Targeted Killings and International Human Rights Law: The Case of Anwar Al-Awlaki
Michael Phillip Ramsden
Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) - Faculty of Law
July 1, 2011
Journal of Conflict & Security Law (2011), Vol. 16 No. 2, 385–406
Anwar Al-Awlaki, the high-profile proponent of violent jihad, is reported to have taken on a leadership role in Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a US-designated terrorist organization that has committed a chain of terrorist attacks against predominantly US and Yemen targets. After evidence of Al-Awlaki’s involvement in personally instructing acts of terrorism, he was reportedly targeted by US drones just days after the death of Osama bin Laden. Al-Awlaki is said to be harboured by tribes in a remote terrorist safe haven in the Shabwa province of Yemen. Given that Al-Awlaki is present in an area outside of active armed conflict, the USA must justify any killing according to International Human Rights Law (IHRL). It must show that any targeted killing has a domestic legal basis, would be proportionate to the legitimate aim of saving life and absolutely necessary, after less harmful means were exhausted. But a strict domestic law enforcement standard should not necessarily be applied in all cases. Rather in addressing threats from terrorist safe havens abroad, the feasibility of arrest and the concept of imminence must be adapted. Given Al-Awlaki’s leadership position in AQAP, an organization openly committed to, and involved in, ongoing acts of terrorism, an arguable case can be made that his targeted killing would be justified under IHRL.
Keywords: Targeted killings, drones, international human rights law, international law
JEL Classification: K33, N40Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: June 6, 2012
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