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Azerbaijan: War reporters learn about the laws protecting them

25-09-2008 Feature

On 3 and 4 July 2008, the ICRC and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) held a workshop on the rights that journalists have under international humanitarian law and international human rights law when they are on professional assignment in armed-conflict areas.

The event took place in Sheki, in north-west Azerbaijan, and was attended by 10 journalists from Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Dagestan Republic of the Russian Federation. All were participants in the IWPR’s Cross Caucasus Journalism Network – a network of over 50 journalists from both the southern and northern Caucasus focusing on reporting about conflicts and national minorities. A similar workshop was held in Baku in 2006.

The workshop began with a presentation by ICRC representative Vugar Naghiyev on international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

" A journalist on assignment in a conflict zone is considered a civilian, " said Naghiyev. " For your own safety, you should refrain from wearing military clothing, and you should always carry an identification card from the media outlet you work for. "

Gulnaz Guliyeva, an ICRC press officer based in Azerbaijan, spoke about relations between the ICRC and the media – especially on sensitive issues such as the organization’s activities in places of detention.

" By registering detainees and monitoring their conditions of detention, we can help ensure they do not'disappear'or suffer ill-treatment. It is because of the ICRC’s confidential working method that its delegates are given access to those who need its help, " Guliyeva said.

Some journalists taking part in the workshop initially criticized the ICRC for not sharing its findings, especially about detention conditions and the treatment of detainees. However, after listening to the presentation on the organization’s detainee-welfare activities, most came around to t he idea of adopting a confidential approach.

" The explanations made me realize that I lacked information about the ICRC’s working principles and its role in upholding the rights of detainees. Now the reasons for the ICRC’s confidential approach are clear to me, " said Diana Aliyeva, a journalist on the Svobodnaya Respublika of Dagestan.

Her colleague from Baku, Leyla Suleymanova, said: " I viewed the issue of confidentiality from the other side. Now I understand that it is intended to protect people behind bars. "

The journalists were also briefed on the missing persons issue – in particular, on the obligations of States and the role of the ICRC. They were informed about efforts to find out what happened to over 4,400 missing persons following the conflict in Nagorny Karabakh. This endeavour involves long-term cooperation between the ICRC and parties to that conflict. Attempts to shed light on the fate of missing persons in Azerbaijan, which involve collecting data from their families, were also presented.

Suleymanova decided to write an article on people who have gone missing in connection with the Nagorny Karabakh conflict. " I am impressed by the scale not only of the problem but also of the work you are doing. Of course I knew that some work was being carried out, but I could not imagine that it was so extensive, " she said.

Many participants stressed the importance of holding such events. " The topic was relevant to all countries the journalists were invited from. We had ample opportunity for discussion and for sharing experiences and ideas on such issues as journalists’ rights, pressure used against journalists, and journalists’ safety in armed conflict and other violent situations, " said Aliyeva. " The training provided here is genuinely helpful to journalists, since by knowin g your rights you are better able to protect yourself. "

 For more information, please contact:  

 Gulnaz Guliyeva, ICRC Baku, tel. +99 412 465 6335