The US drone strike that killed Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani was “unlawful”, the United Nations expert on extrajudicial killings concluded in a report released on Tuesday.
US President Donald Trump ordered the killing in a January 3 attack near Baghdad international airport.
“Arbitrary killing” by the US
A United Nations expert on Monday accused the United States of violating international law with its killing earlier this year of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
The US killed Soleimani, who oversaw the Revolutionary Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force, and others in a January 3 drone strike near Baghdad International Airport.
It came after months of rising tensions between the two countries. The US believed Soleimani was planning an attack on Western forces in the Middle East and also said he was behind attacks on US targets by Iranian proxies.
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, concluded it was an “arbitrary killing” that violated the UN charter.
The US had provided no evidence that an imminent attack against US interest was being planned, Agnes Callamard wrote.
The independent rights expert does not speak for the United Nations but reports her findings to it.
Read more: Qasem Soleimani: Is US operating under Law of Jungle?
Her report on targeted killings through armed drones — around half of which deals with the Soleimani case — is to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva on Thursday.
The United States withdrew from the council in 2018.
US President Donald Trump ordered the killing of Soleimani in a January 3 drone strike near Baghdad international airport.
Read more: US senate wanted Trump to not attack Iran but fails to override Trump veto
Soleimani, a national hero at home, was “the world’s top terrorist” and “should have been terminated long ago”, Trump said at the time.
Despite his feared reputation at home and abroad, many Iranians saw Qassem Soleimani as a national hero destined to play an indispensable role in the country's future. Here's how his assassination is playing out in Iran: https://t.co/lNwqeJWWV0 pic.twitter.com/CzPpaIBmHg
— Financial Times (@FinancialTimes) January 3, 2020
Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in the drone strike.
“In light of the evidence that the US has provided to date, the targeting of General Soleimani, and the deaths of those accompanying him, constitute an arbitrary killing for which, under IHRL (international human rights law), the US is responsible,” Callamard said in her report.
‘No evidence’ imminent attack planned
She said the strike violated the UN Charter, with “insufficient evidence provided of an ongoing or imminent attack,” she wrote.
Read more: Iran to execute spy who aided US in killing of Soleimani
“No evidence has been provided that General Soleimani specifically was planning an imminent attack against US interests, particularly in Iraq, for which immediate action was necessary and would have been justified,” Callamard said.
“No evidence has been provided that a drone strike in a third country was necessary or that the harm caused to that country was proportionate to the harm allegedly averted.
“Soleimani was in charge of Iran’s military strategy, and actions, in Syria and Iraq. But absent an actual imminent threat to life, the course of action taken by the US was unlawful.”
Read more: Killing Soleimani was “Right Move”: Trump tells tales of general’s “Horrible Past”
The killing of Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, provoked massive outpourings of grief in Iran.
Iran launched ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases tonight where US troops are stationed. No initial reports of US casualties. I was at al-Asad when Sec. of Defense Rumsfeld visited in 2006 and addressed US Marines and other military personnel. #Iran #Iraq @realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/DgwlzDYhXe
— David Hume Kennerly (@kennerly) January 8, 2020
Tehran retaliated by firing a volley of ballistic missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq. While the attack on the western Iraqi base of Ain Al-Asad killed no US soldiers, dozens suffered brain trauma.
Drone use should be regulated and subject to greater accountability
Callamard’s report addresses targeted killings through armed drones, in light of the proliferation in drone use and their expanding capability over the last five years.
It makes recommendations designed to regulate their use and enhance accountability.
Callamard said that while incidents like the killing of Soleimani and the September 2019 hit on Saudi Arabia’s oil processing facilities generated strong political reactions, “the vast majority of targeted killings by drones are subjected to little public scrutiny”.
Read more: Iraq likely to become battleground for US-Iran quagmire in the aftermath of Soleimani killing: Analysts
Drone technologies and drone attacks were generating fundamental challenges to international legal standards, she added.
The charges underscore the heightened tensions between Iran and the United States since Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 and hit Iran with renewed sanctions.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk