Report Guatemala




Report Author: Emma Jane Sunderland, MSc

Affinity Group on Documents and

Confronting the Past: Third Meeting

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.


The main 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 November 2005




Fredy Peccerelli 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.


Session 1


Short Country and Organisational Presentations


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


The Documentation 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.


The dissemination 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.


After the 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.


These three 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.


Hassan Mneimneh: 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)


Louis Bickford: International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ)


The International 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)


Marijana Toma and Stana Tadic: Humanitarian Law Center (HLC)


The Humanitarian 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 abuses.


Information is 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.


The Documentation 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)


Patrick Pierce and Khin Maung Shwe: Human Rights 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 Committee (HRDCC).


Three women's 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.


Data storage 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)


Affinity Group Comments


There was 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:

  • ICTJ offered to assist DC-Cam in regards to education and training

  • Issues about becoming involved in exchanging information for money or purchasing goods were addressed. Care needs to be taken not to be seen as commercializing actions.

  • It was suggested that ICTJ could implement longer-term training, e.g. six months, to create a rich exchange

  • Suggestions 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.


    Session 2


    Project Update/Review of Status


    The project 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 meeting(s).


    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 Affinity Group.


    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.)


    Session 3


    Guatemala: Context and Forensics


    Initial thanks 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.


    The security 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 information.


    Fredy noted that the fact that the Group came to Guatemala to show solidarity highlights that it has created an interactive support mechanism.


    José Suasnavar, Sub-Director (FAFG): An Introduction to Guatemala and Forensic Anthropology


    José Suasnavar 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 the FAFG


    Leonel Paiz, Director of Archaeology (FAFG): Forensic 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.)


    Marco Tulio Pérez, Social Anthropology Co-ordinator (FAFG): Social 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 presentation.)


    Alan Robinson, Director of Forensic Anthropology (FAFG): An Overview of Forensic Anthropology in Guatemala


    Alan Robinson 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.)


    Myrna Díaz, Verbena Project Co-ordinator (FAFG): Searching for the Disappeared – The Verbena Project

    Myrna Díaz 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.


    The presentations 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 November 2005


    Session 1


    Defending Human Rights Defenders


    Frank Larue: 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

  • Reaffirmation of the full commitment of Presidents Berger’s government to the Peace Accords

  • The recognition that full acknowledgement of the past violations is important in the process of transition

  • The re-launching of the National Reparations Plan with a budget of 300 million Quetzales for 10 years

  • The announcement of the reduction of the military by half

  • Government reform allowing this to be the first government run entirely by civilians

  • Public recognition by the government of the role of human rights defenders.

  • Mr. Larue 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:

  • Drug trafficking

  • Corruption in the police force

  • Threats to human rights defenders

  • Weaknesses in protection programs for human rights workers, witnesses, etc

  • Organised crime

  • Opposition to the creation of the Commission for the Investigation of
    Illegal Groups and Clandestine Security Organizations (CICIACS)

  • A weak security and justice system in need of reform

  • The reorganisation of the civil defence patrols and their demands for compensation.

  • 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.


    Mike McClintock: Human Rights First


    Mike McClintock 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.


    Organisations also 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.)


    Affinity Group Discussion


    Interesting 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 documents.


    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.


    The group 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).


    An interesting 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.


    Session 2


    Security of Documents


    Iduvina Hernández: 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.


    Official sources 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 safeguarded.


    Tani Adams: Center for Regional Investigations of Mesoamerica (CIRMA)


    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 society.


    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 country.




    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.


    Session 3


    The Long-term Aspects of Human Rights Documentation


    Gustavo Meoño: Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH)

    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 conservation.


    Mario Polanco: 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.


    Other projects include the "Martirologio"; this is a list of victims of forced disappearances in Guatemala, published on their web-page ( 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 created.


    With the discovery of the National Police Archives this law project gains particular importance and it is within this framework that GAM recommended the following:

  • Guarantee that archives are used to know the truth and fight impunity

  • Make civil society the guarantor of the safety of the archives

  • Guarantee that access to information and historical truth is regarded as a human right

  • Guarantee that States assume the obligation of protecting and using archives in the search for justice

  • The United Nations and other international entities create conventions and agreements for the protection of archives.

  • Furthermore GAM 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.)


