Category Archives: Justice

Elderly black women in S. Africa win property rights in landmark ruling

Screenshot_2020-01-30 Elderly black women in S Africa win property rights in landmark ruling
ARCHIVE PHOTO: A woman washes her dishes in Durban December 2, 2011. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

JOHANNESBURG, – Facing destitution when her marriage broke down, 72-year-old Agnes Sithole went to court to challenge a sexist law – and won not only a share of her husband’s property but a legal victory that will protect some 400,000 other black South African women.

Under South African law, married couples own all their assets jointly and both must consent to major transactions.

But for black women married prior to 1988, the husband owned all matrimonial assets and could sell them without consulting his wife – until Sithole’s landmark High Court win this month which overturned the discriminatory law.

“This is a major judgment for South African women,” said Aninka Claassens, a land rights expert at the University of Cape Town, responding to the ruling against sections of the Matrimonial Property Act of 1984 and amendments made in 1988.

“If you haven’t got property rights as a woman, you are more vulnerable to stay in an abusive marriage. This case changes these rights,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Across South Africa, a quarter century after racial segregation and white minority rule under apartheid officially ended through a negotiated settlement, land and property ownership remain sensitive topics.

Sithole’s legal victory in the eastern city of Durban could help an estimated 400,000 women by giving them more economic freedom, said the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), a human rights organisation that helped Sithole take her case to court.

Black women in rural South Africa face a “double whammy” said Claassens, as both apartheid and customary laws – where land is handed down from father to son – have deprived them of property rights.

Traditionally, women are regarded as inferior to men in Sithole’s KwaZulu-Natal province, said women’s land rights activist Sizani Ngubane, who has campaigned against evictions and abuse of women in rural areas for more than 40 years.

Male-dominated tribal authorities hold great sway over rural communities, with the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini controlling 2.8 million hectares of land, an area the size of Belgium, under an entity called the Ingonyama Trust.

Ngubane, nominated as one of three finalists in the 2020 Martin Ennals Award, a prestigious human rights prize, said this month’s Durban court ruling was significant.

“This will make a difference in terms of women’s land and property inheritance,” said Ngubane, 74, who has faced death threats for her activism. “Women can take decisions if they own property. They can have equality.”

Ngubane has gone to court to challenge the Ingonyama Trust, which she said only leases land under its control to men, with widows being evicted from their homes when their husbands die.

Despite the legal victory, women’s rights experts were wary of celebrating too soon.

“The symbolism of this judgment is important … hopefully, if enough women know about it they can begin asserting their rights,” said Claassens.

“But unfortunately, since (the introduction of democracy in) 1994 we have seen the space for change continue to be undermined by new patriarchal laws,” Claassens said, highlighting legislation that has bolstered the power of traditional leaders.

The LRC plans to hold workshops in rural areas to educate women, chiefs and the courts about the ruling.

“This will require a lot of hard work and buy-in from other non-profits to show women how they can benefit from this legal change,” said Sharita Samuel, an LRC attorney who worked on Sithole’s case.

For Ngubane, such grassroots work is critical in improving the lives of rural South African women.

“We know the courts can protect women,” she said.

“The biggest challenge for us is changing attitudes of men on the ground who believe that women are children. We are so much more than that.”

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200129111914-05t8e/

 

Kenya’s finance minister, top officials arrested for corruption

7F53A2FB-2375-496E-949D-49B63F12A11EHenry Rotich and his co-accused face eight charges, ranging from conspiring to defraud and financial misconduct [File:Baz Ratner/Reuters]

Kenya’s Finance Minister Henry Rotich and other treasury officials have been arrested on corruption and fraud charges related to a multimillion-dollar project to build two massive dams, police said.

Rotich, his principal secretary and the chief executive of Kenya’s environmental authority handed themselves in to the police on Monday, hours after the country’s chief prosecutor ordered the arrest and prosecution of Rotich and 27 other top officials.

“They are in custody now awaiting to be taken to court,” police chief George Kinoti told AFP news agency.

“We are looking for [the] others and they will all go to court.”

Rotich’s arrest marks the first time a sitting Kenyan minister has been arrested on corruption charges, in a country where graft is widespread. The charges against him stem from a police investigation into the misuse of funds in a dam project overseen by the Italian construction company CMC Di Ravenna.

Rotich denied any wrongdoing in a large newspaper advertisement in March. The company has also denied any wrongdoing.

