Newly appointed Permanent Delegate of Sri Lanka to UNESCO, Ambassador Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka participating in the International Symposium on the Freedom of Expression at UNESCO in Paris questioned the right of Reporters without Borders (RSF) to stand in judgment of legitimate member states.
The Secretary General of Reporters without Borders, Mr. Jean-Francois Julliard, a panelist at the symposium, in his remarks earlier noted several countries and their leaders, as being infringers of the freedom of expression, which has also been highlighted in the material displayed and referred to by the organisation.
Ambassador Jayatilleka cautioned against a discourse in which there was an implicit ”moral food chain” where the states of the Global South were at the bottom, with those of the Global North above and Non Governmental Organisations of the North super imposed on top of the chain. He said that he didn’t advocate a reversal of the order either but stressed that bodies like UNESCO must not be misled by groups such as RSF with defamatory material projected as being accurate. Ambassador Jayatilleka questioned as to how such groups, like RSF in particular, could sit as ‘judge, jury and executioner’ and claim a moral high ground.
Sri Lanka’s Permanent Delegate criticised the UNESCO website for featuring the bio data of the Secretary General of RSF which boasted of him having campaigned for a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and having demonstrated at the ceremony in Olympia.
Ambassador Jayatilleka pointed out that although the RSF put up on a screen a ‘rogues gallery’ as it were of leaders such as Fidel Castro as “enemies of the freedom of expression”, it was indeed courageous individuals like Fidel who gave shelter and voice to the voiceless during the long dark night of dictatorships in Latin America, thereby contributing to the freedom that the entire region enjoys today.
Recently RSF called for a boycott of the Galle Literary Festival which opened today (26 January 2011) in Sri Lanka, citing several factors as being against the freedom of expression, but were thwarted in their attempt by social media and human rights activists within the country who contradicted the basis for the boycott call.
Speakers from China, Cuba, Venezuela, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Cameroon and several other States also raised queries on the moralising postures being adopted by NGOs and especially questioned the right for such stances to be adopted at intergovernmental organizations like UNESCO.