[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of Romania [official website, in Romanian] on Tuesday accused Prime Minister Victor Ponta [BBC profile] and his leftist party, the Social Liberal Union (SLU), of attempting to seize control over the judiciary system. The court announced that it has alerted the European authorities [Reuters report] of the situation. The prime minister had ignored last week's decision by the court which found that his opponent, President Traian Basescu [official website, in Romanian], should represent the country at the European Council [official website] meeting in Brussel. The prime minister and his party had allegedly threatened to replace some of the judges. The court is seeking support from the country's parliament and the president to address the hostile action and maintain respect for the democratic norms and the principles of rule of law. Ponta is currently facing plagiarism claims related to his doctoral thesis published in 2003. He had rejected [BBC report] the allegations last week arguing that the claims are politically motivated. The opposition Democrat-Liberal Party (PDL) had challenged the electoral law arguing that it infringed upon the sovereignty of the people.
The same court has ruled several times on laws relating to the elections. In January, the court ruled [JURIST report] that a law allowing local and parliamentary elections to be held at the same time is unconstitutional. The law had been challenged of creating opportunities of fraud, cheating and confusion in the election process. In 2009, the high court declared [press release, PDF; in Romanian] incumbent president Basescu winner of the country's disputed presidential election [JURIST report]. He had been reinstated in 2007 after the high court certified results of a referendum in which 74 percent of voters rejected [JURIST reports] Basescu's impeachment.
[JURIST] Two Illinois county clerks, represented by the Thomas More Society [advocacy website], on Friday filed a motion [text, PDF] in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois [official website] seeking permission to defend the state's law [750 ILCS 5 materials] banning same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] in two combined lawsuits challenging its constitutionality. Effingham County Clerk Kerry Hirtzel and Tazewell County Clerk Christie Webb sought to intervene in the case after both the Illinois Attorney General and the State Attorney declined [JURIST reports] to defend the law. The plaintiffs who brought the case have argued that the Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, barring same-sex couples from legally marrying, violates equal protection and due process guarantees in the Illinois constitution. Both Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez [official profile] and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan [official website] have filed notice with the court, expressing their support for the plaintiffs. The hearing to consider the clerk's motion was scheduled for Tuesday, July 3.
Presiding judge of the Cook County Chancery Division, Moshe Jacobius, agreed [JURIST report] last month to combine the two lawsuits that claim the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Illinois was the seventh US jurisdiction to legalize same-sex civil unions, but it has not joined the nine jurisdictions that have legalized same-sex marriage. In February, three Illinois legislatures introduced [AP report] the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act [HB 5170 materials], which would have provided same-sex marriage rights for same-sex couples, but it has not been approved. In March, Maryland legalized same-sex marriage, joining Washington, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia [JURIST reports]. On the other hand, North Carolina voters approved [JURIST report] a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in May. In February, the Wyoming Senate approveda bill that would deny recognition of same-sex marriages and civil unions [JURIST report] performed in other jurisdictions. New Jersey is still struggling to pass the same-sex marriage bill because Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed the bill [JURIST report] and called for a voter referendum to decide the issue, rather than the state legislature.
[JURIST] US computer chip maker Intel [corporate website] on Tuesday argued before the EU General Court [official website] that the European Commission [official website] used flawed and inadequate evidence when it imposed a fine against the company in 2009. Intel had brought the challenge [text, PDF] two months after the Commission's decision to fine the company, claiming that the antitrust regulators erred in law, failed to meet the required standard of proof in the analysis of the evidence and failed to prove that the company engaged in foreclosing its competitors from the chip market. The EC penalized the company for hindering its rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) from participating in the market by offering computer manufacturers Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Japan's NEC, Lenovo and German retail chain Media Saturn Holding [corporate websites] a discount during the period from 2002 to 2007. The fine represented 4.15 percent of Intel's 2008 turnover or a possible maximum of 10 percent. The court is expected to hear the case over the next four days. Intel is asking the court to annul or reduce the fine substantially.
The investigation into the antitrust allegations lasted for eight years. In 2008, the Commission carried out an unannounced inspection [JURIST report] at the Munich office of Intel as part of an investigation into the company's possible anticompetitive practices. Intel was accused [JURIST report] of having violated the European antitrust laws by abusing its dominant position in the x86 architecture processor market to exclude AMD from the market. Similar proceedings were initiated and completed [JURIST report] in two years by the Korean Fair Trade Commission [official website, in Korean] that investigated into allegations that the company was forcing consumers to buy its products over those made by AMD.
