Assassination of Fakhrizadeh from the perspective of international law

December 25, 2020 - 17:3

A virtual prior congress on international law concerning the armed conflict in the region with the theme of the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh from the viewpoint of international law was held on December 9 at the University of Qom. 

The main congress will run from March 16 to 17. Participants are expected to submit their articles by March 1.

Mostafa Faza’eli from the University of Qom; Ahmad Momeni-Rad from the University of Tehran; and  Tavakol Habibzadeh from Imam Sadiq University attended the online meeting.

The connotation of assassination from perspective of international law and its application to the assassination of Fakhrizadeh was discussed by the scholars at the meeting.

They also talked about the judicial mechanism for suing the terrorists who were involved in the assassination. 

The international responsibilities of the governments that support the terrorists and even granting asylum to them also featured in the talks.

On November 27 at 14:30, nearly 10 people attacked the convoy of Fakhrizadeh on a highway in the small city of Absard in Damavand County, about 40 kilometers northeast of the capital Tehran. The scientist lost his life during the attack. Iranian officials were quick to point the finger at Israel, which has carried out many assassination operations against Iranian nuclear scientists over the past decade. 

Fakhrizadeh enumerated some aspects of the issue.

First, Faza’eli talked about the Fakhrizadeh assassination issue from different points of view. He discussed the difference between this assassination and other murders. 

Since the issue is related to the sovereignty of governments, it can be discussed within the framework of international law.

First of all the right of a person for life is being denied. So international human rights commitments is implementable in this case. In addition, it is an arbitrarily extrajudicial killing, just like the assassination of Commander Qassem Soleimani, the chief of IRGC Quds Force, who was assassinated during a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad on January 3, 2020.

In extrajudicial killings, two conditions are imaginable: either it takes place by a government inside the country or by another government inside another country with or without the participation of the host country, like the intervention of Saudi Arabia in Bahrain and support for the central government in the killing of Bahraini citizens. In this case, the two governments are responsible.

An issue that should be discussed is whether this is a violation the international human rights law (IHRL) or not. However, it is not true in this case because there is no armed hostility. However, if the Fakhrizadeh assassination is documentarily linked to the Zionist regime and admit hostility between the two sides, some lawyers believe that it can be an example of international human rights law (like the General Soleimani case). However, it is not an armed conflict issue.  

The other issue is related to combating terrorism, which is highlighted today in international law, like the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. Its part  b in paragraph 2, the convention states “any other act intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian or to any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed conflict, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to the government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.”

Here, it means terrorist acts by governments. 

According to domestic law, like the law in combatting the financing of terrorism, that was ratified by the Iranian Parliament in 2015 and amended in 2018, the assassination of Fakhrizadeh is a terrorist act.

In total, the act is considered a crime and those who were involved in it should be punished, whether the murderer, supporter, participant, or any government that has not observed commitments regarding the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. If this event can be attributed to a government it can be pursued under the name of state terrorism.

Afterward, Momeni-Rad talked about the responsibilities of the assassination of Fakhrizadeh. He said that the assassination is probably done by the Zionist regime. Hence, it can be looked at from two aspects: those who committed the act and those who ordered it.

He said that if the assassination is done by a group of Iranians who are against the Islamic Republic of Iran and live in Western countries, the countries that have given asylum to them should be held responsible for the act. For example,  the terrorist Mojahedin-e Khalgh (MEK) group has announced that it has terror acts on its agenda. However, France which has given them asylum and supports them politically and economically is responsible in terms of international law.

Another issue is the immunity of some governments like the Zionist regime for their unlawful acts. The Zionist regime does not change its attitude despite different resolutions by the UN Security Council, UN General Assembly and UN Human Rights Council. Even the International Court of Justice condemned the construction of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory ( commonly known as the Israeli Wall advisory opinion) but it was disregarded by the Zionist regime. So this has made the Zionist regime arrogant and promoted this idea among the officials in Tel Aviv that their acts in violation of internatinal law go unpunished.

The United Nations has made a differentiation between security criminals and terrorists. The International Court of Justice clearly has made a distinction between political asylum and security asylum. This shows that granting asylum to security criminals is not acceptable from the perspective of international law.

In general, the orderers and elements of the Fakhrizadeh assassination are those countries which have give asylum to these terrorists, and according to international law, they are responsible. 

The assassination of Fakhrizadeh, which was pre-planned, is a terrorist attack. According to UN Security Council Resolution 1373, terrorism is an act against international peace and security and it should be condemned by the United Nations, Security Council, and secretary-general. However, this did not happen despite a written demand by the Iranian representative at the UN. Also, governments should condemn, identify, try, or extradite criminals. However, none of these actions takes place due to political motivations.

Some countries like the U.S. take military actions against terrorists which is against the United Nations Charter. The U.S. attack against Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks is an example. However, Iran does not counter-terrorism in this way because it is against international law.

With the prospect of revitalizing the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA), Iran can set some preconditions for other parties in the negotiations and demand them to condemn terrorist actions in Iran. It is needed to ask European countries to identify terrorists and demand them to expel them because according to UN Security Council Resolution 1373 countries must not be a sanctuary for terrorists. In addition, it is needed to revise the voluntary acceptance of the Additional Protocol to the NPT which allows the IAEA for surprise inspections of Iran’s sites which in effect result in leaking of the names of nuclear experts. 

Following is the list of some questions proposed at the event:

Is the assassination of Fakhrizadeh considered a crime against humanity?

Habibzadeh: It is uncommon to consider this case as a crime against humanity. However, it is not a targeted killing as well because in targeted killing the issue is about killing a military force, so this assassination is considered terrorism.

Momeni-Rad: It is not a crime against humanity.

Is there any possibility of countermeasure?

Habibzadeh: The military action and the right of self-defense are not possible due to several reasons. Since the act is an assassination, it is against international law to take a countermeasure. It is better to put on trial those who are involved in this act. Although we do not recognize the Zionist regime, if we consider it as a group, our military action has its consequences. 

Momeni-Rad: International law and human rights do not have any achievement in this issue.

Faza’eli: The targeted killing of characters is not supported at the international level. Only the U.S. and the Zionist regime kill civilians. 

Is a nuclear scientist a political figure?

Momeni-Rad: Martyr Fakhrizadeh is a member of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, deputy minister of defense, and head of the Research and Innovation Organization of the Ministry of Defense of Iran. So the assassination of Fakhrizadeh is state terrorism.

Habibzadhe: The military staff is an eligible target when there is a war. Otherwise, it is not legal to kill a military figure. So the assassination of Fakhrizadeh as a military figure is not legal.

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