This post is part of the WITNESS Media Lab’s series,“Eyes On ICE: Documenting Abuses Against Immigrant Communities.” The following is a case study for the consideration of immigration attorneys, advocates, and community members nationwide thinking through the creative use of video in defending individuals against deportation. The case at hand was filed in California and relies on ninth circuit case law; however, video may be used strategically as powerful evidence to corroborate the experience of a person who has been detained no matter your location. Read Part 1 of this case study which looks at how video was used in public advocacy campaigns around Juan’s case.
Case at a Glance:
Immigration Court: Los Angeles
Respondent Filing: Motion to Terminate Removal Proceedings, Dec 14, 2017
Violation of Immigration regulations, statutes & 4th Amendment of U.S. Constitution
Lack of Probable Cause & Reasonable Suspicion
Lack of Warrant or Flight Risk determination
Non-identification as ICE agents
Sworn Declaration of Respondent
DHS withdrew NTA based on its improvident issuance in a Motion to Dismiss without Prejudice;
IJ Stancill approved NTA withdrawal without a hearing & ordered a dismissal of the case.
Learnings & Takeaways
One day at a South Los Angeles mechanic shop in September 2017, Juan Hernandez Cuevas unexpectedly found himself approached by six people who burst into his workplace, some bearing semi-automatic weapons.
Within minutes, everyone was asked to freeze and put their hands up. Instead of arresting only the shop owner for whom they had a warrant, the agents also arrested several mechanics. With no warrant, no probable cause, and no information about him, the officers placed handcuffs on and proceeded to arrest Juan solely on the basis of his appearance and his presence at work that day.
Juan's Story: From Surveillance Camera to the Courtroom - YouTube
Wearing vests marked “POLICE,” and never identifying themselves, Juan was not aware these agents were in fact with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It was not until the agents took Juan to an immigration processing center that he was even informed that ICE had arrested him. He remained at a detention center for nearly five weeks, while his wife and daughter went without his financial support.
He was released only after a judge granted a bond of $5,000 which his family and advocates at The National Day Laborer Organizing Network(NDLON) helped fundraise for. He was issued a Notice to Appear (NTA) for his removal (deportation) proceedings, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California and their co-counsel successfully represented him in a Motion to Terminate. The motion argued that his arrest “violated governing regulations, statutes and the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution” that protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. To bolster his arguments in support of this motion, Juan was able to leverage as evidence surveillance video captured the day of the raid (see video).
A Notice to Appear is a document issued by various Department of Homeland Security agencies that instructs an individual to appear before an immigration judge. It is the first step in initiating a removal proceeding against them. The document also contains the factual and legal grounds for initiating the proceedings.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency officials can issue NTAs.
Motion to Terminate
In Juan’s case, the mechanic shop’s security camera was filming on that September 2017 day and captured the entire raid. To build their case, Juan’s attorneys used excerpts of the surveillance footage as exhibits. This footage along with sworn declarations from Juan and an eyewitness were used to corroborate Juan’s account of how the raid unfolded.
In their Motion to Terminate filed in immigration court in Los Angeles, his attorneys argued that removal proceedings should be terminated because ICE’s arrest and detention of Juan was unlawful as it violated governing regulations, statutes and the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures. (See Juan’s Motion to Terminate).
A Motion to Terminate asks an immigration court to terminate or conclude a case on the grounds that relief is granted or the government has violated certain regulations, policies or procedures.
According to Eva Bitran, one of Juan’s lawyers, “agents detained Juan based on racial profiling. Though the video is without sound, it’s apparent there was no time for any other determination.”
His lawyers argued that because the removal proceedings against Juan resulted from ICE’s violation of governing statutes, see 8 C.F.R. 287.8(b)–(c), the court should grant his motion to terminate.
The legal team in L.A. laid out the following 9th Circuit standard for termination in their motion. (See changes made to the standard in 2018, p.5  )
Source: standards for termination in Juan Hernandez Cuevas Motion to Terminate from 2017; the standard has since changed due to Sanchez v. Sessions (9th Cir. 2018)
Critically, Juan’s lawyers argued that a violation of just one of the below regulatory provisions would be adequate grounds for termination because the whole regulatory scheme has been held to incorporate the Fourth Amendment. (See Juan’s Motion to Terminate, p.13).
What Violations did the Surveillance Video Show?
What happens during a civilian’s encounter with ICE agents can be a story of he said-she said. A credible piece of corroborating evidence can crucially impact the direction of a case.
His attorneys argued among other points that the video showed:
No Probable Cause or Reasonable Suspicion: The video showed ICE officers approaching, searching, and handcuffing Juan immediately upon entering the garage without ever asking him any questions, not even his name or his immigration status. ICE arrested and detained Juan with no reason to believe he was a noncitizen subject to removal. See 8 C.F.R. § 287.8(b)(1), (2) and 287.8(c)(2)(i).
No Warrant and No Flight Risk Determination: ICE arrested Juan without obtaining a warrant even though they had no reason to believe that he was likely to escape the garage. Juan had been attending work regularly at the garage for years and he was the sole provider for his U.S. citizen wife and young daughter, facts which do not indicate an intention to flee. The conduct of the officers in the video and the coordinated manner in which they entered the garage strongly suggested that the raid was planned during a week of ICE enforcement actions in various cities across the country. Accordingly, it was within ICE’s responsibility to secure a warrant. See 8 C.F.R. §§ 287.8(c)(2)(ii).
ICE officers failed to identify themselves as Immigration agents at the time of arrest: the video shows that the ICE officials conducted the raid at the mechanic shop disguised as police officers. According to the regulation, they are supposed to identify themselves “as soon as it is practical and safe to do so.” See: 8 C.F.R. 287.8(c)(2)(iii)(A) and they did not identify themselves until Juan was in handcuffs, transferred into an SUV, and transported to an ICE processing facility.
After the filing of Juan’s motion to terminate, Immigration officials agreed to voluntarily drop the deportation proceedings against him; and the Immigration Judge in L.A. approved that action before any hearing was necessary.
As there was no hearing in this case and no reasoned judicial opinion, it is unclear which specific facts shown in the surveillance video led The Department of Homeland Security(DHS) to withdraw the charge against Juan. If it would have been Juan’s words alone supporting his case, however, DHS lawyers may never have terminated the removal proceedings against him, according to his attorney.
What is clear in this case is that video backed up Juan’s own version of the facts contained in his official declaration, leading to the dropping of the deportation proceedings. While client declarations should be enough in the courtroom, often they are not. Video can corroborate the accounts of clients and community members about how an apprehension or a raid unfolded.
Obtaining and Preparing the Video Files for an Immigration Proceeding
Nearly three weeks after the workplace raid, a community member under the direction of Juan’s attorneys was directed to the mechanic shop to retrieve the surveillance video. The shop’s surveillance system automatically deleted video every few days, but the shopkeeper’s son had copied to his laptop video excerpts showing the relevant events of that afternoon, including some footage before and after the raid.
