Saira Shah: Human rights abuse cheapens life for everybody

From a speech by the broadcaster to the British Institute of Human Rights
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The Independent Online

As journalists, we are used to considering ourselves above - or outside - the conflict. Sadly, this isn't always the case.

As journalists, we are used to considering ourselves above - or outside - the conflict. Sadly, this isn't always the case.

My colleague, director James Miller, was shot by a soldier in an Israeli armoured personnel carrier as we were filming at a Palestinian home in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip. James was wearing a helmet with "TV" on it in fluorescent letters. As it was night, he and our translator were carrying a white flag illuminated by a torch. We were approaching an Israeli APC which possessed night vision equipment and whose soldiers had been talking to us a couple of hours before.

When we reached some 60 metres from the APC, there was a single shot. We froze, assuming it was a warning and to let them have a good look at us. Thirteen seconds later (this is captured on video) there was a second shot. It hit James in the neck. He died instantly.

I want to know why, if the soldier could see well enough to deliver a classic sniper shot in James's neck, he couldn't see a white flag or fluorescent letters on his helmet. I don't know the answer to those questions because an Israeli military investigation has not concluded - and it is unclear whether its results will ever be published.

I lie awake at night wondering what was going through that soldier's head. Was he drunk? Psychotic? Or was he simply bored and - knowing that he would never be called to account for killing a Palestinian - decided to pull the trigger on a journalist? And that - beyond punishment and retribution - is the real reason why justice must always be done in situations of human rights abuse.

If any country allows an environment of abuse to exist, even against a specific section of the population, then a culture is soon created where human rights are routinely flouted on both sides - and life becomes cheap for everybody.

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