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Legal news from Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wisconsin union bargaining bill may become law despite judicial order
Carrie Schimizzi on March 26, 2011 11:16 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Wisconsin legislative measure designed to curb the collective bargaining power of unions could become law as early as Saturday, despite an order [text; JURIST report] enjoining Wisconsin Secretary of State Douglas La Follette [official website] from publishing the legislation. The Budget Repair Bill [SB 11, text] was published [text] on the Wisconsin Legislative Bureau [official website] online on Friday sparking debate [AP report] among government officials as to whether the law was now in effect. Reference Bureau Director Steve Miller called the publishing a procedural step and insisted the law would not take effect until La Follette takes implementation action by publishing the law in a newspaper; however, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) [official website] insisted the online publication meant the law would take immediate effect. La Follette said he was unclear as to the significance of the publication, but that he would not be taking any action due to the court order. In response to the online publication, two unions representing Wisconsin public works employees and firefighters, filed a lawsuit [State Journal report] against Governor Scott Walker [official website] alleging not enough Senate members were present when the vote on the bill was taken. Firefighters Local 311 [official website] and AFL-CIO Laborers Local 236 are seeking a judicial order declaring the bill null and void. This is the third lawsuit that has been brought challenging the controversial bill.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals [official website] on Thursday declined to rule [JURIST report] on the order enjoining La Follette from publishing the Budget Repair Bill. The case will move on to the state Supreme Court, which will decide whether a court has the authority to enjoin the secretary of state's publication of the bill before it becomes law. Last week, District Attorney Ismael Ozanne (D) [official website] filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] alleging that Republican legislators did not follow the state's open meetings law [text], a rule requiring 24 hours notice or two hours if there is an emergency, before a public meeting. A similar suit [complaint] was filed earlier this month by Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk (D) [official profile]. On Wednesday, Attorney General JB Van Hollen (R) [official website] asked the court to block [motion, PDF] the Dane County Circuit Court [official website] order. He also asked for leave to appeal the order and for relief consisting of an order to stay the circuit court's ruling. Van Hollen argues that the Dane County Circuit Court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case because the four named defendants, who are all state legislators, enjoy legislative immunity during the regular legislative term. He also argued that the circuit court did not have jurisdiction to enjoin the publishing of the law. The provisions of the Budget Repair Bill limiting bargaining rights incensed unions and their supporters, sparking protests which have been ongoing since mid-February, when the bill was introduced. The bill was signed [JURIST report] into law by Governor Scott Walker on March 11.

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WTO grants Canada request for hearing on EU seal products ban
Aman Kakar on March 26, 2011 11:05 AM ET

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[JURIST] The dispute settlement body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) [official website] on Friday granted Canada's request to hear its dispute of the EU's [official website] ban on the import of seal products. Canada requested [filing; DOC] establishment of a panel to hear the dispute in February. In its request, Canada alleges that the seal ban is inconsistent with the obligations of the EU under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade [text; PDF]. Specifically, Canada contends that the ban results in less favorable treatment of seal products from Canada than seal products originating from the EU, creates an unnecessary obstacle to international trade, lacks a legitimate objective and is needlessly trade restrictive even if a legitimate objective does exist. The EU has stated its intentions to defend its position [Reuters report] in the hearing. The EU defends the law banning seal imports as one that is consistent with its international obligations and responds to concerns by its citizens about seal products. The panel is expected to take nine months to publicly release their findings.

The EU Court of Justice [official website] reinstated the ban on import of seal products [JURIST report] in October. Representatives of Canada's Inuit population sued the EU over the original ban [JURIST report] in January 2010, arguing that the hunting represented a traditional aspect of the Inuit's lifestyle. The Canadian government took action against the original ban [press release] in November 2009, initiating the WTO dispute resolution process by requesting consultations. The original ban was implemented in September 2009 following extensive public pressure to end seal hunting by groups citing humanitarian considerations. More narrow European restrictions imposed in 1983 caused the industry to suffer a sharp decline. Commercial seal hunting is an economic and cultural staple for the Inuit, who contend that their methods are necessary and humane.

