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Legal news from Sunday, April 22, 2007




Bangladesh court issues arrest warrant for former PM
Melissa Bancroft on April 22, 2007 3:35 PM ET

[JURIST] A Bangladeshi court issued a warrant Sunday for the arrest of former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed [Wikipedia profile] who is currently exiled in London. Wajed was stopped from boarding a plane [AP report] in London Sunday after the interim government issued an international warning to prohibit Wajed from returning to the country. Wajed was charged [JURIST report] in absentia earlier this month with four counts of murder arising from the deaths of four protesters during political turmoil in October. The warrant was issued now however because of Wajed's statements that she hoped to return to Bangladesh to fight the charges, despite her government-imposed exile. Wajed attempted to fly back to the country last week but was denied a ticket to board the flight to Dhaka.

Wajed and her former political opponent, Khaleda Zia [Virtual Bangladesh profile], are both facing heavy scrutiny during the current interim government's crackdown on the country's notorious political corruption. A state of emergency [JURIST report] was imposed in January after violent and fatal street fights between followers of Wajed and Zia. The anti-corruption campaign has already led to the detentions of more than 160 senior government officials. Bangladeshi authorities alerted airlines operating flights to Bangladesh and immigration departments in ports of entry that Wajed is not permitted to enter the country. If Wajed returns to Bangladesh, she may be immediately forced to exile in Saudi Arabia, as some government officials have suggested. Reuters has more.






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Haditha inquiry finds 'serious misconduct' at all US Marine levels: WashPost
Caitlin Price on April 22, 2007 3:20 PM ET

[JURIST] A previously undisclosed report [Post excerpts] by US Army Major General Eldon Bargewell [Post profile] into the November 2005 killing of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha [JURIST news archive; USMC timeline] found "serious misconduct" on all levels of the US Marine Corps [official website] chain of command, the Washington Post reported [text] Sunday. Bargewell's investigation concluded in June 2006 finding no evidence of a cover-up [JURIST report], but at the time only excerpts of the report were available. The Post reports that the full 104-page document found no direct evidence of a cover-up, but did find that:

the duty to inquire further was so obvious in this case that a reasonable person with knowledge of these events would have certainly made further inquiries. The most remarkable aspect of the follow-on action with regard to the civilian casualties from the 19 November 2005 Haditha incident was the absence of virtually any kind of inquiry at any level of command into the circumstances surrounding the deaths.
Allegations that the casualties were victims of Marine violence were initially ignored as insurgent propaganda; an investigation into the events did not begin until January 2006, when a TIME magazine reporter began probing the incident [TIME report]. Bargewell was also particularly concerned with the general lack of concern for civilian death, and felt that commanders fostered an attitude that Iraqi lives were less valuable than American lives. He found that many of the initial reports to superiors after the killings were inaccurate and the result of "inattention and negligence, in certain cases willful negligence."

A preliminary investigation [JURIST report] by the US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] found that the killings were without warning or provocation. A separate investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) [official website] culminated in the largest US military prosecution involving civilian deaths during the war in Iraq, leading to charges against eight Marines [list of charges and specifications; JURIST report].





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Washington governor signs domestic partnership bill into law
Melissa Bancroft on April 22, 2007 2:20 PM ET

[JURIST] Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire [official website] signed legislation [press release] Saturday recognizing domestic partnership status for same-sex couples. The law [PDF text] guarantees gay and lesbian couples some of the legal rights that previously were afforded only to husband and wife. To be considered a legally recognizable domestic partnership, couples must be over the age of 18, live together and not be in a domestic relationship with anyone else. The legislation also introduces a state wide domestic partnership registry and affords same-sex couples hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights, and the ability to authorize medical decisions for their partner. The registry will also include heterosexual couples with one partner over the age of 62. Many of these couples have been hesitant to marry because of the repercussions for their pension or social security benefits.

