Today, October 27, is World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, established by UNESCO in 2007 to highlight the importance of film, video, television, radio and all other forms of audiovisual media to global culture, history, and communication; and to call attention to the vulnerability of this media, due to neglect, deterioration, a lack of human or material resources, and censorship. Those of us working in the wealthier countries can attest to such difficulties; imagine trying to manage a collection in a country with intermittent electricity, in the midst of civil war, or under a repressive government.

Over the past few years a small but growing community of archives and archivists devoted to human rights collections and issues has been growing, and at the same time there is an emerging awareness within the human rights community that archives and documentation have a significant role to play.

How do archives support, promote and protect human rights?

  • By protecting chain of custody and establishing authenticity of primary records which may be used as evidence;
  • By serving as memory institutions, documenting and preserving narratives and events for future generations;
  • By providing access to documentation which may be used in the prosecution of justice, often many years after the event;
  • By ensuring the historical representation of all voices, especially where they have been ignored, suppressed or silenced.

WITNESS grew out of the advent of cheap, portable video camcorders, which made video documentation a possibility for an infinitely larger number of people. When WITNESS started in 1992 there was little else happening in terms of human rights audiovisual documentation. We now live in a world saturated with moving images from cameras, cellphones and computers, but the archival challenges of preservation, documentation and access remain as – perhaps more – acute.

So, in commemoration of the day, here’s a spotlight on a few human rights-themed collections or projects:

The Hub: Today’s Editor’s Pick features footage from the Media Archive, and a blog post about how one survivor/activist has used video for documentation and advocacy. Thanks to Ioannis and Erwin for editing the footage!

The USC Shoah Foundation Institute is working with the Rwandan organization IBUKA to collect testimonies relating to the 1994 genocide; once completed, these testimonies will be incorporated into the Institute’s Visual History Archive.

Martyn See is a Singaporean filmmaker whose films have been banned and even destroyed because of their political content and documentation of repression; but you can watch some of them here, including Singapore Rebel, about Dr. Chee Soon Juan, the leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (and Speakers Cornered, a sometimes comical depiction of the attempts of peaceful activists to protest the 2006 World Bank-IMF meeting.

The Re:frame Project of the Tribeca Film Institute: Includes is a substantial and growing section devoted to films on human rights (we will be partners soon too!).

Others? Please comment!

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