March’s Resource of the Month - Guiding Principles for Safe Havens for Archives at Risk

For our third month of the year, we have selected the Guiding Principles for Safe Havens for Archives at Risk, which was published in February 2019.  

For a brief summary of this resource, we invite you to read what Kolya Abramsky, ICA’s voluntary Online Resource Centre Editorial Manager, has shared with us about this reference document and the relevancy of this guiding principles in the current times. 

This resource is available in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.  

Resource Summary  

Why we have selected it? 

This resource draws on a wide range of international experience, including from organisations whose institutional origins lie in rescuing or safeguarding archives and records in the run up to, during and after the Second World War. It has been chosen as Resource of the Month in a month in which the danger of global war is more acute than it has been for several decades.  

Historically, and in the present, wars and military conflicts have exposed archives, libraries and cultural artefacts to great physical risks, and many times they have actually been destroyed or significantly damaged. Additionally, climate change means that entire countries are increasingly at risk of flood, fire, storm and other environmental damage, another of the great scourges of archives. 

This is a valuable document, and familiarising oneself with it will mean that people are informed of its recommendations in advance. This is vital, as moments of heightened risk often occur with literally no, or at best, very minimal, advanced warning. This will facilitate ensuring that safeguarding mechanisms are already in place, or can quickly be put in place, if and when the need arises. Finally, it is also important to draw attention to the fact that a new French version of the document exists. 

What would you find in this resource? 

These Principles were developed by an ad-hoc international working group consisting of representatives of international, governmental and non- governmental institutions, as well as individual experts. The working group included representatives of  International Council on Archives (ICA), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), UNESCO, Finnish National Archives, Historical Archive of the National Police of Guatemala, National Centre of Historical Memory of Colombia, National Records of Scotland, Swiss Federal Archives, Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, International Institute for Social History, UMAM Documentation and Research, University of Reading, University of Texas at Austin, Trudy Huskamp Peterson and David Sutton. It was coordinated by Swiss Peace Foundation. The English edition was written in 2019. A revised French edition was released in February of this year. 

In certain circumstances and geographical locations, archives/records may be at risk of destruction or alteration for various reasons, including conscious and unconscious acts, neglect, or storage in inappropriate conditions. Archives/records are also threatened by natural disasters. In exceptional circumstances, the risks faced are so serious, immediate and existential as to require sending the archives/records themselves (or security copies) to a safe haven including, where necessary, in another country. A safe haven, defined as a secure repository provided by an institution for temporary, fiduciary custody of digital or physical archives/records that are in danger in the country of the owner or the owning institution, should be seen as a measure of last resort. Such responses should only to be implemented when it is deemed impossible to store, protect and preserve the information safely within the country of origin, especially when transferring originals. Wherever feasible, it should only be a temporary measure. Such action needs to be guided clearly defined principles, to be implemented by sending and hosting institutions alike. These Principles take into account the Universal Declaration on Archives, the rights of victims and societies and the obligations of States enshrined in international law: namely, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the four Geneva Conventions. 

Discover the resource by clicking here