From Ukraine to Malaysia, people are capturing human rights abuses and life-changing events, and the subsequent video footage is powerful. Last month especially we’ve seen the risks that women and their allies face—whether they are marching for equality and justice or simply going about their day. That’s why we’ve rounded up video news you may have missed from March 2018, highlighting the impact of video to shift narratives or document human rights abuse.
PSSST: Last Month in Video is going quarterly! Tune in this summer for April-June 2018 highlights. In the meantime, if you have a tip for a video story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 2018 in human rights video
- March 3: Border patrol agents are caught pulling an undocumented mother away from her children
- March 5: Sri Lankan police abuse of power & collusion in violence against Muslims captured on camera
- March 10: Malaysian activists take to Twitter to demand accountability for acts of hate
- March 14: Authorities ignore attacks on peaceful International Women’s Day demonstrators in Ukraine
- March 31: Bodycam footage released two years after police killed Alton Sterling
Eyewitness documentation can be a powerful tool to expose Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s (ICE) inhumane tactics. The video—captured by an eyewitness with a cellphone—shows Customs and Border Patrol agents ripping a mother away from her three daughters, who are all under 18, as they are left crying and screaming on a street corner. As can be seen in the footage, at no point does an officer check in with the children to see if they need help getting home, etc. The video also exposes that two of the men handling Perla Morales-Luna are in plain clothes—something that ICE has recently come under fire for, and shows important details on the agents’ car (CBP sign on the side, license plate) that could potentially help the daughters track down their mother if necessary.
The video of course also shows the horrific pain that ICE and CBP cause when they try to tear families apart. While it can be a powerful advocacy tool for the world to see their abuse and treatment (the video had millions of views online), it can also be traumatic for the person targeted and their families. Remember that video footage doesn’t need to go viral to have an impact. Before you share a video, pause and ask yourself these questions, and if possible, always try to get in touch with the person who was targeted or their family, so they can best decide what to do with the footage.
March 5: Sri Lankan Police Abuse of Power & Collusion in Violence Against Muslims Captured on Camera
Since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in May 2009, incidents of anti-Muslim attacks throughout the country have been reported locally and highlighted by international news media. Although arrests have been made, perpetrators continue to remain free with impunity. Incidents of police brutality during the recent anti-Muslim riots in Digana, Kandy were first reported by Sri Lankan civic media initiative, Groundviews. CCTV footage as well as smartphone video have since surfaced online depicting members of the Special Task Force (recognizable by uniforms and protective headgear) entering a mosque in Digana and then harassing Muslims inside the building before escorting them off the premises. While the CCTV footage, which was reviewed by Reuters, does not depict the violence that ensued after the incident, supporting footage could help expose evidentiary details of acts of hatred and abuse of power committed by state actors who are entrusted with the responsibility of preventing harm and keeping citizens safe. Eye-witness video could be a powerful tool to convict those who incite hate and violence against marginalized communities in a court of law, especially in instances when perpetrators have colluded with the state’s armed forces to enact abuse against citizens and damage to property.
To ensure that eye-witness video is verifiable, some tips and techniques to help smartphone users can be found here:
A Facebook video, which was downloaded and transferred to Twitter by local activists, became a crucial piece of evidence of rampant homophobia as well as of the abuse against peaceful demonstrators at the 2018 Women’s Day March in Kuala Lumpur. The video—filmed by the perpetrators—was originally uploaded on Facebook with the malintent of ridiculing and silencing the LGBT community in Malaysia and its allies. The footage shows a group of staff from Women’s Aid Organisation being attacked by four unknown individuals as they walked peacefully after the demonstrations. But it had the opposite effect. Activists took the Facebook video, which has since been deleted, to Twitter in order to expose the rampant impunity of homophobic perpetrators and advocate for justice. After an initial attempt to get the attention of the Malaysian Police Twitter account failed, Justice for Sisters released a public statement and created the #CampurLGBT Twitter campaign which trended throughout the week. This powerful online campaign drew the attention of a member of parliament, who responded to say she had raised their concerns in parliament, and that instructions were sent to the police to arrest the four perpetrators involved.
With Malaysia having recently tabled an anti- “fake news” bill, a major assault on the freedom of expression, more LGBT individuals, social justice activists, human rights defenders and truth-speaking journalists stand to lose out whilst perpetrators of human rights abuses walk free. In this climate of fear-mongering and rising hate against the marginalised, the Twitter campaign of Malaysian activists and allies of the LGBT movement continues. The launch of @QueerLapis is a testament to the strength and stoicism of the community.
International Women’s Day 2018 in Ukraine was a dangerous time for women’s rights activists. Peaceful demonstrations in Kyiv, Lviv, and Uzhgorod were met with attacks from far-right extremists and threats of violence. These attacks have been committed with impunity. Police ignored the extremists at marches who intimidated marchers with verbal harassment, pepper spray, paint, and physical assault. In one instance, video evidence of bricks being thrown at activists in a tram car failed to lead to the arrest of any attackers. Communities at risk of harassment or violence are often doubly vulnerable because of the failure of the state to offer them protection and justice. Filming protests can be a way of holding authorities accountable for keeping everyone safe. In this case, the video could be applied to rally support for organizers such as Olena Shevchenko who was charged with “violation of order to conduct public demonstrations” and continues to face threats from members of the far-right. Video can also be used to bring attention to long-standing problems related to police misconduct. However, protests can also be chaotic and dangerous. Check out our tips and our video series for guidance on how to keep yourself and others safe while filming protests, and how to collect footage that can be used by courts, media, or communities.
Eyewitness video and surveillance footage captured the death of Alton Sterling at the hands of police officers in July 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, showing that Sterling was complying with orders after being arrested for selling CDs outside of a convenience store. However, this month it was announced that neither of the two officers involved in the shooting will face any criminal charges. One of the officers was fired and the other was suspended for three days.
This lack of accountability for police misconduct in the United States falls in line with how many high (and low) profile police killings have played out in recent years—Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Philando Castile are just a few examples. There is also a troubling pattern of threats against those who film and expose police violence, as well as the lack of transparency around the police body camera footage. The man who released the eyewitness footage of Alton Sterling’s murder (who was not the same person that filmed it), was arrested the following day at his workplace in an alleged attempt by police to intimidate him and threaten his job security for drawing attention to the killing. Another piece of eyewitness footage was captured by the store owner who used his cellphone to document the incident; this resulted in over four hours of detainment for him during which time the police grabbed the surveillance footage from his store. This incident highlights the great risk and harassment that bystanders can face when capturing and sharing footage of police violence.
Police body camera footage of Sterling’s killing was only released last week. The footage shows officers threatening to kill Sterling within minutes of arriving on the scene and escalating the situation. While it’s unclear why the body camera footage was released two years after the incident, we know that—without the eyewitness videos in cases like this—Alton Sterling’s name may never have become a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter and other police accountability groups.
Izzy Pinheiro is WITNESS’ Program Assistant based in Brooklyn, NY. She has worked advocacy campaigns including health care for Syrian refugees in Jordan, sexual violence prevention on college campuses, and redressing rights abuses in South Africa.
Meghana Bahar is WITNESS’ Asia Communications Consultant—a gender and media expert, with 18 years of experience in transnational women’s and human rights movements as an activist, journalist, writer, media and communications specialist.