Report Author: Emma Jane Sunderland, MSc
Affinity Group on
Confronting the Past:
November 13 – 17, 2005
The third meeting
of the Affinity Group on Documents and Confronting the Past took
place in Guatemala, at the Hotel Villa Conference Centre in Antigua
and in Guatemala City at the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Office
from November 13 – 17, 2005.
theme of this meeting was security, not only of documents but of
human rights defenders as well. Regarding
the security of documents, a visit was
made to the police archives in Guatemala City. Attention is given to
the issues highlighted and comments made throughout the visit.
Members of the
Affinity Group and guest speakers gave a wide range of presentations
covering a broad spectrum of subjects. This report summarizes the
main points from each presentation, with an emphasis on the
comments. These exchanges are a fundamental benefit of the meetings
for all members of the Affinity Group.
Another focus of
the meeting was the "useful products" proposals that are part of the
Affinity Group’s grant. This report will recapitulate each
organizational proposal and draw attention to suggestions made.
The Affinity Group
also took the opportunity to visit an exhumation site (Comalapa, one
of the largest forensic investigations in the world) of the
Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation. A brief overview of
this visit is given. The report then presents the preliminary
discussion about the next Affinity Group meeting. The final focus of
this report is on the considerations made about the "final product",
and the conclusions of this meeting.
Day 1: Sunday 13th
of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG) and
Patrick Pierce from the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB)
acted as the facilitators for the third meeting of the Affinity
Group. Welcoming remarks and a general introduction to the following
days were given, both by Fredy and Patrick.
The third meeting
of the Affinity Group was to be held in Suleymaniyah, Kurdistan or
Amman, Jordan. However, the members of the Affinity Group changed
the location to Guatemala to show support and solidarity to Fredy
Peccerelli due to the death threats he has recently received.
Short Country and
Each member of the
Affinity Group was asked to give a short country and organisational
presentation. The aim was to provide updates of activities that have
occurred since the last meeting in Belgrade.
Youk Chhang and
Wynne Cougill: Documentation Center of Cambodia
Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) is currently implementing and
planning various projects to work towards the achievement of
justice, and to keep memory alive. The main objectives of DC-Cam are
to document and disseminate information. Documentation is
categorized into 5 areas: paper documents, physical information,
interviews, photographs and films. Not only is DC-Cam collecting
information from within Cambodia, it is also soliciting information
from various other countries.
of information is done through visual and verbal methods. DC-Cam
does not only want to bring information together in a National
Archive to ensure its safety, but it also wants the information to
be accessible to the public. The security of documents is extremely
important. DC-Cam implements two security measures for all
information that is collected; these are database input and storage
of information in various locations.
DC-Cam’s work at
the moment can be said to focus mainly on justice. This is of course
due to the forthcoming tribunal, which should begin in 2006. DC-Cam
is working on three projects that will help establish a role for the
survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime. The first project is "Living
Documents"; its main aim is to engage people in the whole process of
the tribunal. The second is the development of a "Response Team"
which will comprise staff from DC-Cam and experts from Cambodia and
abroad who will act in answer to issues presented by the tribunal.
The third project is the development of a public information room.
This will provide space and access to documents.
tribunal, slated to last for four years, DC-Cam's work will give
greater emphasis to memory. DC-Cam is currently working on three
projects to meet the longer-term goal of re-establishing memory in
some cases and emphasizing the importance of memory. The first
project is the provision of genocide education. The second is the
encouragement of young Cambodians to undertake scholarships to learn
about their history. The third is working to make DC-Cam a permanent
centre. DC-Cam is planning activities such as the implementation of
courses on genocide, likely to begin in 2006.
projects all have a general theme of education. Because many young
Cambodians do not know the history of their country, memory of the
past is lost. DC-Cam is planning to disseminate information to
educate people and keep memory alive.
Iraq Memory Foundation (IMF)
The insurgency in
Iraq continues. Bloodshed persists with a disturbing number of
civilian deaths since the beginning of the conflict: 25,000 –
30,000, 37% of which are due to Coalition action. Not surprisingly
then, there is a high level of public mistrust in regards to the
effort to reconstitute and reconstruct Iraq.
The Iraq Memory
Foundation (IMF) has four main core areas. The first is the Oral
History Project. This project aims to record testimonies and
testimonials; to collect audio and video records; and to distribute
information in the form of documentaries to bring the issues of
memory, justice and recovery into the public eye. Over the past
months interviews have been conducted, a documentary film has been
produced and the broadcasting of short films has been secured. The
interviews conducted have been led more by the interviewee than the
interviewer. Therefore the interviews provide the human dimension of
the experience of living under an oppressive regime.
The second is the
Documentation Project. This project involves collecting, preserving,
structuring, analyzing, sharing and studying documents. In the last
6 months there have been many positive advances: 11 million pages of
documents have been digitalized. Before the end of this year 8
million of these pages will be accessible in a controlled way.
Documents will have to be requested; the documents will not be
accessed by internet.
The third is the
Artworks and Artifacts project. The tasks of this project focus on
identifying, collecting, preserving and sharing artifacts and
artwork in relation to the Ba‘th regime. Small pieces of artwork
have been purchased.
The fourth area of
IMF’s work is the amalgamation of the three projects, in the form of
a Remembrance Site. Currently the website provides a basic
synthesis; however, the aim is a more comprehensive and interactive
site. (See CD for presentation)
International Center for Transitional
Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) was founded in March 2001.
Over the past four years the Center has grown substantially. Funding
comes mostly from European governments. ICTJ is defined as an
international organisation based in New York. Priorities are defined
based on what is occurring on an international level.
