Category Archives: Collaboration

Tejiendo la Memoria: Weaving Memory in El Salvador through Archival Collections

As part of El Museo de la Palabra y la ImagenIteman ongoing partnership with El Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (the Museum of the Word and Image) in San Salvador, El Salvador, the HRDI is pleased to announce the launch of the Tejiendo La Memoria weekly radio program online archive, featuring digital audio files available for streaming of all 28 programs produced by El Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen and the Association of Participatory Radio Programs of El Salvador (ARPAS).
Each short program highlights different aspects of the diverse archival and audiovisual collections housed at El Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (MUPI) and are centered on important events and figures in El Salvador’s history.  Some of the topics covered in the program include:

–    The archive and legacy of Salazar Arrué (Salarrué):  Salarrué, well known for his book of children’s tales Cuentos de Cipotes, was a prolific writer and painter, producing some of the earliest abstract paintings of the 20th century.  MUPI possesses the personal archive of Salarrué, in addition to voice recordings of Salarrué and recorded interviews with his family members.  In “Tejiendo la Memoria 01: Biografia de Salarrué,”  MUPI introduces listeners to the life and legacy of Salarrué.  “Tejiendo la Memoria 02: Cuentos de Cipotes,” focuses upon one of Salarrué’s most well-known works, including a short reading of one of his stories.  “Tejiendo la Memoria 10: Salarrué y sus Nietas,”  contains audio clips of interviews with Salarrué’s granddaughters and a reading of one of Salarrué’s Cuentos de Cipotes.

–    Personal testimonies of the Salvadoran Civil War:  Chiyo, a 10 year old boy whose family was murdered at the hands of the oppressive Salvadoran political regime, recounts his experiences travelling as a child with the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, his personal journey since the war ended in 1991, and shares his passion for music in “Tejiendo la Memoria 11: Chiyo, un niño de la Guerra.”  Rufina Amaya, the sole survivor of the two day Massacre at El Mozote, offered her testimony of events to Radio Venceremos, the underground radio station for the FLMN, now part of MUPI’s collections.  “Tejiendo la Memoria 06: Rufina Amaya, la verdad sobre El Mozote” provides excerpts from Amaya’s testimony.

–    The life and living memory of Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, a Catholic BishMonsenor Romeroop who was assassinated by a death squad lead by Major Robert D’aubuisson.  Monseñor Romero, who openly challenged the repressive state regime in El Salvador, and called for an end to the military’s blatant violation of human rights, was a humanitarian and well-known for his weekly radio sermons. “Tejiendo la Memoria 14: Monseñor Romero, la voz por los sin voz” shares clips of Monseñor Romero’s weekly radio sermons, and presents a biography and homage to the ongoing legacy of Romero.  “Tejiendo la Memoria 15: Monseñor Romero Vive!” uses witness testimony and interviews to describe the events of Monseñor Romero’s assassination, his funeral, and the search for justice.  Monseñor Romero’s close personal friend, Mrs. Santos Delmi Campos, discusses the days preceding Monseñor Romero’s assassination in “Tejiendo la Memoria 27: Monseñor Romero y la Amistad” as well as the personal photo collection he left in her care, which she has donated to MUPI in order to share the legacy of Monseñor Romero with the community.

Each of these collections are part of MUPI’s campaign “Contra el Caos de la Desmemoria” (“Against the Chaos of Forgetting,”) an endeavor to preserve and promote significant materials from El Salvador’s history and to maintain them as part of the social consciousness of the Salvadoran community.
The Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen is a citizen-founded non-profit organization dedicated to the investigation, preservation and exhibition of materials related to the culture, history and identity of El Salvador.  Initially started in 1992 by Carlos Henriquez Consalvi, “Santiago” in order to preserve materials produced during the decade long Salvadoran Civil war, such as underground radio programs (Radio Venceremos and Radio Farabundo Martí), personal diaries, photographs, and documentary materials.  In 2009, MUPI created and launched the weekly radio program “Tejiendo la Memoria” (Weaving Memory) to offer insight into the diverse collections available at el Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen.

To view the entire collection of Tejiendo la Memoria weekly radio programs, click here.

To visit the website for the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen and learn more about their archival collections, audiovisual materials, and exhibitions, click here.

