Issued by the Section on Archives and Human Rights, International Council on Archives
The International Council on Archives [ICA] is an international association created in 1948 to promote the development of archives, with advisory status to UNESCO in the field of archives and documentary heritage. Its Section on Archives and Human Rights [SAHR] assesses the role of archives as evidence for human rights violations and monitors the loss and potential loss of significant archives in this context.
In preparing this statement, SAHR has taken into account the following documents:
The statement issued by GAM, Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo, on the Criminalización hacia Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo which records proceedings against Nineth Montenegro (founding member of GAM), Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez and Mario Polanco (director of GAM) on 15 June 2022. GAM, established in 1984, is a civil society organisation in Guatemala dedicated to helping the families of those persons who disappeared during the armed conflict and the dictatorships of 1960-1996. As part of its work, GAM has developed a major archive on the conflict, used by scholars, researchers, lawyers, and families. GAM’s archives are the last-remaining and the most definitive records of the forced disappearance of thousands of individual Guatemalans.
The Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Guatemala, submitted to the UN Human Rights Council, 27 February-31 March 2023(1), particularly Section V (B) of the appendix to this report, on Judicial independence, and section VI (A) on the Right to promote and protect human rights. The following comment is of particular interest: ‘As OHCHR has noted in previous reports, the inadequate functioning of national protection mechanisms increases the risk of attacks against human rights defenders. In addition, it has been documented that human rights defenders have stopped filing reports with the Public Prosecution Service due to lack of trust and fear of reprisals’ [paragraph 82].
The press release(2) issued on 25 November 2022 by Margaret Satterthwaite, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, who has ‘urged Guatemalan authorities to take immediate action to ensure the safety of former prosecutor Virginia Laparra Rivas and former judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez, and to protect the independence of the country’s judges and prosecutors. “The criminalisation of Ms. Laparra and threats against Judge Gálvez are an attack on the rule of law,” said Satterthwaite…
Recent independent accounts made by archive professionals of proceedings against the personnel of GAM and of significant risks to the archival collections created and held by GAM.
In the spirit of the Basic Principles on the Role of Archivists and Records Managers in support of Human Rights(3), the Section on Archives and Human Rights of the International Council on Archives therefore:
expresses its profound concern about this situation and calls upon the relevant authorities to take action accordingly
notes the risks to the GAM archive which would follow the closure of the organisation
deplores the plight of the archivists and personnel associated with GAM and of the judges and prosecutors and other human rights defenders implicated in this issue.
(1) A/HRC/52/23 Human Rights Council Fifty-second session 27 February–31 March 2023 Agenda item 2 Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General, Situation of human rights in Guatemala