News & Current Affairs

July 19, 2009

Man charged over six US killings

Filed under: Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:04 pm

Man charged over six US killings

Jacob Shaffer

Jacob Shaffer was arrested on Saturday at a house in Tennessee

A man has been charged with murder after six people were found dead in the US states of Tennessee and Alabama.

Jacob Shaffer, 30, was arrested after five bodies were found in Fayetteville, about 90 miles (145km) south of Nashville, Tennessee, on Saturday.

Another body was found in Huntsville, Alabama. Police said the victims were four adults and two juveniles.

A spokeswoman for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said it appeared to be a domestic incident.

“Most of the victims are suspected to be related. The motive of the killings is domestic,” Kristin Helm said.

Five of the bodies were found at two neighbouring homes in the town of Fayetteville.

Map

The sixth was found at a business in Huntsville, in neighbouring Alabama, police said.

Mr Shaffer was found sitting on the porch of one of the two houses in Fayetteville.

The names of the victims and the cause of death have not been released. But Lincoln County Sheriff Murray Blackwelder described the killings as “horrendous”.

Mr Shaffer has been remanded in custody. He has been charged with five counts of murder in Tennessee and faces an additional charge in Alabama, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said.

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July 15, 2009

Russian activist ‘found murdered’

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:55 pm

Russian activist ‘found murdered’

A prominent Russian human rights activist, Natalia Estemirova, has been found dead in the North Caucasus.

She was bundled into a van and abducted as she left her home in Chechnya on Wednesday morning, a colleague said. Her body was found in Ingushetia.

The Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expressed “outrage” at the murder, and ordered a top-level investigation.

Ms Estemirova had been investigating human rights abuses in Chechnya for the independent Memorial group.

Memorial is one of Russia’s best known rights groups, working to document Soviet-era abuses and those taking place more recently, especially in Chechnya.

In recent months, she had been gathering evidence of a campaign of house-burnings by government-backed militias.

Forcefully taken

Ms Estemirova, who was 50 according to Russian prosecutors, had worked in the past with the activists Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead in 2006, and Stanislav Markelov, who was killed in January this year.

In 2007 she was awarded the inaugural Anna Politkovskaya Prize, and had also received awards from the Swedish and European parliaments, Memorial said.

In a statement the group said she “was forcefully taken from her house into a car and shouted that she was being kidnapped” at about 0830 local time (0430 GMT).

Her body was found in woodland near Nazran, the main city in neighbouring Ingushetia, about nine hours later. She had bullet wounds to the head and chest.

Dangerous work

The New-York based human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Ms Estemirova had been working on “extremely sensitive” cases of human rights abuses in Chechnya.

“There is no shred of doubt that she was targeted due to her professional activity,” said Tanya Lokshina, HRW’s Russian researcher in Moscow.

Ms Estemirova was engaged in very important and dangerous work, says the BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Moscow, investigating hundreds of cases of alleged kidnapping, torture and extra-judicial killings by Russian government troops or militias in Chechnya.

Memorial says it believes that government security services of some nature must be involved in her killing.

Our correspondent says no evidence of that has emerged so far, but that it was the government sponsored militias that had most to fear from her work.

She is the most recent in a long line of human rights activists and lawyers to have been killed or attacked in Russia. The history of these sorts of cases over many years is that very rarely are their killers ever brought to justice, our correspondent says.

July 6, 2009

Egypt mourns ‘headscarf martyr’

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:01 pm

Egypt mourns ‘headscarf martyr’

Demonstration in Cairo proclaiming Marwa Sherbini the Hijab Martyr

Marwa Sherbini is being hailed as the shahida, or martyr, of the Hijab

The body of Muslim woman, killed in a German courtroom by a man convicted of insulting her religion, has been taken back to her native Egypt for burial.

Marwa Sherbini, 31, was stabbed 18 times by Axel W, who is now under arrest in Dresden for suspected murder.

Husband Elwi Okaz is also in a critical condition in hospital, after being injured as he tried to save his wife.

Ms Sherbini had sued her killer after he called her a “terrorist” because of her headscarf.

The case has attracted much attention in Egypt and the Muslim world.

German prosecutors have said the 28-year-old attacker, identified only as Axel W, was driven by a deep hatred of foreigners and Muslims.

