Safe havens for archives at risk: a new international initiative

Comma (2021), 2020, (1-2), 87–96.


Over the years, internationally-minded archivists have had to consider the possibility of taking custody of archives from another country because the archives are at risk in their country of origin. The risks may take many forms, but archives in war-zones and other disaster areas, and archives at environmental risk (including risks of climate change) provide striking examples. The removal of archives from one country to another is always likely to be controversial, however, and even well-intentioned attempts at “archival rescue” in the past have been strongly criticized. It has been clear for a long time that international standards are needed. The “Guiding Principles for Safe Havens’” for Archives at Risk are a set of principles providing guidance on archival and ethical factors to be taken into account when planning the transfer of analogue or digital archives (or copies) to another institution for safekeeping. The principles have been drawn up by a group of experts in meetings held in Berne, Amsterdam, Geneva, and virtually, over the past four years, and have been endorsed and approved by various international organizations, including several ICA Sections. Past bilateral agreements between sending institutions and hosting institutions governing “safe haven” solutions have often failed to address fundamental questions, such as data protection, access, succession solutions, obligations to return or the often asymmetrical relationship between the sending institution and the hosting institution. The need for new and definitive principles is outlined in this essay, and the “Guiding Principles” themselves are then described, explained and justified.

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Author details

Sutton, David C.