Leading article: Let Colvin's life bring shame on Assad

Share
Related Topics

The death of the foreign correspondent Marie Colvin has two meanings. One is that journalism is about more than prurience and moral and financial corruption – contrary to the impression that might have been given by the events that led to the Leveson inquiry and by some of the practices that have been exposed since, and of which there may be worse to come this week. Journalism is also about the reporting of truths and injustices, and especially those that the powerful and the malign would rather were not reported.

The other meaning is in one of those truths, the humanitarian emergency in Syria, on which Colvin was reporting when she was killed. In her last words she said: "In Baba Amr. Sickening, cannot understand how the world can stand by and I should be hardened by now. Watched a baby die today. Shrapnel, doctors could do nothing. His little tummy just heaved and heaved until he stopped. Feeling helpless. As well as cold! Will keep trying to get out the information."

She wanted the world to know that Bashar Assad's forces were perpetrating terrible crimes upon their people. We have known that for a year now, but international action to do anything about it has been dismissed as unlikely because there is no consensus at the United Nations. In the great tradition of war reporting, Colvin sought to stir the conscience of the world by bearing witness to the human consequences of an unjust military campaign.

The Independent on Sunday hopes that she succeeds posthumously. This newspaper supports the doctrine of a "responsibility to protect", as adopted by the UN in 2005. We wish it had been acted on in Rwanda in 1994 and in Bosnia in 1995. We were glad that it was acted on in Kosovo in 1999 and in Libya last year. Of course, conditions must be met. Military action must either be authorised by the UN Security Council, or be to prevent the killing of large numbers of civilians. Both conditions were satisfied in imposing a no-fly zone over Libya last year, when Gaddafi threatened to take his revenge on the people of Benghazi.

Syria is different, as Paul Vallely explains today. Russia, supported by China, will veto any UN authorisation for intervention. Intervention would still be justified, however, on grounds of averting a worse humanitarian disaster. But it needs to be effective. A no-fly zone would not protect the people of Homs or the other towns that are rising up against the regime, because the Syrian military is using ground artillery to attack them. If there is one thing that even the most wide-eyed neo-conservative has learnt from Iraq, it is that the adverse consequences of a ground invasion are likely to far outweigh any good that might be done – even leaving aside the dangers of a proxy war against Russia or Iran.

Yet there are things that can be done. The European Union is going to tighten sanctions another symbolic notch tomorrow. More importantly, world opinion should be focused on the medical crisis in Homs. The International Committee of the Red Cross is working through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to try to help the wounded, but under tight Syrian government restrictions.

The Independent on Sunday joins with our colleagues in the British media to demand safe Red Crescent access to Homs. In addition, we want the wounded journalists to be allowed out and the bodies of Marie Colvin and that of the French photographer Remi Ochlik to be returned. Perhaps even Assad and Vladimir Putin can be shamed into that.

Let Marie Colvin's legacy be twofold, then. First, a celebration of good journalism and a determination to defend it from the well-meaning attempts to use the Leveson hearings to encroach upon it. Second, a new determination to find the most effective way to mobilise the international community to protect the Syrian people from their appalling rulers.

Liberal interventionism is always evolving, always adapting itself to different situations, but the moral impulse behind it grows stronger all the time, despite, or even because of, the mistakes made by the US and the UK in Iraq. It is generally agreed that Bashar Assad's days in Damascus are numbered. We must hope that Marie Colvin's legacy will be a significant shortening of that dictator's time in power.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: PSHE Teacher required in Devon - Star...

SEN Teacher (Primary)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: SEN Primary Teacher required Devon

SEN PPA Cover Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Teacher Jobs in Devon Devon

BSL Level 2 or above - Behaviour Support Assistant

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are looking for Teaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Deputy Editor's Letter:

Independent Voices, Indy Voices Rhodri Jones
A couple stand in front of a beautiful cloudy scene  

In sickness and in health: It’s been stormy but there are blessings in the clouds

Rebecca Armstrong
Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor