Amnesty International Canada: If only we could take them there? We can, and we did.

We are thrilled that Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, decided to pen a few words about our partnership exploring high level Virtual Reality advocacy. You can read his blog below about what we got up to at the UN Security Council, Human Rights Council, the African Union Commission and at Parliaments around the world. You can also watch a public facing version of the 360 content we used with Amnesty, entitled BESIEGED, published today by the dedicated team at Humanitarian News Agency IRIN.

If only we could take them there? We can, and we did.

THURSDAY, MARCH 9, 2017 – 09:47

by Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada

New Virtual Reality technology is helping stop a human rights catastrophe

From the frontlines of human rights violations to the corridors of global power.  Over the years I have frequently made the trip to New York after many days in the field documenting the grim toll of war crimes, crimes against humanity and mass displacement.  The aim?  To take Amnesty International’s findings to the United Nations and press for action to end the atrocities.  The responsibility?  To carry the stories of sorrow and survival shared by women, men and children in bombed-out villages and refugee camps and do them justice in conveying their call for support.

And how often I have thought, or even said: if only I could take you there; if only you could see and hear first-hand.  Then maybe it would make a difference.  Then maybe decisions would finally be made, by the Security Council, by UN officials and by key governments; decisions that could turn human rights catastrophes around.

I have certainly thought that after the several missions I have been part of to the Sudanese state of South Kordofan; a shamefully overlooked corner of the world where a staggering human rights and humanitarian crisis has now entered its sixth year and has killed and injured thousands, and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes (more than 100,000 of whom have made the impossible decision to seek safety as refugees across the border in war-torn South Sudan).

I have been on the ground in the region three times.  I have heard the tales of suffering.  I have heard the anguished pleas for international action.  I have heard the pained belief that their lives must not matter to the international community.  And each time I have returned home and travelled to New York, and done the Security Council rounds, pressing for something more to be done.

It is not easy to reach the frontlines of this grim crisis in the Nuba Mountains.  It is isolated.  It is virtually unreachable when the rains come.  And a large swath of territory is sealed off from outside access by the Sudanese military, whose aircraft have unleashed an unrelenting campaign of targeted and indiscriminate aerial bombardment  that has made life a virtual hell for the civilian population.

If only I could take you there.

In September I was finally able to do just that, through the medium of evocative 360-degree virtual video footage that comes as close to “taking you there” as is possible without a long voyage.

Meeting with United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflict, New York, September 2016

Working with Amnesty colleagues and the amazing team from Transformedia who had filmed and produced the footage, we did take diplomats from a number of countries who sit on the Security Council there, to the ground in South Kordofan.  They heard the bombers in the sky and saw the remains of burned out villages.  They saw what it is like for children to hide out in Nuba Mountain caves, waiting for Antonovs to pass by.  They heard the sorrow, the defiance and the urgent call for assistance.

It was certainly a new approach to high-level advocacy, waiting while diplomats and UN officials, eyes hidden from view by the goggles that were their personal video screens, lost themselves in sights and sounds halfway around the world.  Their heads weaved and bobbed and turned full circle, taking in all that there was to see, hear and understand.

And we had done it, we had taken them there.  That was clear from the subdued reaction as people removed their goggles and returned to a Manhattan skyscraper from the rocky, arid Sudanese landscape in which they had been immersed.

We had taken them there.  And we will take them there again and again.  Until there is real action.  Until the crisis ends.  Until rights are protected.

 

In addition to the UN advocacy mission in New York, Amnesty International’s Regional Office in Africa, along with media partners Transformedia presented the Virtual Human Rights Mission to members of the Bureau of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in Banjul, Gambia in November 2016.

“This was an innovative piece of work, a different and unique method of doing advocacy on conflict related issues. In Oct/Nov we privately briefed members of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERCW) on the situation in the Two Areas and impact on children’s rights. We showed them the VR/360 film which set the scene for an engaging discussion. We also made a formal submission requesting for a fact finding mission to the Two Areas. In December, the Committee informed us that based on our request, they had decided to conduct a fact finding mission to South Kordofan in March 2017. We think the VR/360 film helped inspire action by the ACERCW as they ‘saw’ for themselves and ‘felt’ the plight of people living in the Nuba Mountains”

– Nyagoah Tut, South Sudan campaigner, Amnesty International

Citizen’s Theatre Inter-School Festival – Interview with Nichola Lado Part I

This post is an interview with Nichola Lado Franco (NL) conducted by Chris Milner (CM) for the South Sudan Theatre Organization.

