Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia unsealed a $302 million judgment against the Syrian government, holding it liable for the assassination of American war correspondent Marie Colvin. The case was filed in 2016 by Marie Colvin’s sister Cathleen Colvin and her three children, through counsel Scott Gilmore, the team at Shearman & Sterling, and the Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA).
“It’s been almost seven years since my sister was killed by the Assad Regime, and not a day goes by when I don’t think of her,” said Cathleen Colvin. “My heart goes out to the families of the many thousands of victims of the Syrian conflict. It is my greatest hope that the court’s ruling will lead to other criminal prosecutions, and serve as a deterrent against future attacks on the press and on civilians. Marie dedicated her life to fighting for justice on behalf of the victims of war and ensuring that their stories were heard. This case is an extension of her legacy, and I think she’d be proud of what we achieved.”
Marie Colvin was killed on February 22, 2012, when the makeshift media center where she and other journalists were working came under fire in Homs, Syria. In yesterday’s ruling, the court found that Colvin was deliberately targeted. After tracking Colvin through intercepted satellite calls and informants, Syrian senior officials ordered an artillery strike against her location, killing Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik, and wounding French reporter Edith Bouvier, British photographer Paul Conroy, and Syrian media activist Wael al-Omar.
Judge Jackson determined that the attack was part of “Syria’s long-standing policy of violence” against media personnel, who were “labeled enemies of the state.” Citing the attack’s chilling effect on speech, Judge Jackson imposed more than $302 million in damages against Syria: “By perpetrating a directed attack against the Media Center, Syria intended to intimidate journalists, inhibit newsgathering and the dissemination of information, and suppress dissent. A targeted murder of an American citizen, whose courageous work was not only important, but vital to our understanding of warzones and of wars generally, is outrageous…”
“This case is a legal rejoinder to the war on truth waged by strongman leaders like Bashar al-Assad,” said Scott Gilmore, lead counsel for plaintiffs. “At a time when journalists face unprecedented threats, the court sent a very clear message: evidence speaks louder than disinformation, and censorship through violence is a serious breach of international law.”
“Marie Colvin embodied the very best of war journalism: compassion, integrity, and an indefatigable commitment to show the world the realities of war,” said Henry Weisburg, a partner at Shearman & Sterling LLP. “The Assad Regime targeted Marie precisely for those qualities, as part of a systematic effort to hide its atrocities and legitimize its murder of its own citizens. Yesterday’s judgment condemns this cynical strategy of confronting civic disagreement with violence. It represents a message of solidarity to activists and dissenters, and a stand against impunity for those who would equate words with Kalashnikovs.”
“This lawsuit was the first to ask a court to hold the Assad Regime responsible for a war crime,” said Dixon Osburn, Executive Director of the Center for Justice & Accountability. “Now we are seeing a wave of similar cases, including most recently in Germany. Law alone will not end the war or the dictatorship. But it can guarantee that Syria’s war criminals will never enjoy impunity for the slaughter of civilians.”
Marie Colvin and photographer Paul Conroy traveled to Syria in February 2012 to cover the siege of Homs, which at the time was an opposition stronghold. It was also a testing ground for the Assad Regime’s tactics of siege, starvation, and shelling of civilian areas, which it has subsequently deployed throughout Syria. In one of her final broadcasts, Colvin told CNN’s Anderson Cooper: “[i]t’s a complete and utter lie that they’re only going after terrorists. . . . The Syrian Army is simply shelling a city of cold, starving civilians.”
Learn more about Marie Colvin at www.mariecolvin.org.
The Colvin v. Syria lawsuit was brought in 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by Marie Colvin’s sister, Cathleen Colvin; her niece, Justine Araya-Colvin; nephew Christopher Araya-Colvin; and Cathleen’s youngest son. The plaintiffs asserted claims under a provision of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that permits victims to sue states that, like Syria, have been designated by the United States as state sponsors of terrorism for the extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizens. The Syrian government defaulted in the case by failing to appear.
Notes about the Syrian documents:
The nearly 200 documents submitted to the Court are part of a greater project by the Commission for International Justice and Accountability to gather evidence of Syrian war crimes.