What do you do to make sure your video footage can be used as evidence for justice and accountability?

Many human rights activists will at some point come across video that is helpful for their work to protect human rights. Some advocates film events themselves, others are given footage by someone who captured human rights violations on camera, and sometimes activists find informative videos on the Internet.

For video to be accepted as evidence, it has to be both reliable and relevant. What do you do to make sure your video is reliable and relevant? We would love to hear examples from members of the legal empowerment network about how you have used video - successfully or unsuccessfully - in your work to secure lasting change, and any questions you have about how to use video in your work to protect human rights.

A bit of background: I am a human rights lawyer from Australia working with WITNESS. WITNESS trains and supports activists and citizens around the world to use video safely, ethically, and effectively to expose human rights abuse and fight for change.

Here are some great resources you can use to equip yourself with the training, techniques and tools to make sure your video is reliable and relevant.


If you are already using video in your human rights work or plan to, check out WITNESS’ Video as Evidence Field Guide and, if possible, seek training from us or our partners. To get you started, the sections on Basic Practices, Filming Secure Scenes and Adding Essential Information will help make your video more reliable and the sections on Anatomy of a Crime and Collection Planning will ensure your footage is more relevant.

###Techniques: In addition to learning how to film, one of the biggest challenges you will face is verifying the significant video footage you find online. UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center recently launched the first-ever Human Rights Investigation Lab using cutting-edge, open source research methods to verify and authenticate thousands of hours of video footage and photographs of human rights abuses and war crimes from around the world. If you are interested in open-source investigation, keep an eye on this lab, as the lessons they learn will be helpful for everyone.

###Tools: There are now apps for your smart phone that allow you to add information to videos and photos captured in the field to ensure your footage can be easily verified by investigators and lawyers not at the incident scene. Check out both eyeWitness to Atrocities and CameraV and look for more in this discussion from the eyeWitness to Atrocities project.


Hi, I’m Wendy Betts and I direct the eyeWitness to Atrocities project that Lizzie mentioned (thanks for that!). We offer a mobile phone camera app that helps to increase the reliability of photos and videos recorded with the app. I want to expand a bit on Lizzie’s point about reliability based on our research and lessons learned.

In terms of admissibility, reliability means that the court can believe that the item is what it is purported to be. In other words, it is authentic. Related to reliability is the concept of chain of custody. This concept refers to the ability to trace who has had access to the photo or video from the time it was captured until it is provided to the court. This concept is important for any piece of potential evidence, but is particularly important for digital evidence because it can be so easily changed and shared. For a court to consider a photo or video as evidence, the court wants assurance of when and where the information was captured, that the footage has not been altered, and that the footage is the original.

Photos and videos that are captured by standard mobile phone cameras and uploaded to social media sites often do not contain this vital information. Verifying this information after the fact is challenging, even more so if the individual who captured the footage wishes to remain anonymous. Additionally, when photos and videos are shared by text or email, it is difficult to track who had access to the footage between the time it was recorded and its use in court. For all these reasons, it is difficult for this information to be used as evidence. The eyeWitness app and the other tools that Lizzie mentioned have been developed to help human rights documenters solve this problem and increase the impact of the information they collect.


Hi, I’m Tara Vassefi and I work with Lizzie as a Legal Fellow at WITNESS. I am currently working on a forthcoming study co-sponsored by WITNESS and PILnet that looks at several Middle Eastern and North African jurisdictions and if/how they consider video evidence. I would love to share it with this community and get your thoughts when it comes out. I am currently in Tunisia and always looking to connect with human rights lawyers in the region.

It’s been really great to speak to human rights lawyers on the ground and learn from them about creative and interesting ways to use video in human rights litigation in this particular regional context. In terms of the black letter law, especially in the MENA region where most of the countries are civil law countries with much left to the judge’s discretion, every jurisdiction’s rules of evidence provide a broad, catch-all provision with something to the effect of, “a court, based on its discretion, may allow for the submission of any evidence it deems necessary to establish the truth.” So in theory, there are no barriers to the admissibility of video evidence.

