IMG_4510martxa13 by Western Sahara (CC BY-SA 2.0)

About Watching Western Sahara

As one of the world’s last remaining colonies, included in the UN’s list of 17 “non-self-governing territories,” Western Sahara routinely witnesses a range of human rights violations committed by the occupying country, Morocco, against its indigenous Sahrawi population. Yet, due to the strict limitations imposed on press, foreigners, and human rights monitors, very rarely do reports, footage, testimony or other evidence of abuse emerge to bring these violations to the attention of the international community.

Despite Morocco’s attempts to maintain a media blackout, one source of documentation exists: citizen journalism. Networks of media activists working with limited technology and little to no training risk arrest, imprisonment and torture to film protests and abuses they experience under Moroccan rule. Their videos provide a rare window into the police state, and convey the range of injustices related to the 40-year-old occupation that Sahrawis want the international community to witness and act upon.

Watching Western Sahara aims to ensure that these videos are seen and used to monitor human rights in Western Sahara—something traditional institutions of human rights investigators and international correspondents have been prevented from doing. On this platform you will find curated and contextualized videos from Western Sahara that provide up-to-date documentation of activism and abuse.

The project was developed by the human rights organizations WITNESS and FiSahara, using the Checkdesk platform designed by Meedan to facilitate collaborative curation and contextualization of online videos.

What do videos from Western Sahara show?

A close look at videos from Sahrawi activists reveals a number of human rights issues of importance to Sahrawis living in the occupied territory. These include demonstrations calling for jobs, education, a referendum that would allow Sahrawis to vote for self-governance, investigations into disappeared activists, the release of political prisoners, and an end to mineral extraction and trade deals that profit off Sahrawi resources while benefiting the occupying state of Morocco.

The videos also show the aggressive tactics used by Moroccan authorities to repress protesters, target journalists, and control the movement of foreign visitors. Most videos are filmed in the capital of Laayoune and are recorded surreptitiously due to the high risks that media activists face. See more about these issues on the Main Issues page.

About this platform

Watching Western Sahara Checkdesk provides a way to collaboratively curate and contextualize online reports. The platform includes videos filmed as early as December, 2015. While the focus is on online, eyewitness videos from the occupied territory, the platform will also occasionally include videos taken by Sahrawis in the refugee camps of Algeria and elsewhere in the diaspora.

Watching Western Sahara Checkdesk applies innovative and collaborative documentation methods. As more videos are added, our network of users and curators expands, and new challenges and possibilities become apparent, we will revise the workflow and platform to provide the most effective and safe curation of footage. On the WITNESS Media Lab website you can learn about how we are addressing challenges and find more information on Sahrawi media activism. Click here to learn more about the Checkdesk platform.

Getting started

To search for videos, click on the magnifying glass on the left panel. Each video curated is submitted as a Report, and each Report is tagged with the issues relevant to the footage (for example, “police intervention,” “nonviolent resistance,” or “phosphates”) and the location it was filmed in. Once you are on the Search page, you can use the categories on the right to search by Tag, or you can scroll through all Reports. (Note that the date and chronology of the reports listed refers to the date the video was added to Checkdesk, not the date the video was recorded.)

Once you click on a Report, you will see more context about the footage, and can click on a link to the original source on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter.

You can also click on Stories to learn more about particular events or issues told through a series of curated videos.

Get involved

If you have a background in human rights, collaborative reporting, and Western Sahara, we could use your help to monitor, curate, and contextualize online videos. Click here to learn about how you can get involved.

About us

WITNESS trains and supports activists and citizens around the world to use video safely, ethically, and effectively to expose human rights abuse and fight for human rights change.

Watching Western Sahara is an initiative of the WITNESS Media Lab, a WITNESS program dedicated to curating eyewitness footage and advancing its use as a safe and effective tool for human rights. The WITNESS Media Lab is a collaboration with the News Lab at Google.

The Western Sahara International Film Festival (FiSahara) brings screenings, roundtables, film workshops and many other cultural events to the refugee camps of Sahwari exiles in Southwestern Algeria. The organization uses film and media training to address critical issues, engage the international community, and empower the Sahrawi people in the refugee camps and in the occupied Western Sahara.

Meedan is a team of designers, technologists and journalists who focus on open source investigation of digital media and crowdsourced translation of social media. Since 2011, the Checkdesk project has worked to build online tools, support independent journalists, and develop media literacy training resources that aim to improve the investigative quality of citizen journalism and help limit the rapid spread of rumors and misinformation online.