Noordin Haji, Kenya’s Director of Public Prosecutions, said the finance minister and the co-accused would face eight charges, ranging from conspiring to defraud and financial misconduct.

“They broke the law on public finance management under the guise of carrying out legitimate commercial transactions, colossal amounts were unjustifiably and illegally paid out through a well-choreographed scheme by government officers in collusion with private individuals and institutions,” Haji told a news conference earlier on Monday.

‘Nothing to worry about’

According to the contract, the project was to cost a total of $450m, but the treasury had increased this amount by $164m “without regard to performance or works”, he said.

Some $180m has already been paid out, with little construction to show for it.

Another $6m was paid out for the resettlement of people living in areas that would be affected by the project, but there is no evidence of land being acquired for this, he said.

“I am satisfied that economic crimes were committed and I have therefore approved their arrests and prosecutions,” said Haji.

Rotich’s arrest will send shockwaves through the political elite, who are accustomed to corruption scandals resulting in little official action.

Earlier this year, the finance minister’s questioning by police provoked an angry reaction among politicians from his powerful Kalenjin ethnic group.

Rotich’s arrest may also be seen as further evidence of growing distance between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto. Ruto had requested Rotich’s appointment.

On Monday, Ruto’s allies played down the charges.

“There is nothing to worry about. Relax,” Kipchumba Murkomen, the senate majority leader and a Ruto ally, told reporters.

Many charged, few convicted

Critics have accused Kenyatta, who was re-elected for a second term last year, of failing to deal with corruption despite his promises to do so.

“We’ve seen the president coming out very strongly over the years saying he wants to make this issue a priority, he wants to leave behind a corrupt-free country, but a lot of Kenyans are disappointed,” Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi said, reporting from Samburu County in Kenya.

“Over the years we’ve seen major scandals involving public money, millions of dollars, involving public figures as well … arrests have been made. But then people are saying that beyond that nothing happens, they have not seen any convictions,  those who are found culpable haven’t seen their assets frozen, or their money returned to taxpayers,” she said.

“Thirty percent of government expenditure is lost to corruption and mismanagement .. a lot of Kenyans are saying that they need the president to do more if this fight against corruption is to be won.”

Rotich’s arrest was a “significant” step on a very long road, said Samuel Kimeu, the head of Kenya’s chapter of Transparency International.

But he added: “I would not be celebrating arrests. We need to see people in jail and we need to see what has been stolen recovered.”

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/07/kenya-finance-minister-top-officials-arrested-corruption-190722103920663.html

 

Italian court jails 24 over South American Operation Condor

Condor Family members hold photos of people who disappeared during Operation Condor, in Santiago, Chile, in 2004. Photograph: Ian Salas/EPA

An Italian court has sentenced 24 people to life in prison for their involvement in Operation Condor, in which the dictatorships of six South American countries conspired to kidnap and assassinate political opponents in each other’s territories.

The trial, the first of its kind in Europe, began in 2015 and focused on the responsibility of senior officials in the military dictatorships of Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina for the killing and disappearance of 43 people including 23 Italian citizens.

Those sentenced on Monday included Francisco Morales Bermúdez, who was president of Peru from 1975 to 1980, Juan Carlos Blanco, a former foreign minister in Uruguay, Pedro Espinoza Bravo, a former deputy intelligence chief in Chile, and Jorge Néstor Fernández Troccoli, a Uruguayan former naval intelligence officer.

Exactly how many people died as a result of the conspiracy is unknown, but prosecutors in South America and Italy provided evidence that at least 100 leftwing activists were killed in Argentina, including 45 Uruguayans, 22 Chileans, 15 Paraguayans and 13 Bolivians.

“Operation Condor spared no one,” said Francesca Lessa, a research fellow at Oxford University’s Latin American Centre. “Refugees and asylum seekers were especially targeted, while children – illegally detained with their parents – had their biological identity stolen and replaced by that of adoptive families.”

According to a database recording the crimes of the coordinated regional repression, at least 496 people of 11 nationalities were kidnapped under the auspices of Operation Condor.

Declassified documents suggest some victims were drugged, their stomachs were slit open and they were dropped from planes into the Atlantic Ocean. Other victims’ bodies were cemented into barrels and thrown into rivers.

