Spotlight: The Role of Archives in Human Rights

Regions: Global

Issues: Crimes against humanity, Forced disappearances, Genocide, Human rights defenders, Impunity, International criminal court, Justice, Mass killings, Torture, Transitional justice, War crimes

Tags: access to information, archives, archivists, audiovisual, freedom of information, Freedom of Speech, restorative justice


October 27th marks World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, started in 2005 by UNESCO in order to help "build global awareness of the various issues at stake in preserving audiovisual heritage." Not so long ago, this lack of awareness almost resulted in the loss of the last remaining video documentation of Neil Armstrong's historic moon landing. Deterioration and loss due to time, handling, improper storage, and poor documentation continue to threaten much of the world's moving image heritage.


Among these irreplaceable materials are collections devoted to human rights. The recently released "Right to Truth" document from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights asserts that "the recognition that archives and archivists play a central role in undergirding human rights has grown over the last decade." Human rights archives are increasingly playing a pivotal role in advocacy, restorative justice, historical memory, and struggles against impunity. And audiovisual documentation - which must be preserved - has become a key component of human rights campaigns.


Below you will find resources, tools, videos, and information on both human rights on archives and archiving. We hope it will be a resource for archivists, activists, or anyone seeking to learn more about these topics. We would love your thoughts and feedback so please contribute them in the comments field below!



Khmer Legacies

Memoria Abierta

South African History Archive

Open Society Archive

Taylor Krauss and his associate from Voices of Rwanda listening to the stories of a survivor of Rwandan genocide
Voices of Rwanda

Shoah Foundation for Visual History

National Security Archive (and here's an    example of a NSA archiving project)

The Memorial Society Archive

Image of bookcover of 'Buddhism under Pol Pot,' a book by Ian Harris, resesarch provided by Prum Phalla of the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

Documentation Center of Cambodia

Amnesty International USA

Columbia University, Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research

Human Rights Watch Archives

WITNESS Media Archive

Duke University Archive for Human Rights

University of Texas Austin (Human Rights Documentation Initiative)

University of Connecticut Human Rights Library and Archival Research

University of California, San Diego's digital Archive of the Spanish Civil War and the Francoist Dictatorship

Nelson Mandela Foundation Archival Platform

University of Minnesota, Human Rights Library

The National Archives UK

Eritrea Human Rights Electronic Archive

Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy - Human Rights Update and Archive



Here are some articles we've selected that delve into some specifics of archiving content in a human rights context:


Final Acts: A Guide to Preserving the Records of Truth Commissions, by Trudy Huskamp Peterson.


"Broadcast and Archive: Human Rights Documentation in the Early Digital Age," by David Block (Cornell University)


"Updated Set of principles for the protection and promotion of human rights through action to combat impunity," by Diane Orentlicher (United Nations) [Spanish translation]


"The Iraqi Secret Police Files: A Documentary Record of the Anfal Genocide," by Bruce P. Montgomery.


"Documenting Darfur and Southern Sudan," by Tom Adami.


"Memory, Archives and Justice – a Norwegian Perspective," by Gudmund Valderhaug.


"Embracing the Power of Archives," by Randall C. Jimerson (Western Washington University).


"A Witness to Atrocity: Film as Evidence in International War Crimes Tribunals," by Helen Lennon.


"Transitional justice and the role of archives during democratic transitions in Latin America," by Rivera, Joel A. Blanco.


"Human Rights, Testimony, and Transnational Publicity," by Meg McLagan.


"Políticas archivísticas para la defensa de los derechos humanos..." by Antonio González Quintana.


Research Project: The Audiovisual Memory of (In)Justice, by Julia Noordegraaf of the University of Amsterdam.




ICA Human Rights working group newsletter - This newsletter, a communication tool of the ICA Working Group on Archives and Human Rights, aims at sharing information about professional archival work and reflections in the field of "Archives and Human Rights".


HR Archives listserv - A listserv devoted to announcements and discussion related to human rights archives and archiving; for archivists, researchers, and other interested folks.




The Documentalist blog - one of the tools from the Center for Research Libraries-Global Resources Network they are using to address goals and challenges of digital archiving. The blog contains timely information about digital resources and technologies useful to both activists and archivists, and it seeks to bring the and curators of human rights documentation into conversation with one another.


