[JURIST] Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur of the occupied Palestinian territory [official website], said Wednesday that he is "appalled" [press release] by "continuing human rights violations in Israeli prisons." Israeli prison authorities have taken punitive measures against the more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners who began a hunger strike on April 17 in protest of their treatment. Falk called for Israel to comply with international standards on how to treat prisoners on hunger strike, including allowing family members to visit them. Falk further pointed out that approximately 20 percent of the total Palestinian population, including 40 percent of the male Palestinian population, have been detained in an Israeli prison at some point. Falk stated that Israel's use of administrative detention, which allows Israel to hold the individuals without charge or trial for up to six months, also does not comply with international standards. Israel prison officials state that all of the individuals on hunger strike have access to water and are in a "satisfactory health condition" [BBC report].
Tension continues between Israel and Palestine. Last month the Office of Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official websites] said that the ICC lacks jurisdiction [JURIST report] to investigate allegations of crimes committed in Palestine during the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict [JURIST news archive]. In February Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged Israel to change [JURIST report] its policies of forbidding Palestinians from traveling through and living in Gaza and the West Bank. Its report demonstrated that due to the policies, families are kept separate since some are trapped inside Israel while their family members are forbidden from entering. In January of last year, UN officials alleged [JURIST report] that Israeli authorities engaged in illegal activities including the killing of four Palestinians. In 2010, Israeli Ambassador to the UN called for an end [JURIST report] to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] investigation into Israeli actions during the 2008-2009 Gaza campaign. Early in 2010, the UN extended [JURIST report] the time limit for Israelis and Palestinians to finish their investigation into alleged human rights violation committed during the Gaza conflict after it initially adopted a resolution [JURIST report] giving them three months. In 2009, the UN found evidence [JURIST report] that both parties committed war crimes.
While diplomats argued over details of [the Special Envoy's] peace plan, Syrian tanks and helicopters attacked one town in Idlib after another. Everywhere we went, we saw burnt and destroyed houses, shops, and cars, and heard from people whose relatives were killed. It was as if the Syrian government forces used every minute before the ceasefire to cause harm.
HRW has also released a video explaining the findings of its report:
[JURIST] The Tennessee House of Representatives [official website] has passed a bill [HB 3621, PDF; bill summary] that augments the state's abstinence-only sex education curriculum to allow parents to sue school teachers or organizations that promote "gateway sexual activity." The bill went to the governor for consideration on Tuesday. The bill defines "gateway sexual activity" as "sexual contact encouraging an individual to engage in a non-abstinent behavior." The stated purpose of the bill is to promote sexual risk avoidance, provide medically-accurate information, discuss the challenges that single teen mothers face and to "[d]iscuss the interrelationship between teen sexual activity and exposure to other risk behaviors such as smoking, underage drinking, drug use, criminal activity, dating violence, and sexual aggression." Critics of the bill argue that what "gateway sexual activity" is and what it means to demonstrate "gateway sexual activity" are so vaguely defined [TriCities report] that even holding hands or hugging could constitute an actionable offense.
[JURIST] A blind Chinese legal activist who sought sought safety from local officials by holing up in the US Embassy in Beijing emerged on Wednesday after six days of self-confinement. The activist, Chen Guangcheng [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], was originally wanted in his rural town for exposing forced abortions and other human rights abuses but escaped [JURIST report] last week to avoid 20 months of house arrest. The standoff created high diplomatic tension between the US and China, which are said to have reached a deal prompting Chen's emergence. US officials have said that China agreed [AP report] to meet all of Chen's demands, including a medical exam, a reunion with his family at the hospital and a relocation to a safe place in China where he could attend university. On the other side, the Chinese foreign ministry demanded an apology from the US, an investigation into how Chen got into the embassy and reprimands for those accountable. While US officials have publicly declared that Chen's leave stemmed from the deal and China's assurance of his safety, Chen, speaking from a hospital shortly after his leave, contended [AP report] that US officials told him that Chinese authorities would beat his wife to death if he did not vacate the embassy. Chen also said that he now fears for the safety of himself and his family and has appealed to the US for help leaving China.
