Simon Chu:The Power of Archives in Human Rights Advocacy Simon Chu

“Perhaps you all have read about the following story that happened in Guatemala. During the 36-year civil war that ended in 1996, thousands and thousands of people had been executed, and made to disappear by the national secret police. For years, human rights advocates had tried to nail down those people who are responsible for all these atrocities, but they couldn’t do anything because of the absence of concrete evidence. And in 2005, by accident, a huge amount of police records and archives testifying to those crimes were discovered in a run-down factory that had actually been used as a storeroom for ammunition for the secret police. And because of this discovery, they were able to make some arrests and even had some perpetrators brought to court, some of whom actually went to jail.

This is the power of archives. Without archives, much of human rights work cannot happen. When we are talking about archives, we mean those records that were created by an organization, or even by an individual, as a result of official business. The important thing is that records created in such a way have to be kept and man- aged professionally, as evidence of the business activities concerned. As such, records are “evidence” of the whole business process; they are the basis for accountability.

Archivists usually make a distinction between “records” and “archives.” Records refer to those which are still in active use by an organization. But when records have completed their administrative function, and if they have been appraised by an archivist to possess historical value, they will then be sent to the organization’s archives for permanent retention. So, there are “records” and there are “archives.”

In Hong Kong, there is no archives law! ….”
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