Archiving Memory after Mass Atrocities

Ciorciari, John D.
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The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice

Archiving and disseminating records of past atrocities is crucial in societies emerging from periods of conflict or repressive rule. It advances victims’ “right to the truth” and promotes broader social goals of accountability and historical truth. This working paper explores legal and policy issues that arise when collections of documents pertaining to past atrocities are discovered in societies emerging from civil war, state collapse, or dire misrule. It argues for a foundational approach to documentation focused on sound archival methodology and the application of a transparent set of norms as fairly as possible to build a credible base for accountability and accurate historical memory. The paper considers the difficult questions of who should lead such efforts, how the interests of preservation and dissemination can best be advanced, and how to deal with concerns pertaining to privacy and national security. To develop the argument for a foundational approach, the paper draws on examples from a number of cases, including Cambodia, Guatemala, Iraq, Paraguay, Serbia, and others.