Human Rights, Video Work

The University of Washington sues the CIA

On October 2, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights (UW CHR) filed a lawsuit against the CIA in the U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleging that the agency has failed to meet its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The UW CHR is seeking the release of U.S. government documents relating to the 1981 Santa Cruz massacre in El Salvador, as part of its mission to conduct research in support of front-line human rights organizations around the world. Earlier this year, I the UW CHR released the first comprehensive report on the massacre, as well as an 18-minute documentary featuring survivors and human rights advocates.

I shot and edited this short piece to succinctly provide background information on the Center’s work and how it relates to their decision to pursue litigation.

For more information, please read the UW CHR’s complete press release.

Roles: Videographer, Editor, Producer

Human Rights, Video Work

God Alone was with US: The Massacre of Santa Cruz

In November, 1981, during the height of the Salvadoran armed conflict, an estimated 1,200 soldiers invaded the rural northern province of Cabañas, El Salvador, to carry out a “cleansing operation.” Survivors of the invasion, however, tell a story of carnage, in which the armed forces directly targeted the unarmed civilian population, including the elderly and women carrying children, using ground forces and aerial bombardment and resulting in the death of untold numbers of campesinos. In particular, hundreds are estimated to have been killed in the massacre of Santa Cruz, which took place at the site of the schoolhouse in Santa Cruz, in the municipality of Ilobasco, department of Cabañas, on November 14, 1981.

In recent years, these events have received renewed attention thanks to the survivors’ ongoing struggle for justice. In March 2014, for example, hundreds gathered in the rural community of Santa Marta, Cabañas, for a restorative justice tribunal sponsored by the Institute of Human Rights at the Universidad Centroamericana “José Simeón Cañas” in San Salvador. This event featured public testimony from survivors of this massacre and other related atrocities. Multiple survivors of the massacre have also provided sworn testimony to investigating prosecutors in the Salvadoran Fiscalía General. Despite this, the Fiscalía has thus far failed to conduct a timely or thorough investigation into these events. This effective denial of justice constitutes an ongoing violation of Salvadorans’ fundamental rights.

Since 2013, Unfinished Sentences has worked with partners in El Salvador, Spain, and the United States in an effort to understand and document what happened at Santa Cruz. Today we present God Alone was with Us, the first comprehensive report on this massacre, along with an 18-minute documentary detailing the events of the massacre and survivors’ renewed fight for truth and justice.

For more info visit Unfinished Sentences, a project to encourage public participation in support of human rights in El Salvador. Produced for the UW Center for Human Rights.

Roles: Videographer, Editor, Producer, Project Coordinator

Video Work

Life Poa: Fostering Youth Entrepreneurship in Africa

Providing a bank account and financial education for youth is such a powerful and straightforward way to address poverty, though the various barriers to making it happen are unnecessarily complex.  Numerous structural and regulatory barriers work to prevent youth from saving or opening bank accounts, even if they have the funds to do so. I also shared the misconception that youth in impoverished communities likely aren’t able to save money, which turns out isn’t true.

Last October I went to Kenya for a video project about YouthSave’s Life Poa program, which works to remove some the institutional barriers (such as removing minimum bank balances and ID requirements), establish savings accounts, and provide financial education and support to youth in impoverished areas. I left Kenya super inspired and impressed by the children and families working to save and improve their lives, and the large network of smart and caring people who are working hard to see change happen.

Roles: Videographer, Editor, Producer, Project Coordinator

Articles, Human Rights, On Story

Making Access to Truth Convenient for Human Rights Advocates: Insights and Lessons from the Yellow Book

YB-Banner-en
This post originally appeared on December 10, 2014, on the University of Washington’s Flip the Media blog, an online publication of the Communication Leadership Graduate Program at the University of Washington.

On September 28, 2014, International Right to Know Day, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights, in coordination with the National Security Archive, and The Human Rights Data Analysis Group, co-published The Yellow Book (El Libro Amarillo), the first document to be publicly released from the archives of El Salvador’s military intelligence. The 1980s-era document identifies almost 2,000 Salvadoran citizens considered “delinquent terrorists.” An estimated 43% of the names in the book were found to be victims of murder or extrajudicial execution, forced disappearance, torture, detention or arrest.

