program | speakers | abstracts

Author: Mary Marshall Clark

Title: "Oral History and Human Rights Documentation: Acts of Witness on the Journey to Justice"

Abstract: This paper will explore the dynamic potential of oral history, and testimony, to provide a meaningful context through which extreme human suffering can be documented in its full complexity, and communicated in ways that illuminate the specific historical and cultural contexts in which it occurs. The author argues that this process of communication, and commemoration, through oral history and testimony complements the "overwhelming evidence" of documents, media accounts, and legal reports on human rights abuses that, ironically, can flatten individual accounts of suffering and lead to emotional and moral fatigue in society at large. The presentation will draw upon work in testimony and oral history that endeavors to preserve personal and cultural stories in the act of documenting genocide and catastrophe, in order to address what the philosopher Geoffrey Hartman has described as a crisis of "personal memory" in an era of mass media saturation.

Author: Alison Des Forges

Title: "Genocide in Triplicate: Use of Documents in National and International Prosecution of the Rwandan Genocide"

Abstract: Documents produced by government officials and leading politicians offer invaluable help in facilitating the prosecution of perpetrators. National and international prosecutors, however, have relied more on witness testimony, increasingly unreliable as time goes on, while masses of documents molder in offices or -- worse yet, containers -- in Rwanda. An important part of the substantial resources collected by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda remains unused. Investigators and prosecutors need to realize the full implications of genocide as a historical event as well as a massive crime and make better use of the tools of history in building their cases.

Author: Richard Dicker

Title: "Seized Iraqi Security Documents: Assembling Evidence for a Case of Genocide"

Abstract: This talk will recount aspects of Human Rights Watch's experience handling 18 metric tons of seized Iraqi security documents. In 1992, Human Rights Watch researchers were entrusted with the analysis of 847 boxes of documents taken by Kurdish militias from the offices of Ba'ath Party security agencies in northern Iraq. After an exhaustive analysis, these documents provided an important "evidentiary" basis for HRW's conclusion that the Iraqi government had committed genocide against the Kurdish population in northern Iraq in 1988. We relied on the documents to press states -- unsuccessfully -- to bring a case of genocide at the International Court of Justice against the government of Iraq in 1994-95. The materials became part of the public domain and were subsequently used by many analysts. The documents, their analysis and ultimate role highlight the contribution and challenges of large document caches in the hands of one human rights research and advocacy organization.

Author: Kate Doyle

Title: "Exhumations: The Recovery of Repressive Archives"

Abstract: The archives of former repressive regimes offer an important historical record of state terror, the promise of legal evidence for human rights crimes, and an indispensable source of information for families of the regimes' victims. Given the potential danger posed to former regime officials by the archives, why are these records preserved? How do they come to light? And once found, what strategies have been used to rescue and preserve them, and open them to the public? I will use the case of the recently-discovered Guatemalan archives of the former National Police to discuss these issues, and compare the Guatemalan experience with the repressive archives of several other countries, including the Archivo del Terror of Paraguay, Mexico's archive of the "Dirty War", and the German Stasi files.

Author: Douglas Greenberg

Title: "Indexing Memory: Access to Video Testimony of Genocide"

Abstract: This paper describes the collection, digitization, cataloging, and indexing of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute's collection of 52,000 testimonies of survivors and other eyewitnesses to the Holocaust. The presentation will include a demonstration of the Institute's digital library system and will suggest, as well, how the methods and technologies developed at the Institute can be applied to other examples of genocide and human rights abuses in the contemporary world.

Author: Paul Gordon Lauren

Title: "Bringing Human Rights in History to Life: Documentation for Teaching and Research"

Abstract: Documentation of human rights abuses, movements, organizations, and achievements is vital for both teaching and research. Using a number of specific examples, this presentation will address how primary sources used in the classroom can provide a powerful and engaging tool for students to see the human face of human rights and to explore some of the complexities of resistance, mixed motives, tensions between theory and practice, compromises, and contrasts between visions and reality. It also will address why no serious scholarship in human rights can take place without research in original documentation. Although both teaching and research may initially be focused upon examinations of historical cases from the past, there are lessons of history, and the results of the endeavors can, and often do, have a direct impact upon present advocacy and social justice.