‘Martyr’

Medics were unable to save Ms Sherbini who was three months pregnant with her second child. Her three-year-old son, was with the family in court when she was killed.

Axel W and Ms Sherbini and family were in court for him to appeal against a fine of 750 euros ($1,050) for insulting her in 2008, apparently because she was wearing the Muslim headscarf or Hijab.

Newspapers in Egypt have expressed outrage at the case, asking how it was allowed to happen and dubbing Ms Sherbini “the martyr of the Hijab”.

Senior Egyptian officials and German diplomatic staff attended the funeral in Alexandria along with hundreds of mourners.

Media reports say Mr Okaz was injured both by the attacker and when a policeman opened fire in the courtroom.

September 9, 2008

Mexico kidnap suspects detained

Mexico kidnap suspects detained

Hector Slim (left) and Alejandro Marti

Fernando Marti’s father, Alejandro (right), had reportedly paid a ransom

Mexican police say they have detained five people suspected of involvement in the kidnap and killing of a teenager whose murder sparked national protests.

Prosecutors in Mexico City said those arrested included a former policeman.

The death of Fernando Marti, 14, whose decomposing body was found in the boot of a car in August, led to calls for tougher punishment for serious crimes.

In response, Mexican President Felipe Calderon drew up an emergency program to tackle violent crime.

At least 2,700 people have been killed and 300 kidnapped so far this year, mostly in drugs-related violence.

Ransom

Mexico City prosecutor Miguel Marcera said Fernando Marti’s alleged kidnappers disguised themselves as police officers and set up a bogus checkpoint on a busy street in the capital to capture their victim.

Last month his decomposing body was found in the boot of a car, even though his father, a wealthy businessman, had reportedly paid a ransom.

Investigators believe Fernando may have been killed because the kidnappers were not satisfied with the money they received.

What is certain is that in a country with abduction and murder rates among the highest in the world, his treatment sparked off a mass protest movement by Mexicans demanding tougher punishment for serious crimes.

After more than 100,000 people held a march in Mexico City calling for an end to such brutal acts, the government was pressured to draw up an programme to tackle violent crime, including a purge of corrupt police officers, and the building of prisons for kidnappers.

Mexicans have grown weary of politicians’ promises to do something about the violence, but they hope that for the sake of children like Fernando, the government’s pledge to redouble its efforts may start to bear results.

August 21, 2008

Uncovering truth about Georgia conflict

Uncovering truth about Georgia conflict

Courtesy BBC NEWS

By Stephanie Holmes
BBC News

As accusations of indiscriminate violence, murder and genocide are hurled between Russia and Georgia over the South Ossetia conflict, human rights investigators are painstakingly trying to establish the facts on the ground.

A Georgian woman stands near a damaged apartment block in Gori, Georgia

Residential buildings were hit during the conflict

Researchers suggest both sides may have violated the codes of war – using violence that was either disproportionate or indiscriminate, or both – claims that the International Criminal Court is currently investigating.

Russian prosecutors have announced they are opening criminal cases into the deaths of 133 civilians who they say were killed by Georgian forces.

Initially, however, Russia suggested more than 1,500 people had died in the conflict.

Last week, Georgia filed a lawsuit against Russia at the International Court of Justice, based at The Hague, alleging the country had attempted to ethnically cleanse Georgians from the breakaway regions.

Uncovering the facts – even of very recent history – becomes a battle in itself when people are displaced and desperate.

“Gathering comprehensive data about the dead from civilians is a time-consuming task,” Rachel Denber, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, told BBC News.

“We have to cross-check data and check that people are not misidentified or miscounted.”

Shifting status

Neighbors who take up arms during a conflict, for example, shift status, becoming combatants rather than civilians, which can confuse calculations of civilian death tolls.

Russian tanks in South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali.

Russian forces have been accused of using cluster bombs

“We have to make sure there is no double-counting – if a body is moved, we have to be careful not to count it twice – maybe it is counted once in the village itself and then it could be counted again in the city morgue,” Ms Denber said.

“To get really accurate figures you would really have to go to every single village.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – which has just gained access to South Ossetia – says it hopes to uncover the truth by remaining neutral and only revealing what its told – by survivors, eyewitnesses and relatives – to relevant authorities.

