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Lithuania secret prison inquiry must set an example

The Lithuanian government must ensure that its inquiry into allegations that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operated a secret prison on Lithuanian soil sets an example in Europe for accountability for human rights abuses, said Amnesty International. A Lithuanian parliamentary committee is currently investigating these allegations and its report is due to be issued next week. Ahead of the report's release, Amnesty International wrote a letter to the head of the parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defence, which is conducting the inquiry. The organization  reiterated its call for a full, effective, independent and impartial investigation into the allegations of a CIA "black site" in Lithuania and the possible role that Lithuanian officials may have played in the prison's operation. Amnesty International said that the Lithuanian investigation should ensure that, if the evidence points to the existence of a secret prison, "those responsible for human rights violations are held to account." "The Lithuanian inquiry should chart a new course for truth-telling and accountability in Europe with respect to human rights violations committed in the context of the US-led 'war on terror'." said Julia Hall, Amnesty International's expert on counter-terrorism in Europe. "The evidence that secret prisons existed in Europe is compelling and the governments at the centre of these allegations must respond by effectively investigating the charges. We urge Lithuania to meet that challenge," said Julia Hall. Many detainees held at such secret sites, known as "black sites", were victims of unlawful rendition, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment by US agents, often with the cooperation and assistance of foreign governments. Poland and Romania have also been named by the European Parliament and the Council of Europe as allegedly having provided secret detention facilities for the CIA. "If the Lithuanians fail to conduct this inquiry in a thorough manner, it will send a signal to other governments that they can effectively ignore charges of serious human rights abuses," said Julia Hall. "Lithuania's efforts can and should set the standard in Europe for real accountability." The allegations against Lithuania were first made by US television network ABC News in August. The story quoted unnamed CIA sources as saying that Lithuania provided a detention facility outside the capital, Vilnius, where “high value” detainees were held and questioned in secret by the CIA until December 2005. Following ABC News' allegations, Amnesty International wrote to Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite on 8 September, urging her to ensure that any investigation of the allegations be prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial. The organization pointed out that the duty to investigate charges of such serious human rights abuses is an obligation under international law and includes guaranteeing that perpetrators are held accountable, victims are provided with redress and measures are taken to prevent such violations in the future. A reply dated 17 September said that preliminary inquiries made by parliamentary committees to Lithuanian security officials and other agencies had indicated that no secret site existed.  In November, the Lithuanian parliament issued a mandate for a full parliamentary inquiry, indicating that those initial inquiries were not sufficient. A November follow-up report by ABC News claimed that unnamed Lithuanian officials provided ABC News with documents from a "CIA front company" indicating that it purchased a former riding academy in Antiviliai, outside Vilnius, and used it to construct the "black site" in 2004.