Author: Grace Lile

Title: "Bearing Witness: Issues in Audiovisual Human Rights Documentation and Archiving"

Abstract: The use of video as a tool in human rights documentation, advocacy, and prosecution of justice is a relatively new development. WITNESS is a human rights organization founded on the premise that video can be a uniquely powerful and effective complement to more traditional mechanisms. Collection, curation and management of audiovisual documentation pose particular challenges for activists and archivists alike; this paper will describe how WITNESS addresses issues of consent, security, description, access, and rights within the context of an audiovisual human rights collection.

Author: Alice Miller

Title: "Teaching the Moving Target: Human Rights as Struggle in History and in the Classroom"

Abstract: Teaching human rights from the standpoint of one who has participated in the struggle over the emergence of new norms and standards highlights contestation within human rights movements, as well as with states and other key players. Studying the evolution of health as a human right, women's rights and rights concerning sexuality reveal the complex interests and practices within NGOs, as well as practices of inclusion and exclusion among new and old voices in rights work, practices which have generated new contemporary global rights standards and claims. The archives at Columbia's Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research, as sites of documentation of these events, can play a specific, productive but not tension-free role in teaching human rights as a tool of struggle and a site of struggle. Such study can bring the duality of human rights' claims (to universality/presumptive truth and its particularities of place and time) to meaningful and productive life in the classroom. Access to the archives of key human rights NGOs on these and many other questions of evolving human rights norms can make teaching the corpus of rights work not only a question of received knowledge but a place of dynamic engagement with current needs and the future of rights work.

Authors: Peter Nardulli and Kalev Leetaru

Title: "News Archives, Advanced Information Technologies and Human Rights: An Event Analysis for the Post WW II Era"

Abstract: This paper will report on an on-going, cutting edge approach to identifying and analyzing news reports of human rights related events, from a vast corpus of documents. This effort is an integral part of the Cline Center for Democracy's Societal Infrastructures and Development Project ( The project draws on a global archive of over 30 million news reports in the post 1946 era, and is in the process of developing a classification scheme that can be used in conjunction with advanced automatic text classification algorithms to identify two classes of human rights events: Regard for Human Life; Respect for Human Rights.

Author: Trudy Peterson

Title: "Tribunals Past and Present: Temporary Courts, Permanent Records"

Abstract: Transitional justice institutions such as truth commissions and criminal courts are by definition temporary, meant to complete a task and disappear. Yet the records these bodies create are crucial records, documenting both what happened during the period of repression and the efforts the country made to right itself thereafter. And because the bodies are temporary, the records may have no obvious archival home.

In a study of the records of truth commissions in twenty countries, I found that what happens to the records when a commission closes varies widely. In four countries the records went to the Ministry of Justice or the Ministry of the Interior, where they are available for subsequent actions, including possible prosecutions. In one country the records went to the ombudsman’s office. In three countries the President’s Office or the Cabinet Secretariat controls the records, while in two countries a successor committee or commission has them. In two countries the records are in or destined for the national archives, and in another they are in an archives established by Parliament for the purpose. Three commissions have their records with the United Nations, one commission still has its records, and I was unable to determine the location of the records in three other countries. After analyzing various factors, I concluded that the stronger the open government climate, including the enactment of laws such as freedom of information acts, the more likely that the records of a truth commission will be placed with a government entity that has, as part of its regular work, the responsibility of providing access to information.

A truth commission is a national institution and the solution to the problem of the preservation, description, and use of its archival records is a national one. The temporary international criminal tribunals are very different: in each of them the United Nations plays a key role and the solution to the records preservation and access problem is an international one. The temporary tribunals need to be understood as part of the broad historical development of international criminal law and the new role of the United Nations as an instrumentality for international justice, yet because the records of the tribunals relate to a particular country or geographic region, the interests of the people of the region must be accommodated in any decision about the permanent retention and location of the records. The tribunal records, moreover, include extremely sensitive, even dangerous information, and access to them must be managed carefully and consistently. The disposition of the records of the international war crimes prosecutions at the end of World War II is an anomaly and does not offer a persuasive precedent for the disposition of the records of the current temporary tribunals.

