Could UN investigation of Soleimani killing have larger impact?

Agnes Callamard has critiqued the US for violating the UN charter and called for accountability for targeted killings by armed drones.

A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone sits armed with Hellfire missiles and a 500-pound bomb in a hanger at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan (photo credit: REUTERS)
A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone sits armed with Hellfire missiles and a 500-pound bomb in a hanger at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions has slammed the US over an attack on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qasem Soleimani earlier this year.
The relatively quick UN investigation appears to cast doubt on whether the killing of the Quds Force commander was lawful.
Agnes Callamard has critiqued the US for violating the UN charter and called for accountability for targeted killings by armed drones.
It’s unclear why armed drones using a missile to kill someone is dramatically different from a missile launched from a helicopter or an F-16, or an artillery shell or sniper’s bullet being used to assassinate.
“The world is at a critical time and possible tipping point when it comes to the use of drones,” Callamard said.
It appears, therefore, that the report is largely designed to try to encourage more pressure on makers of armed drones. Some of main ones today are Turkey and China, but it is unlikely the UN will critique them.
This makes it unclear if the UN finding is primarily aimed at the US but not at accountability for other countries which carry out similar attacks.
For instance, Iran has carried out missile attacks against Kurdish dissidents. Iranian-backed Hezbollah was alleged to have murdered former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, and Turkey has used armed drones to kill Kurdish militants.
The Syrian regime has been accused of using artillery to kill British/American journalist Marie Colvin. This leaves questions about whether the UN investigation will actually critique other countries that use drones or conduct attacks.

THE REPORT slamming the US strike on January 3, which targeted a motorcade with Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was justified by Washington because Soleimani had arrived in Baghdad to coordinate attacks on the US.
Kataib Hezbollah, which is backed by the IRGC, had carried out dozens of rocket attacks on US forces and had killed a US contractor near Kirkuk in December 2019.
The US had labelled the IRGC a terrorist group in 2019 and this would logically mean that Washington could justify force against it the same way it might justify strikes on Al-Qaeda. Other countries, such as Turkey, have justified their drone strikes by labeling various groups “terrorists” without having had to prove there was an imminent threat.
Callamard asserts in her report, according to Reuters, that the strike on Soleimani came “absent an actual imminent threat to life.” That makes it unlawful. That would appear to make many other strikes of similar character unlawful across the Middle East and in other countries.
However, the UN report may have tried to create such a narrow definition of what makes the American use of force unlawful so as to not create a precedence. According to the report, the strike was the first known incident where self-defense was invoked as the reason for a strike against a “state actor in the territory of a third country.”
This makes the discussion very narrow. In other instances where states carry out strikes, they have been against groups labeled as terrorists and not against a “state actor” in a third country. For instance, Turkey unleashed extremists to attack Syria in October 2019 and they murdered Kurdish female activist Hevrin Khalaf. A drone strike in June by Turkey killed three women in Syria. But these were not state actors.

ISRAEL HAS been slammed at the UN in the past for what the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations has called “targeted assassinations” and “extrajudicial killings.” For instance, a 2012 letter claimed Israel killed Zuhair Al-Qaisy and Mahmoud Hanani in March 2012. Qaisy was a member of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza. In 2018, UN experts, including Callamard, condemned Israel for killings near the Gaza fence. Israel, in turn, condemned UN special rapporteurs in 2015, claiming they lacked professionalism and had disregard for reality.
The question for states using drones and conducting targeted killings – whether these may be carried out in Somalia, Syria, states bordering the Sahel in Africa, or Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, or other countries – is how the latest report may apply.
Many states appear to be increasingly involved in extrajudicial attacks. For instance there have been recent assassination attempts across Europe against Iranian dissidents which appear linked to a Tehran assassination campaign. A Chechen dissident was killed in Austria this week. France took down an Al-Qaeda leader in Mali in June. US drones using “ninja” swords allegedly have killed numerous members of Hurras al-Din, a group close to Al-Qaeda in Syria’s Idlib. Osama bin Laden’s son was killed in September last year. Iraqi journalist Husham al-Hashimi was murdered in Baghdad on July 6.
It seems that everyday, people are being assassinated and killed in various forms of extrajudicial assassinations. Most of these occur in the shadows and states are never held accountable.
This is because the world today is becoming untethered from the concepts of the international order that underpinned it in the 1990s.
The UN focus on the Soleimani assassination is a byproduct of this because it seems easier to concentrate on the US, a major power, than to set a standard that might apply to all states and groups.
After all, no one has determined which state likely hunted down and killed Sheikh Khalid Haqqani, a member of the Pakistani Taliban who was taken out in Kabul in February 2020. There won’t be a report on that.