RSF welcomes US Department of Defense revisions to Law of War Manual

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes the updated Law of War Manual released today by the United States Department of Defense (DOD). When the manual was originally published in June 2015, RSF called for revisions to the manual’s provisions on journalists. After consultations with RSF, other media defense organizations and journalists, the manual now better reflects the status and role of journalists under the law of war.

After the manual was published last June, RSF’s Secretary-General Christophe Deloire wrote to US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to call for revision of the sections regarding journalists. RSF was concerned with several provisions, including one that likened war reporting to spying and another suggesting that “States may need to censor journalists’ work or take other security measures so that journalists do not reveal sensitive information to the enemy.” Another provision was problematic because it claimed that in certain cases the relaying of information could constitute taking a direct part in hostilities, thereby forfeiting journalists’ status as civilians under the law of war.

We welcome today’s revisions to the Law of War Manual and thank the DOD for addressing RSF’s concerns,” said Delphine Halgand, RSF’s US Director. “We hope that this update will help to improve the safety of journalists covering conflict, a profession that becomes increasingly dangerous every day.

RSF is pleased to learn that the provisions referring to spying and censorship have now been removed. The revised version clarifies the international legal principle that journalists are protected as civilians under the law of war, referencing the United Nations Security Council resolution 2222 on the safety of journalists. The new manual also emphasizes that “journalists play a vital role in free societies and the rule of law and in providing information about armed conflict.”

Furthermore, the new version refers to RSF’s 2015 Safety Guide for Journalists : A handbook for reporters in high-risk environments in a section regarding journalists’ need to distinguish themselves from armed forces in order to minimize the risk of mistakenly being targeted for attack.

DOD General Counsel Jennifer O’Conner said in a statement that “the department’s mission is to defend the very freedoms that journalists exercise. We have learned a lot during this process, and the department and the manual are better off for the experience.”

The U.S. ranks 41st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

Image credit SAUL LOEB / AFP

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Updated on 22.07.2016