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The Third Wave, The Fourth Screen, The Fifth Power, And Beyond

Saddam execution video re-ignites death penalty debates worldwide [via GV/WITNESS]

[Originally published here as part of WITNESS‘s collaboration with Global Voices Online]

Over the past four months, we’ve tried to feature and contextualise videos we felt should be seen and debated by a wider audience. Today’s featured human rights video is something completely new.

You may be one of the millions who have sought it out online – or you may have decided to avoid it. Someone – a friend, a colleague, a relative – may have emailed it to you, or called you up to tell you about it. You may have seen a clip of it on the TV news. One way or the other, you’re likely to have an opinion on it, because it’s made for a memorable start to 2007, as political cartoonist blackandblack’s cartoon illustrates:

2007 - a cartoon by http://black-blackandblack.blogspot.com

Click here to launch blackandblack’s blog in a new window.

If anyone was still in any doubt that sousveillance was one of the ideas of the year, then the Saddam video should put that beyond doubt. What’s different about the cellphone footage of the execution of Saddam Hussein, former dictator of Iraq, is that, aside from being probably the most watched web video in history, it has re-ignited a global debate on a perennial human rights issue: capital punishment.

Iraqi blogger Raed Jarrar links to both the official and unofficial videos here – on a personal note, I found it one of the most disturbing videos I have yet had to watch, so viewer beware…

Judging by the Iraqi government’s indignation at the unofficial footage, and the ambivalent reaction of many major media outlets (as detailed by Armenia-based Onnik Krikorian here), they were the only ones genuinely surprised that a cameraphone was smuggled past the security checks into the death chamber. If whoever filmed it had surrendered his cellphone before the hanging, the world may never have seen beyond the mute, carefully-edited, tastefully-faded-out official video of the proceedings.

The real story emerging from the Saddam video is that, in laying bare the huge gap between the managed official account of his execution and the far messier reality, it has provoked people – and many bloggers – to reflect less on whether Saddam merited his fate, and more on the nature and appropriateness of that fate for the age we live in.

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Filed under: Africa, Caribbean, Cellphone, Central Asia & Caucasus, Citizen Journalism, Death Penalty, East Asia, Governance, GV, Human Rights, Internet, Journalism, Latin America, Law, Mobile, Online Video, Politics, REGION, Religion, South Asia, Technology, War & Conflict, WITNESS

Video exposes child-soldier’s identity [via GV/WITNESS]

[Originally published here as part of WITNESS‘s collaboration with Global Voices Online]

If you’ve seen the guidelines for this site, you’ll know that there are types of footage that we wouldn’t post, and circumstances surrounding the shooting of particular videos that mean we wouldn’t even link to them. Today’s post is about one of those videos.

I was researching a possible post about child-soldiers, when I found a video on a video-sharing site, said to be an interview with a teenage former child-soldier. In the video, the youth makes a number of allegations against the rebel organisation that he claims abducted him, sexually abused him, and sent him out on military operations – allegations broadly consistent with research conducted in his country by respected international human rights organisations.

But unusually for a video carrying this kind of allegation, the youth involved is identified by name, and in the accompanying text, by location. Human rights organisations (and media) would almost always advise protecting the identity of a minor in such a situation (see pages 16 and 17 in this document, for example) – whether by pixellating or obscuring his/her face, by shooting the video so that their face cannot be seen, e.g from behind or in silhouette, or possibly disguising their voice or re-voicing the audio. The photograph below shows how easy it is to pixellate an image to conceal someone’s identity.

Example of how to pixellate an image to protect someone’s identity

In the case of the video I had found, none of these protocols was followed. I wondered for quite a few days whether to post this video, which I felt brought out many important issues within a conflict where the recruitment of child-soldiers is common. It’s horrifying testimony (and by no means rare), and the youth’s story deserves to be heard – but the video raises a huge number of questions. Therefore I’ve decided against showing you the video itself.

The video is quite short, and in it the youth seems to be giving a prepared statement – there’s no one asking questions for clarification, as there was by contrast in the Alive In Baghdad video a couple of weeks ago. The text accompanying the video states that the army found the boy after he escaped from his abductors, so I have assumed that the army shot the video.

Did the army explain to him clearly and adequately what the video was for, and how it would be used? At no point in the video or in the accompanying text is it made clear whether the boy in question has given his consent to the use of this video online. Was he given a choice of whether to take part, or of when, where and how it would be filmed? He mentions his parents in the video – were they asked for their consent? If we assume that his alleged abduction and subsequent sexual abuse caused him trauma, what support and follow-up was offered to him? How informed can his consent be considered?

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Filed under: Africa, Children, Cyber-Activism, Governance, GV, Human Rights, Humanitarian, Internet, Law, Military, Online Video, Politics, REGION, Technology, War & Conflict, WITNESS

Zimbabwe: Smuggled DVD brings union protest beatings to light [via GV/WITNESS]

[Originally published here as part of WITNESS‘s collaboration with Global Voices Online]

This video reached me late last night via Ethan Zuckerman. At nearly ten minutes, it’s longer than the other videos we’ve put up, but I strongly recommend you watch this.

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aI1l7jmabBA]

It includes footage of the Zimbabwean police and security intelligence services breaking up a peaceful demonstration by members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trades Unions (ZCTU) on September 13th. The police repeatedly beat the demonstrators, who are calling for the provision of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs for the treatment of HIV, a minimum wage, and stabilisation in the prices of certain basic commodities. The bulk of the video involves interviews with the ZCTU members describing the events of the day, and the actions of the police. Ethan and Rachel Rawlins have kindly provided a transcript.

When news of the beatings originally leaked out, trades unions in other countries strongly condemned Robert Mugabe’s hardline approach with legitimate and peaceful demonstrations. Last week a court dismissed the police report on the incident, and postponed the trial of the ZCTU protestors until October 17th, to give the Criminal Investigation Department time to conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations of police torture. When footage of the protests was smuggled out of Zimbabwe on DVD to South Africa this week, it prompted the head of one of South Africa’s labour unions to say that she would give President Thabo Mbeki a copy of the DVD of the beatings in a meeting with him on Friday.

More as and when it emerges…

Filed under: Africa, Cyber-Activism, Freedom of Speech, Governance, GV, Human Rights, Law, Online Video, Police, Politics, Protest, Technology, Unions, WITNESS