The Documentalist

Update on the Fate of ICTY and ICTR Archives

Posted in Human Rights news by Sarah on November 30, 2009

James Simon, the director of International Resources for the Center for Research Libraries, has been following developments concerning the disposition of the archives of the International Criminal Tribunals for the Yugoslavia and Rwanda.  The post below was authored by James and summarizes official actions that have been taken or that are being considered vis-a-vis these important archives.


Update on the Disposition of ICTY and ICTR Archives

The final disposition of the archives of the ICTY and ICTR continues to be discussed among the UN’s Working Group of International Tribunals. The UN Security Council and the Secretary-General tied into the discussions of the “residual mechanisms” of the courts after closure of the Tribunals in Yugoslavia and Rwanda (these mechanisms include trials of fugitives and contempt cases, witness protection, review of judgments, referrals of cases to national jurisdictions, assistance to national jurisdictions, supervision of sentence enforcement and maintenance of archives).

A recommendation report of the Advisory Committee on Archives (ACA) was circulated among the Working Group on the International Tribunals in Mid-November and submitted to the Security Council in December 2008. The report itself was not made public. However, based on public documents and reports [e.g., S/2008/849 (31 December 2008)], it is clear that the committee and the Working Group both support the preservation of the archives – they have declared that the archives of the Tribunals are the property of the United Nations and therefore must be kept under its control. It is important to note that “Upon the closure of the Tribunals, in the absence of any decision by the Security Council to the contrary, the archives, as United Nations documents, would become the responsibility of and be transferred to the Archives and Records Management Section at the United Nations Headquarters” (ibid).

It is not yet resolved where the archives of the Tribunals should be located and whether the residual mechanism or mechanisms should be co-located with the respective archives. (An additional factor that will affect the decision is whether there should be one residual mechanism or two, and the related question of location.) In the ACA report, the Committee strongly recommended separate locations for the archives of each Tribunal, with a location on the continent of each affected country. It advised that serious consideration be given to the co-location of the archives with the institution that would handle the residual functions. In the Committee’s view, for as long as the archives contain a substantial number of confidential documents, they should not be transferred to Rwanda and the countries of the former Yugoslavia. The Committee suggested, however, that when there is no longer a substantial number of confidential documents in each of the archives, the United Nations should consider transferring their physical custody to the respective countries.

The outcome of the December Security Council discussion [S/PRST/2008/47 (19 December 2008)] was that the Security Council requested the Secretary-General “present a report within 90 days on the administrative and budgetary aspects of the options for possible locations for the Tribunals’ archives and the seat of the residual mechanism, including the availability of suitable premises for the conduct of judicial proceedings by the residual mechanism, with particular emphasis on locations where the United Nations has an existing presence.”

That report was issued in May 2009 [S/2009/258, (21 May 2009)]. This report is tremendously valuable, in that it a) states the case for the importance of the archives, b) provides a detailed description of the types of records generated by the Tribunals, and c) values and users of the Tribunal records. It also sets out recommendations of the activities that should be undertaken before the closure of the tribunals (identification of records to be permanently retained, declassifying as much as possible, transferring electronic records to the main archival database).

The report itself does not recommend a path for the residual mechanisms, but lays a case for various scenarios and resultant cost implications. These scenarios range from the minimal level of functions (trial of the remaining fugitives and maintenance of the archives) to the maximal level (multiple trials, protection of witnesses, etc). It also projects a scenario in which the archives are maintained separately from any other residual functions.

Another important section (VII) treats the question of the location of the archives and the infrastructure requirements for the archives.

The Secretary-General’s report addresses request of the Security Council as far as possible at this stage, but stresses that the Security Council and General Assembly will need to make some key decisions before a fuller answer can be provided. It is not clear whether the Working Group will reach agreement on any decisions before the end of the year, especially since the conclusion of Tribunal activities continues to be extended (through 2010 and possibly as late as 2013).


Global Voices: Translating & Aggregating International Blogs

Posted in Human Rights news by Sarah on November 24, 2009

Though not dedicated to human rights per se, the Global Voices site is a good resource for rich digital media presentations of issues often related to human rights.  Global Voices consists of a community of more than 200 volunteer bloggers from around the world who work to translate international blogs in 15 languages; an important goal is to increase the circulation of citizen journalism from areas of the world where individual and dissenting voices are repressed.  As stated on the “about” page concerning the organization’s goals:

At a time when international English-language media ignores many things that are important to large numbers of the world’s citizens, Global Voices aims to redress some of the inequities in media attention by leveraging the power of citizens’ media.

