The meeting of the Documents, Archives,

and Confronting the Past Affinity Group


March 1-5, 2005

Phnom Penh, Cambodia




Although this affinity group had had a preliminary activity a few months ago when a few members visited the Gauck/Birthler Authority in Berlin, this meeting was the official inaugural meeting, and the main goal was to get a sense of what the group might be able to accomplish.  The agenda and participant list are attached.


The meeting was a great start for what promises to be a productive exchange of technical information as well as strategic advice among similarly situated groups. The group was particularly animated by discussions of information management and technical questions related to database management and dealing with large numbers of documents.


Perhaps most important—and a modus operandi that the group is committed to doing regularly—was holding the meeting at the offices of one of the core members, in this case DC-CAM. The opportunity to see the operations of an operating center, to meet the staff, and to be hosted by the director and senior managers, provided the group with insights that could not be gleaned through meetings alone. DC-CAM (and Youk Chhang and Wynne Cougill, in particular) demonstrated particular hospitality and set an example that will be hard to live up to in future meetings.


Questions that arose during the meetings and were discussed in some depth include:




Ownership and custodianship of documents. In both Cambodia and Iraq, documentation groups have control over documents which arguably belong to the state. For example, The IMF has control over a significant collection of Ba’ath party files in Iraq, even though there is no clear institutional inheritor of these files. Additionally, in the former Yugoslavia, the HLC hopes to gain control over documents currently owned by the ICTY. In Cambodia, DC-CAM is the “custodian” of various files that might be useful in the tribunals (such as Tuol Sleng archives). We discussed questions about ethical, legal, and technical challenges about these kinds of documents, including whether it is ever acceptable to buy or sell documents, and how to prioritize among possible documentary collections.



Evidentiary questions. If documents held by NGOs will be used in future criminal trials, what evidentiary questions should be considered now? For example, we discussed chain-of-custody issues; the veracity and legal usefulness of oral history and videotaped testimonial, and other questions related to forensic evidence, such as the work that is being done by FAFG.



Information management systems, with a special emphasis on database management around various kinds of documents. This was a highly technical discussion with a number of experts in the room. Each organization had a different approach to information management, and sharing of strategies provoked interesting technical debates. We plan to discuss this at the next meeting in more depth.



Documents and Memory. We discussed whether documents fit into broader questions of memorialization and memory-work. This will also be a topic at a future meeting.



Preservation and Dissemination. We engaged in a classic debate about preservation and dissemination. DC-CAM, for example, does microfilm and stores copies of its most important documents. It also seeks to be a final repository for some collections. IMF is in the middle of a mass-digitization process which requires huge amounts of time and labor.



Collection. We discussed collection of documents, especially the notion of centralization (or not) of documents in central repositories as well as the challenges associated with working with various local partners. HREIB faces challenges of working with remote partners inside Burma—many of which are understaffed, have low capacity, and are perhaps operating clandestinely. They also have different challenges associated with other groups in the Thai-Burma border areas. IMF is operating in a highly complex environment in which time is limited.




The final session of the Phnom Penh meeting focused on determining the future of the affinity group, was moderated by Patrick Pierce and was broken down into 5 categories:



Feedback/Brainstorming (what has been useful and what is the future potential of the Affinity group)



Clarification of Proposal to USIP



Possibilities, Parameters and Priorities



Useful Products and Handbook Guidelines



Networking and Practical Next Steps






Many participants expressed a commonality among themes present in the work being done by all of the organizations.  The varying discourse helped organizations: confirm individual work strategies, make apparent the need  for a continuing discussion of database possibilities, think through the handling of large quantities of documents (digitization versus microfiche), exposed regional similarities i.e. Burma/Cambodia, address issues of  gaining credibility and trust within communities, maintaining security for employees (and possibly sending those in danger to other documentation centers),  gain country context,  get exposure to an actual working documentation center, identify  similar organizational  challenges, and learn about varying types of organizational management.


The group broke down benefits of the affinity group into two parts: strategic benefits and technical benefits. Credibility, organizational management issues, trauma and protection of staff, and networking with experts were considered strategic benefits.  Technical benefits included issues surrounding information systems and the handling of documents.




Clarification of Proposal to USIP


The idea of the Documentation Affinity Group originated from discussions between ICTJ, IMF, and DC-CAM in Budapest in January 2004[1].  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. The proposal includes a sum of money ($5,000) for each organization to use towards a useful product of its own.


