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UN SG Ban concerned over stalled Hariri tribunal
Legal World News | 2007/01/18 14:54

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday that he is concerned about the status of ongoing discussions between the UN and Lebanon on the proposed UN-supported international tribunal to try suspects accused of assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. Ban said:

It is important that the Security Council has decided to establish a special tribunal. The United Nations has concluded agreement with the Lebanese Government. It is a source of concern for me, as Secretary-General, that we are not being able to establish a special tribunal, as was mandated by the Security Council. At the same time, I was encouraged by the willingness of the Lebanese Government to work together for the establishment of a special tribunal, including President Lahoud and Speaker of the Parliament Berri. I will discuss again this matter with the Lebanese leaders when I meet them in Paris.

The Lebanese cabinet approved a draft plan for the tribunal in November despite the resignation of all six pro-Syrian members. In December, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud formally refused to endorse the document, calling on the cabinet to take up the proposal again "when there is a legitimate and constitutional government."

The measure has been approved by the UN but requires backing by both Lahoud and the Lebanese parliament before the tribunal can said to have been formally accepted. 

Iraqi leaders agree on draft oil law
Legal World News | 2007/01/18 13:18
Iraqi officials have agreed a final draft of a law that sets rules for sharing Iraq’s oil wealth and aims to bring in billions of dollars of foreign investment to rebuild the mainstay of the economy.

But crucially, international oil firms waiting for access to the world’s third biggest oil reserves will find little detail in the draft about the form future deals will take. They are likely to hold off major commitments until there is clarity. The draft calls for a federal committee headed by the prime minister to oversee future contracts and review deals signed under Saddam Hussein or by the Kurdish regional government, oil ministry spokesman Asim Jihad said.

Passing an oil law to help settle potentially explosive disputes among Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian communities over the division of oil reserves has been a key demand of the United States in providing further military support to the government.

Iraq’s Oil Committee of senior national and regional leaders has been drawing and redrawing the document for months and missed its own deadline of finalising it by the end of 2006.

The Oil Committee, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, will send the draft to cabinet next week for approval. After that it will go to parliament. Officials hope that the broad base of the negotiating team means it will pass easily. The final draft was in line with earlier versions described last month after a previous round of talks.

A national oil company will be set up to develop production and exports and the law is intended to ensure development of the oil industry across Iraq’s regions, Jihad said. It establishes a mechanism for centralising oil revenues and distributing them to the regions. Jihad refused to say who will negotiate with the international firms but explained a federal council will have the final word on approving the contracts.

The division of oil is a key factor in communal tensions in Iraq. The southern oil fields around Basra lie in territory controlled by competing factions of the dominant Shi’ite Islamist political forces, The northern fields lie on the edge of Iraqi Kurdistan around the city of Kirkuk. Kurds want to annexe the city as their regional capital. The Sunni minority is concentrated in Baghdad and regions immediately to the north and west where there are few known hydrocarbon reserves.

Terror watch list to be culled: TSA official
Legal Career News | 2007/01/18 09:52

The "no-fly" terrorist watch list now used by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is being redrafted and will likely be cut in half, according to testimony given by TSA Administrator Kip Hawley during a Thursday Senate Commerce Committee  hearing. Hawley said that "To assure the accuracy of the No-Fly list itself, we will shortly conclude a case by case review of every name on the No-Fly list" and that the TSA Secure Flight Program, scheduled to come into effect in 2008, will replace current watch list efforts. The Secure Flight Program will transfer the responsibility of checking passenger information against the watch list from the aircraft operator to the TSA itself. Hawley also testified that a 100 percent requirement for physically inspecting all air cargo, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission and passed by the House of Representatives last week, may not be as effective as other security measures.

In October, the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) reported that erroneous terrorism watch lists slow travel, and a July study by the Department of Homeland Security suggested that the watch list system was inefficient. The US Department of Justice reported last year that the list was missing some names, was based on incomplete and inaccurate information, and mischaracterized the danger posed by nearly 32,000 suspects who are not designated as targets of significant security action.

Bush backing off no-warrant spying
Law & Politics | 2007/01/18 06:35

The Bush administration changed course and agreed Wednesday to let a secret but independent panel of federal judges oversee the government's controversial domestic spying program.