We wish to:

  • Call attention to the most interesting conversations and perspectives emerging from citizens’ media around the world by linking to text, photos, podcasts, video and other forms of grassroots citizens’ media.
  • Facilitate the emergence of new citizens’ voices through training, online tutorials, and publicizing the ways in which open-source and free tools can be used safely by people around the world to express themselves.
  • Advocate for freedom of expression around the world and protect the rights of citizen journalists to report on events and opinions without fear of censorship or persecution.

These goals call to mind the importance of documentation in human rights work in terms article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees  both the freedom of expression and the right to information:

Article 19.

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

GLIFOS-Media: Rich Media Archiving

Posted in Archiving Solutions, Reviews, technology by Sarah on November 19, 2009

Rich-media preservation

As posted on November 4, 2009, The University of Texas Libraries Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI) has been working with the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Rwanda on a pilot digital archiving program that takes advantage of a rich media platform called GLIFOS media.  GLIFOS provides a social media tool kit that was originally created to meet the needs of a distance learning program at the Universidad de Francisco Marroqín in Guatemala, but it  proves to also be promising as a tool for human rights archiving (see the article “Non-custodial archiving: U Texas and Kigali Memorial Center” at WITNESS Media Archive).  As a rich-media wiki,  GLIFOS is designed to integrate digital video, audio, text, and image documents through a process that “automates the production, cataloguing, digital preservation, access, and delivery of rich-media over diverse data transport platforms and presentation devices.”    GLIFOS media accomplishes this by presenting related documents–for example, video of a lecture, a transcript of the same, and associated PowerPoint slides–in a synchronized fashion such that when a user highlights a particular segment of a transcript, for example,  the program locates and plays the corresponding segment of the video and also locates the related Power Point slide. This ability to seamlessly synchronize and present related digital media translates well to the human rights context by allowing for the cataloging and integration of video material, documents containing testimonies, photographs, and transcripts.  Materials that all relate to a single event can be pulled together and presented in a holistic fashion, which is useful for activism and scholarship.

GML: The Key to Preservation

In order to support the presentation of this integrated information for users, GLIFOS needed to ensure that materials can be read and accessed across existing digital presentation platforms (e.g., web browsers, DVDs, CD) and readers (e.g., PCs or PDAs), as well as on platforms yet-to-be-created (see “XML Saves the Day,” an article written by the developers in 2005 for more detail).  This was accomplished by indexing and annotating all digital documents stored in the GLIFOS repository  with an XML-based language called the “GLIFOS Markup Language,” or GML.  The claim is that “GML is technology, platform, and format independent” (Ibid), thus allowing for preservation of established relationships between materials.  Basically, the GML language allows users of GLIFOS to create a metafile that determines the relationships between related multi-media records held in a repository in such a way that the relationships between files are maintained across a variety of media reading platforms.  This is possible because GML is a significantly stripped-down  markup language that requires little or no translation from one reader to the next, thus content is preserved as technology changes and evolves.

GLIFOS and Human Rights Documentation

Given that GLIFOS is designed to catalog, index, and synchronize a wide variety of digital media types, it proves to be a promising tool for aiding in digital archiving. The GLIFOS GML protocol allows the program to access and present cataloged materials through the meta-relationships it establishes for records; and because GML is a streamlined markup language that allows multiple platforms to present and read digital documents, these relationships have been successfully  maintained when migrated to entirely new data reading and presentation platforms.  As long as the repository of documents that GLIFOS accesses remains intact, both in terms of the materials stored there and their associated metadata, and as long as new media platforms continue to read older video and image media files, use of the GLIFOS Markup Language aids in preservation by providing a means of cataloging and indexing documents using GML, as well as preserving the synchronized links and interactions that GLIFOS establishes between related documents over time.

[1] See


Amateur Footage to Documentary: A Death in Tehran

Posted in Uncategorized by Sarah on November 18, 2009

One of the themes followed in this blog is the role of amateur photography and videography in contemporary human rights documentation efforts.  As illustrated by organizations like WITNESS and the Chiapas Media Project, digital video cameras in citizens’ hands are becoming powerful tools for calling our attention to human rights violations and mobilizing action.  A recent example of this was the June 2009 Presidential Election Protests in Tehran, Iran; for several weeks following an election result that many felt was fraudulent, Irani citizens protested to demand a revote and were violently retaliated against by their own government.  During this time, protesters used digital cameras and cell phones to record events they witnessed and then transmitted the images they created via a variety of social media platforms on the World Wide Web.  One of the most galvanizing and appalling events witnessed this  way was the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, who was shot by paramilitary forces authorized by the government to disperse the protests with force.  Bystanders with cell phones recorded Miss Agha-Soltan’s death and within hours, the recordings had gone viral on the web.  As Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times observes:

Neda Agha-Soltan died one of history’s most-watched deaths. It was in the midst of the fury over the Iranian presidential election of June 12, and for a moment it seemed as if the young woman’s final moments — shot on a Tehran street on June 20 as a protest swirled around her, dying at the scene while a cellphone camera recorded it all in images soon flashed around the world — would be the start of something earthshaking.