Monday’s verdict was the result of years of pressure from the families of those who disappeared. “For decades, the victims’ relatives have been seeking justice,” Lessa said. “In the late 1990s and early 2000s, impunity dominated South America, with former politicians and military officials involved in Condor Operation still enjoying immunity. Bringing them before a judge to take responsibility for their crimes was not a simple undertaking.”

The crimes took place in the 1970s and 1980s. “Many of the perpetrators were growing old and may never be brought to justice,” said Jorge Ithurburu, a lawyer for 24 Marzo, a Rome-based NGO. “The more time passed the more the witnesses of those atrocious crimes aged or died.”

Aurora Meloni, 68, whose husband, Daniel Banfi, was kidnapped and murdered in Buenos Aires in 1974, told the Guardian: “We’ve never given up and today we all won. Today’s ruling is not only for my husband … today’s ruling is dedicated to all the people killed and kidnapped under Condor.”

Prosecutors in the case drew on the precedent set in 2000 by the arrest in London of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”.

In 2016, Argentina’s last military dictator, Reynaldo Bignone, and 16 other former military officials were sentenced to years in prison, marking the first time a court had proved the existence of Operation Condor.

Last April, a newly declassified CIA document showed that European intelligence agencies sought advice from South America’s 1970s dictatorships on how to combat leftwing “subversion”.

“Representatives of West German, French and British intelligence services had visited the Condor organization secretariat in Buenos Aires during the month of September 1977 in order to discuss methods for establishment of an anti-subversion organization similar to Condor,” the document stated.

According to the human rights prosecution office in Buenos Aires, 977 former military officers and collaborators are in jail for crimes relating to Argentina’s dictatorship.

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/08/italian-court-jails-24-over-south-american-operation-condor

When They See Us: Central Park Five prosecutor resigns from college post

Park Image captionElizabeth Lederer’s prosecution of five black and Hispanic teenagers for a rape they did not commit was overturned in 2002

The prosecutor of five teenagers convicted for the brutal rape of a female jogger in 1989 – depicted in Netflix’s When They See Us – has left her job at at Columbia Law School.

Lawyer Elizabeth Lederer led the prosecution, but in Ava DuVernay’s series she is seen expressing doubts about their guilt.

The boys, known as the Central Park Five, said police coerced them into confessing and were exonerated in 2002.

They were all black and Hispanic.

Columbia University’s Black Students Organisation had set up a petition asking the school to fire Ms Lederer amid outcry generated by the series.

The New York Times reported that the school’s dean emailed students saying Ms Lederer “decided not to seek reappointment as a lecturer”.

She is also a prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Gillian Lester, the dean of the school, said Ms Lederer wrote that the Netflix series had “reignited a painful – and vital – national conversation about race, identity, and criminal justice.”

The New York Times said the email included a statement from Ms Lederer saying she had enjoyed her years teaching at Columbia but would not be returning.

She said: “Given the nature of the recent publicity generated by the Netflix portrayal of the Central Park case, it is best for me not to renew my teaching application.”

The BBC has contacted Ms Lederer, Columbia Law School and Manhattan district attorney’s office for comment.

When They See Us, a four-part mini-series, has proved hugely popular on Netflix, and in the US the series has been the streaming service’s most-watched show since it debuted. In the UK it is the second-most watched after Black Mirror.

What happened in the Central Park Five case?

The victim, a white 28-year-old investment banker, was severely beaten, raped and left for dead in a bush. She had no memory of it.

Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise – then aged between 14 and 16 – were arrested and interrogated for hours without access to lawyers or their parents.

They confessed to the crime but later recanted, saying their admissions were the result of police coercion.

The 1989 interrogation was conducted by another prosecutor and police.

The convictions were overturned in 2002 after a serial violent offender named Matias Reyes confessed to the attack and said he had acted alone.

A US judge in 2014 approved a $41m (£32m) settlement between the five and New York City.

This is the second job loss for someone connected with the case since the series was released.

On 4 June, Linda Fairstein, a former US prosecutor involved in the case, resigned from several boards.

She observed the teenagers’ 1989 interrogation, which was conducted by another prosecutor and police. She was Manhattan’s sexual crimes top prosecutor at the time, and has since maintained they were not coerced and defended the authorities’ conduct.

When They See Us inspired a #CancelLindaFairstein movement on social media amid renewed outcry over her role in the case.

On 8 June, Ms Fairstein, who is now a crime novelist and children’s author, was dropped by her publisher.

