The international criminal court: an introduction

Introduction

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is the first permanent international criminal court and is based in The Hague, Netherlands. It is an independent international organisation and is developing its own classification system, pay scale, and promotion system. However, as a member of the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund, it is based on and inspired by the UN system. The staff appraisal system is still under development.

The official languages of the ICC are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish and the working languages are currently English and French[1]. However, in reality our staff will have to deal with many more languages because of the variety of locations from which the accused persons, witnesses and victims will come. This will be one of the challenges we will have to address as we seek to identify and train interpreters for languages that are not commonly used in international circuits such as Acholi, Lango, Lingala and Swahili just to name a few. Two situations are currently being investigated by the Prosecutor of the ICC: one in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and one in Uganda.

Structure and Recruitment

There are two language section structures at the ICC: a Unit that services the Office of the Prosecutor (4 staff) and a Section that serves the Registry, Chambers and the Presidency (16 staff). The Language Services Unit of the Office of the Prosecutor deals with translation and interpretation requests from the Office of the Prosecutor (evidence, speeches, supporting materials for charges, etc). The Court Interpretation and Translation Section (Section de traduction et d’interprétation de la Cour - STIC) provides interpretation for meetings, seminars, conferences, lectures and court hearings, as well as translations for the above-mentioned organs. The Language Services Unit and STIC are jointly developing an accreditation system for field interpreters. The Head of the Language Services Unit is Ms. Christl Schraut and the Head of STIC is Ms. Alexandra Oliver-Tomic.

The first language staff were recruited in 2003 and STIC has been growing steadily since. Should the ICC’s caseload increase, STIC could potentially recruit up to 20 new staff members in 2005. All interpreters are expected to translate using a computer or participate in legal research (see training below) when they are not in the booth.  A terminologist is currently under recruitment. Translators and interpreters are tested before being recruited.

Working Conditions and Workload

As far as equipment is concerned, there are currently three rooms equipped with interpretation equipment: one permanent installation (Pre-Trial Chamber) and two meeting rooms with portable booths. Two courtrooms with built-in interpretation booths are under construction. The courtroom booths will have monitors displaying the speakers and real-time transcription of what is being said in the Courtroom at the bottom, as well as networked laptops, the configuration of which is still under consideration. Video and audio recordings will be made of all proceedings. The courtrooms should be ready in 2005.

The workload is currently under negotiation, taking into consideration working conditions at the United Nations, as well as the working conditions at the European Union institutions. Ordinary meetings follow AIIC rules (2.5 to 3-hour sessions, eight sessions over a week), whilst court sessions are expected to be shorter in duration, but more numerous over a two-week period of time because of the requirements of an international court, which might sit weeks or months on end. Trials are expected to start in 2005.

Various technological measures are under consideration: testimony via a video link, interpretation via remote link, video conferencing, etc. We are also looking into interpretation testing and training into B languages for rare languages or for very strong regional accents. Interpreters with an English A are expected to have strong enough French to be able to do consecutive into French.

Training

When they are not occupied translating or preparing for meetings, STIC staff interpreters are spending a great deal of time preparing for 2005. This includes using videotapes of ICTY and ICTR proceedings, and attending seminars about the situation in the DRC and Uganda. Workload permitting, language staff are invited to attend lectures organised by the Registry and the Office of the Prosecutor about legal concepts that will arise in the course of our work. Staff members are also expected to research legal concepts and summarise their research for their colleagues in the Section (mens rea, joint criminal enterprise, tu quoque defence, etc.).

In anticipation of the language combinations and training requirements for 2005, two staff members have been selected to participate in the ETI Certificate for Interpreter Trainers.  In addition to that two staff members will be participating in a Swahili course in view of the expected training requirements for the cases that will be heard by the Court in 2005. Moreover, two staff members were provided with the funds to participate in distance learning programs in law. A combination of consecutive and simultaneous interpretation will be used in the courtroom depending on the number of different languages that will be used in each case. 

STIC also briefs all new ICC staff during their induction training to explain how the Section works, as well as issues such as speed of delivery, providing interpreters with documents in advance, etc. Further training in language awareness will be scheduled for all courtroom users in the hope of avoiding problems that have arisen in the past in these types of settings.

A Few Differences between Court Interpretation and Conference Interpretation

A round table was organised by the Section dealing with “Language Matters in the Multilingual Courtroom” in May 2004. The following points were raised and will be dealt with in greater detail in an article to be published after the Court has heard a number of cases. The following factors might be considered as sources of additional stress.

  1. All proceedings will be recorded (English, French, floor, language of the accused, language of the witnesses, and if needed the language of the victims), transcripts will be broadcast on the booth and courtroom monitors in real time, and will be available after the proceedings. Moreover, during any question and answer exchange the interpreter must state “question” and “answer”, to identify the speakers for the transcript.
  2. One of the characteristics of court interpretation is the rapid change of register from witness testimony to legal arguments to a ruling within a matter of minutes.
  3. It is not always possible to leave the booth for a break or “to disconnect” when it is not your turn. Firstly, because whoever isn’t interpreting is expected to provide assistance in finding references in the ICC texts (Statute, Rules of Procedure and Evidence, Regulations of the Court, etc.) when they are read into the record. Secondly, because points raised during examination-in-chief will be raised again during cross-examination and it is very important to use the same words. The interpreter has to convey nuance and intention as the judges will be using these elements in assessing the demeanour and credibility of the witness. If two interpreters use different words to describe the same thing it might make the witness seem less reliable. In a similar fashion, when oral submissions are made in court it is difficult to interpret the reply, the rejoinder or the ruling if you have not followed the proceedings closely or if you step out of the room for long periods of time.

Conclusion

It is expected that STIC will grow steadily over the next five years. The staff are experienced and have worked with several different international organisations, including the ad hoc tribunals. One of the most exciting things about working for a new section in a new organisation is that the core staff at this stage is in a position to make suggestions as to best practice regarding how the section is organised, standard operating procedures, terminology software, and to request or propose further training if required. With the Court expecting to have a substantial amount of work in a few years’ time, the provision of language services at the ICC will rely on the groundwork that is currently being laid.

Michelle Keating is a staff interpreter at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and previously spent 4½ years working for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Tanzania.

Thanks go to the ICC and ICC Reporters for the photographs.

[1] Article 50: “1.  The official languages of the Court shall be Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish… 2. The working languages of the Court shall be English and French. The Rules of Procedure and Evidence shall determine the cases in which other official languages may be used as working languages.” Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.






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Rhianydd Huish

First time I've read this site. Very interested in what you have to say. I'm a 16 year old female student, studying language A levels next year and am searching for summer break work placements. Any openings in the Courts? Have knowledge of Dutch language as primary ed. at B.S.N. in Vlaskamp. Be glad to hear. From Rhianydd Huish

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