The IPI global network today joined Al Jazeera and other stakeholders in The Hague to submit a formal request to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the killing of Palestinian-American journalist and IPI World Press Freedom Hero Shireen Abu Akleh, who was fatally shot by Israeli forces in the West Bank in May 2022. The request is based on an investigation by Al Jazeera’s legal team, which gathered evidence showing that Abu Akleh and her colleagues were deliberately targeted by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF).
Al Jazeera, together with IPI, Reporters Without Borders, and Shireen’s niece, Lina Abu Akleh, held a press conference in The Hague following the submission on December 6, which came six months after the killing of Abu Akleh.
The journalist was killed by Israeli sniper fire while reporting on the ground about an Israeli military raid on a refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin on May 11, 2022.
New evidence based on eyewitness accounts, video footage, and forensic evidence show that Abu Akleh and her colleagues were directly fired at by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) as part of a wider campaign to target and silence Al Jazeera, Cameron Doley, a lawyer representing Al Jazeera, said during the press conference. According to Al Jazeera’s legal team, this evidence contradicts previous claims made by Israel that Abu Akleh was “accidentally” hit by its forces.
“The evidence presented to the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) confirms, without any doubt, that there was no firing in the area where Shireen was, other than the IOF shooting directly at her. The journalists were in full view of the IOF as they walked as a group slowly down the road with their distinctive media vests, and there were no other persons in the road”, Al Jazeera stated.
Based on the new evidence submitted, Rodney Dixon, another attorney representing Al Jazeera, said that the ICC has “no excuse not to take the next step to find the person responsible”.
“At the very least, those in command should be held accountable”, he added.
In 2021, the ICC decided it has jurisdiction over the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory and Al Jazeera’s submission requests that the killing of Abu Akleh become part of this wider investigation. This request adds to the complaint presented to the ICC by Abu Akleh’s family in September.
Lina Abu Akleh, the journalist’s niece, said on Tuesday that the family fully supported Al Jazeera’s submission given that the ICC had yet to take any meaningful action in the case.
“The evidence is overwhelmingly clear. It’s time for the ICC to take action”, said Abu Akleh.
IPI: In absence of Israeli investigation, ICC must act
At Tuesday’s press conference, IPI Executive Director Frane Maroević said that a recently reported U.S.-led investigation should be complementary to other investigations, most notably by the ICC.
“States have a duty to investigate attacks on journalists promptly, thoroughly, and independently, and to prosecute those responsible. The obligation to investigate crimes against journalists does not disappear in a conflict zone”, said Maroević.
“The killing of Shireen represents a particularly egregious attack on the press, not least because of credible reports that Shireen and other journalists were intentionally targeted by Israeli forces, but also in light of impunity for crimes against journalists by Israel in the occupied Palestine territory.”
“In the absence of an independent and impartial investigation by the government of Israel, IPI calls on the ICC to conduct an investigation into the circumstances of Shireen’s killing and whether this incident amounts to a war crime under the Rome Statute of the ICC”, Maroević added.
“This is about Shireen’s right to life and every journalist’s right to life. There must be accountability for this horrific and senseless killing.”
Abu Akleh named IPI World Press Freedom Hero in August
In mid-November, Israel confirmed that the U.S. Department of Justice had launched an FBI investigation into the death of Abu Akleh, who was a U.S. citizen, while making clear that Israel will not cooperate with any external investigation.
News of the U.S. investigation came after months of pressure by Abu Akleh’s family as well as press freedom groups, including IPI. In early November, IPI joined with four other press freedom groups to publish a full-page ad in the Washington Post calling for an independent, U.S.-led investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing. At the IPI World Congress in September, IPI members around the world unanimously passed a resolution demanding justice for Abu Akleh and a “transparent, credible, and independent” U.S.-led investigation given Israel’s “abject failure” to secure accountability. In August, IPI and International Media Support honoured Abu Akleh with the 2022 World Press Freedom Hero award.