The Lithuanian Customs Department has refused requests to disclose information that may expose Lithuania’s complicity in the CIA extraordinary rendition and secret detention programs. The Open Society Justice Initiative and the Human Rights Monitoring Institute (HRMI) have challenged Lithuania’s refusal before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Beginning in 2009 reports surfaced that Lithuania hosted a secret CIA prison that reportedly held up to eight “high value detainees” until late 2005. Additional reports showed that flights associated with secret CIA detention landed in Vilnius between 2004 and 2005 and a lawsuit filed on behalf of a detainee alleged, among other things, that Lithuania participated in and provided cover for the transfer of detainees into and out of Lithuania.
The Lithuanian Parliament conducted an inquiry into Lithuania’s participation in the CIA secret detention program. It concluded that two potential detentions facilities existed in Lithuania but was unable to confirm that detainees were held there. Notably, the report stated that on three occasions State Security Department Officers permitted aircraft to enter its territory without inspection of their contents.
On July 4, 2011, HRMI, which has acted as a human rights watchdog in Lithuania, submitted a freedom of information request to the Lithuanian Customs Department, seeking disclosure of general aircraft and cargo inspection procedures. It also requested information relating to the customs inspection of specific flights, that HRMI identified by tail number, associated with the CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition program.
The Customs Department denied the request in its entirety stating that the information was confidential. It did not consider the significant public interest associated with the disclosing the information relating to possible human rights violations on Lithuanian territory. It also did not attempt to determine whether it could disclose part, but not all of the information. On July 2, 2012, the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) upheld the Customs Department’s decision to withhold the information. With regard to the general aircraft and cargo inspection procedures it found that the request was not sufficiently specific. With regard to the specific flights that had been publicly associated with the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition program, the SAC found that the information was confidential and could not be disclosed to third parties.
On December 20, 2012, HRMI and the Open Society Justice Initiative filed an application before the ECHR, alleging that by withholding the requested information, the Lithuanian government has violated HRMI’s right to information and right to an effective remedy.
The Open Society Justice Initiative is acting as co-counsel with the Human Rights Monitoring Institute in the application before the ECHR.
Right to Information. The reliance on a blanket ban to refuse access to information without any individualized consideration of the circumstances of the case was an unjustified and disproportionate interference with Article 10 ECHR.
Right to an Effective Remedy. The lack of an effective domestic remedy by which to challenge the refusal to disclose Customs Department information in the public interest violated Article 13 ECHR.
November, 2009. Media reports state that Lithuania hosted a secret CIA prison.
December, 2009. Lithuanian Parliament concludes its inquiry into Lithuania’s participation in the CIA secret detention program.
January, 2010. Office of the Prosecutor General opens criminal investigation.
January 14, 2011. Office of the Prosecutor General declares the criminal investigation closed.
July 4, 2011. HRMI submits freedom of information request to the Lithuanian Customs Department.
July 29, 2011. Lithuanian Customs Department denies the request on the grounds that the information was confidential.
July 2, 2012. The Supreme Administrative Court issues a final ruling upholding the Customs Department’s decision to withhold information.
December 20, 2012. HRMI and the Open Society Justice Initiative file application before the European Court of Human Rights.