Foreign Correspondent Recalls ‘Bearing Witness’ in Africa

New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi delivered this year's Marie Colvin Lecture.

During Tuesday night’s Marie Colvin Distinguished Lecture, delivered this year at Stony Brook University by New York Times foreign correspondent Rukmini Callimachi, the Romanian-born journalist suggested that the annual event’s namesake was all about “bearing witness.”

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And so, Callimachi felt it only fitting to talk about a time that she did the same. From a summary of the March 8 event in student newspaper The Statesman:

Callimachi spoke about her experiences reporting in the Ivory Coast, where she saw with her own eyes the dead bodies of women and girls who were raped and killed in the thickets of a forest. She said it was a sight that left her doubled over and that she still revisits in her nightmares.

“That sight has forever changed me,” Callimachi said. Even though she had heard the term “raped and killed” many times before, she didn’t understand the gravity of it until after seeing these women.

Some of the women were old, some were young and some were disabled, dead on the forest floor with their clothes in a disheveled fashion that made it clear what had transpired, Callimachi said.

Another chilling detail shared by Callimachi, a two-time Pulitzer finalist, is that Islamic State group fighters believe raping these women is a form of worship; the attackers pray both before and after their heinous acts. She told the audience that base on everything she has observed and learned, she is convinced these men truly believe they are committing holy acts.

The Marie Colvin Distinguished Lecture Series is named in honor of American journalist Marie Colvin, who died while covering the siege of Homs in Syria in 2012 for U.K.’s The Times.

Correction (8:30 p.m.):
The original version of this item (headline, second-to-last paragraph) incorrectly referred to Callimachi as a Pulitzer winner. She has been, only, a finalist. FishbowlNY apologizes for the error.