NEW YORK – Journalists seized a rare chance Wednesday to plead for greater U.N. Security Council protection as the world media death toll mounts amid increased coverage of Syria and other conflicts.
AFP’s prize-winning Somalia correspondent Mustafa Haji Abdinur told the 15 council ambassadors he was a “dead man walking” because of the dangers he faces covering his own country.
Abdinur was one of four reporters to address the Security Council on Wednesday as the bullet-ridden body of crime reporter Alberto López Bello was found in the Mexican city of Oaxaca.
“When a journalist is killed, the news dies too,” Abdinur said as he called for justice for the almost 1,000 journalists killed around the world since 1992.
The vast majority of the deaths have gone unpunished.
López Bello adds to a toll of more than 100 Mexican journalists killed or missing since 2000.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) estimates that nearly 30 journalists have been murdered around the world so far this year from Russia to Brazil.
About 100 journalists and bloggers have been killed in Syria since the start of the conflict there in March 2011.
Eighteen reporters were killed in Somalia in 2012, and Abdinur spoke barely a week after Liban Abdulahi Farah, a reporter for the Kalsan satellite television station, became the latest Somali media victim.
“Like so many others in my profession, on the dusty streets of Mogadishu, they call me ‘a dead man walking,” Abdinur, winner of a CPJ International Press Freedom Award in 2009, told the council.
“My story is not unique. I am here today simply because I am lucky, because the gunmen that have killed so many of my colleagues, my friends, have not yet found me,” he added.
Abdinur said a security official could have a journalist thrown in prison because he does not like a story, and said he himself would face greater risks for having spoken at the Security Council.
“There is a sense of immunity in killing a journalist,” said Ghaith Abdul Ahad, an Iraqi correspondent for British newspaper The Guardian.
“It is one bullet and he will be killed and no one will be questioned after that bullet,” added Abdul Ahad, who was held by the Taliban while working in Afghanistan and by the Libyan Army in 2012.
Abdul Ahad said journalists in conflict zones should be considered “part of a humanitarian effort to tell a story.”
“Many of you hate us by the way,” Abdul Ahad told surprised envoys. “It is a sign that we are doing our job properly.”
“There has to be some sort of balance,” he said. “Let us be there. Kind of treat us as human beings. Just don’t kill us.”
U.N. Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson told the meeting that journalists are the “lifeblood” of democracy.
He said it is “shocking” that 90 percent of murders of journalists go unpunished.
Richard Engel, a correspondent for U.S. television channel NBC who was kidnapped in Syria last year, also spoke, and Kathleen Carroll of the Associated Press told of the agency’s 31 journalists killed while working.
It was the first debate on journalism at the Security Council since it passed a resolution on journalism, proposed by France and Greece, in 2006.
Many western envoys spoke up for journalists’ rights.
“Journalists are literally our eyes and ears in every corner of the world,” said acting U.S. Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo.
The United States, which is serving as council president for July, organized the meeting.
“Impunity for violence against journalists must end,” she added.
“This council has an obligation to help protect those who provide us with so much vital information.”
Gerard Araud, France’s U.N. ambassador, said “everyone can see that the first reflex of the enemies of freedom is to muzzle the press,” as he highlighted the case of two French reporters abducted in Syria.
Russia’s U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin said that journalism had become “one of the most dangerous professions” but that reporters should not take “unjustified risks.”
“Excessive pursuit of a scoop to the detriment of common sense in armed conflict can be highly dangerous,” said the Russian representative.