Rethinking Power and Resistance Conference Online Archive Launch

The Human Rights Documentation Initiative is pleased to announce the launch of the online video archive from Rethinking Power & Resistance: Gender and Human Rights from Texas to the Transnational Americas,  an interdisciplinary conference sponsored by the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Women and Gender Studies, as part of the Embrey Women’s Human Rights Initiative.

Rethinking Power and Resistance brought activists, organizers and scholars together to discuss issues relevant to activism and community organizing, such as; Arts as Advocacy, Pedagogies of Alliance and Resisting Criminalization.  The video archive, produced with the assistance of videographer Andrea Zarate, contains footage of several panel discussions, a radio segment aired on KOOP 91.7 fm’s progressive news program, People United, and a post-conference promotional video.  A few highlights from the collection include:

Women in Hip-Hop Roundtable, featuring artist TooFly and hip-hop artists Yoli Zapata, DJ Trinity, Invincible, and Lah Tere. The Women in Hip-Hop roundtable features activist women participating in an open discussion about how race, sexuality, and gender have intersected to impact and shape their art, in addition to personal stories of how they got involved in art and music and their current activist projects.

Making a Difference discussion with Miss Major, director of the Transgender Intersex Justice Project.  Miss Major is a powerful activist and transgender elder working for transgender and intersex visibility and rights, especially in the prison system.  Miss Major’s talk highlights the oppression faced by transgender women in the Prison System, many of whom are housed according to physical sex instead of of gender identity, which makes them vulnerable to harassment, sexual assault, and exploitation at the hands of other inmates.  Miss Major’s talk is an open, frank discussion of the issues faced by transgender and intersex people both in and outside of the prison industrial complex, espousing a need to view transgender rights as part of the global human rights framework, not as a niche or special interest group.

Rethinking Power and Resistance Promotional video, featuring interviews from conference organizers and attendees, as well as footage from Mama Said Knock You Out 2, a benefit concert for Mamas of Color Rising.   This follow-up video to the conference contains interviews with conference participants, organizers and speakers as well as impressions of the closing concert, Mama Said Knock You Out 2.

Part of the power present in this conference is the participants’ ability to continually share their work and activism through the online video archive.  To view additional videos from the conference, visit the new Rethinking Power and Resistance Conference page at the HRDI Collections website, and the Finding Aid at the Texas Archival Repository online.

To view photos from Mama Said Knock You Out 2, and read TooFly’s writing about her experience at the conference and creating live art during the concert, check out her blog post covering the event.

For those present in Austin, the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies and the Human Rights Documentation Initiative will be hosting a panel discussion celebrating the launch of the new video archive:


Can I Get a WITNESS?

(cross-posted from Tex Libris)

I see pictures of people, rising up
pictures of people, falling down
I see pictures of people
they’re standing on their heads, they’re ready
they’re looking out, look out!
they’re watching out, watch out!

“This is the Picture” from Peter Gabriel’s So





The Libraries efforts in the field of human rights continue to flourish.

The Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI) has announced a new partnership with human rights video advocacy organization WITNESS to preserve and provide access to raw video footage of human rights abuses and video productions collected from the organization’s partners.

WITNESS was co-founded in 1992 by musician and activist Peter Gabriel with Human Rights First and the Reebok Human Rights Foundation to provide support to grassroots advocacy through the use of video as an integrated tool in human rights campaigns.

This is the sixth partnership in which the HRDI has become involved. Other projects include work with the the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Rwanda, the Guatemalan National Police Archive, theTexas After Violence ProjectFree Burma Rangers and the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen.

As seen by the recent successes and widespread use of video by citizen journalists in the uprisings of the Arab Spring, the growth of civic media to fight injustice will continue apace.

You can see the full press release on the new collaboration here.

And here’s video of the Ted Talk where Gabriel explains the concept of WITNESS:

HRDI and WITNESS Partner to Expand Human Rights Video Archives

A human rights project established at the University of Texas Libraries has announced a collaborative effort with an international organization that focuses on video documentation of human rights violations.

The Libraries’ Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI) will expand its collection with source materials provided by human rights organization WITNESS to guarantee long-term preservation of and expanded access to raw footage and video productions created by the organization and its partners.

Now marking its 20th anniversary, WITNESS shows its commitment to supporting ongoing human rights change by seeking strategic partnerships with diverse stakeholders who can help meet the growing needs of human rights activists using video to expose injustice.

