[JURIST] New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms (NYCF) and Torah Jews for Decency (TJD) [advocacy websites] filed a complaint [text, PDF] on Monday challenging the Marriage Equality Act [A8354-2011 materials], which allows same-sex couples to marry in the state. The plaintiffs argue, among other claims, that the law was enacted in violation of the New York State Open Meetings Laws [text], that the Senate failed to follow voting procedures and that the Senate conducted lock-outs that denied access to lobbyists and elected representatives. Executive Director at NYCF Rev. Jason McGuire contends that the courts must ensure the lawmakers were not acting unlawfully:
Constitutional liberties were violated. Today we are asking the court to intervene in its rightful role as the check and balance on an out-of-control State Legislature. It is unfortunate that state senators chose to protect their personal interests, rather than the people they were elected to represent. Some of the players may have changed, but it looks like same old Albany game. It is time the curtain be pulled back and the disinfecting light of good government shine upon the Cuomo Administration and our State Legislature.
The plaintiffs are seeking injunctive and declaratory relief.
[JURIST] Accused war criminal Goran Hadzic [ICTY backgrounder] on Monday refused to enter a plea before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website]. Hadzic was extradited to The Hague [JURIST report] last Friday, where he now awaits trial for war crimes [indictment text]. Hadzic was the last fugitive of the original 161 sought by the ICTY and was arrested last week [JURIST report]. Hadzic waived his right to appeal extradition and, after visiting with a few relatives in Serbia, was flown to The Hague. The court has not set any dates for further appearances. There has been international praise for Hadzic's arrest. Earlier last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] commended [text] President Tadic and the Serbian authorities "for their leadership in ending impunity for those indicted for serious violations of international humanitarian law."
Hadzic was a key player in the Bosnian Civil War [JURIST news archive] and has been at large for approximately seven years. Hadzic's official charges [case information sheet, PDF] are: persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds; extermination; murder; torture; inhumane acts; deportation and forcible transfer; cruel treatment; wanton destruction of villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity; destruction or willful damage done to institutions dedicated to education and religion; and plunder of public or private property. Hadzic's indictment contends that, in his role as president of the Serbian nationalist forces during the war, he attempted to permanently and forcibly remove a majority of the Croat and other non-Serb population from the disputed territory. He is accused of murdering or ordering the murders of hundreds of non-Serb citizens, including children and the elderly. Further, he allegedly displaced more than 20,000 non-Serb civilians. Hadzic was found near the small Serbian village of Krusedol [B92 report], living under a false name. Although he was armed, he did not resist arrest. He was discovered after attempting to sell a painting by Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani, in order to obtain funds to facilitate his hiding. Hadzic was also reportedly harbored by members of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) [official website]. Hadzic was the final remaining war criminal at large from the Bosnian Civil War, along with Ratko Mladic [JURIST news archive], who was arrested in May [JURIST report].
[JURIST] A Turkish court on Monday sentenced Ogun Samast for murdering Turkish-Armenian author Hrant Dink [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive], journalist and former editor of the newspaper Agos [media website, in Turkish], who was shot and killed [JURIST report] in Istanbul in January 2007. Samast, a minor at the time of Dink's death and the primary suspect charged in Dink's murder, was sentenced to 21-and-a-half years [Turkish Weekly report] in prison. He was also sentenced to 16 months in prison for possessing an unlicensed weapon. A separate court is currently hearing cases against two of four other suspects charged in connection with the murder. Eyten Mahcupyan, a Turkish Armenian columnist, and Fethiye Cetin, a lawyer, praised [Reuters report] the court's decision, saying that a tough sentence would deter similar crimes and compel the other courts to hand down equally severe sentences.
[JURIST] An Egyptian criminal court on Monday postponed the trial of former interior minister Habib el-Adly until August 3. El-Adly and Egypt's former president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile; JURIST news archive] face charges of killing pro-democracy protesters during the demonstrations in Egypt [JURIST news archive] earlier this year. Six of el-Adly's former assistants are also charged with murdering demonstrators [CNN report]. The trial date for Mubarak was set for August 3 at the Cairo Criminal Court [MENA report; JURIST report]. Pursuant to the postponement order, both men are slated to stand trial on the same day.
