Celebrate the Right to Be Human (VIDEO)

12/13/2010 11:37 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Witness WITNESS uses video to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations.

This post was written by WITNESS executive director Yvette Alberdingk Thijm.

Soriya's Story

Every year, December 10th marks Human Rights Day. In honor of this day I'd like to share a couple of stories with you. Last winter, I spent a week in Cambodia with our partner organization Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) where I met a young Cambodian woman named Soriya (not her real name) and her 3-year-old niece.

Soriya and her family were part of a community of over one thousand families, who worked as day laborers and street vendors in Phnom Penh. After months of harassment, security forces showed up one day, tore down her home, and transported her and the other thousand families to an empty field, 20 kilometers from the city.

Now Soriya lives in a makeshift village where her home is a tent built out of debris. There are no jobs, no schools, no sewage system, and no safe drinking water. I saw children dying of preventable diseases because they had no access to medical facilities.

But Soriya stayed strong. She was one of the people trained by LICADHO to use a video camera to document her family's eviction. She was able to film the riot police tearing down her home.

In fact, her hands were shaking so violently when filming, that the video she made is nearly unusable. Shaky or not, this video and many others like it are now providing a powerful collective record of a previously silent issue -forced evictions.

2010 Successes in Human Rights

Today we also celebrate some hard-earned successes in human rights.

Together with the National Council on Aging, WITNESS produced a video called "An Age for Justice" aimed at seeking the passage of the Elder Justice Act. It's the first comprehensive legislation that protects older Americans from abuse.

Shockingly, one in every 10 Americans over 60 experience some form of abuse. The video was screened on Capitol Hill -- and I'm thrilled to report the Elder Justice Act was passed as part of the historic Health Care Reform Bill in March this year. Watch the video:

In Kenya, our partner CEMIRIDE used video to document the struggle of the indigenous Endorois people who were forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands to make room for a wildlife reserve.

The video was the first to ever be admitted as evidence before the African Commission for Human and Peoples Rights. The powerful visuals helped convince the Commission that the expulsion was illegal. The case set a major legal precedent by recognizing the rights of indigenous people to their land.

The video catalyzed a decades long struggle for justice.

Thanks for all YOU do for Human Rights

I would like to thank our courageous partners around the world, and individuals like Soriya, who risk their safety to tell their stories in the pursuit of justice. Today is a celebration of them all. And I thank all of you who are involved in the struggle to advance human rights. We are all connected through our desire to create a better and a more just world.

Do you know of some examples of video being used for human rights change? Tell us about them using the hashtag #video4change on Twitter and we'll share with our online community.