“WITNESS is thrilled to be working with the University of Texas Libraries,” says Grace Lile, WITNESS’ Director of Operations and Archives. “This partnership will help ensure the long-term preservation of unique human rights video from grassroots human rights defenders.  Equally important, it will make this primary source material much more widely accessible for study, research and reflection.”

WITNESS was co-founded in 1992 by musician and human rights advocate Peter GabrielHuman Rights First, and the Reebok Human Rights Foundation for the purpose of empowering front line human rights advocates in the use of video to document human rights abuses across the globe.   Since then, WITNESS has partnered with more than 300 human rights groups in over 80 countries, trained over 3,000 human rights defenders, developed widely-used training materials and tools, and supported the inclusion of video in more than 100 campaigns, increasing their visibility and impact.

The WITNESS Media Archive was founded in 2004 and is today the repository for over 5000 hours of video from over 80 countries.  The archive has been a leader in developing practices and models for the archiving of video documentation in a human rights context, and in recognizing the importance of archives to the promotion and defense of human rights.

“The HRDI holds a deep respect for WITNESS’ work around human rights video agency, advocacy and archiving, so it’s truly an honor to play a pivotal role in the preservation of and access to the powerful human rights narratives that WITNESS and its partners have brought to the fore of public awareness over the past twenty years,” says HRDI archivist T-Kay Sangwand. “The collections that we have received so far complement the HRDI’s existing holdings, particularly on armed conflict and genocide in Central America and Africa.“

The collaboration with WITNESS is the sixth such by the HRDI since its launch in 2008. Previous work includes the project’s founding partnership with the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Rwanda to archive and provide access to documents of the 1994 genocide in that country, as well as a recently publicized project to undertake similar work for the Guatemalan National Police Archive, a cache of records including documentation of torture, disappearances and other human rights abuses from the period of authoritarian rule in that country. The HRDI also collaborates with the Texas After Violence ProjectFree Burma Rangers and the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen.

“As a large research library with a robust digital preservation infrastructure, the University of Texas Libraries is well equipped to ensure the long-term preservation of and access to WITNESS’s rich material,” continues Sangwand. “This not only helps fulfill the university’s mission to provide the resources our faculty and students need for teaching and scholarship, but also enables the public, particularly the communities documented in the archive, to easily access the materials.”

Examples of materials from the WITNESS archive:

For further information, or to learn more about accessing the collections, please contact either T-Kay Sangwand from HRDI at or Yvonne Ng from WITNESS at 718.783.2000,

About the Human Rights Documentation Archive

The University of Texas Libraries established the Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI) at the University of Texas at Austin with a generous grant from the Bridgeway Foundation in 2008. Working with activists, scholars, and organizations to identify electronic and analog resources that are particularly vulnerable to loss, the HRDI aims to preserve the most fragile records of human rights struggles worldwide, promote the security and use of human rights archival materials and further human rights research and advocacy around the world.


WITNESS is the global pioneer in the use of video to expose human rights abuses. We empower people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change. Founded in 1992, WITNESS has partnered with more than 300 human rights groups in over 80 countries, trained over 3,000 human rights defenders, developed widely-used training materials and tools, and supported the inclusion of video in more than 100 campaigns, increasing their visibility and impact. Videos made by WITNESS and our partners have told dozens of critical human rights stories, and have galvanized grassroots communities, judges, activists, media and decision-makers at local, national and international levels to action.


HRDI Shares Best Practices

Photo: “Memory and Documentation” sign from Ibuka archive, Rwanda. Taken on 2009 HRDI trip.

(Cross-posted at Tex Libris)

In September, UT Libraries Human Rights Documentation Initiative representatives Christian Kelleher and T-Kay Sangwand traveled to Columbia University to participate in an advisory group meeting for theCenter for Research Libraries (CRL) MacArthur Foundation funded project, Human Rights Electronic Evidence Study.  The Human Rights Electronic Evidence Study aims to understand the human rights documentation landscape – technologies, documentation creators and end users – and to identify tools and practices for improving documentation’s uses for advocacy and scholarship.

