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Recovery of the Guatemalan Police Archives - An Update

by Kate Doyle

Posted - July 2, 2008

"The Atrocity Files: Deciphering the archives of Guatemala's dirty war"
By Kate Doyle
Harpers Magazine
December 2007

"Los Archivos de Atrocidad:
Descifrando los archivos de la guerra sucia de Guatemala"

Por Kate Doyle
Revista Pueblos
mayo de 2008

In the News

"Mildewed Police Files May Hold Clues to Atrocities in Guatemala"
by Ginger Thompson
New York Times
November 21, 2005

Previous posting

The Guatemalan National Police Archives

 

Guatemala Project Home > Guatemalan Police Archives

 

In July 2005, investigators from the office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos—PDH) entered a deteriorating, rat-infested munitions depot in downtown Guatemala City. During the inspection, the PDH team found a vast collection of documents, stored in five different buildings and in an advanced state of decay. The files belonged to the National Police, the central branch of Guatemala's security forces during the war – an entity so inextricably linked to violent repression that the country’s 1996 peace accord mandated it be completely disbanded. The records covered the history of the National Police, from the late 19th century until its dissolution in 1997, and amount to an estimated eight linear kilometers of paper, visual and audio material. [Read more on background and see pictures of Archive upon discovery]

Project director Kate Doyle has visited the archive repeatedly, working closely with the Guatemala Human Rights Ombudsman and his staff on the ongoing recovery effort and investigation of the massive record collection. Kate has contributed to the project in a variety of ways—from preparing an analysis of similar "archives of repression" around the world (which was presented in March 2007 as a formal paper before the project's International Advisory Council) to brainstorming with senior staff about how to inaugurate public access to the records, to reviewing an outline of the project's first report.

Kate has also given seminars about the Archive's Guatemala work to senior staff to help them understand how our investigative projects are structured and coordinated, as well as to investigators to explain the kinds of declassified U.S. documents the Archive has access to that may have bearing on the Police project. In the spring of 2007 the Archive assembled a database with key documents containing information on the role of the National Police units in the urban counterinsurgency campaign that led to systematic human rights crimes throughout Guatemala’s civil conflict. The Archive sent the documents to the PDH in that May, along with comprehensive summaries and an analysis. They are being incorporated by the investigative team into the historical report on the findings of the archive that will be released publicly sometime in 2008.

Kate Doyle continues to serve on the project’s International Advisory Board, in coordination with other archive specialists from Paraguay, Argentina, Spain and other countries. In addition to providing advice on the organization and institutionalization of the police archive, the council will help lobby for passage of a government directive to ensure the safety of the documents, and eventual public access to the information being uncovered.

Read Kate Doyle's article on the police archives published in the December 2007 issue of Harpers Magazine here.

 

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