ICTJ’s goal is to
help strengthen organisations world-wide through the work of five
units, including the Networks and Capacity Building Unit. There are
three priority areas of the unit: fellowships and training,
networks, and materials development. ICTJ has developed and
implemented the Cape Town fellowship program and the Santiago
fellowship program. They are also working on creating future
fellowship programs. ICTJ is also involved in the implementation of
courses. For example, in Ghana in December this year, there is an
academics intensive course.
The Networks part
of the program is to focus on the development of working groups
(Affinity Groups). The priority areas are prosecutions, truth
commissions, strengthening the field, gender and transitional
justice. The first two have been implemented. There was also a view
to bring these groups together in a confederation. The Truth
Commission group is interested in meeting with this Affinity Group
to share advice, ideas and experiences on the management of
documents. The creation of training materials, including the
creation of written materials and the creation of a resource file,
is also a key part of the work.
A new component is
that the Documentation Center is now part of the unit. Louis wants
to turn this into a Knowledge Management Center, due in part to the
documentation center previously being an under performer at ICTJ,
but also due to the inspiration he has received from the Affinity
Group meetings. The Center would have both an internal role and an
external role. (See CD for presentation)
Toma and Stana Tadic:
Humanitarian Law Center (HLC)
Law Center (HLC) was founded in 1992. HLC is devoted to data
gathering, data organisation and archiving, with the aim to create
opportunities for the integration of this information into society.
HLC is implementing programs to assist in the post-conflict
transition. The program objectives are the restoration of dignity to
the victims; public debate; institutional and legislative reforms,
and ending impunity in the Balkans.
There are four
pillars to HLC: the Documentation Center, truth telling, justice and
accountability, and transitional justice education and outreach. The
Documentation Center is an important section of HLC. Its work is to
preserve and archive documents on war crimes and human rights
being input into war crimes and human right abuses database. The
main purposes of the database are to store and save documents and to
enable efficient access. Since January of this year, 3,000 documents
have been entered into the database. The majority of these are
written statements. Media documents, reports on missing persons and
trial documents have also been entered.
With the database,
archivists can search for any document in an efficient and effective
manner. Analysis is the most complex component of the Center's work.
The aim of the analysis is to create an incidence report. Currently
300 statements have been analyzed.
Center is also working towards making connections between documented
incidents. Not only is the Center looking at current documentation,
but also data from victims and perpetrators is also occurring. (See
CD for presentation)
Pierce and Khin Maung Shwe:
Education Institute of Burma (HREIB)
The Human Rights
Education Institute of Burma (HREIB) was formed in 2000 to provide
human rights education and capacity building not only to
organisations but also to community leaders.
Currently the work
of HREIB includes the Truth Project. The overall goal of this
project is to establish an accurate historical record of the human
rights violations committed under military rule. HREIB has brought
together 10 different human rights organisations which have formed a
network known as the Human Rights Documentation Coordinating
groups have recently been included to fill a previous gap. The 10
organisations bring different views to the committee: three groups
are issue-based, five groups are ethnic based, and two have a
general human rights mission.
The activities of
HRDCC are separated into three areas: fact-finding, data storage,
and advocacy. Fact-finding involves the provision of field-work
trainings, the development of a documentation manual, and the
collection of information. The collection of information not only
includes conducting interviews but also accessing intelligence files
and collecting information to identify mass grave sites.
involves the standardization of data (coding and database
development). This will begin in 2006, using Martus software, which
provides a good level of security to combat threats of loss due to
water/fire, human error, or raids by Thai authorities. HRDCC has
expanded its categories of human rights violations to 22.
Some advocacy work
has begun; however, more structure is required. Also it is felt that
this is not the most appropriate time for advocacy, therefore it has
been postponed. (See CD for presentation)
interaction between the Affinity Group members after each
presentation. Comments were made on each others’ work and a number
of questions were asked. The main suggestions made were:
to assist DC-Cam in regards to education and training
becoming involved in exchanging information for money or
purchasing goods were addressed. Care needs to be taken not to
be seen as commercializing actions.
suggested that ICTJ could implement longer-term training, e.g.
six months, to create a rich exchange
were made about how HLC deals with the chain of custody of its
documents. The primary source of the information is entered into
the database; therefore, there is some documentation of the
chain of custody. However this does not show that the
information has not been tampered with, and does not give some
form of signed paper document. It was suggested that HLC could
look a little more closely at the chain of custody of the
information that is being collected.
Update/Review of Status
overview of the "Documents, Archives and Confronting the Past
Affinity Group" was presented by Louis Bickford (see annex for
presentation). The overview initiated a very positive exchange of
ideas and discussion about a variety of issues: growth of the group,
who to invite to the following meetings, funding, the final product
and long-term commitment to ensure organisational benefits.
It was suggested
that the group is ready to absorb 2 or 3 more member organizations.
However it should think carefully about its structure. Funding and
fund-raising is an issue that the group could look at. The planning
and organisation of the next meeting have involved ‘reaching out’ to
other possible sources of funding than from within the United
States. Contact has been made with the Open Society Institute, which
has agreed to provide financial support. It would therefore be
beneficial to invite donors and potential sources of funds to the
next meeting(s). It was also suggested to invite lawyers to the next
In regards to the
issue of the ‘final product’, it was suggested that the group could
develop an interactive CD, rather than just a written report.
Interactive CDs provide individuals with the opportunity to gain
general insight into issues, or detailed documentation. Therefore
the CD could have a variety of uses.
Interest was also
given to the development of a joint Affinity Group newsletter.
