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Legal news from Tuesday, December 22, 2009




Lithuania parliamentary committee confirms secret CIA prisons
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 22, 2009 1:26 PM ET

[JURIST] The Lithuanian Parliament [official website, in Lithuanian] National Security Committee reported Tuesday that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] established two secret prisons [JURIST news archive] for al Qaeda suspects in the Baltic country. Lawmakers demanded the investigation [JURIST report] in October after ABC News reported in August that former CIA officials said that Lithuania provided the CIA with facilities [ABC News report] for a secret prison for high value al Qaeda suspects in order to improve relations with the US. The parliamentary committee concluded that the Lithuanian State Security Department provided the CIA with two secret facilities [AP report], but it is unclear whether either facility was used to interrogate detainees. The committee uncovered no evidence that former president Valdus Adamkus and former prime minister Algirdas Brazauskas, who were both in office during the specified time period, were told about the secret detention centers. The committee called for prosecutors to launch an immediate investigation into the State Security Department's actions.

On his third day in office last January, US President Barack Obama ordered the closure [JURIST report] of all CIA secret prisons. The European Parliament voted [JURIST report] in February 2007 to approve a report that condemned member states for cooperating with the CIA in operating secret prisons. In January 2007, the UK admitted knowledge of the CIA prison network, and then-president George W. Bush publicly acknowledged [JURIST reports] in September 2006 that these types of facilities existed. In June 2006, the Council of Europe [official website] released [JURIST report] a report [text, PDF] that 14 European countries collaborated with the CIA by taking an active or passive role in a "global spider's web" of secret prisons and rendition flights. The existence of CIA prisons in Europe was first reported in November 2005.






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China police formally arrest tainted milk scandal activist
Steve Dotterer on December 22, 2009 12:00 PM ET

[JURIST] Beijing police issued a formal arrest warrant Monday for a man who organized a website for parents whose children became ill from drinking tainted milk [JURIST news archive] last year. Zhao Lianhai has been charged [Reuters report] with picking quarrels and provoking trouble. Zhao's website, "Kidney Stone Babies" [advocacy website, in Chinese], furnishes information and resources for parents whose children were sickened or killed by melamine-tainted milk. Zhao's own four-year-old son became sick after consuming milk containing melamine, which is used in plastics and fertilizer production. Zhao was detained [NYT report] November 13, but his wife did not receive the formalized warrant for his arrest until Monday. Zhao has been held at the Daxing District Police Station since his detention. Amnesty International has expressed concern [press release] over Zhao's detention, stating that Zhao is "at risk" for torture.

Chinese courts began hearing [JURIST report] tainted milk suits in late November, after families began filing individual claims. China's Hebei Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] out the possibility of initiating a class action lawsuit on behalf of the contaminated milk victims last year. Last month, a Chinese court sentenced [JURIST report] two men to death for their roles in the scandal. A Chinese court in February declared Sanlu Group, the Chinese company that produced the melamine-tainted milk, bankrupt [JURIST report].






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Europe rights court rules Bosnia constitution illegally discriminates
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 22, 2009 11:35 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [judgment text; press release] Tuesday that Bosnia's constitution [text] illegally discriminates against ethnic minorities by not allowing them to run for high political office. The Bosnian Constitution distinguishes between "constituent peoples," which include Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs, and "others," which include Jews, Roma, and other ethnic minorities. Only "constituent peoples" are eligible to run for parliament or the three-part presidency. The complaint was filed with the ECHR in 2006 by Dervo Sejdic, a Roma, and Jakob Finci, a Jew, after Finci inquired about running for parliament or the presidency and was told that he was not eligible. The ECHR found that the Bosnian Constitution violates the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF], which prohibits discrimination and upholds the right to free elections. The ruling requires Bosnia to amend its constitution.

The Bosnian Constitution was agreed to in 1995 as part of the Dayton Accord [USDOS materials], ending a four-year civil war. It was designed to share power between the three majority ethnic groups, but limits power for ethnic minorities. Bosnia reached an agreement with the European Union in 2008 to bring its constitution in line with the European Convention on Human Rights.






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Sudan lawmakers adopt law on referendum for southern independence
Christian Ehret on December 22, 2009 11:02 AM ET

[JURIST] Sudanese lawmakers on Tuesday adopted a law addressing how a 2011 referendum for southern independence will be conducted. Agreed to earlier this month [JURIST report] by leaders of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) [party website] of President Omar al-Bashir [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) of Salva Kiir [BBC profile], the referendum will require a 60 percent voter turnout and a 51 percent affirmative vote in order to pass. SPLM lawmakers and other southern representatives withdrew from the proceedings [AFP report] in protest, concerned that the allowance of absentee voting by southerners living elsewhere will negatively affect the vote.

