Endangered Syrian documents taken into safekeeping at the National Archives of Finland

Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland,
02 December 2016, Finland

The National Archives of Finland, an agency operating under the Ministry of Education and Culture, has during this autumn taken digital copies of documents that have become endangered due to the Syrian Civil War into safekeeping. While hoping that the original documents will survive the destruction of the war, Finland has for its part wanted to ensure that the information contents will be preserved for future generations by serving as a haven for the documents.

Finland is one of the first countries in the world to serve as a haven for endangered documents. The recommendation concerning the preservation of, and access to, documentary heritage including in digital form, adopted by the 38th General Conference of UNESCO in 2015, urges the Member States to take digitised cultural property into safekeeping. Only a few Member States have so far seized the opportunity to participate in the safeguarding of the global information.

On Friday 2 December, a conference gathering together representatives and experts of UNESCO and various international cultural organisations began in Abu Dhabi. The purpose of the conference is to consider ways to protect the shared cultural heritage of humanity.

“UNESCO has appealed to our joint responsibility for safeguarding the cultural property in crisis and disaster situations. Finland concurs with this appeal. The cultural heritage in its different forms constitutes the collective memory of humanity, and we all bear responsibility for safeguarding and protecting this memory,” says Minister of Education and Culture Sanni Grahn-Laasonen.

The endangered Syrian cultural property was taken into safekeeping in cooperation with international actors, taking account of the UNESCO recommendations and the serious appeals made by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.

The National Archives of Finland has also before served as a haven for international documents. In 2011, the National Archives took into safekeeping documents concerning 70,000 persons who died or went missing in the Lebanese Civil War and the documentary material related to the Sabra and Shatila massacres that shocked the world in 1982. The same year, the National Archives of Finland took into safekeeping also the materials of the International Independent Commission for Inquiry into the events in southern Kyrgyzstan, which acted under the auspices of OSCE.

Finland considers that the freedom of information, freedom of the press and ensuring the preservation of and access to data materials constitute the foundation for an open and democratic society.

This year, Finland has celebrated the 250th anniversary of the first Freedom of the Press Act in the world. The Act was adopted on 2 December 1766.

- Jussi Nuorteva, Director-General of the National Archives of Finland and Vice-Chair of the Finnish National Commission for UNESCO, [email protected], tel. +358 40 592 5131
- Zabrina Holmström, Counsellor for Cultural Affairs at the Ministry of Education and Culture and Secretary-General of the Finnish National Commission for UNESCO, tel. +358 40 768 1284