By Javeed Montazeran

Legal Assessment of the assassination of Gen. Soleimani

January 2, 2022 - 22:26

TEHRAN - On January 3, 2020, the Iranian Quds Force Commander, Major General Qassim Soleimani, with his entourage were subject to targeted killing by an American drone missile. On his second anniversary, we want to assess the legality of the assassination from the perspective of international law. Considering, it was an extraordinary and unprecedented assassination of a senior commander of a State on the territory of a third State carried out by another State.

After the targeted killing of the Islamic Republic of Iran Quds Force commander, Gen. Qassim Soleimani, the US Department of Defense (DoD), and then-US President Donald Trump justified the act as the right to self-defense and within the framework of International law. They Accused the general of involvement in earlier attacks on U.S. headquarters and embassy. On December 27, 2019, the DoD alleged that Gen. Soleimani was plotting imminent attacks on American diplomats and personnel in Iraq, implicitly suggesting that his killing was necessary as preemptive self-defense.

The truth of the matter is that under international law, the killing of Gen. Qassim Soleimani violated the conditions for the lawful exercise of the right of self-defense within the laws of armed conflict, hence lacking legal value and not considered self-defense. 

On the other hand, the United States killing came at a time when Gen. Qassim Soleimani was the only commander dealing heavy blows to ISIS terrorists over the years, and the US-Iran relations, despite suffering crises, never came close to a direct armed conflict. 

Had the strike occurred within the setting of an armed conflict, under international humanitarian law, General Soleimani and his companions could have constituted legitimate military targets as combatants. Accordingly, the killing would still infringe the laws of armed conflict and constitute an act of aggression and support for Takfiri terrorists.

Ms. Agnes Callamard, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, rapid, or arbitrary executions at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), presented her report to the 44th session of the Human Rights Council on July 10. It was entitled the Targeted Killings through Armed Drones and the Case of Assassination of Major General Qassim Soleimani. It says that the targeted killing of General Soleimani is the first known incident in which a State invoked self-defense as a justification for an attack against a state-actor, in the territory of another state, thus implicating the prohibition on the use of force in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. Callamard views the use of drones and other equipment for the assassination as illegal.

As far as international law is concerned, the use of intentional or potentially deadly force is permissible only when the target or targets present an imminent or even actual threat to life. Therefore, the United States action lacks legal justification as there is no evidence suggesting that the commander and his nine companions presented an ongoing or imminent threat to the American forces and personnel. 

Therefore, America's arbitrary act of striking General Soleimani's convoy violates the principle of respect for human rights and the right to life, which deprived General Soleimani and his associates of the right to life as a peremptory norm in international law.

As enshrined in the UN Charter, this action also violates the most obvious principles and peremptory norms of international law, including the interference principles, territorial integrity, inviolability, and prohibition of the use of force.

In conclusion, the justification provided by the United States authorities is remarkably vague and inconsequential. In other words, based on international law and human rights principles, the United States targeted killing of Gen. Qassim Soleimani with his associates was unacceptable and illegal.

Javeed Montazeran is an International Law Expert

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