Posts Tagged ‘Witness’

1 year of Human Rights Channel on YouTube: 90 countries. 1,892 videos

May 27, 2013

Twelve months ago, Witness and its partners at Storyful launched the first dedicated space on YouTube for verified citizen video on human rights issues. Screen Shot 2013-05-20 at 4.54.46 PM Read the rest of this entry »

Citizens with mobile phones intend to keep Kenya’s election clean and peaceful

February 24, 2013


Bukeni Waruzi – just back from a field trip to Kenya – posted an excellent piece on “Witness‘ blog on 23 February  under the title “Can Cell Phones Save Kenya’s Elections?. Here some excerpts:

The December 2007 elections were marred by unprecedented violence: killings, rapes, lootings, attacks on civilians, and massive displacement. Historically peaceful, Kenya devolved into violence that caught many unprepared—including human rights activists who were unable to use video to document the magnitude of what was happening.

New international training institute for online tactics for HRDs being set up in Florence

November 6, 2012

Normally I would not feel that BBC news (5 November – by Sean Coughlan, BBC News education correspondent) needs to be repeated in my blog but this story is so specifically linked to Human Rights Defenders and so much ‘hidden’ in the education/business section that I want to alert you all anyway. This is a shortened version.

An international training institute to teach online tactics for human rights campaigners is being set up in the Italian city of Florence. The first students, starting in the new year, will be drawn from human rights activists around the world – with the aim of arming them with the latest tools for digital dissent. There is a dangerous, high-stakes, hi-tech game of cat and mouse being played – with protesters needing to balance their secrecy and safety with their need to achieve the maximum public impact.

This training centre, being set up by the European wing of the US-based Robert Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, wants to combine academic study with practical skills and training. With a good dose of irony, the training institute is based in a former prison building, donated by the city of Florence.

Murate, FlorenceFederico Moro, the director of the project, says the intention is to use “technology to promote democracy, human rights and justice”. “The idea is that with social media you can achieve change,” he says. He says campaigners might have passion and belief in their struggles, but they also need practical knowledge. These students will be blog writers and campaigners, who will be able to study in Florence on scholarships provided by the Robert Kennedy Center. Recruiting will be complicated by the need to protect the privacy of people who might be put at risk even by applying.

As well as teaching individuals, the institute wants to provide information for organisations and businesses, advising on areas such as human rights legislation and ethical investment. But what does a digital activist – or a so-called “smart dissident” – need to know? Chris Michael, from the Brooklyn-based human rights group Witness, describes the practical steps that protesters are using to stay ahead.

There are websites that allow for anonymous internet access, allowing people to organise without revealing identities. There are also means of circumventing censors’ attempts at blocking websites. The Tor project software, an unexpected spin-off from military technology, is favoured by human rights campaigners. Mr Michael says there are also “work arounds” to make online video and phone calls more secure from surveillance.

Another practical development is software that can easily pixellate faces in video footage, protecting bystanders who might be put at risk by identification. In terms of posting videos of protests or repression, Witness is working with YouTube on a dedicated human rights channel. It’s already hosting hundreds of user-generated videos from a wide number of countries, at the moment including Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Burma, Chile, Spain, Russia, China and the United States. There’s a daily update of video reports which include anything from student protests to forcible evictions. Selecting and showcasing the most relevant videos is important to make an impact on YouTube’s global audience, Mr Michael says. “Very few people are going to watch for hours. You might be able to get their attention for 45 seconds, that’s the world people live in,” he says.

The spread of mobile phones means there is an unprecedented ability for recording and distributing evidence of violence against citizens. We’re living in a global goldfish bowl. But is this making the world a safer place? Can cheap video and social networking defrost dictatorships? To put it bluntly, could Hitler and Stalin have been exposed at an earlier stage by Twitter and YouTube?

Facebook poster in Cairo protestThe Arab Spring saw social networking becoming a forum for protest. But the question remains whether Facebook really enabled Arab revolutions, or whether it enabled the rest of the world to find out more about a revolution that was going to happen anyway. Stephen Bradberry, a community activist in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, uses the word “slacktivism” – as a caution for the idea that clicking on a “like” button is a sufficient alternative to grassroots organisation. He also makes the point that while the internet makes so much information accessible, the power to find it is handed over to the search engines and their algorithms.

Rana Husseini, a Jordanian activist and journalist who uncovered stories about honour killings, says the internet has given a voice to public opinion. She also shares concerns that digital technology can be used as tools for surveillance and control as well as openness and investigation. But she speaks passionately about the way that ordinary people risk their lives to record video clips on their mobile phones in conflicts such as Syria. “This couldn’t have happened in the past – and probably this person will vanish.”

But the act of documenting is an important statement in its own right, she says. The idea of so many individuals making their own video history in this way is “something new and important”.

As an educational project, the human rights training institute project in Florence is an unlikely collision of influences. It’s a highly individual project. Stephen Bradberry warns of the risk of relying on online campaigns instead of grassroots protests. Inside the sturdy medieval prison walls, in the birthplace of the European renaissance, there is this hi-tech centre for online civil rights, awaiting students from around the world. Into this mix is added the legacy of Robert Kennedy’s 1960s idealism. The foundation was set up in memory of the assassinated senator and is now headed by his daughter, Kerry Kennedy.

The article finishes with a good question “Does online technology help to protect the rights of the individual?” and a range of reactions. Read it and participate.


