The first hurdle
By Eduardo Kahane
Interpreters in conflict zones
received the support of forty members of the Council of Europe
Parliamentary Assembly in a Declaration signed on 29 April 2010 in
Strasbourg. The signatories are from all the political groups; the
Declaration may be signed by other members between now and the next
session in June.
This is the first international
document that publicly recognizes the difficult circumstances under
which interpreters work – far from the gaze of the media or society
– and signals a political will to take action. This is the first
step on what remains a long road ahead. However the leap from zero
to one is greater than the leap from one to infinity. It will now
be necessary to convert the support of this group of members into a
commitment from the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee to
carry out a study and submit a resolution to the Plenary of the
Parliamentary Assembly. This was the mandate entrusted to the
Interpreters in Conflict Zones Group by the Assembly in 2009.
The task ahead is daunting, but this
development augurs well for the future. The Declaration calls for
the protection of interpreters' neutrality and impartiality akin to
the safeguards in place for Red Cross workers and what makes it
significant is not simply the number of supporters but who they are.
Signatories include the chairman of the Assembly’s leading
committees such as Political Affairs (Björn von Sydow, Socialists,
Sweden), Legal Affairs and Human Rights (Christos Pourgourides, EPP,
Cyprus) and the Honouring of Obligations of Members (Dick Marty,
ALDE, Switzerland). Members from more than twenty countries and all
the political groups in the Chamber signed the Declaration,
including the chairmen and deputy chairmen of the largest groups (ALDE,
Socialists and EPP).
It would be remiss of us not to
emphasize the probity and political courage of the initiator of the
Declaration, Dick Marty. He was the author of the 2007 report on the
CIA's secret detention centres in Council of Europe member states.
It remains one of the Council of Europe's most influential reports,
and it was instrumental in convincing the US electorate to look
afresh at the human rights aspect of the country’s defence policy, a
political taboo at the time.
There is an ethical and human rights
dimension to how interpreters in conflict zones work, the
recognition and respect they are given and the conditions of their
employment. We are not there yet but one day we will be able to
negotiate terms and conditions if we keep up the pressure. This is
our avowed aim although we are clearly not attempting to change
national defence policies. We can happily set our sights lower.
This Declaration is a major public
endorsement for the recognition, not just of interpreters in
conflict zones, but of the whole profession throughout the world.
Opening up to our colleagues in the world's hot spots has brought
general recognition of the wider profession. This is a valuable
lesson and it should encourage us to pay closer attention to court,
community and sign language interpreters.
If we achieve our aim at the Council
of Europe the ultimate target beckons: the United Nations General
Assembly. Such a proposal is no more improbable than the AIIC
Resolution on Interpreters in Conflict Zones appeared back in
January 2009. It is the very target our clear-sighted members set us
Translated by Phil Smith
Eduardo Kahane is member of the AIIC
Interpreters in Conflict Zones Group
can read the full statement at: