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  • Matteo Zamboni

The extradition of Sabrina De Sousa from Portugal to Italy

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

A new chapter of the Abu Omar Saga before the European Court of Human Rights

With a decision of 7 February 2019, the European Court of Human Rights gave formal notification to the Portuguese Government of the application filed on behalf of Sabrina De Sousa – the only officer who has been held accountable for the extraordinary rendition of Osama Mustafa Nasr (aka Abu Omar) in Milan in 2003.

Between 2001 and 2004 De Sousa, who is a Portuguese-American dual national, operated as a CIA field officer under diplomatic cover in Milan. In 2005, her arrest was ordered by Italian courts in connection with the investigation of the 2003 kidnapping of the Muslim cleric Abu Omar. Since she could not be found on Italian territory, De Sousa was declared a fugitive and tried in absentia. Eventually she was convicted in 2012, along with more than 20 other American citizens. However, she was the only one who had actually been brought to book following her arrest in 2015 at the airport of Lisbon, where she had arrived in order to visit her ageing mother.

The arrest was based on a European Arrest Warrant issued by Italy. Pursuant to article 5(1) of the Framework decision, the EAW clarified that, having been tried and convicted in her absence, upon surrender De Sousa would have benefitted of a retrial – a circumstance that was crucial to the Lisbon Court of Appeal that granted the EAW with a decision of 2016.

Shortly after that decision became final, however, De Sousa was notified a letter by the Italian ministry of Justice stating that, upon surrender, she would not have had any automatic right to retrial in Italy.

Italy thus walked away from the obligation to offer a retrial following the conviction in absentia, but Portugal refused to reopen the case and the surrender of De Sousa to the Italian authorities was set for 1 March 2017.

The surrender to Italy was cancelled at the last-minute request of the Italian authorities, which hasty withdrew the EAW following a partial pardon granted to De Sousa by the Italian President of the Republic. The Presidential partial pardon allowed De Sousa to serve her remaining sentence doing community service for a Rome-based charity.

In the meantime, however, De Sousa had petitioned the European Court of Human Rights, complaining about the arbitrary manner in which the extradition proceedings against her had been conducted in Portugal at the request of the Italian authorities, and of the uncalled detention suffered as a consequence thereof.

The communication of the case to the Portuguese Government is an important success in De Sousa long-lasting legal battle. Hopefully, it would also represent a new opportunity to shed light on the remaining secrets of the Abu Omar case and the Bush-era ‘extraordinary rendition’ programme.


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