Marie Catherine Colvin – Journalist (12 Jan,1956 – 22 Feb,2012) : An Assassination by the Syrian Government!

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Spandan Bhattacharya

Serious and factual reporting is getting rarer and is being gradually replaced by sensationalistic infotainment and lifestyle coverage in world media and its global networks. We are not denouncing or ignoring the ‘contribution’ of the page three circus, but sometimes we need to think if we are simply increasingly accommodating ourselves in an expanded, liberal definition of news or changing the criteria itself. Thanks to journalists like Marie Colvin and their challenging line of works in today’s world that the word ‘news’ still holds something which is beyond mere popcorn pleasure and candy floss fun. People like Marie Colvin suffer and even risk their lives to deliver the news no matter how dangerous it was to report, or how unpopular it would be with the ones in power. In a 30 year career, she covered wars from around the world.

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(pic: from The Telegraph)

Born in Astoria, Queens on January 12, 1956, Marie Colvin spent her childhood in East Norwich growing up in the Town of Oyster Bay in the Nassau County, on Long Island, New York. After completing her schooling from the Oyster Bay High School in 1974, she completed her graduation from the Yale University in 1978, with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. Marie Colvin started her journalistic career in the New York City as a police reporter for United Press International (UPI) becoming their Paris bureau’s chief in 1984. In 1985 she started a new journey with The Sunday Times. From 1986, she was the newspaper’s Middle East correspondent, and then took over as the Foreign Affairs correspondent in 1995. Marie Colvin covered conflicts in the Balkans, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Zimbabwe. She was even there to witness the 2011 revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. She almost became an expert in reporting the war-realities and its after-effects, especially the effects on civilians. In 2011, while reporting about the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, she  interviewed Muammar Gaddafi, along with two other journalists Christiane Amanpour of ABC News and Jeremy Bowen of BBC News which was Gaddafi’s first international interview since the war began.

She went to Sri Lanka in 2001 to cover the conflict between government forces and the rebel Tamil Tigers, where she was struck by shrapnel and lost her left eye. She started wearing a black eye-patch to cover her injured eye, which became her trademark somewhat. In one of her interviews, she told how she had walked 30 miles through jungle with her Tamil guides to escape government troops, setting an example of the effort she put into her work. After the loss of her eye she wrote about the importance of telling people what really happens in war fronts. She wrote “My job is to bear witness. I have never been interested in knowing what make of plane had just bombed a village or whether the artillery that fired at it was 120mm or 155mm.” She believed her writings would make people learn and understand the truth.

In 1999, in East Timor, she saved the lives of 1,500 women and children who were confined in a compound by Indonesian-backed forces. She stayed there with an unarmed UN force in order to highlight their difficulties through her reporting to the world, in her paper columns and on global television. After four days of confinement they were evacuated safely. These are some of the incidents through which we can at least try to have an idea of Marie Colvin’s approach to reporting. Her major concerns were not the politics or power strategy or weaponry of the fighting countries but the effects on the innocent people of these countries. Once she said “I feel I have a moral responsibility towards them, that it would be cowardly to ignore them. If journalists have a chance to save their lives, they should do so.” And the people of those countries also did not forget their rescuer, Marie Colvin.

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In February 2012, Marie Colvin entered Syria to cover the 2011-2012 Syrian uprising, disregarding the Syrian government’s hostile attitude towards foreign journalists covering the conflict. Stationed in the city of Homs in the western Baba Amr district, Colvin made her final broadcast on February 21 that appeared on the BBC, ITN News, CNN and Channel 4, via a satellite phone from an unofficial and makeshift media building. Unfortunately, the Syrian army identified and targeted the building by tracing the satellite phone signals. On February 22, 2012, as the building was being heavily shelled by the Army, Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik died while trying to flee from the attack. While Reporting the indiscriminate shelling and sniper attacks against civilian buildings and people on the streets of Homs by Syrian forces, Colvin described the bombardment of Homs as the worst conflict she had ever experienced.

After her death, in the evening of February 22, 2012, Colvin and Ochlik were mourned by the people of Homs and tributes were paid to Colvin across the global media. The Sunday Times reported that Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik died when they were trying to escape the Syrian Army’s bombardment of the building they were in. An autopsy performed in Damascus revealed that Marie Colvin was killed by the explosion of an improvised explosive device full of nails.

Her work has not gone without recognition. The British Press Awards twice adjudged Marie Colvin as the foreign reporter of the year (2001 and 2010). Her courageous coverage of unrests in Kosovo and Chechnya even won her an International Women’s Media Foundation award. She was also named as the ‘Journalist of the Year’ in 2000 by the Foreign Press Association. Besides reporting from war zones, Colvin also wrote and produced documentaries, including ‘Arafat: Behind the Myth’ for the BBC in 1990, even featuring in the 2005 documentary film ‘Bearing Witness’ with four other female war reporters.

Even though Ms. Colvin is not with us today, she has set an example that would always remain as a lesson of challenge, bravery, selfless and fearless fight. We would forever remember and admire a dynamic life spent in experiencing real war fronts and different war-realities in the quest to bring out the truth. Salute to you, Marie Colvin.

PostScript: 

11 April, 2018: In a startling revelation, news has come forth that, in 2012, the Syrian Government ‘planned and assassinated’ journalist Marie Catherine Colvin and photographer Rémi Ochlik in the Syrian city of Homs, where she was covering the Syrian uprising.

Cathleen Colvin, sister of the slain journalist Marie Colvin filed a claim in a U.S. Federal District Court that the journalist was killed in ‘targeted rocket attacks’ with the Bashar-al-Assad Govt. having prior information about her location. With the help of their family lawyer, Cathleen Colvin submitted official documents in support of her claim. “This deliberate, malicious conduct by the regime was undertaken in blatant violation of established rules of international law, and constitutes an extrajudicial killing,” states the claim.

She also brought forth a defector — a former Syrian Intelligence Agent — who said that the Assad regime was continuously monitoring the movement of the journalists and that they “wanted to learn their location and take the necessary measures to stop them from reporting.” The defector also mentioned that after her death, a top Syrian Army officer had exclaimed,“Marie Colvin was a dog and now she’s dead. Let the Americans help her now.”

Cathleen Colvin and her lawyer had filed a ‘wrongful-death’ lawsuit against the Syrian Govt. in 2016 and now have filed a default lawsuit against the Syrian regime as they have not shown any interest in defending their position against the lawsuit filed in 2016. 

 

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