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Legal news from Monday, February 20, 2012




UN SG welcomes Somalia constitutional conference agreement
Jamie Davis on February 20, 2012 2:10 PM ET

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[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] on Sunday applauded the Somali parties [statement] who have reached a "crucial political agreement" on Friday at the Garowe II Constitutional Conference [Garowe Online report]. According to Ban, the agreement provides the steps that Somalia [DOS backgrounder] must take in order to go about "ending the transition and putting in place a constitutional order in a new federal Somalia." The agreement also includes a provision that requires a minimum of 30 percent women to be included in the Independent Electoral Commission, the Constituent Assembly and the new Federal Parliament. Also known as the Garowe II Principles, the agreement was signed by six high-ranking diplomats including president of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) [CFR backgrounder] Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Gaas. The conference, which opened last Wednesday, was planned as an attempt to organize Somalia's most prominent diplomats in order to discuss the country's federal constitution, which has yet to be implemented. The conference came to a close on Friday.

The Garowe II Conference is one of the many steps the TFG has taken in order to create a functioning federal government in Somalia since the end of the Muhammad Siad Barre [Britannica profile] dictatorship in 1991. The plan for the new government developed at the conference is designed to replace the TFG [BBC report] and put in place a stable, more permanent government. There is skepticism among many observers as to whether this agreement will be implemented because Somalia has been involved in multiple agreements throughout the past few years. Details in the plan that need further development are expected to be worked out at the Somali conference in London, set to begin Thursday. Due to the lack of organized government in Somalia, maritime piracy has recently been a major issue. In November, France began the trial of six Somali pirates [JURIST report] on charges of hijacking, kidnapping and armed robbery in connection with a 2008 attack on a yacht. In October, two Somali pirates were sentenced to life in prison [JURIST report] by a judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.




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Latvia voters reject referendum to add Russian as official language
Jamie Reese on February 20, 2012 1:06 PM ET

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[JURIST] Latvian voters on Saturday rejected Russian [press release] as a second official state language in Latvia [official website]. Preliminary results from the national referendum show that 74.8 percent of voters rejected adding the Russian language with only 24.88 percent in favor of having two state languages. The percentage split of domestic votes also represents approximately the decision of those citizens abroad in foreign countries. The referendum vote had the highest national voter turnout since 1991 (when Latvia regained its independence) with 70.73 percentof eligible voters casting a ballot. There are approximately 300,000 non-citizens in Latvia [AP report]. This is because under current law anyone who moved to Latvia during the Soviet occupation after WWII must pass the Latvian language exam to gain citizenship. The hope of the referendum, even though failed, is that it will draw attention to the nation's minority who have not received the right to vote or work in government and to encourage dialogue between the government and national minorities.

In 2008, Latvian voters rejected a referendum [JURIST report] to amend the country's constitution that would have given voters the power to dissolve the country's parliament, even though some voters remained discontented with the government and say that the Latvian MPs do not act in accordance with voter's wishes. Latvia was formally part of the Soviet Union, but joined NATO in April 2004. A month later the country officially entered the EU. The Latvian parliament has since adopted [JURIST report] the new EU reform treaty [JURIST news archive], properly known as the Treaty of Lisbon [text, PDF; official website].




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Chief Guantanamo judge protects confidentiality of attorney-client mail
Andrea Bottorff on February 20, 2012 11:26 AM ET

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[JURIST] A chief US military tribunal judge has ruled that the content of attorney-client mail inspected at the Guantanamo Bay prison is confidential and may not be released. Judge James Pohl made the decision earlier this month in the case of suspected USS Cole [JURIST news archive] bomber Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri [NYT profile; JURIST news archive], but the decision may also apply in other cases, including the cases of detainees accused of involvement in the 9/11 terror attacks [JURIST backgrounder]. Although the document has not been released by the Pentagon, al-Nashiri's lawyer described the decision to AFP, saying that mail inspectors are "greatly restricted" [AFP report] in sharing "anything they learned with anyone other than the judge." Pohl ruled on motions protesting a new policy [text, PDF] that allows members of a privileged review team to conduct a "plain-view review" of written communications [DOD press release] not marked as protected attorney-client information to ensure the correspondence does not contain physical or information contraband, such as maps of the detention facility. Guantanamo Navy Rear Admiral David Woods [official profile] defended the policy [JURIST report] last month at the opening day of al-Nashiri's pretrial hearings, testifying that it balances his responsibilities to facilitate attorney-client communication while also ensuring security, safety, guard protection and good order at the facility.