In many jurisdictions’ rules and regulations there is no explicit mention of the issue of reliability in video evidence though jurisprudence from different jurisdictions provide some nuance to this broader concept whether it involves weighing in the right to privacy or objections by opposing counsel, etc. Interestingly, in the MENA region, reliability and authentication seem to be much less of an issue for courts partly because courts might not have the requisite technological capabilities and partly because of the emphasis placed on the role of opposing counsel in objecting to and of the judge in determining the reliability of the video. But this seems to have the added benefit of making it much easier to use video as evidence.

Given my work with WITNESS and my interest in documentation efforts in general, I would love to know more about the law and practice vis-a-vis video evidence in other regions as well! Really looking forward to hearing from others!


Thanks so much @Lizzie for starting this great conversation and @wendybetts for telling us more about the eyeWitness app.

Quick disclaimer: keep in mind that Namati does not necessarily have direct experience with the products, services and resources being offered in community discussions. This means that each of us will individually have to do our own due diligence as we explore them and decide whether we want to take advantage of the offered opportunities. Do ask questions here and offer your feedback, and provide candid info as your fellow members decide what tools and tactics they want to employ in their work.

That said, it really blew my mind to visit the eyeWitness website and learn about the eyeWitness app which I’m now installing on my android phone to try it out and keep ready in case I ever need it. Obviously I hope I never do!

I am also impressed by WITNESS and their Video as Evidence Field Guide, available as a free download. I encourage everyone to try to get it at least on their computer as a reference (be warned, though - it’s a 9.7MB, 230 page PDF document!).

This conversation is a good continuation of our webinar with WITNESS in December. @KellyMatheson covered alot of the same ground in her 20 minute presentation and addressed candid questions from network members afterwards. The full recording is available in the topic below, as is a written summary of her talk and answers to questions.

Over there @mckinleycharles made the following point - valuable food for thought for paralegals joining in this discussion.

Are any members able to record video on phones and use it in support of your work? If so what has been your experience? Did you get training and if so how did that go? If not, are you interested in training?

As Kinley mentions, video can also be used for dispute resolution which of course falls directly within the remit of legal empowerment work. Are you or are any paralegals you know actually doing that at the community level? What are the advantages and potential perils of recording and using video for dispute resolution?

And finally, when I visited the Ogiek community this past fall as part of the @exchange_2016kenya learning exchange, I recall being told that recording video is an integral part of the community land protection process. @namati_clp can you share some stories and info here about how that works?

Thanks all! Looking forward to participating in this topic and hearing from more members about their experiences and needs relating to video. :seedling:


As impact, we have used videos to collect evidence of land grabbing,eviction and police harassment to support our cases as evidence. We use media on some cases to air out our stories and have seen a lot of potential in its use. First, police harassment has stopped as a result of such video coverage. We have also seen government liaising with us on issues of land and natural resource management. On land cases including those in courts, although we haven’t tabled video evidence in court but lawyers make reference on videos used by media publicity. Some cases has been ruled in court in favour of the community as a result of using videos in advocacy. Slowly, we are learning on use of videos and legal system if it accept videos to be tabled as evidence in court in some cases. Tingoi


John, (@oletingoi)

Would you be willing to share an example of a case where the court ruled in favour of the community, in part, with the help of videos at the advocacy stage? I ask because we are supporting groups in the Amazon Basin and in Kenya to fight land grabbing and environmental destruction and it would be wonderful to have a story to share with them. Specifically in Kenya, my colleague Nanjala Nyabola is supporting the county of Lamu to stop the construction of what would be Kenya’s first coal-fired power plant. The plant will of course degrade the quality of the water and in turn degrade fisheries and community health. It will also steal the livlihoods of many on the islands. Your success stories could most certainly inform their work and others if it’s not too sensitive to share.


Great topic all - in the Community Land Protection process it is an option to record certain important agreements as video either in addition to written documentation (recommended) or instead of written documentation if a community is uncomfortable with written/signed documents. @SAMORAI with the Ogiek People’s Development Program suggested that they might use video to document boundary agreements between communities instead of written MOUs. John can you tell us if OPDP and the community’s decided to try this?


Interesting to read the above - looking forward to hearing @oletingoi from IMPACT share a case too. It strikes me that I have not come across many members who have explicitly referenced using video as evidence and when I was working on evictions in the past, we used a camera and only had flip phones. I would be immensely curious to better understand how many members do actively use video or think about using video for this purpose, especially since smart phones have spread across the globe.

