WITNESS ProgramsIntensive Critical Response
Surge Response
WITNESS’ Intensive Critical Response and Surge Response programs are designed to equip activists and citizen witnesses with the tools and knowledge necessary to safely, ethically and effectively use video to document human rights abuses and advocate for change.
Intensive Critical Response

WITNESS is responding to select critical situations by supporting broad groups of human rights defenders in using video to overcome significant crises and create impact on issues such as the widespread police violence in Brazil and the political unrest and violence in the Middle East.

Through this program WITNESS provides trainings to local activists and NGOs, distributes resources, and collaborates with influencers to spread skills and capacity with others. We also set out to create long-term, systemic solutions to challenges such as managing large volumes of human rights video for evidentiary purposes.

Surge Response

WITNESS provides rapid engagement and support to citizens and activists documenting sudden escalations of violence and human rights abuses, such as the protests over racial injustice in Ferguson, Missouri or the recent Israel-Gaza conflict.

Through digital platforms and short-term collaborations with local NGOs and influencers, WITNESS aims to quickly distribute training resources that can help filmers safely and effectively capture footage and can increase the likelihood that their videos may be utilized in the fight for justice and accountability.

About Intensive Critical Response

Through the Intensive Critical Response program, WITNESS provides holistic and strategic support for 1-2 years in situations of mass human rights abuse and atrocities. We aim to support the immediate goals of local NGOs and activists on-the-ground: such as training investigators on how to film for evidence; storing and managing video evidence collections; and training non-traditional human rights activists and citizens to safely and effectively document abuses.

Contexts are selected (in part) because they offer opportunities to learn about emerging and innovative uses of human rights video, as well as common challenges; analyzing lessons learned and translating them into model solutions is a key goal for these engagements.


We are working closely with community media groups, activist collectives and human rights organizations to use video to demand accountability for police violence in Brazil. Though official statistics account for 2,000 people killed by Brazilian police each year, many believe the actual number is significantly higher due to unreliable/inexistent reporting.

Brazil has one of the world’s highest homicide rates – roughly 50,000 a year – and most victims are young (aged 15-29) and of color (77% AfroBrazilians). But homicides are rarely investigated and only 5-8% of cases are resolved. Impunity is rampant, even more so for the police.

In recent years, cellphones have captured many of these abuses on camera, quickly becoming a democratizing force for the collection of evidence from the bottom-up while serving as a shield to counter false police accounts.

The massive protests that erupted across Brazil in 2013 showcased this potential, with hundreds of videos flooding YouTube in real time, some even helping free protesters from wrongful accusations. WITNESS collaborated with nine Brazilian organizations in 2014 to take some of those images to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, weaving together several citizen-shot clips into a video screened at a special hearing on police violence during protests.

Even still, video has yet to realize its full potential to leverage justice – many don’t lead to concrete impact because the context around them is hard to decipher or because they weren’t filmed, stored or shared in the most effective and safe manner.

WITNESS is working to help bridge this gap through collaborations with partners and allies that include traditional rights groups like Article 19 and Conectas to legal collectives like Advogados Ativistas and independent media networks like A Nova Democracia and Coletivo Papo Reto.

Our work is deeply collaborative and designed to respond to local needs as they arise – in mid-2014, for example, WITNESS partnered with Advogados Ativistas and Article 19 to create a guide on How to Film Police Violence During Protests, which was widely shared in the lead up to the 2014 World Cup.

Since then, WITNESS has helped lead trainings, convenings and other activities to strengthen the impact of video in the fight for justice and accountability.

Middle East North Africa

Videos shot by citizens and activists have played a key role in spreading awareness and documenting the recent political uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. In response to the massive volumes of video content coming out of these conflicts, WITNESS has spent the last several years collaborating with local activists and NGOs to provide in-person and online trainings, as well as tools to support activists’ efforts to document and share evidence of human rights violations with media, advocacy groups and judicial bodies.

Working collaboratively with local NGOs to identify key challenges unique to the context of mass atrocity and large volumes of video, WITNESS has helped support long-term, systemic solutions. For example, WITNESS created the Activists’ Guide to Archiving Video (available in Arabic and Spanish), a practical guide aimed at educating activists on how to properly and safely store and catalog videos for long-term use. Additionally, WITNESS is developing a Video as Evidence Guide to support lawyers, investigators and activists in documenting human rights abuses for evidentiary purposes.

About Surge Response

The Surge Response Initiative provides rapid engagement and support to activists and citizen witnesses in situations where there is a quick escalation of violence and human rights abuses. When these events occur, WITNESS works with local and international allies to assess the needs and challenges filmers on the ground are facing. Based on this information, we select relevant training materials and distribute them via online channels and in collaboration with local networks and allied organizations.

United States

When protests erupted around the police killing of an unarmed teenage in Ferguson, Missouri, community members, activists and journalists used video and social media to document and spread information about violent confrontations with the police. To support protesters in recording these incidents of police misconduct, WITNESS engaged with filmers and local organizations to get a better sense of the challenges filmers were facing and to share resources around filming protests and police conduct.

By reaching out to groups such as Organization for the Black Struggle, Hands Up United, ACLU-Missouri and the Online News Association, we saw a large uptick in the number of people accessing our resources. For example, the “Filming Protests and Police Conduct” tip sheet was downloaded nearly 4,500 times in less than one week.


In response to the rapid escalation of violence in Gaza in summer 2014, WITNESS reached out to local allies to determine key needs for specific support (i.e. resources on filming injuries or casualties, verifying citizen shot videos). Working quickly, we distributed Arabic and English versions of key materials through networks and influencers and over social media. We also developed new connections with groups like the International Solidarity Movement that helped us identify challenges around issues such as archiving videos in conflict situations.

The Gaza effort was an early pilot at responding rapidly and digitally to crisis situations, offering lessons for our work reaching activists and organizations directly as well as advocating for broader systemic change.


In early 2014, thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets to protest crippling economic policies, food shortages and record high levels of crime. Videos and social media coverage of the demonstrations swiftly increased as violence between authorities and protesters escalated. The Human Rights Channel began curating these videos and looking into repeated instances of misinformation and manipulated videos circulating on social media.

In response to this surge of video content, WITNESS engaged with activists, lawyers and citizen filmers to share tips in Spanish around filming protests and verifying online videos. In June we hosted a Google Hangout, bringing together a filmmaker, lawyer and activist from Venezuela with a media activist in the Middle East to discuss similar challenges and share insights to help each other’s work.


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