The United Nations must accept its responsibility to administer judicial archives for the permanently valuable records (paper, audio and video recordings, electronic databases, objects) of the temporary tribunals. The publicly available records should be copied and the copies donated to institutions in the countries affected or in regional institutions that the countries might designate. The objects and artifacts maintained by a tribunal, if not returned to a family, should be available for loan to institutions for educational exhibition purposes.

Author: Richard Richie

Title: "Preservation and Access through Microfilming of Khmer Rouge Documents and Archives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for Research and Tribunal"

Abstract: In early 1998, Mr. Richie was approached by Professor Ben Kiernan, Director of the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University's MacMillian Center for International and Global Studies to collaborate on an urgent project to preserve and copy the 100,000 page records of the Khmer Rouge state police archives (or Santebal). These records had been discovered in the Ministry of the Interior of the Royal Cambodia Government in 1996 and were held by the Documentation Center of Cambodia, in Phnom Penh. Concerned that the ex-Khmer Rouge cadres might try to destroy this evidence, and worried about the brittle condition of the original documents, project planners from the Yale University Library, the Cambodian Genocide Program and the Documentation Center of Cambodia searched for alternative preservation solutions to digitizing the documents utilizing an undependable power supply, and outdated scanners and computers held at the Center. Mr. Richie's presentation will discuss the planning, organization and choices made to microfilm the Santebal and other Khmer Rouge genocide archives at the Documentation Center of Cambodia in Phnom Penh over several years, with the project led by Yale University Library, but in close cooperation and financial assistance from the Center for Research Libraries and Cornell University.

Author: Graeme Simpson

Title: "The Burden of Truth: Evidence and Testimony in Dealing with Violations of the Past"

Abstract: This paper focuses on the nature of evidence and testimony in truth commissions, including the role of archives, access to information and historical accounts. The presentation will make some tentative observations about the relationship between the individual testimony of victims and perpetrators, and the systemic violations for which they account. It will also touch on the complex relationship between judicial and non-judicial accountability mechanisms and the dangers of manipulative crafting of a new historical orthodoxy about the past.

Author: Lucy Thomson

Title: "Legal Uses of Human Rights Documentation: The Challenges of Digital Evidence in Human Rights Cases"

Abstract: The increasing use of digital information by organizations around the world poses many challenges for the legal community and advocacy organizations. Human rights cases increasingly include a wide variety of electronic documentation and evidence such as electronic texts, cell phone videos, digital photos, voice mail recordings, and other digital media. After describing the nature of this digital evidence, this presentation will highlight many of the legal and technical issues that arise when this material is introduced (whether admissible or not) in legal proceedings, and how the legal community is dealing with such evidence. Finally, she will discuss the significant challenges advocacy organizations, NGOs, lawyers, and others are facing (e.g., technology obsolescence and interoperability, authentication, version control, etc.) in being able to preserve and maintain a level of integrity for such materials that will withstand challenge in court and (later on) satisfy historians.

Author: Robert Wolven

Title: "Issues in Human Rights Web Archiving"

Abstract: As the volume of information appearing solely in digital form continues to grow, libraries and archives are turning more attention to archiving web content as a means of ensuring its long-term availability. Developing reliable, sustainable models for web harvesting and archiving poses technical challenges, and some major issues around rights and permissions. Applying these models to a targeted domain such as human rights also raises familiar issues in new forms -- issues of selection, description, organization, and presentation. Addressing these challenges will also present new opportunities for integrating web content with print and archival collections. Web content from human rights organizations, because of its global diffusion and fragility, may be especially difficult to collect and preserve on a large scale. Columbia University has begun to explore these issues, their impact on traditional library and archival roles, and the potential for sharing benefits and costs across research institutions.


CHRDR Conference: 4-6 October 2007
Human Rights Archives and Documentation:
Meeting the Needs of Research, Teaching,
Advocacy and Social Justice

Selected Proceedings