Arts & Culture,
Community & Neighborhood Development,
Film & Video,
International Human Rights
Mission: WITNESS is an international nonprofit organization that uses the power of video and storytelling to open the eyes of the world to human rights abuses. It was co-founded in 1992 by musician and human rights advocate Peter Gabriel, Human Rights First and the Reebok Human Rights Foundation.
Results: WITNESS has collaborated with more than 300 human rights groups in over 80 countries, and brought worldwide attention to human rights abuses. Videos produced by WITNESS and our partners have helped put warlords behind bars, returned indigenous people to their land and catalyzed laws against modern-day slavery.
Some examples of our successes include:
In March 2012, Thomas Lubanga was found guilty by the International Criminal Court of the war-crime of using children in armed conflict, and in July 2012 he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Footage from advocacy videos produced by Bukeni Waruzi, WITNESS Program Manager for Africa and the Middle East, was instrumental in bringing charges against Lubanga and in the ICC's decision to focus on child soldiers as its first ever trial. (You can see those films here:http://www.witness.org/campaigns/all-campaigns/duty-protect-child-soldiers-drc).
In 2007, WITNESS worked with Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT) and Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) to launch Bound by Promises, a video addressing modern- day slavery in Brazil. Every year, more than 25,000 workers are enslaved by landowners, despite the fact that Brazil pledged to eradicate slave labor by the end of 2006 in its National Plan for the Eradication of Slave Labor. After the release of Bound by Promises, which was screened before the Brazilian Congress’ Human Rights Commission, the country saw a substantial increase in government inspections of forced labor, which resulted in the release of up to 4,000 workers a year. In 2012, Brazil passed a constitutional amendment that allows the government to confiscate any land where slave labor is found.
In 2008, WITNESS and the Center for Minority Rights Development (CEMIRIDE) produced Rightful Place, a video showing evidence of the negative impacts of displacement suffered by the Endorois tribe. For nearly 40 years, the Endorois had been evicted from their lands to make way for a wildlife reserve. The video was submitted to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR). In a landmark ruling on February 4, 2010, the African Union’s General Assembly adopted an earlier decision by the ACHPR, which found the Kenyan government guilty of violating the rights of its indigenous community. This case marked a major victory for the human rights of indigenous people across Africa and the successful culmination of a seven-year advocacy campaign.
In 2009, WITNESS and National Council on Aging (NCOA) produced An Age for Justice: Confronting Elder Abuse in America, a film providing proof of the financial, emotional and physical abuse that up to an estimated five million older Americans face every year. The goal of the video campaign was to support the passage in Congress of the Elder Justice Act (EJA), the first comprehensive legislation that protects older Americans from abuse. The premiere screening of An Age for Justice took place on Capitol Hill in October 2009 and has since screened in hundreds of communities across the U.S. In March 2010, EJA was passed as part of the historic Healthcare Reform Bill. EJA creates a foundation from which the U.S. can begin to protect the rights of older Americans by providing support for programs on prevention and detection of elder abuse, dignified treatment of victims and fair prosecution of perpetrators.
Programs: WITNESS works on a wide range of issues across the world. Currently, we are focused on ending gender-based violence in the context of armed conflict, stopping forced evictions in the name of development, and bringing an end to child sex-trafficking in the United States, among other campaigns.
Gender Based Violence:
WITNESS has a long history of working on issues of gender-based violence, including work with grassroots partners in places as diverse as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Mexico, Yemen and Zimbabwe. For two years, WITNESS partnered with the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice and their grassroots partners in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan and Uganda in a campaign focused on ending gender-based violence in armed conflict and post conflict situations and increasing access to justice for survivors in countries under investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC). This partnership has resulted in the creation of 5 advocacy videos by grassroots groups pushing for change for survivors of gender-based violence at the local and national levels.
Most development projects, at face value, seem aimed at improving the lives of people. A new dam will generate more electricity to power industry; a new sports complex for a major event like the World Cup will bring in new revenue and evoke national pride; a new shopping mall will create new businesses and therefore more jobs. The reality for communities living at or near a project – be it a dam,a sports complex, or a shopping mall – is often quite different. A project being developed on their land, on their homes, is often about the destruction of communities, the disruption of lives, and the impoverishment of people. These development projects result in the forced eviction of an estimated 15 million people each year. Forced evictions are involuntary, and regularly do not uphold obligations to fairly compensate, resettle and rehabilitate people and the physical and social infrastructures that once made them a community. Human rights abuses such as a lack of adequate housing, no access to water, schools or hospitals, can be the results of a forced eviction. WITNESS and the Habitat International Coalition (HIC) are working together to incorporate video advocacy into local and global campaigns on forced evictions across HIC’s worldwide network in Brazil, Cambodia, Egypt, India and Mexico and will continue into other countries over the course of the 3-year partnership.
WITNESS has also created a Cameras Everywhere Initiative to ensure that the thousands of people using video for human rights can do so as effectively, safely and ethically as possible. WITNESS has also partnered with several organizations in the Middle East and North Africa to ensure that during this time of transition, video’s
potential as a powerful tool for advocacy is realized and shared within the region. To show the devastating human rights effects of climate change, WITNESS is partnering with Our Children’s Trust, the iMatter Campaign and students from Montana State University’s MFA in Science and Natural History Filmmaking to co-produce a series of videos highlighting how climate change and government inaction is affecting the everyday lives of our youth.