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Transcript, April 21, 2006

In Your Eyes

BRANCACCIO:
Welcome to NOW.

Sometimes we don't realize the power we have in the palms of our hands. Got my cell phone here. Increasingly there are little video cameras built in to these. It's one thing to record the faces of your goofy friends. But what if you used something like this to record an abuse of human rights somewhere in the world?

It would be a powerful document that could force positive change. That's the idea behind a human rights group called Witness. Get cameras out there; collect and distribute the video. Make the world a more humane place. Witness was founded by a man you may recognize: Peter Gabriel. The Peter Gabriel of the legendary band Genesis. And the solo rock star Peter Gabriel who still sells out big stadiums. And as I learned, Gabriel isn't just the public face of Witness, he knows his stuff.

GABRIEL:
It's not just a case of watching it-- and getting the footage out. But it-- it's about inspiring activism.

BRANCACCIO:
It's a simple idea, really. Something close to seeing is believing. If the horrors could be caught on tape how could they be denied?

GABRIEL:
It was clear that where there was footage-- where there were photos-- it was a great deal harder to bury stories. And-- that didn't guarantee action. Still doesn't. But at least-- the stuff couldn't be forgotten and it might inspire action.

BRANCACCIO:
The story of what makes Peter Gabriel much more than some celeb with a publicist and a cause, starts with, naturally enough, music.

He co-founded Genesis in 1967 when he was a teenager at a fancy private school in England.

As is the way with bands, Gabriel would venture out as a solo artist. He was an innovator... and a pioneer in the emerging world of music video where he witnessed firsthand the extraordinary power of the medium. This one -- Sledgehammer still shows up on lists of best videos of all time.

In 1980 Peter Gabriel ventured out again -- to use his status as a rock star to bring attention to political injustice.

It was the first leg of a global political journey...

GABRIEL:
When I got enlisted-- to do touring for Amnesty-- that was part of my sort of engagement process if you like that--

BRANCACCIO:
Amnesty International?

GABRIEL:
I got a call from Bono in '85. And--

BRANCACCIO:
Bono, he's behind everything this guy?

GABRIEL:
Yeah, yeah (laughter) he's-- he's responsible for a lot. And-- you know, he's a great musician but he's a very hard guy to say "no" to.

BRANCACCIO:
He joined bono, Sting, Joan Baez, Tracy Chapman and many other performers for Amnesty International's human rights tours. They traveled to 15 countries on five continents.

Their mission: to bring attention to the abuse of human rights around the world.

GABRIEL:
And it was just an amazing, emotional, educational experience for me. And actually seeing-- the world in lots of different ways and meeting people who were front line activists that I found impossible to walk away from. You're talking to someone, you know, who's been tortured-- insufferable things. And-- you're watching-- someone describe how their family was murdered in front of them. And these are things that suddenly bring it home and make it physical, personal and emotional.

And so one of the things that shocked me on that tour was that people could not only suffer in that way, but that their stories could be really effectively denied, buried and forgotten.

BRANCACCIO:
Gabriel's music is still rockin' and music as a medium has an undeniable power. But images documentary images they may have the extra fast-acting power to change minds and change policies policies that demean or do violence to human beings.

Why this approach? Multi-media technology? Why does it resonate with you personally?

GABRIEL:
Personally I think my dad was an electrical engineer. And-- he, with an Italian guy came up with a system called dial up program. Which was-- partly about electronic democracy, entertainment on demand, home shopping. But it was the beginning of the '70s. So all was accessed through the rotary dial.

I think he was a little ahead of it's time, but I saw him and watched him sort of campaigning for some of these ideas. And although the focus wasn't on human rights, I think it was something that I was particularly interested in.

BRANCACCIO:
The Witness principle acquired new wings as smaller, cheaper, easier to operate home video cameras became available.

Rodney king 1991. That video went around the world. And Peter Gabriel and his Witness co-founders were able to use the international outcry over the police beating to help raise the money to put their idea into action.

GABRIEL:
Our sort of tag line, if you'd like, is "see it, film it, change it."

