Archive for the 'Witness (NGO)' Category

Tonight WITNESS’ virtual Gala with Peter Gabriel, Kimberley Nichole and Angela Davis

May 21, 2020

Tonight, 21 May 21, at 6:00 p.m. ET, the NGO WITNESS has its virtual Un-Gala, a celebration in defense of truth and human rights, live on Facebook and YouTube.

You’ll be able to hear the activist, author and educator Angela Davis, in conversation with media activist and WITNESS’ Senior Program Coordinator Palika Makam.  You’ll be hearing a new piece on COVID-19 created by WITNESS’ Founder Peter Gabriel  and you can listen to the incredible voice of artist Kimberly Nichole.
The Un-Gala is free of charge but donations to WITNESS are most welcome.

RSVP here

 

Policy response from Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: Witness

April 5, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, I will try and give some examples in the course of the coming weeks. Here the one by Sam Gregory of

…..The immediate implications of coronavirus – quarantine, enhanced emergency powers, restrictions on sharing information –  make it harder for individuals all around the world to document and share the realities of government repression and private actors’ violations.  In states of emergency, authoritarian governments in particular can operate with further impunity, cracking down on free speech and turning to increasingly repressive measures. The threat of coronavirus and its justifying power provides cover for rights-violating laws and measures that history tells us may long outlive the actual pandemic. And the attention on coronavirus distracts focus from rights issues that are both compounded by the impact of the virus and cannot claim the spotlight now.

At WITNESS we are adapting and responding, led by what we learn and hear from the communities of activism, human rights and civic journalism with which we collaborate closely across the world. We will continue to ensure that our guidance on direct documentation helps people document the truth even under trying circumstances and widespread misinformation. We will draw on our experience curating voices and information from closed situations to make sense in confusion. We will provide secure online training while options for physical meeting are curtailed. We will provide meaningful localized guidance on how to document and verify amid an information pandemic; and we will ensure that long-standing struggles are not neglected now when they need it most.

In this crisis moment, it is critical that we enhance the abilities and defend the rights of people who document and share critical realities from the ground. Across the three core thematic issues we currently work on, the need is critical. For issues such as video as evidence from conflict zones, these wars continue on and reach their apex even as coronavirus takes all the attention away. We need only look to the current situation in Idlib, Yemen or in other states of conflict in the Middle East.

For other issues, like state violence against minorities, many people already live in a state of emergency.

Coronavirus response in Complexo do Alemão favela, Rio de Janeiro (credit: Raull Santiago)

Favela residents in Brazil have lived with vastly elevated levels of police killings of civilians for years, and now face a parallel health emergency. Meanwhile immigrant communities in the US have lived in fear of ICE for years and must now weigh their physical health against their physical safety and family integrity. Many communities – in Kashmir and in Rakhine State, Burma – live without access to the internet on an ongoing basis and must still try and share what is happening. And for those who fight for their land rights and environmental justice, coronavirus is both a threat to vulnerable indigenous and poor communities lacking health care, sanitation and state support as well as a powerful distraction from their battle against structural injustice.

A critical part of WITNESS’ strategy is our work to ensure technology companies actions and government regulation of technology are accountable to the most vulnerable members of our global society – marginalized populations globally, particularly those outside the US and Europe, as well as human rights defenders and civic journalists. As responses to coronavirus kick-in there are critical implications in how both civic technology and commercial technology are now being deployed and will be deployed.

Already, coronavirus has acted as an accelerant – like fuel on the fire – to existing trends in technology. Some of these have potentially profound negative impacts for human rights values, human rights documentation and human rights defenders; others may hold a silver lining.

My colleague Dia Kayyali has already written about the sudden shift to much broader algorithmic content moderation that took place last week as Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube sent home their human moderators. Over the past years, we’ve seen the implications of both a move to algorithmic moderation and a lack of will and resourcing: from hate speech staying on platforms in vulnerable societies, to the removal critical war crimes evidence at scale from YouTube, to a lack of accountability for decisions made under the guise of countering terrorist and violent extremist content. But in civil society we did not anticipate that such a shift to more broad algorithmic control would happen so rapidly in such a short period of time. We must closely monitor and push for this change not to adversely affect societies and critical struggles worldwide in a moment when they are already threatened by isolation and increased government repression. As Dia suggests, now is the moment for these companies to finally make their algorithms and content moderation processes more transparent to critical civil society experts, as well as reset on how they support and treat the human beings who do the dirty work of moderation.

WITNESS’s work on misinformation and disinformation spans a decade of supporting the production of truthful, trustworthy content in war zones, crises and long-standing struggles for rights. Most recently we have focused on the emerging threats from deepfakes and other forms of synthetic media that enable increasingly realistic fakery of what looks like a real person saying or doing something they never did.

