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Debate in the British Parliament on protecting translators and interpreters

Red T's work is discussed by Baroness Jean Coussins in the House of Lords.

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Baroness Coussins: I will now focus on what more needs to be done, including by Her Majesty's Government, to recognise and respect the professionalism and the precariousness of the translator's position during their service, not just after it. I would like to draw attention to the work of some of the organisations that represent or advocate on behalf of interpreters and translators, particularly those in conflict zones and other high-risk settings. Red T, for example, is an international NGO based in New York, which gives a voice to linguists at risk and monitors incidents involving the translator-traitor mentality. In 2012, Red T, together with the International Federation of Translators and the International Association of Conference Interpreters, produced the first ever conflict zone field guide for translators and interpreters and the users of their services, with sections on the rights and responsibilities of both sides.

Clear guidance for the user includes the need: to respect the translator or interpreter; to protect them and their families during and after the assignment; to provide them with protective clothing but not arms; never to release their names, addresses or images without permission; and not to ask them to undertake tasks unrelated to interpreting. Maya Hess, the head of Red T, said:

"You'd be surprised to learn the range of unreasonable and dangerous requests linguists working in conflict zones receive".

Some of the guidance is about very small detail, but that can make all the difference to how an interpreter may be wrongly perceived. For example, users are asked to be aware of how they position themselves physically, making sure that eye contact is between the two parties and not with the interpreter, which could give rise to suspicions about impartiality. Of course, the user is told not to delegate any responsibility to the interpreters. They should only translate what the user says and never be asked to make a statement or ask a question on the user's behalf. This guide is distributed routinely to linguists working in conflict zones. Are the UK Government and the Armed Forces also aware of it, and do they distribute it to all those operating in conflict zones? If not, will the Minister undertake to look at this helpful document and promote awareness of it?

In addition to the guide, Red T has also called for a United Nations resolution to confer special legal status on translators and interpreters in conflict zones, similar to Resolution 1738, which protects journalists. Will Her Majesty's Government support the case for this, too? On a similar note, the international federation, at its conference last August, called on national Governments and the international community to do more, including creating a UN convention or similar international safety document for the protection of translators and interpreters in conflict zones during and after their service. Again, will the Minister say whether the Government will support this call? Will he undertake to raise both these UN-related issues with his opposite number in the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) with responsibility for the UN, and actively seek progress?

To read the entire debate, go to: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2015-03-18a.1103.0&s=speaker%3A13922#g1103.1

Posted on October 22nd, 2015

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