Digital archiving is crucial to the work of civil society organizations (CSOs), as it helps them document past and ongoing human rights violations and better utilize information to support transitional justice mechanisms and community-based truth, justice, and memory initiatives. However, many organizations with the potential to create and sustain significant digital archives are unable to do so. Due to a lack of capacity and resources, CSOs may be unable to effectively archive, store, and share their documentation, resulting in a risk that this valuable information could be lost or simply rendered ineffective in pursuing larger goals related to truth-telling, accountability, and remembrance.
With the above-mentioned context, the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI)completed a questionnaire with two other regional organizations from Belarus and Ukraine for the research planned by the Global Survey of Justice, Truth and Reconciliation (GIJTR) —Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (ICSC). The project - Supporting CSOs in Digital Archiving – was implemented from 1 March to 15 June 2021 and funded by ICSC. The organizations involved in the study are based in Georgia, Belarus and Ukraine.
The shared goals for collecting and publishing the documents across the organizations are as follows: assistance in the restoration of social and historical justice; assistance to the repressed citizens in the reversal of unjustified and repressive acts of the State power; and assistance in their subsequent rehabilitation through the platform of Digital Archive, contribution to open access to the documents that contain information about the massive human rights violations.
An additional goal in Ukraine and Georgia is to help its states in the de-communization process of societies, which is still a challenge. In these countries, this process mostly relates to issue of detaching from modern Russia’s orbit of influence and overcoming Russian propaganda, which is high on the agenda of these states. Russia is actively using history for its own propaganda purposes. One of the main methods of combating this is archival openness and publication of articles based on document scrutiny. De-communization is one of the main goals of the Belarusian organization too. However, the Belarusian government does not declare this or detachment from the Russian influencea priority.
Noteworthy findings of the survey are:
- Only one of the organizations has developed and implemented different types of relevant methodologies, such as coding methods, information analysis, ways of tagging and creating relationships across various entities and codebooks. Among the reasons that the other organizations name for abstaining from such methodological advancements is the relatively low array of archival documentation collected by them at the moment.
- Cooperation and joint projects on the national as well as international levels seem to have positively affected the development of the CSO’s archives and their digitalization process. Such effectiveness is significantly related to the openness of state archival systems in the countries and the quality of cooperation with other CSOs. In countries where state archives are open and accessible, CSO research organizations work more effectively, and vice versa.
- Apart from the restrictions to financial and human resources affecting each of the examined organizations, the legislative and political situation in the state seems to be affecting the way the CSOs approach, store, and develop their archival data. This becomes particularly concerning in the case of the Belarusian organization, with threats of data confiscation and possible risks concerning the researchers. On the other hand, the legislative changes in the Ukrainian law have positively affected the openness of the archives and subsequent digitalization of the archival data by the CSO.