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Legal news from Friday, June 11, 2010




Iceland parliament approves same-sex marriage legislation
Dwyer Arce on June 11, 2010 4:59 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Icelandic Althingi [official website, in Icelandic] on Friday unanimously passed legislation [text, in Icelandic] legalizing same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive]. The legislation would end the system of registered partnerships that has been in place in Iceland since 1996, replacing it with a gender-neutral marriage law. Additionally, the marriage law contains a religious exception, allowing the Church of Iceland [church website, in Icelandic] to decline to perform marriages between same-sex couples. The church has yet to announce a position [Reuters report] on the legislation. The law must now be signed by President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson [official website], who is reported to be in favor of the law change [OT report]. If Olafur fails to sign the bill, it will become effective pending a referendum. Olafur has exercised this constitutional authority [constitution text] twice before, becoming the first president to do so in 2004. The legislation was introduced March 23 by the coalition government of Iceland, headed by Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir [official website] and supported by the opposition Progress Party [party website, in Icelandic]. The legislation will take effect June 27.

Johanna was elected prime minister [Guardian report] of Iceland in April 2009, becoming the world's first openly gay head of government. Additionally, the Althingi approved adoption rights by same-sex couples in 2006. Iceland is the seventh European country to legalize same-sex marriage. In May, Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva [official website, in Portuguese] signed a bill [JURIST report] that legalizes same-sex marriage but stops short of allowing same-sex couples to adopt. The bill was approved [JURIST report] by the Portuguese Parliament [official website, in Portuguese] in January and found to be constitutional by the Constitutional Court [official website, in Portuguese] in April. Same-sex marriage is also recognized in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Norway [JURIST reports], while several other countries, including the UK, France and Germany, recognize civil unions between same-sex partners. Same-sex marriage has also been recognized nationwide in Canada and South Africa, and in jurisdictions in Mexico and the US [JURIST reports].




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Guatemala high court removes attorney general following corruption allegations
Hillary Stemple on June 11, 2010 4:49 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Guatemalan Constitutional Court [official website, in Spanish] on Thursday removed Attorney General Conrado Reyes from power. Reyes was appointed to the position by Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom late last month, but he came under close scrutiny earlier this week when the head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) [official website], Carlos Castresana, accused him of having ties to organized crime [JURIST report]. Castresana included the accusation when citing his reasons for resigning from his position. The court did not specifically accuse Reyes of having ties to organized crime [Prensa Libre report, in Spanish], but rather indicated that the constitutional process could not be harmed by the possibility of corruption. An interim attorney general has been appointed, and Reyes has indicated he will not appeal the decision.

Corruption has remained a problem in Guatemala. In March, following an 11-month investigation with CICIG, Guatemalan authorities arrested two high-ranking police officials [JURIST report] tasked with leading the country's war on drugs on charges of corruption and drug trafficking. Also in March, the US State Department [official website] released its 2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, which highlighted Guatemala as a key player in the Latin American drug trade [text, PDF]. Corruption among high-ranking officials was cited as one of the country's biggest problems. The Congress of Guatemala [official website, in Spanish] voted to create CICIG [JURIST report] in 2007 in order to investigate organized crime and official corruption.




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Florida governor vetoes bill requiring ultrasounds before abortions
Hillary Stemple on June 11, 2010 3:51 PM ET

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[JURIST] Florida Governor Charlie Crist [official website] on Friday vetoed [veto letter text,PDF] a bill [HB 1143 materials] that would have required women seeking an abortion [JURIST news archive] to undergo an ultrasound or listen to a detailed description of the fetus before the procedure would be performed. A woman would be exempt from the requirement only if she could prove she was the victim of rape, incest or domestic violence. The bill would have required women or their insurance companies to cover the cost of the ultrasound. Also included in the bill were provisions that would have prohibited private insurance companies from covering abortions if they received any government subsidies. Crist called the bill an "inappropriate burden on women" and indicated that he recognized the strong personal feelings around the issue stating:
Individuals hold strong views on the issue of life, as do I. However, personal views should not result in laws that unwisely expand the role of government and coerce people to obtain medical tests or procedures that are not medically necessary. In this case, such action would violate a woman's right to privacy.
Pro-choice advocates applauded [press release] Crist's veto and described the bill as using women's reproductive rights as a "bargaining chip."

Several state legislatures have acted recently to place restrictions on women's access to abortion. Last month, Oklahoma lawmakers approved a bill [JURIST report] requiring women seeking an abortion to complete a questionnaire containing information on marital status, reason for seeking the abortion and whether the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. In April, the Oklahoma Senate voted to override a veto [JURIST report] of two anti-abortion bills, resulting in the bills immediately becoming law. The first bill [HB 2526 text, RTF] prevents "wrongful life" lawsuits in which parents seek damages for a child born with a birth defect because the mother was unable to obtain an abortion. The second bill [HB 2780 text, RTF] requires doctors to conduct a vaginal ultrasound at least one hour prior to an abortion while displaying and explaining the images. Also in April, the Nebraska legislature approved a bill prohibiting abortions at or past 20 weeks [JURIST report] on the theory that a fetus can allegedly feel pain following that point. Advocacy groups have criticized the laws and indicated they will challenge them in court.




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Italy court strikes down increased jail sentences for illegal immigrants
Sarah Miley on June 11, 2010 3:07 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Italian Constitutional Court [official website, in Italian] on Thursday struck down controversial legislation that imposed increased prison sentences and fines on illegal immigrants [JURIST news archive] convicted of crimes in Italy. The court held that it was unconstitutional [AKI report] to allow judges to impose sentences and fines on illegal immigrants three times greater then those handed down to people living in the country legally. In the same case, the court upheld that constitutionality of a law passed by the government in July [JURIST report] that would criminalize illegal immigration with a fine of between 5,000 and 10,000 euros and up to six months detention before deportation. The court's judgment will be released later this month.

Illegal immigration is a growing problem in Italy, where ethnic tensions and discrimination are widespread. In January, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] dismissed a suit against Italy [JURIST report] by Palestinian immigrants alleging illegal expulsion from the country. Earlier that month, a group of African immigrants was evacuated [JURIST report] from the town of Rosarno after violence was directed towards migrant farm workers there. In August, rights groups criticized Italy [JURIST report] for returning a suspected terrorist to Tunisia, disregarding obligations imposed by the ECHR. Italy's treatment of its minority ethnic Roma population has resulted in similar criticism from human rights groups. In February, the Italian government dismantled a number of Roma encampments, and last year it was accused of discrimination when it began recording the fingerprints [JURIST reports] of Roma children in a purported effort to reduce street crime.




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Europe rights court overturns Russian ban on Jehovah's Witnesses
Dwyer Arce on June 11, 2010 2:28 PM ET

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[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [judgment text] Thursday that the dissolution of a congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses [BBC backgrounder] by a Russian court violates Articles 9 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF]. The court found that in enacting the ban, the Russian government denied the congregation its rights to religious freedom, a right described by the court as "one of the foundations of a 'democratic society.'" The Russian government had attempted to defend the ban, citing the limitations of Article 9, which allow restrictions on religious activity that are prescribed by law, that pursue the aim of maintaining public health, safety and morals, and that are necessary in a democratic society. The Russian government argued that the Jehovah's Witnesses had forced converts to break ties with their families. Additionally, the government argued that the congregation infringed on the rights of citizens by restricting members' employment opportunities, utilized "mind control" techniques, and encouraged suicide through the congregation's absolute prohibition on blood transfusions and organ donation. The court rejected these arguments, concluding:
[T]he interference with the applicants' right to freedom of religion and association was not justified. The domestic courts did not adduce "relevant and sufficient" reasons to show that the applicant community forced families to break up, that it infringed the rights and freedoms of its members or third parties, that it incited its followers to commit suicide or refuse medical care, that it impinged on the rights of non-Witness parents or their children, or that it encouraged members to refuse to fulfil any duties established by law. The sanction pronounced by the domestic courts was excessively severe in view of the lack of flexibility in the domestic law and disproportionate to whatever legitimate aim was pursued. There has accordingly been a violation of Article 9 of the Convention, read in the light of Article 11.
As a remedy, the court ordered the Russian government to pay €70,000 (USD $85,000) in damages and costs to the parties who appealed to the ECHR.