Not to sidetrack the discussion, but now I am really curious who actually has used video and what their experience has been. @TimothyYaile, did you use video for the active case you’re involved in? @fatimaadamu, @ndambamusa, @memaderazo, have you used video in your work before? @vivektrivedi, did you come across this during your time in India? I would encourage any of you to tell us your experience related to this.


Very interesting discussion - @oletingoi I wonder if you could share more on your experience on filming police harassment. Sometimes police can become even more violent if they see they are being filmed and can even seize and break the filming device and punish the person filming. Is this a problem you have experienced? How can paralegals protect themselves and their property in these cases? In countries with good mobile coverage and cheap network charges we are seeing a growing trend towards using mobile streaming technologies such as Facebook Live to livestream police harassment, this helps prevent the seizure/deletion of videos but also raises new questions around privacy laws and whether this footage can be used as evidence in court. Have any of our members used live streaming technologies and what has been your experience?

I would also be interested in hearing from organisation who have used video evidence in their advocacy work and what their experience has been there. @andrewmaki and @mschapman I wonder whether you would be able to share some of the ways that JEI has been able to use videos both as an advocacy tool and as a way to build a body of evidence.


Hi @michaelotto, I used quite a bit of video to create media/digital solutions for human rights projects such as the Virtual Police Station training tool for Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. I also worked with a brilliant collective of creatives/lawyers using video and 360 visualizations to document the issue of exclusionary urbanization in India through the Lockstitch Lives project. I don’t have a lot of experience using video for evidence gathering, though I understand the current/next wave is first person public reporting using video to democratize evidence gathering. We can see the impact this has made here in the United States with police shootings of African American men. Nazdeek did capture video of the aftermath of a brutal police attack where a man living in a slum in Delhi was bitten by law enforcement because he did not pay a bribe. This received quite a bit of attention, though I don’t believe charges were ever filed. However having visual evidence to back a claim of police brutality always makes a stronger case.


Hi Vivek! Great to see you back here and happy :cake: day! It’s been one year to the day since you joined the network, commemorated with a slice of cake next to your name. :tada:

I think the work you’ve done in India is incredibly interesting and am glad you threw your links and perspective into this discussion. Much appreciated.

It seems to me that there is consensus/agreement here that citizens recording video is important and perhaps becoming more important, so we should all start paying more attention to how it can be done properly and as safely as possible. It’s perhaps not so easy for practitioners working at the grassroots to grapple with the ideas being shared here while they are also grappling with other, perhaps more existential ongoing challenges.

We’ll certainly keep this topic up for those who come in the future looking for help when they do need to record and use video footage. :seedling:

Insights into how grassroots organizations with limited resources can start all this on an incremental basis - before disaster strikes - would be interesting. Also some examples?


Hi @tobiaseigen! I hope all’s well with you! Thanks for the cake and confetti!!!

Agreed - the challenge is certainly in safety and functionality. The work that WITNESS has done to train practitioners in using film is an important step forward - I know Namati recently had a webinar presented by WITNESS on best practices. I hope the webinar was as well attended and robust as previous programs! Video Volunteers also does tremendous work in this area in India. Collaborating with organizations like VV to train communities on filming safely and effectively would be interesting to explore.


I am Eleane Keamue from Liberia, many times I take photos of abuses like police brutality, and assault to back up my report. I will really like to learn more about video and how to use same .


Hi Eleane! Trust all is well with you. I have fond memories of the learning exchange in Tanzania and do recall that you like to use your phone alot to record videos and take photos! Please try downloading the eyeWitness app on your phone and let us know here how it works for you. Also the Video as Evidence field guide (sorry, it’s a big pdf).


Hey Eleane - that sounds like really important work, I’m so glad you joined the discussion. :blush:

Do you use video or just photos? The Field Guide that @tobiaseigen linked to is our key resource - it’s long, but think of it more like a recipe book that you can dip into, depending on what you need. Can provide me with an example of a problem you’ve faced or something you’d like to learn more about? I’d be happy to offer advice :slight_smile:


wow this is great news and quite innovate as well, thank for the information


Hi Hillary! Great to see you here in this topic. Do you use video in your work? How is that going? Let us know if you are able to install the eyeWitness app on your smartphone and what you think of it.

Hey Hillary! :hugging: It would be great to hear from you about how video might be relevant to your work and what kind of help and resources would be useful. Have you used video in this way before?

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