By Valerie Love, Curator for Human Rights Collections
The Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut

In recent years, archival institutions and organizations have become increasingly concerned with issues regarding human rights records and archival collections. Questions of access, privacy, politics, trust, and ensuring the safety of those documenting abuses and potentially controversial records all impact archivists working with human rights collections. Furthermore, the difficult subject matter contained in records of human rights abuses may require additional support for processing archivists who must confront images and accounts of atrocities daily.

In the past several years, a growing number of resources and conferences have been created to assist archivists and human rights practitioners working with human rights documentation. The WITNESS Hub Blog has compiled some of the most prominent of these resources at:

In 2003, the International Council on Archives (ICA) established a Working Group on Archives and Human Rights at the International Conference of the Round Table on Archives (CITRA) in Cape Town, South Africa, to ensure follow up and coordination of the projects arising from the conference resolutions: The working group posts information on its website, and publishes a newsletter providing updates on human rights archival activities from around the world.
In 2008, the University of Connecticut established a Human Rights Archives Email Listserv to foster communication between archivists and human rights practitioners interested in human rights documentation. The listserv is open to anyone who is interested, and currently has over 100 members from around the world. Join at

Yet, despite the proliferation of conferences and online information sites regarding human rights archives, there is not yet a space or group within the largest archival organization in the United States. T-Kay Sangwand of the University of Texas and I are currently petitioning to create a human rights roundtable within the Society of American Archivists (SAA). Informal gatherings of archivists concerned with human rights issues occurred at the SAA meeting in San Francisco in 2008 and at Austin in 2009, but the creation of a official roundtable would formalize current efforts to collaborate and share information on archives and human rights in the United States.

Statement of Purpose and Goals of the Human Rights Archives and Archivists Roundtable
The Human Rights Archives and Archivists Roundtable aims to create a space for SAA members and other stakeholders (human rights advocates, scholars, government officials, and non-governmental organization workers) to increase dialogue and collaboration on issues related to the collection, preservation, disclosure, legal implications and ethics of human rights documentation.


1. To foster dialog between archivists working with human rights collections and other stakeholders on issues related to the management, preservation, and access to human rights archives.

2. To disseminate information to roundtable members and members of SAA, and to formalize grassroots efforts to organize around human rights issues within SAA and in conjunction with the International Council on Archives Human Rights Working Group

3. To establish a formal presence within SAA and create an official venue for the exchange ideas affecting human rights archival collections

a. Integrate the current Human Rights Archives email listserv with other SAA lists
b. Develop a Human Rights Archives Roundtable website
c. Create an electronic newsletter to share news and publicize events

4. To facilitate collaboration and information sharing among archival institutions, universities, governments, legal bodies, and non-government agencies that are working to document and preserve records of human rights abuses

If you are a member of SAA and would be interested in learning more or joining, please contact The Roundtable will be discussed at the February 2010 SAA Council meeting, and, pending approval, will hold its first meeting at the Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting in Washington DC in August 2010.

