The Oak Institute for Human Rights, established in 1997, annually brings to campus a prominent human rights activist. While in residence, the Oak Fellow gets a chance to reflect and to participate in activities to educate the Colby community about his or her work.
The 2018 Oak Fellow is Syrian freelance photojournalist Bassam Khabieh. His beautiful, but searing work bridges Oak’s 2017 theme, “Film, Photography, and Human Rights,” and its 2018 theme, “War and 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.”