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Preliminary army investigation into journalist's death reportedly concludes that "soldiers did no wrong"

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders called on European Commissioner for external relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, to raise the problem of risks to journalists covering fighting in the Palestinian territories at the Israel-EU Association Council meeting in Luxemburg on 16 June 2008.

"The death of Fadel Shanaa, of the British news agency Reuters, on 16 April 2008, has reawakened our concern about the lack of transparency in Israeli investigations," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"Five journalists have been killed by soldiers of the Israel Defence Forces in the past ten years. This figure may be derisory compared to the number of civilians killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it is nonetheless worrying in terms of the impunity enjoyed by Israeli soldiers who are responsible."

"Nearly two months after the death of Fadel Shanaa in extremely troubling circumstances, the Israeli army investigation has not produced results. Our concern is increased by the fact that a recent statement by an Israeli army spokesperson said that a preliminary investigation had shown that the "implicated soldiers did no wrong". Journalists take considerable risks to report on the reality of war. It is essential to prevent violence against them and to put those responsible on trial," the organisation wrote.

Reporters Without Borders also stressed the importance of an action plan worked out following the Association agreement between the European Union and the state of Israel and particularly on human rights. "The commitment of the two to promote humanitarian law imposes an obligation to curb breaches of international conventions. These articles explicitly set out the criminal and disciplinary responsibility of soldiers and the military command in the case of violation. However the soldiers responsible for the death of journalists Raffaele Ciriello (2002), Imad Abu Zahra (2002), Nazeh Darouazi (2003) and James Miller (2003) are still benefiting from an inexplicable impunity. The Israeli justice system has never taken proceedings against those allegedly responsible and no verdict has ever been pronounced following these war crimes," the organisation added.

"The Israeli authorities should act to put an end to this record which is unworthy of a democracy. We hope that you can convince your interlocutors of the need to promptly publish the results of the investigation into the death of the Reuters cameraman. The Israeli state should agree on efforts for civilians to be spared. It is the only way in which journalists can be guaranteed to be able to continue to cover this conflict," Reporters Without Borders concluded.

The organisation wrote on 11 June to the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, deploring the absence of Israel from among states which agreed to sign the Dublin Convention in December 2008 relating to a ban on cluster bombs. "Their use endangers the lives of many civilians, including media staff covering fighting. Despite precautions taken by journalists in the field, the random spread of the ammunition from these weapons increases the risks they run. Fadel Shanaa was killed by steel flechettes released by an Israeli shell. The bullet-proof vest he was wearing that day was not designed to protect against this type of weapon."

In its letter to the minister, Reporters Without Borders called on the Israeli authorities to state their commitment to apply the humanitarian clauses in the additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions. The organisation pointed out that the Protocol I, of 8 June 1977, includes an article relating to the protection of journalists while on dangerous professional missions in armed conflict areas. Even though the state of Israel has not signed the additional Protocol, it is part of customary international law and should be applied on this basis.

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