7 thoughts on “Building a Network for Human Rights Archives and Archivists

  1. Deplorable working conditions for Kenyans
    The sum total of better working conditions for employees is improved productivity, efficiency, a boost on craftsmanship, and love for duty. Well remunerated workers are less prone to theft, carelessness, deception, tardiness, negligence and mishandling of working tools.
    The aspect of employees’ rights requires a multipartite approach that encompasses: the government, Trade Unions, Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE), Human rights bodies and even the civil Society.
    Employees in the Civil Service, Sole Proprietorship, Private Institutions, Multinational Companies, and Public Corporations continue to face many challenges at the workplace. These includes: dismissals and terminations from employment on flimsy grounds, long working hours with low pay, poor safety gear especially in Steel and Chemical manufacturing firms, poor remuneration, and serving as casual for too long without being confirmed on permanent and pensionable terms.
    Women who form the bulky of employees in factories and EPZs are not given maternity leave; for them, getting a pregnancy is a self discharge from work. They suffer the worst harassment, intimidation and sexual overtures from male employers at the workplace.
    One expanding Supermarket chain in the Country pays their employees Kshs.1000 weekly instead of monthly; making it hard for them to save. It shows that this employer cares less about financial improvement for these workers.
    All workers are required to sign new contracts after every three months including those who have worked even for five years. The labour laws require an employee to be confirmed on permanent terms after serving between 3 to 6 months.
    In this Supermarket, employees are not allowed to join any Union or Cooperative Society. Those who
    express interest are sacked without notice. A friend of mine working in this establishment gave a narration that left me shuddered. It’s a cry from the Wilderness that requires urgent attention.
    He says that to prevent theft, employees are not allowed to go for lunch. Instead, they are provided with boiled maize popularly known as Githeri within the working premises. Before leaving for home in the evening, employees are subjected to the most a shaming physical search by security guards to ensure that they are not carrying any item from the shop.
    We call upon human rights groups and the Civil Society not shy away but to take the lead by exposing unscrupulous employers in our Country.
    Labour being one of the factors of production that affects any economy, the plight of Kenyan workers must be addressed urgently. That is why the government and the trade Union fraternity should urgently intervene and alleviate the deplorable conditions employees are going through in horticultural firms in Naivasha, Export Processing Zones (EPZ) especially in Mombasa and Nairobi , supermarket chains in our major urban centres and environmentally unfriendly working conditions at the Webuye Paper Mill in Western Province .
    The effluent emitted from the Paper Factory is a pollutant to water, soil and air that affects not only employees but also residents a round the firm. You can smell the stench when driving through the factory. Therefore, the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) should tour the factory and observe if it meets environmental standards and if not, shut it down the way they did to the abattoirs in Dogoretti and Kisii recently.
    As the government encourages foreign investment, it must also encourage the investors to reward Kenyan workers fairly. Most of the firms that violate the rights of workers are foreign owned; bringing to the fore the concern that foreign investment that we always cry for does not necessarily translate to an increase in the standard of living for our people.
    In the Civil Service, the government should boost the morale of workers by providing them with better pay, performance awards, inside growth and fringe benefits in order to achieve efficiency. In the private sector, the Ministry of Labour and Manpower Development must act tough on errant employers who violate labour laws by revoking their trading licences.
    On work safety as per the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers must liaise with The Ministry of Labour and Human Resources Development to train their employees on First Aid Skills, Cardio-Pulmonary –Resuscitation (CPR) and fire fighting. We have lost many lives at the workplace due to lack of these life saving skills amongst the employees.
    The Union fraternity in Kenya as failed to provide a sustainable and viable remedy to the plight of workers. Except the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) which is more vibrant and focussed in championing the rights of teachers, the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU), an Umbrella of 42 registered Unions as failed to protect the interests of its members.
    The COTU Secretary General Mr. Atwoli is a talker not a doer. The government, COTU members and employers don’t take him serious. His predecessor; the late Joseph Mugalla was bold and candid in defending the workers. He should also borrow the example of KNUT secretary general the late Ambrose Adongo, who defended teachers with zeal and determination; leaving an indelible mark in the Union fraternity in our Country.
    The recent imbroglio about Rachael Lumbasyo’s sacking from NSSF and Atwoli’s reaction didn’t impress anybody. Kenyans expected him to exhibit the same passion when fighting for workers. To safeguard his legacy in COTU, Atwoli must detach himself from politics by fully immersing himself on fighting for the rights of workers especially the implementation of the new employment laws that are likely to alleviate the suffering of Kenyan workers.
    As a former Secretary of Kenya Plantation workers Union; an amalgam of COTU, he would have toured Nandi Hills, Sotik and Kericho tea plantations to preach harmony and reconciliation amongst the different communities who went for each other during the skirmishes of early this year. This is what leadership is all about.
    Workers problems are human rights issues that require equal attention like any vice in our society. We need to see equal attention and footage given on the plight of workers just like fighting HIV Aids, poverty and injustice.
    There is no way Kenya will become a working nation as per President Kibaki’s development slogan, if those currently in the job market work under dehumanising conditions with poor remuneration which makes them live from hand to mouth.
    Joseph lister Nyaringo


    Many Kenyans are in suspense whether proper valuing was done on the Rongai land before it was purchased by the state to resettle internal refugees.