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) will be used for the second Documentation Affinity group meeting, to be held in Belgrade in late June at the Humanitarian Law Center. This will enable the Affinity group to use the forthcoming USIP funds for meetings in November and the spring in Kurdistan and Guatemala (respectively)




Possibilities, Parameters and Priorities:


Suggestions to be implemented and discussed in Belgrade include: the structure of the affinity group, discussing  strategies for credibility within the communities each organization works with, creating a manual for preservation and collection, creating organizational profiles, arranging meetings in actual documentation centers to see how they function and promote community building, having a committee assess the various database options, broaden the host organizations participation in future meetings, devoting more time to strategic problem solving (implementing a system such as an on-line forum to address various issues). This could also be facilitated by a manger/coordinator (Rebecca Lichtenfeld) who can serve as the base of communication and planning.


Themes that many would like to continue discussing are: information management and custody of the materials we work with, commemorations/memorials, documents for truth commissions, and trauma as it effects staff and individuals giving testimony.


The structure of the affinity group could be cemented by having each group fill out organizational profiles (template potentially to be designed by Wynne Cougill). Some questions that arose regarding the future composition of group were: How many core members should there be? Should there be criteria for core membership? Should affiliations be institutional? Can they be individual? What can we actually fund?  Is it more beneficial to have a smaller group? Does it make sense to bring in organizations with lower capacity? Does the fact that the group is small, enable a sense of ownership?  Does the informality help create a vibrant and complementary dialogue?  Should there be criteria for resource people/consultants? Additional participants from each organization would be beneficial in terms of capacity building, but consistency is imperative. In the original proposal there were 5 core members. All agreed that there is no need to formalize membership at this point but this should be addressed. Membership could be based on particular criteria (i.e. Sites of Consciousness) enhancing the credibility of the group.




Useful Products and Handbook Guidelines


The USIP proposal 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. Ideas included compiling a set of questions around documents and evidence. It would be an exercise in collecting the information that already exists, addressing how to use documents for criminal procedures and what centers need to know in terms of evidentiary standards. Other ideas included  looking at truth commission documents, working on databases – choosing a technician who could set up a database and input the information (FAFG). For DC-CAM, a useful product would be to convert to a more user friendly database and investigate whether  Khmer script can be transferred to it. For HREIB, a useful product would be to address databases not just in terms of coding but information systems as a whole. All agreed that to accomplish these useful products in terms of information systems, each organization’s system needs to be analyzed (see point 5). Other useful products include a comparative assessment of the work of regional organizations (AIHRC).


The manual for collection and exploitation should be part of the more formal product.  It is not essential but could be beneficial if one or more of the useful products could fit into the more formal manual.




Networking and Practical Next Steps


Next steps include creating a reference manual, clearly identifying useful products, setting up a working group focusing on information systems and planning the next meeting .


The group decided to continue the tradition of meeting at the offices of a core member and will therefore meet next at the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade in June 2005, with an option for some members to visit the Gauck Authority afterwards, en route. The proposed agenda is:



Day One


Organizational update review with report (what the organizations have been working on since the March meeting in Cambodia)


Q and A (related to the organizational update)


Independent systems report (based on the work that the committee made up of Hassan Mneimneh, Marko Minic and Sampoeou Ros, DC-CAM’s database manager have accomplished.  Each organization will evaluate its database based on a set of parameters that the committee will send out. A system analysis will take place based on the parameters set. An outside expert (Patrick Ball) will speak to the group about information management systems and how it relates to their particular organization.



Day Two


Input from Information Systems expert (Patrick Ball)




Useful product update (Each organization should also be a short paragraph on how each organization wants to use the $5,000 allotted to them for a useful product)



Additional -  Memorials, Memory Sites, and Documents



Next Steps and Meeting Preparation


In preparation for the meeting, the working group on information systems will prepare a 2-3 page report on the various database systems, and an independent organizational system analysis will take place.


On April 4th, the parameters for evaluating each individual database will be sent out.


On June 4th all system analysis should be completed by each organization.


By June 11th a package with all of this information should be sent to Patrick Ball and the group.



Tuesday, March 1, 2000


DC-CAM will pick you up at the airport and bring you to your hotel

Evening: 7 pm: dinner and welcome (hosted by DC-CAM). Welcoming remarks (Youk Chhang, Louis Bickford), quick introductions; goals and priorities.