BRANCACCIO
: Witness is based in Brooklyn, New York. It partners with organizations around the world that may already be actively engaged in fighting abuse. Witness donates cameras and trains people many who've never held a video camera before to record eye witness accounts.

BRANCACCIO:
You know, you go to London and there are security cameras-- police security cameras practically at every street corner is seems. I was reading that recently New York was thinking of putting in 400 more. To what extent is your work with Witness A bit like switching those cameras around on the authorities?

GABRIEL:
Well I-- I think it's a lot like that. I think-- in England I believe we're the most observed country in the world. And-- in a way, you know, part of a thought was with this witness organization was that-- the idea of big brother controlling through observation-- works just as well in reverse. And little brother, little sister get hold of the cameras.

BRANCACCIO:
In its 14 years, witness--along with its partner organizations on the ground--has highlighted bad stuff around the world that's got to change.

BRANCACCIO:
Well let's look at an example of the power of video-- many Americans may have read printed accounts of the situation in Burma in South East Asia where there is what has been described as a slow genocide going on.

GABRIEL:
Over 600,000 people now internally displaced. Just-- living without much hope.

Witness works in South East Asia with the human rights group, Burma Issues. They document the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.

BURMESE WOMAN:
"We can't live freely and safely because our lives are in danger. All my life I have had to flee so many times amid the bullets. But I have not died yet. Though I have seen many people die.

BRANCACCIO:
Burma has suffered through four decades of civil war and has been ruled by a succession of military dictatorships. General Than Shwe is considered to be one of the world's most brutal dictators and has been the leader for the past 14 years.

GREGORY:
The scale of human rights abuses in Burma is-- is horrendous. BRANCACCIO: Sam Gregory works as a video producer and human rights activist. He's been with Witness for six years and is project manager in charge of their Asia campaigns.

GREGORY:
What's happening in the east of the country where over the past decade over a million people have been displaced from their homes. That means their homes have been destroyed and they've been forced to flee into the forests to escape as refugees to Thailand."

BRANCACCIO:
Most of the people in Southeastern Burma are from the Karen ethnic minority. They have pushed for autonomy. And the central government has brutally responded.

GREGORY:
They burn the villages. They attack at harvest time to destroy people's ability to gather their crops to sustain their livelihoods. And for many people this suggests this is much more about controlling, assimilating, dominating the ethnic minorities than fighting a counter-insurgency campaign.

BRANCACCIO:
For many Karen people it's life on the run trying to stay one step ahead of the military.

GREGORY:
One other incredible statistic is that over a million people in Burma are engaged in forced labor. They're forced to build roads for the military government and in some cases forced to act as human-- landmine sweepers, which means they're sent in front of the troops to-- to detect the land mines.

BRANCACCIO:
Members of the local group "Burma Issues", who shot this video are themselves refugees who risked their lives to capture these images. It is a concern, the wisdom of giving cameras to people where there are such stiff penalties.

GREGORY:
the risks they take are pretty severe. It is illegal to film in Burma without a permit. If you're caught with video it's quite likely you would disappear. You would be taken into custody by the army and you wouldn't be heard of again.

BRANCACCIO:
It's then up to Witness to circulate the footage. To get the images in front of the right people members of congress, government officials, international courts - those with the power to enact change. It's here that the Peter Gabriel brand really comes to the fore.

GABRIEL:
Tonight we're going to take our Burma footage up to congress and do a bit of lobbying there.

BRANCACCIO:
Recently, Peter Gabriel held a screening with Republican senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to urge congress to continue sanctions against the government of Burma and to push for a United Nations Security Council resolution which calls for a peaceful transition to a democratically elected government.

GABRIEL:
In the years that we've been going we've found that-- campaigning with the footage, with politicians, with legislatures-- actually produces results. Sometimes the film is used in courts. So there are things you can do-- outside of just trying to get it on news programming.

BRANCACCIO:
Witness isn't just about tracking abuses in far-flung countries you may never visit. It's also gathered footage from cameras trained on abuses closer to home.

