Jurist

Guatemala: president resigns under scandal probe

Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina sent a letter to both the country's congress and reporters early Aug. 3 announcing his resignation and his intention to "stand before justice." The congress had called an emergency session to meet that day to accept the letter of resignation. Several hours before resigning, the public prosecutor requested Pérez Molina's arrest on corruption charges and a trial judge ordered his arrest. Pérez Molina and 30 other government officials allegedly took millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for keeping low import duties. Vice President Alejandro Maldonado has assumed the presidency, and must compile a list of three names for consideration for vice president, to be chosen by congress. Maldonado replaced vice president Roxana Baldetti, who was arrested in August on corruption charges. Eight other government officials have already resigned over the allegations. Pérez Molina's resignation comes only three days before the Guatemalan general election.

Trial of Congo war crimes suspect begins at ICC

The trial of Bosco Ntaganda (BBC profile), a former Congolese rebel leader also known as "The Terminator," began at the International Criminal Court (ICC) Sept. 2. The rebel leader has pleaded innocent to the 18 charges levied against him, including rape, murder, recruitment of child soldiers and sexual slavery of civilians. He has been accused of killing at least 800 civilians between the years of 2002 and 2003 and keeping girl soldiers as sex slaves. The trial is expected to last for a few months with the anticipation that approximately 80 witness will be called. He faces a maximum life sentence if convicted.

China arrests 12 in Tianjin explosion

Chinese authorities arrested 12 individuals Aug. 27 for illegally storing dangerous materials that led to the Tianjin warehouse explosions, which killed at least 139. Those arrested include Yu Xuewei, chairman of Tianjin International Ruihai Logistics Co Ltd, and Zeng Fanqiang, an employee with a safety firm. The Chinese Ministry of Public Security alleged that the safety firm illegally allowed warehouse owner Tianjin Ruihai to pass safety evaluations and obtain hazardous materials without actually meeting the safety requirements. Eleven other officials are under investigation for alleged neglect of duty and abuse of power relating to the explosion of 700 tons of sodium cyanide and other chemicals.

Guatemala: ex-dictator can be tried —not sentenced

A Guatemalan court on Aug. 26 held that former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt can stand trial for genocide and crimes against humanity but cannot be sentenced because he suffers from dementia. The court held that a special closed trial can be held where all evidence and witness testimony will be presented with representative of Ríos Montt present. Ríos Montt's lawyers have an opportunity to appeal. This ruling comes after a Guatemalan court, earlier this month, ordered Rios Montt to undergo competency tests to determine whether he was fit to stand trial. In May the Guatemalan Congress approved a resolution denying any existence of genocide during the country's civil war.

Mauritania pressed on anti-slavery law

An independent UN human rights expert on Aug. 21 commended Mauritania for adopting a new law that establishes harsher sentences for slavery crimes, urging full implementation. The law adopted last week by the Mauritanian National Assembly doubles prison terms for slavery convictions, declared slavery a crime against humanity, and created tribunals to handle slavery prosecution cases. UN Special Rapporteur Urmila Bhoola said that the law is an important step on a road map toward eradicating slavery but insisted that "slavery and slavery-like practices can be eradicated only if the existing laws, policies and programs are implemented fully and effectively. This statement comes just one day after a court in Mauritania upheld  a two-year prison sentence for Biram Dah Abeid, an anti-slavery activist convicted of inciting trouble and belonging to an unrecognized organization.

US eases oil export ban

The US Department of Commerce on Aug. 14 agreed to allow limited crude oil trading with Mexico, easing a ban on crude exports that has been in place for 40 years. Members of the US Congress were informed by the Department of Commerce that it plans to approve an application by Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Mexico's state-run oil company, to trade heavy oil pumped in Mexico for light crude pumped in the US. Despite applications from some dozen other countries, which were denied, Canada is the only other nation currently exempt from the ban. Unlike in the agreement with Mexico, Canada is not required to export similar crude quantities to the US. An end to the ban has been called for by both members of Congress and oil producers, including Exxon Mobil Corp.

Afghanistan: rise in women and children casualties

The UN on Aug. 5 said that a new report (PDF) shows a significant increase in the number of women and children being hurt or killed in Afghanistan's war with the Taliban and other insurgents. The number of total casualties in the conflict rose by approximately one percent in the first half of this year, but the number of women casualties has risen by 23% and the number of child casualties has risen by 13%. The director of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Danielle Bell, stated that she believes the increase in casualties is due to ground fighting, and attributed 70% of the deaths to insurgents. Out of the over 4,900 civilian casualties in the first half of 2015, there have been 559 women casualties (164 deaths and 395 injuries) and 1,270 child casualties (320 deaths and 950 injuries).

Russia files revised bid for arctic territory

Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Aug. 4 announced they have submitted a revised bid claiming over 350 nautical miles of Arctic sea shelf to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). The country's previous bids in 2001 were rejected for lack of evidence. Under Article 76 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (PDF), Russia now argues it has a right to extend its control up to 350 nautical miles. Canada, Norway, Denmark and the US are also attempting to claim territories in the Arctic. The sea shelf is believed to hold a large amount of oil and gas which Russia estimates could be worth up to $30 trillion.

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