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Peter Gabriel: A WITNESS for human rights

Peter Gabriel speaks with reporters about WITNESS Peter Gabriel speaks with reporters about WITNESS Meg Zrini

Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week we speak with musician Peter Gabriel about the influence the nonprofit human-rights organization WITNESS has had on him.

Peter Gabriel was inspired to found WITNESS in 1992 while he was traveling with Amnesty International’s Human Rights Now! Tour. He brought a camcorder with him to record the different stories he heard along the way. Twenty years later, WITNESS has trained and partnered with activists in more than 70 countries to use video and online technologies to document human-rights abuses and to raise awareness of abuses. Since becoming an independent nonprofit organization in 2001, WITNESS has launched the Hub, an online video community for sharing human rights videos.

Q:  After starting WITNESS over 20 years ago, did you ever think that it would come this far?

Gabriel: I think what we didn’t realize was that our dream of getting cameras to the world and particularly to activists and human rights groups was going to be (done) way more effectively by the phone companies than by us. That’s changed everything in a way and it feels like this year, particularly with the Arab awakening, the whole thing has really blossomed because young people are using cameras on their phones and putting it up.

Blogging, tweeting, YouTube. It’s going all over the place and you can connect them all. Building popular movements that are actually overthrowing governments. This is extraordinary and wonderful. It’s not the end of the road because there is a lot of hard work such as in Egypt, which has brought us here tonight where getting a change in leader is one thing but building a stable government with a constitution and democracy is yet another. But at least the process is under way and it’s very exciting.

Q: When you first started WITNESS you never realized how Facebook and Twitter would affect WITNESS. Has it made it easier?

Gabriel: Yeah, and in some ways also it’s all over the place which makes it more difficult to focus, but I think it’s all going the right way.

Q: Is there anything you are particularly proud of from the last few years?

Gabriel: I think there’s a lot of things. In the International Criminal Court, the prosecution opened with some WITNESS footage of child soldiers. There are laws that are being changed in Kenya, giving land rights to indigenous people there. When you see laws being changed and this evidence, it’s really making a difference, and the young video makers that are blogging with this Arab awakening. I come in and out but they live it. They’ve got an amazing team. They live it and they’ve done an amazing job.

© NBC News

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