Secret Detentions

CIA illicit practices

Alleged secret detentions in Council of Europe member states

The Council of Europe's action follows allegations revealed by The Washington Post and the NGO Human Rights Watch in 2005 about the existence of secret CIA detention centres in Council of Europe member states. An investigation was launched by the Parliamentary Assembly on 1 November 2005, with Swiss Senator Dick Marty appointed as rapporteur.

In 2006 and 2007, the Assembly adopted two high-profile investigative reports on illegal transfers of detainees and secret detentions in member states, which highlighted the case of Khaled el-Masri as a particularly well-documented example of illicit practices by the CIA. These reports gave rise to parliamentary and judicial investigations in several countries.

On 13 December 2012, the European Court of Human Rights delivered a historic judgment in the case of el-Masri v. “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. It is the first condemnation by an international court of the CIA practice of renditions and secret detentions, which the Court has likened to enforced disappearance and cruel and inhuman treatment.

Parliamentary Assembly

13 December 2012: PACE President welcomes Strasbourg Court’s el-Masri judgment

“The Court made it very clear that such practices are serious violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. On behalf of the Assembly, I can only welcome this judgment, which also vindicates the findings of the Assembly’s reports on this subject-matter prepared by our esteemed former colleague Dick Marty from Switzerland,” said PACE President Jean-Claude Mignon reacting to the Court's decision.

Inhis last report from 2011, the rapporteur Marty evaluated the various judicial or parliamentary inquiries launched after his reports five years ago named European governments which had hosted CIA secret prisons or colluded in rendition and torture. Overall, he concludes that unjustified resort to the doctrine of “state secrets” is still too often shielding secret services from scrutiny of involvement in human rights violations.

Secretary General

''The Secretary General of the Council of Europe may, under Article 52 of the European Convention on Human Rights, request “any High Contracting party […to] furnish an explanation of the manner in which its internal law ensures the effective implementation of any of the provisions of this Convention''.

On 14 June 2006, a report related to allegations of rendition flights and illegal detentions was published by former Secretary General Terry Davis, as a part of his inquiry under this article, in which he made concrete proposals to European governments for laws to control the activities of foreign intelligence services in Europe, reviewing state immunity, and making better use of existing controls on over-flights, including requiring landing and search of civil flights engaged in state functions.

European Court of Human Rights

Currently five individual applications have been lodged before the European Court of Human Rights pertaining to CIA rendition and secret detention operations in Council of Europe member states (against “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, Poland, Italy, Lithuania and Romania), many drawing on Senator Dick Marty's investigations.

Judgment in the case El-Masri (13 December 2012)

The Court found several violations of the Convention in the case of El-Masri v. "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia". The applicant, a German national of Lebanese origin, complained that he was arrested and tortured in Skopje, because he was suspected of belonging to a terrorist organisation, and that he was handed over to the CIA which then kept him in a secret detention centre in Afghanistan. The Court 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”.

Other Council of Europe institutions

Commissioner for Human Rights

In two comments marking the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights echoed in September 2011 Dick Marty's repeated calls for accountability on the part of European governments:

Anti-torture Committee (CPT)

  • Reporting on a September 2010 visit to Romania, CPT questions the absence of a judicial inquiry into the allegations of a secret CIA prison in the country. In their response, the Romanian authorities repeat that there is no evidence of this, and that – in the absence of proof – for them the subject is closed.
  • Reporting on a June 2010 visit to Lithuania, CPT questions both the promptness and thoroughness of the Lithuanian Prosecutor General’s pre-trial investigation into abuse of office, then under way. In their response, the Lithuanian authorities report that “no objective data concerning the fact of abuse (or another criminal act) were collected during the pre-trial investigation” and therefore no charges will be brought.

Venice Commission

In an opinion published in March 2006, legal experts from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission say that, under the European Convention on Human Rights and other international laws, member states should refuse to allow transit of prisoners where there is a risk of torture. If this is suspected, they should search civil planes or refuse overflight to state planes.

Fighting terrorism in images