In the one of the most significant developments for archives at the international level for many years, the General Conference of UNESCO has unanimously endorsed in plenary session on 10 November the Universal Declaration on Archives proposed by the International Council on Archives. This landmark decision is an important step in improving public understanding of archives. It provides a splendid opportunity to raise still further awareness of archives among the general public and key decision-makers.
The Declaration is a powerful succinct statement of the relevance of archives in modern society. It emphasizes the key role of archives in administrative transparency and democratic accountability, as well as the preservation of collective social memory. While not neglecting the traditional concern with meeting the needs of historical research, the Declaration repositions effective archives management as an essential function which underpins modern public administration, good practice in private business, and ready access to information by citizens.
The first version of the Declaration was written by archivists in Québec in 2007. The ICA Section of Professional Associations (SPA), together with an international working group, developed the text for a universal audience, taking into differences in language, culture and archival tradition. SPA also pressed vigorously for its adoption by ICA as a whole. It generated many stimulating debates in ICA, before it obtained unanimous approval at the AGM in Oslo in September 2010.
Since then the international archival community has worked tirelessly to have the Declaration adopted by UNESCO. Today’s decision is the culmination of intense efforts led by Papa Momar Diop, the Ambassador of Senegal at UNESCO and the former National Archivist of Senegal. He has been ably supported by Jens Boel, Head Archivist at UNESCO, and activists in the ICA network throughout the world.
The challenge now is to use the Declaration to maximum effect, so that archives shake off outdated perceptions of their role and finally take their rightful place as a major player at heart of public administration and the center of social memory.