The U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in January was “unlawful,” a United Nations investigator specializing in the legality of executions said.
The U.S. justified the killing of Soleimani, head of the Quds Force within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, by arguing an attack on U.S. troops was imminent, but never produced evidence of the plot, and Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said investigators found nothing to support the claim.
Callamard said the U.S. also violated Iraqi sovereignty by conducting the drone strike near Baghdad International Airport without Iraq's permission.
"No evidence has been provided that General Soleimani specifically was planning an imminent attack against US interests, particularly in Iraq, for which immediate action was necessary and would have been justified," she wrote in a report set to be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council, of which the U.S. is not a member.
The attack, she wrote, violated Article 2(4) of the U.N.’s charter, which bans “the threat or use of force and calls on all Members to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of other States."
U.S. claims that "an attack against a State-actor, in the territory of another state” was an act of self-defense are unprecedented, Callamard wrote.
The killing of Soleimani was the culmination of years of escalating Washington-Tehran tensions dating back to the Trump administration's 2018 withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and brought the two nations to the brink of military conflict. In retaliation, Iran launched missiles at an Iraqi military base housing U.S. troops, killing none but injuring more than 100.
The new report also calls for further legal restrictions on drone warfare in general.
"As a number of drones' strikes have demonstrated, a country's ability to take-out big-name targets, without any casualties on its side, is a political gain for the government at the time, even though it may not see 'military victory' in the longer term," it notes.
--Updated at 9:48 a.m.