Jason Squire worked as a police officer in South Australia. Later, he uncovered mass graves as an investigator of crimes against humanity. He then moved into the children’s rights field. Six months ago, he joined the Raoul Wallenberg Institute as Director of the Regional Asia Office in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Basically, one thing led to another and I ended up working in child rights and child protection. After a while, I moved out of that area and into management – and here I am, he says.
Jason became interested in human rights when he worked as police officer and prosecutor in the 1990s.
I joined the police force at a point of transition. It was sort of a very old-fashioned and colonial force based on a military model. I joined at an interesting time in the late 1980s, when the human rights perspective was starting to really gain ground, he says.
He remembers how South Australia’s treatment of children in conflict with the law changed when the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified in the late 1980s.
It became based on international principles, and I was part of that transition. I’ve experienced the connection between international principles and the practical process to fulfil those rights as a duty-bearer. I suppose this was when I started to become more interested in human rights.
The Difference between Theory and Practice
Jason has worked with theoretical as well as practical aspects of human rights. As he gained more experience with different legal instruments, he learned more about the difference between theory and practical implementation of human rights – and the accompanying challenges.
The complexity of human rights became especially clear when he served as a serious crime investigator with the United Nations.
A very common narrative that was given to us was: ‘I did it because, if I didn’t do it, they would kill me or my family or rape my daughter in front of me’. This is the complexity of human rights – does the offender have rights?” he says. “Trying to unpack human rights theory in a live situation is a different experience. It’s a matter of keeping going and seeing what is possible.
Jason says his strong sense of justice is what keeps him going in his work with human rights today.
“I think I just have a strong conviction to social justice,” he says, but stresses that he tries to avoid being ethnocentric in his convictions and to actively accommodate as many perspectives as possible.
It’s easy to produce a critical piece of research and just leave. It’s not what we’re about. What we are trying to do is build relationships and build momentum for change, he says about RWI’s work.
“A Wonderful Part of the World”
The mix of faiths, traditions and much more is something Jason meets every day in his job in Asia – and what he enjoys the most about working and living there.
It’s a really interesting place where you get a combination of traditions, cultures and rituals which is as important for rights as anything else. It’s just a wonderful place to be. I really enjoy it. It’s so unique in the world, he says.
Jason purposely chose to do his PhD in Malaysia because he wanted to frame his research and be supervised by Asian scholars, to explore where and how eastern philosophical positioning coalesces with a western-centric rights perspectives. Jason says it was the best thing he has done to understand human rights and their challenges in both principle and practice.
RWI’s Regional Asia Programme focuses on various topics but the environmental impact of climate change is what he has experienced as the most prevalent issue during his time in Jakarta.
I think what we’re getting the most interest around – something that is piquing interest – is that we’re about to release a piece of work on climate change and environmental displacement. Wherever we go and I talk about it, people are very interested. Because this topic is now, this is a now conversation – climate refugees, climate displaced people. It transverses class, social status, wealth… if you’ve got a 5 million-dollar home by the sea in Sweden, guess what: the sea doesn’t care, he says.
He hopes RWI can function as “good friend” to Asian decision-makers and inspire change:
We are promoting discourse, analysis, discussion, influencing decision-makers, we have another layer of critical knowledge that they can rely on and utilize. We walk the change road with them. What is possible relies on willingness and respectful dialog. You have to understand how Asia works. Asia doesn’t need Europe or Australia. It has its own identity, money and wealth generation. It has its own understanding and interpretation. You have to understand that in this work.