Angeline Takawira-Magaya

Angeline Takawira-Magaya

Last updated on 5 November 2020

Angeline Takawira-Magaya is a Digital Archivist at the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals ("IRMCT" or "Mechanism")

During the pandemic, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals ("IRMCT" or "Mechanism") has been hard at work preserving the records of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Mechanism. If you're wondering what we've been up to, take a few minutes to read all about what we've been doing and why we are doing it!"

Q: What is digital preservation and why is it important?

A: Digital preservation is the active management and maintenance of digital objects to ensure that they continue to be accessible and useable for as long as required.

A key feature of effective digital preservation is that it is a process which is active and on-going and not a one-off event after which we fold our arms and sit back.

So, for example putting our digital data on robust and secure storage systems would allow us to keep the data but would provide no assurance that the data would continue to be accessible or useable over time, even if we took good care of the storage systems and upgraded them routinely.

With a mandate to preserve, we recognized that we needed to do more than just ‘keep the data’. We needed more than just secure and robust storage.

Q: Why do the digital records of the ICTR, the ICTY and the Mechanism need to be preserved?

A: The Mechanism, under Article 27 of its Statute, was given the mandate to manage the archives of the ad hoc Tribunals and the Mechanism itself, and we do this by preserving and providing access to them.

As we know, digital information is inherently fragile and susceptible to loss due to technology obsolescence, corruption of bits and bytes or degradation of storage media.

Given this, specific actions were required to safeguard the digital archives against these risks and protect the large investments made by both the ICTR and the ICTY in creating these highly significant and unique digital resources.

Our preservation efforts are being applied not only to the permanent archives of the three institutions but also to non-permanent records, some of which must be retained for very long periods of up to 100 years, before they are destroyed in accordance with approved Records Retention Schedules.

Q: What types of digital records are being preserved in the archives of the ICTR, ICTY and the Mechanism?

A: The archives comprise records in three broad categories:

The first category is judicial case records, which include orders, decisions, judgements, evidence admitted in court, and transcripts, as well as audiovisual recordings of hearings.

The second category is records relating to the judicial process that are not part of the case records. These include, for example, certain records documenting the detention of accused persons or protection of witnesses.

The final category is the administrative records, which document the administration of the ICTR, the ICTY and the Mechanism as United Nations organizations. These include records about governance and strategic management of the three institutions, as well as the management of their staff, budgets and so on.

The digital archives, which total approximately 3 petabytes, encompass all these categories and comprise both born-digital and digitized materials.  

They include a wide variety of text, image and audio-visual formats as well as email, websites, geospatial data and bespoke databases that were developed in-house.

Q: How are the digital records of the ICTR, the ICTY and the Mechanism being preserved?

 A:  We are undertaking a variety of actions to ensure that the digital records and archives remain trustworthy and useable by our broad range of stakeholders. They must be demonstrably authentic, that is to say, no accidental or unauthorized changes should have occurred.

This is a lot to aim for, which is why digital preservation is an organizational commitment which requires investment in skilled staffing and technology to successfully deliver it, and the ongoing support of senior managers to sustain it.

The Mechanism has made significant investment in staffing the digital preservation program of work with skilled and motivated staff who have successfully implemented a purpose built digital preservation system into which digital records from the ICTR, the ICTY and the Mechanism are being ingested.

So far, over 170 terabytes of AV recordings of courtroom proceedings and a diverse range of records documenting different aspects of the work of the tribunals have been ingested.

Given the high volume of content which must be ingested, the range of systems from which we must ingest, the diversity of file formats, and other complexities such as encryption, we expect this process to be quite time consuming, but we are making steady progress.

Measures, which include fixity checking, have also been put in place to ensure that there is no corruption of files during transfer to the archives and, over time, once the files are ingested and residing on preservation storage. 

Q: What are the challenges faced by the Mechanism in preserving digital records and how are these challenges being addressed?

A: Our biggest challenge is the volume, diversity and complexity of the materials that we must ingest into our digital preservation system and actively preserve.

With the Mechanism intended to be a ‘small and efficient’ institution, we have focused on automation and batch processing as a means of enabling efficient performance of functions like ingest or format migrations.

Another challenge is planning a permanent preservation programme when we are a temporary residual organisation.

We have implemented strategies which ensure preservation today but which do not shut doors to future preservation possibilities which may become available due to developments in technology.

We are creating detailed documentation of decisions and actions as well as adhering to applicable international or internationally recognized standards and good practices.

To support all this, we are putting in place a Preservation Watch function which will monitor developments in technologies, among other things, and identify risks so that we can plan and execute appropriate mitigation measures.

You can view the video of this Q &A on YouTube here:

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