Although it was not deemed to be essential as a final product, it
was seen as a way of keeping updated and to share the Affinity
Groups expertise. Comments on this were that rather than developing
a newsletter specifically for the Affinity Group, the group could
add a section to one of its member’s existing newsletters. Mike
McClintock from Human Rights First commented that the Affinity Group
obviously has a great deal of expertise that should be shared. So
the Group should not only think in terms of newsletters but also
such vehicles as a website, to provide information on facing and
dealing with such challenges as the security of documents.
It was suggested
that some form of long-term commitment and capacity building should
be set up. This could be in the form of staff exchanges, i.e., staff
members from one organisation in the Affinity Group are sent to
another organisation for a period of time. This could work towards
ensuring that the organisations of the Affinity Group benefit. This
is something that could be seen as the long-term vision of the
It was also
suggested and approved that the term "Archives" should be removed
from the Affinity Group’s title. Therefore the title would become
"The Documents and Confronting the Past Affinity Group". (This
decision is now reflected in the terminology used for this report.)
were given by Fredy Peccerelli, not only in regards to the Affinity
Group coming to Guatemala but also for the support given by the
members of the group. The death threats received in August and
September of this year are not the first death threats that Fredy or
other members of the FAFG have received. There have been three
different phases of threats. The first occurred from February 2002 –
May 2002, the second from March 2003 – November 2003, and third is
the most recent threats.
measures that have been taken include having security personnel at
the FAFG on a 24-hour basis and the provision of personal security.
One problem that does exist in Guatemala is the lack of official
investigation into threats. Information about incidents is
officially documented; however, very little is done with that
Fredy noted that
the fact that the Group came to Guatemala to show solidarity
highlights that it has created an interactive support mechanism.
Suasnavar, Sub-Director (FAFG):
Introduction to Guatemala and Forensic Anthropology
gave an introduction to Guatemala (history, population, and
demographic information). The presentation then focused on the
social movement of the 1970s, giving a brief background on the
internal armed conflict. The presentation also focused on current
post-conflict reparations, with a brief introduction to Guatemala
and forensic anthropology. (See CD for presentation.)
In-depth look at
Director of Archaeology (FAFG):
Archaeology – Recovery of Human Remains
Leonel Paiz gave
an introduction to forensic archaeology. The presentation focused on
the processes involved in initiating and implementing the
exhumations. (See CD for presentation.)
Pérez, Social Anthropology Co-ordinator (FAFG):
Anthropology – Oral History, Antemortem Interviews
Marco Tulio Pérez
gave an introduction to the work of social anthropology. The
presentation focused on the collection of antemortem interviews. He
also provided an explanation of the types of information collected
and the rationale behind the interview structure. (See CD for
Director of Forensic Anthropology (FAFG): An Overview of Forensic
Anthropology in Guatemala
provided an overview of forensic anthropology in Guatemala. The
presentation focused on the two fundamental principles of forensic
anthropology: identification and determining the cause of death.
(See CD for presentation.)
Verbena Project Co-ordinator (FAFG):
for the Disappeared – The Verbena Project
provided an introduction to the Verbena Project, an investigation
that the FAFG is implementing to search for individuals who
disappeared in Guatemala City during the period of 1977 – 1986. (See
CD for presentation.)
Interest was shown
to all aspects of FAFG’s work, but the area which provided common
ground for members of the Affinity Group was social anthropology.
Cultural differences were spoken about – for example, are there
problems with outsiders going into communities to conduct
interviews? In Burma this would be an issue. In Guatemala generally
no such issues arise due to the processes that occur before the FAFG
enters a community and the fact that the families legally request an
exhumation. However this does depend also on the type of testimony
that is being taken.
One problem that
does exist in Guatemala is that in some communities the perpetrators
still live there and have a high profile in the community. Due to
the pressures that these individuals may inflict, problems can occur
with people being afraid to come forward and give testimonies.
Concern was raised
as to what happens after testimonies are given. It was explained
that the social anthropologists are not only there to ask questions;
they also listen. The length of the interview process depends on the
type of testimony that is being taken. In many instances the
interviewee determines the length of time taken for the interview.
However, there are a number of mental health groups that do provide
assistance to families after the exhumation process has taken place.
An observation was
made that it is extremely important that victims are given the
freedom to speak; however, care needs to be taken that the
testimonies are accurate. Testimonies can be influenced by trauma
(both physical and mental) that the person has been through. The
FAFG is in a position to compare testimonies and antemortem
information to the physical evidence. Many organisations do not have
access yet to the physical evidence.
given by the FAFG provided the Affinity Group with a rich overview
of the work of the FAFG. One participant commented that the
presentations on forensic anthropology and forensic archaeology were
equivalent to a university-level crash-course and very helpful as
background. The Affinity Group urged FAFG to compile a work manual
as they have a great deal of expertise which needs to be shared.
