Reporters Without Borders accuses Israel, Hamas of war crimes against journalists, seeks probe by ICC

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Representational Picture. Photo credit: Reporters Without Border.

“The scale, seriousness and recurring nature of international crimes targeting journalists, particularly in Gaza, calls for a priority investigation by the ICC prosecutor. We have been calling for this since 2018. The current tragic events demonstrate the extreme urgency of the need for ICC action.”— Reporters Without Borders  secretary-general Christophe Deloire.

Syed Khalique Ahmed

NEW DELHI—Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has filed a complaint with the Hague-based International Criminal Court(ICC) seeking an investigation into the killing of Palestinian journalists during Israeli bombardments in Gaza and an Israeli journalist during a raid by Hamas fighters inside Israel. The complaint was filed on October 31.

An independent NGO based in Paris, RSF works to defend press freedom which it considers to be a fundamental democratic and human right.

This is the third such complaint filed by RSF in connection with the killing of Palestinian journalists by Israeli forces. The first was filed in 2018 and the second in 2021. Both these complaints are pending investigation before the ICC.  The ICC can investigate the cases only if Israel permits the ICC prosecutors to enter the occupied territories of Gaza as well as inside Israel where the Hamas fighters struck on October 7.

Going by the experience about what happened with the two previous complaints of RSF in connection with the killing of Palestinian journalists, the third complaint also does not seem to conclude with any concrete outcome except having some publicity to highlight the alleged deliberate killing of journalists in a war. In May 2022, Al Jazeera also filed a complaint about the killing of its journalist Shirin Abu Alekh in the West Bank at the hands of Israeli security forces but it is also pending investigation.

The ICC, in March 2023, issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin for crimes committed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine even though Russia is not a member of the ICC. ICC has jurisdiction over crimes committed by nationals of  its member countries only. Israel is among the countries like the US and China that are not members of the ICC. Yet, the ICC accepts complaints about these countries. Hence, it is doubtful if the ICC prosecutor will be allowed to investigate the crimes committed by the Israeli army. The ICC investigates and prosecutes those involved in serious crimes like genocide and war crimes. Out of 195 countries, only 123 countries are members of the ICC.

RSF believes that the killing of journalists amounts to war crimes and it must be investigated by the ICC prosecutors.

The complaint has given details of the cases of nine journalists killed since October 7 when Hamas fighters attacked several places inside Israel on October 7 and subsequent retaliatory bombardments of Gaza by Israeli forces.  According to RSF, 12 were killed -10 in Gaza, one in Israel and one in Lebanon – when they were in the line of duty.

It has also appealed to the ICC to investigate all the 34 cases of journalists killed in the course of their work.

The complaint alleges that the killing of journalists and destruction of office premises of more than 50 media outlets in Gaza was deliberate.

RSF petition has also demanded an investigation into the killing of Al Jazeera’s Palestinian journalist Shirin Abu Alekh in the West Bank on 11 May 2022.

RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire, in his complaint, said, “The scale, seriousness and recurring nature of international crimes targeting journalists, particularly in Gaza, calls for a priority investigation by the ICC prosecutor. We have been calling for this since 2018. The current tragic events demonstrate the extreme urgency of the need for ICC action.”

“The attacks suffered by Palestinian journalists in Gaza correspond to the international humanitarian law definition of an indiscriminate attack and therefore constitute war crimes under Article 8.2.b. of the Rome Statute,” the petition says.

“Even if these journalists were the victims of attacks aimed at legitimate military targets, as the Israeli authorities claim, the attacks nevertheless caused manifestly excessive and disproportionate harm to civilians, and still amount to a war crime under this article,” the petition goes on.

It says, “The Israeli journalist’s death constituted the wilful killing of a person protected by the Geneva Conventions, which is a war crime under article 8.2.a. of the ICC’s Rome Statute.”

RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire, in his complaint, said, “The scale, seriousness and recurring nature of international crimes targeting journalists, particularly in Gaza, calls for a priority investigation by the ICC prosecutor. We have been calling for this since 2018. The current tragic events demonstrate the extreme urgency of the need for ICC action.”

According to Deloire, the violence against journalists in Gaza is unprecedented, at least, in the 21st century.

“Since 2000, we have not seen a war begin with so much violence against journalists. Israel’s attack on Gaza in response to the massacre committed by Hamas will go down in the history books and in the annals of journalism as one of the cruellest episodes for reporters, as well as for all other civilians,” says RSF secretary-general.

“The Israeli government should realize that horror does not justify horror. The State of Israel will have to take responsibility before history for the deaths of journalists on a scale unknown in the 21st century. We call on the Israeli authorities to end the bombardments, which amount to war crimes. This disastrous toll adds a new blood-coloured stain to an already tragic story. More journalists have been killed in the course of their work in two weeks in the Middle East than in Ukraine since February 2022 as a result of the Russian invasion. This is the sad reality of a grim toll,” points out Deloire.

“Journalists are trapped in a 40-kilometer-long open-air prison, caught in an area that is shelled relentlessly when their offices or they themselves are not being targeted. The figures compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) show the unprecedented scale of the tragedy for journalism in Gaza,” comments RSF in its complaint.

“Wars are often especially deadly when they begin, but the first two weeks of this war have been the deadliest of any armed conflict in the world since the start of the 21st century,” says the RSF official.

ICC prosecutor’s statement on the current killing of Palestinian civilians

In a statement issued on October 30, ICC prosecutor Karima A A Khan KC said that Israel has legal obligations to comply with regard to its war with Hamas.

“Israel has clear obligations in relation to its war with Hamas: not just moral obligations, but legal obligations that it has to comply with the laws of armed conflict. It’s there in the Rome Statute. It’s there in black and white. It’s there in the Geneva Conventions. It’s there in black and white,” the ICC prosecutor said, though he was not allowed to enter the Gaza Strip on October 29. He returned from the Rafah Border Crossing with Egypt.

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