The Long-Term International Law Implications of Targeted Killing Practices

“Targeted killings are not a new practice – governments have long sought to prevail over their enemies by engaging in premeditated killings of individual suspects. What is new now is the rapid development and proliferation, and increasing deployment, of technologies which permit such killings to be carried out with greater ease and with little immediate risk to one side’s citizens, together with concerted efforts by some to offer general legal justifications for current targeted killings practices, and, in some cases, to attempt to redefine existing legal frameworks to expand the circumstances in which such killings may be carried out ‘lawfully.’

“Current targeted killings practices and the attempts to legally justify those strikes present a challenge to the systematic protection of the right to life under international law. We are now witnessing a significant effort by some states to insulate their “targeted” uses of deadly force from international scrutiny and to redefine international law in order to serve narrow and short-term interests. This presents a serious risk of leaving everyone less secure, particularly if other states around the world, as they acquire the new technology, claim for themselves the same expanded rights to target their enemies without meaningful transparency or accountability.

“The challenge is to ensure that strong protections of the right to life under international law survive the practices of a few states, technological developments, and outlier attempts to redefine core legal standards.”

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