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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Reminder: Archiving Human Rights for Advocacy, Justice & Memory

Join WITNESS and the New Tactics community for an online dialogue on Archiving Human Rights for Advocacy, Justice and Memory from May 16 to 22, 2012. Archiving and preservation have long taken a backseat to more urgent aspects of human rights documentation and advocacy, but that is beginning to change. Human rights archives are increasingly playing a pivotal role in advocacy, restorative justice, historical memory, and struggles against impunity. At the same time, however, archivists and activists alike are grappling with the mounting challenges posed by the proliferation of digital documentation. How can we ensure that the critical documentation created today will be preserved and accessible in the future?

In this dialogue, we will explore the tactics and methods used by archivists to preserve human rights information. Are you new to this topic? This is an opportunity for you to learn about the role of archiving in human rights work and how to develop your own archiving strategy. Are you knowledgeable on this topic? This is an opportunity for you to share your experiences with peers, learn about new tactics, and meet others working in this field.

Join us on May 16 to meet others interested in this topic, learn new ideas, and share
your experiences!

How can you participate?
This online dialogue is open to anyone interested in sharing their experiences and ideas
on this topic!

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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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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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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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Interested in Archiving Human Rights for Advocacy, Justice & Memory?

Join WITNESS and New Tactics for an online dialogue on Archiving Human Rights for Advocacy, Justice and Memory from May 16 to 22, 2012. 

New Tactics and WITNESS have invited Archivists Watch to participate in this dialogue.  The invitation is extended to anyone interested to the topic and I urge you to observe and join in to enrich the conversation.

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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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