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Iraq23 April 2003

Reporters without Borders not satisfied with replies from the Pentagon and the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission

Reporters Without Borders today accused the US Defense Department and the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission of not taking seriously requests for a proper search to be made for two journalists missing in Iraq for the past month - French cameraman Fred Nerac and Lebanese interpreter Hussein Osman, both of the British TV network Independent Television News (ITN).

Replies from the two bodies were very inadequate and even dismissive about the journalists, it said, and showed no interest in investigating the case, much less punishing those responsible.

"The Pentagon’s reply is couched in such generalities and platitudes that one can easily conclude that the US Army has no intention of making any serious enquiry into the various incidents that led to the death of at least four journalists," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard.

"The word ’investigation’ or the names of the journalists killed did not figure anywhere in the letter. This indifference and clear lack of intent to punish those responsible for the errors that led to their deaths - if indeed they were errors - gives an appalling image of the US-British forces, who supposedly waged this war in the name of freedom and democracy."

US assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Victoria Clarke deplored the death of journalists in a 14 April letter. She said warnings to journalists to be careful did not absolve US forces of their "obligation to exercise caution. Indeed we have gone to extraordinary lengths in Iraq to avoid civilian casualties. But unfortunately, even our best efforts will not prevent some innocents from getting caught in the crossfire. I can assure you that journalists and other innocent civilians are never targeted intentionally."

The letter concludes by saying that "war is by its very nature tragic and sad. A compassionate country has an obligation to wage it as humanely as possible, and that is exactly what we are doing."

Sir Kenneth Keith, president of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, whose job is to monitor violations of the Geneva Conventions, sent one reply to two letters from Reporters Without Borders. This was no more satisfactory than the one from the Pentagon.

"The Commission has not failed to notice," he said, "that some actions of the parties to the conflict have reached a degree of gravity that would justify an investigation" by the Commission. However, he could do nothing because "despite the appeals of some international organisations to the parties to the conflict to permit a body to monitor the respect for international humanitarian law during the armed conflict or to resort to the services of the Commission, I have not been made aware of any interest on the part of the parties to the conflict in this respect."

The Commission was set up in 1991 under the First Additional Protocol of the Geneva Conventions but has never carried out any investigations because as well as being petitioned, it requires the parties complained of to accept its jurisdiction. These conditions have never been met.

Reporters Without Borders urged Sir Keith in a letter today to "ask the United States directly and indeed publicly about its intentions towards the Commission." The Commission is not authorised to investigate complaints on its own initiative, but it can approach the accused parties to ask them to discuss the charges.

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