In March the Arkansas legislature voted to override [JURIST report] Governor Mike Beebe's veto of the Human Heartbeat Protection Act. In February the Arkansas legislature voted to override a veto [JURIST report] of a 20-week abortion ban. Numerous states have changed their abortion laws recently to impose more restrictions on the availability of abortions, leading to several legal challenges. In December a state judge in Georgia enjoined a law [JURIST report] banning doctors from providing abortions for women more than 20 weeks into gestation, which would have gone into effect in January. Montana voters in November passed a referendum [JURIST report] requiring facilities and doctors to inform parents of minors 16 to 48 hours before a planned abortion procedure on the minor. Also that month the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] heard oral arguments [JURIST report] on a challenge to Arizona's law which, like Arkansas and Georgia's laws, bans abortions after 20 weeks. Planned Parenthood [advocacy website] also sued Texas [JURIST report] in October claiming that its law preventing state funding from going to any clinics affiliated with providing abortions violates another state law.
France will become the latest country to join a growing trend toward legalizing same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder]. Earlier this week Brazil's National Council of Justice ruled that notaries public cannot refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in Brazil [JURIST report]. Earlier in May same-sex marriage legislation was approved in the US states of Minnesota, Delaware and Rhode Island [JURIST reports]. Last month Ireland announced it would hold a referendum [JURIST report] on same-sex marriage. In March the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two same-sex marriage cases, with decisions expected next month.
[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Friday urged [report] Syrian opposition leaders and neutral international experts to safeguard evidence of torture and arbitrary detention uncovered in government intelligence facilities in Raqqa, the first city to fall to rebel forces. HRW visited the area in April and discovered detention cells, interrogation rooms and torture devices consistent with descriptions given by former detainees since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War [JURIST backgrounder] in 2011. In addition HRW reportedly uncovered documents listing the security force members who had worked in the facilities alongside catalogues of all of Raqqa's college graduates. Interviews with former detainees suggest that security forces questioned civilians about "lawful activities," including participation in peaceful demonstrations, providing relief to displaced families, and providing assistance to the injured. HRW reports that it has uncovered 27 such facilities across Syria, evidencing a systematic pattern and state policy of "ill-treatment and torture" thus constituting a crime against humanity. According to HRW, local opposition leaders must work to protect this evidence, which will likely be "vital to future domestic and international accountability processes," despite continued attack by Syrian government forces and struggles to provide basic services to the local population.
The Syrian Civil War [JURIST backgrounder] erupted in 2011 when opposition groups first began protesting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile]. The increasingly bloody nature of the conflict has put pressure on the international community to intervene. In May the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called upon the international community [JURIST report] to find a solution to the conflict in Syria and ensure that those responsible for human rights violations are held accountable. Last month Assad issued a decree reducing prison terms [JURIST report] for a number of rebel prisoners, but the move was dismissed as a "meaningless gesture" by activists. Also in April HRW accused the Syrian Air Force of deliberately targeting civilians [JURIST report] in air strikes in opposition-controlled areas. In March HRW accused Syria's military of using widely-banned cluster munitions [JURIST report] against civilians. In February the UN said that both the Syrian government and the anti-government rebels are committing war crimes [JURIST report]. Earlier that month Pillay reported that the death toll after two years [JURIST report] of armed conflict approached 70,000. In January more than 50 countries asked the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC [JURIST report].
[JURIST] The Chad public prosecutor's office announced on Wednesday that it has arrested Mahamat Djibrine, a former political police chief suspected of torture and hundreds of politically motivated killings in the 1980s. Djibrine was in charge of the Directorate of Documentation and Service (DDS) political police under then-president Hissene Habre [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], and was arrested [AFP report] after DDS victims filed a lawsuit accusing him of torture, acts of barbarism and illegal detention. He could be extradited to Senegal, as mandated by the African Union (AU) [official website] to try Habre in 2006, though Senegal has delayed Habre's prosecution for years. Until now, African leaders accused of such gross crimes have been tried only in international courts, and Habre's trial could set a historic precedent.
Earlier this month Senegal and Chad signed an agreement [JURIST report] allowing Senegalese judges to carry out investigations in Chad in preparation for the prosecution of Habre. Habre fled to Senegal after being deposed in 1990 and denies charges of killing and torturing tens of thousands of his opponents after coming to power in 1982. The AU began talks with Senegal to come up with a plan for Habre's trial after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled [JURIST report] in July that Senegal must either try Habre promptly or extradite him to Belgium for trial. The court's legally binding order also noted that Senegal had failed to make serious efforts to prosecute Habre, who has been been under house arrest there since 2005. In March lawyers for the Belgian government asked [JURIST report] the ICJ to force Senegal to bring Habre to trial in Belgium. In July 2011 Senegal reversed its decision to deport Habre [JURIST report] back to Chad after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned of possible torture. That month Pillay issued the plea [JURIST report] to stay Habre's deportation to Chad after the nation's courts sentenced him to death in absentia.
[JURIST] Bolivian lawmakers on Tuesday passed a bill allowing incumbent President Evo Morales [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to seek a third term in the nation's 2014 elections. Bolivia's lower house approved the bill 84 to 33 [MercoPress report] despite the single re-election provision in the Bolivian Constitution [text, in Spanish] after the measure was approved in the Senate. The constitution was amended [JURIST report] in 2009 after Morales's first term in office began in 2005. In 2008, Morales engineered an endorsement [JURIST report] of the constitution by agreeing not to seek reelection in 2014. However, in April, Bolivia's Constitutional Tribunal ruled [JURIST report] that the two consecutive term limit does not apply retroactively, meaning next year's election would legally count as Morales's first re-election. Elections are scheduled for December 2014, but Morales has made no comments regarding his plans to run for a third term. If Morales chooses to run and succeeds, he will become Bolivia's longest-serving president [MercoPress report], serving continuously from 2006 to 2020.
