June 20 -24, 2005

Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro


The second meeting of the Documentation Affinity Group took place in Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro at the Humanitarian Law Center from June 20 – 24, 2005. [1]


One main goal of this meeting was to address issues of information management as it affects each member of the affinity group. While the meeting itself spanned a broad range of issues including expert presentations on oral history, archiving, digitization, and exhumations, this report largely focuses on those presentations related to information management systems as they relate to the members of the affinity group. A second topic discussed was the “useful products” that each member will produce as a part of the overall project. 


The meeting was a productive exchange of technical information as well as strategic advice among similarly situated groups working on documentation. The group was particularly animated by discussions of information management and technical questions related to database management and dealing with large numbers of documents.


Our modus operandi has been to hold the meetings at the offices of one of the core members of the affinity group, thus this meeting was held at the Humanitarian Law Center.


Information Management:


In an attempt to streamline the conversation during the roundtable discussion (where each organization presented their information system to the group), it was agreed that an important distinction needed to be made regarding data. In this discussion, data means any material that is the source of information. Data is unstructured information, and information is the basis on which we create knowledge. Knowledge is the end product.  Each group addressed the following issues:


  1. Structure – the conceptual level determining what data is collected. How do we acquire data? We take the data in and then take it through processes to make it information.  What is the universe of data that we are seeking?

  2. Classification schemes – in order for the data structure to be of value we need to classify it.  The guidelines for devising a scheme need to be flexible.  The classification scheme needs to be expandable and also collapsible.

  3. Input interface and interfaces – input interface and interfaces help determine productivity and quality. This affects efficiency, and the users (input people) can get a return on their time.

  4. Configuration of database files that each organization has in their organization.

  5. The end purpose – how the information is best used and for what goals.


Use and Process


In an effort to learn more about various information systems and what would be most useful for each documentation center, Patrick Ball highlighted the ways in which data collection helps people learn about the past statistically, enabling us to describe patterns and determine if some arguments are more likely than others. Since technology can help people understand what is in their data on a statistical level, it is important to find the right technology for each documentation center.


When collecting data, the process should have 3 properties – validity, precision and reliability. For the affinity group, it is and will continue to be a challenge to make sure that databases represent what the sources say. The database should represent both the source but also our judgment about the source. These two things should be kept separate. Every statistic needs to be traceable as to why one thinks is true. The database has to express this reality on its own.


Statistics are strengthening truth telling and changing the panorama of political options, so getting the analysis right can have huge social and political impact.




What will benefit the various members of the affinity group are customizable tools for analysis of their data with an extreme degree of flexibility. While the process of getting data from the collection stage to the analysis stage is complex, if the tools themselves are specific to the data and organization, the approaches used by the various documentation groups can be similar. While documentation centers in the affinity group are distinctive, they have a similar goal – to get the proper use of the data. Instead of leaving the affinity group meeting with one system for all groups, it is clear that customization for each organization could be extremely useful.


Regional Experts


The Humanitarian Law Center invited regional experts on documentation to the meeting. This proved fruitful in that the affinity group was not only able to meet with members of the local organization but also representatives from across the region to see how they link their work with HLC in Belgrade. Particularly impressive was Safer Hukara and Milan Gacanovic’s presentation on the creation of the HLC database in Sarajevo. This is an extraordinarily complex and well-arranged database of victims, cases, and events of the war in Bosnia. It is arranged by names of individuals (sometimes a person is classified in various ways, i.e. can be both a victim and a perpetrator). Patrick Ball considers it one of the best databases he has seen, and indeed we were very impressed by it.


Marijana Toma’s work on Oral History is relevant in every documentation center that was present and we hope to include her expertise and experience in future affinity group meetings. In particular, Marijana focused on the great care she puts into oral history. She begins by putting together a historical file about a person. Then she has a preliminary interview with them, in which she takes minimal notes but informally explains what she is doing and gets to know them a bit. Then she returns to her files and historical research about the person and/or event. Finally, after preparing for hours, she meets with the person for a formal, structured interview (although she does not necessarily follow her notes), which she records. The she insists on typing the transcripts because she wants to make sure she gets every nuance. Only then is a file established.


Anna Svenson and Sergey Glushakov from the Open Society Institute in Budapest discussed archiving and digitization respectively, lending an important perspective on the global role these organizations have in documentation. A website Anna Svenson mentioned as extremely useful is which is the International Tracing Service.


