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Legal news from Sunday, February 26, 2012

Egypt court adjourns trial of NGO employees until April
Jaimie Cremeans on February 26, 2012 3:00 PM ET

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[JURIST] A Cairo Criminal Court judge on Sunday adjourned the trial of 43 non-governmental organization (NGO) employees, including 16 Americans and 27 other foreigners, until April following the first day of the trial. Employees of the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House [advocacy websites] are being charged with promoting democracy in the country without proper licenses and using illegally received foreign funding. On the first day of trial, only 14 of the 43 defendants were present, even though it was compulsory that they appear under Egyptian law. None of the defendants from America or Europe was present. In an interview [text] Sunday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official website] said the US is "working with the highest levels of the existing Egyptian authorities and ... hoping to get this resolved." The delay [Egypt Independent report] may give the countries involved an opportunity to come to a nonjudicial resolution before the trial starts again.

The employees were charged earlier this month [JURIST report] after being investigated by Egyptian officials. Investigation into the American workers caused Clinton to threaten to withhold [CNS report] Egypt's annual $1.3 billion military earlier this month. Weeks later, however, President Barack Obama nevertheless made a proposal to Congress to supply the aid [Al Arabiya report] for fiscal year 2013. Egypt's investigations of NGOs has caused growing strains on US-Egypt relations since January, when the government denied cracking down on NGOs after raiding the NGOs [JURIST reports] in December.

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Former Yugoslavia municipal officer sentenced to 2 months for refusing to testify
Matthew Pomy on February 26, 2012 11:36 AM ET

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[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website; JURIST news archive] on Friday sentenced [judgment summary, PDF] former president of the municipality of Sokolac, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milan Tupajic [ICTY case summary, PDF], to two months in prison on two counts of contempt for refusing to testify against Radovan Karadzic [ICTY case summary, PDF], founding member of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) who is being tried for several war crimes including genocide. Tupajic claimed that he was unable to testify because of his health, among other reasons, but the court rejected that idea, saying:
The Chamber reviewed the documents the Accused submitted in support of his health concerns but considers that his health concerns do not constitute a just excuse for his failure to comply with the orders as contained in the subpoenas. At trial, in private session, the Accused submitted evidence in relation to other reasons for refusing to appear before the Chamber. The Chamber examined these reasons and considers that they do not constitute a just excuse under Rule 77 (A)(iii) [text, PDF] of the Rules.
The judgement ended the trial of Tupajic who will be credited with time served against his two-month sentence.

The sentencing comes just days after the court was accused by former Commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, Ratko Mladic [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], of being biased [JURIST report]. Last month, the ICTY accepted a plea deal [JURIST report], convicting Jelena Rasic, the case manager for Bosnian war criminal Milan Lukic, on five counts of contempt for procuring false witness statements. In December, the ICTY convicted former Yugoslav intelligence officer Dragomir Pecanac of contempt [JURIST report] for failing to testify before the tribunal. Earlier that month, ICTY with International Criminal Tribune for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website; JURIST news archive] reported [JURIST report] to the UN Security Council [official website] their progress in tracking and arresting fugitives for the tribunals' mandates.

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Syria holds constitutional referendum
Matthew Pomy on February 26, 2012 10:07 AM ET

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[JURIST] Syria held a referendum Sunday to vote on a new constitution [text]. The gesture towards the opposition by President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] has widely been seen as an empty one, with much of the international community calling it a "sham" [AP report]. The vote comes just one day after reportedly 89 people were killed in Homs, the center of the opposition. The proposed constitution will impose term limits on the president as well as provide for a multi-party system. However, the term limits will theoretically begin once the constitution passes, meaning Assad's previous time in office will not be counted against the term limits. The preamble describes the proposed constitution as:
[A] system of fundamental principles that enshrines independence, sovereignty and the rule of the people based on election, political and party pluralism and the protection of national unity, cultural diversity, public freedoms, human rights, social justice, equality, equal opportunities, citizenship and the rule of law, where the society and the citizen are the objective and purpose for which every national effort is dedicated.
The new constitution also provides for freedom of speech, press, assembly and association in Articles 42 through 45, which some see as a step in the right direction.

The referendum is an attempt to calm 11 months of protests [JURIST news archive] and general opposition to the Assad regime. Activists estimate that more than 7,500 people have died since Assad began cracking down on protesters. The UN General Assembly [official website] voted earlier this month to condemn Syria through a non-binding resolution [JURIST report]. The resolution supported a plan [text, PDF, in Arabic] advanced by the Arab League [official website] that aims to bring the situation in the country to a close as quickly as possible by encouraging Assad to step down. The same day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] called on Syria to end to violence against civilians and possible crimes against humanity [JURIST report]. Earlier that week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] called for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria [JURIST report] to the International Criminal Court [official website].

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