Essential to Juan’s immigration case, the community member who retrieved the footage, signed a declaration under oath stating that he copied the footage from the shopkeeper’s son’s laptop onto a USB drive; and that he then copied the same files onto his own computer.
The community member also attested to the fact that he only changed the format of the footage from .dav format (which the surveillance equipment creates) to .mp4 format to make the video easier to play before sharing the files with Juan’s legal team. He stated in a written declaration, “aside from this conversion, I did nothing to the files. I have not edited, modified, altered, or manipulated the footage in any way.”
Chain of Custody and File Conversions of Video in Juan’s case:
Chain of Custody refers to the chronological succession of ownership or custody of the evidence. Each possession should be carefully documented as the footage makes its way from the street or workplace or home where it was filmed to lawyers, and then to the courtroom. A proven chain of custody helps to establish that there was no opportunity for corruption or manipulation from unknown sources.
If the footage turns out to be useful for your case, having a thorough record of who has had possession of the evidence can affect the weight that evidence is given in your case. Read more about Chain of Custody in our Video as Evidence Field Guide: Basic Practices.
In their Motion to Submit Video Evidence which they concurrently filed with their Motion to Terminate, the attorneys relied on language from a prior case to establish the rule for admission of evidence: “the sole test for admission of evidence is whether the evidence is probative and its admission is fundamentally fair.”
The legal team argued, “the video evidence is relevant because it captures the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid on Juan’s workplace that resulted in his arrest and placement in removal proceedings[…] these videos, which show how ICE conducted the raid, including ICE’s interactions with and arrest of Juan, corroborate key portions of Juan’s account and are probative evidence of the raid and ICE’s arrest of Juan.” (See Motion to Submit Video Evidence).
The legal team submitted video in .mp4 format on a CD and as links to a URL cited to in their motion to terminate and motion to submit evidence. They used timestamps from the video throughout their motion to terminate as exhibits showing key parts of the incident (see Full Motion to Terminate).
Sample Timestamps as Exhibits
The following is an excerpt of the motion to terminate removal proceedings against Juan. As noted in the motion, the pinpoint citations for Exhibits 3 and 4 are timestamps that indicate the minutes and seconds elapsed on the video files submitted as evidence:
After the filing of Juan’s motion to terminate, Immigration officials agreed to voluntarily drop the deportation proceedings against him; and the Immigration Judge in L.A. approved that action before any hearing was necessary. Video was not only used as evidence in Juan’s case, it also helped bolster advocacy efforts. For instance, by editing the surveillance footage to clearly show the abuses and adding footage of Juan and his family, the ACLU was able to tell a more complete and human story that advocated for him outside of the courtroom as well.
For more information on how Juan’s advocates used video to garner community pressure and fight for his rights, see Part One of Juan’s Case Study.
Surveillance video coupled with an eyewitness’s declaration corroborated Juan’s version of the facts that day. Ultimately, DHS withdrew its charges and moved to dismiss the proceedings without prejudice against Juan on the grounds that the NTA was improvidently issued, thereby acknowledging that Juan should never have been detained and placed into removal proceedings to begin with, and the proceedings to remove him should be terminated.
While there is no reasoned judicial opinion in this case, once DHS withdrew the charges, the judge dismissed the case.
We may never know if Juan’s case would have been successful without the video footage available; however, his attorney suggests that it is very unlikely that DHS would have otherwise voluntarily dismissed the charges against him.
“You want to be able to marshal as much as you can in support of your client – and in this case in particular, I think surveillance video was critical to getting the result that we did.” – Eva Bitran, lawyer for Juan.
A short note on important challenges of pursuing motions to terminate as a strategy: an individual with strong eligibility for relief (such as a good candidate for cancellation of removal or asylum) may want to consider whether pursuing a motion to terminate is in their best interest, as well as the possibility of an NTA being re-issued. This must be discussed between client and attorney. For a more thorough review of various challenges and strategies relating to NTAs, review the latest practice advisories.
TAKE HOME POINTS
These takeaway points are intended for various actors, generally attorneys and advocates, in the process of obtaining video footage and converting it into supporting evidence in a proceeding.
I. OBTAINING & MAINTAINING SURVEILLANCE/EYEWITNESS FOOTAGE
Save surveillance video before it is deleted: If you did not film the raid or apprehension, get to the site of the incident straight away and verify if any surveillance video was captured either on site or on the cameras from stores nearby. Surveillance video is often automatically deleted within a couple days (or less) of its recording, so time is of the essence. Check to see if there are any street or traffic cameras that you could potentially get access to by FOIA or subpoena.If you are relying on a community member to retrieve footage, make sure they have knowledge around how to preserve the video footage and they keep thorough records of the step-by-step of how they obtained it.
Jot down chain of custody details immediately: take thorough notes about who had physical possession of the video footage once it left the surveillance system or the eyewitness’ video device. This can help impact the weight of the evidence in court.
Metadata and security concerns: metadata or information about your video can be useful, but is also an important security issue to consider when it comes to the identity of the person filming. Editing embedded video metadata is not recommended unless you have specific reasons, like security concerns, as this may strip the authenticity of a video. What is metadata?
Keep your video footage in a raw unedited format and do not alter it in any way: Changing file formats, editing footage, not saving an original copy, and not making a note of this in the chain of custody could reduce the chances of that video being used in a legal proceeding or affect the weight that the evidence is given. If it is necessary to convert the file format, save an unaltered version of the video on a separate hard drive and consult with an attorney first.
Sworn Witness Testimony: in some cases, surveillance or eyewitness footage alone may not be enough to convince an Immigration judge that there was unlawful arrest made; and having other types of evidence available such as sworn witness testimony is key. Keep in mind as many different potential sources of corroborating evidence as possible (photo, audio, video, eyewitness accounts). Don’t forget to investigate if eyewitnesses were present that may have seen, filmed or photographed the event. Individuals working in nearby stores may have been present that day. Working with local advocacy organizations can be helpful in determining this.
Understand the limitations of your video: Remember that surveillance video doesn’t include audio and cameras remain at a fixed point – meaning there could be moments when people go out of frame. Both of these issues leave the footage more vulnerable to interpretation from adversaries, and create space for misinformation and distrust. That’s why verification and ethics are so important when filming or sharing a video (learn more about verifying video here). Work with a trusted lawyer, journalist or advocacy organization in order to understand the limitations of video, and create the most impact.
Submit a hard copy of the video evidence on a CD and provide a URL to the footage in your Motion to Submit Evidence –file with the Immigration Court and serve DHS. Be prepared to provide these videos in another format at the Court’s request.
Advocacy in parallel to a legal case: Video alone did not result in the dismissal of Juan’s deportation proceedings; with creative legal and advocacy efforts from his community, he was able to reunite with his family. See Part 1 of Juan’s Case Study to learn more about the advocacy strategies used to fight his deportation.
