Non-custodial archival practices and the UT Libraries Human Rights Documentation Initiative partnership with the Kigali Memorial Centre
By T-Kay Sangwand, Human Rights Archivist, Human Rights Documentation Initiative
University of Texas Libraries, University of Texas at Austin

With a generous grant from the Bridgeway Foundation, the University of Texas Libraries (UTL) launched the Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI) in 2008. The HRDI is committed to the long-term preservation of fragile and vulnerable records of human rights struggles worldwide, the promotion and secure usage of human rights archival materials, and the advancement of human rights research and advocacy around the world. The idea for this project grew out of the “Human Rights Archives and Documentation: Meeting the Needs of Research, Teaching, Advocacy and Social Justice” conference held at Columbia University in 2007. UT Libraries is proud to join the ranks of other prestigious human rights archives within U.S. universities, such as the Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research at Columbia and The Archive for Human Rights at Duke University.

The Human Rights Documentation Initiative aims to preserve fragile human rights documentation, particularly born digital audiovisual materials, through partnerships with human rights organizations that are producing the digital content. We are currently working the Kigali Memorial Centre in Rwanda (administered by the U.K based genocide prevention group Aegis Trust) to digitize, preserve, and provide access to their video archive containing testimonies of survivors, perpetrators, and the Gacaca court proceedings.

Moving away from the traditional models of archival acquisition in which records are removed from their place of origin to be deposited into a distant repository, the HRDI bases its partnerships upon a non-custodial model of archival management. This idea draws upon Richard Pearce-Moses’ definition of postcustodial theory of archives, or “the idea that archivists will no longer physically acquire and maintain records, but they will provide management oversight for the records that will remain in the custody of the record creators.” As Pearce-Moses elaborates, “the postcustodial theory shifts the role of the archivists from a custodian of inactive records in a centralized repository to the role of a manager of records that are distributed in the offices where the records are created and used.”

In practice, this means that the Kigali Memorial Centre retains the original records that they create while the HRDI obtains digital copies of these materials. Using its archival and technical expertise, the HRDI staff works with the KMC Documentation Centre staff to establish storage recommendations, file naming conventions, and workflow practices that will build and improve KMC’s archival capacity into their documentation activities. Through the UT Libraries, the HRDI provides secure digital storage for the KMC files in the case that any damage befalls the original recordings. Additionally, the HRDI provides the technology that will enable widespread access to KMC materials. Due to limited bandwidth throughout Rwanda, KMC is currently unable to host online access to their content. To overcome this issue, KMC will digitize, catalog, and index materials on-site and transfer the materials to UT, where they will be stored, preserved, and hosted.

In order to facilitate access to KMC materials, the HRDI has been working with the Guatemala-based company, Glifos, that provides powerful software that allows for cataloging, indexing, and syncing audiovisual materials with transcripts and other materials for enhanced access. Using Glifos, the HRDI built a prototype for a digital archive for KMC and in July 2008, three members of the HRDI project team (Christian Kelleher, T-Kay Sangwand, and Amy Hamilton) traveled to Rwanda to demo the prototype.

Photo caption (left to right): Yves Kamuronsi (Director, Documentation Centre, Kigali Memorial Centre), T-Kay Sangwand (Human Rights Archivist, UT HRDI), Christian Kelleher (Project Manager, UT HRDI), Honorable Jean de Dieu Mucyo (Executive Secretary, National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide), James Smith (co-founder and CEO of Aegis Trust), Freddy Umutanguha (Director, Kigali Memorial Centre)

The trip to Rwanda was productive and rewarding, particularly due to Kigali Memorial Centre’s positive and enthusiastic response to the prototype. During our two week stay in Rwanda, the HRDI team presented the prototype on seventeen different occasions to a wide range of parties who would be key stakeholders in the building of a National Genocide Archive, including: the Audio Archives at ORINFOR (Rwandan Office of Information), Ibuka (national survivors organization), Minister of Education, National Commission for the Fight against Genocide, National Data Center, Rwanda Development Board – Information Technology, National Museum, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency , as well as the U.S. and U.K. Ambassadors to Rwanda. The project team even had the opportunity to present at the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide Conference on the Project of Setting up a Documentation and Research Centre alongside James Smith, co-founder and CEO of Aegis Trust, and representatives from the archives of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Gacaca Courts. The UT Libraries Human Rights Documentation Initiative is extremely excited about exploring potential partnerships with these different parties through its collaboration with the Kigali Memorial Centre.

Due to the sensitive nature of the information contained in the testimonies, the KMC materials are not yet publically available. Over the next six months the Kigali Memorial Centre and the HRDI will secure the proper permissions from testimony givers and build out the digital archive for public access. We anticipate launching the project in April 2010 for the Sixteenth Annual Genocide Commemoration.

For more information on the Human Rights Documentation Initiative, its partnership with the Kigali Memorial Centre, and the other organizations involved with the UT Libraries Human Rights Documentation Initiative, please visit: (launching early November 2009).


(1) This concept and its application to the UT Libraries Human Rights Documentation Initiative comes from my colleague Christian Kelleher, project manager of the HRDI, and his numerous presentations on the topic.

(2) Pearce-Moses, Richard, “A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology: postcustodial theory of archives,” Society of American Archivists,

(3) Ibid.

(4) The prototype was completed in record time thanks to wonderful work of the HRDI project team – Doug Barnett (UT Libraries Chief of Staff), Aaron Choate (Head, Technology Integration Services), Jessi Fishman (Resident Librarian), Amy Hamilton (Undergraduate Student Researcher), Ladd Hanson (Head, Library Systems), Christian Kelleher (Archivist / Project Manager), Anna Lamphear (Resident Librarian), Jennifer Lee (Head, Preservation), Amy Rushing (Metadata Librarian), T-Kay Sangwand (Human Rights Archivist), Kevin Wood (Senior Systems Analyst).

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