Viewfinder: WITNESS

I am impressed when technology is used to address social issues. I learned about an international human rights organization that encourages the use of video in their advocacy campaigns. WITNESS is a worldwide human rights organization that provides training and support to local groups. The organization helps people record human rights abuses by providing video gear, training and assistance in distributing footage to media outlets, government officials, policymakers and activists.

Its mission is to use video and online technologies to inform the world about human rights violations. The organization seeks to empower people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change. Musician Peter Gabriel and The Reebok Human Rights Foundation founded the group in 1992. Peter is the WITNESS Chair and remains extremely active in the organization.
Some of WITNESS’ biggest successes have occurred in Sierra Leone, Senegal, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kosovo, Mexico and even California. WITNESS partners fight for the rights of indigenous people, for an end to systemic gender violence and the use of children as soldiers, and for environmental protection where human communities are at stake. They are responsive to organizations where the use of video can enhance their campaigns.

WITNESS is big on training. They have a new endeavor, the Video Advocacy Institute, which seeks to train human rights defenders to integrate video advocacy into their campaigns. They teach production planning, shooting, editing and distribution. They also teach strategies, so that the video makes a difference. In the second half of 2007, the Video Advocacy Institute will take place in Brazil, Bulgaria, East Timor, France, Italy, Nepal, Poland, South Africa and the USA.

Their latest endeavor is the WITNESS Video Hub, a place where people can upload human rights-related video from handheld devices or laptops, to create communities and proposed “calls to action” around observed abuses. WITNESS has secured a major underwriter for the Internet bandwidth the Hub will require. Users can browse uploaded videos from the community, as well as from other human rights groups. Users can also access advocacy and community tools.

To help make shooting and uploading video accessible to non-technical people, WITNESS has partnered with Pure Digital Technologies, whose new Point & Shoot Camcorder has built-in software that enables users to connect directly to the WITNESS Hub.

I think the people at WITNESS have a great mission and I encourage you to support their cause. Check out the Web site at

Matthew York is Videomaker’s Publisher/Editor.

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