“Access and Security” for Tribunal Archives on Rwanda and ex-Yugoslavia

“Access and Security” for Tribunal Archives on Rwanda and ex-Yugoslavia©ICTR
Exhibit P5-19 in the trial of Rwandan ex-mayor Laurent Semanza. Photo taken by an investigator at the church in Musha where many Tutsis were massacred in April 1994
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The  UN's Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) has just published its access policy for the records it holds, some of which are classified. These records include all the archives of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which closed at the end of 2015,  and many of the archives of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which is due to close at the end of 2017.

This Access Policy “constitutes the foundation of the organization’s information security and access regime,” the MICT says in a news release on its website. Records that continue to be managed and are still in use by the ICTY are not governed by the Access Policy, it adds.

In the policy’s preamble, the Mechanism stresses the need to guarantee access to the documents whilst at the same time ensuring the security of classified information. Requests for access to specific documents can thus be rejected, according to the policy, but appeal is possible.

Under UN Security Council Resolution 1966 (2010) and Article 27 of its Statute, the Mechanism is responsible for the management, including preservation and access, of the ICTR, ICTY, and MICT archives.

"Property of the United Nations"

With the completion of the ICTR’s mandate at the end of 2015 and the scheduled completion of the ICTY mandate at the end of 2017, “thousands of linear metres of physical records and petabytes of digital records generated as a result of their work” are being transferred to the custody of the Mechanism. Teams of international archive specialists are currently at work at the MICT’s two branches in Arusha, Tanzania and in The Hague, Netherlands.

“These collections are the property of the United Nations and as such, are deemed inviolable,” the MICT stresses. The issue of where the ICTR archives should be housed is a point of longstanding discord between the United Nations and Rwanda, which has argued in vain that it is the natural depositary of these documents.

At the ICTR’s official closing ceremony on December 1, 2015, Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busingye said his country will never give up this fight. “The archives must be conserved in Rwanda, which is a member of the United Nations family,” he said. “It is our painful past.”

Sensitive documents

Some archive documents of the two Tribunals are protected by special measures to protect the security or privacy of protected witnesses who testified under a pseudonym. This, says the MICT, is why they need to be managed in accordance with all the necessary precautions. There are also many audio-visual files gathered during the course of the Tribunals’ work, which poses special technical difficulties with regard to conservation and access to material which is fragile and irreplaceable.   

Rich content

The archives record the work of the two Tribunals and also contain a large amount of information on the history of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia during the conflicts of the 1990s.
The abundant collection of documents brings together the jurisprudence of the Tribunals, testimonies of victims and perpetrators, and therefore constitutes one of the most complete collections of eyewitness testimonies on some of the most serious violations of international humanitarian law committed since the Second World War.

The archives also cover subjects such as the detention of accused persons, witness protection, the serving of sentences and relations between the Tribunals and States, police forces, international and non-governmental organizations and the general public. They are an essential component of the Tribunals’ legacy.

Wide interest likely

Given its historic importance, the archive collection is likely to interest a wide range of users, including: victims and their relatives, witnesses and people living in the regions concerned; national jurisdictions especially in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia; representatives of UN Member States, civil society and people engaged in the fight for justice around the world; academics, historians, students and researchers; film-makers and writers.

The Mechanism Archives and Records Section (MARS) has offices in Arusha, where the ICTR records are stored, and in The Hague for the archives of the ICTY.

It operates under the administrative supervision of the MICT Registrar, who has deputies in Arusha and The Hague.