It is like giving a voice to the voiceless. In South Sudan culture, in traditional life, there are things that you cannot say or question. Like woman beating or (as later in that play) early marriage. This is “the tradition” and “you have to understand”. Any time I want my daughter to get married I just say, come on let’s go.

These are things only other people can discuss, those we call our Uncles (not even our fathers). So when it comes to watching this on the stage it is like … ahhhh (release)… I have wanted to say this out but I didn’t know how to say it. So the audience get a huge release.. ahhh… so this is when the audience can laugh.

The good thing about the method of our Citizen’s Theatre – which is using forum theatre – is that it gives people voice to speak and join the dialogue. When the chance for the audience comes, the first people who were laughing are the first people with their hands up, because they really want to talk: “Yes, this is happening in our community and we need to see these things go out”.

Chris Milner: What happened at the Citizen’s Theatre Festival?
Nichola Llado Franco: Yesterday was the closing day of our Citizen Theatre Inter-School Festival, which I like to call the Carnival. We just had that carnival with music (Silver X, Emmanuel Kembe), dance (Orupaap) and some official speeches as well as the drama (best schools and SSTO).

From 1-3 September we had performances from 10 schools. Each school brought a drama about issues in their community (these included corruption, tribalism, early and forced marriage and alcoholism), and used the forum theatre techniques in which we had trained them to create a dialogue.

Continue reading “Citizen’s Theatre Inter-School Festival – Interview with Nichola Lado Part I”

Citizen’s Theatre Inter-School Festival – Interview with Nichola Lado Part II

CM: A lot of foreigners like me go on about reconciliation and this idea that South Sudan needs a ‘national dialogue’. I wonder what ‘national dialogue’ means to you, what it would look like and how theatre might play a role in that?

NL: This reconciliation we hear about here is reconciliation between the parties, the politicians and the policy makers, but it is not really a national dialogue. If you talk about national dialogue it is not just you there in high positions who need to have dialogue, about who needs to share this seat…whether we need to give that seat to that political party.. No. It is not about seats.

When we talk about dialogue we need to find the real roots of our problems. Like up to now the issue of South Sudanese identity hasn’t come up. What does it mean to be South Sudanese? And these things issues cannot be addressed up there. We need to start from the roots.

NL: The thing about national reconciliation is that during the six years implementation of the CPA from 2005 nobody talked about reconciliation. Reconciliation just came up as an issue for us – booom – after South Sudan gained independence and people started thinking we need to have this reconciliation.

Unfortunately there was some misunderstanding in the idea of reconciliation and in the run up to the 2013 December crisis, the reconciliation commission was probably part of the problem because it was headed at that time by the V-P, before he was released by the government.

Continue reading “Citizen’s Theatre Inter-School Festival – Interview with Nichola Lado Part II”

Citizen’s Theatre Inter-School Festival: Interview with Nichola Lado Part III

NL: Everyone can just say anything because it is not serious, because there is no agenda, because you do not invite them to come from their political party or because they are an elder from this or that group. They come as an audience, as a citizen of South Sudan.

CM: It seemed to me that the plays were more interested in inequality than ethnicity, is that just because I saw those particular plays or is the problem of ethnicity about resources more than about identity? Anything else about the themes that came up?

NL: Yes, this is because you didn’t see all the ten plays. The ten performances brought out most of the problems we face. This relates to identity, that is who we are. In the plays you can see some South Sudanese costumes – like the lowa – which is worn by every community in different ways but is known to come from the Chollo. So this kind of identity is confused, how do South Sudanese look? When I go outside (the country) for example, how do people know I am south Sudanese? This is a big issue. And the students discussed these things through the festival – really they discussed it.

The issue of corruption came up from two schools. This is one of the bigger things in South Sudan. And tribalism came from three teams.

Continue reading “Citizen’s Theatre Inter-School Festival: Interview with Nichola Lado Part III”