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Legal news from Thursday, September 23, 2010




Pakistani woman sentenced to 86 years for attempted murder of US personnel
Megan McKee on September 23, 2010 2:45 PM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Thursday sentenced Aafia Siddiqui [JURIST news archive], a Pakistani woman convicted [JURIST report] of attempting to murder US personnel at the Afghan facility where she was being held, to 86 years in prison. Prosecutors claimed [indictment, PDF] that, while in US custody in Afghanistan, Siddiqui lunged for and grabbed an unsecured M-4 rifle and opened fire on her captors. US personnel returned fire, injuring Siddiqui. Siddiqui denied both handling the weapon and attacking the personnel. In addition to two counts of attempted murder, the jury found Siddiqui guilty of armed assault against US officers and employees, using and carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, and assault against US officers and employees. Siddiqui will serve her sentence in Texas [CNN report], at the facility she was held at while awaiting trial.

At the start of her trial, in January, Siddiqui had to be removed from court [JURIST report] because she began screaming and protesting her innocence. She underwent a psychiatric evaluation and was judged fit to stand trial [JURIST report] last year. Siddiqui, who was extradited to the US in August 2008, was shot in the abdomen during the July 2008 skirmish leading to her charges. Siddiqui's family has insisted that she is innocent and that the FBI publicized misleading information about her. They say that Siddiqui, a former student at Brandeis University and MIT in Boston, may have been a victim of extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive] after she vanished from Karachi, Pakistan, in 2003. Defense lawyers alleged that Siddiqui may have been wrongly detained and tortured at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Siddiqui was originally taken into custody in July 2008 after she was found loitering outside a provincial governor's compound with suspicious items in her handbag.




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Cambodia opposition leader sentenced over Vietnam border controversy
Drew Singer on September 23, 2010 10:42 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Cambodian court on Thursday sentenced opposition leader Sam Rainsy [party profile; JURIST news archive] in absentia to 10 years in prison following his conviction on charges of forging and disseminating [JURIST report] a false map of the Cambodia-Vietnam border on his political party's website. The map [document, PDF] posted on the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) [party website] website shows an area along the border of the two countries in which Rainsy alleges the Vietnamese government tampered with four border posts, placing them further into Cambodian territory than UN, US Army, Google and French colonial maps specify. Rainsy faced a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for falsifying documents and an additional three years for posting those documents publicly. Rainsy's supporters contend that his conviction was politically motivated [AFP report] in order to prevent him from participating in the next national election, while government authorities have denied any political motivation. Rainsy and his political party continue to maintain that the current Cambodian government has allowed Vietnam to encroach on Cambodian territory.

In January, Rainsy and two villagers were convicted [RFA report; JURIST report] in absentia on separate charges of inciting racial discrimination and intentionally destroying posts demarcating the border between Cambodia and Vietnam. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called [press release] the closed-door trial of Sam Rainsy and the two villagers a "farce," saying the ruling demonstrates the government's control over the country's judiciary. In 2006, Rainsy received a royal pardon for a 2005 defamation conviction. He is currently self-exiled in France, but remains actively involved [press release] in Cambodian affairs.




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Serbia war crimes court sentences ex-paramilitary officer over Kosovo war killings
Jay Carmella on September 23, 2010 9:07 AM ET

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[JURIST] The War Crimes Department of the Higher Court in Belgrade on Wednesday sentenced [press release; PDF] former paramilitary officer Zeljko Djukic to 20 years in prison for his involvement in the deaths of 14 civilians in March 1999 during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Djukic, a member of the Serbian paramilitary group known as Scorpion [JURIST news archive], was originally convicted [JURIST report] of the murders in June 2009. The conviction was overturned [JURIST report] earlier this year by a Serbian appeals court. The appeals court demanded a retrial for Djukic because the original verdict was based exclusively on testimony of a protected witness, which is against the Serbian Criminal Procedure Code [text, PDF]. The Higher Court again convicted Djukic on the charges brought by the War Crimes Prosecutor [official website] after it was made clear that Djukic was among the men who committed the murders. According to testimony at the trial, the Scorpions lined up 19 people, mostly women and children, and sprayed them with machine gun fire. In addition to Djukic, Dragan Medic, Dragan Borojevic and Miodrag Solaj have been convicted for their involvement. Djukic will be credited for his time served since 2007.

