Foreign Policy Blogs

The Massacre in Words and Pictures – Syria

21 February marked the deaths of a prominent foreign journalist and a foreign photographer covering the unrest in Homs, Syria: Marie Colvin of The Sunday Times and French photographer Remi Ochlik. Again, their deaths cast light upon the apparent crimes against humanity that are raging unabated in Syria. Colvin’s and Ochlik’s deaths in Baba Amr, a district of Homs that has been especially decimated by Syrian forces, come only days after an asthma attack purportedly led to the death of Anthony Shadid in Syria. Shadid was a multiple Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times journalist praised for his reporting throughout the Arab world. Some accounts even suggest Colvin’s and Ochlik’s deaths resulted from an intentional shell strike on the house they were residing in, which was known as a makeshift media centre.

Numerous reports further that Syrian forces are intentionally targeting residential areas and, for example, that they are using Russian 240 mm mortars to strike civilian areas. Many compare Bashar al-Assad’s ongoing campaign of terror to his father’s 1982 massacre of residents in Hama, which led to thousands of deaths. Current reports lay a strong case that Syria is violating international humanitarian law, killing thousands to ensure the Alawi maintain power while the world sits back.

Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch’s Emergencies Director, expressed his condolances and emphasized the importance of Colvin’s record of war reporting in the face of states’ attempts to restrict media, saying

Just yesterday, after she filed her news story, one of the first things Marie Colvin did was get in touch to tell me just how horrible the situation was in Homs […] She contacted me yesterday not because she wanted to boast about reaching Homs, but because she wanted to reach out to people she thought could make a difference to the people of Homs”.

As Bouckaert’s comment touches upon, Syria continues to prohibit media access that would allow for transparent coverage of the violence. The de facto censorship evidently allows the regime to suggest reports are unauthoritative. Reporters such as Colvin, Ochlik, and Shadid, however, risk their lives so that the world can gain knowledge of the international community’s need to safeguard civilians.

In light of the regime’s attempt to cling to power, and Russia and China’s unconscionable material and verbal support for al-Assad, change will not likely come soon, and many more reporters will sacrifice their lives to document Syria’s crimes against humanity. In tribute to Colvin, Ochlik, Shadid, and the thousands of Syrians who have recently lost their lives, please read the last article Colvin filed with The Sunday Times, titled ‘We live in fear of a massacre’, and view Ochlik’s emotive photos at his personal website. (While there are no photos from Syria, Ochlik’s site serves as demonstration of his passion, talent, and dedication to casting light upon conflict and injustice).

(Photo Credit: Remi Ochlik’s photo of opposition fighters in Ras Lanouf, Libya, 11 March 2011)



Ali A. Riazi
Ali A. Riazi

Ali is an independent advisor on conflict and foreign affairs and an advocate for civilian protection. He has advised the Office of the Secretary of Defense, US military, NGOs, and intelligence oversight staff on topics, such as Afghanistan, civilian protection, irregular warfare, and civil-military affairs. His 13+ years of career experience have spanned humanitarian and national security circles and involved extensive experience throughout the Near East and Central Asia.

Ali earned a BA in Government & Politics (summa cum laude) and a Minor in International Development & Conflict Management from the University of Maryland, College Park. Additionally, he served as an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant in International Political Economy. He is currently pursuing an MLitt in Terrorism Studies through the University of St. Andrews.

Ali's other blog interests can be followed at, and he can be found on Twitter at!/ali_riazi.

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