Several days ago the Munich Administrative Court issued a formal decision to request that the European Court of Justice in Luxemburg clarify several fundamental questions pertaining to the asylum request case of the American deserter André Shepherd. The Court of Justice is asked to examine “the degree to which an involvement in military hostilities is necessary, in order to offer the right of refugee status to a military deserter, who will be punished for his desertion”. The case before the Munich Administrative Court has been postponed until the European Court of Justice issues a decision on these matters.
André Shepherd’s lawyer Reinhard Marx observed: “Here for the first time the case of an AWOL-soldier from the United States will be tried at the highest European court. This shows the tremendous significance of my client’s case.”
Rudi Friedrich from Connection, an international network for conscientious objectors, commented that “André Shepherd’s refusal to continue participating in war crimes in the Iraq War and request for asylum in Germany raises the question whether a deserter or AWOL soldier deserves our protection. International law and the Qualification Directive of the European Union that Shepherd is appealing to affirm his right unequivocally.”
The legal expert from PRO ASYL, Marei Pelzer, affirmed: ”We will continue support this case with our legal aid services until the fundamental legal issue has been clarified by the European Court. We hope that the Court will acknowledge that deserters like Mr Shepherd should be give refugee status. That would be of immense value for many other cases as well.”
In his application for political asylum filed in late 2008, André Shepherd relied on the Qualification Directive of the European Union, which is intended to protect those who evade a war or other activities that violate international law, and who may expect persecution as a consequence. Thus Shepherd’s request for asylum constitutes a precedent involving EU law. The organizations hope that clarification by the highest court of the European Union of the questions under consideration will make it clear that draft resisters and deserters are to be given considerably more protection, especially if they have chosen not to participate in war crimes.
35-year-old André Shepherd joined the U.S. Army in 2004, and after training was deployed to Iraq as a mechanic for Apache helicopters for six months. After returning to his unit stationed in Katterbach, Bavaria, he seriously deliberated the effects of U.S. military action on the civilian population in Iraq. Finally, he went “absent without official leave” (AWOL) and applied for political asylum in Germany. The Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge (Federal Bureau of Migration and Refugees) rejected his asylum application on 31 March 2011. André Shepherd filed suit against this decision.
“It is good to see that there is progress in the case”, declared André Shepherd today. “We hope that the European Court not only has the will, but the courage to take a stand for the right to freedom of conscience. Other soldiers should feel assured that their decision not to participate in wars or crimes in violation of international law will be supported.”