Witness to War Crimes

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The images of photographers such as Ron Haviv are often about giving a voice to the voiceless and bearing witness. In Bosnia, when accompanying Serbian paramilitary forces in 1992, Haviv documented the execution of Bosnian civilians in what would later become known as ‘ethnic cleansing’. More recently in DRC, he documented attempts by warring parties to displace populations and control access to food and medicine. In a recent interview, Haviv spoke about how journalism can help expose violations of humanitarian law.

When you witness an atrocity such as an execution, what’s going through your mind?
The first thing I’m thinking about is: is there anything I can do to stop this from happening? Often, just my presence somewhere has changed the dynamic. Because there is a witness, there is a non-local.

But it is very precarious. On a few occasions, a killing happened in front of me and I wasn’t able to stop it and I was also not allowed to take any photographs. So there was no actual evidence. So I promised myself that if I were in the same situation again and I wasn’t able to stop it from happening, I needed to be able to come out with some sort of photograph as evidence. That way, at the very least, the people don’t die in vain.

Did the photos of the executions have an effect?
The photographs were published in many magazines before the first shot was even fired in Sarajevo and I was very confident that this was evidence of the kind of ethnic cleansing that everybody had been talking about and that the international community would react. But, at first, the photographs did nothing. They eventually became adopted by the Bosnian causes to motivate people to join their cause, as a kind of propaganda. Eventually, they were used in The Hague to issue indictments for various people involved in war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.

During your recent coverage of the war in Libya, you and others took compelling photos of a hospital in Tripoli where there were signs that people had been bound and executed.
Executions were taking place by Gaddafi loyalists against the rebels. But at the same time, it was very apparent that Gaddafi loyalists were being executed by the rebels as well. Coming across these scenes, it was incredibly important, first, that it be known and second, that other organizations knew where to go to begin their own investigations. For reconciliation to occur, people need to understand what happened during the transition.

Article taken from Issue 2 - 2012 | Red Cross Red Crescent Magazine

Read more:

The Guardian | The shot that nearly killed me: War photographers – a special report

Ron Haviv | Blood and Honey

Photo:The sole survivor of a massacre finds his home in ruins after the Bosnian army recaptured his village from Serb forces in the fall of 1995. He is standing on what is believed to be a mass grave of sixty-nine people, including his family. ©Rob Haviv/VII