The Moscow-based Jehovah's Witnesses congregation was banned [JURIST report] in 2004, causing leaders of the congregation to join a lawsuit already pending in the ECHR over the harassment of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. In December 2009, the Russian Supreme Court [official website, in Russian] upheld a lower court decision [JURIST report] to shut down the Taganrog Jehovah's Witnesses congregation and ban the distribution of 34 Jehovah's Witnesses publications. Both the Jehovah's Witnesses congregation and the publications are "extremist" [Forum 18 report], the court held in its decision. In a separate 2007 case, the ECHR held that Russia violated Article 9 by failing to register the Chelyabinsk congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. The US Department of State [official website] chronicled the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses [JURIST report] and other religious minorities in Russia in its 2009 International Freedom of Religion Report [text].




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Italy Senate advances wiretapping bill
Hillary Stemple on June 11, 2010 1:20 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Italian Senate [official website, in Italian] on Thursday approved a bill [materials, in Italian] restricting the use of wiretaps [JURIST news archive] and criminalizing the reporting of wiretap transcripts by the news media. Under the proposed legislation, a three-judge panel would be required to grant a wiretap, and the wiretap would only be valid for a two-month period. Any publication reporting on the contents of a wiretap during an ongoing investigation would be subject to fines of USD $540,000, and the individual journalist reporting the information could also be held liable. Supporters of the bill claim it is necessary in order to protect privacy and curb the excessive use of wiretaps [NYT report]. The bill has been widely criticized [WSJ report] by members of the media and prosecutors who contend the bill is aimed at protecting high-ranking officials, including Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [official profile; JURIST news archive], who are often the focus of wiretap investigations. Opponents also contend that the bill would weaken the ability of the judiciary to conduct investigations, including investigations into organized crime. The bill must now be approved by Italy's lower house of parliament before it becomes law.

Italy has previously passed legislation aimed at protecting high-ranking officials. In March, the Italian Senate gave final approval [JURIST report] to a bill [materials, in Italian] that would allow cabinet ministers, including Berlusconi, to postpone criminal proceedings against them on the grounds that they would interfere with official duties. In January, hundreds of Italy's judges walked out of their courtrooms to protest the passage of legislation that placed strict time limits [JURIST reports] on the trial and appeals process. That bill was also criticized as being tailored for Berlusiconi's benefit and would result in the automatic dismissal of two pending cases against him. Later that month, it was reported that Berlusconi could also face a third trial based on information that surfaced recently. Berlusconi currently faces a corruption trial and a tax fraud trial, both of which have been postponed. The leader has been previously acquitted of false accounting and bribery and has had other charges against him dropped [JURIST reports].




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Four men convicted of killing USAID worker escape Sudan prison
Sarah Miley on June 11, 2010 11:58 AM ET

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[JURIST] Four men sentenced to death for the murder of a US Agency for International Development (USAID) [official website] official and his driver in Sudan escaped prison on Thursday, according to police officials. John Granville [USAID profile] and his Sudanese driver Abdelrahman Abbas Rahama were shot and killed in Khartoum while returning from a New Year's Eve party in January 2008. The four men were convicted [JURIST report] in June 2009 and sentenced to death by hanging.The police stated that the four men escaped from Kober prison through the drainage system [Reuters report]. The men had continuously denied the conviction, claiming that their confessions had been extracted under torture. Their appeals were turned down earlier this month.

A Sudanese court sentenced the four men to death for a second time [JURIST report] in October after their June 2009 sentences were vacated because Abbas's father forgave them. The sentences were reinstated at the request of both victims' families, as Sudanese law permits victims' families to forgive the murderer, demand compensation, or request execution. Following the shooting, a previously-unknown extremist group calling itself Ansar al-Tawhid claimed responsibility for the shootings. Granville was the first US diplomat killed in Sudan since the deaths of US Ambassador Cleo Noel and US Embassy staffer George Curtis Moore [Arlington Cemetery memorials] in 1973. Tense diplomatic ties between the US and Sudan have been strained by the on-going conflict in the country's western Darfur [JURIST news archive] region.




