Conflict Zone Field Guide Released by Red T, AIIC and FIT

by Translation Guy on March 22, 2012

Unidentified Pashto linguist interprets for Haji Zahir and Lt. Col. Brian S. Christmas in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Photo: Spencer Ackerman.

The translation business is sweet, at least here in Turtle Bay, the neighborhood of the United Nations. Everyone we work with is smart and on their best behavior, and the restaurants and clubs are super fine, if on the pricey side. Added bonus: No one is shooting at us. But those sorts of ballistic-free perks are not enjoyed by all my professional colleagues, especially those who work in neighborhoods caught in conflict-zone cross-fire.

I wasn’t thinking much about the dangers faced by translators and ‘terps when I first learned about Red T and their efforts to protect linguists in high-risk settings. But now I follow these stories in the news, and the news is bad. When things get kinetic, linguists are the first in the cross-hairs. Off the battlefield, they and their families are endangered by those who have decided that translators are traitors. Even in conflict-free zones, translators are sometimes jailed simply for doing their job.

So when I was asked to chair the Red T, I couldn’t say no. I had to try, and encourage others to do the same, to see if together we can affect some change in attitude and practice that will help more interpreters and translators survive their assignments and protect their families.
This week we’ve made a step towards that goal. You may have already gotten my blast on Red T’s new publication, “Conflict Zone Field Guide for Civilian Translators/Interpreters and Users of Their Services.”

We’ve developed these guidelines in partnership with the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC)  and the International Federation of Translators (FIT).  The field guide outlines the basic rights, responsibilities and practices the three organizations recommend to linguists in conflict zones. It is also intended for those who hire them and emphasizes their responsibility to keep their employees and subcontractors safe. Here’s the download.

This guide is the first of its kind, and part of our goal to protect our professional brothers and sisters engaged in the good work of getting people to talk to each other in places where matters of translation are matters of life and death.

I hope I can count on your support in spreading the word about this initiative. Awareness of this issue is a critical part of our effort.

Thanks! – Ken


  1. This is really great reporting Ken. I’ve bookmarked and passed this post along to a few of my ‘terp’ mates. I will review the guide and let you know my thoughts. Best, Martin.

    • Ken says:

      Please do, Martin. Thanks.

  2. Koviljko says:

    It’s nice to hear about efforts like this. It is unfortunate, however, that things have to come to this.

  3. Why call it Red T? Does T stand for Translator? And is red just a warning color? Curious.

  4. Eda Balbin says:

    I’m not trying to be funny, but, I think the Red T would make nice T-shirts. Serioulsy.

  5. I hope the AIIC and the FIT have the right countries representing them. I don’t think the problem often lies with those that are part of these organizations, it’s often the ones who don’t play by the rules anyway.

    • Ken says:

      Sad but true.

  6. Aaron King says:

    More power to you, Ken. I have read stories about those trying to help out and getting caught in the crossfire. Hopefully, some good will result from the efforts of Red T.

  7. There will always be a level of danger when working in conflict areas. Whether it be a translator, priest, contractor, or medical person, these people will still be targets, if not collateral damage.

  8. I never thought of this. I always thought that the translators and interpreters were back at the office most of the time and never in danger. Very eye opening.

  9. Excellent work. I liked what I saw on the Red T site and I will do my part spreading what news I can. I hope the best comes of this effort.

  10. Local translators aren’t traitors. Often times they are just trying to earn some money in a war torn country.

  11. Suicide bombers don’t care who is around.

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