Encouraging The Human Rights Ripple Effect

Human rights successes are hard-won, and require the coordinated efforts of many people working in solidarity—often across backgrounds, sectors, and even international borders. Victories can provide lessons, strategies, connections and inspiration to others struggling with similar problems, and video can help maximize these positive ripple effects.

In 2015, N-Map had the privilege of documenting a human rights victory in which ordinary citizens from Oaxaca, Mexico worked together with their elected officials, allies at Mexican NGOs and international human rights lawyers to protect their land and water rights. In 2011, a hydroelectric plant threatened to contaminate the only locally available source of clean water for several rural villages. Residents feared the hydroelectric plant would devastate the social and economic fabric of their lives. After identifying who was financing the hydroelectric plant, local citizens and their advocates went directly to the U.S. financial institution backing the project, and filed an official complaint to have their voices heard. The complaint led to a negotiation, and ultimately the cancellation of the project, which was a resounding victory for the communities.

Watch how communities fought to protect their resources in the video The Cerro de Oro Hydroelectric Plant: A Latent Threat

N-Map first became involved in this case when Accountability Counsel, the human rights lawyers who supported the communities in the research, complaint and negotiation process, asked N-Map to produce a video explaining how this innovative approach to justice enabled a historic success. As we began working with the community leaders in Oaxaca who participated in the effort, it became clear that they also wanted to share their story with their neighbors in the region and beyond, in order to warn their fellow citizens of potential vulnerability to similar projects. Local leaders hoped that sharing their community’s story would educate their neighbors about their rights to information and decision-making in development projects that directly impact them. They also hoped that sharing their success would inspire others by demonstrating the power of collective action and solidarity.

We agreed that although a community video was not part of our original plan, producing an additional video (and developing an accompanying distribution and implementation strategy) could help these communities achieve their goals. We filmed additional interviews and created an original video crafted around the community’s key messages to their local target audiences. We created a hardcopy DVD to be shared at public screenings in rural communities, as well as a distribution strategy to help target local media outlets, public officials, and potential NGO allies. We also helped leaders like Gabino create a Facebook page to serve as an information hub on this issue and help consolidate support for this victory. (Facebook, the community advised, is how most people receive news and information).

Last week, our community partner, Gabino Vicente, worked with FUNDAR and several other Mexican NGOs to host a screening of the community video at a community center in Santa Ursula, Oaxaca, Mexico. Five hundred community members, local politicians, and N-Map’s own Jesus Robles Maloof attended the screening, which was designed to educate community members about the ongoing struggle to maintain control over their resources. Gabino described the audience’s reaction as positive, saying “people were very surprised because although they know their own reality, seeing it in a documentary, you see how spectacular it is.”

The screening received local and national press coverage, with articles in at least eight publications and 5,000 views of the video through social media about the event. To Gabino, the event was successful in showcasing the importance of the community’s efforts. He hopes that the video and press coverage from the screening will inspire other communities to protect their resources and livelihoods. “To see it finished I was very happy and convinced once again that the fight is strong and worthy,” he said.

At N-Map, we are excited about the positive ripple effects of using video to share stories and lessons across communities affected by human rights abuses. As we continue to add more community-facing legal empowerment videos to our portfolio, we plan to stay in touch with Gabino and others in Oaxaca to learn more about how our video has helped educate and empower citizens in the region, and how we can best capture and share human rights stories and strategies worldwide.

See the Video: The Cerro de Oro Hydroelectric Plant: A Latent Threat

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