How to be involved in the world – A testimony of Jonathan Pedneault


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Jonathan Pedneault, researcher at Human Right Watch

The world in which we evolve today is complex and governed by numerous actors. One of them is the Non-Governmental Organizations, which play a significant role in national and international issues.

Jonathan Pedneault is a researcher, specialized in the Africa division, in one of those non-profit organizations : Human Rights Watch. He is a self-taught man with a passion for Human Rights, fighting especially with the use of journalism and reporting for the resolution of conflicts, having gained experience in crisis environments and war zones after eight years of work. Moreover, this capacity to find innovative solutions to adapt to all quandaries enables him to work with different organizations.

Indeed, since January 2016, he has investigated international human rights and humanitarian law violations committed by the government and rebel forces in South Sudan. Before, he worked as a consulting researcher for Amnesty International in the Central African Republic, where he reported on the protection of civilians and sexual abuse by United Nations peacekeepers. He thinks that both organizations have strengths and weaknesses and are complementary in many ways. While Amnesty reaches a larger audience, Human Right Watch reaches a more influential crowd with hard-hitting research products coming directly from the source itself.

These commitments in South Sudan and Central African Republic have changed his perception of life in so many ways that he told me I would need to write books about it. For him, each experience builds one upon the other may have made him more cynical and bitter, but they have also made him understand the common problems we face – abuse, inequality, intolerance – in a more realistic light. Indeed, while working for Non-Governmental Organizations and thinking they have a positive impact, J. Pedneault also gives a critical point of view about it. Actually, he said that “NGOs are far from flawless and may at times cause more harm than good. That said, they are part of a body of actors that keep power – whether political, economic or social – in check. I don’t think that there is a need to grant them with more power, but there is a need to grant them the space needed to grow and try and influence society or sectors of society, in competition with other actors”.

First of all, he coproduced a documentary for CBC/Radio-Canada which is “Refuge: a film about Darfur” and which was released in 2008. Then, from 2010 to 2012, he co-directed another documentary called “The New Great Game”. This one was shot in Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Egypt and Asia and focused on the multi-polarization of the Middle East’s maritime geopolitics. Moreover, in 2013 and 2014, he trained South Sudanese and Central African radio reporters to conflict-sensitive journalism. Actually, he sees journalism as a “school of life”. He is deeply involved in documentaries which allow the filmmaker to really delve into a story and communicate complex realities in a compelling manner. He hopes that it can bring to the audience an higher understanding of the world they live in. Concerning his expectations, he said that “my hope was to provoke curiosity, and bring people to take informed decisions about their lives and how they affect those of others”.

He holds that “Human Rights continue to be blatantly violated in countless countries. That requires change and one may not and should not try to effect change without accessing and consuming reliable and factual information”. Furthermore, he argues that Africa has a weight in the international community. However, many do not quite realize it yet because it is trapped in too many internal conflicts. Therefore, working in Central African Republic is different from working in South Sudan or Somalia or Libya. But this type of work requires an adaptation to our surroundings. He said that “It’s each time quite different and I reckon that this is what keeps me going.”

Eventually, he said “I have seen both life and death in a way that makes me sad I’m alive and happy I’m not dead”. Nowadays, he highlitghs that the “Real change” is everyone’s business. Not just governments. The place where we are now, with a rise in populist discourses throughout the planet, shows that we have much more work to do. Indeed, nowadays our world is in the midst of turbulent times. If we want a majority of us to escape unscathed, we have to get down to work. All of us.

By Chlöé Raguin

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