Same-Sex Marriage Legalised Across the US

US Marriage EqualityThe US Supreme Court has ruled that US citizens have a legal right to marry people of the same gender. The decision, which comes just a month after Ireland introduced same-sex marriage through a referendum, is valid across all 50 states, meaning that marriage has now been legalised for same-sex couples on a nationwide basis.

The majority of US states have already legalised same-sex marriage of their own accord. However, 14 states continued to disallow the marriage of gay couples. However, the Supreme Court decision means that those 14 states will no longer be able to enforce such a ban, though it has not yet been made clear how soon marriage licenses for same sex couples will start to be issued in these states.

The Supreme Court made the ruling in relation to the case of Ohio resident Jim Obergefell, who had previously not been legally recognised as his deceased husband’s widower. Speaking outside the court after the ruling, Obergefell told the press: “It’s my hope that gay marriage will soon be a thing of the past, and from this day forward it will simply be ‘marriage.’”

According to Justice Anthony Kennedy, the plaintiffs in this case were simply asking “for equal dignity in the eyes of the law,” and this is their right under the US constitution. US President Barack Obama, meanwhile, said that the Supreme Court’s ruling was a “victory for America.”

“When all Americans are treated as equal,” Obama continued, “we are all more free.”

The ruling has put an end to legal battles that have been raging in the US for a number of years on both state and national levels. One eccentric California lawyer even went so far as to propose a bill that would allow homosexuals to be “put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method,” though naturally this bill did not get far.

The ruling’s announcement prompted loud cheering in the streets outside the court, where hundreds had been gathered to await the news. In Georgia, one of the states that had previously banned the same-sex marriage, couples began lining up to begin exercising their newfound rights within minutes. Social media, too, was abuzz with celebration and general discussion, with the hashtags #MarriageEquality and #LoveWins trending on Facebook and Twitter respectively.

Those who had opposed the legalisation of same sex marriage, particularly America’s conservative Christian groups, were disappointed by the court’s ruling. Presidential candidate for the Republican Party, former governor of Arkansas, and outspoken opponent of gay marriage Mike Huckabee said: “We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”

US Prosecutors Level Multiple Accusations at FIFA Officials

As investigations into the scandal in which international football governing body FIFA has found itself embroiled, US prosecutors have levelled a list of allegations. Several of the organisation’s officials have, the prosecutors claim, been involved with fraud and racketeering for more than two decades.

Prosecutors also claim that these officials are guilty of laundering money, with tens of millions of dollars involved over the course of 24 years. Overall, 14 individuals have been indicted, seven of which are being held in Zurich since Wednesday. One of the seven in Zurich is Vice President of FIFA Jeffrey Webb. Swiss authorities report that six of these seven individuals are currently contesting extradition for trial in the US.

Overall, the US prosecutors claim to have discovered around a dozen different schemes that represent the kind of activities they allege took place. One such scheme, they say, resulted in the decision to award South Africa the honour of hosting the 2010 World Cup.

Most prominently, the indicted officials are accused of taking bribes. Since 1991, it is claimed that they collectively accepted bribes and kickbacks with a total value of over US$150 million (£97 million). According to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, these officials “corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves.”

Summarising the accusations against the officials, Lynch said that they had “used their positions to solicit bribes,” and they had done so “over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament.”

Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, is not one of those on the receiving end of the allegations. In a statement, Blatter insisted that corrupt officials would be booted out of the organisation. 11 of the 14 people involved in the recent allegations from US prosecutors, including all of those currently held in Zurich, have been given a “swift and immediate provisional ban” from any activities relating to professional football.

The organisation is due to hold its presidential election this Friday, in which Blatter is the favourite candidate. Should he be successful, it will be Blatter’s fifth term as FIFA president. UEFA, the European football body, has said that this election should be postponed, and it is considering a boycott of proceedings. Currently, however, FIFA insists that its presidential election is to go ahead on Friday as planned.

As well as accepting bribes, including bribes that influenced the decision of where major tournaments would take place, officials are accused of organised racketeering, obtaining money through fraud, and money laundering.

