By Jenni Wolfson

Last week, on behalf of WITNESS, I participated in the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG) semi-annual conference.  The IHRFG is an association of grantmakers supporting human rights projects.  The theme of the conference was “Human Rights in the Digital Age: Mobilizing Freedom, Repressing Dissent.”  I spoke on a panel with Marek Tuszynski,the co-founder of Tactical Tech entitled “Beyond the 60-page Report: Conveying Complexity with New Media Tools”.  Elizabeth Eagen from OSI facilitated the session.  I also led a session in their plenary expo on technology called “See It, Film It, Change It: Using Video Effectively for Human Rights Advocacy” with my colleague Bukeni Waruzi. The questions and conversations centred around issues such as how to curate human rights media, ethical standards in human rights video, authentication, media saturation and the use of graphic imagery.

This was a refreshing conference for me for a number of reasons:

  1. It was a unique opportunity for me as an NGO representative to hear what human rights funders are thinking about and strategising around.  One session was about how to get the US government to ratify CEDAW (the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women).  Another session focused on how to support human rights defenders in urgent situations.
  2. It was relatively small compared to other very large conferences I usually attend and so it was great to get a chance to meet so many of the people there, and it had a bit more of an intimate feel.
  3. It was a press/twitter free zone so people could speak freely.
  4. It was a very diverse group of participants and speakers, in terms of geography, gender, race, religion etc.
  5. There was a clear no solicitation rule for the non-profits who were invited to attend, alleviating any pressure on my behalf to try and fundraise 🙂

The highlights for me were two conversations that involved Michael Posner, US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. He spoke frankly about the US Administration’s approaches and challenges in the human rights realm, ranging from engagement and reform of the UN Human Rights Council, current challenges to the principle of universality of human rights, to closing Guantanamo Bay.

Let me leave you by sharing an exercise we did on our panel.  We began with a spectogram (follow this link if you’re not familiar with spectograms used in conference settings) to get a sense of what people’s opinions were around video.  Here are some of the statements.  Where do you lie?

  1. The most impactful human rights video will feature some graphic imagery, such as the death of Neda Agha-Soltan in Iran?
  2. It’s more dangerous to be filming human rights stories than to be filmed
  3. Video with 10 million views on YouTube is likely to have more impact than a video watched by 5 people

I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the above questions in the comment section below.

Jenni Wolfson is the Managing Director at WITNESS

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