International legal framework for the protection of journalists in conflict zones: a round peg in a square hole?
Stolte, Yolande Wilhelmina
Journalists reporting from conflict zones are increasingly at risk of injury or death. Not only are they at risk of becoming a casualty in the crossfire, they are now often directly targeted and killed because of their profession. The legal framework protecting journalists in conflict zones consists predominantly of International Humanitarian Law, supplemented by International Human Rights Law and International Criminal Law. The main body of law providing protection to journalists consists of the Geneva Conventions and their additional Protocols, which are now several decades old. Since their drafting, there have been significant changes in the way we conduct wars, as well as in the way journalists operate and report from conflict zones. This raises the question whether this legal framework is still suitable for the protection of journalists in contemporary conflicts. This thesis confirms that the legal framework contains, at least in theory, a significant number of provisions that continue to provide protection for journalists in conflict zones. What is clear, however, is that there are significant differences in the protection awarded to journalists based on the type of journalist, for example whether they are embedded or function independently in conflict zones, the type of conflict they are covering and even their nationality. The result is a rather complicated legal framework that is not always easy to apply in practice. It has been argued by the International Committee of the Red Cross, a view also reflected in most of the academic literature, that the protection offered by the current legal framework is adequate, but that the enforcement of it is lacking. This is considered the predominant reason why journalists reporting on conflicts currently face such significant risks to their safety. While this is clearly part of the problem, this thesis challenges the notion that the legal framework provides all necessary protection and that only through stronger enforcement can protection be increased. In particular, it suggests that this ignores the effect that clarity and the comprehensiveness of the framework can have on enforcement. Having explored the gaps and limitations in the existing law, this thesis sets out the case for introducing a dedicated convention for the protection of journalists in conflict zones in order to clarify and streamline the current legal framework.