Day 2: Monday 14th
Guatemalan Presidential Commission for
Human Rights (COPREDEH)
Mr. Frank Larue is
the Director of the Guatemalan Presidential Commission for Human
Rights. Mr. Larue began by listing the achievements of the present
administration in regards to Guatemala’s peace process:
A full public
recognition of past human rights violations
Re-establishment of the Peace Accords
of the full commitment of Presidents Berger’s government to the
recognition that full acknowledgement of the past violations is
important in the process of transition
re-launching of the National Reparations Plan with a budget of
300 million Quetzales for 10 years
announcement of the reduction of the military by half
reform allowing this to be the first government run entirely by
recognition by the government of the role of human rights
indicated that the measure of democracy in any country is found in
its attitude towards human rights. The challenges for the present
government as seen by COPREDEH are:
the police force
human rights defenders
protection programs for human rights workers, witnesses, etc
the creation of the Commission for the Investigation of
Illegal Groups and Clandestine Security Organizations (CICIACS)
security and justice system in need of reform
reorganisation of the civil defence patrols and their demands
In regards to the
discovery of the National Police Archives, Mr. Larue congratulated
the human rights ombudsman and indicated that COPREDEH has presented
a memorandum to the president with suggestions to protect the
archive. The archives' status is such that the government entity
responsible for their preservation is the General Central American
Archive, under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture. However, he
recognises the weaknesses of the Ministry to preserve and manage
this information; therefore it will be necessary to receive
technical support and funding, perhaps from UNESCO. The State must
be under legal liability to guarantee full public access and the
preservation of the documents.
Human Rights First
provided a framework for human rights defenders to take into
consideration in regards to issues of security. Because
organisations work in different situations, there may be different
factors for each group. The initial step to take is that of a threat
assessment, which refers to looking at the potential sources of
threats. One must also look at how the institution relates to issues
of security in terms of domestic and international factors.
The next stage is
the development of relationships that will facilitate the
organisation’s work and prepare it for emergencies. These can be
both on the national and international levels. It is also extremely
important that organisations take into account everyday safeguards;
it is important that staff members are aware and stay aware of
security issues on a day-to-day basis. On-going training is useful.
need contingency plans, so all staff are aware of what to do if a
threat occurs. It is important to think about the possible options
in terms of making the threat public, not only nationally but
internationally as well. All individuals who are under threat are
given difficult choices to make. Ensuring that a security framework
is in place, both for when a threat occurs and to make sure that
security updates are given is something that all organisations
working in human rights need to do. (See CD for presentation.)
summations were made by both HLC and HREIB in regards to security
issues. The security issues faced by HLC cover a broad range of
issues. HLC is seen in the public eye as a traitor organisation due
to the work that it implements; it is accused of not protecting the
Serbians. Verbal attacks against the organisation (phone calls,
e-mails) occur after important events or interviews. Physical
attacks have also occurred, for example in 2004 during the trial in
Kosovo. In regards to security measures, HLC’s concerns lie
primarily in the safety of the people who are seeking help. There is
no security at the office. On weekends, two people are present in
the office, but this is to provide security for the data and
For HREIB the
safety issue for Burmese personnel is a difficult and sometimes
frightening situation because of lack of legal status in Thailand.
The safety of documents is also of concern. HREIB’s office is in
Thailand. The authorities do conduct raids on offices in Thailand
and remove data and documents. Recently five organisations lost
data. The way in which this issue is combated is through copying
data and sending them to other countries.
expressed interest in what they could do to assist each other in
terms of security issues. For example the letter that they wrote in
regards to the death threats, did this really make any difference?
This government did and does take into account letters received in
relation to security issues. However this is not really the problem.
In Guatemala there are weaknesses in the justice system; for
example, there is a pressing need to reform the police force.
It was suggested
that the group could send another letter but this time with a copy
to all departments, to circulate the content of the letter. Also it
was suggested that because the Affinity Group was together, should
take this opportunity to physically show their solidarity and
concern for the situation (meeting: vice presidents office).
comment made, in relation to the civil defence patrols and
compensation, was that these groups are being paid money by the
State. This money is being paid due to work they are doing today.
These groups are being contracted to plant trees (green brigades);
therefore they are being paid for the work they are doing now and
not for past atrocities.
Association for the Study and
Promotion of Security in a Democracy (SEDEM)
SEDEM is involved
in the archiving of documents (from the internal armed conflict) in
an effort to secure information and to allow public access. The
types of documents SEDEM accesses are extremely important. They have
information that links certain individuals with the violations that
occurred during the internal armed conflict, and information that
highlights the corruption that occurred in the army. They have
digitilised copies of files from the army headquarters. Many digital
pictures were taken in 2004.
of information are vital resources. There is always the constant
threat that official documents may be destroyed. However, SEDEM
tries to reduce this risk by leaving a legal trail. Copies of
documents are placed in various locations (Ombudsman’s Office,
SEDEM’s office and a safe house outside Guatemala City).
Because SEDEM is
committed to securing the safety of documents, an essential action
is keeping a copy outside the city. This ensures that the
information could become public at any time, in turn protecting
people as well. SEDEM has relationships with organisations in Canada
and the United States to help ensure that the information is
Center for Regional Investigations of
CIRMA was founded
in 1978; its main functions were those of a social science library
and research centre. In 1996 CIRMA started the process of "rescuing
material", because in general Guatemala is a country that does not
look after its documents. They have mainly paper materials such as
newspaper articles and personal papers.
CIRMA has a large
collection of photographic images (1 million). These are very
important for public education. In 1998 CIRMA held its first
photographic exhibit. Exhibits are extremely valuable in the process
of reconstructing history, and photographs communicate directly with
It is critical to
safeguard all sources of information; it is also important that the
State take responsibility for this. A National Archive would be a
way in which the State could take responsibility. There is a need to
protect the history of Guatemala and return many documents to the
The discussion was
mainly about the importance of preserving documents (through
micro-film or digitalisation) and bringing documents back in to
their home countries. It was suggested that the initial process lies
in providing education and training to people so that they
understand the importance of the documents and preserving them.
It was made clear
that this is not necessarily the case. In Guatemala the initial
problem is not about lack of training: it is about the lack of
commitment of the State to the preservation of its documents.
However there is a link between knowledge about the importance of
preserving documents and the commitment to preserve.
