'My pledge to expose a decade of atrocities'

 

Photojournalist Ron Haviv, who over the past decade has been covering the conflicts in the Balkans, said at the launch of his exhibition in London that after witnessing an execution he had promised himself he would do all he could to document the atrocities that were taking place.

A year later, Haviv took a photograph which has become one of the abiding images of the Balkan wars – a Serb militiaman kicking a Muslim woman in the head as she lay dying on the ground.

Haviv, whose pictures have been put together in a book called Blood and Honey: A Balkan War Journal, took the photograph in 1992, a year after he had been prevented from photographing an execution by soldiers who twice put a gun to his head as he raised his camera.

"There was nothing I could have done to stop those first executions, so I decided that if I got into that situation again I would try my best to document it," said Haviv, who arrived in the Balkans in 1991, just as Slovenia declared its independence, and went on to chronicle the violence that erupted in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo throughout the next decade.

Haviv was at the Freedom Forum’s European Centre in London last week for the launch of the exhibition of his work.

The event coincided with the anniversary of the deaths of Reuters journalist Kurt Schork and APTN cameraman Miguel Gil Moreno during an ambush in Sierra Leone last year.

Haviv presented a selection of his photos, with a soundtrack of music and news reports from the era and afterwards said he had thought that his work would have instant impact: "They were taken as news photographs and I thought they would influence opinion of the moment. But for the most part they failed."

Now a contract photographer for Newsweek, Haviv has photographed from all sides of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, amassing a collection that includes a Muslim pleading for his life before being carried off and thrown from a third-floor window, and images of Bosnian prisoners in Serbian camps.

"Slowly I came to realise that my pictures were taking on another life, that they exist as evidence and as an accusation, of those who had the power to do something and didn’t, of John Major, Tony Blair and George Bush," he said.

Despite threats to his own life and witnessing an endless stream of atrocities against others, Haviv said he had never thought of giving up: "It’s always been the opposite. With me it was a case of being angry and wanting to go out and document more," he said.

The exhibition will be in London until 1 June and will then be taken to Croatia and Pristina before it is moved permanently to Sarajevo.

By Julie Tomlin

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