|European states are accused of collusion in US renditon programmes that may have led to torture [GALLO/GETTY]
The failure of the European Union to hold to account member states accused of collusion with US rendition programmes is risking turning the continent into an "accountability-free zone", Amnesty International has warned.
Investigations have revealed several European countries were complicit in the CIA's controversial rendition and secret detention programme in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
The countries, including EU member states Germany, Italy and Poland, are accused of cooperating with the US in a number of cases which Amnesty says led to the disapperance and torture of European citizens.
In a report released on Monday, the group said the European Union has a legal responsibility to ensure that governments are held accountable for any involvement in illegal activities relating to the rendition programme.
“The EU has utterly failed to hold member states accountable for the abuses they’ve committed,” said Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.
“These abuses occurred on European soil. We simply can’t allow Europe to join the US in becoming an ‘accountability-free’ zone. The tide is slowly turning with some countries starting investigations but much more needs to be done.”
Lack of action
International organisations, including the EU, have carried out a number of probes which have revealed that some European states cooperated with the US in their rendition programmes.
But it has been left to national governments to act on the disclosures, and some have not taken action despite the findings.
The level of European collusion in the programme ranges from allowing rendition flights to pass through airports to carrying out arrests and hosting secret CIA prisons on European soil.
Some countries, like Italy, have taken firm action against those involved, securing criminal convictions against Italian and US agents involved in the abduction and transfer to Egypt of Abu Omar, an Egyptian refugee arrested in Milan in 2003.
But others have been less forthcoming. Romania is accused of hosting a secret CIA prison on its territory, but has totally denied responsibility despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
Other countries have launched national inquiries into their involvement rather than seek criminal prosecutions. Germany has carried out a parliamentary inquiry into the role of its agents in the interrogation of a man being held in Syria who says he was tortured.
Meanwhile, the UK government announced in July that it would establish an inquiry into the involvement of British officials into the alleged mistreatment of nationals being detained abroad by foreign intelligence services. The government has already admitted that UK airports were used for US rendition flights.
A number of non-EU states have also been accused of colluding with the rendition programme. Macedonia is alleged to have taken part in the transfer of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen, to Afghanistan. El Masri has lauched a case against Macedonia in the European Court of Human Rights, but officials in Skopje deny any wrongdoing in relation to Masri's arrest and subsequent rendition.
Meanwhile, Lithuania has launched a criminal investigation after it was disclosed that two CIA-run prisons were run in the country. Amnesty has welcomed national initiatives towards accountability for the collusion.
“There is progress in a number of European countries toward accountability. The momentum must not be lost. The too often repeated mantra of ‘need for state secrecy in order to protect national security’ must not be used as a screen for impunity,” Nicolas Beger said.
The report says that Europe must not follow the example of the US, which Amnesty says has failed to hold those reponsible for human rights abuses to account. "Despite the wealth of information in the public domain, all three branches of the US federal government – the executive, the legislative and the judicial – have failed to take the necessary action," the report says.