Posts Tagged records

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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The Iraq Memory Foundation, Baath Party Archive & Wartime Plundering of Cultural Property

University of Colorado professor, Bruce P. Montgomery shares with AW a revealing journal publication he has authored.  It is an excellent study on the question of territorial provenance, ownership, and custody.  In it Montgomery looks in depth at the unique dynamics between the Iraq Memory Foundation (IMF), the US military, and the long-held contentious cultural property of Iraq in the hands of private US institutions.  Cultural property in the form of the former Iraqi government’s archives, the Baath Party Archive, normally fall into a category of state records that should be opened to citizens “‘in service of transitional justice, national reconciliation, and democratization'” as seen with the former Stasi regime archive, the Tuol Sleng Archives, inter alia.

Montgomery purports that through the extenuating circumstances of wartime Iraq in 2003 (as the emergence of civilian defense contractors under the US military like the IMF) and through a lack of legal frameworks, the IMF was able to evade direct contraventions to existing international laws and conventions that define cultural property theft or pillaging when the group transferred records out of Iraq.  Montgomery reveals that the legal status of contractors can be considered ambiguous at best because they ostensibly operated outside legal mechanisms. He presents arguments that the IMF, in the backdrop of this largely chaotic and tumultuous period for Iraqi citizens and the Hussein government, was able to leverage the situation to their advantage, circumventing legal protocols to transfer the Iraqi documents.  Consequently, the archives are not accessible to the citizens who could benefit from its use.  Thus, the circumstances surrounding the current fate of the archives has also been a barrier to legitimizing straightforward accusations of wartime pillaging of records.

Montgomery also traces the actions of various cultural and national institutions, non-government groups, and key officials in securing the country’s archives and the laws ensuring its possession.  He also outlines relevant international laws and conventions alongside the case – the Hague, Geneva, and UN conventions…

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FOI Legislation Often Outdated and Ignored in Developed World

AP released an investigative article last month on the contradictions of what they term, “right-to-know” laws, or what information professionals usually dub Freedom of Information (FOI) or Access to Information legislation.  The  news source found that developing democracies with newly established FOI laws are better at fully addressing access to information requests from the public, citing Guatemala and India as cases.  European and North American countries however fared less adequately in this regard. US FOIA officials in the Department of Justice attribute their inadequacy to an inability to tackle the challenges that come with the emergence of electronic records.  AP suggests that FOI laws founded in developed countries early in the formation of FOI legislation are showing their age.

In developing democracies where FOI laws are in use, the ideal of giving voice to ordinary people by enabling them with the right to know information has been realized.  However, the successful execution of these laws is not without its costs.  AP shows that in India retributive crimes arise against ordinary citizens who seek answers  through the use of right-to-know laws. These individuals normally seek justice in holding accountable corrupt authorities who in turn terrorize them for exercising their right to information.

In light of the harm these laws can engender for those who use them, there is still a long road ahead for developing democracies beyond right-to-know laws.  Such transparency laws are not guarantees of open societies that will protect its citizens despite the new powers they offer them…

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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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Documenting Existing Casualty Recording Practice Worldwide

There are numerous casualty recording initiatives around the world, some operating in the midst of ongoing conflicts, and others in a post-conflict environment. Each initiative has amassed some level of experience and relevant expertise in dealing with the problems and obstacles that this type of work, and its practitioners, face. UK think tank, the Oxford Research Group has a research project which draws on the experience of casualty recording organisations around the world to identify and promote good practice, and analyse key issues for practitioners and policymakers wishing to support this work.

Lacking in this field are any agreed-upon good practices or standards by which different projects, methods and outputs may be compared and evaluated. This project is intended to address these issues by publishing a series of papers analysing key issues in casualty recording, and identifying good practice.

The Oxford Research Group is also involved in another project that aims to standardize casualty recording and make it a legal requirement.

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Saddam’s Regime in Hoover Institution Archive

Hoover Institution photo from Baath Party officesThe Hoover Institution’s collection on the Baath Party, which arrived at Stanford in 2008, includes nearly 11 million digitized pages and 108 video files.  Hoover holdings on Iraq comprise 15 collections, of which the Baath Party collection is the largest.  Standford University News claims that “it may be the largest publicly accessible archive of documents collected from an authoritarian regime.”

The documents at Standford have given researchers and historians an unprecedented view of the inside workings of an authoritarian regime – and how the Baath Party became a bloated bureaucracy, fed by an unending atmosphere of war.  Scholars and journalists alike have used the documents in divergent and ways to shed some insights on the former regime…

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Contrast this reading with a 2008 New York Times article that highlights the political importance of controlling former regime archives.  In the New York Times piece, some Iraqi officials and members of the Society of American Archivists along with the Association of Canadian Archivists, deplored the ostensible rescue of these millions of Iraqi papers.

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Advancing Children’s Rights – A Guide for African Civil Society

This past month, Plan and Save the Children Sweden have collaborated to produce a second edition of this guide on how civil society organisations can best engage with the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Children (ACRWC).  This guide has been developed in collaboration with African civil society organisations, academics and members of the Committee.  .

Africa is the only continent with a region-specific child rights instrument.  The ACRWC, adopted in 1990 by the Organisation of African Unity (disbanded 2002), is an important tool for African child rights activists as it complements the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Though much progress has been made to promote the ACRWC, still more needs to be done to make this important human rights treaty accessible for civil society and state institutions in Africa.

This guide aims to be a resource for civil society organisations who are interested in finding out more about the ACRWC and the Committee.  The publication highlights methods on data collection, documenting information, and the use of official parliamentary/legislative records.  It contains practical advice and information on how civil society can engage with the Committee to advance children’s rights in Africa.  This edition reflects important developments relating to the Committee’s work, civil society organisations’ engagement with the Committee and the functioning of the CSO Forum on the ACRWC (note the special mention of the CSO Forum database).

The publication of the French version of the Guide is scheduled for May 2011. An Arabic version is also foreseen.

All comments you may have to help improve this edition are most welcome. Please send any input to Åsa Rapp Baro, Regional Advisor, Save the Children Sweden West Africa (asarb@waf.savethechildren.se) and Stefanie Conrad, Deputy Regional Director Programs, Plan West Africa (Stefanie.Conrad@plan-international.org)

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