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Regional Briefs

News updates on Congo, Israel, Palestine and Jordan

Democratic Republic of Congo

Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga was sentenced by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to 14 years in prison for the recruitment and use of child soldiers in the ongoing hostilities in the region. This is the ICC’s first ever sentencing for a war crime.  Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford said the sentence is harsh because the “vulnerability of children mean that they need to be afforded particular protection that does not apply to the general population, as recognised in various international treaties.”

Lubanga was found guilty in March of kidnapping and training children of both genders under the age of 15 and sending them to fight in the Ituri region in the Democratic Republic of Congo from September 2002 to August  2003. Of the 14 years of his sentence, Lubanga will serve approximately eight. This reflects the time Lubanga, who has been detained in The Hague since March 2006, has already spent behind bars as well as what Judge Fulford considers an exceedingly respectful attitude and full cooperation with the court.




An Israeli court cleared former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Tuesday of two key corruption charges, but convicted him of breach of trust, a less serious crime. The conviction marks the first time an Israeli Prime Minister has been convicted. The high-profile corruption case, including accusations that the prime minister accepted envelopes stuffed with cash and paid-for trips abroad, has been proceeding since the charges cut short Olmert’s term as Prime Minister in 2008. Olmert has since maintained he is innocent of any criminal wrongdoings. Olmert seemed visibly relieved when the verdict was read, smiling and kissing his lawyers. He declared that the courts had not found him guilty of corruption, only of procedural irregularity from which he would “learn the necessary lessons.”



Palestine 1

A lawyer for the now-famous Palestinian football player who has been on a hunger strike for 92 days said that Mahmoud Sarsak  resumed eating after striking a deal with Israel to be released on July 10. His family has provided a base of support for the imprisoned footballer. “While Mahmoud was in prison, we died a thousand times as we were afraid for his health day after day because of the Israeli mistreatment of prisoners,” said Sarsak’s elder sister. Sarsak, 26, has been held by Israel for nearly three years without being formally charged or tried. Hundreds of prominent people in the world of football have rallied behind his cause, such as football legend Eric Cantona and FIFA President Sepp Blatter. His supporters have repeatedly called for action, such as asking UEFA to reconsider allowing Israel to host the 2012 Under 21 tournament and waving Palestinian flags at Israel matches.



Palestine 2

The Palestinian government decided on Tuesday local and municipal elections will be held in the West Bank and Gaza on October 20, Palestinian officials said. “The Palestinian government decided today during its meeting to hold the local, municipal and district elections on October 20 throughout the Palestinian territory,” the Palestinian official told AFP on condition of anonymity. The news comes barely a week after Hamas halted voter registration citing “obstacles” that needed resolving. Last year Palestinian officials similarly attempted to hold elections, first in June then in October. Both failed election attempts failed due to deep divides between Hamas-ruled Gaza and Palestinian Authority-ruled West Bank, several disagreements led to the failure of implementation. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank have been separate governments for more than five years. “You cannot hold the elections hostage to Hamas forever,” West Bank government spokesman Ghassan Khatib said.



Jordanian opposition leaders said parliamentary elections should be delayed until next year, in order to have more time to draft elections laws accepted by all.

As the situation stands, several political powers are considering boycotting the upcoming elections, which are scheduled for December 2. A recent amendment raised the number of seats allocated for the closed proportional list from 17 to 27. A majority of MPs voted in favour of the amendment and the lower house endorsed it on Sunday.

Opposition leaders, however, warned that the increase of ten seats was far below expectations and that tension would continue to mount. Opposition groups are demanding the right to contest for 50 percent of seats in the House of Representative, or 70 of the 140 available seats.

The legislation adopted a mixed electoral system that features a majority vote at the district level and a closed proportional list at the national level, which is open to all citizens and political parties.

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