The case of Bünyamin E in Pakistan

Drones – Pakistan – Germany

The almost global capacity to conduct airstrikes anytime, anywhere: that is one of the most distinctive features of armed drones – and therefore a new dimension of warfare. Since many years the US employs drone strikes in the thousands. Again and again, innocent people are killed in the attacks – in many different countries, among them Pakistan.

Case

On 4 October 2010, a US drone strike killed German citizen Bünyamin E in Pakistan. Obliged under German law, the Federal Public Prosecutor initiated a criminal investigation, but closed the file soon after. In 2013, ECCHR analyzed the German prosecutor’s decision to discontinue investigations into the death of Bünyamin E.

According to ECCHR’s examination, the decision raises a number of serious doubts as to the application and interpretation of the law and shows insufficient investigations. ECCHR supported Bünyamin E’s family members, produced a 3-D reconstruction of the strike together with Forensic Architecture, took part in an exhibition, theatre play and several expert talks and public debates about the case, legal standards and drones.

Context

US drone warfare often violates international law, such as strict rules on  the use of force and self-defense (ius ad bellum), principles and customs of war (ius in bello), basic human rights (namely the right to life and physical integrity), by attacking individuals without sufficiently determining their status. This results in blatant violations of human rights and international law.

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Definition

Public international law

Public international law is the system of laws governing relations between states and other subjects of international law. Unlike national law, there is no central legislative organ. Sources of public international law include general principles of law, treaties, and customary law.

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Insight

Double standards

Decision makers in Western democracies often apply double standards when it comes to human rights. While the Global North will condemn and in some cases prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Global South, there is little appetite to examine the role played by Western politicians, military leaders and corporations in crimes against international law. Serious human rights violations committed by Western actors – such as torture, forced disappearances or civilian deaths by drone – are rarely prosecuted. It seems as though different standards apply to human rights abuses, depending on who commits them.

ECCHR undertakes strategic legal interventions to challenge these double standards, to end the impunity of the powerful and to change power structures. ECCHR chooses cases that make political, economic and legal shortcomings visible, in order to force decision-makers in the Global North to question – and ideally, to dismantle – their double standards. 

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