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Today survivor testimony is almost exclusively video testimony. Even if this change seems like a minor one (in sync with that from radio to TV and Internet), what matters is the act of witnessing in the communicative context of the electronic media: The visibility bestowed by video ensures the formal “audiencing” of the survivors and consolidates a larger move by them into the public consciousness. Yet testimony at this point also makes us more aware of the interviewer. By 1980 the survivor interviews are no longer standard debriefings, as in the immediate postwar years. They now serve principally both present and past: the present, by assisting the witnesses to retrieve and deal with memories that still burden, consciously or unconsciously, family life; the past, in that guarantees are needed, as the eyewitness generation passes from the scene, that what they endured will not be forgotten. “The mission that has devolved to testimony,” according to Annette Wieviorka (a major French historian who coordinated Yale’s taping in France ), “is no longer to bear witness to inadequately known events but rather to keep them before our eyes. Testimony is to be a means of transmission to future generations.”

This does not mean, of course, that this mission/transmission is without problems. Much has been written about secondary trauma: that is, how some of the effects of trauma suffered by the parents in the Holocaust were involuntarily transferred to the children of their new, post-Holocaust families. (To try and ignore this psychoanalytic issue is a bit like ignoring climate change.) But to give a more common and poignant example of what Wieviorka means by keeping the events, now mainly (if still not quite adequately) known, before our eyes, let me instance an episode from one of the earliest of the Yale tapes in which a survivor describes an incident in Poland during a deportation. When the survivor’s grandmother, an old woman with a broken leg not quite healed, tries to climb into a cart but is too weak to do it by herself, asks in Polish for help, a German soldier nearby says, “Yes, I’ll help you,” takes a gun from his holster, and kills her.

Her grandson, describing this episode, breaks down. He cries, or rather tries not to, contorting his face in a painful, gnawing motion that forces out the words “I’ve seen it.” When he is calm again, one of the interviewers asks him, very hesitantly, whether he could tell what moved him most (or what made him cry at this point in the interview) and whether he had also cried at the time it happened.

The two conjoined questions, though they seem intrusive at first, are, important. The answer to the second question is that he did not cry then, because he was “petrified.” The answer to the first is also simple but strikes me as wonderfully strong, because it comes so close to the agony that preceded it. He cried now because of “the inhumanity: someone asks for help, and that help is expressed as a killing action.”

I’m currently editing a report that addresses in part the issue of vicarious or secondary trauma for those watching graphic footage in order to establish its veracity. I’m struggling to find many absolutely pertinent sources on the specific nature of the trauma engendered by watching abuses or traumatic footage on screen (maybe that’s my own poor research), but then I came across this article, which, once I began it, I had to finish in its entirety.

[Originally published here on the WITNESS Hub Blog.]

I spent part of today talking to a military expert about the military’s changing role in ending mass atrocities, and it made me think hard about what role the experiences of soldiers might play in a human rights-focused space like the Hub – on which, more soon.  (What do you think?  Know good examples?  Let me know via the comments box below.)

I got back to find that F had emailed me a report that the Israeli army has launched an investigation into the conduct of its troops during Operation Cast Lead after stories emerged at a military academy of killings of Gaza civilians.  The mention of “Breaking The Silence” in that report led me to an interview earlier this month given by a former Israeli solder to the UK’s Independent On Sunday newspaper about his role in a “botched ambush that killed two Palestinian bystanders, as well as the two militants targeted” eight years ago.

The soldier interviewed by the Independent was one of many that have given testimony to Breaking The Silence (in Hebrew, Shovrim Shtika), “an organization of veteran Israeli soldiers that collects testimonies of soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories during the Second Intifadah.”

Last year, Breaking The Silence released a series of anonymised video interviews with several Israeli veterans.  Here’s one from the series:

You can see the rest of the series (in English and Hebrew) here, and a longer documentary about BTS over here.  There are a couple of illuminating pieces about BTS’s activities from Nextbook and IPS.  You can see a selection of soldiers’ photographs (with English captions), and a reaction from a Palestinian perspective to a BTS photographic exhibition at Harvard a year ago.  Finally, don’t forget the fascinating Waltz With Bashir, and from former IDF cameraman Yariv HorowitzAftershock, a controversial short documentary about Israeli soldiers’ trauma during the first Intifada.

[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.

[Originally published here on the WITNESS Hub Blog.]

Our colleagues Sam Gregory and Bukeni Waruzi are at the AIDS Conference in Mexico City this week, and they drew our attention to some short interviews and videos coming out via CHAMP‘s AIDS2008.com site, including these videos:

Here, Cameron Lefevre documents an action with the message “The US Fails On AIDS”:

Ambrose, a medical student in Nairobi, kicks off this series of video postcards from Kenya, Uganda and the USA, by letting his peers in the US know the challenges Kenya faces in tackling AIDS:

The student section of Physicians for Human Rights, which put together the above video, has ways for medical students around the world to get involved in building human rights into health education.

 

[Originally published here on the WITNESS Hub blog.]

There are 16 million refugees and 51 million internally displaced people worldwide, according to the UNHCR’s latest figures [pdf].

That number is so extraordinary, so egregious, that I find it personally difficult to absorb – but this World Refugee Day, there seems to be much more imagery available showing the realities and individual stories of refugees.  This shows the impact it has not only on the individuals affected, but their families and communities, their own and neighbouring countries, on economies and identities, and most graphically, their personal safety and security – this year’s World Refugee Day takes “Protection” as its theme.

Zimbabwe is a particular focus.  The Times has this strong set of images from the recent rioting in South Africa, showing the aftermath for Zimbabwean immigrants.  Human Rights Watch has a similarly powerful photo essay from South Africa, and calls on the South African government to halt deportations of Zimbabweans. And with reports of torture and murder within Zimbabwe continuing, these harrowing images, some taken by Peter Oborne of the UK’s Daily Mail (seen in this BBC report), testify to conditions within Zimbabwe that are precipitating an even worse crisis of internal displacement.

A source I hadn’t come across before is a series of blogs and videos from Ghetto Radio‘s network of correspondents, including this interview from the streets of Johannesburg with a Somali woman who came to South Africa as a refugee, but was left reeling after the recent anti-immigrant violence:

Other perspectives come from DakarNairobi and Lagos.

Elsewhere, Refugees International and Amnesty International throw their spotlight on the ongoing crisis in Iraq, where “an estimated 4.7 million have been displaced both within and outside [the country].”  Reuters has posted a World Refugee Day special here, but I couldn’t seem to get the video to load…

And finally, UNHCR’s Refugee Film Festival runs from today for a week in Tokyo, but details of all the films in the festival online here.