By Participating in the CIA Secret Detention Program, Lithuania Violated Fundamental Human Rights

In the 31 May 2018 ECtHR judgment in the case of Abu Zubaydah v. Lithuania, the Court found that a secret CIA detention site operated in Lithuania for more than a year. 

Lithuania violated the principles of the ECHR

From February 2005 to March 2006, Abu Zubaydah, linked with the organization of the 9/11 attacks, was held and interrogated at a facility in Lithuania codenamed Detention Site Violet. It should be noted that he was not officially charged with anything and that he is currently imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.

The Court unanimously ruled that Lithuania cooperated with the United States in carrying out the secret Rendition Detention Interrogation Program targeting High-Value Detainees suspected of terrorism. This led to Lithuania committing numerous violations of the European Convention on Human Rights with respect to Abu Zubaydah, who was secretly detained: inhuman treatment, violations of the right to liberty and the right to respect for private life. As there was no effective investigation into these actions in Lithuania, the Court also found a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy).

This decision is not yet final and will come into force in three months should the case not be referred to the Grand Chamber. Any party to the case may request such a referral.

Detention conditions tantamount to inhuman treatment

The European Court of Human Rights found that Lithuanian officials helped purchase a riding academy in Antaviliai (which was later converted to a secret detention site), made it possible for the CIA to secretly transport detainees by air to and from the country, and enabled agents to transport people within the country’s territory. The State Security Department played a key role in all of this by ensuring that these actions were carried out and remained secret. The confidentiality of these operations meant that even the highest state officials of Lithuania most likely did not know the exact details.

Even though the Court could not establish whether enhanced interrogation techniques (such as waterboarding) were used on Abu Zubaydah in Lithuania, it found that his detention conditions (continuous bright light in solitary confinement, constant loud noise) were tantamount to inhumane treatment. The Court deemed the pre-trial investigation into possible violations of Lithuanian law carried out in Lithuania to be ineffective. The violation of the right to freedom and the right to privacy stemmed from the fact that Abu Zubaydah was held in secret detention without any legal basis and was not allowed to contact his relatives for more than a year. When the US authorities decided to close the detention site, the Lithuanian authorities made it possible to move the applicant to another secret detention site in Afghanistan, thus enabling further violations of his rights.

Not the first such decision

The judgment in Abu Zubaydah v. Lithuania is one of a series of ECHR rulings relating to the 2001-2009 CIA Rendition Detention Interrogation Program. In 2014, the Court that Poland was guilty of similar violations against the same applicant. Two other countries were found to be in breach of their human rights obligations – Romania (Al Nashiri v. Romania, judgment of 31 May 2018) and Macedonia (El Masri v. Macedonia, judgment of 13 December 2012).

These judgments serve as a reminder that neither national security nor other interests can justify the denial of natural human rights in a democracy. It is clear that any permission given to another state to carry out such acts is incompatible with the Constitution of Lithuania. When examining the issue of the death penalty back in 1998, the Constitutional Court of Lithuania held that the fundamental nature of human rights means “that they apply to both the best and the worst people”. As such, state-sanctioned cruel treatment of a human being dehumanizes the latter, with him or her being treated as an object to extract evidence from and punish.

In this respect, the ECtHR maintains that, according to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, “…every human being has an absolute, inalienable right not to be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment under any circumstances, even the most difficult. The philosophical basis underpinning the absolute nature of the right under Article 3 does not allow for any exceptions or justifying factors or balancing of interests, irrespective of the conduct of the person concerned and the nature of the offence at issue” (Gäfgen v. Germany).

Challenge for the protection of fundamental rights

As evidenced by the secret prison story, circumstances such as secrecy, inadequate accountability of intelligence services and, at times, even personal interests (the 2014 report of the US Senate Committee, cited by the ECtHR, mentions that the CIA, to secure cooperation, gave large sums of cash to high-level government officials) can pose a serious challenge to the protection of fundamental rights and the rule of law. As such, to safeguard Lithuania’s identity as a democratic state, to protect its reputation as a state that respects human rights, and to ensure the rule of law, these events should be thoroughly investigated and assessed.

Dr. Erika Leonaitė, Legal Programmes Manager at Human Rights Monitoring Institute, lecturer at Vilnius University

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“Amnesty International” report on Human Rights around the Globe and Lithuania

Every year, “Amnesty International” announces its Report on the state of the world’s human rights. The latest report looks at the situation in 2017/2018 and identifies major human rights issues.

Universal challenges for human rights

Conflict, austerity measures and natural disasters pushed many into deeper poverty and insecurity; millions were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere in their own countries or across international borders. Discrimination remained rife in all regions of the world, while Governments of all persuasions continued to crack down on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Focus on the situation of reproductive rights and LGBT * community in Lithuania

Parliament considered a law which would severely restrict access to abortion. If implemented, it would restrict women’s access to abortion in cases where the pregnancy poses a risk to the woman’s life or health, or when it is the result of rape. The President signed legislation which discriminated against lesbian, gay and bisexual people. According to the amendment to the Law on Equal Opportunities family members are defined as “spouses or direct descendants”, effectively excluding unmarried partners and thereby preventing – among others – same-sex couples from being legally considered as family members.

