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: http://hub.witness.org/ArchivesHumanRights
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: http://www.ica.org/en/node/621. 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 http://doddcenter.uconn.edu/outreach/human_rights_symposium.htm
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.