15 July 2021
On 12 July 2021, the attack and killing of Yama Siawash was raised with both the International/ Criminal Court and the United Nations on behalf of the family of Afghan journalist and TV presenter, Yama Siawash, by international counsel Haydee Dijkstal (33 Bedford Row Chamber, London). Both the ICC Office of the Prosecutor and UN Special Rapporteurs were asked to seek information and investigate the targeted killing of Yama Siawash as part of a well-documented pattern of killings of journalists in Afghanistan which hinder their work as journalists and violate their fundamental rights.
Submissions to the ICC and UN
Before the International Criminal Court, an Article 15 Communication was submitted to the Office of the Prosecutor which asserts that the killing of Yama Siawash is part of a widespread and systematic attack against members of the media in Afghanistan occurring during the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, and which escalated during the administration of President Ashraf Ghani. The submission raises that the targeted attack and killing of Yama Siawash constitutes the crime against humanity and war crime of murder, the crimes against humanity of persecution and other inhumane acts, and the war crime of intentionally attacking civilians. In providing information to the ICC Prosecutor, the family requested that the Prosecutor consider the attack as part of its on-going investigation into the situation in Afghanistan for prosecution.
The family raised the attack which targetted Yama Siawash with the ‘UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression,’ the ‘UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions’, and the ‘Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders’, requesting the Special Rapporteurs to take a series of steps to gather information and address the human rights violations associated with Yama Siawash’s killing, and the systematic pattern in which journalists are threatened, targeted and killed in Afghanistan. The Special Rapporteurs have been asked to consider that Yama Siawash’s rights to life and free expression, as well as the family’s rights against arbitrary interference with family and their right to truth and a remedy, have been severely violated as a result of acts by those who opposed his work, and to assist in investigating and accessing the truth, and securing justice and accountability for the violations.
Background and context
Yama Siawash was well-known in Afghanistan for his work reporting on issues of politics and governance in Afghanistan, and in particular addressing controversial topics and posing tough and challenging questions which confronted the Government’s policies and officials at the time under the Ghani administration. In conducting his work as a journalist and TV presenter, Yama exercised his right to free expression by practicing as a journalist and TV presenter in a manner which sought to receive and impart information, while discussing and challenging the national dialogue on controversial issues of public importance.
This work resulted in on-going threats and pressure against him by Government officials, including senior and prominent officials, seeking to stop his work as a journalist and TV presenter. The threats and pressure he received, as well as advise received from an NGO that his safety was in danger as a result of his work, led Yama to leave Afghanistan in order to protect his safety and with the hope that the threats would subside over time. Upon his return to Afghanistan, Yama was killed on 7 November 2020 by 2 kilograms of military grade RDX explosives which were embedded within the Government-owned and Government-controlled vehicle which was arranged to take him to work, and which remotely detonated shortly after he entered the vehicle.
The right to free expression, which Afghanistan has agreed to uphold and protect, provides that Yama’s work as a journalist, along with all other members of the media, shall be protected from interference. Yet, the threats and pressure Yama received interfered with his ability to freely exercise this right, and his life was targeted and he was killed as a result of his work and exercise of the right to free expression as a journalist. Both the threats he received and the attack which took his life were perpetrated as a result of him exercising this fundamental right, and both had the intended consequence of suppressing this right.
The family’s decision to file submissions to both the International Criminal Court and United Nations Special Rapporteurs in order to seek answers and the truth about the events that killed Yama, and justice for his murder, follows repeated attempts to seek justice locally in Afghanistan, and appeals to the Government for transparency about any investigation or evidence as to the perpetrators of Yama’s murder. Despite requests from the family, local media and human rights organisations for information and for a transparent investigation, the inability to meaningfully engage with the Government or be assured that a genuine investigation is being conducted has created the understanding that meaningful and genuine accountability and justice cannot be obtained for Yama’s killing in Afghanistan. The family therefore seek a genuine and transparent investigation and justice for the crimes and human rights violations committed before the ICC and UN.
Haydee Dijkstal of 33 Bedford Row Chambers, who acts as international counsel for the Siawash family said “Evidence of the attack on 7 November 2020 which took Yama Siawash’s life makes clear that serious crimes and human rights violations were committed when he was targeted and killed as part of a pattern of attacks on journalists and free expression in Afghanistan. It is important that a thorough investigation is conducted and accountability is ensured through all legal avenues available to bring justice for Yama Siawash and for the harm suffered by his family, but also to ensure that journalists in Afghanistan like Yama do not continue to be targeted and silenced for exercising their rights, and those responsible are held to account.”
Mohammad Dawood Siawash, the father of Yama Siawash, said “I hope that the authorities of justice, the International Criminal Court and the United Nations, as the highest and last neutral international authorities, will deliver justice to our oppressed family, and bring the murderer, the perpetrator of the killing, and the supporter of the perpetrator of the murderer of my martyred son to the table of justice.”
Baktash Siawash, the brother of Yama Siawash, said “In the shadow of oppression and human rights abuses in Afghanistan, the doors of justice have been blocked for our family. I hope that raising martyr Yama Siawash killing at the International Criminal Court and the United Nations will give us access to justice for such atrocities, no matter how powerful the perpetrators are, whether they be the rulers of the state or a passport holder of a powerful state. An investigation into the targeted killing of Yama Siawash will prove to the people of Afghanistan and the world that the ICC and UN are on the right side of history, by seeking to end impunity for grave and widespread human rights abuses and by protecting the fundamental right to free expression for all those fighting against corruption and for transparency, the facts and the truth.”