11 Jul 2016

Family of killed US journalist sues Syria

9:07 am on 11 July 2016

The family of American journalist Marie Colvin, who died in Syria in 2012, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in a US court, accusing the Syrian government of deliberately killing her.

Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin.

Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin was deliberately killed by the Syrian government, her family say. Photo: AFP / Sunday Times

Ms Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in the besieged Syrian city of Homs in 2012 while reporting on the Syrian conflict, now in its sixth year.

The lawsuit, filed in Washington on Saturday and seen by Reuters, said Syrian officials deliberately targeted rockets against a makeshift broadcast studio where Colvin and other reporters were living and working.

The suit alleged the attack was part of a plan orchestrated at the highest levels of the Syrian government to silence local and international media "as part of its effort to crush political opposition".

The lawsuit included as evidence a copy of an August 2011 fax which it alleges was sent from Syria's National Security Bureau instructing security bodies to launch military and intelligence campaigns against "those who tarnish the image of Syria in foreign media and international organisations".

Foreign governments are typically immune from US civil lawsuits, but there are exceptions for countries designated by the State Department as sponsors of terrorism. Syria is currently one of three countries on the list, with Iran and Sudan.

French photographer Remi Ochlik was also killed in the attack that killed Ms Colvin.

French photographer Remi Ochlik was also killed in the attack that killed Ms Colvin. Photo: AFP

Lawyers who have brought civil lawsuits against those governments say they typically do not respond, resulting in default judgments for plaintiffs.

The bigger challenge is usually enforcing the judgments and collecting damages, says Gary Osen, a New Jersey lawyer currently suing Iran.

The plaintiff in the case and Marie's sister, Cathleen Colvin, said the suit was about carrying on her sister's work.

"We are seeking truth and justice not just for her, but for thousands of innocent Syrians tortured or killed under the Assad dictatorship," she said in a statement released by US human rights group the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) which filed the case for the Colvin family.

Advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said it supported the lawsuit.

The group's secretary-general, Christophe Deloire, said Reporters Without Borders "hopes these efforts will help to expose the truth, namely that these journalists were deliberately targeted and killed because they were providing information about the Syrian army's crimes against civilians."

A murder and attempted murder investigation was launched in France in 2012 into the death of Mr Ochlik and wounding of another journalist, Edith Bouvier, in the same attack.

Reporters Without Borders, as an interested party in the case, said it would submit the Colvin family's US lawsuit to the judge in charge of the French investigation on Monday.

Ms Colvin and Mr Ochlik were both prize-winning reporters of wars in the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere. Ms Colvin, who was based in Britain, lost an eye while working in Sri Lanka in 2001.

She was working for the Sunday Times at the time of her death.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry, to whom the lawsuit was addressed, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Syrian ambassador to the United Nations also could not immediately be reached for comment.


Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs