Letter to UNHCHR Volker Turk

February 23, 2024

Attn: His Excellency Mr. Volker Turk

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Geneva, Switzerland

The undersigned

The Family of the Victim Issam Abdallah


Media outlets

The National Human Rights Commission – Lebanon

Local and International Non-Governmental Organizations

Members of the Lebanese Parliament


We welcome your actions and repeated calls to defend human rights all over the world, including in Gaza and Lebanon.

We are writing to express concern about the Israeli forces’ apparent deliberate targeting of journalists and media workers in Lebanon.  On Friday, October 13, 2023, Mr. Issam Abdallah, a journalist who worked with Reuters for two decades, was killed in an Israeli attack in south Lebanon. The following six other journalists were injured in the same attack: Ms. Carmen Joukhadar, Mr. Elie Barkhia (Al-Jazeera TV), Ms. Christina Assi, Mr. Dylan Collins (AFP), Mr. Maher Nazih and Mr. Thaer Al-Sudani (Reuters).

Mr. Abdallah was killed and the six above-mentioned journalists injured while reporting on the escalation of hostilities in southern Lebanon. At the time, they were wearing protective vests with the word “PRESS” printed in large white letters across their chests and backs; as such, they were clearly identifiable as members of the press.

According to witnesses, the firsthand accounts of the victims themselves and five separate investigations by Reuters, Agence France Presse (AFP), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Israeli army launched the attack striking the journalists’ position twice in a matter of 37 seconds. According to Amnesty International’s, Human Rights Watch’s and RSF’s findings, the two strikes against the journalists were apparently a deliberate, direct attack against members of the press. Under Article 79 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, journalists in war zones must be treated as civilians and protected as such, provided they take no part in the hostilities.

Consequently, the attack was an apparent war crime committed by the Israeli army in violation of international humanitarian law and, a fortiori, of international human rights law, and all principles that protect journalists and media workers operating in areas of armed conflicts.

On January 12, 2024, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders published a written communication dated November 13, 2023 and addressed to the Israeli government, citing their concern over the attack. They stated that the journalists could not have been mistaken for combatants, given their clear press insignia. The Israeli government was given 60 days to respond. Thus far, the Rapporteurs have not received a response from the Israeli authorities.

On February 1, 2024, a number of UN Special Rapporteurs issued a joint statement qualifying Israel’s ongoing military operation in Gaza as “the deadliest, most dangerous conflict for journalists in recent history.” The experts said that, “according to UN reports, since 7 October, over 122 journalists and media workers have been killed in Gaza, and many have been injured” and that “In addition, three journalists in Lebanon were killed”. They were: Issam Abdallah, as well as Farah Omar and Rabih Al-Maamari from Al-Mayadeen TV, who were both killed in a separate Israeli strike on Tayr Harfa, south Lebanon, on November 21, 2023, while doing their jobs. The UNESCO Director General issued a statement dated November 27, 2023 condemning the killings of Farah Omar and Rabih Al-Maamari and calling “for a full and transparent investigation into the circumstances of their deaths”.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, as of February 21, 2024, 88 journalists and media workers have been killed since October 7, 2023.  The organization said that the first month of the hostilities in Israel and Gaza was “the deadliest month for journalists” since it began documenting journalist fatalities in 1992. 

In order to establish facts independently, with a view to ensuring accountability, deterrence and compliance by all parties to the armed conflict with their obligations under international humanitarian law, we request that your Office undertake an investigation into the above-mentioned attacks by Israeli forces against journalist and media workers in Lebanon. Impunity will only encourage such attacks and apparent war crimes to reoccur over and over again.

The undersigned call on your excellency to take the following actions pursuant to General Assembly resolution No. 48/141 of January 7, 1994, that defines the High Commissioner’s mandate in promoting and protecting human rights:

1. Instruct your Office to conduct an investigation to establish the facts and circumstances surrounding the October 13 and November 21, 2023 attacks, and publish the findings with a view to holding those responsible accountable.

2. Mention attacks against members of the press and media workers in your opening statement to the 55th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC), and call on the HRC to take action to ensure accountability for those killed and injured, including as a result of the October 13 and November 21, 2023 attacks, and to prevent further targeted killings of journalists and media workers – as well as other civilians – during the ongoing war in Gaza.

We are ready to provide all the information you need to establish the facts, including arranging virtual or in-person meetings with victims and witnesses to hear their testimonies on what they witnessed and experienced on October 13, 2023.

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