Tag Archives: Hub Blog

Late last year I curated a week of posts for In Media Res, a superb project that brings anthropologists together to talk about online video.  Writing fascinatingly alongside me were Sarah Van Deusen Phillips, Melissa Gira-Grant and Leshu Torchin.  Here’s my post, originally published here:

Shaky, grainy, traumatic footage filmed on mobile phones wielded by brave citizens – from Burma to Tibet to Iran – has fast become both part of and fuel for contemporary narratives of uprising, struggle and repression – and it increasingly represents one of the key acts of resistance that individual citizens in repressive societies can make.  While this now makes it seem almost commonplace in the rituals of human rights media, it wasn’t always thus.

I’ve been tracking, analysing and curating human rights video online for the human rights organisation WITNESS since the middle of 2006, initially via a blog aiming to unearth examples of activists using new technologies to document, expose and bring an end to human rights violations.  A large number of stories were about mobile phone video – from police cells in Egypt to the execution of Saddam Hussein – and strikingly the most compelling, unvarnished and actionable footage often came from the cameras of the human rights abusers themselves.

Most of these cases showed networked technologies could reinforce repression – specifically taking mobile footage of humiliation, beatings, abuse, torture, happening in secret places, to show it directly to those you want to intimidate, and to circulate it more widely via Bluetooth “pour encourager les autres”.  But in a certain number of instances case the videos found their way into the hands of outraged activists who spread and publicised the abuses online, to often global attention, with the long-term effect of focusing attention, activism, and advocacy to the governments tolerating or sponsoring these abuses, or at the very least, to undermine officially sanctioned or imposed narratives of law, order, justice.

Some videos, however, don’t make the same dent.  Read More


[Cross-posted from the WITNESS Hub Blog.]

In a landmark ruling on February 4th, the African Union has condemned the expulsion of the Endorois people from their land in Kenya.  The African Union’s General Assembly adopted a May 2009 decision by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), which found the Kenyan government guilty of violating the rights of the country’s indigenous Endorois community, by evicting them from their lands to make way for a wildlife reserve.  This decision – which, with the African Union’s endorsement, becomes legally-binding on the Kenyan government – is being heralded as a major victory for indigenous peoples across Africa, by creating a major legal precedent by recognizing, for the first time in Africa, indigenous peoples’ rights over traditionally-owned land and their right to development.

As part of the evidence package submitted to the ACHPR to support this campaign, WITNESS and our partner CEMIRIDE (Kenya) provided this evidentiary video.

Learn more about how the video supported and strengthened the campaign.  |  Watch the full version of “Rightful Place: Endorois’ Struggle for Justice”.  |  Read the press release from WITNESS and Human Rights Watch.

We’re not tracking the Haiti earthquake ourselves, but here are a few links to those who are…

– CitizenTube’s rolling playlist of Haiti videos on YouTube
– The NYT’s list of those tracking the earthquake on Twitter
– Reuters Alertnet’s live blog
– Reuters’ own live updates
– Washington Post’s live blog
– Matisse mentions our friends at Global Voices Online

If you know of other great resources, especially sources of video, please add them in the comments.


[Cross-posted from the WITNESS Hub Blog.]

Google has received brickbats a-plenty for its stance in China, where, in order to be permitted to operate by the Chinese government, the search company agreed to censor particular “sensitive” search results – Tiananmen, Dalai Lama, democracy, human rights, and so on. Last night, Google announced, via a blog post from its senior vice-president of corporate development and chief legal officer, David Drummond, that in mid-December it had been the target of a sophisticated online attack originating in China aimed at perhaps as many as 20 companies, that resulted both in the theft of intellectual property, and in a largely unsuccessful attempt to compromise the GMail accounts of Chinese human rights activists (though it also appears that others working on human rights in China have had their accounts compromised through other means).

“These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web [NOTE – YouTube is also blocked in China] –have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.” David Drummond, Google

Aside from showing that no one is invulnerable, media, Twitter and blogs are abuzz with this news with many asking whether this is really about human rights and censorship, a graceful exit from a difficult market, or a strategic move in geopolitical terms.

“Difficult Problems In Cyberlaw” (a Harvard blog) rounds up some of the major early coverage here, but analysis continues to pour out… One blogger at Amnesty UK (which has campaigned against internet censorship for many years, releasing this key report in 2006), chooses to see this as a positive move, and one that brings the day nearer when Chinese netizens can read and debate Amnesty reports online freely. He, like Nart Villeneuve, hopes that this will influence other companies, notably Microsoft and Yahoo, to take a stand too. Evan Osnos of the New Yorker interviews China specialist James Mulvenon, director of the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, who thinks that Google has done this to “reclaim some of its soul and corporate culture.” Siva Vaidhyanathan rejects the idea that this is about human rights and censorship, suggesting that Google is reacting to the attacks as a threat to its future strategy, which rely on security and integrity of cloud-based systems. Techcrunch’s Sarah Lacy agrees, describing it as “a scorched earth move”. Evgeny Morozov gives his “crude and cynical (Eastern European) reading of the situation“, suggesting that it’s not about cybersecurity, rather that is a sacrifical “goat” to secure Google some positive PR at a time when it’s under attack over its privacy practices in Europe. Seasoned China-watcher Rebecca MacKinnonlauds the move, for not dissimilar reasons… Giving users’ perspectives, The Guardian and Global Voicesspotlight the voices of analysts, bloggers and other netizens in China (the NYT mischievously interviewed a woman called Bing). One comment really stood out for me:

90后:今天我翻墙,看到一个国外网站叫Google的,妈的全是抄袭百度的。00后:翻墙是什么? 10后:网站是什么? 20后:国外是什么?

