Conference in Tunis to mark Human Rights Day

On the occasion of Human Rights Day, UNESCO and the National Archives of Tunisia are organizing a conference on Archives and the Right to Know today, 10 December 2012 in Tunis.

Almost two years after 14 January 2011, Tunisia, like other countries in the world that went through a period of degradation and dictatorship, is now in a phase of transition towards democracy. There is an ongoing process of rebuilding the country and establishing a climate of peace and reconciliation. The adaptation of a new access to information law in May 2011 has been a crucial step in this regard. Discussions on transitional justice have started; conserving and having access to archives have become major political issues aiming at determining responsibilities, guaranteeing reparations, rebuilding history and perpetuating collective memory.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the experience of former socialist countries has paved the way for such phenomenon: the fall of these regimes unveiled the existence of massive archives pertaining to intelligence services and to the repressive bureaucracy. These archives had to be treated and be made accessible, given the fact that they contained proof of violations perpetrated against citizens’ rights. The 180- kilometer long files and folders held by STASI, the secret police of the German Democratic Republic, represent an emblematic example.

For the last 20 years, UNESCO has been working in collaboration with the International Council of Archives (ICA) for the recognition of the role of archives in the defense of human rights. The Organization has supported several studies and initiatives on the theme of archives and human rights. in October 2011, UNESCO adopted the Universal Declaration on Archives, which emphasizes the role of archives for administrative transparency, democratic responsibility and the preservation of collective social memory. At the same time, UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme, through its International Register, contributes to the preservation and protection of archival collections that document tragic events, but also the history of resistance and fight for democracy, freedom and human rights.

In this context, and on the occasion of Human Rights Day, UNESCO and the Tunisian National Archives are organizing a conference to reflect on the role of archives and archivists in this phase of transition, and to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the new access to information law. The conference will bring together Tunisian archivists, along with representatives of government and public institutions, lawyers, historians, human rights defenders and expert archivists from South Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Spain. They will share experiences on archival management and agree on a road map to bridge the gap between the community of right to know activists and archivists in this phase of transition.