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WITNESS uses video and online technologies to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations. We empower people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change.

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WITNESS uses video and online technologies to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations. We empower people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change.
WITNESS was founded in 1992 by musician and activist Peter Gabriel and the Reebok Human Rights Foundation as a project of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (now Human Rights First). In 1988, Peter was part of Amnesty International’s Human Rights Now! Tour. He was struck by the stories he heard from survivors of human rights abuses and the lack of attention these stories received. Peter had brought along one of the first camcorder models and realized the potential of video as a tool against abuse; he noted that perpetrators of abuses were often brought to justice when photographic or video evidence of abuses existed.
In 1992, not long after video of Rodney King being assaulted by four Los Angeles police officers catalyzed interest in the use of video for concrete human rights change, WITNESS was born. Today, WITNESS is an independent nonprofit organization with offices in Brooklyn, New York, and human rights partners based around the world.
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. We work with diverse groups from all over the world, carefully selecting our partners based on the strength of their human rights work, the clarity of their mission, and the ability of video to enhance their campaigns. We make sure their voices are heard. Even more important, we help empower them by mobilizing a response to right the wrongs they document.
WITNESS is much more than a provider of technology. We know that images are important, but footage alone is not enough to stop human rights violations. WITNESS makes a difference because we train our partners to turn compelling testimony and images into powerful human stories and strategic advocacy campaigns that make a difference.
WITNESS videos have been used:
• to promote grassroots education and mobilization
• to corroborate allegations of human rights violations
• as a resource for news broadcasts
• to catalyze human rights advocacy via the worldwide web
• as evidence in court and quasi-judicial hearings
• to complement official written reports of human rights abuses
• as a deterrent to further abuse
WITNESS partner footage has appeared on major networks around the world, including CNN, ABC, CBS, PBS, and BBC. It is carried by satellite networks and film distribution companies and is frequently featured in film festivals worldwide. WITNESS also organizes like-minded coalitions to create powerful, wide-reaching campaigns. This approach enables many of WITNESS' videos to have an impact far beyond the modest resources we can provide.
WITNESS works with human rights groups through two initiatives: Core Partnerships, which are intensive 2-3 year collaborations built around specific issues, and the broader Seeding Video Advocacy initiative which consists of shorter term trainings conducted worldwide.
Making a difference
WITNESS Core Partner campaigns have achieved impressive successes in challenging policies and practices. Following are some recent examples:
* In the Democratic Republic of Congo: On March 23, 2006, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo was arrested by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, namely enlisting and conscripting child soldiers. The arrest warrant follows a major advocacy drive by partner AJEDI-Ka/PES including video distribution and screenings to key ICC officials.
* In the U.S.: The State Senate Majority Leader in California introduced sweeping legislation to overhaul the State’s juvenile prison system five days after “System Failure” by partner Books Not Bars revealing rampant abuses in the system was screened at the Capitol.
* In Senegal: The Minister of Women’s and Family Affairs pledged unprecedented funding for women landmine victims, and a regional hospital is providing prostheses free-of-charge as a result of a video by partner RADDHO revealing the devastating effects of these weapons of war.
* In Mexico: Days after partner Comisión Mexicana screened “Dual Injustice” to court and Attorney General officials at the Chihuahua State level, high ranking officials were quoted in a leading national newspaper as saying the Public Ministry may drop charges against a young man tortured into confessing to the murder of his cousin, citing lack of evidence as the reason.
* In Sierra Leone: WITNESS partnered with the International Center for Transitional Justice to support local NGOs in Sierra Leone to develop and introduce a bill in Parliament that would implement all the key imperative recommendations issued by the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
For more information on our work, please see http://www.witness.org