Rohan Jayasekera

Journalist, editor and online free expression advocate, tracking human rights, digital media, cultures of change and the conflict zeitgeist. Views are my own.



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    Blustering Colombo winds up the United Nations one too many times

    I thought it would come to nothing, but I was proven wrong. I underestimated the power of Colombo’s bluster to lose friends and influence where it mattered. The UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva has voted to conduct an independent investigation into Sri Lanka’s conduct of the closing years of its long and bloody war against murderous Tamil Tiger separatists.

    The UN is a docile creature, but Sri Lanka registered its contempt for its work by pulling at its tail one too many times. Right to the end, as the UN session opened last week, Colombo was ordering the arrest of human rights activists interviewing survivors of the war, as suspected terrorists.

    Detainees Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan were just the kind of civil society observers that the UN’s independent investigators would approach once it landed. The threat was not lost on either Sri Lanka’s rights NGOs or the UN itself. UN senior human rights official Navi Pillay described the arrests as ‘provocative’ at a time when the world body was meeting to decide further action.

    And provocative it was, to Sri Lanka’s disadvantage, with the members of the UNHRC voting 23-12, with 12 abstentions for the UN investigation today, and a $1.4m budget to run it. Sri Lanka’s ambassador, Ravinatha Aryasinha, slammed the resolution as a “serious breach of international law,an infringement of state sovereignty and (a) pre-judgement of the outcome of domestic processes.”

    Yet a less confrontational approach might have seen off what Colombo saw, not wholly unreasonably, as a challenge to its sovereignty. Certainly plenty of other states saw it the same way, including its Asian partners China and Japan, the latter abstaining from Thursday’s vote, as did South Africa, whose handling of its own post-conflict reconciliation, accountability and human rights issues sets the gold standard for the process.

    But the country’s war leader, President Mahinda Rajapakse, wanted his victory over the terrorists polished and shining a light on his post-war political future. No question regarding the conduct of the war was to be easily tolerated, whether by his own citizens or the UN.

    Colombo has treated the UN with disdain from the start of its appalling final assault on the Tigers north-eastern stronghold five years ago, when Tamil civilians, aid workers and terrorists alike were blasted by government forces across a virtual free-fire zone. Maybe tens of thousands died.

    United Nations officials had held silent during the final assault itself in 2009, but could not continue to do so as Colombo blindsided its calls for over three years for an evidence based process that would hold both fighters on both sides accountable for atrocities.

    Twice the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva urged Sri Lanka in both 2012 and 2013 to investigate the events at the end of the war. Pillay herself found that the country’s own investigations were not delivering results, or its conclusions were ignored. What was lacking, she said, was not capacity, but political will.

    In February she reported that continuing problems, including “continued militarisation and compulsory land acquisition… shrinking space for civil society and the media, rising religious intolerance and the undermining of independent institutions, including the judiciary.”

    The stakes were high for the UN, which had called its own silence in 2009 as “a grave failure,” criticising staff who “did not perceive the prevention of killing of civilians as their responsibility”.

    It triggered a shift in policy that requires UN officials to report rights violations and engage in just the kind of “quiet diplomacy” it has tried and failed with in Sri Lanka – or raise the violations with the UN in public - as it finally did on Thursday.

    There were concessions. The UN’s proposed time period for investigation – 2002-09 - mirrored Colombo’s own choice of timespan in its own investigations, which had itself been largely ignored by Rajapakse’s government.

    Former Indonesian attorney-general Marzuki Darusman, US law professor Steven Ratner and South African human rights campaigner Yasmin Sooka served as the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka in 2010-11. Jointly commenting before the vote they conceded the proposed investigation team lacked the formality of the UN’s freestanding commission of inquiry on Syria.

    "With such a record, the denial by the government and LTTE (Tamil Tiger) sympathizers can finally be addressed, and the task of justice for Sri Lanka’s victims can enter a new stage," the trio noted. But options to qualify the scope of the proposed mission generally ran flat up against Colombo’s blanket rejection strategy.

    Colombo will not readily change its mind. The New York Times reported Rajapaksa ‘s clear displeasure while campaigning for upcoming provincial elections. “I don’t care if we win or lose in Geneva,” he said. “I don’t give a pittance. I know the people here will ensure our victory.”

    The hardest of hardship postings awaits the UN official tasked to lead the investigation in Sri Lanka to come. It’s hoped that Sri Lanka will accept that it has come out worst in a diplomatic fight, and cooperate with the investigation. Most importantly there has to be no interference or intimidation of civil society groups who choose to cooperate, whether or not Colombo does. It doesn’t look very likely.

    NGO delegates at a pre-vote meeting with Navi Pillay prior to Thursday’s UNHRC vote on Sri Lanka.

    (via themediafix)

    Storm damage (at Bexhill Beach)

    From what I’ve read, journalism tends to sort of have this strong moral foundation to it, in a sense that it’s a very important institution in a democracy. Keeping people informed is its duty. … But people have grown to neglect that a bit or not appreciate it as much, so now the industry is sort of flailing, or withering a bit.

    Outsider’s view from Francis Tseng. His Knight Foundation backed concept project is interesting too. HT Sameer Padania

    Europe need not rule out defending global online rights with fresh international law

    There’s much to welcome in the European Commission’s newly released plan to place itself as self-styled ‘honest broker’ in the fractured world of evolving global internet governance.

    But the Commission’s newly released statement on Europe’s role in shaping the future of the net (PDF) also opposes ‘new global legal instruments’ – a stance which could unnecessarily limit efforts to tackle large-scale Internet surveillance and a loss of public trust in the way the Internet is managed and run.

    The paper, released on February 12, calls for more transparent, accountable and inclusive governance of a globally accessible internet, one that continues to serve fundamental freedoms, says Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes.