It was made clear
that a main aim in the process of preservation should be to make
many copies of the documents and keep them in different locations.
This highlights the importance of digitalising documents.
Aspects of Human Rights Documentation
Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman’s
The focus of this
presentation was on the recent finding of the police archives that
occurred on 13th July this year and the work that is
being done to protect the archives. Mr. Meoño’s talk was given in
preparation for the visit to the National Police Archives (see
section: National Police Archives). There are four fundamental
aspects to the work that is being done by the Ombudsman’s Office:
document conservation, document preservation, document
systemization/analysis, and the contribution to historical
Mutual Support Group (GAM)
GAM was formed in
1984 by relatives of victims of forced disappearances. The work of
GAM has focused mainly on maintaining the topic of the disappeared
in the public arena. More recently GAM began promoting exhumations
in several parts of the country, including the now closed Playa
Grande military base in Ixcan.
include the "Martirologio"; this is a list of victims of forced
disappearances in Guatemala, published on their web-page (www.gam.org.gt).
This involved the digitalisation of over 3000 interviews of
relatives of the disappeared. A further significant GAM intervention
was the introduction of a law project which would guarantee the
safe-keeping of archives of legal and historical importance. This
project is based on the concept of Habeas Data which is
supported by Article 30 of the National Constitution. This project
began in 1993 and mainly consists of lobbying Congress in order to
push through this new law. However, to date this law has not been
With the discovery
of the National Police Archives this law project gains particular
importance and it is within this framework that GAM recommended the
archives are used to know the truth and fight impunity
society the guarantor of the safety of the archives
access to information and historical truth is regarded as a
States assume the obligation of protecting and using archives in
the search for justice
Nations and other international entities create conventions and
agreements for the protection of archives.
urged all the organisations present to make a firm commitment to
push through the creation of a Habeas Data convention at the
LVIII United Nations Assembly. (See CD for presentation.)
National Coordination of Guatemalan
Conavigua is an
organisation of widows of the victims of the internal armed
conflict. The work of Conavigua promotes and defends the rights of
women, the rights of young people and the rights of indigenous
villages to defend human rights and work against militarisation.
The mission of
Conavigua is to bring together the Indigenous population providing
them with orientation, training and legal services. At the same time
it aims to promote demilitarisation and political and urban
Their vision is to
be a strong organisation, with leadership and organisational skills
to defend the human rights of all, especially those of the Maya
population, and to contribute to the re-construction of the country.
The role of
Conavigua is to contribute to the implementation of the Peace
Accords and the recommendations of the Historical Clarification
Commission (CEH, 1998) to dignify the victims of the internal armed
conflict and work towards the reconstruction of civil society. Part
of this work is carried out by initiating the process of exhumations
and inhumations. This work began in 1992, before the signing of the
Peace Accords (1996).
concern is that the advances made to implement the Peace Accords and
the recommendations of the CEH, especially in the area of identity
and rights of indigenous villages, have been minimal (See CD for
Day 3: Tuesday
15th November 2005
Mass Graves, Government Files and Testimonies
DC-Cam and Marijana Toma,
This session was
organized to provide the Affinity Group an opportunity to look at
the connections among mass graves, government files and testimonies.
are important links between documents and mass graves. It is
imperative that all information is examined, whether a government
file or testimony. The sources provide information that is
complementary. Government files have been an important tool in
locating mass graves. In Cambodia many of the 19,042 mass graves
located were found based on governmental files. However these files
do not identify the victims, therefore testimonies play a
been highlighted between past and present testimonies. For example,
information collected at the time of disappearance can differ from
the information collected today. This is due to the difficult
conditions in the past under which information was collected. This
phenomenon points to a potential need to collect testimonial
evidence again; all testimonial content is vital.
Not only is the
content of testimonies important but also the content of other forms
of documentation. Some challenges include: lack of content,
misinterpretation of evidence, or hidden evidence. Examples of this
can be seen in the documentation of cause of death. In the
exhumations that were carried out in Belgrade of 836 Albanians, not
one cause of death was established, even though most of the remains
presented evidence of gunshot wounds that would have caused that
individual to die.
issue is the importance of documenting the documentation process. It
was highlighted that problems can occur in countries where foreign
teams arrive to work. The process of documentation occurs, but the
team takes the information away. It is critical that the documents
stay in the country of origin. This is not only for work, reference
and legal reasons, but also to assist and communicate with the
affected families and communities.
In regards to
exhumations it is important that countries develop their own
forensic team to implement the work. For example in Cambodia it is
imperative that a Cambodian team is trained before the exhumations
begin. Because countries differ in culture and structure, forensic
work is not only about recovering remains; it is also about allowing
people to speak, to share their memories. The FAFG highly recommends
that countries should only allow experts in from other places if the
process of training a local team will occur. This would also reduce
the risk of documents being taken away.
Mass graves and
documentation is a very sensitive issue. All members of the Affinity
Group have invaluable experiences and knowledge to share amongst
each other. The group needs to find a way to make this knowledge
available on a wider scale.
Guidelines and "Useful Products" Proposals
provided the group with the opportunity to present and review each
others’ "useful products" proposals. Each group has access to a
grant of $5,000 to produce or use the money in a productive way,
related to the work of the Affinity Group.
Review of Grant
Film Documentary Project (DC-Cam)
documentary project plans to videotape 100 interviews over a period
of one year to produce an unedited film. From these the best 20
interviews will be edited and then distributed. The film project has
two main objectives, primarily to be used as a tool for education
and secondarily to be used by the United Nations teams as a way to
find individuals to give evidence.
