[JURIST] A Egyptian court on Thursday acquitted 14 police officers charged in the deaths of protesters during popular uprisings last year. The men were charged with killing protesters on January 28, 2011, one of the most violent days during the revolution. Nearly 200 police officers and government officials, including former president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile; JURIST news archive], have been charged in connection with the deaths of at least 846 protesters, but acquittals have been common. Out of 10 cases, there have been nine acquittals [AP report] and one suspended sentence, causing some critics to accuse authorities of failing to pursue justice for the victims. The verdict in Mubarak's case is due next month.
Egypt has been heavily criticized for the way it treated protesters during the Egyptian revolution. Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch [advocacy websites] released reports that protesters had been tortured and improperly detained [JURIST reports]. AI has also criticized the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) [NYT backgrounder], stating that human rights violations against protesters committed by the SCAF may be equal to those committed under Mubarak. Egyptians will elect a new leader next week.
[JURIST] Alabama Governor Robert Bentley [official website] on Thursday called a special legislative session [proclamation, PDF; press release] to discuss changes to the state's tough immigration law [HB 56, PDF]. The move comes one day after state lawmakers gave final approval to a bill [HB 658 text] that would have amended the law to make it easier to defend in court. Rather than signing or vetoing the bill, Bentley called the special session, saying:
The essence of the law must remain the same, and that is if you live or work in Alabama, you must do so legally. ... We must make sure that final revisions to the immigration law make the law more effective, help promote economic growth, ensure fairness, and provide greater clarity on the application of the law. I believe these additional revisions will help us as we accomplish those goals. A more effective, enforceable bill is a stronger bill.
According to Bentley's office, "Bentley believes progress was made in the regular legislative session, and we have an opportunity to further clarify the law."
In March the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit deferred ruling [JURIST report] on the constitutionality of both this law and a similar Georgia law because it wanted to see how a challenge to Arizona's immigration law is ruled on in the US Supreme Court [official website]. In December Bentley announced that he would be working to change the law [JURIST report] but maintained that he had no intention of repealing it and that the essence of the law would still be intact. Bentley's announcement came after a recommendation [JURIST report] by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange that certain provisions probably would not withstand constitutional challenges. Two provisions were temporarily blocked [JURIST report] by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in October after a district court refused to grant [JURIST report] a temporary injunction: Section 28, which requires immigration status checks of public school students, and Section 10, which makes it a misdemeanor for an illegal resident not to have immigration papers.
[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Wednesday blocked [opinion, PDF] a portion of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) [text, PDF] which allows for the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists, finding that it violates the First Amendment [text]. Section 1021 of the NDAA affirms the authority of the president under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to detain indefinitely any "person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces." A group of seven individuals and one organization challenged the law claiming it would stifle journalists' free speech and association rights. The government countered that the section is merely an affirmation of the AUMF and does nothing new. Judge Katherine Forrest disagreed, finding the statute too vague:
[T]he statute at issue places the public at undue risk of having their speech chilled for the purported protection from al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and "associated forces"i.e., "foreign terrorist organizations." The vagueness of § 1021 does not allow the average citizen, or even the Government itself, to understand with the type of definiteness to which our citizens are entitled, or what conduct comes within its scope.
Obama signed the NDAA into law [JURIST report] on December 31, 2011. Upon signing, he noted [statement], "I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation." Both houses of Congress reached an agreement [JURIST report] on the language of the NDAA's most controversial sections in mid-December.
[JURIST] An Afghan detainee who was handed over to authorities in Afghanistan by UK forces won permission on Wednesday to challenge the legality of the transfer. Before the High Court of Justice in London, Serdar Mohammed claimed that he had been transferred by British forces to a prison in Afghanistan where he was tortured by the Afghanistan intelligence service until he confessed that he was a member of the Taliban. The court felt there was "an arguable case" that required being heard out by a jury in order to determine the legality of the transfer. Observing the potential for torture, British forces have temporarily halted any future transfer of detainees to Afghanistan. Following the policy shift, a Ministry of Defence [official website] spokesperson claimed [BBC report] that UK does not transfer detainees to facilities where there is a risk of torture.
The Open Society Institute of New York and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission [advocacy websites] alleged in March that US detainees were sent to a National Directorate of Security (NDS) facility in Kandahar, which was condemned [JURIST reports] in a report [text, PDF] by the UN in October for "systematically tortur[ing]" prisoners during interrogations. Afghan officials denied the torture allegations [JURIST report], saying there was no basis for the UN's findings. Afghanistan has a history of criticism for human rights abuses. In September, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] alleged that the Afghan Local Police had been committing serious human rights violations [JURIST report], including rape, murder, abduction, forced land seizures and illegal raids. Last March, the UN released a report alleging that the Afghan government's corruption and short-term security goals were intensifying the country's poverty issues [JURIST report]. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also delivered a report earlier that month saying that the government was stalling human rights progress [JURIST report] through abuse of power and violence against women.
[JURIST] The trial of former Bosnian Serb Army commander Ratko Mladic [ICTY case materials; JURIST news archive] began Wednesday in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] but was postponed indefinitely on Thursday due to allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. After opening statements concluded on Thursday, Judge Alphons Orie adjourned the trial [B92 report] to allow the defense more time to consider the evidence the prosecution will present. Orie found that the prosecution erred in delaying transfer of evidence and felt the defense had been hindered. Orie stated the judges' panel will review the scope of the errors made by prosecution and did not suggest they were intentional. Proceedings began on Wednesday with opening statements, although the defense declined to speak until the prosecution begins presenting evidence. The prosecution focused on detailing the Srebrenica massacre [BBC backgrounder], although also generally accused Mladic of committing genocide against both Muslims and Croats and having a hand in all of the war crimes committed by the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) during the conflict.
Mladic is charged with several counts of genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archive]. His lawyers requested the trial be delayed for six months. Orie did not suggest a potential date for the trial to resume.
Earlier this month, ICTY chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz told reporters that he believes Mladic is mentally and physically fit to stand trial, although an ordered a medical exam [JURIST reports] of Mladic in November has yet to be officially released. 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, where approximately 8,000 people were killed, and one for all of his other charges during the Bosnian civil war. Serbian authorities arrested Mladic after a 16-year search [JURIST report] in May of last year.
[JURIST] Former Liberian president Charles Taylor [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] asked Wednesday to be sentenced [press release, PDF] with an eye toward "reconciliation, not retribution." Speaking during a sentencing hearing before the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) [official website] in The Hague, Taylor claimed [transcript text, PDF] he had "sadness and deepest sympathy for the atrocities and crimes suffered in Sierra Leone" but that he was not responsible for actions taken by rebel forces during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. Taylor went on to say "my actions were genuine and done with one thing in mindhelping to bring peace to Sierra Leone, thus providing an enabling environment for progress in both countries." Taylor did not go so far as to apologize or express remorse for his role in the war. Sentencing will be announced on May 30 and both the prosecution and the defense will have the opportunity to appeal within 14 days of that announcement.
Taylor was convicted [JURIST report] last month on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity during Sierra Leone's civil war. The court unanimously found him responsible for acts of terrorism, murder, rape and sexual slavery, other inhumane acts, outrages on personal dignity, physical violence, enslavement, pillage, and the conscription and enlistment of child soldiers stemming from from a "campaign to terrorize the civilian population" of Sierra Leone [JURIST news archive]. Earlier this month, the chief prosecutor at the SCSL recommended an 80-year sentence [JURIST report] for Taylor.
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