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Court translators hit hard by budget cuts

While the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s substantially trimmed 2014-2015 budget is intended to put an end to the perennial fiscal woes faced by the court, a source inside the tribunal said yesterday that the deep staffing cuts have left one crucial department – the Interpretation and Translation Unit – reeling.

According to a national side employee at the tribunal who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the court’s ITU lost some two-thirds of its staff at the end of 2013, putting its simultaneous translators – whose job it is to translate court proceedings as they happen – into the position of having to also handle all documentary translation requests from the parties.

“Laying off almost two-thirds of the staff members of Interpretation and Translation Unit on the national side is nothing short of a complete mockery and deliberate attempt to frustrate the current court proceedings [and] hence stymie future cases 003 and 004,” the employee said.

A copy of the court’s new budget, released on Wednesday, shows that 19 ITU positions were eliminated in the 2014 component of the budget, with one more position slated for elimination in 2015.

The national staffer said that while simultaneous interpreters were meant to spend the lull in hearings after Case 002/01 preparing for Case 002/02, the unit has been so “bombarded” with translation requests that it has no time to prepare, which could mean future delays.

Court spokesman Neth Pheaktra, however, maintained yesterday that the “revised staffing requirement in the Judiciary Offices, Defence and Victims Support and the Administrative Support Services [was] in line with the decreased workloads in 2014 and 2015”. The ITU has caused delays at the court before, with translators announcing in open court that they would be striking for unpaid wages last March. Since all court documents and proceedings must be translated in three official languages, the two-week strike seriously hampered the court’s functioning.

Panhavuth Long, a program officer at the Cambodian Justice Initiative, said that a lack of translators could also have consequences beyond Case 002.

“I think this is a concern in terms of whether it is too much workload for those translators,” he said. “I believe somehow it affects every proceeding before the [court], because I believe they are also doing the translation for the pre-trial chamber, and they do the translations on the investigations in case 003 and 004.”




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phonix's picture

ITU staff reductions are made just to satisfy donors. The Court managemment are fully aware that the Court is not able to efficiently operate without those eliminated translators. In the end, they now turn to those abolished translators for their earnest assistance in light of the current heavy workload, with the payment being made based on number of pages of translations. I wonder if those translators in need are aware that they are integral part of the Court proceeding and why they are dying to accept a cheap deal from Personnel section.

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