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Government Restructuring Dismantles the Guatemalan Archives of Peace

Kate Doyle of the National Security Archive and contributor to the blog, Unredacted, has shared some disturbing news with AW that is sure to upset many archivists and disrupt Guatemalan civil society. The Secretary of Peace, Antonio Arenales Forno stated that by June 29 the government would, “cancel [labor] contracts for which I see no justification and end the functions of an office that I find makes no sense.”

Doyle has worked with files of the Guatemalan National Police Archives in a recent trial against officers who perpetrated violence and government repression against activists during the 36-year internal conflict that ended in 1996.  The Peace Archives comprise of documentation that provided material for this trial, inter alia. Specifically, the archives house government files from the civil war.  The archives were just conceived in 2008, preceding an access to information law passed the same year.  The FOI law was intended to create openness and government transparency.  This recent announcement to dismantle the archives is a step back for human rights defenders engaged in truth and reconciliation, open memory, and right-to-know initiatives.

However, in Doyle’s article for Unredacted, the Secretary of Peace defends his decision, admitting that “he was unsure what the government would do with the institution’s extensive digital archives, suggesting they may be transferred to the General Archives of Central America” among other government institutions.  The Secretary told the press that the redistribution of the files is part of the broad restructuring of the government.

In cases of transitional governments, the issue of the trustworthiness of stewards or custodians of material documenting human rights violations is crucial from the perspective of the archival community. Trudy Huskamp Peterson, Chair of the ICA Human Rights Working Group, stresses that if the incumbent government archives cannot be trusted, then an intermediary repository, managed by trusted groups or individuals should be created.  Currently, the Secretary has not announced any concrete plan toward housing the files to be redistributed making it difficult to assess the impact of the restructuring.  Peterson goes further to state:

But if these are government records, they should eventually go back into government hands.  Part of the restructuring of a government to prevent the recurrence of conflict and to protect human rights has to be the revitalization and modernization of the governmental archives system.  Each country has to have the capacity to manage its court records and military records, records of diplomacy and records of land title.  As part of rebuilding government structures after a period of civic trauma, we have to find ways to persuade governments and donors that rebuilding archives is also crucial.*

Other professionals argue that while trust is a strong factor in determining the custody of records documenting wide-scale abuse, the argument should go further to state that is it the trust of survivors and victim’s families that is paramount.  By all accounts, the commonly suggested alternative to government custody are grassroots organizations and other NGOs represented by survivors or those directly affected by the crimes.

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* Excerpt taken from New Tactics Dialogue on Archiving Human Rights for Advocacy, Justice & Memory

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Occupy Archivists

A New York Times blog article this week sheds light on some archivist groups involved in preserving materials from the Occupy movement.  The article provides an overview of the organizations like Activist Archivists involved in these archiving projects.

As a counterpoint to the press Occupy archivists receive, a comment was made on this article pointing to a lack of awareness of activities to preserve items of historical significance documenting the Tea Party movement, if any such activity exists.  It would be interesting to know of any archivists or archival communities that are preserving the historical record of this simultaneous movement.  Social scientists and future researchers will surely need fodder with which to compare the two movements.

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Ghana – A Case for FOI & Archives

This past August, Ghana’s ongoing push to pass an information bill has again been delayed.  Efforts to implement such a bill have encountered road blocks as there has been a lot of bandying about which government body is structured well enough to execute the functions of the bill.

In principle, the information bill would allow the public domain to access information on finances, business relationships, and individual citizens. According to an article in Daily Guide Ghana, “Democracy advocates uphold right to information laws as necessary ingredients for the promotion of good governance, transparency, and accountability.”  This is especially true for a country that is establishing democracy and shows signs of a fast growing economy as Ghana has started oil production last year.  The vote passing of the bill would represent another step towards a solid democracy and anti-corruption efforts.