In addition to Kelleher and Sangwand, the advisory group consisted of librarians and archivists from Columbia University, Duke University and human rights organization, WITNESS, as well as practicing lawyers and professors from the University of Texas School of Law. During this day-long meeting, the group discussed how human rights documentation is used from the point of creation by an organization/activist to how it ends up in an archive for educational purposes and a courtroom for legal purposes. Based on their experience of establishing digital preservation partnerships with organizations that create human right documentation, Kelleher and Sangwand shared some of the challenges that can prevent such documentation from ever arriving to the archive (namely, trust and ownership disputes) as well as the HRDI’s approach to overcoming this challenge – the use of the post custodial archival model that allows organizations to maintain physical and intellectual ownership of their materials while depositing digital copies at UT for long-term preservation. Through presentations by legal experts (including the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice  Co-Director, Dan Brinks) on how human rights documentation may be used in U.S. and international courts, the HRDI was proud to learn that its metadata and preservation standards meet and even surpass the general recommended criteria for documentation authentication in a court of law.

The meeting’s discussion on the creation, preservation, and use of human rights documentation will be synthesized with the study’s findings in CRL’s final report due out in late 2011/early 2012.

The HRDI and Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (El Salvador) pay homage to Monseñor Romero

Photo of Monseñor Romero tribute mural in El Salvador International Airport“If they kill me, I will be reborn in the Salvadoran people.”
– Monseñor Romero

Photo of Monseñor Romero tribute mural in El Salvador International Airport
Credit: T-Kay Sangwand

Today, March 24, 2011, marks the 31st anniversary of the assassination of Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero. Romero, originally conservative in his outlook, developed a strong human rights conscience as he witnessed the government’s violent and repressive actions against the Salvadoran people as well as the assassinations of his fellow priests who stood in solidarity with them. Romero, too, became an outspoken critic of the government and urged members of the army to follow God’s higher orders and cease their brutal violence against the people. On the orders of the Salvadoran Army, Romero was assassinated on March 24, 1980 while giving Mass. Soon thereafter, El Salvador launched into a civil war that lasted twelve years. Thirty-one years after his death, the memory and legacy of Monseñor Romero and his commitment to social justice remains strong.

Tejiendo la Memoria Histórica
In honor of this 31st anniversary, the HRDI has posted three short radio programs on Monseñor Romero, produced by our partner, the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (MUPI, Museum of the Word and Image) in El Salvador. MUPI produces a weekly program “Tejiendo la Memoria” (Weaving Memory) that explores an aspect of Salvadoran social, political, or cultural history using the museum’s extensive archival holdings as the basis of each program. Today we are excited to debut three programs that have previously only been heard on the radio waves of El Salvador.

Links to Audio (Note: All audio is in Spanish.)
Monseñor Romero: La Voz de los Sin Voz
(Monseñor Romero: Voice of the Voiceless)
Monseñor Romero Vive! (Monseñor Romero Lives!)
Monseñor Romero y la Amistad (Monseñor Romero’s Friendship)

Each program incorporates audio from Monseñor Romero’s sermons, including material from the day of his assassination. The programs, although a short 5-7 minutes, contain rich insight into the life and work of Romero as told through interviews with his close friends and fellow clergy. “Monseñor Romero y la Amistad” contains an interview with Romero’s close friend Mrs. Santos Delmi Campos who tells us that just a few months before Romero’s death, he entrusted a box of 400 photos of his life to her for safekeeping. Thirty years later, Mrs. Campos donated the photos to MUPI, which formed the basis of the exhibit “Monseñor Vive!

In El Salvador, MUPI conducts the invaluable work of preserving the tangible remains of historical memory and teaching the country’s history to new generations through its exhibits and active outreach to students and youth. The HRDI is proud to aid in MUPI’s educational mission by making its materials available online for the Salvadoran diaspora and beyond.

For more information
Monseñor Romero’s collection of photos at MUPI
El Faro
‘s interview with Alvaro Saravia, a Salvadoran Army Officer, involved in the assassination of Monseñor Romero

Preserving the Video Archive of the Free Burma Rangers

FBR Videographer, Monkey (From Prayer for Peace)FBR Videographer, Monkey (From Prayer for Peace)

By: Mark Cooper

HRDI’s launch of the Free Burma Rangers Collection introduces the small, public face of a much larger partnership between the HRDI and the Free Burma Rangers (FBR). The twelve short videos on the site, ranging from five to ten minutes with two half-hour documentaries, total less than two hours of content. But this small selection represents the HRDI’s work over the past two years to ensure the long-term preservation and accessibility of the over 1,000 hours (and growing) of video documentation created by FBR during the past decade of their operations in Burma.

