Libya's Ceasefire and the Safety of Journalists

In a strong move, UN Security Council Resolution 1973 has called to halt military action in Libya to ensure citizens' safety. Arab countries, European nations, and the United States all backed the resolution to force a ceasefire.

France took the lead in negotiations and now promises immediate action to impose the no fly zone. Located in North Africa, Libya has been under the control of Muammar el-Qaddafi for forty years, but in mid-February protestors and rebel groups began an uprising after witnessing successful protests throughout the Arab world.

According to the New York Times, "in Benghazi, a coastal city about 400 miles east of Tripoli, the BBC quoted witnesses as saying that the unrest was inspired by the arrest of a human rights lawyer, Fathi Terbil, who has been critical of the government. Around 2,000 people took part, the BBC said, quoting witnesses as saying the police used water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets. The number of injuries was unclear."

By March 5, el-Qaddafi's forces had killed at least 35 people when they opened fire on unarmed protestors in Tripoli and Zawiyah. From there, escalating daily violence has occurred against innocent victims in both Libya and Bahrain.

Captured Journalists Are Safe
Today, four New York Times journalists held in Libya are also said to be freed after finally making contact with their families for the first time on Thursday since their disappearance on Tuesday. The Libyan government held Anthony Shahid, the Times's Beirut bureau chief, Tyler Hicks, Stephen Farrell, and Lynsey Addario. Qaddafi's son Saif al-Islam gave a statement of release citing that the four were taken into custody after illegally entering the country.
"...when the army, when they liberated the city of Ajdabiya from the terroists and they found her, they arrest her because you know, foreigner in this place. But then they were happy because they found out she is American, not European. And thanks to that, she will be free tomorrow."
The "her" Qaddafi's son was referring to Lynsey Addario, the sole female being held, highlights how often gender plays a role for female journalists who are covering conflict and whose work focuses on women's issues in some of the most dangerous areas of the world, such as Addario's Veiled Rebellion chronicling Afghan women's fight for justice amid extreme war and poverty.

Number of Sexually Assaulted Journalists Unknown
In February, journalist Laura Logan was sexually assaulted during a mass "celebration" in Egypt post-protest, but was saved by a group of women from the crowd. In an Op-Ed soon after Logan's return to the United States to heal with her family, reporter Kim Barker's Why We Need Women in War Zones confronted outcomes of Logan breaking the silence around women journalists and photographers being assaulted in not only war zones, but in places ranging from their hotel rooms to mass mobs. She cited that although the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) does keep data on how many journalists are killed in action per year, they do not keep data on how many journalists, either men or women, are sexually assaulted or raped -- even though sexual violence is recognized as a legitimate and pervasive issue. Why not confront it? The CPJ claims that sexual assault of journalists simply goes underreported, even as their handbook to date does not even include a chapter on the topic (though one is being added in a future release).

However, the CPJ has voiced sexual assault as a serious issue for journalists to politicians in the past. "We [CPJ] have advocated for our concerns about sexual violence against journalists on a political level. For instance, we wrote to U.S. Secratary of State Hillary Clinton in September 2009 to raise awareness about the safety of three women reporters covering women's issues and 'femicide' in Bukavu, in Congo. The unstable eastern region, which is rich in minerals but devastated by war and atrocities against civilians, including the systematic rape of women, is currently one of Africa's most dangerous cities for journalists, according to CPJ research."

The Democratic Republic of Congo is often considered to be the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman, whether journalist or civilian. Yet, the importance of women journalists and photographers are inherent in the stories they shape and share about war-torn regions. Barker's Why We Need Women in War Zones reflects, "Look at the articles about women who set themselves on fire in Afghanistan to protest their arranged marriages, or about girls being maimed by fundamentalists, about child marriage in India, about rape in Congo and Haiti. Female journalists often tell those stories in the most compelling ways, because abused women are sometimes more comfortable talking to them. And those stories are at least as important as accounts of battle."

Barker also discusses how unfortunate it would be if Logan's going public made it tougher for female journalists to get assigned to war zones. "The publicity around Ms. Logan's attack could make editors think, 'Why take the risk?' That would be the wrong lesson. Women can cover the fighting as well as men, depending on their courage."

With Libya as an example, hopefully one where all four journalists are released relatively unscathed, the hope is that journalists who risk their lives to grant the vulnerable a voice, join Laura Logan in breaking the silence about sexual violence and assault against journalists to bring formidable change and soon. This weekend two museums on two coasts will exhibit female-focused photography exhibitions demonstrating the strength and voice that women photographers and journalists bring to world issues.

Photo credit: Reuters