Amor Masovic’s discussed his role in exhumations throughout the region where he heads the commission to find the missing. This offered important cross reference work for Fredy Peccerelli doing exhumations in Guatemala who also has previous experience with exhumations in the Balkan Region.


Useful Products


The USIP proposal (HREIB, which is the lead on the project, has secured funding through USIP) stipulates an allotment of money to organizations for the creation of a “useful product”. Useful products can be projects that each organization is working on that the rest of the group could benefit from. Out of the group presentations on their own information systems, suggestions were made as to what might best serve each organization to work on as their useful product:




Suggestion: ICTJ could create a database of human rights related organizations that are working on documentation. The database should be set up so that organizations can update it with activities that they are working on. This database could serve as a directory but also can become the source of a newsletter on activities and information related to documentation and memorializing. There can be criteria in order to be a part of the database. The database would clarify the assertion that there are many groups doing similar work. A direct listing would allow us to clarify at what stage these groups are at. 




To better exploit The Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation’s resources, it was suggested that they seek funding to digitize all the paperwork they are storing in drawers and turn it into a database that is queryable. All the forms that are filled out and have been filled should be digitized. A protocol can be instituted where documents get digitized on a routine basis. Without inputting all data, one can still digitize everything that gets written. Step two would be to have the material analyzed by a social scientist and determine what needs to go beyond digitization to yield something of further value. Other than the humanitarian value FAFG offers, they created a snapshot of a certain social reality that is of extreme value on many levels. In drawers, it isn’t being exploited to its full advantage. It can be useful to systematically digitize the documents.




Methods for fieldwork would be a useful tool at this stage in the organization’s development. The challenge is not so much technical at this point as it is a human challenge to create bonds between faction groups which will foster communication and access to documents. It is important to focus on how to systematically gain a critical mass of data. An organization is at the preparatory stage until enough information is amassed and decisions are made on the tools to better exploit the data. At this point it is important to focus on procedures, not systems. Systematization, translation and distillation into manageable components would be useful.




What would be useful to assess is whether the information system at HLC is being used at an optimal level. Does it satisfy its purpose and is the output satisfying the standards set for it? Does the interface make the HLC database more or less efficient? Is the interface geared towards the user or the designer? If one is inputting lots of data then the interface might be difficult to navigate. Suggestions were made regarding a simplification of the interface and having it on one screen. In system design one can distinguish between the classification scheme (which needs to be elaborate) and the interface (which needs to be as simple as possible). The classification scheme does not need to be reflected in the interface. Once a group gets the programming capacity they can structure these themselves. Only individual organizations can create an interface that is suitable for them. A useful product might be spending time learning how to program our individual databases. 




With the amount of documents DC-Cam has, it is important to digitize everything. It will provide venues for analysis that are difficult to do with microfiche. With technology, one can search the massive documents, and parse them into different categories. It might be useful to apply for a grant to digitizing the collection.  The possibilities of merging DC-Cam’s 3 databases would be tremendous.  There is also value in creating a systematic database for photos, and up to 5,000 photos can be put on a cdrom. One project could be creating the possibilities for an online visual navigation of the Khmer Rouge Period.




IMF needs to anticipate all problems and document them. Since IMF’s collection is scattered, it is difficult to always follow procedure. Procedures need to be simple yet comprehensive. A useful product would be to focus on creating procedures that can work under varied circumstances.  



All organizations could benefit from Patrick Ball’s offer to train members of the affinity group to fix the interfaces on the databases. The $5,000 allocated in the grant can go towards that. The group can also apply for a larger grant for that particular purpose.


Critical Reflection


There were aspects of the meeting that were not a complete success. An original goal of the affinity group was to have consistency in the participants. An alteration of the participants representing each documentation center seemed to affect the fluidity of the meeting in Belgrade, and it took a while to get back into the groove. One way to work around this in the future is to communicate the goals of the meeting thoroughly to all participants before the meeting. The idea to bring an information specialist proved extremely useful, and bringing specialists should be considered whenever possible. We should also consider bringing outside organizations to the next meeting (if they can cover their own expenses).


We should take steps to make sure that people think of the group as an arena for asking difficult questions, raising and debating the challenges they are facing, and discussing best practices.


