Turn the cameras on! 

When the media yesterday carried the story that the Peruvian police reportedly murdered 40 indigenous Awajun activists in the Amazon, opening fire on their peaceful demonstration and dumping the bodies in a nearby river, the news stories all used the words “reportedly” and “according to the activists”.  Yet, catching video images on a mobile phone and broadcasting them around the world on the web is no longer a big deal. Would it matter for Awajun campaign if we didn’t have to write “reportedly”?  If there was video documentation circulating on the web of the massacre and cover up? Of course it would! So the real question we have to ask ourselves, is how can we help grassroots campaigners make use of the technology that is out there.

It is a simple idea, really.  Give activists cameras so they can film human rights abuses they are fighting against, and let the world see evidence that is impossible to deny.  For 16 years now, Witness has been putting video in the hands of the human rights activists throughout the world.

Since Witness started its work, the world of video has changed radically. The original technological catalyst was the arrival of Sonys Handycam, which made video recording and editing easy, inexpensive and accessible for grassroots social activists. Since then the rapid expansion of the internet and the proliferation of video recording devices, the technology has vastly expanded the possibilities for grassroots video documentation.

Witness has not worked with the Awajun campaigners, but I wish that they had. What makes Witness’ work effective is their focus not just on the technology, but on the training and follow up for the social activists that use it.  As those who have worked with IT technology in developing countries know, it is often practical and organizational constraints that limit the its use, rather than the technology itself.  Witness provides cameras, training and follow up to certain partners. See a video on how they work here. Recently they have also launched the Hub, a web platform dedicated to human rights media and activism, tracking human rights issues throughout the world through video documentation.

For an example of how campaigners can use the Hub, check out the coverage of the case between Shell and the Ogoni people in Nigeria.  In telegrams and short features, the mainstream media today is carrying the story that Shell agreed to fork out 15,5 million USD to the families of Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 other social activists from the Niger Delta executed by the Nigerian government.  If you — or the journalists who doing their pieces yesterday — want the details, the hub has background films and the campaigners side of the story, on their Shell on Trial page.