An International Seminar on Human Rights Archives: Agents of Accountability and Justice was held in Gwangju City, Republic of Korea, in September 2017. The international seminar was jointly organised by Gwangju City, the Asia Culture Center, and the Korean National Commission for UNESCO, in cooperation with MOWCAP and the Asia Culture Institute.
The purpose of the seminar was to acknowledge human rights archives as powerful agents for achieving justice, by supporting reconciliation and recovery in societies. The seminar was also an opportunity to enhance cooperation and networking among human rights archivists, associations, and human rights defenders in participating countries.
Gwangju is the location of the May 18 Democratization Movement. The documents “Human Rights Documentary Heritage 1980 Archives for the May 18th Democratic Uprising Against Military Regime, in Gwangju, Republic of Korea” were inscribed on the UNESCO International Memory of the World register in 2011.
The seminar was opened by the Mayor of Gwangju City (Mr Jang-hyeon Yoon) with welcoming remarks from the President of the Asia Culture Centre (Mr Sun-jyu Bang) and a congratulatory speech from the Secretary-General of the Korean National Commission for UNESCO (Mr Kwangho Kim).
A powerful keynote speech was given by Mr Frank La Rue the Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information at UNESCO. Mr La Rue’s speech was presented to the audience on video and emphasized the importance of saving stories from the past because archives are an essential element of the identity of a nation. He pointed out that victims have the right to truth and that the truth has a liberating impact even if there is no formal associated justice process. Watch Frank La Rue’s speech here.
International speakers included Trudy Huskamp Peterson (ICA Human Rights Working Group) who spoke about Rights and Responsibilites: The Role of the Archivist. She used examples to explain the working document that has been developed by the International Council of Archives titled “Basic Principles on the Role of Archivists and Records Manager in Support of Human Rights”. Ms Peterson gave a second presentation which covered the risks associated with climate change and the concept of safe havens.
Other international speakers included Ms Dianne Macaskill ( International Advisory Committee, MOWCAP vice-chairperson) who used examples of archives inscribed on the Memory of the World New Zealand register for addressing historic wrongs. Nisay Hang from Cambodia spoke about the documents that are in the custody of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh Cambodia and the part played by the archives in finding justice for the Cambodian people. These documents were inscribed on the international Memory of the World register in 2009.
Mr Jorge Rolon Luna (Director General, Office of Truth and Justice of the Ombudsman’s Office, Paraguay) spoke about the importance of archives and used the Paraguayan example of the “Archives of Terror”. These archives are the secret police files of the Alfredo Stroessner regime and were discovered in December 1992.
Ms Roslyn Russell (past chair of the International Advisory Committee, member of the International Register-Subcommittee) demonstrated the development of human rights through the UNESCO Memory of the World register. Examples used were the Magna Carta (2009), Original Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, 1789, 1791(2003), 1869 -1935 Judicial Files Concerning the Birth of a Right: the Effective Remedy as a Contribution of the Mexican Writ of Amparo to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (2015) and the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers (2015).
Presentations from Republic of Korea experts were The Role of May 18 Archive for Protection and Enhancement of Human Rights (Woo-Kwon Chang, Professor, Department of Library and Information Science, Chonnam National University); Historical Redress, Human Rights Documents, Human Rights Archives (Kun-Hong Kwak, Professor, Hannam University). Professor Byoung-ro Min spoke on Incorporating the Spirit of the May 18 Democratic Movement in the Constitution.
The moderators for the sessions were Ms Misako Ito (CI Advisor, UNESCO Bangkok Office), Mr Gyonggu Shin (Director, Gwangju International Centre), Mr Ray Edmondson (Special Advisor, Memory of the World Committee for Asia and the Pacific) and Mr Gan-chae Na (Director, Gwangju Research Institute).