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Nachrichten Apr 13, 2018

Shearman & Sterling and CJA Move for Default Judgment in Case Against Assad Regime for Extrajudicial Killing of Reporter Marie Colvin

On March 22, 2018, Shearman & Sterling and the Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA) filed a motion with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia requesting entry of default judgment against the Syrian Arab Republic for its targeted killing of journalist Marie Colvin. The motion is supported by extensive evidence that the Assad Regime not only hunted down and deliberately assassinated Marie, but did so as part of a coordinated policy to target journalists in order to hide its atrocities from the world. That evidence was unsealed on April 9, and includes declarations of Syrian government defectors and other eyewitnesses to relevant events, Syrian government documents smuggled out of the country by dissidents, and expert reports by the last U.S. Ambassador to Syria, the U.S. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and an analyst for the Commission for International Justice and Accountability.

Marie Colvin, an American citizen and renowned war correspondent for The Sunday Times of London, was killed by artillery fire on February 22, 2012 in the besieged city of Homs, Syria, shortly after reporting that the Assad Regime was shelling “cold, starving civilians,” rather than terrorists, as it claimed. The bombing also killed French photographer Rémi Ochlik and injured British photographer Paul Conroy, Syrian translator Wael al-Omar, and French journalist Edith Bouvier, all of whom were staying at a media center location that had been set up by citizen journalists reporting from Homs.

Shearman & Sterling and CJA filed the Colvin et al. lawsuit in July of 2016 on behalf of Marie Colvin’s sister, Cathleen Colvin – an alumna of the firm and the General Counsel of Pall Corporation – and Cathleen’s three children. The plaintiffs assert claims under a provision of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that establishes a federal cause of action for the extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizens against states that, like Syria, have been designated by the United States as state sponsors of terrorism. Syria has failed to appear in the suit.

“This lawsuit is among the first to ask a court to hold the Assad Regime directly responsible for its crimes,” said Henry Weisburg, International Arbitration partner at Shearman & Sterling. “It is not only an effort to provide Marie’s family with some measure of justice – inadequate as it may be – but also to reveal the Assad Regime’s atrocities more broadly, something we hope will contribute to ending the Regime’s abhorrent treatment of its own people.”

The unsealed insider testimony and internal Syrian government documents – the product of six years of investigation by CJA and others – reveal how President Assad’s inner circle oversaw attacks on civilians and media workers. Highlights from the now-public evidence, some of which was redacted due to safety concerns, include:

  • Testimony from a Syrian intelligence defector, code-named “Ulysses,” providing a meticulous insider’s account of how the Regime planned and orchestrated the attack that killed Marie;
  • Nearly 200 confidential documents from Syria’s military and security agencies collected by the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, which reveal not only how the Assad Regime adopted a policy of targeting journalists, but also how senior Syrian officials set in motion the crackdown on dissent in 2011 that led to Syria’s civil war; and
  • Expert evidence from Robert Ford, former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, and David Kaye, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression.

The plaintiffs’ Motion for Default Judgment, supporting Memorandum of Law, fact witness declarations, and expert witness reports are now available to view by clicking on the below links.

Fact Witnesses

Expert Witnesses

The Team