By virtue of their presence, and then by putting words and pictures to what they hear and see, journalists working in conflict zones practice the highest ideals of the profession and are able to not only recount events that have already happened but can also potentially affect future outcomes. That’s also what makes them targets.
This week, we salute war correspondent Marie Colvin and photojournalist Rémi Ochlik, both of whom were killed on Feb. 22 in one of the increasingly forceful and frequent government strikes on the besieged Syrian city of Homs, as our Truthdiggers of the Week. Their dedication to the people of Syria and to their work cost them their lives, but their deaths underscored the urgency of the ongoing tragedy in that country and their work spoke to the plight of millions of civilians who still stand to be victimized by their own leaders and military. The losses of Colvin and Ochlik in a fierce and apparently targeted round of shelling also brought international attention to other journalists injured in Wednesday’s blasts, including French reporters William Daniels and Edith Bouvier and British photojournalist Paul Conroy, who might have counted among the seven evacuated Friday by the Red Cross, according to The Associated Press. Ochlik and Colvin were two of 27 people who died in Syria that day.
For three decades, Colvin, 56, delivered clear and compassionate reports from around the world, most recently for Britain’s Sunday Times. She was an American, born in Oyster Bay, N.Y., and educated at Yale before beginning her globe-trotting coverage of conflicts in hot spots such as Chechnya, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, where she lost her left eye to shrapnel in 2001. But as The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade noted in an obituary posted the day she died, Colvin’s reporting about crucial episodes in the Middle East’s recent history was particularly strong.
Another colleague cited in the same Guardian piece, Maggie O’Kane, pointed to Colvin’s strong sense of humanity that outweighed even her professional commitment when it came to putting her own life in danger for the sake of others.
Marie sometimes did more than merely write. In 1999, in East Timor, she was credited with saving the lives of 1,500 women and children who were besieged in a compound by Indonesian-backed forces. She refused to leave them, waving goodbye to 22 journalist colleagues as she stayed on with an unarmed UN force in order to help highlight their plight by reporting to the world, in her paper and on global television. The publicity was rewarded when they were evacuated to safety after four tense days.
This was the essence of Marie’s approach to reporting. She was not interested in the politics, strategy or weaponry; only the effects on the people she regarded as innocents. “These are people who have no voice,” 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.”
The Sunday Times, which had been Colvin’s home base for more than 25 years, put together a collection of her reports, including her haunting final dispatch from Homs.
At just 28, Rémi Ochlik clearly had a shorter career, but he had already managed to build up an impressive and arresting portfolio of images that illustrated, as The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones put it in a glowing critique of the fallen photographer’s work on Friday, that Ochlik was “already a profound and original observer of the most dramatic events of our time.” The photo Jones focuses on in particular, of an armed and defiant young Libyan standing in front of Moammar Gadhafi’s former compound last September, is by Jones’ estimation an enduring “work of art.” Other compelling photos from among Ochlik’s contribution to his craft can be viewed here and here.
Ochlik was born in eastern France and trained in Paris, where he eventually established his own agency, IP3 PESS. His work led him directly into dangerous areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti, and later to Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, starting (and ending) at a young age. Several of his colleagues contributed to this piece in The New York Times remembering his character and talent. Click here to see his website.
Much has been said and written about both of this week’s Truthdiggers, even by the likes of David Cameron and Rupert Murdoch, so we’ll leave off here with this phone report Colvin gave Anderson Cooper hours before she died, telling it like it was in her own words. By way of a warning: The images accompanying the audio interview are equally uncompromising and may be too graphic for some viewers.
American war correspondent Marie Colvin, left, and French photographer Rémi Ochlik were killed Wednesday in the Syrian opposition stronghold of Homs.