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[updated 2022]

The Human Rights Archive is administered as part of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University. The archive supports the mission and values of the Rubenstein Library.

Since 2006, The Human Rights Archive has been partnering with the human rights community to preserve the history and legacy of human rights around the world. Our archival partners are varied and include human rights advocates, leaders, and artists as well as grassroots organizations & transnational NGO's.

Mission Statement

The Human Rights Archive acquires, preserves, describes and provides access to the records and papers of human rights advocates. Our collections document the impact that organizations and individuals have had on government policy in support of human rights, the important role that these organizations and individuals have played in the development and transformation of the international human rights movement and the articulation of local social justice movements with the international human rights community.

History of the Archive

The Rubenstein Library has a long-standing interest in social justice activism, as reflected in a number of its collecting areas.  In 2006, The Rubenstein Library, in consultation with Duke faculty and other archival institutions, identified human rights as a new curatorial area of interest.  Working with the Duke Human Rights Initiative (currently, the Duke Human Rights Center), the Human Rights Archive began building collections documenting the modern human rights movement. Early strong support from faculty in Latin America and Caribbean studies is reflected in the Archive’s extensive holdings in this region.

The contemporary human rights movement traces its history to the aftermath of WWII and the Nuremberg Trials which attempted to establish international jurisdiction for the prosecution of crimes against humanity.  While the Rubenstein’s holding provide some documentation of this era, The Human Rights Archive’s collecting initiatives focus on post WWII, particularly the era of the 1970’s and onward when human rights gained new relevance as an international ideology, practice and movement.  Some of the Archive’s most notable collections include the International Center for Transitional Justice Records, the Marshall T. Meyer Papers, the Radio Haiti records, the Southern Poverty Law Center collection of extremist literature, the Washington Office on Latin America Records, the Jerome T. Shestack papers, and the Abraham Joshua Heschel papers.

What Does the Human Rights Archive Collect?

The Human Rights Archive is broadly interested in the international human rights movement as documented in the work of activists and organizations practicing human rights and social justice at the local, national, and international level.  As the Archive has evolved, key subject areas have emerged as collecting foci.  The list below is evolving and many collections straddle multiple subject areas.

  • Immigration
  • Incarceration, Detention, Capital Punishment
  • Labor and Workers' Rights
  • Health and Human Rights
  • Transitional Justice, International Human Rights Law
  • Emergent Human Rights Practice

Formats we collect include:    

  • documents and working files
  • audiovisual material    
  • digital files    
  • ephemera    
  • photographs
  • web documents & social media

Activities and functions we collect include:

Documentation: activity dedicated to documenting human rights issues and can involve:    

  • audiovisual recording of events, crimes, abuses
  • production & collection of field notes or field reports
  • recording of testimony or witnessing   
  • other activities that result in a record of human rights abuses or human rights related events

Advocacy: activity geared towards the creation, promulgation or support of human rights and can involve:

  • litigation  
  • lobbying 
  • mobilizing
  • policy & program development and monitoring

Information Dissemination: activity fostering awareness, knowledge, discussion and debate about human rights and can involve:  

  • broadcasting   
  • educating   
  • performing
  • publishing (paper & digital)

Community/Capacity Development: activity contributing to the growth of the human rights community and can involve: 

  • building coalitions 
  • organizing grassroots or local human rights infrastructure
  • planning workshops & conferences
  • training activists

Geographic Coverage

The Archive has strong collections documenting human rights in Latin America and the Caribbean and their relationship with the US.  Particular areas of focus include human rights in Argentina, the history of Guantanamo Bay detention center, and the impact of the war on drugs on human rights in Latin America are a few areas. Additionally, The Archive’s collection document human rights in Africa, especially Rwanda, the Middle East and North Africa.                                

Many collections reflect the international or global scope of human rights work, rather than any particular geographic region.  This is particularly true of collections pertaining to transitional justice, international law, and migration such as the International Center for Transitional Justice records, the Women’s Refugee Commission records, and the Center for Justice and Accountability records.