The federal government has done enough to protect the life and limb of civilians who fell victim to the drone warfare at Ramstein Airbase. This was decided by the Budnes Administrative Court in Leipzig and thus overturned a judgment by the Higher Administrative Court in Münster from last year.
The OVG had found three plaintiffs from Yemen, who had lost two relatives in 2012, right to the extent that there were “weighty indications” of violations of international law and human rights caused by the US drone war and that the government of its duty to protect the victims of the drone attacks via Ramstein only insufficiently complied with.
Relation to German territory
The Leizpiger Judges already questioned the viewthat the use of Ramstein as a relay station for drone attacks creates a “qualified reference to German territory”. For this it is not enough “that the data stream for the control of the drones used in Yemen is transmitted via fiber optic cables from the USA to Ramstein Air Base and from there via a satellite relay station to the drones”, according to the BVerwG .
The judges complained that in Ramstein information is also evaluated via the “pure transmission process”, but the lower court failed to provide evidence.
Former US drone pilots, on the other hand, have repeatedly pointed out that the US drone war would not exist in its current form without Ramstein. The constitutive role of the airbase had led the plaintiffs, Faisal bin Ali Jaber, Ahmed Saeed bin Ali Jaber and Khaled Mohmed bin Ali Jaber, to the lawsuit. They wanted to call on the Federal Republic of Germany to stop what they saw as illegal drone attacks, which to this day still terrify the local civilian population.
Court: Insufficient number of international law violations
Another reason given by the Leipzig judges on the question of whether the federal government should protect itself reads astonishingly. This arises only “if, based on the number and circumstances of violations of international law that have already occurred, it can be specifically expected that there will continue to be acts contrary to international law in the future, which impair or jeopardize fundamental rights.”
It is unclear whether the court was aware of the “collateral damage” figures from the expanded drone war. The US-UK organization Reprieve, which the plaintiffs jointly with the European Center of Constitutional Rights (ECCHR), assumes almost 5,000 victims, including 250 children, in the drone war in Afghanistan and Pakistan alone.
Of course, the complaining families were disappointed, said Andreas Schüller, Head of the International Crimes and Legal Responsibility Program at ECCHR, after the negotiation.
The fundamental obligation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the people who live in the ever-expanding area of operation of the US drone attacks via Ramstein will remain in place, Schüller told heise online. He is convinced that the government’s efforts to date in examining possible violations of international law and fundamental rights are insufficient.
“Drone attacks are contrary to international law. The decision of the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig fails to recognize the importance of fundamental rights. A state that makes its territory available for military operations must enforce international law and human rights more strongly than the federal government does,” said Schüller. The plaintiffs are now examining the prospects of a constitutional complaint to the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe.
During the negotiation, in addition to the previous dialogues with US diplomats, the representatives of the Justice Department also provided written notes on individual questions that had been sent to the US side. These notes are of course secret. Neither the plaintiff nor the judge know what it says.
Defense and coalition issues
From the judges’ point of view, the federal government has fulfilled its protective obligations, insofar as they exist at all – the court did not commit itself in this regard.
“It has not remained inactive,” declared the court, but decided “to enter into consultations with the USA and also to address legal issues raised by the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.” The judges wrote that the USA had finally given an assurance that “activities in US military properties in Germany will be carried out in accordance with applicable law.” The press release does not reveal whether the German government was also able to obtain this assurance for the US’s activities in Yemen.
However, the judges openly admit the political dimension of the action in the judgment. Further steps such as the “termination of the international treaty basis for the use of Ramstein Air Base, which the plaintiffs ultimately demanded” would be massively detrimental to the federal government’s alliance, foreign and defense policy, the judges decided, and would therefore not have to be considered.
After the judges in Leipzig quashed the lawsuits of the Jementian victims’ relatives, activists from the region around the controversial Ramstein Airbase were able to score a small victory on Monday. The city administration of Ramstein-Miesenbach, the municipality of Ramstein-Miesenbach and the district administration of Kaiserslautern would have loved to sweep the petitions on Ramstein brought in by activist Hermann Theisen under the carpet.
Before the Neustadt an der Weinstrasse administrative court was able to negotiate Theisen’s complaint against the failure to deal with the petitions on Monday morning (“Stopp Air Base Ramstein“) the local politicians gave in. The local parliaments will now discuss Theisen’s appeal” to end the use of the relay station at Ramstein Air Base in the US drone war “.