Though compelling for many reasons—the document indicates the systematic planning of the Salvadoran government to terrorize and exterminate its own citizens—multiple attempts to partner with major news outlets in the US to cover the release of the document proved fruitless. As a result, the UWCHR decided to self-publish the document through its Unfinished Sentences’ website and associated social media channels, in addition to publication on the National Security Archive’s website.

However, the Unfinished Sentences project had less than one year of a public presence and as such, relatively scant visibility. The lack of media interest in the US was initially seen as a disappointment: a vital source of information for the numerous people still searching for the fate of their lost loved ones, information that would aid in the fight for truth, justice, and accountability in El Salvador, ran the risk of lingering into obscurity on the Unfinished Sentences website.

A Case Study for Overcoming the Communication Challenges Encountered by Nonprofits

The communication challenge posed by Yellow Book, however, isn’t unique to the UWCHR; rather, the Yellow Book represents the typical communication challenge of nonprofits: Distributing information seen as essential by one subset of the population often becomes judged as esoteric by another.

So how did the Yellow Book’s publication unfold?

In August, pre-release of the Yellow Book, the Unfinished Sentences website had received 166 visitors for a total of 284 views. However by October, the website received 6,643 visitors for a total of 141,976 page views–an increase of almost 4,000 percent in visitors and 50,000 percent increase in page views.

Page views Unfinished Sentences website

Publication of the Yellow Book and traditional and new media outreach efforts resulted in a significant jump in visits and page views for the Unfinished Sentences website.

Visitors have also downloaded the 266-page document close to 800 times and converted into additional forms of engagement.

Though the data might be seen as modest by many larger organizations, this is “viral” for an organization of the size and scope as the CHR. Most important, the quality of the connections trumps hard numbers. The story was covered in at least 27 articles and in 24 newspapers and blogs, including BBC Mundo and La Prensa Grafica.

Distribution Tactics to Help Ensure Success

Key tactics to help ensure the success of the Yellow Book included making key materials included leveraging essential partnerships and making key materials easy to share and disseminate.

Leveraging Essential Partnerships

Phil Neff, Unfinished Sentences Project Coordinator, commented on the approach used by the partnership, a combination of tried-and-true fundamentals and new media tactics: “We owe much of the Yellow Book success to essential partnerships in the US and abroad, with key organizations in El Salvador such as COPPES, the Committee of Former Political Prisoners…These groups organized a press conference the day of the release in San Salvador, which was attended by the major news outlets in El Salvador … El Faro, the premier online newspaper in El Salvador, also ran a piece one week in advance of the release, stimulating a great deal of interest.” A take action component, formed with COPPES, also provides another important way for viewers to become engaged after viewing the Yellow Book material.

Making Key Materials Easy to Share and Disseminate

On the digital front, The Unfinished Sentences team made the Yellow Book, and associated material, easy to share and disseminate. The book itself was scanned and placed on the Unfinished Sentences website as a Creative Commons PDF and as a Google Drive link, in addition to JPGs of all 266 pages, and a downloadable copy of the HRDAG analysis. Just days after the Yellow Book’s release, graduate students from a University in Mexico followed up with a network analysis of the relationships in the Yellow Book.

The Unfinished Sentences team also made a short video trailer about the release, in English and in Spanish, providing ways for blogs and news organizations to embed content. The Spanish version of the You Tube trailer has over 14,200 views, indicating the population most interested in the material, and the outcome of the Salvadoran partnerships. An example of the You Tube video composing the content of unaffiliated news organization Genteve can be found here.

Summing it Up: Four Key Strategic Insights from the Yellow Book Release

So what lessons can we glean from the release of the Yellow Book? Here are just a few:

-Relationships matter. Much of the success of the distribution came from contacts that were forged face-to-face. With this in mind, take the time to reach out to and physically meet strategic partners.

