Oren Yakobovich

Hidden cameras that film injustice in the world’s most dangerous places

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0:11

I would like to start with the story of Mary, a woman from an African village. Her first memories are of her family fleeing violent riots orchestrated by the ruling political party. Her brother was murdered by the state-sponsored militia, and she was raped more than once just because she belonged to the wrong party.

0:37

One morning, a month before the election, Mary's village was called to another intimidation meeting. In this meeting, there is a man standing in front of them, telling them, "We know who you are, we know who you will vote for, and if you're not going to drop the right paper, we're going to take revenge." But for Mary, this meeting is different. She feels different. This time, she's waiting for this meeting, because this time, she's carrying a small hidden camera in her dress, a camera that nobody else can see. Nobody is allowed to film in these meetings. You risk your life if you do. Mary knows that, but she also knows that the only way to stop them and to protect herself and her community is to expose their intimidation, to make sure they understand somebody is following them, to break the impunity they feel. Mary and her friends were filming for months, undercover, the intimidation of the ruling political party.

1:42

(Video) ["Filmed with hidden cameras"]

1:44

Man: We are now going to speak about the upcoming elections. Nothing can stop us from doing what we want. If we hear you are with [The Opposition] we will not forgive you.

1:58

["Militia intimidation rally"]

2:03

[The Party] can torture you at any time. The youth can beat you.

2:09

["Disruption of political meeting"]

2:18

For those who lie, saying they are back with [The Party], your time is running out.

2:25

["Party youth militia"]

2:28

Some have died because they rebelled. Some have lost their homes. If you don't work together with [The Party], you will lead a very bad life.

2:49

Oren Yakobovich: These images were broadcast all over the world, but more importantly, they have been broadcast back to the community. The perpetrators saw them too. They understood somebody is following them. They got scared. Impunity was broken. Mary and her friends forced the ruling political party not to use violence during the election, and saved hundreds of lives. Mary is just one of hundreds of people that my organization had helped to document human rights violations using cameras.

3:23

My background should have led me to a different direction. I was born in Israel to a right-wing family, and as long as I remember myself, I wanted to join the Israeli army to serve my country and prove what I believed was our right for the whole land. I joined the Israeli army just after the first intifada, the first Palestinian uprising, and I served in one of the hard-minded, toughest, aggressive infantry units, and I got the biggest gun in my platoon. Quite fast, I became an officer and got soldiers under my command, and as time passed, I started serving in the West Bank, and I saw these images. I didn't like what I saw. It took me a while, but eventually I refused to serve in the West Bank and had to spend time in jail. It was a bit — (Applause) — It was not that bad, I have to say. It was a bit like being in a hotel, but with very shitty food. (Laughter)

4:37

In jail, I kept thinking that I need people to know. I need people to understand what the reality in the West Bank looks like. I need them to hear what I heard, I need them to see what I saw, but I also understood, we need the Palestinians themselves, the people that are suffering, to be able to tell their own stories, not journalists or filmmakers that are coming outside of the situation.

5:03

I joined a human rights organization, an Israeli human rights organization called B'Tselem. Together, we analyzed the West Bank and picked 100 families that are living in the most risky places: close to checkpoints, near army bases, side by side with settlers. We gave them cameras and training. Quite fast, we started getting very disturbing images about how the settlers and the soldiers are abusing them.

5:34

I would like to share with you two clips from this project. Both of them were broadcast in Israel, and it created a massive debate. And I have to warn you, some of you might find them quite explicit. The masked men you will see in the first clips are Jewish settlers. Minutes before the camera was turned on, they approached a Palestinian family that was working their land and told them that they have to leave the land, because this land belongs to the Jewish settlers. The Palestinians refused. Let's see what happened. The masked men that are approaching are Jewish settlers. They are approaching the Palestinian family. This is a demonstration in the West Bank. The guy in green is Palestinian. He will be arrested in a second. Here you see him blindfolded and handcuffed. In a few seconds, he regrets he came to this demonstration. He's been shot in the foot with a rubber bullet. He is okay.

6:59

Not all the settlers and the soldiers are acting this way. We're talking about a tiny minority, but they have to be brought to justice. These clips, and others like them, forced the army and the police to start investigations. They've been shown in Israel, of course, and the Israeli public was exposed to them also. This project redefined the struggle for human rights in the occupied territories, and we managed to reduce the number of violent attacks in the West Bank.

