Events over the past week have offered a sobering reminder of the risks to journalists around the world. They started with the murder of James Foley in Syria, the video of which closed with a threat to the life of fellow journalist and hostage, Steven Sotloff. Our spirits were raised somewhat yesterday with the news that Theo Curtis, held since 2012 by Al Nusra, had been freed. But scores of other journalists remain captives around the world; in the last year alone, there has been a 129 per cent increase in the number of journalists kidnapped worldwide.
Security risks for journalists
The latest figures from Reporters Without Borders show the whole picture of violence and security risks facing journalists. This is what 2013 looked like globally:
- 71 journalists were killed
- 826 journalists were arrested
- 2160 journalists were threatened or physically attacked
- 87 journalists were kidnapped
- 77 journalists fled their country
- 6 media assistants were killed
- 39 netizens and citizen-journalists were killed
- 127 bloggers and netizens were arrested
- 178 journalists are held in prison
The regions with the most number of journalists killed in connection with their work were Asia (24) and the Middle East and North Africa (23). 39 per cent of these deaths occurred in conflict zones – Syria, Somalia, Mali, the Indian province of Chhattisgah, the Pakistani province of Balochistan and the Russian republic of Dagestan.
The five deadliest countries for the media were Syria, Somalia, Pakistan, India and the Philippines.
The overwhelming majority of victims were men (96%) and there was an even spread between print, radio and TV journalists.
Security risks for aid workers
Journalists are not alone in facing a sharp rise in security risks around the world. Last week, Humanitarian Outcomes published its annual Aid Worker Security Report. It made for sobering reading; 2013 set a new record for violence against civilian aid workers, with 251 separate attacks affecting 460 aid workers. This is what 2013 looked like for the humanitarian community:
- 155 aid workers were killed
- 171 aid workers were seriously wounded
- 134 aid workers were kidnapped
Like journalists, the threat to aid workers is increasing at an alarming rate; in the decade since 2003, the number of aid workers killed has increased by 78 per cent, injured by 249 per cent, and the number kidnapped has grown by a staggering 1814 per cent from 7 to 134 last year.
Violence against aid workers occurred in 30 countries, but three quarters of all attacks took place in just five settings: Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan, Pakistan, and Sudan. Somalia finds itself outside the top five for the first time in many years, but the reduction of incidents in the country is a result not of growing stability, but because the situation has become so bad. 2013 saw the wholesale withdrawal of Medicins Sans Frontieres from Somalia after 22 years of operating there.
Most victims (87 per cent) were local staffers, but international personnel who account for approximately 8 per cent of humanitarian staff in the field were overrepresented as 13 per cent of victims.
The security challenge for media and aid organisations
It is obvious that journalists and aid workers – who for many years enjoyed safe passage through conflict zones – no longer enjoy these privileges in some places. The people of countries, such as Syria, Pakistan and South Sudan need their help more than ever, but they are less able to perform their vital roles.
It is imperative that organisations sending local or international staff and freelancers to such places enact the necessary security measures needed to keep their people as safe as possible. Reporters Without Borders is lobbying the UN to amend Article 8 of the International Criminal Court’s statute amended so that “deliberate attacks on journalists, media workers and associated personnel” are defined as war crimes. And when – inevitably – things do go wrong, it is vital that victims and their families and colleagues get the practical and psychological support they need to respond to what has happened.