The 193-member world body voted on Wednesday to pass the Qatari-drafted resolution condemning Syrian government forces and the “gross violation” of human rights in the country.The final vote tally: 107 in favor, 12 against and 59 abstentions. Russia, China, Syria, Iran and North Korea were among 12 countries to oppose the resolution, while South Africa, India and Brazil were among the dozens who abstained.The draft resolution further welcomes the establishment of the Syrian National Coalition “as effective representative interlocutors needed for a political transition.”The document noted “the wide international acknowledgment” that the main opposition group is the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding and therefore cannot be enforced. The last Arab-sponsored General Assembly resolution regarding Syria was approved by an vote of 133-12 with 31 abstentions last August. UN diplomats said the decline in support for Wednesday’s resolution showed growing concern about the nature of Syria’s fractured opposition fighting against the president of Bashar Assad.Speaking before the vote, Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’Afari said it was contradictory for the resolution to be tabled under the Assembly’s agenda item on “prevention of armed conflict.” Ja’Afari argued that the resolution would in fact escalate violence by legitimizing the provision of weapons to “terrorists” in Syria and “by recognizing one faction of the opposition as the Syrian people’s legitimate representative.” He further said Al-Qaida-linked terrorists who had committed “unprecedented savage crimes and human rights violations” were operating in Syria thanks to the “involvement of intelligence agencies of well-known States.” He concluded that Syria was in favor of “Syrian-led national dialogue” which would adhere to the will of “the great majority of the Syrian people.”Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin had sent letters in the run-up to the vote urging all member states to vote “no” on the new resolution. He called it “one-sided and biased” as well as “counterproductive” in light of the agreement reached between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry in Moscow last week to convene a follow-up international peace conference on a political transition in Syria.The Arab group decided to seek approval of a wide-ranging resolution on Syria in the General Assembly, where there are no vetoes, to express “international outrage” at the more than 2-year conflict which has claimed the lives of more than 70,000 people.The draft strongly condemns what it characterized as the continued escalation in the Syrian regime’s use of heavy weapons, including indiscriminate shelling from tanks and aircraft, as well as the use of ballistic missiles, cluster munitions and other weapons against populated areas.It further expressed “grave concern at the threat by the Syrian authorities to use chemical or biological weapons, as well as at allegations of reported use of such weapons,” demanding that Syria “strictly observe” international laws prohibiting the use of such weapons.While the draft resolution put the onus of chemical weapon’s use on Damascus, the United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria said earlier this month that no evidence had been uncovered implicating the Syrian government in a chemical weapon attack.In an interview to Swiss-Italian television, the lead commission member Carla Del Ponte revealed that the “investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals and, according to their report of last week which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated.”However, rather than government forces, Del Ponte concluded: “This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities.” …
Digital Gitmo, by Robert Amsterdam
New Zealand is celebrated worldwide for its human rights. Renowned as being the first country in the world to grant suffrage to women in 1893, the first nation to stand up to the United States and ban nuclear-powered ships from her harbors in 1984, the Kiwis have never backed down from difficult decisions.
That’s why it’s particularly difficult to see the United States come forward to their ally New Zealand, and purposefully distort facts, withhold evidence, and make the government an accomplice in a massive violation of rights during the crackdown against my client, Kim Dotcom.
Perhaps once considered a beacon for values of personal liberty, in more recent years, the reputation of the United States on rights has sunk to new lows. Following two grinding wars of the George W. Bush era, hopes were high for an improvement. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case under President Barack Obama, as drone strikes have escalated completely beyond anyone’s imagination, while a massive hunger strike of more than 130 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, some of them being force fed through nasal tubes, has virtually eliminated the U.S. administration’s ability to speak about international law in any capacity.
However it’s a mistake to think that the failure to close Gitmo is simply an aberration. It represents an attitude among a handful of key U.S. officials, from President Obama to Vice President Joe Biden as well as Attorney General Eric Holder – who happens to be visiting New Zealand this week – that the rights of certain people and businesses can be suspended at their choosing.
The flagrant overreach of the U.S. attack against Megaupload bears all the hallmarks of a digital Gitmo.
Digital Gitmo contains no bars, no barbwire, and no guards. What it does share in common is a total absence of rule of law; the type of exceptional treatment and arbitrary deprivations of rights that are usually reserved for terrorism and threats to national security. Digital Gitmo belongs to no single nation; instead it is a shared perception that the rights of a very small group of corporate and government interests are more important than the rights of everyone else. The deprivation of rights is seen as convenient to the state, which has unburdened itself from the obligation of actually having to prove its case before the courts of law.
But what purpose does the law serve if such frequent exceptions are made?
