WITNESS/HIC: Collaboration on Forced Evictions





Summary of Campaign


WITNESS and HIC are collaborating to use video in their joint work on forced evictions.

The collaboration will support a series of local and national campaigns starting in Brazil, Mexico, India – and potentially in other regions where HIC works. Rooting the campaigns locally, arguably where it matters most, WITNESS and HIC will strategize how to amplify the most emblematic local cases across HIC’s regional and international campaign work on forced evictions.

Interested local campaigns will be selected to receive training and resources from WITNESS, HIC and local partners on how to produce and integrate video into their existing campaigns. Because of capacity, not every HIC member will be able to participate directly in this collaboration. WITNESS does have written and video materials which can be helpful for HIC members to incorporate video into their individual campaigns.

The WITNESS/HIC collaboration is being discussed region by region within HIC’s structure. The World Social Forum in Dakar was selected as a central place to gather input from the HIC General Assembly as the collaboration develops.


Rationale for the Collaboration 


Fundamentally, development should not cause human rights abuses.

 However, each year an estimated 15 million people across the globe are forcibly uprooted from their homes. Forced eviction tends to go hand-in-hand with the use or threat of violence. Under-represented and impoverished communities are affected most dramatically and each project underscores the discrimination rooted in the existing financial, legal and political systems. Human rights abuses can also continue after the actual eviction. A community may find itself living without adequate housing and without access to water, work, schools and hospitals. A forced eviction exacerbates poverty, social unrest, environmental degradation and loss of cultural identity. Its affects remain long after the last home is torn down.

In the past three decades, communities and activists have campaigned successfully for international guidelines and safeguards on forced evictions. Many major development banks and more than sixty private banks lending funds to governments and corporations for large-scale projects have adopted at least minimum safeguards to prevent human rights abuses associated with forced evictions.

Despite these guidelines and safeguards, in 2010 the United Nations reported that forced evictions are on the rise. Routinely, implemented projects do not follow the financial institution’s own safeguard policies and investors and governments often ignore obligations to avoid or at least minimize displacement. Domestic laws protecting the rights of persons forcibly evicted vary greatly from country to country and, in practice, there is often little recourse domestically for communities challenging a forced eviction.

Video is changing this. For communities at-risk, video is documenting the resistance and mapping their communities before a project takes place. Hidden from or neglected by the media, documenting forced evictions as they happen and their aftermath creates undeniable proof of their existence. Shooting footage of the places people are relocated is evidence of the often deplorable conditions. Video also helps communities organize themselves, as they watch other communities employ resistance tactics, see their own situation, identify and form allies, and build larger campaigns.

For good reasons, many forced evictions campaigns focus on the immediate community at-risk and at directing activism locally where decisions affecting the community are made. While the land on which they stand is unique, strong threads of commonality connect communities facing forced eviction. The motivation and policies that forcibly evicted communities to make way for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa are very similar to those leading up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. These forces operate far beyond the community itself.


“The reasons why we are having so many forced evictions all over the world have an international motivation. So, it’s important for the resistance to forced evictions to become international. And it’s very important for this resistance to use video to show from one community to the other that they are a living the same phenomenon, which is an global phenomenon, that should be fought against globally as well.”

– Raquel Rolnik, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing

Therefore, the regional and international campaign can amplify the emblematic local campaigns to show the strong threads connecting these communities and to continue the fight on forced evictions at other levels.


Campaign Goals & Activities

The campaign to end forced evictions is in its planning stage, with local participants identified in Brazil and Mexico, and in the process of identification in India.  Each campaign begins with a mapping process in which WITNESS, HIC and the local partners lay out how various issues around forced evictions are approached locally and nationally; the goals and progress of each campaign; future campaign plans; and the organizations and individuals working on these campaigns.

The video advocacy trainings will focus on providing local campaigns in a particular country with both the technical and the strategic tools for incorporating video into their advocacy. Each campaign will create its own video advocacy plans detailing clear advocacy goals, how video will be used to achieve those goals, a timeline, and evaluation plans. The exact number of participants attending the trainings will vary; however it is anticipated about 15 people – including HIC’s regional and national leadership.  

The decision-making for local campaigns will be at the local level with the selected campaigns and the immediate communities. In consultation with the local campaigns and other relevant stakeholders, HIC regional representation can formulate national or regional campaigns if strategic. Further, HIC internationally may desire to inventory local, national and regional campaigns to package one or more international campaigns across its membership.

The World Social Forum in Dakar in February 2011 was established as a center point to discuss and gather input about the WITNESS/HIC collaboration with the General Assembly.


Next Steps

Mapping/Training in Mexico – WITNESS/HIC are working with 4 identified grassroots partners in Mexico who focus on communities affected by dam projects. The Mexico training occurred at the end of January 2011. Along with the four individual videos, plans are to use each to create a national video for national advocacy.

Mapping/Training in Brazil – WITNESS/HIC are working with 3-5 identified grassroots partners in Brazil to start planning their video campaigns. The Brazilian partners will address forced evictions related to the mega-events occurring each year in Brazil through 2016 – for example the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. The Brazil training is anticipated for April 2011.

Mapping/Training in India – WITNESS/HIC will work with campaign partners in India and are currently in the process of determining those relationships. Once partners are identified, a similar mapping process will take place.  The India-based media organization, Video Volunteers has joined the project to provide production training and campaign-related video content on forced evictions from its IndiaUnheard project. The India training date is to be determined.


Mapping/Training in MENA – WITNESS/HIC have had only initial conversations about the potential for collaborative work in MENA.


Global Campaign Development – At the World Social Forum, WITNESS and HIC will present the current local and national campaign plans to the HIC General Assembly and in other meetings discuss the global collaboration.


WITNESS’s History


WITNESS is the global pioneer in the use of video to expose human rights abuses. WITNESS partners transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change.  Founded in 1992, WITNESS has partnered with more than 300 human rights groups in over 70 countries, trained over 3,000 human rights defenders, and supported the inclusion of video in more than 100 campaigns, increasing their visibility and impact. 

This collaboration on forced evictions grows out of WITNESS’s experience with a series of campaigns to end forced evictions in Burma, Cambodia, Honduras, Kenya the Philippines and a regional project in 9 countries in Asia. To give one recent example, our partner CEMIRIDE in Kenya used video to document the eviction of the Endorois people from their ancestral land to create a wildlife reserve. The video we produced helped convince the African Union that the expulsion was illegal and set a major legal precedent by recognizing – for the first time – the rights of indigenous people everywhere to their traditionally owned land.

WITNESS’s core methodology is “video advocacy” – the use of video as an integrated tool in human rights campaigns.  WITNESS’s experience has proven that powerful images and stories have an unrivaled candid authority that can help prompt awareness and action when seen by the right people and at the right time and place.  Real impact comes from igniting the power, passion and potential of frontline human rights groups and putting the right tools in the hands of the people on the ground.

Videos made by WITNESS and our partners have told dozens of critical human rights stories, and have galvanized grassroots communities, judges, activists, media, and decision-makers at local, national and international levels to action. They have called attention to stories of slavery, trafficking and war crimes. They have secured basic rights to education, employment, housing and health care. They have improved the lives of children, the disabled, indigenous peoples, minorities, workers and women. WITNESS campaigns have empowered individuals and their communities to secure and protect their rights. They have shown us where governments and non-state actors have failed to meet legally binding obligations. They have pressured those in power to act. And they have engaged millions of ordinary citizens in the struggles for human rights taking place every day all over the world.