In August 2013, video footage from Ghouta, Syria was uploaded showing men, women and children suffering from symptoms of constricted breathing, involuntary muscle spasms, frothing at the mouth, fluid coming out of noses and eyes. Lifeless bodies covered the floors of makeshift hospitals. Activists asserted the footage was “evidence” of chemical weapons attack by the Assad government on civilians. While experts agreed that the video provided solid information that thousands of people were suffering from some kind of massive air-borne poisoning, the footage did not, in fact, prove that it was a chemical weapons attack nor did the video prove that Assad was responsible.
Activists not only want the footage they sometimes risk their lives to collect to prompt immediate action to stop human rights abuses, they also seek long-term justice and accountability for attacks like the ones that happened in Ghouta. For this to happen, it’s vital that we understand how video can be used not only by the media and human rights bodies to raise awareness, but also by the courts.
Since the quality of citizen video rarely passes the higher bar needed to function as evidence in a court of law, WITNESS launched our new Video as Evidence project which strives to ensure that citizen video can be better captured, organized, verified and shared to ensure that human rights investigators, analysts and attorneys can rely on the video in their work to secure accountability in the halls of justice.
Our Video as Evidence project combines training, digital tools and public discussion in an effort to improve the reliability and effectiveness of video shot as human rights documentation, whether it comes from an activist, lawyer, media collective, volunteer, professional human rights investigator, or anyone in a position to capture an event on camera.
One of the key resources coming from this project will be the comprehensive Video as Evidence Field Guide. Drawn from conversations with attorneys, investigators, analysts, legal scholars, funders and our peers working on-the-ground where the violations happen, the Field Guide will address fundamental questions activists and witnesses may have about their footage including: How can I capture footage so judges can rely on it? How can I manage my footage before handing it off to a professional investigator? Can my footage be easily verified? Does my footage help in proving a crime has been committed and who did it?
Later this month we’ll begin publishing sections of the Field Guide via a regular blog series where, section-by-section we will address these questions and many more.
The Video as Evidence Field Guide will cover:
- The Law: Basic legal principles and processes every activist should be familiar with.
- Filming for Evidence: Camera techniques for capturing video with enhanced evidentiary value.
- Organization & Management: Guidance on how to organize and manage your videos to ensure footage can be used as evidence by investigators, attorneys and judges.
- Authentication: Guidance on how to ensure a video you film or footage you find online can be used by in the pursuit for justice and accountability.
- Sharing: Guidance on whether to post your video or not and if you decide to post, practices for posting human rights footage.
- Case Studies From the Field: Stories illustrating how video has been used throughout the justice process and presented to courts.
- Technical Tools: Summaries of tools that you can use to enhance the evidentiary value of your video.
Follow the series here on the WITNESS blog. And if there are topics you want to ask us to cover please let us know in the comments below.
In the meantime, check out:
Video As Evidence: To be Evidence, What does Video Need? I participated in this online conversation hosted New Tactics in August 2014.
Image: by Jonathan Roy for WITNESS for the forthcoming Video as Evidence Field Guide. The image is an illustration based on a still from a citizen video uploaded from Ghouta, Syria in August 2013.