However, paradoxically, nothing earthshaking occurred.   Instead of fueling further protests, events quickly died down shortly after Neda’s death.  It is hard to say exactly why this happened–it could have been fear of more deaths, or it could have been that the Iranian government somehow convinced people that deaths like Neda’s were caused by Western agents acting to upset Iranian peace.  Whatever the case, PBS’s Frontline has created and aired a documentary titled “A Death in Tehran” about Neda’s death that incorporates a significant amount of amateur footage that captured  not just of Neda’s death, but also her participation in the protests over several days.  The use of this footage in a well-documented investigative film demonstrates the potential of amateur digital documentation as a resource for informed coverage of human rights events.  The entire documentary is available on the Frontline Website.  Further commentary about the documentary and the role of amateur footage in creating it can be found in today’s edition of The Lede Blog, as well as in a review written on November 16, 2009, which appeared in the New York Times.

UT-Austin Library Web Clipper: Follow Up Questions

Posted in Archiving Solutions, technology by Sarah on November 10, 2009


Image courtesy of

A couple of weeks ago, Kevin Wood (University of Texas Libraries at Austin) and I posted an article with the title “Archiving Web Pages: UT-Austin Library’s Web Clipper,” where we described an innovative solution to capturing and preserving fragile human rights material from the World Wide Web.  The post generated a number of interesting questions, so we have decided to post this follow up in a Q&A style to provide additional information on how the Web Clipper works.  Special thanks again to Kevin for taking the time to craft answers to these questions.  Please do not hesitate to contact me with more questions if you have them.  We will be writing updates on the Web Clipper progress as Kevin and his team continue to develop it and will do our best to answer your questions here as we do so.  –Sarah

The UT Libraries’ Web Clipper

As part of a Bridgeway Funded initiative, the University of Texas Libraries at Austin is engaged in a project developing a means for harvesting and preserving fragile or endangered Web materials related to human rights violations and genocide.  Having tried a number of available technologies for harvesting Web material and finding them to be unsatisfactory for their needs, a team of developers created an in-house Web Clipper program designed to meet the libraries’ specific needs for preserving Web material.  A full description of the Web Clipper is available here.  What follows is a series of responses to questions generated from the first post about the Web Clipper.

Q1: When the clipper clips, does it save the file in the original formats (e.g., html, with all the associated files)?

A: Yes, to the extent possible.  There are challenges with javascript and streaming media that we are still working on with the new clipper.  In those cases we rely on attachments (see the answer to question 2 below).  Before designing the new Web Clipper, We’d gone through a few different clipping strategies and were not pleased with any.  Zotero does a good job of capturing what you see, but makes modifications to the files, thus complicating preservation.  Placing Firefox behind a proxy captures a lot, but misses content that relies on user interactions if those interactions don’t occur.  Heritrix does the best job, but we’ve seen it struggle with more than 10% of the pages that have been clipped.

Q2: Are there limitations on what the Web Clipper can and cannot capture?

A: There are limitations to what our new Web Clipper can automatically capture, but it has the ability to accept attachments.  Extensions like DownloadHelper (a free Firefox extension for downloading and converting videos from many sites with minimum effort) can turn a streaming video into a file that can then be attached to a clipping.  The final format of the attachment depends on the tool used to create it, but generally matches the original.

Q3: Are the graduate research assistants who are testing the Clipper capturing multiple instances of the same site over time, or are these one-off?

A: Each capture is a one-off.  The Web Clipper allows users to dive deeper into sites and capture individual pages rather than whole sites (sometimes a site that wouldn’t normally carry relevant human rights information has an article or blog post that we want to preserve).  Where one might use tools such as Archive-It, WAS, WAX or Web Curator Tool to capture an entire blog, one uses the Web Clipper to capture and describe a single blog post or article, for example.

Q4: When the clipped files are submitted to The University of Texas Libraries’ DSpace (the local repository), is the submission  process simple? That is, is there an automated process created?

A: Yes, this process is automated.  We use the SWORD (Simple Web-service Offering Repository Deposit) to facilitate interface between the Web Clipper and DSpace for ingestion.  A script runs periodically, identifies new clippings and pushes them into the repository.