    Patricia Yoj: National Coordination of Guatemalan Widows (CONAVIGUA)


    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 participation.


    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).


    Conavigua’s main 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 presentation.)


    Day 3: Tuesday 15th November 2005


    Session 1


    Connections among Mass Graves, Government Files and Testimonies

    Youk Chhang, DC-Cam and Marijana Toma, HLC


    This session was organized to provide the Affinity Group an opportunity to look at the connections among mass graves, government files and testimonies.


    Certainly there 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 fundamental role.


    Discrepancies have 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.


    Another important 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.


    Session 2


    Handbook Guidelines and "Useful Products" Proposals


    This session 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 Proposals


    Wynne Cougill: Film Documentary Project (DC-Cam)


    The film 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.


    Marijana Toma: Population Losses Project and Transferring (coping) OSI files to Belgrade Project (HLC)

    Marijana first 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.


    Patrick Pierce: Software Martus Project and Exchange Project (HREIB)


    Patrick introduced 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.


    The second proposal is to develop an exchange of personnel between the Affinity Group organisations.


    Louis Bickford: Management of Knowledge and Documentation Project (ICTJ)


    Louis highlighted 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.


    Hassan Mneimneh: Documentation and Memorialization Initiatives in the New Iraq: A Survey and Directory (IMF)


    The purpose 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.

    Fredy Peccerelli: 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


    Session 1


    National Police Archives


    Whilst in 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 documents existed.


    There are 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.


    Another important 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.


    Five different 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 administrative documents.


    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.


    Session 2


    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.


    Session 3


    Initial comments and suggestions about the National Police Archives


    The Ombudsman’s 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.


    One important 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.


    Another suggestion 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.


    Session 4


    Next Meeting: Iraq Meeting


    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: Affinity Group

  • Day 3 and 4: Affinity Group with Iraqi organisations

  • Day 5 and 6: Iraqi organisations alone / Affinity Group observes and/or meets separately

  • 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 projects.


    Structure (Days 1 and 2):

  • Day 1, Theme: Oral history

  • Lecture from guest speaker

  • Discussion

  • Presentations of the oral history initiatives that exist in the Affinity Group

  • Discussion

  • Transcription of oral history with input from guest speaker about the benefits of oral history and beyond

  • Day 2, Theme: Memoralisation

  • Case studies

  • Include visit to Halabaj memorial site (extra day)


    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 and 4)

  • Day 3 and 4, Theme: Workshop: Affinity Group and Iraqi organisations

  • Presentation from guest speaker

  • Presentations from Iraqi organisations


    Structure (Days 5 and 6)

  • Days 5 and 6, Theme: Workshop: Iraqi organisations (Affinity Group observers)

  • Workshops

  • 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 Baghdad.


    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.


    Another important 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 will produce.


    Day 5: Thursday 17th November 2005


    Session 1


    Visit to 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 Group.


    Session 2


    Introductory Closing Meeting


    The topic 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 President's Office


    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.


    Day 6: Friday 18th November 2005


    Session 1


    Closing Meeting


    Suggestions were 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.

    • Colombia: would fit the pre-transition category (Colombian Commission of Jurists)

    • Chad is a possibility, however concerns, were raised in areas of communication

    • Chechnya

    • Russia: memorial group

    • Afghanistan: the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission came to the meeting in Cambodia, and contact could be re-established

    • Australian group in New South Wales working with indigenous groups, however concerns were raised whether this group would be a suitable to become part of the Affinity Group

    • South Africa: South African History Archive has all the information from the Truth Commission

    • Ghana: CDD (Committee for Development and Democracy); has some information, but it is more focused on democracy programs than human rights

    • Zimbabwe: would fit the pre-transition category and due to possible functional problems within groups in Zimbabwe, being involved in the Affinity Group could help

    • Rwanda

    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.


    Affinity Group 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 Guatemala.


    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 meeting.


    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 interactions.


    Throughout the 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:

  • The importance 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

  • The importance of capacity building within the group through exchanges

  • The importance of developing home country teams to deal with issues of exhumations

  • 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.

  • We recognize 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.

  • In particular, 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:

  • Restricting 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.

  • Reviewing the 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.

  • Establishing a 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.

  • Assessing the 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.

  • With regards 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 microfilm version.

  • 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.