dropped. Habre has been accused of involvement in the murder or torture of more than 40,000 political opponents during his rule from 1982 to 1990. He later fled to Senegal after being removed from power in 1990. Belgium has sought to try him under the principle of universal jurisdiction, but Senegal has long refused extradition. Earlier that year, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] denied [JURIST report] Belgium's request to compel Habre's extradition. Belgium had accused Senegal of violating international law, including Article 7 of the Convention Against Torture, by not trying Habre in Senegal, where he has lived under house arrest since 1990. The ICJ found that assurances made by Senegal that Habre would remain in custody until trial were sufficient and that "the risk of irreparable prejudice to the rights claimed by Belgium is not apparent."
[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] Friday revived a lawsuit [opinion, PDF] brought by 15 Indonesian citizens against the US corporation ExxonMobil Corp. [corporate website] alleging that its wholly-owned subsidiary hired security forces that committed numerous human rights abuses. The US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] dismissed the lawsuit in 2009. Plaintiffs alleged that ExxonMobil hired members of the Indonesian military as security that it knew had committed human rights abuses in the past. They claim that the security forces committed abuses including genocide, extrajudicial killing, torture, crimes against humanity, sexual violence and kidnapping in violation of the Alien Torture Statute (ATS) [28 USC § 1350] and the Torture Victims Protection Act of 1991 [text]. The plaintiffs appealed that decision and ExxonMobil issued a cross-appeal arguing for the first time that it was immune from the lawsuit since it is not subject to the ATS. The court held that the plaintiffs had alleged sufficient facts to prove ExxonMobil was guilty of aiding and abetting and that "neither the text, history, nor purpose of the ATS supports corporate immunity for torts based on heinous conduct allegedly committed by its agents in violation of the law of nations." One judge dissented arguing that the ATS is meant to apply to conduct within the US or on the high seas, not in foreign countries, and that the ATS does not apply to corporations since it depends on customary international law that does not recognize corporate liability.
[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] announced Friday that it is filing a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] challenging a controversial Alabama law [HB 56 text; materials] that expands restrictions on undocumented immigrants. The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama [official website], seeks injunctive relief to stop the law's enforcement and a declaration that the entire law is unconstitutional. The law contains measures comparable to those passed in Arizona [JURIST report] last year including authorizing police officers to detain an individual on "reasonable suspicion" the individual is in the country illegally, and requirements that businesses use the federal E-Verify system [official website] to determine whether potential employees are legal residents. The ACLU argues that HB 56 is preempted by federal law and that, among other constitutional violations, it violates the Fourth Amendment by subjecting citizens and non-citizens with permission to be in the US to unreasonable searches and seizures. The complaint says, "HB 56 is reminiscent of the worst aspects of Alabama's history in its pervasive and systematic targeting of a class of persons through punitive state laws that seek to render every aspect of daily life more difficult and less equal." The law indicates that unlawful immigration increases education costs, crime, and economic hardship, and that the bill protects the public interest of Alabama citizens.
[JURIST] The Honduran Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Thursday released their final report [Heraldo report, in Spanish] on the June 2009 coup [JURIST report] that removed Manuel Zelaya [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] from power, declaring the coup unconstitutional, but stating that Zelaya was culpable when he ignored orders of the Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish]. The Commission, while criticizing the coup, did note that there is no formal judicial process in the Constitution of Honduras [text, in Spanish] to remove a corrupt elected official, as Zelaya allegedly was.
This way [a coup] of processing the political crisis, using a procedure outside the law, using force to oust the president abroad and using the military to resolve a political conflict, first, showed the low capacity of the political class to reach an agreement and, second, the inability of democratic institutions to resolve the crisis using the mechanisms and provisions of the laws of Honduras.
The Commission had several recommendations [Heraldo report, in Spanish] for Honduras, including: revise the Constitution to grant more rights and limit Executive power, clarify the role of the Armed Forces in a crisis, create a new structure for choosing the judiciary, and investigate and prosecute all human rights violations that occurred during Zelaya's removal. The Organization of American States (OAS) [official website] praised the report [press release], saying they "hoped Honduran society would retake the active road towards facing the serious problems of its population: poverty, crime, and the need for economic and social development."