Officials say the secret court has already approved at least one request for monitoring.

The shift will probably end a court fight over whether the warrantless surveillance program was legal.

The program, which was secretly authorized by President Bush shortly after 9/11, was disclosed a little more than a year ago, resulting in widespread criticism from lawmakers and civil libertarians questioning its legality.

The program allowed the National Security Agency – without approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – to monitor phone calls and e-mails between the U.S. and other countries when a link to terrorism is suspected.

In a letter to senators Wednesday, Attorney General Al Gonzales said "any electronic surveillance that was occurring as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program will now be conducted subject to the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court."

Mr. Gonzales said Mr. Bush won't reauthorize the program once it expires.

Ohio Man Sentenced for Criminal Civil Rights Charges
Criminal Law Updates | 2007/01/18 06:34

David Fredericy, of Cleveland, Ohio, was sentenced today to serve 33 months in federal prison for conspiring to commit and for committing hate crimes targeting African-American residents of Cleveland, and for making false statements to federal investigators. During the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Patricia A. Gaughan stated that she wanted to send "a message loud and clear that this conduct will not be tolerated."

On October 26, 2006, Fredericy pleaded guilty to conspiring to interfere and interfering with the federally protected housing rights of an interracial family because of their race, and for making false statements to federal investigators. Another Cleveland resident, Joseph Kuzlik, pleaded guilty to the same charges on November 27, 2006, and is scheduled to be sentenced on February 21, 2007.

Fredericy and Kuzlik engaged in a series of acts intended to threaten and intimidate African-American residents in their neighborhood. Among other acts, the defendants placed toxic mercury on the porch of a family with children for the purpose of intimidating them because they were an interracial family. In order to keep their unlawful actions secret, both Fredericy and Kuzlik lied to federal investigators from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the federal agency that was initially charged with cleaning up the mercury and investigating the incident. Fredericy was ordered to pay restitution to the U.S. EPA and the Ohio EPA for the cost of cleanup, and was also ordered to pay restitution of a to be determined amount to individual victims who suffered financial losses as a result of the offenses.

"Any vicious act of racism is deplorable," said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "What these men did is despicable, and the Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute those who violate the federally protected civil rights of others."

"Today's sentence is a fitting conclusion to a joint effort by the FBI, the U.S. EPA, the Ohio EPA, and the Cleveland Police Department, and demonstrates the commitment of both state and federal law enforcement authorities to protecting every citizen's basic right to live in and enjoy his or her own home without fear of racial intimidation," said Gregory White, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann C. Rowland and Trial Attorney Kristy L. Parker of the Civil Rights Division.

Lawyer Bitten by Bed Bugs Sues London Hotel
Court Feed News | 2007/01/18 00:28

A New York lawyer is suing a leading London hotel after he and his wife were attacked by bed bugs. Sidney Bluming and his wife Cynthia are seeking several million dollars in damages from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group in the action filed at the US District Court, Manhattan. The couple claim they suffered hundreds of bites that left their skin red, swollen and itchy during a five-day stay at the Hyde Park hotel last May.

They also say the bugs infested their luggage, which led to further problems in their apartment when they returned home. Mrs Bluming claims the trauma was made worse as she is recovering from cancer and her immune system is still weak.

Their lawyer, Michael Weinstein, said they were forced to fumigate their home and throw away clothing, bedding, luggage and personal effects. Mr Weinstein added: "People associate bed bugs with more of a lower end class of hotel. Clearly, that is not the case here. The Mandarin is as premier and luxurious as any hotel could make themselves out to be."

Jill Kluge, communications director for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, said: "We can confirm a regrettable, but isolated, incident of infestation occurred in May 2006 within one guest room at our London property.

"On discovery, a full investigation was carried out and the problem fully rectified. There have been no subsequent incidents. The matter has been referred to our insurers.

"Mandarin Oriental's policy is to operate with the highest standards of conduct, with stringent hygiene systems and processes in place at all of our hotels to safeguard the health and safety of our guests."

The hotel chain is accused of fraud, negligence, recklessness, intentional infliction of emotional distress deceptive trade practice and nuisance.

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