Wednesday, March 2, 2000



Pickup from hotel at 8:30

Tour of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, lunch at a restaurant



2:00-3:00 pm

Introduction to DC-CAM (tour of facilities, presentations and meetings with its staff)


3:00-5:00 pm 

Presentations/introductions of other Affinity group members -  organization, goals, documentation and other activities (10-15 min. each)



Moderators and Discussion Leaders: Youk Chhang and Louis Bickford


5:30 pm

car will bring you to your hotel, dinner: free



Thursday, March 3, 2000

7:30 am

Car will pick you up at your hotel

Breakfast at a local restaurant


9:00-10:30 am



Strategic Issues in Collecting Documents: how to connect

documentary materials with the broader goals of accountability, truth-telling, and justice. Prioritizing categories of documents, prioritizing projects (e.g. oral history; primary documents; others), etc.


Formal presentations (25 minutes each) by:


    DC-CAM on general strategies associated with collecting

    documents for prosecutions and reconciliation


    ICTJ on documents and transitional justice


    Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation on the  

    relationship between scientific evidence and long-term peace,

    justice, and reconciliation strategies


    Questions/Answers on specific points arising (15 minutes)


    Moderators and Discussion Leaders: Wynne Cougill and

    Hassan Mneimneh.


10:30-11:00 am



11:00 am-12:30 pm



Moderators and Discussion Leaders: Wynne Cougill and

Hassan Mneimneh.


12:30-2:00 pm

Lunch at DC-CAM


2:00-3:30 pm

Technical issues in collecting, preserving and using documents


Formal presentations (25 minutes each) by


    HLC on challenges with database management in former



    HREIB on collecting documents from multiple sources.


    IMF on massive state documents and collection challenges


    Moderator and Discussion Leaders: Serge Koskinen and

    Fredy Peccerelli


3:30 - 4:00 pm



4:00 - 5:30 pm



Moderator and Discussion Leaders: Rebecca Lichtenfeld and Fredy Peccerelli


5:30 pm

car will bring you to your hotel, dinner: free



Friday, March 4, 2000


8:30 am

Car will pick you up at your hotel


9:00 - 10:30 am

Case-Studies in documentation and planning for the future


Formal presentations (30 minutes each) on:


    Latin America/Southern Cone (Louis Bickford)


    Afghanistan (G. Dastgir Hedayat)


    Discussion (30 minutes)


    Moderator and Discussion Leader: Marko Minic


10:30 - 11:00 am



11:00 am-1: 00 pm 

Meet with Survivor and perhaps Film re: Cambodia


1:00 - 2:30 pm



2:30 – 4:00 pm 

Determining the direction of the Affinity group

    How can this approach be useful to members?

    Each member: 5 minutes on vision, including


Goals of the Affinity group

Its size and future composition

Future activities: overall direction of the development of “useful

materials” (presentations, strategic plans) and handbook/guidelines

Considering technical issues to be addressed in future meetings

Types of documentation activities

Document preservation, archiving and security

The role of films, photographs, radio, and other media

The role of documentation in transitional justice

Public awareness and education

Group networking (e.g., newsletters, shared website, providing articles for other members’ publications)

The provision of direct technical assistance to other members

Next meeting (Berlin?)


Moderator and Discussion Leader:  Patrick Pierce


Dinner hosted by DC-CAM



Saturday, March 5, 2000


Members depart; DC-CAM will pick you up and bring you to the airport



Attachment 2: Participant List


Participant List

Documentation Affinity Group Meeting

March 1 – 15, 2004

Phnom Penh, Cambodia



Louis Bickford

International Center for Transitional Justice

20 Exchange Place Floor 33

 NY, NY 10005

917 438 9324


Youk Chhang

Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-CAM)

P.O. Box 1110, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Tel: (855) 23 211 875

Fax: (855) 23 210 358


Wynne Cougill

Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-CAM)

P.O. Box 1110, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Tel: (855) 23 211 875

Fax: (855) 23 210 358


G. Dastgir Hedayat

Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission

Pul-i-Surkh, Karti 3, Kabul, Afghanistan

Tel: +93 (20) 2500676

Tel: +93 (20) 2500677

Tel: +93 (20) 2500197


Serge Koskinen

Canadian International Development Agency

Tel: 819-953-5649


Rebecca Lichtenfeld

International Center for Transitional Justice

20 Exchange Place Floor 33

NY, NY 10005

Tel: 917 438 9307


Marko Minic

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



[1] International Workshop, 15-17 January 2004, Budapest, Hungary, “DOCUMENTATION, TRUTH, and ACCOUNTABILITY: Creating Conditions for Dealing with the Past in the Former Yugoslavia”, Humanitarian Law Center.