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[Cross-posted from the WITNESS Hub Blog.]

I generally read my news online, but sometimes you can feel the impact of a story so much more when you’re holding it in your hands. During a brief layover in London on the way to Athens for a conference (on which more in the coming days), I bought a slew of UK newspapers – and one of those papers deserves particular credit for its editorial choices today.

The Guardian has a special focus on the epidemic of rape in the Congo today, based on video testimonies (but unfortunately the Guardian doesn’t permit embedding of their media so visit their site to see the video).

On the Guardian’s homepage, the story is of course given prominence – it’s just below the fold at this late point in the day – but clearly has to operate in the context of breaking news.  It’s rapidly been displaced from the top of the site by the US unemployment figures and the sentencing of OJ Simpson, among other emerging stories.

But the hundreds of thousands buying or seeing the print edition can’t possibly avoid the portrait and testimony of 50-year-old Mirindi Euprazi that dominate the front page, or the deeper crisis that her words describe. (Click the link below to see the front page.)

Guardian – Front Page – 5 December 2008

Her harrowing story of rape by militias in Walungu, in the eastern part of DRC, is just one of over 400 video testimonies collected by Leah Chishugi, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide who travelled round eastern DRC between July and October this year talking to women who had survived in some cases repeated and ongoing sexual violence.  Deeper in the paper, the story is given further space with a two-page spread, one side of which starkly presents stills and quotes from video interviews with 8 separate women. (Click below to see the two-page spread.)

Guardian – Extended Coverage – 5 December 2008

I can’t recommend today’s Guardian coverage of this highly enough – it’s a powerful, purposeful use of their front page territory (more so IMHO than, for example, the Independent’s single-issue front pages).

Avaaz also recognises the power of print media to inform and influence public debate, and is taking a different but related tack, mobilising its members to donate for adspace in newspapers across Europe to urge action on the crisis.  It’s not an either/or, but without the Guardian’s editorial commitment, and the compassion and insight brought by Leah Chishugi’s interviews, advocacy actions like those of Avaaz might have much less chance of success.

I urge you to watch and share these testimonies as widely as possible, not least since next week is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the world’s attention during the coming days will be squarely on celebrating human rights. These women’s testimonies are deeply sobering, and bear witness to a widening legacy of trauma both physical and psychological from a conflict that has not only claimed millions of lives, but continues to damage and destroy the lives of millions more.  They deserve to be seen, heard, and acted on – immediately.

What you can do:

– learn more about the work being done by the IRCMedecins Sans Frontieres, and even the late Miriam Makeba to spotlight and bring an end to the rape crisis, as well as addressing the widespread stigmatisation of survivors of sexual violence. The US TV channel HBO has a selection of local and international resources to accompany their showing of the film The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo.  Worldpulse has a petition link.  If you know of other actions or ways to support work addressing this crisis, just add them in a comment below.

– stay up-to-date with events in the DRC – IRIN and International Crisis Group are good places to start – as are Amnesty and HRW.  Congo Resourcesand Friends of the Congo are blogs devoted to tracking and framing all things DRC.   The Guardian’s overall coverage is here, and Global Voices’ coverage here.  Again, please add more sources below.

– My colleague Bukeni Waruzi has spoken and blogged recently on the crisis that continues to face his country. Other videos on the Hub include this piece from Unicef on Rape as a Weapon of War in DRC, and this WITNESS co-production from Sierra Leone, Operation Fine Girl, on the use of rape as a weapon of war in the civil conflict there.  Let us know below of any relevant videos or testimonies you come across.

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Update:

Since I posted the post above a few days ago, NGO and media reports – particularly those involving the testimony of women directly affected – about this crisis have brought significant attention to the issue – but what is happening to stem the tide?

One month ago, the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect wrote an open letter to the UN (pdf) calling for direct intervention (read more on the R2P doctrine).
And over on Comment is Free, author Giles Foden calls for international military intervention in the DRC, using the reports of mass rape as the “platform for this intervention.”

Ordinary Africans are already suffering on a scale that dwarfs
casualties from terrorist outrages and conflicts in Afghanistan and
Iraq. In particular, the harrowing reports of mass rape in the Congo
demand a response – a military one. There are good political as well as
human rights
reasons why stopping mass rape should be the platform for this
intervention. Women are the “glue” in central African society. They are
the carers, the food providers. If many in several generations of women
are damaged, injured or killed, the chances of a return to civil
society are extremely slim.

