Marie Colvin: a life dedicated to human rights reporting

As I write this post the tributes are stacking up for Marie Colvin.

The Sunday Times’ editor John Witherow has called Marie an “extraordinary” foreign correspondent for the paper, and David Cameron said her death was a “desperately sad reminder of the risks that journalists take to inform the world of what is happening and the dreadful events in Syria”.

Kate Allen, the Director of Amnesty UK, has added her tribute, describing Marie as “a truly brilliant journalist who fearlessly reported on terrible abuses of human rights around the world”. That sums it up, really. In my time in the media team at Amnesty I’ve had numerous calls from Marie when she was reporting from a conflict situation. She’d be seeking Amnesty’s latest take on events. It was slightly uncanny the way she’d pop up in Sri Lanka, Chechnya, Libya or wherever... (There a nice clip of Marie talking about the challenges of being a female war reporter: 2-3mins in).

We should of course also mention the French photographer Rémi Ochlik, who was killed in the same missile strike on the makeshift media centre in Homs where Marie was killed, and Remi’s compatriot Edith Bouvier who has been seriously injured. (You can see Ochlik’s recent award-winning photos from Libya here). And also Paul Conroy, the freelance photographer who was also working for the Sunday Times: he was injured in the same attack. (Paul has recently worked with us for Amnesty's campaign to regulate the arms trade. Was that shell that injured him the kind of armament that Syria should have been able to lawfully procure …?). Before I move on I should also mention Rami al-Sayed, the Syrian citizen journalist who has also just been killed in the shelling of the Bab Amr district in Homs, and of course there have been a string of other media workers killed in Syria in recent months.

Like a lot of other people, I was listening to Marie Colvin’s final heart-rending dispatch from Homs on the news last night (see from 1min.17sec in the film below). Her report was a stark reminder of the fact that ordinary Syrians are dying in droves, day after day - whether they’re journalists, students, housewives, children, whoever.

In my case I went straight from Colvin’s reports to a heavyweight Guardian article on Syria from Jonathan Littell. Whereas Colvin was talking about the horror of indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, Littell examined the way that some Syrian doctors and nurses have themselves taken part in the most barbaric torture, even in the very hospitals where they work. Amnesty has previously reported on this, and Littell's new investigation effectively adds to our understanding of a situation that is the stuff of nightmares. One man, identified only as "R", was tortured in a military hospital after he was seriously injured by a shell. "They tied ropes to my injured leg and pulled in all directions", he said. Eventually the leg was summarily amputated. He survived the torture (his nephew, also tortured at the hospital, did not).

In other instances, explains Littell, wounded civilians have been treated in private or makeshift clinics. One case from his article, not particularly sensational but somehow especially chilling, was about a man badly injured in the stomach who was treated but needed a specialist to operate. It was too dangerous to arrange because they couldn’t safely move him out for fear of arrest, or arrange for a specialist to get in. A nurse at the clinic said, with terrible simplicity: "In the end he died".

Add to all this some of the dreadful accounts of torture that Amnesty has recently been hearing from Syrians who've escaped to Jordan and you have, quite simply, a situation of growing terror and grievous human suffering. Parts of Syria appear to be slipping into something near to chaos, especially places like Homs and Idlib.

Meanwhile, the diplomatic situation seems to be stagnating again, not least with Russia reportedly declining an invite to Friday’s “Friends of Syria” meeting in Tunisia. Please support Amnesty's push to get Russia to start putting serious pressure on the Syrian government. A final remark. Whatever happens next with Syria there can be no question of the crimes of the Syrian security forces being overlooked. They’re systematic and widespread (technically they’re "crimes against humanity"), and senior figures in the Syrian political-military apparatus must be held responsible. Including for Marie Colvin’s tragic death.

PS. You could pay a very small tribute to Marie Colvin by reading her last article for the Sunday Times (with photos by Paul Conroy). It’s a typically powerful dispatch.

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The massive explosion in the photo in the Sunday Times article linked in the PS of this blog post was caused by the Free Syrian Army. The armed opposition also target journalists.