The People’s Tribunal on the Murder of Journalists
The People’s Tribunal on the Murder of Journalists is a civil society-led initiative established to seek justice for murdered journalists across the globe. As part of the project ‘A Safer World for the Truth’, a coalition of press freedom organisations Free Press Unlimited, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders requested the Permanent People’s Tribunal in Rome to investigate and pronounce a judgment on impunity for murders of journalists. The Tribunal consists of five hearings, and started with the opening hearing on 2 November 2021 in The Hague, The Netherlands. The Prosecution of the Tribunal selected three cases concerning the murder of a journalist, which are discussed in three subsequent hearings between April-June 2022. On 20 June 2022, the panel of judges will present its preliminary judgment during the closing session.
The idea to initiate a Tribunal arose out of frustration with the pervasive impunity for murders of journalists and the lack of action from states to investigate and prosecute these crimes despite their international legal obligation to do so. The alarming number of journalists who are murdered in reprisal for their work and the lack of justice in the majority of these cases, constitute a global concern for press freedom. Despite many successful initiatives to address threats to journalists, the structural problem of impunity persists. In most cases, it is impossible to hold states accountable in court for their failure to perform these duties. Moreover, existing judicial systems consider individual cases and do not assess states’ persistent violations with regard to the protection of journalists. To leverage action against this systemic issue and reiterate the obligations of states, we started the People's Tribunal.
We believe that justice must become the norm. The People’s Tribunal on the Murder of Journalists therefore provides a platform where those impacted by impunity can speak out. This includes the relatives of murdered journalists, but also their colleagues - who often continue to face threats and harassment as they endeavour to shine a light on the truth. To hold states to account and improve access to justice, the Tribunal also aims to build a thorough public record of cases concerning impunity for the murder of a journalist. Moreover, through its mandate and focus on people’s rights, the Tribunal provides an opportunity to discuss impunity as a systemic issue. By obtaining an independent judgment from the Tribunal, we aim to hold States accountable for their failure to take effective action against impunity. The People’s Tribunal thereby builds on existing advocacy strategies to establish that in order to end impunity, justice must become the norm.
The opening hearing of the Tribunal introduced impunity for the murders of journalists as a systemic problem. The Prosecution hears witnesses and presents evidence on global developments, the role of states, and the impact of impunity on journalists and people’s right to information. During the first Case Hearing, the Prosecution presented evidence on crimes against journalists in Mexico and introduced its case file on the murder of Mexican journalist Miguel Ángel López Velasco. The next case hearing focuses on justice for journalists who were murdered in Sri Lanka. For this hearing, the Prosecution has selected the case of Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge. The final case hearing is organised in The Hague and discusses the issue of impunity in Syria, and the murder of journalist Nabil Al-Sharbaji. For each of the case hearings, a publicly accessible case file is compiled. During the hearings, the Tribunal’s Prosecutor presents the evidence and hears witnesses and expert witnesses. A delegation of judges is present at each of the hearings. During the closing hearing on 20 June 2022, the judges will present their preliminary judgment.
The opening hearing of the Tribunal took place on 2 November 2021. The programme for the hearing can be found here. The hearing started with a keynote address by Baroness Helena Kennedy of the Shaws QC, followed by a series of witness testimonies. These witness testimonies included: renowned press freedom activist Maria Ressa,Pavla Holcová, the colleague of murdered Slovak journalist Jàn Kuciak, and Dutch journalist Jeroen Akkermans, colleague of Stan Storimans who was killed in 2008. They testified on attacks against journalists, and the impact of impunity on fellow journalists. Furthermore, Matthew Caruana Galizia, the son of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, and Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, spoke on the obstacles they encountered in their pursuit of justice. Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Raissa Carillo and Karinna Moskalenko testified on their experiences with impunity as litigators. Lastly, expert witness testimony was presented by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Irene Khan, and representatives from the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders. For the Mexico Case Hearing, witnesses included renowned investigative journalists Anabel Hernández, Jorge Carrasco and Adela Navarro, legal expert Sara Mendiola from Propuesta Civica, federal prosecutor Laura Borbolla Moreno, and journalist and activist Griselda Triana, the widow of journalist Javier Valdez (1967-2017). For the Sri Lanka Case Hearing, witnesses include: former UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez, activist Sandhya Eknaligoda and the Deputy Chair of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom Catherine Amirfar. Technical and case witnesses will present new evidence about the attribution of the crime. The hearing is convened in partnership with the Center for Justice and Accountability. For the Syria Case Hearing, witnesses include: journalist Hala Kodmani, journalist, lawyer and director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression Mazen Darwish, and journalist Paul Conroy. Reproductions of the scraps of clothing on which Nabil Al-Sharbaji and his fellow cellmates wrote their names and documented their experiences during their detention in the Mezzeh military airport prison, will be exhibited during the hearing. The hearing is convened in partnership with the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression.