The California Youth Authority is that state's prison system for younger people. There are eight juvenile prisons with over 4,000 inmates, the most of any state.

Witness's partner in California is the civil rights group the Ella Baker Center. Their "Books not Bars" campaign is fighting to close what they see as the youth authority's abusive and ineffective youth prisons and reinforce, instead, rehabilitation.

Books not Bars got lots of people to take notice ofthe abuse they documented. NEWS REPORT:
"The California youth authority is on the hot seat again...28 separate punches.

TALKINGTON:
"My son got 6 years, when they were taking him down I can hear him screaming...

"Since he's been in protective custody he's been jumped four times. And it's a lockup unit. Everybody's in their own room. The only way he can possibly get injured is because of staff neglect.

"He requested over 10 times for school books and he was denied every time. They won't let him go to the library. They say he's in protective custody."

BRANCACCIO:
For prisoners in protective custody, including those deemed violent, education is a bizarre affair... books inserted through the food slot. A lawsuit successfully challenged this practice. The state's solution? Classes taught to inmates in individual locked cages.

After public protest the use of cages was discontinued. The Youth Authority returned to the books through the food slots system. There has been a management reorganization, and it's now called the Division of Juvenile Justice. But Books not Bars says that conditions are still not right for 20th century California, or anywhere else.

BRANCACCIO:
So you Witness, as it were, shocking video like this. But in a practical sense, out in California, what do you do with it?

GABRIEL:
Well that was shown-- to 85 members of the legislature. And the state senate majority leader was able to introduce legislation five days after that was shown.

BRANCACCIO:
Which is reforms that are currently-- they're working on in California as we speak?

GABRIEL:
Indeed. And-- hopefully it-- it's gonna become a lot more humane. And a lot more education focused in the future.

BRANCACCIO:
This is a tough undertaking, breaking through the cultural noise to inspire people to take action. People who might want to help are either overloaded or lulled into cynicism by the horrors of the world.

GABRIEL:
Alienation that is the luxury-- that we can't afford anymore. People go on about compassion fatigue and for sure, you know, everyone has a limited capacity to do something. But-- I'm a huge believer that if you can create these person to person links, you know, one person in this country, one person in another-- that-- you know, we'll start feeling these things more personally.

And the more I think that we can start being conscious of that, that-- I hope the-- the greater the chance of-- thinking-- with a little more-- compassion towards-- our fellow man and-- and what's going on around-- the planet.

BRANCACCIO:
If you connect with another human being, facing-- an abuse like this, it is hard to look away. Here's an example from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Meet Dieudonne, he's a child soldier in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He talks about his childhood with his friend innocent.

DIEUDONNE:
"We fought together at Buyembe. He was shot several times and then they crushed his head. After the fight we carried and buried him. I remember it so well. He was my best friend"

BRANCACCIO:
The war among competing militias struggling in vain for control in the democratic republic of Congo, or DRC, is being fought in part by children who don't seem much taller than their rifles. The country has been ravaged by a war that has lasted for nearly a decade.

Witness and their partner in the DRC, a group called Ajedi-ka work with child soldiers to get them out of the military and reintegrate them with their families and communities.

ABBAS:
It's the deadliest conflict in Africa with over four million lives that have been lost to date. BRANCACCIO: Hakima Abbas is a human rights activist and filmmaker. She runs Witness's projects in Africa and the Middle East.

ABBAS:
Some two million people have been forced to flee their homes and over 20,000 children have been recruited into the armed forces.

BRANCACCIO:
In this bloody war, children fight on many sides.

This girl, January is 16 years old.

JANUARY:
"my rank is Sergeant first class.

BRANCACCIO:
She joined the army when she was 10 years old after witnessing the ruthless killing of friends and family.

JANUARY:
"I kill with bullets on the frontlines. When we are not on the front lines it doesn't make sense to kill with bullets. My strength is killing with knives and rope.

BRANCACCIO:
Children are recruited or forced into service, because they are easily indoctrinated. The life is what no child or any human should have to endure.

