Why this project?

In the aftermath of gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law, a series of initiatives are undertaken to deal with these past violations. The importance of preserving archives and records concerning human rights violations in these periods is often underestimated and forgotten. Technical issues such as the preservation and management of archives are as important as policy questions related to the access, ownership and location of these archives and records.

Our Goal

The goal of the project Archives and Dealing with the Past is to make a significant contribution to preserving, securing and making accessible archives and records of past human rights violations in countries that have experienced gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law and to raise the awareness on the importance of archives and data collections of human rights violations within a broader understanding of dealing with the past initiatives.

Our Aim

The aim of the project “Archives and Dealing with the Past” is to provide a support to governments, international organizations and NGOs related to the protection of archives which document human rights violations. The project is conceived as a hub; it offers a platform of contact between actors who need support and experts in this field, as well as a platform of exchange of best practices and lessons learned, for practitioners and experts in both archival and dealing with the past / transitional justice fields.


At an international level, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and the Swiss Federal Archives (SFA) have already played an important role in archives and dealing with the past issues. Thanks to their expertise the Swiss Government has been approached by several governments and organizations with requests regarding support in safeguarding archives and records documenting human rights violations as well as dealing with the past processes.

  • The SFA supports the National Police Archives of Guatemala (Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional - AHPN) with archival expertise and stores security copies of all the records in Switzerland.
  • The FDFA and SFA have provided technical support and expertise to three documentation centers collecting records on violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in the Balkans and organized workshops on these issues in Colombia and Burundi.
  • Also the SFA have sent archival experts to Albania, Eritrea, Burkina Faso, Russia and Lithuania.
  • swisspeace together with the FDFA developed the holistic framework on dealing with the past.
  • The FDFA has co-authored several resolutions in the Human Rights Council on the right to truth. In 2011 together with Argentina and Morocco, Switzerland successfully presented a resolution for the nomination of a special rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantee of non-recurrence.
  • In 2011 swisspeace together with the FDFA and ICTY organized a workshop on the ICTY legacy and the establishment of information centers in the former Yugoslavia.

This experiences led to the creation of the joint project between the Human Security Division - Peace Policy of the FDFA (HSD), the Swiss Federal Archives (SFA) and swisspeace, combining the best competences of each of these partners. The project "Archives and Dealing with the Past" started in May 2011.

As a practice oriented peace research institute swisspeace could apply its conceptual and organizational skills by developing and implementing a "Dealing with the Past" program for the FDFA. Due to this specific expertise in dwp, swisspeace was mandated to set up and develop the new project. While SFA is contributing expertise regarding archival issues and the FDFA is financing the basic structure of the project, swisspeace plans, provides expertise in dealing with the past and develops recommendations for the continuation of the future form and activities of the project.

The eclectic funding body is mirrored in the composition of the project’s Steering Committee (SteeCom), in which representatives of the SFA, the FDFA and swisspeace discuss and take strategic decisions concerning the whole project.

Article by Swiss Federal Archives Director on the project: Read


A Conceptual Framework for Dealing with the Past

swisspeace, Dealing with the Past Background Paper (2013).

Publications by swisspeace on Dealing with the Past issues.