Gillian Caldwell
Exec. Director, Witness; Human Rights Advocate

Re: Is religion a force for good in the human rights campaign?

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Most people are guided by religion, Caldwell says.

Gillian Caldwell

Gillian Caldwell is the Executive Director of WITNESS, an international human rights organization that provides training and support to local groups to use video in their human rights advocacy capaigns. Caldwell was a Co-Director of the Global Survival Network (now WildAid), where she coordinated the two-year undercover investigation into the trafficking of women in Russia that culminated in her 1997 film, Bought and Sold. She is the leader of the Witness to Truth video project in Sierra Leone that urges the government of Sierra Leone to implement TRC recommendations. Caldwell was the reipient of the 2000 Rockefeller Foundation Next Generation Leadership award and has been named one of 40 Outstanding Social Entrepreneurs by the Schwab Foundation, a 2003 Tech Laureate by the Tech Museum, and a Special Partner by Ashoka: Innovators for the Public. Caldwell received her BA from Harvard University and her JD in human rights law from Georgetown University. Her videos have been shown as evidence in legal proceedings, such as the international war crimes investigation against Slobodan Milosevic, in the Sierra Leone Truth Commission proceedings, and at the UN. Ideas recorded on: 8/13/07

Well I think historically it, you know . . . it can and has been both. One of our partners in the Outlawed production and distribution campaign – the film that we produced, Outlawed, which is an extraordinary rendition of torture and disappearances in the war on terror – one of our partners is the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA which represents 40,000 Christian congregations, over a 100 million Christians in this country. And the Reverend Edgar did a little intro before the film began, which we video taped for them, which framed this as a moral issue. They’ve been one of the leading . . . the leading coalitions of congregations talking out and speaking out against the use of torture; saying not only does it produce completely illegitimate and inaccurate information; but it’s unjust, unethical, and illegal. So you can absolutely and you must form alliances with religious coalitions. I think when you look at the climate issue, some of the evangelicals who have come out strong on the climate issue have really helped put that issue on the map. And that’s tremendously important. I think we can speak much more potently to many religious communities when we frame what’s happening to the climate in human terms; when we talk about the human responsibility to care for members of the human family who are being implicated by this. It’s not just a question of God’s creation when it comes to the natural environment, but of what’s happening to your brothers and sisters. So I think we can and must look for opportunities to collaborate with religious communities. People . . . and most people in the world are deeply religious and are guided by the values that their religion espouses. So that’s an enormous opportunity. It isn’t to say that there aren’t challenges. I mean historically of course, you know, religions have motivated some of the most lethal wars. And it is religion in many cases that keeps women, for example, you know, enslaved on many levels – legally and otherwise.

Recorded on: 8/13/07