WITNESS Celebrates 20 Years Of Using Video For Human Rights

October 16, 2012

Rock Hill Herald Online, 12 OCTober 2012, reports on the 20 years anniversary of Witness.

Hosted by award winning actor and long-time supporter of LGBT rights Alan Cumming, the evening kicked off with a journey – taking guests back in time 20 years to look at how WITNESS and its partners have used video in human rights campaigns over the years. Music legend and WITNESS co-founder Peter Gabriel performed.

“WITNESS became a vision for me after the Human Rights Now! Tour back in 1988. I traveled with Amnesty International and met brave human rights defenders who suffered grave abuses. I documented their testimonies with my own handheld video camera in the hopes that their stories would not be buried or forgotten,” said Peter Gabriel. “20 years later, WITNESS is now as important as ever, helping people use video to tell their stories and giving them access to strategies and tools to create meaningful change.”

Since 1992, WITNESS has trained more than 4,500 human rights defenders and partnered with over 300 groups in 86 countries to produce campaign videos that have reached more than 260 million people worldwide.

“Tonight we celebrate how much WITNESS has accomplished over the last 20 years, but also look forward to how much more we can continue to accomplish,” said Yvette Alberdingk Thijm, Executive Director of WITNESS. “We are at a critical point in the history of human rights, where anyone with a camera can be not only a witness but also a catalyst for change. In this ‘cameras everywhere’ world, WITNESS is committed to helping grow the ranks of human rights defenders and citizen activists.”

Video clips of interviews and musical performances, plus images from the event can be accessed at

Read more here: YORK, Oct. 12, 2012: WITNESS Celebrates 20 Years Of Using Video For Human Rights At The Focus For Change Benefit | PRNewswire | Rock Hill Herald Online.


NEW YORK, Oct. 12, 2012: WITNESS Celebrates 20 Years Of Using Video For Human Rights At The Focus For Change Benefit | PRNewswire | Rock Hill Herald Online.

New Global Channel For Human Rights Videos launched

May 26, 2012

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

On 24 May 2012 two NGOs, WITNESS and Storyful, launched a new  channel devoted to human rights videos. The channel specializes in collecting and sharing citizen videos relevant to human rights. “The new human rights channel will give people an ‘on-the-ground’ perspective of underexposed stories often absent from mainstream media, highlight ways to take action and develop new collaborations amongst interested citizens,” says Sam Gregory, WITNESS’ Program Director. The exponential growth of portable video devices – especially in developing countries – has enabled everyday citizens to record otherwise hidden abuses and to advance human rights from the grassroots level.

The channel will feature:

  • Daily updates of breaking stories, alerts and related campaign videos
  • Featured stories through playlists gather videos together to provide insight into an evolving situation or an under covered issue
  • Profiles of videographers and organizations on YouTube who have made a major impact or a significant contribution to video for change
  • Tools and tactics offering 20 years of WITNESS expertise in video for change

This project will offer users new avenues for action and impact on Google+, where the broader human rights community will take part in discussions, share their material, and find collaborators.

The channel can be found at the following link:

And the conversation continues on Google+:


from: WITNESS And Storyful Launch New Global Channel For Human Rights Video – PR Newswire – The Sacramento Bee

Technology firms and Human Rights Defenders, not the same thing

December 14, 2011

In a recent blog (10 December 2011) published by the Huffington Post, the executive director of Witness, Yvette Alberdingk-Thijm, labels technology companies as the “New Human Rights Players” ( That seems a bit too much honor for companies that produce devices and services that are at best ‘neutral’ in the same way that telephones – or for that matter knives –  could be used for any purpose, good or bad. It would be more appropriate to say that human rights activists and their organisations happen to be mostly working in the area of communication and information and therefore they profit disproportionately from a wider  and cheaper access to information technologies. The film industry has been around for more than a century but served mostly governments and big business as the technology was expensive and difficult to transport; it is only recently that film images can be recorded and distributed easily and cheaply. And indeed organisations such as the 20-year Witness have played a remarkable role in strengthening the capacity of HRDs to make use of these new possibilities.

In fairness, in her article the Witness director does also refer to the darker side of the technology industry but limits herself to say that “there are many examples of governments misusing technology and social media to track down activists and repress freedom of expression“. When she states that “technology providers can also play a critical role in creating products and services that can better serve citizen activists and human rights defenders” and that “whether they realize it or not, technology companies are important new players in protecting human rights — they hold the key to determining the fate of the tens of millions of people turning to video, technology and social media for change“, this has to taken with a strong dose of salt. Not only are there hundreds of technology firms in the world (not just the western world, but  including countries such as China, Russia, Iran, India, Singapore) that dot not care about human rights and that are developing information technology  for war, repression, or simply commercial purposes.  If there are some technology firms that have a warm heart for human rights, wouldn’t it be better to simply mention them by name? Clearer for the reader and a deserved reward for the companies concerned.

Another aspect of the revolutionary development in information technology  that deserves attention is that of worldwide overload. In the same way that there is nowadays so much written information on human rights available that most people can hardly find their way and that much (good) material remains unused, there is a big risk that the hundreds of thousands of videos on You Tube will remain unseen or at least undervalued. Increasing the audience is perhaps more important than  increasing the data on offer.

Still, the article offers lots of interesting insights and says what Witness is planning to do about some of the drawbacks and you should certainly read it in full.

All said, it remains true that with access to modern information technology, Human Rights Defenders – not the necessarily the companies –  have the advantage of playing a home match.