Hijacked airliner law overturned by German court

15th February 2006, Comments 0 comments

15 February 2006, BERLIN - Less than four months before Germany hosts the football World Cup, the country's highest court Wednesday overturned a law allowing hijacked airliners to be shot down to prevent them being used by terrorists as in the 2001 attacks on the United States.

15 February 2006

BERLIN - Less than four months before Germany hosts the football World Cup, the country's highest court Wednesday overturned a law allowing hijacked airliners to be shot down to prevent them being used by terrorists as in the 2001 attacks on the United States.

Constitutional Court judges said Germany's Basic Law did not allow the military to aid police in this manner and that the legislation violated the constitutionally guaranteed right to life of passengers in a plane being shot down.

"The armed forces are only allowed to help the police in cases of natural disaster or major catastrophes," said Hans-Juergen Papier, president of Germany's Federal Constitutional court in Karlsruhe, who read out the court's decision.

Judge Papier said that allowing hijacked planes to be shot down would violate the German constitution which says: "Every person shall have the right to life and physical integrity."

He said the court overturned the shoot-down law in part because it treated airline passengers "as mere objects."

Post-war Germany's founders imposed strict limits on the role of the military in domestic affairs and individual human rights as a reaction to Nazi era crimes.

With shoot-down legislation now annulled, lawmakers would have to amend the constitution in order to reinstate the law which was passed in 2003 after a deranged man buzzed Frankfurt's skyscrapers with a light aircraft.

But while Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and their Social Democratic (SPD) coalition partners back the shoot-down law as a last-ditch measure, the opposition Free Democrats (FDP) have vowed to block a constitutional change.

This raises security concerns for the World Cup because there will likely be no legal basis for Germany's air force to shoot down a hijacked plane during the June 9 to July 9 extravaganza due to attract 3.2 million fans for 64 matches being played in 12 German stadiums.

Merkel's coalition has the necessary two-thirds majority in parliament's lower house, the Bundestag, to change the constitution. But the government lacks such a majority in the Bundesrat, or upper house, and would need backing of the liberal FDP.

Defiant FDP leaders declared in a statement after the court's ruling they would block any such law.

"There will be no two-thirds majority for a constitutional change," said the party in a statement.

Meanwhile, questions remain over whether the under-funded German air force would even have sufficient rapid reaction capabilities to divert or shoot down planes being used as missiles.

This was dramatically illustrated last summer when the pilot of a light aircraft committed suicide by crashing his plane in the heart of Berlin's government district between the Reichstag and the chancellery.

The World Cup National Security Concept document, prepared by the German Interior Ministry, warns there are "raised risks" of passenger airliners being used as "a means" to carry out attacks.

"In view of international terrorism developments we must act on the assumption that there is a general threat to air transport from terrorist groups," says the paper.

DPA

Subject: German news

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