Jurist

Appeals court: military judge biased in 9-11 case

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled (PDF) Aug. 16 that Judge Scott Silliman should have recused himself in a case concerning multiple defendants who were charged with aiding in the 9-11 attacks. The petitioner, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, argued that Silliman was biased in the matter and cited a 2010 comment in which Silliman called Mohammad and his co-defendants the major conspirators in th attacks. The court found that because Silliman "expressed an opinion that Petitioner is guilty of the very crimes of which he is accused," he manifested an "apparent bias" and thus should have recused himself. The court granted the petition seeking recusal of Silliman and vacated a decision (PDF) by the US Court of Military Commission to reinstate charges for "attacking civilians and destroying property in violation of the law of war" against Mohammad and his co-defendants.

DRC militia leader turns himself in to UN forces

Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, the leader of a militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), turned himself in to UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) on July 26. The DRC took out a warrant for Sheka's arrest in 2011 after his forces allegedly raped at least 387 civilians during a four-day period in 2010. The militia is also accused of murdering 70 civilians between 2010 and 2015. The UN sanctioned Sheka in 2011 for war crimes, including mass rapes and crimes against children. MONUSCO said that Sheka surrendered near the town of Walikale, North Kivu province, and will be transferred to DRC authorities to eventually stand trial.

Argentina: ex-judges get life for crimes against humanity

A court in the Argentine province of Mendoza on July 26 sentenced four former federal judges to life in prison for crimes against humanity carried out during the country's 1976-1983 dictatorship. The judges were originally tried as accomplices for failure to investigate the abduction, torture and murder of dissenters. The prosecutors eventually charged the judges as principals, arguing that their "inaction on the petitions preceded the disappearance of more than 20 dissidents." The sentence has been applauded by several human rights groups, including the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, which has advocated for civilian perpetrators being brought to justice for their role during the dictatorship.

Egypt sentences anti-Mubarak protesters to life

An Egyptian court sentenced 43 individuals to life in prison July 25 for crimes of vandalism, rioting and attacking authorities. The acts for which the protesters were convicted took place in 2011, amid the outbreak of demonstrations against then-president Hosni Mubarak. The defendants were also fined a combined 17 million Egyptian pounds (approx. $1 million). Ten other protesters were handed down lesser sentences of five or 10 years, while 96 protesters were acquitted of their charges. The convicted parties may appeal their sentences.

Cambodia passes bill to stifle opposition

Cambodia's National Assembly on July 10 passed a bill which prohibits political parties from being affiliated with convicted criminals. Commentators believe the law is aimed at weakening the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). The CNRP's former leader, Sam Rainsy, recently resigned from the party after he was sentenced to two years in prison on defamation charges. As a result of the new law, Rainsy will no longer be able to be affiliated with the CNRP in any manner. The CNRP gained significant political strength in the 2013 Cambodian elections when the party took a total of 55 seats in the National Assembly, leading many to believe the defamation charges against Rainsy were politically motivated.

Amnesty accuses Cameroon of war crimes

Amnesty International in a report issued July 20 accused Cameroon of torturing suspected supporters of Boko Haram in its military campaign against the jihadist group. According to the human rights organization, hundreds of suspects have been "subjected to severe beatings, agonizing stress positions and drownings, with some tortured to death" at the hands of government authorities. Amnesty documented 101 cases of secret detention and torture within the last four years. Alioune Tine, Amnesty's regional director for West and Central Africa, said, "These horrific violations amount to war crimes." Amnesty also observed American and French military personnel at one of the bases while the detention and torture was taking place. The organization is calling for the US and France to investigate the extent of knowledge that their military personnel may have of war crimes in Cameroon.

Turkish court detains six human rights activists

A Turkish court on July 18 ordered that six human rights activists, including Amnesty International's Turkey director Idil Eser, remain in custody pending trial for allegedly aiding an armed terrorist group. The activists were arrested on July 5 during a training workshop and are "suspected of 'committing crime in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member.'" According to AI:

Millions of Venezuelans reject constitution rewrite

Millions of Venezuelans voted on July 16 to reject President Nicolás Maduro's plan to rewrite the nation's constitution. The non-binding referendum was organized  by the country's political opposition. More than 7 million, roughly one-third of Venezuela's registered voters, took part, with over 98% rejecting Maduro's plan. Opponents charge that the plan to rewrite the 1999 constitution represents an effort to consolidate Maduro's hold on power. Maduro states that the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), consisting of 527 elected members, is the only solution to bring an end to the anti-government protests that have brought significant violence to the country. The non-binding was met with sporadic violence; several men on motorbikes opened fire on a polling station in Caracas, injuring three and killing a 61-year-old nurse. The government has refused to recognize the vote as legal and will go forward with plans to hold an election for the ANC on July 30 to select delegates for a special assembly that will be responsible for rewriting the 18-year-old constitution.

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