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Qassem Soleimani's killing by US drone strike was 'unlawful', says UN expert

Report says US has failed to provide sufficient evidence of an ongoing, or imminent, attack against its interests to justify attack
The attack on Soleimani's convoy as it left Baghdad airport violated the UN Charter, Agnes Callamard wrote in her report (AFP)

The January US drone strike in Iraq that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and nine other people represented a violation of international law, a UN human rights investigator said on Monday.

The United States has failed to provide sufficient evidence of an ongoing, or imminent, attack against its interests to justify the strike, said Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

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The attack on Soleimani's convoy as it left Baghdad airport violated the UN Charter, Callamard wrote in a report, calling for accountability for targeted killings by armed drones and for greater regulation of the weapons.

"The world is at a critical time, and possible tipping point, when it comes to the use of drones... The Security Council is missing in action; the international community, willingly or not, stands largely silent," Callamard told Reuters.

She is due on Thursday to present her findings to the UN Human Rights Council, giving member states a chance to debate what action to pursue. 

The US is not a member of the forum, having quit two years ago.

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Soleimani, leader of the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, was a pivotal figure in orchestrating Iran's campaign to drive US forces out of Iraq, and built up Tehran's network of proxy armies across the Middle East. 

Washington had accused Soleimani of masterminding attacks by Iranian-aligned militias on US forces in the region.

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"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 US was unlawful," Callamard wrote in the report.

The 3 January 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 airbase where US 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 US President Donald Trump and 35 others over Soleimani's killing and has asked Interpol for help, Tehran prosecutor Ali Alqasimehr said last month, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.