RSF backs request by Shireen Abu Akleh’s family for ICC investigation
Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh’s family has filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court asking it to investigate her killing in the West Bank last May. It was filed on the same day that the Palestinian human rights group Al Haq and the London-based research group Forensic Architecture published a report concluding the journalist was “explicitly targeted” by Israeli snipers.
“Like the earlier investigations, this new report by the NGO Al Haq and the research group Forensic Architecture highlights the culpability of the Israel Defence Forces, who still insist on denying their responsibility for Shireen Abu Akleh’s murder,” said the Middle East desk at Reporter Without Borders (RSF). “We support her family’s call for an international investigation, and we remain firmly committed to obtaining justice.”
Filed with the International Criminal Court in the Hague on September 20th, the Abu Akleh family’s complaint asks the court to investigate the fatal shooting of the famed Al-Jazeera journalist by an IDF sniper, as she was covering clashes in the West Bank city of Jenin on May 11.
The complaint was submitted by a delegation consisting of the family’s lawyers and representatives of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) as well as the International Federation of Journalists. It accuses the IDF of intentionally killing Abu Akleh, shooting at her Al-Jazeera colleague, producer Ali al-Samoudi, and targeting the third journalist who was with her, Shatha Hanaysheh.
Lina Abu Akleh, Shireen’s niece, tweeted that the family was calling for an international investigation.
“It's obvious that Israel war criminals cannot investigate their own crimes,” says the family’s statement, “The US still has an obligation to investigate and take meaningful action for one of their own citizens. But when an individual state fails to protect its own citizens, it’s the responsibility of the international community to protect them instead.”
The statement also referred to the new investigation by Al Haq and Forensic Architecture, who released their investigation report on September 20th, along with a video illustrating their findings. After analysing new video sequences provided exclusively by Al Jazeera, other video footage and soundtracks, witness statements and their reconstructed 3D model of the scene of the shooting, they conclude that “the source of the fatal gunfire was an IOF [Israeli Occupying Forces] marksman in an armoured vehicle.”
“Shireen and her colleagues were explicitly targeted despite being identifiable as members of the press,” the Al Haq-Forensic Architecture video says. “Once shot, Shireen was deliberately prevented from receiving medical attention by the IOF.”
The report also insists that, contrary to Israeli claims, no shots were fired by any Palestinians near the journalists during the period immediately prior to the shot that killed her.
Al Haq director Shawan Jabarin told RSF:
“Our findings are the result of a professional approach combined with scientific methods that are far removed from any political objective. Our sole goal was to discover the truth.”
Several previous investigations – by the UN, the New York Times, CNN and others – concluded that an Israeli soldier probably fired the shot that killed Abu Akleh. In a statement issued on 5 September, the IDF acknowledged “a high possibility that Ms. Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire fired toward suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen during an exchange of fire,”
But the IDF refrained from pursuing the investigation and any hope of an Israeli judicial investigation was quickly dashed two days later when Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said:
“I will not allow an IDF soldier that was protecting himself from terrorist fire to be prosecuted just to receive applause from abroad.”
Seeking international justice
The Abu Akleh family’s complaint to the ICC follows those previously filed by the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate about Ahmed Abu Hussein and Yaser Murtaja, two Palestinian journalists killed by Israeli sniper fire while covering protests on the border of the Gaza Strip in 2018, and the gunshots injuries sustained by Palestinian journalists Nidal Ishtaya and Moath Amarnih, who was blinded in one eye by fragments from a bullet fired by Israeli border police to disperse protesters in the West Bank in 2019.
RSF’s most recent appeal to the ICC about the situation in the Palestinian territories was in May 2021, when it asked ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to include Israeli air strikes on more than 20 media outlets in the Gaza Strip in her investigation into the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Targeted Israeli air force attacks destroyed the bureaux of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera in Gaza on 15 May 2021 – almost exactly one year before Al Jazeera’s correspondent was shot in Jenin.