Hammerl, a 41-year-old photographer of South African and
Austrian descent, was shot and killed by government forces near Brega in
eastern Libya on April 5. Three journalists traveling with him were detained by Libyan authorities until May
18 and announced Hammerl’s death after they were released.
Hammerl, a married father of three, traveled to eastern
Libya to cover the conflict as a freelancer. He was working on the front lines
near Brega with three other foreign journalists–Clare Gillis, James Foley, and
Manuel Varela (also known as Manu Brabo)–when they came under fire from
government forces. Hammerl was shot in the abdomen, and Gillis, Foley, and
Brabo were captured.
Gillis told The Atlantic magazine, “They took
away our stuff, tied us up, threw us in the back of the truck. And we all
looked down at Anton. … I saw him not moving and in a pool of blood. Jim
tried to talk to him–‘Are you OK?’–and he didn’t answer anymore.”
For more than six weeks, the government alternately
claimed that Hammerl was safe in custody or that he was not in government
hands. Sources reported that the Libyan government had been in possession of Hammerl’s
passport, and thus was aware of his identity and his fate.
Under international humanitarian law applicable in the
armed conflict in Libya, parties to a conflict have obligations regarding the
missing and dead. Libya was obliged to take all feasible measures to account
for persons reported missing as a result of fighting and provide family members
with any information it had. Hammerl’s family had repeatedly sought information
about his whereabouts.
The Libyan government held Gillis, Foley, and Brabo until
May 18, when they were released in Tripoli, the capital. They
traveled to Tunisia
the following day, where they informed Hammerl’s family of his death.
International efforts were ultimately successful in gaining the release of the
detained journalists, but the South African government appeared to have played
no part. When South African President Jacob Zuma visited Tripoli on April 10 and 11, he failed to
bring up Hammerl’s case, according to media reports.
The South African government reacted to the news of
Hammerl’s death by accusing the Libyan authorities of misinformation. “We kept
getting reassured at the highest level that he was alive until his colleagues
were released and shared the information,” said Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South
Africa’s international relations and cooperation minister.
Hammerl also held Austrian citizenship, and the Austrian
government similarly criticized the Qaddafi government. “We are very
disappointed at the Libyan side that they had not conveyed the news,” said Otto
Ditz, Austria’s ambassador to South Africa.