IBAHRI condemns US’ use of force on 3 January

Thursday 23 January 2020

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns the United States’ use of force in Iraq on 3 January 2020 where the commander of the Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, was killed. The IBAHRI calls on President Trump to refrain from legitimising his use of force ex post facto.

IBAHRI Director, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, commented: ‘Under international law, a breach of Soleimani’s right to life could have only occurred if he was imminently carrying out an attack. It is crucial that such actions are first authorised by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which possesses the highest authority under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to commission the use of force. Ignoring such procedures and a consistent lack of legitimate justifications will set a very dangerous precedent for the future which we cannot afford.’

Various frameworks of international law govern the use of drones, including:

  • the jus ad bellum, which determines when the use of force is permitted;
  • international human rights law, which is applicable during and outside of an armed conflict; and
  • the jus in bello (international humanitarian law) in times of an armed conflict.

A drone strike is only lawful when it complies with all three of these frameworks.

Authorisation from the UN SC (so-called Chapter VII actions) is a primary justification for jus ad bellum which legitimises warfare in times of peace through the doctrine of self-defence under Article 2 (4), chapter one of the UN Charter. Using force as a pre-emptive strike response to an imminent threat, with no authority from the UNSC, is only justified when an armed attack is necessary and proportional.

IBAHRI Co-Chair, The Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG, commented: ‘The murder of a general and high official of a foreign country, near an international airport where he had just arrived, is a very dangerous precedent to set. Leaders and high officials in democratic countries are especially vulnerable to copycat repetitions of acts of this kind. Especially is this so in the era of drones and other new technology. Those who plan and execute such acts not only unleash retaliation against their own officials; they show poor judgment and a lack of strategic sense. When states elevate themselves to become violent executioners, they invite the same conduct. Their people may be especially vulnerable to such conduct outside the rule of law because of the very openness of society endangered by such conduct.’

The IBAHRI will proceed to vigilantly observe the situation. It does not sway from its view of condemning drone strikes and makes it clear that human lives should always be prioritised in times of armed conflict.


Notes to the Editor

  1. On 25 May 2017, the IBAHRI Council adopted the Resolution on the Use of Drones for the Delivery of Lethal Weapons, which expresses concerns about the proliferation of the use of armed drones by states and non-state actors to deliver lethal force. The resolution calls for clarity and transparency in the application of legal frameworks governing drone strikes. An accompanying Background Paper which provides an analysis of the legal framework applicable to the use of drones, inside and outside of armed conflict by both state and non-state actors, can be accessed here.
  2. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    In the ensuing 70 years since its creation, the organisation has evolved from an association comprised exclusively of bar associations and law societies to one that incorporates individual international lawyers and entire law firms. The present membership is comprised of more than 80,000 individual international lawyers from most of the world’s leading law firms and some 190 bar associations and law societies spanning more than 170 countries.

    The IBA has considerable expertise in providing assistance to the global legal community, and through its global membership, it influences the development of international law reform and helps to shape the future of the legal profession throughout the world.

    The IBA’s administrative office is in London, United Kingdom. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington DC, United States, while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands.

    The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.

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