Human Rights Defenders

Remembering Berta Cáceres

Last Thursday, indigenous activist and 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Berta Cáceres was assassinated in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras. Cáceres was co-founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), and an inspiring community leader to the region’s Lenca people. She led campaigns on a variety of environmental, indigenous, and women’s issues, including a decade-long fight against a proposal to dam the Gualcarque River, an important water resource considered sacred by the Lenca People.

The Honduran police initially reported the case as an attempted burglary, but the victim’s friends and peers are certain the murder was linked to Cáceres’ work as an activist. The tragedy occurred less than a week after she received death threats in relation to her efforts against the Gualcarque River damming project. The handling of the case has been emblematic of an escalating situation in the country with the most killings of environmental defenders in the world. The murder, and the long preceding history of impunity towards crime against activists in Honduras, has led to protests throughout the country and solidarity from around the world. Activists are calling for a thorough investigation of this murder and that those responsible are held accountable.

While Overbrook did not work directly with Ms. Cáceres, we are committed to supporting human rights defenders at risk due to their advocacy and we honor her leadership and activism. Many of our grantees were partners in her efforts to defend human and environmental rights, and the loss is felt deeply throughout the community. To learn more about Berta’s work and developments on her case, please see coverage by Overbrook grantees, or visit the website of her organization.

YouTube's New Face-Blurring Tool: An Important Step for User Privacy and Safety

Last week YouTube announced the release of a new tool that will allow users to obscure people’s faces in the videos they have uploaded to the video-sharing platform.  By simply pushing a button in your settings to upload and post videos, you can now opt to protect the anonymity of individuals or crowds by blurring their faces from outside recognition.
YouTube has blogged about the new feature and how use it for those interested in the how to use the tool.
The use of technology in the form of cell phones, video, social media and more have been such important tools for growing human rights work.  However, these advances come with associated safety costs. When individuals choose to post videos that expose and document protests, human rights abuses or interviews with advocates, they are often putting themselves at risk.  We have seen governments and non-state actors targeting human rights advocates who appear in videos that may challenge the powerful in a given society.  Monitoring video and other forms of technology has provided governments and others with data on protesters or human rights advocates giving them the capacity to arrest or target human rights defenders.  As a result, YouTube’s new tool has enormous potential to protect human rights defenders and citizen activists, while still allowing them to take advantage of the valuable opportunity to share important footage across the world.   


Through its Cameras Everywhere Report’s recommendations and its advocacy work, WITNESS has used its role as a leading human rights video advocacy to urge tech companies, including YouTube, to provide better policies and technologies to ensure privacy for those using their platforms.  The report highlighted the fact that no video-sharing platforms provided anonymity features to users.  Now after hard work by groups like WITNESS to achieve this shift and the leadership of groups like YouTube, this reality is beginning to change. This advocacy strategy presents an interesting approach to defending human rights defenders because the role of tech companies in impacting individuals’ rights to information and privacy continues to grow.  We believe these victories and partnerships are extremely important to the future of human rights activism and the safety of those advocating for human rights accountability. 

Some related articles sent to us by WITNESS are found in The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Mashable, Fast Company, Ars Technica, Global Voices Advocacy and The New York Times. And, here is WITNESS's blog poston the subject if you are interested in this tool and WITNESS’s complimentary work. 

Breakthrough Chosen As Part of YouTube's Next Cause Program

Continuing our discussion of video as a strategy to promote engagement, enforcement, and awareness for human rights issues, we want to highlight that YouTube has selected 20 non-profit organizations to participate in its YouTube Next Cause program.These organizations were chosen because they want to further develop their use of YouTube and internet video to advance their missions, interest areas or campaigns in front of a broader audience.Breakthrough, an Overbrook grantee, was among those selected to participate in a summit in San Francisco in April where they will participate in one-on–one training sessions and tutorials on how best to use this technology from the site. Breakthrough and the others will explore how to build on their current usage of YouTube to engage existing supporters and expand their reach to new viewers.

In the wake of excitement/controversy around the viral video Kony2012, it will be interesting to see the expanding role of social media and video to advance social justice and human rights issues. Breakthrough has long recognized the power of video to effectively promote human rights and tolerance, and this selection by YouTube reflects their successes and potential.Breakthrough currently uses video and social media games to shift hearts and minds on human rights issues that deeply affect our country, including immigrant rights, domestic violence, women’s rights, equality, diversity, tolerance and justice. The organization has already posted many videos on its YouTube channel and we encourage you to check them out. 

