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Amanpour: Marie Colvin shone light on victims

By Peter Wilkinson, CNN
updated 4:40 AM EST, Thu February 23, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Christiane Amanpour pays tribute to Marie Colvin, correspondent killed in Syria
  • She says Marie's legacy lies in her commitment to storytelling, and doing it right way
  • Amanpour: Colvin gave voice to those who have no voice
  • She says her death makes people sit up and realize what is happening in Syria

Editor's note: Marie Colvin, a longtime American foreign correspondent for London's Sunday Times, was killed Wednesday in Syria, highlighting the danger reporters face in covering conflict zones. Christiane Amanpour is a veteran CNN foreign correspondent now working for ABC in the United States. She covered conflicts including Rwanda, Iraq, the Balkans and the Palestinian territories. Her show Amanpour returns to CNN International this spring. She spoke to CNN's Peter Wilkinson about Colvin's death and legacy.

London (CNN) -- What was your reaction to the news?

To lose Marie Colvin, French war photographer Remi Ochlik, who both died in Homs, and New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid, who died while reporting in eastern Syria, apparently of an asthma attack, in one week is a terrible loss, not just for our profession, not just for their friends and family. It's also a terrible loss for the people on whom they reported and for the politicians charged with ensuring atrocities don't happen and are stopped when they do.

Today as I heard the news of Marie Colvin's death on the radio, I heard her latest dispatch from Syria. She was talking in an intense but not overly emotional way about the relentless bombardment of fearful civilians unable to get out of Homs. Marie said she saw a little boy injured by shrapnel as doctors tried to save his life. She said she saw, in her words, his little tummy heaving until he died. These are the kinds of stories that we tell because it's our duty and it's our job.

Why was she so effective?

What Marie Colvin believed in was bearing witness. The journalist must be the eyes and ears of the readers or viewers because not everyone can go to these places. Foreign correspondents operate at the extreme end of journalism: I believe that Marie, and everyone who practices this profession, took risks similar to going into battle. You know it could result in death, in injury. You are on the front lines of telling the truth, and the truth matters, particularly when the cacophony of opinion and ideology threatens to drown out the space reserved for facts and the truth.

So Marie's legacy lies in her commitment to story telling and doing it the right way. It's in believing in the people she was reporting on. She shone a spotlight on and gave a voice to those people who have no voice.

Award-winning French photojournalist Remi Ochlik was killed in the city of Homs while reporting on the bloody conflict in Syria on Wednesday. Award-winning French photojournalist Remi Ochlik was killed in the city of Homs while reporting on the bloody conflict in Syria on Wednesday.
Remi Ochlik photojournalist
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Late photojournalist Remi Ochlik\'s work Late photojournalist Remi Ochlik's work

How will you remember Colvin?

2011: Gadhafi: My people will die for me

On a personal level Marie was a great friend. She was great to go out to dinner with, she was a great story teller. She was passionate, funny and deeply caring. Marie was a lioness -- she seemed to be indestructible, she was indomitable. She tried to be a family person but her love of the job was so intense that she put herself in harm's way over and over again. In Sri Lanka she was terribly wounded when a landmine or grenade sprayed her with shrapnel and she was blinded in one eye. Yet she came back to work wearing an eye patch.

Western journalists killed in Syria

As a woman she showed the courage of a legion of men. And yet the men who walked in the same trenches are also incredibly courageous. So many of our men and women have been wounded and killed in pursuit of this calling, so in this regard I don't believe there's any difference between a male and a female foreign correspondent.

What are your memories of working with her?

I've been in the trenches on the front lines of so many wars with Marie Colvin over the last two decades. The last time we were together was in Libya last year as the revolution against Moammar Gadhafi was gathering steam.

Often the last thing you want is to run into competitive correspondents but I was always thrilled to see Marie. She was always so collaborative. We'd had a long talk before we went in about using our different contacts, and we and the BBC's Jeremy Bowen got an exclusive interview with Moammar Gadhafi, which was the last interview he did. It set the tone for future international involvement. Our interview showed Gadhafi was completely out of touch with reality; he insisted his people loved him; he would never step down or leave Libya. And in the weeks after that, France, Britain and the U.S. got the U.N. resolution and the no-fly zone came after that.

Amanpour: Colvin gave her life for truth

Marie Colvin was effective because these terrible wars or natural catastrophes can be cold, faceless and nameless pieces of reality. We go to these dangerous places to humanize the stories and shine a spotlight on what's going on.

What will be the impact of her death?

Without journalists reporting from there, there will be no meaningful change. For example, I believe the no-fly zone in Benghazi was put up because of the reporting there, and the urgent need to protect tens or hundreds of thousands of Libyan civilians.

And in Bosnia, it took a long time, but without the urgent reporting on the siege of towns and cities like Sarajevo and Srebrenica and Mostar, there would have been no intervention. The war would have continued, and genocide would have been accomplished in Europe. I believe it was journalists like Marie who did their job and stopped the worst of the worst. I strongly believe that having done that in Bosnia we made sure it would not be allowed to happen in Kosovo, and intervention prevented a genocide.

These are the responsibilities that, on the one hand, are so professional and academic but on the other, as Marie has shown, are so deeply personal and human.

Right now any resolve on Syria is woefully absent: just like in Bosnia almost three decades ago. Politicians are wringing their hands and wondering what to do to stop this slaughter. So I hope her death makes people sit up and realize what is happening in Syria. I hope it makes our leadership and executives around the world recommit to the support of the profession of foreign correspondents who have to go there. But it's also very sobering, as I sit here, to know she did the right thing, and wonder when it's the right time for me to go in.

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