    It is hard for the nation to be convinced that the DPM, Uhuru Kenyatta never influenced the purchase price for the 1171 acre farm since it’s a family asset besides him being in charge of our national exchequer.

    Transactions of this nature must be carried out with a lot of transparency and accountability because if the land belongs to the Minister for Finance’s family, then there is a big conflict of interest whose sum total is likely to be a rip off to the Kenyan tax payers.

    We don’t want to see a recurrence similar to the Grand Regency sell although the hotel was under- valued and sold to foreigners.

    No nickel was spent to buy the huge tracts of land the former first family owns equivalent to the size of Nyanza but the land was acquired by the late president through the worst form of power abuse in post independence Africa .

    There is nothing to celebrate about the former first family and in fact, if they were philanthropic, they will be the last people to sell 1171 acres to the state and later distribute it to Internal Refugees. It does not reflect any humanity on the plight of the IDPs but a yardstick to build political mileage for Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta who augurs Presidential ambitions.

    This brings to the fore the question of how charitable many rich Kenyans are. Just recently, when the USA President Obama won the Nobel Peace price, he decided to have the prize money that comes with the coveted award all donated to Charity.

    He didn’t keep silent to use the money for his re-election campaign slated in 2012 but to help his fellow Americans who are far much better economically that Kenyans. Our leaders should emulate this form of domestic philanthropy.

    Back to the plight of our Internal Refugees, the operational etiquette of the grand coalition government is often very weird. The nation was recently told by the Minister for Lands Honourable James Orengo of an impending exposure of those who grabbed state owned land.

    This was followed by the admission by the same Minister that the state lacks the legal mechanism to repossess some grabbed land.

    We must understand that there is nothing hard for the government of the republic of Kenya if its mandate is to protect and advocate for what is beneficial to the Kenyan people.

    When the Narc government repossessed KICC from KANU back in 2002, nobody raised eyebrows. That is why many Kenyans still belief that the government has the moral authority to execute the same moves to reposses grabbed land and put it on the hands of the state.

    We are being treated by the theatrics of the old order. Kenyans expected honourable James Orengo who has carried the torch for reforms in Kenya for decades to advocate for the release of the Ndungu Land Report so that Kenyans will know the truth.

    This is the opportune time for the Ugenya legislature to prove to Kenyans that he still stands for reforms that Kenyans have always known him for. The MP should be the last person to advocate the purchase of land by government from grabbers.

    Both Orengo, Uhuru Dr. Naomi Shaban must tell Kenyans the aspects surrounding the land purchase deal since national assets do not belong to politicians but Kenyans.

    It’s noble to ease the burden of the internal refugees but the exercise must be done with impartiality and as a nation, we want to see transparency and accountability in managing public affairs especially public expenditure.

    We want to know the criteria used to select the victims who have been resettled in the1171 acre farm in Rongai, noting that it’s not only one community that suffered during the post election violence.

    We want to see Kisiis just like Kikuyus displaced from Kisumu and parts of Rift Valley resettled as well as all Luyias and Luos displaced from Central and Rift Valley provinces resettled if our leaders are prepared to nurture reconciliation in our nation.

    Focussing to alleviate suffering for one community while leaving others will not help to heal the nation but ignite more animosity amongst Kenyan communities.

    The latest imbroglio on resettling Internal Refugees is likely to be a storm in a tea cup as the government prepares to evict illegal settlers from the Mau forest. The evictees are going to demand the same treatment which has been extended to the internal refugees in the 1171 acre farm in Rongai.

    This is a serious challenge that the government needs to address in order to perpetuate uniformity especially on addressing the problems that bedevil the entire nation across the board.

    Joseph Lister Nyaringo- New Jersey-USA

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