Over on Feministe, contributor Anne has an interesting post on the fate of the archives documenting the proceedings and findings of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). These archives include case files, transcripts, confidential records and audio/visual materials that document the brutal history of the Rwandan genocide.
According to Anne (who attended a conference on the subject), there is pressure to move the physical archives out of Rwanda and to The Hague. This is a common archival dilemma: what are the ethics of moving the records of a community (or in this case, nation) into another community for ‘safekeeping’? This is enough of a problem in the local cultural communities of Los Angeles, where moving community records to a major institution (say, UCLA) can set up cultural and physical barriers to access. In the case of the ICTR archive, the problem is greatly magnified by factors such as travel distance, travel cost and visa requirements. Though The Hague may be the safest place to keep the records, moving the records to Europe would present huge barriers to access for Rwandans, to whom these records belong.
Anne mentions in passing, however, a potential way to address to ongoing questions of responsibility for documentary records. Apparently, digital copies have been made of most, if not all, of these records. A digital copy of the record allows physical as well as virtual access to the records. In this case (and in an increasing number of cases, as more of our records are ‘born’ digital), Rwanda could continue to house the physical records, keeping the evidence of history and its victims where its citizens can have access. But these records are also available virtually for access around the world. Virtual access can facilitate ongoing research by the international community, and an (curated, preserved) virtual record can counter any government attempt to ‘expunge’ the physical records. (In light of my last post, experience shows that this is possible everywhere.) In a world of digital records, our notions of ‘ownership’ and ‘safekeeping’ of the record should change to allow for negotiated, flexible responsibilities. In the case of the ICTR records, the physical evidence can remain in Rwanada, where Rwandans can have the first and best access to these records of this difficult past.