[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] on Tuesday called [press release] on member states to abolish capital punishment. He welcomed the trend of abolishing the death penalty [JURIST news archive] since the UN General Assembly [official website] endorsed a call for a moratorium on capital punishment in 2007. He noted that more than 150 states have either abolished or do not participate in punishment by death but expressed his concern regarding 32 states that impose the death penaly for drug-related offenses. He also condemned those states which punish individuals with death for crimes that they committed as juveniles. Ban said the right to life is the most valuable right an individual could have:
The right to life is the most fundamental of all human rights. It lies at the heart of international human rights law. The taking of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict it on another, even when backed by legal process. Where the death penalty persists, conditions for those awaiting execution are often horrifying, leading to aggravated suffering.
The secretary-general echoed the UN's call to use capital punishment only in the case of extremely serious crimes and pointed out that all UN-backed courts do not exercise the controversial punishments. He ended his statement by reiterating calls for the end of such punishment.
Capital punishment has remained a controversial issue around the world. In June Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged the Sudanese government to reform its discriminatory laws and abolish both the death penalty and all corporal punishment after a young Sudanese woman was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. Intisar Sharif Abdallah, who is believed to be under the age of 18, was sentenced in April under article 146 of Sudan's Criminal Act of 1991. In April Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy [official website] signed a bill to repeal the death penalty [JURIST report], making it the seventeenth US state to do so. New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Illinois [JURIST reports] have all recently eliminated the death penalty, while 33 states retain its use. In 2010 Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] released [JURIST report] a report [text, PDF] revealing that the number of countries using the death penalty dropped in 2009, but more than 700 people were executed in 18 countries, with the most executions carried out in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the US.
[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] on Tuesday called on the UN member states to establish a comprehensive arms treaty to limit the flow of conventional arms to terrorists and criminal networks. Speaking at the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty [official website], the first-ever meeting of UN member states to negotiate a treaty for the trade of conventional arms, Ban said that an international standard for arms exports could save lives. In his statement, Ban emphasized the importance of regulating conventional arms:
For the first time, Member States are gathering at the United Nations to negotiate a treaty regulating the international conventional arms trade. It is important. It is impressive. And it is long overdue. We have made some progress on weapons of mass destruction issues over the years. But the international community has not kept pace on conventional arms. Yes, nuclear issues always capture headlines. But conventional arms are killing people everyday without much attention. ... Poorly regulated international arms transfers are fuelling civil conflicts, destabilizing regions, and empowering terrorists and criminal networks. ... In the last decade, nearly 800 humanitarian workers were killed in armed attacks. An agreed set of standards for arms exports, along with strict national legislation, can help begin to change all of that.
Ban's comments came after the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [official website], which sent representatives to the conference, on Sunday called on the participants [JURIST report] to adopt an effective treaty in order to save lives and aid in the enforcement of international law. The conference is scheduled to take place from July 2-27 in New York City. It will be attended by representatives from 193 member-states of the UN, as well as representatives from non-government organizations, and members of the arms industry.
International arms distribution continues to trouble governments and rights groups. In June Amnesty International called for an end to the supply of arms [JURIST report] to groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after a report highlighted the flaws in Congolese security, which AI says leads to the availability and misuse of weapons and ammunition. In April Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] was sentenced in a US court to 25 years imprisonment [JURIST report]. Bout was convicted in November [JURIST report] on four counts of conspiracy for his proposed sale of anti-aircraft missiles to drug enforcement informants posing as potential buyers for a designated foreign terrorist organization.
[JURIST] Prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Tuesday appealed last week's decision acquitting former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [ICTY case summary, PDF; JURIST news archive] on one of 11 charges for lack of evidence. Last week the court rejected [JURIST report] Karadzic's motion to dismiss 10 charges against him while acquitting him on one count for his alleged crimes committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archive] including genocide and murder. He has also been accused of participating in the planning of the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], which resulted in the death of more than 7,000 Muslim men. The prosecution argues that the UN-backed court made errors of law and facts. Karadzic is expected to present his defense in November.
