WITNESS is an international nonprofit organization that have been using the power of video and storytelling for 20 years to open the eyes of the world to human rights abuses. It was co-founded in 1992 by musician and human rights advocate Peter Gabriel, Human Rights First and the Reebok Human Rights Foundation.
WITNESS empowers human rights defenders to use video to fight injustice, and to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools that can pressure those in power or with power to act. By bringing often unseen images and seldom heard stories to the attention of key decision makers, the media, and the public–WITNESS catalyzes grassroots activism, political engagement, and lasting change. We bridge the worlds of human rights, media and technology by incorporating cutting-edge innovations into traditional approaches to advocacy. WITNESS’ unique contribution to the human rights community is to serve as global authority on best practices in the use of video for human rights purposes and a frontline resource for training and expertise
Gabriel says he decided to launch Witness after performing on Amnesty International benefit tours in the 1980s. During the tours, he met with people who had suffered human rights abuses and seeing their suffering first hand, instead of in the papers or on TV, spurred him to action.
“What astonished me is that people could suffer in this way and then have their experiences totally effectively denied, buried and forgotten,” Gabriel says. “It was double victimization.”
He began to push to get funding to launch a group that would use video to monitor such abuses. “Whenever there was video of this it was way harder for people who wanted to hide it to get away with it,” he says. After a bystander’s videotape of the Rodney King beating — unrelated to Gabriel’s efforts — made global news in 1991, he says, “People said ‘Oh, now we get it.”