IWMF Courage in Journalism Award winner Elizabeth Neuffer (1956-2003) believed passionately that writing and reporting could bring the world together, providing justice for victims of atrocities and pricking the conscience of powerful decision makers.
Growing up in a house beside an apple orchard in the Connecticut of the 1960’s and 1970’s, she spent many afternoons reading of faraway lands and yearning to embrace the world in all its variety. After her happy childhood, Elizabeth confronted losses beyond her control. They sparked a determination to give voice to those around the world whose suffering attracted little attention. “We owe it to our sources to tell their stories,” she said repeatedly, as she sought out the ordinary people that many journalists never met.
Her 13-year career as a foreign correspondent for The Boston Globe gave her a unique vantage point on the world’s most important events. She drove through burning oil fields to be one of the first American reporters to witness the uprising of post-Gulf War Iraq in 1991. She was in Moscow that frigid winter in 1991 for the collapse of the Soviet Union. Soon after, she took the helm of the Globe’s European bureau in newly unified Berlin.
Her coverage of the Balkan wars of the ’90s was vivid and intense. And when a tentative peace finally came to Bosnia, she risked her life to track down those responsible for genocide as they returned to civilian life. Her dispatches, sent to members of Congress by human rights groups, helped persuade the U.S. government to make the arrest and prosecution of war criminals a top priority.
Later, Elizabeth journeyed into the hills of Rwanda to find the women whose anonymous testimonies had led to the first-ever conviction for rape as a war crime. She brought the women’s personal stories to the world.
Her reporting from Bosnia and Rwanda earned her the Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation in 1998. Traveling through Kuwait, Jordan, Iran, and Iraq in the months leading up to the Iraq War, she explained why Iraqis who hated Saddam Hussein did not want a U.S. invasion.
Elizabeth died in May 2003 at the age of 46, when a car she was riding in spun out of control on a highway near Baghdad. She spent her last night amid religious pilgrims in the ancient city of Samarra.
Mourned by thousands of friends, journalists, teachers, students, soldiers, and families whose lives she touched around the world, Elizabeth left a legacy of love and compassion. Her belief in the transformative power of international travel and study has inspired others to follow in her footsteps.
“She articulated ideas essential to a secure future,” said former U.S. Ambassador Swanee Hunt, a friend and promoter of Elizabeth’s acclaimed book, The Key to My Neighbor’s House: Searching for Justice in Bosnia and Rwanda.
Elizabeth’s friend Anna Deavere Smith wrote, “Elizabeth was a friend of the world, a friend to life itself.”