Marie Colvin & Syria

I spoke last night about the late war correspondent Marie Colvin, and about the ongoing tragedy in Syria.
Marie Colvin and Syria
Adjournment Debate
27 February 2012


Last week, renowned war correspondent Marie Colvin was killed in the Syrian city of Homs. She was killed covering the attacks of the Assad regime on its own people. Throughout her career, Marie Colvin had covered conflicts in the Balkans, Chechnya and Zimbabwe. She had covered the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. In 2001, covering the conflict between government forces and the rebel Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, Marie Colvin was struck by shrapnel and lost her left eye. She wore a black eye patch, which became her trademark. After the loss of her eye she wrote about why she covered wars, putting herself in danger. She said that it is important to tell people what is really happening and about humanity in extremes, pushed to the unendurable. She said:

'My job is to bear witness. I have never been interested in knowing what make of plane had just bombed a village or whether the artillery that fired at it was 120 mm or 155 mm.'

In November 2010 she said at a service for war journalists:

'Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction, and death , and trying to bear witness. It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash. And yes, it means taking risks, not just for yourself but often for the people who work closely with you. … We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado?'

In 1999 in East Timor, Marie Colvin was credited with saving the lives of hundreds of women and children when she stayed in a UN compound in Dili besieged by Indonesian-backed forces. Refusing to leave, reporting their plight almost hourly to the world, she managed to secure the safety of the East Timorese and was publicly rewarded when they were evacuated safely four days later.

Colleague and Guardian journalist Roy Greenslade said, 'She was the bravest woman I have ever known.' Anthony Loyd of the Times, reflecting on the kind of person Marie Colvin was, wrote:

'Driven? Certainly. Eccentric? Very. But conceited? Never. Her humility made her a rare bird in an aviary renowned for its preening.'

He wrote on her death, 'She was the undisputed standard bearer of our values, a woman whose courage and endeavour singularly advanced the capability of others by providing the benchmark for what we should aspire to.'

He noted that her humour survived intact. Before leaving for Sri Lanka two years ago she said to him: 'If you see a bit of eye lying in the jungle then pick it up. It could be mine!' In response to an erroneous comment on a website congratulating her for returning from Homs safely she wrote, 'I think reports of my survival may be exaggerated.'

One of Marie Colvin's last correspondent reports was this:

'In Baba Amr. Sickening, cannot understand how the world can stand by. Watched a baby die today. Shrapnel, doctors could do nothing. His little tummy just heaved and heaved until he stopped. Feeling helpless … Will keep trying to get out the information'

I spoke in the adjournment debate last June on the issue of Syria. The member for North Sydney spoke in the same debate. I do not think either of us expected we would be here this year still speaking about the bloodshed in Syria. More than 5,000 people have now lost their lives. About 18,000 are estimated to be held in arbitrary detention. Despite the fact that the UN General Assembly has overwhelmingly supported a resolution on the situation in Syria, such a resolution has been blocked in the Security Council. Those states who oppose the resolution—Russia and China—now have a responsibility to make plain what their alternative plans are for ending the bloodshed in Homs, Hama, Damascus and across Syria.

Mr Assad has lost all legitimacy. It is critical that we support the Arab League plan, that we galvanise and coordinate international support for the people of Syria and that we strengthen the voice of the international community for an end to the bloodshed. Australia strongly supports the efforts of the Arab League. We have imposed financial sanctions designed to hold those who have engaged in human rights abuses accountable. We now urge the UN Security Council to support the people of Syria. This cannot go on. We must have a global effort to get rid of the Assad regime, which lost all legitimacy when it began deploying arms against its own people.

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