November 3, 2016

End impunity : French judges asked not to end probe into Ukraine attack

Reminding the French judicial authorities that yesterday was International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges them not to stop investigating a 2014 mortar attack in eastern Ukraine in which a French photographer was injured and two foreign journalists were killed. The French investigation is about to be closed, but RSF believes it should be pursued because the evidence available suggests that it could be brought to a successful conclusion and those responsible for this crime could be punished.

The criminal mortar attack took place when French photographer William Roguelon and Italian reporter Andrea Rocchelli went to the Sloviansk southern front on 24 May 2014, accompanied by Russian journalist and human rights activist Andrei Mironov and a driver.

Within minutes of their arrival, they were the targets of mortar fire that killed Rocchelli and Mironov on the spot and inflicted serious leg injuries on Roguelon, who eventually managed to return to France.

In an attempt to prevent those responsible from going unpunished, the Rocchelli family filed a complaint in Italy and the Mironov family did the same in Russia.

Primarily in order to help the Rocchelli family, Roguelon filed a complaint in the summer of 2015 with the French gendarmerie, accusing unidentified persons of murder. He then registered with an investigating judge in the French city of Bordeaux as an interested civil party in the investigation.

RSF points out that under international law and the Geneva Conventions, it is a war crime to target journalists, as civilians. These three experienced reporters were in civilian dress and were travelling in a civilian taxi. They had press accreditation and had crossed ten checkpoints prior to the attack.

It is therefore clear that their presence was known and that they could not have been mistaken for military personnel or parties to the conflict. The attack can only have been a deliberate criminal act, one that cannot go unpunished.

The investigations in both France and Italy have ground to a halt and are about to be closed. The Italian investigation has been led by a prosecutor in Pavia, who tried to take it to a successful conclusion but was prevented by a lack of evidence. He could only use evidence provided by the Ukrainian authorities, who have not conducted a serious investigation.

The French judicial authorities, on the other hand, seem to think that Roguelon was in the wrong place at the wrong time, that he knew the risks and that, after all, he is still alive. The Bordeaux investigating judge is therefore poised to issue an order closing the investigation.

However, Roguelon has a fragment of the mortar shell that injured him, which the French authorities have never analysed. There are also many witnesses who have not been formally questioned.

France cannot settle for an inclusive investigation, especially now, on the day after 2 November, which the United Nations General Assembly, at France’s initiative, declared to be International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, in a resolution urging member States to take specific measures to combat impunity in these cases.

If France closes the Roguelon investigation, it would send a terrible signal to those who carry out crimes of violence against journalists”, said Paul Coppin, the head of RSF’s legal desk. “We therefore urge the Bordeaux judicial authorities to refrain from closing the case, to pursue their investigation, to agree to the request by Roguelon’s lawyer for new lines of inquiry and to cooperate with the Italian justice system.