October 18-19, 2013
Charles E. Young Research Library
Conference Room 11360


Chreng Yeng pointing at her brother’s Tuol Sleng photograph. Photo by Kalyanee Mam.  Appears courtesy of the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

This two-day symposium will explore the complex political, ethical, legal, and cultural challenges faced in the creation, preservation, and use of records documenting human rights crises. In bringing together for the first time an international cadre of experts whose work addresses archival issues in a broad range of countries—South Africa, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Bosnia, Croatia, Rwanda, and the United States—the project will develop interdisciplinary and cross-cultural scholarship and provide a framework for archivists, human rights activists, and scholars dealing with records documenting human rights abuse around the world.

Among the most profound and lasting crises faced around the world at the beginning of the twenty-first century are those associated with widespread and systematic human rights abuse, including genocide, mass incarceration, and other crimes against humanity. Such crimes have had deep and lasting consequences for survivors, victims’ families, and society at large. These consequences have been compounded by the failure to come to grips with the past through the careful documentation of the crimes in question, as well as preservation of and access to such documentation. That failure has, in some cases, prevented such crimes from being the subject of meaningful judicial proceedings, thereby leading to a cycle of impunity and often to further state and societal violence. It has also impeded serious efforts to write critical accounts of the events, including careful examination of their causes and dynamics, thereby denying those societies a full understanding of their own histories. In many cases, a state or societal refusal to acknowledge past human rights abuse has had profoundly negative psychological, religious, and personal consequences for the individuals and communities victimized by such violence.

Remedying this problem is partly a matter of creating and deploying systems for documenting human rights crimes through the establishment of archives, both material and digital, that may be used by survivors, the families of victims, researchers, lawyers, and others. These archival efforts have complex political, legal, and ethical dimensions, which have only recently become the focus of serious research and attention.

In light of these complexities, the symposium will feature research that addresses the following questions:

  • Who ‘owns’ human rights records?  Do states possess a sovereign right to control such information, or does that right reside with victims? If it resides with states, what happens if state officials seek to obstruct access or to destroy records they deem damaging? If the right resides with victims, how should victimhood be defined, who should decide, and what are the practical and ethical consequences of such decisions?
  • Should human rights records always be held inside the country in which the violations occurred, or should they sometimes be moved to an offshore location in the name of safety and security? What are the ethical implications of such custody transfers?
  • What cultural protocols and ethical guidelines should be used for archival access systems? Should the identity of victims be revealed in records to ensure accuracy, or should they be concealed to protect privacy? Should perpetrators be named or otherwise identified in those records and, if not, might that not impede meaningful legal or historical research?
  • Should these records be digitized and, if so, how can digitization be conducted in a culturally and ethically sensitive manner? What language should be used to describe such records? Who should make such decisions?
  • How do current political and legal regimes, both domestic and international, influence how painful pasts are remembered or forgotten?

The symposium is free and open to the public. No registration required.

For more information, contact:

Michelle Caswell, PhD
Assistant Professor of Archival Studies
Department of Information Studies
caswell at gseis.ucla.edu


Geoffrey Robinson, PhD
Professor, Department of History
robinson at history.ucla.edu

Co-sponsored by the University of California Pacific Rim Research Program, the Center for Information as Evidence, the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies Indonesian Studies Program, supported by a generous gift from Dr. Robert Lemelson, the African Studies Center, and Charles E. Young Research Library.

This symposium is part of a larger two-year project entitled,
“Human Rights Archives in the Pacific Rim: Political, Legal, and Ethical Challenges.”

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