Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killing, said on Thursday night that the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian terrorist mastermind Gen. Qasem Soleimani was a violation of international law.
The U.N. has been oddly quiet about Soleimani’s violations of international law, including activities that indisputably violated U.N. sanctions.
“The targeted killings of Qasem Soleiman and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis are most likely unlawful and violate international human rights law: Outside the context of active hostilities, the use of drones or other means for targeted killing is almost never likely to be legal,” Callamard wrote on Twitter.
She proceeded to lay out an impossibly stringent standard for preventive action that becomes grotesquely amusing when measured against Soleimani’s malign activities, not least his involvement in an undisputed act of war against the United States, the attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad last week:
To be justified under international human rights law, intentionally lethal or potentially lethal force can only be used where strictly necessary to protect against an imminent threat to life.
In other words, whoever targeted these two men would need to demonstrate that the persons targeted constitute(d) an imminent threat to others. An individual’s past involvement in “terrorist” attacks is not sufficient to make his targeting for killing lawful.
Furthermore, drone killing of anyone other than the target (family members or others in the vicinity, for example) would be an arbitrary deprivation of life under human rights law and could result in State responsibility and individual criminal liability.
The use of drones on the territory of other States has also been justified on the basis of self-defense. Under customary international law States can take military action if the threatened attack is imminent, no other means would deﬂect it, and the action is proportionate.
The test for so-called anticipatory self-defense is very narrow: it must be a necessity that is “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation”. This test is unlikely to be met in these particular cases.
Soleimani was not much concerned about killing people other than his targets – his operations routinely included the indiscriminate murder of civilians, from Syria to the streets of Baghdad.