Funding and Future


The idea of the Documentation Affinity Group originated from discussions between ICTJ, IMF, and DC-CAM in Budapest in January 2004.  The first meeting was supported by the ICTJ’s “alliances/networking” program, funded by the Canadian International development Agency (CIDA).


Through a series of discussions before the Cambodia meeting, HREIB submitted a proposal to USIP to get funding for two more meetings of the Documentation Affinity group. The proposal identified an output with input from all organizations. This could either be a manual or set of guidelines for documentation. Other outputs might include useful products decided upon by each participating organization which were discussed at length in the meeting in Belgrade.


Funds left over from the OSI grant (to DC-CAM) for the first meeting of the Documentation Affinity Group held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and the CIDA grant (to ICTJ) were used for the second Documentation Affinity group meeting. This enables the Affinity group to use the forthcoming USIP funds for meetings in November and the spring in Kurdistan and Guatemala (respectively)


Kurdistan/Jordan Meeting:


Discussions are presently taking place between HREIB and USIP (the meetings funder), related to the location of the next meeting. Other members have also been consulted, and a meeting was recently held in Washington DC, hosted by IMF.  Logistical implications have arisen and the groups are addressing issues of security, budget, the importance of proximity to local sites of memorialization and documentation, and the various political implications of who will be invited and who is “hosting” the meeting.


Ideally the group would like the third meeting of the affinity group to be in Suleymaniyah, Kurdistan from November 13 -18th. Organizing the meeting properly will be important as well as all decisions related to hosts and partnership with local Iraqi organizations. At this stage the IMF is creating a list of organizations they think should be invited and then those names will be passed along to a group of experts working in Iraq in an effort to get their opinions on the work those particular groups are doing. IMF is also doing a mapping project of people working on documentation in Iraq. The results of that project will also help in deciding who should participate in the meeting.


IMF suggests a 6 days meeting broken into three 2 day segments:


  1. Affinity Group alone with International Experts

  2. International Group plus Iraqi participants

  3. Iraqi participants alone


Since we have only budgeted for 5 days, this will have to be taken into account when we decide on the number of participants, and the location. The IMF and HREIB are taking the lead on substantive planning for this meeting.


Guatemala and Bellagio


The fourth meeting of the group, hosted by FAFG, will be in Guatemala around February 25th, incorporating parts of the meeting with a public forum in Guatemala as February 25th is National Victim’s Day. Ideally one day would be spent at the FAFG office in Guatemala City, and then the group would go to Antigua to continue the meeting and visit an exhumation site.  We would like to include a variety of local organizations in the meeting, particularly mental health organizations.


The final meeting will ideally be held at the Rockefeller Conference Center in Bellagio, Italy. Louis Bickford and Rebecca Lichtenfeld have written a proposal to the Rockefeller Foundation to request a final meeting of the affinity group at Bellagio. The goal of the meeting will be to write up the final documents and reflect on the successes and failures and future of the affinity group. This will hopefully take place in late summer/early fall of 2006.



Humanitarian Law Center

Research and Documentation


67 Makenzijeva, 11110 Beograd, Serbia and Montenegro

Tel/Fax: +381 11 3444 313

+381 11 3444 314


Home Page:



HlcIndexOut: 019-070-1

Beograd 2. jun 2005.



II Meeting Documentation Affinity Group

Belgrade, 21-24 June 2005.



Monday, June 20. 2005


Participants arrival, checking in at the «Metropol» hotel






Tuesday, June 21.


10:00 -11:00

Introduction of Humanitarian Law Center and the Transitional Justice Program: Nataša Kandić, executive director, Predrag Dejanović, Justice and Responsibility program coordinator, Marijana Toma, Telling the Truth program coordinator and Stana Tadić Documentation protection ( Archiving and data base) project coordinator.


11.00 - 11.30

Rebecca Lichtenfeld, Patrick Pierce, Louis Bickford

Brief intoduction to overall project and disscussion about Guidelines Manual


11.30 - 12.00




Safer Hukara (Research documentation center, Bosnia and Herzegovina), Milan Gačanović, (Humanitarian Law Center)

HLC Data base introduction

Introduction of the Research and Documentation center Data base



Sergey Glushakov (Open Society Archive, Hungary)

Digitalizing video documentation.


