Systematic Targeting of Journalists
Together with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) has been working on the issue of the systematic targeting of journalists and media infrastructure by Israel since the beginning of 2022.
In April 2022, alongside these partner organisations, and leading human rights lawyers from Bindmans LLP and Doughty Street Chambers, ICJP submitted a formal complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC), alleging that Israel’s systematic targeting of journalists working in Palestine and its failure to properly investigate killings of media workers amount to war crimes.
In September 2022, following the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, and the shooting of Ali Samoudi, we worked with these partner organisations to submit a further communication to the International Criminal Court, on behalf of the journalists and their families.
Special legal protections for Journalists under international law
International law contains a number of specific obligations designed to protect and promote the safety of journalists.
The right to freedom of expression is protected in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Within the scope of international humanitarian law (IHL), journalists are afforded specific protections, and are protected as civilians within armed conflicts, provided they take no action contrary to this status. This leaves that any targeted attack against a journalist by a party to an armed conflict constitutes a war crime, an obligation repeatedly upheld and reaffirmed by the Security Council in resolutions regarding the protection of journalists within armed conflicts.
Statistics on attacks
Since 1997, when the first resolution focussing on the targeting of journalists was passed by UNESCO, the UN agency with the mandate to promote the right to freedom of expression, information regarding the killing of journalists has been collected in the UNESCO Observatory of Killed Journalists database.
Other organisations also dedicate themselves to tracking attacks on, and killings of, journalists within the OPT. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), at least 30 journalists have been killed by Israeli Forces since 2000.
MADA, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedom, states that human rights violations against Palestinian journalists have more than tripled in the last ten years, including such violations as arrests, the destruction of journalistic equipment, and physical attacks. In 2021 alone, MADA documented 368 violations against Palestinian journalists.
The attacks on journalists in Palestine by members of the IDF have been widespread and systematic, and the threat of attacks against journalists by the IDF is on-going.
Despite the fact that journalists are protected as civilians under international humanitarian law, repeated and ongoing concern has been raised about states targeting journalists in conflict zones. Journalists play an essential role in armed conflict situations documenting the conflict and the crimes committed by all side and playing a fundamental role in holding government officials accountable for violations of the laws of war.
Israel has consistently failed to investigate the targeting and use of lethal force against journalists documenting demonstrations and protest in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
In April 2022, a Communication detailing the systematic targeting of Palestinian journalists was submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by Bindmans LLP and Doughty Street Chambers on behalf of the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP); the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ); the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS); and four named victims – Ahmed Abu Hussein, Yaser Murtaja, Muath Amarneh and Nedal Eshtayeh – who were also killed or maimed by Israeli snipers during the course of their work as journalists. All four journalists were wearing clearly marked PRESS vests at the time they were shot.
The Communication also details the targeting of media infrastructure including the Al-Sousi, Al-Shorouk, and Al-Jalaa Towers in Gaza City in May 2021. This Communication to the ICC followed a previous Communication submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, submitted on 8 December 2020 on behalf of the IFJ, PJS and the above four victims. On 25 April 2022, the ICC’s Prosecutor’s Office formally acknowledged receipt of the Communication.
The IFJ has repeatedly condemned the deliberate targeting of journalists and media facilities by Israel. At least 46 journalists have been killed since 2000 and no one has been held to account.
In December 2020, the IFJ and PJS submitted complaints to the UN Special Rapporteurs (UNSR) setting out how the systematic targeting of journalists working in Palestine and its failure to properly investigate killings of media workers violates the right to life and freedom of expression, is in breach of international humanitarian law, and may amount to war crimes.
The UNSR complaint also detailed the discrimination, violations of freedom of movement and restrictions on press accreditation suffered by Palestinian journalists.
With ongoing impunity, the targeting has continued. In May 2021, Israel bombed media facilities in Gaza. At least two journalists were killed and another 100 injured in separate incidents.