Population Losses Project and
Transferring (coping) OSI files to Belgrade Project (HLC)
introduced the project "Population losses 1991-1995 and 1998-2001 in
the former Yugoslavia". The estimates for the number of dead in the
conflict in the Balkans range from 25,000 to 280,000. This reveals a
vast divergence both in terms of the total numbers of dead and the
proportion of deaths suffered by each ethnic group. There are many
disputes over the number of dead and there is not a comprehensive
record of population losses.
The project’s aims
are to collect all the information and compile a record about all
persons killed in the former Yugoslavia in the periods between
1991-1995 and 1998-2001. In order to promote the project and
encourage individuals to come forward, HLC plans to implement media
campaigns (press conferences, radio broadcasts and billboards).
The second project
presented by HLC is transferring part of the OSI archive pertaining
to the armed conflicts in the former Yugoslavia to Belgrade. HLC has
obtained a vast wealth of primary documentation relating to the
armed conflicts in the 1990s, but there are gaps. One way to fill
these gaps would be to obtain copies of OSI’s archive held in
Budapest. OSI has given permission for HLC to do this.
Pierce: Software Martus Project and Exchange Project
two project ideas. The first is that HREIB needs to transfer the
information they have into a database. Therefore they are planning
to send one member of their staff to a training course for the
development of a database to grow out of the data that have been
input using Martus software. That individual would then provide
technical support for the management of the database.
proposal is to develop an exchange of personnel between the Affinity
Bickford: Management of Knowledge and Documentation Project
that ICTJ need to address three issues. The first is the internal
dimension of managing knowledge at ICTJ. The second issue is the
external dimension of field needs and data. The third concerns the
Documentation Center, which could be described as more of a library
than a knowledge management hub.
The project would
consist of three areas. One area would be software; another area is
the need to implement an assessment with the production of a report.
The third area is to contract someone (Trudy Peterson) to look at
the documentation, with a view to provide suggestions on what ICTJ
can do to contribute more.
Mneimneh: Documentation and Memorialization Initiatives in the New
Iraq: A Survey and Directory
of the documentation and memorialisation initiative is to produce a
narrative survey and thematic overview of the initiatives that have
emerged in Iraq since 2003. A directory of these initiatives will
also be produced. Both the survey and directory will be published in
print version and posted on-line. The directory will also be
available as a CD-ROM.
Guatemalan Anthropology Forensic Foundation (FAFG)
Fredy proposed a
number of project ideas. The first topic was training for the
Guatemalan team. The second was a focus on training local teams to
implement the work. This would allow Guatemalans to share their
experiences in other countries through presentations, exhibitions of
photographs, etc., in addition to having an actual forensics
training program. The third topic was the development of a FAFG
newsletter and the fourth was an Affinity Group bulletin.
The main issue of
the discussion was that organisations in the Affinity Group could
look at "pooling" grants together to work on one project. This would
be very beneficial, as the costs of each project are likely to
exceed $5,000. Therefore putting the grants together for mutual
benefits would assist in covering the full cost of one project.
Interest was shown
by two Affinity Group members (Fredy and Hassan) in the training
program that HREIB is planning to organize software and database
development. The project would include not only training but
simultaneous database development as well.
Day 4: Wednesday
16th November 2005
Guatemala City the Affinity Group took the opportunity to visit the
National Police Archives. The Archives have been in their current
location for 10 or 12 years (since 1995 or 1997). Before this the
archive was not held in a specific unit. The archives were found
after residents of the surrounding area officially complained that
explosives were being stored in the building. The Ombudsman’s Office
investigated the complaints.
On the 13th
of July this year, not only were the explosives found, but the
archives as well. Between 50 and 70 million files were found in
bundles in 37 rooms. The physical conditions that the documents were
found in were poor. Many of the rooms remain damp and some rooms
recently flooded. However, certain measures are being implemented to
protect the documents in these very difficult conditions. Risks of
fire were high due to electrical faults. No security measures were
in place, although personnel were working the archives.
It is interesting
to note that at the time of Arzú administration (the government in
power when the Peace Accords were signed), the Truth Commission
requested access to the archives, but they were told that no such
personnel of the National Police present and working in the archive
24 hours a day to ensure that the Ombudsman’s Office is protecting
the archives. Through the efforts of the team, which consists of 11
individuals (9 women and 2 men), the archive is in the process of
being preserved as a Guatemalan National Heritage.
When the documents
were found they were not in any order. All types of documents are in
the archive from all sections of the National Police. The work that
is done here is the organisation of the documents. They are
organized by year, month, day, type, and issuing agent. All
documentation is kept.
It is important to
highlight that the archive is an active unit; it not only holds past
documentation but present documentation for ongoing investigations.
Consultations of the documents do take place, however it is not
"open access". A formal letter is required with specific details of
which documents are required.
The legal chain of
custody can be said to never be broken as the archives never leave
the custody of the police. However, currently there is no process of
signing for the custody of documents. There is a log book, which
registers the work done, thus allowing the documents to be tracked.
No procedure manual exists in writing; however, a logical order is
used by all staff.
area of the work is the restoration of documents that were abandoned
as rubbish. These documents are not part of the National Police
Archive, but after the process of restoration the Ombudsman’s Office
would like this information to become part of the archive.
categories of documents have been found. Applications and paperwork
for Guatemalan identification card (cédula), applications for
driving license, arrest records for all types of crime, files on
political crimes (for example the arresting of people accused of
being communists) and fingerprint documentation. In addition, the
archive holds personnel documents, daily activity reports and
All the five types
of documents were mixed together in the rubbish. Some documents were
well preserved, although some were not (the top layer). The process
of restoration and preservation of these documents will take time.