Unedited security camera footage in Juan Hernandez’s case:
“[A] petitioner is entitled to termination of their proceedings without prejudice as long as the following requirements are satisfied: (1) the agency violated a regulation; (2) the regulation was promulgated for the benefit of petitioners; and (3) the violation was egregious, meaning that it involved conscience-shocking conduct, deprived the petitioner of fundamental rights, or prejudiced the petitioner.” Sanchez v...
When images of Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter, Valeria were published earlier this week, we were outraged. We were heartbroken.
The situation at the US-Mexico border is a crisis: a humanitarian crisis. Because of the government’s stronghold on the narrative — coupled with a militarized lack of transparency — without stories and images from brave whistleblowers, activists and community members, the world would never know the human price of a broken immigration system. We also know that sharing images like these can retraumatize communities who are already experiencing abuse. We shouldn’t need to rely on images to compel us to act.
While we often think the only way we can help is by sending money, there are actually many things we can do to address the larger issues at hand and challenge existing power structures.
Report and document raids and arrests. The National Immigration Law Center has suggested reporting raids to local hotlines, such as United We Dream’s MigraWatch. Raices has urged that people verify any social media posts saying ICE has been spotted before sharing or retweeting them because false alarms could spread fear in immigrant communities. Check out this online verification training course from First Draft.
Call Congress, your mayor and local representatives. Contact your members of Congress and tell them that you want impending raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be called off and detention conditions improved. The legal defense nonprofit Raices has provided a template and an online form that you can use to email your congressional representatives. You can also reach out to your local officials to ask that they initiate plans to help immigrant communities that are affected by the raids. This official government website has provided links to finding your city, county and town officials.
Join a pen pal or visitation program for detained immigrants, such as the ones run by First Friends of New Jersey and New York.
If you work in education, create school curricula to help young people learn about human and, specifically, immigrant rights. Teaching Tolerance offers learning materials that facilitate the exploration of topics like race and immigration in the classroom and “explore the value of a diverse society.”
If you can go to the border, you can join many others taking direct action there, from volunteer doctors and lawyers to those leaving water and supplies in the desert for immigrants.
Explore how we got here. To learn more about how the U.S. government can respond to the border crisis and the root causes of migration and displacement in the Northern Triangle (the Central American countries. Honduras, San Salvador, and Guatemala feeding much of the migration), check out this blueprint from Human Rights First and other organizations. A few of the recommendations with the U.S. are “restoring timely and orderly” asylum processing at ports of entry and an increase in permitted refugees, immigration judges, and case management services for immigrants (such as the Family Case Management Program, which was terminated by the Trump administration in 2017).
Educate yourselves – Know your power. Check out our “Eyes on ICE” project, which includes the following resources:
Learn how to work with traumatic imagery, using this resource from the Dart Center.
Defund Hate. We want our tax dollars used to strengthen our communities by investing in education, housing, and health care programs that increase well-being, not bankroll xenophobic policies. Demand Congress #DefundHate and divest from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Take action today.
June 20th marks World Refugee Day. But the work of protecting the rights of refugees happens every day of the year. At WITNESS, we help refugees document their stories—specifically human rights violations, through creating and archiving important media that can be used to bring awareness to their experiences and help advocate for change. Here are some of the ways.
Training and How To’s
WITNESS’ work focuses not only on preserving documentation, but training communities on how to use video as a powerful tool to achieve justice. One way is face-to-face training on how to capture evidence around sensitive subject matter, such as gender-based violence, and how to record video that can be used as evidence of human rights violations.
Video as Evidence: A WITNESS guide for citizens, activists, and lawyers - YouTube
Besides in-person training, we also provide tailored guidance on the use of video to achieve justice through online toolkits and how-to’s. This information, promoted on our regional social media feeds and blogs and downloaded in large numbers throughout the year, helps refugee communities capture footage without needing an expensive camera that still ensures they are getting the best evidence they can. For example, through our Eyes on ICE project, we’re developing resources, case studies and articles to support communities fighting against the U.S. administration’s attack on refugee and immigrant rights.
Refugee Footage and Storytelling
Civic video, as a form of documentation that comes directly from the people living in an area, is particularly important to telling the stories of refugees, and enabling refugees to tell the stories themselves. One impactful example of civic video is “Yemen: One Day in the Heart of the Revolution” by Ammar Basha — a Yemeni rights activist who attended our video trainings. The video highlights the resilience of the Yemeni, who are peacefully battling the oppressive regime. It also highlights the strength of the refugee community, and shows the importance of refugees being able to document and tell their own stories. See it for yourself:
Yemen: One day in the heart of the revolution.يوم واحد في قلب الثورة - YouTube
Another issue we’ve documented is the intersection of the refugee crisis and gender-based violence. Rahima is a 21-year-old Rohingya woman who talks about how her family was pushed out of their home in Burma by the military. They use rape as a weapon of war in order to terrorize families and force them out. In this video, Rahima, who is an Internally Displaced Person, tells her story. This is the kind of violence forced migrants experience every day as they are pushed out of their homes and in some cases, even out of their countries.
SRSG Video Message to Asia-Pacific Regional Hearing on GBV in Conflict.mov - YouTube
Video can serve as a very powerful tool for refugees because it can be used to document atrocities that are occurring. But another key component to the use of video for evidence is archiving.
We know that human rights change can take a long time. Archiving videos is a crucial step in ensuring that these videos are safely preserved and can have an impact over the long-term. WITNESS partner Syrian Archive has meticulously verified and catalogued thousands of videos that document human rights abuses taking place in Syria and creates detailed reports using the collected evidence. The Syrian Institute for Justice — another WITNESS partner — uses footage to build cases against massacres and other human rights violations.
While we work with partners who support refugees on the ground, it’s crucial that our global community continue to speak up to defend and protect refugee rights. For example, in the US, you can call your representatives in DC and let them know you oppose refugee bans. Advocate for refugees regardless of where you live!
35 activists from 6 cities met to discuss strategies on how to use video for change.
The convening “#R2R – For the Right to Record” featured representatives from Belém, Santarém, Fortaleza, Recife, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasîlia and Porto Alegre. These representatives consisted of video activists, human rights lawyers, archivists, and community media collectives.
Throughout 4 days of activities, participants shared their own experiences of using video to document, monitor and defend human rights. Attendees also participated in sessions and trainings held by key WITNESS’ staff.
On the first day, groups from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo — who used video to document police violence in the context of the “war on drugs” in Brazil’s favelas and peripheries — shared their tactics and experiences. Organizations such as Coletivo Papo Reto, Defezap, Redes da Maré, Data Labe, Craco Resiste and Tulipa Negra, showed their videos and grassroots efforts. They were accompanied by the Human Rights Unit at the Rio Public Defender’s Office, which also discussed the growing risk of filming human rights violations.
