How Translators Contribute to Human Rights – Whether They Realize It or Not

marty y la justicia con paraguas y lluvia 002

For Blog Action Day in October, I wrote a little post on how translators can help fight inequality. Equality is a human right; and much of our contribution to eradicating inequality has to do with making knowledge, information and educational resources available to people in their own language. Knowledge is power, thus by helping people acquire knowledge in their language, translators help empower them to obtain necessary tools and resources for overcoming certain types of inequality.

I just finished translating a UN human rights review document and it dawned on me that, whether they realize it or not, translators contribute to human rights in at least five ways.

1) Translators help ensure non-discrimination in the exercise of the rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by providing a level playing field for individuals to exercise and enforce their rights. Per article 2 of the Universal Declaration, all individuals are entitled to exercise the rights therein contained without discrimination based on language.

2) Translators help ensure social, cultural and economic rights by building linguistic bridges for the exercise of those rights, such as the right to housing, to adequate standard of living, to health and to science and culture. (Universal Declaration and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, among others)

3) Translators and interpreters help serve justice by ensuring due process in court. Per article 10 of the Universal Declaration, all individuals are entitled to receive a fair trial; and that is generally recognized to involve the right to an interpreter. In jurisdictions where proceedings are mainly written, that also involves the right to a translator.

4) Translators help facilitate freedom of expression, which also relates to the exercise of civil and political rights. Per article 19 of the Universal Declaration, all individuals have the right to freedom of expression, including the right to choose any language as the medium of that expression. But freedom of expression is also essential to exercising other rights, such as the right to freedom of association, thought, conscience, and religion.

5) Translators help ensure access to education. Per article 26 of the Universal Declaration, everyone has the right to an education, with relevance to the language of medium of instruction.

Every time a translator makes any verbal or written piece of information available in another language, that translator is helping someone, somewhere, exercise at least one of these rights, if not several simultaneously. So whether translators know it or not, by doing something as mundane as simply doing their job, they are making a significant contribution to human rights on different levels.


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