Yemeni men appeal US drone attack case to highest German court

The appeal again seeks to hold Germany accountable for US drone attacks launched involving airbases on its soil.

Yemen US drone
A man walks past a graffiti, denouncing attacks by US drones in Yemen, painted on a wall in Sanaa, Yemen [File: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

Two Yemeni men who allege their relatives were killed in an American drone attack have appealed their case to Germany’s highest court, urging a ban on the US military’s use of a base in the country to help control such attacks, their lawyers have said.

Two members of the bin Ali Jaber family, Salem and Waleed bin Ali Jaber, were allegedly killed in a US drone attack in Khashamir, Yemen, in 2012, according to the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), which filed the case on behalf of the family members, Ahmed and Khalid bin Ali Jaber, in the Federal Constitutional Court.

The attack has not been acknowledged by the United States, according to the organisation.

The ECCHR and the family have since sought to compel the German government to ban drone attacks involving the US Ramstein Air Base, located to the southwest of Frankfurt, arguing that Germany has a responsibility “to protect the bin Ali Jaber family from further” such attacks.

The appeal announced on Tuesday, which seeks to overturn a 2020 court ruling on the matter, argues that the court should have “obliged the German government to do more to protect the plaintiffs’ right to life”, according to an ECCHR statement.

A man walks past a graffiti denouncing attacks by US drones in Sanaa, Yemen [File: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

For its part, the US 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”.

However, the appeal argues that “Ramstein’s significance for US drone attacks in Yemen is much greater than the court assumes”.

The appeal filed on Tuesday also the court did not “sufficiently assess” the extent of the allegation that the attacks violate international law.

“Germany must do more to protect the right to life of the Jaber family,” Andreas Schuller, head of ECCHR’s International Crimes and Accountability team, said in a statement.

“The danger posed by drone attacks via Ramstein has not been averted, which is why we are turning to the Federal Constitutional Court today.”

Decades-long legal fight

In 2015, a lower court had determined that Germany had not failed to meet legal requirements related to the US drone attacks.

However, in 2019, the Muenster administrative court ruled that the German government had partial responsibility to ensure that drone raids involving the Ramstein Air Base were carried out in line with international law.

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

The ruling, however, stopped short of calling for a complete ban on the attacks launched from the US base.

In a 2020 appeal, a federal court in Leipzig upheld the 2015 decision, ruling that German diplomatic outreach to the US over the attacks was sufficient, regardless of international law.

The ruling concluded that there was no direct link to Germany in the case and said the base’s relay of flight control data did not sufficiently establish its role in the raids.

It was not immediately clear when the Federal Constitutional Court would consider the latest appeal.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies