Lithuania’s Silence on CIA Abuses Faces European Court Challenge

Lithuania’s refusal to release information related to its role in CIA counterterrorism abuses is being challenged at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.

The Open Society Justice Initiative has joined Lithuania’s Human Rights Monitoring Institute (HRMI) in a complaint before the court over the government’s refusal to make public information on incoming CIA-chartered flights in 2004 and 2005. The application argues that the information should be made available in the public interest.

Henrikas Mickevičius, executive director of HRMI, said, “By withholding all information on CIA-related flights the government interfered with our right to obtain information and prevented us from performing our function as human rights watchdog in Lithuania.”

Darian Pavli, a lawyer with the Justice Initiative, added, “This information is of critical importance for determining the scope of Lithuania’s complicity in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition operations. The public has a right to know the full truth about the secret detentions, and the Lithuanian government must come clean.”

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 the capital, Vilnius, between 2004 and 2005.

HRMI submitted a freedom of information request to the Lithuanian Customs Department in July 2011, seeking disclosure of general aircraft and cargo inspection procedures. It also requested information relating to the customs inspection of specific flights associated with the CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition program.

The department denied the request, stating that the information was confidential, a decision upheld in July 2012 by the Supreme Administrative Court.

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 under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Justice Initiative has filed a series of cases before the ECHR over European complicity in the CIA’s secret rendition and torture program and on the public’s right of access to government information.

In December 2012, the court awarded our client Khaled El-Masri damages over his illegal seizure by Macedonia and found that he had been subjected to abuse amounting to torture when handed over to the CIA in January 2004, in a case of mistaken identity. The Justice Initiative has also filed cases against Poland and Romania for their roles in the transfer, detention, and mistreatment of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri in secret CIA prisons on their territories.