ABBAS:
"The children-- are living in appalling conditions. They suffer from malnutrition. They are often sick and often die of preventable disease because of lack of access to healthcare. Because of the conditions in the camps. Some of the girls-- raped or-- subjected to sexual violence.

BRANCACCIO:
January has left the armed forces. She has recently given birth to a boy and works with Ajedi-ka to demobilize other girl soldiers.

And as this footage gets screened by decision makers there are some early signs of international justice. Thomas Lubanga, a former militia leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been arrested for enlisting child soldiers. Because there is no effective national judicial system in place in the DRC, the case will be one of the first to be heard by the new international criminal court a subject that animates Peter Gabriel.

GABRIEL:
I'm a huge believer in the International Criminal Court. I think it's one of the most exciting innovations of my lifetime. And-- the idea that-- that there is not impunity for people to-- to slaughter or-- murder or-- or kick people out of-- their homes, it's really important. And-- in the states here-- there's more resistance to the international criminal court than almost-- almost anywhere else. And I think there needs to be a lot more lobbying.

BRANCACCIO:
Well the United States is not a signatory to their treaty.

GABRIEL:
No and-- and in fact you could say that it's worked against-- the international criminal court. And-- the gains of it so much outweigh risks of some unjust prosecution-- against American citizens. You know, I-- I think-- it's-- we really need to-- to fight that.

BRANCACCIO:
I wanna talk to you about moving people from being shocked at an image, to actually taking action. Now, here's an example of a very difficult few frames of video to view. It comes from the country of Paraguay. It involves-- the mental health care system in that country, which clearly needed some improvement.

These scenes were shot in 2003 by a former Witness partner organization called mental disability rights international, or MDRI. Warning: it's especially tough stuff. In this neuro psychiatric hospital in Asuncion, Paraguay, 18 year old Jorge Bernal and 17 year old Julio Cesar Rotela have been locked in 6 x 6 foot isolation cages left naked, eating off the floors in their own filth for four long years.

MDRI released this footage and it was used in a segment by the global broadcaster, CNN.

GABRIEL:
The president of Paraguay-- then found about it, personally visited this institution, fired the director, and set up commissions straight away to look at their mental health program.

BRANCACCIO:
MDRI filed a urgent petition with the inter American commission on human rights, requesting immediate intervention. In December of 2003 the commission approved the petition.

Julio is still in the psychiatric hospital but he's no longer in an isolation cell and conditions have improved. Jorge has now left the institution. He has returned home and lives with his family.

BRANCACCIO:
Now, you've actually had to spend a lot of time viewing some of this stuff. I mean, doesn't it damage you after a while to see how human beings can be with one another?

GABRIEL:
I think it-- it appalls you at first when you start seeing-- you know, what people actually do in the world. But, I find some of the people that you meet-- that are-- are fighting the abuses extraordinarily inspiring.

BRANCACCIO:
Well, think about it. You could've, based on the proceeds of "Salisbury Hill" and "Sledgehammer," put yourself in one of those fancy star compounds, and really turned inward, I suppose.

GABRIEL:
Well, I mean, I do have plenty of luxury and enjoyment, and I am quite selfish in some of the things that I enjoy. But I try and balance it, and I feel comfortable with that now. So, I'm not suggesting everybody abandons all their pleasures. Just, to take a lot, give a lot.

BRANCACCIO:
It's interesting to see that you haven't given up on the earth. I was speaking around a very similar cafe table with the author Kurt Vonnegut. And he's funny.

GABRIEL:
Very funny.

BRANCACCIO:
But, he thinks it's too late for the earth. He thinks we've already screwed it up. The earth is going to slough us off like you know, we're some sort of germ. Because-- we've messed it all up. You seem to have still some hope for this.

GABRIEL:
Well, I'm an optimist. And I haven't yet found another place that I can live on this planet.

BRANCACCIO:
Peter Gabriel, thank you very, very much.

GABRIEL:
Yeah, thanks. I appreciate it.



THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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