We’ve led the first global expert meetings in Brazil, Southern Africa and Southeast Asia on what a rights-respecting, global responses should look like in terms of understanding threats and solutions. Feedback from these sessions has stressed the need for attention to a continuum of audiovisual misinformation including ‘shallowfakes’, the simpler forms of miscontextualized and lightly edited videos that dominate attempts to confuse and deceive. Right now, social media platforms are unleashing a series of responses to misinformation around Coronavirus – from highlighting authoritative health information from country-level and international sources, to curating resources, offering help centers, and taking down a wider range of content that misinforms, deceives or price gouges including even leading politicians, such as President Bolsonaro in Brazil. The question we must ask is what we want to see internet companies continue to do after the crisis: what should they do for a wider range of misinformation and disinformation outside of health – and what do we not want them to do? We’ll be sharing more about this in the coming weeks.

And where can we find a technological silver lining? One area may be the potential to discover and explore new ways to act in solidarity and agency with each other online. A long-standing area of work at WITNESS is how to use ‘co-presence’ and livestreaming to bridge social distances and help people witness snd support one another when physical proximity is not possible.

Our Mobil-Eyes Us project supported favela-based activists to use live video to better engage their audiences to be with them, and provide meaningful support. In parts of the world that benefit from broadband internet access, and the absence of arbitrary shutdowns, and the ability to physically isolate, we are seeing an explosion of experimentation in how to operate better in a world that is both physically distanced, yet still socially proximate. We should learn from this and drive experimentation and action in ensuring that even as our freedom of assembly in physical space is curtailed for legitimate (and illegitimate) reasons, our ability to assemble online in meaningful action is not curtailed but enhanced.

In moments of crisis good and bad actors alike will try and push the agenda that they want. In this moment of acceleration and crisis, WITNESS is committed to ensuring an agenda firmly grounded, and led by a human rights vision and the wants and needs of vulnerable communities and human rights defenders worldwide.

Coronavirus and human rights: Preparing WITNESS’s response

 

German opera comes to its senses and rescinds award ceremony for General Sisi

February 5, 2020

The Semper Opera House in Dresden, Germany (AFP
The Middle East Eye correspondent reported on 4 February 2020 that an annual awards ceremony at the Semper Opera House in Germany’s Dresden has been cancelled after the decision to grant Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi a presitigious prize created a public relations crisis.

Sisi, the general-turned-president who is a chief architect of serious human rights violations [for just a few examples, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/egypt/], was set to receive the Order of St George at the Semper Opera Ball on Friday. It is awarded to “those who have, like St. George, been a force for good in the world, despite all opposition – those who swim against the current.

Though the Semper Opera Ball will go ahead, hosting 2,500 guests, its PR agency Zastrow + Zastrow told Middle East Eye that the award ceremony traditionally accompanying it has been scrapped. Sisi, however, has already been handed the prize. A delegation from the Opera Ball Association, led by its director Hans-Joachim Frey, visited Cairo on 26 January and presented the award to Sisi at the presidential palace. News about the award quickly sparked a backlash against the event and its organisers.

At the time, Frey defended the award as a token of appreciation for what he described as Sisi’s role in restoring stability and peace to Egypt and Africa. But that characterisation has been denounced by human rights defenders. On Tuesday, Vanessa Ullrich, an expert at Amnesty International Germany, told MEE that those granting Sisi an award have a “responsibility to carefully consider who is the right person to honour in public and who is being called an outstanding bridge-builder and peacemaker”.

MDR, the main broadcaster of the event, condemned the award as “wrong”, saying the media organisation had no influence on the decision. The network’s entertainment chief, Peter Dreckmann, promised his team would not broadcast any part of the event that features Sisi’s award.

Multiple celebrities who had been invited to the ball have also distanced themselves from the event, in the aftermath of what German media described as a “scandal”. The latest were German billionaire Dietmar Hopp and former Bayern FC president Uli Hoeness.

Hopp, who was due to be awarded the same medal as Sisi, said on Tuesday he has turned down the award. Hoeness, who had been chosen to present the award to Hopp, has also followed suit, according to the German press agency DPA. The gala’s main host, prominent TV anchor Judith Rakers, announced on Wednesday she was pulling out altogether, complaining the Semper Opera Ball had been turned into a political event. Following Rakers’ withdrawal, her nominated replacement Mareile Hoppner also announced her rejection of the role. She cited the “very justified criticism of the selection of a prize winner”.

In response to the outcry, Frey apologised for the award. “We are aware of the irritation that has arisen and we sincerely regret it,” he said in a statement. “We would like to apologise for the award ceremony and distance ourselves from it. The award ceremony was a mistake.” Frey also said the award will not be part of the Semper Opera Ball programme, “in word or picture”.

Despite Frey’s apology, public figures have continued to pull out of the event. Dresden’s mayor was among those who denounced the honour.  “It is inconceivable for me how this honour has come about and which criteria were followed,” Mayor Dirk Hilbert said. “I am reserving the right to decide whether I will appear officially in the programme as I have done before, and whether I will take part in the ball with my guests.

Still, It was not immediately clear whether the award will be reversed. Sisi is not attending the gala.

[ The Award Committee seems to have problems in slecting winners anyway: In 2009, the Order of St George was controversially awarded to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Three years ago it was handed to Saudi Arabia’s Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman].

