Amnesty International: A ruling today by the European Court of Human Rights on the CIA’s detention and rendition of German national Khaled El-Masri has been hailed as a historic moment.
The European Court has held unanimously that Macedonia was responsible for the German national’s unlawful detention, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment, and for his transfer out of Macedonia to locations where he suffered further serious violations of his human rights. It also said that Macedonia did not satisfy its obligation to carry out an effective investigation.
On 31 December 2003, the Macedonian authorities arrested El-Masri, who is of Lebanese descent, after he entered Macedonia from Serbia. They held him incommunicado, subjecting him to enforced disappearance, repeated interrogations and to ill-treatment until 23 January 2004, when they handed him over to CIA agents.
As part of a covert, US-led rendition and secret detention programme, the CIA transferred El-Masri to a secret detention facility in Afghanistan. There he was held unlawfully in secret and denied access to a lawyer. His enforced disappearance continued for over four months, during which he was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. Finally, on 28 May 2004, El-Masri was put on a plane and flown to Albania where he was released
Amnesty International and the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) said today’s ruling was significant because for the first time it holds a European state accountable for its involvement in the secret US-led programme.
Amnesty International’s expert on counter-terrorism and human rights, Julia Hall, said:
“This judgment confirms the role Macedonia played in the CIA rendition and secret detention programmes, and is an important step towards accountability for European complicity in rendition and torture.
“Macedonia is not alone. Many other European governments colluded with the USA to abduct, transfer, ‘disappear’ and torture people in the course of rendition operations. This judgment represents progress, but much more needs to be done to ensure accountability across Europe.”
The International Committee of Jurists Secretary General Wilder Tayler said:
“This ruling is historic. It recognises that the CIA rendition and secret detention system involved torture and enforced disappearances. It emphasises that both the victims and the public have the right to know the truth about these serious violations. It affirms without doubt that Europe cannot be an area of impunity but it must be a place of redress and accountability where international human rights law obligations are not bypassed but fulfilled.
“Other European governments – such as Poland, Lithuania, and Romania, against which cases are also pending with the Court – should note today’s European Court judgment and take measures to ensure that the truth is told, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigations are carried out and those responsible are held accountable.”
Amnesty and the ICJ also stressed that the court’s ruling serves to highlight the absence of accountability in the USA, with the court noting that a claim filed against the CIA by El-Masri was dismissed by the US courts after the US government invoked “state secrets privilege”.