Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden is shown in this video frame grab released by the U.S. Pentagon May 7, 2011. Five videos were found in bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan after U.S. Navy Seals stormed the compound and killed bin Laden. The compound in Pakistan where U.S. forces killed bin Laden was an "active command and control center" where the al Qaeda leader remained in strategic and operational control of the organization, a senior U.S. intelligence official said on May 7. REUTERS

A UK parliament report has questioned whether Osama bin Laden's death was legal under international law.

IBTimes summarises the report here...

The report, "Killing Osama bin Laden: has justice been done?" was published by the International Affairs and Defence Section and poses a number of questions about the death of bin Laden relating to international law.

After US Navy Seals killed bin Laden in his compound in Pakistan at the start of this month, President Obama, in his address to the nation, said: "Justice has been done."

The nine-page report challenges this claim after futher investigation, detailing quotes from a number of different sources. It asks questions such as:

"Was it self-defence?"

Documents recovered after the raid described how bin Laden was still an active al Qaeda threat and had a hand in recent activities by the group. If this was not the case or his influence over al Qaeda had dropped substantially then a legal argument of self-defence would be more difficult to uphold.

The report claims "Many states, and two UN reports, have rejected the idea that the self-defence extends to pre-emptive action against non-imminent threats".

"Was bin Laden a battleground casualty?"

The borders of the battlegrounds of America's conflict with al Qaeda come into question here. If the "hot battlefield" of active conflict is limited only to Afganistan, Yemen, Iraq and Pakistan borders then the US could not have legally targeted bin Laden. The US will argue the opposite under the laws of armed conflict.

"Did the UN Security Council authorise the killing?"

"Even if the UN Security Council did not authorise the killing of bin Laden, it appears to have welcomed it" the report says.

The report also describes a statement released by the UN Security Council about the killing of bin Laden in the wider context of the war against terror: The statement "gives no indication that the Security Council considers bin Laden's killing to be incompatible with international law."

"Was bin Laden protected by intenational human rights law?"

This section raises the issue of whether international human rights laws apply to the actions of the US outside of the country.

Alternatively the report suggests that IHRL might apply if bin Laden was under the effective control of the US, which would need to be looked into.

The right to life protection under IHRL is also not absolute but it would be breached unless the self-defence argument was upheld (described earlier).

The report: "If the US is at war with al-Qaeda, international humanitarian law would have made it unlawful for soldiers to kill bin Laden if he had surrendered."

"Was it lawful for US forces to act in Pakistan?"

The report says that the use of force could only be legal if one of the following three circumstances applied.

  • Pakistan consented; or
  • the UN Security Council authorised it; or
  • the US was acting in self-defence and assessed that Pakistan was "unwilling or unable" to suppress the threat to the US.

At the moment what is yet to emerge are details of how much Pakistan knew about the attack that the US were launching, or what they knew about the location of the target.

"What about putting bin Laden on trial?"

The report mentions here The Guardian, who asked the opinions of four leading commentators in philosophy, theology and terrorism and these are summarised here. The consensus is that it would have been ethically preferable for justice to be established by putting bin Laden on trial but the practical difficulties, such as where the trial would take place and by whom.