Read the rest of Giles’ piece and the numerous comments on it here.

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[Originally published here as part of WITNESS‘s collaboration with Global Voices Online]

Over the past four months, we’ve tried to feature and contextualise videos we felt should be seen and debated by a wider audience. Today’s featured human rights video is something completely new.

You may be one of the millions who have sought it out online – or you may have decided to avoid it. Someone – a friend, a colleague, a relative – may have emailed it to you, or called you up to tell you about it. You may have seen a clip of it on the TV news. One way or the other, you’re likely to have an opinion on it, because it’s made for a memorable start to 2007, as political cartoonist blackandblack’s cartoon illustrates:

2007 - a cartoon by http://black-blackandblack.blogspot.com

Click here to launch blackandblack’s blog in a new window.

If anyone was still in any doubt that sousveillance was one of the ideas of the year, then the Saddam video should put that beyond doubt. What’s different about the cellphone footage of the execution of Saddam Hussein, former dictator of Iraq, is that, aside from being probably the most watched web video in history, it has re-ignited a global debate on a perennial human rights issue: capital punishment.

Iraqi blogger Raed Jarrar links to both the official and unofficial videos here – on a personal note, I found it one of the most disturbing videos I have yet had to watch, so viewer beware…

Judging by the Iraqi government’s indignation at the unofficial footage, and the ambivalent reaction of many major media outlets (as detailed by Armenia-based Onnik Krikorian here), they were the only ones genuinely surprised that a cameraphone was smuggled past the security checks into the death chamber. If whoever filmed it had surrendered his cellphone before the hanging, the world may never have seen beyond the mute, carefully-edited, tastefully-faded-out official video of the proceedings.

The real story emerging from the Saddam video is that, in laying bare the huge gap between the managed official account of his execution and the far messier reality, it has provoked people – and many bloggers – to reflect less on whether Saddam merited his fate, and more on the nature and appropriateness of that fate for the age we live in.

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[Originally published here as part of WITNESS‘s collaboration with Global Voices Online]

If you’ve seen the guidelines for this site, you’ll know that there are types of footage that we wouldn’t post, and circumstances surrounding the shooting of particular videos that mean we wouldn’t even link to them. Today’s post is about one of those videos.

I was researching a possible post about child-soldiers, when I found a video on a video-sharing site, said to be an interview with a teenage former child-soldier. In the video, the youth makes a number of allegations against the rebel organisation that he claims abducted him, sexually abused him, and sent him out on military operations – allegations broadly consistent with research conducted in his country by respected international human rights organisations.

But unusually for a video carrying this kind of allegation, the youth involved is identified by name, and in the accompanying text, by location. Human rights organisations (and media) would almost always advise protecting the identity of a minor in such a situation (see pages 16 and 17 in this document, for example) – whether by pixellating or obscuring his/her face, by shooting the video so that their face cannot be seen, e.g from behind or in silhouette, or possibly disguising their voice or re-voicing the audio. The photograph below shows how easy it is to pixellate an image to conceal someone’s identity.

Example of how to pixellate an image to protect someone’s identity

In the case of the video I had found, none of these protocols was followed. I wondered for quite a few days whether to post this video, which I felt brought out many important issues within a conflict where the recruitment of child-soldiers is common. It’s horrifying testimony (and by no means rare), and the youth’s story deserves to be heard – but the video raises a huge number of questions. Therefore I’ve decided against showing you the video itself.

The video is quite short, and in it the youth seems to be giving a prepared statement – there’s no one asking questions for clarification, as there was by contrast in the Alive In Baghdad video a couple of weeks ago. The text accompanying the video states that the army found the boy after he escaped from his abductors, so I have assumed that the army shot the video.

Did the army explain to him clearly and adequately what the video was for, and how it would be used? At no point in the video or in the accompanying text is it made clear whether the boy in question has given his consent to the use of this video online. Was he given a choice of whether to take part, or of when, where and how it would be filmed? He mentions his parents in the video – were they asked for their consent? If we assume that his alleged abduction and subsequent sexual abuse caused him trauma, what support and follow-up was offered to him? How informed can his consent be considered?

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