JUBA, South Sudan -- Lawyers for the family of slain American-British journalist Christopher Allen are urging South Sudan's government to investigate his death as a potential war crime, two years after he was killed.
The 26-year-old freelancer died on August 26, 2017, during an opposition-led offensive in the town of Kaya along the Ugandan border while embedded with the rebels. He's the only international journalist to be killed in South Sudan.
"There are reasonable grounds to suspect that both the killing of Christopher Allen and the treatment of his body after death constitute war crimes committed by members of the South Sudanese armed forces," Caoilfhionn Gallagher, a lawyer in London who leads the legal team for the Allen family told The Associated Press. Failing an investigation by South Sudan's government the legal team is urging the U.S. and Britain to investigate as both countries have the "power and the resources" to do so, she said.
Allen's family says it has repeatedly asked South Sudan's government to investigate but their requests have been ignored.
"Two years ago today our hearts were irreparably broken. A journalist, Chris was intent to give voice to the stories of underreported people, now his story must be heard," said Allen's parents Joyce Krajian and John Allen by email.
The government wasn't immediately available for comment to the new request for an investigation. Previously government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny has said there's no reason to investigate as Allen entered the country illegally and government soldiers defended themselves against an attack, in which Allen was unfortunately killed as a result.
Since Allen's death, accounts surrounding what happened remain unclear. Earlier this year AP spoke with two government soldiers who said they were present during the fight and saw Allen with his camera. South Sudan Sgt. Peter Mabior, one of the soldiers, said he thought Allen was a "white rebel that was filming."
Allen's autopsy, seen by the AP, raises questions about whether his death was accidental according to two international experts who reviewed the report. Based on the consistency of the trajectory of the wounds "shots were intentionally fired in this direction, not ricochet, not an accidental wide spray of shots but rather a series of shots all in a line," said an expert neuropathologist in the autopsy.
South Sudan is slowly emerging from a five-year civil war, which killed almost 400,000 people before it ended nearly a year ago. While South Sudan has moved up five slots this year in the World's Press Freedom Index, from 144 of 180 countries to 139, according to Reporters Without Borders, it's still considered to be one of the hardest countries in the world for journalists to work.
At least nine South Sudanese journalists and Allen were killed between 2014 and 2017, according to Reporters Without Borders. In at least six of those cases, including Allen's, the journalists were killed either while working or in connection with their work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Several South Sudanese journalists have been arrested. At least 20 foreign journalists have been denied entry or kicked out in recent years.
"Achieving justice for Chris is essential not only to give his grieving family some answers, but to ensure the protection of journalists continuing to report from South Sudan and other conflict zones," said Rebecca Vincent, U.K. bureau director for Reporters Without Borders. "All those responsible for these heinous crimes must be fully held to account."
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