Colombian government officials and human rights groups strongly criticized a decision by the European Court of Human Rights to overturn the extradition from Russia to Colombia of Israeli mercenary Yair Klein, the South American country’s media reported Monday.
Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos said that the court’s decision on Friday was “a black mark for human rights in the world; it backs impunity for the crimes Mr Klein and his paramilitary students carried out in Colombia and denies truth and justice to their victims.”
The European court recommended that Klein not be extradited due to concerns that he was at “serious risk of suffering ill treatment if he is detained in Colombia.”
Santos rejected the court’s concerns that Klein’s extradition to Colombia would jeopardize his safety as “false.”
“The Colombian government… voices its concern over decisions of this kind that show a double standard in dealing with human rights violators: while Colombia is called on to eliminate impunity, [the court] enables impunity for a self-confessed war criminal,” Santos said.
The court’s ruling was also publicly criticized by human rights groups in Colombia.
“It is inconceivable that a court of this quality opposes the extradition of a man who contributed to crimes against humanity in Colombia,” said the director of Colombia’s Institute of International Relations and Human Rights, Javeriana Augusto Ramirez Ocampo.
Colombian courts have said that they will appeal the decision of the European Court.
“Although the prison system in Colombia is flawed, that is no excuse for him [Klein] to not pay for his crimes,” said lawyer for the Movement of Victims of State-Sponsored Crimes, Ivan Cepeda.
The European court voted five to two that carrying out the extradition request would violate article 3 of the convention, concerning inhuman or degrading treatment.
The former Israeli army lieutenant colonel was convicted in absentia by a Colombian court in 2001, for training illegal armed groups in the 1980s. He was sentenced to ten years and eight months in a Colombian jail.
A Colombian request for Klein’s extradition to Colombia was approved by the Russian prosecutor general in January 2008.
The U.N. Convention Against Torture has expressed concern that people suspected of terrorism and illegal armed activities were at risk of being tortured in Colombia.
Klein is accused of creating training camps for private armies that worked for drug lords, including the infamous Pablo Escobar. It is believed that these groups later became Colombia’s right-wing militias.
The Israeli mercenary denies working with Colombia’s cocaine cartels but says he instructed paramilitaries in defense tactics. He claims the Colombian government was aware of his mission.
Klein was arrested at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport in August 2007 on an arrest warrant issued by Colombia through international police agency Interpol. The Israeli remains in detention in Russia.