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At the Junction of Cultures -- Interpreting at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Light of Other International Interpreting Practices

NCJ Number
Judicial Review Volume: 5 Issue: 3 Dated: 2001 Pages: 255-274
Ludmila Stern
Rebecca Findlay-Debeck
Date Published
20 pages
This article discusses the linguistic and cross-cultural practices adopted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, as compared to the Australian War Crimes Prosecution.
This paper was presented at the Annual Conference of the Industrial Relations Commission, 2001, a judicial education conference. It has been the experience of the Australian legal system that linguistic and cross-cultural problems can be very damaging during court hearings when non-English speaking people testify. However, there has been no apparent similar problems at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The author reviews communication problems experienced when Ukrainian people (non-English speaking) testified at trial during the Australian prosecution of the alleged Nazi war criminals and the reasons behind them. She discusses the interpreting practices at the ICTY and their similarities with the Australian War Crimes Prosecution (AWCP). Common linguistic, cross-cultural, and legal issues that were encountered during the ICTY investigation and trials are discussed, including the lack of one single equivalent in the target language, dialectical differences between neighboring countries with similar language, the differences in military and legal terminology, the impact of cross-cultural differences on communication, and the legal issues encountered during the ICTY investigations and trials, for example. It is noted that the judges at the AWCP did not intervene in cases of linguistic and cross-cultural difficulties. However, the judges in ICTY have shown a sensitivity to the need to slow down testimony for the interpreters, such as requiring witness' statements to be repeated for clarity of understanding, and most importantly, being cautious in their treatment of witnesses who cannot recognize the words of their earlier statement in a back-translated version.