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War Interpreters Should Be Given Red Cross Protection Status
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Interpreters working in war-zones should benefit from the same level of protection as Red Cross workers, said President of the International Federation of Translators (FIT) Peter W. Krawutschke on Friday in Beijing.

"People in Iraq are getting killed because they play the role of an interpreter," said Krawutschke, attending the "Forum on Translating from Chinese into Foreign Languages -- A Bridge to the World", "What is essential is that one day, interpreters benefit from the same standing as people who work for the Red Cross. When there is a conflict, it is assumed that a person who wears the Red Cross is neutral."

The FIT reported that 261 translators and interpreters died in Iraq in 2006, with more dying in Afghanistan.

Krawutschke also pointed out that war correspondents are far better off than interpreters since they work together and due to the influence they wield.

He announced that the FIT, following the practice of the International Federation of Journalists, had created an international ID card for members of its member associations. Krawutschke announced that he hoped these would aid in creating a global community of interpreters and translators, an absence of which has been woefully felt of late. Should this plan work, the FIT cards will hopefully be introduced in the field in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan in the future.

Addressing the plight of interpreters in Iraq, Krawutschke said, "They are perceived as traitors by one side or the other since the vast majority of them emanate from the native population."
Partly to address the problem, FIT chose "Don't Shoot the Messenger!" as the theme for International Translation Day 2007 on September 30.

Krawutschke revealed the theme's multi-faceted nature: beyond the obvious personal dangers interpreters face in areas of conflict, they must also face professional risks such as being made into scapegoats for communication barriers or blamed for diplomatic faux pas.

Krawutschke said that despite countries, such as Germany, Canada or France, recognizing the translation profession, it will be a long process until this example is followed worldwide.

Describing the skill that is translation, Krawutschke labeled it a creative art worthy of the highest respect, much like that of orchestra conductors, taking an existing musical score and translating into music for all to enjoy.

Krawutschke said that before his term expires in 2008, he wished to see FIT's borders extend beyond Europe to bring a wider range of nations on its executive council. He set a target of adding six or seven more members to FIT, particularly in Asia and Africa.

He said the FIT would try to seek financial support from organizations like the UNESCO to help some African countries take part in FIT activities, though the FIT doesn't have the money.

But he also said: "There is no rush to have more members. Research shows that when the economy of a country reaches a stage, translation associations will be formed. It's a natural process. It should happen naturally."

He praised preparations for the 2008 FIT congress in Shanghai, saying the upcoming congress itself should be phenomenal.

This was the first time that FIT ventured outside its "traditional areas" of Europe, Canada and Australia to come to Asia. This exploration will be rewarded at the Shanghai congress where the number of participants should stand at 800-900, up from 400-500 in the past.

"It's also the attraction of China. In the nineties, people coming here were adventurers, now they are tourists."

Krawutschke said China now needs to tap into the curiosity it arouses in the world and use global media platforms to appropriately sate it.

The FIT President's concerns touched upon the bad English language being used on public signs or menus ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

As well as being the voluntary FIT president, Krawutschke is a professor at Western Michigan University specializing in German language, literature and translation.

( by Chen Chao April 9, 2007)

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