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Legal news from Sunday, December 25, 2011




Bulgaria to ratify UN disabilities treaty
Sung Un Kim on December 25, 2011 4:21 PM ET

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[JURIST] Bulgaria will ratify [Novinite report] the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities [text] at the beginning of 2012, a member of the Bulgarian parliament [official website] announced on Sunday. According to Svetlana Angelova [official profile] this ratification will result in several legislation amendments that will ensure that Bulgarian citizens with disabilities are treated as equal citizens and minimize discrimination against them in the area of education, healthcare and environment. Bulgaria was one of the few states that has failed to ratify the UN document and has been criticized for its treatment of disabled people, especially those with mental disabilities. The nation has a pending case in the European Courts of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website], Stanev v. Bulgaria [press release, PDF], contesting the living conditions of state-run facilities for disabled people, as well as a lack of rights for challenging diagnoses and placement. The plaintiff, Roussi Stanev, was interred in a social care home after members of his family requested he be put under state care. Stanev argued before the ECHR that, under current Bulgarian law, it was impossible for him to have his legal capacity restored or rexamined. Angelova guaranteed that after signing the treaty, all laws in Bulgaria will be amended to come into compliance, including the penal code.

The United States signed [press release; JURIST report] the treaty in July of 2009 after US President Barack Obama announced [JURIST report] during a celebration commemorating the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 [DOJ materials] that the US would sign the convention. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities entered into force [JURIST report] in May of 2008 for the purpose of protecting the 650 million persons living with disabilities worldwide [UN fact sheet] from being discriminated due to their disabilities. The treaty has been signed by 142 members and ratified by 62 after it was opened for signature [JURIST report] in March of 2007. The convention was adopted [JURIST report] by the UN General Assembly in December of 2006 and was hailed as the "first human rights treaty to be adopted in the twenty-first century; the most rapidly negotiated human rights treaty in the history of international law; and the first to emerge from lobbying conducted extensively through the Internet" by then, Secretary-General Kofi Annan.




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Iran rejects allegations of 9/11 involvement after US judgment implicates them
Sung Un Kim on December 25, 2011 3:34 PM ET

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[JURIST] Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast [official profile] denied [IRNA report, in Persian] that Iran was actively involved [press release] in the 9/11 [JURIST news archive] attacks after allegations in Thursday's default judgment [text, PDF; findings of facts and conclusions, PDF] in Havlish v. Bin Laden [materials]. A Southern District of New York [official website] judge granted the plaintiffs' motion for judgment against Iran, its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Kharmenei, former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani [BBC profiles] and several other sovereign defendants holding that they are liable under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA) [text] for knowingly aiding al Qaeda [JURIST news archive] through Hezbollah [BBC profile] in the 9/11 attack. The findings of facts concluded that Iran "provid[ed] safe haven to al Qaeda leaders and operatives, keeping them safe from retaliation by US forces" and "facilitat[ed] the travel of eight to ten of the 9/11 hijackers to Iran or Beirut immediately after their acquisition of their US visas." Mehmanparast stated that the allegations were unfounded and without merit: "The United States has made repeated false claims about its illegitimate political goals to endanger international peace and security."

The affidavits that were the foundation of the recent judgment filed [JURIST report] in May by relatives of 9/11 victims. The initial suit, Havlish v. Bin Laden was filed in 2002 after previous unsuccessful attempts to indict other nations in the 9/11 attacks through litigation. Two years ago, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] dismissed [JURIST report] a lawsuit initiated by survivors of the 9/11 attacks against Saudi Arabia and its four princes holding that there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the princes intended the money they donated to be used for al Qaeda attacks. In addition, the court held that they were protected from prosecution under the FSIA. A similar ruling took place in 2005, when the US District Judge Richard Casey dismissed [JURIST report] Saudi Arabia, its defense minister and its ambassador to the UK as defendants in a 9/11 litigation due to their immunity from prosecution under the same act.




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24 AGs file brief supporting FDA in tobacco label suit
Max Slater on December 25, 2011 1:24 PM ET

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[JURIST] A group of Attorneys General representing 24 US states and territories filed an amicus brief with the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday arguing that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] can require cigarette packages to display graphic images of the dangers of smoking. The AGs believe that the government's duty to inform the public of the risks that tobacco poses should trump tobacco companies' free speech rights, saying that the government could require graphic labels for lethal and addictive products. The brief also claimed that current warnings on cigarette packages were inadequate in curbing tobacco use and more explicit labels, which include depictions [AP report] of a sewn-up corpse of a smoker and a picture of diseased lungs, would better protect the public. The brief is in support of the FDA appeal [JURIST report] of a district court decision banning the labels. In November, the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] blocked [JURIST report] the implementation of new requirements [FDA backgrounder], which mandated that all cigarettes would have graphic warnings detailing the dangers of tobacco use. The brief was filed by Attorneys General from Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, the Virgin Islands, Washington and West Virginia. No date has been set for the appeal trial.

Tobacco warning labels have garnered a great deal of controversy recently, both in the US and abroad. Three weeks ago, JURIST guest columnist Allyn Taylor warned [JURIST comment] that nations' recent efforts to regulate cigarette labeling could trigger a series of successful tobacco industry lawsuits. Earlier this month, two tobacco companies challenged [JURIST report] Australia's Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill [text], which requires depictions on cigarette boxes of the negative effects of smoking. In late November, Philip Morris Asia Ltd. [corporate website] filed suit on behalf of its Australian affiliate [JURIST report], seeking compensation for its loss of Australian investments. In 2009, President Barack Obama [official website] signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA) [HR 1256 text; JURIST report] into law, granting the FDA certain authority to regulate manufactured tobacco products. The legislation heightened warning-label requirements, prohibited marketing "light cigarettes" as a healthier alternative and allowed for the regulation of cigarette ingredients.




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UN condemns escalating Syria violence
Max Slater on December 25, 2011 11:47 AM ET

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[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website; JURIST news archive] issued a statement [press release] on Friday, chastising both the government of President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile] and violent protesters regarding the continuous bloodshed in Syria. Approximately 44 people [Al Jazeera report] were killed Friday in two suicide car bomb attacks in Damascus. The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) [official website] has since linked the attacks to anti-government protests, while protesters and their supporters have suggested that the state planted attacks to coincide with an Arab League [official website, in Arabic] visit. Ban's press release pleaded that both groups resist violence: "The Secretary-General is gravely concerned at the escalating violence in Syria. Today's explosions in Damascus, which resulted in more deaths and injuries, underscore his growing concerns. He emphasizes that all violence is unacceptable and must stop immediately." The UN Security Council [official website] echoed the Ban's sentiments the same day, declaring [UN News Centre report] that the recent car bombings were acts of terrorism. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] reports that over 5,000 people have died since anti-government protests began in March.

The growing violence in Syria has drawn copious international attention recently. In his annual Christmas message on Sunday, the Pope called for an end to bloodshed in Syria [BBC report]. Last week, the UN Security Council extended [resolution] the term of its observer force monitoring a ceasefire between Syria and Israel until the end of June 2012. Two weeks ago, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] accused [JURIST report] Syrian army commanders of ordering troops to attack unarmed protesters in an effort to quash public demonstrations entirely. Both HRW and the UN OHCHR urged [JURIST report] the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. Earlier this month, The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] adopted a resolution [JURIST report] condemning the recent uptick in Syrian bloodshed.




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