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Top German Court Rules Berlin Can’t Force US Drones Using Ramstein Base to Refrain From War Crimes

© AFP 2023 / MASSOUD HOSSAINI US Predator unmanned drone armed with a missile
 US Predator unmanned drone armed with a missile - Sputnik International
Since 2002, the Pentagon and the CIA have waged much of their Middle Eastern drone warfare campaign using flight control data relayed via German soil, with local activists and opposition politicians criticizing successive governments’ passivity and calling for an immediate end to “illegal drone war” operations.

Germany’s supreme administrative court has ruled that Berlin carries no legal responsibility for ensuring that US drone operations involving Ramstein Air Base comply with international law, Sputnik Deutschland has reported.

The Leipzig-based court’s Wednesday ruling is the possible culmination of a six-year-long legal battle brought by rights groups on behalf of three Yemeni nationals who said that their family members had been killed in a US drone strike in 2012, and who pointed to the Pentagon’s use of Ramstein to relay flight control data used in drone operations, which they argued made Germany partially liable for ensuring that the drones operate in accordance with the principles of international law.

The supreme administrative court’s ruling overturns a 2019 decision by a court one rung below it which indicated that the German government could be held partially responsible for ensuring that the US drone operations remain above board. That ruling itself overturned a 2015 decision by another court that determined that the German government could not be held responsible for potential war crimes carried out by US drones beyond informing Washington of its legal obligation to obey the law.

Faisal bin Ali Jaber, one of the Yemeni plaintiffs in the case, called the supreme administrative court’s ruling a “severe blow,” and said his family “cannot live free from fear while these drones, flown with Germany’s help, hover over our community in Yemen, threatening to bring death and destruction.”

Jennifer Gibson of Reprieve, one of the rights groups involved in the case, called the ruling “clearly unlawful” and said that the campaign would continue. “What we are talking about here is a secret assassination programme that kills scores of civilians each year,” she said, adding that this programme was “unsustainable” over the long term.

Andreas Schueller, a lawyer for the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, indicated that the plaintiffs may issue an appeal.

Andrej Hunko, deputy chairman of Die Linke in the Bundestag, said the ruling was an indication that “the drone war is uncontrollable, legally or by parliamentary means.” It’s vital, he said, that the Bundeswehr refrains from the purchase of combat drones.

FILE - In this March 7, 2007, file photo, the Israeli army Heron TP drone, also known locally as the Eitan, flies during a display at the Palmahim Air Force Base in Palmahim, Israel - Sputnik International
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The supreme administrative court did indicate that Germany could have a responsibility to protect foreigners abroad, but only if breaches of international law are proven and “a concrete expectation” of further law-breaking activity is expected in the future. It also said that Ramstein’s role in relaying flight data was insufficient, with concrete decisions causing potential violations needing to take place from German soil.

The United States Air Force and the CIA have been carrying out airstrikes in Yemen since 2002, conducting at least 330 such attacks by late 2019, and targeting a range of suspected terrorist targets, including al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,* Ansar al-Sharia* and Daesh (ISIS).* According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, well over two hundred civilians, including dozens of children, have been killed in the Yemen drone strikes in counting between January 2004 and February 2020, in a phenomenon described by US military planners as 'collateral damage'. The Pentagon is also thought to have carried out a number of undocumented drone attacks, with their number and any casualties they may have caused remaining unknown.

* Terrorist groups outlawed in Russia and many other countries.

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