In recent years the global archivist community, alongside human rights activists and legal experts, have started consolidating principles and guidelines for access to archives. The guidelines were drafted using glossaries, policy papers of state and inter-state bodies, and national and international courts’ case law. These sets of professional principles and guidelines are designed to help archives and archivists uphold their ethical duties to ensure wide access to the archives, while properly balancing their duty to protect interests such as security and privacy.

Universal Declaration on Archives

The Universal Declaration on Archives stresses the unique importance of archives in the enrichment of knowledge about human society, in guaranteeing governmental transparency, support of democracy and human rights, and the preservation of collective memory. The declaration also addresses archival management as a professional field and those who work in it as fulfilling the mission of caring for the archive, the materials preserved in it and encouraging their public access. The declaration was drafted by a working group representing the International Council for Archives and was adopted in 2011 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Principles of Access to Archives

The Principles of Access to Archives document is a practical guide for providing optimal public access to archival materials, alongside the prevention of exposing materials that could cause serious damage to legitimate interests. The document, meant to serve archivists and institutions holding archives, addresses the right of the public to access materials preserved in archives and the responsibility of archivists to provide access and information about them. Inter alia, archivists and their supervisors are called upon to make the greatest amount of archival materials as accessible as possible, to notify the public of the existence of material that is still classified and of restrictions that influence the accessibility of material. The principles also provide guidelines for guaranteeing fair and equal conditions for anyone to access records, and to involve archivists in all decisions regarding public access. The document was adopted by representatives of national archives and professional associations during the 2012 ICA General Assembly, following a process of international consultation.

Global Principles Regarding National Security and the Right to Information (Tshwane Principles)

The Tshwane Principles document, named after the capital of South Africa (formerly Pretoria) in which it was signed, is designed to help government, legal, civil society and other organizations who deal with drafting guidelines, regulations and laws balancing the right to information and protecting national security.

The 50 principles listed in the document outline legitimate areas for classification of information out of security considerations, and specify the different types of public information that should not be classified. The principles of the document assume that a society’s security situation, just like its development and welfare, are dependent on the disclosure of public information to the public: When government information is inaccessible, public supervision of government practices is damaged, as is the ability to take public action – two essential conditions for a vibrant democracy. The Tshwane Principles were drafted by a group of experts and initiated by the Open Society Justice Initiative, as a result of a protracted study that relied, inter alia, on international law, on legislation in various countries and consultation with 500 experts in 70 countries.

Basic Principles on the Role of Archivists in Support of Human Rights: Draft

This draft document, formulated by the ICA over the last decade, details 23 principles organized into six chapters. The principles developed from a professional discourse spreading globally among archivists regarding the roles of the archive in promoting human rights and assisting victims of human rights violations, as well as the responsibility of the archivists to preserve the archival material whose subject matter is the violation of human rights, and ensuring public access to it. This document is designed to complete other professional documents that deal with the ethics of archival work and the principles of access to archival materials.

The principles emphasize the importance of the independence of archivists and their professional association, as well as their involvement in decisions regarding the attaining, appraising, organizing, describing and preserving of documentation and making it accessible for public access. The draft of principles reflects research and work conducted by the ICA Working Group on Human Rights over the decade that preceded publication of the draft.