It’s a fact that U.S. prosecutors misled both the defendants as well as the government of New Zealand. The search warrants were fraudulently obtained, and the spying against Dotcom and other individuals was carried out illegally. An entire business, along with the rightfully owned property of millions of users was stolen before Megaupload or Kim Dotcom were even given one chance to defend themselves in court. Essentially, the U.S. prosecutors made specific decisions to deprive Megaupload and Kim Dotcom of the normal rights of defense, including an absurd worldwide asset seizure to prevent them from retaining defense counsel.
Earlier today the defense team for Kim Dotcom released a new white paper detailing the unlawful handling of this case, and highlighting the political motivations it served by guaranteeing the continuation of campaign financing by the ‘Hollywood lobby,’ including the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), among others. When the draconian Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) failed – a piece of legislation which would have granted Washington worldwide control over the content of the Internet – the Hollywood lobby openly threatened to cut off campaign financing unless the Obama administration did something dramatic to service these special interests.
What they chose to do was to destroy Megaupload, even though they had to break the law to do it.
Consider for example the fact that Dotcom and his family were planning to travel to the United States only a few months after the chosen date of the raid. The putative defendant had made firm travel plans that the FBI knew about from their illegal spying. He would have stepped off the plane right into U.S. jurisdiction – so why did they deploy the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), two attack helicopters, dozens of armed men, and attack dogs, risking the life of his pregnant wife and her unborn twins while also creating an unnecessary extradition challenge?
The Americans did not share their alleged evidence with New Zealand, and the New Zealand officials appeared to not care. Judging by their haste and willful disregard of local and international law, the authorities appeared only too enthusiastic to be used by the FBI in a raid that was specifically designed to create the impression that this was some kind of dangerous criminal gang.
Was the government of New Zealand particularly eager to assist the U.S. in this illegal campaign because it would please Hollywood? Already we have seen this government generously deliver more than $120 million to the film studios in the form of tax breaks, and has even gone to far as to create special laws to suspend labor rights and allow them to employ New Zealanders at exploitatively low wages.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand has already publicly apologized to Dotcom for trampling over his rights, but unfortunately, now the GCSB’s reaction is to call for an expansion of their spying powers over Kiwi citizens. The facts detailed in the white paper should alarm each and every citizen of this country. Not only does this case set a negative precedent for Washington’s ability to unilaterally censor the global Internet, it carries dark overtones for more authoritarian-inclined nations who can now use the same reasoning to remove content or services or ideas that find “troubling.”
It’s possible that some readers of this publication may not like the larger-than-life excesses of Kim Dotcom, or alternatively, they may not understand him. But that is not sufficient reason for him to have fewer rights of defense than anyone else.
When New Zealand rejected nuclear power and took other stands like rights for same-sex marriage, it did not do so because these issues were universally popular. It did so because it was right.
If reasonable people are willing to read this white paper and fairly consider the facts presented, a real discussion can begin. We do not need to be given anything – all we want is a fair fight for our rights, because a fair fight is one that we can win.
Robert Amsterdam is founding partner of the international law firm Amsterdam & Partners LLP, with offices in London, United Kingdom and Washington, DC. His company is currently working alongside the Rothken Law Firm as they defend Megaupload, Kim Dotcom, and his associates in their ongoing legal battle with the United States and New Zealand governments.