El-Adly, who was already serving a 12-year prison sentence, was sentenced to five years [JURIST report] in July on corruption charges. Former finance minister Yousef Boutros and former prime minister Ahmed Nazif, along with el-Adly, were ordered to return USD $15 million for a no-bid contract, while Boutros and el-Adly were also fined nearly USD $17 million. In March, a commission of Arab and Egyptian human rights groups accused Mubarak [JURIST report] and the police of murdering protesters during the demonstrations in Egypt. Mubarak could face the death penalty [JURIST report] if convicted of ordering attacks on protesters, and el-Adly's testimony could help prove Mubarak was an accomplice to the killings. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] reported that at least 840 people were killed [JURIST report], and more than 6,000 were injured, during the Egyptian protests.
[JURIST] The Syrian government on Sunday approved a draft law that would allow the formation of political parties to oppose the ruling Baath Party, led by President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile]. The law would permit a political party to be established [AP report] so long as it is not based on religious or tribal lines and does not discriminate based on ethnicity, gender or race. Though the draft law, along with other concessions made by al-Assad, is a step toward the reform demanded, protestors seek an end to Article 8 of the Syrian Constitution [text], which declares the Baath Party leader of the state and society. The bill will likely be presented for debate on August 7, and Parliament must approve the law before it is enacted.
Al-Assad spoke at Damascus University in June where he announced that he would soon introduce reforms and present a new constitution [JURIST report], but he spent much of the speech claiming that the protests were part of a conspiracy against Syria. He contends that a group of terrorists is responsible for the vandalism, robberies and murders that have taken place since protests erupted in the country early this year and said that he planned to prosecute and hold those individuals accountable. Earlier in June, al-Assad granted amnesty to political prisoners [JURIST report] including all members of the previously banned Muslim Brotherhood (MB) [party website; JURIST news archive], but opposition leaders dismissed the move and met in Turkey to discuss Syria's future. Syria has come under international scrutiny for using force to suppress the protests across the country. The UN has expressed concern over violence in Syria and urged the Syrian government to stop using force against protesters. Also, Syrian and international human rights groups urged [JURIST report] the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to investigate the hundreds of civilian deaths during protests against al-Assad's government. Nearly 1,200 people have been killed and 10,000 displaced since protests erupted in February.
[JURIST] An independent commission on Sunday began investigating human rights violations related to the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Bahrain [BBC backgrounder]. The chairman of the five-person Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), Cherif Bassiouni [academic profile], announced that the group's investigation would focus on 30 police officers [Reuters report] alleged to have committed violations of procedural laws, as well as the country's army. Bahraini authorities have promised that the commission will have access to government files and will be permitted to interview witnesses without supervision. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official websites] announced [press release] in June that Bahrain had agreed to permit a UN commission to investigate [JURIST report] human rights violations related to protests shortly after Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa [official website] agreed to the investigation [JURIST report]. Thirty-three people died during the unrest and more than 400 were injured. The commission is scheduled to publish the results of the investigation by October 30.
Bahrain, along with several other Middle Eastern and North African nations, has faced criticism from international human rights organizations for its handling of pro-reform protests in recent months. In May, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said the government of Bahrain should suspend prosecution of civilians in military courts and set up an impartial commission to investigate torture allegations [JURIST report]. Also in May, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged the government of Bahrain to release detained activists [JURIST report] and exercise restraint against protesters. She expressed concern over the prosecution of medical professionals and the death sentences [JURIST report] handed to four activists. In April, human rights organizations including HRW and Doctors Without Borders (DWB) [advocacy website] criticized Bahrain [JURIST report] for human rights abuses related to anti-government protests. In March, the OHCHR expressed concern [JURIST report] over violence against protesters in Bahrain.
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