Saturday, December 10, 2011

Kate Doyle on Access to Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive (AHPN)

Kate Doyle at the National Security Archive has a great post "Where Archives and Human Rights Connect: Millions of pages of Guatemalan Police Archive released digitally" on Unredacted.  Over 10 million scanned images from the National Police Historical Archive of Guatemala were recently made  available for online research as a result of a collaborative project of the Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies, the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, and the Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas with the Archivo Historico de la Policia Nacional de Guatamala.

Doyle states, "There is no parallel for on-line, unrestricted access to an archive of this magnitude anywhere in the world" and notes, "Less than one week after its first unveiling in the United States, UT Austin reports that there have been over 17,000 page-views by individuals from 47 countries."  She then addresses the issue of access and privacy protection that is highly relevant to many captured document collections:
The decision on the part of the Guatemalan Police Archive to provide unrestricted digital access to records that contain countless references to private individuals – many of them entrapped by a security system designed to identify suspected subversives and kidnap or kill them solely on the basis of those suspicions – is highly controversial within the archiving world. Even in countries with no formal privacy or archive laws such as Guatemala, standard archival practice strives to protect the privacy of the victims of repression – whether by withholding entire records or selectively deleting individual names and other identifying information.
* * * * 
This was an approach ultimately rejected by the Guatemalan Police Archive. The process by which the archive decided to open the records related to political repression without restriction involved a long internal debate within the archive’s management and staff, as well as a panel discussion held in 2009 inviting public comment. It is also described in the archive’s own report, published in June 2011.
Citing several legal instruments, including Guatemala’s Constitution and an article in the country’s freedom of information law that prohibits the denial of records relating to gross human rights violations, the report, From Silence to Memory: Revelations from the Historical Archive of the National Police, found: “The armed internal conflict and repressive practices characterized a recent historic period in Guatemala that affected and continues to affect society enormously. In the face of this reality, the conclusion is inevitable that the political events that took place between 1960 and 1996 form part of the collective history of the Nation. This should be understood in its fullest dimension, so that no one has the right to hide information that comes from the actions by the State and its officials.”  (See pp. 37-39)
For additional background on the Guatemalan archives see also Doyle's, "Recovery of the Guatemalan Police Archives - An Update" (2008) and her piece "The Atrocity Files:Deciphering the archives of Guatemala's dirty war" in Harper's in 2007.