February 16, 2021Featured Article Drones Impunity Use of Force Article 2 Human Rights Act Jurisdiction Right to Life Accountability and Access to Justice
Europe’s top human rights court has ruled that countries such as Germany must investigate allegations of war crimes committed in Afghanistan against their soldiers. The case has far-reaching implications for how European countries – including the United Kingdom – treat claims of unlawful killings by their militaries, Rights and Security International (RSI) said today.
The case of Hanan v. Germany was brought before the European Court of Human Rights by the father of two young sons, aged eight and twelve, who died in a German-ordered airstrike in Afghanistan in 2009. Though the court ultimately found that Germany had effectively complied with its obligation to investigate the airstrike, it issued a ground-breaking finding that people in war zones have a human right to an effective investigation of alleged violations of the right to life by European soldiers.
The Court rejected claims by the German, British, French, Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish governments that they are not bound by the European Convention on Human Rights to carry out investigations in such cases.
“The Court has clearly stated that European governments have to investigate credible allegations of war crimes by their soldiers in Afghanistan,” said Emily Ramsden, RSI’s legal and policy officer. “This is an important check on impunity when European countries use deadly force overseas.”
From now on, European countries will not be able to rely on the overseas nature of their operations to argue that they have no duty to conduct an effective investigation under human rights law. If they enter into legal agreements designed to prevent other countries from investigating alleged crimes committed by European soldiers, there will be even more of an onus on European countries to ensure that they carry out an effective investigation themselves.
Victims of alleged war crimes and other potential atrocities committed by European countries’ militaries overseas in places like Iraq and Afghanistan now have stronger ground in demanding effective investigations into those alleged crimes.
In Hanan, the Court ruled that Germany had carried out an effective investigation. RSI is disappointed in this conclusion and encourages Germany to take greater steps to provide justice and resolution for the family of the children who were killed.
“Victims and their families have a right to the truth, and upholding that right – including in foreign war zones – sets an important model for justice worldwide,” Emily Ramsden, RSI’s legal and policy officer, concluded. “While we are disappointed that the court considered Germany’s investigations in this case to have been sufficient, we are hopeful that this decision will empower other victims of alleged European war crimes to demand the truth.”
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