The US violated international law by assassinating Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, top UN human rights investigator says

An Iranian holds a photograph of Qassem Soleimani in Tehran in January 2020 after his assassination. Reuters
  • The US broke international law in its killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the UN’s top human rights investigator said on Monday.
  • At the time, the US said it had evidence showing that the top Iranian general posed an “imminent threat” to US assets.
  • In a report, Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution, said the US supplied “no evidence that threats were imminent.”
  • The January 3 assassination therefore violated article 2(4) of the UN Charter, she said. The UN Human Rights Council will meet on Thursday to debate a response.
  • However, the US is not a member of the council, so it’s likely the decision will be met with indifference.
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The UN’s top rights investigator said the US broke international law by assassinating Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds Force branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC,) and nine others were killed by a US drone strike near an airport in Baghdad, Iraq, on January 3.

The UN has now refuted President Donald Trump’s reasoning for the strike. But, while the report is damning, it is unlikely to have any ramifications for Trump, as the US is not a member of the UN Human Rights Council, crashing out in 2018 after clashing over Israel, the Congo, and China.

After the strikes, Trump said that Soleimani posed an “imminent threat” as he was actively plotting terror attacks against US assets, and killing him therefore “stopped a war.

But leaks from US intelligence and the State Department days after the strike suggested that the “imminent” nature of the threats were likely exaggerated, or even non-existent.

Protesters burn a US flag during a demonstration over the U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 3, 2020. AP Photo/Vahid Salemi

And on Monday, Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution, submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council in which she concluded that the strike was in violation of article 2(4) of the UN Charter.

The article “prohibits the threat or use of force and calls on all Members to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of other States.”

Evidence submitted to the UN by the US showed “no evidence that threats were imminent,” Callamard wrote.

“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.”

Mourners attend the funeral and burial of Iranian Major-General and head of the elite Quds Force Qassem Soleimani on January 8, 2020. Reuters

The council is due to meet on Thursday where it will discuss the report, but it is likely that no action will be taken, given the limited power the council possesses.

Trump is almost certain to leave the matter be.

In February, the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs accused him of overplaying the threat Soleimani posed, so as to make the most of the rare chance to attack him outside Iran.

In her report, Callamard said it was the first time ever that a country has sought to use self-defence as a justification for taking out a person in a third country.

Callamard also said that the strike was unlawful on the basis that it occured in Iraq, a sovereign nation.

A composite image of US President Donald Trump and Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani. Leah Millis/Reuters; Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP

“By killing General Soleimani on Iraqi soil without first obtaining Iraq’s consent, the US violated the territorial integrity of Iraq.”

The report – subtitled “targeted killings through armed drones and the case of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani” – focused in on the ethical and legal issues associated with drone strikes.

“There is little public disclosure, with targeted killings by drones wrapped up in a secrecy that extends to the investigation of civilian deaths.”

In late, June, Iran issued an arrest warrant for Donald Trump over the killing of Soleimani, and asked Interpol to help detain him.

Also this month, Iran said it had found a CIA informant who helped the US assassinate Soleimani and, sentenced him to death