    Its explicit rejection of “any new international legal instrument to address issues of Internet governance” may be just pragmatism in the face of certain US resistance to such an idea. Yet over-emphasis on reforming technical management of the internet could second-place much more needed guarantees for human rights across the web.

    The EC’s preferred governance process should be built on stronger, more inviolable rules on protection of free expression and privacy rights – before it addresses that process’ existing shortcomings in transparency, inclusiveness and accountability.

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    Opening Up: Demystifying Funder Transparency explores how transparency can strengthen credibility, improve grantee relationships, facilitate greater collaboration, increase public trust, reduce duplication of effort, and build communities of shared learning.

    New GrantCraft guide, co-produced with Glasspockets and written by Susan Parker, downloadable here.

    Social, Digital & Mobile Data from around the world collated by We Are Social Singapore on Jan 8, 2014 in a 183-slide powerpoint. All the key statistics, data and behavioural indicators for social, digital and mobile channels you could think of wanting.

    Dan Sinker:

    2013 was an incredible year for OpenNews. Our Knight-Mozilla Fellows did fantastic work; Source continued to grow as a hub for the incredible work done by the news nerd community; we helped to sponsor more than 50 news hack days around the world, and much much more.

    Free (speaking) Nelson Mandela

    The New York Times’ Bill Keller paints a hard but fair picture of Nelson Mandela in the Times’ annual review of 2013, recalling a day spent with him in 1994, the sight of Madiba’s ’edges’ and a few flashes of entirely human rancour from a ‘great man with flaws’.

    “None of us who covered Mandela,” Keller wrote, “doubted his courage, his vision or his character, his greatness of spirit or his political genius, and yet some of the eulogizing felt sanitised.”

    I know what he means. I got my own time with Mandela with four other reporters the same year, just 20 minutes at the annual Organisation of African Unity (OAU) summit in Tunis, his first as head of state, in the shadow of the slaughter in Rwanda and the equally lethal war in Mozambique.

    Reasonably , I thought, I asked why he could not use his moral authority at a time of huge consequence for Africa to challenge the OAU, still the revolting club of dictators of legend, to change its ways on its own – African – terms.

    “Rohan,” he said, gently touching my arm. “Sorry. Do excuse me.” And then he equally gently put me right. Or wrong. Basically, he gave us to understand that he would be giving Robert Mugabe and the rest of the continent’s tyrants, plus their western backers, a free pass.

    We came to understand that he knew his moral authority was huge, but finite, so he was going to concentrate it all on the focussed but vast task of bringing South Africa’s black, white and ‘coloured’ communities into a single, reasonably functioning society.

    This he did, and on the way he turned a blind eye on a lot of unresolved evil out of necessity. He made excuses for a generation of South African ANC crooks and tyrants rather than challenging them, calling it ‘loyalty’, and when that loyalty was betrayed by them, made excuses for them on their behalf, making clear moral equivalences between his endurance inside an apartheid jail and theirs outside in apartheid society. And meant it.

    Were we disappointed? Of course. Maybe a little betrayed, even a little angry, like my Algerian colleague, then enduring her own lethal national torment. But we still masked it in our news pieces that day. “So much of the coverage celebrated the saint but missed the man,” Keller wrote this week.

    Perhaps we too applied a little self-censorship in the name of legend-building back in 1994. But we did it out of respect for Madiba, the man and his life’s mission. May he rest in peace.

    (via moonlightmoods)

    Evgeny Morozov:

    "Just because US intelligence agencies hope to one day rank all Yemeni kids based on their propensity to blow up aircraft does not obviate the need to address the sources of their discontent – one of which might be the excessive use of drones to target their fathers."

    Mostly passes and few answers

    Listening to John Humphrys interview radical Islamist activist Anjem Choudary on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme, I was struck by the unwieldy way he was required to acknowledge the offensiveness and reprehensibility of his views as a precondition of being allowed to express them.

    Choudary was never going to take that test, let alone convincingly pass it. Humphrys believed Choudary should have unequivocally condemned the brutal killing of soldier Lee Rigby on a London street by two radicalised Islamist converts.

    Choudary believed that it was wrong to differentiate that killing from the killing of hundreds of thousands of others in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to condemn one killing over the other is to perpetuate that wrong.

    I have to say that the argument would come better from a man of peace rather than Anjum Choudary, but he held it together and stood by it.

    That said, London’s Assistant Commissioner of Police Cressida Dick had just pledged again to have her officers follow his every move until he said or did something he could be ‘brought to justice’ for – something she said she ‘looked forward to’. so you can understand Choudary being way more circumlocutious than he usually is.

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    The Maidan - December 3, 2013 from Rohan Jayasekera on Vimeo.

    Scenes from the anti-government protests in Kiev in December 2013.

    With thousands of protesters still converging on the Maidan all this week and thousands of police prepared to confront them, the danger of a repeat of the weekend’s violence in the city is high.

    On Tuesday night the square, in the heart of the city’s affluent shopping area, was barricaded off with bins, scrap and bits of Christmas decorations brought in behind the police after the square was cleared, ostensibly to make way for the erection of a giant artificial Christmas tree. The shell of the tree is now garlanded with banners, EU flags and obscene advice for President Viktor Yanukovych. The nearby Kiev City Hall is under occupation by protesters, with supporters queuing patiently to come in and explore the building.

    The government strategy seems to be to ride out the crisis at least until the OSCE’s foreign ministers come and go. Yanukovych himself is currently on a state visit to China. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov apologised to parliament Tuesday for the actions of police. Later a parliamentary motion of no-confidence in his government drew 186 opposition MP votes, well short of the 226 required.

    See for more.

    No comment: Don’t know the source either…

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