The Role of Video in Human Rights Advocacy

Video Still, Evidentiary Submission to the ACHRP
Video Still, Evidentiary Submission to the ACHRP


Tribunal: African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)
Who and What: The Government of Kenya stood accused of violating the following rights of the Endorois, an indigenous group in Kenya:

  • property
  • natural resources
  • development
  • culture
  • health
  • freedom of religion


The Endorois are a community of approximately 60,000 nomadic pastoralists who, for centuries, lived in the Lake Bogoria region of Kenya’s Central Rift Valley. Throughout time, the Endorois led a sustainable lifestyle inextricably linked to their land. In addition to securing subsistence and livelihood from their land, they saw it as sacred. The Endorois served as trustees of this land for future generations. Their relationship with the land was, and is, essential to their traditional way of life and, ultimately, their survival as indigenous people.

In 1973, the Endorois were forcibly evicted from their land by the Kenyan government to make room for a development project, the Lake Bogoria Game Reserve. The Endorois community was removed from their land and denied access to their homes, their traditional grazing lands, their spiritual sites, and sites where they collected traditional medicine. The Endorois alleged that exclu- sion from their land resulted in violations of the rights set forth in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, including the right to property, natural resources, development, culture, health, and freedom of religion.

The Endorois initially brought their case to the High Court of Kenya. After the Kenyan court threw the case out in 2002, the Endorois were then able to bring their claim to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). In 2003, they asked the ACHPR for the return of their land and financial compensation from the Kenyan government for their losses. The legal term for this is “restitution.”


The Center for Minority Rights Development (CEMIRIDE), Endorois Welfare Council (EWC), Minority Rights Group International (MRG), and WITNESS co-produced a nine-minute video, which was submitted to the ACHPR as evidence.

Video #1: Evidentiary Submission to the ACHRP

The Endorois and their lawyers made the decision to produce and submit an evidentiary video because:

  • Video provided context for the Commissioners. The ACHPR met in Gambia. Gambia is nearly 8,000 kilometers away from the Endorois’ traditional lands. Video allowed the Commissioners to see the lands the Endorois traditionally occupied, the lands where they were resettled, some of their cultural practices, and the challenges they faced after being forcibly evicted from their traditional lands.
  • Video helped frame the core arguments in an efficient and accessible manner. The Commissioners at the ACHRP volunteer their time to do this job and it comes with a massive caseload. The nine-minute video allowed them to walk away from the hearing remembering the issues at the heart of the case.
  • Video corroborated the Endorois’ claims that their rights had been violated by showing exactly how the poor living conditions they were forced into breached the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights.
  • Video protected the human rights principles of agency, participation, and access to justice. In many circumstances, the lawyers do all the talking at hearings on behalf of their clients. The video allowed Endorois voices’ and testimony to be heard by the Commissioners.


ACHPR Evidentiary Submission This video shows the lands the Endorois traditionally occupied and the cultural practices that distinguish them as indigenous peoples. These images, along with testimony from the Endorois, are juxtaposed with quotes from the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to show how the Charter has been violated. Specifically, the video shows how their rights to property, natural resources, development, culture, health, and religion have been violated.

Video #2: Advocacy Video

Since the evidentiary submission to the ACHPR was confidential until the Commission made a final decision, CEMIRIDE, MRG, and WITNESS co- produced a second 16-minute video, Rightful Place, in 2007. This video was used to direct attention to the eviction of the Endorois both in Kenya and internationally. The target audiences for this complementary advocacy film were:

  • the Kenyan Ministries of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Planning and National Development, Lands, Home Affairs, and Tourism and Wildlife;
  • local county governments (specifically Baringo and Koibatek);
  • Kenyan agencies including the Commission on Human Rights, the Tourism Trust Fund,
    the National Environment and Management Authority, and the Kenya Wildlife Service;
  • UN Working Groups on Minorities and Indigenous Peoples;
  • national and international NGOS focused on land rights and the protection of Indigenous
  • national and international media; and
  • the Endorois.


Rightful Place shares the personal stories of members of the Endorois community to illustrate the impact of the forced eviction on the community and their struggle to reclaim their traditional lands.


