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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.
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…
Renowned 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.
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.