TV Tropics How To Avoid Mary Lawsuits

The deadly roar over their heads

A rational, enlightened human rights policy often encounters difficulties in view of the current human rights situation in the world: For whom should one stand up and how, without underestimating the complexity of a situation? How do you avoid being instrumentalized or receiving applause from those with whom you have nothing to do with? The law, especially international law, can provide orientation: It defines red lines that actors are not allowed to cross even if they claim to be a democratic constitutional state or to pursue humanitarian goals. The western states, especially the USA, have broken these legal requirements in the name of the fight against terrorism many times and in different places in the years since 2001 and no one has been able to legally stop them. In the Bush years, prisoners were systematically and massively tortured and ill-treated without these facts having been clarified and those affected having not been adequately compensated to this day. Most of all, President Obama has come under fire for the continued expansion of - well, more or less - targeted killings by drones.

A large part of the drone strikes hit Afghanistan and Pakistan, a region where armed conflict prevails and international humanitarian law allows a lot when it comes to the killing of combatants. This has exactly been the problem so far in those cases in which the German judiciary had to deal with drone attacks. In investigations into the killing of German citizens in Pakistan, the federal prosecutor's office in Karlsruhe had to examine whether the attacks carried out by the USA there violated German criminal law. In one case so far, the Attorney General came to the conclusion that this was not the case; the lawyers of the affected family and my organization have strongly criticized this. But other countries like Yemen, far away from these wars, are also the scene of drone attacks, whereby there is no possibility of justification under international law as in the case of Afghanistan / Pakistan.

This is what the lawsuit that a Yemeni family has brought to the Cologne Administrative Court against the Federal Republic of Germany, represented by the Federal Ministry of Defense, is at stake. The family lives in the Hadramaut region, where drone attacks are regularly flown. Two relatives have already been killed and others are suffering from severe trauma. Everyone is worried about whether they are daring to go to the doctor in the next town or whether they are simply daring family celebrations because there is a risk of attack. The sound of drones circling over the region is known and feared - as in Pakistan - by now everyone, even small children. In the USA, those affected have hardly any opportunity to sue, so that the family, with the support of the British organization Reprieve and my Berlin center, the ECCHR, now goes to German courts. German courts because German territory is also used to prepare and carry out the attacks, namely the US military base in Ramstein. The federal government has so far failed to make clear statements, claiming that it does not really know the facts. Now she will be forced to deal with it in the administrative court proceedings. The court will hopefully urge the government to stop the illegal killings from German soil.

And yes: of course, given the dramatic situation in Iraq and Syria, we are thinking about taking action against the drone attacks right now. We understand that there are many other actors violating human rights in the Middle East. Nevertheless, we expect the Federal Government and the USA to accept the legal standards that they have created themselves, precisely because otherwise these would be completely eroded.

Wolfgang Kaleck is a Berlin lawyer and Secretary General of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). In recent years Kaleck has dealt with human rights violations from Argentina to Abu Ghraib and Colombia to the Philippines; The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is currently one of his clients.

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