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Legal news from Monday, December 26, 2005




Russian prosecutors blame Beslan siege deaths on terrorists, not authorities
Katerina Ossenova on December 26, 2005 4:07 PM ET

[JURIST] Russian prosecutors leading the probe into the September 2004 Beslan school siege [BBC report, MosNews report] issued a report Monday concluding that Chechen terrorists, not Russian authorities, were to blame for the deaths of 330 people, mostly children. Another 783 were wounded. Relatives of the victims have blamed the tragedy on officials who they claim failed to stop the gunmen. An earlier report by a local parliamentary commission concluded that polices forces were also responsible for the deaths [JURIST report]. Russia's Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolay Shepel said that the security forces had followed proper procedure and did not provoke the explosions and firefights. The report warned, however, that Russia was ill prepared to prevent terrorist attacks and protect its population against terrorist threats. MosNews has local coverage. BBC News has more.






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Saddam half-brother refused US offer of high Iraqi post for testimony: reports
Katerina Ossenova on December 26, 2005 3:35 PM ET

[JURIST] Khalil Dulaimi, chief Iraqi defense counsel for Saddam Hussein, told the Jordanian newspaper Al Arab Al Yawm [media website, in Arabic] in a report published Monday that Saddam Hussein's half brother, Barzan Ibrahim [Trial Watch profile] had been offered a high Iraqi government position by the US in exchange for testimony against the former dictactor. The claim was later corroborated by another defense lawyer speaking on condition of anonymity. Ibrahim is currently on trial with Hussein and five others for the 1982 killings of 143 Shiite Muslims [JURIST report]. The defense lawyer said Ibrahim made the allegation Thursday in a closed-door hearing of the Iraqi Special Tribunal [official website; JURIST news archive], and speculated that the position was "Iraq's presidency". The US was allegedly interested in $36 billion believed to have been under Hussein's control. The Saddam trial has been adjourned until January 24 [JURIST report]. AP has more.






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EU Council to televise law-making proceedings
Katerina Ossenova on December 26, 2005 2:53 PM ET

[JURIST] In a move to bolster its democratic credentials, the Council of the European Union [official website], the EU's senior decision-making body, will begin to debate and vote more often in public in the new year. Television cameras will be allowed to capture a broad range of council activities beginning in January with test transmissions; internet webcasting of deliberations in the EU's 20 official languages is expected to start in June. Supporters of the initiative urged by the UK presidency [official website] of the Council feel that opening up the EU to more public scrutiny could counter the "Euroscepticism" of many current European Union citizens, especially in the wake of the recent European Constitution [JURIST news archive] debacle. The UK's original proposal would have allowed cameras during all legislative debates barring a specific move to keep a session private. France, along with several other EU members, opposed that plan [JURIST report], fearing that the Council would be unable to operate effectively. A compromise agreement approved last week will allow TV coverage for laws made under the EU's co-decision procedure, in which the European parliament shares power with the Council. It will cover over 40 areas of legislative interest. Monday's Financial Times has more.






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Chile Supreme Court upholds Pinochet fitness to stand trial for rights abuses
Joshua Pantesco on December 26, 2005 11:38 AM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Chile [official website, in Spanish] on Monday denied the appeal of former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on human rights charges, ruling 3-2 in support of a lower appeals court decision [JURIST report] that his mild dementia, diabetes, and arthritis do not render him too ill to stand trial. The appeals process having been exhausted, Pinochet must now stand trial for his role in Operation Colombo [Wikipedia backgrounder], which allegedly resulted in the death of 119 leftist dissidents during the early years of his 1973-1990 dictatorship. Pinochet argues that the leftists were killed during combat between rival factions who opposed his regime. Pinochet has been indicted in nine separate cases related to the Operation, all of which were joined [JURIST report] earlier this month. Other charges against the 90 year-old former dictator have been thrown out by Chilean courts in the past due to his poor health, but doctors on a newly-ordered medical panel testified before the Supreme Court that Pinochet has been exaggerating his symptoms to avoid trial. Reuters has more. From Santiago, La Nacion has local coverage.






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Mladic in surrender talks with Hague war crimes court: report
Joshua Pantesco on December 26, 2005 11:03 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Bosnian Serb general and indicted war criminal Ratko Mladic [ICTY case backgrounder; JURIST news archive] is reported to be discussing his surrender with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website; JURIST news archive], according to an article Monday in the UK Independent, citing a former Belgrade police chief. In exchange for his surrender Mladic is requesting financial protection for his followers and family, and criminal immunity for those who protected him while a fugative. The president of the ICTY has threatened [JURIST report] to frusturate Serbia's bid for European Union membership if Mladic is not delivered to the ICTY by year's end, and two weeks ago ICTY chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte characterized [JURIST report] Serbia's inability to deliver Mladic as "dysfunctional." Mladic is rumored [JURIST report] to have been protected by remnants of the Serbia-Montenegro army. Mladic has been charged by the ICTY with genocide for the execution of over 7,000 Muslim prisoners, and for the shelling and sniping of innocent civilians during the siege of Sarajevo, and is one of six indicted ICTY war criminals still at large.






