“Every journalist killed or neutralized by terror is an observer less of the human condition. Every attack distorts reality by creating a climate of fear and self-censorship.” Barry James in “Press Freedom: Safety of Journalists and Impunity” - UNESCO Publications - 2002
World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. 3 May has been indeed proclaimed World Press Freedom Day by the UN General Assembly in 1993. (Decision 48/432 of the General Assembly du 20 décembre 1993).
« Safe to speak » is the theme of this 20th edition of World Press Freedom Day.
Freedom of opinion, expression and information and freedom of the press constitute one of the essential pillars of a democratic society. France remains strongly committed to ensure their protection and respect.
Journalists, media professionals and associated staff play an essential role in informing the public and the international community. This is all the more so in situations of armed conflict, where access to information may be difficult. They witness what is happening on the ground, gather and disseminate information about events and can help identify serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
The work of journalists in armed conflict can be dangerous. In a hostile environment, the parties to the conflict may consider them unwanted witnesses and want to obstruct their mission. The protection of journalists in armed conflict is therefore of vital importance in order to ensure their safety as well as the freedom of information.
International humanitarian law does not provide for any specific protection of journalists in armed conflict. Under article 79 of the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 “journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians”. Thus, all international humanitarian law applicable to civilians also applies to journalists. (For more information, see protection of civilians).
The protection of journalists as civilians is however not absolute and ceases when they take part in hostilities by making a direct and effective contribution to the military action and for as long as they so participate (article 79(2) of the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions and Rule 34 of customary international humanitarian law). According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, hostile acts that bear witness to direct participation in hostilities are acts of war which, by their very nature or purpose, endanger the personnel or equipment of the enemy armed forces.
Despite the existence of protective norms, threats to the freedom of information and the safety of journalists working in areas of conflict are constantly increasing and are seldom punished.
At the instigation of France and Greece, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution S/RES/1738 (2006) on the protection of civilians in armed conflict aimed at preventing acts of violence against journalists.
Resolution 1738, which is the first Security Council text devoted to the protection of journalists in armed conflicts, expresses the Council’s concern regarding the lack of adherence to existing rules and recalls the relevant body of legislation applicable. It therefore reaffirms the basic principles of the protection of civilians in UNSCRs 1265 (1999), 1296 (2000), 1674 (2006) and states that this protection includes journalists, media professionals and associated personnel.
So the purpose of UNSCR 1738 is not to fill a gap in the law but to remind parties to a conflict (states and non-state entities) of their obligations with respect to protection, prevention and the fight against impunity.
UNSCR 1738 also provides for the UN Secretary-General to devote a section of his reports on the protection of civilians in periods of armed conflict to the safety of journalists
This resolution has become the point of reference for the protection of journalists and has been cited in a number of Security Council resolutions on this issue, in particular UNSCRs 1910 on Somalia (2010), 1973 on Libya (2011) and 1974 on Afghanistan (2011).
In recent years, UNESCO has integrated the safety of journalists into its program to promote the freedom of expression. The third report by the Director-General on the safety of journalists and impunity for the perpetrators of these acts was presented in March 2012. Within this framework, UNESCO also adopted in April 2012 a “UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity”. This report aims to tackle the lack of safety of media professionals.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also plays a key role in raising awareness of the issue, notably through its reports to the Human Rights Council. It works closely with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the Special Rapporteur on the question of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The mandate of the last of these includes “gathering […] all relevant information concerning instances […] of acts of violence targeting media professionals seeking to exercise the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”
A panel discussion on the protection of journalists in armed conflict took place at the 14th session of the Human Rights Council.
On 22 and 23 November 2012, an Inter-Agency meeting took place in Vienna and brought together representatives of the United Nation’s agencies, medias, governments, the civil society and independent experts, in order to formulate an implementation strategy for the UN’s Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.
This strategy had to take into account the evolving media landscape and ensure that the laws protect not only journalists, but also bloggers and new media reporters. Four countries have been selected for the first step of the implementation: Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan and South Sudan.
The protection of journalists in armed conflict and respect for international humanitarian law and human rights are a priority for France. Thus, at the national level, France is also developing a strategic plan for the protection of civilians in armed conflict, notably reiterating its commitment to strengthening the protection of journalists and the respect for the freedom of information and opinion.
3 May 2012 - The protection of journalists in armed conflict - Statement by Mr. Romain Nadal, Deputy Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs
3 May 2012 - The protection of journalists in armed conflict - Speech by Mr. Martin Briens, Deputy Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
23 December 2006 – Security Council – Resolution S/RES/1738 (2006)