How We Started

The story of WITNESS is one of both vision and evolution. It began in 1988, the year musician and activist Peter Gabriel traveled with Amnesty International’s Human Rights Now! Tour. Peter brought along a Sony Handycam, one of the first small camcorders marketed to consumers, to record the stories he heard. In 1991, a bystander captured on videotape the brutal beating of Rodney King, Jr. by Los Angeles police. The footage, flashed on TV screens around the globe, initiated an international conversation about police brutality and racial discrimination. Those images demonstrated the immense power of video to capture the world’s attention and viscerally communicate human rights abuses.

With the momentum generated by reactions to the King video, Peter was able to realize his visionary idea of putting film at the forefront of human rights campaigns. With a one million dollar seed grant from the Reebok Human Rights Foundation and a partnership with the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (now Human Rights First), WITNESS was born in 1992, becoming an independent nonprofit organization in 2001. 

WITNESS has worked in over 80 countries and partnered with hundreds of organizations to advance human rights through the use of video for change. Today, WITNESS has a staff of 30 and a $5 million budget.