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El-Masri v. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, No. 39630/09, ECtHR (Grand Chamber), 13 December 2012


Effective investigation as a tool for establishing the truth and maintaining public confidence in institutions. Procedural dimension of Articles 3 and 5 ECHR. Collective dimension of the right to the truth. 

Normative references

Art. 5 ECHR
Art. 3 ECHR


1. Summary investigations, which are not capable of leading to the identification and punishment of those responsible for the alleged events and of establishing the truth, breach the Convention in its procedural limbs. Indeed, the lack of an adequate response by the authorities in investigating makes the protections enshrined in the Convention ineffective in practice.

2. Given the importance of the case – which is of international relevance and implies grave violations of human rights – establishing the truth on the circumstances of the alleged crimes is of great importance not only for the applicant and his family, but also for victims of similar crimes and for the general public, who have the right to know what had happened.

3. Effective investigations of serious human rights violations may be regarded as essential in maintaining public confidence in the authorities’ adherence to the rule of law and in preventing any appearance of collusion in or tolerance of unlawful acts. For the same reasons, there must be a sufficient element of public scrutiny of the investigation or its results to secure accountability in practice as well as in theory.

(In the instant case, the applicant was wrongly subjected to extraordinary rendition by CIA agents assisted, to a large extent, by agents of the respondent State. Once he was released, he lodged a criminal complaint on account of his arbitrary detention and ill-treatment. However, investigations undertaken by the prosecuting authorities had not been effective and the applicant's complaint was rejected for lack of evidence. Among others, the Court found the violation of Articles 3 and 5 ECHR in their procedural limbs, as well as in their substantial aspects). 


On the right to the truth as a procedural obligation or as an autonomous right, see the concurring opinions.