Home > COM580 > Citizen Journalism Saves Lives!

Citizen Journalism Saves Lives!

An amateur…

…with a hand-held camera captures flagrant violations of war crimes in Africa. The video footage from this witness becomes the incriminating content in a documentary that exposes atrocities. Precious lives are saved because of a citizen’s actions. Does this sound like un-professional journalism?

The NGO called WITNESS.org doesn’t think so. Their mission promotes citizen involvement and it’s working just fine saving lives all over the world, thank you very much.

Here’s the deal.

WITNESS.org uses video and online technologies to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations. This group trains Human Rights Organizations how to use the power of video to report on rights violations.

In the success story above, one of many, the widespread recruitment and use of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had become unparalleled throughout Africa. Tens of thousands of child soldiers had been recruited as combatants by all parties to the conflict, which has been described as Africa’s world war by observers given the widespread involvement of both continental and international actors.  The conflict has claimed nearly five million lives to date.

The International Criminal Court has investigated war crimes in the DRC as one of its first cases.  The recruitment and use of child soldiers is a war crime as defined by the Rome Statute of the ICC under article 8(2).

The story of WITNESS is one of both vision and evolution. It began in 1988, the year musician and activist Peter Gabriel traveled with Amnesty International’s Human Rights Now! Tour. Peter brought along a Sony Handycam®, one of the first smallcamcorders marketed to consumers, to record the stories he heard.

In 1991, a bystander captured on videotape the brutal beating of Rodney King, Jr. by Los Angeles police. The footage, flashed on TV screens around the globe, initiated an international conversation about police brutality and racial discrimination. Those images demonstrated the immense power of video to capture the world’s attention and viscerally communicate human rights abuses.

WITNESS has worked in over 70 countries to advance human rights through the use of video for change. Their slogan is See it – Film it – Change it.

WITNESS empowers people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change.

Human rights organizations are increasingly interested in employing video to advance and strengthen their advocacy. But most groups are not equipped or experienced enough to make the most of video and other forms of media.

WITNESS collaborates with NGOs worldwide to bridge the gap between conventional campaigns and campaigns that incorporate video into advocacy to accelerate the process of human rights reform.

As a result of the footage taken by a Congo citizen there was a major arrest by the ICC for involvement in the commission of war crimes, namely enlisting and conscripting child soldiers.

The coordinating efforts of groups like WITNESS fulfill the promise that Interactive Media can be used to change the world – with a little help from citizen photo-journalists.

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