In terms of positive developments, it was noted that in two separate cases, a district court ruled in favour of twotransgender people seeking to change theiridentity documents without undergoing gender reassignment surgery. Lithuania offered visas to two gay men from the Russian republic of Chechnya who feared for their safety.

Appropriate redress and reparation is needed to the victims of Secret CIA detention programmes 

The case of Abu Zubaydah v. Lithuania remained pending before the European Court of Human Rights. Abu Zubaydah alleged he had been forcibly disappeared and tortured at a secret CIA detention centre in Lithuania. In September, the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances urged Lithuania to investigate its involvement in US-led rendition and secret detention programmes; hold those responsible to account; and provide victims with appropriate redress and reparation.

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D.P. v Lithuania – domestic violence

 „I hope this decision will assist others in the future, maybe victims will not be afraid to complain, and aggressors will be less violent. I worry about the kids  – they suffer the most in violent families and it affects their future lives tremendously.“

– D.P., applicant in the case

Proceedings initiated: 2007

Proceedings closed: 2013

Case in brief: the applicant suffered her spouse’s violence for over eight years, but all the investigations into domestic abuse were discontinued

Outcome of the case: by failing to protect the applicant and her children from domestic violence, Lithuanian law enforcement authorities violated Article 3 of the ECHR (prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment)

Facts of the case:

The applicant D.P. and her four children suffered the violence and terror of applicant‘s former husband, kids‘ father, for longer than ten years. Neither law-enforcement institutions nor courts were capable to stop the aggressor despite repetitive applicant’s complains since 1999.

The court proceedings lasted until 2007 but the aggressor did not receive any punishment as the proceedings became time-barred. The children of the applicant had developed post-traumatic stress disorder or a continuous depressive reaction.

The oldest applicant‘s son R.P., after suffering all his life from his father‘s terror, was diagnosed with a depression and took his own life in 2009.

Legal proceedings:

On 23 May 2008, the applicant addressed the European Court of Human Rights regarding the violation of Article 6 (right to fair trial) of the European Human Rights Convention.

After the case was communicated to the Government, Human Rights Monitoring Institute intervened as amicus curiae. In its observations, HRMI argued that Lithuania by failing to protect the applicant and her three children from repeated physical and psychological violence and by procrastinating in the criminal proceedings, violated Article 3 as well as Article 8 of the Convention.

On 22 October 2013, after Lithuania Government acknowledged in its unilateral declaration that the applicant had not been ensured effective protection guaranteed by Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, and offered a just satisfaction of Eur 6000 to the applicant, the Court decided to strike the case out of its list.

Documents of the case:

Third-party observations submitted by the Human Rights Monitoring Institute

European Court of Human Rights judgment


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Valiuliene v. Lithuania – domestic violence

“The very act of domestic violence has an inherent humiliating and debasing character for the victim, which is exactly what the offender aims at. Physical pain is but one of the intended effects. A kick, a slap or a spit is also aimed at belittling the dignity of the partner, conveying a message of humiliation and degradation.”

– Concurring opinion of Judge Pinto de Albuquerque in Valiuliene v. Lithuania case

Proceedings initiated: 2011

Proceedings closed: 2013

Case in brief:  the woman suffered her spouse’s abuse for a long-time, but all the pre-trial investigations were discontinued

Outcome of the case: by failing to protect the applicant and her children from domestic violence, Lithuanian law enforcement authorities violated Article 3 of the ECHR (prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment)

Facts of the case:

The applicant logged a complaint with local court in 2001 regarding the continuous physical and mental abuse she suffered from her partner. Her case was transferred from courts to prosecution offices and vice versa. By a final ruling of 8 February 2007, the local court dismissed the applicant’s appeal, finding that any kind of prosecution had become time-barred.

Proceedings before the ECtHR:

After exhausting domestic judicial remedies, the applicant submitted an application to ECHR. In response, the Government acknowledged the violation of Article 8, whilst refusing to acknowledge the violation of Article 3 of the Convention.

Human Rights Monitoring Institute submitted observations to the Court on behalf of the applicant arguing that the treatment the applicant was subjected to amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment under Article 3, and that the State failed to fulfil its positive obligation to effectively investigate the allegations of such treatment.

On 26 March 2013, the ECtHR adopted its first judgment in the domestic violence case against Lithuania. The court concluded that the criminal investigation into domestic violence acts was ineffective and did not meet the standards raising from Article 3 of the Convention. “Article 3 requires States to put in place effective criminal-law provisions to deter the commission of offences against personal integrity, backed up by law-enforcement machinery for the prevention, suppression and punishment of breaches of such provisions, and this requirement also extends to ill-treatment administered by private individuals”, – para. 75 of the ECtHR judgment reads.