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UN rights chief condemns Syria for repression of protesters
Aman Kakar on March 26, 2011 10:57 AM ET

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[JURIST] UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pilay [official profile] on Saturday urged the Syrian government [press release] to heed to the demands of protesters instead of responding with violence. Pilay warned that continued repression of the Syrian people would only lead to more anger and violence. She advised the Syrian government to look to the recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain as examples of the futility of suppressing protests. Pilay called for the Syrian government to guarantee protesters legitimate rights to peaceful expression and to work with the protesters to resolve their issues. Pilay expressed concern over violent repression of protests after the Syrian government announced a set of political and economic reforms stating, "Actions speak much louder than words, to announce a package of long-overdue and very welcome reforms, and then to open fire at protesters in the streets the very next day sends diametrically opposite signals and seriously undermines trust." Also on Saturday, the Syrian government freed 260 political detainees [AFP report] from Saydnaya prison in an overture to the protesters as protests in the country continued with protesters setting fire to a police station and local headquarters of the ruling Baath party. Pilay also stressed the need for an independent investigation into the death of several protesters and called for the immediate release of all detained political prisoners.

Amidst the continuing protests in the country, an adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] on Thursday announced that the government was considering lifting [JURIST report] the country's 48-year-old state of emergency law and would work to better protect citizens' human rights. On Tuesday, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] also expressed concern [JURIST report] over violence against protesters in Syria. Earlier this month, a military court in Syria sentenced a human rights activist [JURIST report] accused of harming the country's relations with Iran to 18 months in prison. Ali Abdullah's sentence was based on allegations that he made critical comments against Iran [AP report], thereby harming Syria's relations with a foreign country. Last month, Syria appeared to be lifting the four-year-old ban [JURIST report] on social media sites Facebook [website; JURIST news archive] and YouTube [website; JURIST news archive] as a concession to avoid popular upheaval [DP news report]. The Syrian protests may have been inspired by the recent unrest in Egypt, where nearly 400 people were killed and 5,500 were wounded during the three weeks of protests that led to the February resignation [JURIST report] of former president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile].

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UN rights council to investigate Ivory Coast abuses
Carrie Schimizzi on March 26, 2011 10:02 AM ET

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[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] will send an independent, international commission to investigate allegations of serious human rights abuses during post-election violence in the Ivory Coast [JURIST news archive], the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] announced [press release] Friday. The resolution, which was passed without a vote, was introduced by Nigeria on behalf of the African Group [UN profile] which stated "immediate action" was necessary to put an end to the violence. The commission will be appointed by the Council President and will investigate all allegations of abuse throughout the country. The commission will present its findings at the Council's 17th Session in late May. Speaking on behalf of the Ivory Coast, Kouadio Adjoumani thanked the UN [statement] for its interest in his country's situation:
It [the commission] would renew their hope that the international community had not abandoned them and that it was seriously concerned about the worsening situation in this country. Also, the resolution would establish the international panel of inquiry which reassured the country that the perpetrators would not go unpunished. The unacceptable attacks on civilians that were currently going on around Abidjan might constitute crimes against humanity and should be investigated by the International Criminal Court. The delegation realised that some of the issues discussed during the negotiation of the resolution were of a sensitive nature, but the final point of the resolution was the protection of civilians who were paying the heavy price. There was a need to move beyond the rhetoric towards concrete steps to ensure that human rights were protected throughout the world.
According to a report [press release] released Friday by the UN [official website], at least 1 million people in the Ivory Coast have been displaced from their homes due to "mounting violence" and fear of an "all-out war". The UN expressed concern over the "rapidly deteriorating" human rights situation in the country, citing increased heavy artillery attacks and widespread panic of residents. OCHA Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos [official profile] requested those involved to respect the rights [press release] of civilians and humanitarian organizations throughout the country.

Earlier this month, the OHCHR called for an independent investigation [JURIST report] into post-election violence as part of a report to the UNHRC. In January, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official website] rejected the proposed recount [JURIST report] of November's Ivory Coast presidential runoff election results as a "grave injustice and unfortunate precedent." Also in January, UN officials expressed "grave concerns" [JURIST report] on continued post-election violence in the Ivory Coast, cautioning that genocide could be imminent. In December, UN officials urged all parties to the disputed presidential election in the Ivory Coast to honor the country's commitment to prevent genocide [JURIST report], crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing under the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document [text, PDF]. Also in December, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) [official website] urged Gbagbo to step down, threatening the use of force [JURIST report] if he attempts to maintain power. Gbagbo has refused to cede power to president-elect Ouattara, who won the November 28 runoff election according to international observers.

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