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Drone case struck down, but the fight continues Open in fullscreen

Sibylle Bandler

Drone case struck down, but the fight continues

Jaber says he will continue his fight in the German court [AFP]

Date of publication: 2 June, 2015

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Feature: A US drone attack which killed two civilians in Yemen is at the centre of a German court case that has changed the debate on drones, says Sibylle Bandler.
On Wednesday, a German court dismissed a groundbreaking case against the German government.

Faisal bin Ali Jaber, the Yemeni plaintiff, alleged that Berlin was complicit in the deaths of his relatives who were killed in a drone strike as they allowed the US to relay drone data via an airbase located on its soil.

The fact that a German court, in a country lending military or technical support to US strikes, allowed such a case to be heard represents a huge move forward in the debate about the legality and morality of the US drones' programme.

Long path to justice

Despite his case being dismissed by the court, Jaber says he has not given up the fight to get justice for his nephew and brother-in-law who were killed in 2012 drone strike, and will appeal against the ruling.

"I had hoped that today the court would restore Yemen's faith in the West's commitment to the rule of law, and that the German government would put a stop to its role in these illegal and immoral operations," Jaber said in a statement.

"It is shameful that they won't even admit to the part they play in killing innocent civilians and terrorising entire communities. But we will not give up, it is - quite simply - a matter of life or death for us."

Jaber's chair in court was empty on Wednesday. He was unable to attend court due to travel restrictions in Yemen following the launch of the Saudi-led campaign, and was represented by Reprieve and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).

Jaber's claim was filed after top secret US intelligence documents leaked earlier this year revealed that the US-operated Ramstein air base in Germany is the site of a satellite relay station. This enables drone operators in the US southwest to communicate with the aircraft in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other countries.

Presiding judge Hildegund Caspari-Wierzoch said Berlin had repeatedly urged Washington to respect national and international law when using bases on German soil and that US officials promised to do so. Therefore the complaint was baseless, the judge concluded.

"For too long, the drone programme has been allowed to operate in the shadows - away from judicial and public scrutiny," said Kat Craig, Reprieve's legal director said. 

"Whilst we may have lost today, this hearing was an important step in the direction of greater transparency and accountability for the US and its allies in its illegal and immoral drone programme."

Court wars

He said that the ruling meant that campaigners must redouble their efforts to end the death and suffering caused by drone strikes in Yemen.

One of those killed in 2012 attack was Salim bin Ali Jaber. The Yemeni imam was a well-known and vocal critic of al-Qaeda - the supposed target of the drone strike - and his death prompted protests in Yemen.

Hundreds of Yemeni civilians with no links to militant group have been killed by drone strikes, although the exact number is unknown.

In its statement of defence, the German government answered the question of whether Ramstein plays a crucial part in US drone strikes, literally, "with nescience".

"Today's decision allows the German government to continue to play the innocent," said Wolfgang Kaleck, the general secretary of  ECCHR, after the hearing.

"See nothing, hear nothing, say nothing - with this strategy the German government cannot and will not be able to meet its obligation to prevent human rights violations committed by the USA via German territory." 

Kaleck added that Germany is making itself complicit in the deaths of civilians in the US drone war.

Peace protesters staged a demonstration outside the court in Cologne. They consider the issue of Ramstein being key to ending drone strikes worldwide. 

US courts, meanwhile, have persistently refused to hear cases brought by relatives of drone strike victims. But with Jaber's appeal in Cologne, Germany has become ground zero for the war against drones.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

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