The UN’s top expert on extrajudicial executions said that Washington’s decision to assassinate the commander of the Iranian elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, cannot be justified under international law.
Major-General Soleimani and the second-in-command of the Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, were killed (along with others) in a US airstrike at Baghdad’s airport on Friday morning.
The “targeted killings” of both men “most likely violate international law incl[uding] human rights law,” the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Agnes Callamard, wrote on social media shortly after the attack.
The targeted killings of Qasem Soleimani and Abu mahdi al muhandi most likely violate international law incl human rights law. Lawful justifications for such killings are very narrowly defined and it is hard to imagine how any of these can apply to these killings. #Iraq
— Agnes Callamard (@AgnesCallamard) January 3, 2020
Outside the context of active hostilities, the use of drones or other means for targeted killing is almost never likely to be legal.
The human rights expert said that such an attack may have been justified to protect against “an imminent threat to life” or in self-defense, but this “test is unlikely to be met in these particular cases.”
Lawful justifications for such killings are very narrowly defined and it is hard to imagine how any of these can apply to these killings.
The Pentagon argued that the airstrikes were aimed at “deterring future Iranian attack plans.” Callamard, however, dismissed this reasoning as being “very vague” and, therefore, unable to qualify as rationale to carry out targeted killings under international law.
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In total, eight more people died along with Soleimani and al-Muhandis. The UN rapporteur stressed that such “collateral” damage is also unlawful.
The airstrikes received praise among US President Donald Trump’s allies in the Republican Party, but were called reckless and escalatory by his opponents in the Democratic Party.