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Condemned by Law: Assassination of Political Dissidents Abroad

uncompromising view favoring protection of the right to life.40 In fact, the development of legal rules and norms surrounding assassinations owes much to the body of law known as humanitarian law.41 The Hague and Geneva Conventions represent the codification of the rules of war into treaty law.42 Many of the rules codified in these conventions reflect customary international law.43

Under the humanitarian law regime, the deliberate targeting of civilians always constitutes an unlawful attack.44 Civilians are accorded the highest level of protection under international law and only lose their “protected” status if they take direct part in hostilities.45 It is undisputed that the targeting or killing of “protected persons,” even if they are combatants, amounts to a grave breach of the Geneva Convention and a violation of customary international law constituting a “war crime.”46

Humanitarian law also recognizes an absolute ban on all “treacherous” or “perfidious” killings.47 Treacherous killings are particularly invidious when they involve the targeting and killing of civilians. To the extent that a majority of, if not all, assassinations and (attempted assassinations) are committed through the use of treacherous means, they are deemed illegal under humanitarian law.48 This ban on assassinations has been codified in both the Hague and Geneva Conventions,

[40] See, e.g., Geneva Convention IV, supra note 10.
[41] See generally Louis Rene Beres, The Permissibility of State-Sponsored Assassination During Peace and War, 5 TEMPLE INT’L & COMP. L.J. 231 (1992); see also INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE FOR THE RED CROSS ADVISORY SERVICE ON INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW, What is International Humanitarian Law?, July 2004, available at www.icrc.org/Web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/htmlall/humanitarian-law-factsheet/$File/What_is_IHL.pdf (last visited Oct. 31, 2008).
[42] Brian D. Tittemore, Belligerents in Blue Helmets: Applying International Humanitarian Law to United Nations Peace Operations, 33 STAN. J. INT’L L. 61, 64-66 (1997).
[43] See, e.g., Michael D. Ramsey, Torturing Executive Power, 93 GEO. L.J. 1213, 1245 n.125 (2005).
[44] See, e.g., Geneva Convention IV, supra note 10; Protocol I, supra note 38; Protocol II, supra note 38; see also Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, Advisory Opinion, 1996 I.C.J. 226 (July 8). Unlawful attacks do not include attacks aimed at military targets that result in the deaths of civilians, as long as those attacks meet the necessity and proportionality requirements. See Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects, Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons (Protocol III) art. 2(1), Oct. 10, 1980, 1342 U.N.T.S. 162; Hague Regulations, Annex to the Hague Convention (IV) on the Laws and Customs of War on Land art. 25, Oct. 18, 1907, available at http://www.gisha.org/UserFiles/File/Covensions%20and%20Laws/Hague%20Convention%20IV.pdf (last visited Oct. 31, 2008). A corollary principle of discrimination provides that undefended places may not be attacked or bombarded. See G.A. Res. 2675 (XXV) paras. 2, 4-6, U.N. GAOR, 25th Sess., Supp. No. 28, U.N. Doc. A/8028 (Dec. 9, 1970); Protection of Civilian Populations Against Bombing from the Air in Case of War, League of Nations Unanimous Resolution (Sept. 30, 1938), League of Nations O.J., Special Supp. No. 182, Oct. 1938, at 135.
[45] See, e.g., Geneva Convention IV art. 3, supra note 10.
[46] Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court art. 8(2), entered into force July 1, 2002, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.183/9 [hereinafter Rome Statute]. Member states to the Geneva Conventions are obligated to establish jurisdiction and prosecute all war criminals found on their territory. Id. Preamble (“[r]ecalling that it is the duty of every State to exercise its criminal jurisdiction over those responsible for international crimes”). In addition, breaches of the principle of distinction (between military and civilian targets) amount to serious violations of customary international law and entitle any member state to exercise universal jurisdiction. See Laura Lopez, Uncivil Wars: The Challenge of Applying International Humanitarian Law to Internal Armed Conflicts, 69 N.Y.U. L. REV. 916, 938-40 (1994).
[47] Protocol I, supra note 38. According to some, the “essence of treachery is a breach of confidence.” Schmitt, supra note 2, at 633
[48] Zengel, supra note 1, at 630. The ban has little to do with the status of the victim, and only concerns the means used to kill him/her. See, e.g., Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field (Lieber Code), art. 102, April 24, 1863, available at www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/73cb71d18dc4372741256739003e6372/a25aa5871a04919bc12563cd002d65c5?OpenDocument (last visited Oct. 31, 2008).

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Political Killings, Assassinations, Political Freedom