WITNESS's Obscura Camera

Overbrook grantee WITNESS, a human rights organization promoting the use of video advocacy, has sent us information about media coverage of their new video technologies to assist human rights defenders and civilian journalists in documenting human rights abuses. In partnership with The Guardian Project, Witness has developed Secure Smart Camera and its first version “Obscura Camera,” which offers privacy and anonymity to both those filming an event and those in the video who may be putting their lives at risk to protest human rights abuses or injustice. Responding to the organization’s findings in its Cameras Everywhere Report and the increase in the use of video in protests during 2011’s popular uprisings (ie: the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movements), WITNESS hopes to minimize reprisals for filming human rights abuses. Obscura Camera will allow filmmaker activists to hide the identity of the filmmaker and faces in the crowd with boxes covering images or distorting faces through a program on their cameras or cell phones. “The Future of Protest Video", a multimedia article on the, clearly explains the details and the value of this technology to activists.It also introduces InformaCam, a plugin for Obscura Camera, which can embed information of the exact location and time of the video so that a spontaneous video may be regarded as more acceptable for use in court cases or advocacy campaigns. Clearly, Safe Secure Camera has the capacity to help video activists in multiple ways based on their immediate needs.

Overbrook supports WITNESS because of its use of modern technology to defend human rights defenders and provide these activists another tool for documenting critical human rights violations As the use of video to document these abuses increases, it is critical that those involved with these movements can be protected and, as a result, it is wonderful to hear that this program is getting so much positive feedback. For more information, this project has recently been featured in articles like The Economist’s Visibility for all, Forbes Magazine’s New York Flexes Its Tech Cred and Wired UK’s 25 big ideas for 2012: Always on sousveillance.


Reports on Journalists Killed in 2011

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has published its annual Killed in 2011 Report documenting the number of reporters who have been killed as a result of circumstances directly related to their work as journalists. While journalist deaths were highest in countries in the Middle East, the report also reveals that safety for journalists remains a big challenge in Latin America. In the most dangerous Latin American country for journalists, Mexico, three Mexican journalists were killed and CPJ continues to investigate four journalist deaths that may have been related to their professional endeavors.In 2011, further Latin American journalist deaths are reported in Brazil, Peru and the Dominican Republic. The website and the report also highlight a new increase in the targeting of journalists who use social media to promote democracy, freedom of information and human rights.In one particularly gruesome case, a Mexican blogger was found murdered for her work to uncover the activities of criminal groups. These deaths as well as the related “disappearances” and threats that menace Latin American journalists confirm the need of work of our grantees to defend members of the press and their right to free speech in Latin America.

In addition to the formal report, the CPJ website shares a series of maps and charts with data about the professions of the journalists killed, the types of stories they had been covering and the type of groups or circumstances that have been in their death. Based on these descriptions, many of the killed Latin American journalists had been involved in reporting on criminal organizations or government corruption.This accessible and thorough statistical analysis should bolster the ability of the Committee to Protect Journalists to effectively use this report in their advocacy work to prevent impunity for those harming or imprisoning journalists.

The Overbrook Foundation has maintained a strong dedication to defending human rights defenders, including supporting organizations promoting press freedom in Latin America. This advocacy tool should help CPJ and others to continue to support these rights in 2012.Freedom of speech and freedom of press must be defended if a broader population is to fight injustice; challenge local, national and international power structures; and defend their own safety and human rights. The data compiled in this report reminds us of how much work there is to be done to ensure the safety of journalists around the world, particularly in Mexico and the rest of Latin America.

WITNESS's new video toolkit

WITNESS has released its new video toolkit, which consists of a series of videos, documents and personalized web pages designed to help Human Rights Defenders plan and film thoughtful, effective advocacy videos. With its commitment to new communications platforms and organizations that support Human Rights Defenders, The Overbrook Foundation is excited about the release of this internet tool and its potential impact on the human rights field and grassroots human rights advocacy work. After working on video advocacy projects with human rights-based organizations in 80 countries for over a decade, WITNESS is in an ideal position to share its best practices and lessons learned with organizations or citizen journalists who may be creating their first advocacy video. While WITNESS Staff may only have the time or resources to train a finite number of organizations, this series of 35 videos can be viewed by a much larger audience. As a result, WITNESS’s impact can grow and more activists will be able to take advantage of the organization’s expertise.

This toolkit includes step-by-step videos and online forms so that users can track their progress and consistently review the objectives of their videos to maintain their focus. It also helps individuals to identify their target audience and optimize the timing for their video’s release. Using interactive videos and a multitude of case studies, the toolkit addresses the need to craft smart objectives for the video, to identify a persuasive messenger and message in the videos, and to pinpoint the outcome or action they hope to inspire in viewers of the video. Additionally, these pages and videos helps users to tackle the difficult decisions of how to show their videos to the target audience and how to integrate this advocacy tool into broader campaigns for human rights. WITNESS continues to welcome feedback on these videos to improve the quality of the program and it plans to release the toolkit in several more languages in 2012. Learn more at