By Matt Ferrero and Maura Kelly
See it, Film it, Change it is the mantra that WITNESS was founded on and this week in New York, testimony and video from the Zimbabwe survivors will be made public for us all to see. Going one step further, the evidence will be presented to Africa's leaders so that this never happens again.
As a young journalist, I have been taught to take this one expression as if it
were handed down from the sky. It is the most hallowed explanation of what I am
doing, that sunlight is the best disenfectant. It's what journalists say to
justify why shoving notepads and video cameras into faces and locations they
aren't invited to can sometimes be a good thing. Sometimes the simple act of
capturing an ugly truth and showing it can go a long way towards turning it
around. Taking that spirit to heart, this week's social innovator is shining a
powerful light on violence and corruption around the world.
WITNESS is a unique organization dedicated to opening the eyes of the world to
human rights violations. Its story began in 1988 when musician and activist
Peter Gabriel traveled with Amnesty International's Human Rights Now! Tour.
Bringing with him a personal camcorder, he captured the stories of those he met
on tour. The idea generated momentum, and after a grant from the Reebok Human
Rights Foundation and a partnership with Human Rights First, WITNESS was founded
in 1992. Its goal is to train human rights activists to use video to increase
the volume of their voice in their campaigns.
Our guest this week is a woman who's own work has been greatly helped by
WITNESS. Kudakwashe Chitsike is a human rights activist and a keynote speaker at
the WITNESS Focus for Change Benefit. She works for the Research Advocacy Unit,
an NGO in Zimbabwe. In 2008, political violence erupted throughout Zimbabwe as a
result of highly contested national elections. Between the months of May and
July, local organizations estimated that state-sanctioned groups abducted,
raped, tortured, and beat over 2,000 women and girls due to their political
affiliations. Local police ignored these women's pleas for protection and
accountability, and national leaders have been equally unresponsive. WITNESS
trained Ms. Chitsike and her organization to document the experiences of these
women in the video "Hear Us." Despite potential threats to their safety, four
women came forward to tell their stories of pain, violence and suffering at the
hands of authorities and demand justice. The testimony they give is gut-wrenching. Said one woman, "They beat me and lifted me up. If I fainted they poured water on me. I fainted three times. They continued beating me. I was crying, 'Mother, I am dying.' They said, 'Does anyone have a knife?' Someone said, 'Yes.' And they said, 'Bring it here. In the coming elections, you shall not vote; you have already voted.'" Ms. Chitsike will talk about how she and others like her are using video storytelling to catalyze change in the lives of thousands of women in her country. WITNESS has already made real change in the past, most recently by securing the Chechen government's funding for rebuilding homes and other infrastructure in the Zumsoy, Chechnya.
To keep up with the growing body of videos, WITNESS launched The Hub, an online
human rights video sharing community in 2001. Its members are made up of
ordinary people who upload videos, audio and photos, watch, and comment on the
site's content. Each week, its editors select the three most important new
videos to share with the whole community. Since it's founding, WITNESS and The
Hub have inspired both people and governments to wake up to crucial problems and take action against them.
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