The travels and travails of Human Rights Watch researcher Jonathan Pedneault
By Johnny Bliss
Life - you couldn’t make this stuff up. Or rather, you could, but no one would believe you.
That’s how I felt when I first met Jonathan Pedneault, the researcher from Human Rights Watch, who puts my comparatively lightweight attempts at investigative journalism to shame. (Not that it’s a competition.)
From February 25th to March 1st, Human Rights Watch researcher Jonathan Pedneault told some of his stories to our roaming reporter Johnny Bliss. They discussed many topics, including elections in the Central African Republic, the Arab Spring in Egypt, the South Sudanese civil war, and the plight of refugees in numerous countries who’ve been forced to flee their homes, just to name a few topics.
This broadcast on FM4’s Reality Check every day this week from 12pm, and is streamable seven days on demand.
Check out the Reality Check podcast!
He walks through two worlds - in one, he’s just another eccentric living at the top of the world in the cozy polar town of Longyearbyen. In the other, he’s investigating human rights abuses in war zones; places where a gunfight can start at any moment, where security and safety are by no means a given.
I didn’t actually meet him in Svalbard - I met him a couple of years ago, in transit, in Bangkok. We made small talk, and he mentioned his work in passing, leaving me fascinated and wanting to know more.
Fast forward to winter 2018, when we finally caught up over Skype, and he told me everything... or, at least enough of everything, to justify a week-long radio series, and this web article as well.
The man has led an exciting life! Here are a few of the highlights:
EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations on Flickr
In 2008, when he was only seventeen years old, he and a documentary filmmaker organized, and found funding for a journalism trip to Chad and Darfur. They traveled with an active rebel group, who took them to Darfur, where they visited burnt-out villages that had been attacked by the Sudanese army. Eventually, they caught up with refugees from some of those villages, while they awaited transport to UNHCR refugee camps.
Some years later, he was working for Amnesty International in the Central African Republic, and had the opportunity to observe a national election in the capital Bangui. Unfortunately, the situation went south pretty quickly.
He also was In Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring, when the notorious „Camel Battle“ between pro- and anti-Mubarak forces took place. He found himself caught in the middle of it, and barely survived.
On one of his numerous trips to South Sudan during the civil war, his work documenting human rights abuses came to resemble the work of a detective; he investigated and helped to identify two mysterious bodies that had been left in a teak forest, near a military base.
Over the years, Jonathan got to know many South Sudanese people and has helplessly watched as conditions got worse and worse for them. Jonathan relates the story of one such person, who had to flee his home village with his family, and get resettled in a refugee camp.
When he’s not working in the field, risking life and limb, he needs a quiet place to prepare and submit his reports for Human Rights Watch. For the last couple of years, that place has been Svalbard (Spitsbergen). As quiet and safe as the town of Longyearbyen may seem, living in the far north comes with its own share of dangers. But what led him to move there?
Johnny Bliss, 2014
February 25th to March 1st: Human Rights Watch researcher Jonathan Pedneault told me some of his most terrifying, depressing, and inspiring stories. We discussed elections in the Central African Republic, the Arab Spring in Egypt, the South Sudanese civil war, and the plight of refugees in numerous countries who’ve been forced to flee their homes, just to name a few topics.
Hear the whole series via the Reality Check podcast!
Publiziert am 01.03.2019