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Legal news from Monday, December 19, 2011




China again jails prominent rights lawyer after 20-month disappearance
Dan Taglioli on December 19, 2011 3:51 PM ET

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[JURIST] China's government Friday announced that prominent civil rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] would be sent to prison for three years for violating his probation. Gao's sentence is the first sign that he is still alive [AP report] since having disappeared 20 months ago, presumably at the hands of the authorities. The announcement was made in a brief report by the state-run Xinhua News Agency, but did not give information about his health and whereabouts, either now or in the passed 20 months, and did not explain what violations Gao had committed in violation of his five-year probation, which was scheduled to expire this Thursday. Gao was convicted of subversion in 2006 and sentenced to three years in prison, but he was quickly released on probation before he was taken away in 2009 in the first of his forced disappearances. He has been a prominent figure for the civil rights movement in China, advocating constitutional reform and arguing landmark cases to defend property rights and political and religious dissenters. Gao's wife and two children fled China around the time he first disappeared and now live in the US. She has said that Gao's family has yet to receive any notice about his case from the police or courts and have no knowledge of his current whereabouts.

China's human rights record has been widely criticized. The US Department of State [official website] in June urged [JURIST report] the Chinese government to release protesters arrested for their Tiananmen Square involvement and account for those missing or killed during the suppression. The State Department also urged China to protect universal human rights afforded to peaceful dissenters, and to release those that had been detained or placed under house arrest in the months prior. In May, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention [official website] called for the immediate release of Chinese rights activist and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Liu, awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize in absentia, is currently serving an 11-year prison term [JURIST reports] after being convicted on charges of subversion in a trial that lasted only two hours and was closed to foreign diplomats.




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Rights groups criticize European countries over silence on CIA rendition program
Dan Taglioli on December 19, 2011 3:14 PM ET

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[JURIST] Two international human rights organizations on Monday accused European countries of suppressing evidence of their roles in the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] rendition program of forced transfer and secret detention. Legal action charity Reprieve, in cooperation with the human rights organization Access Info Europe [advocacy websites], released their interim findings [report; press release] in a report documenting right of access requests made in 28 countries to investigate flights associated with "extraordinary rendition"—the covert transfer of prisoners by the US from locations in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia. The report shows that only seven countries have provided information following right of access requests, with five other countries responding with claims that they do not hold the information requested, three countries and Eurocontrol [official website] denying the requests outright and almost half of the total countries polled responding with administrative silence. The groups admonished the European countries that lagged in terms of transparency:
The right of information is a fundamental right in itself, as has been recognised by the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Committee. It is also an instrumental right, essential for the protection of other human rights. Information concerning grave infringements of human rights should never be withheld from the public.
The report found the US provided the most comprehensive response to the requests, having handed over Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) [official website] records with data on more than 27,000 flight segments. Canada, one of the countries to refuse the information requests, responded that its civil air navigation services provider is a private body that does not fall under the scope of Canada's access to information law and so is not required to provide information. The report claims that the 13 countries responding with administrative silence have violated the right of access to information and are "covering up the serious violations of the human rights of those who were the victims of extraordinary rendition."

Many of the flights that are being investigated passed through Europe and in some cases the involuntary passengers they carried were allegedly held and tortured in detention centers in Europe. Earlier this month a joint investigation between the Associated Press (AP) [media website] and a German public television company reportedly uncovered a CIA-operated secret prison [JURIST report] outside the capital of Romania. The investigation found that once detainees were placed in the prisons, they endured sleep deprivation and other harsh interrogation techniques, but waterboarding was not allowed in Romania. Investigations have previously uncovered similar "black site" locations in Lithuania and Poland. The Lithuanian National Security Committee concluded that the Lithuanian State Security Department provided the CIA with two secret facilities [JURIST report] in December 2009. In 2007 it was discovered that the CIA had prisons in Romania and Poland [JURIST report], but the governments would never confirm or deny the allegations. In 2010 Poland requested US assistance in their investigation of the alleged prison, but the US government refused to cooperate. The European Parliament [official website] approved a report condemning member states for cooperating with the (CIA) in operating illegal secret prisons and extraordinary rendition flights in Europe in 2007. This action came in the wake of a 2006 report by the Legal Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe [official website] report that alleged that 14 European countries [JURIST report] collaborated with the CIA by taking an active or passive role in secret prisons and rendition flights.




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FBI reports decrease in violent crime for first half of 2011
Jamie Reese on December 19, 2011 2:55 PM ET

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[JURIST] The FBI [official website] announced Monday that violent crime in the US has dropped [press release], continuing a trend lasting for the past four-and-a-half years. The 2011 figures for January through June were compiled by the Bureau's Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) [official website] in a preliminary semiannual report [text]. Violent crimes, which include murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault, dropped 6.4 percent in the first months of 2011 compared to the same time in 2010. Property crimes, including burglary, larceny theft and motor vehicle theft, dropped 3.7 percent and arson decreased 8.6 percent. The FBI report did not give any reason for the decrease in crimes nationwide, but the latest numbers provide further evidence of no crime spike coinciding with tough economic conditions [Reuters report] and high unemployment.

The FBI data is a compilation of more than 18,000 jurisdictions that voluntarily participate in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. The report for 2010 showed a decrease of 6.0 percent in violent crime and a decrease of 2.7 percent in property crime compared to 2009 statistics [JURIST reports]. The decrease in violent crime began after 2006 and 2005 statistics [JURIST reports] showed an increase of 1.3 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively. Property crime has decreased for its eighth consecutive year.




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North Korea urged to focus on human rights after Kim Jong-il death
Julia Zebley on December 19, 2011 1:01 PM ET

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[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) responded Monday to the death of North Korean [JURIST news archive] leader Kim Jong-il [BBC profile] by urging [statement] his son and likely successor Kim Jong-un [BBC profile] to improve the nation's human rights record. AI warned that reports indicate the exchange in power could forecast new repressions to "crush any possibility of dissent." Indeed, there are allegations that the government has "purged" any official opposed to Kim Jong-un's succession, by execution or labor camp internment. Not much is known about Kim Jong-un, who is 27 or 28 and Kim Jong-il's youngest son, except that he was recently appointed head of the National Defence Commission and will head his father's funeral committee. North Korean state media reported that Kim Jong-il died early Saturday morning:

Although images from the country center around a grief-stricken populace, AI and others have criticized Kim Jong-il's regime as damaging to the nation, citing that nearly a million people have died of food shortages since he took power in 1994. Kim Jong-il reportedly died of "great physical and mental strain" while "dedicating his life to his people." An autopsy revealed more specifically that the 69-year-old died of heart failure [KCNA report, in Korean]. There has been speculation that Kim Jong-il suffered a stroke several years ago, as well as a continuing struggle with diabetes, which it is alleged Kim Jong-un shares. A national mourning period has been declared until December 29. Reactions to Kim Jong-il's death have been varied [BBC report]. South Korea and Japan are on high alert for the possibility of a strike by North Korea in the wake of his passing, and Asian stock markets have fallen since the death of North Korea's "Dear Leader."

North Korea under Kim Jong-il was alleged to be one of the most notorious violators of human rights in the world [HRW report]. The UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights Marzuki Darusman criticized North Korea's human rights record last month, especially concerning treatment of prisoners [JURIST report], echoing a UN General Assembly [official website] resolution [text] earlier that week. North Korea has refused to admit agents of the UN to gather information and denies that labor camps exist. Last year, the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] confirmed that the prosecutor's office has opened preliminary examinations to evaluate possible war crimes committed by North Korea [JURIST report]. ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] verified that evaluations will determine if some of the incidents by North Korean forces in South Korea constitute war crimes, giving the ICC jurisdiction over the matter. Earlier in 2010, a UN committee condemned [JURIST report] what it called persistent, "grave violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights" of its own people. In March 2010, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] adopted a resolution condemning [JURIST report] North Korea for human rights abuses.




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ICTR upholds decision to transfer case of former pastor to Rwanda court
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 19, 2011 12:27 PM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] on Friday rejected an appeal by former Rwandan pastor Jean-Bosco Uwinkindi [case materials], upholding a decision to transfer his case to the Republic of Rwanda to be tried in the Rwandan national court system. The ICTR ordered the transfer [JURIST report] in June under Rule 11 bis, which authorizes the transfer of cases to appropriate national jurisdictions. This marked the first time the ICTR had transferred a case to the Rwandan court system. As a precautionary measure, the Referral Chamber requested that the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) [official website] be appointed to oversee the trial [UN News Centre report] and present any issues to the ICTR President as they arise.

Uwinkindi pleaded not guilty [press release] in July 2010 to charges of genocide and crimes against humanity relating to the 1994 Rwandan genocide [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Uwinkindi was indicted [indictment, PDF] by the ICTR in 2001 and has been charged with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity. The indictment alleges that Uwinkindi collaborated with the extremist National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND) party in order to kill Tutsis. He allegedly led a group of Hutus to look for and kill a group of Tutsi settlers and conspired with members of the militia to kill Tutsis who sought protection in the church where he was the pastor. According to the indictment, approximately 2,000 bodies were found near the church where the violence occurred. Uwinkindi had been one of the ICTR's most wanted suspects, with a $5 million reward being offered [BBC report] for information leading to his capture. He was apprehended [JURIST report] by Ugandan authorities and transferred to the ICTR in Arusha, Tanzania.




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ICC rejects prosecution request to block Rwanda rebel leader's release
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 19, 2011 10:00 AM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Monday rejected the prosecution's request that it suspend its order to release accused Rwandan rebel leader Callixte Mbarushimana [ICC materials]. Pre-Trial Chamber I on Friday declined to confirm charges [JURIST report], finding that there was insufficient evidence [decision, PDF], and ordered Mbarushimana's release. The prosecution immediately requested a stay of the release order [petition, PDF], arguing that Mbarushimana could continue committing crimes and that it might be difficult to rearrest him if the Pre-Trial Chamber's decision were reversed by the Appeals Chamber. The Pre-Trial Chamber rejected the prosecution's request Monday saying that only the Appeals Chamber could order Mbarushimana's continued detention.

Mbarushimana was ordered to stand trial [JURIST report] at The Hague by a French court in 2010. In 2008 he was arrested [JURIST report] in Germany trying flee to Russia. In 2005, the UN asked France [JURIST report] to bring charges against Mbarushimana, who was living with refugee status in the country. At the time the former prosecutor for the ICC said that it did not file charges because there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.




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