Jurist

Ethiopia charges journalists with terrorism

An Ethiopian court on July 18 charged nine journalists with terrorism and inciting violence under Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law (PDF). The journalists, including six bloggers, were arrested in April and have been prevented from accessing their families or legal counsel since their arrests. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), since the implementation of the anti-terrorism law in 2009, Ethiopian authorities have used it as a tool to limit journalism critical of the government. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has repeatedly called upon the Ethiopian government to repeal the law, alleging that the government stifles the establishment of new media publications.

Bahrain files suit to suspend opposition group

Bahrain's Ministry of Justice on July 20 filed a lawsuit seeking to suspend all activities of the main Shi'ite opposition group for three months. The move comes after leaders of the Al-Wefaq party were charged recently with holding an illegal meeting with a US diplomat from the State Department. The lawsuit, however, does not mention the meeting, but rather seeks to suspend the party for violating quorum and transparency requirements. Al-Wefaq leader Ali Salman said his party plans to challenge the move.

Netherlands found liable in Srebrenica massacre

The District Court of The Hague ruled July 16 that the government of the Netherlands is liable for the deaths of 300 of the men and boys killed in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. The lawsuit was brought against the Dutch government in April by Mothers of Srebrenica, a group representing mothers and widows of men killed during the massacre. The court found that the UN-backed Dutch troops failed to adequately protect the Bosniaks at the UN compound in Potocari, which was overrun by Bosnian Serbs in July 1995. The court did not hold the Netherlands liable for the deaths of the majority of the men killed in Srebrenica, as most had fled the UN compound and were apprehended in the surrounding woods.

Guantánamo nurse refuses to force-feed detainees

A nurse at the Guantánamo detention center has refused to participate in the force-feeding of hunger-striking inmates, UK human rights group Reprieve reported July 15. Word of the unidentified nurse's refusal came via a phone call from detainee Abu Wael Dhiab to his lawyer at Reprieve and was confirmed to the Miami Herald by a Department of Defense (DoD) spokesperson, who declined to provide further details. According to Reprieve, this is the first instance of a conscientious objecting to the force-feeding of prisoners since a mass hunger strike began last year. As for the nurse, the DoD spokesperson said "the matter is now in the hands of the individual's leadership."

Convictions of ex-Qaeda media director overturned

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on July 14 overturned two out of three convictions of Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al-Bahlul (HRW profile), the media secretary of Osama Bin Laden. The court vacated Bahlul's convictions for providing material support for terrorism and solicitation of others to commit war crimes but did not overturn his conviction for conspiracy to commit terrorism, remanding that issue to the Court of Military Commission Review (CMCR). A three-judge panel of the appeals court had ruled last year that the military tribunal that convicted Bahlul of conspiracy in 2007 erred because a Guantánamo prisoner could not be convicted of conspiracy unless his crime took place after 2006. The court explained that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) of 2006 codified conspiracy as a war crime, but did not apply to crimes committed before the MCA was passed. The en banc court disagreed, ruling "that the 2006 MCA is unambiguous in its intent to authorize retroactive prosecution for the crimes enumerated in the statute—regardless of their pre-existing law-of-war status." Nonetheless, the court vacated the other two convictions, concluding that trying Bahlul by military commission for providing material support was "a plain ex post facto violation," and that "solicitation of others to commit war crimes is plainly not an offense traditionally triable by military commission." The new ruling could result in a reduction of Bahlul's life sentence.

Egypt overturns ban on Mubarak party members

The Cairo Court for Urgent Matters on July 14 overturned a May decision that banned former leaders of the National Democratic Party (NDP) from running in the country's parliamentary elections. An Urgent Matters Court in May accused  the now-dissolved NDP of overseeing corrupt governments, stating that allowing a political return for the former ruling party would bring danger to Egypt. The NDP was disbanded and ordered to liquidate its assets by the Supreme Administrative Court in April 2011, following longtime president and NDP party chairman Hosni Mubarak's fall from power. Many party leaders formed new parties or attached themselves to existing ones. Although the committee that drafted the country's new constitution in 2012 attempted to include an article that would ban NDP leaders from participating in politics for 10 years, the article was dropped after former president Mohammed Morsi was ousted (and another new constitution approved). In its decision, the appeals court said that the lower court lacked the proper jurisdiction to rule on the matter, the plaintiff had failed to present any evidence of corruption that incriminated the leaders, and the prior ruling violated the leaders' constitutional right to political participation. 

Afghanistan: ground combat tops civilian casualties

Ground combat engagements have surpassed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as the most common cause of conflict-related civilian deaths and injuries in Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported (PDF) July 9. The report states that in the first six months of 2014, 1,901 civilian casualties, including 474 deaths, were attributed to ground engagements, accounting for 39% of all civilian deaths and injuries in that period. IEDs, previously the most common cause of civilian injuries, caused 1,463 civilian casualties in the same period. "The fight is increasingly taking place in communities, public places and near the homes of ordinary Afghans," said director of human rights for UNAMA, Georgette Gagnon. "More efforts are needed to protect civilians from the harms of conflict and to ensure accountability for those deliberately and indiscriminately killing them." The report laid out an action plan for "Afghan Government Forces" and "International Military Forces" as well as "Anti-Government Elements" to reduce civilian casualties.

Gitmo detainees file motion for religious freedom

Lawyers for Guantánamo Bay detainees on July 2 filed an emergency application (PDF) in the US District Court for the District of Columbia  for a temporary restraining order prohibiting the government from depriving the inmates of the right to pray communally during the month of Ramadan. Lawyers for petitioner Imad Abdullah Hassan have already applied (PDF) for a preliminary injunction, now pending, that alleges that prohibiting the detainees from prayer violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The emergency application was filed following the US Supreme Court's recent decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Hassan argues that the decision in Hobby Lobby, which held that for-profit corporations can deny coverage of contraception costs because of their religious beliefs, overrules the district court's prior decision in Rasul v. Myers. In that case the court held that the Guantánamo Bay detainees are not protected "persons" within the meaning of the RFRA. Thus, the motion argues that "a nonresident alien Guantanamo Bay detainee, who inarguably has constitutional rights in what is de facto sovereign US territory...must also enjoy the protections extended by the RFRA."

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