Rede Rocheda, from Fortaleza (in Northeastern Brazil), is a youth-led media collective that uses video for social justice and to affirm the cultures of resistance from the city’s peripheries. Groups such as Nigeria, Zio and Riot, have shown how they have organized and strengthened their network.
In addition to presentations, the convening featured trainings from the WITNESS team on issues like video as evidence, archiving, livestreaming and fake news, as well as ways to use social media to drive social change.
#R2R: A Movement of Activists
Several participants stated that using a camera or cell phone, and filming police violence in their regions, has become increasingly risky. They also stated that cell phones are often illegally searched by police, who look for files or conversations that can be used to criminalize activists and residents of poor communities in Brazil. As we expected, unfortunately, there have been several cases of abuse, aggression, intimidation and threats against activists.
Despite the heavy and daily themes of institutional violence that each person described in their reports, the convening only reaffirmed the promise of youth to use communication and technology for social change.
By bringing a diverse and complementary range of actors together to strengthen paths for collaboration, this convening gives momentum to a movement that is only just starting Brazil. For the right to record.
Filming is not a crime! Documenting violence in the state is the right of every citizen.
It is videos, filmed by citizens, that break the media’s silence and shine a light on cases of human rights violations. And we only know about them because someone risked their own life to film these abuses.
When we defend the right of activists to produce and inform through video, we uphold everyone’s rights.
Just as in Brazil, in several other countries, citizens have been criminalized, threatened and even murdered for using their cameras to document social injustices. To learn more about the right to record in the world, click here – WITNESSMediaLab_R2R
Last updated: June 2019 (NOTE: please send feedback on areas/examples we are missing to sam [at} witness.org: this is not a comprehensive list!)
This is a survey of solutions around the emerging and potential malicious uses of so-called “deepfakes” and other forms of AI-generated “synthetic media” and how we push back to defend evidence, the truth and freedom of expression. For more information on other reports and actions in this initiative as well as our key whole-society recommendations visit our dedicated page.
This work is embedded in a broader initiative focused on proactive approaches to protecting and upholding marginal voices and human rights as emerging technologies such as AI intersect with the pressures of disinformation, media manipulation, and rising authoritarianism.
Solutions development is advancing, though not at the same pace or with the same level of investment. Public rhetoric on this issue continues to be hyperbolic.
Here we survey the range of solution areas that have been suggested, or are currently being pursued, to confront the mal-uses of synthetic media. Our goal is to share a range of approaches that work at a range of scales, draw on a diversity of actors, address specific threat models and include legal, market, norms or code/technology-based approaches.
Twelve things we can do now: WITNESS’ recommendations on priorities to engage in now include:
De-escalate rhetoric and recognize this is an evolution not a rupture of existing problems and that our words create many of the harms we fear
Recognize existing harms that are manifested in gender-based violence and cyber-bullying
Inclusion and human rights: Demand responses reflect and be shaped by global and inclusive voices + approach and by a shared human rights vision
Global threat models: Identify threat models and desired solutions from a global perspective
Solutions building on existing expertise: Promote cross-disciplinary and multiple solution approaches building on existing expertise in misinformation, fact-checking and OSINT
Understanding and connective tissue: Empower key frontline actors like media and civil liberties groups to better understand the threat and be connected to other stakeholders/experts
Coordination: Identify appropriate coordination mechanisms between civil society, media and platforms around use of synthetic media
Research: Support research into how to communicate ‘invisible-to-the-eye’ video manipulation and simulation to public
Platform and tool-maker responsibility: Determine what we want/don’t want from platform and companies commercializing tools or acting as channels for distribution: including what we want and don’t want in terms of authentication tools, manipulation detection tools, and content moderation based on what platforms find
Shared detection capacity: Prioritize shared detection systems, and advocate that investment in detection matches investment in synthetic media creation approaches
Public debate on technical infrastructure choicesand understand the pros and cons of who globally will be included, excluded, censored, silenced, empowered by choices we make on authenticity measures or content moderation
Promote ethical standards: on usage in political and civil society campaigning
Potential approaches and pragmatic or partial (and not-so) solutions
Solutions areas below are broadly grouped as follows, not in order of importance!
Technical solutions for detection, authentication, provenance, and anonymization
Platform/social media/search engine-based approaches to detection and protection
Approaches within commercialized creation tools
Multi-stakeholder collaboration and inclusion of adversely-affected communities
News and information consumers
Journalist and news organization oriented approaches
Legal, regulatory, and policy solutions
Technical solutions for detection, authentication, provenance and anonymization
Invest in new forms of media forensics
As synthetic media advances, new forms of manual and automatic forensics could be refined and integrated into existing verification tools utilized by journalists and fact-finders as well as potentially into platform-based approaches. These will include approaches that build on existing understanding of how to detect image manipulation and copy-paste-splice, as well as evolved approaches customized to deepfakes such as using spectral analysis to spot distinctive characteristics of synthesized speech or the idea of using biological indicators to look for inconsistencies in deepfakes. A set of approaches has also been proposed by leading media forensics expert Hany Farid to create a so-called ‘soft biometric’ of key public figures such as 2020 US presidential candidates that will check whether in a deepfake where audio and lip movements have been simulated there is a correlation between what the person says and how they say it (a characteristic pattern of head movements related to how that known individuals says particular words).
The US government via its DARPA MediFor Program (as well as via media forensics challenges from NIST) continues to invest in a range of manual and automatic forensics approaches that include refinements on existing approaches for identifying paste and splice into images based on changes in JPEG/MPEG and tracking camera identities and fingerprints (PRNU-based). Some of these approaches overlap with the provenance approaches above – for example, the eWitness tool leaves designed forensic traces as part of its technology. Other approaches look for physical integrity (‘does it break the laws of physics’) issues such as ensuring there is not inconsistency in lighting, reflection and audio as well reviewing the semantic integrity of scenes (‘does it make sense?’), considering audio forensics approaches to identifying forgeries, and identifying image provenance and origins (pdf). Many are looking for additional new forms of neural network-based approaches described below.
Invest in new forms of deep learning-based detection approaches and focus on shared detection approaches
Detection approaches to the new generative adversarial network(GAN)-based creation techniques used to create deepfakes and other synthetic media can utilize the same technical approach to identify fakes. To do this, they generally rely on having training data (examples) of the forgery approach. As an example, forensics tools such as FaceForensics++ generate fakes using tools like FakeApp and then utilize these large volumes of fake images as training data for neural nets that do fake-detection. Google has also contributed training data in this area around synthesized audio. Other approaches in this area also look at possibilities such as the characteristic image signatures of GAN-generated media (pdf) (similar to the PRNU ‘fingerprints’ of conventional cameras). Key questions around these tools include how transferable they are between evolving generation techniques.