WW1 Killing of Armenians was “Genocide,” Says German Parliament

BundestagThe parliament of Germany (the Bundestag) has approved a resolution which declares a mass killing of Armenians to be genocide. The killings in question were carried out during the First World War by Ottoman Turkish forces, with up to 1.5 million Armenians being left dead. The approval of the resolution coincides with the 100th anniversary of the beginning of these killings.

For some years now, Armenian’s have been campaigning internationally to have the global community acknowledge these mass killings as a case of genocide. Turkey opposed the idea that its First World War actions extended to the point of genocide, disputing the claimed numbers of dead and saying that much of the blame for the killings lay at the feet of a civil war that erupted following the Ottoman Empire’s fall.

Prosecutions against individuals who denied that the killings constituted a genocide led to further controversy, with a European Court of Human Rights ruling in December 2009 deciding that these prosecutions infringed upon freedom of expression. However, 2009 was also the year that saw Turkey and Armenia overcome their bitterness sufficiently to sign an accord in Switzerland which opened their borders and helped to establish better relations between the two countries.

The President of the Bundestag Norbert Lammert led the drive to have the resolution approved. Lammert is of the opinion that Germany and Turkey should join together in attempts to confront past acts of genocide and reconcile with the world.

Regarding this concept of shared national reconciliation, Lammert said: “the unparalleled experiences of violence in the 20th century have ensured that we know there can be no real peace until the victims, their relatives and descendants experience justice: through remembrance of the events.”

The Bundestag as a whole also took the opportunity to highlight issues of violence and discrimination against various groups in the modern age. The legislative body pointed to instances of persecution on ethnic, religious and political grounds against groups across the globe, saying that humanity as a whole must strive to combat these kinds of actions if it is to ensure that the mistakes of the past go unrepeated.

In 2010, it was reported by a US State Department spokesperson that the Obama administration was opposed to a vote on a similar resolution stating that the killings were a genocide. More recently, Greece lent support to this definition of the incident when, in September last year, the country’s parliament approved a bill that criminalises denial of the genocide.

EU Justice Chief Calls for Better Rights Online

Internet PrivacyVera Jourova, Czech politician and the European Union’s justice commissioner, has said that “fundamental rights that apply offline should also apply online.” Speaking at the recent Global Law Summit, Jourova made the comments as part of the first public speech she has given in the UK since last Autumn when she accepted responsibility for matters of justice, consumer protection and gender equality.

Her priorities over the coming year, Jourova said, would be to ensure that the full potential benefits of new technologies are exploited, but that this is balance with the need for people’s rights to be recognised online in the same way they would in real life. She also called for new legislation designed to ensure that users of the internet have “more control and more choice, while future-proofing protections suitable for the digital age.” This legislation, she said, should establish a better balance between the advantages of information technology and the need to safeguard the privacy of individuals accessing the internet.

This speech formed part of a panel discussion entitled “A Digital Magna Carta and the State of Exception.” The debate was chaired by Catherine Dixon, chief executive of the Law Society.:

Jourova’s comments had the support of Anne Jellema, CEO of the World Wide Web Foundation. Jellema said: “The web has unleashed a tidal wave of innovation, but it has also created a tidal wave of data about ourselves.” When it comes to protecting individual privacy, she said, “The law is lagging behind the power of technology.” This is particularly concerning, Jellema contended, at a time when “governments are moving aggressively to expand their surveillance capacities.”

The job of winding up the debate fell to Dr Gus Hosein. Hosein, who is director of the campaign group Privacy, expressed similar sentiments. He pointed to GCHQ’s programme entitled “Squeaky Dophin,” through which it monitors activity on social media websites. Describing the current state of affairs when it comes to privacy safeguards for internet users, he said bluntly that “the present is broken.”

Despite his dim view of the present, however, Hosein remained positive about the potential outlook for the future. He pointed to the way major companies and prominent innovators such as Google are becoming more and more aware of such issues, and taking greater steps to safeguard users.

Concluding, Hosein said that users can protect themselves in three ways: “Understand the technology, demand better technology and don’t allow the internet to discriminate against you – as it does in the US, where American citizens may not be spied upon, but foreigners routinely are.”

