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It's Time Translators and Interpreters Be Protected by International Legislation

Published October 23, 2015

Ever since founding InterpretAmerica in 2009, Barry and I have sought ways to support military and conflict zone linguists. One of the moments of which we are both proud and which still haunts us was listening to Arabic, Pashtu and Dari-speaking members of the 51st Translator Interpreter Company at Fort Irwin, California, at the 3rd InterpretAmerica Summit. These young army enlisted men had served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. They told harrowing and often heartwrenching stories of having to use their heritage language skills to keep their fellow soldiers safe in volatile and ever-changing circumstances.

InterpretAmerica Co-Presidents Barry Olsen and Katharine Allen with members of the 51st Translator Interpreter Company, Barbara Moser-Mercer of InZone, and panel moderator Jonathan Levy of Cyracom (at that time).

For years, it has seemed that the only support we'd really been able to offer was to help shed light on the essential service of military and conflict zone interpreters - whether through a panel organized at our Summit, through posting relevant Interpreting the News items or most recently, by supporting and publicizing the (ultimately successful) Kickstarter campaign for The Interpreter Film.

Now we have the chance to support an effort that could result in something far more impactful than a passing public awareness: a United Nations Resolution to Protect Civilian Translators/Interpreters in Conflict Situations. A here-to-fore unlikely alliance of professional associations has formed to turn this petition into a reality. The Red T, the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), the International Federation of Translators (FIT), the International Association of Professional Interprters and Translators (IAPTI), Critical Link International (CLI) and the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI) have joined together to press for the UN Resolution.

The campaign text makes the urgency and necessity crystal clear:

Linguists working for the military are kidnapped, tortured and beheaded as traitors; prison camp translators are prosecuted as spies; court interpreters receive death threats; fixers are persecuted for doing their job; and literary translators are incarcerated for content. The simple practice of our profession makes thousands of us vulnerable to loss of life, limb and liberty.
Currently, translators and interpreters are not specifically protected by international legislation. As a professional category, we fall through the cracks in the Geneva Conventions and, unlike journalists, we are not covered by a resolution. This must change. A UN Resolution would be a first step toward ensuring our protection under international law, and it would mandate member states to prosecute crimes perpetrated against us. 

There was a time in our profession's very recent past when the mere mention of interpreters working with the military or in conflict zones brought anger and rejection from some quarters. It is difficult to remember those moments, when frustration over the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan was often directed at the military and civilain linguists caught up in these tragic events. 

In just a few short years, our young profession has come a long way. Nothing makes that more apparent than the budding philanthropic spirit we've seen this year with your generous support of The Interpreter Film and the ongoing resolve many immigration court interpreters are currently showing to rally around decent pay and working conditions.

Imagine what it could mean for our entire profession if the international bodies that rely upon our skills were to step up and provide us with formal recognition and protection, the same kind that journalists enjoy, for example.

At the time of this writing, the petition already has over 5,400 signatures. Won't you help us help these associations garner the support needed to make this effort a reality, just as you did for The Interpreter Film? Doing so is as easy as clicking the button below! Please encourage others to do the same. Together, we can each be one more drop of water that will eventually fill the entire glass until it runs over. 


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