A note on Radhika Coomaraswamy’s forwarding business
it is a language/literacy issue or perhaps it’s some fundamental human
trait, but a significant number of people seem to believe that clicking
the ‘forward’ option in email or mobile phone amounts to communication.
Some words do go back and forth. Sometimes other people say better what
we want to express. Still, it can’t be just that, I feel. This world is
made of compulsive forwarders. There’s a lot of evidence in my inboxes.
Dr Radhika Coomaraswamy
Sharing is good, don’t get me wrong. Some ‘forwards’ do illuminate,
make my day and in general constitutes the passing around of good news.
Some, however, are tainted by mal-intent. Some indicate ignorance. I
suppose it takes all kinds to make this world.
Violence against women
There are no laws pertaining to forwarding. There is etiquette,
though and depending on who is forwarding what to whom, it says a lot
about all those concerned. In general though it is safe to assume that
if something is forwarded, it amounts to endorsement unless the
particular ‘communication’ is caveated by comment or convention.
This note is inspired by a forwarder, the forwarded and the forwarded
to; in other words, a particular communication. The forwarder in this
instance is Dr Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the
Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, former Director of
the International Centre for Ethnic Studies and former UN Special
Rapporteur on Violence against Women. This is not, then, some
uneducated, ill-informed, too-much-time-on-hands person who doesn’t know
enough English to write an email or to minute a communication that is
forwarded. When she says something, it comes with the full weight of
office, qualification, experience and track-record. When the forwarding
comes without qualifier and indeed includes an emphasis of selected
sections of the original email, it is endorsement. Unqualified.
Now Radhika has been conspicuously selective in her anguish about
violence. Who does what to whom matters to her. Some violators are
treated with kids’ gloves. Some are accorded the grace of blind-eye. In
certain cases, even if violations are unproven and allegations tainted
by provable mal-intent, compromised by the lack of credible
substantiation and based on the politically motivated rants of
unreliable sources, she is positively livid. Hassina Leelaratne, a
freelance journalist living in California, says it all in a revealing
comment titled ‘Is UN Special Rep using her office for personal
vendettas and self-promotion?’
What’s this ‘communication’, though? It was a forward, an ad in fact,
of an airing of the controversial (I am being kind here) Channel 4 film
(yes!) widely publicized by its key backers, the LTTE rump outside Sri
Lanka and various journeymen and journeywomen of the Eelam project.
Radhika has included a synopsis of the video aired by ABC in Australia
the previous night in the ‘Daily Press Review’ emailed to UN staff by
her on July 5, 2011. Radhika’s insert says more about her politics,
intellect and integrity than about the film: ‘A British television
documentary, aired on ABC’s Four Corners programme last night, showed
evidence of rape, torture and murder of civilians during the Sri Lankan
government’s war against the Tigers.’ The synopsis itself is Channel 4’s
(and ABC’s) own lengthy advertisement which attempts to add scientific
credibility to the video by dubbing it a ‘forensic’ investigation,
Hassina reminds us.
The makers of this film has got a lot of egg on their faces on
account of careless doctoring of footage, ignorance about context, lack
of journalistic integrity and so on. Hassina points out that there is no
correlation between the subject Radhika has been tasked to oversee and
‘Killing Fields’ and more importantly, observes that the film is
strangely silent on the LTTE’s use of child soldiers and violence
against children, things that should worry her no end, 24/7. We can be
kind and say that at a personal level she can worry about anything and
everything, not just children and armed conflict.
In that case she should do it on her own time, using a personal email
account. I’ll let that pass. What one cannot ‘let pass’ is the fact that
Radhika cannot be seen as a compulsive forwarder. She’s got too high a
profile to be categorized as an ignorant clown.
Still, perhaps it’s all in a day’s work at the UN, judging by the
kinds of howlers that emanate from that supposedly august body. Deputy
UN spokesperson Farhan Haq is reported to have described this forwarding
fiasco as ‘an internal document compiled by Radhika Coomaraswamy’s
office and does not reflect the views of Coomaraswamy or her office.’
All I could think of was ‘WOW!’
So whose ‘views’ were being reflected here? Those of Channel 4? Those
of Fr (sic) Emmanuel, the current face of Eelam and former apologist for
terrorism a la the ‘Our Boys’ rhetoric? Haq says that copy-pasting
Channel 4 advertising was just ‘information’. No Haq, that’s
advertising. That’s endorsement too because there was no qualifier
included in the forward.
Now Haq says those were not Radhika’s views. Then he says it’s
‘information’. Well, if passing around information is part of Radhika’s
job, what are the relevant caveats? Is she required to forward
information from all sources, serious and pedestrian, academic and
malicious, states and terrorists? Channel 4 has built a considerable
case for being utterly out of order when it comes to journalistic
integrity. Radhika Coomaraswamy cannot be ignorant of this. Is she going
to or has she forwarded clips and other communiqu‚s put out by Al Qaeda
and the Taliban, one wonders. If she does, will Haq shrug, grin and
There is a law against theft. Those who steal break the law. Those
who purchase stolen goods also transgress. There is however naive
complicity and conscious involvement. Radhika Coomaraswamy is not
compulsive forwarder. She is no innocent passer of information. She is a
smart, accomplished purveyor of life-breath to terrorist project and
credibility to pernicious operators that seek to destabilize a member
state of the United Nations.
In most other situations I might have asked ‘have you no shame?’
That’s meaningless when it comes to Radhika, I’ve concluded a long time
ago. She has none.