Family of Journalist Killed in South Sudan Call on the FBI to Investigate Suspected War Crimes

Today, lawyers acting for the family of journalist Christopher (Chris) Allen have made a formal request to the USA’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to open a criminal investigation into suspected war crimes committed against him. They have asked the FBI’s International Human Rights Unit to investigate two alleged breaches of the USA’s own War Crimes Act: one concerning the way in which Christopher was killed, and one concerning the degrading treatment of his body after his death.

Christopher Allen was the first foreign journalist to be killed in the South Sudan conflict. He was a dual US/ UK national. At the time of his death Christopher was documenting armed clashes between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition and South Sudanese armed forces in the town of Kaya, close to the border with Uganda. He was shot dead on 26 August 2017 by South Sudanese armed forces.

In the two years since Christopher Allen’s death, there has been no official investigation into the killers or the circumstances, by the South Sudanese authorities, or by any other law enforcement agency. Such investigation as has taken place has been conducted by the family and by journalists looking into the case.

After the death, photographs circulated online of Christopher Allen’s body, with his horrific injuries visible and his genitals exposed. These photographs were eventually taken down after the family appealed to the South Sudanese authorities via US diplomats to have them removed.

Barristers Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Jonathan Price and Tatyana Eatwell, of Doughty Street Chambers in London, act for Joyce Krijian and John Allen, Christopher’s parents, and Jeremy Bliss, Christopher’s cousin. In their letter to the FBI they state that:

  • There is reasonable cause to suspect that the killing was a war crime, in violation of international law. The available evidence suggests that Christopher was deliberately targeted because he was a journalist taking photographs, and that this was not an accidental crossfire death. This is supported by the views of international experts who have read the autopsy report, who consider that Chris was the subject of a direct attack and his killing was not ‘collateral damage.’ It is also supported by the statements of South Sudanese government soldiers given to a freelance journalist based in the country.
  • There is also reasonable cause to suspect that the act of taking photographs of the body in the immediate aftermath of his death, with his genitalia exposed, and of posting those photographs on the internet is a war crime.
  • The lawyers also say, “It is of grave concern that, to our knowledge, no criminal or other investigation has been conducted into Christopher’s death or the publication of the above described photographs by South Sudan, the United States or any other investigative authority… In the two years since Christopher’s death, South Sudan has been repeatedly asked to conduct a criminal investigation into what took place. Regrettably, these requests have been repeatedly ignored or refused.”
  • The suspected war crimes violate US law, which criminalises war crimes committed either by or against US citizens. Chris Allen was a US citizen.
  • The FBI’s International Human Rights Unit has been asked to confirm it will immediately commence an investigation into these suspected war crimes.

Joyce Krajian and John Allen, Christopher’s parents, said:

Two years on from our beloved son’s killing, there has been no criminal investigation, no inquiry into the circumstances of his death, no explanation, and no one has been held to account. Chris was a US citizen and we believe he died as a result of a war crime. South Sudan has failed to give us answers or ensure accountability. We now call on the US to come to our aid. We urge the FBI’s International Human Rights Unit to comply with its mandate and immediately begin an investigation into his death.

Jeremy Bliss, Christopher’s cousin, added:

Chris was killed thousands of miles away, but his home countries, the US and the UK, must now ensure there is justice and accountability for his killing. The FBI has the power and the mandate to investigate the suspected war crimes which we have identified. We have waited for two years. The FBI should put an end to our waiting and agree to act.”

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC said:

Christopher Allen was a brave journalist who told the stories many others did not. His reporting in South Sudan shone a much-needed spotlight on suffering of the South Sudanese people. His killing is not only a deep personal loss to his family; it is also an attack upon the fundamental right to freedom of expression and the right of journalists to be protected when reporting on armed conflicts. It is also an affront to the public who were entitled to hear his reporting. There is reasonable cause to suspect that war crimes were committed against Christopher. It is imperative that there is now an investigation into those suspected crimes.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has been supporting the family. Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s UK Bureau Director, said:

"Reporters Without Borders fully supports Christopher Allen's family in their pursuit of a legal case on the basis of war crimes. These very serious allegations must be properly investigated, and the perpetrators brought to full justice. The absence of an investigation to date is a disgrace, as is the shameful inaction by both the UK and US governments. We hope that the new legal case will serve as a key turning point in the pursuit of justice for Christopher."