In early June the judges from the ICTY went on a five-day visit [JURIST report] to locations relevant to the indictment of Karadzic. They visited Srebrenica and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and its surrounding areas. This visit came just months after the ICTY sentenced [JURIST report] former president of the municipality of Sokolac, BiH, Milan Tupajic to two months in prison for refusing to testify against Karadzic. In February former Commander of the Bosnian Serb Army Ratko Mladic [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] accused [JURIST report] the ICTY of being biased. In January the ICTY accepted a plea deal [JURIST report], in the trial of the former case manager for Bosnian war criminal Milan Lukic, convicting her of five counts of contempt for procuring false witness statements. In December the ICTY convicted [JURIST report] former Yugoslav intelligence officer Dragomir Pecanac of contempt for failing to testify before the tribunal.
[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Tuesday urged the government of Sri Lanka to end arrests and office raids of journalists [press release] who publish content critical of the government. HRW noted two recent instances where police raided offices and arrested journalists at two news agencies [press release], charging them under a law that bans "excit[ing] or attempt[ing] to excite feelings of disaffection to the president or to the government." The rights group said the raids were part of a pattern of harassment and intimidation by the government to suppress speech critical of government authorities. HRW Asia Director Brad Adams said the suppression of journalists only highlights the need for change in Sri Lanka:
The government raids did not just target two media outlets but were part of a broader effort to intimidate and harass all critical journalists. Sri Lanka's poor reputation on free speech will only sink lower unless these assaults on the media stop immediately. ... Instead of "shooting the messenger" by harassing the websites that are critical of government policies, the government should focus on addressing the problems raised. The government only seems interested in preventing these issues from being exposed or discussed.
HRW noted that Sri Lankan authorites have ignored criticisms from the US embassy in Sri Lanka, and the EU. The report noted that the restrictive press policies have forced many reporters to leave the countries.
Protection of free expression remains a key concern for international human rights advocates. Two reports were presented in June to the UN Human Rights Council urging greater protection for the right to life of journalists [JURIST report] and media freedom. In February, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released its annual Attacks on the Press report [JURIST report], expressing concern about increased censorship of journalists worldwide in 2011. The CPJ criticized the growing trend of government censorship, especially Internet censorship. Last May, journalism rights group Reporters without Borders (RSF) released [JURIST report] its annual list of predators of press freedom, which included the heads of state of several countries in the Middle East and North Africa. In April 2011, the US Department of State (DOS) released its 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, listing many of the same offenders of free press as the RSF report.
[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Tuesday expressed concern [press release] about a proposed media law in Afghanistan that would increase government authority to regulate the press. According to HRW, the new law would place greater oversight authority in the director of the High Media Council, which would also be able to influence the budgets and composition of other media-related bodies. The new law would also regulate things such as word choice in news reporting and broadcasting of foreign programs. In a press release, HRW criticized the mostly-private discussions of the proposed law that have taken place thus far, noting that the 2009 media law that is currently in force was discussed extensively with media groups and journalists before its passage. Brad Adams, Asia director for HRW, urged Afghan lawmakers to withdraw the proposal and encouraged the president to oppose the legislation:
Press freedom has been one of Afghanistan's most important success stories since 2001. The Afghan government should be acting to solidify media gains, not seeking to placate forces hostile to free expression. Journalists are the canary in the coal mine in Afghanistan. Afghan journalists have bravely held the government accountable in key areas such as corruption and human rights. President Karzai should openly oppose any legislation that curbs media freedom.
The proposed legislation would also create a separate court system to conduct civil cases against individuals who violate media regulations. Sponsors of the bill have said they will take public opinions into consideration [AFP report] as the bill moves forward.
HRW has criticized the government's human rights record in the past. In March the rights group called on the Afghan government to release women and girls imprisoned [JURIST report] for "moral crimes," many of which involve flight from unlawful forced marriage or domestic violence and "zina," which is sex outside of marriage due to rape or forced prostitution. In December HRW said that the Afghan government had failed to ensure and protect human rights [JURIST report] since the Taliban government ended ten years ago. The report alleged that in the last 10 years, the Afghanistan justice system had "remain[ed] weak" and that human rights abuses were rampant in the alternative traditional justice system, where civilians are often forced to resolve disputes in Taliban courts. In July 2010 the advocacy group criticized Karzai's integration and reconciliation efforts [JURIST report] to end the conflict with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, claiming that women's rights were bypassed in order to reach an expedient solution. Among HRW's criticisms was the president's decision to sign the Shia Personal Status Law [JURIST report], which legalized rape within marriage, and his pardon of two convicted rapists.