Utilize approaches based on tracking the origins of image elements in a fabricated media item or on tracking known fakes
Platforms, as well as independent repositories such as the Internet Archive, also have significant databases of existing images that can form part of detection approaches based on image phylogeny and provenance. These approaches trace the history of image elements and look for the use of elements of existing images. Entities such as the Internet Archive are now actively exploring this possibility and it is possible to do with existing browser plug-ins such as Invid-EU and manually using similarity search based on looking for existing images.
Other alternatives being discussed by a range of entities look to compile databases (crowd-sourced and otherwise) of known fakes in order to facilitate ongoing fact-checking and debunking, e.g. WeVerify.
Develop in-browser tools and multi-tool detection arrays
Tools developed in programs like MediFor such as the use of neural networks to spot the absence of blinking in deepfakes (pdf) could be incorporated into key browser extensions or dedicated tools like WeVerify/InVid. There are also projects in progress to develop specific browser plug-ins specifically for AI-based media manipulation – an example is the under-development Reality Defender tool from the AI Foundation. Other tools may follow the approach of the MediFor project to develop a dashboard of how a range of tools and approaches assess media integrity of a given piece of audiovisual media.
Explore tools and approaches for validating, self-authenticating and questioning individual media items and how these might be mainstreamed into commercial capture/sharing tools
There is a growing sense of urgency around developing technical solutions and infrastructures that can provide definitive answers to whether an image, audio recording or video is ‘real’ or, if not, how it has been manipulated, re-purposed or edited. An increasing range of apps and tools seek to provide a more metadata-rich, cryptographically signed, hashed or otherwise verifiable image from point of capture. These technologies provide technical signals of where, when, and on which device an audiovisual media item was created, and measures of trust that it has not been tampered with at creation or in transit and include apps for journalists and human rights defenders and civic journalists and commercial tools aimed at a broad range of markets. Companies and apps in this space include but are not limited to Serelay, Amber, TruePic, Eyewitness to Atrocities, ProofMode and eWitness.
WITNESS mock-ups of what a ‘proof’ or ‘eyewitness’ mode on devices/Camera OS might look like
An upcoming report by WITNESS looks like at at the pros and cons of these approaches, particularly considered in the light of the aspirations of many of these solutions to be embedded from chip to sensor to camera to social media platform and sharing. This report will be released in late June 2019 (media: please contact WITNESS if interested in reviewing a pre-release version)
Other nascent approaches look at how to guarantee media integrity in outputs from news organisations – potentially drawing on signing/metadata-based approaches as well as image provenance/phylogeny.
Consider the pros and cons of an immutable authentication trail, particularly for high profile individuals
As suggested by Bobby Chesney and Danielle Citron, this concept of using lifelogging to voluntarily track movements and action to provide the potential of a rebuttal to a deepfake via “a certified alibi credibly proving he or she did not do or say the thing depicted” might have applications for particular niche or high-profile communities, e.g. celebrities and other public figures although not without significant collateral damage to privacy and the possibility of facilitating government surveillance. This approach has been advocated in a low-tech version – i.e. film all events – for campaign teams preparing for the US 2020 elections in an adaptation of existing preparations to pre-empt opposition research.
Platform/social media/search engine-based approaches to detection and protection
Collaborate on shared detection tools that are available to as broad and diverse a set of users as possible
Media forensics and deep-learning based tools could also form part of a platform, social media networks and search engines’ approaches to identifying signs of manipulation. Platforms have access to significant collections of images (that will include increasingly, the new forms of synthetic media as encountered ‘in the wild’). Some platforms have begun to release individual training data sets of media created with synthesis techniques. However, since these deep-learning based detection tools require access to training data of new examples platforms could collaborate on maintaining updated training data sets of new forms of manipulation and synthesis to best facilitate rapid development of responses to new forgery techniques. A key question in this respect will be how to make this type of resultant shared detection capability available as widely to possible to media organizations, civil society and individual consumers without compromising the ability to detect by providing another source of training data for attackers, without compromising privacy and while recognizing there may be commercial competition in some areas.
Assess and debate platform-based approaches (social networks, video-sharing, search, and news) that including many of the above elements as well as content moderation
Platform collaboration could include detection and signaling of detection at upload, at sharing, or at search. They could include opportunities for cross-industry collaboration and a shared approach as well as a range of individual platform solutions from bans, to de-indexing or down-ranking, to UI signaling to users, to changes to terms-of-service (as for example with bans on deepfakes by sites such as PornHub or Gyfycat). As noted above there is also a critical opportunity to collaborate on shared training data.
Critical policy and technical elements here include how to distinguish malicious deepfakes from other usages for satire, entertainment and creativity, how to distinguish levels of computational manipulation that range from a photo taken with “portrait mode” to manipulations currently..
We are headed to RightsCon in Tunis next week, and would love to see you! RightsCon focuses on the intersection of tech and human rights—where WITNESS lives.
We’re more than ever in the center of hot debates around topics such as manipulated media and extremist content, so there’s no better opportunity to meet and collaborate with human rights defenders from all over the world. WITNESS Executive Director Yvette Alberdingk-Thijm, Program Director Sam Gregory, and Tech+Advocacy Program Manager Dia Kayyali will be speaking.
Here’s where you can find us:
Wednesday, June 12th
Future-Proofing Human Rights Documentation: Tools for Protecting Endangered Evidence 12:00PM—1:00PM WITNESS Staff Speaking: Dia Kayyali, Program Manager, Tech+Advocacy
This panel will bring together those working in various capacities in the human rights field including advocates, lawyers, technologists, usability experts, archivists, and others interested in creating tools and standards and increasing their adoption in the wider community towards the common goal of holding abusers accountable through the ethical collection and preservation of evidentiary media.
AI for Justice: Opportunities and Limitations to Analyzing Today’s Human Rights Data Troves 1:00PM—2:00PM WITNESS Staff Speaking: TBA
The session will feature an engaging discussion with experts and the audience regarding the evolving challenge of how to document and promote accountability for violations of international law in the world of Facebook and YouTube. It will also explore the possibilities of new technologies, as well as the challenges and ethical concerns inherent in leveraging AI, regardless of the good intentions behind its application.
Prepare Don’t Panic: Strategize a Human Rights-Based Response to Deepfake Technologies, Synthetic Media and Increasing Volumes of Visual Misinformation 3:45PM—5:00PM WITNESS Staff Moderating: Sam Gregory, Program Director Speaking: Gabriela Ivens, Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellow
Videos, audio and memes, often crudely edited or recycled and re-contextualized, play a critical role in misinformation, influence operations, ‘fake news’ and in inciting violence. New sophisticated, personalized audio and video manipulations called “deepfakes,” as well as other forms of AI-generated and manipulated “synthetic media” that allow changes/additions to videos add to the problem. In the session you’ll learn about proposed solutions/approaches to address deepfakes and synthetic media.