7:31

The success of this project got me thinking how I can take the same methodology to other places in the world. Now, we tend to believe that today, with all of the technology, the smartphones and the Internet, we are able to see and understand most of what's happening in the world, and people are able to tell their story — but it's only partly true. Still today, with all the technology we have, less than half of the world's population has access to the Internet, and more than three billion people — I'm repeating the number — three billion people are consuming news that is censored by those in power. More or less around the same time, I'm approached by a great guy named Uri Fruchtmann. He's a filmmaker and an activist. We understood we were thinking along the same lines, and we decided to establish Videre, our organization, together. While building the organization in London, we've been traveling undercover to places where a community was suffering from abuses, where mass atrocities were happening, and there was a lack of reporting. We tried to understand how we can help.

8:42

There were four things that I learned. The first thing is that we have to engage with communities that are living in rural areas, where violations are happening far from the public eye. We need to partner with them, and we need to understand which images are not making it out there and help them to document them.

9:02

The second thing I learned is that we have to enable them to film in a safe way. Security has to be the priority. Where I used to work before, in the West Bank, one can take a camera out, most likely not going to get shot, but in places we wanted to work, just try to pull a phone out, and you're dead — literally dead. This is why we decided to take the operation undercover when necessary, and use mostly hidden cameras. Unfortunately, I can't show you the hidden cameras we're using today — for obvious reasons — but these are cameras we used before. You can buy them off the shelf. Today, we're building a custom-made hidden camera, like the one that Mary was wearing in her dress to film the intimidation meeting of the ruling political party. It's a camera that nobody can see, that blends into the environment, into the surroundings. Now, filming securities go beyond using hidden cameras. Being secure starts way before the activist is turning the camera on. To keep our partners safe, we work to understand the risk of every location and of every shot before it's happened, building a backup plan if something goes wrong, and making sure we have everything in place before our operations start.

10:22

The third thing I learned is the importance of verification. You can have an amazing shot of atrocity, but if you can't verify it, it's worth nothing. Recently, like in the ongoing war in Syria or the war in Gaza, we've seen images that are staged or brought from a different conflict. This misinformation destroyed the credibility of the source, and it's harmed the credibility of other reliable and trustworthy sources. We use a variety of ways to make sure we can verify the information and we can trust the material. It starts with vetting the partners, understanding who they are, and working with them very intensively. How do you film a location? You film road signs, you film watches, you film newspapers. We are checking maps, looking at maps, double-checking the information, and looking also at the metadata of the material.

11:17

Now, the fourth and the most important thing I learned is how you use images to create a positive change. To have an effect, the key thing is how you use the material.

11:31

Today, we're working with hundreds of activists filming undercover. We work with them both to understand the situation on the ground and which images are missing to describe it, who are the ones that are influencing the situation, and when to release the material to advance the struggle. Sometimes, it's about putting it in the media, mostly local ones, to create awareness. Sometimes it's working with decision makers, to change laws. Sometimes, it's working with lawyers to use as evidence in court. But more than often, the most effective way to create a social change is to work within the community.

12:11

I want to give you one example. Fatuma is part of a network of women that are fighting abuses in Kenya. Women in her community have been harassed constantly on their way to school and on their way to work. They are trying to change the behavior of the community from inside. In the next clip, Fatuma is taking us with her on her journey to work. Her voice is superimposed on images that she filmed herself using hidden cameras.

12:42

(Video) Fatuma Chiusiku: My name is Fatuma Chiusiku. I'm 32 years old, a mother, And Ziwa La Ng'Ombe is my home. Each morning, I ride the mini-bus Number 11. But instead of a peaceful journey to work, each day begins with fear. Come with me now and use my eyes to feel what I feel. As I walk, I think to myself: Will I be touched? Grabbed? Violated by this conductor again? Even the men inside the way they look at me touch my body, rub against me, grab me, and now, as I sit in my seat I only wish my mind was full of thoughts for my day, my dreams, my children at school, but instead I worry about the moment when we will arrive and I will be violated again.

13:43

OY: Today, there is a new front in the fight for human rights. I used to carry a big gun. Now, I am carrying this. This is a much more powerful and much, much more effective weapon. But we have to use its power wisely. By putting the right images in the right hands at the right time, we can truly create an impact.

14:13

Thank you.

14:15

(Applause)

14:24

Thank you.

14:26

(Applause)

To see is to believe, says Oren Yakobovich — which is why he helps everyday people use hidden cameras to film dangerous situations of violence, political fraud and abuse. His organization, Videre, uncovers, verifies and publicizes human-rights abuses that the world needs to witness.

About the speaker
Oren Yakobovich · Human-rights activist

Videre co-founder Oren Yakobovich wields the latest covert recording technology to expose and subvert violent oppression.

Videre co-founder Oren Yakobovich wields the latest covert recording technology to expose and subvert violent oppression.