Skoll Foundation



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

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“Images are important, but footage alone is not enough to stop human rights violations. WITNESS makes a difference because we work with our partners to turn compelling testimony and images into powerful human stories and strategic advocacy campaigns that influence governments, attract the attention of news outlets, and educate and activate the public.”

Sub-Issue: Human Rights

Despite advances in human rights protections, abuses are still common.

The Skoll Awardee: Peter Gabriel had already made a mark on the human rights movement with his music and his activism when he co-founded WITNESS in 1992 to put video cameras into the hands of human-rights activists. One of those activists was Gillian Caldwell, who was using undercover cameras to investigate Russian mafia involved in trafficking women into forced prostitution. She was recruited as WITNESS’s executive director in 1998. She realized WITNESS partners needed training on how to film a compelling story, get their films before decision makers who could make a difference, and get their films shown by major media outlets. She built the organization into a major international resource for the media and the human-rights field during her decade at the helm. At the time of the Award, WITNESS was working with about 15 core partners each year, offering training to hundreds more, and operating The Hub, the world’s first website dedicated to human rights-related media where anyone, anywhere, can upload, share, discuss, and take action on images of abuse from around the world. Yvette Alberdingk Thijm, an attorney with extensive experience in media and technology, became executive director in 2008.

Impact since joining the portfolio in 2006:

  • To date, WITNESS has partnered with more than 300 human rights groups in 86 countries, including the United States. It has trained more than 5,000 human rights defenders.
  • With Brazilian partners, WITNESS compiled 114 videos documenting a widespread pattern of human rights violations associated with forced evictions in Rio de Janeiro in the period leading up to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. A three-minute video “testimony” was shared in spaces like the Rio Film Festival and international solidarity meetings.
  • On March 14, 2012, the International Criminal Court convicted Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga of conscripting child soldiers. It marked the first time video was admitted as evidence by the ICC, and video was cited as a key factor in the decision. WITNESS had been documenting this issue since 2003.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.