“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. But, to achieve this, we all need to come together and act as one”
During the launch of Interlink Pro last March in New York we had the great pleasure to meet Maya and a few members of Red T. As interpreters we have all heard about Red T, but we might not always know the purposes of this organization, the challenges it has to overcome and what we can do concretely as interpreters to help it move forward. We decided to publish this interview in order to raise awareness about the situation of interpreters and translators in conflict zones. It is important that we all take the time to contribute to this cause and we invite all interpreters to sign the Red T – UN petition and to convey the message as you very well know.
Could you briefly describe Red T?
First of all, thank you for the opportunity to introduce Red T to the readers of your blog.
Red T is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of translators and interpreters (T/Is) in high-risk settings, such as conflict zones, sites of political unrest, detention camps, etc. For this day and age, linguists in these settings are shockingly unprotected and are exposed to a variety of threats, whether by state or non-state actors. To mitigate these conditions, Red T champions policies and laws that support and safeguard them. In our latest project, for instance, we are seeking protected-person status for civilian T/Is in conflict situations. Together with the five major international language associations – the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), the International Federation of Translators (FIT), the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI), Critical Link International (CLI), and the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI) – we are calling on the United Nations to adopt a resolution along the lines of Resolution 1738, which was issued by the Security Council specifically for journalists. As it stands now, T/Is are not protected as a professional category, and obtaining such a resolution would be an important first step in addressing this deficiency.
“Other professions have been much better organized and funded when it comes to tending to their own, especially in conflict situations.”
How did you come up with the idea of creating Red T?
Working in the terrorism arena for over a decade, I experienced firsthand how vulnerable T/Is can be and became increasingly concerned that there was no industry organization exclusively focused on this at-risk constituency. Other professions have been much better organized and funded when it comes to tending to their own, especially in conflict situations. Journalists, for example, have Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists, and writers have PEN International. These organizations keep track of fatalities, monitor threats to their colleagues, and advocate worldwide for their safety. But until Red T came along, this kind of structured support did not exist for the international language community.
“Red T is bringing T/I organizations together across the world to rally around colleagues in need.”
What are your main achievements since the creation of Red T?
Hands down, it would be advocating for T/Is to be released from unjust imprisonment or resettled to safety from a war zone. For instance, an Afghan interpreter, whose parents had been murdered in retaliation for his work with the Canadian troops, was stuck in a refugee camp in Southern Germany. He was in danger of being deported back to Afghanistan and desperately needed to get to the Canadian embassy in Berlin for his visa interview, but he had run out of money. We connected him with the German Federal Association of Interpreters & Translators (BDÜ), and they took him under their wings right up to the time his plane lifted off en route to Canada (http://www.torontosun.com/2016/03/18/afghan-interpreter-one-step-closer-to-dream).
This example is evidence of how Red T is bringing T/I organizations together across the world to rally around colleagues in need. And on the policy level, we have the ongoing Open Letter Project, in which we urge governments to formulate and implement more open asylum policies or free incarcerated linguists. What’s inspiring about the project is that, in a historic first, Red T and all the major international language organizations (AIIC, FIT, IAPTI, CLI, and WASLI) are on the same page – literally in our letterhead and figuratively in our collaboration! And thanks to this joint effort, I am optimistic that the hazards and protection needs of our profession will increasingly figure on the world’s radar.
“the world cannot function without translators and interpreters, and those words have never rung truer, so I hope that, sooner rather than later, they will have pierced everyone’s consciousness.”
What are the main challenges you are currently facing?
Surprisingly, collecting signatures for the UN petition has been an uphill battle. I was a bit naïve in thinking we could just circle the world and collect hundreds of thousands of signatures. I thought if every linguist signed and then reached out to his/her family and wider community, we could get to a high number quickly. However, that has not been the case – at present, we have a little over 40,000 signatures, a substantial number, but not nearly enough. We are competing with so much tragedy, though, that people may be too fatigued to support yet another cause. But part of what our UN petition states is that “the world cannot function without translators and interpreters.” And those words have never rung truer, so I hope that, sooner rather than later, they will have pierced everyone’s consciousness.
“The most important issue right now is disseminating the UN petition“
What can interpreters and organizations like Interlink Pro do to help Red T?
The most important issue right now is disseminating the UN petition. For the world’s governments to listen, we need a critical mass of signatures. As such, I hope your readers will sign (either by going to red-t.org or https://www.change.org/p/urge-the-un-to-protect-translators-and-interpreters-worldwide) and share it with everyone they know via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
Another way to support Red T is by volunteering time/services or donating. We’re looking for translators for the Conflict Zone Field Guide for Civilian T/Is, which still has to be translated into a number of languages, so if anyone is fluent in one of those (you can check on our website which ones remain outstanding), please email us at [email protected]. We also have a great demand for researchers and writers and IT services. Red T is an all-volunteer organization and we appreciate whatever people can contribute.
“We also have a great demand for researchers and writers and IT services. Red T is an all-volunteer organization and we appreciate whatever people can contribute.”
Do you have a message for the readers of our blog and interpreters in general?
I do. 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. But, to achieve this, we all need to come together and act as one. So please get involved – sign the petition, help conflict zone linguists stranded in your country, be an ambassador for Red T, and let everyone know that understanding those who speak another language is key to a better and safer world.