Practice Relating to Rule 10. Civilian Objects’ Loss of Protection from Attack
In 2010, in the Fuel Tankers case, the Federal Prosecutor General at Germany’s Federal Court of Justice investigated whether war crimes or other crimes under domestic law had been committed in the course of an airstrike which was ordered by a colonel (Oberst) of the German armed forces against two tankers transporting fuel for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan stolen by the Taliban near Kunduz and which resulted in the deaths of a number of civilians. The Federal Prosecutor General stated:
Pursuant to § 170 para. 2 StPO [Penal Procedure Code], the investigation proceedings which were initiated by the order of 12 March 2010 against Colonel (Oberst
) Klein and Company Sergeant Major (Hauptfeldwebel
) Wilhelm due to suspected offences under the VStGB [International Crimes Code] and other offences are to be terminated as a result of the investigations conducted and based on the sources of information set out hereafter and on the reasons given in detail hereafter.
The Federal Prosecutor General also stated:
The following is to be considered regarding the subjective element of § 11 (1) (3) VStGB [which states that carrying out an attack by military means and definitely anticipating that the attack will cause death or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects on a scale out of proportion to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated is a war crime in international and non-international armed conflict]:
… According to Art. 52 para. 2 AP [1977 Additional Protocol] I only objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization in the circumstances ruling at the time offers a definite military advantage. In cases in which non-state armed actors deliberately use civilian objects for military purposes, objects which were initially civilian objects can lose their protection against attack if the conditions set out in the definition [of military objectives] are fulfilled and can become legitimate military objectives.
The fuel tankers and the fuel were originally civilian objects. They became military objectives with the abduction by the Taliban because they were suited to effectively contribute to military action from this moment on. The fuel could be used to refuel vehicles used for attacks and used in combination with explosives as improvised explosive devices. It thus constitutes a military objective in any case as its destruction would offer a considerable military advantage. The fuel tankers also constituted a military objective … The reason is that they could be used for attacks with vehicle-based explosive devices as already happened in Afghanistan five times in 2009 until 4 September 2009. It is irrelevant that the fuel tankers were immobilized on a sandbank. Colonel (Oberst
) Klein wanted to prevent any future movement of the tankers. There was the risk that the insurgents would successfully free the tankers and use them for military purposes. Therefore they did not constitute civilian objects at the time when Colonel (Oberst
) Klein ordered the dropping of the bombs. The same holds true for both vehicles present in the immediate surroundings of the fuel tankers. Because of their concrete use they were meant to make an effective contribution to the Taliban’s military action. Therefore, criminal responsibility under § 11 para. 11 no. 3 VStGB can be excluded.
Germany’s Military Manual (1992) provides: “An objective which is normally dedicated to civil purposes shall, in case of doubt, be assumed not to be used in a way to make an effective contribution to military action, and therefore be treated as a civilian object.”