[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled unanimously [press release, PDF] that the arrest and detention of Ukraine's former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko [Aljazeera backgrounder] violated several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF]. The court found two violations of Article 5 Section 1 (right to liberty and security), one violation of Section 2 (right to be informed of the reasons for one's arrest), two violations of Section 3 (right to be brought promptly before a judge), a violation of Section 4 (right to challenge the lawfulness of one's detention) and a violation of Article 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights). The chamber found that the Ukrainian court system has failed to examine the lawfulness of Lutsenko's arrest and detained him illegally while failing to ensure the protection of his rights. In addition, the chamber criticized the fact that the national court used Lutsenko's denial of his guilt as a basis for his pre-trial detention. The chamber ordered that Lutsenko be compensated in the amount of 15,000 euros (USD $18,930). Lutsenko, an ally of former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; JURIST news archive] was sentenced in February to four years in prison for abuse of office. He was arrested in 2010.
The ongoing prosecution of Tymoshenko has been highly controversial. In June a Ukrainian appeals court delayed her appeal hearing despite her announcement [JURIST reports] that she will cease all appeals in national courts. A day earlier, Tymoshenko was ordered [JURIST report] to be seen by a court-appointed doctor after she failed to appear at her tax evasion trial. The EU has consistently condemned [JURIST report] the former prime minister's conviction as politically-motivated, and has indicated that the prosecution could harm Ukraine's bid for EU accession. In August 2011, the Kiev Appeals Court refused an appeal of her detention for contempt charges for a lack of legal grounds to contest the arrest [JURIST reports]. In June 2011 Tymoshenko filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the ECHR alleging various violations of the European Convention of Human Rights and arguing that her charges were politically engineered by rival Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych narrowly defeated Tymoshenko in the presidential election in March 2010, but Tymoshenko has claimed that widespread voter fraud contributed to the outcome.
[JURIST] Bahraini authorities have brought charges against 15 police officers for alleged "mistreatment of inmates in custody," according to a press release [text] by the Bahrain Information Affairs Authority (IAA) [official website]. The charges were brought after the government received 11 complaints about police activity. In the statement, Nawaf Hamza, head of the Public Prosecution's Special Investigation Unit, said that investigations were ongoing and charges against additional officers were possible. The Public Prosecution's Special Investigation Unit was created in compliance with recommendations made in a report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) [official website]. The statement noted that a number of police officers had already been convicted and sentenced to five years in prison on similar charges of abuse.
Bahrain has been criticized by international authorities and rights groups for abuse of prisoners and protesters by police. In April Human Rights Watch reported that Bahrain's police officers regularly abuse minor detainees [JURIST report] before transporting them to police stations. Other rights groups have made similar allegations concerning police brutality in Bahrain. Earlier in April Amnesty International issued its own report [JURIST report] alleging human rights violations continue in Bahrain despite reforms. Also in April four independent UN human rights experts called for the immediate release of Bahraini human rights defender [JURIST report] Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is serving a life sentence for terrorism-related charges after being tried before the Bahrain military National Safety Court in June 2011. Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya expressed concern that Al-Khawaja's trial and sentence are linked to his legitimate work to promote human rights. Last year a Bahrain court sentenced four protesters to death [JURIST report] for their roles in the killing of two police officers committed during mass anti-government protests. Three others were sentenced to life in prison.
[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] on Thursday praised [official statement, text] the work of human rights activists for the right of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people while calling for an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation. The secretary-general's message was delivered during a Human Rights Film Festival Screening by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic. Ban stressed that violence and discrimination against LGBT people is a human rights violation that has to be stopped immediately. He announced that he and his office will push the leaders of the international community to address the issue, noting that they have a legal obligation to do so. Ban encouraged LGBT activists to continue their work and said the UN would support them:
To them I want to say: You are an inspiration to me and to millions of people around the world. I am proud to join in this great human rights cause. However hard and however long it may take, I know that justice will prevail and that all people can enjoy the rights and dignity they deserve.
Ban noted that absolutely no one should be deprived of his or her basic human rights and that the UN is established upon such the principles of equality, freedom, tolerance and the inherent dignity of each individual.