[JURIST] Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina (PPCNC) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [press release] Thursday to block the enforcement of North Carolina's budget that denies state and federal funds used to subsidize Planned Parenthood family planning services and teen sex education. The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for Middle District of North Carolina [official website] to block the budget that North Carolina lawmakers passed by overriding Governor Beverly Perdue [official website]. PPCNC said that over the last fiscal year, it provided health family planning and reproductive health exams for nearly 7,000 women, as well as approximately 8,289 tests for sexually transmitted diseases. The North Carolina budget does not block Medicaid funds [WRAL report] to Planned Parenthood as the Indiana budget that was blocked [JURIST report] by a federal judge last month, but prevents PPCNC from even applying for grants. Janet Colm, president of PPCNC, released a statement denouncing the budget:
This budget may target Planned Parenthood, but the men, women and teens of North Carolina are the ultimate victims of this discriminatory legislation. This is the first time in North Carolina's history that a single health care provider has been carved out in the budget and banned from applying for competitive grants from the state. ... Not only is this bill bad policy, but it's also bad politics. We hope the court will work to protect the people we serve, and will ensure that Planned Parenthood can continue to receive state and federal funding to assist us in providing critical health services to North Carolina women, men, and teens.
PPCNC said that over the last fiscal year, it provided health family planning and reproductive health exams for nearly 7,000 women, as well as, providing approximately 8,289 tests for sexually transmitted diseases.
Last month, Perdue also vetoed [JURIST report] a North Carolina bill that would have required women seeking an abortion to wait 24 hours and to view an ultrasound of the fetus before an abortion [JURIST news archive]. Perdue called it "a dangerous intrusion into the confidential relationship that exists between women and their doctors." Indiana is appealing [JURIST report] the preliminary injunction to its denial of funding for Planned Parenthood of Indiana (PPIN) [advocacy website]. The Obama administration has taken a stance against the Indiana law an the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] filed a brief urging the court to grant an injunction [JURIST report] to stop the enforcement of the law. The ban includes disbursement of grant money, including federal Medicare funds, a provision PPIN claims is not legal under the federal Medicaid Act's "freedom of choice" provision, which allows states to disallow Medicare funding for medical providers based on deficiencies in quality of service. In May, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton vetoed a pair of bills [JURIST report] that would have restricted state funding for abortions and banned them altogether after 20 weeks.
[JURIST] A Yemeni man pleaded guilty [press release] Thursday to acts of piracy for a hijacking of a US vessel that resulted in the deaths of four US citizens. Mounir Ali pleaded guilty in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] to being involved in the hijacking of a US yacht called Quest, in which four Americans were taken hostage and later killed by the pirates. They were the first US citizens to die in the recent wave of international maritime piracy [JURIST news archive]. Ali admitted that he willingly joined four other men in a pirated Somali ship as they attempted to hijack the US vessel. He noted in his plea agreement that he personally did not shoot any of the hostages nor did he order them be shot. Neil MacBride, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website], said Ali, "admitted today that his greed for ransom money ultimately led to the cold-blooded murder of the four U.S. hostages. This latest guilty plea again shows that modern piracy is far different than the romantic portrayal in summer-time movies. Pirates who attack on U.S. citizens on the high seas will face justice in a U.S. courtroom." In March, a grand jury in the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia indicted 14 suspects, 13 Somali and one Yemeni, for hijacking the Quest. They were charged with piracy, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and the use of firearms during a crime. Ali awaits sentencing scheduled for October.
[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Thursday refused [opinion, PDF] to stay the planned execution of Mexican national Humberto Leal Garcia [advocacy website]. When Leal Garcia was arrested for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl, he was denied consular access, as required by Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations [text, PDF]. There was then a hearing in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which held [judgment, PDF] that Leal Garcia and other Mexican nationals were entitled to hearings in Texas on the consular rights violation in their cases. As neither Texas nor the federal government has codified the treaty, Leal Garcia never received this appeals hearing. The US Department of Justice [official website] argued Leal Garcia's execution would cause irreparable harm [JURIST report] to relations with Mexico and violate the US's obligations under international law, and asked that the execution be stayed until the Consular Notification Compliance Act [text, PDF] passes, thus giving Leal Garcia an avenue to appeal his conviction as a violation of his consular rights. In a split per curiam opinion, the majority rejected the Obama administration's arguments that Leal Garcia's execution would be detrimental to foreign policy to the degree that they needed to introduce a stay, and cited their previous ruling in Medellin v. Texas [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report], not to stay an execution in a similar situation:
First, we are doubtful that it is ever appropriate to stay a lower court judgment in light of unenacted legislation. Our task is to rule on what the law is, not what it might eventually be. In light of Medellin I, it is clear that there is no "fair prospect that a majority of the Court will conclude that the decision below was erroneous," and our task should be at an end. Neither the United States nor Justice Breyer cites a single instance in this Court's history in which a stay issued under analogous circumstances. Even if there were circumstances under which a stay could issue in light of proposed legislation, this case would not present them. ... It has now been seven years since the ICJ ruling and three years since our decision in Medellin I, making a stay based on the bare introduction of a bill in a single house of Congress even less justified. If a statute implementing Avena had genuinely been a priority for the political branches, it would have been enacted by now.