People born in 90s: Today I stepped out of the Great Firewall and saw a foreign website named Google. Shit, it is all but a copy of Baidu. Born in 00s: What do you mean by stepping out of Great Firewall? Born in 10s: What do you mean by website? Born in 20s: What is ‘foreign’?

Here’s what I think, for what it’s worth (leaving aside the cybersecurity angle, which others have covered in depth already, as noted above). First and foremost, Google probably underestimated the criticism it would receive of its perceived double standards in agreeing to the censorship, which it likely saw at the time as a necessary market constraint rather than a reinforcement of China’s architecture of censorship and repression. That market is one in which, many analysts are suggesting today, it is too difficult to win significant market share against a government-supported Baidu. Second, many many individuals within Google itself are not just strong proponents of a culture of openness, but also strongly supportive of human rights as it is encoded within the company’s own DNA – “Don’t be evil”. I don’t doubt that there has been considerable pressure inside Google to live up to that motto. Third, this announcement builds on a number of recent moves by Google – from an increasing rhetorical and practical focus on openness, its participation in the Global Network Initiative, to the growing citizen journalismnon-profit and activist sections on YouTube, and this week’s announcement of anti-censorship awards – using its reach, technology and influence to impact on and advance the cause of human rights across all of its practices, not just within specific products or technologies, or restricted to its philanthropic or non-profit activities. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenges, but in our experience, there is willingness to listen, learn and debate within both Google and other technology companies of similar stature. “Google’s Gatekeepers”, Jeffrey Rosen’s piece on Google and censorship in the New York Times Magazine at the end of 2008, marked a milestone in this overall shift, and I strongly recommend it – the section that deals with trust in Google is particularly apposite to the China news. Finally, there has been a significant, modernising shift in the relationship between the technology sector and the political leadership of the US – from President Obama’s openness agenda, and the “21st Century Statecraft” of Hillary Clinton’s State Department, to the appointments of Aneesh Chopra and Vivek Kundra as CTO and CIO of the USA respectively (with Google’s former Director of Global Public Policy, Andrew McLaughlin, appointed as Deputy to Chopra). Perhaps this has influenced and emboldened Google too…

Whatever the motivation, whatever the means, this move has to be welcomed, both for the return to core principles that it signals, and for the shockwaves it will send throughout the tech world. I and other WITNESS colleagues – and many other organisations – have spoken about how the technology landscape has shifted, and how this impacts on human rights – most recently, I was invited to give a Google Talk at Google Europe in London on this exact topic. The technology companies wield enormous power over how people see, experience and understand the world, and consequently how they feel empowered to work and network to change it, and this has special impact on a fragile area like human rights. We and others have advocated to the technology companies to protect users, and human rights defenders in particular, more actively, and to protect the growing amount of human rights content online, through both technological solutions and through better policies, and we look forward to a new and energised dialogue with all relevant parties towards that goal in the wake of this important announcement.



Here’s fellow #nuevodad Ethan Zuckerman’s take on it all (I am gratified to see that we agree on a lot…):…
And here’s a fragment from Wikileaks:
Amnesty USA –〈=e
Human Rights Watch –
Human Rights First –
Evgeny offers further perspectives on #googlecn, expanding on what he sees as chess moves by Google on the national security and geopolitical fronts:…
Charlie Beckett broadly agrees with Evgeny, with some qualifications:
I’m not sure that it’s either entirely a cynical ploy or a principled stand – it seems to me that of course the presentation and timing are extremely skillful, but that there are ethical, business and political motives that intersected very usefully here that connect fears about national and commercial cybersecurity with a human rights agenda. In the words of China’s policy on Africa, it’s a “win-win”…

As the latest Editor’s Picks on the Hub show, evidence is emerging of continuing abuses against individuals and human rights defenders in Bahrain. Through these testimonies (in Arabic) individuals report serious mistreatment, abuse and injury at the hands of the Bahraini police. Please ensure that these videos get wide circulation, and take action by supporting Frontline’s campaign supporting human rights defenders at risk in Bahrain.

These testimonies come in the wake of Martyrs’ Day, December 17, commemorated every year since 1994, when two young men were shot dead. During the commemoration three weeks ago, one man was killed, after which riots ensued (images here, here, here, and here – via GV), resulting in a violent crackdown. One blogger, Emoodz, aims a rebuttal at what he calls “lies” on a Bahraini TV show “supposedly showing an injured riot control officer in the recent clashes”.

For a country that with one hand ten days ago approved a draft law dealing with human trafficking to be striking so openly with the other hand against human rights defenders and individuals appears to match British peer and human rights campaigner Lord Avebury’s assessment, in a speech at the House of Lords on December 19th 2007:

Evidently Bahrain wishes to be thought of as a state where human rights are respected, but doesn’t have any real intention of complying with standard international norms.

Read More