Sexual orientation and LGBT rights are contentious issues in societies worldwide. In June, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] urged [JURIST report] the Bulgarian Justice Minister Diana Kovacheva to denounce calls to violence by anti-gay groups in anticipation of a LGBT pride parade in Sofia, Bulgaria. During the same month, Ugandan Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo said [JURIST report] that the government was not discriminating based on sexual orientation. The statement came days after the government had announced [JURIST report] that it would ban at least 38 non-governmental organizations that are accused of recruiting children to homosexuality. Earlier that month, a prominent Russian gay rights activist filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) challenging a St. Petersburg city ordinance that prohibits the spreading "homosexual propaganda" to minors. The ECHR ruled that a Moldova law banning gay groups from protesting in front of the country's parliament violated citizens' rights [JURIST report] to peacefully assemble and to be free from discrimination. Last month, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) released a report [JURIST report] concluding that in the US, incidents of hate-based murders against LGBT individuals increased in 2011.
[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida [official website] on Friday permanently enjoined [order, PDF] a Florida law that barred doctors from discussing the dangers of gun ownership with patients. Judge Marcia Cooke held that the Firearm Owners' Privacy Act (FOPA) [text] violates doctors' First Amendment rights because it is so vague that it fails to provide them with clear guidance on how to abide by it. In addition, the judge reasoned that the act "did not constitute a permissible regulation of professional speech or occupational conduct that imposed a mere incidental burden on speech" because it prohibits truthful and non-misleading speech within the doctors' profession. The judge rejected that the state's argument that the act is necessary to protect its citizens' fundamental right to keep and bear arms:
The Firearm Owners' Privacy Act, however, simply does not interfere with the right to keep and bear arms. The State's arguments rest on a legislative illusion. The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms refers to the right to "retain," "to have in custody," "to hold," and "to carry" weapons, including firearms. The law at issue here does not affect nor interfere with a patient's right to continue to own, possess, or use firearms. Protecting the right to keep and bear arms is irrelevant to this law; therefore, I do not find that it is a legitimate or compelling interest for it.
The judge also found that the risk of losing one's medical license and paying up to a $10,000 fine for "asking questions concerning the ownership of a firearm" or "unnecessarily harassing a patient about firearm ownership" has a chilling effect on doctors' speech, leading them to engage in self-censoring. The president of the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics/Florida Pediatric Society (FCAAP/FPS) [advocacy website] Mobeen Rathore welcomed [statement, PDF] Friday's ruling, thanking the court for recognizing the need of an open dialogue between doctors and patients.
Cooke had issued a preliminary injunction [JURIST report] in the case in September, reasoning the same way as she did on Friday. She found that the act in no way affects the primary constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Gun control laws have been much debated in the past. In July 2010, the Chicago City Council [official website] unanimously approved a new gun control law that bans gun shops in the city and prohibits gun owners from stepping outside their homes, including porches and garages, with a handgun. Shortly thereafter, a group of Chicago citizens, supported by both the National Rifle Association and the National Association of Firearm Retailers [advocacy websites], filed suit against the city [JURIST report] claiming the new ordinance infringes on their constitutional rights. In June 2010, the US Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v. Chicago [opinion; JURIST report] that the Second Amendment applies to states and municipalities as well as the federal government, thereby overturning Chicago's ban on handguns and raising considerable uncertainty about what amount of regulations of firearms was permissible. Two years earlier, the Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the Second Amendment protects the right to possess a handgun for the purpose of self-defense, overturning the District of Columbia's restrictive firearms law.
[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] has upheld [opinion, PDF] a South Carolina program allowing public high school students to earn credit for religious courses taken off campus during the school day. The program was challenged by students and parents at a school that offers the credit. They argued that giving students credit for religious instruction violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment [text]. In his decision, Judge Paul Niemeyer said the court found no religious preference in the program: "We see no evidence that the program has had the effect of establishing religion or that it has entangled the School District in religion. As was the General Assembly and School District's purpose, the program properly accommodates religion without establishing it, in accordance with the First Amendment." To date, only 20 students have participated in the program, which is only available in Spartanburg, Greenville and Myrtle Beach.