Leal Garcia's defense team also made a Due Process [Cornell LII backgrounder] argument, which the court rejected. Justice Stephen Breyer, writing the dissent, argued that Leal Garcia was entitled to the "procedure" of a consular rights hearing, and the Court should not question the administration's understanding of foreign policy needs:
Thus, on the one hand, international legal obligations, related foreign policy considerations, the prospect of legislation, and the consequent injustice involved should that legislation, coming too late for Leal, help others in identical circumstances all favor granting a stay. And issuing a brief stay until the end of September, when the Court could consider this matter in the ordinary course, would put Congress on clear notice that it must act quickly. On the other hand, the State has an interest in proceeding with an immediate execution. But it is difficult to see how the State's interest in the immediate execution of an individual convicted of capital murder 16 years ago can outweigh the considerations that support additional delay, perhaps only until the end of the summer. Consequently I would grant the stay that the petitioner requests. In reaching its contrary conclusion, the Court ignores the appeal of the President in a matter related to foreign affairs, it substitutes its own views about the likelihood of congressional action for the views of Executive Branch officials who have consulted with Members of Congress, and it denies the request by four Members of the Court to delay the execution until the Court can discuss the matter at Conference in September. In my view, the Court is wrong in each respect.
Leal Garcia was executed [KTSM report] Thursday evening, an hour after the decision. The decision has drawn criticism from several sources, including a number of US diplomats and US Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website], the author of the Consular Notification Compliance Act, who said, "Americans detained overseas rely on their access to US consulates every day. If we expect other countries to abide by the treaties they join, the United States must also honor its obligations."
A stay to Leal Garcia's execution garnered international support. Officials from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] appealed [JURIST report] directly to Texas Governor Rick Perry [official website] alleging Leal Garcia did not receive a fair trial. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] wrote a personal letter to Perry asking for Leal Garcia's sentence to be commuted. Letters of support for Leal Garcia arrived from several nations, including Mexico, Chile, El Salvador, Honduras, Switzerland, Uruguay, as well as the EU. Former president George W. Bush denounced the sentence when he was in office, issuing an executive memoranda [text, PDF] that Texas had to comply with the ICJ's ruling in approximately 50 Mexican nationals' planned executions. The Supreme Court ruled in Medellin v. Texas that Bush did not have the authority to direct a state court to comply with a ruling from the ICJ. However, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that Congress could make the treaty binding in domestic law. Texas has already executed two Mexican nationals [JURIST report] who were denied consular access.
[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] voted Thursday for a measure to restrict funding for US military operations in Libya but voted down a measure to entirely defund it. In another contradictory message from the House on approval for operations in Libya, it narrowly defeated a bipartisan measure [materials] 199-229 [roll call vote] sponsored by Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Justin Amash (R-MI) to defund all operations in Libya but passed a separate measure [materials] 225-201 [roll call vote] sponsored by Tom Cole (R-OK) [official websites] to deny funding for equipment and training related to the operations in Libya. Last month, the House overwhelmingly defeated a measure [JURIST report] to authorize the operations in Libya while also defeating a measure to defund it. US forces have been in Libya beyond the time limit imposed by the 1973 War Powers Resolution [50 USC § 1541 et seq.], which requires congressional authorization for further use of force. However, even if the measure to defund was passed, it had little chance of passing the Senate [official website] which has a Democratic majority. The Senate was set to pass a resolution authorizing operations in Libya, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) [official website] postponed it [WP report] for procedural reasons.
The recent House votes show limited support for US military operations in Libya after the expiration of presidential authority under the War Powers Act. However, President Barack Obama [official website] has released a report arguing he is not violating the War Powers Act [JURIST report] since the US is merely providing support as is required by several international treaties and does not have enough participation in the conflict to declare war. However, it was reported that Obama came to this conclusion on the advice of White House counsel, overriding the official interpretations [JURIST report] of both the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel [official websites]. Last month, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) [official website] had threatened to defund the mission after sending Obama a letter earlier in the month warning him that he was within five days of violating the War Powers Act. Also last month, Kucinich and Walter Jones (R-NC) [official websites] filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] seeking to enjoin further action in Libya. Obama's report endorsed a pending resolution [bill materials] that would provide some congressional support for continued efforts in Libya, though not approval of declaring war. The report also detailed that the US has spent USD $716 million and will spend $1.1 billion by the end of September.
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