This is the second post in our Video as Evidence Field Guide seriesRead more about the Field Guide here or below.

In the field, we often focus our filming efforts on capturing the crime as it happens – capturing the police using excessive force during an arrest, bulldozers leveling homes or oil as it pours out of a crashed tanker. While footage showing the actual commission of an alleged crime may very well be valuable, it is also often valuable to have documentation of the before and after. Here we discuss how to film in the aftermath of a human rights violation.

Why film after?

Video filmed in the aftermath of an event – after the bullets have stopped flying, when the bombing has ended and the bulldozers are gone – tends to be useful for several reasons. It can be:

  • Used to easily illustrate an overview or layout of the crime scene allowing judges and juries to more readily understand what took place.
  • Valuable to show how other types of evidence were collected. For instance, it can be used to document the exhumation of a mass grave.
  • Used to verify that evidence has not been planted or falsified.

Goal of filming the aftermath

Enable others – investigators, analysts, lawyers and possibly judges – to visualize the scene, as the videographer first sees it. When well done, the video footage of a human rights incident scene should give viewers a sense of being there.


Test Your Skills

After reviewing the method here, practice by filming a mock crime scene. Then give your footage to someone unfamiliar with the location. Ask them to hand draw a map of the scene you filmed. If the map is accurate, your videography skills are solid. If not, try again!


Filming a secure scene

Your safety and the safety of the community come first. Before you film, survey the area for potential physical hazards. For instance, do not move bodies if there is any possibility that the person handling the body is not adequately protected against the transmission of illness, do not enter a collapsed building that is unstable, etc. Also, consider whether the act of filming will put your safety, or the safety of the community, at risk if someone sees.

If you decide it’s safe to film here are the broad steps to the “Spiral Approach” to filming a secure crime scene. Often, the steps cannot be followed as outlined because a space is too small, you can only film from one precise point versus being able to walk around the scene, a wall is blocking your path or any number of other reasons. So while you will have to modify the steps below to fit your situation and ensure you are filming safely, these basic principles apply:

  • As possible, capture narration and visuals that verify the time, date and location of the scene.
  • As possible film from every corner or side of the scene.
  • As possible, capture overview, wide, medium and close-up shots of the scene.

10 STEPS: Visual Overview

10 Steps to Filming a Secure Scene. from WITNESS' "Video as Evidence Field Guide"
10 Steps to Filming a Secure Scene. from WITNESS’ “Video as Evidence Field Guide”


Download the section “Filming a Secure Human Rights Incident Scene” from the forthcoming Video as Evidence Field Guide. It provides step-by-step directions on how to do so that you can tailor to your own situation on-the-ground.

More will be coming on how to film when you suspect an attack on human rights is imminent or when you find yourself in the middle of a human rights situation. In the meantime, check out our Tip Sheets for quick ideas on how to film when you find yourself in the midst of a human rights incident.

Some of these include:

These and more Tip Sheet can be found here. In addition, most of these tip sheets can be found in the following other languages for free download: Arabic, Chinese, French, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish.

Additional information on the Video as Evidence Field Guide:

Content in the Video as Evidence Field Guide Series is drawn from our work with input from attorneys, investigators, analysts, legal scholars, funders and our peers documenting violations on-the-ground. The Field Guide aims to improve the reliability and effectiveness of video shot for human rights documentation and for use as evidence in criminal and civil justice processes. Click here to read all posts in the series.

Above illustration is an example of Step 3:  Add preliminary information (for the scene you will then begin filming). From the forthcoming “Video as Evidence Field Guide” from WITNESS

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