US airbase in Ramstein: relay station for data in the drone war
Lucas Jackson / AP / dpa
Should German officials soon control the US military's drone war in Ramstein?
If it were up to Faisal bin Ali Jaber, they would have to.
Together with two relatives, the 62-year-old Yemeni is suing the Federal Republic of Germany to look away.
Against looking away to death at the push of a button, which the Americans also perpetrate with the help of their army base in Germany.
On Wednesday, the Federal Administrative Court will negotiate Germany's role in the US drone operations.
A question that could strain the defense-political ties to NATO partner USA.
For Plaintiff Jaber, however, it is not about military strategy or alliances.
His lawsuit, supported by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), is personal: According to his own statements, he lost a nephew and a brother-in-law in a drone attack in Yemen in 2012.
The policeman Waleed and the teacher and Imam Salem, Jaber writes, were "good-hearted and courageous people" who opposed terrorists and extremists.
"But against the US missile, which was also fired from a drone with the help of the Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, and which killed the two" they were powerless.
“Because that's what armed drones do: they kill.” He himself is afraid that he, too, could fall victim to a drone attack in his home country.
Difference Between Civilians and Combatants
The US regularly flies drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Yemen.
Human rights activists repeatedly complain about "signature strikes" in which people are killed on suspicion.
According to US attorney Jennifer Gibson, who supports the lawsuit for the human rights organization Reprieve, leaked data after the attack showed that Jaber's relatives were innocent.
From a legal point of view, Jaber and his relatives are actually in a good starting position.
The Higher Administrative Court of Münster had already recognized in the lower instance that Germany must actively check whether the US drone attacks from Ramstein violate international law.
Relying on an American assurance that everything is already legal is not enough.
Germany has an obligation to protect potential victims of drone attacks, which are also controlled from German soil, resulting from the basic right to life, ruled the OVG.
It also called for a precise distinction between civilians and combatants.
International law provides no basis for military strikes without imminent danger.
The United States also has a precariously broad understanding of an armed conflict.
Faisal bin Ali Jaber was relieved after the judgment in Münster.
It had restored his "belief in justice".
The federal government, however, has appealed, now the Leipzig judges are dealing with German responsibility.
"Obligations under international law"
"The USA is bound by German law through the NATO troop statute, and this includes international law," said lawyer Andreas Schüller, an expert on international law at ECCHR, optimistically before the hearing.
"And the right to life in the Basic Law also leads to obligations under international law for the Federal Republic."
Schüller sees the plaintiffs supported by recent case law.
Among other things, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled in May on the BND law that Germany's commitment to fundamental rights was not limited to national territory.
And here the national territory is even involved, said Schüller.
In fact, the US military uses its base near Kaiserslautern as a relay station for incoming data, which is sent from here to satellites and then to the drones.
The Federal Ministry of Defense does not want to comment on Germany's participation in the US drone fight against terrorism or on the Yemenis' complaint with reference to the ongoing revision process.
In the earlier judicial dispute with the plaintiffs, however, the federal government argued that the claim was inadmissible and unfounded.
It was, it was said, not Germany's task to act as a world prosecutor's office towards other states.
Germany's responsibility is limited to the fulfillment of protective obligations within the scope of existing influence.
And in doing so, they are in dialogue with the USA, which asserted that Germany is not itself a »launching point« for armed drone operations - in other words, that nobody presses the button in this country.
But it may not necessarily be important for participation.
Should Germany actually have to ensure that Ramstein is not used for drone operations that violate international law, the question is how that would even be possible.
The Federal Administrative Court will presumably not order very much.
The federal government could, however, be forced to take a position under international law - also with regard to the USA.
ECCHR lawyer Schüller is already thinking further: "If nothing changes, the way in which Ramstein is used has to be scrutinized." to go back to court, of course «.
File number: BVerwG 6 C 7.19
File number: BVerwG 6 C 7.19
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