Sustainable Practices Workshops – Sharing What Works 3:45PM—5:00PM WITNESS Staff Moderating: Yvette Alberdingk-Thijm, Executive Director
The end goal of this interactive workshop would be to co-create a first draft of a ‘best practices’ guide — not a one size fits all solution guide, but shared space for what we learned that works. Super-pragmatic.
Thursday, June 13th
Hope for Resilience: Shifting the narrative, advancing wellbeing 9:00AM—10:15AM WITNESS Staff Speaking: Yvette Alberdingk-Thijm, Executive Director
How can we solve the burnout and PTSD problem in (online and offline) human rights activist circles? The goal of this session is to identify and map the underlying problems that foster these beliefs/culture, and to advance possible solutions together with participants.
Know Thy Enemy 10:30AM—11:45AM WITNESS Staff Speaking: Sam Gregory, Program Director
Whether in Brazil, Guatemala, the United States, or Germany, far-right forces use the same playbook to promote and spread the disinformation, hate speech, and extremism that are undermining liberal democracies and human rights across the globe. Know Thy Enemy will be structured as an interactive, hands-on workshop focused on helping civil society understand the tactics used to create and spread disinformation.
Defending Democracy from Foreign Interference in a Digital Age 12:00PM—1:00PM WITNESS Staff Speaking: Sam Gregory, Program Director
There are increasing efforts in the international community to challenge the value of democratic principles and states. At the same time, emerging technologies have created a new environment for foreign interference operations to support these narratives, particularly in the form of disinformation campaigns. This session will offer examples of legal, NGO and government/multinational responses to foreign interference in the form of disinformation.
Solving the problem of vicarious trauma in open source investigations 2:15PM—3:30PM Speaking: Gabriela Ivens, Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellow
The goal of this session is to discuss concrete solutions to the problem of secondary trauma that can lead to burnout or PTSD and depression among human rights advocates. It will emphasize workflow, design, effective mitigation strategies and institutional steps that can be taken right away.
Who wants to be a terrorist? The radicalisation of free speech control through measures against terrorist content online 2:15PM—3:30PM WITNESS Staff Speaking: Dia Kayyali, Program Manager, Tech+Advocacy
Fear of terrorism facilitates the emergence of laws that give multiple powers to law enforcement, through de facto permanently raising threat levels in cities around the world to “code yellow”; to tackling the emergence of radical messaging online as a terrorist radicalisation tool. Civil and human rights organisations navigate a difficult landscape: on one hand, acts of terrorism should be prevented and radicalisation should be counteracted; on the other, regulatory trends conflate fighting terrorism with simply removing controversial content from before our eyes.
Friday, June 14th
Lightning Talks: Trends in transparent tracking Ticks or it didn’t happen: Discussing dilemmas when building authenticity infrastructure for multimedia 9:00AM—10:15AM Speaking: Gabriela Ivens, Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellow
The research ‘Ticks or It Didn’t Happen’ – looks at the technical solutions currently being proposed by start-ups, platforms, companies, and civil society organizations for authenticating images, videos or audio recordings on the moment of capture as well as tracking this through the content’s lifecycle and use. These innovations will have a profound impact on how we assess user-generated content, engage with citizen journalists and trust critical dissident voices.
We have been working with filmmakers, editors, and activists for over 25 years. Here are some helpful guidelines for you if you are working on a video advocacy project for human rights.
Before filming, it’s great to do a kick-off meeting with your editor. Below are some good framing questions:
What equipment do they have available? Will you need to rent gear for them? Who is responsible for damage to equipment of insurance?
Do they have a portfolio for you to look at? Links to finished work are preferred over highlight reels because that way you can see the final product
Who will own the final product and footage? Will the other party have limited rights to use/distribute the film or footage?
Who has creative control over the film? How will the organization collaborate with the filmmaker? How will the filmmaker give input? How collaborative will this be?
What systems does the filmmaker have in place for gaining consent? Are they open to using the organization’s consent protocols?
How knowledgeable about the topic or community is the filmmaker? What post-production skills do they have? Are they able to do graphics and/or animations?
Their rate: do they have discounts for nonprofit work?
Of course, there’s plenty that you should be providing the filming team as well.
A clear brief of the project – filmmaker needs to understand what exactly the organization needs
Overview of issues related to risk assessment. Are there any security measures that need to be taken for particular interviewees?
Directions if the project or a portion of it need to be deleted at a certain point in time
References for other videos or images that you’d like to emulate
Outline, background info, any critical interviews that need to be done
Any critical events that will need to be covered
Do you want graphics or animation? Be clear about what the filmmaker will need to do or find someone to help do
Target audience, length, and delivery platform
Languages (subtitles, voiceovers, etc)
Goal of the film
Budget – ballpark budget is fine
How many shooting days are expected
Any equipment (cameras, mics, computers) that you can provide the filmmaker – this can also drive down costs
In post-production (after the film is finished) expect 3-4 revisions, but there could be more (editors may expect 2-3).
Everyone who is going to provide feedback should participate in each round of drafts (not just the fine cut). Amount of revisions should be negotiated beforehand
Try to stick to timelines* —especially if they have an editor on board with limited capability and time
Creating a Memorandum of Understanding
A memorandum of understanding [MOU] is a type of agreement between yourself, your organization and any parties you choose to work with on a specific project. It outlines the common intention between parties and framework outlining how you intend to achieve your goals. Include the following in an MOU:
Budget and payment terms
Timeline and deliverables schedule
Description of all products to be delivered (including assets for social media. Examples: Versions, tech specs for masters, derivatives for different delivery platforms, graphics, project files, etc. Deliver all raw materials/footage AND the final film? Or just the final film?
Organization of products
How products will be delivered
Rights to footage
Editorial control terms
Defined roles: If voiceover is needed, who will be responsible for talent and recording?
Credits for film
Short description of product, duration
How footage will be preserved
How consent will be obtained. If filmmaker wants to work on the project beyond scope of contract, they will need to re-obtain consent on their own.
Whose responsibility is it to get rights for music or licensed footage?
Revisions – should there be more revisions outside of timeline, we will renegotiate payment or we will be able to compensate at this specified rate
In general it’s helpful to have a point person from the organization to act as a director/producer with creative control. It’s also helpful to have 1 single person who the filmmaker can contact for feedback and orders. Would be great for this person to also have media production skills so that they understand the process.
At rough/fine cut stages it is good to have a broader review by more folks.
In conclusion, some best practices we have learned along the way:
It’s best to establish roles between the filmmaker and the organization from the very start.
Have an initial meeting with everyone involved in the project at the beginning before the filming begins in order to establish roles, etc. and get everyone on the same page
Critical for the filmmaker to be realistic about the budget and have options to offer the org (i.e. I can do this for x amount and this for y amount)
When working with a younger or less experienced filmmaker, it can be helpful to pair them with a more experienced filmmaker who can take lead on producing the shoot
Helpful for someone in the org to have an understanding of the filmmaking and editing process
Mobil-Eyes Us is a project that explores technologies, tactics and storytelling strategies to use live video to connect viewers to frontline experiences of human rights issues. The goal is for audiences to become ‘distant witnesses’ who will take meaningful actions to support frontline activists.
