Anton Hammerl

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Hammerl, a 41-year-old photographer of South African andAustrian descent, was shot and killed by government forces near Brega ineastern Libya on April 5. Three journalists traveling with him were detained by Libyan authorities until May18 and announced Hammerl’s death after they were released.

Hammerl, a married father of three, traveled to easternLibya to cover the conflict as a freelancer. He was working on the front linesnear Brega with three other foreign journalists–Clare Gillis, James Foley, andManuel Varela (also known as Manu Brabo)–when they came under fire fromgovernment forces. Hammerl was shot in the abdomen, and Gillis, Foley, andBrabo were captured.

Gillis told The Atlantic magazine, "They tookaway our stuff, tied us up, threw us in the back of the truck. And we alllooked down at Anton. … I saw him not moving and in a pool of blood. Jimtried to talk to him–‘Are you OK?’–and he didn’t answer anymore."

For more than six weeks, the government alternatelyclaimed that Hammerl was safe in custody or that he was not in governmenthands. Sources reported that the Libyan government had been in possession of Hammerl’spassport, and thus was aware of his identity and his fate.

Under international humanitarian law applicable in thearmed conflict in Libya, parties to a conflict have obligations regarding themissing and dead. Libya was obliged to take all feasible measures to accountfor persons reported missing as a result of fighting and provide family memberswith any information it had. Hammerl’s family had repeatedly sought informationabout his whereabouts.

The Libyan government held Gillis, Foley, and Brabo untilMay 18, when they were released in Tripoli, the capital. Theytraveled to Tunisiathe following day, where they informed Hammerl’s family of his death.International efforts were ultimately successful in gaining the release of thedetained journalists, but the South African government appeared to have playedno part. When South African President Jacob Zuma visited Tripoli on April 10 and 11, he failed tobring up Hammerl’s case, according to media reports.

The South African government reacted to the news ofHammerl’s death by accusing the Libyan authorities of misinformation. "We keptgetting reassured at the highest level that he was alive until his colleagueswere released and shared the information," said Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, SouthAfrica’s international relations and cooperation minister.

Hammerl also held Austrian citizenship, and the Austriangovernment similarly criticized the Qaddafi government. "We are verydisappointed at the Libyan side that they had not conveyed the news," said OttoDitz, Austria’s ambassador to South Africa.