With the grim toll of killed journalists climbing by the day, the fight against impunity and for their killers to be brought to justice is becoming an unquestionable priority. On April 8th we remembered once again the attack by US forces on Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel, an event that has come to symbolise impunity over attacks on journalists and media staff in Iraq and around the world. The shelling of the hotel in 2003 led to the deaths of two journalists, José Couso of Telecinco in Spain, and Taras Protsiuk, a Ukrainian cameraman working for Reuters. Also on the same day, US forces attacked the offices of Al-Jazeera in Baghdad, killing the reporter Tareq Ayyoub.
Neither of these attacks has been independently investigated nor have the deaths been properly explained to the satisfaction of the victims’ families, their friends and their colleagues. US authorities published some reports, but most failed to thoroughly examine the evidence available and instead put its main thrust on exonerating US personnel at all levels of command.
We have also catalogued 16 other cases involving journalists and media staff who have died since March 2003 at the hands of US soldiers. In all of these cases, families and friends of the killed journalists continue to wait for credible investigations and honest reports about how and why their loved ones died.
But it is not just global organisations of journalists like the IFJ and its allies or the international institutions that must be at the forefront of the fight against impunity. Families of the killed journalists should also get organised to play the biggest role. I recall a few years ago the powerful impact by these families at a meeting organised by the IFJ in Brussels. Charles Peyton, brother of BBC journalist Kate Peyton killed in Somalia, Fabienne Nérac, the wife of ITN cameraman Frédéric Nérac killed in Iraq and Marie Hydara, daughter of Gambian Deyda Hydara gave extraordinary poignant testimonies of the impact of these deaths on their families.
Last week at a regional conference on safety in Cairo, families of killed journalists in the Arab world set the tone at the beginning of the conference reminding the participants that issues of safety and impunity starts are underpinned by human stories – what happened to the killed journalists and also to those they live behind, the poignant tragedies, the future of the children, the pain and grief, and the agonising wait for closure.
Rabi'e El Tamimi, son of killed journalist and former IJS president Shihab El Tamimi in Iraq, Tola m. Aziz, son of journalist killed in Erbil, Hilal El Sharabi, brother of the first killed journalist in Yemen, Mohammed Shanaa, brother of journalist Fadel Shanaa killed in Gaza, Fouzi Chekrit, son of Ferhat Chekrit killed in Algeria, Ines abd El Alim, widow of Mohammed Ahmed killed in Egypt and Ahmad Hassan El Jaber, brother of killed journalist Ali al Jaber from Qatar roused the conference, each with their unique story.
Families of killed journalists have been too often asked to contribute to bring in this human dimension. It is about time that they are asked to make a much more powerful contribution and take direct part in the global fight against impunity. They may come from different backgrounds and cultures and can barely speak fluently to each other. But they have the power, when they act collectively and speak with one voice, to press the neuralgic nerve of governments and help us force them take their responsibility to protect journalists and end the culture of impunity.