US drone strike case appealed to Germany’s highest court

BERLIN (AP) — Two Yemeni men who allege their relatives were killed in an American drone strike have appealed their case to Germany’s highest court, urging a ban on the U.S. military’s use of a base southwest of Frankfurt to help control such attacks, their attorneys said Tuesday.

The appeal was filed by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, or ECCHR, on behalf of the Yemenis, who allege their relatives were killed in a drone strike in 2012, and is the latest chapter in a years-long legal battle.

It comes after a federal administrative court last year weakened the 2019 decision of the Muenster administrative court, which had ruled the German government had partial responsibility to ensure that drone strikes involving the U.S. Ramstein Air Base were carried out in line with international law. The Muenster court stopped short of ordering the ban that the human rights activists had called for.

In the 2020 appeal, the federal court in Leipzig ruled that German diplomatic outreach to the U.S. over the strikes was sufficient, regardless of international law.

The Leipzig judges noted that the German government had taken some steps to address the issue in its communications by seeking assurances from Washington, thereby proving that Berlin had made an effort to ensure the plaintiffs’ rights were protected.

The Leipzig ruling restored a lower court decision from 2015 that concluded Germany had fulfilled its legal duties and was within its rights to balance them with “foreign and defense policy interests.”

The U.S. military has said Ramstein is used to “conduct operational level planning, monitoring and assessment of assigned airpower missions throughout Europe and Africa,” but not to launch or operate drones involved in ”counterterrorism activities.”

In its ruling from 2019, the Muenster administrative court said that available evidence suggested the base still played “a central role” for the relay of flight control data used for armed drone strikes in Yemen.

But the Leipzig court concluded that there was no direct link to Germany in the case, citing the provision of technical relay capabilities as insufficient.

The ECCHR said in a statement that the appeal of the 2020 court decision filed with the Federal Constitutional Court argues that the lower court should have “obliged the German government to do more to protect the plaintiffs’ right to life.”

In addition, the group said the appeal argues that Ramstein’s significance for U.S. drone strikes in Yemen is “much greater than the court assumes” and that the court didn’t “sufficiently assess” the extent of the allegation that the strikes violate international law.

It wasn’t immediately clear when the Federal Constitutional Court would consider the latest appeal.

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