UNITED NATIONS – The global group Reporters Without Borders is proposing that attacks on journalists be considered war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
The U.N. Security Council held informal talks Friday on the protection of journalists amid alarm at the more than 50 killed so far this year. An estimated 90 percent of those deaths go unpunished.
France, which holds the presidency of the council this month, is especially concerned after the killings of two Radio France Internationale journalists last month in northern Mali.
The director of Reporters Without Borders, Christophe Deloire, called the statistics on killings "sinister" and warned that impunity amounts to "encouragement" for more attacks.
Deloire said 88 journalists were killed in connection with their work last year — a record since the organization started keeping count in 1995.
The British ambassador to the U.N., Mark Lyall Grant, told the chamber, "This is not just an issue for media, it's an issue for all of us."
The proposal to have "deliberate" attacks on journalists defined as war crimes was one of the most striking brought up Friday — especially with the prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, as one of the speakers. Deloire spoke after her, however.
One of the meeting's hosts, the Guatemalan ambassador, said the war crimes idea has merit, especially with many attacks on journalists occurring in states where the judicial system has collapsed.
"It's very interesting, which we probably would support if it were put on the table," Gert Rosenthal said.
Guatemala this year ranks 95th on Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Index, four spots above Mali. France ranks 37th, the United Kingdom 29th and the United States 32nd.
Participants in Friday's meeting asked what more the Security Council could do to not only protect journalists but condemn rights abuses against them. French Ambassador Gerard Araud said there is an ongoing debate on raising such issues with countries publicly versus privately.
The dangers facing journalists include imprisonment. The briefing notes for the meeting said 183 journalists around the world are currently in prison. The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists says it will announce its annual count of imprisoned journalists on Wednesday.