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Case of Abu Zubaydah v. Lithuania

Court European Court of Human Rights, France
Case number 46454/11
Decision title Judgment
Decision date 31 May 2018
  • Mr. Zayn Al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn (a.k.a. Abu Zubaydah)
  • Republic of Lithuania
Other names
  • Abu Zubaydah v. Lithuania
Categories Torture
Keywords torture, arbitrary detention, extraordinary rendition
Other countries involved
  • United States
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In its self-declared “War on Terrorism,” the United States began the “High Value Detainee” program, where suspected terrorists would be subjected to special interrogation and detention. The program was managed by the CIA, which detained suspects in secret detention facilities (“black sites”) in cooperation with other foreign governments.

Lithuania cooperated with the program by allowing the transfer of suspected terrorists through its territory. An alleged member of al-Qaeda, Mr. Zayn Al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn (known as Abu Zubaydah) was held in a black site known as “Detention Site Violet” where he was subjected to solitary confinement, hooding, and other forms of ill-treatment.  

The European Court of Human Rights found that Lithuanian authorities clearly knew the purpose of the black site and the likelihood of Abu Zubaydah’s being tortured. The Court concluded that by enabling the transfer of Abu Zubaydah to and from the site, Lithuania was equally responsible for his ill-treatment.

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Procedural history

On 14 July 2011, Abu Zubaydah lodged an application against the Republic of Lithuania under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms to the European Court of Human Rights.

On 14 December 2012, the President of the Second Section of the Court notified the Lithuanian Government of the application.

The Chamber of the First Section was established for the case and a public hearing on the admissibility and merits of the case was held on 29 June 2016.

On 28 June 2016, a fact-finding hearing took place.

The judgment was released on 31 May 2018.

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Legally relevant facts

In response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, the United States created a CIA program for interrogating terrorists outside of United States territory. The High-Value Detainees Program (HVD) operated in a number of states, including Lithuania. (paras. 34-36).

Following his rendition from Poland to Guantánamo, Abu Zubaydah was eventually transferred to Lithuania from Rabat in early 2005. (para. 112).  He was then held in the black site “Detention Site Violet” until 25 March 2006, from which he was transferred to Afghanistan. (para. 125).

During his time at Detention Site Violet, Abu Zubaydah was subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques and other ill-treatment amounting to torture. (para. 150).

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Core legal questions

Did the Lithuanian authorities reasonably know the CIA was using the territory of Lithuania for secret detention and torture?

Did the Lithuanian authorities enable the CIA’s usage of the territory of Lithuania in acts amounting to torture?

Can Lithuania be held responsible for enabling such usage of its territory?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

Articles 3, 5, 8, 13, and 46 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Articles 3, 12, and 15 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Articles 7, 14, 15, 16 of the International Law Commission, 2001 Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts.

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Court's holding and analysis

The Court ruled that the investigation by Lithuanian authorities did not fully comply with the requirements of being “effective and thorough” as they did not take all available information into consideration for evidence. (paras. 616). The court found there to be a clear breach to both the substantive and procedural aspects of Article 3. (paras. 622 and 644).

As the Court held in Husayn (Abu Zubaydah) v. Poland, the CIA program clearly involved secret detention of suspects. As Lithuanian authorities were aware of Abu Zubaydah’s transfer to and from Lithuania, they violated Article 5. (paras. 656 – 657).

The Court also found that Lithuania violated Articles 8 and 13 by continuing to knowingly enable CIA operations on Lithuanian territory. (paras. 665 and 674).

The applicant was awarded a total of 130,000 euros in respect of non-pecuniary damages and in respect of costs and expenses. (paras. 689 and 692). 

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Further analysis

D. Marty, Abuse of state secrecy and national security: obstacles to parliamentary and judicial scrutiny of human rights violations, Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe, 7 September 2011.

H. Duffy, Dignity Denied: A Case Study in C. Paulussen and M. Scheinin (Eds.), Human Dignity and Human Security in Times of Terrorism, 2020.

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Instruments cited

European Convention on Human Rights, Council of Europe - European Court of Human Rights, 4 November 1950.

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, United Nations, 26 June 1987.

2001 Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, International Law Commission, United Nations, 12 December 2001.

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Related cases

Abu Zubaydah v. Poland

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Additional materials

Landmark rulings expose Romanian and Lithuanian complicity in CIA secret detention programme, Amnesty International, 31 May 2018.

Abu Zubaydah v. Lithuania, Interrights, 27 October 2011. 

European Court of Human Rights Finds Lithuania Complicit in CIA Detention Program, American Society of International Law, 8 June 2018.

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Social media links

[Book Launch] Human dignity and human security in times of terrorism, T.M.C. Asser Instituut, 17 June 2020.

Lithuania and Romania complicit in CIA torture – European court, BBC, 31 May 2018.