Two days later she wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “Ava DuVernay’s miniseries wrongly portrays them as totally innocent – and defames me in the process.”

Ava Duvernay was asked about Linda Fairstein during an interview by Oprah Winfrey, and said: “I think that it’s important that people be held accountable.”

But she added: “She is part of a system that’s not broken, it was built to be this way… the real thing that we are all trying to do.. is to be able to say, ‘Go America…Let’s do this. Let’s change this.’

“You can’t change what you don’t know, so we came together to show you what you may not know.”

“That’s our goal.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-48637219

India: six guilty of child rape and murder that outraged nation

IndiaA bus carrying the accused arrives at court in Pathankot, Jammu and Kashmir state, on Monday. Photograph: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images

An Indian court has convicted six men of involvement in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state last year, in a case that sparked outrage and criticism of the country’s ruling party after some of its members opposed charges being laid.

The girl, from a nomadic Muslim community that roams the forests of Kashmir, was drugged, held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in January 2018.

The abduction, rape and killing of the child was part of a plan to remove the minority nomadic community from the area, the 15-page charge sheet said.

Among those accused were a Hindu priest and police officers, raising communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims in the area.

“This is a victory of truth,” the prosecution lawyer M Farooqi said outside the court. “The girl and her family have got justice today. We are satisfied with the judgment.”

The prosecution was seeking the death penalty for three men – the priest Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar – who were convicted of rape and murder, he said.

Three others, Surinder Kumar, Tilak Raj and Anand Dutta, were convicted of lesser crimes of destroying evidence.

AK Sawhney, a lawyer leading the legal team representing the accused, said they planned to appeal against the verdict.

The trial, held in private, began more than a year ago in Pathankot, a town about 45 miles from Rasana village in Kathua district, where the incident happened.

The supreme court shifted the trial to the neighbouring state of Punjab after the girl’s family and lawyer said they faced death threats, and local lawyers and Hindu politicians, including some from the ruling Bharatiya Janata party, held protests against police filing charges.

India has long been plagued by violence against women and children. Reported rapes climbed 60% to 40,000 from 2012 to 2016, according to government statistics, and many more go unreported, especially in rural areas.

Eight people are accused of involvement in the case. The seventh man, named as Vishal, was found not guilty on Monday, Farooqi said, while the eighth, a juvenile, is awaiting trial.

Fake Saudi prince Anthony Gignac jailed for $8m fraud

Fraud

For years, Anthony Gignac lived a life of luxury fit for a royal.

He wore expensive jewellery, travelled in private jets or cars with diplomatic licence plates, and carried business cards referring to himself as “Sultan”.

But the story of the self-proclaimed prince finally unravelled on Friday, as he was jailed for 18 years for fraud.

A Florida judge said Gignac, 48, was a con man who posed as a Saudi royal to swindle $8 million (£6.3 million) from investors.

“Over the course of the last three decades, Anthony Gignac has portrayed himself as a Saudi prince in order to manipulate, victimise, and scam countless investors from around the world,” US Attorney Fajardo Orshan said in a statement.

“As the leader of a sophisticated, multi-person, international fraud scheme, Gignac used his fake persona – Prince Khalid Bin Al-Saud – to sell false hope. He sold his victims on hope for their families, careers, and future. As a result, dozens of unsuspecting investors were stripped of their investments, losing more than $8 million,” Ms Orshan added.

Born in Colombia, Gignac was adopted by a family in the US state of Michigan at the age of seven.

By 17, he had already started taking on the persona of a Saudi royal, using his alter-ego to con credit card companies, shop staff and investors.

According to court documents, he has been arrested 11 times in the past three decades for “prince-related schemes”.

From as early as May 2015, he has been using the name Khalid Bin Al-Saud, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida says.

To support his fraudulent persona, he purchased fake diplomatic licence plates and papers for his bodyguards. He wore traditional Saudi clothes and expensive rings and watches.

He often travelled on private jets or luxury yachts, and collected expensive artwork.

His fake life was chronicled on an Instagram account, where he shared photos of his dog sitting in designer bags and Saudi royals with captions like “my dad”.

When meeting with investors, he would refer to himself as a prince and demand that royal protocols such as gift giving were followed.

Prosecutors said Gignac used his fake royal persona to convince people to invest in non-existent business ventures around the world.

However, the scheme started to fall apart in May 2017, when he tried to invest in a luxury hotel in Miami.

Over the course of the negotiations, the hotel’s owners became suspicious of Gignac, in part because of his willingness to eat pork products that would normally be off-limits to a devout Muslim prince, the Miami Herald reports.

They then hired a private security group to investigate him, which ultimately led to a federal investigation.

Gignac pleaded guilty earlier this year to wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and impersonating a diplomat, court documents show.

In her statement, Ms Orshan said “justice spoke for the victims” in Friday’s verdict.

Australia Aboriginals win right to sue for colonial land loss

imageChris Griffiths and Lorraine Jones were two of the plaintiffs who brought the case to court [Northern Land Council]

By Bill Code

Sydney, Australia – The  High Court of Australia has handed down the biggest “native title” ruling affecting Aboriginal ownership of the land in decades, amid claims that billions of dollars in compensation will need to be paid by governments to indigenous groups.

“Native title” refers to the rights of Australia’s indigenous people to their traditional land and water recognised by Australian common law.

Lawyers, including those representing mining companies, said the ruling in favour of the Ngaliwurru and Nungali Aboriginal groups – from a remote part of the Northern Territory – paved the way for billions of dollars in compensation nationally.

“The High Court’s decision will likely to trigger compensation applications from many of the hundreds of native title holder groups around Australia,” said Tony Denholder, in the wake of a case that a federal court ruled on in 2016 – before the High Court became involved.

The Native Title Act came about after the landmark “Mabo” decision in 1993 overturned the British claim that Australia was “terra nullius” – nobody’s land. It found that Aboriginal rights to some, but by no means all land, survived colonisation and were not “extinguished”.

Since then, Aboriginal groups have been able to file native title claims over large parts of the country.

Now, the High Court has handed down another landmark ruling on the matter of paying compensation for the loss of those rights – the loss of economic income related to the land and the loss of a spiritual connection to the land. Or in other words, putting a financial price on the severing of cultural ties.

In 2016, the Ngaliwurru and Nungali Aboriginal groups awarded $2.3m in damages because the federal court found that their native title rights were “extinguished” by the Northern Territory government when it built roads and infrastructure through their country near Timber Creek in the 1980s and 90s.

About $1m of that was for “spiritual harm”, which the Northern Territory and Federal governments argued was excessive. But the High Court this week disagreed.

Megan Brayne, a native title lawyer and director of the Comhar Group, told Al Jazeera it was the most important native title ruling in more than 20 years.

“This is a very important case because it is the first time the High Court has set out the principles for compensation. State lawyers will be particularly interested in analysing their compensation liabilities,” she said.

“Where companies are operating on land post-1975 there will be lawyers looking at this.”

Racial discrimination act

That 1975 date is key because it is the year Australia brought in the Racial Discrimination Act – 18 years before the Native Title Act, but just as important.

“Only then did governments have to treat the property rights of Aboriginal Australians the same as other Australians,” explained James Walkley, a native title lawyer with Chalk and Behrendt.

“Since the first colonisation of Australia, Aboriginal people have been dispossessed of property and culture, [but] only since 1975 has the loss of native title become compensable.”

Unwittingly, state and territory governments, or mining and pastoral companies working with the blessing of the government, continued to “extinguish” native title by their activities, right up until that landmark Mabo ruling and the Native Title Act in 1993.

Others step forward

The Ngaliwurru and Nungali groups were assisted in their fight for compensation by the Northern Land Council – the major Aboriginal representative group on land matters in the Northern Territory – which took the case to court.

Interim CEO Jak Ah Kit confirmed other groups were in the works waiting to take advantage of the ruling.

“Already I’ve been notified of other groups,” he told Al Jazeera.

“This is a ruling that brings a different light on native title and the cultural and spiritual loss, let alone the inability to take any economic opportunities [from the land]. We need to revisit those cases where they were unjustly compulsorily acquired by governments, and we’ll then need to take instructions from them,” he said.

“The whole board game changes.”

Brayne said while the ruling provides “significant guidance” in looming court cases, there were still many matters left open by the case, not least how to determine the appropriate amounts of compensation.

She remained hopeful agreements could be found before the more costly path of litigation.

“If not, we can expect there’ll be more matters before the courts,” said Brayne.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/australia-aboriginals-win-sue-colonial-land-loss-190315062311052.html