Mobil-Eyes-Us teaches us that a series of live broadcasts can form (and be formed by) many layers composing a rich story arc that tells us more than one individual stream can. So we explored ways to present a series of live videos combined with the context created through the active forms of participation depending on different abilities and availabilities of distant collaborators. Our assumption was that the more people know about the “big picture” (a local group’s larger story of struggle), the higher the chances of their active and meaningful involvement.
Since the first phase of Mobil-Eyes Us (MEU) in 2016 we wanted to have a series of informative videos about the history of communities affected by the Olympic Games (and by the broader patterns of violence that existed in the lead-up) that could be shared to build a more complete understanding of resident experiences. These videos individually could give a glimpse of their reality, but can also serve as a piece of context on previous or future streams.
Favela Skol is part of Complexo do Alemão, one of the main favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Here’s how we engaged audiences in ‘co-presence’ during livestreaming:
1) INTRODUCING A COMMUNITY’S HISTORY
In this first video we presented details about Complexo do Alemão’s history.
Thainã de Medeiros, from Coletivo Papo Reto, summarizes the area’s history and gives information about the terrain, the occupation of the land and the supposed reasons for the eviction. He also talks to residents about their personal stories, and familiarizes the audience about a series of actions they had done before and during the Olympic Games. Collaborators engaging with the MEU process remotely have a solid base of knowledge to work with and can start including links and information in the comment sections from the streamings that followed on that day.
During the second live video of the day it was also possible to add to what they said in the broadcast comments with links like:
examples from Coletivo Papo Reto publications documenting the previous actions of these residents;
examples from publications by other local activists that had documented previous actions;
an online petition made by residents to pressure the Governor of Rio.
Thainã gives more details about the eviction process in the third livestreaming. He also interviews Cristina, a resident who lost her home due to landslides during the heavy rain season at Pedra do Sapo, a favela within Complexo do Alemão, between the years of 2009 and 2012, which was the same period that evictions happened at Favela da Skol. We then summarized what had been presented in the comment section for further context, including the link to the residents’ petition and a link to the article from Rio on Watch about Skol’s eviction.
In the fourth and last livestream of the day, we continued Cristina’s interview, and also learned from Camila, a resident and well-known activist of Skol’s struggle, that there would be a planned action on Copacabana beach the following Sunday, the last day of the Olympic Games. In addition to updating the comments with summary and context, we also added a link to the Facebook page maintained by Camila so that people could connect with her directly. We referred our followers to live.witness.org both during the narration of the broadcast as well as in the post’s comments.
2) REINFORCING THE POSITION
We created two Facebook events, one in English and one in Portuguese, to publicize our previous broadcasts as context to Camila’s planned action at Copacabana beach during the closing day of the Rio Olympic Games. However, because of bad weather, the action was canceled, so we decided to update the respective Facebook event pages accordingly.
With the update, we also gave a notice that in 8 days there would be a public hearing where Favela Skol residents and other evicted Rio communities would demand officials honor the promises made of compensation for their evicted homes and new housing with concrete dates to begin construction work.
MEU also created events on Facebook (in English and Portuguese) for supporters to accompany the hearing remotely through a livestream. During this livestream above of the hearing, Camila confirms that the leaderships from Pedra do Sapo, Itaoca, Skol and Palmeira are present. Tactically, it is important to make it clear that leaders are present and are always willing and open to dialogue with responsible institutions and to have this documented to keep records straight.
We were able to remotely follow the public audience and hear their demands through a series of four live broadcasts that included narration and translation in English via a MEU participant watching remotely. Public hearings are often events where attendees have strongly differing opinions, but this specific one was louder and more frustrating than usual. Because the reserved room was so full, many residents — who had tried to follow the frustrated attempts to hold state institutions accountable — had to watch the hearing from a separate room.
COMMUNITIES GIVING THEIR OWN CONTEXT
From August to October 2016, some residents re-occupied part of the land where Favela Skol was located. As seen through the livestreams from the Voz das Comunidades page (another important local news group in Complexo do Alemão) the military police was present before Rene Silva (streamer and creator of Voz das Comunidades) was arrested by police. We highlight this comment made by Camila, who was interviewed in previous broadcasts, where she contextualizes the situation during the stream:
“Faced with the lack of answers from the Federal, State and Municipal government, WE who lived in SKOL for 12 years and were evicted 6 years ago. We decided to go back to what is ours. IT’S NOT A FAVOR! IT’S OUR RIGHT !!!
On Friday we reoccupied the land …. and it was not as a joke. It is not easy to start from scratch. We returned with 200 families. Mostly women, seniors and children. The night was calm and peaceful. But during the day, the pacifying Police, with their leader ZUMA, we were massacred. There were only families in that place.
With Pepper Gas, Rubber Shots, cussing and threats.
Worse than a war movie.
Several residents are injured. Organized movements and collectives who were supporting us were also hit and beaten down. There was no dialogue. Because no one talks to poor, Black and favela residents.
OUR STATE IS MURDEROUS !!!!
WE DO NOT HAVE ACCESS TO QUALITY EDUCATION.
WE DO NOT HAVE ACCESS TO QUALITY HEALTH.
CULTURE, SPORTS AND LEISURE. MANY OF US DO NOT KNOW THE MEANING OF THESE WORDS.
HERE IN THE FAVELA THEY ONLY INVEST IN POLICING (SUCKERS)
THEY DIALOGUE HERE WITH SHOTS AND PEPPER GAS!!!
The fight will not stop !!!!
The fight is for real !!!”
3) SHARING MOMENTS OF JOY
Another important part of the narrative arc of livestreams is the opportunity to also share moments of joy and celebration. Reflecting on the nature of activist struggles, we know the importance for both affected communities and people acting in solidarity to have moments to celebrate even small victories.
In this first experiment of the Mobil-Eyes Us methodology in Brazil, we created a narrative arc using livestreams about the evictions that happened in Favela da Skol in the context of mega international events in Rio de Janeiro, such as the World Cup and the Olympic Games. In partnership with Coletivo Papo Reto, a grassroots media group from Complexo do Alemão, we did four streams in one day and followed up with more content after that. We also used Facebook Events to support the ongoing process between the different live videos, helping the audience understand the broader context involved in each case. In this first pilot, we explored the power of real-time remote collaboration directly through the comment section of the Facebook livestream.
