In late May we shared news of the beta launch of an exciting new project, the Human Rights Channel, a collaboration of WITNESS and Storyful hosted on YouTube.  Part alert network and part investigative reporter, the Human Rights Channel explains the human rights narrative behind world events through playlists that weave citizen videos together with excerpts from news broadcasts, documentaries, and advocacy videos. We put under-covered human rights issues at the heart of the dialogue, especially as they’re told by citizen journalists and citizen witnesses, and working with Storyful we make sure that the citizen video we feature is verified and contextualized.

In recent months, we’ve maintained video feeds for citizen journalism from Syria and worldwide. We’ve published in-depth playlists on topics ranging from the recent anti-American protests, to the persecution of the Rohingya minority in Burma, to the Mexican #YoSoy132 electoral protest movement.

In this post, we’ll give you a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of our playlist on the Lonmin Mine shooting in Marikana, South Africa.

The first step for possible inclusion on the Channel is to consider the human rights at stake, in principle and in law. In the Lonmin mine shooting, 34 striking mine workers were killed by police while at an assembly to demand greater payment; this mass shooting followed a week which saw nearly a dozen people die during a power and membership struggle between two unions.

Rights to “right to life, liberty and security of person” are clearly enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other binding human rights instruments as well as in South Africa’s own national human rights legislation, alongside the “right to freedom of peaceful assembly” and freedom from being “compelled to belong to an association.” Also clearly at stake are rights to “just and favourable conditions of work…, equal pay for equal work” and remuneration sufficient to ensure “an existence worthy of human dignity.”

The details were still fuzzy – what provoked the shooting and who shot first? Were unions responsible for the deaths leading up to the mass shooting?  But the human rights issues were clear.

After deciding that the Lonmin shooting would best fit as “In Depth” playlist, we started hunting for videos. Storyful is an expert at finding valuable citizen videos within the din of the Internet, and verifying their authenticity. They immediately set to work. For an explanation of this process, check out this article and this example post by Storyful’s founder and CEO, Mark Little.

The curation team began clipping and arranging video to present the complete, complex story of the Lonmin mine massacre. We searched first for citizen video, and although there was none of the event itself, Storyful found moving citizen footage of women singing at a protest, as well as videos of a general protest against the shooting and a memorial service.

Because these videos can be quite opaque in isolation, our next challenge was to find documentaries, advocacy videos, and/or news to add context. And so we began the playlist with news coverage from the days leading up to the mass shooting, and added a news analysis comparing footage of the event from different angles. In order to provide nuance, we included an analysis of the police’s perspective. We also chose speeches by populist leaders and the nation’s president, and a video explaining the economic circumstances that underlay the whole event.

While collecting video, our curation team read many accounts of the shooting from different sources, both South African and international, and synthesized them into a brief to accompany the videos on the playlist page. This includes a synopsis of the facts, and a longer discussion of the human rights in question and other implications. For those who wish to delve deeper, we then link to various online sources with more information, and use our Google+ page to drive conversation.

Some playlists begin differently, with a video or topic submitted by our viewers. Some end differently – in this case, the Lonmin company agreed to dramatic wage increases to end the strike, though anger at the country’s tremendous inequality continues to simmer and strikes have sparked at other mines.

But regardless of the inspiration, the Channel always seeks to connect viewers – be they journalists, citizens, or activists – to the compelling human rights stories behind what they see on the news, and to the stories that no-one is seeing. Citizen witnesses and citizen journalists, living amidst human rights violations, have a unique and valuable perspective. But their voices can easily be muffled by a cacophony of better-funded outlets, or drowned out by the deafening silence that surrounds issues that to many people seem complicated and far away. The Human Rights Channel seeks to amplify their voices and give them a platform for their stories.

We invite you to join in the conversation. You can suggest topics or videos, write your own articles and blogs using these videos, or discuss the issues on social media. Follow us on YouTube, Twitter and Google+, and we welcome your thoughts.

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