Today, the ICJ called on the President of the Council of Ministers, Giuseppe Conte, to remove the legal obstacles that for over a decade have frustrated justice in the case of Abu Omar, a victim of gross human rights violations during the so-called war on terror launched by the US in the 2000s.
Specifically, the organization said that the doctrine of “secret of state” , which shields from public and judicial disclosure information purported to affect national security interests, should be lifted in any case pertaining to the rendition of Abu Omar.
In a letter to President Conte, the President of the ICJ, Robert K. Goldman, recalls that Italy has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for its complicity in the unlawful rendition and enforced disappearance of Abu Omar and that Italy has a duty under international law to do all that is possible to unveil the truth to the victims and the general public about such crimes under international law.
“The Italian public has a right to know the truth about a gross violation of human rights that occurred in its country and about the role its own secret services and institutions played in it”, said Massimo Frigo, Senior Legal Advisor for the ICJ’s Europe Program.
“President Conte should lift state secrecy on this case right away, to demonstrate that he holds true to Italy’s obligations under international law and transparency and accountability of Government before its people.”
The ICJ noted that the European Court of Human Rights has determined, in Nasr and Ghali v. Italy, that Italian government violated human rights, including by allowing for effective impunity for such crimes despite the laudable efforts of the Italian judiciary to prosecute and try those responsible,” said Massimo Frigo.
“It is time for Italy to live up to its international obligations and show to the world and its people that gross violations of human rights and crimes under international law will not be tolerated and that accountability must be upheld at all times and without hesitation,” he added.
Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (also known as Abu Omar) is an Egyptian national who was kidnapped in the streets of Milan in 2003 by CIA operatives, with the collaboration of Italian agents, while he was living in Italy with refugee status.
He was then subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during his travel to Egypt and in Egypt, where he endured several years in arbitrary detention.
The rendition of Abu Omar, that also constituted an enforced disappearance under international law, was investigated and prosecuted by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Milan and tried in the criminal tribunal, court of appeal of Milan and Court of Cassation.
This has been the only known prosecution and trial anywhere in the world against State agents alleged to be responsible for human rights violations in the context of the US-led rendition and secret detention system.
While 23 US agents and three Italian citizens were convicted – though without serving their sentences – the apex of the Italian military secret service (then SISMI) could not be tried because the Government invoked the doctrine of state secrecy in the proceedings.
The European Court of Human Rights found unanimously that that Italy had been complicit in the operation and had breached its obligations to prohibit and investigate torture and inhuman of degrading treatment of punishment (article 3 ECHR); the right to liberty of Abu Omar (article 5 ECHR); the right of his wife, Nabila Ghali, not to be subject to inhuman or degrading treatment caused by the suffering of not knowing the whereabouts of her husband (article 3 ECHR); their right to family life, and their right to an effective remedy for human rights violations (article 13 ECHR).
The judgment is still awaiting full execution by the Italian authorities, although there have been payments to the victims.
Massimo Frigo, Senior Legal Advisor for the ICJ’s Europe Program
Italy-justice for Abu Omar-advoacy-open letters-2018-eng [Open Letter in English PDF]
Italy-justice for Abu Omar-news-press releases-2018-ita [Press Release in Italian PDF]
Italy-justice for Abu Omar-advocacy-open letters-2018-ita [Open Letter in Italian PDF]
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