The apparent execution of the freelance journalist James Foley on August 19, 2014 in Syria by the Islamic State would be a war crime if confirmed. Groups detaining journalists should immediately and unconditionally release them.
The Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (ISIS), released a video of Foley’s purported execution. The group announced that it also is holding the US citizen journalist Steven Sotloff and that his fate depends on future US policy measures against the extremist group. Deliberate murder of civilians and hostage taking during an armed conflict are war crimes.
“James went to Syria because of his commitment to exposing the horrors civilians faced since the uprising against the government there,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “He, like the other journalists who are now held prisoner in Syria, courageously risked his life so that the world might know the truth and act to ease the suffering of the Syrian people.”
Foley, a US citizen, had been missing in Syria since November 22, 2012. Despite his family’s persistent efforts, including a global campaign to free their son, very little was known about his situation and whereabouts throughout the period of his abduction, including which group was holding him. In its publicized execution of the journalist, the Islamic State claimed that his killing was in retaliation for US military intervention against the group in Iraq.
Prior to his abduction, Foley worked as an independent journalist in the Middle East for five years. He covered the conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria for the GlobalPost, Agence France-Presse, and other international news agencies. In addition to his journalistic work, Foley had assisted Human Rights Watch with the video documentation of human rights violations. He was also one of the filmmakers who filmed the work of the Human Rights Watch emergency team for the independent documentary “E-Team”.
Photo: James Foley (left) filming in Sirte, Libya on September 29, 2011. © 2011 Getty Images