Posts Tagged documents

Zimbabwe bill to block public access to official documents

Reporters Without Borders issued a statement last month calling for the withdrawal of a bill that would allow the government to block public access to judicial decisions, new legislation, and other public records.

This move has obvious repercussions as to the transparency of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF government’s actions.

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Provenance & the Question of Custody versus Ownership: Iraqi Jewish Books & Documents

The LA Times posted a brief article today regarding a custody battle ensuing between Iraqis, Israelis, and Americans.  I suppose this story is slightly topical given last week’s WikiLeaks news and consequently has put pressure on involved parties to find a resolution.  The conflict involves rabbinical texts in Iraq seized in 2003 by U.S. forces which have been housed by the U.S. in Washington under the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).  The question of the rightful owners of the books and documents have arose and with it, calls for replevin.  Arguments of cultural heritage have been used by Iraqis claiming Judaism as part of Iraq’s history against those members of the Iraqi Diaspora who refuse to allow a piece of their heritage to be held in the archives of a war-torn country.

Despite the fact that the cultural and historical value of the unique material to the Iraqis and diasporic community are not an issue, these are valid points with precedents .  There are countless examples in the museum world where the politics behind situations involving the spoils of war can ultimately factor into the decisions made.

From a archival perspective, the fact remains that these materials were found wet in a basement and rescued from this less-than-ideal state by using common conservation techniques.  The reality has been that Iraq does not yet have the stable infrastructure or capacity to properly house the material, never mind executing conservation techniques when necessary.  NARA is suited to co-operate with and assist the other parties in forming a reasonable solution (NARA has been developing a digital preservation strategy for their archives and records for sometime).  Ideally the long-term preservation and conservation of these materials should not be left to the wayside but should play a pivotal part in the ongoing negotiations.  Nevertheless, the heated political nature of this debate is surely driving the negotiations.  I’ll continue to follow this story as it happens.

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The Archival Counterpoint to WikiLeaks News by Trudy Peterson

Last week, when news erupted of the Iraqi documents WikiLeaks, I posted the news as I heard it from The New York Times.  It’s come to my attention that this was the perfect opportunity to share a paper by former Acting Archivist of the United States, Trudy Huskamp Peterson.  Peterson has suggested that the scavengers of wartime documents are usually opposing military forces, not the press and not the affected citizens.  As an experienced archivist, she outlines in her discussion the laws of war as they apply to records seizure.  This paper serves as a good counterpoint to compare and expand further on the topic of the WikiLeaks from an archival perspective.

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The Iraq Secret Archive & WikiLeaks

The New York Times released an article yesterday on a recent WikiLeaks acquisition.  The cache of some 300,000 documents regarding secret field reports on the war in Iraq does not shed any new light, the Times says, but “they offer insight, texture and context from the people actually fighting the war”.

The release by the independent organization, WikiLeaks, faces serious opposition.  WikiLeaks has failed more than once to redact sensitive information from the records it makes available.  The Times discusses the serious repercussions such leaks of information have on the security and success of military operations overseas.  The Pentagon has swiftly released a formal response deploring the disclosure.

This action of WikiLeaks flies in the face of international transitional justice practice and principles to take into account the rights and interests of individuals concerned-individuals such as victims, witnesses and informants.  There are other legal requirements (governed by national laws) in place to protect individuals appearing in records.  Closure periods, for example.  Redaction of names and closure periods are just some of the usual practices.  They are not employed by WikiLeaks but, as any organization that discloses information, it seems that it would help their case to do so.

The New York Times has released some of the secret dispatches with redaction in their War Logs section.

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Read related articles on the archive’s portrayal of civilian death in Iraq and the secret dispatches from the war

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Follow-up article on Iraqi Secret Police Files & the Anfal Genocide

Two years ago as I was writing a research paper, I happened upon an article (see below for citation) by Bruce P. Montgomery.  Montgomery has written widely on the topic of archival sources and human rights.  In his 2001 article, he traced the provenance, legal use, and politics in general surrounding the Iraqi Secret Police Files, especially with respect to the custody, control and ownership of the records according to the interests of the various parties involved.  These files were captured by Kurdish rebel forces during the chaos which ensued in 1991 throughout Iraq and neighbouring Kurdistan.  The files were a coup for the Kurds who discovered evidence of the Anfal genocide of the 1980s within the records and documents.

In the current issue of Archivaria, Montgomery  revisits the subject in “Returning Evidence to the Scene of the Crime: Why the Anfal Files Should be Repatriated to Iraqi Kurdistan” (see below for citation).  Archivaria has not yet made this article available to the public for free, but as the editors tell readers, Montgomery recalls the custodial history of the records through their seizure, relocation and repatriation.  In his first article, Montgomery discusses the possibility of establishing an international war crimes tribunal to prosecute Iraqi leaders, not unlike those for Rwanda (ICTR) and Yugoslavia (ICTY).  In this current article he continues to outline the role of international law, specifically those relevant treatises that address the capture of cultural heritage in times of war, and the role of the international archival community (as represented by the International Council of Archives, and other professional associations).  Most importantly, Montgomery uses the Iraqi/Anfal case to outline the conflicts in appropriately documenting human rights.


Montgomery, B. (2001).  The Iraqi Secret Police Files:  A Documentary Record of the Anfal Genocide. Archivaria , 1 (52). Retrieved Oct. 13, 2010, from

Montgomery, B. (2010).  Returning Evidence to the Scene of the Crime: Why the Anfal Files Should be Repatriated to Iraqi Kurdistan. Archivaria, 69 (69). Retrieved October 13, 2010, from

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Documenting Truth – an ICTJ publication

Documenting Truth gives practicing information specialists practical insight into monitoring and documenting violations.  Here is some of what HURIDOCS has said about this publication:

This report draws on the experience of six diverse NGOs that came together as the Documentation Affinity Group (DAG). The purpose of this publication is to share some of the lessons which they learned from their collaboration. The goal is to provide useful information and ideas for organizations that are facing similar challenges. In short, these are reflections on best practices for documentation projects to combat impunity, establish truth and build democratic and just societies.

The document describes cross-cutting themes in documentation work as well as practices in collecting, using, analysing, managing and storing documents.

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