On the ACHPR’s Decision

In 2009, the ACHPR issued a groundbreaking decision finding the government of Kenya guilty of violating the rights of the Endorois community by evicting them from their lands in 1970 to make way for a wildlife reserve. Specifically, the ACHPR found that the:

  • Endorois were an indigenous people, and
  • eviction violated their rights to property, natural resources, development, culture, health, and religion.

The Commission then ordered Kenya to restore the Endorois to their historic land and compensate them for damages caused by the wrongful eviction.

In the ruling on this case, the Commissioners relied on video evidence to find that:

  • the Endorois are a distinct indigenous people which entitles them to rights as a community in addition to individual rights;
  • access to clean drinking water was severely undermined as a result of the eviction from their ancestral land; and
  • their traditional means of subsistence — grazing animals — was limited due to lack of access to the green pastures of their traditional land.

ACHPR decisions do not become law until the African Union (AU) adopts the decision. They did so on February 2, 2010, resulting in a landmark victory for indigenous peoples throughout Africa and a high point in the forty years of struggle led by the Endorois community.

Advocacy Impact

To reach the target audiences, Rightful Place was screened at international events such as the UN Forum on Indigenous Peoples and at locations in Kenya’s capitol city of Nairobi, as well as in locations near the Endorois’ ancestral lands in the Rift Valley Province.

The full campaign, supported by the films, generated significant debate about indigenous rights and land rights during the drafting stage of Kenya’s most recent constitution. As a result of these debates, Kenya’s 2010 constitution better protects indigenous peoples and their land rights. Regionally, indigenous groups in Tanzania, such as the Maasai, successfully leveraged the Commission’s decision to secure further protections.

Additionally, the Endorois community felt empowered by the creation of the videos. The filming helped motivate the community to stay united and continue the decades-long fight, because they felt that finally someone from outside of was listening and willing to help. Also, the many hours of recorded interviews now serve as a valuable oral history for the Endorois people and will be shared for generations to come.

A Contrasting Example

To counter the Endorois’ arguments, the Kenyan government decided to submit their own video. But unlike the Endorois’ submission, the government’s video was long and roughly edited. The Commissioners did not want to watch several hours of videos, so they watched only a part of the government’s film.

The screening resulted in a moment in court that every lawyer looks forward to in his or her ca- reer. The video submitted by the Kenyan government included an interview with a member of the Endorois community. As the Endorois Chief was speaking in Kiswahili on camera, English subti- tles appeared below. One of the subtitles quoted the Chief as saying that all the Endorois had been fully compensated by the Kenyan government. One of the African Commissioners spoke Kiswahili. As he listened, he noticed that the Kiswahili audio did not match the written English subtitles, so he asked the government to rewind and play a section of the video again. Upon listening for a sec- ond time, the Commission discovered that the Chief had actually said the opposite: the Endorois were not fully compensated.

The Kenyan government’s credibility was gone!


  1. First, in addition to using video in the criminal justice process, it is important to consider how it can also be used for human rights monitoring and advocacy, in the media, to secure reparations, and in truth and reconciliation processes. In this case, the Endorois successfully used video at the ACHPR, and in front of key target audiences that could make policy changes.
  2. Second, video captured for justice processes must be relevant and reliable. However, it only needs to meet the highest standard when it’s being introduced in a court of law, such as the Endorois’ Evidentiary Submission to the ACHPR. Even if the video does not meet a “trial-ready” standard, it can still be valuable for protecting human rights, as we saw with the use of Rightful Place.
  3. Third, the same footage can be edited to serve different purposes. In this case, the footage was used as evidence in front of the ACHRP and then re-edited for advocacy directed toward government decision makers, media outlets, and grassroots-awareness- raising efforts. It also serves as an important historical record for the tribe.
  4. Fourth, it’s important to think strategically about how, when, and where to share footage. The nine-minute video submission to the ACHPR was embargoed. In other words, it could not be shared publicly until the ACHPR’s decision was final. Sometimes you will be unable to share eye-opening footage because of process restrictions.
  5. Fifth, never, ever compromise your credibility, because once it’s lost, it is very difficult (if not impossible) to get back.
  6. Sixth, be thoughtful about the length of your video. The Commissioners happily watched a nine-minute video but did not watch the hours of video submitted by the government.

More Information

To learn more about “relevance”, “reliability” and what makes video “trial-ready”, see “All About Evidence

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