European involvement in clandestine United States drone strikes is continued to be questioned at court. This month, two appeals will be made to the Higher Administrative Court in Münster, Germany. On Wednesday the 13th of March, the court will hold a hearing on the case brought forward by a Somali man, whose father was killed in a US drone strike which was aimed at a British-born member of Al-Shabaab. On Thursday the 14th of March, the court in Münster will also hold an oral hearing on an appeal regarding the case of Faisal bin Ali Jaber, whose family members were killed in Yemen. EFAD members ECCHR, the Open Society Foundations and Reprieve have supported these cases in their appeals.
The lawyers representing the Somali man, whose name has been kept confidential for security reasons, argue that the strike has violated German law. The strike killing an innocent man has been carried out with the use of US military facilities on German territory, violating the German Constitution, as well as Germany’s agreement with NATO that allows for US troops to operate on its territory while respecting German law. The bases in question are Ramstein Air Base, which plays a central role as a satellite-relay station for the US drone program, and US Africa Command, which oversees operations such as this drone strike and is based on German territory in Stuttgart. The complaint also argued that the strike did not take place in context of an armed conflict, and contended that the concept of the ‘global war on terror’ is an unsupportable under international law.
The complaint was originally filed in 2015, but ruled inadmissible in 2016 by the Lower Administrative Court of Cologne, which considered the link between ‘the inaction of the German government and the constitutional rights of the complainant.’ On the 13th of March, the Higher Administrative Court of Münster will hear the appeal of the complainants, which are being supported by the Open Society Justice Initiative.
A US drone strike in Yemen killed two innocent bystanders, members of the bin Ali Jaber family in 2012. In 2014, Faisal bin Ali Jaber and two other members of the Ali Jaber family, have brought their case to the Administrative Court of Cologne with the help of Reprieve and ECCHR, seeking protection of their right to life from future drone operations in Yemen. Similarly to the case of the Somali victims, the complainants argue that the Ramstein Air Base on Germany’s territory is playing a critical role in facilitating the US drone strike, and that Germany has a constitutional duty to protect the right to life of the Ali Jaber family members by terminating the use of Ramstein airbase in the global drone program.
In 2015, the Administrative Court of Cologne ruled the Yemeni case admissible, confirming the role of Ramstein Air Base in the US targeted killing program. However, the court also found that it cannot fully review a foreign affairs related decision by the German government about how to address the US about using Ramstein for its drone programme – a decision which was appealed by the claimants.
The appeals come at a critical time. Last week, the Trump administration has decided to rollback transparency measures put in place by the Obama administration on the targeted killing program. As a result, US intelligence officials no longer have to publicly announce the number of civilian casualties US drone strikes have created outside of official war zones, meaning in places such as Yemen and Somalia. The decision to remove such safeguards, and hide important numbers on civilian casualties, will be harmful to transparency and public accountability. The ruling of the German court on the cases brought forward with the help of ECCHR and Reprieve will therefore be crucial: It is now more important than ever that European countries provide transparency and prevent being complicit in illegal targeted killings.