The Washington State Senate and House of Representatives approved the bill [JURIST reports] in March and early April respectively. Opponents of the measure claim it erodes the institution of marriage, but the bill's supporters stressed the importance of granting equal rights to same-sex couples. The bill is the latest step in Washington's pioneering stance on gay civil rights which includes a revision of the state's Civil Rights Act to include the phrase "sexual orientation" among the classes of people protected from discrimination in housing, lending, and employment. AP has more.






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Nigeria opposition groups allege fraud in presidential election
Caitlin Price on April 22, 2007 1:34 PM ET

[JURIST] The two major opposition parties in Nigeria [JURIST news archive] and an election watch group on Sunday challenged the legitimacy of the country's Saturday presidential elections, reporting voting delays and potential ballot-rigging in favor of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) [BBC backgrounder], party of outgoing Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo [BBC profile], in a contest that appeared to draw a low voter turnout. The Transition Monitoring Group [Reuters report], an internationally-funded independent watch group deploying 50,000 observers, said that many polls opened late, and that "no election was held at all" in some of Nigeria's 36 states, particularly in the southeast. The group called for cancellation of the results. Opposition parties All Nigeria People's Party and Action Congress [INEC profiles], each of which ran a major contender in the presidential election, denounced the proceedings but declined to reject the vote outright until after the results are announced. Party members pointed to ballot shortages in opposition strongholds and to voter intimidation as evidence of the PDP's attempts at fraud. A spokesman for Action Congress, the party of embattled candidate and current Vice President Atiku Abubakar [official website; JURIST news archive], said the party would challenge any corrupt results in court.

Independent Nigerian Electoral Commission (INEC) [official website] Chairman Maurice Iwu defended the election, saying it had "gone smoothly, despite some problems." Ballots were printed without serial numbers after the last-minute addition of Abubakar, who was cleared by the Supreme Court to run for president last week despite charges of corruption [JURIST reports]. Opposition members said the lack of unique ballot markings increased the possibility for fraud; INEC has pledged to cancel any results whose integrity is in doubt [INEC report]. Despite the high tensions, there was little evidence of the violence which marred the April 14 state elections [JURIST report], where as many as 50 were killed. Nigerian newspaper Vanguard reported [text] that sixteen police officers were killed in separate accidents, and that a failed attempt was made to drive a truck bomb into the electoral commission headquarters. Election results are expected late Monday. The winner, who must win the popular vote as well as at least a quarter of the votes cast in 24 states or face a runoff, will take office May 29. AP has more.






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Russia opposition leader accuses police of brutality
Caitlin Price on April 22, 2007 12:28 PM ET

[JURIST] Former chess champion and liberal United Civil Front [party website, in Russian] leader Garry Kasparov [official website, in Russian] has accused Russian police of "brutality" after meeting with Kremlin officials Friday to give an account of his treatment at the hands of police agents following his arrest participating in the latest of a series of "Dissenters' Marches." Kasparov was detained on April 14 for hours alongside approximately 200 activists arrested for pushing into a blocked-off central square during an anti-Putin protest in central Moscow [JURIST report]. Dozens of protesters at that rally, as well as at an April 15 demonstration in St. Petersburg [JURIST report], were beaten by police, leading to criticism from human rights groups. The Russian Interior Ministry [official website] has responded by conducting an inquiry into the events of the protests, and thus far maintains that any police violence was provoked. After meeting with investigators, Kasparov told reporters that all accounts of violence or illegal actions of the part of the protesters were false and were part of an "attempt to cover up the brutality and cruelty of police officers."

Kasparov and fellow opposition leader former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov [MosNews profile] have strongly criticized President Vladimir Putin [official website] and his allies in the run-up to Russia's December parliamentary elections and March 2008 presidential election. Each have accused Putin of suppressing dissent; Ukrainian publication Zerkalo Nedeli [media website] Saturday printed comments from Kasyanov stating that given the present course of Russian politics "a revolution is unavoidable," though it is not the aim of opposition leaders. AP has more.






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