Net catalysts

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 December, 2009, 12:00am

Some films are made for entertainment. Others are made to objectively document what's happening in the world. Still others hope to act as catalysts for political and social change.

Buried under the internet's morass of celebrity pages are a few honourable sites that try to connect viewers with films about human-rights abuses. The most interesting is Witness (, which helps victims film rights abuses and put the videos on the Web for all to see.

Human Rights Watch hosts a site ( for its travelling film festival dedicated to documentaries about rights. Amnesty International shows films about rights abuses at its site

New York-based Witness was founded by former Genesis singer Peter Gabriel, whose idea was to harness the power of the internet to draw attention to human-rights abuses. Witness partners with a number of human rights organisations to help them integrate video tools into their work, and provides a platform for the videos at its site.

One of the portal's most recent innovations is called The Hub, which enables victims and citizens to post their own videos of human-rights abuses.

Witness say the fact that a human-rights violator may be broadcast on the Web can sometimes discourage the abuser. Their videos are also used to alert politicians to rights abuses that are occurring. Witness videos have also been used as evidence by the prosecution in court cases. Gabriel's vision for the organisation grew from a research trip in 1992 when he met victims of torture and people who saw their families killed.

'I was amazed that people could suffer like this and then have their stories buried,' he says.

'It seems to me that if they had a camera, they might have had a better chance of doing something.'

Documentaries are another way of drawing attention to human-rights abuses. The Human Rights Watch Film Festival, which was founded in New York in 1994, gives filmmakers a platform for such work.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International actively stands up for rights on many fronts. Video is not a big part of its work, but its website hosts pieces that document abuse, along with films that feature its workers discussing salient issues.

Dedicated sites such as these are important because the internet is not free from censorship. According to BBC reports, mainstream video sites have removed films documenting human rights abuses at the request of governments.