2018 Oak Fellow: Bassam Khabieh

Bassam Khabieh

“It was a big opportunity for me to share my knowledge with some brilliant students who were interested in human rights and photography as well,” he said. “We talked a lot about what it looks like to be holding a camera in a war zone.”

Theme: War & Human Rights

Bassam Khabieh, a freelance Syrian photojournalist, has been named the 2018 Oak Human Rights Fellow.  His beautiful but searing work bridges Oak’s 2017 theme, “Film, Photography, and Human Rights,” and its 2018 theme, “War and Human Rights.”

“Having Bassam on campus gives Colby students unparalleled access to a photographer and activist who has literally risked life and limb to document the terrible ordeal of ordinary Syrians devastated by war. I am very grateful to my predecessor, Walter Hatch, who recognized the power and significance of Bassam’s work in documenting violations of human rights, and moved heaven and earth to bring him here,” said Valérie Dionne, director of the Oak Institute for Human Rights.

Khabieh’s work has documented war crimes and other ongoing human rights violations in the Syrian conflict – and the world has noticed. The photographs have been featured by organizations such as UNICEF, the World Health Organization, Reuters, and The Atlantic. In 2015 Khabieh was awarded the Robert Capa Gold Medal for “photographic reporting from abroad requiring exceptional courage and enterprise.” His images were included in a group exhibition, Children of Syria, that toured various locations, including Capitol Hill, USAID, and the United States Institute of Peace. Khabieh’s work will also be featured in a book in the making by ART WORKS Projects founder, Leslie Thomas, and Open Society Foundations Documentary Photography Project founder, Amy Yenkin. As explained by a board member for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Khabieh’s photographs comprise “one of the largest bodies of work on the Syrian conflict, bring[ing] this unspeakable war out of the shadows.”

As if these achievements were not impressive enough, Khabieh is entirely self-taught. At the outbreak of the Syrian conflict, he was a student of information technology. He chose to use his cell phone to take pictures, eventually training himself how to use more sophisticated equipment. His work has been done amidst chemical attacks, airstrikes, car explosions, and cluster bombs; he has endured a number of injuries, even temporarily losing his eyesight. No matter what has happened, Khabieh has not given up his goal to “ensure that the horrific human rights abuses that have been perpetrated would not be without witness.”

For examples of Khabieh’s work, see: