Your rights

Many journalists have little knowledge about the application of local or international law and their own rights as independent, neutral observers.

Journalists need to know the relevant protocols of the Geneva Conventions and humanitarian law that define the rights of non-combatants as well as 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.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, 10 December 1948)

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”.

Article 3 secures the “right to life, liberty and security of person” while Articles 5 and 9 affirm the right not to be subjected to “torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” or "arbitrary arrest".

Article 8 maintains that we have the right to an effective remedy for violations of our rights.

The Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and the Additional Protocol I 

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 Conventions 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.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 16 December 1966)

The ICCPR is a binding agreement which 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.

United Nations Human Rights Council Resolutions

The UN Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/21/12 on the Safety of Journalists was 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.

UNHRC Resolution A/HRC/RES/12/16 on freedom of opinion and expression was adopted in October 2009. This resolution recognises 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.

Human Rights Council and the Special Procedures

The Human Rights Council's Special Procedures (most commonly known as Special Rapporteurs) mechanisms are the most important mechanisms within the UN system to monitor, raise awareness and give advice on human rights issues. 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.

UN Security Resolution 1738 (2006)

The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1738 to condemn attacks against journalists in conflict situations. It emphasises "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”.

UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity (2012)

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 UN and several of its member states are engaging all stakeholders, including civil society and the media, in its implementation. 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.

Charter for the Safety of Journalists Working in War Zones or Dangerous Areas (2008) 

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 to help prevent and reduce dangers to media workers.

The Council of Europe

The Council of Europe has been involved in the protection of journalists in situations of conflict and tension since 1996.

Resolution 1702 on the freedom of the press and the working conditions of journalists in conflict zones 

Resolution 1438 on the freedom of the press and the working conditions of journalists in conflict zones 

Guidelines of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on protecting freedom of expression and information in times of crisis 

Declaration by the Committee of Ministers on the protection and promotion of investigative journalism 

Other mechanisms

There are also many regional instruments such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights; the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa adopted in 2002; the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man; 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).




The Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity: International Legal Standards 

Photo: The Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva (KEYSTONE/Sandro Campardo)