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Cambodian opposition leader to seek royal pardon for defamation convictions
Joshua Pantesco on December 26, 2005 10:25 AM ET

[JURIST] Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy [party profile] said Monday he will seek a royal pardon from King Norodom Sihanouk [official website] rather than appeal the 18-month sentence he was given last Thursday following an in absentia conviction for two counts of defaming political leaders. Rainsy was found guilty of accusing National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh [BBC profile] of taking millions of dollars in bribes last year in exchange for forming a coalition government with the ruling party, and of accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen [BBC profile] of being involved in a 1997 grenade attack that killed 19 people at a political rally. The US State Department condemned the convictions [press release] as a violation of free speech, and Rainsy claimed [press release] that his trial was not preceded by a serious investigation. Amnesty International said [press release] that the 1992 UNTAC Criminal Law [PDF text] used to convict Rainsy has been selectively applied by prosecutors to government enemies, letting corrupt government actors go unpunished. Rainsy fled the country [JURIST report] last Feburary after the National Assembly stripped him of immunity. AFP has more.






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First Afghan war crimes trial targets Communist-era intelligence chief
Joshua Pantesco on December 26, 2005 10:02 AM ET

[JURIST] The first war crimes trial in the history of Afghanistan began Monday in Kabul as a former Afghan intelligence chief faced charges of authorizing the arrest, torture, and mass killings of hundreds of opponents of the country's Communist government [Wikipedia backgrounder] in the 1980s. Assadullah Sarwari has been imprisoned since 1992, when the Soviet-supported communist regime was overthrown by Mujahideen forces [LOC backgrounder]. Sarwari has 20 days to prepare a defense affidavit, and his trial will resume in 25 days. If convicted, he could face the death penalty. Earlier this month the Afghan government adopted a plan to investigate war crimes [JURIST report] and human rights violations committed from 1978 until the end of Taliban rule in 2001. Reuters has more.






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China law threatens jail for doctors aiding gender-based abortions
Tom Henry on December 26, 2005 9:38 AM ET

[JURIST] State media in China said Monday that a revised Chinese law submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) [Wikipedia backgrounder] calls for prison sentences of up to three years and heavy fines for doctors and other health workers who aid in telling the gender of unborn babies, leading to abortions. The new law is aimed at preventing the selection of a child's gender, when not conducted for strictly medical purposes. A traditional preference for sons in China [HK Weekly Standard report] intensified after a one-child policy was introduced to curb China's rapidly growing population, currently over 1.3 billion. The boy to girl ratio in China now stands at 1.19 to 1, markedly higher than the world standard of 1.06 to 1. China hopes to correct its gender imbalance by 2010. Reuters has more. China Daily has local coverage.






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Russian prosecutors drop charges against former Ukraine PM
Tom Henry on December 26, 2005 9:23 AM ET

[JURIST] Russian military prosecutors said Monday that they had dropped charges against former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; BBC profile], accused of offering bribes to Russian Defense Department officials [JURIST report] while managing Ukraine's state-run gas company. The warrant for Tymoshenko was suspended while she served as prime minister, reinstated after a falling out with President Viktor Yushchenko [BBC profile] in September, then suspended again after she appeared in Moscow recently to answer questions related to the alleged bribes. Reuters has more. RIA Novosti has local coverage.






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Powell backs US government eavesdropping to prevent terrorism
Tom Henry on December 26, 2005 9:00 AM ET

[JURIST] Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell [BBC profile] has defended the Bush administration's eavesdropping [JURIST report; JURIST news archive] on phone and e-mail communications to prevent terrorism. Though Powell conceded in an interview [transcript] with ABC's This Week that a major controversy over presidential powers could easily have been avoided through court warrants, he said he saw "absolutely nothing wrong with the president authorizing these kinds of actions." Powell said Congress will have to decide whether Bush is correct in his assertion that he could approve eavesdropping without prior court orders. Powell also said he was not aware of the operations while serving in the Cabinet. AP has more.






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Iraqi defense counsel demands investigation into Saddam torture claim
Tom Henry on December 26, 2005 8:13 AM ET

[JURIST] Following more allegations [JURIST report] Friday that Saddam Hussein has been tortured by his American captors, lawyers for the ousted ruler have asked his Baghdad court for an independent investigation. Chief Iraqi lawyer Khalil Dulaimi said Sunday that Saddam has expressed doubts about his ability to properly defends charges against him due to the effects of physical and psychological abuse he has endured. US officials have repeatedly denied allegations that Hussein had been tortured in US custody [White House transcript] and the Iraqi investigating judge who put together the case against Hussein has stated that the former president always answered "No" when asked if he had been abused [JURIST report]. The trial, involving the 1982 killings of 143 Shiite Muslims in the village of Dujail [JURIST report], has been adjourned until January 24 [JURIST report]. Reuters has more.






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