TARGETED KILLINGS: AN EXAMINATION OF ITS PERMISSIBILITY UNDER HUMAN RIGHTS LAW, THE LAW ON THE USE OF INTER-STATE FORCE, AND INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW

Byron P. Perez (JD'11)

ABSTRACT

The events of 9/11 and attacks by terrorists as well as the so-called "rogue states" have ushered into the international law arena a new and different kind of conducting armed hostilities called targeted killing. In recent years, a number of States have adopted a policy of using targeted killings. As of this writing, there is only one decided case specifically dealing with the subject of targeted killings, Public Committee against Torture in Israel vs. Government of Israel, decided by the Israeli Supreme Court in December 2006. In that case, the Israeli Supreme Court essentially upheld the policy of the Israeli government with respect to the targeting of Palestinian terrorists who plan, launch or commit terrorist acts against Israel. The United States, on its part, has adopted a policy of launching "lethal covert operations" which includes the targeted killing of individuals identified by it to be threat to peace and order in society. This emerging practice of targeted killings triggered a heated debate regarding its legal as well as its moral permissibility. Proponents of the practice of targeted killing advance broad claims for its justification. invoking the right of a State to self-defense and that targeted killings comply with the minimum requirements of international humanitarian law such as the principle of distinction and proportionality. Accordingly, provided these standards are complied with, a State may resort to targeted killings in order to eliminate an actual or imminent threat. Those opposing the practice of targeted killings, meanwhile, proffer that targeted killings violate human rights, particularly the human right to life, such that it constitutes an arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life. Thus, outright condemnation by all States of the practice of targeted killings have continuously been advocated by its oppositors. While the term targeted killing as well as its practice by States such as the United States and Israel is new and not fully accepted under international law as of this writing, it cannot be called unlawful per se. The permissibility or non-- permissibility of targeted killings under international law may properly be assessed depending on the context under which it is conducted. Under the context of law enforcement or during peacetime situations, any case of targeted killing is governed by the applicable human rights law or human rights standards. Hence, the protection accorded to the right to life is paramount, from which no derogation may be made. Thus, the non-lethal means of arrest.