“The work of the ICRC is totally confidential,” spokeswoman Jessica Barry explained from the Georgian capital, Tblisi.

“We do take allegations of arrests, of people missing or reported dead. We can also offer our services to the authorities for the transfer of mortal remains.

“All the work we do is gathering confidential information which we share with the authorities with the aim of finding out the location of loved ones for the civilian population.”

War of words

The ferocity of the conflict on the ground was echoed in the way both Russian and Georgian officials conducted a media war, making ever graver accusations against each other, competing for television airtime and giving spiralling civilian death tolls.

A woman walks past propaganda poster depicting Russian aggression

The war has been played out both in the media and on the ground

All of which muddies the waters when trying to establish if human rights and international laws have been violated.

“There has been a lot of controversy about the Russian figures,” says HRW’s Rachel Denber.

“When that figure came out – of 1,500 dead – it wasn’t very helpful, it didn’t provide any sourcing or methodology, there were no details about how the figure was calculated. We certainly can’t confirm it.”

“The problem here is that when Russia puts out a figure like that it does two things – it distracts attention from where there are violations and from the real scale of what is happening.”

The organization puts the civilian death toll in the dozens, rather than the hundreds.

Responsibility to protect

As well as multiple rocket launchers mounted on four-wheel drives, known as Grads, campaigners say cluster munitions – which can contain hundreds of smaller bomblets – were used during the conflict. Both these weapons are intrinsically indiscriminate, they say.

Disproportionate attacks are prohibited […] if there is likely to be civilian damage excessive in relation to the expected military gain, you don’t fire
Rachel Denber, Human Rights Watch

“If you have a military objective then the Grad rocket is not a targeted weapon, civilians are going to get hit and that is exactly what happened, and happened on a significant scale. The proximity was such that it was indiscriminate,” Ms Denber said.

She cited a reported case in which Russian forces dropped bombs on a convoy of passenger cars fleeing Georgia’s Gori district, and another in which Georgian soldiers pursued armed South Ossetian militias using tanks, driving and firing through a residential neighborhood.

“The rule is that disproportionate attacks are prohibited. In other words, if you have your eye on a military target, and there is likely to be civilian damage excessive in relation to the expected military gain, you don’t fire,” Ms Denber said.

Although the fighting has now stopped, violations continue, she says, with Russian forces failing to protect civilians in areas of Georgia and South Ossetia that they control – a key part of the international law governing behavior during war.

“We have numerous stories of Ossetian forces roving around ethnic Georgian villages – running around, looting homes, torching them,” she said.

“We are looking into other accounts of violence, of people being robbed at gunpoint. These are areas that Russian forces have control over – it is their responsibility to protect them.”

August 17, 2008

Spector retrial set for October

Spector retrial set for October

Phil Spector

Phil Spector has worked with some of the biggest names in music

A murder retrial for music producer Phil Spector can go ahead in October despite defence attempts to stop it, an appeals court in California has ruled.

The court rejected a call for a stay of the trial so the defense could appeal on the grounds of double jeopardy.

Also dismissed was an assurance that prosecutors would not ask jurors to convict Spector of lesser offences.

Mr Spector is charged with killing actress Lana Clarkson. The jury in the first trial failed to reach a verdict.

The trial collapsed at the end of September 2007 after 12 days of deliberation.

A decision on a second trial has taken until now due to the commitments of the last member of his legal team.

Christopher Plourd has been involved in two death penalty cases.

Most of Mr Spector’s legal team resigned or were dispensed with after the mistrial was declared, with only Mr Plourd remaining in place.

The music producer, 68, denies murdering actress Lana Clarkson at his Los Angeles mansion.

The actress was found with a gunshot wound in her mouth after a night out. During the four-month trial, defense lawyers argued it was suicide.

Mr Spector, 68, was charged with second degree murder. It falls between first degree murder – which requires proof of pre-meditation – and manslaughter.

Forensic evidence

Ms Clarkson, 40, had been working as a hostess at the House of Blues venue in Los Angeles, where she met Mr Spector on the night of her death.

The actress accompanied the producer to his mansion in the early hours of the morning but was later found in his foyer.