-Sometimes simpler is better. We now have so much access to affordable technology—HTML5, animation, dynamic maps, user behavior activated events, visualization of user generated content—I tend to get down in what a story could be or look like over just providing straightforward ways to access information. However, providing bits and pieces of shareable content remain important in the distribution effort. The YouTube video trailer, downloadable reports, and case examples, all provided ways for other organizations and individuals to engage with the Yellow Book content, facilitating story development.

-Speak to your base. It’s not always necessary to shape communications efforts to appeal to the widest audience possible. For example, the English version of the YouTube version only has 412 views compared to 14,200+ views in Spanish, indicating much higher success for the intended audience of Salvadorans and the greater human rights community.

-Remember for whom your efforts are meant. Media tactics aside, on this day, International Human Rights Day, it’s essential to note not only the compelling nature of this information itself, but how it is intrinsically tied to thousands of people in the world who seek any information for the whereabouts of missing loved ones, and who continue to fight for truth, justice, and accountability.

 I find the best insight to be gained from the words of Hector Recinos, a political prisoner profiled in the Yellow Book, in response to the research on the book. “The only thing we can do is seek justice. We are going to persist, we are stubbornly seeking answers. There is a lot to be done, this is only the beginning. But it’s good that things are coming to light.”

Gallery

The Camel Mela in Pushkar, India, 2001

I recently re-discovered one of my favorite albums of all time: a trip in 2001 to Pushkar, India, for the annual Camel Fair. In those years, I was traveling with just one of the cheapest Nikon pocket-sized point-and-shoot film cameras one could find. Men with moustaches, earrings, and pink turbans; women in intricate gold-threaded saris and bangles up to their shoulders; camel butts with carefully shaved and died tribal designs–Rajasthan makes the rest of the world seem grey.

 

Gallery

Baby Club in the Castro

I recently took a trip to San Francisco to photography my mohawk-ed little niece and the family. With a niece around, I found myself spending more time playing peek-a-boo than the other games historically played in the Castro.

 

Gallery

Buena Vista at Sunset

I was taking a walk with my bro Christian Jeria when we stumbled upon lovely Buena Vista park. We stayed to drink up the abundant mix of Pacific mist and light–I could have stayed here all evening into the night.

 

Gallery

Seeking Truth and Justice: A Photo Essay from the 6th Annual International Tribunal

A Santa Marta resident holds a candle at a candlelight vigil.

Since 2009, survivors of human rights violations committed during El Salvador’s civil war have gathered each year to share their stories and demand justice for the crimes committed against them and their loved ones. This year, the Tribunal was celebrated in the community of Santa Marta in the department of Cabañas, target of a series of brutal scorched earth operations by the military of El Salvador during the 1980s, including the massacre of Santa Cruz, in which some 200 fleeing civilians were killed.

Organized by the Human Rights Institute of the Central American University and the Network of Committees of War Victims, and presided by a panel of international jurists and human rights advocates, the International Restorative Justice Tribunal closed with a resolution delivering symbolic verdicts in response to each testimony, as well as recommendations calling on national and international authorities to ensure justice and reparations for grave human rights abuses.

Photo essay by Alex Montalvo. Translations by Ursula Mosqueira. A project for the Unfinished Sentences campaign.

Video

Day in the Life of an EarthCorps Corps Member

EarthCorps is a non-profit organization founded in 1993 with a mission to build a global community of leaders through local environmental service. EarthCorps provides a year-long intensive program for young adults from the US and 80 other countries to learn best practices in community-based environmental restoration and develop their leadership skills as they supervise more than 10,000 volunteers each year.

In December 2012 I spent the work day with Aidos Toibayev, from Kazakstan, and his crew to document a “Day in the Life” of a corps member working on one of their environmental service projects. ‘Twas a fun day out near the Cascades planting trees along side a creek, throwing earthworms at each other in a game of WORM! and making timelapses in the rain. Thanks Aidos and EarthCorps for the good times!

To learn more about EarthCorps visit www.earthcorps.org