Sunday, April 23, 2006

Changing a world with video

[NOW with David Brancaccio: KVIE TV Sacramento, Fridays at 10pm]

Last night David Brancaccio did a program on combating human rights abuses worldwide using video cameras. No, not sending out an entire news crew with armed guards and armored SUVs; this video taping was done by courageous individuals, many times amateurs or just plain and ordinary men and women, on their own in some of the most hostile situations.

The program called In Your Eyes featured musician and human rights activist Peter Gabriel. Famous as the lead singer of the 1970s rock group Genesis, Gabriel is now empowering people to document human rights abuses in their own backyards and bring them to the world's attention. He helped set up WITNESS, a Brooklyn-based organization that trains human rights advocates to use video cameras, provided by the group, to document abuses around the world. Their motto: "See it, film it, change it."

Aung San Suu Kyi, born June 19, 1945 in Yangon (Rangoon), is a nonviolent pro-democracy activist in Myanmar (Burma). In 1988 she joined the opposition to U Ne Win and became leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD). Awarded the 1990 Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament and the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her nonviolent struggle, she remains under house arrest since May, 2003.

One of her most famous speeches is the Freedom From Fear speech which begins:

"It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it."

However, the extended detainment wasn't a surprise, Debbie Stothardt, spokeswoman for rights group Alternative ASEAN Network, told the Voice of America. "It is not surprising that they refused to release Aung San Suu Kyi," she said. "The military regime is still very afraid of the broad support that she commands in the country."

Suu Kyi was put under house arrest in 1990, after she won a landslide election victory. The military has ruled Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, since 1962.

Gabriel is just back from a trip to Washington D.C., where he was lobbying members of Congress to do more to end human rights abuses in Burma using Witness video as his weapon. Burma (or Myanmar) has problems... And I don't mean high gas prices or "We can't afford that trip to Maui this year" problems. I mean an estimated 600,000 refugees being systematically oppressed and driven from their villages by Burma's illegal military dictatorship, IDPs (Internally Displaced People) from Burma live in relocation camps or are hiding in the forests.

Suu Kyi has got guts, I applaud her heroic efforts, and now she is apparently getting some help from Gabriel and the WITNESS video crusaders. I'm a big fan of "any good struggle for democracy."

Reporting from the underground...

Stan Morris