The Affinity Group
had the opportunity to visit the offices of the FAFG. This allowed
the group to take a closer look at the work of the FAFG, with a
focus on the work implemented in the forensic anthropology
laboratory and to interact with a number of staff members.
and suggestions about the National Police Archives
Office, in conjunction with the police, has set up a very functional
arrangement, with little funds. The archive is active which makes it
very different from many other archives.
issue that was highlighted is that due to the sorting of information
before digitisation. There could be a loss of context. A suggestion
was not to organize until digitisation occurs. The sorting work that
is being done now could be done automatically through the
digitalization process. This could be by date or by police
department. This would lead to statistical analysis, which is not
currently being done. This would act as an important complementary
measure, the content of the documents would be used and the artifact
would be saved.
was to make improvements in regards to the chain of custody. At the
moment a record is kept in the form of a logbook. This is not
specific enough in terms of chain of evidence. If documentation were
to be used in legal proceedings there would be the need to present
documentation of the chain of custody.
There was some
discussion about communication issues and relationships between the
Ombudsman’s Office and the Presidential Office. However these are
more politically-based issues, and the Affinity Group will make
recommendations purely on a technical level. Policy recommendations
were also briefly highlighted, such as recommending that copies of
documents be made.
It is important
that if recommendations are made that some form of follow-up occurs
to monitor the work. One way that this could happen is to have a
section in the newsletter, which was previously discussed,
specifically looking at the archives.
A letter of thanks
will be sent along with Affinity Group recommendations.
Next Meeting: Iraq
The next Affinity
Group meeting is to be held in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq and hosted
by the Iraq Memory Foundation. The structure of the meeting has been
separated into 6 days:
Day 1 and 2:
Day 3 and 4:
Affinity Group with Iraqi organisations
Day 5 and 6:
Iraqi organisations alone / Affinity Group observes and/or meets
The two main
themes that IMF suggested for the next meeting are oral history and
memorialisation with a visit to the Halabaj memorial site.
One proposal for
the day on oral history was to invite Mary Marshall Clarke. The
purpose would be to help focus on the methodologies of oral history
on a theoretical level and also to apply these to our different
Structure (Days 1
Day 1, Theme:
Lecture from guest speaker
Presentations of the oral history initiatives
that exist in the Affinity Group
Transcription of oral history with input from
guest speaker about the benefits of oral history
Include visit to Halabaj memorial site (extra
It could also be
beneficial to invite Dr. Clyde Snow as in 1992 he was in Kurdistan.
Therefore he could give some valuable input not only to the Affinity
Group but to the Iraqi groups as well. It would be more beneficial
for him to present on the 3rd or 4th day.
Structure (Days 3
Day 3 and 4,
Theme: Workshop: Affinity Group and Iraqi organisations
Presentation from guest speaker
Presentations from Iraqi organisations
Structure (Days 5
Days 5 and 6,
Theme: Workshop: Iraqi organisations (Affinity Group observers)
Possible formation of a association
The last 2 days
(or part of them) could also be used for the Affinity Group to have
brainstorming sessions. It is important also that the meeting
includes a focus on IMF, because it is the host. Depending on the
security situation at the time the Affinity Group could visit
The exact dates
for the next meeting are yet to be decided on due to the commitments
of the Affinity Group members to their organisations. The dates put
forward were late January/early February or March.
issue is that the group needs to look at the justification of the
meetings, what are the benefits and making these concrete. A
possible option is to take all the topics discussed at the meetings
and make these into chapters in the handbook that the Affinity Group
Thursday 17th November 2005
exhumation site in Comalapa, Chimaltenango
The Affinity Group
had the opportunity to visit one of the FAFG exhumation sites in
Comalapa, Chimaltenango. In the 1980s the site was a military base,
where individuals from Comalapa and the surrounding communities were
taken by the military and murdered. The FAFG began work at the site
in 2003 and the work is still continuing. Over 200 individuals have
been found in burials pits, which included individual and collective
burials. (See CD for further information). The visit to the site
allowed the group to gain deeper insight into the work of the FAFG
with a focus on the archaeological process.
Whilst at the site
the group was given an explanation of the processes implemented to
find and exhume human remains. The group also observed and were
involved in a ceremony conducted at the site by members of the
community and Conavigua. The visit to the exhumation site was a
powerful and positive experience for all members of the Affinity
scheduled for this session was the wrap-up meeting. The group
discussed briefly the issue of the ‘final product’. It was suggested
that an alternative option to a written document could be the
development of an interactive CD. The CD could include information
about each of the Affinity Group’s organisations, case studies,
articles and any other appropriate information. A further suggestion
was made to complement the CD with a written document.
The meeting was
brief due to a scheduled meeting for the Affinity Group at the Vice
Presidents Office, to show not only their solidarity for Fredy due
to the recent death threats on a more official level, but also to
pressure for some form of official investigation into the threats.
Meeting with Vice
At the end of Day
Five, Affinity Group members met with a representative of the
Guatemalan Vice President's office to express our concern about the
death threats against Fredy and FAFG. The representative was
receptive to hearing our concerns and emphasized his own and the
vice president's commitment to human rights. While the executive
branch supports efforts to respect and defend human rights in
Guatemala, the legislative and judicial branches are weak in this
area. He advised that future international advocacy would be more
effective if it targeted legislators.
Friday 18th November 2005
made for possible new groups to invite to future meetings.