The partnership between the HRDI and FBR began in 2009 with the goal of digitally preserving FBR’s archival records and documentation, in particular their video materials. FBR trains, equips and supports humanitarian relief teams whose members come from many of the diverse ethnic groups within Burma. Since 1997, over 130 teams have conducted 400 relief missions into areas under attack by the Burma Army, providing aid to internally displaced peoples (IDPs) who have been driven out of their villages by the Burma Army.

Along with medical aid, clothing and educational supplies, each FBR team carries a small, handheld video camera for the purpose of recording the team’s operations, the living conditions of the IDPs, and evidence of human rights violations committed by the Burma Army. With so many teams operating concurrently, FBR produces an enormous wealth of video. To date, they hold over 1,200 MiniDV tapes, most of which contain a full hour of field documentation; few of these tapes have been backed up or digitally copied.

Digital Video Preservation: From Burma to the Archive
The task of digitally preserving FBR’s videos began with working through the quirks of capturing digital information encoded on physical tape media. I experienced this first-hand when I joined the HRDI team in July 2010 as a Graduate Research Assistant, continuing the work begun by my predecessor Nicholas Rejack (Read about his experiences on the project). In July, I traveled to the FBR offices in Southeast Asia, where I worked capturing video and inventorying the collection at my small desk crowded with three MacBook Pros, a tape deck, cameras, stacks of hard drives, and piles of MiniDV tapes to be captured, sorted or cataloged. Over the course of my six weeks on site I captured over 400 MiniDV tapes, totaling 5 terabytes of video.

Even under the best of conditions, MiniDV can be a finicky format. Capturing the same tape on the same equipment can result in often slight, but occasionally large, variations in quality. The challenges grow exponentially when the tapes have been carried through the extreme field conditions in the jungles of Burma, with each new tape seeming to present a new difficulty to resolve.  However, though the format presents its challenges, the preservation process is aided by metadata embedded within every frame of the DV video. Using programs like DV Analyzer from Audiovisual Preservation Solutions, error correction information can be extracted and analyzed to potentially identify whether errors stem from defects on the original tapes or from problems with the playback device. This can inform when performing a new capture could improve video quality, ensuring the best possible copy is preserved. In addition, every frame includes an embedded date and time stamp marking when it was originally shot, allowing for precise creation date metadata and for verifying and narrowing the date ranges written on tape labels.

Though the HRDI team has digitally captured a significant portion of FBR’s video archive, over 750 hours thus far, the challenges of long-term digital preservation do not end after a tape has been captured. Digital preservation is an ongoing process that aims to ensure the preservation of both the files themselves and the ability to read and interpret the information they contain. In this case, it involves not just maintaining the 1s and 0s of the video files but making sure they will continue to be readable in the future. The preservation process encompasses not just storage systems with significant redundancy and error checking, but also the maintenance of detailed technical metadata and ongoing monitoring of format obsolescence and evolution. Anyone who has struggled to find a working floppy drive to open an old document file, only to find the file format is no longer supported by current programs, understands the effect of a break in the preservation lifecycle.

The FBR Collection Online: A Look into the Archive
The online videos, each edited from raw FBR mission footage, provide glimpses into FBR’s video archive. Prayer of Peace: Relief and Resistance in Burma’s War Zones follows FBR teams operating in Karen State, Burma. The half-hour documentary is told through the personal stories of FBR team members and IDPs, including a medic, a team videographer and a father attempting to get medical care for his sick daughter. In Hiding: A Year of Survival Under the Burma Army (contains graphic content) depicts the lives of IDPs in the Karen, Karenni, Shan and Arakan States over the course of 2004-2005. It features documentation of villagers fleeing their homes and living in hiding, the devastating effects of Burma Army landmines, and testimonies from IDPs. The extensive preparation of FBR teams is detailed in Steps to Freedom (contains graphic content), which follows the teams as they train and enter attack areas across Burma.

The preservation of FBR’s complete archival record will be an ongoing project for the HRDI, as FBR continues to generate documentation on a massive scale. Advances in technology, such as FBR moving from MiniDV to file-based video recording, will present new challenges and preservation concerns. However, through this partnership, the FBR video archive will remain secure and provide one means through which the people of Burma tell their own stories, in their own voices. The videos will remain under restricted access to protect the safety of those depicted and not compromise FBR operations. They will be opened to researchers and documentarians at FBR’s discretion, and will be preserved for use by FBR and its partners to bring attention to the situation in Burma.