The conviction of Djukic is another step in the ongoing effort to apprehend those responsible for the atrocities that occurred in the region over the last two decades. Last month, Croatian authorities extradited Sretko Kalinic to Serbia for his alleged connection with the 2003 assassination [JURIST reports] of former Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic [BBC obituary; memorial website, in Serbian]. In July, an extradition hearing [JURIST report] for former Bosnian president Ejup Ganic began in London to determine whether the former leader should be forced to face trial in Serbia for alleged war crimes. In April, Swedish police arrested a Serbian man [JURIST report] suspected of committing war crimes in the Kosovo village of Cuska during the war. In March, a spokesperson for Serbia's Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor announced the arrest of nine individuals [JURIST report] suspected of being members of the Serbian paramilitary group Sakali and accused of the systematic murders of 41 ethnic Albanians in May 1999. The continuing attempt to find all individuals responsible for the atrocities has created a new political tension [JURIST comment] in the region that will not soon go away.




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UN report finds Israel flotilla raid violated international law
Erin Bock on September 23, 2010 8:58 AM ET

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[JURIST] Israel's interception of a Gaza-bound flotilla [JURIST news archive] violated international law, according to a report [text, PDF] released Wednesday by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website]. After conducting numerous interviews with eye-witnesses and viewing other evidence, the fact-finding mission determined that Israeli forces committed several international law violations, including violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Fourth Geneva Convention [texts]. The mission also determined that Israel's interception of the flotilla was prima facie unlawful. The report recommends judicial remedies and reparations, including medical and psychological care to those who were tortured. The report states that the incident must be viewed in the context of the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and warns that similar disasters have the potential to occur:
Similar disasters are likely to reoccur unless there is a dramatic shift in the existing paradigm. It must be remembered that might and strength are enhanced when attended by a sense of justice and fair play. Peace and respect have to be earned not bludgeoned out of any opponent. An unfair victory has never been known to bring lasting peace.
A spokesperson for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs [official website] responded to the report [press release] by calling the mission's approach "biased, politicized and extremist." The spokesperson indicated that Israel will not cooperate with the commission, but will "read and study the report."

The Turkish Foreign Ministry [official website] recently submitted findings from its own investigation [JURIST report] to the UNHRC for consideration in the report. In July, an Israeli military probe into the incident found insufficient intelligence and planning, but concluded that no punishments were necessary [JURIST report]. Israel also established a civilian commission [JURIST report] in June to investigate its response. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [official website] testified before the civilian commission [JURIST report] in August and expressed confidence that the commission would find Israeli actions to be in compliance with international law, explaining the Israeli response to the flotilla in the context of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. The incident took place on May 31 when Israeli forces raided six ships attempting to deliver more than 10,000 tons of aid to Gaza. The raid left numerous wounded and resulted in the deaths of nine pro-Palestine activists—eight Turks and one American.




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Florida appeals court strikes down gay adoption ban
Erin Bock on September 23, 2010 7:51 AM ET

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[JURIST] Florida's Third District Court of Appeal [official website] on Wednesday struck down [opinion, PDF] a state law [63.042 text] prohibiting gay couples from adopting, finding that it failed rational basis review and violated the state constitution's equal protection clause. The case was brought by Martin Gill, a gay man who provided foster care for two boys with his partner. After the boys' natural parents' rights were terminated in 2006, Gill applied to adopt the children and was denied. Gill initiated suit, alleging that the statute violated equal protection because it created an "absolute prohibition," while others, including individuals with histories of criminal activity and substance abuse, were evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The court found that experts testifying on behalf of the Florida Department of Children and Families [official website] failed to provide adequate evidence to show that homosexual parents are less effective than their heterosexual counterparts, upholding a 2008 trial court ruling [JURIST report]. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [official website] praised [press release] the court's ruling as "a victory for the thousands of children waiting to be adopted in Florida." Liberty Counsel [advocacy website], an organization that filed an amicus brief on behalf of the state, criticized [press release] the court's ruling, stating that "[c]ommon sense and human history underscore the fact that children need a mother and father." The state has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Florida Supreme Court [official website], but Governor Charlie Crist (R) [official website] has already announced that the state will stop enforcing the ban.

Gay adoption rights have become an issue of international significance. Earlier this week, New York Governor David Paterson (D) [official website] signed a bill [JURIST report] allowing unmarried partners, including gay couples, to jointly adopt a child. Last month, the UK Charity Commission [official website] ruled that a Catholic social services agency could not restrict its adoption services [JURIST report] to married heterosexual couples and that the discrimination violated Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights [text]. Also in August, the Supreme Court of Mexico [official website, in Spanish] upheld a Mexico City law [JURIST report] allowing adoptions by same-sex couples, determining that a ban would discriminate against same-sex couples and would violate the Mexican Constitution [text, PDF]. Last year, the Uruguayan Senate [official website, in Spanish] voted to approve a law [JURIST report] legalizing adoption by same sex couples.




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