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Legal news from Saturday, December 3, 2011

ICTY judges allow reduced indictment against Mladic
Max Slater on December 3, 2011 3:32 PM ET

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[JURIST] A three-judge panel for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] accepted a request [decision, PDF] by prosecutors on Friday to reduce the number of crimes they intend to prove against former Serbian general and alleged war criminal Ratko Mladic [ICTY backgrounder, PDF; JURIST news archive] from 196 to 106. The panel declared that the prosecution's request for a reduction in the indictment was permissible under applicable law:
Under Rule 73 his (D) of the Rules, having heard the Prosecution, a Chamber may, in the interest of a fair and expeditious trial, invite the Prosecution to reduce the number of counts charged in the indictment and may fix a number of crime sites or incidents comprised in one or more of the charges in respect of which evidence may be presented by the Prosecution which, having regard to all the relevant circumstances, are reasonably representative of the crimes charged. The relevant circumstances include the crimes charged in the indictment, their classification and nature, the places where they are alleged to have been committed, their scale, and the victims of the crimes.
The panel stated [press release] that the prosecution in two weeks will file both an amended indictment and an updated list of victims. Two weeks ago, ICTY prosecutors sought to lower the number of crimes in their indictment of Mladic [JURIST report] in order to speed up his trial. The request came one day after a panel of ICTY judges ordered [text, PDF] the appointment of a medical expert to conduct a medical examination and issue a report on Mladic's health. Mladic will still face trial on two counts of genocide along with nine other charges.

In October, the ICTY prosecutors refused to seek further appeal [JURIST report] of the tribunal's refusal to split Mladic's trial into separate actions: one for his conduct during the Srebrenica massacre [JURIST news archive], where approximately 8,000 people were killed, and one for all of his other charges during the Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archive]. Mladic made his first appearance [JURIST report] at the ICTY in June, contesting the charges while simultaneously asking for more time to review them, which he was granted. At his second appearance [JURIST report] he refused to enter a plea. Before that, he had lost his final appeal in Serbia to avoid extradition, and was transported to The Hague [JURIST reports]. Serbian authorities captured Mladic [JURIST report] in May, ending a 16-year manhunt for the former general colonel and commander of the army of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mladic faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, including murder, political persecution, forcible transfer and deportations, cruel treatment and the taking of peacekeepers as hostages.

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Australia ruling party amends platform to support same-sex marriage
Dan Taglioli on December 3, 2011 1:13 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Australian Labor Party [party website] Saturday officially amended its platform to support same-sex marriage. The ruling party's decision to support same-sex marriage [BBC report] followed emotional debate and speeches from both sides of the issue at its national conference in Sydney, where 400 delegates voted to amend the party's platform while accepting Prime Minister Julia Gillard's call for the party to accept a conscience vote on the issue. Gillard, who is personally opposed to same-sex marriage, has said her government will not seek to change Australia's Marriage Act 1961 [text], which defines the union as between a man and and a woman, and has called on Australia's Parliament [JURIST report] to vote on whether or not to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. Such a measure will likely fail in parliament, given that the Labor Party has a thin majority and the conservative opposition party does not support same-sex marriage. The platform amendment came days after the Queensland Parliament [official website] passed legislation to legally recognize civil unions between same-sex couples, joining its fellow states of Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) [JURIST reports] in recognizing civil unions. Gillard's proposal was accepted by a vote of 208 to 184, and the vote to amend the party platform was accepted on voices.

Australia historically has had a tumultuous past regarding the legal rights of same-sex couples. In May 2008, the Australian government abandoned a proposal [JURIST report] to legally recognize same-sex civil union ceremonies after the Australian federal government threatened to veto Civil Partnerships Bill 2006 [legislative materials] if it passed the Legislative Assembly [official website]. The Civil Partnerships Bill was introduced after an earlier civil unions law [legislative materials] was actually overturned by the federal government [JURIST report] because that law's attempt to equate civil unions with marriage was determined to be unacceptable. In April of 2008, the Australian government introduced legislation to amend over 100 federal laws [JURIST report] to remove discrimination against same-sex couples but continued to bar same-sex marriage. While mandated by federal legislation as unrecognized, currently same-sex couples do have equal rights with heterosexual couples in areas such as pension schemes and medical benefits.

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UN Human Rights Council condemns violence in Syria
Dan Taglioli on December 3, 2011 12:09 PM ET

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[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] voted in an emergency session Friday to adopt a resolution strongly condemning the recent violence in Syria. The UNHRC resolution sets the stage for action by other UN bodies [CNN report] and international institutions, calling for the appointment of a special human rights investigator on Syria, the suspension of Syrian security forces suspected of human rights violations and the release of prisoners of conscience held by Syrian authorities. The eight-month uprising [JURIST news archive] challenging the autocratic rule of President Bashar Assad has resulted in a bloody government crackdown that has seen over 4,000 people killed [JURIST report], with tens of thousands arrested and over 14,000 detained. The UNHRC resolution came after the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria reported earlier this week that the Syrian government has committed numerous human rights violations [JURIST report] including torture, sexual violence, use of excessive force and violations of the right to peaceful assembly. The measure passed with 37 votes against four, with six nations abstaining. China and Russia were among the four nations voting against the resolution, citing fear of a military intervention like this year's international intercession in Libya. The Syrian ambassador told the council that the situation would be worsened by UN intervention [BBC report] and that the international community could not provide a solution to Syria's problems. Nevertheless upon passage of the resolution the UNHRC decided to send the Commission of Inquiry report to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] for action and transmission to all relevant UN bodies. The UNHRC measure has been reported as the toughest resolution ever passed by the Geneva-based council.

The Syrian government has faced numerous allegations of human rights violations since March when the first anti-government protests started. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] Friday urged [JURIST report] the UN Security Council [official website] to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] for investigation into crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian government. On Wednesday the Syrian National Council [official website], a civilian opposition group, agreed to coordinate resistance efforts with the Free Syrian Army, the main military opposition group composed of Syrian military defectors. Last week the UN General Assembly's Human Rights Committee approved [JURIST report] a draft resolution [text, PDF] condemning Syria's human rights violations and calling for their immediate end. Pillay previously called for an ICC probe [JURIST report] into the situation in Syria in August.

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