Documents of the case:

Response to Government’s observations prepared by the HRMI

European Court of Human Rights judgment

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D.D. v. Lithuania – a right to legal capacity

Proceedings initiated: 2004

Proceedings closed: 2012

Case in brief: the courts, without hearing out the applicant, stripped her off legal capacity and assigned a guardian, who locked her up in a mental care facility for eight years

Outcome of the case: ECtHR recognized violations of Article 5 and 6 of the ECHR and awarded the applicant with damages, her legal capacity was restored

Facts of the case:

In 2000 D.D., the applicant, was stripped of her legal capacity upon the request of her adoptive father. Two years later, she was placed under guardianship. In 2004, upon the initiative of her adoptive father and without her consent, D.D. was placed in a social care home in Kedainiai. In 2007, the director of the social care home became her guardian. As an incapacitated person, D.D. was not given the opportunity to participate in this or any other guardianship proceedings.

Proceedings before the ECtHR:

In 2006, D.D., represented by the Human Rights Monitoring Institute and the UK-based public interest litigation organization “Interights”, filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights arguing a violation of her right to liberty and security, fair trial, discrimination on the ground of disability and other rights.

On 14 February, 2012, the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision in the case of D.D. v Lithuania, where it found violations of Article 5 (righ to liberty and security of a person) and 6 (right to a fair trial) of the ECHR. ECHR reasoned in its judgment that the Lithuanian system of protection of the rights of persons with mental disability suffers from serious legal and practical shortcomings.

ECHR concluded that the involuntary placement of D.D. to Kedainai social care home amounted to the deprivation of her liberty because the administration had a complete control over D.D. in relation to her treatment, care, accommodation and freedom of movement. The Court stressed that according to the Convention, the applicant has the right for judicial review of her involuntary institutionalisation. However, Lithuanian laws did not provide for such review, and a person with no legal capacity had no right to apply to court alltogether. Therefore the court ruled that such legal regulation is in breach of the applicant’s rights under Article 5 of the Convention guaranteeing the right to liberty and security of person.

Follow-up to the case:

On 29 May, 2012, the Kaunas City District Court restored D.D.’s legal capacity. Following the judgment D.D. moved out of Kedainiai social care home and current lives in her own apartment in Kaunas city.

Case files:

European Court of Human Rights judgment

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L. v. Lithuania – a right to private life

“The circumstances of the case reveal a limited legislative gap in gender reassignment surgery, which leaves the applicant in a situation of distressing uncertainty vis-à-vis his private life and the recognition of his true identity.”

– European Court of Human Rights in L. v. Lithuania case

Proceedings initiated: 2007

Proceedings closed: 2011

Nature of the case: due to the State’s failure to enacts laws regulating gender-reassignment procedure, a transgender person L. was not able to complete his surgery and change entries in the legal documents

Outcome of the case: a failure to enact necessary laws amounted to a violation of L’s right to private life (Article 8 of the ECHR), he was awarded damages

Facts of the case:

L. is a Lithuanian citizen born and registered as a girl and given female name. However, L. claims that from an early age he began to see his psychological gender as male, and thus became aware of the contradiction between his physical and psychological gender.

In 1997, L. was diagnosed with transsexuality. The treatment which lasted for several years, including a surgical treatment, was discontinued due to the failure by the State to adopt a legal act outlining the conditions and procedures of gender reassignment. For the same reason, the ongoing change of personal identity documents was also discontinued – the applicant managed to get his name, surname and sex changed, but his personal code remained unchanged and identified him as female. As a result, L. was facing significant challenges in his daily life: he was prevented from applying for jobs, paying social insurance, seeking medical treatment, applying for bank loan, interacting with public officials, crossing the border, etc.

Legal proceedings:

In 2007, Human  Rights Monitoring Institute submitted an application on behalf of L. to the European Court of Human Rights alleging a violation of a right to respect to private life.

On 11 September 2007, the ECHR found that Lithuania has violated the right to private and family life by failing to provide legal framework for gender reassignment procedure. The Court has ordered Lithuania to adopt the necessary legislation on gender reassignment in 3 months after the judgment comes into effect. In case the necessary legislation would not be adopted in due time, the Court ordered to reward the applicant with 40 000 EUR in pecuniary  and 5000 EUR in non-pecuniary damages.

Lithuanian government appealed the decision to the Grand Chamber. On 31 March 2008, the admissibility committee has rejected the appeal and the judgement came into force.

Follow-up to the case:

Lithuania paid the damages to the applicant, but has not adopted the required legislation up to this date. In 2014, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe “noted with concern that all efforts made to enact the necessary legislation have been unsuccessful to date” and tranferred the case to the enhanced supervision procedure. Human Rights Monitoring Institute and the Lithuanian Gay League continue to advocate for the full implementation of the Court’s judgment.

Although the ECHR decision was favourable to the applicant, L. continued to face difficulties in changing his civil status records. In 2009 he completed a full gender reassignment surgery abroad. However, the Lithuanian civil registry office refused to change his ID number (which indicates the sex) and L. had to appeal this decision to the court. In 2011, the Court ordered the civil registry office to change his birth certificate records, and the Residents’ Register Service to change his ID number.

Case files:

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

Documents related to the execution of the judgment 

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