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Legality of British involvement in Afghan ‘Kill List’ challenged

Lawyers acting on behalf of an Afghan citizen are challenging the UK's involvement in the establishment and maintenance of the Joint Integrated Prioritized Target List.

9 August 2012

Lawyers acting on behalf of an Afghan citizen, who lost five of his relatives in a missile attack by international military forces, are challenging the UK's ongoing involvement in the establishment and maintenance of the Joint Integrated Prioritized Target List (JIPTL), an involvement which the firm claims is unlawful.

The JIPTL is a list of individuals which the military forces operating in Afghanistan have designated as targets. The effect of adding a person's name to the List is to designate that person and others around them as enemy combatant(s). An official public report to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate (the US Senate Report) describes the List as a ‘kill list,’ stating that, ‘The military places no restrictions on the use of force with these selected targets, which means they can be killed or captured on the battlefield".

In a letter before action from Leigh Day, both the Secretary of State for Defence and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), are asked to provide a series of assurances regarding the UK's involvement in the establishment and maintenance of the List, including whether there exists any guidance to ensure that UK participation in the ‘kill list’ complies with UK and international law.

Habib Rahman from Kabul, Afghanistan, lost two of his brothers, two of his uncles and his father-in-law in a missile attack. On 2 September 2010. Mr Rahman’s cousin, Abdul Wahab Khorasani, is a former Parliamentary candidate for Takhar province in Afghanistan. In the run-up to the Afghan Parliamentary elections in 2010, several of our Mr Rahman’s relatives assisted Mr Khorasani with his campaign.

The attack occurred while they were campaigning with Mr Khorasani in Rustaq district of Takhar province. In total, the attack killed 10 civilians and injured several more, most of whom were election campaign workers and relatives of Mr Rahman. At the time the Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the strike.

According to an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) press release of 2 September 2010, the attack was 'a precision air strike'. The statement claimed “initial reflections indicate 8 to 12 insurgents were killed or injured in the strike, including a Taleban commander.” However, a detailed investigation carried out by Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network provides powerful evidence that this was an instance of mistaken targeting.

The details of the attack suggest that the JIPTL is not maintained in a manner which is compliant with international humanitarian law; the criteria employed to determine which individuals are included in the JIPTL breaches Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and there is no effective investigation of incidents, such as the one that killed Mr Rahman's relatives, ensuring that due precautions can be taken in relation to future strikes.

Rosa Curling from Leigh Day, who is representing Mr Rahman, said: “At a time when the UK government is arguing that our presence in Afghanistan is needed to bring stability to the country and to establish and maintain the rule of law, ensuring that the UK government and its agencies themselves are operating within their legal obligations could not be more important.

"Our client's case suggests that the establishment and maintenance of the "Killing List" is not in line with the UK's duties under international humanitarian law. Our client lost five of his relatives in an attack by the international military forces as a result of this List. It is important that the Ministry of Defence and SOCA provide us with the reassurances sought, to make sure that others do not suffer the tragic loss of life as experienced by Mr Rahman."

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