Rule 34. Civilian journalists engaged in professional missions in areas of armed conflict must be respected and protected as long as they are not taking a direct part in hostilities.
State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.
The protection of civilian journalists is set forth in Article 79 of Additional Protocol I, to which no reservations have been made.
This rule is set forth in numerous military manuals.
It is also supported by official statements and reported practice.
This practice includes that of States not party to Additional Protocol I.
Although Additional Protocol II does not contain any specific provision on civilian journalists, their immunity against attack is based on the prohibition on attacking civilians unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities (see Rule 6). This conclusion is borne out by practice, even before the adoption of the Additional Protocols. Brazil in 1971 and the Federal Republic of Germany in 1973 stated before the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly that journalists were protected as civilians under the principle of distinction.
The UN Commission on the Truth for El Salvador considered the murder of four Dutch journalists, accompanied by members of the FMLN, who were ambushed by a patrol of the Salvadoran armed forces, to be in violation of international humanitarian law, “which stipulates that civilians shall not be the object of attacks”.
In 1996, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe reaffirmed the importance of Article 79 of Additional Protocol I, “which provides that journalists shall be considered as civilians and shall be protected as such”. It considered that “this obligation also applies with respect to non-international armed conflicts”.
The obligation to respect and protect civilian journalists is included in other instruments pertaining also to non-international armed conflicts.
It is contained in military manuals which are applicable in or have been applied in non-international armed conflicts.
It is supported by official statements and reported practice.
No official contrary practice was found with respect to either international or non-international armed conflicts. Deliberate attacks on journalists have generally been condemned, in particular by the United Nations and other international organizations, regardless of whether the conflict was international or non-international. Most of these condemnations concerned non-international armed conflicts such as in Afghanistan, Burundi, Chechnya, Kosovo and Somalia.
Like other civilians, journalists lose their protection against attack when and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities (see Rule 6). This principle is also recognized in Article 79(2) of Additional Protocol I, which grants protection to civilian journalists “provided that they take no action adversely affecting their status”.
This also implies that journalists, like any other person entering a foreign country, must respect that country’s domestic regulations concerning access to its territory. Journalists may lose their right to reside and work in a foreign country if they have entered illegally. In other words, the protection granted to journalists under international humanitarian law in no way changes the rules applicable to access to territory.
Civilian journalists are not to be confused with “war correspondents”. The latter are journalists who accompany the armed forces of a State without being members thereof. As a result, they are civilians and may not be made the object of attack (see Rule 1).
Pursuant to Article 4(A)(4) of the Third Geneva Convention, however, war correspondents are entitled to prisoner-of-war status upon capture.
In addition to the prohibition of attacks against journalists, there is also practice which indicates that journalists exercising their professional activities in relation to an armed conflict must be protected.
In 1996, the UN General Assembly called on all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan to “ensure the safety” of representatives of the media.
Other practice condemns specific measures taken to dissuade journalists from carrying out their professional activities. In 1998, for example, the UN General Assembly called on parties to the conflict in Kosovo to refrain from any harassment and intimidation of journalists.
In 1995, the UN Commission on Human Rights deplored attacks, acts of reprisal, abductions and other acts of violence against representatives of the international media in Somalia.
Other acts which have been condemned include: police violence, threats of legal prosecutions and subjection to defamation campaigns and physical violence;
threats to treat the media as enemies serving foreign powers and denial of full and unhindered access;
assaults upon freedom of the press and crimes against journalists;
killing, wounding and abduction;
attacks, murder, unjustified imprisonment and intimidation;
and harassment, interference, detention and murder.
It should be stressed that, as civilians, journalists are entitled to the fundamental guarantees set out in Chapter 32. If they are accused of spying, for example, they must not be subjected to arbitrary detention (see Rule 99) and must be granted a fair trial (see Rule 100).