Since the submission of the above Communication to the ICC, the family of Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, and journalists Ali al-Samoudi and Shatha Hanaysha have instructed the same legal team to submit a new Communication to the ICC regarding the circumstances surrounding Shireen’s death on 11 May 2022.
On 6 July 2022, Bindmans LLP wrote to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Israeli Army (IA) to request access to the bullet and firearm that is said to have killed Shireen in order to have this examined by a senior British forensic ballistics expert. They have also requested the PA, IA and US Embassy provide access to their respective investigations, evidence and findings. The legal team have also requested the opportunity to interview the soldiers that it is understood the IA have identified as being present during the shooting on 11 May 2022.
A long-time TV correspondent for Al Jazeera Arabic, Shireen was killed while covering Israeli army raids in the city of Jenin. Ali, who was present when Shireen was killed was also shot in the shoulder. Ali is able to provide crucial witness testimony with regards to his own shooting and the death of Shireen. There are strong grounds to believe that Shireen was killed, and Ali was shot, by Israeli armed forces. Both join the long list of journalists targeted by the Israeli armed forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The new complaint follows the April 2022 submission to the Court which requested the ICC Prosecutor launch an investigation into the systematic targeting, maiming and killing of journalists and destruction of media infrastructure in Palestine. Shireen was killed only days after the ICC prosecutor acknowledged receipt of the first complaint. The Group have retained leading lawyers from Bindmans LLP and Doughty Street Chambers to represent the victims at the ICC.
The ICCs jurisdiction
On 5 February 2021, the International Criminal Court ruled that its criminal jurisdiction extended to ‘the Situation in Palestine,’ and that its territorial scope covered allegations that occurred in ‘Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem’. This presents for the first time, a real opportunity for the accountability of Israel’s alleged policy of targeting journalists and could lead to a formal investigation by the ICC Prosecutor and potential prosecutions.
Forensic Architecture investigation: The Extrajudicial Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh
In November 2022, to commemorate the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, Al-Haq and Forensic Architecture held the launch of their joint investigation entitled ‘The Extrajudicial Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh’.
This investigation is the first to employ a precise digital reconstruction of Shireen’s killing and has been able to conclusively support both new and existing claims about the targeting of Shireen Abu Akleh by drawing upon new evidence from a range of sources, including previously unseen footage, unpublished autopsy documents, and original testimonies.
The investigation proved that Shireen and the others were clearly identifiable as journalists at the time of the shooting, and that Shireen was deliberately and repeatedly targeted, with an aim to kill. Per the investigations findings, Shireen was also actively and deliberately denied medical aid after being shot. Those trying to reach her body were repeatedly shot at.
The investigation and the accompanying evidence were submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC) through Bindmans LLP, in support of the Communication submitted by Bindmans LLP and Doughty Street Chambers, on 20 September 2022, on behalf of the family of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, and journalists Ali Samoudi and Shatha Hanaysha, with the support of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS), International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP).
Al Jazeera submission
23 May 2022: EXCLUSIVE UPDATE – Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem Bureau Chief joins London Press Conference on Journalist’s Complaint to International Criminal Court following the killing of Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh
7 July 2022: Shireen Abu Akleh: Lawyers request bullet be examined by independent expert (Middle East Eye)
Social media outrage over US handling of Shireen Abu Akleh killing (Arab News Japan)
27 May 2022: Legal experts refer Shireen Abu Akleh’s case to ICC (Wafa News Agency)
Lawyers to add Shireen Abu Akleh killing to Israel war crimes ICC case (Middle East Eye)
New ICC complaint submission over killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh (National Union of Journalists)
ICC urged to end Israel’s ‘devastating impunity’, as war crimes probe includes Abu Akleh (Middle East Monitor)
Shireen Abu Akleh’s case referred to ICC by legal experts (The Gaza Post)
16 May 2022: Journalists Accused Israel of Targeting Them 2 Weeks Before Killing of Abu Akleh (Truthout)
14 May 2022: ‘The cold-blooded murder’ of Shireen Abu Akleh by an Israeli sniper! (The News Line)