13:30 -15:00



15:30 -18:00 Roundtable on databases (with coffee break includeed)

Chair and introduction: Hassan Mneimneh (Iraq Memorial foundation, Iraq)


Hassan Mneimneh (Iraq Memorial Foundation, Iraq)

IMF data base introduction


Sampeou Ros (Documentation Center of Cambodia, Cambodia)

DC CAM data base introduction


Fredy Peccerelli (Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation, Guatemala), data base presentation


Khin Maung Shwe, Patrick Pierce ( Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, Thailand), HREIB data base presentation


Nadir Kohzad, ((Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Afghanistan)


Sergey Glushakov (Open Society Archive, Hungary)

Information systems. System protection and documentation safety.



Wednesday, June 22.


10:00 -11:30

Patrick Ball ( Benetech Initiative, USA)

Analysis and statistic reports based on the data base.

Summary of presented data base.


11:30 -12.00

Coffe break


12:00 -13:00

Discussion of Patrick Ball`s presentation


13:00 -14:30



14:30 -16:30

Fredy Peccerelli ( Guatemalan Forensic Antropology Foundation, Guatemala), Amor Mašović (State Commission for missing persons and escavation of mass graves, BiH)

Uncovering of mass graves and body remains identification as part of serving the justice process for the victims.


Anna Svenson (Open Society Archive, Hungary)

Documentation protection as an instrument of facing the past


Louis Bickford (International Center for Transitional Justice, USA)

International institutions, transitional justice, and documentary collection



Coffee break



Marijana Toma (Humanitarian Law Center)

Oral History



Thursday, June 23.



Louis Bickford (International Center for Transitional Justice, USA)

Presentation of memorials and documents






Coffee break



Summary of meeting. Next steps

Patrick Pierce (Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, Thailand), Rebecca Lichtenfeld (International Center for Transitional Justice, USA)

The next meeting and logistical details





17.00 - 18.00

Photo exhibit Srebrenica



City tour by bus


21. 00-22. 30

City tour by boat






Participant List

Documentation Affinity Group Meeting

June 20 -24, 2005

Humanitarian Law Center




Louis Bickford          International Center for Transitional Justice

                                    20 Exchange Place Floor 33

                                    NY, NY 10005

                                    917 438 9324



Sampeou Ros            Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam)

   P.O. Box 1110, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Tel: (855) 23 211 875

   Fax: (855) 23 210 358



Rebecca Lichtenfeld            International Center for Transitional Justice

                                    20 Exchange Place Floor 33

                                    NY, NY 10005

                                    Tel: 917 438 9307



Stana Tadic                Humanitarian Law Center
Makenzijeva 67
11110 Belgrade
Serbia and Montenegro
Tel/Fax: +381-11-344-43-48 
Tel/Fax: +381-11-344-34-23


Hassan Mneimneh   Iraq Memory Foundation

Tel: 202-460-4510 


Patrick Pierce                        Human Rights Education Institute of Burma

P.O. Box 37

Chiang Mai University

Chiang Mai 50202 Thailand


Fredy Peccerelli       Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation

                                    Avenida Simeon Cantas 10-64

                                    Zona 2

                                    Guatemala City, Guatemala 01002

                                    Tel: 502 5514 3129



Khin Maung Shwe   Human Rights Education Institute of Burma

P.O. Box 37

Chiang Mai University

Chiang Mai 50202 Thailand


* Patrick Ball, Information Management Specialist, Benetech Initiative

* Milan Gacanovic, Researcher and analyst, Humanitarian Law Center

* Sergey Glushakov, Information Technology Specialist, Open Society Archives in Budapest

* Safer Hukara, Sarajevo, Information Technology Specialist, Sarajevo

*Amor Masovic, Director of the State Commission for Missing Persons and Excavations   of Mass Graves, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

* Muhamed Mujkic, Chief of the Video and DVD archive, State Commission for Missing Persons and Excavations of Mass Graves, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

* Anna Svenson, Chief Archivist, Open Society Archives in Budapest

* Marijana Toma, Program Coordinator, Humanitarian Law Center, Belgrade

* Kenan Zahirovic - IT Specialist, Research and Documentation Center, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

* present at this meeting only


[1] Previous meetings included the first official meeting in February, 2005, when members spent 4 days the Documentation Center of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; and a visit by some members to the Gauck/Birthler Authority in Berlin in 2004.