Targeted Killing in International Law

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A comprehensive analysis into the lawfulness of state-sponsored targeted killings under international human rights and humanitarian law, this book examines treaties, custom and general principles of law to determine the normative paradigms which govern the intentional use of lethal force against selected individuals in law enforcement and the conduct of hostilities. It addresses the relevance of the law of interstate force to targeted killings, and the interrelation of the various normative frameworks which may simultaneously apply to operations involving the use of lethal force.

Through a comprehensive analysis of treaties, custom and general principles of law in light of jurisprudence, doctrine and travaux preparatoires the author demonstrates that contemporary international law provides two distinct normative paradigms which govern targeted killings in situations of law enforcement and the conduct of hostilities. Based on the resulting normative paradigms, the author shows in what circumstances targeted killings may be considered as internationally lawful. The practical relevance of the various conditions and modalities are illustrated by reference to concrete examples of targeted killing from recent state practice.

The book argues that any targeted killing not directed against a legitimate military target remains subject to the law enforcement paradigm, which imposes extensive restraints on the practice. Even under the paradigm of hostilities, no person can be lawfully liquidated without further considerations. As a form of individualized or surgical warfare, the method of targeted killing requires a "microscopic" interpretation of the law regulating the conduct of hostilities which leads nuanced results reflecting the fundamental principles underlying international humanitarian law.

The author concludes by highlighting and comparing the main areas of concern arising with regard to state-sponsored targeted killing under each normative paradigm and by placing the results of the analysis in the greater context of the rule of law.

*The author has conceived and written this book in an entirely personal capacity and independently from his function as a Legal Adviser in the Legal Division of the ICRC. The opinions expressed therein are his own and do not necessarily correspond to those held by the ICRC or its Legal Division.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The book is a well written, clearly structured, thoughtful and measured account of issues such as current state practice, judicial consideration and relevant international law...In essence Targeted Killing in International Lawis a book about balance and the desire for careful consideration before the application of policies involving the destruction of lives. Melzer deals with each of the legal issues involved in targeted killing with clarity and precision...Melzer's detailed examination is a large step forward in the development of a better understanding of the issues and particular pressure points that daily engage advisers, courts, international lawyers and politicians when trying to determine when the state is in the position to take lives."
—The Australian Yearbook of International Law, Volume 27

"Melzer's book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of hot targeted killing is regulated by international law. His sensible definition of the problem, his principled division of the analysis into law enforcement and hostilities paradigms, his provocative analysis of military necessity, and his coverage of often overlooked aspects, such as booby-traps, will no doubt influence future work on this issue."
—William Abresch, European Journal of International Law, 2009

"Mr Melzer's monograph is a very articulated and expert account of the legal framework governing targeted killings in both peacetime and during an armed conflict. It is recommended for those who want to expand their knowledge of the topic."
—Vincent Roobaert, Assistant Legal Adviser, NC3A

"Targeted Killing in International Law is a piece of solid scholarship which can only be recommended to scholars, practitioners, and students is a very methodically researched treatise which will become a useful work of reference on the topic. It is definitely a step towards finally settling the legal problems surrounding the question of targeted killing and will hopefully help to bring an end to the 'shadowy realm of half-legality and non-accountability.'"
—Tamas Hoffmann, Corvinus University, Budapest, Leiden Journal of International Law, vol 22

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Nils Melzer is a Legal Adviser for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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Table of Contents

A. General Considerations
1. The Notion of Targeted Killing
2. Current Trend towards Legitimization
3. Targeted Killing in Contemporary Legal Doctrine
4. Outline of the Analysis
B. Law Enforcement
5. The Paradigm of Law Enforcement
6. Law Enforcement and the Conventional Human Right to Life
7. Law Enforcement and the Protection of Life under International Humanitarian Law
8. Law Enforcement and the Non-Conventional Human Right to Life
9. Permissibility of Targeted Killing as a Method of Law Enforcement
C. Hostilities
10. The Paradigm of Hostilities
11. The Threshold of 'Armed Conflict'
12. The Principle of Distinction under International Humanitarian Law
13. Means and Methods in the Conduct of Hostilities
14. Human Rights Law and the Paradigm of Hostilities
15. Permissibility of Targeted Killing as a Method of the Conduct of Hostilities
D. Conclusions
16. Comparative Conclusions
17. Epilogue: Targeted Killing and the Rule of Law

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