People’s Tribunal on the Murder of Journalists convicts Mexico, Sri Lanka and Syria
In an unprecedented effort to achieve justice in the killing of journalists, Free Press Unlimited, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists launched a People’s Tribunal in November 2021 to hold governments accountable. The fourth and final hearing was convened in the Hague on 19 September 2022. Over 100 participants including colleagues, relatives and friends of journalists who were killed in reprisal of their work, gathered to hear the verdict.
On 19 September 2022, the independent panel of judges of the People’s Tribunal pronounced its judgment drawing on three case hearings that took place earlier this year. The unanimous verdict concluded that “throughout their acts and omissions, the states of Mexico, Sri Lanka and Syria are guilty of all human rights violations brought against them in the indictment by the Prosecution.”
This symbolic act of justice represents a meaningful international recognition of the complicity of these states, in impunity for the murders of journalists Miguel Ángel López Velasco (Mexico), Lasantha Wickrematunge (Sri Lanka) and Nabil Al-Sharbaji (Syria). The cases also create an important record of evidence and testimony for any future proceedings, and elevate the importance of holding states internationally accountable for failing to protect journalists and investigate and prosecute those who murder them.
Over 100 participants including colleagues, relatives and friends of journalists who were killed in reprisal of their work, gathered to hear the verdict first-hand during the closing hearing in the Hague. The tribunal, though symbolic in nature, aims to make a concrete contribution to the fight against impunity. Christophe Deloire, Secretary-General of Reporters Without Borders, said “the fact that we have this tribunal is the first sign of hope. Though your tribunal does not have the capacity to put the perpetrators behind bars, you have the capacity to name and shame.”
To that end, the judges delivered the following verdict:
“In view of the overwhelming and compelling evidence consisting of witness testimony including that of expert witnesses and those with personal experience; very substantial written documentation from individuals and organisations, the Tribunal has unanimously made the following finding:
Through their acts and omissions (the lack of investigation, the lack of reparation to the victims, and the full impunity) the States of Mexico, Sri Lanka and Syria are guilty of all of the human rights violations brought against them in the indictment.”
The indicted states were informed timely of their rights to a defense, but none of them responded or offered a defense.
The judges called out the lack of action on the part of states and offered powerful recommendations to states and the international community to take action. The recommendations and full judgment is available here. That call was reiterated by one of the panel members who commented on the judgment, Nadim Houry, saying: "It's time to be bolder. We need to push the UN to get out of its comfort zone.”
After the verdict, a ceremony took place to commemorate all journalists who have lost their lives in reprisal for their work. Photos of journalists from all over the world, including Mexico, Afghanistan, Serbia and many other countries were brought to the empty chairs representing all the journalists who were killed in the line of duty.
Mexican journalist Anabel Hérnandez made a moving speech talking about the right to freedom of information and said “[these journalists] did not die to defend their own freedom of expression. They died for the right of society to be informed. The goal of their assassination was not just to silence their voices, but to deprive society from the tools it needs to decide the course of its history. They are no longer here. Because of their absence, there are white pages that will forever remain empty without their words, without their voice, without their free thought.”
Not the end
This final judgment does not mean the end of the project A Safer World For The Truth. As Ruth Kronenburg, Director of Free Press Unlimited, said after the closing hearing: “With A Safer World For The Truth, we will keep knocking on the doors to those who hold the key to justice.”
Free Press Unlimited, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists plan on continuing to re-open cold cases of murdered journalists.
The verdict was broadcast live and recordings can be watched in English, Arabic and Spanish.
A Safer World For The Truth is a collaboration between Free Press Unlimited (FPU), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). We investigate murders through a series of cold case investigations to push for justice on the national level, and we organize the People’s Tribunal on the Murder of Journalists to put a spotlight on states’ obligation to protect journalists and to investigate all attacks against them. To learn more about the project, visit our website https://www.saferworldforthetruth.com/