Source: U.S. Govt. Attack on Megaupload Bears Hallmarks of ‘Digital Gitmo’
Reporters Without Borders is very worried by today’s arrest of Eric Topona, the secretary-general of the Union of Chadian Journalists (UJT) and former journalist for Chad’s national radio and TV broadcaster, and the charge of “endangering constitutional order” that has been brought against him. After reporting to N’Djamena’s law courts at 8 a.m. today in response to a summons from an investigating judge, he was detained under a warrant and is now at a detention centre in Amsinene, a suburb of (…) …
Capriles’ campaign team lodged an official complaint against the government for what they called a “violation of electoral norms” on the blackout day before the polls opened. Nicolas Maduro appeared on Venezuelan television on Saturday visiting the tomb of deceased leader Hugo Chavez and marking the anniversary of the 2002 coup d’état against the former president.”Let’s honor his [Hugo Chavez's] memory, his legacy,” Maduro told Venezuelans in a speech at the tomb, accompanied by renowned Argentine footballer Maradona. Maduro also inaugurated the television channel ConCiencia, taking advantage of his moment in front of the camera to criticize some of Venezuela’s most famous actors and directors for their support of Capriles.Capriles wrote on Twitter that the move was a “flagrant violation” of election rules. The opposition candidate also launched an Internet channel to publicize his candidacy on Saturday, but maintained that he was “respecting the electoral rules, but those in power don’t know anything other than the abuse of power.” Acting President Maduro is currently the frontrunner in the polls, leading by 5 percentage points according to a survey by Datanalisis. The former bus driver has capitalized on the public grief that followed Chavez’s March 5 death, calling himself the former president’s “son” and vowing to continue his legacy. Despite Maduro’s initial dominance in the electoral campaign, rival Capriles has gained significant ground in the run-up to Election Day. The opposition candidate has called for a business-orientated economic model that he says will emulate Brazil’s recent growth.“In the state of Miranda we implemented the FomeZero social initiative, a Brazilian idea, and in four years we helped more than 75,000 people in extreme poverty,” Capriles said in an interview with Brazilian outlet Globo.Political analyst Gearoid O Colmain told RT that the opposition has little support among Venezuelans and Maduro should have an easy victory in this election.“It is very unlikely that the opposition is going to win. The opposition has very little support on the ground. It is a part of a usual media procedure to claim that the opposition has some sort of credibility. Maduro should have a fairly comfortable victory.”He adds,“Capriles is not a serious candidate. He is a puppet of the US. He is an obnoxious character. He got into a lot of trouble a couple of weeks ago, when he insulted handicap people. He is not a politician at all. He is on Television in tracksuits and baseball caps in order to make himself popular and so on. He has absolutely no policies. He represents a return to the horrible 1990s system of corruption and crime, a tiny oligarchy which had the power in their hands. There are few people in Venezuela who will tolerate that.” …
Should You Be Busted For Blasting a Bear in Your Backyard? Asks J.D. Tuccille on The Sportsman Channel
I’ll appear (well, my voice will, by phone)
NRANews Cam & Co. on The Sportsman Channel at 5:15 ET today
to discuss the case of
Richard Ahlstrand, who faces a grab-bag of criminal charges
after shooting a bear in his Auburn, Massachusetts, backyard. The
bear was apparently attracted by a drum of birdseed, so he’s been
charged with “baiting” the creature. Ahlstrand’s Firearms
Identification Card had expired, so that paperwork violation has
landed him two gun charges. And the local police chief thinks that
bears are cute, cuddly, and not dangerous at all, so shooting the
seven-foot tall, 300-400 pound creature has become a separate
The conversation should be interesting. …
Roberto Moreno-Gutierrez and Jaime Moreno-Gutierrez are suing Hill County, the Hill County Sheriff’s Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety in federal court.Their complaint states that the two men were en route from their home in Killeen, Texas to a car dealership in Plano, Texas to purchase a used hybrid electric car, AlterNet reports.At that point they were pulled over and detained by Texas State Trooper Carl. R. Clary, who was driving with a K-9 unit. Troop Clary was not, however, identified as a party to the complaint that has been filed since“The trooper provided no traffic violation or reason for the stop to the plaintiffs,” the complaint states. “The trooper requested driver licenses from both plaintiffs, which he then took to his patrol unit. Upon returning, he requested to search the vehicle. Consent was given, and he then brought out his dog. After a search, the dog was put in its kennel. No drugs or drug paraphernalia were found in the vehicle or on the plaintiffs.”“The officer used a translator apparatus to translate his questions but did not translate the Spanish responses into English,” the suit continues. “He inquired as to the money and the plaintiffs explained where it came from and why they had legal possession.”“There was simply no indication of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, Trooper Clary seized the money and waited for backup. After 20 minutes, the plaintiffs were taken to another squad car and were told they were going to be interviewed where it was quiet. Even though there was no sign from the K-9 and, therefore, no probable cause, the arriving officers tore apart the vehicle for money or drugs that did not exist.”It was at that point, the complaint alleges, that the two men were placed in the back of a police car and taken to the Hill County Sheriff Department Jail, located between Waco and Dallas. They claim the Texas Department of Public Safety officer failed to file a probable cause affidavit or to read them their rights.“At the Hill County Sheriff Department, the plaintiffs were never handcuffed, never Mirandized and never told they were under arrest; rather, they were asked when they were from. The money was counted, and they were then booked into Hill County Jail for what jail documents call pending charges pursuant to ‘money laundering,’” the complaint reads, as posted by Courthouse News.The plaintiffs, who were held in the jail for more than a month without a hearing or any finalized charges, are seeking damages for civil rights violations, false imprisonment, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent supervision, training and retention.It’s not the first time in 2013 Texas cops have come under scrutiny for their practices at the jailhouse. Earlier this year, a Texas mother sued members of the Hays County Sheriff’s Department for failing to prevent her son from committing suicide while he was behind bars. The American Statesman reported that Eric Dykes hung himself in jail after only sporadically receiving medication for his bipolar disorder, the lawsuit claimed. …