Using video to document human rights abuses

Published May 1, 2011

Jane Adong and Bukeni Waruzi filming during the WITNESS/Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice video advocacy training with the Greater North Women’s Voice for Peace network in Kampala, Uganda, Dec. 2010.
Photo: Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice/WItness

See it. Film it. Change it. This is the three-part mandate of WITNESS, a Brooklyn-based organization for video advocacy that trains local grass-roots defenders of human rights to document abuses in communities of conflict where victims are routinely silenced.

The power of video to reveal abuse became clear 20 years ago when a Los Angeles plumber grabbed his camcorder and taped the savage street beating of Rodney King, a black man, by four LA policemen. “That got world attention focused on police brutality,” said Grace Lile, director of operations and archives at WITNESS, at the recent “Sharing Truth” conference in Vancouver.

The audience for the WITNESS-supported videos includes decision-makers, legal authorities and affected communities; its ultimate aim is to effect meaningful change in laws, policies, practices and behaviours, said Lile, formerly video archivist CNN. In 2009, for example, WITNESS worked on a series of videos about the abuse and neglect of the elderly in the U.S. Made in partnership with the National Coalition on Aging, the videos were shown to key congressional representatives in support of a piece of federal legislation called the Elder Justice Act, which was enacted into law in 2010.

Since 1992, more than 5,000 hours of video have been compiled from more than 200 groups and individuals in 75 countries. Ω

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  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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