Morales is the first indigenous president to be elected in Bolivia and the theme of his presidency [JURIST report] has been advancing the interest of the majority indigenous community. On June 8, 2010, the Bolivian National Congress approved [JURIST report] legislation that would create an independent justice system for indigenous communities. In March 2009, Morales began redistributing land [JURIST report] to indigenous farmers under power given to him by the country's new constitution. Bolivia's new constitution went into effect in February 2009, placing more power in the hands of the country's majority. It also created seats in Congress for minority indigenous groups. In August 2008, Morales won a referendum to continue his presidency, which he personally proposed in a bid to legitimize his campaign [JURIST reports] for the constitutional changes.
[JURIST] Hungarian laws introduced by the ruling Fidesz [party website, in Hungarian] party in 2010 are undermining human rights, according to a report [text, PDF] published Thursday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. According to HRW, the new constitution and laws are negatively affecting human rights and the rule of law. The 29-page report states that many of the major changes "weaken legal checks on its authority, interfere with media freedom, and otherwise undermine human rights protection in the country." HRW noted the Hungarian government's continuing failure to comply with EU recommendations, suggesting concrete EU action, such as suspending Hungary's voting rights. Of particular concern were legal changes that have curbed the independence of the judiciary and the administration of justice, impacted media freedom, stripped religious groups of their status as churches and discriminated against LGTB people and women.
Hungary has been criticized recently [JURIST op-ed] for changes to its constitution. Just last month an EU Commissioner spoke out against Hungary's failure to reinstate judges and prosecutors who had been forced into early retirement. More changes to the Hungarian constitution have included restrictions on the homeless [JURIST report], increased control of the media and a strict, narrow definition of family. The new laws were controversial even when they were passed [JURIST report], and have been subject to ongoing scrutiny. In February Hungary's Constitutional Court struck down [JURIST report] a law that outlines how churches are given official designation, finding that it was too political. In January the court struck down an electoral law [JURIST report] requiring voters to register to vote at least two weeks before elections in 2014.
[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas [official website] on Wednesday rejected [order, PDF] Arkansas' attempt to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the state's law banning abortions 12 weeks into a pregnancy. US District Judge Susan Webber Wright denied the motion to dismiss, ruling that the lawsuit made a strong enough case to warrant allowing it to go forward. The court also found that the abortion providers bringing the suit have standing. The case, challenging Act 301 [text, PDF] amending Arkansas law governing abortions, was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Center for Reproductive Rights [advocacy websites] on behalf of two Little Rock abortion providers. Known as the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, Act 301 redefines "viability" as "a medical condition that begins with a detectible heartbeat." Currently, Arkansas law defines [text] a "viable fetus" as "a fetus which can live outside of the womb." The court found that there are sufficient facts alleged to state a claim that Act 301 impermissibly infringes a woman's Fourteenth Amendment right to chose to terminate a pregnancy before viability.
In March the Arkansas legislature voted to override [JURIST report] Governor Mike Beebe's veto of the Human Heartbeat Protection Act. In February the Arkansas Senate also voted to override a veto [JURIST report]. Numerous states have changed their abortion laws recently to impose more restrictions on the availability of abortions, leading to several legal challenges. In December a state judge in Georgia enjoined a law [JURIST report] banning doctors from providing abortions for women more than 20 weeks into gestation, which would have gone into effect in January. Montana voters in November passed a referendum [JURIST report] requiring facilities and doctors to inform parents of minors 16 to 48 hours before a planned abortion procedure on the minor. Also that month the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] heard oral arguments [JURIST report] on a challenge to Arizona's law which, like Arkansas and Georgia's laws, bans abortions after 20 weeks. Planned Parenthood [advocacy website] also sued Texas [JURIST report] in October claiming that its law preventing state funding from going to any clinics affiliated with providing abortions violates another state law.
[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday denied an appeal [opinion, PDF] by a German family seeking asylum in the US in order to homeschool their children for religious reasons. The Romeike family alleged that Germany's ban against homeschooling caused them a well-founded fear of persecution based on their membership in a "particular social group"homeschoolers. In the opinion, Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote that US immigration law [text] for asylum-seekers only applies for those who have a "well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." Because the Romeike family was not persecuted in particular, nor was any homeschooling family persecuted more severely than other families breaking the law, their applications for asylum were denied. For example, families that allowed their children to skip school are punished in the same way. Because the law is applied equally to everyone, the court found that the neutral law could is not compatible with persecution. Moreover, the court found that faith-based homeschoolers are not a cognizable social group.
In January 2010 an immigration judge granted [JURIST report] the Romeikes asylum, ruling that German laws against homeschooling [HSLDA backgrounder] gave the family a well-founded fear of persecution. In the opinion, Judge Lawrence Burman described homeschoolers as a distinct group of people who have a "principled opposition to government policy" that would face persecution both because of their religious beliefs and because they were "members of a particular social group." The Romeike family fled Germany [TIME report] in 2008. Burman's opinion was critical of German policy regarding educational freedom, calling the country's laws against homeschooling a violation of basic human rights.
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