(This was another article posted on the WSU SLIS Listserv)

By Xan Rice (12/10/2010 – guardian.co.uk)

An ambitious hi-tech project to make the Rwandan genocide one of the most thoroughly documented mass killings ever will be unveiled in Kigali today.

The Genocide Archive of Rwanda will serve as a “unified repository” for all information related to the 1994 massacres, which saw about 800,000 people killed in 100 days, mostly from the minority Tutsi population.

Located at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where tens of thousands of victims are buried, the new facility will initially hold 1,500 audiovisual recordings and more than 20,000 documents and photographs.

The material has been gathered from Rwandan media outlets and museums, court records, foreign institutions, especially in France, and from survivors. In time the recordings and documents will be also be housed in a digital archive available to researchers on-site and, eventually, through the internet.

The project, six years in the making, has been driven by the Aegis Trust , a British organisation that works to prevent crimes against humanity, and the Commission for the Fight Against Genocide in Kigali.

Freddy Mutanguha, the Rwanda director for the Aegis Trust, said the main aim of the archive was to aid research and teaching, both locally and abroad.

“It will show with facts how the genocide was prepared and executed in order to tell what happened – and to say ‘never again’,” he said.

For 16 years, during which time Rwanda has staged an impressive recovery under president Paul Kagame’s authoritarian rule, the government has endeavoured to ensure that the genocide is never far from people’s memories. Across the tiny country there are nearly 200 memorial sites marking places where killings took place.

The country has also held thousands of gacaca trials, a system of community justice in which people accused of serious crimes during the genocide faced public hearings, with victims’ families and survivors allowed to confront them. Recordings from these proceedings form part of the new document centre.

With assistance from experts at the University of Texas Libraries, all the audiovisual material, with accompanying transcripts in English, Kinyarwanda, and French, is being copied into the digital archive.

It will also include scans of all documents and photographs housed on-site in Kigali, as well as relevant material held elsewhere.

“Important documentation about the Rwandan genocide will probably always remain dispersed in various locations around the world, but it’s our ambition to include digitally anything that cannot be included in the physical archive,” said Fred Heath, the director of the University of Texas Libraries.

Work is also proceeding on a database that is using GPS technology to map all the genocide sites in Rwanda, and matching them with photographs and testimonies from survivors, witnesses and perpetrators present where the killings took place.

Dr David Kirk, a lecturer in Human Computer Interaction at the University of Nottingham’s school of computer science, which is handling this part of the project, said the work may even help Rwandans map the final movements of relatives who died in the massacres.

“Ultimately, the project hopes to explore the use of such data in the development of lasting digital memorials to those affected by the genocide,” he said.