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Legal news from Sunday, January 30, 2011




Kenya PM calls recent presidential appointments unconstitutional
Drew Singer on January 30, 2011 4:29 PM ET

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[JURIST] Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga [Guardian profile; JURIST news archive] said on Saturday that his country's president violated its new constitution [text, PDF] when he made a series of judicial, financial and legal appointments without consulting him. President Mwai Kibaki [official profile; JURIST news archive] announced on Friday the appointments of chief justice, top prosecutor, attorney general and budget chief. The appointments were made in an effort to increase public confidence [Reuters report] in the judiciary and to pave the way for the possible prosecution of suspects accused of 2007 post-election violence. According to Odinga, the country's new constitution, which was created as part of a power-sharing agreement [JURIST report] reached in 2009 following months of civil unrest, requires presidential appointments to be approved by the prime minister. Odinga indicated that the situation was a major setback to reform [AFP report] that could lead to a legal crisis. He has threatened to block the appointments in court if they are not withdrawn.

Kenya ratified its new constitution [JURIST report] in August, as part of a reform movement aimed at curbing vast presidential powers. Kenya's new constitution includes numerous checks on presidential authority, among which are the creation of a supreme court and senate. The new constitution was approved by popular referendum, which took place amid concerns that high turnout and heated debate over the referendum could cause a repeat of the violence seen during the country's presidential election [JURIST reports] in 2007. The government is now expected to start implementing the new constitution, which could take as long as five years. This document has been received as one of the most significant events in Kenya since its independence.




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AU official accuses ICC chief prosecutor of 'double standards'
Drew Singer on January 30, 2011 1:54 PM ET

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[JURIST] African Union Commission (AUC) [official website] Chairperson Jean Ping [official profile] said on Saturday that International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] is guilty of double standards by targeting citizens of African states for prosecution. The comments come in the wake of a vote by Africa's foreign ministers, who on Friday supported Kenya's bid to defer the trials of numerous suspects who allegedly planned the 2007 post-election violence [Reuters backgrounder]. Ping indicated [Reuters report] that the AUC is not against the ICC, but just Moreno-Ocampo's involvement in it. Kenya awaits an approval from its head of state before it will invoke Article 16 [text], which would allow the country to ask the UN Security Council [official website] to have the case deferred or suspended. Kenya argues that its citizens should not be charged with crimes against humanity when people from other countries, such as Myanmar and Iraq, are not prosecuted by the ICC. Moreno-Ocampo previously rejected such criticism, noting the role of the ICC as a court of last resort for countries unable to prosecute supsects themselves. The Kenyan cases were refered to the ICC after they failed to be prosecuted locally.

Last months, the Kenyan Parliament approved a motion to withdraw the country from the ICC [JURIST report]. The vote came a week after Moreno-Ocampo presented cases against [JURIST report] six individuals believed to be responsible for the 2007 post-election violence that resulted in more than 1,000 deaths in the country. Although the vote was non-binding, it was a victory for the sponsor of the legislation, Isaac Ruto, who wants the six suspects to be tried in Kenya. The individuals being prosecuted include senior politicians and civil servants. Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga [BBC profile] announced his opposition to leaving the ICC, stating that the trials will take place at The Hague.




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UN SG rejects calls for Ivory Coast recount
Drew Singer on January 30, 2011 11:33 AM ET

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[JURIST] UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official website, JURIST news archive] on Saturday told [press release] members of the African Union (AU) [official website] that a recount of November's Ivory Coast presidential runoff election results would be a "grave injustice and unfortunate precedent." Speaking before a high level meeting on the situation in the Ivory Coast, Ban reiterated the UN's pledge to help resolve the tense situation in the country which has led to heightened violence and fears that a genocide could occur [JURIST report], as a result outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo [BBC profile] refusing to leave office. The UN, AU and other world powers have recognized the victory of president-elect Alassane Ouattara [NYT profile], but Gbagbo has called for a recount [AFP report]. Ban stressed the need for the international community to remain unified and "stand firm" against Gbagbo's efforts to "hang on to power through the use of force." Ban also said that those responsible for the deaths of more than 260 people since December "must be brought to justice and held responsible for their crimes."

The UN pledged support [JURIST report] for Ouattara in January, committing UN peacekeeping forces to his aid. The UN press release also noted reports of mass graves [Newstime Africa report], and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] warned Gbagbo that he would be held accountable for continued post-election violence carried out in his name. During the violence following the elections, hundreds were arrested and dozens allegedly subjected to torture and ill-treatment. UN officials have pleaded [JURIST report] for all parties to the disputed presidential election to honor the country's commitment to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity under the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document [text, PDF]. The Economic Community of West African States [official website] has also urged [JURIST report] Gbagbo to step down, threatening the use of force if he attempted to maintain power. Gbagbo was elected to a five-year presidential term in 2000, but has managed to stay in office by delaying six successive elections.




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Belarus releases 7 detainees, including presidential candidate
Drew Singer on January 30, 2011 10:28 AM ET

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[JURIST] Belarusian officials on Saturday released seven people, including one presidential candidate, who were taken in to custody [JURIST report] last month following protests surrounding the country's presidential election [press release, in Russian]. The release comes amid speculation that the European Union (EU) [official website] will reimpose a visa ban [RFE report] on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko [BBC profile, JURIST news archive] and other government officials in response to their actions following the elections. The US has also indicated they are considering renewing sanctions [Reuters report] against the Belarusian government. Hundreds of protestors, as well as seven presidential candidates, were arrested while protesting the results of the election, which declared incumbent Lukashenko the winner of the presidency for the fourth time with 79.7 percent of the vote. The government previously announced that the activists were being charged with organizing an unsanctioned meeting, a charge carrying a possible penalty of up to 15 years in prison. The US and EU [press releases] have led an international condemnation [AFP report] of the actions by the Belarusian police and have also questioned the legitimacy of the election results. The Belarusian KGB [official website, in Belarusian] announced the release of former presidential candidate Vladimir Neklyayev citing good behavior, but also noted that Neklyayev will remain under house arrest. EU officials are expected to vote on reimposing the ban on visas on Monday. The previous ban on visas was lifted in 2008 in order to encourage reform within the country.

Hundreds of activists were also arrested after protesting Lukashenko's 2006 presidential win, including opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich [JURIST reports].While Lukashenko has since sought to improve his country's ties with western nations, the US State Department has historically criticized Belarus' human rights record [JURIST report]. The UN General Assembly Third Committee and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights [JURIST reports] have similarly denounced Belarus for human rights abuses. In 2008, the Belarus KGB detained at least 16 journalists [JURIST report] and searched their homes and offices for materials that allegedly libel Lukashenko. Also in 2008, Belarusian district courts sentenced at least 55 demonstrators [JURIST report], including journalists, for participating in a banned "Freedom Day" rally in Minsk to protest the presidency of Lukashenko. An opposition activist who was critical of Lukashenko during his 2006 presidential campaign was sentenced [JURIST report] to three years in jail in 2008 by a Belarusian court after being arrested for making comments that Lukashenko was connected to the disappearances of opposition leaders Yuri Zakharenko, Viktor Gonchar and Anatoly Krasovsky.




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