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2010 | HRC Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions - Study on targeted killings - A/HRC/14/24/Add.6

This report describes the new targeted killing policies adopted by States in recent years and addresses the main legal issues that have arisen.

Targeted killing policies, that include the employment of drones, are often justified as a necessary and legitimate response to “terrorism” and “asymmetric warfare”. However, along with the phenomenon of targeted killing come a range of legal difficulties. These difficulties vary from the legality of targeted killing in absence of an armed conflict where human rights standards govern to jus ad bellum issues (can States invoke their right to self-defence when resorting to targeted killing and if so, what are the prerequisites) and jus in bello questions (existence and scope of an armed conflict, who may lawfully be targeted, where and when etc.)?

The report expresses its concern about the failure of States to comply with their obligations under human rights law and international humanitarian law to provide transparency and accountability for targeted killings. States have refused to disclose who has been killed, why, and whether innocent civilians have been collaterally killed or injured , they often fail to specify the legal justification for their targeted killing policy, they neglect to disclose the safeguards in place –required by law- to ensure that targeted killings are accurate and verifiable, and they give no insight in the existence of accountability mechanisms set up to ensure that wrongful killings are investigated, prosecuted and punished. The result has been the displacement of clear legal standards with a vaguely defined licence to kill, and the creation of a major accountability vacuum

The use of drones for targeted killing is given separate attention. The author argues that outside the context of armed conflict, the use of drones for targeted killing is almost never likely to be legal and that drone killing of anyone other than the target (family members or others in the vicinity, for example) would be an arbitrary deprivation of life under human rights law and could result in State responsibility and individual criminal liability. Thereto the report specifically recommends that States should specify the remedial measures they would take in case a targeted killing turns out to be wrongful.