United Nations A/hrc/19/68

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Applicable Law

  • So long as all applicable international humanitarian law and international human rights law requirements are met, killing an enemy combatant during an armed conflict is not illegal.173 The converse is also true; fighters/combatants causing another person’s death, even that of the enemy, during armed conflict can be unlawful when the applicable law is breached. Among the factors determining the legality of any particular conflict-related death are the intent of the person causing the death, the status of the victim, and the circumstances that resulted in the death. International humanitarian law prohibits killing certain categories of people, or killing in a certain way, or killing without taking certain precautions beforehand. For its part, international human rights law strictly prohibits taking life arbitrarily, a restriction that bars state actors from killing a person outside a legitimate and legal basis for doing so.

  • Those legitimate bases are twofold. First, when a fully-fledged judicial process in line with international standards has been followed. Second, in the most narrow of circumstances, where a person’s life is under imminent threat. Only then may a state actor take life without falling afoul of international human rights law. Moreover, the state has an obligation to do its utmost to ensure that no one else under its jurisdiction or within its territory takes life arbitrarily, and it must punish those who do. The governing legal framework surrounding the use of lethal force during armed conflicts is discussed below with a view to setting out the contours of each category of violation. The aim of the analysis that follows is to assist in determining the legality of the conflict-related deaths that appear in the remainder of this chapter.

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