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Legal news from Saturday, November 29, 2008




Argentina court formally charges ex-president Menem in arms deals
Jake Oresick on November 29, 2008 4:58 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Argentine President Carlos Menem [official website] was formally charged Friday with illegally trafficking arms to Croatia and Ecuador, contrary to a 1991 UN embargo [text] against Croatia and a 1995 Organization of American States (OAS) ban on selling arms to Ecuador. Defense lawyers contend the then-president authorized legal arms shipments to Venezuela and Panama which were then diverted, without Menem's knowledge, to Croatia and Ecuador. A Buenos Aires-based court charged Menem by videolink with his home town in Argentina's northern La Rioja province as Menem said health problems precluded his attendance. BBC News has more.

Menem, on trial with 17 co-defendants, began trial in October [JURIST report], although parties in Argentina are formally charged individually. If convicted, Menem could face up to 12 years in prison, although his senate seat affords him temporary immunity [AP report]. In May, prosecutors sought Menem regarding an alleged cover-up of the 1994 bombing [JURIST report] of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center.






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Africa regional court rules white Zimbabwe farmers illegally deprived of land
Leslie Schulman on November 29, 2008 10:42 AM ET

[JURIST] The Namibia-based Southern African Development Community Tribunal [official website] on Friday ruled that 78 white Zimbabwe farmers whose land was seized by the Zimbabwe government under its farm redistribution program [JURIST report] were owed compensation and that the seizures were racially motivated, discriminatory and contrary to the treaty [DOC text] setting up the Southern African Development Community [official website]. The farmers, many of whom had been found guilty [JURIST report] in Zimbabwe courts for failing to obey state-sponsored eviction orders, had argued that that the program did not further a public purpose and that the government did not provide fair compensation within a reasonable time. Although Zimbabwe is one of 14 states party to the SADC treaty it has rejected the Tribunal's jurisdiction over this case and it is not expected to defer to the ruling. AP has more. From Zimbabwe, the Herald has local coverage.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] has been harshly criticized [Guardian report] for his farm program, which since 2000 has sought to redistribute white-owned land among the nation's indigenous farmers. In February 2006, the Zimbabwean land minister said that, following controversial constitutional reforms that took effect in 2005, there are no longer any white farmers operating legally in Zimbabwe [JURIST reports]. The government has appropriated some 4,000 farms through the program, and has traditionally argued that any compensation owed white farmers should be paid by the British government, Zimbabwe's former colonizer. Many observers attribute Zimbabwe's disastrous economic circumstances - including an inflation rate exceeding 231,000,000 percent [Guardian report] - to the policy, under which as previously productive farms have become barren under new inexperienced owners.






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UN rights chief says accountability necessary for Congo peace
Leslie Schulman on November 29, 2008 10:01 AM ET

[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Friday urged [statement text] accountability for abuses as a prerequisite to quelling six years of fighting and restoring peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) [JURIST news archive; ICC materials]. Speaking at the opening of a Special Session on the Congo crisis at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official websites] in Geneva, Pillay said:

Parties to the conflict must be held accountable for the atrocities committed by their forces. The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) must be provided with political backing and unhindered access to conduct investigations into allegations of serious abuses. The findings of such investigations must be fully taken into account by parties involved in diplomatic and political efforts to respond to the crisis....

The periodic cycles of bloodshed and destruction that have for so long affected the DRC will keep recurring unless the perpetrators of human rights violations are brought to justice, and unless the illegal exploitation of natural resources is adequately and comprehensively addressed.

The DRC runs the risk of becoming a case study in how peace processes can go awry without the will to make justice and accountability an integral part of these processes . . . Past peace agreements have enabled well-known perpetrators of atrocities to be integrated into the army and police. This has exacerbated the current climate of impunity in the DRC, empowered human rights violators and further endangered the Congolese population.
An estimated 500 people have been killed and another 1,000 detained and possibly tortured by Congolese security forces since the disputed 2006 elections [JURIST report]. The Special Session will continue [UPI report] Monday. The UN News Centre has more.

Earlier this month, the International Criminal Court reasserted jurisdiction [JURIST report] over local war crimes issues in the Congo in the wake of renewed fighting [BBC report] in the Congolese provinces of North and South Kivu. UN officials on the ground have also warned [JURIST report] of possible war crimes and genocide being committed by militias attacking civilian populations.





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UN Hariri tribunal could start prosecutions March 1
Jake Oresick on November 29, 2008 8:01 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon [official website] could begin prosecuting suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri [JURIST news archive] on March 1, 2009 with its prosecutor's scheduled arrival at The Hague, according to a report from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the Security Council [official websites]. The Special Tribunal will consist of 11 international and Lebanese judges, be based at The Hague and have a budget of $51 million for its first year [JURIST reports]. The report was made Wednesday. Reuters has more. From Beirut, the Daily Star has local coverage.

While no indictments have been issued, Daniel Bellemare [Ya Libnan profile], the Canadian prosecutor who heads the International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) [authorizing resolution; UN materials], believes a criminal network was behind the plot [JURIST report]. The investigation has increased tensions between Lebanon and Syria as several IIIC reports have implicated Syrian officials in Hariri's death [JURIST report].






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