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The ICRC audiovisual archives: A heritage for humanity

27-10-2013 Feature

Saving Our Heritage for the Next Generation is the slogan of this year's celebration of the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage (27 October).

Sound recordings, film footage, videos and photos illustrate and document the activities of the ICRC and of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement as a whole from the end of the 19th century up to the present day. These archives form a significant heritage in the field of humanitarian law and action. They preserve the memory of victims of armed conflicts and other situations of violence to which the ICRC has responded over the last 150 years.

The ICRC audiovisual archives: A heritage preserved

Today’s actions give value to a heritage in the long term. Ongoing conservation efforts grant it longevity. (ICRC Archiving Strategy 2013-2017).

By the very nature of its mandate, the ICRC has a duty to keep a careful record of its work and be accountable for it to everyone involved in or concerned by humanitarian action. Together with the other members of the Movement, it is committed to preserving the historical and cultural heritage of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

The archives have been continually expanded over the last 150 years, illustrating the activities of the ICRC in all operational contexts. They also hold a record of major events, such as recordings of decisions made at the Diplomatic Conferences on the Geneva Conventions, of the Movement’s Statutory Meetings and of personal accounts by delegates and victims.

Since the end of the 1990s, the ICRC has undertaken ambitious projects to conserve and digitize its archives, both on its own and in partnership with others.

Key dates

1999-2001Conservation of the 35 mm film collection (20 hours of footage filmed between 1921 and 1960) with the support of the Memoriav Association. See our DVD of early films.
2005-2008Digitization of the photographic archives. Of the 780,000 items in the collection, 30,000 photo prints from the historical archives (1850-1950) were digitized along with 25,000 negatives and 24,000 slides (1950-1997).
2008-2013Conservation and digitization of the collection of 16 mm film footage (45 hours of footage filmed between 1960 and 1980) with the support of the Memoriav Association.
2009-2013Conservation and digitization of the historical audio archives (2,500 of the 5,500 files in the historical archives, amounting to over 5,000 hours of sound recordings made between 1950 and 2000) with the support of the Memoriav Association and the Swiss National Sound Archives.
2013Work begins on digitizing and conserving the video archives (over 750 hours of footage filmed between 1980 and 2011).

The ICRC audiovisual archives: Accessible to all

The archives are accessible at the ICRC headquarters in Geneva and our archivists can help people find what they are looking for. We have also set up a remote research service and reply as quickly as possible to all enquiries, which number over 1,500 per year. Our main “enquirers” are journalists, historians, documentary-makers and staff from National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Of course, the ICRC’s own staff, both at headquarters and in the field, also make substantial use of our audiovisual material, often for public communications.

In 2014, the ICRC will be making its audiovisual archives available online, via a special portal on the ICRC website. For the first time, sound recordings, photos, film footage and videos will all be accessible from the same place. It is the ICRC’s intention to share its heritage with as many people as possible.

The ICRC audiovisual archives: Keeping personal data confidential

While the majority of material is publicly accessible, certain files remain confidential or for internal consultation only from the moment they enter the archives, in line with the Fundamental Principles of the Movement and in order to protect the victims. Access to internal documents is restricted for 40 years, and to confidential documents, including personal data, for 60 years.

In January 1996, the ICRC decided that it would open its archives to the public in large chronological sections at a time. The next section to be opened, in 2015, covers the period 1966-1975 and even audiovisual material still classified as internal will be made publicly accessible at this point.

See also