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.

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