Under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) [UN press release] that ended two decades of civil war, Sudan is expected to hold its first democratic multi-party elections in almost a quarter of a century in April 2010. Although the country's parliament approved the appointment [JURIST report] of an electoral commission to oversee the vote, the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) [party website] and the SPLM accused each other [JURIST report] of fraud, torture, intimidation, and sabotage as voters began registering last month. In July 2008, the parliament passed a long-anticipated electoral law [JURIST report] dictating how the country's parliamentary seats will be allotted. The law reserves some seats for candidates chosen by popular vote, and some for proportional representation of political parties including seats reserved for women.






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Pennsylvania to transfer prisoners out of state to reduce overcrowding
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 22, 2009 10:26 AM ET

[JURIST] A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections [official website] said Monday that the state will begin transferring prisoners out of state to reduce prison overcrowding [JURIST news archive]. State officials will transfer 2,000 prisoners [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report], with 1,000 going to a facility in Michigan and another 1,000 going to a Virginia prison. The transfers are scheduled to begin by February, and the state hopes to begin bringing the prisoners back by 2013, when four new prisons are set to open [Philadelphia Daily News report]. There are currently about 51,400 prisoners in a state system that was designed to house 44,000.

Pennsylvania is not the first state to transfer prisoners out of state in order to alleviate overcrowding. In 2006, California began transferring [JURIST report] prisoners out of state. California is currently under a federal court order [JURIST report] to reduce its prison population from 190 percent to 137.5 percent by 2011. Last month, the California government submitted a revised plan [JURIST report] for reducing its prison population that includes revisions made possible because of legislative enactments, such as summary parole for lower-level offenses to reduce the amount of inmates re-entering the prison system for parole violations and credit-earning enhancements to reduce time served.






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Mexico City legislature approves same-sex marriage bill
Christian Ehret on December 22, 2009 9:49 AM ET

[JURIST] Mexico City's local assembly [official website, in Spanish] approved a same-sex marriage law [text, PDF; in Spanish] on Monday, seeking to extend equal rights to gay couples throughout the city. The proposed legislation would allow for marriage, adoption, inheritance, and other human, economic, and social rights. The provisions also seek to end discrimination based on sexual orientation. Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard [CityMayors profile] is expected to sign the bill [LAT report] into law, against the wishes of many of the country's Roman Catholic population.

While Mexico City's proposed legislation may be the most far-reaching in Latin America, rights for same-sex couples currently exist in Uruguay and in several Argentinian cities. Last month, some 50,000 protesters marched [JURIST report] in Buenos Aires in support of proposed legislation in Argentina's parliament. Earlier this year, Uruguay passed a law to allow same-sex couples to adopt [JURIST report].






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US hedge fund founder pleads not guilty to insider trading charges
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 22, 2009 9:29 AM ET

[JURIST] Galleon Group [partnership website] hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam [Financial Times profile] and former hedge fund consultant Danielle Chiesi pleaded not guilty Monday to insider trading charges. The pair were indicted [text, PDF; JURIST report] last week by a federal grand jury in Manhattan on charges of conspiracy and securities fraud for their alleged role in the largest hedge fund insider trading case in US history. Prosecutors asked the judge to schedule the trial for June or July [Bloomberg report], but Rajaratnam and Chiesi asked for more time to prepare a defense. No trial date has been set. If convicted, Chiesi, former hedge fund consultant to New Castle Partners LLC, could face up to 155 in prison. Rajaratnam faces a sentence of up to 145 years. The indictment also seeks $20.8 million in forfeiture.

Rajaratnam and Chiesi were arrested in October and charged [complaint, PDF; press release] along with four other individuals and two business entities with insider trading. The complaint alleged that the individuals, including a managing director at Intel Corp., a director at McKinsey & Co., and a senior executive at IBM [corporate websites], provided Galleon Group and another hedge fund with material nonpublic information about several corporations upon which the funds traded, generating $25 million in illicit gain. The government of Sri Lanka has accused Rajaratnam of helping fund [Financial Times report] the Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [JURIST news archive], a group designated as a terrorist organizations by several countries including the US. Although records show that Rajaratnam contributed money to the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, a charity that the US claimed was a front for the LTTE, Rajaratnam denies funding the LTTE and has not been charged with funding the LTTE.






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