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US lawmakers call for release of lawyer in Rwandan custody
Dwyer Arce on June 11, 2010 11:24 AM ET

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[JURIST] US Representatives Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) [official websites] on Wednesday introduced a resolution [H Res 1426 text] calling on the Rwandan government to release detained US lawyer and JURIST Forum [website] contributor Peter Erlinder [professional profile; JURIST news archive]. In a press release [text], McCollum explained the purpose of the resolution as designed to "prevent ... an impasse in relations" between the US and Rwanda. The resolution emphasizes the amount of aid that has been given to the Rwandan government by the US, which is to be increased by 43 percent in the 2011 budget [materials] and has amounted to over a billion dollars since 2000. In calling for Erlinder's release, the resolution also cites Rwanda's Constitution [text], stating:
[We urge] the Government of the Republic of Rwanda and President Paul Kagame to immediately release human rights lawyer Professor Peter Erlinder from jail and allow him to return to the United States. [T]he Constitution of Rwanda, adopted on May 26, 2003, states that Rwanda is 'Resolved to build a State governed by the rule of law, based on respect for fundamental human rights, pluralistic democracy, equitable power sharing, tolerance and resolution of issues through dialogue'; [However,] there is an increasing pattern of restrictions of free expression in Rwanda ahead of the August presidential elections, including the denial of a work visa to a senior Human Rights Watch researcher and the crackdown of opposition members and journalists[.]
The resolution has been referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives [official websites] for consideration.

The resolution by McCollum and Ellison comes a day after a joint statement [JURIST report] calling for Erlinder's release was issued by more than 30 defense lawyers from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website]. The statement called on international authorities to obtain Erlinder's release and to guarantee immunity for "every person engaged in seeking truth before any international or domestic jurisdiction." The lawyers indicated they will stop participating in proceedings at the ICTR until minimal steps are taken to remedy the situation. They also noted that Erlinder's arrest indicates a growing threat to the country's legal system. The defense lawyers contend that Erlinder's arrest and subsequent denial of bail [JURIST report] "seriously compromised" the ICTR's mission by undermining the independence of lawyers and preventing them from performing their duties without fear of suffering reprisals. Rwandan police arrested Erlinder [JURIST report] last month on charges that he denied the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Erlinder was in Rwanda to prepare his defense of opposition presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza [campaign website], who was arrested in April [JURIST report] on similar charges. Erlinder pleaded not guilty [JURIST report], but was deemed a flight risk [AFP report] and denied bail, despite his claim that he needed to return to the US for medical treatment following what Rwandan officials say was a suicide attempt [JURIST report].




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Finland court convicts Rwanda pastor of genocide
Hillary Stemple on June 11, 2010 11:06 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Finnish court on Friday convicted former Rwandan pastor Francois Bazaramba [Trial Watch profile] on charges relating to his involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder; JURIST news archive], sentencing him to life in prison. Bazaramba had denied charges of involvement in the genocide as well as the 15 counts of murder against him, but the court found that he ordered the killing of at least five Tutsis. It also found that he led attacks against Tutsis and spread anti-Tutsi propaganda in order to incite others to commit murder. Bazaramba's case is the first time a genocide case has been heard in Finland. The Finnish penal code [text, PDF] provides that Finland must bring charges against an offender whose extradition has not been granted if the offense is punishable by more than six months of imprisonment. The Finnish court heard the case under the principle of universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder; JURIST news archive] after the Finnish government denied the Rwandan extradition request [press release] last February, citing the possibility that Rwandan authorities would be unable to ensure a fair trial. Bazaramba was charged last June and his trial began in September [JURIST reports]. His lawyers have indicated they will appeal the conviction [Al Jazeera report] and sentencing.

Finland is not the first country to try suspects accused of crimes related to the genocide. Canadian prosecutors announced in November that a second suspect had been charged [JURIST report] under Canada's Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act [text, PDF]. The first man charged under the act was Desire Munyaneza [Trial Watch profile]. In October, he was sentenced to life imprisonment [JURIST report] for war crimes committed during the Rwandan genocide. Munyaneza was convicted [JURIST report] in May of seven counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes under the act. He was arrested [JURIST report] in 2005 by the RCMP after a five-year investigation. The trial, which was briefly postponed [JURIST report] after Munyaneza was beaten by a fellow prison inmate, lasted two years and included evidence from multiple nations. International legal observers expect Munyaneza's trial to set precedent for future war crimes litigation.




