Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Ben Saul
Chapter 15: Terrorism and targeted killings under international lawTerrorism and targeted killings under international law
The term ‘targeted killing’ does not have a fixed definition under international law; however, a useful working definition has been proposed by UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston, who defines targeted killing as ‘the intentional, premeditated and deliberate use of lethal force, by States or their agents acting under colour of law, or by an organized armed group in armed conflict, against a specific individual who is not in the physical custody of the perpetrator’. Targeted killing has become part of the conventional military and security strategy of a number of states in their operations against terrorist suspects, with Israel, the US and Russia among the most notable that have openly or otherwise employed it. Controversy has arisen regarding whether, as the perpetrator states have asserted, such killings should be considered as part of an ongoing ‘war’ against terrorist organizations, thus judged according to the law on the use of force (jus ad bellum) and the law of armed conflict (jus in bello or international humanitarian law (IHL), or whether the struggle against terrorist groups should be considered within a law enforcement framework, thus engaging international human rights law (IHRL).
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