A U.S. court has ruled that the Assad regime deliberately targeted American war correspondent Marie Colvin, who was killed in the Syrian city of Homs in 2012.
Describing the killing as an “unconscionable act,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled the Syrian government was liable for at least $302.5 million in damages to Colvin’s family, after finding its forces had “engaged in an act of extrajudicial killing of a United States national.”
Colvin, a 56-year-old war correspondent working for Britain’s Sunday Times, was killed alongside 28-year-old French photographer Remi Ochlik when government forces shelled the makeshift broadcast studio they were operating from in Homs in February 2012.
"She was specifically targeted because of her profession, for the purpose of silencing those reporting on the growing opposition movement in the country," the judge wrote in her opinion, published Wednesday.
The judge said that evidence, including eyewitness accounts and testimony from a defector from Syrian intelligence, had established that “officials at the highest level of the Syrian government carefully planned and executed the artillery assault.”
The ruling found that the day before the attack, Syrian intelligence was provided the location of the studio, where Colvin went on to give live interviews to three major Western broadcasters that night. The judge found that the facility was subsequently targeted, in line with the regime’s pattern of regular violence targeting the media — and said there was evidence that Syrian officials had celebrated the strike.
The ruling is the first time Assad's government has been legally held to account for a war crime, setting an important legal precedent, and providing an important vindication for Colvin's family.
But the Syrian government was not involved in defending the lawsuit, and the family will face a struggle to receive any of the damages.
The victim’s sister, Cathleen Colvin, said she hoped that the case would act as a “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,” she said in a statement.
Dixon Osburn, executive director of the Center for Justice and Accountability, which represented the Colvin family, said the ruling could lead the way to further legal scrutiny of the Assad regime’s abuses.
“It’s the first proving ground that the Assad regime has engaged in war crimes,” he told Reuters.
The Syrian government is yet to comment on the ruling, but in 2016, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad blamed Colvin for her death. “It’s a war and she came illegally to Syria, she worked with the terrorists, and because she came illegally, she’s responsible of everything that befell her,” he said.
Cover Image: Marie Colvin attends the book launch party for author Janine di Giovanni's new book 'Ghosts by Daylight: A Memoir of War and Love' at Blake's Hotel on July 12, 2011 in London, England. (Dave M. Benett/Getty Images)