Lana Clarkson

Lana Clarkson was said to have been depressed about her career

A holster matching the snub-nosed Colt Cobra revolver that killed Ms Clarkson was found in a drawer in the foyer.

Ms Clarkson had been working at the nightclub after struggling to find acting roles, and the trial had heard how she was despondent about her career in the months before her death.

One of the crucial questions was whether the forensic evidence proved Mr Spector was close enough to the victim to have been able to shoot her in the mouth.

Mr Spector’s lawyer Linda Kenney-Baden told jurors the absence of gunshot residue and blood from his sleeves showed he had not fired the fatal shot.

The producer never took to the stand but told Esquire magazine in 2003 that Ms Clarkson had committed suicide and he had “no idea why”.

Mr Spector has worked with some of the biggest names in the music business, including The Beatles, and is famous for pioneering the “Wall of Sound” recording technique in the 1960s.

August 8, 2008

Honduran killer executed in Texas

Honduran killer executed in Texas

Heliberto Chi

Chi was the 411th Texas inmate to die by lethal injection

A Honduran man, who killed his former employer during a robbery  in 2001, has been executed in the US after the Supreme Court rejected a final appeal.

Heliberto Chi, 29, died by lethal injection at a prison in Texas, watched by the two sons of his victim.

His lawyers said Chi was not permitted to contact the Honduran consulate following his arrest – thus violating an international treaty.

Chi was the second foreign national to be put to death this week in Texas.

Chi was in the United States illegally at the time of the 2001 murder.

He was convicted of the fatal shooting of his former boss, Armand Paliotta, at a clothing store in Arlington, Texas, where he had worked as a tailor.

On Wednesday, Mexican Jose Medellin was executed for the murder and rape of a teenager in 1993.

The International Court of Justice had urged Texas not to execute Medellin, as he had not been told of his right to consular help when he was arrested.

August 5, 2008

Mexican set for Texas execution

Mexican set for Texas execution

Jose Medellin

Jose Medellin, now 33, has been on death row since he was 18

A Mexican man whose case has drawn international legal attention is set to be executed in Texas for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl.

Barring a last-minute stay, Jose Medellin will face lethal injection at 1800 local time (2300 GMT).

The International Court of Justice had ruled that Medellin was entitled to a new hearing as he was not told of his right to contact a consular official.

Texas says its courts are not bound by the rulings of the ICJ.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on the US to abide by the ICJ ruling, AFP news agency reported.

“All decisions and orders of the International Court of Justice must be respected by states,” he is reported to have told a television station in Mexico City, where he is attending a world Aids conference.

“The United States should take every step to make sure the execution does not take place.”

Medellin’s case dates back to 1993 when two girls, Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, were raped and murdered by six gang members in Houston.

A general view of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, file pic from February 2008

Set up in 1946, the ICJ is the highest United Nations court

Medellin, who was born in Mexico but moved to the US as a child, was convicted of Miss Pena’s murder.

At the time of his arrest, police did not tell him that he could request assistance from the Mexican consulate – in violation of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

In 2003, Mexico, which does not have the death penalty, filed a lawsuit at the ICJ on behalf of Medellin and 50 other Mexican nationals on death row in the US who had also not received consular support.

The court ruled in Mexico’s favour, and ordered that their cases be reviewed.

Texas acknowledged that Medellin had not been told he could ask for help from Mexican diplomats, but argued that he had forfeited the right because he never raised the issue at trial or sentencing.

State officials also argued that it would not have made any difference to the outcome of the case.

Earlier this year, President George W Bush ordered Texas to comply with the ICJ ruling, but the Supreme Court justices subsequently decided 6-3 that he had overstepped his authority.

Case is ‘clear’

Last month, in response to an urgent request from Mexico, the ICJ ordered the US to “take all measures necessary” to halt Medellin’s execution.

But Texas judicial authorities said in response that the law in Medellin’s case was “clear”.

“Texas is not bound by the World Court but by the US Supreme Court, which reviewed this matter and determined that the convicted murderer’s execution shall proceed,” a statement from the attorney general’s office said.

On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected a request by Medellin and his legal team for a reprieve.

Medellin’s legal team are still hoping the Supreme Court will grant a stay of execution that would give Congress time to enact new legislation compelling US states to abide by ICJ decisions.

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