The intentional and pre-meditated use of lethal force, by a State or organized armed group against a specific individual outside their physical custody. Targeted killings occur both within and outside of armed conflicts. Under IHL, they are problematic as, oftentimes, those targeted are geographically far removed from hostilities, and/or not necessarily directly participating in hostilities at the time they are targeted. In the context of the war on terror, targeted killings against suspected terrorists, including “unlawful combatants”, have occurred regularly. Drones are frequently relied on to undertake such killings.
See Armed conflict; Unlawful combatants; War on terror; Drones; Terrorism and terrorists.
Israel, The Targeted Killings Case
UN, Statement of a Special Rapporteur on Drone Attacks
General Assembly, The use of drones in counter-terrorism operations
U.S., Lethal Operations against Al-Qa’ida Leaders
United States of America, The Death of Osama bin Laden
ICRC, International Humanitarian Law and the challenges of contemporary armed conflicts in 2015 (Paras. 60-64)
JACKSON Jami Melissa, “The Legality of Assassination of Independent Terrorist Leaders: an Examination of National and International Implications”, in North Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation, Vol. 24/3, 1999, pp. 669-697.
KRETZMER David, “Targeted Killing of Suspected Terrorists: Extra-Judicial Executions or Legitimate Means of Defence?”, in EJIL, Vol. 16/2, 2005, pp. 171-212
MELZER Nils, Targeted Killing in International Law, Oxford, OUP, 2008, 468 pp.
PLAW Avery, Targeting Terrorists: A License to Kill?, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2008, 294 pp.
RATNER Steven R., “Predator and Prey: Seizing and Killing Suspected Terrorists Abroad”, in Journal of Political Philosophy, September 2007, Vol. 15, Issue 3, pp. 251-275.
SASSÒLI Marco & OLSON Laura, “The Relationship Between International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law Where it Matters: Admissible Killing and Internment of Fighters in Non-International Armed Conflicts”, in IRRC, Vol. 90, no. 871, September 2008, pp. 599-627.
SPEROTTO Federico, “Targeted Killings in response to Security Threats: Warfare and Humanitarian Issues”, in Global Jurist, Vol. 8, Issue 3, 2008, pp. 1-32.
WATKIN Kenneth, “Humans in the Cross-Hairs: Targeting, Assassination and Extra-Legal Killing in Contemporary Armed Conflict”, in WIPPMAN David & EVANGELISTA Matthew (eds), New Wars, New Laws? Applying the Laws of War in 21st Century Conflicts, New York, Transnational Publishers, 2005, pp. 137-179.