HRDI and WITNESS Partner to Expand Human Rights Video Archives

A human rights project established at the University of Texas Libraries has announced a collaborative effort with an international organization that focuses on video documentation of human rights violations.

The Libraries’ Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI) will expand its collection with source materials provided by human rights organization WITNESS to guarantee long-term preservation of and expanded access to raw footage and video productions created by the organization and its partners.

Now marking its 20th anniversary, WITNESS shows its commitment to supporting ongoing human rights change by seeking strategic partnerships with diverse stakeholders who can help meet the growing needs of human rights activists using video to expose injustice.

“WITNESS is thrilled to be working with the University of Texas Libraries,” says Grace Lile, WITNESS’ Director of Operations and Archives. “This partnership will help ensure the long-term preservation of unique human rights video from grassroots human rights defenders.  Equally important, it will make this primary source material much more widely accessible for study, research and reflection.”

WITNESS was co-founded in 1992 by musician and human rights advocate Peter GabrielHuman Rights First, and the Reebok Human Rights Foundation for the purpose of empowering front line human rights advocates in the use of video to document human rights abuses across the globe.   Since then, WITNESS has partnered with more than 300 human rights groups in over 80 countries, trained over 3,000 human rights defenders, developed widely-used training materials and tools, and supported the inclusion of video in more than 100 campaigns, increasing their visibility and impact.

The WITNESS Media Archive was founded in 2004 and is today the repository for over 5000 hours of video from over 80 countries.  The archive has been a leader in developing practices and models for the archiving of video documentation in a human rights context, and in recognizing the importance of archives to the promotion and defense of human rights.

“The HRDI holds a deep respect for WITNESS’ work around human rights video agency, advocacy and archiving, so it’s truly an honor to play a pivotal role in the preservation of and access to the powerful human rights narratives that WITNESS and its partners have brought to the fore of public awareness over the past twenty years,” says HRDI archivist T-Kay Sangwand. “The collections that we have received so far complement the HRDI’s existing holdings, particularly on armed conflict and genocide in Central America and Africa.“

The collaboration with WITNESS is the sixth such by the HRDI since its launch in 2008. Previous work includes the project’s founding partnership with the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Rwanda to archive and provide access to documents of the 1994 genocide in that country, as well as a recently publicized project to undertake similar work for the Guatemalan National Police Archive, a cache of records including documentation of torture, disappearances and other human rights abuses from the period of authoritarian rule in that country. The HRDI also collaborates with the Texas After Violence ProjectFree Burma Rangers and the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen.

“As a large research library with a robust digital preservation infrastructure, the University of Texas Libraries is well equipped to ensure the long-term preservation of and access to WITNESS’s rich material,” continues Sangwand. “This not only helps fulfill the university’s mission to provide the resources our faculty and students need for teaching and scholarship, but also enables the public, particularly the communities documented in the archive, to easily access the materials.”

Examples of materials from the WITNESS archive:

For further information, or to learn more about accessing the collections, please contact either T-Kay Sangwand from HRDI at or Yvonne Ng from WITNESS at 718.783.2000,

About the Human Rights Documentation Archive

The University of Texas Libraries established the Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI) at the University of Texas at Austin with a generous grant from the Bridgeway Foundation in 2008. Working with activists, scholars, and organizations to identify electronic and analog resources that are particularly vulnerable to loss, the HRDI aims to preserve the most fragile records of human rights struggles worldwide, promote the security and use of human rights archival materials and further human rights research and advocacy around the world.


WITNESS is the global pioneer in the use of video to expose human rights abuses. We empower people to 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 80 countries, trained over 3,000 human rights defenders, developed widely-used training materials and tools, and supported the inclusion of video in more than 100 campaigns, increasing their visibility and impact. 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.


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