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Taiwan ex-president Chen's life sentence reduced to 20 years
Dwyer Arce on June 11, 2010 10:23 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Taiwan High Court [official website, in Chinese] on Friday reduced the life sentence [press release, in Chinese] of former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to 20 years, finding that he had not embezzled as much money as previously thought. Additionally, the court reduced the fine imposed on Chen from NT $200 million (USD $6.2 million) to NT $170 million (USD $5.25 million) and reduced the suspension of his civil liberties to 10 years. Chen's office has stated that he is very disappointed with the ruling [BBC report] and will appeal. The court was expected to rule on Chen's bail request on Friday as well, but has postponed that decision, stating that it will inform Chen in writing of its decision in the near future. Legal experts have stated that under the new sentence, Chen could be released after only serving 10 years [AFP report] in prison. The court also reduced the life sentence of Chen's wife, Wu Shu-chen, to 20 years, as well as those of the couple's son and daughter-in-law. Wu had been sentenced to life imprisonment on similar charges as her husband, and her original fine of NT $300 million (USD $9.3 million) was reduced to NT $200 million (USD $6.2 million).

Chen was originally found guilty on corruption charges [JURIST report] and sentenced to life in prison in September. Chen's wife was also given a life sentence [CNA report] after the pair were convicted on charges of embezzlement, receiving bribes, forgery, and money laundering. A three-judge panel of the Taipei District Court [official website, in Chinese] also sentenced their son to two-and-a-half years in prison and their daughter-in-law to one year and eight months. Ruling on another indictment against Chen, the district court on Tuesday found him not guilty of embezzling [JURIST report] USD $330,000 from the Foreign Affairs Ministry [official website] to finance his son's studies in the US. The court held that the indictment was without credibility [CNA report], was contradictory, and was not supported by the facts presented. Prosecutor General Huang Shyh-ming said that he may appeal to the High Court. Chen has maintained his innocence against all charges, claiming that current Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou [official website] is using Chen's trial to distance himself from Chen's anti-China views. Chen was also indicted in December for allegedly embezzling USD $20 million from banks [JURIST report] that sought to protect themselves during Chen's financial reform program.




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US Senate blocks measure aimed at preventing EPA regulation of carbon emissions
Hillary Stemple on June 11, 2010 9:50 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] on Thursday defeated a resolution [materials] aimed at limiting the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] to regulate greenhouse gas emissions [JURIST news archive] under the Clean Air Act [materials]. The measure, introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) [official website], was defeated by a vote of 53 to 47 with six Democratic senators joining the Republican caucus in supporting the measure. President Barack Obama [official website] opposed the resolution [statement] and had previously threatened to veto the measure if passed. Supporters of the resolution contend that Congress, and not the EPA, should have the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions [AP report]. They also argue that the announced EPA regulations [materials] would harm the economy. Under the announced regulations, new stationary sources of pollution, such as oil refineries and power plants, would be required to use the best available technology in order to minimize pollution. Carbon dioxide emissions would also be limited through the use of higher fuel requirement standards on new automobiles. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) [official website] applauded the defeat of the resolution [press release] and also called on the Senate to renew efforts to pass comprehensive climate legislation. The announced EPA regulations are scheduled to go into effect next year.

The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] affirmed the EPA's ability to regulate carbon emissions under the Clear Air Act in its 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report]. In its ruling, the court held that if the EPA could show a link between greenhouse gas emissions and public health and welfare then the act gives it the power to regulate emissions. The EPA announced last December [JURIST report] that it had found that greenhouse gases "threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations," and that emissions from motor vehicles contribute to greenhouse gas pollution. The EPA first announced its proposed finding [JURIST report] in April before undertaking a 60-day public comment period. Some have suggested that the EPA findings have allowed Congress to avoid the political fallout [JURIST comment] that could come from passing tough climate legislation.




