Since ancient times translators have found themselves branded as traitors. Standing as a bridge between their own people and those speaking another language, they can appear to be speaking on behalf of “the enemy” – a risky position to be in. But such an important one.
When an Uyghur translator was sentenced to 11 years in prison for translating Chinese-language news the Chinese government considered subversive, he was charged with inciting separatism. The broadcaster that used his translations, however, was not prosecuted – the translator was the easy target. This is one of many cases around the world that Red-T has responded to.
Red-T is an NGO dedicated to protecting those who translate in high-risk settings. Their effort is multi-pronged, including the following and more:
- advocacy for translators
- exposure of related injustices worldwide
- campaigning to include protected status of translators and interpreters in the Geneva Conventions
- seeking of a UN resolution to protect civilian linguists in conflict situations, similar to Resolution 1738 which focuses on the safety of journalists
Partnering with the Association of Conference Interpreters and the International Federation of Translators, Red-T brings higher visibility to the entire, dangerous issue of interpreting in war zones, prisons, and other settings and countries with limited human rights protection. Their published guidelines for translators/interpreters and those who hire them, give clarifying structure to an undertaking rife with uncertainties. An excerpt from the text defining translators’ responsibilities follows.
Regardless of who engages you, serve all parties equally without expressing your opinions or sympathies. You cannot be an advocate for any cause and must declare any conflict of interest.
Translators and interpreters have working rights as well, and their employers have responsibilities:
You have a right to protection both during and after the assignment. If necessary, this should include your family as well. You should be provided with protective clothing and equipment, but not arms. As a civilian, you are not required to wear a uniform unless you consent to do so. Medical and psychological assistance must be made available to you. Prior to deployment, you should be given security and emergency training.
Red-T’s vision is “a world in which translators and interpreters can work free from fear of persecution, prosecution, imprisonment, abduction, torture and assassination.” In this global community where our own governments and the companies we buy from require constant intercultural communication, this issue involves all of us. For more information about Red-T’s work, go to red-t.org.
J. V. McShulskis