France will begin the declassification process of secret National Defense documents up to the year 1970, including those concerning the Algerian independence war, on an immediate basis, President Emmanuel Macron announced on Tuesday. 

Last month, university students launched a petition demanding Macron lift the unprecedented restrictions on access to the archives bearing a “secret stamp.”

Heeding this demand, the French Presidency in a statement said it was “determined to promote respect for historical truth.”

“It is up to the State to articulate in a balanced way the freedom of access to archives and the fair protection of the superior interests of the Nation by the secrecy of National Defense.”

Under the Heritage Code, documents protected by national defense secrecy are to be declassified for public access after 50 years from the date of their filing.

But in January last year, the secretary-general of Defense and National Security directed the Defense Historical Service (DHS) to reseal the archives of various military divisions of World War II dated between 1940 and 1945, the First Indochina War from between 1940 and 1956, and the Algerian War of Independence from between 1940 and 1964, bearing classification statements.

Researchers and historians could no longer randomly pick out the historical documents and were required to make prior reservations with the DHS, which would give permission after verifying requests on whether the document was declassified or not. If the requested documents were not declassified, it would take several weeks before authorities would undertake the process after due consultation.

Macron’s decision to immediately allow the archives services from March 10 to declassify documents up to 1970 will significantly shorten the waiting times to access these archives.

The government has now initiated the process to complete the declassification of the documents with the help of experts before summer.

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