In Prayer of Peace, the FBR team videographer known as Monkey describes why he wanted to use a video camera. He says, “I started this work in 1998. At that time the Burma Army came and the villagers fled into the jungle. As they fled I took photos with a still camera. When people looked at the photos I couldn’t explain. I wanted the photos to open their hearts. I tried but the photos were not enough. I thought, if I had a video camera it would be better. Instead of me speaking for them they speak themselves.”

Mark Cooper is a second year master’s student at the UT School of Information. He is specializing in digital moving image preservation and recently interned at the Texas Archive of the Moving Image. Previously, Mark worked as a Producer / Director at Penn State Public Broadcasting, where his projects included feature documentaries on water infrastructure and domestic violence broadcast nationally on PBS.

Exhumation and Representation: Reflections on Records of Violence and the Genocide Archive of Rwanda

large gravesite in Rwanda

By: Martha Tenney

The launch of the Genocide Archive of Rwanda marks a significant milestone in the long collaboration between staff in Kigali, Rwanda and here in Austin at HRDI to document the 1994 Genocide. I come to this project decidedly late in the game; I’ve only worked as a Graduate Research Assistant at the HRDI for a little over three months. By the time I started here,  the majority of the work of collecting materials and documenting survivor testimonies in Rwanda was finished, and staff at HRDI had been collaborating with staff at Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre for over two years to digitize, describe, and transfer the videos, photos, publications, and documents that make up the archive. I am staggered by the magnitude of the efforts undertaken by the staff in Kigali: the breadth and depth of the materials they’ve compiled is remarkable, and more is being added all the time.

During my short time here, however, I’ve learned so much, not only about the Genocide itself, but also about the particular responsibilities and challenges of working with records of violence. Most of my involvement with the project focuses on structuring the online archive and figuring out how to best provide access to these resources. As a first-year master’s student at the School of Information at UT, I am studying digital archiving and preservation, cataloging, multimedia collection management, and website usability, all valuable skills for my work at HRDI. But when I first encountered the materials, I was flummoxed: How could I organize the archive in a way that would be meaningful to Rwandans and others hoping to utilize it, when my own understanding of the genocide was so circumscribed? Aside from representations in American media and entertainment—which depict the genocide as an ethnic conflict trope, as the result of the American government failing to intervene, or as the heroism of a few individuals in the face of senseless violence—my knowledge of the genocide was limited.

I was concerned by such limited representations of the genocide, in Rwanda and the rest of the world, and by the responsibility that I felt to represent it in the archive for diverse and divergent audiences. What are the ethics of preserving and providing access to these horrific stories and images? What is the image of Rwandans conveyed by these materials? Are they reduced to the neat categories of victims, survivors, and perpetrators, all inextricably bound to the violence of 1994? I recently re-read Susan Sontag’s last book, Regarding the Pain of Others, in which she discusses photographic representations of violence. Of photographs of “postcolonial Africa,” including photographs of the Rwandan genocide, she says that they typically communicate a “double message”:

They show a suffering that is outrageous, unjust, and should be repaired. They confirm that this is the sort of thing which happens in that place. The ubiquity of those photographs, and those horrors, cannot help but nourish belief in the inevitability of tragedy in the benighted or backward—that is, poor—parts of the world (p. 71).

While the materials in the archive are far more nuanced and complexly described than the photographs that Sontag mentions, I wanted to be conscious of the message that they sent and its possible interpretations.

As I started to listen to the testimonies and follow current events in Rwanda more closely, I also came to understand how providing access to these histories has complex political and practical implications for Rwandans. In their testimonies, survivors cite the threat of retributive violence, and Rwanda’s tenuous political situation has become all the more tense and repressive of dissent since the revelation of the current government’s involvement in the killing of Hutu refugees in the Congo. These very real, very current issues underscore the fact that these archives are far from inert. The stories and records in the archives address issues that continue to impact Rwandans, issues that remain painful and unresolved.

Overwhelmed by these larger concerns, I turned to the quickly multiplying practical matters of filling and organizing the archive: using the wiki structure of the website to categorize and create hierarchies in the archive, laying out pages to make them easier to navigate, editing descriptions, organizing all the material on UT’s servers, and copying the pages from Kigali’s local version of the site, accessible only at KGM to the online public site. These tasks occupied most of my time, and as soon as one challenge had been addressed another always popped up. The staff in Kigali worked at a breakneck pace, adding materials to the archive all the time. And despite technical hitches, an eight-hour time difference, and language barriers, the KGM archivists and staff always graciously answered my many questions.