I-witness video blog - Activist/archivists using video to protect civil liberties.


Nelson Mandela Foundation Archival Platform blog - Discussions of archives, memory, history and access to information in post-apartheid South Africa.


University of Connecticut Human Rights Archive/Research blog - From the Curator for Human Rights at the Dodd Center.


WITNESS Media Archive Blog - Written by Grace Lile, Archive Manager, and Yvonne Ng, Archivist, with occasional guest contributors.




Human Rights Documentation and Archives: Transforming Ideas into Practice. University of Connecticut, March 2008.


From left to right, moderator Peter Rosenblum and Keynote speakers David Marwell and Juan E. Méndez

Human Rights Archives and Documentation: Meeting the Needs of Research, Teaching, Advocacy and Social Justice. Columbia University, October 2007. Conference documentation including videos are available here.





Human Rights Archiving and Documentation Program of the Center for Research Libraries Global Resources Initiative. 


UNESCO Archives and Human Rights. For more details on one of their projects see, Documenting Darfur and Southern Sudan.


Committee on Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE) (International Federation of Library Associations) - to raise awareness of the essential correlation between the library concept and the values of intellectual freedom. To reach this goal IFLA/FAIFE collects and disseminates documentation and aims to stimulate a dialog both within and outside the library world.


Access to Information Network - Africa (International Federation of Library Associations) - to aid, assess and promote free public access to government information and information about governments, freedom of expression and democracy through libraries and library professionals across the African continent. (ATINA)




HR Documentation Best Practices:


Documenting Truth - useful report from the Documentation Affinity Group (DAG) regarding groups documenting abuses around the world, working towards the protection and promotion of truth, and establishing just and democratic societies.


The Records of NGOs: Memory…To Be Shared - manual on the value of records for non-profit organisations.


HURIDOCS - global capacity-building network of organisations that use documentation techniques, monitoring methods, information management systems and technologies in the defence of human rights and the prevention of abuses.


Audiovisual Archiving:


Audiovisual Archiving: Philosophy and Principles By Ray Edmondson - general guide to principles and practices of AV archiving.



Care for Audiovisual Materials - Online guide by the National Film and Sound Archive in Australia on caring for video, film, audio, photographic and fire damaged AV materials.



Archives@Risk Coordinated by the Federation of Television Archives (FIAT), this website offers support and advice to starter and developing AV archives.


10 Things You Can Do To Care for Your Film, Video, and Audiotape - Tips from New York University's Audiovisual Preservation Exchange (APEX): Ghana.


Archiving Video:


Videotape Identification and Assessment Guide - An online guide from Texas Commission on the Arts in the USA to videotape formats, condition assessment, and recommended conservation actions.


10 Things You Can Do to Care for Your Digital Video Works Tips from New York University's Audiovisual Preservation Exchange (APEX): Ghana.


Archiving Film:


Film Preservation Handbook -  This online guide is a collaboration between the Southeast Asia-Pacific Audiovisual Archive Association (SEAPAVAA) Technical Committee, Screensound Australia/National Screen and Sound Archive and Kodak.


Film Forever: The Home Film Preservation Guide - The objective of this web site, sponsored by the Association of Moving Image Archivists, is to provide simple guidelines for preserving motion picture film materials outside of specialized archives, with a focus on storage at home.


The Film Preservation Guide: The Basics for Archives, Libraries, and Museums - This guide by the US National Film Preservation Foundation which describes methods for handling, duplicating, making available, and storing film which are practical for nonprofit and public organizations with limited resources.


Archiving Audio:


Audio Digitization Workflow - Presented by TAPE (Training for Audiovisual Preservation in Europe), this online document describes workflows for audio preservation, and is aimed to newcomers in the world of audio tape digitization.




Archivists Without Borders
International Committee of the Blue Shield
US Committee of the Blue Shield
SSA-SAA Emergency Disaster Assistance Grant Fund
Archival Solidarity




A big THANK YOU to the folks in the Media Archive who enthusiastically added to this project - Grace Lile, Michele DeLia, and Yvonne Ng. 



Human Rights

The time that you have taken to produce this fantastic resource for us is greatly appreciated. There is a lot of information here that needs to be shared with the world and acted upon. casino en ligne

This is a fantastic

This is a fantastic resource! Thank you so much for all of your work and for posting this!