Spy Cameras, secret networks and the future of human rights activism
“I would like to start with the story of Mary, a woman from an African village. Her first memories are of her family fleeing violent riots, orchestrated by the ruling political party. Her brother was murdered by the state-sponsored militia, and she was raped more than once just because she belonged to the wrong party.
One morning, a month before the election, Mary’s village was called to another intimidation meeting. In this meeting, there is a man standing in front of them, telling them, “We know who you are, we know who you will vote for, and if you’re not going to drop the right paper, we’re going to take revenge… Some have died because they rebelled. Some have lost their homes. If you don’t work together with (The Party), you will lead a very bad life.
But for Mary, this meeting is different. She feels different. This time, she’s waiting for this meeting, because this time, she’s carrying a small hidden camera in her dress, a camera that nobody else can see.”
Oren Yakobovich continues to explain that with the film that Mary captured, Videre est Credere was able to globally broadcast the intimidation tactics that were being used by the ruling party in her country. They also managed to broadcast the footage back in her own community. By exposing these intimidation tactics Videre were able to break the impunity of her attackers and halt the use of violence by the ruling party in this particular case study.
Whilst the story of Mary’s experience has reached millions of people via Ashoka Fellow, Oren Yakobovich’s TED talk, it remains, like most of Videre’s work, shrouded in secrecy. The country where the story takes place, the relevant political party and Mary herself are obscured in order to protect her identity and the network that assists her from being targeted directly. Secrecy is encoded into Videre’s work, as they aim to equip oppressed communities in hard-to-access areas with training and audio visual technology to capture violence, human rights violations and other systematic abuses on film.
It is easy in the era of Snapchat and Whatsapp to communicate across the world, both instantly and cheaply, but it is important to remember these privileges do not extend to everybody. As an estimated 60 per cent of the global population live without an internet connection, Videre seeks to ensure this imbalance cannot be exploited to silence those who live under oppression.
More than simply capturing images, Videre equips and empowers people on the ground and in communities to lead their own change. To date they have trained 592 activist researchers within at risk communities, with this network Oren and his team are able to ensure that they can select a wide range of video evidence safely. Videre’s networks have captured over 2,400 of footage of human rights violations and social injustice since the organisation was founded in 2008.
After collating the evidence, Videre embark upon a process of verification to confirm and maintain the credibility of their sources. The final stage of their work is about strategic distribution — ensuring that their footage reaches the key influencers in any given political context; whether that be media, policy-makers, the courts, or the local communities themselves. Videre’s work has been published over 500 times in 140 media outlets across the globe, and informed the decisions of over 97 governmental bodies and advocacy organisations. Their work has led to a substantial reduction in pre-election violence, corruption, harassment and increased government accountability.
At its core Oren Yakobovich’s work is about leveraging the voices of the unheard and unseen to ensure that no act of violence, abuse of power or performance of injustice remains hidden.
- By Meera Patel, Communications, Ashoka.
Originally published at www.virgin.com on April 12, 2016.