Coordinating efforts to preserve archival information among several organizations and creating a system for accessing it

Memoria Abierta has created a system to make accessible all public archives of documents, photographs and interviews that testify to the horrors of state terrorism in Argentina, its victims and the people who stood against it. While anyone with Internet access can search the online catalogue of the files, the actual materials remain in the offices of each member organization or in Memoria Abierta’s office. The database provides a single index of all materials, easily searchable by any user. It also tells the location of the original documents, photos and videos so that interested researchers can set contact organizations about them. The project has created special software developed in open-source format to help other organizations create similar databases.

The Patrimonio Documental (Documentary Heritage Program) archive includes five parts: 1) the Documentary Heritage Program itself, which includes about 22,000 documents on state terrorism; 2) the Topography of Memo­ry Program, with maps, documents and oral testimony about historical sites related to state terrorism — over 340 torture centers that were hidden in ordinary places throughout the country; 3) the Photographic Archive Program, which includes digital images from human rights organizations, private collections and the media; 4) the Oral Archive Program, with summaries of more than 320 interviews with people whose lives have in some way been affected by the experience of state terrorism; and 5) Memoria Abierta’s own documents.

Memoria Abierta is comprised of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, Asamblea Permanente por los Derechos Huma­nos, Asociación Buena Memoria, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, Familiares de Desaparecidos y Deteni­dos por Razones Políticas, Fundación Memoria Histórica y Social Argentina, Madres de Plaza de Mayo — Línea Fundadora, and Servicio Paz y Justicia. The alliance was formed to develop and support projects that encourage communities and individuals to remember events that occurred during the military dictatorship. Memoria Abierta also sponsors initiatives to promote debates on the creation of sites of memory and spaces for public reflection. The archives will one day form part of the main collection of a Museum of Memory.


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What we can learn from this tactic: 

“Never again” is a vow frequently heard after human rights abuses come to light, but that vow cannot be kept unless the memory of the abuses, the victims and those who fought against the abuse remains alive. Unfortu­nately, the powerful information stored in the files of numerous human rights organizations is often unknown to the outside world and inaccessible to those who may later be able to use it to make sure that such history is not repeated. Memoria Abierta is an alliance of eight human rights organizations in Argentina that have combined their efforts to create a publicly accessible database, one they hope will contribute to the articulation of a collec­tive and lasting memory.

The tactic of coordinating archives of multiple organizations could be used in any country where more than one group is collecting human rights-related data. It could be part of a “memory” project, but could also be used in countries where multiple human rights organizations are tracking ongoing abuses and need to maximize ac­cess to information.