Q5: Regarding the use of a local Wayback machine for preserving the clipped materials: Are you capturing clipped material via Wayback in addition to DSpace, or is this all the same process with just one instance of the preserved site? If the latter, how does one set up a local Wayback version?

A: There is only one instance of the preserved site.  The repository contains a link out to the Wayback machine, not the preserved clipping itself.  The link allows a user to open the original record in the DSpace repository.  Although we could store ARC files (a lossless data compression and archiving format) in the repository, they wouldn’t be of much use to our users as such, so we’re only exposing the content through a local Wayback instance.  We use the open source version of the Wayback Machine.

Q6: Is access to the clipped documents restricted, or are they open to everyone via UT Libraries’ digital repository? Are there any privacy or confidentiality issues associated with the clipped material?

A: The clippings will be open to everyone, but while we’re in development they’re restricted.  We haven’t seen any privacy or confidentiality issues with our clipped material.  All of the clippings come from the public web.

Archiveros sin Fronteras: Barcelona Group Archives Fragile Human Rights Documentation

Posted in Uncategorized by Sarah on November 6, 2009

Archiveros sin FronterasArchiveros sin Fronteras (or Archivists Without Boarders, in English) is a non-profit organization operating out of Barcelona, Spain.  The goal of the organization is to preserve endangered human rights documentation throughout the Spanish speaking world.  As they state on their web page:

Los valores de identidad, memoria, derecho a la información y defensa de los derechos humanos son elementos consubstanciales en nuestro trabajo cotidiano y constituyen valores universales que inspiran la manera de actuar de nuestra entidad.

The principles of identity, memory, right to information and defence of human rights are inherent elements in our daily work and constitute universal values that inspire the way of acting of our organization.

The organization has a number of projects currently underway ( project descriptions are not currently available in English) in Fez, Morocco and  Catluña, Spain, as well as a salvage operation in Latin America (Recuperación de Archivos y Documentos en el Cono Sur y de Dictaduras y Gobiernos represivos en Iberoamèrica (2005-2007)) to preserve documentation of repressive regimes.  One of their larger on-going projects in Latin America is helping to organize the Guatemala’s National Police Archive.

The site offers project descriptions and updates, an archive of project reports, and announcements for various international events in human rights archiving.  There are also links to news items concerning human rights archiving efforts in the Spanish-speaking world.  Some of these resources are translated to English, but the majority are only in Spanish.

UT Human Rights Archiving and GLIFOS

Posted in Archiving Solutions, Reports, technology by Sarah on November 4, 2009

T-Kay Sangwand, the human rights archivist at he University of Texas Libraries in Austin has contributed a guest post to the WITNESS Media Archive blog to close out Grace Lile’s series for Archives Month last month.  The post discusses a non-custodial archiving arrangement that the University of Texas Libraries has established with the Kigali Memorial Centre (KMC) in Rwanda.  Funded by the Bridgeway Foundation and the University of Texas Libraries, the project–called the Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI)–consists of a collaborative effort to digitize, preserve, and catalogue a variety of documentation from the Rwandan genocide.  In order to accomplish this, HRDI project team members traveled to Rwanda this summer to help KMC set up an archiving system that utilizes the GLIFOS media toolkit–a rich-media storage program and reader developed in Guatemala:

In order to facilitate access to KMC materials, the HRDI has been working with the Guatemala-based company, Glifos, that provides powerful software that allows for cataloging, indexing, and syncing audiovisual materials with transcripts and other materials for enhanced access. Using Glifos, the HRDI built a prototype for a digital archive for KMC and in July 2008, three members of the HRDI project team (Christian Kelleher, T-Kay Sangwand, and Amy Hamilton) traveled to Rwanda to demo the prototype.

A unique piece of this project is the supportive role that the University of Texas Libraries is playing as KMC establishes and maintains their archive.  Specifically, the library is serving as a repository of the digitized materials created at Kigali, while Kigali maintains the original collection of physical paper documents, film footage, or audio recordings.  GLIFOS will allow users in Rwanda to directly access the digital materials held in the Texas repository.  See the entire article at the WITNESS Media Archive for the complete discussion of this project.

As illustrated by the HRDI project at Texas, the GLIFOS program proves to be a good means of cataloguing, indexing, and preserving rich-media content (that is, video, text, audio, and even materials in multiple languages) in a way that allows for ease of archiving and ease of access and use.  A future post on this blog will discuss the technical specifications of GLIFOS in terms of its utility for digital archiving.