Government involvement in religious activity is a contentious issue in the US. The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] in May that a lawsuit opposing a Ten Commandments monument displayed on property owned by the City of Fargo, North Dakota, may move forward. In January the US Supreme Court declined to review [JURIST report] a case concerning whether a county board of commissioners in North Carolina violated the Establishment Clause by opening its public meetings with prayers. The court's denial of certiorari in the case preserved a ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit holding that that the board of commissioners violated the Establishment Clause by effectively using a public forum to endorse Christianity [JURIST report]. Earlier that month a federal judge ordered Florida's Dixie County Courthouse to remove the Ten Commandments monument [JURIST report] displayed on the front steps of the courthouse, concluding that the monument's religious message would be interpreted to be espoused by the government.
[JURIST] Greek police exhibit a pattern of using excessive force and violence against demonstrators and administrative detainees, including migrants, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] reported [text, PDF] Tuesday. AI criticized Greek authorities for referring to instances of police violence as "isolated incidents" and called on the government to take further steps to ensure police accountability for unnecessary violence. The report expressed concern about the ability of police to investigate legitimate claims of abuse by law enforcement in an impartial and effective manner. AI called on Greece to recognize and address the pattern of abuse among its law enforcement officers:
Since this report was concluded in April 2012, Amnesty International has received further allegations of human rights violations by law enforcement officials. These human rights violations are not just "isolated incidents" and should not continue to be treated as such, but should be rather seen as a pattern of abuses. Amnesty International considers that it is high time for the Greek authorities to acknowledge the extent of violations by their law enforcement officials and take measures to address the systemic problems which contribute to such abuses. Until these problems are tackled—and they include protracted criminal investigations and trials, disciplinary inquiries and criminal investigations which are lacking in independence and thoroughness, and the lack of a truly effective and independent police complaints mechanism—impunity will continue to prevail and the vicious circle of such abuses will not be broken.
The report encouraged Greek authorities to create a better system of police communication with organizers of demonstrations, and to improve the system of filing complaints against officers.
Police abuse is a subject of international concern. Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] against the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD) alleging that they violated the rights of protesters. The lawsuit came a week after the ACLU released a report alleging widespread abuses [JURIST report] by the PRPD. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported [JURIST report] in May that China's chengguan, a para-police organization charged with enforcing non-criminal administrative regulations, is abusing its power. In April HRW alleged that Bahrain's police officers regularly abuse minor detainees [JURIST report] before transporting them to police stations. Last October the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported that prisoners in some Afghan-run detention facilities had been beaten and tortured [JURIST report]. In June 2011 HRW reported that Iraqi police forces had been beating and illegally detaining protesters [JURIST report].
[JURIST] French authorities said Tuesday that they have arrested a suspected terrorist alleged to have ties to al-Qaeda [JURIST news archive]. Little information has been revealed about the suspect except that he was born in Tunisia in 1977 and resided in the French city of Toulon. The nation's prosecution office [official website, in French] arrested [WP report] him last Friday on suspicion that he played a key role in providing financial supplies and assuming recruiting responsibilities for several terrorist groups including al Qaeda. He has been charged with planning terrorist acts and financing a terrorist enterprise. The prosecution office analyzed e-mails and other communications between the accused and the terrorist groups during the investigation. Anti-terrorism judge Marc Trevidic began questioning the accused in Paris Tuesday.
Authorities have been tracking down members and supporters of the al Qaeda and other terrorists groups. In June a New York native and terrorism suspect pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to charges that he provided the al Qaeda with money and computer assistance. In February Egyptian authorities reportedly arrested [JURIST report] a former al Qaeda military commander at an airport in Cairo. Saif al-Adel [Telegraph profile] was detained upon his arrival after noticing that his name appeared on the passenger list on a flight from Pakistan. During the same month, a judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Kentucky [official website] allowed [JURIST report] certain secret evidence to be used against a suspect who was charged with attempting to provide material support to terrorists and terrorist organizations and conspiracy to transfer weapons to terrorist organizations, specifically al Qaeda.
[JURIST] Syrian authorities have been maintaining secret detention facilities to hold and torture prisoners, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [text, PDF; press release] Tuesday. The report, compiled based on accounts from victims and former military and intelligence officials, concludes that Syria has maintained at least 27 secret facilities run by Syrian military or security forces. HRW reported that prisoners are subject to food shortages and overcrowding, as well as a number of torture methods including beatings, hanging by the wrists and mock-executions. HRW called on the UN to sanction Syria and to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website; JURIST backgrounder]. In a press release, HRW said that officials at all levels who were involved in the torture should be held responsible:
The individuals who carried out or ordered crimes against humanity bear individual criminal responsibility under international law, as do those in a position of command whose subordinates committed crimes that they were aware of or should have been aware of and failed to prevent or punish. This command responsibility would apply not only to the officials overseeing detention facilities, but also to the heads of intelligence agencies, members of government, and the head of state, President Bashar al-Assad.
