Videos that opened our eyes to human rights in 2009

Regions: Global

Tags: 2009, images, udhr, udhr60, visual

Last year we asked people to tell us what images had opened their eyes to human rights. The responses were fascinating and a true testament to the power of visual imagery to capture the consciousness of people across boundaries. This year, to keep the conversation going, I asked WITNESS staff and interns to think about human rights videos they saw in 2009 that made an impact on them. Then I asked them to choose one video and send me a couple of sentences explaining their selection. Here's what they said (you can see a list of my own picks here):

1) The murder of Oscar Grant - (picked by Chris Michael and Marianna Moneymaker)

Chris: "The video of Oscar Grant, a young, unarmed black man being shot by police officers while laying face-down on a BART subway platform in Oakland, California on New Years' morning 2009 is one of the many police-brutality videos that will stick with me. An example of a tragic event, a murder, that was captured by citizens from a variety of viewpoints was a powerful example of how mobile phones and digital cameras can be used to police the police and capture human rights violations.
Marianna: After being horrified that the young man on the ground that had been shot in the back, the next thing that struck me was the incompetency of the city to properly train their police officers. From the limited information in the video, the police officers appeared jumpy and ill prepared for the situation, which helped lead to the one officer drawing his weapon on a person that was already apprehended, handcuffed and restrained.  Now, that officer has to live with the fact that he shot a man in the back... meanwhile, the city continues to train police officers who will potentially react in the same deadly manner.


2) A 10-year-old's message to Obama - (picked by Jenni Wolfson)



The video that most stood out for me in 2009 was of a 10-year-old boy called Sage delivering a message to Obama about climate change and what the U.S. President must do to protect the environment.  Sage and his 8-year-old brother Cam are changing their own lifestyles to do their part and you can see that in this Green Prodigy Webisode to the right.  Sage's message is clear and compelling, and he understands one of the most important steps in preventing human rights abuses - political will.





3) Sex workers from India, in their own words - (picked by Stephanie Lotshaw)

I am drawn to this video because of what it does not visually capture. The video is simply interviews with women who look much like any woman; there is no footage of repressive apparatuses, dire or exploitative circumstances, evil individuals or fanatical crowds.  This negation of a recognizable 'victim' identity (sex worker, rape victim, torture victim) creates a new kind of portraiture, where the subject is surrogate for any human subject.  This obliteration of the 'victim' shifts the viewers attention to consider modes of violence and injustice that are not as obvious. I also particularly like this video because of the determination with which these women are working to defend their rights despite the entrenched ideas of masculinity, patriarchy and class in their society. I was drawn to how not only has this program educated and developed preventative HIV policies in the community, but how it has renegotiated perceptions of difference in Indian society.  By bringing together housewives and sex workers - two groups that traditionally exist in separate spheres of society - and encouraging them to discuss their commonalities as women, I believe the project helps blur and eventually eradicate traditional categorical boundaries that impede women's rights.


4) Take the knife or don't take the knife? - (picked by Chris Michael)

Using the interactive feature of online video, creates a choose your own adventure-style video to raise awareness about knife and gun violence and encourages people to reconsider carrying weapons. This series of videos got a ton of views and participation, and helped usher in a new era of online video advocacy by highlighting how built-in YouTube tools could be used to raise awareness. I'm confident that we'll see a lot more groups and organizations using interactive video tools to raise awareness and mobilize online supporters to get involved and take action on human rights issues.


5) I am that, yes that's what I am - (picked by Violeta Krasnic)



The other day I was at a high-level human rights panel. One would hope that at least at this venue the level of discriminating against the proverbial "other" would be less pronounced. But alas, even human rights defenders who overtly respect seemingly visible differences (think race or gender) sometimes have a hard time hiding their disdain for the more covert things that set as apart. Oh how easy is to for some to forget that sexual orientation does not necessarily show in someone's mannerisms! Oh how surprised are some that people with intellectual disabilities could be so "normal"! And as for people who choose to sell sexual services - well, here is a video from them to you..


6) A massacre in the Philippines
- (picked by Bryan Nunez)

Aside from my personal connection to the region, I thought this was a pretty horrific incident that didn't get enough attention from the international press.  Though not a video, the CNN photo essay is more powerful. 











7) The human cost of climate change -(picked by Violeta Krasnic)


An incredibly powerful interactive feature by Oxfam that makes us feel like we are on the island of Gabura, in south-west Bangladesh, dealing with the real-life consequences of climate change...







8) The death of Neda -(picked by Dan Verderosa and Priscila Néri)

I think I have to go with the Neda video: Iran was the country in the news this year, and this video, which represents a multitude of others from the Iranian protests, not only demonstrated with graphic brutality the nature of the present Iranian regime, but also demonstrated to the world, and most importantly to the U.S., that the people of Iran are not the government of Iran. From a video advocacy perspective, the video demonstrated the new dynamic of advocacy in a participatory online landscape where user-generated content can reach millions, as well as some of the ethical concerns that accompany it.
Priscila: Had and continue to have several thoughts and unresolved questions about this video, especially about the ethics of seeing it whilst trying to preserve Neda's dignity as a person... (you can read more in this post I wrote shortly after the video first surfaced online).



What is the connection between a natural weather event in Bangladesh and man made cliamate change?

connection between a natural weather event and climate change

Good question. Climate scientists themselves are warning against "overplaying natural variations in the weather as climate change" (Pope 2009, see link below). I am also not thrilled about the false causality and, if I may say, the danger of linking all climate-related disasters (such as hurricanes) to climate change. This correlation is still under examination - would love to hear about the data that proves it.

But a recent Oxfam report (see link), shows that the number of people  "affected by ‘natural' disasters, the vast majority of them climate-related" is rising. Oxfam asserts that "by 2015, this [number] could grow by more than 50 per cent to an average of over 375 million people affected by climate-related disasters each year, in part because of climate change" (emphasis added). Let me know if you read the report - it will be good to know Oxfam's arguments for this last claim.

Though the same report also states the crucial fact "when it comes to human impact, disasters are anything but ‘natural.' They pick on poor people. In rich countries, an average of 23 people die in any given disaster; in the least-developed countries this is 1,052. Some groups - women and girls, the chronically sick, the elderly, and others - are even more vulnerable, their ability to cope undermined by discrimination, inequality, or poor physical health." I'm sure you know where Bangladesh stands in terms of poverty and other vulnerabilities.