International journalists' organizations are accusing
the U.S. government of committing war crimes in Iraq by intentionally firing
at war correspondents.
The Paris-based journalists' organization 'Reporters without Borders'
(RSF, after its French name), called on the International Humanitarian
Fact-Finding Commission to investigate whether by attacking journalists in
Iraq the U.S.-British coalition forces were not violating international
"A media outlet cannot be a military target under international law and
its equipment and installations are civilian property protected as such
under the Geneva Conventions," said Reporters without Border
secretary-general Robert Ménard.
TV footage shot by France 3 (a French television channel) showing a US Abrams tank firing towards the Palestine hotel in Baghdad killing two journalists(AFP/FRANCE 3)
"Only an objective and impartial enquiry can determine whether or not the
Conventions have been violated," Ménard claimed.
It is the first time since its existence that the International
Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission is being petitioned. Set up in 1991
under the First Additional Protocol of the Geneva Conventions, the
Commission's task is investigating any alleged serious violation of
international humanitarian law.
Similarly, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists(IFJ) called for an independent inquiry on the U.S. attacks against the
Palestine Hotel and the bureaus of Al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi television
The New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also called the
U.S. attacks against journalists in Iraq "a violation of the Geneva
In a letter to U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CPJ director Joel
Simon wrote on Tuesday: "The Committee is gravely concerned by a series of
U.S. military strikes against known media locations in Baghdad today that
have left three journalists dead and several wounded."
"We believe these attacks violate the Geneva Conventions," Simon pointed
On Tuesday, U.S. troops attacked the Baghdad bureau of the Qatar-based Al
Jazeera, killing one war correspondent, and wounding another. In another
attack, a U.S. tank fired a shell at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, killing
two other reporters and wounding three.
The hotel is well known as the unofficial Baghdadi center of
international press. A large number of foreign correspondents covering the
war stay there.
Ménard, RSF's secretary-general, said that all independent evidence on
the U.S. attacks against the hotel shows that the firing was deliberate.
"Film shot by the French television station France 3, and descriptions by
journalists, prove that the neighborhood around the hotel was very quiet at
the hour of the attack, and that the U.S. tank crew took their time, waiting
for a couple of minutes and adjusting its gun before opening fire," Ménard
"This evidence does not match the U.S. version of an attack in
self-defense and we can only conclude that the U.S. Army deliberately and
without warning targeted journalists," Ménard added.
Caroline Sines, a French television correspondent covering the war in
Baghdad, confirmed Ménard's accusations against the U.S. troops.
"I was at the Palestine Hotel at the moment of the attack, around one pm,
Baghdad time, and my crew filmed everything," Sines said. "Our films shows
that the U.S. tank took its time at targeting the 14th floor of the hotel,
where many journalists are hosted, at a moment of complete calm," Sines
Menard urged the "U.S. forces to prove that the incident was not a
deliberate attack to dissuade or prevent journalists from continuing to
report on what is happening in Baghdad."
"We are appalled at what happened because it was known that journalists
were working both at the Palestine Hotel as well at the Al-Jazeera bureau,"
Ménard pointed out.
One Al-Jazeera camera operator was also killed on Tuesday by an
apparently intentional U.S. bombing of the pan-Arab TV station's offices
elsewhere in Baghdad. The nearby premises of Abu Dhabi TV were also damaged
by the bombing.
The Qatar-based television network recalled that prior to the conflict,
it had provided the U.S. military authorities with the specific coordinates
of its Baghdad offices. This information was confirmed by the Committee to
Protect Journalists in the letter to Donald Rumsfeld.
"CPJ has seen a copy of Al-Jazeera's February letter to Pentagon
spokeswoman Victoria Clarke outlining these coordinates," Joel Simon wrote
Simon called Rumsfeld "to launch an immediate and thorough investigation
into these incidents and to make the findings public." The CPJ also recalled
to the U.S. military authorities that more than 100 independent journalists
continue to operate in Baghdad from both the Palestine and the nearby
"The U.S. military has a clear obligation to avoid harming the
correspondents while carrying out (war) operations," Simon said in his
letter to Rumsfeld.
Aidan White, General Secretary of the International Federation of
Journalists, said, "There is no doubt at all that these attacks could be
targeting journalists. If so, they are grave and serious violations of
"The bombing of hotels where journalists are staying and targeting of
Arab media is particularly shocking events in a war which is being fought in
the name of democracy," White said. "Those who are responsible must be
brought to justice".
"The United Nations system and the international media community must be
fully engaged in finding out what happened in these cases and action must be
taken to ensure it never happens again," White said. "We can expect denials
of intent from the military, but what we really want is the truth."
The IFJ says that the global media community, including journalists,
media organizations and press freedom campaigners, should join hands under
the banner of the newly-formed International News Safety Institute to hold a
complete and in depth inquiry.
The INSI is a coalition of more than 100 organizations campaigning for a
global news safety program.
The IFJ also condemned "what appears to be Iraqi tactics of using
civilians and journalists as a 'human shield' against attack." "The Baghdad
authorities are just as culpable as the U.S. with their reckless disregard
for civilian lives," White said.
Both the IFJ and RSF recalled that Al Jazeera has become a frequent
target of U.S. and British attacks in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
Earlier in the war in Iraq, four members of the pan-Arab television crew
in the southern city of Basra came under gunfire from British tanks on March
29 as they were filming distribution of food by Iraqi government officials.
One of the station's cameramen went missing and was later found to have
been held for 12 hours by U.S. troops. Al-Jazeera reporters were the only
journalists in Basra at the time.
The Al-Jazeera offices in Kabul, Afghanistan, were also bombed by U.S.
forces during the war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in November
To have jurisdiction in a war, the International Humanitarian
Fact-Finding Commission has to be petitioned by one of the parties in the
conflict or by one of the countries that have recognized its jurisdiction.
To conduct an investigation, all the belligerents must accept its
authority. Among the countries involved in the Iraq war, only Australia and
the United Kingdom have formally recognized it, allowing an investigation to
go ahead as far as they are concerned.
Neither the United States nor Iraq have yet accepted the principle of
such an enquiry.
Since the beginning of the Iraqi war on March 20, ten journalists have
been killed by the conflicting parties, and two other died in war related
accidents. At least eight other correspondents have been wounded. Two other
reporters' whereabouts remain unknown.
Copyright 2003 Inter Press Service