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News 13 Dec 12

Strasbourg Finds Macedonia Guilty in Rendition Case

European Court rules rules that Macedonia was responsible for torture, ill-treatment of Khaled El-Masri, a victim of CIA rendition, and orders payment of 60,000 euro in damages.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Khaled El-Masri | Archive photo

The court found El-Masri’s account to be established beyond reasonable doubt and held Macedonia responsible for his torture and ill-treatment both in the country and after his transfer to the US authorities in the context of an extra-judicial “rendition.”

The court said that El-Masri’s accounts were “detailed, specific and consistent” and were supported by “a large amount of indirect evidence”, the judgment reads.

Khaled El-Masri, a German national, claimed that he was captured in Macedonia as part of the CIA rendition programme.

Amnesty Welcomes the Ruling

Today’s ruling on the CIA’s detention and rendition of German national Khaled El-Masri is a historic moment because for the first time it holds a European state accountable for its involvement in the secret US-led programmes and is a milestone in the fight against impunity, Amnesty International and the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) said.

“This judgment confirms the role Macedonia played in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) rendition and secret detention programmes, and is an important step towards accountability for European complicity in rendition and torture,” said Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s expert on counter-terrorism and human rights.

“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.”

He said he was a victim of a mistaken ''extraordinary rendition'' by the CIA, and held Macedonia responsible for the ordeal he suffered.

El-Masri said he was wrongfully arrested in 2003, held in isolation, questioned about alleged ties with terrorist organisations and generally ill-treated in a Skopje hotel for 23 days.

He says he was then handed over to CIA agents who took him to a secret detention facility in Afghanistan where he remained until May 2004.

He says he was beaten, kicked and threatened while being interrogated in a small concrete cell where he was kept at a brick factory near Kabul.

The Macedonian government denied El-Masri’s allegations, saying that he was only briefly interviewed by Macedonian police while entering the country on suspicion of having false documents, and that he soon left for Kosovo.

“The government’s version of events was untenable”, the court concluded in the judgment, adding that Macedonia failed to properly investigate his case.

The case has been discussed in the context of a number of international inquiries into allegations of “extraordinary renditions” in Europe and the involvement of European governments.

El-Masri submitted his application against Macedonia to Strasbourg in July 2009. The court launched a hearing in May this year when his case was heard by a panel of 17 judges.

In 2007 the European Parliament launched an investigation into the alleged illegal transfer, disappearance and torture of detainees in Europe. A report is currently being prepared by the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.

An investigation carried out by the Swiss Senator, Dick Marty, on behalf of the Council of Europe, published in 2006 and 2007, claims to provide corroborating evidence concerning El-Masri’s rendition.

The rights organisation Amnesty International also deemed El-Masri's claims credible. In the past it urged Macedonia to properly investigate the case.

El-Masri previously attempted to bring his case before the courts in the US but his application was rejected, based on “state secrets” privilege. He has also filed petitions against the German government and at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Both cases are pending.

In Macedonia, a request to launch a criminal investigation into his treatment has not been pursued.

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