Before Mobil-Eyes Us, WITNESS partnered with Brazilian activists to collect, contextualize and verify 114 recorded (non-live) videos from different sources to connect the dots between them and demonstrate how forced evictions were a systemic issue with common patterns showing wider human rights violations. Through the livestreams from the Favela da Skol experience, we are also trying to visualize the system and the patterns within it. This work taught us that context provided in one stream can be reused in another to tie both together. It showed us how one stream can serve as another’s context, connecting multiple streams as a continuation of a story or by showing us the patterns and bigger picture of what’s happening. We can help in real time by translating, giving context and being present when it is needed from us, but the work doesn’t end there. We should continue analyzing and making sense of each stream by itself, but more importantly, figuring out how each one relates to each other like a node of a network does. There are multiple stories within, and beyond, the one we’re immediately witnessing.
I am a young, black, first generation American woman from New York City. Following the indictment of George Zimmerman and the murders of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Akai Gurley by the police, I began to feel extremely weary of authority figures and fearful of any potential interactions between my family and friends with the police. When walking through the city, I found myself anxiously crossing the street whenever I saw an officer, my heart racing and palms sweating. It seemed as if anything people of color did could be construed by the police as dangerous.
I remember staying up one night crying after Eric Garner was murdered here in New York because I was worried for my own brothers’ safety. After we were pulled over one evening while running errands in our parents’ working-class neighborhood in southeastern Queens, my eldest brother revealed to me that this was actually a common occurrence for him. As he didn’t normally drive above the speed limit and his car was properly stickered, he deduced that he was most likely being pulled over because he, a black man, was driving a luxury car. While we waited for the officer to come to the car, he instructed me on the importance of smiling, keeping both hands still and in plain-sight – either on the wheel at ten and two or on your thighs, and maintaining a non-threatening, respectful tone while speaking. Before reaching for his wallet to get his license or getting his car’s paperwork from the glove compartment, my brother would announce what he meant to do and ask if it was okay before moving his hands from the wheel. And although he had done nothing wrong and his license and registration matched the car he was driving, the backseat and trunk were both subject to a search by the officer. I wondered if my five-year-old nephew had already been taught how to act if approached by an officer. I wondered how many children of color across the country were being schooled on topics that their white counterparts would never have to worry about.
Later that year, after my nephew graduated from kindergarten, his parents decided that it would be safer to homeschool him. While influenced by a number of different factors, school-related racism and the presence of high numbers of law enforcement in public schools with larger minority demographics, have played a large part over the past few years in the growing surge of African-American parents choosing to homeschool their children. Faced with these injustices and blatant examples of discrimination, I began to question whether or not I could, morally speaking, start a family someday. Knowing how black and brown children are viewed by authority figures here in the United States, how could I possibly bring a child into such an environment? How would I be able to assure them of their safety? I wondered how my parents, Jamaican immigrants, who moved here in hopes of providing their children with better opportunities felt in the wake of these incidents.
My growing anxiety over the documented cases of police violence however, led me to become more involved with the community of grassroots activists here in New York. I found local rallies and demonstrations through the Black Lives Matter movement to take part in, in hopes of effecting some change within our country. I began to speak candidly with friends and acquaintances about the fears that myself and many people who look like me feel on a regular basis. I wanted to make sure that future generations of black and brown people would not have to worry about their safety in the way that my generation and generations before me had. Through these activities, I learned that I had people around me that I could lean on when I felt overwhelmed. Through my community I learned that I didn’t have to live in fear every day. Over the past few years, I’ve grown to learn that I could trust the community that I had built around myself – friends, progressive-thinking people of color, and allies.
Western Sahara, with a population of over half a million people and 200,000km land mass – the size of South Dakota – is the world’s largest non self-governing territory. It is also Africa’s last colony, left under Moroccan occupation following the retreat of Spanish colonial power in the 1960s.
The human rights situation is still dire, and This April, the U.N. Security Council will once again consult on the status of its peacekeeping mission in the territory—due to expire at the end of this month—after a 6-month extension was granted in October of 2018. Despite the high levels of censorship, access restrictions, and media blockades over the last few decades, indigenous Sahrawi activists and journalists have harnessed the power of eyewitness footage and mobile phones to provide a rare window into the human rights abuses taking place in Western Sahara. But these brave actions do not come without danger.
On November 6 of the same year, 350,000 Moroccans responded to the appeal of the late King Hassan II to march in a “green march” that crossed the borders of this region to confirm their “belonging” to the kingdom.
The latest report of the United Nations refers to reports of “serious violations of human rights” by the Moroccan police in “arbitrary arrests”, “ill-treatment” and “acts of torture” against Sahrawis fighting for self-determination. The report also refers to “excessive monitoring” of human rights defenders and journalists. On the part of Polisario, the report expresses its concern about respect for the rights of refugees in the Tindouf camps, which lie on Algerian territory.
The conflict has negatively affected the relations between Algeria, which supports Polisario and Morocco, to close the land border between the two neighboring countries since 1994, while the last meeting between their leaders dates back to 2005.
Rabat recently proposed continuing dialogue with to Algeria a mechanism for dialogue, while Algeria formally requested an urgent meeting of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the five countries of the Arab Maghreb Union, to revive this organization paralyzed by the conflict between Morocco and Algeria.
Silencing of the Press
Nouzha El-Khalidi, journalist and member of the Sahrwai collective Equipe Media, was prosecuted on March 18th for filming and uploading a video of a peaceful demonstration in the streets of Laayoune, the capital of Western Sahara. She was arrested while her video showed the moment of police chasing her. She was subsequently beaten, arrested and had her mobile phone confiscated.
She was charged with “impersonating an illegal profession” as part of a plan by Morocco to silence journalists who are seen as key to breaking the Moroccan media blockade.
“We are trying to highlight human rights violations in Western Sahara, which puts our safety at risk,” Khalidi said. “We are subject to arrest and torture. Our families are under pressure and threats. The only crime I have committed is that I have filmed the violence of the Moroccan police against peaceful Sahrawis and therefore I am likely to be arrested for months or years. But there is no way to break the media embargo imposed by Morocco. “
In recent years, the number of Saharawi journalists who photograph and share their footage has increased because of abuses by the Moroccan police. Morocco’s response was to increase the number of arbitrary arrests, prison sentences, harassment and physical attacks against them .
Al-Khalidi was arrested last December while directly broadcasting a demonstration on social networking sites. In August, when she was covering a demonstration for Sahrawi women, Moroccan police confiscated her camera and detained her at a police station for a night. During her detainment she was interrogated and subjected to ill-treatment but was released without charge.
Morocco is one of the most difficult areas for media workers, with increased arrests of journalists during demonstrations, the trial of Saharan journalists and the deportation of foreign journalists.
WITNESS supports Sahrawi activists
In April of 2016 WITNESS began working with Sahrawi activists, journalists and technologists to curate and verify 111 eyewitness human rights videos. These videos included footage of protests and testimonies from international observers or from witnesses, victims, and survivors of human rights abuses.
Read our 1-year report on the methodology and curation of these videos at WITNESS Media Lab. We stand with the brave activists who fight for freedom of expression and the protection of human rights in Western Sahara. For more resources, visit our free library to find guidance on verification and curation of human rights video.