CHRGJ examines accountability for rendition and secret detention through litigation in Africa

On April 6, 2011, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) hosted “Seeking Accountability for Rendition and Secret Detention through Litigation before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights,” as part of its Litigating Human Rights series. The event featured CHRGJ Research Director Jayne Huckerby, Professor Margaret Satterthwaite '99, CHRGJ faculty director, Gabe Armas-Cardona ’11, and Wade McMullen ’11. The panel discussion explored the strategies and processes behind Al-Asad v. Djibouti, a case filed by the Global Justice Clinic (led by Huckerby and Satterthwaite) on behalf of Mohammed al-Asad at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).

“This is the first case to address the role of an African nation in the U.S. secret detention and rendition program,” said Huckerby, as she introduced the panelists. The case was filed in December 2009 in conjunction with Interights on behalf of Mr. al-Asad, a Yemeni national who was detained while living in Tanzania in December 2003 and transferred to Djibouti, where he was detained incommunicado as part of the CIA’s secret detention and rendition program. In addition to secretly detaining al-Asad, Djibouti was responsible for handing him over to a CIA rendition team, which assaulted him before transferring him into the network of U.S. “black site” prisons. He ultimately spent sixteen months in secret and incommunicado detention without access to the outside world or to a lawyer, humanitarian organization, or his family. In May 2005, al-Asad was transferred to Yemen and was eventually released without ever being charged with a terrorism-related crime.

Discussing the strategy behind the case, Satterthwaite explained that “Djibouti was Mohammed’s gateway into the U.S. program.” She added that Djiboutian personnel participated in al-Asad’s detention and ill-treatment and that Djibouti has an obligation to regulate activities that take place on its soil and to ensure the rights to be free from arbitrary detention and torture. Djibouti has been party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights since 1991 and the African Commission should “articulate the violations that have occurred under the African Charter.” 

McMullen and Armas-Cardona spoke about their work on behalf of al-Asad as student advocates in the clinic. In the spring of 2010, McMullen travelled with other clinic students to Tanzania to conduct research on the case. He and his teammates collected court and immigration documents which confirm that al-Asad was flown from Tanzania to Djibouti on December 27, 2003. Armas-Cardona discussed his investigative work to confirm al-Asad’s account and his role in preparing the clinic’s recent submissions to the ACHPR. Both students also detailed the extent of the damage that this experience has had on al-Asad, both in terms of ruining his business and community life in Tanzania, and the significant physical and psychological impact of the abuses he endured and continues to suffer from as a result of his experience.

Posted May 4, 2011