As the launch date approached, the work intensified. In about two days, I copied all of the photo pages from the local site to the online site, which required that I look at each of the nearly 600 photos currently in the online archive. Seeing all those images in succession was intense. I hadn’t looked this closely at the materials since I’d begun working at HRDI. One photograph in particular almost made me break down. Although there are many grisly photos in the archives, there is something so jarringly violent about this one: the implied violence of the killing coupled with the inadvertent violence done to the bodies even in death. Would the archive perform an analogous second violence on the records of the genocide, digging up old pain and potentially creating new issues for Rwandans?

I continued to copy the pages, though, and the first photo took its place in the broader context of others depicting re-interment and memorial ceremonies, such as photos like the one above, the title of which is “Redonner leur dignité a vos morts est un imperatif pour tout être humain” (restoring dignity to your dead is essential for all human beings). The process of commemoration and dignified burial could not happen without the exhumation of those remains. Likewise, the process of reconciliation and healing could not occur without open access to these records of the genocide. The archives constitute an exhumation of the violence of 1994 that, while painful, ultimately honors the dead and affirms ongoing struggle of Rwandans to make peace with their past.

Martha Tenney is a first year master’s student at the UT School of Information. Prior to coming to UT, Martha completed archival internships at the progressive news program, Democracy Now!, and Franklin Furnace, an avant-garde art space in New York. She has also organized with the Prisoner Solidarity Project at Wesleyan University and studied environmental justice and green business practices in Senegal.

NPR, BBC, CNN, Guardian UK cover the Genocide Archive of Rwanda launch

Thanks to the coverage of several international news outlets, HRDI’s collaborative project with the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the Genocide Archive of Rwanda, received over 4,000 virtual visits over the weekend! I encourage you to check out the site if you haven’t already and to share it with friends, colleagues, students, and anyone with an interest in human rights. We hope that the Archive can be a resource in the classroom as well as in multiple communities.

If you are interested in seeing what others have to say about the project, here are some links to recent coverage.

HRDI team members, Christian Kelleher and Ladd Hanson, traveled to Rwanda for the launch. We will have pictures and an update from them soon. We will also soon post an entry from Martha Tenney, our diligent Graduate Research Assistant from the UT School of Information, who worked with Kigali Genocide Memorial staff to put all the materials online.

In the meantime, you can view photos from the HRDI’s past trips to Rwanda on our Flickr page.

The Genocide Archive of Rwanda launches with the help of the HRDI on Human Rights Day 2010

Skulls on UNHCR tarp in Kibuye
We know there’s been a long silence on our end, but it hasn’t been without good reason. Today, on Human Rights Day 2010, the HRDI is proud to announce the launch of the Genocide Archive of Rwanda, a collaborative project of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Aegis Trust, and Rwanda’s National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide.

From April to July 1994, the Hutu government, with military and civilian participation and French military support, murdered approximately one million Tutsis, moderate Hutus, and Twa people in Rwanda.  Although the United Nations and western governments, such as that of the U.S., were aware of the Genocide, they did little to prevent it. In July 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Front defeated the Rwandan army and effectively ended the Genocide.

The interactive online digital archive contains a wealth of rich materials that document the development, lived experiences, and aftermath of the 1994 Genocide. The site features video testimonies from Genocide survivors and rescuers, perpetrator testimonies from the gacaca court proceedings, footage from annual remembrance ceremonies, archival photographs, colonial documents, maps, and propaganda publications, such as the infamous Kangura, that incited violence against Tutsis. All testimonies are given in the Kinyarwanda language; some videos have English subtitles as well as English and French transcripts.

This is the only project of its kind in Rwanda and allows previously inaccessible material to be consulted for education and research purposes. The physical materials have been contributed by the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Ibuka, Iwacu, and individuals.

The HRDI is very proud to be a part of this project! We hope you take the time to visit the site and learn from it.

Some press we’ve received so far:
University of Texas official press release
Guardian UK
Rwanda News Agency
Tex Libris blog

I interviewed with NPR’s Weekend Edition; the segment will air this Sunday (December 12). Check your local NPR affiliate schedule to see exact times. The Genocide Archive of Rwanda will also be featured on the NPR Picture Show blog. I’ll post direct links when I have them.

–T-Kay Sangwand, HRDI Archivist