Chen's release has been called for by several prominent diplomats, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official websites], who last week expressed concern [statement] for the activist's family members who were detained by Chinese authorities. In 2010, Chen was placed under house arrest after he was released from serving four years in prison [JURIST report] for damaging property and "organizing a mob to disturb traffic." Following his house arrest, Chinese authorities increased surveillance of his home and family, bringing into question the authenticity of his release [press release]. Chen's family members have claimed that the activist suffers from health problems caused by mistreatment he received while in prison, including beatings and repeated food poisonings [WP report]. Chen claims that the charges were retribution for his documentation of forced sterilizations and abortions performed by Chinese officials to enforce China's one-child policy, and has been consistently detained [HRW backgrounder] by Chinese authorities since 2005.
[JURIST] Kosovo politician and parliamentarian Fatmir Limaj [JURIST news archive] was acquitted [verdict, PDF] Wednesday on charges of war crimes allegedly committed during the 1998-99 Kosovo war with Serbia [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Limaj allegedly ordered the torture and killings of Serbian detainees in 1999. He and three co-defendants were tried [JURIST report] and acquitted before a panel of two EU judges and one Kosovo judge as part of the European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) [official website]. Six others were acquitted last month. Much of the prosecution's case relied upon the testimony of a former member of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), who was found hanged in September in an apparent suicide. The prosecution plans to appeal [press release].
EULEX has been investigating war crimes [JURIST report] since December 2008. An influential figure in the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) [official website, in Albanian], Limaj was excluded from a cabinet position following international pressure not to include corrupt officials but was elected into the Kosovo parliament. Limaj is an ex-member of the KLA and is viewed as a liberator by many ethnic Albanians. In 2005, Limaj was acquitted of similar charges by a war crimes tribunal in The Hague because of insufficient evidence. An EU judge in September placed Limaj under house arrest [JURIST report] while awaiting trial. In September, EULEX charged 10 former members of the KLA [JURIST report], including Limaj, with war crimes for their actions during the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo.
[JURIST] Chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] Serge Brammertz [official profile] told reporters Wednesday that he believes former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army Ratko Mladic [ICTY case materials; JURIST news archive] is mentally and physically fit to stand trial next month. The ICTY ordered a medical exam [JURIST report] of Mladic in November after protests from his lawyers that their client was not competent to stand trial. The results of that examination have yet to be released officially. In his remarks, Brammertz said the ICTY is pleased with the progress [Xinhua report] in the trials of Mladic, Goran Hadzic and Radovan Karadzic [JURIST news archives], but has been discouraged by the lack of cooperation from Serbian authorities. Mladic's trial is set to begin May 16, and Hadzic's in mid-October. The prosecution will rest in Karadzic's trial next month, and his defense is slated to begin on October 16 [press release].
In April, Mladic pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to all charges presented by the ICTY. Mladic faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, including murder, political persecution, forcible transfer and deportations, cruel treatment and the taking of peacekeepers as hostages. In February, Mladic accused the tribunal of bias and sought to delay his trial [JURIST reports] once again. A three-judge panel for the ICTY accepted a request brought by prosecutors to reduce the number of crimes [JURIST report] they intend to prove against Mladic from 196 to 106 in December, in an effort to accelerate the proceedings. The ICTY prosecutor refused to seek further appeal [JURIST report] of the tribunal's refusal to split Mladic's trial into separate actions: one for his conduct during the Srebrenica massacre [BBC backgrounder], where approximately 8,000 people were killed, and one for all of his other charges during the Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archive]. Serbian authorities arrested Mladic after a 16-year search [JURIST report] in May of last year.
[JURIST] Georgia Governor Nathan Deal [official website] on Tuesday signed two pieces of legislation [press release] barring late-term abortions [JURIST backgrounder] and assisted suicide [JURIST news archive], respectively. HB 954 [materials] bans most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, based on studies suggesting a fetus can begin to feel pain at that point in development. It creates exceptions for when the mother's life is in danger or when the fetus has extreme defects which make survival unlikely. Upon signing the legislation, Deal said, "Today, we are reaffirming Georgia's commitment to preserving the sanctity of all human life. This legislation provides humane protection to innocents capable of feeling pain, while making an important exception for in the case of medically futile pregnancies." HB 1114 [materials] makes it a felony to assist in another person's suicide. It was approved after the Georgia Supreme Court in early February struck down [JURIST reports] a 1994 law that banned publicly advertising suicide assistance. Some scholars have argued that the bill was passed too hastily and lacks patient safeguards [JURIST op-ed].
Georgia joins several other states that restrict late-term abortions based on the notion of fetal pain, including Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Arizona [JURIST reports]. Georgia law already prohibited most abortions after the third trimester. Several state legislatures have acted recently to implement waiting periods before abortions or to require ultrasound procedures.
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