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In Somalia they call me a dead man walking

“In Somalia they call me a dead man walking,” said Mustafa Haji Abdinur of Radio Simba and Agence France Presse (AFP), in a succinct summing up of the threats faced by Somali journalists where 18 members of his profession were killed last year. He was addressing a special session of the United Nations Security Council on July 17 on international protection for journalists covering war zones and post-conflict zones.
The meeting, convened by the United States mission to the UN, also had contributions from three other journalists: NBC correspondent Richard Engel, Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad of the UK Guardian, and Kathleen Carroll, vice chair of the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and executive director of the Associated Press.
Speaking about the vulnerability of journalists in Somalia where Liban Abdellah Farah of the UK-based Kalsan TV was killed on July 8, (see this blog of July 8) Abdinur asked how safe it was for journalists to do their job when they could be thrown in jail because an official was not pleased with their story. He lamented the crippled judicial system in Somalia that encouraged impunity and asked the international community to help by building a impartial and functioning judiciary.
Engel in his remarks set out to address the complexities of defining journalists before examining how they should be protected. He said information from war zones today were disseminated by activists, freelancers and citizen journalists working side-by-side with orthodox journalists. Drawing from a long experience of covering conflicts he spoke about activists carrying cell-phones and cameras in one hand and weapons in the other, although he emphasised that the information they put out was vitally important. Stressing on non-partisanship of a journalist as opposed to that of an activist, Engel defined a journalist as someone who could say something that could go against one’s cause.
He suggested that in such a complex environment two standards might have to adopted in protecting those who cover events in war zones: one, for activists who should be protected by laws covering free speech, while professional journalists are accorded legal immunity and other protections that make them akin to diplomats.
Abdul-Ahad, in his contribution, emphasised the vulnerability of local journalist and stingers in war zones. He said that established newspapers as the one he represented (Guardian) sent and brought back foreign correspondents but asked, “What about local journalist, people we leave behind to be ground by the wheels of conflict?”
Among the country representatives who addressed the session, the UK said journalists should not be differentiated from civilians in conflict zones and accorded the same protection. He too emphasised risk faced by local journalists who were most in need of protection.
The representative of China said that while journalists should be protected by international humanitarian law, the country concerned should be their primary protector. The Russian representative said that journalists should not contravene the laws of the country.
On July 16, 11 organisations monitoring media freedom in the world wrote to the UN Security Council. They said, “[i]n light of the distinctive threats faced by journalists … the Council should: (1) recognize the particular vulnerability of journalists in its resolutions on crisis situations, and (2) in situations where peacekeeping missions are deployed, mandate the mission to ensure the protection of journalists as a group of civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.”
In 2012, the UN adopted the Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists where it adopted a number of measures where its agencies could work to protect journalists and create a safe environment for their work by strengthening UN mechanisms, working with states and other non-governmental institutions and raising awareness. Resolution 1738 adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council in 2006 calls for journalists to be accorded the same protection as civilians during conflicts and all warring parties.