A year ago today, veteran Palestinian-American journalist and IPI-IMS World Press Freedom Hero Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank, sending shock waves through the journalism and human rights communities around the world. To date, there has been no accountability for this egregious crime.
On the one-year anniversary of this killing, the IPI global network demands justice and full accountability for this fatal attack, and calls on the government of Israel and all other states to fulfil their commitments under international law to ensure that crimes against journalists are fully investigated and prosecuted.
On May 11, 2022, Abu Akleh and three other journalists came under fire from Israeli soldiers while reporting on an Israeli military raid of a refugee camp in the city of Jenin in the West Bank. The reporters were wearing vests and helmets, clearly marked as “press”. Abu Akleh – a respected Al Jazeera correspondent who became a household name across the Arab world for her fearless and professional reporting on the Palestinian conflict – was killed by gunshot to the head.
Independent investigations, including one led by CNN, found that Abu Akleh was likely intentionally targeted by Israeli forces. While initially denying responsibility, the Israeli government admitted in September 2022 that there was a “high possibility” that Abu Akleh was hit by its forces, but claims this was accidental and has since refused to pursue any further investigation.
“I am appalled that we are marking the one-year anniversary of Shireen’s killing and that Israel has yet to pursue any credible investigation into her killing”, IPI Executive Director Frane Maroević said. “Shireen’s killing represents a deeply disturbing attack on the press, not least because of credible reports that she and other journalists were intentionally targeted by Israeli forces, but also in light of rampant impunity for crimes against journalists by Israel in the occupied Palestine territory.”
The killing of Abu Akleh is one of a wider pattern of attacks and violence against journalists and media outlets in Palestine over the past two decades. At least 18 Palestinian journalists have been killed by the IDF since 2001, and there have never been any charges related to these deaths, according to a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“As a country that claims to respect the rule of law, Israel’s abject failure to hold those responsible for Shireen’s killing to account is not only an outrageous and unacceptable injustice, but it also undermines the global fight for press freedom, giving cover to other states that target journalists”, he added.
Under international law and other agreements, states must investigate attacks on journalists promptly, thoroughly, and independently, and to prosecute those responsible. This obligation also applies in conflict zones, where authorities are legally bound under international humanitarian law to ensure the safety of journalists and media workers. A deliberate attack on a journalist during a situation of armed conflict constitutes a war crime, and must be investigated as such.
In light of Israel’s refusal to investigate, IPI joined the slain journalist’s family and many other press freedom groups in calling for a U.S.-led investigation into the killing of Abu Akleh, who was a U.S. citizen. The FBI in November 2022 opened an investigation after mounting pressure, including from dozens of members of Congress. The FBI has since provided no further information about this investigation.
Maroević added: “We welcome the fact that the FBI has opened an investigation into this case. But that alone is insufficient. We need results. The U.S. authorities must do everything in their power to investigate Shireen’s killing and hold those responsible to account, and they must effectively pressure their Israeli allies. Shireen was a U.S. citizen and her case should be a top priority.”
In December 2022, Al Jazeera, together with IPI and other stakeholders, submitted a formal request to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the killing of Abu Akleh. To date, the ICC has yet to decide whether to open a formal investigation.
IPI therefore re-iterates our call for:
1. The government of Israel to uphold its international obligations to conduct a thorough, transparent, and independent investigation into the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and to prosecute those responsible. This investigation must include the full involvement of independent international experts and must follow UN protocols for conducting investigations into human rights abuses.
2. The International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation into the circumstances of Abu Akleh’s killing and the attack on Abu Akleh and her colleagues to determine if this incident amounts to a war crime under the Rome Statute of the ICC.
3. The international community to hold Israel accountable to its obligation to investigate. This includes the Media Freedom Coalition, a group of states that have signed on to a Global Pledge that commits those governments to support media freedom and the safety of journalists domestically and around the world, who should call on Israel to open an investigation into the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh.
We also urge the FBI to provide an immediate update on the status of their investigation, and to ensure that their investigation leads to accountability for the killing of a U.S. citizen.
Meanwhile, we stand with Shireen’s family and colleagues, who continue to seek justice and accountability for her killing.
“A year has passed since we lost our beloved Shireen Abu Akleh, a proud Palestinian American journalist who was killed on May 11, 2022 by an Israeli soldier”, Lina Abu Akleh, the journalist’s niece, told IPI. “A year on and we are still in disbelief and grief. We shouldn’t have to wait another day for justice. Accountability requires action. For us, this means those responsible for Shireen’s killing are held accountable and the full truth about what happened is made public – and doing everything possible to prevent such crimes from happening to other journalists.”
In a statement released today by Al Jazeera, the network said it “remains committed to its pledge to Shireen’s family and colleagues to seek justice for Shireen by pursuing all possible avenues to ensure her killers are held accountable, including through the International Criminal Court in The Hague.”
To commemorate Abu Akleh’s legacy, IPI is screening the short film “The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh”, produced by Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines programme, at the IPI World Congress and Media Innovation Festival 2023 on May 26. Al Jazeer’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Walid Omary, will also join the Congress to speak about the fight for justice for Abu Akleh.