Lawyer Says China Discrimination Case “Will Definitely Have an Impact”

Gay Rights ChinaChinese courts recently saw what was probably the country’s first discrimination case focussing on the treatment of a homosexual individual in the workplace. Liu Xiaohu, the lawyer of the plaintiff, has said that the case “will definitely have an impact” on China and the way in which the country views issues of LGBT rights.

The plaintiff, who first filed his case in November and is using the pseudonym Mu Yi, was dismissed from his job, and alleges that this was because of his sexuality. He claims that he was outed as gay after an online video, which was filmed by police and showed him and another gay man arguing, went viral. It was the revelation of his sexuality, he alleges, which led his employer to fire him from his role as a designer.

His employer maintains that “Mu Yi’s” dismissal was not a result of his being revealed as a homosexual, and was not related to his sexual orientation. Yangcheng Evening News reports that the company claims that inappropriate workplace attire and a “poor service attitude” were in fact the reasons for the decision to fire the plaintiff.

It is believed to be the first workplace discrimination case in China to deal with issues of sexual orientation. The Chinese office of PFLAG, a rights advocacy group, believes this to be the case.

The Nanshan District People’s Court, which is in the city of Shenzhen in the south of China, heard the case. A decision on the verdict is expected to be reached at some point within the coming three months, according to Mr Lui. The lawyer described himself and his client as “very optimistic” about the outcome of the case.

The Chinese government only took the decision to decriminalise homosexuality in 1997 – much later than many other countries. Even after it ceased to be a criminal offence, it was still officially listed as a mental illness until 2001. In the relatively short time since, Chinese society has become noticeably more tolerant of homosexuality, especially in the bigger cities, but nonetheless conservative attitudes remain prevalent. Discrimination against LGBT individuals in the workplace is more common than in many other parts of the world, and this means that the decision reached in this case has the potential to be a landmark of considerable importance to other individuals.

According to Yangcheng Evening News, Mu is seeking compensation of 50,000 yuan along with an apology.

Australia’s Channel 7 Loses Legal Battle After “Racist” Broadcast

Australian TV broadcaster Channel Seven has lost a three-year-long legal battle against the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). The battle finally came to an end after Channel Seven lost an appeal in the federal court and was ordered to pay the legal costs of ACMA.

The legal battle stems from a 2011 documentary broadcast detailing the indigenous Brazilian Suruwaha people. The broadcast has been described as a “racist portrayal” of the tribe which violated the television code of practice‘s requirement that broadcasts be fair, balanced, and factually correct. The broadcast would also, according to federal court judge Justice Buchanan, “be likely to provoke or perpetuate intense dislike and serious contempt of and for the Suruwaha tribe and its members.”

The broadcast featured adventurer and writer Paul Raffaele accompanying journalist Tim Noonan through the Amazon. In the program, Noonan and Raffaele alleged that the tribe carry out “one of the worst human rights violations in the world” by encouraging the killing of disabled children “in the most gruesome way possible.” They claimed that disabled children and those born to single mothers were fed, while still living, to wild beasts by the tribe.

Complaints about both the factual accuracy and the tone of these reports were first raised by Survival International, an international organisation that advocates for the rights of tribal people. The organisation formally complained to ACMA after Channel Seven did not correct or retract the many “errors and distortions” that they had highlighted in the broadcast’s allegations of child murder. Channel Seven described the claims made by Survival International as “nonsense” and defended the broadcast, but ACMA found that the allegations of routine child killing were in breach of factual accuracy requirements. Channel Seven challenged this decision through a Judicial Review, but the challenge proved unsuccessful as the court upheld the original judgement.

Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, compared the broadcast to “19th-century colonialist scorn for ‘primitive savages'” designed to “suggest that they don’t deserve any rights.”

The Suruwaha tribe was formed from an amalgamation of members from other tribes who fled the devastation wreaked on the region by global demand for rubber. Members of the tribe who have seen the broadcast are said to be angry. Members of the tribe have also claimed that they were asked to remove their everyday, Western-style clothing for the cameras, and in the final broadcast this had the effect of making them look more primitive and less connected to the outside world.

Law Society Gives Backing to Malaysian Bar

Christopher LeongThe Malaysian Bar has received a pledge of support from the Law Society in its current fight against the country’s Sedition Act. The law in question places a prohibition on discourse that displays a “seditious tendency,” and dates back to the British colonial era.

Christopher Leong (pictured), president of the Malaysian Bar, described the law as “extremely objectionable and abhorrent.” He said that the law had been used to prosecute people who were “not terrorist types” and had no intentions of carrying out any illegal acts designed to bring down the government.

Rather, he said, “These are people who are expressing their thoughts about what the important issues for Malaysia are and how they ought to be addressed.”

This year alone, a Chancery Lane meeting was told, over twenty people have been investigated, charged, and prosecuted under the law after they expressed dissent. Among those who have suffered as a result of the law are legal professionals such as solicitors and professors of law.

The act was reportedly not in common use before 2011. However, that year saw Malaysia’s Internal Security Act (ISA) repealed. The ISA allowed people to be detained indefinitely without the right to a fair trial, or to any trial at all.

Following the law’s repeal, Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak issued a promise that the Sedition Act would be next in line for repeal. However, Leong said that “The irony of that” was the fact that “despite that promise, we have seen unprecedented use of the sedition laws earlier this year.”

Leong suggested, however, that the blame may not lay at the feet of the prime minister. He described the government under the current prime minister as “right-thinking with respect to decisions.” However, he said that the prime minister’s political party contained some who “are not supportive of his transformation programme.”

Leong is currently on a visit to London lasting for three days in total. He said that lawyers in Malaysia had benefited significantly from the support of their colleagues around the world, which had helped prevent acts of violence against them from “extremist elements” after they stood up for people’s rights.

“The support that we got from the Law Society and other organisations,” Leong said, “showed the authorities that this was not just a Malaysia issue, this was an international issue.”

Last month, a “walk for peace and freedom” was held by the Malaysian Bar in support of repealing the act. This marks only the fourth time that a street protest has ever been held by the Bar.

Court of Appeal Rules man can Sue UK Government

abdul-hakim-belhajJudges at the Court of Appeal have decided that Abdul Hakim Belhaj, a Libyan man who claims to have been illegally sent back to his home land and tortured, can mount a case against the UK government in court.

Previously, the High Court had decided that Mr Belhaj’s case could not be heard in a British courtroom because of the potential damage it could do to international relations. Specifically, it was decided by Mr Justice Simon that, in spite of the alleged knowledge held by UK officials, a court in England did not have the power to adjudicate on claims of rendition and torture that took place in Libya. Furthermore, the court  dcided that many of the claims were “non-justiciable” in UK courts because they involved officials in China, Libya and other countries such as Thailand and Malaysia.On these grounds, it was decided that the case be thrown out.

However, the Court of Appeal has overturned this decision, with judges deciding that Mr Belhaj’s claims were “grave” enough to warrant being heard in court. Judges at the Appeal Court said that state immunity was not enough to bar the proceedings. Furthermore, Lord Dyson voiced the opinion that there is “a compelling public interest in the investigation by the English courts of these very grave allegations.”

Sapna Malik, the lawyer representing Mr Belhaj, described the decision as a “very significant step forward.” Mr Belhaj, who is now a politician in his homeland of Libya, said that he and his wife were “gratified by the judges’ decision to give us our day in court.”

Mr Belhaj alleges that MI6 and Jack Straw, the former Foreign Secretary, were deeply involved with the arrangement of the rendition of Mr Belhaj and his wife from China. According to Mr Belhaj, who previously led a group opposing the Muammar Gaddafi regime, claimed that information leading to his rendition was provided by British Intelligence.

The rendition took place in 2004, and resulted in Mr Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar being returned to their homeland where they were subjected to torture which, according to Mr Belhaj, is “as fresh and as painful for us as if it happened yesterday.” Mr Straw has previously denied any awareness of the rendition.

The government and Jack Straw now have the option to appeal to the Supreme Court. If an appeal is made, the case will not be heard until this has concluded. According to a statement from the Foreign Office, it is currently considering whether to lodge an application for an appeal or not.