Geographically, the group is missing Africa, but could also consider
Central Asia as well as some specific places like Chechnya. HREIB
would like to add a group that is clearly pre-transition. Specific
suggestions were made on which groups/countries to invite.
Chad is a
possibility, however concerns, were raised in areas of
the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission came to the
meeting in Cambodia, and contact could be re-established
The group would
benefit from the addition of female participants and/or groups
looking specifically at the documentation of human rights violations
against women. There was one suggestion to include the International
Council on Archives, however it was thought that one non-country
specific organisation (ICTJ) is enough, but they could be invited as
resource persons if needed. It was decided that 2-3 groups will be
invited to the next meeting.
Feedback and Suggestions
It was decided
that the presentations from the meetings should be used in the
handbook, to provide a resource for the members of the Affinity
Group and other organisations. When meeting with local groups we
should use simultaneous translation, as this worked very well in
The Affinity Group
felt they could have used the input from Mike McClintock in a more
productive manner. A suggestion made was that each member of the
Affinity Group should prepare background information about their
organisation for people who will be invited to future meetings.
Another suggestion made was that the group should receive reading
materials about the host country and local organisations before each
The members of the
Affinity Group expressed a variety of personal positive impacts and
impressions gained from this meeting. Each member highlighted
aspects that they had found most striking about the meeting, and
from the responses all the issues covered in this meeting were
mentioned (archives, forensics, documentation and testimonial
connections, interaction with local people, security, site visits
and memory preservation, group dynamics, common relationships, the
affinity of the group).
The third meeting
of the Affinity Group on Documents and Confronting the Past resulted
in a constructive exchange of information, ideas, suggestions and
meeting the Affinity Group made suggestions on what they can do as
an organisation to assist their members and others in the fight for
justice and preservation of memory:
of the formation of security alliances in order to place
pressure upon governments to take action when security of
documents or personnel is breached
The need to
disseminate the expertise of the Affinity Group, whether this be
through a CD or handbook, to provide guidance to each other and
others in regards to defending human rights
of capacity building within the group through exchanges
of developing home country teams to deal with issues of
It can be
concluded that the security and preservation of documents is
essential to all countries not only in regards to achieving justice
but also to preserve memory. This should be the responsibility of
the State. However in many instances due to the conflicts of
interests in many countries this responsibility lays in the hands of
human rights defenders. This implies that the security of these
individuals holds equal importance.
The Affinity Group
is a dynamic collection of organisations that are implementing
projects from different aspects of human rights. The organisations
do share similar goals but they are viewed from different angles.
The gathering of
these organisations encourages and assists in the development of
support alliances, which are a necessary component in the work of
human rights defenders.
ADDENDUM: Text of
memo sent by Affinity Group to the Guatemalan Government re: the
National Police Archives
Having visited the
location of the National Police Archives on Wednesday, November 16,
2005, as representatives of organizations members of the
Affinity Group on
Documentation and Confronting the Past we note the following:
We express our
gratitude for the opportunity provided to us to visit the
location, and our appreciation of the courtesy extended to us by
personnel from both the National Police Archives and from the
Office of the Ombudsman, noting in the process the visibly
exemplary cooperation between the two agencies.
the tremendous efforts being exerted towards the conservation,
preservation, restoration, and classification of the Archives,
both in the application of the state-of-the-art methods and in
the effective use of resources.
we note the considerable challenge faced by the processing team
in proceeding towards materializing the potential of the
structured portion of the collection as a resource for
Guatemala’s recent past, while maintaining the facility as a
living or active archive in continual use in the context of the
mandated functions of the National Police.
We also note
the complex nature of the processing efforts in having to
address the particular challenges associated with the
unstructured portion of the collection recovered on the site.
In the spirit of
providing our hosts with constructive feedback, and based on our
varied collective experience in the handling and management of
documentary collections, we urge the leaders of the effort at the
National Police Archives to consider the following:
visits to the site to small groups, and providing visitors
before the visit with instructions on the visit protocol, in
particular towards the strict adherence to not manipulating the
documents or altering their context. The natural tendency of any
visitor is towards more exposure to the wealth of information
beyond the surface of the document stacks. However, inadvertent
manipulation is potentially damaging and should be avoided.
current sorting procedures for the structured portion of the
collection towards avoiding the loss of context that may result
from the physical re-arranging of documents. An evaluation of
the history and character of the documents affected is naturally
needed to determine the costs versus benefits of discarding
context in favor of the current sorting.
master batch-based inventory catalog for the collection, which
recognizes a hierarchy of: collection > components > batches >
documents; where components are identified by type (e.g. forms,
cards, bundled correspondence)—hence the need for a typology
specific to the collection— and where batches are the physically
manageable "units" of documents. The master inventory, in which
a correlation between original classification identifiers and
location identifiers is established, will thus serve as a
fundamental guide to the collection through its inclusion of
batch date and type.
financial visibility of a digitization program for the
collection, and implementing such program prior to any other
action on the collection. Properly designed and executed,
digitization will address the issue of the loss of context, and
will provide venues of exploration of the collection through a
variety of document exploitation approaches, from Optical
Character Recognition to form identification and determination
of graphic patterns.
to the unstructured portion of the collection and in particular
the "Henry" form documents, investigating the possibility that
these documents were microfilmed prior to being discarded, and
therefore attempting at locating the possibly resulting
microfilms. The restoration and preservation of the retrieved
originals, as artifacts, would still need to continue. However,
the content of these forms would be extracted from the presumed
Last, but not
least, addressing the urgent preservation needs of the
collection, currently subject to destructive conditions in some
storage areas, through an invitation for participation in these
efforts to the international archivists community.