Seeking Justice for Extraordinary Renditions: Recent Developments before Domestic and International Courts

Seminar Report by John Stanton

Extraordinary rendition (Andrew Becraft)

Credit: Andrew Becraft

On Wednesday 2nd October, Dr Silvia Borelli (University of Bedfordshire) visited City Law School to give a paper entitled ‘Seeking Justice for Extraordinary Renditions: Recent Developments before Domestic and International Courts’. The seminar – the first of the new academic year – was very well received and attended by staff. Silvia’s talk was very enjoyable and interesting – with foundations in International Law, she spoke on rendition, explaining what the practice involved and the issues that arise as regards notable cases, in ensuring accountability and in seeking redress for victims. She spoke with a particular emphasis on the way in which key Italian cases have sought to develop the law in this area; though she cited wider cases too. Questions followed Silvia’s paper and these were helpful in opening up the topic for wider discussion with a number of staff enjoying the opportunity to discuss the issues further. In particular, discussion focused on the Abu Omar prosecution in the Italian Courts.



In the aftermath of 9/11, the US stepped up its pre-existent program of “rendition”, and transferred an unknown number of suspected terrorists to States in which either it was known that they would be subjected to torture or inhuman treatment and/or detention without trial, or at the least it was clear that there was a substantial risk that this would occur. Although the practice of such extraordinary rendition undoubtedly results in serious violations of a number of fundamental human rights, nevertheless, for most of the decade following 9/11, efforts to hold the US (and other States which aided and assisted it in carrying out renditions) accountable were very largely unsuccessful. The lack of accountability was initially due to the secrecy surrounding the rendition program, and subsequently due to self-denying doctrines of State secrecy which domestic courts held prevented them from adjudicating upon claims brought by those who claimed to have been rendered. In more recent years, there have been a number of developments, both at the international level (the El Masri decision of the ECHR) and as a result of decisions of the domestic courts (in particular the “Abu Omar” prosecutions before the Italian courts), which have resulted in at least some measure of accountability in specific cases. The seminar, having sketched the practice of rendition, and the initial setbacks in ensuring accountability, will focus on these most recent developments, and assess the extent to which the victims of extraordinary rendition have been able to receive some form of redress.


About the Speaker

Dr Borelli joined the School of Law at the University of Bedfordshire as Director of Research in 2011. She holds a PhD in international law from the University of Milan and specialises in international human rights law and international humanitarian law. She has collaborated as an academic consultant with several human rights NGOs and she has been involved in a wide range of human rights cases, including before the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the House of Lords. Her current research and consultancy work focuses on counter-terrorism and human rights and the protection of fundamental rights in the context of extraterritorial military operations and immigration control measures. She is currently involved in a project on cultural diversity and human rights, supported by the Italian Ministry for Universities, and in the EU-funded DOMAC research project, investigating the impact of the decisions of international courts and tribunals on domestic prosecutions of mass atrocities. Prior to joining the University of Bedfordshire, Dr Borelli has been a Research and Teaching Fellow in the Faculty of Laws, University College London (UCL) and a Research Fellow at the Catholic University of Milan. She have previously also worked as researcher for INTERIGHTS, a London-based NGO specializing in human rights advocacy. She has been a Visiting Fellow at the British Institute of Public International Law (BIICL), the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at the University of Cambridge, and the Faculty of Law at Reykjavik University.

Thanks to Enrico for inviting Silvia and to Peter for assisting in the smooth organisation.

Photo credit: Andrew Becraft


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