The legal framework of the Tribunal is based on international human rights law, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Prosecution has also based its indictment on the people’s right to information as derived from the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peoples (Algiers Charter). Where applicable, the Prosecution will supplement these with relevant standards and case law from regional human rights systems.
People’s Tribunals are a form of grassroots justice, and take the form of opinion tribunals organised by civil society. The concept is derived from the famous 1966 Russell Tribunal, which held the U.S government to account for war crimes committed in Vietnam. Several other intellectuals, including Jean Paul Sartre and Leilo Basso, participated in the tribunal and the initiative was the start of a long civil society tradition of organising People’s Tribunals for issues where governments failed to provide justice. Most People’s Tribunals are organised to hold states accountable for violations of international law by building public awareness and generating a legitimate evidence record. People’s Tribunals can also play an important role in empowering victims and recording their stories. The form of the Tribunal depends on its objectives - some Tribunals are comparable to truth commissions, while others mimic formal court procedures.
No. People’s Tribunals are established by civil society actors, and therefore do not enjoy formal judicial authority. For this reason, the Tribunal does not focus on individual criminal responsibility, and cannot make legally binding decisions. Instead, it derives its legitimacy from its procedural integrity, the involvement of internationally recognized lawyers and experts, and the public nature of its proceedings.
The Prosecution team has been formed in collaboration with Guernica 37 International Law Chambers. The lead prosecutor is renowned international human rights lawyer Almudena Bernabeu who will be supported by former ICC judge Sir Howard Morrison QC. The Prosecution team oversees the compilation of evidence for each hearing, hears witnesses and leads the proceedings during the hearings of the tribunal.
The People’s Tribunal on the Murder of Journalists will be organised in collaboration with the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT). The PPT is a Rome-based organisation hosted by the Leilo Basso Foundation, given that Leilo Basso was one of the founders of the 1966 Russell Tribunal. The PPT organises People’s Tribunals in the tradition of the Russell Tribunals. These Tribunals adhere to procedural norms insofar as possible, deliver high quality legal analysis and advice, and are therefore able to set an example. They do not have formal legal authority, and thus derive their power from the public character of the proceedings, the participants and the integrity of the procedures. During the People’s Tribunal on the Murder of Journalists, the PPT oversees the selection of judges and formally notifies the indicted States.
The judges of the Tribunal have been selected independently by the Permanent People’s Tribunal. During the Tribunal, they will operate and formulate their judgment independently from the Prosecution. The Permanent People’s Tribunal invites the three indicted States to exercise their right to defense, and will appoint a defense counsel ex officio in the closing hearing if the States in question do not exercise this right.
The charges formulated by the Prosecution in the indictment are based on international human rights law and the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peoples (Algiers Charter). The Prosecution will therefore not apply standards from a domestic legal system.
The panel of judges has been independently appointed by the Permanent People’s Tribunal. The panel consists of internationally recognized jurists, journalists and human rights experts. The panel members are: Eduardo Bertoni, Marina Forti, Gill H. Boehringer, Mariarosaria Guglielmi, Helen Jarvis, Nello Rossi, Kalpana Sharma, Philippe Texier and Marcela Turati Muñoz.
The Permanent People’s Tribunal informs the accused States of the indictment prior to the opening hearing, and invites them to exercise their right of defense during the closing hearing on 20 June 2022. If the States in question do not appear, the secretariat of the Permanent People’s Tribunal will appoint a defense ex officio.
The People’s Tribunal is part of the project ‘A Safer World for the Truth’, which is funded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery (Nationale Postcode Loterij).
The Tribunal was initiated by press freedom organisations Free Press Unlimited, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters without Borders. About the organisations: Free Press Unlimited (FPU): Free Press Unlimited is a not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Free Press Unlimited helps local journalists in conflict areas to provide their audience with independent news and reliable information. The information that people need to survive and give shape to their own future. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ): The Committee to Protect Journalists is an American independent non-profit, non-governmental organization, based in New York City, USA with correspondents around the world. CPJ promotes press freedom and defends the rights of journalists. - Reporters Without Borders (RSF): Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is an independent NGO based in Paris, France. Its foreign sections, its bureaux in ten cities, including Brussels, Dakar, Washington, Berlin, Tunis, Rio de Janeiro, Taipei and Stockholm, and its network of correspondents in 130 countries give RSF the ability to mobilize support, challenge governments and wield influence both on the ground and in the ministries and precincts where media and Internet standards and legislation are drafted. -
All sessions of the Tribunal will be recorded via livestream. On the day of the hearing, a link to the livestream will be posted on this website and the social media accounts of A Safer World For The Truth.
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A Safer World for the Truth works towards the pursuit of justice for crimes committed against journalists. The project consists of a series of investigations of cases where a journalist was murdered for doing his/her job. Through these investigations, new facts and information around the killings will be revealed, paving the way for pursuing justice. The information will also serve to tell the stories about these journalists through a variety of media productions. A Safer World for the Truth is an initiative of Free Press Unlimited, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters without Borders. The project is funded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery (Nationale Postcode Loterij).