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ICC nations lack consensus on crime of aggression
Sarah Miley on June 11, 2010 9:20 AM ET

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[JURIST] Nations attending the final day of the Review Conference of the Rome Statute [materials] on Friday in Kampala, Uganda, have been unable to reach a consensus on the adoption of the crime of aggression by the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. The crime of aggression is listed under Article 5 of the Rome Statute [text, PDF] along with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, but the ICC remains unable to exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression as the statute does not define the crime or set out jurisdictional conditions. In a draft amendment to the statute [text, PDF], the Special Working Group on the Crime of Aggression defined it as:
the planning, preparation, initiation or execution, by a person in a position effectively to exercise control over or to direct the political or military action of a State, of an act of aggression which, by its character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations.
Critics argue that the crime's definition is too broad and could lead to politically motivated investigations into use of force. Proponents of the amendment claim that the provision is consistent with the objectives of the Rome Statute, which aims to deliver justice to the victims of crimes that threaten international peace and security and to deter the future commission of atrocities. The nations are also divided on the issue of the amendment's implementation and whether the UN Security Council should have oversight on the ICC's application of the crime. A coalition of 30 African countries, which form the largest continental bloc of membership to the ICC, unanimously agree [Daily Monitor report] that the ICC and not the Security Council should determine whether a crime of aggression has been committed. The bloc argues that the ICC should be independent and able to exercise its jurisdiction free from interference by any political body. Nations in favor of the Security Council's role argue that the oversight is necessary to regulate the use of the crime and deter countries form politicized investigations. The non-state parties to the Rome Statute like US, Russia, and China have warned that Africa should institutionalize the crime slowly [Reuters report], but the African bloc wants the amendment enacted immediately. The lack of consensus among the nations casts a pall over the review conference, which was supposed to determine whether the crime would become operational.

Earlier this month at the review conference, US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp expressed concern [JURIST report] over the potential adoption of the state aggression law by the ICC, claiming that it could undermine the integrity of the court. Addressing the review board, Rapp said that the proposed aggression charge is overly broad and could result in politicized investigations into use of force. Additionally, Rapp stated that the US government is concerned that the broad definition of aggression will create legal uncertainties is terms of state action. He held that "a fundamental principle of legality is that individuals must know whether conduct crosses the line into that which is forbidden before they act and not learn the answer in the crucible of trial." Delegates opposed to the ICC mandate are wary of its impact on the use of force, such as NATO's bombing of Kosovo in the 1990s, Tanzania's invasion of Uganda to overthrow military dictator Idi Amin, or more recently Colombia's raids in Ecuador against Marxist rebels. Under the latest proposal, the court could not investigate an act of aggression committed by a non-member state.




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Turkish president criticizes ban on Google services
Dwyer Arce on June 11, 2010 8:45 AM ET

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[JURIST] Turkish President Abdullah Gul [official website, in Turkish; BBC profile] on Thursday criticized the country's ban on several Google [corporate website] services, calling for officials to find a legal way to restore access. Gul, in messages posted to his Twitter account [official account, in Turkish], expressed his disapproval of the bans, calling for them to be lifted. Article 5651 [NMDC backgrounder] of the Turkish penal code [text, in Turkish] allows the Turkish government to block websites for hosting content such as child pornography or for encouraging suicide. Under the law, citizens can report websites that violate the law online [website, in Turkish], after which a court may rule to block access to the reported websites. Last week, Turkey's Telecommunications Communication Presidency (TIB) indefinitely restricted Google services [JURIST report], including Google Docs and Google Translate, due to "legal reasons," according to local news reports. The TIB, which controls Internet accessibility in Turkey, released a statement last week stating that it has blocked certain Google IP addresses. The formal announcement came after several Internet service providers and costumers reported slow service and inaccessibility to the website. The Google services that are currently being restricted include docs.google.com, translate.google.com, books.google.com, google-analytics.com and tools.google.com. Blocking these services will make it harder for Turkish users to access YouTube indirectly.

In January, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) [official website] called for the repeal [press release] of Article 5651 in order to bring Turkey's penal code in line with Turkey's commitments to OSCE and international standards. Additionally, it accused the Turkish government of using political and arbitrary reasons for blocking certain websites. Turkey implemented a controversial ban on the popular video-sharing website YouTube [JURIST report] in 2008 in response to video clips purportedly insulting the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk [BBC profile]. In Turkey, insulting Ataturk is an imprisonable offense. Similarly, "insulting the Turkish identity" is a serious crime under the controversial Article 301 [AI backgrounder] of the penal code. Internet users in Turkey are currently blocked from accessing nearly four thousand websites.




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