At the heart of any access to information or freedom of information act or law is effective record-keeping within public bodies and private agencies.  At the same time, exemption clauses have been drafted primarily to protect the interests of government.  Exemptions to the bill, as with any FOI legislation, define the breadth and depth of how much information is actually disclosed.  The exemptions in this case have been described by critics are far too wide.  This has been another source of contention and delay…

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Related articles on record keeping  issues and good governance in Ghana

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Archives After Conflict in Guatemala, Sierra Leone and South Africa – A Wilson Center Video

Trudy Huskamp Peterson at the Wilson CenterRenowned archivist, Trudy Huskamp Peterson, was invited to the Wilson Center earlier this year to speak about her last publication with the center, Final Acts.  As the Chair of the ICA Human Rights Working Group, former President of the Society of American Archivist, and recipient of the French Order of Arts & Letters Award, Trudy is the authority on archival issues in human rights.

The Wilson Center ON DEMAND posted a video of Trudy’s appearance.  In it Trudy filters her expansive experiences in constructing, examining and improving archives all over the world with post-conflict trauma and regime change, largely related to cases in Egypt where destruction of archives has definitely occurred.  Trudy readily admits she is not so optimistic about reconciliation but believes in transformation and institutional reform.  She shares her views on the involvement and sometimes ostensible role of state archives in protecting violations of human rights and humanitarian law.  Trudy also discusses the different bodies of justice and courts which are currently supported by the work of archives worldwide.

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Investing in Information Management in Aidwork

Information managers can manage useful and useable information for the period it is needed.  Social Media 4 Good sheds light on the need for trained information managers in aid organizations.  The proper structuring of data is detrimental in many organizational contexts, and especially so in the event of a disaster where information use and analysis is necessary and immediate.

In any aid organization, thought towards the management of data may only occur after the fact resulting in ad hoc practices and band-aid solutions not ideal for the long term use of information.  Haphazard collection and compilation of data ultimately produce inconsistent and unreliable information. Quite broadly, unlike many public institutions whose activities must be transparent to citizens or corporations who are accountable to their stakeholders and shareholders, aid agencies differ in that they have no such pressures to make information on their activities available.

In an article by Timo Lüge of Social Media 4 Good, Lüge reviews some of the consequences of poor information management in the humanitarian work of aid agencies.

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A Human Right – Council of Europe urges UN to take on Internet Freedom

As a former student of modern information topics like the digital divide, privacy, and net neutrality, this news piece from the Guardian comes as no surprise.  It has been a long time coming.  If we are to look at the history of the Internet, it’s creation was founded on egalitarian principles of equal access and later, during its early years, as an outlet for free speech and even cyber-activism.

Is it inevitable that with the pervasive quality of the various social media outlets on the Internet today affecting the international political landscape that the United Nations would take notice?  The Council of Europe‘s commissioner for human rights, Thomas Hammarberg, believes that the UN should do more to urge political actors to engage actively in this debate that they consider global.  The debate surrounds the question of media censorship as outlined by the organisation, Article 19.  The Council wants the UN to take up the gauntlet on protecting media freedom and privacy issues online.

Despite the fact that such hopes to find solutions which can regulate the Internet at all, even on a national scale, have mostly remained an elusive Utopian dream, this is a positive step.  Such an international collaboration among IGO bodies to raise more awareness among the political realm could only lend legitimacy to what has mostly just been the fanciful ideals that freedom of expression and diversity should be allowed to exist on the Internet.

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A Message from UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon

United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, visited the United Nations Archives and Records Management Section (UNARMS) last year and examined some of the archival records of the UN Korean Reconstruction Agency (UNKRA).  I had to opportunity last summer to archive parts of this large series collection, which are part of the UN Missions fonds.  I was told then that the SG was nostalgic as he examined the records, reflecting on his own experiences as a child in Korea of the 1950s during the time the records were created.  Here’s a brief message from the Secretary-General on the importance of keeping archives, reminding us of the ideals behind preserving official records and opening them up to the public.

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