PASIG 2017: Reflections on ‘Digital Preservation at the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals’

Along with my colleagues, I was incredibly grateful to be at Oxford PASIG 2017, hosted at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History from 11-13 September.

A presentation given by Angeline Takawira,  was affirmation indeed as to why advocacy for digital preservation is crucial worldwide.  Angeline gave us an insight into the aims and challenges of digital preservation at the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (UN MICT).

The Mechanism

Angeline explained that the purpose of the UN MICT is to continue the mandated and essential actions that  have been carried out temporarily by two International Criminal Tribunals: Rwanda (ICTR) from 1993 until 2015 and Yugoslavia (ICTY) since 1994, which will be closing at the end of this year. UN MICT was established in 2010 by the UN Security Council, and is therefore a relatively new organisation. However, like its two predecessors, it is temporary.

We were told about the highly significant and mandated functions of MICT:

  1. To protect and support victims, witnesses and all others affected by war crimes
  2. To enforce sentences and other judicial work
  3. To preserve and manage the archives of the international tribunals.

You can find out more about the important work of the UN MICT here.

Digital Preservation at UN MICT

The Mechanism is made up of two branches: The Hague, Netherlands and Arusha, Tanzania, so the single digital repository is maintained across two continents. Currently the digital records of each of these are a hybrid of both digitised and born-digital material with example files including emails, GIS datasets, websites and CAD files. However, the audio-visual files take up 90% in volume of the digital archives combined.

It is so apparent that UN MICT’s  preservation goals are aligned to their aims as an organisation as a whole; authenticity is imperative for all of their records.  Angeline asserted that their digital preservation goals were to be trustworthy, accessible and useable and ‘demonstrably authentic’ – that is, identical to the digital original in all essential aspects. The digital archive is made up of:

  • Judicial case records – such as court decisions, judgements, court transcripts
  • Records relating to the judicial process – for example detentions of the accused and the protection of witnesses
  • Administrative records of the tribunals as an organisation (and also the Mechanism as an organisation).

Through a range of actions, the development of the digital preservation programme is achieving these aims. Angeline cited the introductions of workflows and compliance with standards, as well as the records being transferred to the repository with an unbroken chain of custody with stringent access controls and fixity checks to ensure no corruption. Furthermore, work continues on defining procedures around migration plans, as the Mechanism wishes to retain an experience of authenticity – which understandably needs a focus on file format characteristics.

Challenges

PASIG definitely taught me that authentic and usable digital preservation is always a trialling undertaking, but the challenges faced when digitally preserving the UN MICT are particularly unique due to its sensitive content and technicalities. For one, the fact that it is a temporary organisation is at odds with the long term endeavour of making these tribunal records accessible for the future and ensuring their protection. A repository transfer as a next step would need extremely critical consideration. Also, the retention schedule of different data is a factor for discussion – so that the UN MICT can fulfil its requirements of deletion in a transparent way.

One of the largest challenges to the future of digital preservation for similar organisations and initiatives, there is limited financial sustainability, resources and staff in order to sustain the long term commitment that digital preservation of records like this really command.

Use

There is no doubt that the digital archive of the UN MICT would be of fundamental significance to an international user community of the global media, legal professionals, academics, researchers and all education in general.  Combine these user groups with the broad range of stakeholders in preserving the Mechanism: the international courts, the security council who gave the mandated the work, there are many to whom this cause, and the information it preserves, will be vital to.  I have visited 4 countries of former Yugoslavia and the digital records of the MICT are surely equally  as compulsory to preserve and learn from as the  physical and tangible evidence of conflict. The need for advocacy of digital preservation is pertinent, and the UN MICT are doing urgent work.

One thought on “PASIG 2017: Reflections on ‘Digital Preservation at the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals’

Leave a Reply