Watch | Transnational killings | The legal rights and wrongs

In this episode of Worldview, we look at the legal wrongs and rights of transnational killings and whether India is the victim of a double standard

Updated - April 12, 2024 07:40 pm IST

Published - April 12, 2024 07:29 pm IST

This week, we are looking at the legal wrongs and rights of transnational killings- and the sometimes confusing stand of the government. To recap the developments this week:

British Newspaper Guardian reported this week that Indian intelligence agents are believed to have orchaestrated up to 20 killings of alleged Khalistani separatist and Jihadist terrorists in Pakistan. In the article the MEA denied the charge, and cited External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s previous statement that “targeted killings is not India’s policy”

However, in campaign statements and an interview by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, the government appeared to be accepting the charges

PM Modi also repeated his 2019 slogan of “Ghar mein ghus ke marenge” for terrorists- or “We will kill them in their homes”

Diplomatic Fallout:

The immediate diplomatic fallout of the remarks came from Pakistan, where the MFA has already accused India of the killing of 2 men in Pakistan earlier this year, and said “India’s assertion of its preparedness to extra-judicially execute more civilians, arbitrarily pronounced as ‘terrorists’, inside Pakistan constitutes a clear admission of culpability.” However, given the poor state of relations with Pakistan, this is unlikely to be an issue for New Delhi

The U.S. State department declined to comment on the story, but the larger question is, will the assertions by the government be used by the U.S. Justice department, who is expected to begin the trial this summer of Nikhil Gupta, a man the FBI claims hired hitmen against Khalistani separatist Pannun in New York last year at the behest of senior Indian intelligence officials

And Canada, that is yet to provide evidence of its claims, continues to say it is pursuing the involvement of Indian government agents in the killing of Khalistani Separatist Nijjar outside Toronto last year. PM Trudeau doubled down on the claims in a public hearing this week

So what is the international law that operates here? In fact there are three laws:

1. International Human Rights Law – that derives from the Universal declaration on Human Rights- guaranteeing every citizen’s right to life and liberty

2. International Humanitarian Law- which sets down principles of protecting non-combatants during armed conflict- saying they must be protected, and that states have certain obligations even during war or self-defence operations

3. United Nations Charter or Chapter VII on Action with respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression- Article 51, Which says nothing impairs the right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations

On this week’s Parley at The Hindu, I asked two experts, former Ambassador Rakesh Sood, and analyst Dr. Tara Kartha, on whether there is a double standard for India and where the line on targeted transnational killings should be drawn?

Rakesh Sood: There is no clear definition in international law of targeted killings in that sense, but what has happened conventionally, is that let’s say there is an individual who is internationally designated as a terrorist, which means it will be he or she will be designated as a terrorist under the UN, United Nations Security Council, designation designation is number one, number two. On top of that, there is a very clear sense that it is very difficult to get hold of this person, or get the person extradited. Or in any way brought to face judicial proceedings. And add to that, a third factor that if it is felt that the person continues to remain engaged in terrorist activity and so therefore, a state feels that it is preferable and to use lethal force in a pre emptive fashion, in a manner in which it is precise. So that it does not pause you know, additional damage or does not. You know, collateral, collateral damage or kill other people, innocent people etc, etc. Then, that is seen in common parlance, that is what is called a targeted killing

Tara Kartha:  I think there are massive double standards because you’ve had the sort of targeted killings has come out from what post 911 when they use drone strike, they used every kind of attack, not just in Afghanistan, but you remember George Bush is called to the world and we will attack you wherever you are because it’s self-defence. So the antenna What shall we say the underlying criteria for any such attack targeted attack killings is self-defence. And it is allowed by the UN because the UN Charter says you have article 51 says you have a right individual right of self defence now the thing is, if since we are talking in relation to the Guardian story and zoom, is that the problem with that article is it it brings in assassinations, targeted killings, and extrajudicial killing all in the same basket in the same article, which is strange. Each one has a different legal connotation to it.

WV Take: There is no question that global powers set different standards for themselves and for other countries like India. India’s rise in the world thus far has come on the backs of a moral principle and when it comes to transnational operations, maintaining distance and deniability. If the government wants to go public with its assertions- it must ensure India has the diplomatic heft to deal with the consequences, which could escalate.

WV Reading Recommendations:

1. Enemies Known and Unknown: Targeted Killings in America’s Transnational War by Jack McDonald

2. No Easy Day: The First hand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden by Mark Owen

3. Blood For Blood Hardcover 50 years of the Global Khalistan Project by Terry Milewski

4. The Killing in the Consulate by Jonathan Rugman

5. Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars by Chris Woods

6. Targeted Killings: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical World by Claire Finkelstein

7. Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations by Ronen Bergman

Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar

Production: Gayatri Menon and Shibu Narayan

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