NATIONAL

Humanitarian law workshop trains journalists for better protection

By Joel Lee
  • Published : Nov 5, 2018 - 19:16
  • Updated : Nov 5, 2018 - 19:17

Korean journalists, communication officers and staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross missions in Seoul and Beijing, including head of Seoul office Georgios Georgantas (top, fifth from right), pose at a workshop on international humanitarian law in Seoul on Thursday (ICRC)

In their truth-seeking and public service, many journalists risk their lives reporting in some of the most dangerous places around the world.

In many cases, they are arrested, detained, reported missing, wounded or even killed by terrorists or armed forces, who target them deliberately. To help media professionals understand the perilous landscape they often operate in and better protect themselves, a workshop on international humanitarian law was held in Seoul on Thursday.

Senior journalists and communication officers from humanitarian organizations in Korea participated in the conference organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross mission in Seoul. They learned about rules that regulate how war is fought as well as ways of safeguarding themselves in fields of operation.

“Media professionals reporting on armed conflicts or other situations of violence continue to pay a steep price for their work,” said Georgios Georgantas, the head of the ICRC mission in Seoul. “Yet, by reporting on conflicts and voicing victims’ concerns, journalists can help shape the public opinion of people and decision-makers on the human consequences of armed conflicts.”

The ICRC -- the world’s oldest humanitarian organization established in 1863 in Geneva with four Nobel Peace Prize winners -- has established an emergency hotline (+41 79 217 32 85) and email (press@icrc.org) to assist any journalist in a jeopardous situation. The hotline allows prompt and effective action by seeking confirmation of a reported arrest or capture; obtaining access to a detainee; providing information on their whereabouts to next of kin or employers; helping family members establish contact with the detainee; evacuating the wounded; and recovering or transferring their remains in cases of death.

Around the world there are over 66 million forcibly displaced people, 23 million refugees and 10 million stateless people, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees tallies. Nearly 20 people are forcibly displaced every minute as a result of conflict or persecution.

As an independent institution with over 17,000 staff, ICRC operates in over 80 countries around the globe, including North Korea, with a mandate to help people affected by conflict and armed violence as well as implement international humanitarian law.

“Despite all the safety measures and precautions, media professionals on dangerous assignments are increasingly at risk. Although journalists reporting from war zones are inevitably exposed to dangers, the greatest threat they face is deliberate acts of violence against them,” the ICRC said in a press release. “Journalists and their crews continue to be targeted all over the world in violation of international humanitarian law. Their work can also be obstructed by censorship, threats and harassment.”

Under international humanitarian law, media professionals working in armed conflict zones have the same comprehensive rights and protections as other civilians, so long as they do not participate in hostile activities.

“The ICRC is of the view that existing laws provide journalists with enough protection. The challenge is to ensure better implementation of these laws,” the organization said. “Any violation must be thoroughly investigated, and those responsible must be prosecuted and punished.”

By knowing and referencing humanitarian law, journalists can enhance their reporting, better protect themselves on the ground and also enhance understanding of armed conflicts, humanitarian crises and work done by ICRC and other humanitarian organizations, according to the institution.

The ICRC’s Seoul office, which opened in March 2015, has promoted dialogue between Korean diplomats, politicians, scholars, researchers, police, military officers and soldiers for political, financial and manpower assistance. It also raises public awareness of its activities and conflicts worldwide, alongside educating professionals on humanitarian law.

The Korean government and ICRC signed a headquarters agreement in Geneva on Feb. 26 to give the institution legal recognition in Korea.

By Joel Lee (joel@heraldcorp.com)