Reconciliation between people typically requires all parties to agree on the same version of truth, but people’s memory can be unreliable and liable to alteration and selectivity. So what can we do to truthfully recover the past?


The Fellows spent a day with guest speakers who work with archives, who demonstrated to them that the answer lies in the practice of archiving and making use of archives in transforming conflict and addressing violence.


Why do we archive?

Prof. Simon Chu (朱福強), former Government Records Service Director, gave a talk using various real-life examples and told the Fellows that in a way, archive is truth. It is defined as such, its records collected, selected, and organised following an established set of rules to ensure the archive’s authenticity, impartiality, integrity, and usability.


More importantly, archival records are recognised and depended upon as evidence in court. They therefore often function as truth in transitional justice systems and without them, controversies and past human rights violations will be difficult to fully address. Simon used a few cases to demonstrate this point, including the genocide of the Mayan people in Guatamela during the civil war between 1960 - 96. When it was over, 80 million sheets of information were discovered in the national police archive, including documents, books, photos, floppy disks, which eventually led to the trial and conviction of the former head of state.


The importance of legislation

He therefore emphasised the importance of legislation stipulating and regulating official archives, ensuring that government departments keep records and that archives are run properly so that evidence can be found to aid in the processes of reconciliation and prosecution in transitional justice.

Making Sense of the Past

At the end of the sharing, Simon reminded Fellows that we cannot rely only on the authority to archive, rather, every citizen can make use of the power of archives to seek truth and thus connect the past with the future.