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International Translation Day: Translators’ Rights

In choosing Translators’ Rights as the theme for International Translation Day 2003, the International Federation of Translators (FIT) wanted to revisit one of the reasons it was established 50 years ago.

Translators’ rights have been one of the main concerns of FIT since its beginning. The Translator’s Charter, published in 1963 and amended in 1994, and the Recommendation on the legal protection of Translators and Translations and the practical means to improve the Status of Translators, adopted by UNESCO in Nairobi in 1976 (Nairobi Recommendation) are evidence of this. (These documents can be found on the FIT website at www.fit-ift.org.)

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of FIT and its member associations over the years, the translator’s professional status is still far from being accepted universally. Although globalization has heightened awareness of the need for translation, it has not led to the recognition of the professional nature of the activity and the rights of its practitioners.

Western countries are no exception to this state of affairs, and translators there are still fighting for one of their most fundamental rights, that of copyright. Even though the Berne Convention, which considers a translation to be an original work, recognizes copyright for translators, publishers and distributors regularly evade or ignore it. The advent of the Internet and electronic publications have only exacerbated the problem.

In addition to copyright, which is of special concern to translators of publications, there are other rights that require attention: the right to proper working conditions that allow the translator to produce quality work, the right to reasonable remuneration, and above all the right to the recognition of translation a professional activity that requires specialised training and not simply a result of learning two languages. The lack of understanding on the part of the public and thosewho use translation often means that professional translators have to justify their education, their work, their rates and even their very existence. Again, the availability of machine translation systems on the Internet has not improved the situation, even though it is widely accepted that such systems provide very poor translations indeed.

To these professional concerns are added even more serious concerns, namely the violation of human rights. The International Federation of Translators has been called on many times to react to tragic circumstances. For example, the murder of two of Salman Rushdie’s translators after the fatwa was issued against him. Or the case of the Turkish translator brought to court for by translating a novel that contained passages deemed to be sexually explicit.

By making Translators’ Rights the theme of International Translation Day, the International Federation of Translators wants to heighten awareness among its member associations and the public about the importance of translation in human exchanges, be they cultural, economic, political or social, and of the need to recognise translation as a profession.