Using Mobile Phones to Advance Human Rights

Posted by CorinneRamey on Dec 10, 2007

A new website called the Hub, calling itself "the global platform for human rights media and action," has its official beta launch today in honor of International Human Rights Day. The Hub, a project of human rights advocacy group WITNESS, hopes to create a new space for human rights related video content, including footage shot on mobile phones.

Tamaryn Nelson, program coordinator for Latin American and the Caribbean at WITNESS, told MobileActive that the Hub goes beyond the capabilities of YouTube. "There's no real place for human rights related material [on YouTube]," she said. "YouTube has tons of videos, but if you go onto YouTube and try to find a video related to human rights it's like finding a needle in a haystack. With the Hub, Tamaryn said, human rights advocates will be able to create a campaign around their videos, join online chats, provide context, and frame videos from a human rights perspective.

Although the Hub officially launches today, it entered beta phase and was announced to WITNESS supporters about a month ago. Sameer Padania, the Hub manager, said that he hopes the site fills a need for a centralized location for human rights related media. "Activists themselves were saying that's what we want, a single place online," he said. "It was really hard to find human rights video online. It's in the local blogosphere -- it was circulating, but inside a country."

Currently, the site includes videos of everything from Egyptian police torturing a detained Egyptian girl to an interview with a former guard at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The front page of the site showcases a video originally posted to YouTube by Wael Abbas, the Egyptian citizen reporter and blogger whose YouTube account was recently shut down. The video, shot by Egyptian police, shows police brutality while interrogating a suspect in Egypt. There are several hundred videos on the Hub searchable by subject area and geographical area. Although anyone can upload video content to the Hub, most current videos have so far been uploaded by Hub staff. The Hub is also helping to facilitate additional video by working with Pure Digital to distribute Flip cameras to activists in some areas.

Although the Hub doesn't specify which videos are from a mobile phone, Sameer said that many of the videos were shot on a mobile. He wrote, in an email to MobileActive, "Most of the videos from Egypt and Burma have been filmed on mobile phones, for example. In the case of Egypt, the videos were filmed by policeman either perpetrating or participating in the abuse, and we have seen this in a number of other cases over the past year, Chechnya, Saddam, for example. In the future, you'll be able to see what was recorded and sent from mobiles." He said that within a few months people will be able to upload videos directly from a phone. Although the Hub hasn't decided exactly how mobile uploads will work and has yet to address some security issues, staff are considering a system where users send video to an email address via MMS.

The Hub says that they check all videos for copyright infringement, and assign a Creative Commons license to content uploaded by users. "This is a new and emerging field. It's a very different set of challenges to ordinary copyrights," said Sameer.

Both Tamaryn and Sameer said that the Hub is not only a place to view human rights videos, but a place to create campaigns and take action. Sameer said that mobile phones could be an integral part of this process, as people download videos from the Hub onto their phones and share the videos with others who don't have Internet access. "You can take things from the Hub and put them on your phone and go where there is no Internet access. We want to pull people together -- the people who aren't on the Net," he said. "This possibility of downloading when you're able to access the Hub and take it out to places on phones is something that we're really hoping that people will get creative with."

The goal of the nascent website, said Sameer, is ultimately to make an impact in the world beyond the Internet. "The big goal is to use the Internet to have an impact on human rights abuses," he said. "By providing this online space we hope to facilitate activism on all provide the tools for people to be able to do that advocacy online and then to take it offline."

Sameer said via email that he hopes the mobile phone community will get involved in the Hub. He writes,

I'd just like to reiterate how cellphone-to-the-Hub upload functionality is on the way and we're thrilled about it -- and we need the expertise, feedback, advice and participation of the MobileActive Community. We know that global mobile penetration has already reached 50%, and that by 2009 it's predicted that more than half the world's population will have access to a phone. The proliferation of cellphone technology with image and video recording capability is changing not only how we communicate, but how we can document human rights abuses and gather first-hand accounts of what is happening on the ground. Through the Hub, people will be able to upload cellphone video in minutes, and add detailed context and links so people can get involved, support and help to mobilize for justice.

For more information on the Hub, go to

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