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).


3 Responses

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  1. New & of Note « WITNESS Media Archive said, on December 7, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    […] archives of the International Criminal Tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda is available; see The Documentalist for a good summary, courtesy of James Simon. The fate of the archives has been a matter of […]

  2. I need a nap | nerd hugs said, on December 7, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    […] enough, this afternoon an article on the fate of the ICTY and ICTR archives showed up in my Google Reader. Now that the tribunals are ending in both Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, […]

  3. New & of Note » WITNESS Blog said, on February 8, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    […] archives of the International Criminal Tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda is available; see The Documentalist for a good summary, courtesy of James Simon. The fate of the archives has been a matter of […]

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