The report lists the locations of 27 detention facilities as well as a list of government organizations overseeing the facilities and, when possible, individuals who run them. Because Syria has not ratified the Rome Statute [text] the ICC does not have jurisdiction to intervene and prosecute unless the UN passes a resolution.
Syria has been plagued with violence over the past year and a half, and human rights groups have blamed both the government and anti-government groups for the resulting deaths. On Saturday, the UN-backed Action Group on Syria generated an agreement [JURIST report] designed to aid Syria in ending the violence. Last week, a UN commission said [JURIST report] Syrian forces "may have been responsible" for the killing of more than 100 civilians in Al-Houla last month. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, however, said earlier this month that the government had nothing to do with it [JURIST report] and that "not even monsters" would carry out those attacks. In April, the UN Security Council approved a resolution [JURIST report] to send 300 unarmed soldiers and other humanitarian aid to supervise the implementation of a peace plan. This came after HRW released a report [JURIST report] stating that Syrian security forces had killed more than 100 civilians and opposition fighters in recent attacks. In March, HRW also reported on and linked to videos of Syrian forces rounding up civilians [JURIST report], including women and children, and forcing them to walk in front of soldiers and tanks during troop movements and attacks so that opposition fighters would not shoot at them.
[JURIST] The UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice [official website] released a report [text, PDF] Monday calling for a focus on advancing women's rights during political transitions. The group's priorities are discrimination against women in political and public life and discrimination in the economic and social setting. The report includes suggestions such as routine country visits and open communication to help establish good practices and to better understand the context in which discrimination is occurring. The group was concerned by reports that women democracy supporters were excluded from the decision-making process once the drafting of new state constitutions began. Kamala Chandrakirana, head of the group, stated [press release], "Women's full and equal participation in ongoing political transitions in many regions of the world is a prerequisite for any democratic and lasting change, and is critical to sustainable development, peace, and progress." She went on to encourage states to "step-up" their efforts in order to reach the UN Millennium Development Goals [official website] of 30 percent women in decision making positions. The group will present updated reports to the Human Rights Council [official website] in 2013 and 2014.
Securing equality for women is a pressing global concern affecting both women and all members of a community. In June, Egypt elected a second panel [JURIST report] to draft its new constitution. Unlike the first panel, the newly elected 100-member panel represents all Egyptian groups, but still faced criticism for under-representing women, intellectuals and Christians. In May, Moldova was urged to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination laws [JURIST report] to ensure the equal treatment of men and women. The UN working group on discrimination against women in law and in practice pointed out the inefficiency of allowing practices that subject women to discrimination and that special measures should be taken to overcome the under-representation of women in decision-making positions at all levels.
[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile; JURIST news archive] renewed her call Monday to the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website; JURIST backgrounder]. She stressed the need to address the serious human rights violations [UN News Centre report] committed by both sides in the ongoing conflict, specifically actions harming civilians. Reports indicate that Syrian forces have killed more than 10,000 people since the violence between the government of President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile] and anti-government protestors began. Violations committed by both the government forces and the opposition include shelling of civilian areas, arbitrary detentions, tortures, rapes and attacks on hospitals and clinics. Pillay stressed that the overall goal is to end the violence that has occurred for the past 16 months, but any solution to the conflict must address the human rights grievances that have occurred.
This past Saturday, the UN-backed Action Group on Syria generated an agreement [JURIST report] designed to aid Syria in ending the violence with a plan [text, PDF] that outlines six steps the international community must take, in addition with steps Syria must take, for a successful transition. Last week, a UN commission said [JURIST report] both sides were responsible for the resulting deaths, but al-Assad denied [JURIST report] that the government was responsible. In April, the UN Security Council approved a resolution [JURIST report] to send 300 unarmed soldiers and other humanitarian aid to supervise the implementation of a peace plan. In March, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported on and linked to videos of Syrian forces rounding up civilians [JURIST report], including women and children, and forcing them to walk in front of soldiers and tanks during troop movements and attacks so that opposition fighters would not shoot at them.
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