Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros: human rights defenders

News of the deaths of photo-journalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros in Libya yesterday is unbelievably sad. Two men in the prime of their lives wiped out in the middle of doing dangerous but incredibly important work.

It must be terrible for their families. And let's not forget that two other press photographers – Guy Martin and Michael Christopher Brown – were also injured in the same mortar attack, Martin seriously so.

At Amnesty there's huge appreciation of the work done by journalists in reporting on human rights abuses, including from the battlefield.

It's no exaggeration to say that journalists are sometimes themselves human rights defenders (to use the jargon) and they should never be attacked simply for doing this (though they frequently are). Hetherington and Hondros' deaths came on the same day that eight local civilians in Misratah were also reportedly killed by apparently indiscriminate fire from Libyan government forces. All these deaths are terrible and likely constitute war crimes. The bitter irony, of course, is that we need journalists able to report on these crimes of war. Now there are two less to do so.

For me the deaths are additionally poignant as all this week I've been looking at entries to Amnesty's media awards – brilliant works often produced against the odds and at considerable personal risk by dedicated journalists.

The awards pay tribute to people like Hetherington and Hondros. In fact it was the final judging meeting today and of course there was real shock in the room. Next month Amnesty and the UK's journalistic community will now be remembering Tim and Chris' untimely deaths when we gather for the annual awards event. It’s going to be a bitter-sweet occasion.

Personally, I'm intending to pay my own small tribute by searching out the four photographers' photos and finally getting around to watching Hetherington and Sebastian Junger's hugely-acclaimed Afghanistan film Restrepo. At least we've got the work…

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