Ukraine: prisoners of war must be protected from public curiosity

  • 10 Mar 2022

The National Union of Journalists is urging journalists to adhere to international humanitarian law when reporting on conflict in Ukraine.

In recent weeks, images of Russian prisoners of war (POWs) have appeared in the media.

Under international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Convention and Article 13 of the Third Geneva Convention, prisoners of war are required to be protected “against insults and public curiosity.”

Professor Chris Frost, Chair of the NUJ’s Ethics Council, reminded journalists working covering the conflict to uphold this important principle:

“The NUJ fully supports journalists working in Ukraine complying with International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention that protects individual prisoners of war from public curiosity.

"Whilst pictures or video of prisoners of war are an important part of the story of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, journalists should ensure that individual prisoners are not identifiable in pictures or videos and that if necessary, faces, badges or other identifying symbols should be pixelated to protect the identity of individuals. The NUJ believes that journalists are not in the business of identifying individual combatants.”

In 2007, the UK Government and the British Red Cross (BRC) published guidance which states:

  • any images of Prisoners of War (POWs) as identifiable individuals should normally be regarded as subjecting individuals to public curiosity and should not be transmitted, published or broadcast. Where the specific circumstances make it necessary in the public interest to reveal the identity of a POW (e.g., because of the person’s seniority, or because the person is a fugitive from international justice) great care should be taken to protect the person’s human dignity.
  • images of POWs individually or in groups or in circumstances which undermine their public dignity should not normally be transmitted, published or broadcast. In the exceptional circumstances where such images are transmitted, published or broadcast. In the exceptional circumstances where such images are transmitted, for example, to bring to public attention serious violations of international humanitarian law, individual identities must be protected.


The UK government and British Red Cross have resources available for the media. Journalists can access the Ministry of Defence Green Book, which includes which includes working arrangements with media organisations (JSP 580) at paragraph number 70.  

The BRC international humanitarian law publications for media professionals also contain reference to the UK/BRC agreed interpretation on protecting prisoners of war and civilian internees against insults and public curiosity. Access the short field guide and the handbook reviewing page 43 of the field guide and page 104 of the handbook, among other references.

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