Archive for category News

SwissPeace Joint Venture on Archives Dealing with the Past

The Swiss Peace Foundation (or simply SwissPeace) recently began a new project called Archives and Dealing with the Past.  It is a joint venture between the foundation, the Swiss Federal Archives, and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.  The project mandate is to offer a hub between archivists/documentalists and human rights activists dealing with the past.   Members of the ICA Human Rights Working Group serve on their Advisory Board.  Consequently, one aim of the project is to foster knowledge exchange between the two professional communities (of archivists and activists) and engage in knowledge management activities.  In fact, SwissPeace reached out to the ICA HRWG Directory Project last month and discussions to converge on parallel projects are taking place.

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UNESCO/UBC Vancouver Memory of the World Declaration

At last month’s conference, “Memory of the World in the Digital Age: Digitization and Preservation”, a declaration was adopted addressing the challenge of digital amnesia.  The four page document, made available on UNESCO’s website last week, is an extension of a principle in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  That is, each individual should be guaranteed access to information, including in digital format, and that national policies should be established to promote the right to information, open government and open data.

Also highlighted during the conference and its consequent declaration was the growing importance of industry in digitization and digital preservation among trusted digital repositories.  The conference declaration adopted a call on industry to ensure long-term accessibility to trustworthy information contained in legacy formats.  It further encouraged professional associations work with industry for the development of requirements of systems that embed preservation concern and assist in the development of a cohesive and practical vision of the way forward in addressing the management and preservation of trustworthy recorded information in all its forms in the digital environment.

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Newly Released Documents Reveal Responsibility for Katyn Massacre

An article from BBC News this week shares a report by the Associated Press revealing information to suggest that the Katyn massacre was suppressed at the highest levels in Washington.  It has long been believed that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not want to question the version of events put out by Stalin, an ally whom the Americans were counting on to defeat Germany and Japan.

Katyn expert Allen Paul told AP some of the material did not appear in the record of Congressional hearings in 1951-52 held to investigate the massacre, suggesting it had been deliberately kept hidden.  Among the new evidence is a report sent to President Roosevelt by the then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill – who did not challenge Stalin’s claim either – which also pointed to Soviet guilt…

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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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Segregation Era Documents Project

A project is underway to preserve African-American history in the state of Virginia.  The Desegregation of Virginia Education (DOVE) project, spearheaded by Old Dominion University archivist, Sonia Yaco, is enlisting help from the public in collecting historical material such as oral histories and photographs.  An article from a local paper in Richmond, Virginia, claims that civil rights history in the state has largely been neglected in schools across the state…

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Archivists without Borders Opens US Chapter

ImageAs an advocate for archives activities in guaranteeing the recognition of human rights, AW is excited to spread news regarding the expansion of Archiveros sin Fronteras (AsF).  As seen in this message posted by ArchivesNext, this is of particular interest to American archivists:

Dear fellow archivist,

It is with great excitement that we announce the release of the first half of the proposal to form a U.S. Chapter of Archivists without Borders. This portion of the proposal, which includes Background and Mission Statement, will be open for comment until May 31, 2012. You can find the full text to these sections on our website: http://awbuschapter.wordpress.com/. To contribute your comments on these two sections, please use the comments feature on our website. We are currently working with Archives without Borders International to draft the remainder of the proposal. Please be patient as we work diligently to push these additional sections out for your input.

As members of the archival community who have expressed interest in the vision Archivists without Borders promotes, your contribution is vital. The comments you make will shape the direction of this organization. We welcome your ideas for the organization’s potential, criticisms of the wording, alerts to unanticipated implications, and questions about how we currently envision this chapter functioning.

We are also pleased to announce that you can now follow AwB-US on Twitter (@AWB_US) and on Facebook:http://tinyurl.com/8x4y3nv.

Please let us know if you have any questions.

Best regards,

AWB-US Core Working Group

Joel Blanco-Rivera
Erin Faulder
Jasmine Jones
Mario H. Ramirez
Amanda Strauss
Adam Zimmerli

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Bringing Awareness of Archives & Human Rights to China

Simon Chu, a Government Archivist in China and former Director of the Government Records Service, has been trying to bring archives legislation to Hong Kong to empower the records service.  As a member of the Archives Action Group, Chu has long advocated for this cause.  In an article he’s written for Human Rights in China, he cites the Guatemala case of the 2005 discovery of the Secret Police Archive as an example of the function of creating and managing records to keep archives.  Currently the records service is equipped with guidelines on how public servants are to manage their records.  Without appropriate legislation, records officers and archivists have no authority to enforce the proper management of records.  This, Chu states, has lead to the arbitrary destruction of “six million pieces of records”.

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