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Many journalists travel with little or no knowledge of the region or of the application of local or international law, and without an awareness of their own rights as independent, neutral observers. Journalists should know the relevant protocols of the Geneva Conventions and humanitarian law that define the rights of non-combatants.
Journalists should be briefed on the political and legal conditions of the region they are working in. They should know about the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross, United Nations agencies and regional political bodies before they leave home.
Below are the main treaties, recommendations and resolutions on the protection of journalists in conflict or post-conflict zones. This list of protocols may be applicable to journalists in their work.
Specifically, Article 19 of this document states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” and also Article 3 which secures the “right to life, liberty and security of person”, Articles 5 and 9 which affirm the right not to be subjected to “torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” or "arbitrary arrest", and Article 8 which maintains that we have the right to an effective remedy for violations of one's rights.
The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are part of international humanitarian law – a whole system of legal safeguards that cover the way wars may be fought and the protection of individuals.
The Geneva Convention concerns the treatment of civilians, including journalists, and of persons not or no longer taking direct part in hostilities. Article 79 of Protocol I specifically states that “journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians” and thus be protected as such under the Conventions.
The ICCPR is a binding agreement with all its signatories and corresponds closely to the UDHR. Specifically, the ICCPR clarifies that the State must "undertake the necessary steps, in accordance with its constitutional processes and with the provisions of the present Covenant, to adopt such laws or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to the rights recognized" in the Covenant. In July 2011, Article 19 was the subject of the General Comment 34 by the Human Rights Committee. Adopted by this UN monitoring body, it constitutes an authoritative interpretation by clarifying the scope of States´ obligations, calling on them to adopt adequate laws and practices together with national enforcement mechanisms to protect the right to freedom of expression and opinion.
The UN Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/21/12 on the Safety of Journalists, adopted by consensus on 27 September 2012. The Council condemned in the strongest terms all attacks and violence against journalists and expressed its concern that there was a growing threat to the safety of journalists posed by non-State actors. Furthermore, the UNHRC Resolution A/HRC/RES/12/16 on Freedom of opinion and expression, adopted in October 2009. The resolution recognizes that the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression is one of the essential foundations of a democratic society. It expresses concern that violations of these rights continue to occur against persons who exercise, seek to promote or defend these rights, including journalists, writers, and other media workers, Internet users and human rights defenders.
The Human Rights Council´s Special Procedures (most commonly known as “Special Rapporteurs”) mechanisms are the most important mechanisms within the UN System in monitoring, raising awareness and giving advice on human rights issues. The Office of The High Commissioner for Human Rights provides these mechanisms with personnel, policy, research and logistical support for the discharge of their mandates. The most directly relevant contributions to the safety of journalists can be drawn from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression whose mandate was established in 1993. In 2012 the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions focused his report on the rights of journalists, in response to the alarming number of killings. In 2011, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders also included a specific chapter on journalists and media workers.
The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1738 (2006) to condemn attacks against journalists in conflict situations. It emphasizes "the responsibility of States to comply with the relevant obligations under international law to end impunity and to prosecute those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law" and that “journalists, media professionals and associated personnel engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered civilians, to be respected and protected as such”.
In 2011, the countries represented in the 39-member governing council of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) proposed that the UNESCO secretariat reached out to other actors in the UN to work together with a more united, harmonious and impactful approach.
The UN Plan of Action that resulted came out of broad consultations with the media, NGOs, governments and other UN actors and also prompted two UN Inter-Agency meetings on journalist safety. The Plan has been endorsed by the Chief Executive Board of the UN, representing all UN agencies. UNESCO leads the co-ordination of the Plan, in conjunction with the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and the UN Secretary General’s office in New York.
The UN and several of its member states are engaging all stakeholders, including civil society and the media, in its implementation in 2013/2014. The main idea is to complement existing and on-going civil initiatives and to ensure that different agencies of the UN come together in a coherent and cohesive manner. Among the countries where there is work under the auspices of the UN Plan are Nepal, Iraq, Pakistan, and South Sudan. An Implementation Strategy has been developed to concretise the UN Plan.
A Charter for the Safety of Journalists Working in War Zones or Dangerous Areas was drawn up by Reporters Without Borders in 2002. Its aim was to ensure that the eight principles were adopted by media houses. If carried out, these principles would help prevent and reduce dangers to media workers in such situations. These principles form the basis of the planning and preparation, which is outlined in this document.
The Council of Europe has been involved on the Protection of Journalists in Situations of Conflict and Tension since 1996.
There are also many regional instruments such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa adopted in 2002; the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the American Convention of Human Rights; the Arab Charter on Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. It is also important to mention the role played by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of the African Union Commission (AUC), the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Photo: The Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva (KEYSTONE/Sandro Campardo)