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Strasbourg Hears Macedonia Rendition Case

May 17, 2012

The European Court of Human Rights on Wednesday started hearings in the case of Khaled El-Masri, a German allegedly captured in Macedonia as part of the CIA rendition programme.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight, 17.05.2012

 

European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg | Photo by: echr

The 48-year-old German car salesman of Lebanese origin claims that in 2003 he was the victim of a mistaken ”extraordinary rendition” by the CIA and holds Macedonia responsible for the ordeal he suffered.

His case, being heard by a panel of 17 judges in Strasbourg, is expected to shed new light on Macedonian government-level involvement in his alleged abduction.

El-Masri’s lawyer, James Goldstone, in his opening statement briefly presented the evidence before the court, including a sworn statement of an unnamed former Macedonian government official directly involved in the case who confirms El-Masri’s story.

“This court has before it a sworn statement of a former senior official of the government of Macedonia who at the time of El-Masri’s detention personally authorized the involvement of the Macedonian Intelligence Agency, the UBK, in these events,” Goldstone told the court.

El-Masri claims that on his entry into the country in December 2003 Macedonian officials confiscated his passport, detained and interrogated him under armed guard for several weeks, denying him access to consular services and his family.

He says he was taken to Skopje airport in January 2004 and handed over to CIA agents and then flown to Afghanistan, where he remained until his release in Albania four months later.

He complains that during his detention in Afghanistan, he was beaten, held in inhumane conditions, and force fed following a hunger strike. He says he was never charged or brought before a judge.

Khaled El-Masri | Archive photo

El-Masri claims that Macedonia was responsible for gross violations of his human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

There is a “wealth of evidence that Mr El-Masri was the victim of an extra legal rendition in which Macedonia colluded with the United States,” Goldstone said, also pointing to flight data from Eurocontrol and Macedonian authorities that allegedly confirm the flight of the CIA plane from Skopje to Kabul “with one passenger” inside.

Macedonia has always denied handing El-Masri over to the CIA. Macedonia says he was only interviewed by police for five hours on suspicion of traveling with false documents after which he left for neighbouring Kosovo.

A Macedonian agent, Kostadin Bogdanov, said El-Masri’s submission to the court came after the six months period to submit such a complaint has expired, and because of that it should be ruled “inapplicable”.

He also dismissed the sworn statement of the Macedonian former official, saying there was no way to check its credibility and as such it should not be a reason for starting a procedure.

“It is clear from the court’s case law that the new credible allegation piece of evidence or item of information must be relevant to the identification, prosecution or punishment of a perpetrator of an unlawful act. In the present case, it cannot be established that those requirements are met without assessing the credibility of the source and the statement in question,” Bogdanov argued.

The case has also caught the eye of international human rights watchdogs.

“Today’s hearing is a significant development especially at a time when European governments are coming under increased scrutiny for their involvement in the US-led renditions programme,” Amnesty International said in a press release.

The rights organization has in the past urged Macedonia to properly investigate the case. It says Macedonia has failed to do so and it sees El-Masri’s claims as credible.

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 for the Council of Europe published in 2006 and 2007 claims to provide corroborating evidence concerning El-Masri’s rendition.

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.

El-Masri submitted his application against Macedonia to Strasbourg in July 2009. After the hearing, the Court will begin its deliberations, which will be held in private. Its ruling in the case will be made at a later stage.

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