Abu Zubaydah v Lithuania: ECtHR judgment on CIA secret prisons

On 31 May 2018, the European Court of Human Rights (“the Court”) issued a unanimous judgment finding Lithuania legally responsible for violating multiple rights of our client, Abu Zubaydah, during his secret detention at a CIA-run “black site” on its soil. Lithuania’s objections, and attempts to have the ECtHR revisit the judgment, have been rejected. The judgment became final in September 2018 and is now before the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for implementation.

Lithuania was the last European state to allow the CIA to operate such a centre on its territory from 2005 to 2006, as part of the notorious CIA-led extraordinary rendition and torture programme (“ERP”). As one of an estimated 57 states to have participated in the ERP, the judgment should be assessed for its relevance to other states as well as Lithuania. In a remarkably detailed judgment that pulls together the vast array of evidence of the rendition programme now in the public domain. The Court’s found that the totality of the evidence “established beyond reasonable doubt” that:

[A] CIA detention facility, codenamed Detention Site Violet according to the 2014 US Senate Committee Report, was located in Lithuania…” and that Lithuania knew of the nature and purpose of the CIA activities on its territory yet cooperated in CIA rendition secret detention and interrogation operations on its territory. The Court noted that the rationale behind ERP was specifically to “remove persons from any legal protection” and described extraordinary rendition as “anathema to the rule of law”. The Court was unequivocal in its condemnation of the state. It found the following violations of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR):

-       torture and ill-treatment (Article 3).

-       arbitrary detention (Article 5) as “the whole purpose of the programme was to remove persons from any legal protection”. 

-       non-refoulement (Articles 3 and 5) through his transfer from Lithuania, despite foreseeable risk of further rendition and on-going arbitrary detention in Guantanamo.

-       the right to private and family life (Article 8).

-       the right to a remedy (Art 13)

-       the failure to carry out a prompt, thorough and effective investigation, to satisfy the right to truth and its obligations in respect of accountability.

Lithuanian must now pay reparation to Abu Zubaydah, make representations to the US concerning the on-going violations of his rights through his arbitrary detention at Guantanamo and carry out the effective thorough investigation that is long overdue.

The judgment is available here.

The hearing can be viewed here.