“This ruling is a severe blow. My 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. The German government must stop the use of Ramstein for drone attacks.” – Faisal bin Ali Jaber

Germany’s highest administrative court has found in favour of the German government and against Faisal bin Ali Jaber, rejecting a lower court’s judgement that Germany has a responsibility to ensure that US drone strikes assisted from Ramstein air base comply with international law.

Faisal and his two co-plaintiffs brought the case, with the assistance of Reprieve and the European Center for Constitutional Rights (ECCHR), after their relatives Salem and Waleed were killed by a US drone strike in 2012. The US has never formally acknowledged taking the strike, and when Faisal challenged this in the US, an appeals court ruled that only Congress can question the President’s “political” decision to kill people in secret by remote control.

The German federal court will publish a more detailed ruling in early December.

The lower court’s ruling was the first time a court had weighed in on the legality of the US drone programme in Yemen. It was also the first time one of the USA’s international partners was judged to be potentially complicit in its global assassination programme. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard, called the Münster Court’s ruling a “watershed” decision.

Jennifer Gibson, who leads Reprieve’s work on drones and provides legal representation for Bin Ali Jaber, said: “What we are talking about here is a secret assassination program that kills scores of civilians each year. It is simply unsustainable, and despite today’s ruling, very clearly unlawful. On behalf of all the innocent victims of US drone strikes, Faisal and his family will continue to try to bring the programme into the light – and to ensure the US’s partners are held accountable for their role.”

Andreas Schüller, Programme Director International Crimes and Accountability at ECCHR and counsel for Bin Ali Jaber, said: “Drone attacks are against international law. The decision of the Federal Administrative Court Leipzig misjudges the importance of basic rights. A state that makes its territory available for military operations must enforce international law and human rights more strongly than the German government does.”

The plaintiffs are now examining the prospects of a complaint to Germany’s highest court, the Federal Constitutional Court.