Wednesday

20th Nov 2019

CIA rendition victim wins European court case

  • Poland, Lithuania, and Romania as well some Scandinavian countries allegedly colluded with the CIA in its rendition programme (Photo: Council of Europe)

The European Court of Human Rights has vindicated a German national, a victim of the CIA’s secret rendition programme on European soil, in what human rights advocates are calling a major ruling.

The Strasbourg-based court on Thursday (13 December) decided that Macedonian authorities had violated the fundamental rights of Khaled El-Masri when they handed him over to the CIA in 2004.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

Macedonia is the first European state to be held accountable for its involvement in the secret US-led programme by the court.

"This ruling is historical. It recognises that the CIA rendition and secret detention system involved torture and enforced disappearances," said Wilder Tayler, secretary general of the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists.

Macedonian border guards arrested El-Masri on 31 December 2003 over his suspected ties to terrorist organisations. He was then taken to a hotel in Skojpe, kept locked in a room for 23 days, before being led to the airport handcuffed and blindfolded.

He spent the next four months, without any charges, in a small concrete cell in a brick factory near Kabul. His pleas to speak to German embassy officials were ignored. He was instead tied up, beaten, and threatened throughout the ordeal until the CIA realised they had the wrong person.

El-Masri, who had by then gone on two hunger strikes (one lasting 37 days), was eventually flown to Albania and dumped on the side of a road. German authorities issued arrest warrants in 2007 for the CIA agents involved in his abduction.

The court found El-Masri’s account to be established beyond reasonable doubt and held that "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" had been responsible for his torture and ill-treatment both in the country itself and after his transfer to the US authorities in the context of an extra-judicial "rendition."

The ruling could have broader implications on Poland, Lithuania and Romania thought to have hosted similar CIA detention centres and rendition programmes.

All three have pending cases at the court but independent investigations have come to a virtual standstill.

"Can it be that all a government has to do is deny, that all an EU member state has to do is deny, deny, deny and suddenly that is somehow transformed into truth? That really can't be the way the EU operates when it comes to human rights," Julia Hall, Amnesty International's expert on counter-terrorism and human rights, told this website from New York.

The European Parliament called upon the three member states in September to relaunch independent investigations into the allegations but without much success.

Despite having acknowledged, in 2009, the existence of two CIA detention centres, Lithuania authorities remain largely silent on the issue.

A committee on the prevention of torture at the Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, had visited the Lithuanian sites in the summer of 2010.

But an investigation into the allegations that eight people were held in CIA detention centres was stopped several months later in January 2011.

"There is in Lithuania virtually no accountability at all for the centres, there is no on-going investigations to determine whether anybody was ever held there. Things are at a standstill," Hall said.

Poland's former head of intelligence, Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, was charged in March 2012 for his involvement with the CIA rendition programme in 2008.

But ongoing criminal investigations have since been met with numerous delays, says Amnesty International.

"The lawyers for the victims really need to have greater participation in the proceedings," noted Hall.

Romania, for its part, continues to deny any involvement despite the admission of former CIA officials who had identified sites.

"Romania is essentially a brick-wall. They have absolutely flat-out denied any participation," said Hall.

Feature

Widow's plea as EU diplomats debate Magnitsky Act

"If evil is not defeated, it tends to expand", Natalia Magnitsky, the widow of a Russian anti-corruption activist, has said, as EU diplomats discuss human rights sanctions 10 years after his death.

Commission defends Breton's Atos over police data

The European Commission defended Atos for hosting EU police data, despite its own public guidelines that state operational and technical copies should not be entrusted to third parties. Atos former CEO Thierry Breton is set to become a European commissioner.

Exclusive

Breton's firm hosted unlawful copy of EU police data

France's Thierry Breton is set to become the next European Commissioner for industrial policy. While he was CEO of IT giant Atos, the firm hosted unlawful partial copies of EU police data on behalf of the United Kingdom.

No large-scale disinformation detected in EU this year

The EU set up a 'Rapid Alert System' in March to allow national authorities in member states to inform the rest of the bloc of any large-scale disinformation campaigns. No alert has so far been triggered.

Stalling on VAT reform costing billions, says Commission

German media outlet Correctiv, along with other newsrooms, have revealed how criminals annually cheat EU states out of billions in VAT fraud. The EU Commission says solutions exist - but member states refuse to budge on tax unanimity.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us