Senior Judge Praises Televised Pistorius Trial

Lord Neuberger, president of the Supreme Court, has praised South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius trial, which was controversially televised. Neuberger’s comments were included in a speech in which he stressed the value of open justice.

Neuberger said that broadcasting trials “is merely the modern extension of enabling the public to enter the courts physically.” Like making courts open to public visitors, televising a trial gives ordinary people access to the proceedings of the justice system and the ability to see how decisions are reached first hand.

Lord Neuberger, speaking in Hong Kong to the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club, said that “Open justice is an essential feature of the rule of law. In its most basic form, it means that court hearings take place in public and judges’ decisions are available to the public.” He also stressed the importance of making sure that the way in which information was provided to the public was not only accessible but comprehensible, and described the role of the media in doing this as “essential.”

By contrast, he said, “if courts sit in private, judges cease to be properly accountable for their decisions, as the public do not know what the evidence and arguments were put before the judge, or why the judge reached a particular decision.” Furthermore, Neuberger warned that courts may “get into bad habits” should the doors be shut to the press and the public, and this could erode confidence in the integrity of the justice system.

On this basis, Neuberger decidedly expressed his support for the concept of televising trials. However, he acknowledged that it is important to approach the matter in the right way. For example, he described the US’ trial of OJ Simpson as a lesson “in how not to do it.” By contrast, he praised the more recent coverage of South Africa’s trial of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, calling the media handling of the trial “impressive.”

Neuberger also stressed that it was essential journalists do not abuse their privileged position in passing on vital information about legal proceedings to the public. He acknowledged that simplification and even bias are likely to creep into the way that judgements are reported, and also that the media will likely level criticism at some aspects of the law. However, he insisted that through this the reporting process should remain “based on accuracy and truth rather than misreporting and propaganda.”

Summing up the importance of journalistic integrity in this process, he said “Inaccurate and unfair reporting of a judge’s decision in order to make a good story is an abuse of the freedom of expression accorded to the press and it undermines the rule of law.”

Progress and Limitations on “Right to be Forgotten”

Google Logo 2010Google has recently made some first steps in complying with the recent EU ruling that individuals may have some information about themselves removed from search results as part of a “right to be forgotten.” However, while Google has done a lot in a very short time to comply with the ruling in spite of the company’s own disappointment with the controversial decision, there remain strict limitations in place. Some of these limitations are with the ruling itself, and show no signs of going away however closely Google complies with the law.

Google recently created a webform through which people are able to request the removal of content. Individuals completing the form will have to explain their reasons for considering the content “irrelevant, outdated or otherwise inappropriate.” Under the EU ruling, it is only this type of content that can be removed in order to prevent negative media coverage from a person’s past continuing to dominate any search engine query relating to that individual. Those submitting requests will also have to specify which European jurisdiction they reside in and provide digital copies of identification in order to prove their personal eligibility.

However, by Google’s own admission these efforts are in the early stages. The form is just an “initial effort” with significant changes and improvements to the company’s systems still expected in the months to come.

Furthermore, the EU ruling is disappointingly non-specific even for some of those who agree with the European Court of Justice’s decision. The type of content specified as eligible for removal is extremely broad, and at the same time vague enough to make it difficult to specify any one type of content. For their part, Google seem to have adopted a fairly narrow interpretation. Once a removal request has been received, they will weigh up whether the information’s availability is in the public interest, and if they feel that it is the request is likely to be rejected. When it comes to the public interest, Google seem to have matters such as financial fraud, misconduct and professional malpractice in mind.

There are also some limitations that will never be overcome by Google’s efforts alone. This fact will not be unwelcome to the many who have disagreed with the EU Court of Justice’s ruling, but will certainly disappoint those who are hoping to have negative media coverage buried. For a start, the ruling relates only to search engine results. It will still be accessible through links on other websites and searches within the news website itself. Secondly, it only applies to search engines focussed on markets within the EU. Through the nature of the internet, it is extremely easy for individuals within the EU to access search engines outside EU jurisdictions in which the results may still appear, and this could include Google’s own, main .com domain.