A United Nations expert’s report calling the January U.S. drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and nine other people a violation of international law is being called “spurious” by U.S. officials, who continue to defend the deadly operation.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Thursday that the Trump administration rejects the report, which was presented to the Human Rights Council earlier that day by Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
The report, which calls for accountability for targeted killings by armed drones and for greater regulation of the weapons, says the drone strike violated the UN Charter. The council will debate what actions to pursue based on Callamard’s findings.
The U.S. quit the council two years ago, and Pompeo’s statement said the report gave “more cause to distrust UN human rights mechanisms.”
“Ms. Callamard’s conclusions are spurious” he said, explaining the strike was conducted to deter Iran from further antagonizing U.S. forces and interests in the Middle East, after a series of escalating armed attacks “in the preceding months.”
“The United States is transparent regarding the international law basis for the strike,” he added, saying it was carried out “in the exercise of the United States’ inherent right of self-defence.”
Yet Callamard said the U.S. provided no evidence of an imminent attack against the U.S. or its interests that would be carried out by Soleimani.
His killing was therefore deemed “arbitrary,” Callamard said, violating international law.
“Major General Soleimani was in charge of Iran military strategy, and actions, in Syria and Iraq. But absent an actual imminent threat to life, the course of action taken by the U.S. was unlawful,” Callamard wrote in the report.
Soleimani, leader of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, was a pivotal figure in orchestrating Iran’s campaign to drive U.S. forces out of Iraq, and built up Iran’s network of proxy armies across the Middle East.
Washington had accused Soleimani of masterminding attacks by Iranian-aligned militias on U.S. forces in the region.
The Jan. 3 drone strike was the first known incident in which a nation invoked self-defence as a justification for an attack against a state actor in the territory of a third country, Callamard added.
Iran retaliated with a rocket attack on an Iraqi air base where U.S. forces were stationed. Hours later, Iranian forces on high alert mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger airliner taking off from Tehran.
Iran has issued an arrest warrant for U.S. President Donald Trump and 35 others over Soleimani’s killing and has asked Interpol for help, Tehran prosecutor Ali Alqasimehr said on June 29, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
—With files from Reuters