September 23, 2010

Witness: Putting a face on human rights

Witness: Documenting human rights from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaAlot of people don’t think of video when they talk about social media, but it’s a critical part of the landscape. “Witness was founded on the idea of testimonies and powerful stories,” says blog editor Matisse Bustos Hawkes. “Formulating a story that can reach your intended audience is an incredibly effective way of putting a face on an issue.”

You’ve likely heard of Witness (they prefer the all-caps WITNESS), the international nonprofit that provides video storytelling training to human rights organizations around the world. Witness was founded in 1992 by musician and activist Peter Gabriel and the Reebok Human Rights Foundation as a project of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (now Human Rights First.)

While Brooklyn-based Witness is not a political organization, “there are a lot of things happening in the current events landscape, the news cycle, that can be seen or thought about in a human rights context,” Matisse said, citing the Iranian street protests of 2009-10 and the Saffron revolution of fall 2007 in Myanmar (Burma).

Witness helps frame and shape a story with the objective of reaching a target audience with a specific goal in mind. But Witness does not exist simply to convey the news. “We are telling a story from a particularly perspective,” as a documentary filmmaker might — from an advocacy perspective framed with the lens of human rights, she said during an interview at Personal Democracy Forum 2010.

Watch, download or embed the video on Vimeo. Continue reading

June 30, 2010

A mobile platform for human rights

Handheld human rights from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

Co-director of Digital Democracy spells out how new platform can skirt government censorship

JD LasicaOne of the organizations I’ve been admiring from afar over the past year is Digital Democracy, which works with local partners to put information into the hands of people who need it most – those neglected, disenfranchised or abused by their rulers. The group employs education, communication and participation to empower citizens to build and shape their own communities.

Myanmar crisis mapIn this interview conducted last year, co-director Emily Jacobi (@emjacobi on Twitter) discusses Handheld Human Rights, a platform, project and website that makes human rights data accessible and actionable. Designed in concert with Burmese human rights organizations, Handheld Human Rights enables people there to communicate securely within their networks and to map crisis hotspots so that the international community can see the human rights violations taking place inside Myanmar.

The tool enables human rights workers to collect eyewitness accounts of killings, forced labor, rape as a tool of war and other brutalities and relay them to the outside world by skirting media censorship from Myanmar’s autocratic military junta. And it is slowly being adopted in other troubled places, like Thailand.

Watch, embed or download the video on Vimeo
Watch or embed on YouTube

It’s a wonderful example of how activists can use media and data to drive home a powerful message. Contact Digital Democracy directly if you’d like to use Handheld Human Rights. Continue reading

November 4, 2009

The story behind Invisible Children

The story behind Invisible Children from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaLaren Poole came about his cause, Invisible Children, completely by accident. He and two friends were documenting the refugee situation in Sudan six years ago when they crossed the border into northern Uganda and came upon a completely different conflict they didn’t know about: kids who were being abducted by the thousands and forced to fight in the bush as child soldiers.

The makeshift filmmaking crew stayed for two months and released the documentary Invisible Children. From there, the movie evolved into a global movement and nonprofit organization that is using the transformative power of story to change lives.

In this short video interview, conducted at Social Capital Markets 2009 in San Francisco, Poole talks about the organization’s effort to get governments around the world to stop Joseph Kony, leader of the rebel movement in Uganda and “the world’s worst criminal,” in Poole’s words, from forcing thousands of children into armed conflict.

invisible children logoToward that end, Invisible Children has held a series of large rallies nationwide, organized a march on Washington, DC, and raised funds to build 10 high schools in Uganda. Throughout it all, they’ve used the tools of the Internet and social media to rally attention to the cause. “We’ve unleashed this young generation on this problem and documented what they’ve done about it,” he says.

One highlight of the awareness campaign came this past spring when Invisible Children staged a weeklong series of rescue events in 100 cities around the world. The crowds of mostly young people included 80,000 people in Chicago who stayed until, at the end, 500 hard-core supporters managed to earn Oprah Winfrey’s attention by camping outside her office building. “We held Oprah hostage,” Poole says, tongue in cheek, until she finally put them on her show on May 1.

Watch, embed or download the video interview on Vimeo Continue reading

September 3, 2009

Ethics, human rights and social activism

What are our ethical responsibilities when recording video of people under oppression?

Guest post by Sam Gregory

In June, my colleague Sameer Padania and I were part of a panel at the Open Video Conference in New York City on Human Rights, Indigenous Media and Open Video. We used the opportunity to launch what will be a continuing effort by WITNESS to engage with the human rights issues around dignity, re-victimization, consent and security raised by contemporary online video.

Above is the video we used for the WITNESS presentation at the conference.  Watch and tell us what you think — what should WITNESS (and others) be doing in this area?

My colleague Priscila Néri’s post on the footage of Neda Agha-Soltan in Iran is a thought-provoking place to start: Iran Protests: A Woman Dies on Camera — to post or not to post?

WITNESS was created over 15 years ago coming out of the Rodney King incident asking this question: What if every human rights worker had a camera in their hand? Now, nearly every citizen does have a camera — and it is participants, witnesses and perpetrators who are filming. Continue reading