Hague ‘people’s tribunal’ urges justice for journalists

THE HAGUE (AFP): A series of civil society-led hearings culminated Monday in The Hague with a call for an “independent and comprehensive” review of how to protect media workers in an age of increasing authoritarianism.

Launched by a coalition of press freedom organizations in November last year, this “People’s Tribunal” heard evidence and analysis about the killing of journalists in Mexico, Sri Lanka and Syria.

While it had no legal powers to convict anyone, the tribunal aimed to raise awareness, pressure governments and gathered evidence through what it called its form of “grassroots justice.”

The tribunal’s leaders said Mexico, Sri Lanka and Syria each failed to protect the lives of journalists — whose cases were examined in the hearings — and “demonstrated the lack of a wider will” to bring journalists’ killers to justice.

“There should be a comprehensive independent review of the apparent inability of the international community’s initiatives, largely through the United Nations… to protect journalists, media workers and even media organizations,” said Gill Boehringer, a judge on the panel.

He also detailed a raft of other measures to be taken, saying “impunity must end.”

The tribunal examined the 2009 killing of newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunge during Sri Lanka’s Tamil separatist conflict, the 2011 murder of Mexican journalist Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco along with his wife and son, as well the death of Nabil Al-Sharbaji in a Syrian detention center in 2015.

Mexico, Sri Lanka and Syria “through their acts of omission including the lack of investigation, the lack of reparation for the victims and impunity… are guilty of all the human rights violations brought against them in the indictment,” Argentinian judge Eduardo Bertoni said.

But the problem of attacks on journalists remained “and was getting worse worldwide,” tribunal judge Helen Jarvis said.

The latest case was that of Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh who was shot in the head during an Israeli army operation in mid-May, the judges said.

Israel has pushed back at suggestions that the soldier who likely pulled the trigger be prosecuted, after conceding earlier this month one of its troops may have mistaken her for a militant.

Worldwide more than 2,170 journalists have been killed since 1992 and in the vast majority of cases the killers have gone free, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.