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/german-opera-crisis-over-sisi-award

Peter Gabriel and Susan Sarandon encourage UN Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, Christof Heyns, in visit Honduras on 23 May

May 19, 2016

Berta Cáceres, an indigenous environmental human rights defender was killed two months ago. Berta was leading the fight against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam project that is an environmental and cultural threat to the Lenca community [see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/berta-caceres/]. The UN Special Rapporteur is visiting Honduras as from 23 May. One should hope that the NGOs pressure [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/exceptional-response-from-ngo-world-on-killing-of-berta-caceres/] as well as the short video messages by Peter Gabriel and Susan Sarandon published on 12 May by Witness will help to get justice:

 

The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, Read the rest of this entry »

DiploHack event on human rights to be held in Geneva on 26-27 February

February 24, 2016

The Permanent Mission of the Netherlands in Geneva, THE Port Association (https://twitter.com/theportatcern) and Impact Hub Geneva will host their hackathon in the field of human rights, on the 26/27 February 2016. The Human Rights DiploHack event will bring together diplomats and human rights experts with tech developers, designers, innovators and entrepreneurs from all over Europe and beyond, to experiment and innovate on projects that directly impact people’s lives. From the multidisciplinary expertise of the participants, teams will be formed to work on two challenges presented by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR):

  • “How can Human Right Defenders collect and transport evidence in a safe way?”, and
  • “Does a photo or video tell the ‘truth?”.

[as a first contribution I refer to the video as evidence instructions posted by Witness on 18 February 2016

The result will be presented at the Palais des Nations, on 29 February during a side event open to the public on the occasion of the Human Rights Council (for accreditation to this side event, non-UN-badge holders are invited to contact the organizers before 24 February). True Heroes Films (THF) will be filming the event and will produce a short film to be shown at the side event.THF_SIMPLE

http://www.diplohack.org/geneva-diplohack-for-human-rights.html

Human Rights Day 2015: human rights defenders are main topic

December 10, 2015

International Human Rights Day is an occasion for many organizations to publish statements on human rights. For those who have not enough time to go through all of them, here a selection of four main statements that focus on human rights defenders:  Read the rest of this entry »

Round up of 2014 in human rights images

December 30, 2014

What better way for a blog that is interested in the power of images for human rights than this overview – courtesy of Witness – which published this compilation on 10 December 2014. To see the original videos used in this montage and more about them, as well as a map of videos curated on the Human Rights Channel in 2014, an accompanying article by the curator, and more, click on the following link: http://bit.ly/HRC-2014

The music is from: We Always Thought the Future Would Be Kind of Fun by Chris Zabriskie.

http://hrc.witness.org

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OF YOU.

 

How to deal with digital video: key features

October 16, 2014

What every human rights defender should know about video, images etc.

Instruction video published on 15 October 2014 by Witness. What is a video format? A codec? What do 1080 and 720 refer to? What about “i” and “p”? In this video, archivist and writer of WITNESS’ award winning guide, Yvonne Ng, provides an overview of the key technical characteristics of video for everyday users with visual examples. Comment on Witness blog: http://wp.me/p4j1y7-5J2

http://archiveweb.witness.org

Using Video for Documentation and Evidence: on-line course by New Tactics from 21 July

July 7, 2014

Citizen media

(Photo credit: WITNESS, used under Creative Commons)

Kelly Matheson of WITNESS and the New Tactics community organise an online conversation on the Using Video for Documentation and Evidence from 21 to 25 July, 2014. User-generated content can be instrumental in drawing attention to human rights abuses. But many filmers and activists want their videos to do more. They have the underlying expectation that footage exposing abuse can help bring about justice. Unfortunately, the quality of citizen video and other content rarely passes the higher bar needed to function as evidence in a court of law. This online discussion is an opportunity for practitioners of law, technology and human rights to share their experiences, challenges, tools and ideas to help increase the chances that the footage citizens and activists often risk their lives to capture can do more than expose injustice – it can also serve as evidence in the criminal and civil justice processes.

Using Video for Documentation and Evidence | New Tactics in Human Rights.

Witness 2013 overview in video

January 10, 2014

In relation to the other post of today about Witness’ new application, I want to draw your attention to the video posted on 23 December giving excerpts from the human rights channel covering police brutality, torture, chemical weapons attacks, etc. Through the lenses of bystanders, witnesses, and sometimes even perpetrators, you see the darkest episodes of humanity, all with the ease of a click, and the speed of an upload. They come from  Daveyton, South Africa in late February, watching with other shocked bystanders as officers handcuffed Mido Macia to their van and drove away, dragging the taxi driver down the gravel road behind them; from Haiti were you can listen to Haitian earthquake survivors, who testified that officials, landowners, and thugs were attempting to force them out of tent camps and into the streets. And in the pre-dawn hours of mid-August, in a suburban Damascus hospital, witnessing in horror victims as young as babies suffering from what would later be confirmed to be a chemical weapons attack. [In 2013, the Human Rights Channel curated nearly 2300 videos from 100 countries, but as the importance of citizen video becomes clear, so too do the challenges it involves, including the need for verification and the potential of misuse.]