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Condemned by Law: Assassination of Political Dissidents Abroad

3.1. Legal Norms Prohibiting Assassinations

The term “assassination” is rarely defined or specifically discussed in international legal instruments.8 Aside from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons, Including Diplomatic Agents (New York Convention) and the Charter of the Organization of African Unity, there are no treaties or conventions regulating the practice of assassinations.9 Yet there are several international instruments and norms that prohibit conduct that qualifies as assassination. Examples of such instruments include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Geneva Conventions, all of which expressly outlaw the extrajudicial targeting and killing of individuals.10 Other examples include the myriad international documents and agreements relating to the use of violence and aggression, which reveal the international community’s forceful rejection of extrajudicial killings as a tool of diplomacy.11

Extradition treaties provide additional evidence of international norms prohibiting the commission of assassinations.12 Extradition treaties do not inherently criminalize acts – they rely on bilateral or multilateral cooperation leading to the capture, arrest and return of alleged criminals to the jurisdiction in which they committed their offenses.13 Most extradition treaties include “assassination” under the definition of murder, which is a universally extraditable offense.14 Other bilateral treaties deal with assassinations as a separate extraditable offense.15 Notably, many extradition treaties include attentat16 clauses that preclude member states from

[8] See supra note 6 and accompanying text.
[9] See New York Convention, supra note 1; Charter of the Organization of African Unity art. 3(5), May 25, 1963, 479 U.N.T.S. 39.
[10] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights art. 6, Dec. 16, 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 171 [hereinafter ICCPR]; Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War art. 3, Aug. 12, 1949, 75 U.N.T.S. 135; Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Aug. 12, 1949, 75 U.N.T.S 287 [hereinafter Geneva Convention IV].
[11]See, e.g., International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages, Dec. 19, 1979, G.A. Res. 34/146, U.N. GAOR, 34th Sess., Supp. No. 46, at 245, U.N. Doc. A/34/46 (1979); Resolution on Measures to Prevent International Terrorism, Dec. 9, 1985, U.N. Doc. A/Res./40/61 (1985); European Convention on the Suppression on Terrorism, Feb. 10, 1971, 27 U.S.T. 3949. Additionally, Article 2(4) of the UN Charter requires all member states to “refrain in their international relations form the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” U.N. Charter art. 2, para. 4. In fact, the International Court of Justice has ruled that the non-aggression principle espoused in Article 2(4) has risen to the level of a jus cogens, or a peremptory norm of international law from which no derogation can take place. M. Cherif Bassiouni, International Crimes: Jus Cogens and Obligatio Erga Omnes, 59 Law & Contemp. Probs. 63, 71 (1996); see also Case Concerning Military and Paramilitary Activities in and Against Nicaragua v. U.S., 1986 I.C.J. 14 (holding that the United States violated Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter by recruiting, training, arming and financing paramilitary actions in and against Nicaragua) [hereinafter Nicaragua v. U.S.]. Moreover, several U.N. Security Council resolutions have either impliedly or expressly characterized targeted killings conducted by the security forces of one nation against the territory of another as a violation of Article 2(4). See, e.g., S.C. Res. 568, U.N. Doc. S/Res/568 (June 21, 1985) (condemning South Africa’s use of commandos to assassinate African National Congress members in Botswana); S.C. Res. 573 U.N. Doc. S/Res/573 (Oct. 4, 1985) (condemning Israel’s use of overwhelming aerial force in the attempted assassination of Yassir Arafat in Tunisia); S.C. Res. 611, U.N. Doc. S/Res/611 (Apr. 25, 1988) (condemning Israel’s use of commandos in the assassination of a high profile member of Fatah); S.C. Res. 1054, U.N. Doc. S/Res/1054 (Apr. 26, 1996) (condemning Sudan’s sheltering of militants in the failed assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak).
[14] Harvard Research in International Law, Draft Convention on Extradition, with Comment, 29 AM. J. INT'L L. 15 (Supp.1935).
[15] See id.
[16] Schmitt, supra note 2, at 622. An attentat clause is a clause in an extradition treaty that excludes “an outrage against the head of a foreign Government constituting either murder, premeditated murder or poisoning” from the political offence exception that generally excuses nations from extraditing those suspected of political crimes. BOLESLAW A. BOCZEK, INTERNATIONAL LAW: A DICTIONARY 63 (2005); see, e.g., Extradition Treaty, U.S.-Fin. art. 7(2) & (3), Schedule, signed June 11, 1976, T.I.A.S. No. 9626, 31 U.S.T. 944 (mandating extraditions in the case of murder of an internationally protected person). The clause was created in response to Belgium’s refusal to extradite Napoleon III’s would-be assassin to France. BOCZEK, supra at 63; see also Ban Saul, The Legal Response of the League of Nations to Terrorism, 4 J. INT’L CRIM. JUST. 78 (2006), at 85-86.

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Political Killings, Assassinations, Political Freedom