Skoll Foundation



Skoll Awardee(s):
Award Year: 2005
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Peace and Human Rights

(Click here to print)

From Rodney King to the Arab Spring, video has changed the course of history. For over 20 years, WITNESS has helped activists expose human rights abuses, and bring perpetrators of abuse to justice. In 1992, WITNESS co-founder Peter Gabriel had a vision that video technology could be used as a tool for the advancement of human rights. Today, Gabriel’s vision has become a reality. With video-enabled mobile phones now in the hands of billions, and with more platforms to amplify media, WITNESS has an unprecedented opportunity to reveal evidence and stories, challenge propaganda, and galvanize publics. With its partners around the world, WITNESS is there to see it, film it, and—most importantly—change it.

WITNESS has partnered with more than 300 human rights groups in 86 countries, including the United States. It has trained over 5,000 human rights defenders, developed widely used training materials and tools, created the first dedicated online platform for human rights media (the HUB), and supported the inclusion of video in hundreds of campaigns—thereby increasing their visibility and impact all over the world.


WITNESS has over 20 years of experience supporting partners to create human rights change:

  • With Brazilian partners from the Comitê Popular Rio da Copa e Olimpíadas, WITNESS spent 18 months compiling videos on forced evictions and organizing them into a database. The resulting “Rio Forced Evictions Curation Project” used 114 videos to highlight a widespread pattern of human rights violations that occur before, during, and after evictions take place. These findings and recommendations were distributed to key authorities, including Rio mayor Eduardo Paes and state prosecutors. A three minute compilation video – weaving together some of the most compelling and heartbreaking testimonies – was shared in spaces like the Globale Rio Film Festival and the Ocupa Câmara protests, as well as in international solidarity-based meetings in Italy, Germany, and the United States.
  • In July 2013, the activist group LGBT Guide asked the YouTube Human Rights Channel to look into a video from Russia showing a 15 year-old LGBT youth being bullied by a group of alleged neo-Nazis. Because the video exposed the young man’s identity, WITNESS contacted the uploader (an LGBT activist who wanted to spread awareness about homophobic violence in Russia) and encouraged him to use YouTube’s face blur function in order to protect the identity of the victim. Using this case as an example, the Human Right Channel Curator wrote a blog post about the importance of visual anonymity and reached out to reporters, specifically those whose outlets had embedded the original video on their site. Gawker Media and the Huffington Post subsequently replaced the video embedded in their respective articles with the newly anonymized version. PBS’ MediaShift reposted the blog, and HuffPo Live aired a segment about visual anonymity that featured WITNESS’ Human Rights Channel Curator.
  • On March 14, 2012 the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga of conscripting child soldiers. Not only was this a huge victory for human rights, it marked the first time video was admitted as evidence by the ICC – and video was cited by the lead judge as a key factor in the decision. WITNESS began working on this issue in 2003, when we co-produced two videos with partner AJEDI-Ka and used them to lobby the ICC.
  • WITNESS released its “Cameras Everywhere” report in September 2011, which recommended ways for human rights groups, technology companies and developers, policymakers, and the media to help create new global norms, policies, and practices by promoting innovative tools and solutions for human rights use. Subsequently, WITNESS adopted a new strategy in an effort to enable many more human rights defenders to use video safely, reach key stakeholders and decision makers, and achieve lasting change.
  • In a landmark decision in 2010 that included the use of video as evidence, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights ruled that the expulsion of Kenya’s Endorois people from their ancestral land was illegal — a major victory for indigenous peoples across Africa.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.