In the spring of 2011, thousands of Syrians rose up to protest the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. The Assad regime launched a crackdown, which spiraled into the bloodiest civil war in the Middle East, killing more than 250,000 and displacing half of Syria’s population. Among the many victims was Marie Colvin, a renowned war correspondent for London’s Sunday Times, who snuck into the besieged city of Homs to cover the suffering of Syrian civilians.
Reporting from an improvised media office, Marie broadcasted a live account of the Assad regime’s siege. It was “a complete and utter lie that they’re only going after terrorists,” she told CNN. “The Syrian army is simply shelling a city of cold, starving civilians.” Hours later, the Syrian army fired a barrage of artillery at Marie’s position, killing her along with the French photographer Rémi Ochlik.
Around the world, Syrians honored Marie for her sacrifice. But for years, Marie’s family and her Syrian supporters grappled with an unsolved mystery: Who killed Marie Colvin, and why?
CJA stepped in to uncover the truth.
After a three-year, globetrotting investigation, CJA unearthed evidence that Marie was deliberately assassinated by Syrian military and intelligence forces. Her murder was part of a broader conspiracy to neutralize Syrian and foreign media through violence. On February 21,2012, while Marie made her final broadcast to CNN, Syrian intelligence was closing in. Evidence obtained by CJA reveals that an informant’s tip led Brigadier General Rafiq Shahadah, who commanded the Homs Military-Security Committee, to the media office where Marie and other journalists were hiding. The Assad regime intercepted her broadcasts, confirmed her location through informants, and launched a devastating rocket attack against her. Marie and Rémi were killed. The British photographer, Paul Conroy, Syrian interpreter, Wael al-Omar, and French journalist Edith Bouvier were gravely injured.
On July 9, 2016, the Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA) and co-counsel Shearman & Sterling LLP brought suit against the government of Syria for the murder of Marie Colvin. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of Marie’s sister, Cathleen Colvin, and niece, Justine-Araya Colvin, as well as other family members. CJA’s lawsuit is the first case seeking to hold the Assad regime responsible for war crimes. The lawsuit was filed under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a federal law that permits victims to sue designated state-sponsors of terrorism, including Syria, for the murder of U.S. citizens.
As an alternative to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs have given the Syrian government the opportunity to arbitrate claims for war crimes and other violations of international law in The Hague, before the Permanent Court of Arbitration.