Lawyers for Guantanamo detainees have previously raised concerns with practices used at the prison. Earlier this month, James Connell, defense lawyer for suspected 9/11 conspirator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, filed suit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] challenging the order [JURIST report] for military officials to read all legal correspondence between the lawyers of the suspected 9/11 conspirators and their clients. Last month, Chief Defense Counsel for Guantanamo Bay war crimes tribunals, Colonel JP Colwel, ordered [JURIST report] attorneys under his command not to comply with the policy. Woods issued the rules [JURIST report] in December. Lawyers for the prisoners responded with a written memo stating that they did not agree to the rule because it violates attorney-client privilege and would erode their clients' right to counsel that is afforded by the US Constitution [text].




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Israel Supreme Court to hear prisoner hunger strike case
Sarah Posner on February 20, 2012 10:21 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Israeli Supreme Court [official website] announced Monday that it will hear the hunger strike case of Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan, despite a military judge rejecting his appeal in early February. Since his December arrest in the West Bank, Adnan has refused food [AP report]. This hunger strike has been carried on to protest Israel's policy of detaining Palestinian prisoners without bringing formal charges, presenting evidence, and without a trial. The spokeswoman for the Israeli Court released this information on the condition of remaining anonymous. Adnan's strike marks the longest lasting hunger strike by a Palestinian detainee in history. Doctors warn that Adnan may not survive long enough to stand trial.

Israel has recently faced criticism for the country's policy toward Palestinians. Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged Israel [JURIST report] to change its policies that forbid Palestinians from traveling through and living in Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli Supreme Court upheld [JURIST report] a law that prevents Palestinians who marry Israelis from obtaining Israeli citizenship. With its ruling the court again rejected the petition filed by Adalah [advocacy website], a civil rights group in Israel, arguing that the law is unconstitutional.




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Myanmar monk faces new criminal charges after government amnesty
Andrea Bottorff on February 20, 2012 10:02 AM ET

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[JURIST] Myanmar police on Sunday charged a rebel Buddhist monk for occupying a government-closed monastery, only a month after he was given amnesty and released from prison [JURIST report]. Shin Gambira, who was among 130 political prisoners freed last month following a presidential pardon, is accused of living in and rebuilding the Meggin Monastery [advocacy report] in Rangoon. The monastery was destroyed and closed by government forces after the 2007 Saffron Revolution [Independent, backgrounder], a peaceful pro-democracy movement led by Gambira and other Buddhist monks. Since the pardoning of his 68-year sentence for leading the revolt, Gambira has criticized senior monks [Mizzima report] of a state-appointed Buddhist organization, the Sangha Nayaka Committee (SNC), for failing to fight for the release of other monks arrested following the 2007 demonstrations. The senior SNC monks have called for the government to take legal measures against Gambira for his political actions and alleged violations of the Buddhist code. Police arrested Gambira on February 10 and released him the same day after facing international criticism. A leader of the All Burma Monks' Alliance [website], Gambira has questioned the sincerity of recent government reforms in the country.

Myanmar's nominally civilian government has implemented numerous political reforms since winning the first elections held in 20 years in March 2011. Last month, in addition to releasing political prisoners, Myanmar President Thein Sein [BBC backgrounder] signed a clemency order that shortened sentences [JURIST report] for many prisoners on humanitarian grounds. In December, Sein gave his official approval to a bill allowing the country's citizens to conduct peaceful protests [JURIST report], if the protests are approved in advance. The Myanmar government also announced in December that the political party of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi [JURIST news archive] would be allowed to register for the next elections, a move that would allow Suu Kyi to run for parliament after being detained under house arrest [JURIST reports] for nearly eight years. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] has praised [JURIST report] the country's strive toward democracy.




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UK court rules for Sony in Pirate Bay copyright infringement case
Sarah Posner on February 20, 2012 9:44 AM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the UK High Court ruled [judgment] Monday for the British unit of Sony Corporation [corporate website] and eight other record labels on their copyright infringement claim against the Swedish file-sharing website The Pirate Bay [website]. Judge Richard Arnold ruled that the operators of The Pirate Bay planned to infringe the copyright [Bloomberg report] of Sony and other recording labels and led the users of their website to do the same. Although The Pirate Bay was not a defendant in the suit, nor were the operators of the website, the plaintiff record labels can obtain a court order that would force Internet service providers to block access to the website. The Pirate Bay is a file-sharing website that allows users to download music and films. The website has been charged with both criminal and civil violations in other countries, including Sweden.

Earlier this month the Swedish Supreme Court announced that it will not hear an appeal [JURIST report] of the copyright convictions of Fredrik Neji, Peter Sunde and Carl Lundstroem for their involvement in running The Pirate Bay. After reviewing the case, the court found there were no special circumstances warranting review. The court could also have decided to hear the case if it determined a review by Sweden's highest court would be important for the country's law enforcement, but it declined to hear the appeal on those ground as well. The court's decision not to hear the appeal immediately prompted response from critics. The founder of the Pirate Party [party website in Swedish], a political party in Sweden, expressed concern [press release in Swedish] over the court's decision not to hear the case calling it a "fundamentally important" case that, if decided by the high court, would help to sort out future cases.




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